While writing The Last Act of Love, Cathy put together this playlist of the songs that she’d for a long time avoided because they reminded her too much of Matty.
She was kind enough to share with us the music that helped her confront the memories, both beautiful and painful, of her brother.
Halloween, 2013. I was trying to write about my brother, Matty, and his long and complicated death, but wasn’t sure it was a good idea. Lots of what I wrote was arms length. I was frightened of my own memory, engaged in a continual dance towards and away – a two step of hope and despair. I met my friend Crystal for a quick drink, which turned into four martinis.
'But you haven't had any food,' she said, as we parted, when I said I'd go straight to the tube.
'I've had lots of olives.'
Soho was full of face-painted grown-ups getting off with each other in the street. When had Halloween become a party opportunity for grown-ups? Not when we were children. We hollowed out turnips - we'd have never seen an actual pumpkin - and put candles in them in the window. There was none of this Mardi Gras style exuberance.
The down escalator at Piccadilly Circus was full of people smudging their fake blood and face paint off on each other. The busker was playing Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd. I could hardly bear it. I leant against the side of the escalator for support, my legs weak, my heart overflowing with drunken sadness. We listened to that song again and again in my brother’s bedroom. I drew a motif of two intertwined goldfish onto his jeans with an orange felt tip as we talked for hours about everything and nothing.
The next morning I thought of all the songs I avoid because they made me too sad, it was all part of being frightened of my own memory, of always feeling that I carried around an emotional bomb, that the slightest trigger might make me go off.
I made a playlist and cried my way through it. I listened to it again and again over the next few days, and, yes, I felt sad, but I also found lots of beautiful, happy memories. I was remembering a happy family, as well as one maimed by tragedy. It helped me to see that the dark and light shades of our lives have to be woven together.
So, here’s the playlist. The first song is Mattie's Rag which I can remember my Dad singing to us after being away, or coming home off night shift. It opens, ‘Oh Mattie, open up the door, that’s right, I’m home again.’ When I googled it, I found that the reason it makes such perfect sense is that Rafferty wrote it for his daughter, Martha, when she was little and he was having to spend a lot of time away from her. It is so clearly a father singing to a much loved child, as our father sang to us. I still find it very hard to listen to this bit, ‘When you grow up we’ll sit and talk, of how things used to be..’ Because, of course, my brother didn’t ever get to do that.
Most of these are songs Matty and I listened to together, but I’ve thrown in Get Lucky at the end, as it was blasting out everywhere when I was writing the book and it made me think of how we felt before the accident. We were so young, and full of desire to be up all night for whatever new experiences were on offer. It also makes me think of the last thing Matty said to me.
Listen to The Last Act of Love Playlist
Cathy Rentzenbrink's memoir The Last Act of Love is the incredibly moving story of the accident her brother, Matty, was involved in just weeks before his GCSE results came out, and how it changed the life of everyone in her family forever.
It is unflinchingly honest and, in spite of the tragedy at the heart of the book, an uplifting story of family, love, grief and friendship
We're delighted that The Last Act of Love is both Waterstones Non-fiction Book of the Month and a Richard and Judy Book Club choice.
>>>Start reading The Last Act of Love here.