A time-traveling semi-fictional account of my ‘bipolar’ year, before the lockdown of ‘managed’ depression. The final and perhaps most important of a series of back-tracking blogs
It’s 2016. The day after a work-based session learning how to deal with dementia sufferers, which ended up feeling more like an afternoon of warning signs, and (although it turned out it wasn’t just me doing such self-examinations) I was having to psychologically bat them away, as if I had self-doubt-carrying mosquitoes in my head. How had I become so out-of-joint with lived experience? What had happened to make me feel that the past decade was a storm of immaterial nothingness?
Although evidence abounds that links all this to the point where we became immersed in an ‘always on’ culture (was 2005 /2006 the point when we began this slide into a quagmire of amnesia?) a persistent conviction lasts through the years that the year 2005 shook me so hard that I went into a sort of sensory lockdown – and my investigations are ongoing.
Meanwhile I couldn’t help but feel like I was another planet within the dementia training, like it was a secondary school lesson where I’m slouching at the back of the room, too trapped in the day-in-hand to appreciate the value of education.
On this day, in 2o16, through an haze of digital distractions disconnecting my attention, I manage to just about read a Paul Mason article about his anticipations of the inevitable structural collapse of global capitalism, (upon which our beliefs and aspirations still so bitterly and reliantly ride, secretly telling each other “it’s over, isn’t it?”). In 2005 this would have been the sort of thing you’d wake up in a cold sweat about; but nothing feels real anymore, not in the world we inhabit after 2008.
I find that Mason’s article connected somewhat historically with the attention being given to the fact that the 20th century pop icons, upon which the frozen culture of late capitalism clings to, are literally dying. 2016 seems to be a final culling of the pop cultural stars that have defined Westernised subjectivity for nearly 60 years.
Logically, it’s inevitable that a generation of artists who shone so bright that they left very little for the following generations to work with, are dying in their 60’s and 70’s. It shocks our 2016-selves exactly because the gradual backwards flow of our ‘always on’ digitised-times relies on the stars of the near-pasts instead of creating its own, and in the process we seem to collectively forget just how old they are.
And none of this would have mattered so much to my disconcertingly disconnected self, if it wasn’t for the death of a ‘minor’ in the shadow of the likes of Bowie and Lemmy: the death of the artist responsible for the anguished album covers of 80’s group The The: Andrew ‘Andy Dog’ Johnson, the brother of The The’s main main man, Matt Johnson.
I recalled these tormented album covers from browsing in CD shops (now long-gone in 2016) aged 18, and thinking how good they looked, and that I really ought to check out the music that lay behind the sleeve. But sometimes it seems that the most truly important music in your life waits patiently to enter into it, as I know full-well that I wouldn’t have “got it” in my late teens. Like Joy Division, who accompanied The The on my CD Walkman on my long walks in my turbulent early 20’s, I needed to have experienced things, understood emotional extremes, before I needed their music in my life.
If my body could be cut in half, as if it was a large tree, to reveal the rings of years lived on this planet – rings shaped, fattened, and contorted by what the years brought – some of the rings would be completely bleached by music records. The Stone Roses’ self-titled album, gravitating around the penultimate track This is The One, totally bleaches the ’99/00 millennial moment. The The’s Soul Mining, gravitating around the epic finale GIANT, engulfed my 2005; a year on a land where the noise level, that ceaseless chattering (the death-knell of real communication) was on that very brink of the permanent daylight of today’s zombielife. In a way, this is where the story begins….
In 2016 there’s a endless debate in the back of my mind over whether that part of me that died in 2005 had to die, and due to the unresolvable nature of ‘what ifs’, GIANT is on endless repeat in this decade-old thought-chamber.With all this in mind, I decided it was right to use this blog to travel back, but one last time.
If these blogs appear to be more nostalgic than anything, well, from a more humanistic in-the-here-and-now perspective, I think nostalgia is kind of necessary for the human soul in an age of total digital recall. However, the long-view screams at me saying that I’m helping compound the digital wipe-out and the “…nowhere, and …forever”, nature of this place we currently occupy – a total detachment from the surrounding injustices that are undoubtedly proliferating.
But this is a semi-fictional account. I’m aware that what I’m writing in 2016 about 2005 is stained by all the years in-between. These accounts are important for my navigation of the year 2016; times that feel both out of joint and unhinged.
Back to 2005… …
Winter still clung on as the train our art university group from Barnsley College were traveling on came into daylight at the French side of the channel tunnel. These fellow-travellers were all new(ish) friends, and despite tremors of an unmanageable depressive turbulence rearing its ugly head as 2004 became 2005, I still clung onto this conviction that ‘things’ were around the corner that would ensure my ascent into the picture frames of those guilt-free ‘beautiful people’, who laughed in the face of gravity, and whom seemed to be everywhere in the early 2000’s.
One song painted a glorious sunshine over France as we left the tunnel. I can’t even remember if reality matched up, but This is The Day had concocted a sort of magic around my perceptions, and its twinkling intro really did evoke the feeling of leaving a tunnel into sunshine. I was not ready for the proverb that the light at the end of the tunnel is sometimes a train coming the other way – I was more vulnerable than I think I’ve ever been.
As in previous years, I have become reliant on what my psychotherapist of 10 years later would say was a state of ‘waiting for the universe to align’, when my faculties seemed inadequate to steer me from an anguished state. What differentiates the spring/summer of 2005 to the rest of my life though is an inability to manage my down-spells and thus I’m placing unbelievably high stakes on finding some better place.
