Staff Writers



Daniel sat down at the dinner table, turned off track 33 (I've bought something new) on his minidisc player and took the box out of the plastic bag. Placing the box on the table he impatiently tore off the tape that held the flaps in place and slid out the polystyrene packaging. There it was. Wedged into the foam like a glistening pearl; his new iPod. 'I’m going to need to dedicate a new track,' he thought, as he started to lever the player out of the packaging - track 950 (I'm listening to my iPod).

Until that moment at the dinner table, Daniel had been using his third minidisc player, the others relegated to the bin of history, smoothed and worn after years of relentless use. Prior to minidiscs it had been tapes, a lifetimes collection of songs and clips and sound-bites from the radio, all meticulously edited and recorded long play and stored in shoe boxes under his bed. It had started at age eleven, the first song; the one he committed to tape after the first time it happened. As it became more frequent, he would often retreat to his bedroom and listen to the same track over and over. When it became commonplace, and the locations changed and the element of surprise began to wear off, he would use different songs for different scenarios. Humming them in his head would make it all pass quicker; kept his mind occupied on something else.

Once the first tape was full, he decided it would be a good idea to have different tunes for different occasions. Working a paper round during the holidays, he had saved enough to buy an audio set-up for his room and enough tapes to see him through puberty. By age 15 he had a library of 500 songs, each one designated for a particular activity. As he was not particularly popular at school, he was usually left to his own devices, eating alone or sitting quietly in the playground listening to track 12 (Yay! It's playtime), which was later changed to just Playtime. He would write down lists of things that he would do, or what might happen to him on a daily basis. It was his soundtrack.

By the time Daniel had reached his eighteenth birthday, he had a tune for every part of his life - track 704 (It's my Eighteenth Birthday). His existence dictated by a military musical precision. Breakfast with Rachmaninoff, showers to The Clash, teeth brushed to Men at Work, sex to Kylie Minogue. Every aspect of his life had been partitioned by seconds of static before the next part was heralded by bars of an intro. Although the vast majority of the tunes he kept on file were for one-off occasions and would rarely be played more than once, there were definitely life-defining tunes like track 10 (Breakfast), track 21 (Going to the toilet) and track 7 (Bedtime). He didn't care that he would spend every spare second of his days with his headphones on, in his own little world. He liked it there. It was a world of his own making, one he could control. Maybe the other kids thought he was weird. Maybe he was. He just didn't care about anyone else. Not one person.

If his teenage years had been a party hits compilation, then his twenties were fast becoming a symphony. The older he grew, the more reclusive he became; listening out every day, every minute of every hour for the right track. It dominated his life - it became his raison d'ętre. Nirvana when he was angry, Cardigans when he was happy, Stevie Wonder's 'Superstition' for a quick walk to shops, a walk that would invariably turn into a ‘pimp roll’ at some point of the journey. He had a song for every person he knew, Gong's ‘Pothead Pixies’ for his pal Matt, a friend he knew from way back at Uni. Every time Matt would come over he was greeted by the same psychedelic melodies as he crossed the threshold of the flat. Matt had put up with it for years, laughing along with his friend’s strange eccentricities; tolerating it even though he thought it a little strange. Some people were manic compulsives, some drank and smoked too much but this was different. It was troubling, disquieting but ultimately benign.

When Daniel finally made up his mind to do it, when the decision had been made, he felt a lot better. He had been mulling it over in his head for some time, months, even years but he had never set his mind to following it through. However before he could act, he needed to do something first. He had to assign a tune; he would have to find the perfect track for the occasion. Track 23. Out of 3450 songs for each intricate part of his life, he still didn't have a suitable track 23. It would only be played once but it had to be perfect. So far he had tried various tunes, ripping them to the iPod and playing them back ad infinitum but nothing stuck, nothing captured his imagination, his passion, his rage.

