Sunday, July 21, 2013

Reporting Live From The Eye Of The Storm

It's been awhile since I have had the need to blog about my battles with my internal demons, but here I sit on a Sunday evening finding myself in the midst of a storm inside my brain that rolled in so fast I did not have time to prepare.  Usually I can see these clouds forming and, while I can't always thwart the incoming attack, at least I am usually able to take the appropriate steps to shelter myself (and those around me) from the worst of the maelstrom.

Perhaps it's wrong to say I didn't see this one coming; a more correct assessment would be to say what I thought was a thunderstorm turned out to be hurricane.  It's been a long, tough, painful week at work.  What folks who do not suffer from the sort of anxieties and depressions many of us battle do not understand is that we also tend to guilt-sponges.  For as long as I can remember, whenever I sensed that people around me were upset or angry, my immediate assumption has always been that I must have done something wrong; that somehow this disturbance in the peace is my fault.  Now, sensible people would see that, if something were indeed their fault, they would be directly approached about it; if no one is telling them they are at fault, sensible folk deduce that they must not be at fault and move on with their lives.  Not so with me.  No, in my warped world, the very fact that I'm not being directly confronted about something only serves to make it clear that I am indeed the problem.  That Social Anxiety Demon who keeps me believing that I am forever at risk of being set up for embarrassment, humiliation, or ridicule, whispers in my ear that everyone must be talking about me behind my back.  Paranoid? Damn right you should be paranoid! They're out to get you! I hate that demon with every ounce of my soul.  That demon holds me back more than any other I battle.

That demon had me convinced this week that I was the cause of the issues that made it a difficult week, but the week seemed to end on a reasonably high enough note.  I was feeling better about things and headed into the weekend ready to begin anew.  Saturday went by uneventfully, as did this morning, but by mid-afternoon, my internal world was in shambles.

I can't tell you when it happened or even how it began.  I realized I was sitting on my sofa in the living room staring blankly out the window with neither the TV nor the stereo on (a rarity indeed!) in silence, wanting to scream, to cry, to beat my fists against the wall.  My head had begun to hurt, as if my skull were being pressurized from inside and likely to blow apart at any moment.  My stomach lurched and I felt physically weak.  Since about 2:00 this afternoon, this is how I have felt.  The physical discomfort is not constant, other than the headache, but the want to just cry and scream in some sort of primal release is very strong.  As I write this I am simultaneously holding back tears yet wanting them to flow.

And the worst part of it all?  I can't tell you why.  I don't know why.  I don't think there is a "why."

Sure, there are things that are wrong in my world, as there are in anyone's.  Yes, I am fighting to regain the sense of security I once had before the economy collapsed and I found myself back to living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to stay above water, but so are many people.  I have a plan for those things, a strategy to rebuild, and it is working, slowly but surely.

Sure, there are the life choices I wish I would have made differently, such as never learning to drive or never marrying and starting my own family, but those situations are what they are, and they are certainly not new issues that just arose in my mind this weekend.

So what is it? Why is it? Why do I feel like this, and why does it happen so often?  Especially when it hadn't happened for such a long stretch?

To be clear, this is not a panic attack I am experiencing.  I know those very well, unfortunately.  No, this is a depression attack, and I am smack dab in the middle of it.  Funny, though, that the "rational" part of my brain realizes this much, and is allowing me to communicate it through writing.  I just want it to stop - I want this episode to stop, and want this all to stop happening ever again.  I want to be a normal, regular person.  I just wish I were normal.

I will get through this. I always do.  Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger,  right?

Enough rambling.
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Six Word Sunday

Rain will be welcome this afternoon!

Monday, July 15, 2013

New Wave for the New Week #165

The classic era of New Wave, circa 1978 - 1981, left behind several eccentric curios - bizarre one-shot bands that rode the wave briefly and wiped out hard, never to be heard from again, or eclectic experimenters who thrived on trying something beyond the traditional radio-friendly three and half minute pop song.  One band fit both descriptions during the New Wave heyday, and then managed to extend their lifespan longer than anyone thought probable by completely redefining themselves, at least finding dance club success if not chart fame and radio airplay.

When they began in 1978, the band Fàshiön (originally fully named Fàshiön Music on their first few singles) sounded like no one who had come before them - or after, for that matter.  They created a trippy, out-of-phase, almost dreamlike drone from shards of Reggae, Psychedelia, and Punk.  With frontman Luke Sky's bizarre vocal swoops tugging the melodies along, their early records at times sounded akin to Brian Eno-era Roxy Music played at the wrong speed on warped vinyl, but they remain fascinating artifacts of the era. "Steady Eddie Steady" and "Citinite" are the best examples of these early oddities, which caught the ear of Miles Copeland who quickly snapped them up for his fledgling I.R.S. Records label.

