Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sad music is not depressing music

Radiohead fans worldwide are used to hearing it.

'That music is so depressing.'

'Music to cut your wrists to'

Dismissive, naive, flippant bullshit attitudes at least; maybe even ignorant, closed-minded, shallow and insulting - to the artist and appreciator.

Not everyone has to, can or should like Radiohead, or any particular band/song. Music (as a whole and individual songs) is a subjective experience, heard and enjoyed differently by different people. Maybe if less people liked Radiohead, less people would hate them. And I could see them at a decent, smaller music venue for a reasonable price.

Yes yes, I have been diagnosed with depression. In fact it was at its worst around the time I was getting into Radiohead. And I started on anti-depressants the day after I saw them live in 2004. That's a nice little irony. Be careful about the parallels you draw though; at the earliest onset of my anxiety my favourite singer was Johnny Farnham.

Sure music - like most artistic professions - attracts its fair share of tortured souls (at least those who open up about it). Well, I think it attracts them anyway, rather than making them so. But depression is tragically prevalent and maybe the proportion in sport, for example, isn't so different, just more suppressed.

Humans love to travel and explore places; but we're not so good at looking inward and exploring our own minds and emotions. I think music (art generally) help do that consciously and sub-consciously. Clearly I'm not talking about Justin Bieber or Nickelback here.

Radiohead's popping up on my radar around the time I was in the depths of depression may have been a coincidence; the vigour with which I explored the music was not. I don't know what half the songs are about - it doesn't matter - but their mood resonated. Some of it was angsty, some a little terrifying, some exhausted, some hopeful, some hopeless, some just beautiful. Actually, all beautiful. Things we all feel.

The sounds got into my head, my heart, my psyche, my soul and shook them all up. I connected to it because it reflected things going on in my head that I hadn't figured out yet, let alone been able to express and here it was on my stereo. So I sang along, learnt to play along, danced around my bedroom, exploring it all. It was fucking liberating. I still lose my shit dancing (flailing about) my room to 'I Might Be Wrong' when it gets into me and takes over - it's an amazing release.

I want to share these little gems when I stumble across them or someone is kind enough to share them with me. Not just for the shared listening experience, but also because it helped me feel understood. And I liked to fuck with my poptart-chart loving friends by making them endure 'Fitter Happier', a song I didn't initially like/appreciate myself but actually do now (I think that fairly qualifies me as music snob).

So when someone calls a sweet song like 'No Suprises' the most miserable song ever, it makes me sad. You don't have to like it, and I probably shouldn't need you to understand, but it'd be nice if you'd try.

It exudes a sweet sadness. The world - life - is fucked up sometimes. Ignoring the fact doesn't make you happier, and acknowledging it doesn't have to make you depressed - the opposite really. I'd rather find ways to acknowledge, explore, understand and accept the shit in the world and my head than repress it. It's the only way to move on; Thom Yorke himself talks about using "music to move on, to progress through life".

It's why we play sad music at funerals, right? Ironically, I'd like at least one or two fun songs played at mine. Why be self-indulgent once you're dead?

Sad songs can be amazingly beautiful, uplifting, sure even life-changing. Sadness is in inextricably tied to happiness. If you can't let yourself be sad, how can you fully appreciate happiness? It's okay to identify at times with Elliott Smith's desperate solitude (difficult as linked performance is, there's a fantastic moment when he sings "give me one good reason not to do it" and someone in the crowds responds "because I love you" - love is the greatest thing we have, yet it's bound up with so many of life's difficulties).

Is 'Good Woman' a pitiful anti-love song or one of the most powerful, beautiful love songs ever written? Obviously, it's probably somewhere in between and I'm just using polarisation for effect.

Lots of people find Dirty Three's instrumental music, or Sigur Ros' foreign language music inpenetrable and boring. Again, not to everyone's taste but putting in the time to feel the message from the music can reap massive rewards.

Music is a subjective experience. Everyone hears in with their own ears, in the context of their own life.
I like these artists and songs because there's no bullshit. It's real human expression of emotions I feel and want to explore at the right times, rather that let them fester at the back of my mind.

