Saturday, 2 June 2012

Songs that saved my life part 13:Tindersticks-Travelling Light/Charlatans-North Country Boy

When the rain comes down grey against my window, on the days when all I want to do is wear thick cardigans and stare out of the same window, on the days when I really miss ex-girlfriends, on the days when the cloud of loneliness wraps itself around me like a dark blanket, on those days I listen to the Tindersticks. There’s something about the dusty, too much red wine and cigarettes vocal that makes everything better. The great beauty of music is that there is always a song or a band that will suit your mood, whatever that mood may be. They are like a soundtrack for looking sadly at old photographs. But there’s an odd romance in the woozy melancholy of Tindersticks music, something in their orchestral sweep that makes you feel poetic for feeling a bit sorry for yourself. It’s an easy thing to do, even easier thing to be ashamed of. But fuck it, everyone feels like that at times. Like you want close the door and hide, when the time you most want to be held is the time there is no-one there to hold you. The dangerous part is not finding a home in the melancholy. It’s easy to shut the door on the world and hide in art, but it’s important that you go and drink a cup of tea in café and pull yourself together afterwards. But music does not have to be a mass thing. You don’t have sit with a thousand people in some stadium to enjoy it. Sometimes solitude can be romantic, and at this point were the Tindersticks come in

Tindersticks are a band that creates their own brand of musty romance. Their sound and aesthetic evokes moody, broody images of dusty suits, mouths tasting of whiskey, eroded romance, cigarettes in glass ashtrays with the ash burned down to the filter, fading yet undying love and suited and booted inner city boredom.

Their sounds is sweeping and mood driven, perfect soundtrack music, and indeed its when the music is captured by the unique vision of Martin Wallace that the band really make their truest artistic statement, not only making something that looks and sounds beautiful, but (in two films) something that questions the very nature of love itself.

Take the film for the 1999 single 'Can We Start Again?’ which sees the members of the band in a cinema, not to see a movie, but snatches of memories of past loves. What’s fascinating is that it completely goes against the Hollywood cliché of lost love. Picture in your mind a retrospective love montage in a modern movie, and what do you see? Shared ice creams? Holding hands on a beach? Shopping in a second hand book store?

Even if these things have happened to you in your relationships, I guarantee these are not the things you remember. In the film, you see tiny, almost insignificant moments of a love affair. The way a girl empties a laundrette washing machine, the way she reaches for something in a super market, the way she sips her drink, adjusts her top, chews her gum, flicks her hair. Her earring and her shoes. Things that can go almost unnoticed until they are not there anymore. This and the next film argues that love is something that is not only understood, but also only properly appreciated retrospectively. It’s not the big things you miss, it’s the small things you took for granted.

. The second film is for the 1995 single Travelling Light. Now, it could be argued that this is a film about two normal people going about their every day business. But the colour and tone of the film combined with the music and its lyrical content ("I’ve been looking through some of them old pictures”, "Do you remember how much you loved me?") suggest an affair that has past, almost a ghost of a relationship. Again, a relationship in its entire minutia is laid bare.

We see the couple share touching moments, sharing a bathroom and adjusting each others clothes before a night out and having a pub conversation.

We also see the boring bits. The man shaves, the girl hangs up the washing. We see them walking the dog, riding the bus, ironing. We also see a motif returning from the first film, the couple shopping. This, I think is the crux of the two movies and the point I'm trying to make about them. Whatever reason we are left alone, the mind is pre-war and ready to deal with things like sleeping, eating alone etc. It’s when you find yourself buying toilet paper just for yourself, that when it really hits home that you are alone.

I read a review of a DVD that contains some of Wallace’s Tindersticks films, and someone noted the fact that Wallace’s work "captures the little sparkle of magic and romance that can occur between two ordinary people". This to me misses the point.

We are ALL ordinary people, and those of lucky enough to have someone to share our lives with should find the sparkle of magic in not only the candle lit dinners and expensive gifts but also in buying bog roll together. Because you never know when you might have to buy it on your own.


