Fall 1989, Junior year. The class was ILS 330, Intermediate Illustration: Color. The previous one had been all black & white.
It might have been the first project, or the first significant project. But it was watercolor. We were working on it in class. Winsor & Newton Series 7 #3 sable watercolor brush. Bainbridge 80, or possibly Crescent 300 Illustration board.
While I had displayed some talent and worked a lot at developing drawing and painting skills since adolescence, I had completely and totally and utterly failed to establish any real lasting friendship with Watercolor.
So, on that day in September (probably) 1989, I was making a bit of an uncontrolled mess.
The professor, Dennis Nolan, came around to check on my progress. He said, something to the effect of, “Ok. We’re gonna let this dry for a bit, take a break, I’ll be back in about 20 minutes and I’ll show you some things,” in possibly the most helpful, most friendly, welcoming, unobtrusive, completely nonjudgemental kind of way.
He might as well have said, “Hey, looks like you and watercolor haven’t quite met yet. Let me introduce you…”
Some 20 minutes later, on a scrap piece of illustration board, he demonstrated a different approach to handling watercolor. And I got it. Y’know? One of those moments when a lightning bolt of EUREKA! carves a path through the brain.
I’ve shared little slices of this story through the years, and have always credited Dennis as “the teacher who helped me make friends with watercolor.”
The painting I was working on was the Strawberries. A few months later, it would be accepted into the 1990 Society of Illustrators Student show, a very competitive show, and would hang in their gallery in New York.
Without that Eureka! session on watercolor with Dennis, there would be no Strawberries. Nor Indiana Jones. Nor the Endangered Species series, which got into the 1991 Society of Illustrators Student show and won a scholarship prize as well.
Nor “Rough Landing," from 2016, finished a few weeks before the accident.
Nor Princess, painted last year, Summer 2021 for my friend Drew McMillen.
Maybe I’d’ve figured it out eventually, or another teacher would’ve helped me bridge the gap. I've been fortunate to have many top-notch teachers. But it didn’t have to be anyone else - the others could teach me other stuff. Because for watercolor, it was Dennis, on that day, Fall 1989.
He was truly among the best of all teachers, and witty and kind to boot. Not only was he an outstanding instructor on technique, he was a wise mentor who absolutely knew when something was up and what to say.
Not every medium can be my bitch, and not every piece of art I create comes out stunning. It’s something artists have to make peace (at least an uneasy peace) with, but at that point, not even 20, I hadn’t yet. With the move into color pencils and other mediums, my next few project or so came out … fine. Ok. But not outstanding, and that brought out anxieties, insecurities and frustration that, after leveling up with watercolor, not every single thing I made could be better than the thing before.
Well, Dennis had a clue-by-4 for that, and more. Because there was more to it. Yeah, I’ve always been overwound and the reasons are many and varied and some of them only recently identified and still not all sorted.
I kept in loose touch over the years. My sister worked at a photo developing place where Dennis would get film developed, then later as a server at a restaurant he and his family would frequent. The first time she recognized him (she’d visited me at Hartford, and spent a year there herself as well), she said something and he absolutely remembered me.
He wrote one of the letters-of-recommendation when I applied to grad school. I can’t remember exactly when it was, but I had coffee with him sometime well after I got my MFA, and had self-published the first issue of BloodDreams. Searching through my computer’s Calendar, possibly May 2011. Sunday the 19th. Too too too long ago.
When I came back to New England, I’d hoped to check in with him again. But everything got busy, and extra complicated around family & the house & all that came beyond it. And then the accident happened (six years ago just last week!).
Nobody knows the full depth and width of how things changed inside my head after the accident, in varying ways over the course of years –– For all that I’ve tried to reveal some of it to people, I’ve never really fully communicated exactly how bad it got in my head - the words fail me, and few people are that patient and as good at listening as would be required if I could organize all the thoughts.
