I’m sat here shedding a few tears over the death of Robin Williams. I never knew him, I wasn’t even a massive fan of most of his work either. So why am I upset?!
I’ve had a horrible few months. I’ve reached new lows that I’ve never experienced in my 34 years of life, even worse than the disaster that 2004 became. I’ve spent probably most of my life wearing a mask, the mask of a fool. Laughing and joking to cover up all the self-loathing and hurt inside me. I don’t know if I was ever truly depressed, that’s probably a different blog for another time, but I know I’ve not been happy for a long time. To the point where I’ve hated both what I’ve become and the things in my past that have hurt myself and others.
The thing is, it could easily have been me ending my own life. Luckily I’ve had people to talk to, not that I discussed suicide; I wouldn’t say it ever really seriously crossed my mind. About 2 months ago I had someone ask me how I was. I said to them “truly horrible, actually”. Sadly they carried on walking. I was there, ready to open up, quite literally pleading for help from the pit I’d realised I was in. And I felt ignored, unworthy of attention.
But, luckily, I’ve had friends and acquaintances who’ve commented on little things that I do well, or that they see as being positive aspects of my life or personality – without even thinking about it. Those things helped me, and those who spoke the words probably don’t even know it.
Everyone has done things they’re not proud of. I’ve got quite a long list if I’m honest. But when we dwell on our mistakes, or even other people’s mistakes, then it hurts us. And it will hurt other people.
I’m changing. I’ve actually already changed a lot. I’m becoming happier with myself but I couldn’t have done it without people being positive towards me.
I guess what I’m saying is just be nice to people because you never really know what someone is going through inside. I can tell you from experience that it can take a lot of kind words to have a positive effect but one spiteful word can quickly destroy a person.
A diagnosis of autism is just that. A diagnosis. It shouldn’t need questioning by laymen. A professional has done that already over the course of 12-18 months. The parents have, more than likely, also struggled for many years before that too.
The small parts that others see of my wonderful little man are, literally, just small parts of his life, tiny snapshots, fleeting glances. They may not see anything wrong with him but that doesn’t change the facts. If they saw a physically disabled person sat normally on a couch would they question their disability or the diagnosis because, for that brief moment, their disability doesn’t affect them? And, for all intents and purposes, they ‘look normal’? I doubt it.
But follow this (imaginary) physically disabled person around for a week, or even just a day, and you’ll see the difficulties they face: getting dressed, steps into shops, aisles not wide enough for wheelchairs, toileting, getting into bed… the list could go on and on. But sometimes things look ‘normal’ and their disability doesn’t effect them. Now, follow Mini-MaFt around for a day and you will see just as many difficulties: over-sensitivity (noise in shops etc, taste and texture of food, unexpected smells, the feel of clothing), under-sensitivity (shoes need to be tightened throughout the day, bedding needs to be pulled tight even in red hot temperatures), rigidity of thought (you can’t just change the plans for the day), routine, impulsive behaviour, lack of self-awareness/danger, ‘stimming‘, taking things very literally (“you have to tell your parents to buy you one of these!” – that is now a rule that must be obeyed)… again, the list could go on and on. However, the point is that all these things cause daily difficulties for Mini-MaFt but we’re all getting better at handling situations so that things don’t become a major issue… some of the time.
People will generally bend over backwards to help a child that is in a wheelchair, or to give them a sympathetic smile if they look upset about something. “Oh, that poor child is upset, they must find life really hard with a wheelchair”. It sounds awful, and I know I’m not alone in saying this either (I’ve heard it and read it in numerous places) but sometimes I think it’d be easier if Mini-MaFt was in a wheelchair. Why? Well, I’d rather my child was given caring / sympathetic words and looks when The Big Wide World becomes too much for them than to get snidey comments about bad parenting or spoilt children just because they “look normal” so they “shouldn’t behave like that”.