It's not for you, that's ok. I think you're missing out on something special. That said, there is plenty I'm missing out on as well. We shouldn't slam something just because we don't understand it.

And try not to judge us Radiohead fans too much, we can be fragile beings.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Listening but not Hearing Indigenous Australians

On 8 March I attended the lauch of the Listening but not Hearing report into consultation for the Gillard Government's Stronger Futures legislation, which applies to Aboriginal communities in teh Northern Territory, for RightNow. Read the full article on their website.

On 27 February 2012, in a virtually empty House of Representatives, the Government’s Stronger Futures legislation was passed with little debate and no formal division. It is proposed to replace the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) laws – otherwise known as the Northern Territory Intervention – introduced by the Howard Government in 2007.

Many concerns have been raised regarding the legislation itself, but even the consultation process that was meant to inform it shows an alarming degree of disregard by the Government for the people its decisions will affect.

Co-author Nicole Watson believes that Stronger Futures is merely an extension of the intervention and its most discriminatory aspects.

On Thursday 8 March, former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser launched the Listening but not Hearing report at the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre, Victoria University. The report was prepared by the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology Sydney as an evaluation of the Stronger Futures consultation process.

Co-author Nicole Watson believes that Stronger Futures is merely an extension of the intervention and its most discriminatory aspects. Issues such as income management; land control; the removal of customary law as a consideration in legal proceedings or bail reviews; and alcohol restrictions continue to stigmatise Northern Territory communities and restrict self-determination.Malcolm Fraser said that:

"If there had been any good from the intervention, the Government would have been swamping us with statistics of fewer people in jail, of more people in the decent housing, of improved health, of better performances in schools, of higher attendances in schools."


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Golden Plains is golden

It's hard to come down from one of the most enjoyable weekends of your life.

Golden Plains and Meredith Music Festival are the two favourites of my year, but this year's GP was special.

What was not to love. A weekend packed with so many of life's golden moments: sweet music in the sun from a couple of Swedish teenagers (ok, one's 22) who should be too young to be so wise; dancing the night away to a funk legend; having your heart tugged at by soaring melancholy; appreciating the music and journey of man who's mere presence is inspiring for anyone who appreciates the struggles of the mind; random interactions with wonderful strangers; chilling out with good friends; all the while enjoying a beer they let you bring yourself in a picteresque natural setting. And so much more.

All my troubles fade away for those two days; all the important things come together to lift me above the meaningless bullshit that permeates and drags on everyday life. Music, environment, good friends, good strangers, beer. The Garden of Eden couldn't have been so glorious, even if it did share the Meredith 'no-dickhead' policy.

And nowhere else have I found such a high ratio of genuine, life-loving, genuine people. Plus it's gotten me into so many amazing bands over the last four years.

I love Golden Plains. It is my sanctuary. They could not have picked a more perfect name.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Implementing Human Rights in Closed Environments conference - Psychiatric Settings

Extract of article written for RightNow, find the full article and others on the conference on their website.

"Detainees, whether deprived of their liberty for justified or less justified reasons, belong to the most vulnerable and forgotten sectors of our societies."

These were the words of Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, in 2010.

In this parallel session on psychiatric settings, the panel discussed Australian forensic mental health facilities and their international comparison. It was suggested that those in psychiatric facilities are absent from the public mind more so than any other detained group. The issues that affect them are not well understood by the majority of the population and, after all, they have committed a criminal offence.

The session focused on the work of Tom Dalton, Chief Executive Officer of Forensicare. Dalton discussed his experiences working in local forensic mental health care with Oliver Lewis, of the Hungary-based international human rights organisation, the Mental Disability Advocacy Center; and Natalie Pierce, Legal Advisor to the Chair of the Independent Police Conduct Authority in New Zealand.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Running with head space

Running isn't fun. It's not interesting or mentally engaging. That's why I always hated it, and why I love it.

Some runs are scenic, especially on a warm day, but that's just more incentive to stop and take it in.

