Updated: Jun 8
By Andrew Broadley
My mum has always been a terrible singer and dancer. When she was in school and a part of the open choir, her singing was so bad the school held auditions to find the cause of the bad singing and subsequently kicked her out once she had been discovered. It’s a tragically sad story, and you feel bad for siding with the school, but she really is horrific.
When I would walk home from school in the afternoon sun and I would round the bend along the river I would see the large mid '70s ranch slider wide open. The familiar jingle of the Breeze radio station would be bellowing from within. Although in her 40s Mum preferred to play her music in the same vein as you would imagine her teenage daughter to: doors open, volume up loud and singing to herself, imagining some alternative world where the song applied to her made up narrative. As I would come through the open ranch slider I would yell over the music. But Mum paid no attention to that. She would grab me by my wrists and whisk me into her arms swaying awkwardly off beat to the music. She would continue to sway and sing off key despite my protests and whenever I told her to stop or turn it down she would simply yell back:
“How was school?”
Whenever I think of these moments there is one song that comes to mind.
And they called it puppy love
Oh I guess they'll never know
How a young heart, how it really feels
And why I love her so
Puppy Love is about a first love. An early love. Immature, inexperienced, but full of wonder
and while often ill fated, often held dear in people’s hearts. The song was originally written by some old geezer named Paul Anka, but I will always know it for the whining little high pitched voice of a young Donny Osmond. Some 13-year-old Mormon kid who grew up to be my mum’s heartthrob and my biggest annoyance. Or so he used to be. Because time has changed both the relationship I have with my mother and also the relationship I have with that song. I no longer find myself dreading the idea of walking into a room that is loudly playing Donny Osmond. And I no longer dread the idea of having to hear my mum sing. Not that she has gotten any better, or I any harder of hearing, but my tolerance has grown. Because these are memories I look back on and I cherish. Music is funny that way, it’s subjective. We so easily categorise it into good or bad. Critically acclaimed or critically panned. But when you really think about it, none of that really matters. Music has always been about expression, and enjoyment. Every artist puts their own little story into the song. And every listener can take that song and subsequent story and reinvent it and take away a different feeling or thought or snapshot of time away, and they have the power to be their own little architect of the room they build with that song.
My room is carpeted in a new, soft grey. Dark grey, because I was a messy child who often spilled my food. A large mid century book cabinet lines the whole back wall. A cabinet I used to think was ugly so my mum sold it off cheaply on Trade Me and only looking back now do I realise it was not only a beautiful piece of furniture but one that was probably worth a lot more than what it was sold for. The sliding door that divides the living and dining room is closed, trapping in the music even more loudly. Forcing the sound waves to fold in on themselves and be forced out of the open ranch slider and out onto the street. Its vertical timber panels are dispersed between opaque tungsten-brown glass that is indented with a floral pattern and cracked in the bottom right corner from when I kicked a ball at it. The old vinyl/stereo all in one unit crackles with the bass, and the family photos hang above the faded blue sofa that has somehow gotten squishier and cosier as it has deflated over time. This is the room I have built with that song. A room different to every other person.
Puppy Love is still a shit song and my mum still cannot dance nor can she sing. That hasn’t changed, and I doubt it ever will. But when I hear that song I feel my mum’s hands firmly around my wrists as we sway together, the afternoon sun streaming into the lounge and up my back
It is in many ways, my very own puppy love.