On a dark stage in 1967, the jazz-rock ensemble Jefferson Airplane perform the song “Crown of Creation” to an enthralled crowd. A large screen flashes a red sun behind the singers as they harmonize. Their voices shimmer and converge into one alchemy of sound as the rhythm guitar pulsates with the light show. The lead guitar cuts through the stage and twists out into the audience like a wild river.
From the first note of their debut album through the last note of 1969’s Volunteers, Jefferson Airplane were a musically diverse force that took the world by storm. They began as a local San Francisco folk-rock band in 1965, and within two years they skyrocketed to fame with the band’s two seminal hits, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.” For fans, however, the magic extends far beyond the band’s two hit singles.
The Airplane sound will guide listeners through an echo tunnel and into a world the band’s rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner once called, “The unbridled passion of the 60’s”. Jefferson Airplane soared to the top of the charts during a time when rock music was exploding with talent, new ideas, and technology.
The band’s professionalism and thunderous live performances attracted local San Francisco musician Grace Slick, the member who ultimately launched the band to superstardom.
Like all legendary bands, a mysterious element drove the Airplane’s sound. The songs drew from a dynamic color palette loaded with reverb and surrounded by layers of gauzy dreamscape. They were unique among other popular bands of the time for their ability to seamlessly combine folk-based music with jazz, blues, and psychedelia.
The music and the overall persona of the band were an ideology. Among all the other legendary rock bands from the 1960’s, it was Jefferson Airplane who cut directly into the heart of the scene. Their music represented the boundless optimism, joy, and romance of the era
My introduction to the Airplane began with Grace Slick’s face on the cover of her 1998 autobiography, Grace Slick:Somebody to Love?
One day, I wandered around a bookstore browsing for anything that looked interesting. I walked up to the front and turned toward the new release shelf. A shiny cover with a woman’s face captured my eye. I did a double take and froze. The most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my life was staring me down with unnerving intensity. Grace Slick’s infamous “laser stare” stopped me in my tracks.
I immediately walked over to the book and opened it up. The first page contained several author quotes about drug experiences, trouble with the law, and various other comic tidbits. They were hilarious and I was sold.
After reading the book a couple of times, I finally picked up a copy of the Airplane compilation album, White Rabbit and Other Hits. I listened, and I was hooked.
As it turned out, this beautiful and funny Grace Slick was also a fantastic singer. The interplay between the various instruments and the two voices — Grace and Marty Balin — was unlike anything I had experienced. Complex layers of minor key madness danced around soft rhythm brushstrokes. The music flashed with colors while the lyrics evoked rich imagery.
Year by year, each album by the Airplane portrays a changing era. Their debut album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, reveals a more innocent, folksy vibe than later albums.
The album was released in 1966, right at the turning point before full-blown psychedelia and heavier rock hit the airwaves. The song “Run Around” is awash in late night carnival lights. Two lovers romance around the town walking along the waterfront, reading poetry and gazing at the stars.
Many songs on the album are folk-based, but it’s more than folk. The sound stretches beyond traditional folk into a sonic dimension specific to this band that defies both genre and description.
1967’s Surrealistic Pillow represents the big shift in the Airplane’s sound. Grace’s searing vocal on “Somebody to Love” drives the song forward while Jorma Kaukonen’s lead guitar slides out from underneath the ground and hangs on the ceiling. The album intertwines the Airplane’s earlier folk influences with a new power — bluesy and raging.
Surrealistic Pillow has plenty of quieter moments as well. The acoustic guitar in “Today” sounds like water dropping into a dark pond surrounded by neon flowers. The drums reverberate with pink hues.
“Coming Back to Me” features a flute backed by acoustic guitar, but again, this is no ordinary folk song. The imagery is so rich that you can see the protagonist. You are him. It’s autumn, you’re deep in the woods. You’re alone in a cabin. You look out the window — there’s the ghost of your lover. The purity of Balin’s voice lends itself perfectly to the song’s theme.
On their 1968 album, After Bathing at Baxter’s, the Airplane dived headfirst into insanity. At this point, everyone in the rock world was competing with Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix dropped into the scene and blazed fiery trails of new sonic territory. Everyone was floored by Hendrix’s sound, and all the popular rock acts of the day began playing differently.
As a result of Hendrix’s influence (and as a result of the emerging drug culture), some incredibly weird albums emerged in 1968. After Bathing at Baxter’s is one such album.
Baxter’s is a big yellow jazz room with wooden floorboards and xylophones. Men wearing top hats and red suspenders pound on drums. The guitar becomes a spaceship, Grace’s singing sounds tribal at moments, and the lyrics are surreal.
The song “Wild Tyme” has a marching band feel, the sound of excitement and determination. Flower children march through the streets and over fields. Now they’re pouring out of buildings and the crowd is growing. A couple observes all the changes happening everywhere. They’re wild with joy. They have each other, their friends — everything stretches out in endless possibilities.
“Saturday Afternoon” is another gem; hillsides full of people dance in the sun, and that persistent chiming guitar is a call to a greater power within.
The production and general sound of Baxter’s is bizarre. It’s like they’re playing underground. The band are down in the underworld playing through a bullhorn, and it’s connected to a wire that snakes up through miles of dirt and plugs into your stereo.
Crown of Creation is Jefferson Airplane at their best. The album combines all their earthy folksiness with striking moments of lead guitar and rhythm prowess.
The song “Crown of Creation” is one of my favorites; filled with ancient caves, meadows, and gold. Crown is darker than previous albums, owing partly to the increasing song contributions of Grace Slick. Always the darkest musical force in the band, Grace wrote scathing lyrics directed at society. The backing music was ominous and unsettling, but darkly alluring. Just like her beauty.
1969’s Volunteers has a few gems, most notably “Wooden Ships”, but this is the album where the band starts to lose me. The sound is almost country in places. This phase of the Airplane, however, was also a reflection of the changing music scene. The psychedelic 60’s gave way to a brief country-rock fad, shortly before heavier bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin stormed the charts.
“Wooden Ships” is the finest song from Volunteers. You can see and feel the boat crashing over the waves. You can taste the salt. The song is a fitting goodbye — Jefferson Airplane set a course away from popular music with one final and passionate song.
They would never return. But in their wake, they left an unsurpassed legend for generations to enjoy.
“We played at the Monterey jazz festival, and someone wrote a review. They said we sounded like a mule kicking down a barn door. We all liked that, you know! We thought, wow, that’s great. Among all these jazz guys we sound like a mule kicking a barn door.”
“Every time I hear “White Rabbit,” I am back on the greasy midnight streets of San Francisco, looking for music, riding a fast red motorcycle downhill into the Presidio, leaning desperately into the curves through the eucalyptus trees, trying to get to the Matrix in time to hear Grace Slick play the flute” – Hunter S. Thompson
Have you ever listened to a song for years only to realize one day that you’re wrong about the meaning behind the lyrics?
For me, it can totally ruin the song.
“Achilles Last Stand” by Led Zeppelin was my battle song.
I thought it was about Vikings sailing into battle.
I would really get into it.
I was a warrior woman on that Viking boat. I stood near the bow with a sword in my hand and copper cuffs on each wrist. My eyes narrowed, the ocean sprayed my face, the boat bobbed up and down over waves… and I experienced the greatest endorphin rush of my life.
Sexy bearded men stood all around me, and they all had great legs.
We were Vikings, and we were going to win.
Everything about this song screams battle song – the pulsating bass, the drums, even the title. The last stand.
At some point, I read an article which revealed the song’s true origin. The title of the song was inspired by a car wreck. Robert Plant busted his foot in a car wreck, and the title is a clever play on that incident. Awww, how cute.
The actual content of the song is about vacationing in Morocco.
Whatever the case may be, I can no longer hear this song without thinking about Plant’s damned foot.
All I can see is Plant’s foot wrapped in bandages while a bunch of long-hairs with sunglasses relax around an outdoor pool. This is decidedly less glamorous than my fantasy. But I can’t go back! The damage is done.
This also happened when I read the lyrics to “Rhinoceros” by The Smashing Pumpkins. There’s a lyric which I always thought was “Open your eyes to these monster lies”.
OPEN YOUR EYES TO THESE MONSTER LIES.
Just look at that lyric! The power! As it turns out, the “monster” part is wrong. For me, that was the most important part.
Monster is defined as “huge” in this context. There are HUGE lies all around us.
Open your friggin’ eyes, people! These lies surrounding us are monstrous! This “monster” element made the lyric incredibly powerful. It added to the depth of the overall sound.
The actual lyric is, “Open your eyes to these must I lie”.
What?! What the hell does that even mean? Some lyric websites say “mustard lies”, which is far worse. It’s almost offensive. “Monster Lies” is much better. It improves the whole character of the lyric.
It’s amazing how people can interpret song meanings and lyrics. I recently looked up the lyrics to “Soot and Stars”, another Pumpkin song. To me, this song is about loss and transition. It’s poetic and sorrowful.
What do other people think this song means?
This is the first comment about “Soot and Stars” at songmeanings.com:
“This song is obviously about Star Wars. It describes the feelings of Darth Vader after all has happened and is said and done”.
I laughed out loud for about 10 seconds when I read that. I would have choked if I was eating. I am fairly certain that the guy was being satirical. But, it proves the point – people can interpret songs and other works in surprisingly diverse ways.
It actually wouldn’t surprise me if someone really believed, with all his heart, that these lyrics are about Star Wars. Yes, that man contemplating his career and life choices is Darth Vader.
“Pssssh. Duhhh, how can you not tell? That’s what makes it so poetic and sorrowful.”
The 13th Floor Elevators are the best kept secret in the history of 1960’s rock music.