But for a while, I wasn’t sure I would return to art. The right-front area of the head is a particularly shitty place to get hit for an artist & creative person. A lot of important things live around there: visual spacial skills specifically used in drawing, painting, composition, creativity and creative drive, as well as executive function & emotional regulation. Wrap that up with an extreme sensitivity to light—something kinda necessary for painting—and audio processing issues that made every sound exponentially harder to process, and well. There's something that few people 'get' unless they've had something happen to their brain, and that's how you can really truly not feel like yourself on the inside in the midst of all of it. But there's habits and motions you go through, so most people are inclined to write it off when/if you try to tell them about it. It's hard imagining being in someone else's head, and inconvenient and scary to try when they appear well enough on the surface (see also: depression and a wide range of 'invisible illnesses').
I’ve wondered many times if Dennis might’ve said something that might’ve helped through the Brain Injury years. He probably would have known just the right thing to say, or something extremely helpful. But every little thing took so much effort, so much brain, and, with the additional drama of the lawsuit and my mother passing and Smudge as well, just looking into the path to reconnect with him was unfathomable. Too many steps, too many unknowns, so much overwhelm—and often a too-unreliable vehicle anyway. By the time brain & life were ok enough to maybe look into it, COVID hit, closing everything and bringing with it new anxieties for a wobbly brain to chew on.
So, when I learned back in August that Dennis had passed away, it hit hard. It’s hit me a few times, in waves, since then. Today I attended a celebration of his life, and committed to finally finishing and posting this post. I still don't know how to wrap it up, so …
Farewell, Dennis. I’m sorry I didn’t get to tell you more recently how much you affected my art and my life. But I do think you knew it. So that has to be good enough.
And, to be honest, there aren’t words that can really do justice to the impact he had on my life and my art. I wish I were a better communicator. But I suspect the lack exists mostly in language itself. There are some things that defy description.
Maybe I’ll try to paint it out.
NOT OFFICIALLY POSTED YET! If you're seeing this, you've found this before I've finished adding the bits & pieces that occurred to me since I pushed "post." Come back later. Or not. Or read now, and compare later. Do what you want. I'm not the boss of you. But be aware that this is more unfinished than it will be when I finally stop revising it.
Pre-script (zero-rst off?): I have many other subjects in mind for this blog that are NOT Bosstones-related. It's just turning out that way lately. I swear, there will be SOMEthing else subject-wise, sooner or later. And this one, while Bosstones-adjacent and catalyzed, for sure, is going to be all over the map.
First off, I want to state for the record, carved in stone, that I have always loved plaid.
The earliest favorite article of clothing that I can recall was a plaid dress in mostly green when I was in kindergarten. Yeah, it had some white frilly trim because "girl" clothes in the mid '70s, but I loved that dress. Through the following 20+ years before I got into the Bad in Plaid band, I had many many favorite plaid and "Buffalo" plaid (we called that checkered or checked back in the day) shirts and such.
It only recently occurred to me that plaid is a great way to get a bunch of colors into an outfit without having to go floral or feminine. Nothing wrong with feminine, it's just never been a big factor in my "style."
I also loved Converse All-Star Chuck Taylor hi-top sneakers long before I got into punk, and long before I knew the Mighty Mighty Bosstones had done a commercial for them. At some point in my college years, I wore a Chucks-style licensed Tasmanian Devil pair until they started to fall apart. I still have them. I have a notion to fill them with something weighty and turn them into bookends one of these days. And I've always loved Doc Martens but have had fewer pairs of those over the years because money and versatility - I feel like I can wear Chucks more months out of the year, and have scored most of mine through serious bargains. Docs, not so much for summertime, and always at a price that makes me think. It was a great joy to buy a special pair of multiple plaid / gradient Docs not too long ago and to notice several Bosstones wearing them at the following Throwdown.
Even if I never fell in love with the ground-breaking ska-core band of Boston, my wardrobe would undoubtedly feature plaid and Chucks and Docs. But in loving the Bosstones – and committing to seeing as many of their shows as possible – well, that was my the green light to Lean In to the plaid aesthetic.
Here's a sampling…I coulda kept going, and took pics of pairs of pants, capris, lots of scarves, sheets, blankets, etc….
