Friday, 14 December 2018

A people's history in poetry

Last week I had the pleasure of guesting at Poetry Jam up in Durham run by Steve Urwin.
The North East is a lovely vibrant community, it feels like one big regional village of Newcastle, Sunderland Durham and Stockton where faces pop up across the poetry events.

I was struck by a shared love for stories at the night.  Rich, warm, generous and personable, a good number of the open miccers told their tales through verse.  Sometimes poetry scenes get known for a particular form, some nights love stand-up comedy poetry, others enjoy right-on political poetry.

It’s no surprise, the North East has a special history of working class folk music and shanties, Alex Glasgow being a particular favourite of mine.

The other guests were the wonderful Ellen Moran and Tom Kelly.  Tom’s career has spawned eleven books of poetry, stories and plays, a real veteran of the scene.  Ellen, by contrast, started performing poetry this year. Nevertheless she was one of the most confident and fierce performers I have seen for a long time.
A notable connection between these two poets was their use of characters and stories.  Ellen shared a poem about her Great Aunt, Peggy, and the rehousing of the working class of the 1960s.  Tom shared a poem about a family photo, and also stories of Jarrow.  A poem that really struck with me told the story of William Jobling, a striking miner and one of the last to be hung by a gibbet in Britain.

I have been researching a lot of British history lately.  The Peasants Revolt of 1381, anti-fascism in the 1930s, the Land Laws and enclosure of the 1700s and the Diggers, Levellers, Luddites and Blanketeers that pepper our history.  The working class struggle often ignored in favour of the story of Kings and Queens and their wars.

Some of my favourite poets are story-tellers.  They paint a picture with language of place, people and time.  And through that story we can write our own.  Ellen works for the Union Acorn, supporting tenants and tackling housing injustice.

I feel connected to a people's history, not because of some shared language, ethnicity, race or religion as Nationalists would unite us, but through a struggle against the rich, the bosses, the managers, the powerful and those that would divide us, erase our stories and enforce their own.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

We want our scene to be magnetic

Poetry scenes become poetry communities.  Because attendees are not necessarily housemates, family or work colleagues, these communities thrive as refreshing spaces to see people once or twice a month in a context for sharing art.  They come from a range of ages and backgrounds, and familiarity of people's poems is a cornerstone of friendship.  You can also make new pals by complimenting someone's poem, a handy conversation-starter.

However whenever a community starts to emerge, we humans also create hierarchies in the form of references, in-jokes and expectations.  Cliques can start to creep, we request classic poems, we shout-out things perhaps understood by the minority in the room, we chat about people, places and events from within.

In a recent review, A Dork In York blog praised Say Owt's recent collaboration with Sonnet Youth and it’s a glowing write-up.  I'm Artistic Director for Say Owt, and hugely proud of this night where we mixed poetry, comedy and music.

However the reviewer does point out “slam poetry has a reputation for being too cool for a reason, and I think that Say Owt could bear that in mind … When the hosts (I’m excluding Sonnet Youth from this – y’all were a joy) are all sat with their mates whooping and bantering on one side of the pub and the audience is on the other, it can feel at times like you’ve wandered into a private poetry party.”

Say Owt’s vibe can, at times, became a little bit raucous because we want the spoken word genre to be excitable and energetic.  We have developed an in-joke of acting slightly rowdy, coming up with chants for poets, subverting the expectations of usually quiet, introspective poets.  Because Sonnet Youth were taking over hosting duties, possibly I wanted to be a high-energy audience member, after all that’ the vibe Sonnet Youth as a “literary rave”.

I can only profusely apologise if any audience member, or poet, has ever felt alienated at our events.  We always try to greet and welcome poets to events we are hosting, and in terms of audience members try and ensure we’re all on the same wavelength, sharing a unified vibe.   

We want our scene to be magnetic.

Coming to any event, especially if you’re considering sharing poetry, can be a daunting experience, and I can see how someone turning up not knowing us might be uncomfortable with toying with a banter-ful vibe.  I certainly know if I’d turned up to a gig when I was starting out and not felt comfortable in that community, I would not have returned.

