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Baker's Dozen

Beauty From Trauma: Paul Mendez' Favourite Music
Paul Flynn , October 7th, 2020 08:40

Pop is all over Rainbow Milk, the Gordon Burn Prize-nominated debut novel by Paul Mendez. Here he tells Paul Flynn how a love of Marvin Gaye, Beyonce, Solange, Joy Division and Missy Elliott gave him a clearer understanding of his sexuality and racial identity


Gwen Guthrie – ‘Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But the Rent’
It’s one of the earliest songs I remember. I don’t think I was even four yet when it was released. In my parents’ bedroom, they had red shades over the lamps either side of the bedhead. The room glowed. My mum used quite saccharine, sweet-smelling products on her hair. They were getting ready to go out on a Saturday night. The red lights were on, the smell of the product in the air and ‘Aint Nothing Going On But The Rent’ was playing on the radio. That’s a crystalized memory for me.

I use music as a means of storytelling and accessing memories. It’s such a great anchor for stories. I was very lucky that my mum had fantastic taste in music. She loved this song. Even now, it just slaps. It really, really bangs. I was watching the video the other day and realised it’s absolutely no wonder I grew up to be the person I grew up to be. Being gay, being a sex worker. The materialism, the queeny Black guys dancing in the vests and cycling shorts, then Gwen begging the universe for a man who can afford to keep her. Literally, ‘no romance without finance’. What a soundtrack. It emblemised something in my mind.

People expect divas with great voices to have producers and songwriters behind them, always male. They’d be the invited woman to come in and sing and that would be the track. That was not the case with Gwen. She wrote and produced the song herself. I have a soft spot for auteurs, people who take control of their own narratives. It’s a thread that runs right through my musical taste.