She “…was a personality before she was entirely a person, and, like anyone to whom that happens, she is in a sense the hapless victim of what others have seen in her, written about her, wanted her to be and not to be. The roles assigned to her are various, but variations on a single theme.”
These words evoked for me the feelings I have long had about, and the image of, Sinéad O’Connor in the late 1980s, an embryonic personality driving and sometimes hindering a skyrocketing career and startling voice. I’d always felt back then that the well-publicized “mania” (I wouldn’t really call it this), early in her career, had unfairly stuck to her, giving her a reputation she could never outrun. She was so very young when her career took off, and we forget – today, as always – that people are still quite unformed and incomplete throughout their early adulthoods; I’d venture to say that many people continue to be unformed well beyond youth. She fit Didion’s description: a personality before she was a fully formed person.
O’Connor, though, also experienced very public controversies (which many would dismiss as publicity ploys), public identity crises and shifts, and quite gut-wrenching bouts of depression and battles with other forms of mental illness (and here I mean gut-wrenching for her fans to watch her go through; I cannot even begin to imagine or put into words what these bouts are like for her, undoubtedly something much worse than just “gut-wrenching” – maybe The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon begins to touch on some part of it, but certainly not all of it), which continued well beyond her youth, worsening with the passage of time.
Could one say she never had the opportunity to become a fully formed person, to move beyond the preternatural talent and preconceived ideas people had about her? And, given the revelations she has shared over the years about her own experiences with abuse and mental illness, how could she ever become a fully formed person? How could she not struggle, often – again – very publicly?
I thought about all of this rather without aim while plowing through the Didion writing, humming tunes from The Lion & the Cobra album to myself, overcome by memories of the summer of 1988, listening to this album repeatedly (when I finally got it on vinyl, after waiting forever), so in love with its extremes of ethereal wave and primitive scream. How, oh, how, I was asked by classmates, could I like this? (Perhaps another case of people failing to look beyond the shaved-head surface.) Eventually Sinéad gave us I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, which, at least for a while, turned her into a mainstream favorite, and the masses could finally understand what I had been saying since 1987.
In one of those all-too-frequent little coincidences, it was only a week or so after being reminded of Sinéad by Didion’s writing that Sinéad herself posted a heart-rending video of herself on her Facebook page talking about her diagnosed mental illnesses and recent suicidal thoughts. It feels exploitative to post the video again (certainly in its complete form), although it’s on her official Facebook page to see. A cry for help, a need to be heard, a voice reaching out to others who perhaps felt as she did? In a way, this act felt very much like the Sinéad O’Connor who has always existed, no matter how lost she feels: she won’t be silenced; she won’t care if you, we, anyone doesn’t want to hear what she has to say; she is, despite being devastated by the effects of her illnesses and the rejection she has perceived from her loved ones, still defiant in the way only she can be. Hopefully it will be this defiance that keeps her going.
Birthdays are a funny time when you hear from people you never hear from; often people you have never heard from or actually talked to in your entire life, thanks to the wonders of invasive Facebook (of course it is only invasive because I let it be).
A guy with whom I had no actual acquaintance in junior high (and even less in high school), never sharing so much as a single one-on-one conversation but perhaps shared a handful of sarcastic group conversations, mostly arguing the (non-)merits of U2 (with whom I was abnormally preoccupied as an adolescent, steeped in the mania of the freshly released Joshua Tree album), popped up in my Facebook messages.
Back in junior high, my then-best friend and I were certifiably obsessed, and preached full-on religious zealotry like televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker at their zenith: Deliver U2 to the ignorant heathens: “THROW YOUR MONEY AT THESE IRISH LADS!” (I find these ‘lads’ in their past-middle-age incarnation to be rather sanctimonious, just as they were then – but a 12-year-old girl can’t see shit through the rose-colored glasses and distant, mystical music that plays silently when you mentally mythologize the Irish in any context.) That’s not to say that I don’t find The Joshua Tree to be an end-to-end marvel of aural achievement – only that my interest in U2 as a group dissipated along with most of the persistent drilling of teenage madness. Never again have I been as fervent a defender or ardent fan of anything, despite my wide-ranging passion for music. Perhaps after the U2 period, I moved fluidly into a ‘Madchester’ and shoegaze phase, but the musical palette continued to expand (and continues to this day), so U2 is a kind of speck on the horizon, even if they were the spark toward painting that multi-hued horizon. (And are, apparently, atop the list of anodyne sounds programmers report listening to while they work.)
