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nick b. 2007
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vendredi 23 juin 2006
This long entry went unpublished for ages and is perhaps best left alone if you've just eaten a surfeit of chocolate or are prone to nausea attacks. I'm usually not, but when they strike, they are proof of the adage about the treatment being almost worse than the cure.
I've needed staying power and still do. I'm not clear of nasty episodes yet and self-deception can come easy, sometimes even when you are listening to a band as bad at it as the Pretenders. I considered that my manic-depressive disorder had eased off once I felt physically stronger again after the last cycle, with a warning to remember. I keep most of my insight into this vicious illness in the Orchard, but decided to make an exception after "the music stopped".
The worst was yet to come. One or two people close to me knew this three months back when I didn't. Maybe that's where I am now. I remained in two minds -- if any right one at all -- about a column that weaves so personal a tale in with the career and music of a style-snatching, trend-setting rock band that has lasted for decades with a strong-willed woman up front as its driving force.
But why not in the end? When it comes to bands who have real staying power, consistently show it and sustain it, there's no finer example than the Pretenders, whose songs helped to keep me going me in a horrible period when sometimes it got hard to listen to music at all. This inability is disturbing indeed in somebody with no doubt about the tremendous power of music as a healing force.
I sorely wanted to know what had gone so wrong.
"Perhaps more than any other band, The Pretenders epitomized the exciting musical climate of the early 1980s. The group represented a powerful fusion of the most important musical ideas of the time, from the off-kilter new wave whimsy of Devo and The Cars to the hard-edged, autobiographical street poetry of Patti Smith to the straight-ahead politicized aggression of the London punk scene to the passionate, idiosyncratic rock and roll aesthetic of Elvis Costello. But unlike so many other essential groups of that era, The Pretenders avoided becoming casualties of their own success, in large part due to the boundless charisma and indomitable spirit of their one-of-a-kind frontwoman, Chrissie Hynde." (Jesse Ashlock, beginning a review of 'Loose Screw' and a brief overview of the the band from its origins, at Epitonic.com, Nov. 2002)
A beginning in somebody else's 'brave new world'
For Ashlock to write of an "indomitable spirit", the will to press on regardless, is absolutely right. Hynde today is a woman in her 50s, who has been resilient from the start more than 20 years ago, when people caught on and loved an aggressive, proud first pair of albums, 'Pretenders' and 'Pretenders II', before the tragic setback of the loss of two band members through drug overdoses.
That was in Maggie Thatcher's brave new Britain, a nation charged with political talk about going "back to basics" and facing hard realities. Its newly elected rulers often solicited angry responses from the young; in retrospect, the battlegrounds of those days left a lasting legacy in the notion of self-promotion, sometimes paired with an alarming social selfishness. Authorities presented the times as tough, which they had started to become. The early Pretenders (home site) never bought into sentiment any more than the Tories did. Hynde could certainly snarl about sexual politics, then more of a preoccupation than any other kind.
On the ragged socialist left, which some found pot-bellied and sagging, intellectuals I managed to read had a very hard time presenting their economic ideas as a success story. A government that was so socially conservative people talked about reintroducing strong Victorian values claimed to have a more realistic economic approach. It argued that some of the remedies to a nation's ills lay in the withdrawal of state funding where market forces could be trusted to hack it and build their own kind of "classless society". Everyone would pay their way and get encouragement to own property as a means to a new independence, a sense of self-worth and the establishment of a social order that would "naturally" sort itself out if people were left mainly to their own devices by an otherwise strident stick-wielding prime minister low in carrots.
It didn't work, of course, though I suppose the model was idealistic in an odd kind of way, if anybody thought it would bring out the best in people's natures. In the United States that Chrissie Hynde abandoned for the excitement of buzzing London, elderly politicians like Ronald Reagan had similar ideas. However, many people who "made it" financially relied on old educational and buddy networks and still had other established means of support those in government didn't see fit to question. Friends and family I visited who settled down did often get nice houses, cars, enjoyable outings, the rest of it, if they had the skills and the jobs. But some people I had known before leaving Britain who moved up north in the hope life there would be cheaper, with values that suited them better, usually got a warm welcome but a very rough economic ride. North of London and the well-shod "home counties", a strongly resistant labour force was fighting tooth and nail to keep what it had by way of communities and jobs. Gradually the government set out, with its business and media allies, to destroy the social structures that had sustained the "lower classes".
By then I was way out of it. I quit Britain in 1980 just as the Pretenders had begun to create a name for themselves. Whenever I returned to London itself, large parts of the city seemed to have an increasing, in-depth shabbiness that wasn't nearly so apparent in the Paris of those days. Unlike most friends who also became expatriates, I never kept a foot in each country and very rarely went back. But from France, I kept an ear and eye on the turmoil, taking sides during brief working visits to show "solidarity" occasionally on picket lines with people like the miners -- then the emblematic foes of the new order and since the subject of many a movie, like the strong music-centred colliery band one, 'Brassed Off'. I could be no party to a manichean view that saw "good" in the levelling power of the markets and "bad" in the power of deeply entrenched labour unions and other strong bodies seen as monstrous dinosaurs holding back social progress.
The Pretenders saw it all through and sometimes sung about the general climate rather than particularities personal to us all. Sometimes I encountered the fallout at first hand. Young journalists who followed me to France for whatever reason mostly proved by the late 1990s to be extremely different animals from me. Politically, they had lived nothing but that "Iron Lady" and her legacy in government, whom with the inevitable honourable exceptions -- just as today's so-called "centre-left" has some decent people in it -- were crews of such growing incompetence and pervasive corruption that people just called it "sleaze". Eventually a stoic nation got so sick it threw them out.
Those young journalists and many other Brits of their age who arrived in France struck me sometimes as a brashly arrogant and self-centred generation of individuals, sometimes out of understandable ignorance. Notions of solidarity and the caring ideals with which I'd grown up were so alien to them -- since many lacked any reference points outside the family and rigorous kind of schooling in basics the Tories considered so important -- that some tended to spit on French society and its different ways apparently automatically.
Such people still live in Paris and like expatriates everywhere are largely a world unto themselves. They plunge down from time to time, particularly at weekends, into the society that hosts them, when they find any profit in its ways, on the food shelves or in concert venues and sports arenas.
Some people I know describe Paris bars as "pubs", and indeed there are such pretend pubs, packed weekend dens that have nothing either British or French about them. I would occasionally drop in to such bars for the company, but this was an irregular habit I lost completely after a few years.
I never was much of a party-going beast, though I enjoyed some. My nights out were mainly musical or cinematic ones with friends or spent at places where music came second to the very important business of stuffing our faces on French food, drinking prodigious amounts of wine and seriously believing, particularly in student company, that we were putting the world to rights with all our talk.
I integrated the way many people do. Once I knew France well enough beyond a capital that can hardly be considered representative of the country, it briefly entertained me to read some of the numerous and occasionally renowned blogs written by expats here with the sole aim of slagging off the society over which their writers float, sometimes with an incisive perspective. But their appeal soon palled. The people best placed to criticise any nation, maybe with the exception of those like very fine journalists and diplomats who drop in for a posting here with a fresh approach and thus see it differently, are bound to be those who grow up in it.