Even after diagnosis there are lots of parents who hear phrases like “well, he looks normal”, “she’s been fine this evening, I don’t know what you’re so strung up about”, “can’t you control your child?”, “oh, my son does that too”, “are you sure you’re not just making them worse by giving in to them?” and “he’ll grow out of it”. It honestly breaks my heart to hear things like that and it’s hard not to just snap and go off on one. But the fact is, I know that the responses and questions generally tend to stem from a lack of understanding of ASC’s (Autistic Spectrum Conditions) and not from simple rudeness.
However, if there has been a professional diagnosis then please, please don’t question that by hinting that they might just be imagining everything. In fact, even without a diagnosis don’t do it either. None of us are capable of knowing what other people are truly feeling; I know from experience that it’s all too easy to put on your mask and pretend that all is well with the world. As the song in ‘Tangled’ says: “Parent knows best” (OK, so the actual lyric is “Mother knows best” but I needed to change it to make my point). The parents of a child with autism have already spent many years with them, they are with them on a daily basis across all manner of events, experiences and locations – they know their child and how their autism affects them.
Wheelchair users have slopes into buildings because steps would cause problems – this allows them to be ‘normal’ and go places that able-bodied people can go. Autistic people will have routines and techniques in place so that potential problems are bypassed with little struggle before they can become a big issue. Again, this helps them to be ‘normal’. After the years of struggles (both emotional and physical) the last thing they need is to be told that their child ‘looks normal’ because I can guarantee that this ‘normality’ has taken a lot of effort and learning both for the autistic child and their parents/carers.
To use the wheelchair analogy one final time, if you see a wheelchair user inside a shop coping perfectly with choosing some new clothes then would you question their disability because they can obviously manage to be ‘normal’ and do ‘normal’ things like shopping? No, of course not – you’d see that they’re in a chair with wheels to help them move, you’d see that they had a slope to help them get in the shop, you’d notice wider aisles around the racks of clothes, you’d notice lifts between floors and you’d realise that all the little extras are what helps this person live as ‘normal’ a life as possible. It’s the same with autism, although the problems and the solutions(?) are invisible – you can’t see autism and, in general, you won’t see all the work and effort that goes in to caring for an autistic child: the social stories, the advanced planning, the self-control, the learned social behaviours etc. So when you see an autistic child ‘looking normal’ then please remember that, just like with the slopes and lifts, they’re able to look ‘normal’ because of all the extra things that are in place to help them – and not simply because their diagnosis is wrong.
I’m concious that this has ended up quite long and, so, in a nutshell… Autism or not, just remember this:
For more information on autism and Asperger’s please see the many amazing resources that the National Autistic Society produce.
Post Scriptum: This video got shared with me in between writing this post and publishing it. I thought I’d add it as it’s a good reminder that those who pass judgement are, in fact, the minority.
This post might not end up particularly musical but it is, at least, about my ‘A-Z of Music‘ series. About 3 weeks ago I decided to get back into blogging and decided that an A to Z of musical posts would give me a common theme to ease me back in gently. My initial plan was to go through the alphabet and simply talk about songs, albums or artists that I liked. The first few posts did, pretty much, follow this initial plan.
When I write I often go off on a bit of a tangent; one of my first blogs was described as being “an ongoing stream of consciousness” in a review. I think for these A-Z posts I’ve managed to stay quite focused within each post, but the overall feel of the posts has become somewhat tangential. What were supposed to be simple posts about music that I like have become a mixture of reminiscing posts and quite deep, personal outpourings.
The times where there has been a longer gap between posts can usually be explained by the fact I shelved and rewrote quite a number of them. I don’t know if you sense the personal depth of some of these posts but to me, they have been difficult to write and have often involved a lot of soul-searching. I’ve mentioned previously that I usually keep myself to myself and how my lyrics are often my voice – I suppose now I could say the same for this blog being my voice.
I’ve questioned myself a few times about if it’s appropriate to post what I’ve ended up writing – when your head’s a bit all over the place then the stream of conciousness becomes a rather large, random delta of conciousness! Some things are just too personal and I don’t think they will ever be public. These have been consigned to my private memoirs, for my eyes only.