But the point, though, was that this barely-an-acquaintance guy, who seems as an adult to be a genuine, cool and lovely person, but who had seemed in our youth, however vaguely I ‘knew’ him, like a too-cool, textbook-definition total dick (but this may well have been surface-level bravado; how many times have I written about the surface versus what’s underneath? We were all assholes at times, me included.), wrote to wish me a happy birthday and added: “U2 is still touring and playing the Joshua tree album, I was wrong in 8th grade and you were so right.”
In some weird way, I was touched, and this (here I am laughing) ‘vindication’ of my aggressive passion (he and his friends slagged off U2 at the time, but I don’t know if that was just to be contrary the way teenage boys are when they don’t have any idea how to actually communicate) was like its own happy little birthday present.
It’s fun to go back to old mixes – I have been doing these formally since 2004, so there are a lot of them. It’s extraordinary to feel so strongly the feelings felt at the time of selecting the songs. Even songs that did not have particular import at the time – now I can remember exactly the feeling associated with listening. The 2017 Moving On mix from the early part of the year, for example, included “Trouble” by Girl Ray, which was never a favorite, but now when I listen to it, I imagine this whirlwind trip to Stockholm in December 2016 to pick up my new car and the long drive home (5 hours), the strange feeling of it being snowy and wintry in Stockholm but not at home in the woods in western Sweden (really unusual reversal of winter fortune).
Or I look at the Halloween 2007 mix, and even though I had no idea at that point that I would be leaving Iceland the following year, there are all these hints scattered through everything that I would eventually move to Sweden. Not to mention the ongoing themes of melancholy and uncertainty (the entire 2007 mix reflects that). I can sense an almost palpable shift in the way the mixes were done and the mounting intensity of my music searches and listening as soon as I got my bearings in Norway/Sweden.
In 2008, I made a mix but was almost rootless, and I think I see that rootlessness in the ‘floating’ and almost lazy nature of the mix (even though I had connections to and reasons for the selections, but as a whole it remains one of my least favorite mixes). By 2009 I was deep into ‘discovery’ mode, and that has mostly continued ever since. In 2009, influenced heavily by a French guy, initials BB, dontcha know?? (When am I not under the influence of French guys?) I put a bunch of songs from Diving with Andy on the mix and promptly forgot all about this band until a few weeks ago when Mr Firewall mentioned he had seen the French TV show Maison Close and really liked some songs heard in it from a band whose name he misremembered, but which turned out to be Diving with Andy. Music is a bit like … puzzle pieces. They fit into place sometimes in more than one puzzle, sometimes many years after the puzzle is boxed up and put away.
I guess the truth is life shifted and became something totally different after I left Iceland. It has just taken me ten years to fully recognize and appreciate that difference. Now we are in the 13th year of these mixes. And every year, every time I think… why am I still doing this? But when I consider stopping, I just don’t.
Most parcels will contain some ultra-sour candy from Sweden (I have not included it for everyone, as I knew some people would not like it at all and others would be allergic or not able to consume one or another of the ingredients). I recognize that sour candy isn’t a lovely surprise to everyone (certainly not the way chocolate is welcomed), but sour candy is just about the only kind that I can’t resist. At least here you can appreciate the fun packaging. Rest assured, if I keep this up, I will probably revert to more universally palatable treats. Enjoy your summer!
08 Jason Molina – “Tower Song”…The end is coming soon, it’s plain/A warm bed just ain’t worth the pain…
The late Molina doing the late, great Townes van Zandt. “Your fear has built a wall between/Our lives and all what lovin’ means/Will have to go unfelt it seems/And that leaves only sorrow”
09 Chris Cornell – “Before We Disappear”…But there’s a door in every cell/A pearl inside of every shell…
RIP. Never my favorite artist but, my goodness.
