Music of the Day: The Cure, Mac DeMarco; Musings on My Struggle With Bipolar Disorder

Early July of 2015, while sitting in a tiny restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia (after having dashed across the street, narrowly avoiding being hit by a Jeep), I first heard The Cure’s 1987 hit “Just Like Heaven.” I remember thinking it was the kind of song that’s laced with nostalgia in every note. It was bright, bubbly. I added it to my playlist that day. In a sense, the song became the soundtrack of my summer, along with Mac DeMarco’s Salad Days. During the day that I discovered The Cure and Mac D, I was on a sixteen-hour road trip back to the peninsula after spending a week in Pensacola. I was car-sick and had no way of knowing that when I got home, I would be thrown into the abyss of my first ever manic episode.

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There’s not a lot I remember. More often than not I felt the sensation that my head was spinning, that my movements were entirely automated, that every natural disaster was taking place in the fault lines of my skin. Manic episodes, associated with all types of bipolar disorder, are periods lasting from a few days to–albeit less commonly–months, in which a person’s self-confidence, energy levels, and motivation hit a fever pitch. It can feel like there is this raw, powerful energy flowing through your blood, twisting your thoughts around, clouding your vision. These episodes are associated with high impulsiveness, doing things one would never do under normal circumstances. I remember taking a family member’s Xanax on multiple occasions, swallowing around sixteen at a time (this happened during that summer of 2015).
In addition, if mania reaches an unchecked level, hallucinations and delusions are common. When I had my first ever manic episode, it went on for a week (I was eventually diagnosed with type II bipolar, and my episodes have never been that long or severe since then) and even little things like my depth perception were . . . off. I hadn’t slept for around three days, and on my little brother’s birthday July 28th, we had gone to a restaurant and then a mini-golfing course to celebrate. I was tired to the core. My bones were screaming at me for sleep, but I simply couldn’t. The energy was taking over me. It felt evil. My parents joked that I was on drugs, and it felt like I was, but I started crying — I remember that I was hypersensitive at that time. My brother had been walking in front of me, maybe ten feet away, but the distortions of vision in my head caused me to see him closer than he actually was. This led to me snapping at him, “Back up! You’re standing too close.” He looked at me, confusion etched onto his face. “What do you mean? I’m not walking anywhere near you.”
Oh. I looked again and realized he wasn’t as close as I’d thought he was. In another instance around an hour later, I had excused myself to the restroom during dinner at Cracker Barrel, and when I stepped outside, there was an elderly woman, maybe in her nineties, laughing at me. I said nothing to her, but she hummed a low whistle and said, “You’re not welcome here. Go home,” and bore her eyes into mine. I turned around, looking for my family, and when I turned back, she was gone.
It’s instances like these that are the reason why mania is considered a mental illness and not just a euphoric spike of positive energy. I am on medication now, thankfully.

Back to The Cure. My dad and I play The Cure every time we’re in the car together, it’s kind of a ritual. One of our favorites is the 1982 release “One Hundred Years.” The first listing on The Cure’s Pornography album (strangle title, I know), the song begins with an eerie, haunting guitar riff and the words “Doesn’t matter if we all die.” The song speaks of what I’m assuming is one hundred years of bloodshed and wartime, including a young black-haired girl who had lost her father in the war, a soldier on the front lines, a man in the office of a high building referencing perhaps a terrorist attack, and some of the most dark melodies I’ve heard yet in a song. We speculated for a while on what this song is about, so I did some research. Though the album was influenced heavily by psychedelic drugs, frontman Robert Smith stated that he was going for a “virtually unbearable” sound, implying that the lyrics were meant to sound ‘goth’ and depressive, lacking any real substance. Many of the songs on this album are, indeed, depressing. “One Hundred Years” stands as one of my favorite songs of all time, nonetheless.

Next up, Mac DeMarco. Salad Days will, I think, forever be one of my favorite albums of any artist. I first heard this on that dreadful sixteen-hour car trip back home, and I fell in love. Mac his a very distinct sound, mixing slow jam with psychedelic rock with “jangle pop.” The album kicks off with the song “Salad Days” itself — the lyrics “As I’m getting older, chip up on my shoulder, rolling through life to roll over and die.”
Perhaps the best song on this album, in my opinion, is “Brother.” The end instrumentals of this song are haunting with a trace of surrealism. It reminds me of that episode in summer, 2015. I’ve watched countless Mac interviews and vlogs, and I think he’s adorable, little tooth-gap/Viceroy cap and all.

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Song of the Day: Bittersweet Symphony

“It’s a bittersweet symphony, that’s life.”

Ever since I was eight years old and obsessed with gymnastics, I can’t remember a time I wasn’t in love with this song. Released in 1997 by English artist Richard Ashcroft, Bittersweet gained instant popularity and critique, altogether. The rights to the song were taken by Allen Klein due to supposed copying of a Rolling Stones melody.  Despite itself, though, The Verve is almost ethereal to me. I don’t know too many songs by them but this is definitely my go-to when I’m feeling low. It’s one of the reasons I have such a strong desire now to learn cello (if only I had the patience).

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This past week has been so draining that I haven’t been able to write anything. I open my journal, which usually gives me inspiration to write just from the elegance of it, and find myself hating my poetry. I’m in an advanced creative writing class, so writing and reading poetry to the best of my ability is paramount. The other day, just for the fun of it, I decided to read a poem of mine to the class (title: Holland, 1945, after a Neutral Milk Hotel song of the same name), and as I was writing the poem I saw no issues with it. After reading, however, I felt like burning everything I’d ever written. I felt like I had to decorate my poetry in flowery writing so people would think it’s “pretty,” rather than use the raw and somewhat uncomfortable words I’d used in the poem (it’s about Anne Frank, for heaven’s sake). Logically I know this is wrong. I’m generally just in a funk I don’t know how to break out of.

I needed comfort, so I listened to this song for maybe the thousandth time. I let the melody shine and cleanse my mind like the song said, and I slowly started to feel better. Music is wildly important in my life, and I’m so, so glad songs like these exist.