After sporadic, stumbling adventures with French women, then marrying a girl from Normandy to whom Paris was in some ways as strange in the 1980s as it was to me, still relatively new out of a Britain I thought insupportably class-bound and socially stagnant, I got to know my wife's family over several years and had a daughter with her. But none of these experiences I have been reflecting on lately stopped me from becoming a profoundly uprooted person myself.
It took recent setbacks, including a bid to return to work after what slowly turned out to be by far the deepest episode of manic-depression I've have ever endured, to realise how isolated I have become. It never bothered me before to be a loner, usually very outgoing at work and in company, but professedly content with my own most of the time after a divorce in 1993. When not seeing friends or nursing insanely romantic notions about successive women until that stopped in 2004 and I felt it was time for a really new start, I've had plenty to keep me busy.
For a number of private reasons, it was unwise to become too involved with another woman in the years after the divorce. I know this to have been true, but despite a long period of therapy that ended late in 2004, the last manic-depressive cycle brought up against emotional issues I'd long thought resolved. These didn't emerge suddenly, but began really to surface just around the time I felt ready to return to work. They hit me hard in the week I was getting into the Pretenders, doing my usual thing of trying to hear what's going on behind the music and inclined to research, by reading up Hynde and company, what motivated the band to do songs that include hard-edged social observation ('Time', 'Middle of the Road') along with the deeply personal (the loss and strength in a big hit, 'Back on the Chain Gang').
I couldn't understand why intense loneliness and a feeling of being able to do nothing about it, for lack of energy and the immense effort it took for the slightest act of will, took such a crippling hold over me just few weeks ago after the depressive episode was "over". What I put on the Log then was concerned more with dislocation in time as a curious phenomenon reflected in music, which can play many tricks with time: they include the sense we all occasionally have of being in two places or times at once. Songs can be superb at conveying this feeling in the use simply of juxtaposed musical styles, let alone the lyrics.
The pill and Pretenders: lies and truths
There was a work day when I felt so bewildered and battered by an unexpected surge of searing memories that I could focus on nothing else and had to quit, but then I believed and told my colleagues it must be a matter of needing a little more time to get used to the subtle new emotional palette I felt I'd been given in the few weeks of recovery from the depression that began on March 14.
The realisation began to dawn that my sense of being so uprooted has less to do with a failure to implement the outgoing lifestyle adjustments recommended by wise friends, since I had no problem agreeing with those and indeed making a start as soon as I could, than with what has gradually welled up from deep down during some equally necessary times of constructively engaged solitude.
There is much more to it than jokes I was able to make then about the "Pinocchio effect", when "new" emotions really did seem like the gift of a mental painting set containing more pastel shades than anything I felt I'd known before in a sustained way. Pinocchio, however, was quite a liar! Publishing this column comes with the very slow realisation that I have also been unwittingly deceiving myself about some very important aspects of my life for decades.
What laid me low again, just while I was getting into Chrissie Hynde's band, was quite simply a pill, one part of the treatment prescribed early in April, when it began to mess badly with my head (its name isn't visible in the little collage; even if it were, you know what they say about one man's meat). If I express myself at all clearly now, it has taken many weeks to get this far. Progress has been very slow, my writing takes longer than ever before, and I've lived the strange feeling that goes with a deep depression when each day is an eternity of hours, but weeks fly past and any feeling of achievement is measured in terms of the very small, ordinary things done during the days.
I turned to Pretenders when I could for musical solace, since that is one thing they have never done: live up to an ironic name. Their songs are solidly anchored in gritty realities. These include making the best of the changing sounds and themes of the times, avoiding turning into the tools of the music business, and the sustained effort of preparation and studio albums, as well as performance.
Only Hynde and veteran drummer Martin Chambers can know how often they must have taken to the road, reworking old songs and doing the new ones to create a repertoire of dozens, though at one stage in 1990, Chrissie was the only original Pretender left, until she started to rebuild a team in 1994.
Our lives and music are constructed on the simplest of building blocks. This is very apparent on Pretenders' albums, where the ear can easily distinguish different pop styles taken in over the years and moulded by Hynde and fellow musicians into a sound that remains definitively theirs for all the changes. To feel the same of daily life became equally easy when mine began to disintegrate, my plans for the summer collapsed, and every day became a series of tiny tasks to which I'd generally give no thought.
At places like Amazon, fans always list very different personal choices for favourite CDs and the ones they like less during such a long career as the Pretenders. I'm rarely good at favourites, even when my head is in full working order; even less so then, since I like to approach albums as wholes and listen to them that way, each in their context, though I'll sometimes linger on a song.
I'm very aware how much my listening is a matter of mood and trusting to instinct and a magic iPod finger to find me the music of the moment. If I don't like records, I won't write them up unless it's to say something constructive about where and why the music seems to "go wrong". To do that, you need a very good idea of what the musicians themselves are seeking to do.
What I never realised is how very susceptible we can be to moods and our emotions in the exercise of judgement, maybe unaware of the way we can be swayed by such forces unless other people tell us -- or we literally "lose our reason". This became fully apparent to me when something happened to take the lid off.
Perhaps it was that pill, finally. Old memories keep on coming up, more every day, and I've not yet asked my therapist how much this drug with a vast list of side-effects is one of those that unlock such doors. There is no just screwing the lid back on again. It was just one milligram every night of an allegedly "mild" substance in my system and the dosage had been steadily reduced from four milligrams since first I was told I'd better start taking it early in April.
The Inner Shaman I've described -- the medicine man or woman we each have inside us, who knows what we need when we can listen to a quiet voice that pays no heed to our capacity for self-deception -- knew when the pill began doing me harm. It told me so, just after I renewed acquaintance with Ms Hynde and her style as a very articulate woman who packs a punch in her voice and slips kicks into her lyrics. She's too smart to shy away from language some might consider trite if it holds home truths of the kind we all need to know.
Some of those home truths hit me inordinately hard, since Hynde's so good at telling them, and a while later the music just had to stop for two reasons. I felt hugely vulnerable to its emotional content, instead of finding it therapeutic, and when I could handle that I mislaid my ability to focus and got utterly lost in my own sluggish thoughts and the strong memory surges.
At first, I gently told my therapist the medication was disagreeing with me and making me feel ill, without mentioning the problem of attention. He gave me a lesson in "effets sécondaires", as the French call side-effects. A few days later, I told him by telephone that I had to stop. I was often flat on my back with nausea and panic attacks about stuff I knew to be unimportant. This was when I lost much of my willpower. The nausea kept on coming in sickening waves that drained my energy and emptied my head.
Such episodes, which seem to be abating, leave me emotionally and morally grounded. I feel even more grounded than when a song about an aviator's last days alone on an island got covered here. On account of the multiple layers of meaning Heather Nova's genius enabled her to slip into four minutes of poetry and music that were among other fine songs, I then said her album 'Redbird' would make a list I very rarely imagine being able or wanting to formulate, "Nick's Top 10."
I had a lucid weekend in which I returned to Pretenders and found them eminently suitable while I confronted a few of my own pretences, reasoned myself out of taking the therapist for a mad sadist, realised a the need to concentrate on basics and understood that when I saw my general practitioner, a friend from whom I had planned to get a second opinion about a man he'd already told me to put some faith in, this doctor wouldn't change his own tune.