10 Julia Holter – “Silhouette”…He can hear me sing/Though he is far/I will lose sight of him…
“No time to hesitate/I cede all my love and play your abandoned fool”
12 Laura Marling – “Soothing”…I banish you with love/You can’t come in/You don’t live here anymore…
“May those who find you find remorse/A change of course, a strange discord resolved”
13 Robyn Hitchcock – “Mad Shelley’s Letterbox”…Love is all we lay to waste/Now it’s only lips of loneliness that taste you…
14 Charlie Hilton – “Pony”…Get off my back/I’m not your pony…
For Martina ❤ & our dog and pony shows and all the unreasonable expectations of corporate life
15 El Perro del Mar – “Breaking the Girl”
For dear Ben ❤, whom I think of often and miss
16 Aimee Mann – “Poor Judge”…And I can see your light on/Calling me back to make the same mistake again…
“You might have found some other reason/To leave me in that dark ravine/My heart is a poor judge/And it harbors an old grudge”
17 Pumarosa – “Priestess”…It must be hard, you’re being so statuesque…
19 Gun Outfit – “Legends of My Own”
Originally an Olympia band… “I looked familiar in a foreign land/I couldn’t speak, but I could understand/From another life I rode/Into a desert of my own/And when I put my blanket down/I’m going to dream all over”
20 Matt Berry – “Take My Hand”…You could be the one for all I know…/…I can see the light, it looks like you…
For J ❤ “Everybody I know these days is boring me/Or ignoring me/But not you”
21 Martha Wainwright – “Around the Bend”
“I’ve been around the world and back again/I still can’t get those cards to win”
44 Tim Darcy – “Still Waking Up”…Yeah you say I’m not awake, but still alive/Isn’t it funny how that happens?…
“Something about the way you blink your eyes/Tells me that you’re not ready/Tells me that you’re still waking up, alone/With too many years left to plan”
45 Novella – “Does the Island Know”…without consequence/is insanity…
46 Fionn Regan – “The Meetings of the Waters”…Meetings of the waters/Heartaches in the woods…
47 Dusty Springfield – “Wishin’ and Hopin’”
Just a groovy sound that reminded me of something – but definitely not admirable lyrics
48 Robyn Hitchcock – “Flavour of Night”…But who needs to talk when you’re caught in the flavour of night?…
“Eyes you don’t trust, but the fingers have beckoned/How long you got left? Well how long do you reckon?/But who goes to waste when they’re tasting the flavour of night?”
49 Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun”
RIP. At this point the most cliché, overused song but oddly it was one I had not much heard until Cornell died. I was more likely to run into Soundgarden members at the Broadway/Cap Hill Safeway than hear their music
50 Charlie Hilton – “Funny Anyway”
“Put your arms around me/Tell me I’m ok, even though I’m not laughing/It’s funny anyway”
51 Kadhja Bonet – “Honeycomb”
“Beckoning – with fickle majesty/Your whims are always met/Honeycomb/And I lucky fool in courtly jest/But the jokes are all on me”
52 Maybird – “Big Sun Explosion”…I finally lifted my eyelids to see light/And when they were open, I saw the big sun explosion…
“Poor vision and poor health, what do you tell yourself?/Objects appear a little more clear when they’re nearer”
53 Yo La Tengo – “My Heart’s Not In It”…And there’s just nothing I can do/To get that feeling I had with you…
54 Cate Le Bon – “I Just Wanna Be Good”
For SD Firewall. “I don’t wanna be the cold cuts lying on your floor/I don’t wanna be the stray dog scratching at your door”
55 The Clean – “Anything Could Happen”
New Zealand ❤
58 Guided By Voices – “Tractor Rape Chain”
Alcoholic Mr Rogers! Love to Naomi. “Why is it every time I think about you/Something that you have said or implied makes me doubt you/Then I look into your cynical eyes and I know it/As if it never meant anything to me”
67 Julie Byrne – “Sleepwalker”
“I lived my life alone before you/And with those that I’d never succeeded to love/And I grew so accustomed to that kind of solitude/I fought you, I did not know how to give it up”
68 Portishead – “Sour Times”
Mostly just to accompany super sour candy
70 David Bowie – “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”…Oh, no, love, you’re not alone…
71 Aimee Mann – “Invisible Ink”…I suppose I should be happy to be misread/Better be that than some of the other things I have become…
“Oh, I could get specific but/Nobody needs a catalog/With details of a love I can’t sell any more”
72 Low Roar – “Give Me an Answer”
“I know the time and the space that you need; it’s blurry but I’ll get on/It’s getting hard to tell day from a day, just say it and I’ll move on”. If only people would lead with actual answers
73 Piano Magic – “Closure”
“Let’s get this thing sewn up, let’s get this thing signed off, let’s tie up these loose ends/cause you say we can’t just be friends/All these people open wounds/the English always too polite to say what really must be said/They’d rather take it to their death/But you never get, no you never get…closure”
75 Townes van Zandt – “If I Needed You”…And you will miss sunrise/If you close your eyes…
76 The Finn Brothers – “Last Day of June”…The city draws its breath in/I can almost hear it thinking/There are people within my walls/See their wild disorder/Driving their machines/Swarming like a million bees…
77 Meshell Ndegeocello – “Either Way I Lose”
It’s weird but this song and interpretation of it desperately makes me want to have sex. Haha.