My first encounter with The Elevators happened on a primitive version of streaming radio. This station also introduced me to The Who, Eric Burdon, The Stooges, Black Sabbath, King Crimson, and many other acts that I soon became obsessed with. It wasn’t “classic rock” to me back then. It was just this new, incredible music.
As with many other bands that I fell in love with around this time, I heard one good song and proceeded to immediately order a couple ofalbums from their catalog. When I heard the Elevators, I ordered their two legendary albums, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, and Easter Everywhere.
I sat in my living room completely enthralled by both albums. The first album mixed 50’s style rock n’ roll with blues. Roky Erickson’s voice arrested my attention right away; he moaned and screamed like a zombie possessed by electric current.
The lead guitar cut through the mix with alarming precision, and the overall effect was masterful. A kind of magnetic force or energy drove the entire sound which can’t be explained in standard music terms – there was a conviction, an absolute now or never attitude. It sounded like a group of fire and brimstone preachers decided to form a rock band.
The first time I listened, I sat cross-legged on the floor directly in front of my stereo. I put on Psychedelic Sounds and started reading the liner notes. The liner notes had this weird philosophical content. I was immediately puzzled. The writing was academic, but strangely esoteric. The text seemed a little heavy for the album opener; a country-fried punk stomper called “You’re Gonna Miss Me”.
As “Roller Coaster” began playing, I listened to the lyrics closely. At this point, I began to slowly piece everything together.
Here we arrive at the mystique of innocence – that moment of discovery when you absorb information for the first time, but you have no idea who the author is. You have no precedent for the information you are receiving – no historical context for whatever theory, song, or piece of knowledge imparted to you. It was just new, strange, and exciting.
I was blown away. Roky Erickson’s haunting, reverb-saturated voice blasted through the speakers and created a resounding echo in my living room. A very strange whooping sound flew back and forth across the speakers. I turned the dial up. The music shifted suddenly and dropped into a swirling whirlpool of menacing blues guitar and raga.
Easter Everywhere was different, but equally good. “Slip Inside This House” combined lyrics inspired by classical poetry with music that somehow matched the lyrical content. It’s still amazing to me that they pulled this off. It was a feat of genius. The Elevators completely outshined other underground bands from that era.
Their story is a sad one. The general narrative contains two key circumstances that contributed to their plight – an incompetent Texas record label, and their insistence on consuming LSD on a regular basis. Excessive drug use ultimately lead to mental health issues among several band members, most notably Roky Erickson.
Their live shows are the stuff of legend. People who saw them live in their heyday have said that the albums are nothing compared to their early live shows. They played live on LSD, and it apparently didn’t slow them down at all.
In interviews, people who went to their live shows in 1966 say they were the kings of the San Francisco scene. All of the Bay Area bands from this period went to see The Elevators, and they were all floored.
The consensus among people who knew them and saw their performances is that if they would have backed off the drug use and aligned themselves with a good record label, they could have been as big as the Rolling Stones.
The reality is that their situation was a catch-22. The Elevators whole philosophy (and all the strange power behind their music) was driven by consciousness expansion. They wouldn’t have remained the same band if they had cleaned up and started behaving. Instead, they became the very definition of a cult band.
Years later, I can still feel the chills rush over me when I play these albums. My heartbeat kicks up, the speakers magnetize my blood and I want to be inside of that strange musical canvas. I want to just walk right into that room.
These albums are best listened to by candlelight and without any distraction. This is music you cannot listen to passively. As with Jefferson Airplane, Jeff Buckley, Tori Amos, and The Smashing Pumpkins, you live inside of this music.
It is an alternate universe; a sonic island that redefines the concept of what music is. It’s a philosophy, an experience, and a dream – alive and pulsating in time. It shapes your mood and your perception of the environment around you. When you connect to music this good, you transcend your life. You transcend into a power connected to everything.
“Every day is another dawning Give the morning winds a chance Always catch your thunder yawning Lift your mind into the dance Sweep the shadows from your awning Shrink the four fold circumstance That lies outside this house Don’t pass it by”
“I think society is moving a little bit, but I think it isn’t moving near that fast. There’s always gonna be a large, huge bulk of straight people that aren’t going for it.”
“Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, they are so subtle. They can milk you with two notes. They could go no further than from an A to a B, and they could make you feel like they told you the whole universe… but I don’t know that yet. All I have now is strength. Maybe if I keep singing I’ll get it.”
“I always felt that way about the blues, even when I didn’t know anything about it. When I listened to it, I always felt there was something there – an honesty that Peggy Lee was lacking. And now the kids are open enough to say, ‘Now, wait a minute, let me listen for myself’, and those kids are getting into Indian music, getting into black music, getting into any kind of music they think is telling the truth to them.”
“This success thing hasn’t yet compromised the position I took a long time ago in Texas; to be true to myself and not play games. To be the person inside me, not bullshit anybody, be righteous, be real. So far, I’m not wearing cardboard eyelashes and girdles and playing in Las Vegas. I’m still being Janis. It just happens to be on a slightly different level.”
“It’s slightly inhibiting, but it doesn’t force a game on me. Because I don’t let it force a game on me.” (The interviewer asks if the camera is inhibiting, and this is her response).
Hunter S. Thompson
“There was madness in any direction, at any hour… you could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, we were winning. That sense of inevitable victory over the forces of old and evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.”
“’You found the American Dream, in this town?’ [he asked]. I nodded. ‘We’re sitting on the main nerve right now’, I said. ‘You remember that story the manager told us about the owner of this place? How he always wanted to run away and join the circus?’ Bruce ordered 2 more beers. He looked over the casino for a moment and shrugged. ‘Yeah, I see what you mean,’ He said. ‘Now the bastard has his own circus, and a license to steal, too’. He nodded. ‘You’re right, he’s the model.’”
“The room looked like the site of some disastrous zoological experiment involving whisky and gorillas.”
“The rear windows leapt up with a touch, like frogs in a dynamite pond.”
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby
“She was not only singing; she was weeping too. Whenever there was a pause in the song, she filled it with gasping, broken sobs, and then took up the lyric again in a quavering soprano. The tears coursed down her cheeks – not freely, however, for when they came into contact with her heavily beaded eyelashes they assumed an inky color and pursued the rest of their way in slow black rivulets. A humorous suggestion was made that she sings the notes on her face.”
“The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot. The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher… the groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath; already there are wandering confident girls who weave here and there and become for a sharp, joyous moment the center of a group, and then excited with triumph, glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices under the constantly changing light. Suddenly, one of the gypsies, in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage, and moving her hands like Frisco, dances out alone on the canvas platform.”
“The wind has blown off, leaving a loud bright night with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life.”
“Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalks really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees – he could climb to it if he climbed alone, and once there he could gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder. He waited, listening a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star.”
“A startling presence, both visually and vocally. An Oscar Wilde in drag who combined insight and sarcasm that was sometimes light, sometimes dark. A provocateur.” – Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane
Somebody to Love? 1998 Grace Slick Biography
“There’ll always be people who are afraid of living and afraid of dying. And there will always be more of them than there are risk-takers, the people who bring innovation into every area, with our without drugs.”
“Since all changes, no matter how small, are absorbed into and add impetus to the ongoing paradigm shift, nothing ever really slips away. The old themes and styles persisted as stitches in the unfurling tapestry, but they were hard to see. What caught the eye was all the newness.”
“As we lay on our backs in the tall grass on the mountain, each person made a brief awestruck remark about the diversity and synchronicity of the clouds, the air, the trees, and the animals. It was on that mountaintop where I first understood that you and I are only separated by one channel of a limited thought process. If I looked long enough, colors on the same object would slowly change in accordance with my ability to take in the transformation. My usual focused perspective was expanded. Instead of viewing certain things or people as passing scenery, as something inconsequential, the peyote made everything, and everyone seem equally important. Suddenly I could see no isolation, no overabundance. It was just energy exhibiting itself in infinite dimensions.”
“Four gigantic Altec speakers were set up so we could literally feel the playback, the technology could squeeze or explode a sound… there were countless knobs and dials and wires to mold a song into an aural vision, and I was fascinated by all of it.”
“When a band is in sync and everybody is playing well and feeling good, there’s nothing like it. You, both the audience and performers, become the power of the music. It’s a biological as well as spiritual phenomenon and it still happens to me when I’m riding around in a car or sitting at home listening to 130 decibels of speaker-cracking music. An almost tangible shift in feeling happens as I go from thick to weightless.”
“Imagine it’s a Saturday night, and there’s a line of what looks like a bunch of young multi-colored circus freaks waiting to go into the Fillmore Auditorium. The crowd is animated, everybody is talking to each other even though they may have just met for the first time. The only visible sign of color on the outside of the building is a poster drawn in Day-Glo swirls. It reads ‘Jefferson Airplane, The Charlatans, Moby Grape and The Great Society.’ When the door to the building opens, the last of the grey vanishes. At the top of the steps that lead to Fillmore’s main hall there is a wall of bright, intensely colored posters. They’re so numerous that the wall itself is invisible. As you walk onto the dance floor, you have the feeling you’ve just entered seven different centuries all thrown together in one room. The interior of the building is turn-of-the century rococo, and a man in red briefs and silver body paint is handing out east Indian incense. A girl in full renaissance drag is spinning around by herself listening to some baroque music in her head while several people in jeans and American Indian headbands are sitting in a circle on the floor smoking weed. Close by, a good-looking man in a three-musketeer costume is placing ashtrays on the cheap fifties Formica tables that circle the edge of the room. In the corner, people are stripping off their clothes while the acid is taking effect. This is The American Dream (for a few hours) with no color barriers, dress code, moral imperatives, and only one keeper – the show’s intense but smiling dark haired promoter – Bill Graham.”
