Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Can't Stop The Music

Something different today. No Bipolar, no thesis, no seminar paper, no conference, no dickhead postdoctoral fellow mouthing off, no slavish adoration of nice people who pay some attention to me and my work.

It’s all about the music.

I thought I’d talk a little bit about what keeps me going from one day to the next, the songs you want to crawl inside of and inhabit that eventually become part of yourself. It’s not an overstatement to say that music and good television (hell, sometimes even bad television) kept me alive. I spent most of 2008 and 2009 hanging on for the next great album from artists and bands I already loved and some from ones I had never heard of, and seriously – sometimes that was enough to keep me here. Sometimes it was all that was keeping me here, keeping me breathing.

OK, it’s a little bit about Bipolar.

I don’t think I’m alone in often listening obsessively to one particular song or album. These all fall into that category. A lot of these have featured on the Christmas mix CD, or will in the future.

The National – High Violet (album) 2010
I bought this album two and a half years ago and I have listened to it at least once a week since then. It is heartbreakingly beautiful and at the moment I’d have to say this band is the one I want most to see live. For some reason I managed to miss this band right up until this album got some really good press when it came out, and I can also highly recommend the wonderful records Alligator and Boxer. You might have caught a song or two of theirs on various TV shows, mostly ones for which Alex Patsavas is music supervisor (is it just me or does that not sound like the BEST JOB EVAR?). Their lyrics somehow manage to hit the bone and yet be completely unexpected. My choice songs from the album are ‘Runaway’ and ‘Terrible Love’.

Pretenders – Pretenders (album) 1979
This is one of those bands I loved before I knew who they were. They would come on the radio and my mother would always switch the radio station once she realised who was on (I later found out it was because they were the makers of ‘Brass in Pocket’, which my mother objected to because it was so overtly sexual). Chrissie Hynde has one of my all time favourite voices of any genre, and I have never seen her live for fear that gorgeous alto isn’t what it once was. As a teenager I eventually discovered who the band was thanks to a lyrics search in the early days of the internet and this was one of the first records I ever bought. Chrissie’s voice aches and somehow manages to convey humour and misery at the same time. This album’s chockers with hits, the spitting, snarling ‘Precious’, the bouncy ‘Stop Your Sobbing’ (a cover), ‘Kid’, which is just all kinds of awesomeness and one of the greatest songs ever written, I think (although I waited a long time to put it on a mix CD), and the joyous ‘Mystery Achievement’ at the end of the LP. This is an album I especially like to listen to when things are tricky, and it’s been getting lots of airplay of late.

Patti Smith – ‘Free Money’ (song) 1975
Oh, how I adore it. I love how it builds to a climax and Patti just throws it all out there. When I made the first ever mix CD it was a no brainer that this would be on it.

TV On The Radio – ‘Golden Age’ (song) 2008
From their stellar third record, this song just makes you want to dance. Actually, the album is full of songs that make you want to dance and dance you should. This album is my joint favourite of all time with The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead, and this song is my favourite from the LP. It’s amazing live too. Apparently they’re not for everyone, but for my money they’re the most innovative band going. This album really did save my life, both the anticipation and the enjoyment of it. 

The Smiths – ‘You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby’ (song) 1987
Speaking of The Smiths, they had to come in on this list, even though the list just could be full of them and them alone. This song was actually written prior to The World Won’t Listen’s release in February 1987, but the album is full of B sides and rejected songs from earlier albums. It’s not my favourite song by this wonderful band (‘Panic’ and ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ take the honours there) but I picked this song for this post because it’s the song I’ve thought most about this year as an Honours student. Admittedly it preys upon the complex created by the voices in my head, but as someone who firmly believes in rewarding myself when it’s due, this phrase is one I often think about in trying to get to that point of accomplishment. It’s possible that I just won’t ever earn it yet (baby), but that’s another post, I think. If there’s a thesis theme song, this is it.  


Can – ‘Mother Sky’ (song) 1970
Dance, just dance. This is finally going on the mix CD this year, sorry to ruin the surprise. I’ve listened to this more than a hundred times in the last week alone, it’s just easy to lose yourself in it.

Television – ‘Marquee Moon’ (song) 1977
From the album of the same name, this song is the song above all other songs. I had never heard of this track until early 2003, when my favourite DJ abandoned his Thursday night show on the national youth network (due to a big promotion), called the J Files, which used to focus on a particular artist or band’s work, although occasionally they did something a little different. On this, his last show, he had other people who worked at the station talk about their favourite song, and this was his choice. I went out and bought the record the next day and basically fell in love. The duelling guitars are about as good as it gets, and yes, it’s long – but seriously, just lose yourself in it. I celebrate with this song, I revel in it when miserable, and last week when I could only feel relief coursing through my veins it was what I played over and over again. It is superlative in every way.