If anyone has suggestions how nights can dispel cliques and ensure it is a open environment, please comment below or send us a message

Monday, 29 October 2018

The Bat and the Union Jack

That night, hounds howled in fear more than wrath
Milk turned sour and all bread rotted to black.
The sky, overcast, save the silvery moon,
Thoughts sank into depths of gloom.
All Old Wives got out their pens and pads
Added to their tales, secretly glad
An extra few warnings and worries entered the world.
Along the corridors of the house, it could be heard
A groaning and moaning and finally just breath
As the creature was born upon the grand bed
The father, all monocle and splutters, was sozzled
The mother, in pain, snatched his brandy bottle.
The Doctor made the sign of the cross and vanished.
The bed, a wreck, inexplicably damaged.
The Nanny was happy, but only because she was paid
Smiling politely through this end-of-days.
Aside from some crying and glugging, silence preserved,
And the child, made no sound, it simply observed
It nodded at the staff, and they nodded back
It wrapped itself in a shawl, the colour of midnight black
It looked out the window, and seemed unimpressed
The father, now with brandy down his expensive vest
Went off to bed, needless to say his dreams were cruel
The mother, simply stared into space until the next noon.
The candles flickered, the room was cast in a slight glow
Or...did...could...the child...did anyone know…
The baby didn’t seem to cast a shadow...
The Household’s name was Vice-Moore
The kind of rich that like to spit on the poor
Not in public, obviously, but internally, and with pride
Some of that had leaked into the child’s piercing eyes.
And the child sought no nipple.  It turned to the Nanny
Eyes like pale moons reflected in a river
It bit down on her fingers
With teeth like needles.
If she felt pain, she didn’t show it.
After all, she was being paid
And the little monster, somehow, knew it.
The staff looked on, steeling back the sick
Was their minimum wage worth the risk?
They knew, deep-down,
This creature was destined for politics.

They didn’t sing on trains or buses, there wasn’t a street party
Though some families had friends round for a tot of brandy
The votes had been counted, the swing-ometer had swung
The Party led by Humphrey Vice-Moore had won
The new PM, with a devilish grin
Was now, officially, In.
A cunning ploy by his PR team decreed
No photos of the new PM, please
Just portraits.  Ceremonious and proper,
Besides, Humphrey knew he wouldn’t show up well through a camera.
“He’s so...aloof” his champions would agree
“He’s just...better than me”
Even his opponents, sat in Trade Union Halls
Agreed, there’s something hypnotic about it all.
Charming, aspiring, perfect and safe
The PM had taken to wearing a black cape
And, he’d requested, if it wasn’t too much hassle
Instead of Number 10 he’d rather live in a castle.
Now he'd been invited
The country was to be stifled.
And his evil power began to take root in policy
Across the country, services would bleed
Sliced and cut, access removed
Bitterness brewed.
A clawing vision
Narrow the education curriculum,
Fund the Armed Forces, forget the shelters
Mental health? Pull out the heart of the sector.
Carve up the NHS like a hunted corpse
Howl at protests with baton-wielding force.
Punching downward, hating thy neighbour
But, what was more stranger
Humphrey Vice-Moore added a bat
To the Union Jack.

Amazon sold out of pitchforks
B&Q all out of flaming torches
Argos mirrors, Millets stakes
The working class went to Lidl
The posh went to Waitrose
Regardless their class, the people bought up garlic cloves.
They piled out of meeting places, enraged and raucous
Ticket inspectors on trains pleaded
Don’t light your torches until they are needed
Be careful with those pitchforks, paramedics declared
It’s health and safety gone mad, some of the mob feared
Twitter was trending #whatsatstake
Cassetteboy had his own unique take
Memes popped up comparing the PM with Christopher Lee
Even sceptics had to admit, yes, lately it has been unusually foggy
His defenders said, look, just be glad
It could be worse, he could be a 2nd Vlad
Some tried to reason, said, let’s wait for an election
Others shrugged and said, it’s natural selection
"He’s the best man (or whatever he is) for the job
I’d keep him in no matter the cost!"
Well the cost was rising year-on-year
And the population had started cowering in fear
No more!  Time for the slaughter!
Let’s vote with our feet and casks of Holy Water!
The fire brigade conscripted hundreds of vicars
Never before had they blessed water quicker.

