Thursday 31 December 2020

the winds of change are comin' over me: on being present, pursuing a passion and making peace with yourself

“in every work of art something appears that does not previously exist, and so, by default, you work from what you know to what you don’t know" - ann hamilton (making not knowing

as pale waves once sang, i don't wanna be alone on new year's eve, and this sentiment has never been more apt. 

this will be the first time i've spent new year's eve at home since 2016, when both a temp job in retail and the fact that all my uni friends had gone home for christmas prevented me from going out and celebrating.

i spent the night completely alone, which isn't something i'd recommend, but sadly this year that was the reality for many people who were unable to go home for christmas due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

i've always been An Introvert, so part of me was relieved to skip what has historically been a stressful and somewhat cursed event, with drunken arguments and losing my most valuable possessions in a park (?) just some of the wonderful things that have happened to me on new year's eve. 

of course this year is different; no longer trapped in my draughty university house with its erratic central heating system and housemates i had nothing in common with, i would love nothing more than to be stressing about my outfit and haphazardly applying fake tan in preparation for The Big Night. 

but covid put a stop to all that, as 90% of the UK is now in the newly created "tier 4", the conditions of which are essentially the same as the initial Full Lockdown we experienced back in march, with the "stay at home" order rearing its ugly (but necessary) head once again. 

it's true that you only really appreciate something once it's gone, and despite previously approaching NYE celebrations with some hesitation, i would gladly take my chances and fully embrace the celebration this year. 

i've come to realise that new year's eve is supposed to be terrible, as we strain under the weight of not only the excess calories consumed over the festive season, but all the resolutions we make knowing full well they won't last beyond january 2nd. 

much like the muffin tops that hang over our new year's outfits, so too does the pressure to have The Best Night Ever as a precursor to The Best Year Ever, in which we will finally start running/stop smoking/drinking/having any kind of fun and Get Our Shit Together. 

while i'm all for self improvement, this amount of pressure only leads to spilled drinks and ridiculously expensive ubers home, not to mention the hangover from hell the next day. 

but of course, now all that has been stripped away and i'll be forced to stay indoors, i take some comfort in this guardian article by james greig in support of new year's eve celebrations. 

as the cost of Going Out has risen over the last few years, part of me can understand why people would be reluctant to spend the night at a bar that charges £20 entry, but as greig says, "i have been locked in a one-man culture war against homebodies, irrationally furious that someone, somewhere, might be enjoying having more time to spend curled up under the duvet with a peppermint tea and a page-turner, or whatever it is that introverts like to do."

you may notice that this contradicts what i previously said about being An Introvert, but Going Out is perhaps the one time where i can shed my nervous exterior (largely thanks to copious amounts of alcohol) and fully Be Myself, so i too have become irritated by this ever-growing swathe of people for whom Staying In is an innate part of their personality, and who seem to look down on people who, god forbid, actually like to leave the house. 

but for those of us who don't co-exist in perfect harmony with whoever we live with, greig rightfully describes NYE as "a pressure release after the tensions of a domestic christmas, a way of reasserting adulthood after the infantilization of spending time with your family and slipping into historic roles", especially as many people who once lived alone and enjoyed their independence have now been forced to move back home full time. 

of course, not going out for one more night after months of lockdown and national restrictions probably won't make a huge difference to our already frayed mental states, but i can't help feel slightly sad that i won't get to put some glitter on my face and make questionable decisions in a nightclub. 

so what to do with all our free time? that article led me to another piece by elle hunt, who like many people this year, realised that she was suffering from work-related burnout and wanted to make a change. i had a similar moment of realisation in july, as it ocurred to me that my ambitions to move to london and become a magazine editor by age 25 were not only a) wildly unrealistic, but b) a cover for various Mental Health issues i'd been experiencing before and during my time at uni. 

while my struggle to find a Full Time Job doing something i don't hate is something i've been experiencing for the last three (!) years, many people who previously had a 9-5 job now find themselves in a position not too dissimilar to my own, trying desperately to fill the seemingly endless hours of Free Time that lie ahead. 

in a culture that equates self-worth with productivity and glamourizes working 50+ hours a week, it's no surprise that so many of us are now realising that this way of living is no longer sustainable, nor good for our mental well-being. it might be a cliché, but once i realised that i'm not defined by what i do for work and i should prioritise other areas of my life, i began to feel better. 