“But there was a wisdom in it all, as you’ll see if you take a walk some night on a suburban street and pass house after house on both sides of the street, each with the lamplight of the living room shining golden, and inside the little blue square television, each family riveting it’s attention on probably one show; nobody talking; silence in the yards, dogs barking at you because you pass on human feet instead of on wheels… I seem him in future years stalking along with full rucksack in suburban streets, passing the blue tv windows of homes, alone, his thoughts the only thoughts not electrified to the master switch… the millions of the One Eye.” -The Dharma Bums
“It was a mad crowd. They were all urging that tenor man to hold it and keep it with cries and wild eyes, and he was raising himself from a crouch and going down again with his horn, looping it up in a clear cry above the furor. Everybody was rocking and roaring… boom, kick, that drummer was kicking his drums down the cellar and rolling the beat upstairs with his murderous sticks, rattley-boom! The pianist was only pounding the keys with spread eagled fingers, chords at intervals when the great tenor man was drawing breath for another blast… The tenor man jumped down from the platform and stood in the crowd, blowing around, his hat was over his eyes… he just hauled back and stamped his foot and blew down a hoarse, laughing blast, and drew breath, and raised the horn and blew high, wide and screaming in the air.” -On the Road
“See, the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, dharma bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming all that crap they didn’t need anyway. All of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work. I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution, thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks going up to the mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad.” -The Dharma Bums
Some interview. Original Source not recorded in the notebook these are typed from.
“’The good times, it’s hard to make them last.’ – I think what people are hearing somewhere along the way is that the good times don’t just come at you. You almost have to create them. You have to make sure that you’re searching out some sort of meaning and some sort of happiness throughout.”
“It just makes you stop in your tracks and go, ‘What’s it all worth?’ We’re all just hurtling through space. At any moment the whole thing could just run into some asteroid out there and we’re all gonna blow up and how insignificant and meaningless and what a speck of existence our life is, and I think I sing about that a lot. When I sing utterly with fear about how insignificant I am, that’s the only time we sound significant. Isn’t that funny?”
I experienced a severe anxiety attack recently, which reminded me how bad anxiety really is. How could I forget? I am a person who will stuff unpleasant things away and forget them soon after the stress is gone. This is probably typical for other people too – a panic attack is something we’d all like to forget.
Okay. So, what is this post all about?
I’m going to type up several passages from a landmark anxiety book – “Hope and Help for Your Nerves” by Dr. Claire Weekes. In doing so, I’m hoping to help anyone who runs across this post by introducing them to this amazing panic & anxiety resource.
At the end I will include a link, so that you can go buy the book from Amazon if you wish (and you really should!)
This book is a pioneering text in the field of anxiety self-help. When I first began suffering from severe anxiety, reading this book provided me immense comfort and was my first step in getting better at that point in time. Claire Weekes was a fantastic writer. Additionally, based on her own descriptions of conversations she had with patients in this book, I believe that she was a superior doctor.
Before we begin, I have an important point of caution – this book is old. It’s from the early 1960’s. Despite the publication date, the coping strategies in this book are effective. Panic and anxiety have always existed, no matter which name was given to this condition in past eras.
The goals that Dr. Weekes has set for panic disorder sufferers are extremely challenging. This is serious work. She asks that we learn to do things like “Float past” fear at the “peak of experience”.
In other words, when you’re experiencing your worst moment of panic, she’s asking you to recall and use the tools she prescribes in this book.
Naturally, this seems like an impossibly difficult task. I just had severe anxiety two days ago. It’s fresh on my mind. It felt impossible during my anxiety attack to “float” past the issue. The only solution is to reread this text and practice the concepts so that we can slowly master these skills over time.
SELECTIONS FROM “HOPE AND HELP FOR YOUR NERVES”
Dr. Claire Weekes, 1963
The Three Main Pitfalls Leading into Nervous illness
“Three main pitfalls can lead into nervous illness (anxiety attacks). They are sensitization, bewilderment, and fear.
Sensitization is a state in which our nerves react in an exaggerated way to stress; that is, they bring very intense feelings when under stress and they may react this way with alarming swiftness, almost in a flash.
There is no mystery about sensitization. We have all surely felt it in a mild way at the end of a day’s tense work, when our nerves feel on edge and little things upset us too much.
Constant tension alerts nerves to react in a mildly exaggerated way. It’s not pleasant and we don’t like it. If it is more severe, we may be alarmed and think that our nerves are in a very bad way indeed.
So much nervous illness is no more than severe sensitization kept alive by bewilderment and fear.
When a person is constantly sensitized and afraid of the state he is in, we say he is nervously ill. Fear must come into the picture to bring this kind of illness. Sensitization alone is not enough, because without fear a body will quickly repair its sensitized state.
Many people are precipitated into nervous illness by the fear induced by some sudden, alarming, yet harmless bodily sensation such as their first unexpected attack of palpitations. Such an attack can be frightening to a highly strung temperament, especially if it comes at night and there is no one to turn to for comfort and reassurance. The heart races wildly and the sufferer is sure it will burst. He usually lies still, afraid to move for fear of further damaging himself. So, fear arises.
It is only natural to be alarmed by sudden, unexpected, uncomfortable happenings in our body, particularly in the region of our heart.
Fear causes an additional outpouring of adrenalin, so that a heart already stirred to palpitations becomes further excited, beats even more quickly, and the attack lasts longer. The sufferer may panic, thinking he is about to die. His hands sweat, his face burns, his fingers tingle with “pins and needles” while he waits for he knows not what.
The attack eventually stops – it always does – and all may be well for a while. However, having had one frightening experience, he dreads another and for days remains tense and anxious, from time to time feeling his pulse. If the palpitations do not return, he settles down, loses himself in his work and forgets the incident.
If, however, he has a second attack, he really is concerned. Apparently, the wretched thing has come to stay! Not only is he afraid of palpitating, but he is also in a state of tension, wondering what further alarming experience may yet be in store for him. It is not long before tension, releasing more and more adrenaline, makes his stomach churn, his hands sweat, and his heart constantly beat quickly. He becomes even more afraid, and still more adrenalin is released. In other words, he becomes caught in the fear-adrenaline-fear cycle.
Chapter 5 Selections:
If you have the kind of nervous illness just described, you will notice that, as already mentioned, you have certain symptoms as a fairly constant background to your day, while others come from time to time.
For example, the churning stomach, sweating hands, and rapidly beating heart may be more or less always with you; while fear spasms, palpitations, “missed” heartbeats, pains around the heart, trembling spells, breathlessness, giddiness, nausea come in attacks at intervals.
The constant symptoms are those of sustained tension and fear, hence their chronicity; while the different recurring attacks are the result of varying intensity in sustained fear, hence their periodicity.
‘This is Too Simple for Me’
The treatment of all symptoms depends on a few simple rules. When you first read them you may think, ‘This is too simple for me. It will take something more drastic to cure me.’ In spite of this, you will need to be shown how to apply this simple treatment and may often have to reread instructions.
The principle of treatment can be summarized as:
Letting time pass
There is nothing mysterious or surprising about this treatment, and yet it is enlightening to see how many people sink deeper into their illness by doing the exact opposite.
Let us look again briefly at the person described in the last chapter, the person afraid of the physical feelings aroused by fear and see if we can pinpoint his own reaction to these symptoms.
First, he became unduly alarmed by his symptoms, examining each as it appeared, “listening in” in apprehension. He tried to free himself of the unwelcome feelings by tensing himself to meet them or pushing them away, agitatedly seeking occupation to force forgetfulness – in other words, by fighting or running away.
Also, he was bewildered because he could not find cure overnight. He kept looking back and worrying because so much time was passing and he was not yet cured, as if this were an evil spirit that could be exorcised if only he, or the doctor, knew the trick. He was impatient with time.
Briefly, he spent his time:
Running away, not facing;
Fighting, not accepting;
Arresting and “listening in,” not floating past;
Being impatient with time, not letting time pass
Need we be impressed if he thinks it will take something more drastic than facing, accepting, floating, and letting time pass to cure him? I don’t think we need.
Now, let us consider how you can cure yourself by facing, accepting, floating, and letting time pass.
Chapter 6 Selections:
First, look at yourself and notice how you are sitting in your chair. I have no doubt that you are tensely shrinking from the feelings within you and yet, at the same time, you are ready to ‘listen in’ in apprehension. I want you to do the exact opposite.
I want you to sit as comfortably as you can, relax to the best of your ability by letting your arms and legs sag into the chair as if charged with lead. In other words, let your body flop in the chair. Now examine and do not shrink from the sensations that have been upsetting you. I want you to examine each carefully, to analyze and describe it aloud to yourself.
For example, you may say, ‘My hands sweat and tremble. They feel sore…’. This may sound a little silly and you may smile. So much the better.
Begin with the nervous feeling in your stomach, the so-called churning. This may feel like an uneasy fluttering or may bore steadily like a hot poker passing from your stomach to your back. Do not tensely flinch from it. Go with it. Relax and analyze it.
Now that you have faced and examined it, is it so terrible? If you had arthritis in your wrist, you would be prepared to work with the arthritic pain without becoming too upset. Why regard this churning as something so different from ordinary pain that it can frighten you?
Stop regarding it as some monster trying to possess you. Understand that it is but the working of oversensitized adrenalin-releasing nerves and that by constantly shrinking from it you have stimulated an excessive outflow of adrenalin that has further excited your nerves to produce continual churning. By your anxiety you are producing the very feelings you dislike so much.