(I have decided, in assembling these photos, that my plaids really need a whole post of their own.)
Converse hi-tops and low-cuts, Doc Martens in classic shapes and less common, Payless Converse knock-offs, and of course a pair of Vans. Jackets, long-sleeve shirts, sleeveless, camisoles, tank tops. Autumn jacket and Winter coat… And now I don't know what to do with ALL of them..
Because the Mighty Mighty Bosstones as a band are no more, as of around 3pm EST on January 27, 2022.
It sucks, a lot. Their music helped get me through a lot of the very very shitty 3+ years leading up to the pandemic (car accident / mTBI / PCS). Knowing they started making new music in 2020 mitigated some depression and anxiety through the pandemic, as did tickets to see the show that would end up being their last.
It was such an excellent show, too. They played their cover of "I Can See Clearly Now" and it felt like it was just for me. I wish I'd stuck around at the rail to say "hey" to Dicky. But I wasn't sure he'd come out, and I'd drifted from a bunch of friends in all the up-front smooshing around & wanted to re-join them… y'know, before going off to re-join my other friends, the ones I'd brought to the last Throwdown and who'd decided hell yes, they wanted to see more Bosstones shows. About 10 seconds after I peeled away from my rail-spot, he was at the rail, right where I'd been. Alas.
I am super grateful to each member of the band for everything they gave the world. All the albums, so many jaw-droppingly amazing songs, 31 live shows I got to see, and a sense of brotherhood, community and camaraderie that they encouraged their audience to spread far and wide.
I have no intention of ceasing to wear plaid, but… I also don't think I need quite so much of it, without more MMB shows to look forward to. Want some plaid? Not all of it is available, but if you see something you like in those pics, let me know. I was already looking to re-home the lowest step of shoes before the news dropped.
So there's a lot of extra feels in the community about the breakup. It was sudden. Unexpected, particularly with a new (so fucking good) album to promote and actual shows scheduled (now canceled). It *appeared* like it might be … not exactly amicable. Rumors about why started to fly.
On twitter (Note: I'd only recently returned to twiter after taking a loooong break from the addictiveness and toxicity that sucks time and drains the will to live), I watched someone single-handedly self-inflate their own confirmation bias as they made sure everyone posting about the Bosstones heard the speculations… Over the hours growing to push those speculations off as fact even tho' there had not been any further evidence than when they first started spreading it.
In partly-related news, I'm taking another break from twitter.
Eventually and sadly, the speculative reason was confirmed, at least to some degree, a few weeks later.
I'm not going to state the reasons here. If you want to know, it's not hard to find out. But until that confirmation point, and to some much smaller, tiny degree still now, I suspect it's at least a little more complicated than it appeared & even than what's been confirmed.
In retrospect, some of the new songs should have been a tip-off. But Barrett often writes and sings from not-his or not-exactly-his POV, or with multiple meanings, and encourages listeners to bring their own interpretation into it. "I Don't Believe in Anything" is back & forth between two perspectives. Before all this, some might have assumed which voice aligned more with his own. Now… well. Y'know what they say about assuming…
In the Ska and Bosstones online communities I participate in, The Reasons made for some complicated grief and created some friction among friends and fellow fans. And even some noisy-muck-flinging at band members – from both 'sides' of The Reasons (Yikes, I got no time for that kind of noise, from either 'side.' Let the band alone, people. Splatter your thoughts out on your own post or blog. Y'know like I'm doing here!). I've even seen a few use The Reasons to make some pretty wiggedy-wack assumptions about the politics & voting of some band members, which struck me as profoundly oblivious at best. Like, did you even listen to While We're at It? I won't assume we'd all agree on every damn thing or all the finer points, but among the things that made me love the Bosstones even more was some fairly obvious 'political' content.
Sure, people change, particularly if hanging around a new crowd, but there was some seriously onerous reaching crawling around. Because internet. :p
Anyway, From here, I'm just going to barf up some paragraphs and statements and those inclined can connect any dots not connected as they see fit.