It was for I.R.S. that Fàshiön recorded their debut EP, containing my pick as their finest vinyl moment, the raucous "Sodium Pentathol Negative," which was also chosen as the band's representative cut on the essential I.R.S.'s Greatest Hits Vols. II & III compilation.  That it wasn't included on their first proper LP, 1979's Product Perfect, only goes to show how much solid material the band was pumping out. Indeed, only "Citinite" made the cut from the first several singles.  It's a truly wonderful album, highlighted by the sprawling, somewhat unsettling "Bike Boys."  Well worth seeking out.

Shortly thereafter, Sky left the band, and Fàshiön might very well have disappeared into the mists of time. Remaining band members John Mulligan (bass and synths), Dik Davis (drums), and Al James (guitar) had other ideas, however.  They brought in a new vocalist, and in 1982 suddenly bobbed back up to the surface with a new album, Fabrique (reissued many years later on CD as The Height of Fashion).  Old fans had little to celebrate, sadly, as this record bears little to no resemblance to anything done under the Fàshiön name before.  This was slick, polished New Romantic/pseudo-soul pop music, an obvious attempt to latch onto the "sound of the moment." While they scored some club hits ("You Only Left Your Picture," "Streetplayer"), they didn't find the commercial success they had hoped for.  A further reshuffling and another change in vocalists occurred, and they tried one more time. 1984's Twilight Of Idols took unapologetic aim at the dance floors, and while it is certainly danceable, it's unfortunately also generic and forgettable. 

For this week's NW4NW entry, we go back to Fàshiön's early material and remember good band they were at the start, even if they turned out to be a chameleonic curio by the end. Two audio-only clips are presented: first up, their excellent debut, "Steady Eddie Steady," and then the fantastic "Sodium Pentathol Negative." Enjoy!

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Monday, July 8, 2013

New Wave for the New Week #164

Combining hook-laden high-energy jangling guitar pop with a Punk Rock sneer and a boatload of irresistibly catchy choruses, The Buzzcocks appeared on the scene in the wake of The Sex Pistols' initial assault on UK eardrums in 1976.  The band was originally the creation of schoolmates Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley who, with bassist Steve Diggle and drummer John Maher, issued the 4-song 7-inch Spiral Scratch EP that year on their own New Hormones label, making them among the earliest of the  Punk crowd to take the independent release route.

Spiral Scratch's songs are sharp, abrasive, angular blurts that only begin to display what The Buzzcock's sound would evolve into; the highlight here is the leadoff track, "Boredom," which is everything a Punk Rock song should be: short, minimalist, snarky and intelligent ("Now I'm living in this ennui/But it doesn't suit me...").  The Devoto/Shelley pairing would not last long. Devoto was more interested in exploring electronic music, and shortly after this debut he left the band to form Magazine.

Pete Shelley took over the lead vocal duties, Steve Diggle moved from bass to guitar, and Steve Garvey joined on bass, and in short order the classic Buzzcocks lineup was in place.  Over the next three years The Buzzcocks would deliver three outstanding albums and a dozen or more ace singles for their new label, United Artists.  They differed from their contemporaries in Shelley's adenoidal yet melodic vocals and the use of Beatles-inspired harmonies.  Where the Punk crowd was going on about political and social injustices, The Buzzcocks were singing about paranoia, alienation and unrequited love - and scoring hit after hit in the UK while doing so.

Their first United Artists single, 1977's "Orgasm Addict," brought about controversy given its rather frank approach to its subject matter, but also sold very well despite just missing the UK Top 40.  The follow-up, "What Do I Get?," did make the Top 40, and The Buzzcocks were off on a great run. All three of their United Artists LPs (Another Music In A Different Kitchen, Love Bites, and A Different Kind Of Tension) have aged remarkably well and are strewn with classics like "Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Should'nt've?)," "Sixteen Again," "Fast Cars," "You Say You Don't Love Me," and so on; the band also scored with a handful of non-album singles including "Love You More," "Everybody's Happy Nowadays," and "Harmony In My Head."   In 1979, UA helpfully compiled all of the A and B sides of their singles into one album, Singles Going Steady. Essential.

As the 1980's kicked off, The Buzzcocks began slowing down.  The delivered three more singles, which were later compiled into a 12-inch EP, but Shelley soon left to pursue a solo career, Diggle and Maher moved on to form Flag Of Convenience, and The Buzzcocks were apparently done.  A decade later, there was enough interest in the band to reissue everything except for the original four Spiral Scratch tracks in a boxed set called Product.  Sales were surprisingly strong, and Shelley and Diggle started toying with the idea of a reunion.

By 1993, a regrouped Buzzcocks had their first new recorded material in more than ten years. Trade Test Transmissions kicked off a run of five more albums, including All Set, Modern, Buzzcocks, and Flat-Pack Philosophy, which all showed the band hadn't lost a step despite the lengthy layoff.  Songs like the incredible "Soul On A Rock" (from Modern) can be proudly filed alongside The Buzzcock's classic material.

For this return to NW4NW, I am happy to present two of The Buzzcock's best from their classic era, "What Do I Get?" and the utterly wonderful "I Don't Mind," as well as the more recent vintage "Soul On A Rock."  Enjoy!

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