By Kristian Brodie and Adam Shakinovsky
An anthology of true stories about life-changing music
Turns Out I'm Sweet Enough, by Adam Shakinovsky
The story of the song that changed my life starts like any genuinely moving story - with some incredibly tenacious haemorrhoids...
Let's go back. It's 2012, it's the London Olympics and my wife Elizabeth and I are expecting our first child in two weeks' time. At the start of the year we find out that she's pregnant and I decide, "I'm going to lose weight." So I start eating lean and exercising regularly. Cycling. Pilates. Tai Chi... and it works! Slowly but surely I'm losing one to two pounds a week. More and more my shirts are starting to billow out around me like a kite and my trousers are just as baggy and practically falling off. And just as I get down to my ideal weight, that's when I get these bloody haemorrhoids.
As I go to see the GP, Elizabeth says, "Just mention to them that you've lost a lot of weight." And I'm like, "I've been mentioning it to everyone, of course I'm going to tell the Doctor!"
The Doctor in question is freshly qualified, very earnest and professional. He says to me, "Mr Shakinovsky kindly remove your jeans and lie down for me."
"Of course, doctor!"
I lie down, but before the Doctor has an opportunity to say "I'm going to insert my finger into your rectum...", she inserts her finger into my rectum.
I let out a yelp. Outside the doctor's office in the waiting room everything stops moving and everyone stops talking.
"I'm so sorry Mr Shakinovsky I realise I didn't give you enough warning."
"No I'm sorry doctor I don't normally make that kind of noise."
She gives me a quick urine test and bundles me out the door but when I get out of the underground on the way to work I get a call to say "Hello again, in all the embarrassment I forgot to give you a blood test. There's some protein in your urine so please get back when you have a moment."
I'm at the GP again with Elizabeth and the Doctor says "Your blood sugar is at 25 it should never really be above 7 – you need to get to A&E as soon as you can. I've called ahead to Chelsea and Westminster and they're expecting you. Please go now."
I don't know if you've ever spent a long time waiting in a hospital but it feels a lot like sitting in an aeroplane with flight attendants going back and forth. But instead of peanuts, drinks and duty free people are giving me increasingly confusing or bad news.
"Mr Shakinovsky, just to let you know that your HBA1C is at 125, it should only really be between 20-40. So we're putting you on a drip and we'll keep monitoring you."
"Mr Shakinovsky to make you aware, we're currently treating it as if it's Type 1 Diabetes. It can be managed somewhat if you balance your ratio your novorapid to your carbohydrates and find a good balance with a background insulin like glarjine or Levemir you can have some influence over the condition."
"Mr Shakinovsky to give you some more information on the condition you know that statistically you're likely to have 20 years shaved off your life expectancy, and you're five times more likely to have a stroke, go blind or lose a limb."
"You can't go home. We need to keep you here. We don't know how long for. But visiting hours are over and your wife needs to leave."
Elizabeth goes home and the sun goes down. They put me in a wheelchair and wheel me to a different ward for the night. And this ward...This ward... If I'm Ebeneezer Scrooge and this is a Christmas Carol, this ward is the Ghost of hospital visits future. It's is filled with old guys in bad shape. Coughing, rattling, rasping breaths. Calling out in half sleep and half nightmares.
As I take it in a realise I'm sweating all over. My hands, my legs my whole back and front are drenched. I'm dizzy, weak and woozy and just as the world starts to slip out of focus. I see a figure passing that I think is a nurse and as loudly as I can I say, "Excuse me...I think something's wrong."
She checks my blood sugar and soon there are more of them there breaking open tubes of gel and rubbing them into my gums. Ten fifteen minutes later they check again and they are happy that I've sufficiently recovered.
As they round the corner to the nurse's station I'm still woozy and weak but I hear my nurse say to her colleague, "It's a good thing he caught me otherwise he'd be dead now."