On a run there's nothing but your thoughts. My thoughts haven't always been the most pleasant companions. Being absolutely beholden to those 'bad' thoughts in the past, sustained running felt pretty much impossible because I couldn't devote sufficient energy to obsessively fighting them; it made me feel nauseous.

So I always preferred - needed - exercise that offered an opportunity for flight - consuming me with distraction and pulling my mind outward.

Basketball is good. It's fast-paced, continuous and competitive. Tennis, on the other hand, offers more time to think and get caught up in doubt, which will kill your game whether it's irrational OCD stuff or regular doubts about your ability. A natural game is the best game, thoughts just get in the way. It's very much a mental game, like golf. I suck at both. I'm not too bad at basketball, or at least play closer to my potential; it's more instinctive and adrenalin based.

But running ... running offers virtually no mental engagement; it's an entirely insular experience, where all those doubts, questions, uncertainties, silly thoughts and feelings that come and go can thrive if you let them. So I never understood how people run to wind down.

I guess it's about getting away from life's demands and luxuries - no Facebook or Twitter, email, phone (tucked away at least), television, or chatter of a busy world. Maybe an iPod or a running buddy. But there's only so much talking you can do on a serious run, and music is for focus or help tuning out (for me anyway) not distraction; sometimes I don't want it, or don't want the distraction of lyrics - I must be the only person who gets around The Tan listening to The Dirty Three. Inevitably the mind comes back to your own thoughts and feelings - strains and lung capacity and the desire to stop and walk.

Two years ago I couldn't run more than about 1.5km continuously. The thought of running the full 3.8km of The Tan track seemed impossible. One day, after some encouragement and advice from a random girl in a bar I suddenly ran the whole 3.8km of The Tan. My first thought was: 'Crap, now I have do this every time.'

Training run through Albert Park
Another day some months later, I started running to and from the track rather than walking, turning it into a 7km run. Sometime later it turned into 7km circuit from home to the track and back. Stepping up wasn't actually as physically difficult as expected - I tend to run conservatively to make sure I've got enough in the tank to finish. Mentally, though, I kept thinking about how far there was to go and how I couldn't wait to be finished. It doesn't help.

Last year for some reason I did the 10km run in the Run Melbourne. It was daunting - doable but difficult. After just under an hour of physical strain and restless mind, despite the high of achievement, I was adamant I would never run further, and wasn't too keen on running 10km again. It was too long more so than too far.

But, of course, at some point over the Christmas break I got talked into doing the 21km this year. All it really took was the suggestion from a running buddy and encouragement from a cute girl at work who did it last year - I'm a sucker for peer pressure. It took until my next run to regret the decision.

Fittingly, I'm raising money for Headspace. I haven't raised any yet, but I should. Not just because they do great work and I wish they'd been around when I was in my (age-defined) youth, but also because they sent me a great, free running singlet.

I've upped the training to a couple of 8-10km runs a week, even christening the singlet on a 16km run last weekend. And something's changed. Maybe it's been gradual, I'm sure the mindfulness I've learnt through yoga has helped, but I've actually enjoyed those last couple of runs. Not just the naive pre-run anticipation and the post-run relief and pride, but - at least parts of - the actual run itself.

To be painfully cliched, I think I found my head space. It feels damn good, liberating even.

Increasingly, running is as close to meditation as I can get outside of yoga. Giving attention to passing thoughts requires too much energy, so I have to let them go and am getting better at it all the time. At the finish line you have yourself a physical high and a clear mind. And along the way you free your mind from the normal constrained though process, letting a natural subconscious flow to take over and all sorts of corners of the mind to be subtly, quietly explored - this is sometimes when the best thoughts and ideas pop up.

The best thing about running for me is that it's as much, if not more so, about breaking through mental barriers as pain thresholds - not just a simple simple test of mind and will, but a way of improving them.

This is, basically, why I choose to run.

So my greatest fear about running 21km has not been how the body will fare, but how I will occupy my mind for (hopefully only) two hours. It will absolutely be tough, but I'm almost looking forward to it now.

One of my mates doing the run is talking a marathon next year. I've sworn that is one thing I will never do. But, I wonder, someday if ...