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The Sound of Being Human 

Jude Rogers 

Orionbooks (2022) 

Review by Andy Bay 


Jude Rogers is an inimitable music journalist whose columns during the first Covid lockdown of 2020, reflecting on first-rate Netflix hit series such as Better Call Saul and archive film and tv shown on the cable channel Talking Pictures, made these harrowing months considerably more palatable. Her infectious enthusiasm is apparent in her remarkable memoir, The Sound of Being Human, charting her journey as a music lover from childhood memories of her dad’s love of Top of the Pops to becoming an acclaimed journalist. The Sound of Being Human is a brilliant mixture of poignant individual experiences, pertinent musical analyses and forays into the scientific research about the effects of music on the brain. 

Rogers carefully selected twelve tracks, ranging from Motown to Krautrock, from hip-hop to avant-garde rock. Building on the shape of her recollections, what slowly emerges is her individual ‘bedroom culture’ experience, a concept she borrows from the sociologist Angela McRobbie. In the 1980s, after the excesses of the 1960s counter-culture movements, teenagers were encouraged to ‘stay in the domestic sphere’, as Rogers explains. They gradually retreated to their bedrooms, exploring their imagination and creativity through their record collections. 

As it turns out, Martha and the Vandellas, Kraftwerk, Neneh Cherry, Talk Talk and Prefab Sprout, certainly passed the audition in Rogers’s meticulous and unflinching imaginary pop universe. Decades later, even George Michael’s song ‘Freedom’ is submitted to merciless scrutiny during which she effortlessly explains how Michael’s vocal line jumps an octave high in the chorus. In another chapter, the technique of James Jamerson, bass player extraordinaire of the Motown Funk Brothers, is broken down to its core elements: one finger plucking, while the other hand is ‘frisking around the frets’ on the neck of the instrument. ‘I Trawl the Megahertz’, the penultimate track reviewed by Rogers, was written by Paddy McAloon, of Prefab Sprout fame. When McAloon discovered he had Meniere’s disease, he embraced the uncertainty and discombobulation of his vertiginous condition in writing an orchestral pop album inspired by Pierre Boulez, the French avant-garde composer. 

You couldn’t ask for a richer, more varied and eclectic selection of musical segments to explore. But the deeper consonance of the musical twists and turns of The Sound of Being Human may be found not so much in its recollections, but in the search for the Proustian ‘madeleine’ of the senses it arouses. 

Rogers’ father died aged 33, when she was five years old, from an unsuccessful hip replacement operation. She remembers his last words to her were: ‘Find out who is at number 1 in the charts this week.’ Memories in this case are more than time that passed you by; they become a means of exploration, a reason to embark on a quest to restructure the past, because you want to exhume it from its ashes, and exonerate it. 

When she had her son, Rogers became even more aware of her musical inheritance; her father had given her life, and his love of music was still alive through her; and she, in turn, imagines passing on that musical DNA to her son. Rogers’ song selection recreates the kind of symbolic, universal narrative captured by Proust in In Search of Lost Time. What makes The Sound of Being Human such a compelling read is that Jude Rogers did succeed in building an everlasting, biological and magical bridge between her father and her son, through the music she loves. By capturing and transcending the memory of her life journey in music, she beautifully steers the axis of her search from pointing towards the past, to pointing towards the future.

Photo courtesy of Miroslav Bolek