While you examine and analyze this churning, a strange thing may happen: you may find your attention wandering from yourself. This “thing” which seemed so terrible while you stayed tense and flinched from it, may fail to hold your attention for long when you see it for what it is – no more than a strange physical feeling of no great medical significance, and causing no real harm.
Just as A Broken Leg Takes Time to Heal
So, be prepared to accept and live with it for the time being. Accept it as something that will be with you for some time yet – in fact while you recover – but something that will eventually leave you if you are prepared to let time pass and not anxiously watch the churning during it’s passing.
But do not make the mistake of thinking it will go as soon as you cease to fear it.
Your nerves are still sensitized and will take time to heal, just as a broken leg takes time. However, as you improve and are no longer afraid, and do not try to cure it by controlling it, and are prepared to accept it and work with it presently, you will gradually become more interested in other things and will gradually forget to notice whether it is there or not. This is the way to recover.
By true acceptance you break the fear-adrenaline-fear cycle.
True Acceptance: The Keystone to Recovery
From this discussion you will appreciate that true acceptance is the keystone to recovery, and before you continue with the examination of your other symptoms, you should make sure that you understand its exact meaning.
I find that some patients complain, ‘I have accepted that churning in my stomach, but it is still there. So, what am I to do now?’ How could they have accepted it while they still complain about it?
Or, as one old man said, ‘After breakfast the churning starts. I can’t just sit there and churn. If I do, I’m exhausted after an hour, so I have to get up and walk around. But I’m too tired to walk around, so what am I to do?’
I said to him, ‘You haven’t really accepted that churning, have you?’
‘Oh yes I have,’ he answered indignantly, ‘I’m not frightened of it anymore.’
But he obviously was. He was afraid that after an hour’s churning he would be exhausted, so he sat tensely dreading its arrival, shrinking from it when it came and worrying about the exhaustion to follow.
Of course the churning, itself a symptom of tension, must inevitably come while so tensely awaited.
I tried to make him understand that he must be prepared to let his stomach churn and to continue reading his paper while it churned. He must try to loosen that tight hold on himself, literally let his body sag into the chair and go toward, not shrink from, any feeling his body brings him.
Only by doing so would he be truly accepting. In this way, and only in this way, would he eventually reach the stage when it would no longer matter whether his stomach churned or not. Then, freed from the stimulus of tension and anxiety, his adrenalin-releasing nerves would gradually calm and the churning would automatically lessen and finally cease.
The Symptoms are Always a Reflection of Your Mood
The symptoms of this type of illness are always a reflection of your mood. However, it is well to remember that it may be some time before your body reacts to the new mood of acceptance and that it may continue for a while to reflect the tense, frightened mood of the preceding weeks, months, or years.
This is one reason why nervous illness can be so bewildering and why this old man was bewildered. He had begun to accept, but when the symptoms did not disappear immediately, he quickly lost heart and became apprehensive again, although trying to convince himself that he was accepting.
It takes time for a body to establish acceptance as a mood and for this to eventually bring peace, just as it took time for fear to become established as continuous tension and anxiety. That is why “letting time pass” is such an important part of your treatment and why I emphasize it again and again. Time is the answer, but there must be that background of true acceptance while waiting for time to pass.
True acceptance means letting your stomach churn, letting your hands sweat and tremble, letting your heart thump without being too disconcerted by them. It does not matter if at first you cannot do this calmly – who could? It may be impossible to be calm at this stage. And you may find that one minute you can accept, the next minute you can’t. Don’t be upset by this – it is normal in the circumstances.
All I ask for at this stage is that you are prepared to try to live and work with your symptoms while they are present.
To float is just as important as to accept, and it works similar magic. I could say let ‘float’ and not ‘fight’ be your slogan, because it amounts to that.
Just as a person, floating on smooth water, lets himself be carried this way, that way by the gentle movement of the water, so should the nervously ill let his body “go with” the feelings his nervous reactions bring instead of trying to withdraw from them or force his way through them.
Let me illustrate more clearly the practical application of ‘float.’
A patient had become so afraid of meeting people that she had not entered a shop for months. When asked to make a small purchase she said, ‘I couldn’t go into a shop. I’ve tried but I can’t. The harder I try, the worse I get. If I force myself, I feel I’m paralyzed and can’t put one foot in front of the other. So please don’t ask me to go into a shop.’
In Deep, Cool Water
I told her that she had little hope of succeeding while she tried to force herself in this way. This was the fighting of which I had previously warned her. Then I showed her a trick I show many patients.
I placed my hand on her chest and asked her to move forward against my pressure. When she strained to do this, I pointed out that this was exactly how she had been trying to conquer her illness.
I then asked her to stretch her arms before her, level with her shoulders, and to move them as if swimming breaststroke. I also asked her to imagine at the same time that she was swimming forward in deep, cool water. I could feel her relax immediately.
If [you fear water], don’t upset yourself by trying to cope with the thought of deep, cool water. Choose some other way to ‘float’ that may appeal to you. For instance, the woman I have just been talking about later admitted she did not like the thought of water, so she imagined she was on a cloud floating through the door.
Masterly inactivity, a well-known phrase, is another way to describe floating. It means to give up the struggle to stop holding tensely onto yourself, trying to control your fear, trying to ‘do something about it’ while subjecting yourself to constant self-analysis.
The average person, tense with battle, has an innate aversion to practicing masterly activity and letting go. He vaguely thinks that were he to do this, he would lose control over the last vestige of his willpower and his house of cards would tumble.
As one young man said, ‘I feel I must stand on guard. If I were to let go, I’m sure something would snap. It is absolutely necessary for me to keep control and hold myself together’
When he was obliged to talk to strangers, he would dig his nails into his palms while he tried to control his trembling body and conceal his state of nervous tension. He would watch the clock anxiously, wondering how much longer he could keep up this masquerade without cracking.
Loosen Your Attitude
It is to such tense, controlled, nail-digging people that I say, ‘practice masterly inactivity and let go’ Loosen your attitude. Don’t be too concerned because you are tense and cannot relax. The very act of being prepared to accept your tenseness relaxes your mind, and relaxation of body gradually follows. You don’t have to strive for relaxation. You have to wait for it.
When a patient says, ‘I have tried so hard all day to be relaxed,’ surely he has had a day of striving, not of relaxation. Let your body find its own level without controlling it, directing it. Believe me, if you do this you will not crack. You will not lose control of yourself.
In your tense effort to control yourself you have been releasing more and more adrenalin and so further exciting your organs to produce the very sensations from which you have been trying to escape.
Float past tension and fear
Float past unwelcome suggestions
Float, don’t fight
Go through the Peak of Experience with utter acceptance
Let more time pass
Analyzing Fear. Two Separate Fears
Cure lies in desensitization, and there is no doubt that the key to desensitization lies in learning how to cope with panic.
Recurring panic, more than any other nervous symptom, helps to keep nervous illness alive. To cope with panic, it is important for the nervously ill person to understand that when he panics, he feels not one fear, as he supposes, but two separate fears.
Because his nerves are sensitized, one fear follows the other so swiftly it is as if the two fears are one.
With each wave of panic there are always two separate fears involved. I will call these the first and second fear.
The importance of recognizing these two separate fears cannot be overestimated, because although the nervously ill person, as a result of sensitization, may have no direct control over the first fear, with understanding and practice he can learn how to control second fear, and it is this second fear that is keeping the first fear alive, keeping him sensitized, keeping him nervously ill.
Everyone experiences first fear from time to time. It is the fear that comes reflexively, almost automatically, in response to some threatened danger. It is normal in intensity – we understand it, we accept it. We cope with the danger and the fear passes.
However, the flash of first fear that comes to a sensitized person in response to danger is not normal in intensity.
It can be so overwhelmingly intense, so electric in its swiftness, so out of proportion to the danger causing it that a sensitized person cannot readily dismiss it. Indeed, he usually recoils from it, and as he does this he adds a second flash of fear to the first flash.
He adds fear of the first flash.
Indeed, he may be much more concerned with the physical feeling of panic than with the original danger. And because that old bogy, sensitization, prolongs the first flash, the second flash may actually seem to join it. This is why the two fears so often feel as one.
A flash of first fear may follow no more than the sudden impact of a cold blast of wind. It may follow merely some mildly unpleasant memory; it may come in response to a thought only vaguely understood, or, as I mentioned earlier, it may seem to come ‘out of the blue’.
‘Oh my goodness! Here it is again!’
A nervously ill person has only to think of being trapped for first fear to flash instantly. To this he immediately adds plenty of second fear as he thinks, ‘Oh, my goodness! Here it is again! I can’t stand it. I’ll make a fool of myself in front of all these people. Let me out of here. Quickly! Quickly!’.
With each ‘Quickly!’ he adds more and more panic, more and more tension, and as the tension mounts, naturally the panic mounts in intensity, until he is never quite sure just how intense the panic can become or what crisis it may bring.
No mounting panic
If he were prepared to sit in his seat, relax his body to the best of his ability – let it sag, flop into his seat – and let the panic flash, let it do its very worst, let it flash right through him without withdrawing tensely from it, there would be no mounting tension, no mounting panic.
His sensitized body may continue to flash panic for a while, but the panic would not mount, and he would be able to sit there and see the function through.
It is bombardment by second fear, day after day, week after week, for one excuse or another that keeps nerves alerted, always triggered to fire that first fear so sensitively, flashing electrically when under stress.
Unmask that second fear
How important it is to learn how to spot second fear and send it packing. Recognizing second fear and coping with it is the way to desensitization, the way to recovery.
Recognizing second fear is made easier when we realize that it can usually be prefixed by ‘Oh my goodness!’ and ‘What if…?’.
‘Oh my goodness, it took four capsules to get me to sleep last night. What if four don’t work tonight?’