I think about Elizabeth at home in our flat, alone, pregnant. We've invited a life into this world. And she's going to be here so soon. I start to think about losing twenty years taken off my life. Can I do all the things I want to do be a Dad? Am I going to get to do half the things I need to? What might I miss? Can I be there to fix her toys that break? Can I be there to pick her up when she falls down? Will I be there to help turn her tears into laughter in all the years to come in the times when it counts the most? What if she gets stuck or scared, or what if she feels truly lost and she calls out for me? And I'm not there?
These thoughts run round my head and I'm never going to sleep again. I put my earphones in. And I start to play a song called The Auld Triangle. Or the Royal Canal. There's something about the way they harmonise the chorus. I must play that song ten times. Twenty times and I can hear myself start to breathe again. I can feel my chest start to rise and fall. My limbs feel heavy and even though I can't answer any of these questions I'm asking. I fall asleep.
A few days later the diagnosis is confirmed - it is Type 1 diabetes and I'm released from the hospital. Shortly after that Elizabeth gives birth to Molly Grace Shakinovsky. And Molly creates a mother and a father.
But she won't sleep.
And it's traumatic and she keeps screaming and balling up her fists and going red and going blue and we are trying everything. Rocking, shushing, lullaby music, white noise, brown noise, pink noise, hairdryer noise. Nothing's working and in desperation I pick her up and I start to sing the Auld Triangle (or the Royal Canal).
And immediately by the end of the first verse I realise that this really isn't helping. At all. I don't think she can hear it above her screaming but I'm out of ideas so I keep going. The second verse she can hear something and she's looking around for the origin of the sound. By the third verse she realises that it's me. She realises that I'm there. That she's not alone. She stares straight at me. Still. And her screaming has turned into more of a gentle cry like "mmmwoaaah". And by the end of the fourth verse, her fists have relaxed, she's breathing shallowly and she is fast asleep in my arms dreaming of who knows what.
Now there are a few more verses, and I always finish it. Partly I do it so she drifts down into deeper sleep and sweeter dreams. But I also do it for me. Because in that moment this song is changing my life by making me feel like I'm going to keep having one. I still don't have the answers to any of my questions in that hospital bed, but as I sang to her then, as I sing to her now, I leap into the future when her toys might break. When she might fall down. When her tears need turning into laughter in all the years to come in the times when it counts the most, and I feel like I'm going to be there. And I feel like I'm going to be able to help.
The Auld Triangle, or the Royal Canal Written By: Brendan Behan Performed by the Clancy Brothers
Always Be Lying, by Kristian Brodie
I am in Los Angeles; Santa Monica to be more exact. To hone in even closer, I am in a weirdly outdated 1970s fever dream of a hotel room in the Loews Hotel. The suite - all beige carpets and faux-wood panelling - has been converted for our purposes into an office, and I am wearing a poorly fitting blue suit and an ill-matching off the rack shirt that I'd bought just days earlier. I am jet lagged to an unreasonable degree, and I am doing my best to appear in control.
I am at the American Film Market - the place where your ideas that the film industry is in any way glamorous go to die. And I am a film sales agent - a job I am perhaps ill-cut-out for at this point in my young life, not least because it's a job I didn't know existed two months earlier. This is my first business trip, and aside from being unrested and nervous, I am trying desperately not to look like I don't know what I am doing. Which is a problem. Because I don't know what I am doing.
Not really. I have been given only the briefest briefings of what is expected of me, and I would be lying now, as I was lying then, if I said that I fully understood precisely what I'd been asked to do. Moreover, I'm not entirely sure why I am doing what I'm doing. On this, our first morning of the first day of my first sales market, the futility of the next week seems to rise up and slap me in the face.