The building blocks of behaviour and music
He didn't. He said he wasn't qualified to judge such a drug, though he understood how I hated it, and the decision remained with the expert. Somehow I got through a few more terrifying days until my appointed hour with the therapist. When I saw him, I was fighting an unexpected storm of resentment, rage and burning tears that very nearly drove me out of the waiting room in embarrassment.
I threw everything I could at him, including a collapse of trust in myself that had led to a near total loss of confidence in both the therapist and his treatment. I guess a different story started when he agreed to take me off that awful pill immediately.
I'm unsure exactly what the new tale is, just knowing it includes the building blocks and the simplest stuff of life and music. The therapist's sole goal with the drug had been to slow me down more than I already was when writing about a feeling of living in two time zones at once. In slowing me down, he most certainly succeeded.
His method was nearly too much, but we found common ground in the word "mistake", defined in this Log's Orchard as a learning experience. I acknowledge that with what I'll persist in regarding as no mild drug at all, given my bodys reaction to being "poisoned" by it, that the therapist couldn't know exactly what would happen. I readily admit that it was only when it happened that I felt able to take in some more raw home truths my regular doctor confirmed after the weekend I worked out a few of them for myself.
The Pretenders helped me stay on a musical course whenever I could. Maybe we all need sometimes to think hard about basic things we do every day and usually take as givens, whether we happen to be highly creative animals or are people contented with lives enriched by the existence of others and what we share in families and in our work and friendships. We tend to protest about routines and how tedious life can seem, until its patterns and structures are taken away abruptly the way this happened to me.
Hynde changed her own life when she upped sticks from the American Midwest town of Akron in Ohio for London and walked straight into the punk scene. Biographical reviewers make plenty of her love life and the way she has dealt with it in music. Indeed, love relationships are meat and drink to the Pretenders, like they are for many musicians who give us lasting pleasure and help us sometimes by baring their souls in hit songs and work that's much less well-known but to the point.
Such soul-baring takes a courage in musicians I've often admired on the Log. Hynde's semi-autobiographical songs include a selection on a recent album I want to discuss since it deals in almost nothing but love, one way or another, forming a stark contrast to all I know of its largely upbeat 1999 predecessor, 'Viva el Amor', which I'd prefer not to tackle in detail until I know it better than I do.
Years before that, Hynde was so much the right person in the right place, at a time when women felt a crying need to challenge men for front stage in popular music that for some she became the "queen of punk". This is a small crown for a first-rate guitarist and sassy lyricist who spans so many styles, like the men with her in the successive line-ups (Pretenders Archives). It doesn't fit, like any other that tries to pin Hynde down.
Caught in the act after the inevitably mixed critical success of successive studio CDs, the Pretenders in 1995 released a very good live album, 'The Isle of View', which offers an overview of a long period while giving old songs new treatment, the way musicians will when they release what are called "unplugged" or acoustic versions of familiar material.
The Pretenders have produced at least two dozen highly memorable songs in almost every listener's ears. I've begun to understand better why the music stopped, so I could take no pleasure in what is one of the most important things in my life and started even to fear where many kinds of music might lead me. All I could take during bouts of feeling poisoned -- when trying to listen to anything was better than doing nothing at all since I was also housebound and the smallest jobs seemed like mountains to climb -- was what scholars call the music of the "third period" in some classical composers' lives, when their genius has led them into domains that surpass the purely personal.
All I wanted were serene heights of some work by J.S. Bach and other perfect masters of non-verbal styles, however ultimately challenging in harmonies I temporarily found it hard to memorise, like those explored in Beethoven's last string quartets. Such men may seem a million miles from where I left off before picking up again with Hynde, and that was a diva in her style: Amy Lee of the US metal outfit Evanescence. This band has gone quiet with new work in the making, but its very wide-screen 'Fallen' was what I enjoyed before Pretenders.
There are no "million mile" distances in music. Bach and Beethoven aren't so very remote from Amy Lee, pictured here in some of her preferred stage regalia, or from Chrissie Hynde, if only in that both women have classical skills or aptitudes. Lee helps to drive a huge metal band with the years of training she uses to bridge styles. She takes pride in her classics and in doing things differently each time, which means that all to be said about her in a piece on Pretenders is that the new album from Evanescence won't be anything like the last.
Thus it was when Pretenders set about 'Learning to Crawl', the relatively early album I enjoyed contrasting with the 'Loose Screw' of 2002. I'm learning to crawl once more myself. For Hynde it was about picking up again after the real horror of losing two fellow band founders to drugs and discovering herself anew ("I'm not the kind of cat I used to be, I've got a kid, I'm 33") with tough songs and a good new guitarist, Robbie MacIntosh.
I thought I'd already done my own learning to crawl after life's worst years, which were when the music stopped for a whole decade. That's a time I've recounted in the past, writing how music gradually returned into my existence, so I could pick up where I'd left off before a spell in an arid desert. During a previous period of therapy, I had to deal with issues that arose over that time, many of which dated back to troubled teenage years and, it also emerged, some key childhood events.
It was then that I accepted, albeit reluctantly, the healing value of regressive kinds of therapy, when they take people back a long way. Today, I can't say it was just that time on the pill that took the lid off much more. It's impossibly absurd to make such a simplistic assertion when I look at turns this Log has taken while I have been able to keep it through worsening manic-depressive episodes.
Often I've not known, as already described in the Orchard, when I've been depressed. I certainly didn't articulate it to anyone and couldn't present consistent symptoms, maybe because of my considerable gift for mistaking such physical manifestations for the underlying cause of my woes.
I fell readily upon 'Loose Screw,' which Hynde only partly ironically described as "easy listening" after its release in 2002. On 'Loose Screw' and one or two tracks on 'Learning to Crawl', it's now quite apparent that the Pretenders directly confront powerful emotions I haven't myself yet. I've often employed music as a therapeutic tool in easing grief and especially the unresolved anger I've begun to feel -- and hitherto repressed, like the associated memories, since the anger seems so irrational -- about certain events in my life.
The repression went so far there are relatively recent chunks of my life I was unable to remember, even while in analysis, and when others spoke to me of those times it evoked only the haziest of recollections I could agree on, while pretending that they didn't sometimes make me feel inexplicably uneasy.
Up against life from all angles
This is no place to launch into a hypothesis that the manic-depressive illness is in itself partly the result of shoving intolerable pain related to experience so deep down that it manifests itself in cyclical form. I have no idea if that's true, but I do know that I must go on taking the lid off the box and find out what's inside it if there is to be any real healing. I know also that analysis in itself won't do the trick. Music, however, will certainly help.
There's a pattern to my listening that started meditatively slowing me down ages ago and brought me eventually to Chrissie Hynde. It has found me writing about the music and words of people who confront worldly realities and do it outstandingly well and those who deal in what I've called the Dreamtime, sharing in music the depths of their natures that are hard to express in other arts. Such musicians -- many actually do both -- appear to "go places" in which we too are invited to discover an innate wealth of enriching, life-enhancing resources.
With these two notions in mind, what at first seemed like an eternity of weeks to recover from a brush with death and self-destruction from within, feeling instead like someone who escaped an external accident that struck in March, now feels like no time at all.
