The Sound of Being Human by Jude Rogers review – lost in music

A brilliantly unjaded exploration of the power of songs to intoxicate, enthuse and reassure

Jude Rogers’s The Sound of Being Human begins in January 1984. She is five years old and standing at the front door of her parents’ house in south Wales. Her father is about to leave for what should be a routine hospital surgery. He’ll be gone for five days – a lifetime for someone that young. Still, five days. Like him – because of him – she loves pop radio. The new Top 40 will be announced the following day. “Let me know who gets to No 1,” he says. He died, just 33, a couple of days later. Years go by, decades. Often, at moments she can’t anticipate, in ways she can’t always grasp, she finds herself caught short, lonely.

Music becomes a crutch for Rogers. A community – or at least a notion of one. She thinks about the songs she and her father shared. The songs they might have shared. In pop she discovers father figures, fantasies of escape, ways to feel less unmoored. She grew up in small towns before the era of the internet. Pop seemed miraculous then, a kind of abduction. She chances upon a copy of Smash Hits – all funfair colours and splashy exclamation marks – in a local newsagent: “It lifted me above the red-tops, the black-and-blue Biros, the duplicate receipts books, the faded toys on the carousel, the sun-blasted birthday cards, the old boxes of penny sweets.” She progresses to buying REM bootleg tapes from a grimy record fair held in a hotel showroom “next to the market that sold polystyrene pots of cockles and laverbread”.

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