one of those things was to surround myself with people i could fully Be Myself around, and of course once i'd found them, my entire social life was put on hold at the start of the year, then resumed briefly during the ill-advised "eat out to help out" scheme of this past summer, and is now firmly back on hold with the return of the "stay at home" order. 

at first it was incredibly frustrating, but around the beginning of november, right after my scaled back birthday celebrations, i began to realise that all this free time wasn't a problem to be solved, but something to be enjoyed. 

after years of ignoring the advice of various counsellors and therapists to try Being Present, it was only during the last few weeks in which all outdoor activities were prohibited, that i started to follow the advice of roman philosopher seneca and "hold every hour in your grasp". 

another detour here: i became aware of seneca and his book letters from a stoic after reading this article about zadie smith. 

her latest book intonations is a collection of essays which she began writing at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and finished soon after the murder of george floyd. 

this article includes several quotes from one essay called something to do, which mirrors my own experiences of trying to see free time as a gift and a privilege rather than something that must be constantly filled with meaningless tasks. 

in the absence of these tasks, one of which being the banana bread craze that swept across the world mid-pandemic, she writes that "love is not something to do, but something to be experienced, and something to go through — that must be why it frightens so many of us and why we so often approach it indirectly".

at a time where human connection has become more important than ever, it's a sentiment that resonates deeply with me, and an idea i hope to hang onto when life eventually returns to "normal" and our lives are once again filled with work and social engagements. 

she also appears to come to terms with her fear of the unknown (something i've always struggled with) when she says, "i’m not the only person on this earth who has no idea what life is for, nor what is to be done with all this time aside from filling it."

it was once believed that only ~creative~ people like artists and writers had the time to contemplate such intense ideas, but more and more people who would have previously been "too busy" for that kind of thinking are now pondering this question, and working out how to fill their time without the constraints of work. 

going back to seneca's idea of holding every hour in my grasp, i've been trying to focus on things from one hour to the next, rather than worrying about what will happen in the next few days/weeks/months. 

even something as simple as going for a walk felt like a task i had to complete in a hurry until the other day, when the snow and ice that appeared overnight meant i had no choice but to walk at a slower pace to avoid slipping and/or falling over. 

at first it was slightly annoying, but once i realised i didn't have anything i needed to rush home for, i was able to actually focus on and, dare i say, enjoy my surroundings. 

to quote seneca once again, "nothing is ours, except time" and i'm now much more at ease with this idea, finding enjoyment in simple things like reading a book and of course, listening to music. 

after coming across this interview of stevie nicks by matt healy, i found myself listening to buckingham nicks, the 1973 album created by a pre-fleetwood mac stevie and lindsay buckingham. for reasons i'll never understand, the album wasn't a commercial success and the duo were dropped from their label due to "poor sales". as a result, it was never given an official release - though the odd copy can be found on amazon - and was never added to streaming platforms. 

luckily a full version can be found on youtube, and while every track is excellent - especially lindsay's solos without a leg to stand on, don't let me down again and lola (my love), all of which reminded me why i made a disastrous attempt to learn the guitar between the ages of 14-17 - my favourite has to be frozen love.

a glorious seven minute long track, the real magic begins at precisely 3:45, when the guitar-based melody gives way to a glorious orchestral backing track that flows seamlessly into buckingham's picking technique.

special mention must also be given to that's alright and without you, two demos from the coffee plant sessions which showcase nick's incredible vocals long before landslide

i've long been fascinated by the idea of Real Music and what makes a song or album have that "timeless" quality so revered by critics, most of which are balding, middle-class white men. 

i'm not denying the existence of such things; as soon as i heard the buckingham nicks album, my mind instantly categorised it as a Forever Album, i.e. something i'll listen to in 5 years that will still make me Feel Things. 

while there's the classics like goodbye yellow brick road, avalon and ziggy stardust and the spiders from mars, some more recent albums such as lorde's magnum opus melodrama and the 1975's sophomore release i like it when you sleep... can also be considered Forever Albums, and the newest addition to this exclusive club is imploding the mirage by the killers. 

while i've always considered myself a fan of the band since their human era, i had no idea they'd released this album until months later when one of my ~internet friends~ tweeted me about it. 

naturally i listened straight away and wasn't disappointed. 