Hynde's achievement on 'Loose Screw' is to devote virtually a whole album to songs about heartbreak, tackled from numerous angles. So this is "easy listening"? Musically, Hynde is right. Lyrically it's far more challenging and a good place to start when you've taken some tough medicine of your own.
When Hynde bluntly asserts that 'Nothing Breaks Like a Heart', we know the woman's right and even that the best cure can be to pick up the pieces and risk heartbreak all over again, once we feel we're ready to do so, but my own area of expertise has often been in burying my own experiences of heartbreak so effectively that the whole lot needed to begin to surface, thus enabling me to go happily on the way I initially felt I could at the turn of a very good year.
Moreover the sense of distortion in time that has been so strong is, I'm now sure, no simple matter of getting used to a new emotional palette, but of doing the things that send people to therapists in the first place. The next time I see mine is the moment to tell him I've realised that I'm living in more than one time at once, with people as I know them today and the returning memories of how things were, which will screw up my present perspective until I've dealt with them.
I've heard others express the feeling I once did to my doctor friend, that it would be nice to "get to the middle of the onion, know what's in it and be sure that nothing else will come back to haunt me." His was the wisest of possible replies to such wishful thinking: "That onion of yours, you'll never get to the middle. There isn't one, Nick. The onion is life itself and that you can go exploring in your habitual ways, particularly in what you are writing about music."
There are big differences between 'Loose Screw', full of songs about deceit and lies, with telling details of turmoil in marriage and other love relationships, the sense of betrayal and breach of trust, and the album made long ago, in 1984, 'Learning to Crawl'. Back then, the Pretenders bent an ear to the punk sound on the one hand and the Top of the Pops on the other. They're both very good, solid records.
The reggae influence on 'Loose Screw' is unmistakable if the names of Bob Marley and his kind mean anything, but nobody comes all the way from Mars to read my repeated attempts in 'Learning to Crawl'. This name, despite the edge of sadness after a time of tragedies, was also a lovely one for Pretenders to give the mid-1980s album with several great songs in many styles, each like somebody putting on new clothes and yet still essentially themselves, and has to be a "rock classic". Practised critics handle the vocabulary of the blues, jazz leanings, the country sound and countless techniques put readily at everybody's disposal by technology with misleading ease when it comes to appreciating how individual songs get put together.
For me, such albums are an incentive to do some homework in those building blocks, revising the music lessons learned early in life and no longer taking them for granted, any more than I can for some while to come the simplest stuff of daily existence. The people who are compiling what they regard as the "Essentials" of 20th century popular music at what is still a "new" French iTunes store have included the Pretenders in a short list, along with the Rolling Stones and other music for Martian tourists in search of a guide.
Songs on 'Learning to Crawl', performed by a band that had long done so musically, are serious in their lyrical content, while the sound can be tremendously playful. It is playable too -- and there's a band in Britain called the Pretend Pretenders -- but not without considerable skill. Each track has its complexities and richness.
'Watching the Clothes' is a fun song about somebody having no fun at all. It's horrible to feel young on a Saturday night and sit in the launderette. I once wrote that women must do songs about washing machines. Maybe there are many. In this one, you can hear the machine, because the band performs it, getting slow and then faster, while Hynde tumbles the words out of soap powder ads around.
'Learning to Crawl' has hits on it in two senses, chart hits and right-on-the-nail hits about the good and bad times in normal life, a process in which we reconsider our values when things go wrong. Songs that will stay the course of the decades often remind us of the invaluably simple truths.
While the music of the Pretenders has always more or less been in the pop mainstream, adapting with it, it has been highly influential on other musicians as well as influenced, ever strong on the melody and often hard in the rocking. I repeatedly listened to these two albums, but June 2006 is the month the band, which already released its greatest hits at the turn of the century, has decided it's time to offer a richer retrospective.
If you can afford it, reviews haven't begun to grow on the trees yet. The retrospective looks comprehensive. What's available is a five-album set called 'Pirate Radio', with a wealth of DVD material to round it off.
Whoever is on the turntable at a given moment, it's reassuring to know I can always trust the final arbiter: my Inner Shaman. He never gets mad when people suggest I accept some very hard realities and I wouldn't go as far as Hynde, remembering things, as to tell anybody "If you'd been in the S.S. in '43 / you'd have been kicked out for cruelty" ('I Hurt You'), but the woman is an expert in the school of hard knocks. An Inner Shaman knows that people who deal with these in positive ways and encourage others to do the same are right.
Both these Pretenders albums are the kind I'd like almost just on principle because I enjoy tunes that people can simply call "music" without scratching their heads hard about categories for it beyond "popular". We need reminders of simplicity and the real fun in play. It's only too easy for people to confuse "simplicity" with "ease", and occasionally with stupidity.
Hynde protests strongly about reality in 'My City was Gone', a mid-1980s return to Ohio in a song about finding out what uncaring authorities did to much-loved farmland and the towns of her youth. She spits out a word of the day, "muzak", for something that isn't going to change any time soon, however much we hate heartless speed control pap on loudspeakers in our supermarkets.
Hynde doesn't swear much in her songs, but she does occasionally on 'Loose Screw', to telling effect when she's singing about people in worlds of deception ('Time the Avenger') and stuck in or out of relationships gone awry. Some reviewers don't think the reggae twist does much, others like it a lot, I'm one of the latter who enjoys hearing bands engage in such play with popular styles when they can pull it off. The Pretenders have to be in real doldrums to be bad at anything they do.
The rest is largely a question of taste. I've got my own life-situation categories for CDs. These overlap, but 'Loose Screw' fits into a "tough love" one as well as some of the others. Vocal sound gets distorted ('Lie to Me') when people are, it can be hard to tell bad from good ('Kinda Nice, I Like It'), and Hynde is somebody you can identify with while handling stuff that gets mean and twisted, along with the decent.
The iTMS version of 'Loose Screw' offers two bonuses. In 'Complicada', Hynde ironically sings about being a 'Complex Person' in Spanish, while track 14 takes the "tough love" theme and makes of it a sweet surprise. Hynde gave herself a treat and gives us one with a marked change of genre in her cover of the classic 'I Wish You Love' mentioned in the last log entry. Were it only a cover, it would be a fine one, but there's a reason the number lasts more than 10 minutes, which is too good to disclose.
Being at a time again to tackle past mistakes and deception, partly in the way the French give the second word the extra meaning of "disappointment", it's good news to listen to somebody else's 'Loose Screw' when the album is also about reconciliation.
From the earlier album, 'Thumbelina', a trans-American travel tale, is the kind of song that slides into an iMix I'm doing on aspects of the parent-child relationship. I have many reasons to think about parents and children, partly related to what's happening in me, now that I know about it, and partly for outgoing motives.
Gone are more of my own pretences. I need to reappraise the broad shelves of my life's music library, where there is much that I'd like to hear again as if for the first time. There's nothing more simple than realising that you can make do with what you already have got, like a band that takes the best in what's around them forwards.
Roll on, Pretenders.
6:25:44 PM link
dimanche 18 juin 2006
"Que reste-t-il...?", or "What remains...?" are the opening words of a legendary song about resignation to lost love by the generation-spanning singer Charles Trenet, whom I was lucky enough to see on stage before he died. His style and dress were those of a long-gone era, but that night he was strutting and smiling with an almost childlike energy.