It had to be perfect. So over the next two years he spent every moment he had spare, every second on the bus or in the break room or his bedroom surfing the radio stations, moving over the channels carefully, listening to snippets, to riffs and drum beats, bass lines, vocals, synths, looking for the pattern, looking for the special melody, the key change, the lyric, the command and the word that would spark the unconscious feelings that he kept wrapped up so tightly inside him. But all he found was nothing, a mountain of old classics and new disposable music, the signed and unsigned, popular or not, he didn't care; all he wanted was the song. Track 23. During the process he changed many other long-established numbers, track 914 (The bathwater has gone cold), track 1719 (I'm late for work), track 799 (I want to throw up but I'm in polite company), track 59 (Where did I put my book?), 3312 (It's raining again and I'm wearing the wrong coat) and track 1173 (I like that girl but I'm afraid to ask her out). Many songs came and went and he enjoyed a much broader catalogue of entries had he given up a long time ago but the lack of satisfaction drove him further, to record shops, libraries, gigs, websites. It was his passion for completion, for that perfect tune that turned an interest, an odd peccadillo, into an obsession.

It was a Wednesday morning. Sitting on the bus listening to track 1712 (I'm on the bus going to work), not to be confused with track 246 (I'm on the bus into town) or track 2983 (I'm drunk on the bus and I haven't paid), Daniel picked up a newspaper on the seat beside him and started to flick through the small ads. Among the usual lonely hearts and assorted junk being sold, there was a small advert from a record collector who was selling his collection due to a house move. Deciding this might be a good opportunity to continue his search he tore the ad out and popped it into his wallet for later.

After finishing work he made his way over to the address on the advert, listening to tracks 246, 557 (I'm going to buy some music) and one of his personal favourites, 3266 (I fancy a pizza). Arriving at the front door as the last few bars of 'Amore' drifted into his ears; Daniel pulled the ear-buds out and rang the door. There was no tune required when actually talking to people. He tried to avoid it as much as possible as it required a lot of concentration on his part. Not only would he have to try and conduct a coherent conversation but he would also simultaneously hum the theme in his head that best suited the style of the dialogue. 'Head' tunes didn't have numbers, they were merely categorised by the tone of the conversation. Today would be 'inquisitive,' as he was after particular records and he would have to ask several questions, which would mean Lionel Richie’s eighties classic 'Hello' would be circulating behind every pointed enquiry for the next twenty minutes.

Of course if he didn't find what he wanted or the punter was trying to rip him off he would then revert to 'frustrated' or even 'angry.' This wasn’t such a bad thing as he liked the Rage Against the Machine track that he had selected for ‘angry’ a long time ago. As it turned out the man was very friendly and let him take his pick from over three-hundred albums, all vinyls, all first pressings. By the time he left he had a bulging pile of 45's under his arm, ready for closer inspection. He was in a hurry to get home.

'That's it!' he shouted, diving across the room and punching the off button with his fist. He’d found it - the one. The track that would define his life; at last he had found 23. His head was spinning, his breath stammering in his lungs, stuck; trapped by the pounding of his heartbeat. He felt the panic of completion, the mix of excitement and fear and anticipation. He collapsed on the floor, wringing tears from his eyes in an attempt to feel some kind of emotion, just something. But all he could think about was track number 23 (Someday you'll be sorry).

Looking at the clock Daniel realised it was time. He slowly zipped up his hoody, picked up his iPod and opened the front door to leave. Outside the night air was fresh and stung his cheeks as he made his way to the bus stop. The bus journey was short and he arrived in the leafy suburban street less than ten minutes later. He had walked up and down this street so many times before. He knew every house, every lawn and every tree. Most of the old faces had long since moved on but Daniel could still recognise the old brown Cortina on Mr Farley's drive as he walked past under the street lights.

Reaching the gate, Daniel delves into his coat pocket and pulls out his iPod, stopping track 1 (Please stop hurting me), and carefully rotates the pin wheel down to track 23. Before the track starts, he clicks pause and put his hand back into his pocket with his finger over 'play.' The gate groans as he pushes it open, and walks slowly up the path towards the front door. There is a light coming from the living room window, creeping through a chink in the curtains. Approaching the doorstep, Daniel stops and takes a deep breath. Pushing the doorbell he thrusts his hands into his pockets and waits, waits as footsteps inside the house grow nearer, as the chain on the door is unlatched, as the door opens towards him. He pushes the play button. There is a pregnant pause. The track begins; Daniel pulls the gun from his pocket and shoots his mother in the head.

‘I like this tune,’ he thinks, as he steps over her body, catching sight of his father, making a dash for the stairs. He raises the gun once more. 'It's very catchy.'

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