And in the Palaces of Westminster, Humphrey could hear them stomping
Chanting, like some protest, but this time with an added something
A sense of rightness, of duty, or purity
Humphrey licked his teeth purposefully.
His cabinet consisted of his oldest allies
They huddled, terrified under his soul-wrenching eyes
“I think it might be” suggested the Home Secretary
“That people believe you’re a…” his words faded away uselessly.
Humphrey scowled.  What was all this fuss?
They didn’t mind when the public services were cut?
Why now are the population in revolt?
Why was the Foreign Secretary sat inside a circle of salt
The Deputy PM stood up, braver than ever before
But still shaking like he’d been selected for war.
“The thing is, Humph, there’s a rumour going round
Believed in every village, city and town
Now, I know it’s all silly speculation
Stuff about coffins and desecrated soil accumulation
And I don’t mind Igor, the chap you appointed as whip
(not quite sure you needed to give the hunchback an actual...whip)
But the sitch is this, now, heard it through the wire
The nation believes you’re an actual vampire…”
Humphrey paused.  Bemused. Puzzled.  He laughed.
That’s rich.  That’s bizarre.  That’s a little bit...sad?
A member of the undead?  Me? I may be in charge
But I’m not some monster with a dark arcane art!
And just as PM Vice-Moore was about to ask how did this rumour start...
The Leader of the Opposition charged in
and stabbed him through the heart.
The blood washed all over the cabinet, the intruder cheered with fervour
“Bloody got the bugger!”
He looked down at his chest and the stake:
And he realised his one, great fatal mistake
The public can stomach the blood-sucking attacks
With tax havans and tax cuts and private sector contracts
They love to treat the workers like a buffet of snacks
But what they really can’t abide, a great British failure
The public had assumed Vice-Moore must be a vampire from Transylvania
(of course a region of Romania).
They didn’t mind being ruled by a British fiend
But one from abroad, well that was obscene!
So endeth Humphrey Vice-Moore, not-quite-vampire, who only liked
cricket bats.
The Times-reading, anthem-singing, flag-waving, dying,
blue-blooded aristocrat.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

7 upcoming York Theatre Royal shows you won't believe you should check out

It’s been a bit quiet over at Blogger Towers whilst I do a lotta other stuff.

So as I live in York, I thought I’d pop up a post giving a plug to some rally great pieces of theatre coming to York Theatre Royal in the coming months you should definitely be checking out.  

The Twitterverse tells me a lot of good things about Gecko (the theatre company, not this chap) and their show, Missing, looks like a mesmerising fast and physical piece of theatre.

New Nigerians
New Nigerians brings some necessary voices to York in the form of the Black British story.  It looks funny, delightful and full of charm.

Women of Aktion
You know me, friends.  Bloody lefty through-and-through.  So naturally I love a spot of nostalgia around past struggles, and Women of Aktion is the tale of 1930s radicalism, factories, the working class struggle and Joan Littlewood’s part in the anti-war struggle.

Narcissist In The Mirror
I had the pleasure of being beaten by Rosie Fleeshman earlier this year in a Leeds slam.  The Manchester poet’s show Narcissist In The Mirror is dark comedy about ambition.  Rosie is a superb performance poet with a lot to say.

A Super Happy Story About Feeling Super Sad
I’m really looking forward to A Super Happy Story About Feeling Super Sad.  The show has received huge acclaim and it looks like the theatre I totally admire:  Playful, messy, joyous and, essentially, about mental health.

Here’s an interesting little show called Sid about Sid Vicious.  I love the Sex Pistols and their legacy, but I find Vicious a problematic figure.  I hope the show doesn’t present him as a rock ‘n’ roll suicide, nor an angelic na├»ve boy manipulated by others. 

Women’s feminist history sometimes erases the working class voice, and hopefully Canary will tell the story of factory women risking their health and lives.  Looks a nice spot of physical theatre too!

