“I’m trying to hold… my breeeeath…”
Has anyone seen The Greatest Showman? I have not. But this song from the film, called ‘Never Enough’. I think I’ve heard about forty times and its lyrics, which start with this one dramatic line, I could probably recite by heart.
Because one day a couple of months ago, I came into work and Angelina was blasting it on YouTube from her laptop speakers. As I entered our room she hastily moved to close it down, apologising, and I was like oh no worries, I love a singalong, let’s go, and she played it again. And again. And then, on my request, again. We sang along. We’re trying to hold… our breeeeath…
Then, a couple of weeks later, we went to Liquica for a for a work trip. We stayed overnight, Angelina had a portable speaker, all my colleagues love a song, and we played Never Enough over and over again; Angelina confidently singing to a watchful bedroom audience that halting, breathy first line; I’m trying to hold… my breeeaath…“, before erupting into the dramatic, soaring chorus of never enooooough, NEVAH, NEVAAAHHH…
I can’t not hear that first line in her voice, even when I hear the proper recording — like this afternoon, in the office, when my colleague brought his incredibly English-fluent and hilarious four-year-old in and explained she’d learned everything she knew from YouTube, and then deposited her in front of the Never Enough film clip. Never enoooooughhh, nevaahh, nevaaaahhhh, and of course it was in my head as I left so I had to play it on my walk home. Trying to hold my breeeath. Nevah, nevaaah.
On that walk I reflected on the fact that several songs I’ve heard in Timor-Leste will forever bring me back to this place.
I sort of wish I had cooler, more profound songs to share here than showtunes and pop hits, but it is what it is, and I’ll never not hear I’m trying to hold… my breeath… without thinking of a pyjama-clad Angelina standing triumphantly on the dorm mattresses at the madres’ place in Liquica, belting out the song, and I’ll never not feel total fondness and gorgeous warmth.
Which got me thinking! What other songs will uniquely bring me back to Timor, long after I’m actually gone from this place? What’s my personal Timor-Leste soundtrack?
All of Me, by John Legend, and Cold Water, by Major Lazer
I didn’t own a car for the first three or four months I lived in Timor-Leste, and I consequently spent a lot of time catching microlets, and a lot of time listening to the tinny pop music piped into the bus from its oversized speakers. In the months I was a regular microlet-rider, far and away the most popular songs were John Legend’s All of Me, and that Major Lazer and Justin Bieber song Cold Water — I couldn’t get the bus without hearing one of them, and later, both songs remixed with a reggae beat underneath (“what would I DO without your smart mouth EH”). I’ll never be able to hear either again without instantly transporting myself back to those sweaty tin rides, thighs clammy against a plastic seat and a boundary-lacking squeezed-in stranger, underperforming air freshener packets dangling from the roof, squinting through greasy decal-scattered windows to find my chink-chink get-off stop.
Redemption Song, by Bob Marley
This one’s obvious — Timor loves its reggae, loves Bob Marley, and I’ve absorbed by osmosis more offbeats over the last two years than I ever thought I could — but the live recording of this song, in particular, makes me think fondly of the first few months of mine and Felix’s relationship; after my laptop had been stolen and I was facing a big work deadline. He immediately and unhesitatingly offered me his laptop for an extended loan, and I listened to this song on his iTunes as I worked late nights at the ironing board desk my old housemate and I had set up at our couch.
Shape of You, by Ed Sheeran
Ahahah I hate this song so fucking much but every single person in Timor-Leste apparently disagrees with me because for about a year I somehow heard this every SINGLE day — in the microlets, in the shops, at work, on someone’s boom box outside their house audible in every house on our street — I absolutely without question know every single word and would rather burn my ears off than prove that to you.
The Sound of White, Steer, Where I Stood, by Missy Higgins
I’ve now got a car and have been driving in Dili for a year and a half; bye-bye buses. I’m now used to the rhythms of the erratic traffic, but I still find it frustrating, scabby and stressful. My sheepish secret tonic is playing Missy Higgins as I drive to calm me down — and I’ve got four or five singles downloaded on my Spotify that I can immediately retrieve if I have no data. The Sound of White, Steer and Where I Stood are my favourite dulcet driving tunes, and many, many times they’ve made it out of the car and into the kitchen with me, where I’ve forced Felix to cook with my soundtracked by my favourite ocker Aussie (Missy is his second favourite, after me, when I sing along). I was a Missy fan before I came to Timor-Leste, but those sweaty kitchen sessions over cutting boards and steaming stoves braying and if oi listen to, the sound of whoite, somtoimes I hear your smoile, and broithe your loight and knowing Missy’s totally encouraging me to control where I go, I can steer, have made both me and Felix life-long, and I’ll never be able to hear them without immediately returning here.
Scar, The Special Two, by Missy Higgins
DID I MENTION I LOVE MISSY HIGGINS too bad you’re getting it again; these two get a special mention because both Felix and our gorgeous other housemate Sadhie are accomplished musicians and many evenings in our house I’ve emerged from the kitchen to find them quietly strumming and singing on our golden lounge-room couches. Sadhie has a beautiful voice and has so often indulged me in singing Missy Higgins; she and Felix harmonise on The Special Two and she and I bray together on Scar.
