“An Annual Report Via Songs” by Shaun Avery

The Ketchup Song, Los Ketchup:      Don't ask me how it happens, and it certainly wasn't planned, but as my relationship with my fiancée hurtles towards a messy and explosive end, I find myself becoming best friends with her cousin. Furthermore, we seem to complete each other, me giving her an older, wiser brain to pick, and her bringing out the party-like-there's-no-tomorrow side of me that previously lay dormant, untouched. She's been out of the closet for a year now (a fascinating story in itself, but one for another time) and it's through her that I visit my first gay bar - a truly seminal event in my life. After this night out, we go back to her house, only to find that her cousin, my so-called fiancée, is absolutely livid that we're getting so close, and not quick to hide the fact. She's been living with my new best friend, Lee, for a few months now, the two of them sharing the bills and rent between them, and in an attempt to get back at us both, she decided to tell Lee that she's going to move back to her mother's in the morning, leaving her half of the money unpaid. This catchy summer sing-along song is playing as a massive argument ensues between the two of them, one interspersed at regular intervals with unhelpful comments from me. Not sure what the foreign lyrics mean (is anyone?) but I'm pretty sure that its creators never thought it would be playing as an irate lesbian put her foot straight through her cousin's wooden door.

Ignition (Remix), R. Kelly:      And so begins an ugly family war, with Lee on one side and practically everyone else on the other. Her mother has just died and she really doesn't need this shit, so she decides to go and live with her previously absent father way over in Germany. From a purely selfish standpoint, I'm gutted; she's shown me life for the first time, and I planned to hang out with her for a long time before we went our separate ways. But when I look at things from her perspective, see the way that everyone has taken her cousin's side just because 1: they can't take the fact that she's gay and 2: they think she's betraying the family by being friends with me, I realise that escape is probably a good idea for her. But like we said then and continue to say, "if you're going to leave, do it in style," so the day before she leaves sees her withdraw her last $1000 from the bank and hit the shops, with me in tow. Amongst her many purchases is this song on single, and we listen to it all night, although it's not my usual type of music (more of which later.) It officially becomes the very first Party Song in my head.

Free (Let It Be), Stuart:      Me and Lee, not to mention our two other best friends Shaun and Dani, have arranged a little surprise for Jen, Lee's girlfriend. She's been told that I have a present to give her from her partner, so I meet her in another gay bar and wait there with her, upping the suspense about this non-existent present. She tries to get it out of me, but since I want to be a horror writer I have to learn how to keep things close to my chest, and this looks like good practice. Minutes tick on, and I wonder if I should be disturbed by how much I enjoy tormenting Jen, but finally it happens; Lee, who she thinks is sitting in Germany right now, walks through the door.
     Talk about a surprise.
     But anyway, the night that follows sees me journey deeper into my local scene, and I hear this song and find myself liking it, although I've never liked a dance song before in my life. This leads me to ponder a few things about myself and the past I'm coming from...

Basket Case, Green Day:      Okay, brief history lesson time. This was the first song that I ever truly loved, that totally changed my life, views and outlook on the world, so technically speaking, I guess I'm a punk/rock kid, right? But the thing about the type of crowd that normally like that music, the type of circle I've spun around for years, is that it's so narrow-minded and introverted in its tastes; if it's got a dance routine and doesn't have screaming guitars, they look down their nose at it. I've always found this bizarre considering that most rock bands and pop bands are marketed in the exact same way, but no one else seems to see it - maybe this is part of the reason that I never felt comfortable in rock bars. So anyway, much as I love my punk and rock music, it can't be the sole thing that I feast my ears with anymore. So I wonder, could another totally organic change in me be round the corner? Could my tastes be broadening just that little bit? I certainly hope so.