So even though my initial plan for this series of blog posts has changed, I’m still glad I’ve come so far with it. Music is a large part of my life, perhaps larger than I’d realised before taking on this project. It has invoked so many emotions and been a useful form of therapy for me – particularly those posts that didn’t get published.
Maybe one day I’ll share them. Or maybe I’ll come back to them and decide that they served their purpose when they were written and I don’t need to dwell on the past. Who knows…?
Through every trial
My soul will sing
No turning back
I’ve been set free “Christ Is Enough” – Hillsong
So, Q is for questioning how much of my musical journey I’ll be making public.
Generally I’m a relatively shy, quiet person and I’ll (usually) keep myself to myself. But stick a guitar and microphone in front of me and that shyness gets blown out the window. Over the years I’ve played in a number of bands and groups, joined in at countless jam nights, entertained kids at nursery and parent/toddler groups and had many drunken laughs doing bad karaoke. Random fact: my karaoke song of choice was usually ‘Walking on Sunshine’ – but only if they had a pitchshifter and could lower it 2 semi-tones from A to G; otherwise I just couldn’t get that high.
Regardless of where I am or what I’m playing there’s something I love about playing live music. I’ve already mentioned how I love hearing live music in my ‘K is for… Kicking‘ post and that love and passion extends to playing live too. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is, perhaps it’s the freedom I feel from doing something that makes other people happy or, maybe more importantly (albeit selfish?) making me happy. Or perhaps it’s that my guitar is a shield, and whether I’m on stage strumming away like a lunatic and yelling out some garbled lyrics or I’m warbling nursery rhymes gently to a bunch of pre-schoolers, I feel safe. Like nothing can touch me regardless of how I’m feeling.
It’s probably both, if I’m honest. In doing these A-Z posts, and in particular the ‘I is for… Is‘, I have spent a lot of time looking at my song-writing and the events surrounding their lyrical content and musical style. I find it far easier to express my feelings through songs than I do just in talking normally – like I said, I’m actually pretty shy and quiet most of the time. That’s the ‘freedom’ part – I can make myself happy by emptying my head into song lyrics; a permanent record for that moment in my life, a sporadic musical diary. Another part of the freedom is that if I change my mind about a song’s lyrical content then, as an artist, I can just pretend it was all from a stranger’s perspective and not my own personal experience. I don’t think I’ve ever done that though. In fact, I’m 100% certain and have always stuck by my lyrics/life – warts and all.
The ‘safety’ part is probably more difficult to put into writing. But I’ll try anyway. In ‘G is for… Gift‘ I mentioned how I use music to lift my spirits and get me through difficult times. The same goes for playing. When I play my guitar and sing it can be an escape from reality – which itself is only temporary. But if I play the right song, one of my own or maybe a worship song, then it becomes my shield and whatever I’m going through at that moment often just becomes a smaller issue, particularly in the grand scheme of things. Not always, but often.
Music is full of emotion. And my emotions lead me to play music.
The Offspring have been a staple part of my musical diet for nearly 2 decades. They’re a band that have changed enough that they don’t get boring but not so much that you don’t recognise them anymore.
I’ve followed them through their steady rise in popularity, from smaller venues to playing sold out arena shows in front of 15,000 people. This was around 1999 with their number 2 song ‘Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)’ throwing them into the public eye. Random fact: they were pipped to the number 1 spot that week by Terrorvision’s ‘Tequila’.
Unlike their counter parts Green Day, The Offspring never stayed as a stadium band and, while they are still making awesome music, they play to much smaller crowds. And I like the fact they’ve continued doing what they love even when their popularity rapidly decreased.
Although their official name is ‘The Offspring’, their 1994 album, Smash, was branded without the definite article, just ‘Offspring’ – I’ve never found out why…
I never got to see Nirvana before Kurt blew his brains out just before my 14th birthday. In fact I only started to listen to them a few months before that fateful day. But their seminal album, ‘Nevermind’, is one that I still listen to on a regular basis.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what gives it such longevity, there are probably a lot of better albums out there too. I suppose part of it is the fact there will never be any more music from Nirvana – OK, we had that random track back in 2002, but I mean a full album.