None of this rambling rant is directed at any one person: it's primarily a collection of reactions to the various things I've seen in comment threads the past few weeks. I don't have an editor and I just want to clear this out of my head and get it done so I can move on to working on a short story for an anthology submission with an impending deadline.
I absolutely love the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and absolutely wish the very best for each and every one of them, and for their families and friends.
It is possible to disagree with, be disappointed in, or even be angry with someone, or over some action they took, without hating them. Certain kinds of participants on the internet like to call any and every possible criticism 'hate,' and wield that label as a bludgeon to shut down any kind of discussion. They do it to manipulate and elicit a more dramatic emotional response that, to them, is further evidence of 'hate.' I don't have time for that kind of bullshit noise.
These are often the same folks who fling a sarcastic "still wearing a mask?" or "when you getting your next booster shot?" – out of nowhere or as a clever retort, the perfect image of a third-grade bully making fun of someone for doing the homework. If this is you, y'all need some remedial science classes, grown-up social & communication skills, and to put on your big-boy pants at the very very very least.
They might as well be sneering at designated drivers, or blowing through red lights because they erroneously think they drive better than everyone else. Knowing these people exist makes me wear a mask even beyond recommendations, to help compensate for those too absurdly contrary & bloody-minded to know better.
In a way, The Reasons for the breakup speak to the pervasiveness of the conspiracy-prone alternative-facts anti-science crowd. It's evidence that nobody is completely inoculated from having their ears bend and inclinations pushed towards the wiggedy-wack. A little part of me kinda gets it. Like, hey, years ago, I myself was skeptical of the flu vaccine.
Luckily, I since learned how this stuff actually works, about asymptomatic transmission, etc… – from actual experts and widely accepted medical recommendation - not just 'opinion.' And NOT from, say, a small percentage minority with suggestions based on discredited and unethical studies – a fringe faction who knows how to inflate and manipulate online search results to make themselves appear legit & more popular than they actually are.
Unless someone's in a medical program working on an immunology study and it's been peer-reviewed and published, personal "own research" doesn't cut it.
It is not just a matter of opinion when one opinion is based on bad information and fiction. It is not freedom of choice when one choice increases the danger for everyone around the chooser. Choosing to ignore facts doesn't make them less true. As with flat-earthers, it's simply wrong. But at least flat-earthers are not endangering the health of those around them. Or, at least not their physical health.
"Opinions" are for things like pizza toppings. Anchovies vs pineapple. Vaccines & their efficacy are not even remotely pizza toppings, and are even less so during a pandemic.
The fact is that the willfully unvaccinated increase the risks for everyone they come in contact with, just as a drunk driver increases the risks for everyone sharing the same roads. They're not choosing risk levels only for themselves.
The right to swing your arms wildly ends at someone else's nose. The right to walk around unvaccinated in a fucking pandemic ends in public, sharing air with others, connecting to fellow humans. Circulating in crowds, getting on buses or planes, traveling to other countries.
We live in a complex society. The benefits of that complex society come at some cost, and that cost includes paying dues and deference to the common welfare of those around us.
In short: We're supposed to take care of each other.
Ignoring facts and falling for bad information doesn't take precedence over that. And it isn't cool, or 'punk rock.' It's not 'punk rebellion' to reject science and a vaccine during a pandemic. Too many appear to define freedom in much the same way a 14-year-old grounded for taking a dump center stage in the middle of the school play would.
Too many doubt science and reject facts in the same way that the grade school bully who just doesn't understand it would. It's a frightening and dangerous trend cultivated over the past few decades, come to a head.
The truly strong consider their whole community. A true punk attitude rejects treating those around us as lesser, as undeserving of our protection, or disposable because they're older or have asthma or are undergoing cancer treatment or some other "pre-existing condition."
For the record: I absolutely acknowledge that there are allergies and legit medical reasons for some people not to get this vaccine or others. That this is a thing makes it all the more reason why everyone who can get it should get it.