Beyond that into 2019 Wise Children and Noughts & Crosses co-productions will be coming to the main stage and look charmingly exciting.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Hold on for your life: Punk & Confidence Part 6

Hold on for your life:  Punk & Confidence Part 6

Dalia never showed me nothing but kindness
She would say: “I know how sad you get."
And some days, I still get that way
But it gets better
Sweetie, it gets better, I promise you
And she'd tell me
Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist
Keep on loving. Keep on fighting
And hold on, hold on
Hold on for your life
-Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of Your Fist, Ramshackle Glory

Throughout these blogs, I’ve enjoyed looking at punk’s relationship to confidence.  I’ve briefly looked at the way punk fashion inspires an aesthetic confidence, the way that punk songs give us the courage to fight racism and fascism and the nature of intelligence and knowledge in punk circles.

My last blog looked at self-deprecating punk ideology, the way that many punk songs celebrate being a loser, a freak, a weirdo or an outsider.  Inevitably, this self-deprecation links to wider conversations around mental health.  So from here on in, content note for suicide, depression, anxiety and general negative mental health issues.  But also some proper bangin’ tunes.

Mental health issues have always been part of the DNA of punk rock.  The initial colourful wave of punk spirit turned darker when key figures Ian Curtis and Sid Vicious died by suicide.  Curt Cobain of course will forever remain a famous icon of grunge and punk.  Plasmatics singer Wendy O Williams in 1998.  A great inspiration to me, Erik Petersen of Mischief Brew, died in 2016. Over in the nu-metal camp, we lost Chester Bennington from Linken Park in 2017 and indie rock band Frightened Rabbit, Scott Hutchinson, died earlier this, another presumed death by suicide.

Of course, mental health problems don’t just affect punk musicians, it affects all of us.  But in this blog I want to explore some punk (and punk-inspired) lyrics and ideas that have tackled and talked about mental health issues.

The first time I heard musicians openly talking about mental health were ONSIND from Pity Me, Durham.  ONSIND’s album, Anesthesiology, is a concept album based around growing up working class queer.  The protagonist, Chelsea, deals with bullies at school, an abusive father who discovers religion, and struggles with their own mental health.  It came out in 2013, a very difficult year for me mental health-wise and the album boasts the much-necessary song Dissatisfactions which assures the listener to “take it day by day by day”.  Anesthesiology means the care of patients before, after and during surgery, a fitting title for an album dealing with a timeline of our character.

Members of ONSIND also perform in indie-punkers Martha, and naturally all their songs deal with anxiety and loneliness in some form, but their B-side Six Men Getting Sick Six Times (Mendable) is a very beautiful song with the lines “There’s a world outside where I feel so broken / But you make me feel mendable.” 

The indie-punk scene has wealth of shy and supportive people who have open conversations around mental health issues not only in songs, but in how they build safe scenes offstage.  Potentially because these indie-punk bands are home to LBGTQ+ people whose experiences of being a marginalised group mean they experience more negative mental health issues

“Tell yourself you’re not the anxious type” – Shit Present, Anxious Type.  Spook School sing “I said let's pretend the world's alright / Let's pretend we’re doing fine For fifteen seconds at a time And I won't cry if you won't cry” -  Alright (Sometimes).  Muncie Girls’ latest release features Clinic:  “I’m scared; I’ve never felt like this before/ The only way I can stop from crying it to take deep breaths and sit on the floor”.  Jesus & His Judgemental Father sing “There was too much in my head, I couldn't stand it I don't feel good, I don't feel safe, I don't feel right” on Lunartick.  Also check out T-Shirt Weather, Haters, Happy Accidents, Skull Puppies, Camp Cope, Fresh, Nervus and Spoonboy.

On a folkier side of punk, I want to give a shout out to Elly Kingdon whose discography has a wealth of lyrics about dealing with mental health issues.  Crywank, Me Rex and Chuck SJ all worth looking into.  Suicide Hotline by The Prettiots is a darkly comic tune.  Pop-punk’s Eat Defeat’s album I Think We’ll Be OK does a splendid overarching job.  Ducking Punches song Six Years is about a friend’s death.