Apart from the childlike quality that must have been one of the reasons he lived for so long, since Trenet was the kind of wise elderly artist with an ear ever open to the new, he has little in common with one young woman I went on to discover recently, but I needed a change of air from reflecting on old loves.
Anna Oxygen can't be her real name.
It's certainly no household one and in her place at MySpace, Anna Oxygen is among thousands of new musicians with little to say apart from the barest details. Her music is electronic, experimental and made a big change from hearing half a dozen women presenting their own varied accounts of that Trenet standard, best known in English under the title "I Wish You Love".
I'm always interested in themes and variations but Oxygen, who comes from Oregon, has her own approach to something else close to my thoughts of late, which is a return to very basic building blocks of music. Her means are electronic, the kind of thing people can do in isolation nowadays, and at first hearing the sound can seem cold if you're fresh from warm instruments.
Anna Oxygen has released the fruits of recent endeavours on an album called 'This is An Exercise,' which needed three successive hearings to begin really to appreciate as a concept. It is one that tackles some themes of alienation and isolation in an interesting and outgoing way. Subsequently to learn that Anna likes teaching music technique and getting physical with it made sense after sounds like this.
No straightforward love songs here, silly or otherwise, though the words and especially the music are frequently sensual. Anna Oxygen has made a world of her own about a person living very much in their imagination and inviting us in, rather like the interlocuteur who interrupts her reveries on one track, 'Walk.' She knows her music is mechanical, explores robotic notions and can sing with an easy and natural voice about body and mind as organic machines, in colourful lyrics that are steeped in fantasy and the psychedelic ('RRN', 'Psychic Rainbow' and her 'Willow Song'). The childlike aspect is in the sharing of a playful solitude. She can equally draw on the music of ceremonial occasions (a strange, short 'March of Human').
Musical reference points for ears accustomed to traditional instruments are as basic as Anna's voice, whispering, singing, chanting, and with ethereal choruses close to trance and the repeated patterns of physical exercise. The 14 tracks on the CD are short but almost always lead one into the next with no abrupt transitions of mood, until Anna Oxygen (a spartan home) decides on one by electronic means, bringing in new pulses and beats and playing around with a very broad sonic spectrum it takes a good hi-fi system to reproduce.
The album is one to hear repeatedly with open ears; like a lot of electronic music, which is far from a new genre though its popularity has grown greatly in the decades it got into disco and dance-floor, it is more complex than you'd imagine at a first, perhaps rather chilly, hearing if you're unfamiliar with this kind of stuff.
"I grew up recording on this eight-track karaoke machine I got from my parents when I was 6. (Later) I bought a drum machine for my band Jacqueline Bon Bon because we didn't have a drummer. I bought the keytar for this band, and on the side I would make up all of these stories and electronic songs by myself in my room. Olympia was really influential in that suddenly I was in a village where (the pop culture) gap could be meddled with. The idea of 'public' there sometimes just means that you are in a small room with other people from your small town, and you all have something to offer."
The "keytar" Anna talks about is a sort of portable synthesiser, named for its supposed resemblance to a guitar, but that definition says little about it when you actually look at the instrument born in the 1980s and see all its buttons. From self-taught beginnings at an early age, which Anna recounted to Laura Cassidy in the above-cited interview for the Seattle Weekly, Oxygen has herself gone on to become a teacher, telling Cassidy of youngsters aged 10 to 15.
She sounds like a loner, still making up stories with imaginary friends ('Mechanical Fish' being one such exercise in surrealism), but says, "I no longer condone the concept of DIY. My new motto is DIT: Do It Together." It happens also to be one of mine, but that's another story for the next entry, about an extremely well-established rock band whose long career helped me through a stage of accidentally drug-induted paranoia!
You can get an idea of the sound, the crystal voice and the beats she builds to sustain it, from Anna Oxygen's 'Fake Pajamas' .mp3 on her Kill Rock Stars page, but if you're interested in musicians who like to experiment and encourage others to do the same, you'd do better to sample several tracks from the album at the iTMS.
One review I read today, after discovering the music, makes clear that she is very much the performance artist. I wasn't compelled to a fit of aerobics while getting into 'This is An Exercise', but could very well have been so because Anna's obviously a pretty physical kind of nerd.
I'm not nerdish enough to understand fully how a decent stereo system with well-placed speakers, back to the wall, can send sounds flying right around the room you're in. As I hinted, 'This is An Exercise' puts your stereo to the test in doing so, while the feeling of being drawn into somebody else's sonic arena dissipates since Anna Oxygen's music soon seems partly to come from somewhere inside the listener as well.
It's sometimes a good idea simply to push buttons and see what happens, if you're sensible. That's how Anna started. Don't ask me how I found her; I don't recall more than just pushing buttons one day. At the iTunes Music Store. When the result is by a woman and I like it enough to know my ears could take more of it, she gets on to one list.
Every now and then I revisit that list, which is at the bottom of a self-imposed system of levels I built into in iTunes as a safeguard against impulse buying, and I push the buttons all over again, moving some things upwards a bit. Anna Oxygen is one of the girls who slowly but naturally bubbled her way to the top.
4:07:30 PM link
mercredi 7 juin 2006
The "music and .mp3 blogs" are a bunch of the best I've found so far.
Bodyglue and brain-busters
Some of the people who visit a place where the columns are often much longer than on most weblogs have no reason yet to know what an .mp3 blog is. The word audioblogs best sums up what they do, without being too technical.
On them, you'll find music, mainly in the good to high-quality format known as .mp3s that any modern computer can handle, to which you can listen with the sound programmes on your machine. You're usually able to download it for keeps as well. For legal reasons, the music is generally in the public domain or has been made freshly available by the musicians.
I don't doubt audioblogs bend the law. So much the better, since they are among the forces that will eventually change absurd legislation now the space is there for them. Like podcasts -- which are really nearly all big .mp3 files -- the underpinning aim of audioblogs is make music more widely known.
Pioneering .mp3 blogs have been around since the turn of the century, but they first became trendy about three years ago because you need a relatively recent computer to make the most of them. Musical activities take a lot of processing power, but the main barrier now lifted has been the space to store it. Realising that and what people are doing, those with a stake in the status quo are throwing money into such space in an attempt to control it.
The selection here has been on the brew for some months, but got posted a few days ago on account of a painfully interesting diversion elsewhere. I told Marianne it was best she didn't come round as planned after her mother slipped on their polished parquet floor and banged the back of her head on the sharp corner of furniture that so often eagerly awaits a swiftly descending cranium.
They went to a clinic to be sure it wasn't a serious injury, which it isn't. The last time I spoke to Catherine, she sounded as together as ever. All the same, the cut was deeper and longer than either of those two could tell with Cathy's hair and it called for yet more new technology, without even a shave.
"At the hospital, they glued Mummy's head," the Kid informed me. "So she doesn't need any painful stitches."
Bodyglue, no less! I know Catherine's all right because by the time the surgery was done with her, she and the Kid could go to try to weep and laugh the cut open again watching Pedro Almodovar's new film, 'Volver.' It was a good movie, they say, but the wound stays firmly sealed.
If Bodyglue isn't already the name of some band anticipating fame you'll find in an audioblog, I'd be surprised. It was a weekend for getting heads together that gives you such a varied list, ranging from well-known pioneers with the writing calibre of 'said the gramophone' to some people who do almost no reviewing.