Also for the record: I do have issues with 'Big Pharma' (another phrase thrown around as if it should have the power to shut down any discussion). But battling the COVID-19 virus has been a bigger, more immediate problem for, like, two fucking years now. I don't know where we lost the concepts of context and perspective and nuance, but … wow. I really hope we can get those back.
Choosing to not get vaccinated isn't 'sticking it to big pharma' – fixing that is going to take a whole lot more work, so roll up your sleeves – instead, it's sticking it to everyone – by increasing the danger to everyone. By giving the virus more and better opportunities to transmit and mutate. More people getting it means more people in the hospital with it, which then means fewer hospital beds and fewer medical services for people who need them for other reasons.
The 'system' these folks think they're rebelling against is actually trying to save lives here, and reduce harm. It's not a perfect system, and government and pharma and medical industries (and, well, all industries) need oversight. Always. But FFS, it's a pandemic, people. Get some fcuking perspective.
And, among so many other things, I see folks using the vaccines' lack of 100% bullet-proof efficacy to add fuel to the anti-vax fire. Nobody ever promised the vaccine would make everything perfect, and the best of expectations relied on more people getting it, and sooner, and more wide-spread, before more mutations and variants rose. Not this well-vaccinated in some states and wildly-super-spreading in others clusterfuck we ended up with.
If someone thinks the vaccines are not worth it because vaccinated folks can still get the virus and transmit it, then the flaw is in their expectations and understanding, not in the vaccines. It reduces risk, it reduces severity, it reduces transmission, it reduces hospitalizations. It reduces harm.
Saying "people can still get it / people can still transmit it" even if they're vaccinated is like saying "sober people can cause accidents, too, not just drunk drivers."
Lack of understanding is not a valid basis for opinions. Not when there's facts from experts and the knowledgeable.
They make fun of those vaccinated for 'trusting blindly' when all they've done is put their own blind trust into a different reasoning – a very very shoddy and shady excuse for reasoning at that.
For the record, I don't need to have a personal connection to someone affected to have empathy and compassion for them. But as it turns out, I do in fact have a few personal reasons for taking this shit very very very fucking seriously.
I am the granddaughter of someone who, 100+ years ago, lost her entire family - parents and 2 siblings - to the 1918 flu pandemic. There's no way to know for sure, but I'd bet good money they'd welcome a vaccine that was even 50% as effective as the ones we're currently using to battle COVID-19.
The un-vaccinated might believe they're not a risk to others, but that blind belief doesn't make it so.
This isn't a matter of opinion, or a justification to whine that it's 'a free country'… because that increased risk is real. Putting trust and belief in some anti-vax snake-oil pseudo-science cult philosophy doesn't make the factual risk any less real. Believing the earth is flat doesn't make it factually flat.
That grandmother of mine lived well into her 90s, her mind still strong as time eventually took enough of a toll on her body. Along the way, she raised a family, kept a spotless house, crocheted countless afghans and doilies, tended a gorgeous garden, worked effectively every minute of every day… and took on even more work when my grandfather — a coal miner – could no longer work.
A few weeks ago, her oldest daughter, my aunt, passed away. She went into the hospital with something treatable, which was responding well to treatment. She, too, was a strong woman— a retired nurse who spent her life taking care of others. But she caught COVID at the hospital, and had a stroke (COVID increases the risk of stroke), and, well. The hospital wouldn't allow anyone any visitors. The rehab place (for the stroke) had to keep COVID-positive patients in isolation, but at least did allow visitors - in full protection gear. And then they shuffled her back to the hospital anyway. Once there's enough things pushing everything downhill…
I was finding out all of this over the course of a few weeks, filtered through layers of family members via text, trying to figure out where I could call or when I could visit (a 2.5 hour drive).
I didn't get to see her until she'd gone into hospice. I learned that's what it had come to, by the way, the day of the Bosstones break up. I'd been texting my sister, and had exhausted myself crying about my aunt on a tele-health appointment to my therapist, then sat for a bit, just processing. I got to the point where I could move on with things… I literally thought, "Ok, well, let's put on some Bosstones to cheer up and make something of the day," then went to check facebook 'real quick' before getting off the couch. The announcement of the breakup had gone up about 30 minutes prior. My feed was full of shock from many a friend.
