How am I different

In this article I want to share with you one of my favourite musicians Aimee Mann and to discuss what her work means to me and how important it is for understanding mental health.

When I was about 20 years old I watched this film called “Magnolia” and it touched my soul. The feel of the film is very sad but contains some of the best drama I have ever seen on film. The film has some big stars like Tom Cruise, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Juliane Moore. One of the elements of the film that attracted me was the music. On investigating this I found out that the director of this film Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) was in love with Aimee’s music and so he asked her to score the entire film using her music. The music was like nothing I had ever heard so that inevitably led me to look through her catalogue of music.

I started with an album called “Batchelor No.2” which I believe to be one of the best albums I own. In this album Aimee doesn’t just give you music, she gives you a window to her own personal fears and anxieties. Many music critics have described the music as raw because it has a lot of depressing lyrics though the melodies are not always in a minor tone.

If you are the sort of person who has an inner dialogue that criticises you and tells you you’re not good enough like I do then you can hear this argument in her music. Aimee isn’t always writing about herself she plays the parts of different characters and can be offering advice too.

Lost in Space is one of my favourite go to albums when I’m feeling a bit low. The album is about people who have a drug dependency. Aimee would compare taking taking heroin to being lost in space. The album has a number of fascinating rhymes which really stretch the imagination. Aimee once rhymed “Margaret Thatcher” with “Compound Fracture”. For me the most moving track on this album is titled “Its not” which I have included an excerpt of below:

“So here I’m sitting in my car at the same old stop light. I keep waiting for a change, but I dont know what.

So red turns in to green turning into yellow, and I’m just frozen here on the same old spot.

And all I have to do is to press the pedal, but I’m not, no I’m not”

I find these lyrics beautiful and very clever in the way they play with metaphor to describe a feeling we all have in life. Hidden expectations we are all expected to live up to. People around us who all seem to know the right way to live their lives and know all of the choices they need to make it happen.

I think if you don’t like to think about your music then this isn’t for you, and if you’ve never dabbled in self deprecation then this perhaps isn’t for you but I’d try it anyway. This music might be downbeat but it sends an important message that we’re not alone in how we feel.

I recently found out bizarrely that Aimee in the past lent her vocals to Canadian rock trio Rush for their famous single “Time Stands Still”. Aimee also plays the girl who had her toe chopped off in the Coen Brothers film “The Big Lebowski”

Mental Illness is Aimee’s new album and lends itself to the territory of how people with mental illness cope in their day to day lives. I haven’t yet fully explored the content but I’m excited for what new fruit will come from it.

Aimee is still touring, I had the pleasure of seeing her in London and picked up a signed copy of Charmer. Aimee is such a bright and funny woman that you might not think she is capable of writing such sad music but perhaps this is one of those ironies in life, the funniest can often be the saddest inside. Please give Aimee’s music a try and let me know what you think.

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Am I the only one that likes Björk?

Björk is an acquired taste, and her music is very concept driven. I think that Björk has a perfect balance on how music is typically sold to us and how Art is presented to us. When you look at her album covers for example (which are a footnote compared to her overall achievements) every cover tells a story. Björk wanted her ‘debut album’ to personify her as a vulnerable girl coming into the dangerous industry of music, ‘Post’ was supposed to represent her break into fame with this girl being lost in the sea of fame where it is almost nauseating. Then you look at covers like ‘Homogenic’ where Björk no longer represents a person anymore but more a work of art herself almost as if to hint that her work and that fame she once craved is as John Updike once wrote “Like a mask that eats into the face”.

I was always aware of Björk when I was growing up but she was never a main focus for me because I was too young to be able to explore her art. Out of curiosity I bought her ‘Greatest hits’ which of course is actually more of a fan driven selection of must hear tracks. I was blown away by how much differing emotion there was! It was like an adventure not just of emotions, but the fun of trying to understand and deconstruct what Björk is trying to teach us. This album instantly inspired me to seek out the seperate albums which in their own right have so much to offer.

Björk is like no musician I have ever heard before, she has a style about her that has been widely borrowed from but has never been matched. You could make the assumption that Lady Gaga was inspired by Björk simply based on how she dresses up provocatively but musically the styles are very different. I also find Björk very unsettling and I think she played on this ideal at some points. 

Björk is not afraid to be sexual in her performances, she pokes fun at the concept in some works and lovingly uplifts it in others. Björk herself has a very childlike persona, Thom Yorke of radiohead loves Björk and when describimg her he said “her voice is very sexual but at the same time childish, she has a lot of power in her voice but you’re not afraid that it will do damage” her screeches are very much like a misbehaved child but she sometimes gets to points where she is just making noises and using her voice like an instrument, the sound she produces is beautiful.