What songs or albums do you listen to obsessively?
Wednesday, October 17, 2012

You Won't Fail


These three letters have haunted my existence for the last 13 days. They stand for Discontinue Not Fail.

I’ll back up and explain. My mentor and I had agreed that a relatively simple extension on the thesis would be sufficient. The trouble is that I have been contending not just with one of the worst depressive episodes I have ever experienced, but some horrors of my past that just won’t seem to go away this year. The two of them together has made for a really difficult few months. Unfortunately by the time I realised I needed more time for my work, most of the official deadlines for these things had already passed and I was left with the option to apply for a DNF. This is categorically a last resort and isn’t granted in many instances.

I had solid grounds for my application and it was strong. But it wasn’t a sure thing. I really didn’t think it was going to happen.

About 14 hours ago I received an email saying the DNF was granted. It was one of the most intense moments of relief I have ever experienced and I can breathe again properly for the first time in about 2 weeks. When you’re a singer, shallow breathing is something you really notice. It troubles you, because it doesn’t quite feel right.

The DNF isn’t really what I want to talk about though, and I certainly don’t want to talk about the bad things that just won’t go away. I mostly want to talk about how, even when things got as bad as they get for me, even when I felt like I had to go to hospital, I had a support network around me. I was not alone.

I have spoken many times about my mentor and how wonderful he is and I’ll say it again – he’s tops. I am unaccustomed to being told ‘it will be all right’, but he made a point of saying it to me several times over the last two weeks. He did everything he could to get specific information about the application in the first place, he made sure to talk to me often and always with his customary good humour, if only to try and distract me, and he sounded almost as relieved as I was yesterday when the news came through. He rang me after I texted him and although it was expected, he made a point of saying he was prepared to fight hard if it hadn’t gone my way. This is from a mild mannered, gentle guy and it was as firm as I have ever heard him speak. He would have gone to bat for me, if it had come to that. He is also making sure that I don’t have to repeat the whole year and do my seminar classes over again (this is a very slim possibility – we both seriously doubt this will happen). He’s looking after it, and given just how much he has on his plate right now as Honours coordinator, this is quite a gesture.

When my borrowing privileges were cut off suddenly at the end of last week, I also then had reason to see the Head of Department, a wonderful teacher who took me for two excellent subjects in second and third year. Had I done Honours on the timetable I ‘should have’, he was the supervisor I would have had. I was astonished he not only remembers me, but recognises me. He was astonished at how many details of his life I remembered and was able to relay. I remember him as having the most fantastic laugh, one of my favourites of anyone I have ever encountered. He still has it and I got it out of him many times in a fifteen minute meeting. But the point is, the mentor had briefed him a little on there being very serious problems weighing me down. He, too, told me it would be all right and that if it wasn’t he would do everything he could to help. He also emphasised how excited he was that I will be applying for tutoring work in the next couple of years, and looks forward to fighting to have me. This is not something he had to say at all, but he did. It is just over eight year since I saw him last, and given how much has changed in my life since then, I found it immensely comforting that our rapport was still there, and that he cared. That he thought enough of me to bother. Part of this was his job (signing the form), but most of it was him actually thinking I was worth talking down from the ledge.

My other seminar teacher has also been supportive and decent.  He is still waiting on work of mine to mark, he has been there to help when I had to change topics, he has been patient about the fact that I can’t read more than about a page an hour right now, and sometimes he’s just stopped to talk in the corridor or at the coffee shop. I am so glad that he is pleased I asked him to be my associate supervisor for post grad work, that he is actually excited at the idea. Or if he isn’t he’s doing a really good job of faking it.

Now don’t get me wrong I also had an awful incident with a member of the department who I like and respect who, while not knowing specifics, told me I should just get over my problems. I thought about talking about that and bitching about it, but truthfully it pales in significance to this support offered by others.

I try and avoid saying stuff like this, but I have mostly been through the big, bad stuff of my life alone. For the first time ever, I feel like I have people around me who have my back, who really actually care about me even though they are under no obligation to do so. Skully also really stepped up over the weekend and talked sense into me, and I am eternally grateful for that kindness. A lot of my work this year has centred around different types of community. I love that I am finding such solace in different types of community this year too. It is one of the many gifts of this challenging, manic, wonderful year.

‘DNF granted.’ I hate acronyms but this one suddenly seems a lot friendlier than it did.