Every day for the next five days, I will spend the hours of 8am to 6pm in this bizarre time-warp of a hotel room. The company I work for has a slate of films - ranging from low budget horrors to grossly indulgent art house dramas, with the only thing uniting them being that almost certainly nobody will ever see them. Every half hour, a new buyer will come in, and I will have less than thirty minutes to tell them about the films we have available in their territory and which ones they should definitely buy from us. Because I am new to this, I have been charged with the territories that bear little responsibility to our company's overall success, but I need to learn the ropes and so I am given what are euphemistically referred to as 'the minor territories'. All the big hitters in the international box office are mine - Bulgaria, Malaysia, Peru, Iceland. It's fairly clear early on that no one has any money and no one is terribly interested in what I am telling them. The challenge ahead of me feels insurmountable...
I took this job because it seemed like some sort of opening into the film industry - however tangential, however far removed from the actual process of making films. For many years I had had some poorly thought through ambitions to work in film, to be a filmmaker of sorts - a writer perhaps, or a producer. But I'd never had anything like the courage to put my dreams into actions, or done anything to suggest that I had the skillset - or the talent - to get me there.
In film, the first such step is usually getting a job in the mailroom of a talent agency, but I'd already tried that and been fired after three months... So Film Sales Agent - Minor Territories seemed like a good next step. A step in the right direction.
To give my younger self some credit, there is an element of truth in this. After all, selling things especially selling films - is a creative act, a type of storytelling. Like any good storyteller, I had to be engaging, to get the key points across succinctly and entertainingly. I had to know my audience. I had to give them what they wanted.
That year, our slate was dominated by a massive new project, the biggest film our small company had ever taken on to sell. It was an epic multi-generational romantic drama, with a monumental £20m budget, that had all the hallmarks of a modern independent cinematic classic.
The film was directed by the late, great Richard Attenborough, a veritable legend of cinema. The cast was A-list all the way - Oscar-winners Shirley McLaine, Christopher Plummer and Pete Postlethwaite; Neve Campbell (fresh from Scream) and Mischa Barton (straight out of The OC). The story was a cracker too - a heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting romance set against the backdrop of World War 2.
For this young first time salesman, it was a veritable gimme. Within hours, I felt my confidence grow, as I leaned into the pitch and started getting interest from buyers.
To make my job even easier, we had been sent a knockout twelve minute promo - sort of a long trailer, with all the plot points worked into the clip - and it was jam packed with big-money shots, all designed perfectly to get buyers pulling out their cheque books. There was romance, there was excitement. There was entirely unnecessary nudity (this was, alas, long before #MeToo, and I'm sorry to say that a completely fatuous scene were Mischa Barton appears completely naked for no credible reason whatsoever was deemed a highly sellable asset) - and all culminating in a final ninety second trailer with explosions and plane crashes, and 'Oscar-winner Shirley McLaine' and more nudity and kisses... all sound tracked by the song 'Because of You' by Kelly Clarkson.
Now, up until that point in my life, it's fair to say that I had been fairly sniffy towards Miss Clarkson, and her ouevre, dismissing it as a load of Simon Cowell-flavoured X-Factor American Idol bollocks... But as a wise man once said, context is everything, and in this case, the context - the previous described gloriously over the top trailer made all the difference. Never before had the marriage of music and imagery been more perfectly matched. That song - all big lungs and high notes and teary lyrics and impossible chord changes - was the aural equivalent of that promo...
I was under strict instructions to play that trailer to every single buyer who came in for a meeting. So that clip - and that song - played at least once every thirty minutes from 9am to 6pm, every day for five days. It was inescapable. It had taken up residency in my brain.
And it became my victory anthem. Because I sold the shit out of that film. I got behind the pitch with all my youthful energy and passion. This film, I told my buyers, is going to be huge. It's going to win all the awards. "We're going to need to put Oscar's bumps into your deal - additional fees for when the film gets nominated in any of the top four major categories". It's going to appeal to all four quadrants, male and female, old and young.
This film, I said, is going to be a love story for the ages.
This film, I said, is going to be the next TITANIC...