I always loved the rawness of Kurt’s vocals, he had such a naturally gravelly voice and could switch so easily from gentle lullaby to full-on yelling. Even on stage his range was impressive. From what I understand he was a really humble man too. When Nirvana invited The Buzzcocks to tour with them they regularly swapped places so Nirvana would open the set and let The Buzzcocks headline.
But back to ‘Nevermind’… There’s a good range of songs on there; the punky ‘Breed’ and ‘Territorial Pissings’, the chart-friendly rock of ‘Come As You Are’ and ‘Lithium’ and the quieter ‘Polly’ and ‘Something In The Way’.
It’s a timeless album. Even after 23 years it sounds really fresh and alive with emotion. It’s like a great friend – I might not see it for a while, but when we’re back together it’s like nothing ever changed.
Love it or hate it, Facebook is here to stay. Well, it is for now at least! They recently hit the news with their emotional manipulation experiments but that’s not what this post is about, well, not quite anyway. When you post a status you have the option of saying how you’re feeling:
So I decided for ‘M’ I will use the first 25 Facebook emotions and give the name of a song that I would play to match the mood/emotion. It might be the style of music or the lyrics that form the link, you’ll have to work it out for yourself (or just ask me…). Here we go:
“Just A Girl” – No Doubt
“Heard That Sound”- MxPx
“You’re Dead” – Alkaline Trio
“I Miss You” – Blink 182
“Playing God” – Paramore
Loved “You Are My King (Amazing Love)” – Newsboys
“Every Time You Touch Me” – Moby
“Fall Back Down” – Rancid
“Something In The World Today” – Rancid
“Nowhere” – Therapy?
“Caffeine Bomb” – The Wildhearts
“Longview” – Green Day
“You Are My All In All” – The Insyderz
“Surfacing” – Slipknot
“Baker Street” – Gerry Rafferty
“Let Us Hear Your Voice” – Pennywise
“The Death of Barry The Roofer With Vertigo” – The Toy Dolls
“The Impression That I Get” – The Mighty Might Bosstones
“Just Breathe” – Demon Hunter
“Days Go By” – The Offspring
“Just A Man” – The O.C. Supertones
“The Ballad” – Millencolin
“This Is Our God” – Hillsong
“Kai Rohan” – Dave Brons
Depressed “The Hero Dies In This One” – The Ataris
So, M is for “My Songs” which, if I did this again next week, would probably be totally different!
Following on from my last post about live music, here’s a list of all the bands I’ve seen live. It’s taken a while and a lot of remembering but I think this is pretty exhaustive. Although I have a feeling I’ve missed a few from festivals or support bands…
Davey Havoc (A.F.I.) – Leeds Festival 2009
So, here’s a list of the bands I’ve seen live:
3 Storeys High
A Man Down
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead
Anti Nowhere League
Art’s Got A Gun
Big D & The Kids Table
Bowling For Soup
Broadway’s Not Ready
Chas & Dave
Daphne and Celeste
Dead Pets, The
Dillinger Escape Plan, The
Face to Face
Free For All
Gaslight Anthem, The
Human Targets, The
I Am The Avalanche
In Case Of Fire
Kids In Glass Houses
Less Than Jake
Living End, The
Lonely The Brave
Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The
My Awesome Compilation
New Found Glory
Peter And The Test Tube Babies
Pink Torpedo’s, The
Plastic Letters Band
Puddle of Mudd
Rage Against The Machine
Reel Big Fish
Sick On The Bus
Slaughter and The Dogs
Sounds of Salvation
Starting Line, The
Stiff Little Fingers
Waving At Strangers
With One Last Breath
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
So, L is for all the bands I’ve seen live over the years up and down the country.
