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).