Mental health problems can occur when playing in bands because of the intense pressure to dress a certain way, to adopt a characterful swagger or to bustle your way to the top of the bill.  To be so present and visible is not always healthy.  Playing at gigs where criticism comes readily, bad venues don’t support you, audiences are disrespectful, sexual predators are dismissed as banter and you lose a load of money.  That’s why the indie-punk scene has to find its own supportive and anti-bullish network.

However, the more I dug around in the discography of punk, the more you can find heavier bands from punk’s canon talking about these mental health tribulations.  Descendants, Bad Religion, Dead Kennedys, Blag Flag, Rise Against, Screeching Weasel, Choking Victim, Pennywise, Butthole Surfers, Leftover Crack, The Replacements all bands I associate with a more heavier, confident and male-dominated scene.  You can find some of these songs here:

Suicidal Tendencies and The Suicide Machines are two American bands that directly highlight suicide in their very names.

“They stuck me in an institution
Said it was the only solution
To give me the needed professional help
To protect me from the enemy, myself” - Suicidal Tendencies, Institutionalized

These bands, on the surface, have a boisterous energy that exhumes a guttural and noisy confidence.  A far cry from these introverted indie-punk bands.  But still under this banner of DIY, anti-authority and honest punk rock.

I have three theories:

1.  Punks rethink spaces, from houseshows to squats to independent venues.  Partly due to necessity (who wants punks moshing or queers in your nice venue), and partly due to DIY encouraging bands to become their own boss.  In doing this, punks also rethink how people feel secure in this space and how you welcome and support one another.
2.  Anti-authority means punks reject the normalised approach to ‘manning up’ and ‘just dealing with it’ society enforces, or the narrow frame for women to play specific patriarchy-enforced roles.  Especially for men, to be the punk outsider is to reject the macho expectations.  Obviously macho bullshit exists in punk and I’d direct them to this pin.
3.  Punks glorying in, and glorifying, the ugliness of punk highlight the darker shades of our world by sharply digging at ‘truth’.  Rooted in the world around them, punks sing about their lives and existence rather than, for example, disco which limits itself to upbeat love, or goth and metal with its obsessions with the otherworld.  (Both are still valid ways of dealing with mental health, of course).

I’ve had self-esteem issues for a long time.  I’ve had anxiety, panic attacks, imposter syndrome and sometimes I’ve self-harmed.  Since I was about 10, I’ve thought, sometimes fantasised, about not wanting to exist.  I’d like to think I explore this in my poems and songs.  The first time I felt I had a language to talk about this was, in part, by going to punk gigs where bands were singing and talking about mental health issues.  Normalizing those experience, sharing those stories, and creating a soundtrack within these spaces as well as a supportive network is something to celebrate.

It sounds so cheesy to type, but so many songs give me the confidence to carry on.  Thank you.  Thank you friends.

Art is always an excellent coping mechanism for negative mental health, and punk is a wide spectrum that can make space if you’re struggling for a voice.  The Government slash mental health services the provision for support has decreased.  As this has decreased, I believe an understanding of mental health has increased where there are much more public discussions around mental health.  There is a mental health crisis in this country, and in our communities.  All we have is each other.

Thank you to everyone who suggested songs, I’m sorry I couldn’t name them all here!  Feel free to comment with any songs or coping strategies or general thoughts (or criticism of this blog).

Sunday, 19 August 2018

EdFringe Adventure Part 2: Poets

EdFringe Adventure Part 2:  Poets

My last blog was about the theatre I saw at the EdFringe, and this one will mainly be about the poets.  Not necessarily the ‘poetry’ I saw, because 1.  You can’t see words and 2.  I want to talk about the community up there.

On the 13th August I turned 30 years old, and there’s nowhere I’d rather have been than EdFringe.  Well, the whole 5 days was a kaleidoscope of people and friends and spoken word shows.

I did the BBC Fringe Slam on Tuesday and found myself in a very heart-warming place surrounded by poets from Newcastle, Manchester, Hull, Birmingham, Nottingham and Reading.  I felt truly part of a community, chatting about scenes, touring, gigging, writing and setting the world to rights.  Everyone was so warm, receptive, supportive.

People say that slam culture puts too much emphasis on winning rather than the art, but a by-product of that competitive culture is a community of people willing on someone to win.  But it becomes irrelevant who wins, as long as that energy swells up in the room (or indeed the open gardeny bit of the BBC Hub) it nourishes rather than saps.

