“Marshmallow Brain. I need an umbrella, If I’m gonna stand in the rain”
I was sitting watching the winter olympics with my mum late one night in February 1988. We did this a lot together. My dad had left again and my sister must have still been working nights at the hospital. My mum was very ill and in a lot of pain and was unable to sleep.
We had just watched Joanne Conway fall on her backside in the Ladies Figure Skating and it was replaced by a music program. After the zany 80’s opening credits and a brief introduction there was live footage of the band that would change my life.
It was wild.
It was a visceral, careening, out-of-control sound, with lyrics that were passionate and painful by themselves, and didn’t make any immediate sense together; Lots of sharp cut vignettes of hurt and anger like CBS’s, “Your World In 60 Seconds”, on the morning news. The female guitarist/singer, demurely dressed in a cardigan, yelled and moaned headlong through the song, filled with unrelenting rhythm and repeating chords.
I suddenly knew I had been given a key and a license to express myself in whatever way it came out. I no longer had to conform to pop, indie, or even the classic rock that had first opened my eyes (Or ears) to the power of music.
I began a writing spree that didn’t stop until my next epiphany in May 1991.
The band was Throwing Muses, the singer Kristin Hersh and the song was Mania.
The thing is, that no matter what box, or genre that you put me, or my music into, or even the ones I put myself into, the creativity should only ever be honest. You already know that this is a universal truth. We all have a genre of music that for some reason we just can’t stand. To some it’s metal (Although why is completely beyond me!), to others it’s modern country, but occasionally there will be an artist, or a song, or an album, that is YOUR exception to the rule. And the reason for that exception is because the song carries a truth for the writer, or even (This happens plenty of times) for the singer of someone else’s song. It doesn’t have to be brilliant (or even good), but whatever creative thing you do only ever has to be completely you and sometimes that takes guts
One of the things I’m most thankful for is that, in the months before emigrating to the USA in 2004, I had the opportunity to share with Kristin the influence she’d had over my early career, when I opened for 50 Foot Wave at the Empire Music Hall; My last show in Belfast.
I hold on to what she unwittingly gave me and always try my best to keep my writing unfettered by trend, or pretense.