Björk seems to be in control of her creative freedoms which is refreshing too. A notable point is that “Oh so quiet” has been one of her largest hits but this is a cover of a 50s song and the music video directed by Spike Jonze was a homage to old musicals. This song does stand out like a sore thumb on the album, but to me this feels like Björk showing us she can add something to any genre no matter how detached it is from her regular stomping grounds. Björk isn’t after fame, she is after creating something worthwhile, which is why this track felt more like an attention grabber!
Björk seems to breathe life into genres that she touches. Take the Sugarcubes for example, which were the band that she originally started in as a young adult, (if you don’t count when she was a child star producing traditional asian songs). The Sugarcubes were full of angst and punk style ‘fuck you’ lyrics. The band are very tongue in cheek and are great fun to explore but one song on that album “Birthday” became a gigantic hit in the UK when John Peel brought it to the radios as an imported track. Bjork shows off her incredibly vocal dynamics in this song and has impeccable accuracy when it comes to hitting ranges. Dance, electronica, hip hop, house, jazz, jungle, trip hop, they have all been inspired by her and she has dipped her toe into a variety of genres. Björk seems to forge new genres and blurs the lines between them, this is possibly down to the avant garte underground music in which she takes root. Björk is clearly not afraid to experiment, and this is what makes her music exciting.

Björk carries with her a great sense of humour and I particular love her appreciation of animator John K and particular 90s cartoon Ren and Stimpy. Björk had John K animate one of her music videos ‘I miss you’ which is very strange but great fun.

One of the rather sad things about Björk is that to date I have never met anyone who has listened to her music! I have tried to show her to people but they never have the urge to explore her music like I do. As much as it’s a shame it is a pleasure that I have had the chance to experience the beauty she brings to her work.
If you have any interesting points or would like to share favourite songs and what they mean to you please let me know.

Let music be your time machine

We are incredibly lucky to have at our disposal decades of music to explore. There are rocky cliff faces, gentle streams, hot desert sands and even frozen lakes of music. We can travel back in time hundreds of years before we were born, or go through history tuning into the music of many different generations. To say that older music isn’t important is just as stupid as saying that Classical literature isn’t important. Older music inspired new music, yes, it even inspired you lady gaga! I know you think you’re one of a kind but you were inspired too.

Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with liking new music, after all artists like Ed Sheeran and Calvin Harris for example have contributed a lot and many people love their music. But I would say it is healthy to put those on ice for a little bit and look back at some great lyricists from the past. When I was 16 my parents moved me out to the country and I was basically alone until I started college. I didn’t realise what I was doing at the time but I was self medicating through music. I started listening to artists I liked and then looking at who inspired them, and then who inspired them and kept going back. By doing this I have branched out and my CD collection is very large.

Music has a great way of tapping into your moods. You could listen to something upbeat such as “Build me up buttercup” by The Foundations when you’re upbeat, or listen to “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails when you’re feeling down. You could listen to “Hallowed Point” by Slayer when you’re feeling angry or listen to “Don’t be shy” by Cat Stevens when you’re feeling delicate. Whether you are willing to adapt to different genres is up to you. Music shouldn’t be written to impress you personally. The moment music has no artistic merit it stops being art and judt becomes a product to simply be bought. Don’t be tempted to make a snap judgements about a particular genre just based on one song either! You could listen to The Sex Pistols and say based on that band alone you don’t like punk. I totally get that I hate the Sex Pistols they seemed to be too much about angst and we’re incredibly lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Instead listen to later punk (90s Punk) such as The Offspring, Bad Religion, NOFX, Descendents, Blink 182. You might find an artist in the same genre you like but is much different.

You can enjoy music on many levels but for me I always feel as if I am hunting for that special lyric which resonates with me. A popular song to quote but in Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” one of the lyrics is the greatest thing about having nothing, is that you have nothing to lose. I always find this uplifting. Paul Simon wonderfully wrote the lyric my life seems unreal, my crime an illusion, a scene badly written in which I must play. Music of this kind blurs the lines between pop songs and poetry.
Not all music has to be focused on lyrics in fact most classical music has no lyrics. You are at the mercy of a musical ensemble. Much like the varying genes of popular contemporary music, classical has variety. I suggest if you are interested in Classical music you should read my other blog on the subject.

Every genre has something to offer you! Hip hop, Country, Acid, Folk, Rock, R&B. Why aren’t you exploring these? There might be a single track that helps answer  worry you’ve been struggling with for some time!

Some people make the mistake of only sticking to the past for music and make statements like “Music was so much better in the 60’s” well that’s not true! There was a lot of shit music in the 60’s too but we just don’t hear about it now because it wasn’t popular. Don’t stick to a certain era of music just because you have fallen in love with it. You owe it to yourself to branch out and try new things, you can always come back to the 60’s!

I have written up the below taster menu for you to try, but please comment your favourite songs and tell me what they mean to you!

  • Late in the evening – Paul Simon
  • Waiting on a friend – The Rolling Stones
  • Inside of me – Little Steven And The Disciples of soul
  • Calling it quits – Aimee Mann
  • Human Behaviour – Bjork
  • Totally nude – Talking Heads
  • Living on a thin line – The Kinks
  • Air Giant – Transglobal Underground
  • Miles from nowhere – Cat Stevens
  • 8 ball (Remix) – N.W.A
  • Juicy – Notorious BIG
  • Pity the dead – Bad Religion
  • Love letter – Nick Cave & The Bad seeds
  • High hopes – Pink Floyd