Several audioblogs don't deal in many words at all but whip up sound, the pictures and sometimes snarky comments with an ear to the tracks. I've included one or two of these sarcastic buggers if they deserve it for the way they merit decapitation in my less frivolous trains of thought.
Some audiobloggers, like me, have a historical bent, including Tom Ewing, who is one of a team called Freaky Trigger responsible for the New York London Paris Munich site, which was online between March 2000 and the final day of last year. I've listed it for valuable archives.
Tom's still immersed in a major undertaking at Popular, where he says he's currently covered 20 percent of the UK's 1,000 Number One Hits since 1952, "for as long as I can bear to keep doing it."
I can bear to write about music for the rest of my days in possession of any faculties. During a moment of terrible self-doubt, I thought it was time to join the mainstream and write about men much more often, but it took just one all-women podcast and Lilith's hefty swipe to my skull to set me straight.
I'm as yet unaware of any audioblogs given over to music by women, though three contribute to the one called Daughters of Invention. Karen, Jaime and Pamm are a young Toronto trio who help prove that for excellent music and concise presentation of it Canada is a country to watch closely.
Close to my own eclectic heart is a musician in Malakoff, one of Paris's purportedly dangerous Red suburbs, called David Fenech. He doesn't keep a bilingual site, but for French-reading minds open to music from anywhere the world his taste at 'david f presents' ranges from the future -- the string-plucking entry at the top is dated déc 31, 2010! -- to ancient "mouth-organs", as he refers to Thailand's khên.
David finds the sound of the khên strikingly similar on a record to work by Terry Riley and Steve Reich. In the same piece called "l'orgue à bouche (autour d'un instrument: part 4)", David manages to the likes of Bjork and Aerosmith, so he he must have an encyclopaedic brain.
Monsieur Fenech is now off on holiday.
That, in a sense, is where I am too, only dropping in here. Meanwhile, I've planted an increasingly common notion in this entry, which will bear yet more development each time we look at what musicians have done with places like the fearful baron Rupert Murdoch's MySpace.
In spite of such power-hungry individuals greedy for possessions, musicians have already understood how libraries used to be places of knowledge and art for the public to share. Today's increasing ability to use the Internet for sharing our personal libraries opens many avenues to be walked when I'm back from my break.
7:58:57 PM link
vendredi 2 juin 2006
People have been receptive to notions I've begun to develop on the nature of Lilith, the "goddess" of many women musicians. A new piece began to fall into that puzzle when I decided to find out what the fuss about 'The Da Vinci Code' is. For ages I've been looking at people reading the book by Dan Brown in the Métro without a clue of the subject matter. But I woke up when Mary Magdalene was on the cover of 'Newsweek'.
Well, well, what do you know? About 20 years ago, I read 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln about a small French village in the Pyrenees and a priest with a secret. It would seem this cocktail of scholarship and whimsy is now due for revision and republication.
Now I see what all the fuss is about ... though my ignorance of the news world outside music and Africa is such that only today did kindly colleague Marlowe inform me that Brown's book "drew" so much on the one I read long ago that caused a bit of a stink.
Speculative, detective non-fiction like this may go out of fashion for a while, but the bad way organised religion has with women obviously never did. They scarcely need my help coming into their own, but I imagine Lilith has something to say about these legends too.
Over my lunch, I googled on Mary Magdalene to find that New York theologian Ramon K. Jusino has built a web site built around his 1997 thesis that the "beloved Disciple" was the real author of the Fourth Gospel, traditionally attributed to John of Zebedee.
Jusino's intriguing claim was indeed a "good read", as he hoped, and further reading soon told me his supporters include some eminent Biblical scholars, but I don't want to be sidetracked by the revived debate on ways in which a particular church minimises the role of women as its founders and evangelists.
It's a hot debate, to be sure, in which points of agreement beneath the controversy over the plausible beloved Disciple are that she wasn't a prostitute, but needed demons cast out of her, according to Luke's Gospel.
A man now embarking on a further leave of absence from work to find tools to deal with his own emotional legacy, the way I last night said I am, might not so very long ago have been considered possessed before the mind sciences came along!
In the Lilith some traditions consider not only possessed but a demon herself, as if there was a constant bid to equate women with evil, I find several echoes of this controversy over the role of Mary Magdalene, whom best-selling books are today seeking to rehabilitate all over again.
It can only be subjective, but I know that in myself there is a strong "feminine principle" at work, hence the powerful feelings evoked in me throughout the winter about pregnancy and giving birth, maternity and the mysteries of motherhood.
I shouldn't be surprised to learn that for some psychiatrists and other mind students and therapists, we men are held to be deeply afraid of what we can't know about women in our own direct experience, so we can react in the way people often do with something they fear, by violence against it or by suppressing it.
I told Kate, another workmate who is also interested in the case of the woman from Magdala, of these things that have risen up out of my unconscious about giving birth to new life in motherhood and she said: "Men play an important part."
Yes, we do indeed ... at the beginning. But we can't know what it is to "be with child", living for nine months in such a close symbiotic relationship. If we are healthy, we want to touch, to feel the kicks of the baby inside while this is happening.
Watching my own daughter's head and body emerge from her mother's womb must be the single strongest emotional experience I can remember, a time to marvel and be awed, then to take the child in my arms and to love the woman who had just given birth to her with all my heart.
I see no evil in this!
Yet women are downtrodden everywhere, not always in the subtlest of ways. Mary of Magdala is widely made out to be a harlot when she wasn't one and there is no reference to that in the Gospels, while in most societies and certainly religions they get the back seat. There are nasty notions about menstrual blood in many cultures too and all kinds of rituals surround women's monthly periods; that much I know from my anthropological and ethnomusicological days and subsequent reading, but according to one religion, it took the blood shed by a man to bring about the process of resurrection.
The ultimate put-down for women is blaming one for the Original Sin, as I've written before. Since just before Christmas, though the coincidence with the celebration of the birth of the man some consider the "Redeemer" wasn't intentional, these ideas have been buzzing around in my head, almost literally like mad.
It started when Eleanor told me why she had stopped drinking any alcohol. And there was real art in a nude photo I took of Catherine, my own Kid's mother, when she had a fat round belly at an advanced phase of pregnancy. I've often had that picture in my mind's eye of late, obviously so deep I have latched on to the Lilith legends and what they might mean. Some memories I'm taking this coming week off to meditate, learning to be at ease with my emotions about them, are still only half-concious and concern intimate times from marriage.
Now Lilith is very much in the public domain,as some kind of symbol and power adopted by women who assert their right to engage in the art of music, using it to even the scales in society and undoubtedly as part of their own quest for inner peace and harmony.
While thinking of people who write books about esoteric things that are part fiction and part scholarship, I learned from Marlowe, how his father, who recently died, was an ethnomusicologist, Mantle Hood (Wikipedia).
I'd have liked Mantle Hood. He too thought of music as a river, with other water analogies, and Marlowe explained that his three-part book on 'The Evolution of the Javanese Gamelan' -- those glistening percussive, mainly metal orchestras of Bali and other parts of Indonesia -- was frowned on by Hood senior's peers for being part fiction, also called 'Music of the Roaring Sea'.