Here I wanna take a moment to be admittedly very unjustifiably yet cathartic-ly catty & petty–
Thanks for the timing, guys. O_o
Anyway… less than two weeks later, I sat with my aunt through the night, and held her hand as she passed away.
My grandmother's family, and my aunt— these are the people being discounted, dehumanized, and written off by the anti-vaxxers, the so-called 'strong,' the deniers, the anti-maskers. By those who think themselves smarter than a large majority of doctors and scientists.
By those who succumbed to the engines of misinformation.
Does anyone ever find their way out of that rabbit hole? We can only hope, but it's a downward spiral that's easy to keep sliding further and further down. Their appropriation of the concept of the "red pill" is disturbingly cult-like, particularly as the "pill" they're swallowing is more like a handful of qualudes chased with a pound of meth all taken during a very very bad acid trip. But hey, let's de-fund education some more. How much worse can it get?
The 'weak' whom they can't be bothered to protect includes seniors who worked their asses off their whole lives in the hopes of enjoying some kind of retirement. Healthy folks who happen to have asthma. Brilliant people undergoing chemo for a cancer they can and will survive - unless some asymptomatic un-vaccinated anti-masker sheds gobs of high-strength virus in their vicinity. People who will die of something very treatable because the hospital workers are too overwhelmed to give everyone proper care — or because there's no space at the hospital at all, because the place is full of COVID patients.
Anyone who would write off the well-being of any of those folks does not deserve to call themselves or be lauded as a 'rebel,' some kind of punk hero bucking the system. They're not sticking it to 'the man,' they're sticking it to everyone they come in contact with. They're sticking it to their fellow humans. Their own community.
I will wear a mask and will get boosters whenever recommended because it's not just about me. I will do what I can to diminish the power and spread of this thing. I will do what I can to make sure I don't contribute to the pain of whole-family-gone or couldn't-get-treatment for others.
True punk rock cares about the weakest among us, and doesn't let 'the machine' dehumanize them and treat them as dispensable. True punk doesn't fall for bad information. True punk takes care of each other.
With that, I'm gonna sign off. I love all y'all – whether in agreement or not – and am determined to do what I can to compensate for the folly of others.
This could probably use one more round of editing and/or formatting, but fuck it, I'm just lettin' it fly. Some of it came out earlier today while some of it's been sitting for months & months and it takes me so freaking long to do anything that if I stop myself now, it might sit for another year.
Two years ago, December 28 2019 was night two of The MIghty Mighty Bosstones' Hometown Throwdown. A few extra friends joined me, in celebration of my turning 50 earlier that month. Some of them had seen the Bosstones but hadn't in a while or hadn't been to a Throwdown, and some had never seen them live. But they all knew how much it meant to me. I wanted a memorable celebration but didn't quite have the spoons, space, or shit together to host a party. So I invited them to the best time I've ever had. They all had a blast and determined they would very much want to attend future Throwdowns with me.
And here we are, 2nd year in a row without a Throwdown, thanks to COVID-19. Trying hard not to dwell heavily upon it, and taking comfort in the amazing new album the Bosstones released several months ago that is still amazing each and every time I listen to it, and that some of those friends and I did get to see the Bosstones at the Worcester Punk in Drublic back in September.
So today i'm committing to finally finishing my thoughts about the album. I thought I would get it done back in the Summer, when I got to take it to the beach and give it a few listens in the sun and at actual leisure. A few more thoughts did get put down then, but the push to finish got delayed once again by life and its overwhelms. More thoughts came along after Punk in Drublic, where they played a hell of a set that included four of my favorite shiny new songs from WGWG but, well. Same thing. I don't know if it's just what the new brain norm is post-accident, or pandemic adding to already plenty of anxiety & depression, or the new norm post-menopause, or something else, or some combination of 2 or more, but I can't concentrate worth a damn, and almost all of the 'get it done willpower' gets thoroughly used up in doing a decent enough job at the job (which was jobS plural for a while there, because once I got a better job it was harder than expected to hours reduced to a do-able point at the first job). I'm working on it all, the concentration & depression & anxiety, that's all I can say. And I'll nip that line of thought in the bud, lest this post go completely off the rails.