I think the London bubble somewhat pops when the crowds go see a poet from Peterborough, one from Leicester and one from Newcastle do shows in Bourbon Bar.  I am jealous that in the last week, a bunch of showcases start kicking off featuring a diverse range of voices.  Loud Poets’ Fantastical Gameshow was genuinely one of my favourite and funnest gigs ever

If you want to examine a scene, visit EdFringe and don’t go to comedy or theatre, but hang around in Bar-Bados, Bourbon Bar and the Banshee Labyrinth.   In manky rooms and caves and corners and above cafes and in dimly-lit back rooms poets are poetrying.

2015-2017 I took shows up for 7-10 days, each one Nerd Punk themed.  2018 I did a special ‘Best Of’ Nerd Punk show featuring a wide variety of poetry from across this ramshackle career.  I had strangers and old and new friends in the audience who really clicked with it, gave generously to the room’s vibe and hugely cemented my faith in the Fringe.

May the God of Flyerers bless your shows, may your Pay-What-You-Decide buckets be bountiful and your late nights worth the mornings.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

EdFringe Adventure Part 1: Theatre

I have returned from another EdFringe adventure.  I can honestly say it’s been one of my favourite years.  And, like a swarm of flyerers buzzing around the Mile, it should be elbowing it’s way to the top.

Always a mainstay of my Edinburgh Fringe visits, I saw Mark Thomas’ NHS Check Up at 70. Mark leaps around the stage with a punk energy and master of controlling an audience.  Mark’s unashamedly One Of The Good Ones, taking his detailed research on the NHS and turning those stories into engaging and powerful theatrical moments.  His shows always make me want to Change The World. With a smile on my face. Unflinching and honest dissection of the fading NHS. People not profit.

There were a plethora of ‘Gig Theatre’ shows this year.  I think Gig Theatre is meant to combine the energy of being at a gig with the story-telling of being at the theatre.  The show that came closest for me to this model was What Girls Are Made Of, a riotous and joyous full band affair documenting the teenage years of musician Cora Bissett.  I couldn’t help but be envious, the show my theatre company made would have boasted a full band had we the time/resources/funding (blah blah blah poor us).  But with the might of the Traverse this show is immensely powerful.  I saw people wiping away the tears, and the final call-to-arms left me buzzing!

Other theatre using guitars were Status by Chris Thorpe/China Plate, Jim Harbourne’s The Myth of the Singular Moment and One Life Stand by Middle Child.  Status was one of my highlights, acerbic and bitter and ultimately a punch-in-the-gut exploration of guilt, colonialism, ghosts and borders.  Chris’ ability to pin the audience down with words ace, but his Simpsons’ reference that pins down the play is masterful.  I’m still chewing over One Life Stand, I suppose it’s a good thing.  Somewhat disorientating, the three-way narrative is erratic, jarring like a wild Saturday night.  Jim’s show wielded acoustic rather than electric instruments, and told a simple-yet-effective story.

A show about music I saw called Loop had some nice ensemble moments and good humour, but it’s lasting message was essentially a simplified value that music is a good thing, even if different generations clash over their love for it.  I kinda fancied dancing to the music rather than patiently watching the characters enjoy alone.

I am a bit gutted that my company’s show, Whatever Happened To Vandal Raptor? couldn’t come up but…well…you don’t need a long ramble about the costs of this endeavour,
But these shows were all inspiring, engaging and fuel to go and begin work on my next show!  The perfect response to an EdFringe.  

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

We're pretty vacant and we don't care: Punk & Confidence Part 5

 I'm not a good person / Ask anyone who knows me ”- Pat The Bunny, I’m Not A Good Person

There’s a conflation between being simple, stripped down and straight-to-the-point and being shit.  The prog bands were known for their technical skill, and so the punk response was strip rock back to three chords.  If these prog bands were being overblown with intellectual concept albums then punk would present their views in 3 mins or less with a gutter view of the world.  But does this philosophy mean that punk was a poor man’s rock?