Plum, by Troye Sivan
Often on the days I work at the Ministry of Agriculture compound I’ll walk to Timor Plaza for lunch, and I’ll play something upbeat through my headphones to steel me against inevitable calls from the guys on the street. I downloaded (fellow Sandgroper!) Troye’s album Bloom a few months after it came out, very cool timing Soph, and this one’s my favourite song and my favourite walking track — imagine me striding confidently over the Comoro Bridge to that piping little instrumental introduction, doo-doo-da-do-do-doohh, maybe we’re oh-ver-grown.
Shallow, by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
This one is hardly unique to me — I think it’s probably not possible to have not had an emotional connection to A Star Is Born? — but any time I hear this song I’m instantly returned to the day I saw it in the cineplex at Timor Plaza. I was having a miserable time — I was completely stressed out and overworked and worn down and not giving myself a good time; full of self-loathing and self-criticism and I couldn’t see beyond it all — but I’d heard from a friend that the film was surprisingly good and I grasped frantically at the idea of doing something nice for myself. I went to a Sunday afternoon session before my regular evening yoga class; debated desperately with myself in the lobby about whether I really needed the popcorn I wanted, crushed and worn out by myself, just snapped at myself fucking get the popcorn it’s no big deal, and was thus feeling already tender and defeated and small by the time Lady Gaga arrived onscreen to RUIN MY LIFE.
There are songs in this film’s soundtrack that I like better than Shallow, but this single is of course iconic, it’s what I still hear frequently, and it’s what transports me back to that final tender moment of giving myself permission to take care of myself.
Back in My Body, by Maggie Rogers
Thank you to my extremely cool 17-year-old sister Molly for introducing me to Maggie Rogers, and thank you to Maggie Rogers for releasing an album this year that contains a song that perfectly captures my desire these last few years to know myself better, to honour myself, to return to myself. From a quick Genuis scan this song was written about the challenges of touring; I hear I found myself when I was going everywhere and I was awak-en-ing and my mind was rushing in as a commitment to deeper self-knowledge, self-connection, self-honour. I listen to this song sometimes when I walk to work, striding along the waterfront in my big blonde sunhat, reflecting on how living in a new environment makes you question what you value, what you know, what’s important and interesting you you; knowing that you’re there at the core of all of it and the greatest journey is the one within yourself. The longest way round is the shortest way home.
Never Enough, from The Greatest Showman
Lol, see above. My bet is that I’ll go my whole life without seeing this film and I’ll know every word to this song until the day I die.
There are a heap of Timor-specific songs I’ll always remember — like, Tetun-language songs, songs sung at every party and festa and event I’ve attended here, songs every Timorese people who picks up a guitar will know and play — which don’t make this cheesy soundtrack list because it’s a given that they’ll transport me back here. A Fataluku-language song from Klamar will of course echo Timor; the friggin shape of you by Ed Sheeran less obvious but still as intense a memory.
But this cheesy Timorese-y song gets a special mention here because I remember Felix teaching me the lyrics, remember him explaining to me that to husu boot ba maromak doesn’t literally mean “ask big”, it means to pray, to pray to God that your doben, your beloved, will return. O doben, o doben furak, husu boot ba maromak hau sei fila. (Felix are you doing this right now?), and I’ll remember showing off in Letefoho last weekend telling the padre we stayed with that I knew this lyric.
Be the One, by Dua Lipa
I genuinely just like this song. But it’s also the mnemonic trick I use to remember the name of the Dili suburb Akiteru-hun.
The Opener, The Face of God, Footscray Station, by Camp Cope
It of course would have made sense for me to get into acclaimed Melbourne punk-pop band Camp Cope while I was living in Melbourne, but of course, I learn the zietgiest three years after it happens, so it was in Dili, on those walks to and from the Plan office, from my house through Farol’s wide streets lined with kids and kiosks and dogs and drains, past the stinking footpath manholes, across that crosswalk outside the shop that sells huge jeans and flags, through the tufting grass outside the Hotel Timor, down the squinting sunlit brilliant waterfront past the Portuguese embassy curve in the road where people sweep round the corner up past the university and the tiu ai leban who sell green fern-y vegetables and strips of stacked mandarins and who won’t hamenus the price no matter how hard you bargain, up and down the bumpy footpath outside the brilliant bougainvillea of the Xanana sports centre and through the big heavy gate and the milky brown puddles in the driveway and sweatily up the two tiled stairs and into the office where I’d sit at my laptop and tap tap tap away in time with Georgia Mac’s gorgeous troubled lyrics and play again and again and again.
Better Be Home Soon, by Crowded House
Felix loves Crowded House, Felix plays Crowded House a lot, Felix last weekend recorded himself playing this Crowded House song and sent it to me and I cried, lol, I love Felix (I love loving Felix).
I think this song is actually nowhere near as romantic as I think it is; it seems like it’s actually about an emotionally distant relationship rather than the wholesome desire for home I hear? But for the doben I’ll soon return to, for the home we made together here in Timor-Leste, for the fact that deep inside this place got a hold on me that will stretch on forever, this song symbolises coming home not only to him but to myself, in this place where I myself made anything that meant something mean something. I’m right for the first time in my life.