Jump, Girls Aloud:      And so we come to another life-changing moment.
     The first pop song beloved by me.
     I'm instantly captivated when I see this video/hear this song, and it hasn't even got anything to do with how short their skirts are. I've never watched a TV talent show in my life, and all I know about this band is what my three best mates (all big fans of the group) have told me. But that doesn't matter. I hear the song when I'm changing, going from someone that can't stand who he is to someone that is actually happy, actually enjoys life, and somehow, the song is a big part of this change. It comes at just the right time.
     I just wish it came at the right place.
     When the wheels really came flying off the truck with my former fiancée, my head was in a thousand bits, and anything that took my mind off her seemed like a good idea. So when the guy who'd been my best friend before I met Lee asked if I wanted to move in with him, I'd said yes instantly, not even giving it much thought. But then came this big change in me, and as the video plays on the TV, I peel my eyes away (not an easy task with those short skirts on display) and look around the flat that I pay half for and realise how desperately unhappy I am here. My shifting view of the world, of what's wrong and what's not, puts me totally at odds with my flatmate. For one, he hates the fact that I like "manufactured" music now, refusing to let me listen to Busted on his CD player in the main room, unless he wants to laugh at them. More importantly, though, he's a homophobe; I took him to one of my favourite gay bars a few weeks earlier and he'd gripped his chair so hard that his hands went white, and eyed every passing male, straight and gay, with a suspicion that bordered on the ugly. I don't think my three best friends would be comfortable if they were here at the same time as him, and he's told me before that he would just sit on the couch and not say a word if I had people over. Couple this tension with the fact that he always moans about me coming in late and the fact that I hate his girlfriend, who's never away from the place, and you get some unpleasant results. And you see the way I feel.
     The song ends, but repeats in my head all night. As I leave the flat to meet Lee, I see how glad I was that my flatmate's girlfriend wasn't there when I got in, and how glad I am that I'll not be coming back tonight. This comprehension, unlike the radical changes I'm going through, really does scare me.
     Fast-forward an hour or two. All I'm doing is buying a CD, but I feel like I'm breaking some great taboo; I've been stuck in the Punk Rock Introvert Club so long that I'm expecting a heavily tattooed sniper with a bright blue Mohawk to appear from behind the jazz section and take me down before I can commit this cardinal sin. Nonetheless, I enter the G-section, pick up the CD, and quickly take it to the till - I had to move quickly so the sniper couldn't get the range, you see.
     Voila! An exchange of coins and it's all over. I've officially bought my first pop single: Jump, by Girls Aloud. I give it to Lee as a present, but we head back to my mother's house to hear it, not the flat - anything to keep away from a place that screws up my new found, hard fought for, happiness.

(I've Had) The Time Of My Life, Bill Medley:      As you've probably guessed, not all of the songs were released in the year I'm describing. Especially not this very famous and very annoying track. I loathe the movie it's from with a passion (don't get me started on that one) but find I can deal with the song's existence now that I can attach a happy memory to it.
     The four of us have made it to Manchester for a partying weekend, overcoming all sorts of adversities ranging from lost money to haunted hotels to me almost not getting away from work in time to catch the coach. I'll not bore you with the details of the trip (not this time, at least) but I will say that I'm glad to be here. The only thing that makes me frown is all the lame "gay weekend" jokes that my flatmate felt the need to crack when I told him I was heading to Canal Street with my friends a few times. It is little things like this that seem to be making escape from the flat for more than a weekend into a very pressing concern. Me and him have been friends for a very long time, but the bond's breaking now, and I think that seeing him so miserable and angry about the world while not doing a damn thing to change it is too much like looking at a photo of myself from the past, but a photo that talks and moans, even though no one wants to listen.
     But back to the song. We're in a quite charming little 80's bar when this comes on. So high is my euphoria, so happy am I to be here with my three best friends, that I actually ignore my hate of the film and just enjoy the song. Anyone who knows of my aversion to all Patrick Swayze movies will have to respect that.

