I’m sure some of us have internal music soundtracks that occasionally throw up what I’ll call Grey’s Anatomy moments, where torridly emotional songs run through our heads to accompany personal melodramas. Nothing serious, of course. Even I’m not self-obsessed enough to, say, witness a car crash and think, “Mmm, Coldplay’s Fix You would match this perfectly.”
If you’re unfamiliar with Grey’s Anatomy, it’s the saccharine-overloaded American hospital drama where momentous events or periods of crushing personal trauma for the medical personnel (generally at the end of every episode) were (possibly still are; I haven’t watched it in years) accompanied by a towering sob-fest of a song.
My own personal interior soundtrack accompanies my arrival in, say, a roomful of strangers or an intimidatingly posh restaurant by playing Handel’s Zadok the Priest, which jump-starts a quick ego/confidence-boost, even if I might look to the assembled company as if I’ve turned up to the theme from Wacky Races.
I find too that REM’s Nightswimming is always good for a bit of moody introspection as I gaze from a railway carriage window, pretending I’m a poet, before my compulsion to make shopping lists intervenes.
As for actual Grey’s Anatomy moments in the actual Grey’s Anatomy, Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars was always a big favourite. So someone lovely died unexpectedly on the operating table? One of the medics faced a romantic crisis? Yep, we knew what was coming next: “We’ll do it all, everything, on our own…”
Everyone does it now, of course. It’s become a thing in even the most unlikely places. Throw a dart at the schedules and you’ll hit a drama that wouldn’t feel itself complete without some indie balladeer grinding his or her way through a tiny piece of pain. Trust Me… Top of the Lake… the recent In the Dark… everyone’s at it. I don’t really mind; I’m prepared. It’s like knowing the third paving stone after you open your garden gate is wobbly so you brace yourself not to trip.
And at least these quick-hits of emotion are just that, quick. What I can’t bear are endless plinkety-plink soundtracks that are the musical equivalent of landfill. So there’s an empty space? Quick, dump some light jazz and run away!
For instance, I thoroughly enjoyed the first two episodes of The Cormoran Strike Mysteries, BBC1’s adaptations of JK Rowling/ Robert Galbraith’s private-eye crime novels. I love Tom Burke who plays Strike, the faintly disreputable but decent one-legged gumshoe. But, oh God no, the soundtrack. It’s like New Tricks. Plinky plinky plink. It never stops.
It’s the kind of soundtrack that wears a hard hat and a high visibility vest and shows the equivalent of a STOP/GO sign. So something faintly comical is about to happen/ has happened? Cue chortlesome tinkering. Strike forces his way into a flat and makes a shocking discovery? The soundtrack booms with angry strings.
Everything is pointed out by the soundtrack, and I mean everything. Every look, every movement, every passing emotion is flagged down and given a tune, like a charity chugger slapping a sticker on a hapless passer-by.
It’s like the script and the actors aren’t trusted to communicate with us, we need an aural slap across the face, just to make sure. Frankly, I’d prefer a bit of peace.
By Alison Graham