‘Oh my goodness, what if I get worse, not better?’
So many Oh my Goodnesses and so many What Ifs make up that second fear.
All the symptoms that come with stress, the pounding heart, churning stomach, weak feelings, etc. can be called first fears because they, too, come unbidden like the flash of fear that comes in answer to danger; and to these symptoms the nervously ill person certainly adds plenty of second fear, certainly adds many Oh, my goodnesses, many What ifs, more than enough to keep his fires well burning.
By analyzing fear and its symptoms in this way and seeing them as physical feelings that conform to a set pattern and are of no great medical significance, you unmask fear and with it your own illness, and only a bogy remains.
And when you decide to accept this bogy and add no more second fear (or as little as you can manage) the road to recovery lies open before you. Now, even with great success at learning how to cope with second fear, it takes time for desensitization.
The nervously ill person must understand and accept that his sensitized body will flash first fear from time to time for some time to come.
To face and accept one’s nervous symptoms without adding second fear and to let time pass for recovery – it works miracles if you are prepared to do just this.
But it is not easy to face, accept, and let time pass. It is especially difficult to let time pass because you may already have let so much time pass in suffering and despair that asking you to let more time pass may seem an impossible demand. It is difficult but necessary.
Also, don’t think I underestimate the severity of your panic. I know how severe it can be and I also know that even with the help of daily sedation and the best of intentions and determination to accept it, you may think yourself too exhausted to do so.
[At this point, Weekes goes on to describe that in certain extreme situations hospitalization and “sedatives” may be required until the patient can recover enough to begin following these guidelines].
[Many passages follow detailing various well-known panic symptoms and she comments on each symptom. She outlines how to squash second fear when you experience palpitations, slow heartbeat, “missed” heartbeats, “trembling turns”, inability to take a deep breath, throat lump, dizziness, etc. I am skipping to the section on eating / difficulty swallowing. I chose to include this section because it’s my biggest problem. Reading her text in this section helped me two years ago when I stopped eating for several weeks]
Eating may be a problem. You have probably lost weight and feel nauseated at the sight of food.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that because you feel nauseated and are under stress, your food is doing you little good and that therefore you need not eat much.
Even when eaten in these conditions food will nourish you, although it may take longer than normal to digest. Malnutrition and anemia can bring symptoms like yours, so you must eat enough.
If you have eaten poorly for weeks, your stomach may be unable at first to hold a normal-sized meal. If so, take small meals frequently. Eat egg flips and drink plenty of milk. Also, take a daily dose of vitamins.
Difficulty in Swallowing
The lump in the throat described earlier may be most troublesome at mealtime. The sufferer is sure he cannot swallow solid food, or at least finds this difficult.
‘I’ll never get it down!’
I keep biscuits [crackers or dry cookies] in my office especially for such a patient. Biscuits are dry, and at the sight of one the patient usually recoils. When I ask him to chew one, he says, ‘I couldn’t swallow a biscuit! I’d never get it down!’
I remind him that I asked him to chew, not swallow. Reluctantly he bites and chews. After a while I say, “Now remember, I want you only to chew. Don’t swallow.”
But already he has swallowed some of it. As soon as the moistened, softened biscuit reaches the back of his tongue, his swallowing reflexes take over and at least some of the biscuit is on its way.
You need not worry about trying to swallow, simply keep chewing. The swallowing will look after itself as the food is carried backward. And it will eventually find its way backward in spite of your nervous resistance. If you keep chewing, the food will all eventually disappear.
Losing Weight: Keep off those scales
Provided you are practicing accepting and letting time pass and are eating your meals, especially that last extra bit you don’t want, your weight is not important.
People with nervous illness place unnecessary significance on losing weight. They view their protruding bones with growing alarm, wondering just how far the fading-away process can go before they fall to pieces completely. [Second Fear].
They haunt the bathroom scales, eyes glued to the dial, while they try to jiggle out a few extra ounces. Cover your scales and resist all temptation to stand on them until you are so fat that you think its time to diet.
It is interesting to note the direct and yet temporary effect of emotional stress on appetite. I have seen a distressed person gag at the sight of food, only to devour it ravenously an hour later after hearing good news.
The body made thin by fear is not diseased and is waiting to recover lost weight as soon as you will pass the food down to it.
So place no importance on your wasted looks, your “poor thin body”. Eat up and forget those scales. Even when some cheerful friend says, “good heavens, you are thinner than ever!” still resist the temptation to step onto the scales.
Why not think, ‘I may look awful today, but nervous illness is not a disease. As soon as I am a little better, I will put on more weight. In the meantime, I’ll eat up, even if I have to chew the food for hours. And I’ll float past my neighbors comments.’
It is essential that you be occupied while awaiting cure. However, I must warn you against feverishly seeking occupation in order to forget yourself.
This is running away from fear, and you can’t run far from fear. I want you to be occupied while facing your symptoms and to accept the possibility of their return from time to time during recovery. There is a world of difference between these two approaches.
Every short respite from fear helps to calm your nerves so that they become less and less responsive to stimulation and your sensations less and less intense, until they are only a memory.”
This is a good place to stop. The other night after I had a severe attack, I re-read some of these passages and found myself laughing at how I did everything completely wrong.
She says not to worry about how much time is passing. I remember saying, “This has been going on again since November!”.
But again, it’s very hard to avoid feeling that way while in the heat of the moment. Personally, since my anxiety is apparently here to stay, I think I might actually write this in a notebook and tape it to my fridge:
This is the second installment where I have typed up something delicious by a famous author for your reading pleasure. As a reminder, we play this game: You don’t know who wrote it until the end. Rule: Don’t cheat by scrolling all the way down first (unless you’re a douchebag who likes to ruin good & wholesome fun!)
“WHY had they pretended to kill him when he was born? Keeping him awake for days, banging his head against a closed cervix; twisting the cord around his throat and throttling him; chomping through his mother’s abdomen with cold shears; clamping his head and wrenching his neck from side to side; dragging him out of his home and hitting him; shining lights in his eyes and doing experiments; taking him away from his mother while she lay on the table, half-dead.
Maybe the idea was to destroy his nostalgia for the old world. First the confinement to make him hungry for space, then pretending to kill him so that he would be grateful for the space when he got it, even this loud desert, with only the bandages of his mother’s arms to wrap around him, never the whole thing again, the whole warm thing all around him, being everything.
The curtains were breathing light into their hospital room. Swelling from the hot afternoon, and then flopping back against the French windows, easing the glare outside.
Someone opened the door and the curtains leapt up and rippled their edges; loose paper rustled, the room whitened, and the shudder of the roadworks grew a little louder. Then the door clunked and the curtains sighed and the room dimmed.
‘Oh, no, not more flowers,’ said his mother. He could see everything through the transparent walls of his fish-tank cot. He was looked over by the sticky eye of a splayed lily. Sometimes the breeze blew the peppery smell of freesias over him and he wanted to sneeze it away. On his mother’s nightgown spots of blood mingled with streaks of dark orange pollen.
‘It’s so nice of people…’ She was laughing from weakness and frustration. ‘I mean, is there any room in the bath?’
‘Not really, you’ve got the roses in there already and the other things.’
‘Oh, God, I can’t bear it. Hundreds of flowers have been cut down and squeezed into these white vases, just to make us happy’. She couldn’t stop laughing. There were tears running down her face. ‘They should have been left where they were, in a garden somewhere.’
The nurse looked at the chart.
‘It’s time for you to take your Voltarol,’ she said. ‘You’ve got to control the pain before it takes over.’
Then the nurse looked at Robert and he locked on to her blue eyes in the heaving dimness.
‘He’s very alert. He’s really checking me out.’
‘He is going to be all right, isn’t he?’ said his mother, suddenly terrified.
Suddenly Robert was terrified too. They were not together in the way they used to be, but they still had their helplessness in common.
They had been washed up on a wild shore. Too tired to crawl up the beach, they could only loll in the roar and the dazzle of being there. He had to face facts, though: they had been separated. He understood now that his mother had already been on the outside. For her this wild shore was a new role, for him it was a new world.
The strange thing was that he felt as if he had been there before. He had known there was an outside all along. He used to think it was a muffled watery world out there and that he lived at the heart of things. Now the walls had tumbled down and he could see what a muddle he had been in. How could he avoid getting in a new muddle in this hammeringly bright place? How could he kick and spin like he used to in this heavy atmosphere where the air stung his skin?
Yesterday he had thought he was dying. Perhaps he was right and this was what happened. Everything was open to question, except the fact that he was separated from his mother.
Now that he realized there was a difference between them, he loved his mother with a new sharpness. He used to be close to her. Now he longed to be close to her. The first taste of longing was the saddest thing in the world.
‘Oh, dear, what’s wrong?’ said the nurse. ‘Are we hungry, or do we just want a cuddle?’
The nurse lifted him out of the fish-tank cot, over the crevasse that separated it from the bed and delivered him into his mother’s bruised arms.
‘Try giving him a little time on the breast and then try to get some rest. You’ve both been through a lot in the last couple of days.’
He was an inconsolable wreck. He couldn’t live with so much doubt and so much intensity. He vomited colostrum over his mother and then in the hazy moment of emptiness that followed, he caught sight of the curtains bulging with light. They held his attention. That’s how it worked here. They fascinated you with things to make you forget about the separation.
Still, he didn’t want to exaggerate his decline. Things had been getting cramped in the old world. Towards the end he was desperate to get out, but he had imagined himself expanding back into the boundless ocean of his youth, not exiled in this harsh land. Perhaps he could revisit the ocean in his dreams, if it weren’t for the veil of violence that hung between him and the past.