Black Velvet, Allanah Myles:      Christmas has come and gone. I spent some of it at home, some with Lee - and very little at my flat. In fact, I've hardly been there at all. There's always something better to do, and it's a big area out there to explore, but way back in the recesses of my head, there's always the niggling knowledge that I'll have to go back there sometime. And sit in a room with two people I can't stand. My flatmate came out with one of the pettiest, most stupidly jealous lines I've ever heard just before Christmas. His brother was talking to me about the presents he'd bought for his father, and said to me, "bet you wouldn't buy something that expensive, eh?" Since I'm not about material goods - me and my mates could buy penny chews for each other and be perfectly happy knowing the love they were given with and the good times we'd have chewing them - I simply replied, "depends who it was for." And my flatmate, who was lying on the couch in a strop about his poor day at work, said, "he would if it was for Lee." I've put that name in italics to try and bring across to you, the reader, just some of the venom that was spoken along with it. Jealousy because I have a new best friend. Not even a girlfriend or anything, a new best friend. Unbelievable.
     Anyway, the night of this song, we're out again, this time supporting a friend who's on a date and a little too nervous to go alone. He's a college tutor, and our own little karaoke king. We go with him to meet this lad, but they hit it off so well that Lee and I start to feel a little superfluous, and head off to the pool table for a couple of games. All of which, since I'm not the most coordinated of guys, I lose.
     But enough of that. The night takes us to a few more bars, and by the time Steve performs Mustang Sally and his date does Black Velvet on the karaoke, I'm having so much fun that I don't want the night to end when all the clubs close. So I suggest to Lee that we head back to my flat, all eight of us.
     She's up for it. But a few minutes later, I wimp out. It's supposed to be half my flat, but I feel like a virtual prisoner in it. I come in at nine and they're sitting with the lights out watching a film, and I just have to sit there quietly until it finishes. He has a massive double room while I'm relegated to this dingy little cave - and we both pay the same! He gave me that threat about making my friends uncomfortable if they were over, and yet his girlfriend, who treats me like something she'd scrape off her shoe, is never away from the place! The living room is full of his photos, including many of her, so I can't escape her even on the rare occasion that she isn't there. I've been walked all over my entire life, and a new voice of rebellion is crying inside for me to stand up for myself. What's more, it speaks with Lee's voice. I have every right to take people back to my flat, she says. In fact, since she knows how intimidated and used I feel there, she practically snarls it. She intends to make sure we go there and make our little stand tonight.
     So we do - me, my best friend, Steve and his date, and four friends all pile back to "my" place, and I'm feeling both nervous and excited as I unlock the door. Of course, the trouble kicks off the moment we're inside - the girlfriend, who everyone else seems to hate on sight as well, storms out of their bedroom (so much bigger than mine) and fumes, "what the hell do you think you're doing, turning the light on?"
     I could point out that the light has to be turned on so that we don't fall over the big bloody mountain bike that her boyfriend so considerately parks right in front of the door, but the fight isn't in me yet, so I just shrug. But I tell you this; I've never felt as much hatred before as I do when I hear that tone she takes with me. And it only gets worse. This is confrontation, you see; this is the point that a book builds up to over a few hundred pages. Lee, who knows how unhappy I've been, knowing I have to come back to this cave eventually, has pushed me to make or break stage - and all I want to do is break. And I do so, spectacularly. My rage increases when she tells me that there's "no smoking in this flat," conveniently forgetting just who pays half the rent, and then when her other half appears and gets a bit handy with his fists, Lee and Steve respond by taking the Christmas tree that's still lying around outside and pushing it through the open window of my room, which causes enough mess and damage to almost be an embodiment of my truly annoyed feelings. When it's all over, I leave with a smile on my face.
     I'm out of here.

Cha Cha Slide, DJ Casper:      It's the happiest birthday of my life, one spent with the best friends I could ask for. I receive this single twice, once from my mother and again as a group present from Lee, Dani and Shaun. Everything comes together on this day, and I finally start kicking away the remains of the old me that hated everything and didn't realise there was such a thing as happiness. And my enjoyment of the day has nothing to do with the fact I get a lap dance from Dani's very sexy cousin...

This Is The World We Live In, Alcazar:      So now we're up to date. I've gone from being downtrodden misery guts in a flat where he felt worthless to someone with a wild, loved life that never knows where the day is going to take him. I'm writing and being published more than ever, and closer to making peace with myself (everyone's true life aim, in my eyes) than ever before, and I even get more interest from the opposite sex now that I actually give a shit about what I look like, how I dress, and the trips I've made to Manchester (for Gay Pride) and Northampton (for a Valentine's Day surprise that didn't quite go as planned) have made me see that there's a big world existing there beyond the everyday. And I want to see it all.
     Oh yes. And when I do, you'll be the first to know.