So here we go. The Mighty Mighty BossToneS: When God Was Great (released May 2021).
Front to back, this thing rocks. Or slaps, as I'm told the kids say these days. I don't know if I'm using it exactly as they do. Here I mean it leaves a fresh, stinging, and invigorating sensation across the face of your brain's listening parts. It slaps.
In terms of sounds, lyrics, and perceivable intent, the album is on one hand extremely relevant to current times and then skews nostalgic as fuck on the other.
Some songs hit heavily on the frustrations of the past few years, offering some catharsis, context, and/or camaraderie. In the songs that look back and reminisce, they don't just do so with subjects and stories from a distant past; they're assembled in part from audio lexicons of another age. This band has always mixed and matched sounds from far and wide, and here they've added even more ingredients to their unmatched, not-quite definable signature 'stew.'
Sounds, styles and even bits of riffs from a bygone buffet show up on this music platter and take me back more years than I care to assign a number to. It hints in ways that leave me feeling like I just need one more note to name that distant tune echoed by a cluster of notes, or a fragment of melody, or within a particular guitar sound.
Hey, how's that for getting a little mileage from those arts degrees? :D Is it any wonder it takes me months to get any gods-damned thing done?
Ok, how about some details:
Right out of the gate, it's clearly the Bosstones in their element. Solid, fun, groovin. Bouncy upstroke ska-punk guitar? Check. ✅ Swaggering bass? Check! ✅ Dicky's raspy voice and artful wordsmithing… Check! ✅
The horns sound off 30 seconds in (CHECK!! ✅), and I'm holding my breath, waiting for the hook that makes it worthy of the "first track" spot on the album.
Crunchy guitar skids into the first chorus, and yeah, there it is. The chorus hits like a homerun over the Green Monster and cements Decide as one of my favorites of WGWG.
As the second verse wraps up and heads towards the chorus, Dicky closes it with an intense growl that deserves a moment to process — which the horns deliver by carrying the chorus for a round while the vocals maintain a respectful distance before jumping back in.
It's fucking magic. Songcraft at its best. This track would make a stellar show-opener, with the greatest fucking horn section in the world greeting the audience bright & blaring right at that point.
Aptly named, this song moves. The back & forth call & response of the chorus shines and grooves here.
We’ve gotta move —— That’s true
Do you approve? —— We do
We gotta move out of the city
How ‘bout the groove? —— That’s new
Do you approve? —— We do
It is so good to know that you’re with me
Listen for the wonderful countermelody trumpet meandering above everything through the bridge.
I DON'T BELIEVE IN ANYTHING
I don't know where to begin. All the pieces, all the emphases and embellishments, every little detail of this song, it's put together so brilliantly. The primal drums. The different places the bass goes. The lyrics, FFS. THE LYRICS. I've listened to it over and over, taking turns with which instrument or element I would focus on and follow. I listen to it the way I could stare at an amazing painting for hours, over and over again. I just can't get enough of it.
It's a fucking Ska-Core opera. Is that nuts to say? I don't give a fuck. This is some seriously masterful songcraft here.
This is one of the songs that isn't fighting for the spot of my favorite off the album.
Don't get me wrong. It's amazing. It's extremely unlike the Bosstones sound and yet still very Bosstones and extremely well done. It's one of the songs that left me with a "What year is it? Who am I listening to?" kind of feeling. Pedal steel guitar? The Bosstones don't just mimic and borrow from other musical styles in some half-ass pastiche imitation. They own it and make their particular flavor out of it. That style isn't just stamped on the surface or spread over like frosting.
Maybe I need to let it process for a while longer before I fully get it. It's good. Damned good. But doesn't quite hit the spot of what I need.