He was drifting into the syrupy borders of sleep, not knowing whether it would take him into the floating world or back to the butchery of the birth room.
‘Poor Baba, he was probably having a bad dream,’ said his mother, stroking him. His crying started to break up and fade. She kissed him on the forehead and he realized that although they didn’t share a body any more, they still had the same thoughts and feelings. He shuddered with relief and stared at the curtains, watching the light flow.”
This would be from The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St Aubyn. This passage is from Mother’s Milk, a later book within the novel. St Aubyn’s ability to imagine the perspective of a newborn infant, and to articulate that perspective using adult language and insight is nothing less than stunning.
I haven’t seen the HBO series yet, but I feel like this passage is a great example of why books rule over TV and film. How could you possibly capture something like this on film without losing the essence of it? It doesn’t seem possible.
My favorite line from the above is:
Perhaps he could revisit the ocean in his dreams, if it weren’t for the veil of violence that hung between him and the past.
I also wanted to include the entire book from Patrick’s drug addled youth, but I cannot handle typing that much.
As a bonus, I’m including a passage from the same guy from episode 1 up there. But you have to check out episode 1 to find out who the hell it is.
I was going to do a separate blog entry. But I should probably put this where the people who like reading books are likely to hang out. Plus I don’t want to plug the same guy in a third post.
The passage below – damn – you all wish you could write this well. And so do I.
“At nine o’clock in the morning of every working day, Mr. Jack was hurled downtown to his office in a shining projectile of machinery, driven by a chauffeur who was a literal embodiment of New York in one of its most familiar aspects.
As the driver prowled above his wheel, his dark and sallow face twisted bitterly by the sneer of his thin mouth, his dark eyes shining with an unnatural luster like those of a man who is under the stimulation of a power drug, he seemed to be – and was – a creature which this furious city had created for its special uses. His tallowy flesh seemed to have been compacted, like that of millions of other men who wore grey hats and had faces of the same lifeless hue, out of a common city-substance – the universal grey stuff of pavements, buildings, towers, tunnels, and bridges.
In his veins there seemed to flow and throb, instead of blood, the crackling electric current by which the whole city moved. It was legible in every act and gesture the man made. As his sinister figure prowled above the wheel, his eyes darting left and right, his hands guiding the powerful machine with skill and precision, grazing, cutting, flanking, shifting, insinuating, sneaking, and shooting the great car through all but impossible channels with murderous recklessness, it was evident that the unwholesome chemistry that raced in him was consonant with the great energy that was pulsing through all the arteries of the city.
The unnatural and unwholesome energy of his driver evoked in his master’s mind an image of the world he lived in that was theatrical and phantasmal.
Instead of seeing himself as one man going to his work like countless others in the practical and homely light of day, he saw himself and his driver as two cunning and powerful men pitted triumphantly against the world; and the monstrous architecture of the city, the phantasmagoric chaos of its traffic, the web of the streets swarming with people, became for him nothing more than a tremendous backdrop for his own activities.
All of this – the sense of menace, conflict, cunning, power, stealth, and victory, and above all else, the sense of privilege – added to Mr. Jack’s pleasure, and even gave him a heady joy as he rode downtown to work.”
HOT DAMN! I love that whole thing about the chauffer and his everything being made of the grey city stuffs of buildings. This is my favorite passage ever. If someone wants to find where this is at, go look at episode 1 and then go order all the books by this author and just read it all.
Now I have to stop typing on a screen that emits blue light and read the kindle paperwhite that doesn’t emit blue light so that I have some chance of falling asleep by midnight.
As you can see, I have delightful shit to read for several hours.
For the longest time, I’ve had a great blog idea. I wanted to type up a chapter from various books I love for your entertainment… and not tell you who the author is until the end. That’s the fun part. I never followed up due to the enormous work it entails, and other competing priorities. But damn, last week I read something so delicious that I just knew I had to start this series. Even if this series only happens once every three months…
Okay, let’s get to our first episode. Since I am starting halfway through the chapter, the passage will require a short introduction. I’m also going to skip some passages to get to the best part faster.
I chose this selection because the latter part of the chapter is so fucking hilarious that I stayed up too late last week re-reading the passage twice.
Oswald Ten Eyck is a failed playwright who is literally a starving artist. This scene takes places at a dinner party full of artsy people from the surrounding college community. Okay. Now it’s time for me to get out of the way and let the content speak for itself.
“Usually, when Ten Eyck went to Miss Potter’s house, he found several members of Professor Hatcher’s class who seemed to be in regular attendance on Friday afternoons.
These others may have come for a variety of reasons: because they were bored, curious, or actually enjoyed these affairs, but the strange, horribly shy and sensitive little man who bore the name of Oswald Ten Eyck came from a kind of desperate necessity, the ravenous hunger of his meagre half-starved body, and his chance to get his one good dinner of the week.
It was evident that Ten Eyck endured agonies of shyness, boredom, confusion, and tortured self-consciousness at these gatherings, but he was always there, and when they sat down at the table he ate with the voracity of a famished animal.
The visitor to Miss Potter’s reception room would find him, usually backed into an inconspicuous corner away from the full sound and tumult of the crowd, nervously holding a tea-cup in his hands, talking to someone in the strange blurted-out desperate fashion that was characteristic of him, or saying nothing for long periods, biting his nails, thrusting his slender hands desperately through his mop of black disordered hair, breaking from time to time into a shrill, sudden, almost hysterical laugh, blurting out a few volcanic words, and then relapsing into his desperate hair-thrusting silence.
The man’s agony of shyness and tortured nerves was painful to watch: it made him say and do sudden, shocking and explosive things that could suddenly stun a gathering such as this, and plunge him back immediately into a pit of silence, self-abasement and despair. And as great as his tortured sensitivity was, it was greater for other people than for himself. He could far better endure a personal affront, a wounding of his own quick pride, than see another person wounded. His anguish, in fact, when he saw this kind of suffering in other people would become so acute that he was no longer responsible for his acts: he was capable of anything on such an occasion.
And such occasions were not lacking at Miss Potter’s Friday afternoons. For even if the entire diplomatic corps had gathered there in suavest mood, that good grotesque old woman, with her unfailing talent for misrule, would have contrived to set every urbane minister of grace snarling for the other’s blood before an hour had passed. And with that museum collection of freaks, embittered aesthetes and envenomed misfits of the arts that did gather there, she never failed. Her genius for confusion and unrest was absolute.
If there were two people in the community who had been destined from birth and by every circumstance of education, religious belief, and temperament, to hate each other with a murderous hatred the moment they met, Miss Potter would see to it instantly that the introduction was effected.
If Father Davin, the passionate defender of the faith and the foe of modernism in all its hated forms, had been invited to one of Miss Potter’s Friday afternoons, he would find himself shaking hands before he knew it with Miss Shanksworth, the militant propagandist for free love, sterilization of the unfit, and the unlimited practice of birth control by everyone, especially the lower classes.
And so it went, all up and down the line, at one of Miss Potter’s Friday afternoons. There, in her house, you could be sure that if the lion and the lamb did not lie down together their hostess would seat them then in such close proximity to each other that the ensuring slaughter would be made as easy, swift, and unadorned as possible.
…And having done her duty, she would wheeze heavily away, looking around with her strange fixed grin and bulging eyes to see if she had left anything or anyone undone or whether there was still hope of some new riot, chaos, brawl or bitter argument.
As usual, Oswald found he had been seated on Miss Potter’s right hand: and the feeling of security this gave him, together with the maddening fragrance of food, the sense of ravenous hunger about to be appeased, filled him with an almost delirious joy, a desire to shout out, to sing. Instead, he stood nervously beside his chair, looking about with a shy and timid smile, passing his fingers through his hair repeatedly, waiting for the other guests to seat themselves.
… And in this mood, he unfolded his napkin, and smiling brightly, turned to dazzle his neighbor on his right with the brilliant effervescence of wit that already seemed to sparkle on his lips.
One look, and the bright smile faded, wit and confidence fell dead together, his heart shrank instantly and seemed to drop out of his very body like a rotten apple. Miss Potter had not failed.
Her unerring genius for calamity had held out to the finish. He found himself staring into the poisonous face of the one person in Cambridge that he hated most – the repulsive visage of the old composer, Cram.
An old long face, yellowed with malevolence, a sudden fox-glint of small eyes steeped in a vitriol of age-less hate, a beak of cruel nose, and thin lips stained and hardened in a rust of venom, the whole craftily, slantingly astare between a dirty frame of sparse lank locks. Cackling with malignant glee, and cramming crusty bread into his mouth, the old composer turned and spoke:
“Heh Heh Heh – It’s Mister Ten Eyck, isn’t it? The man who wrote that play Professor Hatcher put on at his last performance – that mystical fantasy kind of thing. That was your play, wasn’t it?”
The old yellow face came closer, and he snarled in a kind of gloating and vindictive whisper: “Most of the audience hated it! They thought it very bad, sir – very bad! I am only telling you because I think you ought to know – that you may profit by my criticism.”
And Ten Eyck, hunger gone now, shrank back as if a thin poisoned blade had been driven in his heart and twisted there. “I-I-I thought some of them rather liked it. Of course I don’t know – I can’t say – “, he faltered hesitantly, “but I – I really thought some of the audience – liked it.”
“Well, they didn’t,” the composer snarled, still crunching on his crust of bread. “Everyone that I saw thought it was terrible. Heh! Except my wife and I. We were the only ones who thought there would ever be any hope for you. And we found parts of it – a phrase or sentence here or there, now and then a scene – that we liked. As for the rest of them,” he suddenly made a horrible downward gesture with a clenched fist and pointing thumb, “it was thumbs down my boy! Done for! No good…”
“That’s what they said about your play, all right, but don’t take it too seriously. It’s live and learn, my boy, isn’t it? Profit by criticism – a few hard knocks will do you no harm. Heh heh heh heh!”