The actual songs of Tindersticks are songs of quiet desperation, an artistic surrender to emotion. Songs that make loneliness seem decadent. You can hide in a Tindersticks song. When work is awful and all you seem to see are adverts and idiots, Tindersticks (a bit like the Smiths) are a band that makes you feel you are right all along; it’s the others that are wrong. How not living to work and holding onto your dreams are something to be proud of, not ashamed. There’s a line I read once about depression and dissatisfaction being the signs of a growing intelligence. Some days I think there maybe something in that. How easy it is to go along with everybody else and watch the same TV and laugh at the same jokes. How sweet to be an idiot indeed. Let me tell you something, it takes real balls to be different. People fear what they don’t understand. When they note you listening to ‘weird’ music, they don’t want to understand that you’re actually learning something and finding something that reflects your emotions and feelings. A person is never happy all the time, and it’s a fool that pretends otherwise. Don’t ever, ever feel ashamed to feel sad.

Luckily, I’ve only ever suffered from serious depression once. I was about twenty and to this day I don’t know what triggered it. I was reading a lot of heavy books at the time, and maybe my brain was too young to cope with it all. I was half way through reading ‘The birth of music’ by Nietzsche when I felt something literally snap in my brain, like the snap of a broken finger. I felt myself plunged into a black hole I couldn’t get out of. I felt isolated from people and very alone. I started to dislike human beings, myself especially. I was suddenly afraid of being with people yet felt an intense loneliness. I started have panic attacks when ever I went into a shopping centre (I’m convinced to this day this has something to do with the lighting in those buildings). I barely slept and I started eating less and less and pretty much became a hermit. After a couple of weeks of this, and being petrified this feeling wouldn’t go away, I went to the doctor who prescribed ‘these wonderful modern pills’. But anti-depressants didn’t work for me. Don’t get me wrong, they did their job and I can see how they can help some people, but I didn’t like the way they would freeze my emotions. I didn’t feel as sad, but I didn’t feel anything at all. Slowly, against the doctor’s advice, I weaned myself gently off them. I hadn’t talked to anyone about the way I was feeling due to the fact I was scared that they wouldn’t understand and that I would be outcast. Looking back, this was a foolish way of going about things but that’s how depression can make you feel. Then one day (this is going to sound ridiculous but I swear this is how it happened) I was watching the video to ‘North Country Boy’ by the Charlatans and I suddenly started to feel myself again. The video was shot shortly after the death of keyboardist Rob Collins, and shows the band giving it large in America. All smiles and proud energy that screamed ‘we’re gonna get through this. Somehow, this image of pride and dignity in the face of adversity struck a massive chord somewhere deep inside me. If they can get through a death of a mate, I thought, I can get through this. Slowly, I started to pick up the pieces of my life again. I eat properly, and with this my sleep pattern started to realign itself. I began to see friends again, slowly at first, and got back in the groove of being me by playing old records. These writings are flippantly called ‘Songs that saved my life’, but the one nearest to actually doing that was ‘North Country Boy’. Not that I was anyway going to end my life, but it made sure I got it back.

These days I still get low sometimes, but to such a degree I’m not really sure you could call it actual depression. Everyone, I think, has little dips of emotion in their lives, however reluctant they are to admit it. But I know how to deal with it. When sadness calls, I drink more tea and less beer. This leads to seeing my friends less, but I do so in the knowledge that being good friends, they will still be there for me when I do go out again. I start to read more and sleep in longer when I can. I watch favourite films (‘Submarine’ and Hancock’s ‘The Rebel always do the trick at time like this) and I go and chat with my mum. Within a week the sadness passes and I’m back to my old self again. Even the most traumatic experience of my life, the death of my father, I was able to cope with. Looking back, I think my brain just froze and very gingerly thawed its way back to normality. I’m afraid I did spend six months drinking pretty heavily (the worst described in ‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’ chapter’), but got it together to see a counsellor when I wanted to kerb the drinking and face up to my emotions. It’s hard, especially being a working class lad, to talk to family and friends about something as heavy as grief but it was easy to talk to someone who was trained to deal with someone suffering this terrible emotion. For reasons of anonymity, I can’t talk a great deal about my wonderful counsellor, but she did fantastic job. The hardest part for her, I think, was to teach me that such things are normal and not at all weak. It’s the bottling up of emotion that’s dangerous. She was a great help and I will never forget her.

There is a wonderful fleeting scene in the ‘Travelling Light’ video of the girl in the film. She is alone on a bus, there are other people, but she is in her own little world. The other people seem to be almost gladly going about their everyday business, but the girl seems…well what? Looking in her eyes it’s hard to know if she feels sad, or proud; if her mood is expectant or nostalgic. But you feel that she is on your side, that she is one of us. This is the beauty of music; this is the beauty of art.

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