"He couldn't see any other way to do it," Marlowe said, which made plenty of sense. Simply telling stories is often the best way to tell a story, after all.
What the eminent scholar would have made of me and my quest for Lilith I don't know, but he may have approved of the method. Mantle Hood had views of the "typical student" which have been kept by a woman called Kendra of Berlin, who commendably says she is "just as important or unimportant as anybody else".
On her site, Kendra quotes Hood, who clearly had a sharp-edged sense of humour and taste for aphorisms, from 'The Ethnomusicologist' on the likes of some of us. Here's a bit of it:
"He is inclined to be highly sensitive to other human beings, to respect their scales of values and their behavior, even if these are not compatible with his own. He is likely to have a latent or realized suspicion that everything in print about music is not necessarily true, even in some instances is necessarily not true. He has a healthy curiosity about the new and the unknown and a talent for stepping outside himself or the self he thinks he is, long enough to take a sympathetic look at the unknown. [...] He has for the senior scholar an unabashed admiration, founded on the security of frequent differences of opinion with him. He has a deep love of the sheer sound and musicality of music, and he likes to make it. He is both a doer and something of a dreamer. He has strong tendencies toward romanticising and a clear pragmatic streak that keeps him from losing his balance -- most of the time. He has an analytical turn of mind but secretly half-believes in myths. He is very much an individual. Above all, his liking for music is closely tied to his liking for people; his interest in the one is inseperable from the other."
That's not entirely me, but I've spent half a century aspiring to most of it.
It's rather reassuring to be reminded a little of who you are at the very time you need to do a little more finding out! When it comes to Lilith, however, I see no reason to be a secretive somebody who "half-believes in myths".
The real question is, which one?
To be, of course, pursued...
The detail from the 'Last Supper' mural, 1498, is reproduced by Ramon Jusino on his page, "Did Leonardo da Vinci Believe that Mary Magdalene was the Beloved Disciple?"
I'd say "The eyes have it"!
12:06:24 AM link
jeudi 1 juin 2006
The weather has turned chilly, rips appeared in my remaining presentable pairs of trousers, and my Mac crashed so thoroughly and then refused to start up and show any life until the third day of fixing -- more than just a battery replacement -- that I know the computer is on borrowed time.
In sum, I prefer to rejoice in a rare piece of good news, when a far-off friend mailed me to say something I'd done for her was right on the mark but "officially insane", and also I'd like to explain that being "normal" is coming rather hard to me! I think this is an entry about two sides of one coin.
My mood for days has steadily been subdued and one of slight depression, with the rare dose of absurd humour. In my reading, I find most psychiatrists consider a mild depression the state of a human mind best attuned to what is commonly taken for reality: the world as we're able to share our views of it.
A week ago, I published a look back over a first full year when the Log has been devoted to the 'Voices of Women' by name (though this was really only an extension of what had already happened in practice), with an ear to the future. I removed that entry, for my plans seemed premature until I know what is going on in my heart.
Getting out of the emotional heat
Being a man who is held often to be good at listening to the hearts of his friends and enjoys trying to hear everything he can learn of the musicians who come up here, it struck me how rarely I've directly expressed my own mood unless it's been in the Orchard, regarding the big highs and lows of my strong bipolar cycles.
In talking with other people, I've also frequently adopted the style of a sensitive outsider who can empathise with them deeply, draw conclusions and make suggestions if they are troubled from what seems like a detached viewpoint.
Today it appears that, in a way, I have been an outsider!
Strange moods have affected me since I stopped taking a serotonin regulator my therapist contends became counter-productive at some stage in many years of treatment. I had to start adjusting to new medication for my brain chemistry, after in March entering the manic phase of a seven-month cycle just before plunging into the most crippling depression of my life.
I shan't repeat what I've posted about having to learn more and fast about manic-depressive illness and devising a strategy to beat it, on being warned that a third cycle even more extreme than my past two could kill me, possibly literally, but very likely figuratively by putting me away for a long time.
Yet the discovery of what I can only take for normal emotions has been very hard to endure and constantly disconcerts me, combined as often it has been with sporadic surges of mood-tinged memories up into my conscious mind at unexpected moments. These have concerned several periods in my chequered life.
For a couple of nights last week, I couldn't sleep for trying to process this new data and make sense of it, and I feel there's a foot planted now on the lid of a pressurised can that's going to blow off when I let it, which I simply must do next week with the help of a bomb disposal expert.
I have to be prudent in my choices of music, like when coming out of a "downer" in which I couldn't take any music at all. So given my constant tendency to explore what's new in my ever-growing library of mainly women musicians, I'm relieved that the "magic iPod finger" can usually be depended on to pick the right voice. However, my "year-ender" won't appear on the Log, because I know what other people I've been reading lately mean when they say their weblogs seem to become to-do lists.
It takes more than drugs to heal a mind
It's best instead, as Kathryn Petro showed in a typically enjoyable entry on a visit to a wildlife reserve, simply to do or even just to be. She found: "My body felt it could breathe" (A Mindful Life). But I want my mind to be able to breathe easy again. This entails telling my therapist that accepting my strategy for recovery, giving me new medication and advice about that and then saying "Good luck and get on with it!" isn't quite enough.
The new therapist hasn't gone guite this far. But I suspect, all the same, that while his approach has been better than others I first saw but won't name and we get on well, that we're both victims of a trend in "modern society" that Kay Redfield Jamison warned against on just page three of her trailblazing book, 'Touched With Fire' (an Amazon France link this time).
I prefer to be in mutually active relationships of exchange, rather than taking all the initiatives, but therapists do have a tendency to sit back and wait. After a few lines about the "fine madness" and simplistic notions of bipolar disorder in people of an artistic temperament, Kay wrote that:
"labelling as manic-depressive anyone who is unusually creative, accomplished, energetic, intense, moody, or eccentric both diminishes the notion of individuality within the arts and trivializes a very serious, often deadly illness. There are other reasons for such concerns. Excesses of psycho-analytic speculation, along with other abuses of psychobiography, have invited well-deserved ridicule. Due to the extraordinary advances in genetics, neuroscience, and psychopharmacology, much of modern psychiatric thought and practice has moved away from the earlier influences of psychoanalysis and towards a more biological perspective. Some fear that the marked swing from psychoanalysis to psychopharmacology is too much, too soon, and that there exists the risk of a similar entrenchment of ideas and perspectives."
This is what nearly happened to me.
I know so much about some mental disorders and getting help to inspect one's parts and put them together again that sometimes it's easy to feel that others have too much faith in my ability to come up with answers! At the same time, however, I know a part of me has a lot of the answers. It's also the bit that helps other people and there's no reason to believe it's any different for you.
I'm no longer interested in the practice of psychoanalysis (apart from a soft spot for Carl Jung -- Wikipedia -- and acceptance of principles of some importance) because experience has given me an aversion as strong to people who lock themselves into "schools of thought" as musicians usually hate being classified by critics and narrowly labelled on store shelves and in magazines.
I want helpful therapy. Strong empathy with the moods of others, usually in circumstances when they need to talk about these feelings and want help, hasn't given me enough tools to understand my own moods, since I've got nothing subjective with which to compare "normal". So next week, I plan to take an emotional "crash course", since I can live with the memories, on condition I can be confident what I feel never means I'm headed for an even worse cycle.