And turning, satisfied with the anguish he had caused, he thrust out his yellowed face with a vulture’s movement of his scrawny neck, and smacking his envenomed lips with relish, drew noisily inward with slobbering suction on a spoon of soup.
As for Ten Eyck, all hunger now destroyed by his sick shame and horror and despair, he turned, began to toy nervously with his food, and forcing his pale lips to a trembling and uncertain smile, tried desperately to compel his brain to pay attention to something that was being said by the man across the table who was the guest of honor for the day, and whose name was Hunt.
Hunt had been well known for his belligerent pacifism during the war, had been beaten by the police and put in jail more times than he could count, and now that he was temporarily out of jail, he was carrying on his assault against organized society with more ferocity than ever.
He was a man of undoubted courage and deep sincerity, but the suffering he had endured, and the brutal intolerance of which he had been the victim, had left its mutilating mark upon his life. His face was somehow like a scar, and his cut, cruel-looking mouth could twist like a snake to the corner of his face when he talked. And his voice was harsh and jeering, brutally dominant and intolerant, when he spoke to anyone, particularly if the one he spoke to didn’t share his opinions.
On this occasion, Miss Potter, with her infallible talent for error, had seated next to Hunt a young Belgian student at the university, who had little English, but a profound devotion to the Roman Catholic Church.
Within five minutes, the two were embroiled in a bitter argument, the Belgian courteous, but desperately resolved to defend his faith, and because of his almost incoherent English as helpless as a lamb before the attack of Hunt, who went for him with the rending and pitiless savagery of a tiger. It was a painful thing to watch: the young man, courteous and soft-spoken, his face flushed with embarrassment and pain, badly wounded by the naked brutality of the other man’s assault.
As Ten Eyck listened, his spirit began to emerge from the blanket of shame and sick despair that had covered it, a spark of anger and resentment, hot and bright, began to glow, to burn, to spread. His large dark eyes were shining now with a deeper, fiercer light than they had before, and on his pale cheeks there was a flush of angry color.
And now he no longer had to force himself to listen to what Hunt was saying: anger had fanned his energy and his interest to a burning flame; he listened tensely, his ears seemed almost to prick forward on his head, from time to time he dug his fork viciously into the table cloth.
Once or twice, it seemed that he would interrupt. He cleared his throat, bent forward, nervously clutching the table with his claw-like hands, but each time ended up thrusting his fingers through his mop of hair, and gulping down a glass of wine.
As Hunt talked, his voice grew so loud in it’s rasping arrogance that everyone at the table had to stop and listen, which was what he most desired. And there was no advantage, however unjust, which the man did not take in his bitter argument with the young Belgian.
He spoke jeeringly of the fat priests and the old corrupt Church, fattening themselves on the blood and life of the oppressed workers; he spoke of the bigotry, oppression, and superstition of religion, and the necessity of the workers to destroy this monster which was devouring them.
And when the young Belgian, in his faltering and painful English, would try to reply to these charges, Hunt would catch him up on his use of words, pretend to be puzzle at his pronunciation, and bully him brutally in this manner:
“You think what?….What?….I don’t understand what you’re saying half the time… it’s very difficult to speak to a man who can’t speak decent English.”
“I—Vas—say—ink,” the young Belgian would answer slowly and painfully, his face flushed with embarrassment— “—vas-say-ink-zat- I sink – zat you ex – ack – sher – ate—”
“That I what—what? What is he trying to say anyway?” demanded Hunt, brutally, looking around the table as if hoping to receive interpretation from the other guests. “Oh-h!” he cried suddenly, as if the Belgian’s meaning had just dawned on him. “Exaggerate! That’s the word you’re trying to say!” and he laughed in an ugly manner.
Oswald Ten Eyck had stopped eating and turned white as a sheet. Now he sat there, looking across in an agony of tortured sympathy at the young Belgian, biting his nails nervously, and thrusting his hands through his hair in a distracted manner. The resentment and anger that he had felt at first had now burned to a white-heat of choking, murderous rage. The little man was taken out of himself entirely. Suddenly his sense of personal wrong, the humiliation and pain he had himself endured, was fused with a white-hot anger of resentment for every injustice and wrong that had ever been done to the wounded soul of man.
United by that agony to a kind of savage fellowship with the young Belgian, with the insulted and the injured of the earth, of whatsoever class or creed, that burning coal of five feet five flamed in one withering blaze of wrath, and hurled the challenge of it’s scorn at the oppressor.
The thing happened like a flash. At the close of one of Hunt’s jeering tirades, Ten Eyck jumped from his chair, and leaning half across the table, cried out in a high shrill voice that cut into the silence like a knife:
“Hunt! You are a swine, and everyone who ever had anything to do with you is likewise a swine!”
For a moment he paused, breathing hard, clutching his napkin in a bony hand. Slowly his feverish eyes went round the table, and suddenly, seeing the malevolent stare of the old composer Cram fixed upon him, he hurled the wadded napkin down and pointing a trembling finger at that hated face, he screamed, “And that goes for you as well, you old bastard! It goes for all the rest of you,” he shrieked, gesturing wildly.
“Hunt… Cram!… Cram!… God!” he cried, shaking with laughter. “There’s a name for you! It’s perfect, Yes, you! You swine!” he yelled again, thrusting his finger at Cram’s yellow face so violently that the composer scrambled back with a startled yelp.
“And all the rest of you!” He pointed towards Miss Thrall – “You – the Expressionist!” And he paused, racked terribly again with soundless laughter – “The Greeks, the Russians, Oh how we love in Spain! – and fantasy – why, Goddamn my soul to hell, but it’s delightful!” he fairly screamed, and then pointing a trembling finger at several in succession he yelled: “You? – And You? — And you? – what the hell do you know about anything?…Food, Food, Food – you goddamn fools! That’s all that matters.”
He picked up a morsel of his untouched bread and hurled it savagely upon the table – “Food! Food! Ask Cram, he knows… Now,” he said, painting for breath and pointing a trembling finger at Miss Potter, “Now,” he panted, “I want to tell you something.”
“Oh…. Mr. …Ten… Eyck,” the old woman faltered in a tone of astonished reproach, “I… never… believed it possible… you could—”
Her voice trailed off helplessly, and she looked at him. And Ten Eyck, suddenly brought to himself by the bulging stare of that good old creature fixed on him with wounded disbelief, suddenly laughed again, shrilly and hysterically, thrust his fingers through his hair, and looked about him at the other people whose eyes were fixed on him in a stare of focal horror, and said in a confused, uncertain tone:
“Well, I don’t know – I’m always – I guess I said something that – oh, damn it, what’s the use?” and with a desperate, stricken laugh, he slumped suddenly into his chair, craned convulsively at his collar, and seizing a decanter before him, poured himself out a glass of wine with trembling haste and gulped it down.
Meanwhile, all around the table people began to talk with that kind of feverish eagerness that follows a catastrophe of this sort, and Hunt resumed his arguments, but this time in a much quieter tone and with a kind of jeering courtesy, accompanying his remarks from time to time with a heavy sarcasm directed toward Ten Eyck – “If I may say so – since, of course, Mr. Ten Eyck considers me a swine” – or – “if you will pardon such a remark form a swine like me” – or – “as Mr. Ten Eyck has told you I am nothing but a swine,” and so on.
The upshot of it was that Ten Eyck gulped down glass after glass of the strong wine, which raced instantly through his frail starved body like a flame.
He got distastefully drunk, sang snatches of bawdy songs, screamed with maudlin laughter, and began to pound enthusiastically on the table, shaking his head to himself and shouting from time to time:
“You’re right, Hunt! Goddamn it, man, you’re right! … Go on! … Go on!… I agree with you! You’re right! Everybody else is wrong but Hunt and Cram! Words by Hunt, music by Cram… no one’s right but Hunt and Cram!”
They tried to quiet him, but in vain. Suddenly Miss Potter began to cough and choke and gasp, pressed both hands over her heart, and gasped out in a terror-stricken voice, “Oh, my God! I’m dying!”
Miss Flitcroft jumped to her feet and came running to her friend’s assistance, and then while Miss Flitcroft pounded the old woman on her back and the guests scrambled up in a general disruption of the party, Oswald Ten Eyck staggered to the window, flung it open, and looking out across one of the bleak snow-covered squares of Cambridge, screamed at the top of his voice:
“Relentless!…Relentless!.. Juh sweeze Un art-e-e-est!” Here he beat on his little breast with a claw-like hand and yelled with drunken laughter, “And Goddamn it I will always be relentless…relentless…relentless!”
The cool air braced him with its cleansing shock: for a moment, the fog of shame and drunkenness shifted in his brain, he felt a vacancy of cold horror at his back, and turning suddenly found himself confronted by the frozen circle of their faces, fixed on him.
And even in that instant glimpse of utter ruin, as the knowledge of this final catastrophe was printed on his brain, over the rim of frozen faces he saw the dial hands of a clock. The time was seven fifty-two: he knew there was a train at midnight for new York – and work, food, freedom, and forgetfulness. He would have four hours to go home and pack: if he hurried he could make it.
Little was heard of him thereafter. It was rumored that he had gone back to his former lucrative employment with Mr. Hearst: and Professor Hatcher smiled thinly when he heard the news: the young men looked at one another with quiet smiles.”
And there you have it. Are you missing those social gatherings now, people? (Or does it make you miss social gatherings even more?). Ha. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was Hunter S. Thompson, who was a fan of this author… and I can see now was obviously influenced by him, right down to the use of the word “swine”. But nope.