I remember with some trepidation and self-consciousness my very first attempts to read and make sense of French – taking everything so literally at first, taking my time with grasping idiom. It’s always a series of baby steps when transforming your brain to take in and process new languages. To really feel them and live them, you must, to paraphrase the late Derek Walcott, you must change your life. I did not change my life, and thus I’m still no expert, but better recognize the fluidity of language in a way that my grammatical and rigid approach to English never allows for.
One window (or ‘windae’, were we Scots) to crawl through to find meaning in disembodied, lifeless translation drudgery was music. As soon as I realized, as a teenager who wanted nothing more than to run away from my hometown (tout de suite), that much of my favorite music was inspired by literary greatness, I could at least immerse myself in those other worlds. Imagine, though, that somehow in the intervening years, I had completely forgotten the connection between “Les yeux des pauvres” (Baudelaire) and the almost word-for-word treatment by The Cure in “How Beautiful You Are”.
I don’t know if you can imagine how much it was like opening a window to the past, almost like time travel, to be reminded of this and to return in my mind to that time in 1988-9 when this song so deeply moved me to tears and led me to Baudelaire. And how, now in present day, having the memory reawakened when someone sent me the Baudelaire describing it as: “unutterably sad commentary on relationships and the human condition. I love it”, I am moved to find someone else is as deeply affected by the same feelings.
Music heard with you
at home or in the car
or even while strolling
didn’t always sound as pristine
as piano tuners might wish –
it was sometimes mixed with voices
full of fear and pain,
and then that music
was more than music,
it was our living and our dying.
For the first time in my life, I have no butter in the house. I usually have a small stockpile because I’m always preparing to bake. But I haven’t baked since Christmas, which must be the longest bake-drought of my adult life. If I were to get into it, I am sure the drive would return, but now isn’t the time. Sometimes I wonder about shifts like this – are they phases, or are they permanent changes in our make-up? Are lemon cakes and Anzac biscuits a part of the past?
While in the now (or ‘the noo’ to be all Scot about it), the scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies does not waft through the air, I am surrounded by sunlight, poetry and music. All ache and exultation.
from Mean Free Path by Ben Lerner
What if I made you hear this as music
But not how you mean that. The slow beam
Opened me up. Walls walked through me
Like resonant waves. I thought that maybe
If you aren’t too busy, we could spend our lives
Parting in stations, promising to write War and Peace, this time with feeling
As bullets leave their luminous traces across
Wait, I wasn’t finished. I was going to say
Breakwaters echo long lines of cloud
Oh, what could be more beautiful than “I thought that maybe/If you aren’t too busy, we could spend our lives/Parting in stations, promising to write/War and Peace, this time with feeling”?
Maybe the soundtrack du jour: Ruby Haunt’s “Crave”. It sounds just like something I would have fallen in love with in high school but sounds immediate at the same time. It pulls my heartstrings.
“Listen to the girl, who waits by your side, in a simple world, no need to ask why, nothing’s gonna change, the people pass by, you feel no pain, as she starts to cry. Craving, craving some comfort. You can’t explain, the things on your mind, you’re on your way, you won’t rewind. It’s over with, no need to lie, you’re just a myth, but you know it’s fine. Craving, craving some comfort.”
If only life were like living in a bubble of poetry, literature, music, going to gigs, walking through the fields and forests, last-minute adventures, linguistic parades and endless conversations.