From Paris onward I’ve been higher and lower in quick succession than at any other point in my life, and any point in my the following ten years of my life; I’m finding ‘hope’ dangerous, as I all-too-quickly rest my need for things to sort themselves out on them.
The emotional ride that Soul Mining takes, from start to finish, seems to have uncannily tracked my descent into an uncontrollable mess as the initially dream-keeping-quality of this years’ term time has descended into a bitter reality of an unwelcome deep summer. The song GIANT seems to have me on a lifeline, neither giving or taking one away, but articulating the mixture of hope-reliant-euphoria and suicidal-leaning-despair I’m inbetween. GIANT’s chanting outro has synchronized with the way that the entire world seems to be caving in on me.
I’m so embarrassed/humiliated to even admit to myself that the catalyst, or tipping point, for all this was a girl I’d convinced myself into believing liked me lots – even though we’d exchanged about five full sentences. It became the locus for this need for ‘the universe to align’ into a safe place, and now it’s all evaporated into the nothingness it always was. The humiliation/embarrassment I feel is merely making the ability to deal with it harder.
I have begun wonder if 21 is the hardest year for everyone – it wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t had initially offered me the promise of the type of life I’d always wanted. It’ll take years to realise that we were still so immature- yet the maturity I proceed into will feel sorely lacking.
I’ve got no money, because I clung to the need for some sort of rescue to the point that I spent my student loan erratically and haven’t been able to deal with the task of looking for work, which is hard enough now, nevermind in the future. I’m finding just about enough funds to go out on student nights (nights which will no longer exist after 2008, at least not in small towns still struggling for identity from the previous decades of mass unemployment). The rest of the time the only way I can deal with things is by going on long long walks up onto the nearby hills, the stark landscapes and exhaustive distances helping me drain the ability to care – The The and Joy Division being about the only things that correspond, emotionally, to the need to reach this state.
I will just about survive this year, the task of doing so will be bleached by the emotional ride of Soul Mining. At what cost though? Once I get beyond this year this emotional rawness will be succeeded by a drawn-out numbing.
What will follow on from this summer will be a regime of ‘managed’ depression. But let’s be clear here: it was never really my own depression I had to learn to manage, but my poor adjustment, when coming-of-age, to living in secretly depressed times, that, in 2016, will still be just about held together by cynical disbelief. My poor adjustment to this is what I will have to learn how to manage. And this will continue until my future self begs for more under the existential poverty of it all.
Once I get beyond 2005, and this emotional rawness subsides, I’ll still forever remain intrigued as to why music from the late 70’s to the early 80’s, with The The and Joy Division at the crucible of it, comes as close as anything to articulating the emotional turmoil I’m enduring right now in a time when all the shittiness of the 20th century had supposed to have subsided for a glorious new millennium – as, even after 9/11, that still seems the general feeling.
When I begin to edge closer to my mid-20’s and then to my 30’s, I’ll find myself coming both into contact with increasingly emotionally-screwed-up 18-21 year olds, and new music that just doesn’t seem to deal with this epidemic, not anywhere near as well as music from the an era I’ll later come to acknowledge as being Margaret Thatcher’s first term in office.
My current understanding of what is wrong with the world is unable to express why the reason I feel so shit is massively to do with it. I bang on about climate change and war, and then how troubled I get from time to time, aware there’s so much inbetween, but with no idea of how to explain just what it all is.
In hindsight, the wounds I felt it dealt me will force me into a ceaseless critique of the impacts of the neoliberal political economy on the human soul. That the successive crops of 18-21 year olds will seem on a whole more self-sure and competitive than previous ones will prove to be a clear indication that a project began under Thatcher (in the UK at least) was only just getting going when the rawness of Matt Johnson’s Soul Mining was recorded.
In 2016 it is often talked about how competitive and overly-assertive ‘young people’ are. But what should be mentioned in the same sentence is how high mental health issues are within people in their early adult years.
I was going through my toughest point when Facebook was an obscure project nobody outside Silicon Valley had likely heard of, and Myspace was still too much of a novelty to be a social dependency. I had no understanding of the pressures that the neoliberal model was putting on human beings to become marketised individuals, even though I can clearly see the pressure it placed on my sense of who I was.
Now that I can see how social networking was an intensification and extension into cyberspace of all of this, I can fully see that what I was on the cusp of in 2005, the 18-21 year olds of today are swimming in. The pressure for the person that you are to be successful is surely immense – and then we wonder why young people are so competitive yet equally so screwed up.
This wasn’t as clear when Thatcher lauded ‘individualism’ over social democracy and collective bargaining. But now we’re swimming in it, perhaps it’s more easy to see how harder it is express raw emotion through art and music when our thoughts are plagued by an ‘hunger games’ level of competitiveness in this advanced point of the neoliberal age.
If a sense of the failure of a more humane modernity, and a falling to the seductions of Thatherite selfishness, indirectly runs through the terminal nature of Joy Division, just as Thatcher (and Reagan in the US) became leader of the country (1979), then the raw anguish of “how can anybody know me when I don’t even know myself?” in Soul Mining seems a direct emotional response to then new agenda’s assaults on our subjectivies, when there was still some ‘breathing space’.
Breathing space is what we seem to so dearly lack today. And perhaps this intensifies a normal human tendency for reflection on times gone by. This is the last time-travelling post of mine; one that is pivoted on the cusp of the ‘always on’ frenzy I think we were entering in the mid-2000’s. The The’s Soul Mining, however, is possibly the pivotal album of my adult life – at the moment I can’t think of another one that has made such an impact since I became an adult.
John Ledger, 2005 and 2016.