This is a passage from Of Time and The River by Thomas Wolfe.
I did a whole full-length feature post on Thomas Wolfe. Normally this is the part where I would plug the link, but nobody ever follows my inbound links anyway. So… if you’re interested, it’s somewhere on this blog. You can find it in the About directory.
I discovered Wolfe a few years ago and devoured all his books. This is why I like re-visiting authors – the first time I connected more to his descriptions of beauty and family. I had forgotten all about his talent for fucked-up comedy.
This passage is completely insane. It’s action-packed, full of internal violence, has excellent characterization and serves a perfect example of professional level fiction. It has become, for the moment, my favorite piece of writing ever.
I could spend all night talking about why this writing works and copy and paste all the action words into a column and analyze the daylights out of it.
But, it’s time to go to bed. It was bad enough I spent an hour typing up that mufuckuh last night. It’s so dense that I literally experienced hand cramps from typing.
Yeah, this is not something I’ll be doing every weekend.
I finally took the bait. A full year after its release, I bought the latest album by the The Smashing Pumpkins, Monuments To An Elegy.
Like other hardcore fans who were kids in the 90’s, I’ve listened to the classic lineup with varying amounts of dedication.
It depends on what happens in my life, but it usually begins with an immersion of emotion; a state of vulnerability that sends me running to the fertile soundscape of Pumpkinland.
In order to understand why the newer music is such a disappointment, you have to understand the power of the original Smashing Pumpkins. Let me begin by delving into the experience of listening to the original band:
“Blast (Fuzz Version)” is a previously unreleased song from 2013’s deluxe reissue of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. This song illustrates a few basic ingredients that make The Pumpkins legendary.
This is the theme song for a graduation ceremony honoring the high rulers of a new galaxy.
You are on the way to this ceremony, and you are one of the honorees. Your transport is a rocket ship with “Victory!” painted on the side in blue letters. The rocket launches into the atmosphere, diving up and down, doing barrel rolls above the earth.
The rocket is fueled by pure electric ecstasy, shaking and unsteady in its course. You’re ready to come apart at any moment. You’re burning up inside a screeching metallic inferno as the rocket nearly drops into chaos, but suddenly it pulls up and ascends from danger just in time. Meteorites fly at you from all directions, missing by mere inches. Streaks of blue, white and silver form a kaleidoscope above your head.
The sound defies gravity with every movement, every wild and meandering note. Clouds fly past at an impossible speed while the moon and the stars spin around.
Now we are back on Earth. We are children at that perfect moment on a swing set – the moment when it’s time to jump. The swing lurches forward. Now or never. We feel the force of gravity. This is it. Now!
All of the early songs are this good. Whether soft and dreamy or sonic metal assault, each song weaves a layered tapestry of emotion, and there’s a song for every mood and phase of your life. This is why the original Smashing Pumpkins are widely considered to be the last great rock band.
From the hard driving rock of Gish, to the jaw dropping power of Siamese Dream, to the existential Mellon Collie, all the way through the mournful beauty of Adore, this is a band that consistently delivered a trove of flawless gems.
Like clockwork, every album was better than the last. Every album was a powerful, unspeakable experience. Billy Corgan’s songwriting intertwined gothic rage with swirling, expansive dreamscapes. The songs were loaded with vivid widescreen imagery.
Siamese Dream delivered sunshine and eternal blue skies; green hills stretching every way to the horizon. It delivered dangerous jungles where blades of grass turned into knives. It delivered a sweet, gentle moon over clear nights and the white picket fences of childhood. It delivered the shadowy backyard of childhood abuse behind so many fences.
Mellon Collie delivered rivers of disillusionment; bending mirrors of perception. It delivered a circus of lost dreams, moments of breathless optimism, and an intense longing for love. It delivered park benches under the stars, first loves, battlefields full of wounded soldiers, church steeples, and antique shops. It delivered black storm clouds rolling away to reveal an evening sun rippling on water. Mellon Collie delivered sounds and images I could never describe.
Even more remarkably, Billy Corgan could sit down at a piano and convey quaint moments of Vaudeville theater inspired by the 1920’s. The same guy who wrote the metal thrasher “Tales of a Scorched Earth” could sit down at a piano and cover the 1928 song “My Blue Heaven” with flawless charm. He could throw in a touch of electronica here and there. He could bathe you in soothing whimsy and then turn around and rock your face off.
If he so pleased, he could step away from guitars entirely and take his electronica all the way into a full-blown album. He could release an entire boxed set of b-sides that were just as amazing as the album cuts.
During the Mellon Collie era, The Smashing Pumpkins became unstoppable. Fans dropped to their knees, hands on head in disbelief. How could anything be this good? Moments of ecstatic bliss, agony, and struggle were shaped into a beautiful extended rock opera starring the drama of our own psyche.
In the center of it all stood the irresistible ringmaster himself, Billy Corgan, and his ongoing drama. The real Ziggy Stardust emerged – and he was pissed.
Not only did we have the music itself (and the award-winning MTV music videos), we had Corgan’s magazine interviews. It quickly became apparent that this was a different kind of rock star. He was insanely intelligent and articulate. His open nature was equally as present in magazine interviews as it was in his music. In lengthy interviews, he talked about his childhood and his band’s struggle to fit into the Chicago scene.
He went on motivational tangents about how you can achieve anything through hard work if you really have faith in yourself. He spoke directly to us and related his past struggles to our own. He was a creative genius and a visionary hatched straight out of the American Dream. He spoke openly about his ongoing struggles and he was authentic, for better or worse. He knew he was a creative genius and he was vocal about it. The media loved to hate him.
Interviewers painted him as arrogant and whiny, but they also took full advantage of his compelling insights. He was occasionally combative and arrogant to the point of insanity.
We didn’t care. We were insane and moody too – we were awkward teenagers, and Billy Corgan was God. Warts and all.
Not a damn thing compares to Billy Corgan playing guitar on a live stage in the 1990’s. He stood poised for attack, bathed in violet stage lights. Neon colors swirled all around him as sweat poured down the side of his porcelain face.
He stood in silence for a moment, staring ahead in stern concentration. He waited. His fierce eyes changed color as the violet light passed over them.
Suddenly, he jumped forward and attacked his guitar. A wild, otherworldly cascade of notes screamed into the atmosphere – a raw torrent of sonic fury. The audience screamed for their lives. We were assaulted. We were found. We were rescued from the chasm of boredom and hopelessness.
Corgan wrote most of the songs and held the spotlight, but the other members of the original Pumpkins were equally fascinating. James Iha wrote songs that were every bit as strange and compelling as Corgan’s.
Iha’s songs were full of tender, ghostly angels and prayers to Jesus. His songs were hilly fields of purple grain and strands of blonde hair mixed with sunlight on a morning bed. D’arcy Wretsky was quiet, but her stage presence was intense and haunting. Her voice was pleasantly weird, a perfect harmony to Corgan’s.
Jimmy Chamberlin’s thunderous drumming lifted the songs into jungle madness. He was the greatest drummer in rock music.
Their stage banter was full of dorky humor. They were all weird. They were a perfect representation of alternative music, and they were a perfect representation of us.
Fast forward to now – many years later and only one original member.
Monuments to an Elegy was hyped by the media and by Corgan himself. I didn’t go for the hype, having been duped before. Many fans claimed to enjoy 2011’s Oceania, but it’s a snoozefest for me. Everyone was excited about the 2007 comeback album, Zeitgeist. I bought it and listened. It was so strange – the pounding drums and edgy guitars were there, but some fundamental element of the early Pumpkins sound was not. The magic was gone.
I’ve listened to Monuments, and it’s the same. The guitar and keys are lacking in character. Gone are the sweeping melodies, orgasmic solos, and the weird little tonal quirks that made the early music so grand. Some fans like the new album. Many do not. People say that they have listened a few times trying to “get it”. They’re looking for the magic.
We also grew up. The God in our minds became a highly talented man; a creative visionary who worked insanely hard at his craft and was also business-savvy. He was rewarded handsomely for his brilliance, all of which he deserved. The early music has become a tear-inducing session of nostalgia for most fans. It’s a bubble that we go into when we have the need.
At the end of the day, that particular divide between then and now is what this is really about: Is the newer music really that bad, or did we just grow up? Is the truth somewhere in the middle? We did grow up. But, the music changed as well.
The song “Soot and Stars” was written prior to 2001. I didn’t hear this song until 2009, way past the Pumpkins golden period. I was completely floored. The artistry of Billy’s best songwriting is there. When Mellon Collie was re-issued in 2013, I heard several instrumentals that I hadn’t heard before. These are “new” songs for me. I love them all.
We grew and changed. Corgan also changed. He began singing and writing differently.
The shifting sands of time are upon us. But the old magic is always there; ready to be re-visited.
We’re like the kids who were in high school when The Beatles emerged. They’re still listening to the Beatles of the 1960’s. That’s how we’ll be. We’ll keep buying the new Pumpkins albums even if we think the last one was shitty. We’ll go to every single concert in our town on every single tour.
Billy Corgan can say we’re a bunch of assholes stuck in the past if we don’t like the new studio albums.
“And in my mind as I was floating Far above the clouds Some children laughed, I’d fall for certain For thinking that I’d last forever But I knew exactly where I was And I knew the meaning of it all And I knew… The distance to the sun The echo that is love The secrets in your spires The emptiness of youth The solitude of heart The murmurs of the soul And I knew The Silence of The World”
The Smashing Pumpkins
Originally Posted in November 2016.
Update: Yes, I saw them last summer on the Shiny and Oh So Bright Tour. And yes, it was the greatest experience of my life.