since their debut album hot fuss was released to critical acclaim in 2004, the band have created what can now be described as their Signature Sound, which encompasses inspirations such as the smiths, new order and depeche mode as well as a classic rock and roll sound, and nowhere is this more apparent than on imploding the mirage. 

after watching an episode of song exploder that sees the killers discussing how their 2006 single when you were young was created, i re-listened to the new album and realised that their "stadium ambition" - to create a big sound regardless of the the setting - has never left them. 

it's a shame they won't be headlining reading and leeds next year as the first track my own soul's warning would make an excellent set opener. i also appreciate the lyrics, which remind me of all the times where i went against my ~intuition~ despite knowing something was wrong. 

dying breed, caution and running towards a place wouldn't look out of place next to classics like read my mind (probably my favourite killers song), somebody told me and of course mr. brightside.

much like their early work, imploding the mirage also draws from the band's personal experiences of living in las vegas, far away from the bright lights of sin city. blowback is a perfect example of this. veering in a slightly country direction, the track tells the story of a small town "white trash" girl longing for more. 

the title track is reminiscent of lead singer brandon flowers' solo releases, particularly diggin' up the heart from 2015's the desired effect, while when the dreams run dry pays homage to their love of 80s synth-pop acts like depeche mode.

but my favourite song, and the one which best evokes that feeling of a Forever Song is fire in bone. a dead ringer for talking heads with a hint of U2, there's just something about this song that i love but can't fully put into words. 

genius describes the song as "largely a retelling of the story of the prodigal son from luke 15:11-32 in the christian bible", and its themes of guilt, shame and redemption are probably why the song stirs something inside me that i've long tried to keep hidden.  

overall it's one of their best albums to date, and i know i'll still be having these same feelings when i press play on it in years to come. 

but what about those songs that don't have a sense of Forever about them? my teenage self would have dismissed them as disposable, throwaway pop songs, but now i realise that not every piece of music needs to be deep and profound to be enjoyed. 

i'm referring to artists such as becky hill, who i now have a newfound appreciation for thanks to one of my friends sending me several of her songs recently. 

hill is an artist that is everywhere and nowhere at the same time; her songs have soundtracked the Big Nights Out of anyone who non-ironically attended a slug and lettuce or revolution in the last six years (speaking of which, please read this impeccable piece of journalism from vice), and yet i couldn't name a single song until recently. 

it's a strange feeling, to be so familiar with a song (gecko (overdrive) in particular gives me war flashbacks to every club i attended between 2014-2016) and yet keep discovering new things about it with each listen. i now find myself unashamedly enjoying bops such as space, heaven on my mind, wish you well, better off without you and lose control. i'd also recommend watching her radio 1 dance weekend mashup if you're missing The Club as much as i am.

the final artist i've been enjoying without a trace of irony is RAYE. much like becky hill, she was someone i'd always been aware of but never really listened to beyond dreamer, her iconic collaboration with charli xcx and starrah.

then her song please don't touch was one of the contenders for popjustice's twenty quid music prize this year, and while it didn't win, i found myself listening to the low-key bop on repeat, along with love me again, another track that's far more subdued than my usual tastes.

luckily she upped the energy levels with the release of her EP euphoric sad songs in november this year.

it contained the aforementioned singles as well as secrets, her collaboration with regard that is a Mild Banger/excellent Walking Song.

natalie don't and love of your life both feature the disco-inspired sound that made kylie minogue's disco and dua lipa's future nostalgia two of the year's finest albums, while regardless brings a club-ready feel to the proceedings and feels like a distant cousin of waiting for tonight by jennifer lopez.

and yet my most-played track is walk on by, which sits somewhere between ballad and disco bop, never fully committing to either sound.

however there's no confusion about the direction of her latest offering, as this month she blessed us with a "dance edition" of the EP, featuring remixes by joel corry, punctual and MOTi.

i'd also highly recommend her radio 1 dance weekend mashup which features an exquisite reworking of by your side, a collaboration with jonas blue released in 2016.

sonically, RAYE and becky hill couldn't be further away from the "classic" sound of buckingham nicks and the killers, but my enjoyment of all these artists is what unites them, regardless (SORRY) of whether they could be categorised as Forever Songs or not. 

i've always hated Music Snobs (having been one myself), and this exploration of "real music" is something i cannot wait to explore further when i start my masters in musicology at the university of manchester (!) next september. 

told you i always save the best till last.

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