Fact: you can’t beat live music. Nothing comes close to the atmosphere that exudes from a bunch of musicians playing their hearts out on stage. These days getting to a gig is a rare treat (childcare and money usually being the main obstacles) but from the late 90s to early 00s I was a regular gig-goer. I’ve lost track of the bands I’ve seen live but I might attempt a list for ‘L is for… Live’. We’ll see how my memory is!
Lancaster, as much as I love the city, is hardly a hotbed of live music venues. At uni we’d usually head to Manchester for gigs by train or, when Scru’ got his mum’s car (called Henry) he’d drive. Funny story: we nearly got car-jacked once while eating a post-gig kebab in the car in Salford… (‘S is for… Scary’?)
In November 1998 I saw an advert for a band called [spunge], I’d not heard of them but it said they were a ska-punk band. It also said they were playing in Lancaster at The Yorkshire House. A little pub close to the uni’s nightclub. For whatever reason I couldn’t persuade anyone to come with me so I went on my own… And I’m really glad I did!
I was probably late as I don’t remember any support band so I grabbed a pint, paid my £2 entry fee and waited for the band. When they came on I was greeted by a bunch of lads only a few years older than me with an awful lot of energy. They played mostly their own songs as well as a few covers like ‘500 Miles’. I was instantly hooked, bought their EP, “Kicking Pigeons” and chatted with them for a bit afterwards.
I’ve seen them numerous times since that night and will always recommend them if you want some lively, happy music.
When I used to like dance music no one ever asked my why I liked it, I was just allowed to get on with it. When I saw the light and moved into the church of punk-rock and metal I found a growing number of people would ask me why. Odd questions like “why do you like that style of music?”, “isn’t punk dead?” and “do you like The Verve?” – no, no I don’t… It was like I had to justify my musical taste just because, at the time, it was ‘different’.
The most annoying part was, and sometimes still is, being told that “rock music is full of swearing and bad messages” or being accused of only listening to it for the swearing”. Yeah, whatever :/ In the mid 90’s I got into a band called de Heideroosjes, a Dutch punk band. They had a number of songs in various languages and dialects. I had no idea what was being said but I loved the music – so bang goes the accusation that I only listened to that style for the swearing.
And, anyway, even if I was listening to it just for the swearing, would that really have been a problem? I mean, yes swearing isn’t big or clever (although a carefully crafted insult can be utterly hilarious at times) but surely it’s the overall lyrical theme that is more important? Take these (admittedly cherry-picked) examples below (warning: contains swears and rude stuff):
Sit down beside her like a spider, hi there girl, you mighta
Heard of me before, see whore, you’re the kind of girl that I’d assault
And rape then figure why not try not to make your pussy wider?
Fuck you with an umbrella, then open it up while the shit’s inside ya
I’m the kinda guy that’s mild but I might flip and get a little bit wilder
“Stay Wide Awake” – Eminem
Paddy cake, paddy cake with no hands
Got me in this club making wedding plans
If I take pictures while you do your dance
I can make you famous on Instagram
Shake what you mama gave you
Miss behave you,
I just wanna strip you, deep you, flip you, bubble bath you
What they do, taste my rage, drop cable
Not what you will and what you want and what you may do
Completely separated til I deeply penetrate it
The I take it out and wipe it off
Eat it, eat it, love and hate it, over stat it, overawed
Every where you been can you wiggle, wiggle for the beat on double G again?
“Wiggle” – Jason Derulo
I don’t slag no one
I don’t even judge
Don’t give a shit ’cause I’m not gonna budge
I just want to be who I want to be
Guess that’s hard for others to see
I’m not a trendy asshole
I do what I want
I do what I feel like
I’m not a trendy asshole
Don’t give a fuck
If it’s good enough for you
“Smash” – The Offspring
Of those, I’d rather my kids heard ‘Smash’ – yes, it has a couple of swears in it, but the message is a much nicer one…
So, J is for Justify – as in do I really need to justify my taste in music?!