Throughout this whole episode, I've heard more sense out of honest and ordinary people than from those who wrote some of the lousy books I've skimmed and from psychiatrists with rigid minds. I've been able to talk openly with cooks in the canteen at the Factory who always spoil me, colleagues who have been understanding and interested in my views on healing with music and in society rather than some institution, friends who say simple and wise things, and my down-to-earth general practitioner.
I guess I've frequently been good at helping people live with emotional extremes and through periods they find hard going because those very extremes have been my habitual territory! In pressing me to become a teacher and use the music Log as my prime means of doing this, some have also called me a bit of a witch-doctor and a shaman. This I'm finally prepared also to accept, because two things have happened since March to reinforce my sense of what's in our souls.
I've said very little about the second "massive spiritual experience" that accompanied a total brain burnout. The doctor didn't put it on my medical record as such this time round when I asked him to refrain. I've been thinking, too, about a talk with a friend in Africa -- not the Lauren who thinks what I do is "officially insane"! -- regarding her loneliness and dislocation and how people best deal with madness and purportedly deranged people in so-called primitive societies.
What people in such traditional societies, close to nature, do not habitually do to those with disorders of the mind and the soul is put them away. In modern France, though, I encountered resistance from some health professionals and even one or two people chose to me to my determination to heal within society, which is absolute. Next week my therapist will again find himself helping out with a strategy I have taken to him: "This is the plan, will it work?"
The medicine-man inside us all
If I can listen to it, you see, a part of me knows what to do.
I believe this bit of me is my inner shaman, my personal medicine-man, and that it's the same part that found me Sheryl Crow and Natalie Imbruglia's 'Left of the Middle' to listen to last week, the album of a spirited woman in her early 20s. She is singing about a new start in the world.
Oh, I could readily identify with that desire! Natalie asks 'Leave Me Alone', rejects the second-hand opinions of others and trusts to her 'Intuition'! I had no idea she was going to title a song for it, but have used the word recently and split it into the bits that apply in what I need to do: "in-" for the inside where I went to find myself and get over the very mad month of March, and "-tuition" for the rest. Put together, that is our knowledge within.
Our knowledge within. This is the essence of my second spiritual insight. It brings me no closer to using the word "God" when I can simply talk about the "Big L", love, and all its power. It would be hard to find verbal language for what I discovered in "that place" in March, when I ceased to sense my own ego again, but I know it is shared ground.
The details of what I did for Lauren, as sometimes I can for people regardless of the fact they may be an ocean away and we've not been in touch for ages, are our business only, but I just knew something about her situation and mailed her to tell her so and what she might do. She wrote back:
"it is officially insane that you know how to say exactly the right thing at exactly the right time, nick. (...)
was re-reading yr long missive this ayem [...], my eyes straying only slightly but coming back to the points where you hit the nail so head on it's a wonder i don't suggest you get into spiritual carpentry (no that was not a jesus reference, just so's you know, i know you don't do that collective monotheism bandwagon thing)..."
No, I don't like bandwagons, nor do I have major woodwork or building plans. The only screwdrivers and sledgehammers with which I'm well acquainted are medication for the mind, the kind of which I approve and the drugs I've known and hated because they left me feeling artificially "better" but more cut off from others and myself. I've always said I don't regret the 14 years I had to forego any sex life, but that's no longer true. I just hope never to regret certain outcomes of the decision...
On seeing a musical connnection last year, I felt it was to state of the obvious about the common "languages" of the art and sexual activity, but now I know better and so appreciate encouragement I've been given to go on through that particular door into Lilith's domain.
"Non, je ne regrette rien" is the brave kind of thing a woman like Edith Piaf (Wikipedia) could sing. The Log is no place for the kind of abusive psychobiography I dislike as much as Kay does, but it could fairly be said that regret is a normal emotion and Piaf had a very disturbed life. It can be courageous to claim you don't regret what you can't change.
A tool-kit for personal tuition
This was a tool-kit I got from Kay Jamison and Azoulay's retired predecessor ... and from that inner shaman of mine. It belongs in the part of my being Lauren and everybody else who has learned anything from me has to thank for it. I need to be fairly alone with the shaman for a few days.
The famous song is about significant memories, with their strong emotional component. I have a new and subtle emotional palette to learn -- including grieving events and losses I haven't yet because I never could -- and strong recollections with which I need to come to terms. For the moment, I know that my life has been lived close to one or the other extremes of feeling relatively invulnerable or broken up yet again, which meant my finger found Jann Arden's 'Time of Mercy' tonight, with songs like 'Give Me Back My Heart', where she goes straight to the point! I admire people who have lived all their lives with the real vulnerability I currently feel. What I want from Azoulay is more in my "tool-kit"!
It isn't going back to work that has had such an effect on me; it's the trappings that have surrounded it on emerging from the deepest journey inside I've ever made and probably wish to make out into a city that often shouts "artificial" and, in some respects, "officially insane" at me. But I made that trip because I was mad myself for a while.
If, then, I am to use the Log to return to women musicians and teach by telling their stories and sharing their songs, I plan to do what all good teachers must in life, which is just to share with others the tools we've found, as equals. I can't deal with people otherwise now I know we all have our own inner shaman, every one of us, and I'm essentially no different from you.
Like Pinocchio, I've discovered that honesty pays, while closing your mind and your heart gets you nowhere. Each day can bring surprises, if I venture to talk quite deeply but without hiding anything from others about what's happened to me, since I find it tends also to draw some of them out of their shells, no longer afraid to speak of what upsets them.
I don't know how often I shall log again. In the period that starts with some medical exams on Friday, this over-stretched Mac of mine must sadly go and be replaced. It's hardly good timing now I'm more aware of the need for new clothes with fewer holes. Worse, the day I disintegrated again was my daughter's 17th birthday, so I must make up to the Kid for having turned down an invitation where I'd have felt like a ghost at the feast given the way I felt then.
However, the weather forecast gets better.
I've ordered a new eMac, which comes for the weekend. It may not be a brand-new model, but I like robust eMacs. It was a nice surprise to find out I can still trade in this one while there is any life in it against the price of a rather more powerful machine that can face the music. So when I'm not in emotional therapy and making sure of my inner shaman's compass bearings, I'll have to tame the Tiger too.
What with all these cats for which Apple names its operating system, it's scarcely surprising that my finger found its way from Imbruglia to Arden via Massive Attack and Liz Pappademas and her piano-driven Hurts to Purr (band and debut album).
For once, I'm going to be discreet about a woman I fancy, just saying I've known her for some time and her circumstances have also changed. We shall soon be having dinner and when I asked her how she had put up with me all these years, she said: "In small doses."
"Well, I hope," I said, "that in future, you might be able to endure slightly bigger doses if they come on a more manageable scale."
That won me a little smile and she asked me to wait until she'd sorted out some other stuff by the end of May. My experience has usually involved being madly in love, but now I know why people say "madly". Is going without feeling over-excited a normal emotion?
12:49:01 AM link
fountains and fortunes
voices of women
(ecstatic naiades, erotic firebirds, eccentric angels,
electric dryades ...)
a blog behind the log
(popping those green pills sometimes gives me strange fruit)
contributing friends (pix, other work)
retain their rights.
a fine way of seeing it