Sure as a genre, punks and the punk scene were spat on by the establishment because the gobby kids spat back.  But it was originally a haven for the misfits and the outsiders who were told they were worthless.  In the industrial degradation of 1970s Britain (to the backdrop of black bin bags piling in the streets) British youth felt like garbage.

This despondency has been knitted into the lining of punk across the decades.  Across the pond, The Replacements named themselves to imply they were a B-class band, drummer Chris Mars saying it was “accurately describing our collective ‘secondary’ esteem”.  The Cramps sang “I've got a garbage brain” on Human Fly and years later Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong would question his sanity on the pop-punk hit Basket Case.  A huge proportion of The Ramones’ back catalogue is about being a weirdo outsider (Cretin Hop, I Wanna Be Well, Bad Brain, Now I Wanna Be A Good Boy) or directly referencing being mentally unwell (Teenage Lobotomy, Shock Treatment, Psycho Therapy and I Wanna Be Sedated).

Some songs oxymoronically revel in being ‘wrong’.  Nirvana’s Dumb has Kurt declare “I think I'm dumb” and yet he concedes at the end “But I'm having fun”.  The classic Sex Pistols song Pretty Vacant has Rotten declare “And we don’t care!”, surely the victory cry for 77’s snotty teens.

Some bands pin this crisis of confidence on the system.  Gang of Four’s post-punk masterpiece Entertainment! is about commodification of humans.  On Damaged Goods they state “Damaged goods, send them back / I can't work, I can't achieve, send me back.”  On the same album The Clash moan about career opportunities Strummer also questions “What the hell is wrong with me?” via What’s My Name.

I want to highlight three songs which have really stuck with me.

The first is by The Menzingers.  Masters at an uplifting anthem, Obituaries is no exception to their discography.  However the earworm chorus stamps “I will fuck this up / I fucking know it” over and over again.  It feels like failure is an energy.  Not deflated, but destructive and that confident outburst makes it seem like the outcome, “I am just freaking out, yeah I'll be fine” is worth fighting for.  I Don’t Wanna be An Asshole anymore is another Menzinger’s song with a light at the end of a shitty tunnel.

The second is by Pat The Bunny.  Loads of his Wingnut Dishwasher Union songs have this destructive quality, but I especially love the lyrics of I’m Not A Good Person that go “I'm not a good person / Ask anyone who knows me / I'm mean and bitter / And a failure at everything that I say I believe”.  Also check out the full album Probably Nothing, Possibly Everything.  The way Pat sings his lyrics seems so fucking bitterly honest.  His chords and his voice are drenched in a venom that it far removed from a pop-punk grumpiness.

Thirdly I recently came across a band from Leeds called Daves.  In The Menzinger’s style, they have a track on their EP called Change which shouts loud “I’m not ready to admit / I think I’m a piece of shit”.

So why do I listen to these self-deprecating songs?  When it’s so easy for me to believe that I am rubbish.  I can’t remember a time I didn’t think I was a Bad Person because of some drilled-in sense of binary Good/Bad.  And this sense of Badness gets conflated with being wrong, getting things wrong, or not doing things right.  This guilt leads me to think I’m worthless, useless, inadequate and better off not being around.  To quote Martha, “to tell the truth I’m struggling today/Why’s it gotta feel so sad?”  Thoughts are not facts, and yet it seems one central tenant of the Universe I am shit, the one cosmic certainty I can hang my life upon.  That’s because, in a kind of Cartesian solipsism, I can only rely on this within my head.

So I think it helps, like all art, to find someone that feels the same, and is sharing.  I do worry that this self-deprecating is influential.  It just helps dig the negative grooves in my brain, reinforces the pillars that prop up my personality.  It doesn’t feel that healthy.

But a friend of mine said, whether you say something negative, you need to say the opposite.  You need to counteract the strangling voice in your head that whispers, dominates and demands.  And yes, I do listen to raised-fist-victory-to-us songs.  But also maybe these self-destructive songs are healthy too.  Because they prove someone has taken stock of their world.  Wrote it down.  Wrapped some chords around it.  It’s identifiable, it exists and it can be sung about.  My anxieties are a thought in chords, and they can be sung out.