Love Letter To A Record: Missy Higgins On Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Surfacing’

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.

In this series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

Here are their love letters to records that forever changed their lives.

Missy Higgins: Sarah McLachlan – Surfacing

Dear Surfacing,

Up until this point it had been me, flailing aimlessly from album to album, from genre to genre, image to image, unable to find anything I could really latch my sweaty 15-year-old fingers on to. There was nothing and no one I could even begin to see my reflection in and build an identity out of. Up until this point there had been Britney Spears, Mandy Moore, The Spice Girls, Kylie Minogue… a lot of short skirts, dancing and shiny production, none of which felt like a friend to my over-worrying, deeply introverted heart. No one I felt like I could emulate. I’d only just developed boobs a couple of years earlier and I wasn’t even comfortable letting them into the world yet, let alone dancing around in skimpy bikinis and cooking oil singing “ooh baby baby” to express myself.

Who was I? What was the sound of my soul? The bpm of my heart beat? It sure as hell wasn’t like anything in the top 40 and I desperately wanted to find it.

Then a movie came out. It was called City Of Angels. Meg Ryan gets sexy with an invisible angel played by Nicholas Cage and your song ‘Angel’ comes on. It was the kind of perfect song placement in a movie that elevates the scene into cult status. I became obsessed. I found out what album the song was from, I took the bus straight from school to the JB Hi-Fi store inside the Corio shopping centre and bought you with my hard-earned weekend pocket money.

From that moment on, something inside me was cracked open, and a future began to flash in front of me like laser projection beams out of my eyes. Your songs touched a place inside of me that I’d struggled to get to myself. They were a soothing balm for my scratchy, teary teenage temperament. I had no idea what the songs were really about but sentences jumped out at me like “the storm keeps on twisting, you keep on building the lies” and “all I feel is black and white and I’m wound up small and tight and I don’t know who I am”… and I felt like you understood. The only thing worse than feeling confused and shitty is feeling confused, shitty and alone. To suddenly have your words and melody to wrap around myself like a warm fleecy blanket meant nothing could harm me.

I had a friend. I also had a teacher. You were showing me how I could express myself, too. Sarah Mclachlan was sophisticated, dignified, and poised, not using sex to sell her music. She was about the words, the musicality, the artistry, the intellect. Plus, she accompanied herself on the piano, which was exactly what I wanted to do. AND she had a pixie haircut.

When it came time to write a song for my Year 10 school music class assignment, I drew on everything I’d learnt from you, dear Surfacing. I locked myself in the school music room during recess and lunch and poured out the heartache I was feeling onto the black and white keys and arpeggios and words emerged, then a finished song: ‘All For Believing’. This song went on to be the reason I won triple j Unearthed two years later, the reason I was signed to a record label, and the reason I’m still able to sing and play piano for my crust. I can never thank you enough.

And if you’re ever in doubt that your music has changed the course of lives, remember this story above and know that I’m not the only one.


Missy Higgins

Missy Higgins kicks off her run of Aus tour dates today! Details after the jump. Her new album ‘Solastalgia’ is out now.

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