And the offers came in, and we pushed them higher, and the deals were done, and I ended the market with a record first market haul of sales for our company, and we went out for dinner to a fancy restaurant on the last night in LA, and my boss raised a glass to me, and I felt like a fucking don. Our best market ever for the minor territories. Because of You Kristian Brodie...
Now's probably a good time to tell you that I hadn't seen the film yet. We were pre-selling it, trying to get some sales in the can to complete the post-production and secure festival slots for its release. So all of the passion for the film that I'd imbued my pitches with had come from the enthusiasm of my boss, this incredibly persuasive trailer, and, you know, Kelly Clarkson...
Two weeks later, back in London, and an invitation arrives in my inbox to a screening of the film that evening. I am ridiculously excited. I cannot wait to see this masterpiece that I'd been so eloquently passionate about a fortnight earlier.
The screening room was packed. The producers were there. Some of the cast were there. Richard Fucking Attenborough was there... It was buzzing. And this is the moment it felt real. I'd taken this job full of hope, but not expecting that three months later I'd be in a screening room with big name stars, and a genuine cinematic legend of a director. Look at me! I was a part of this. I had landed.
And here was my reward.
I took a seat. The lights went down, the curtain went back, the film started...
Almost immediately, it was obvious that this was terrible. Within minutes, it became very clear to me - and probably everyone else in the room - that this was a great steaming turd of a movie. Everything about it was terrible.
The performances were abject. The young male lead whose name I won't mention, not to save him any shame, but because I have genuinely forgotten it, which, frankly for his sake, is a massive fucking blessing - he was so bad, so wooden and unconvincing, that I later discovered that the producers subsequently had paid to get a different actor in to redub his entire performance before its release.
The dialogue was cliched nonsense.
The romance was entirely unbelievable.
The plot was preposterous.
The explosions and the plane crashes that looked so great in the promo looked so shoddy here.
The utterly unnecessary nudity seemed all the more seedy...
As the credits started to roll, I was out of my chair, and slipped out of the room before the lights went up, desperate to avoid having to see anyone, having to awkwardly pretend that this piece of garbage was remotely worthy of praise.
As I ran up the stairs to the street, my lines - my lies - came back to me.
This was a masterpiece.
This was going to win all the Oscars.
This was a guaranteed box office smash.
This was the next TITANIC.
I suppose I was right about that in that it ended up being a complete fucking disaster... But that wasn't what I meant at the time...
Out on the street, the skies had opened, and a cold November torrent of storm greeted me. And without even stopping to think, I opened the door and walked out into the rain. Because I needed some penance. I needed some punishment. I was going to walk home, and I was going to let the rain wash away my lies, my shame.
I don't think I knew it immediately, but with hindsight I can pinpoint that cold wet walk through Fitzrovia as the moment where a seed was sown for me. The passion and energy I'd felt for this film excited me so much, but the deflation I'd felt in that screening room made me realise that I couldn't sell what I didn't believe in. I knew that it would never be enough for me to tell other people's stories if I didn't believe in them.
I stuck around in that job for another two and a half years, but my heart was never in sales ever again. My brief love affair with that line of work fizzled out in less time than the promo for that terrible movie...
And that stupid, stupid song, whose words, now echoed in my head, new me talking to the me of two weeks ago...
I'll never make the same mistakes that you did.
I will not let myself, cause my heart so much misery...
After about ten minutes of walking - all the time making sure not to stray too far from the sidewalk I was fucking freezing, and my youthful sense of self-pity and Eagerness for wallowing had been replaced by a fairly urgent need to get out of the freezing rain. I'd done enough penance for my liking, and so I hailed a cab.
And as I jumped in the back of the taxi, and wriggled my way out of my now sodden coat, I noticed that the radio was on.
And I wonder now if you'll believe me if I told you that the song that was playing at that very minute as the cab pulled away into the night, was that same, abhorrent, mocking, bastard of a song that had got me into this state in the first place...
BECAUSE OF YOU Written and performed by Kelly Clarkson
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