Here's probably a good point to note/ remind that I had a bit of a head-start on isolation & extra depression & anxiety for a few years before COVID-19 became a thing, with audio processing & light sensitivity issues & other miscellaneous brain problems from the car accident brain injury, which also hit the brainzone where a lot of emotional regulation and executive function get sorted. I was just starting to work on really getting back to life & the world again when the world closed down. I still need a LOT of UPBEAT. I have only recently been able to start listening to the more maudlin artists in my music collection again, and only occasionally because it's still just too too easy for me to get bummed out and then spiral downwards into much worse than bummed out. The Bosstones have not been among the music I had to set aside – even when a song's about something dark or sad, the music still has a strong, GET MOVING or SING WITH US kind of energy. They top of the list of things that help avoid a complete mood crash or mitigate some of the worst most hopeless days. So I fully admit that I may not yet be in the right head space to fully appreciate Certain Things.
"I hope it all turns out ok."
Holy fucksticks, I love this one. It might be my favorite from WGWG. The theme of bruised but not broken, "black and blue!…" makes for one hell of an anthem for the past several years, on both a personal level and world-wise.
For the record, I'm not sure I'm NOT broken, but I'm not out of scotch tape, glue, and staples yet, so. Pass the paper clips, please, and where are the elastic bands?
This one plays unbidden in the back of my head very very frequently, and perhaps is the one I sing the loudest to when it comes up. One of my favorite bits is the rakish way blaring trombone trades off with brazen guitar through the bridge.
They played it live at the Punk in Drublic festival in Worcester, MA and I very seriously hope it becomes a frequent contender for the playlist when regular concerts resume.
I fell in love at first listen with this song. Absolutely among my favorites. I could follow that extra deep fog-horn-like baritone sax into the ocean and never come back. My full experience of this song was not complete until I finally got to enjoy it at the beach. It's perfect.
THE KILLING OF GEORGIE (PART III)
I've already said a lot about this song, on the heels of some idiocy over on Twitter that eventually resulted in the pulling of the video from YouTube. I'm not going to expand on those issues, but if you want to read it, here's the links to part one and part two. I still have more to say about this long, like…
The fucking piano is on fucking fire in this fucking song. And this fucking song is a fucking raging banger of a fire, y'all. Not a lot of bands can have such energy and intensity come through on a studio album. These guys have always been able to, and still do, to unparalleled results.
The song begins with a morning-show-like sound and asks "what is on your mind?" — To me it comes off like a critique of the superficial sound-bite TV news show style: They might bring up heavy topics, but there's a distance from meaningful dialog or action.
It wraps up with a magnificent wall of sound that is one of my favorite things about this band. All the things they can have going on at the same time and somehow make it work. All those voices. The layered choruses. Every damned instrument. All that noise. All that intensity. The piano parts, holy fuck, are the fire on top of the fire on top of the fire here - burning like the sun. When the thing finally winds down rapidly at the end, parking the guitar perfectly, every music receptor in my brain is dancing, jumping, and screaming.
Shake down the mountains
The hills can be removed
But love and faith won't be replaced
It's a raging banger I hope at least parts of it get to be played live someday, because I want to hear it. I'm not holding my breath, but I will keep my fingers crossed.
The fact that the brilliance of this song got eclipsed by social media I don't even know what is kinda tragic.
YOU HAD TO BE THERE
A solid, fun, nostalgic song, a Bosstones celebration of past days featuring horn riffs & other sounds that carry me away to my own memories of long-ago past.
WHEN GOD WAS GREAT
Cards on the table: I'm an atheist most days and occasionally a particular sort of agnostic on the other days. So sometimes the word "god" can cause an allergic reaction or induce a pang of caution until I get a sense of the context.
When God was good It was understood
There was no better place to be than in our neighborhood
When God was great We just couldn’t wait
To get as far away from there we didn’t hesitate
A song overflowing with nostalgia, one of the first bells it rings for me is the short-and-sweet (and always irksome because it didn't rhyme) grace my family would, with varying degrees of consistency through the years, say before meals:
"God is great, god is good, and we thank him for this food."
That's a wave of nostalgia that washes over me, initially about knee-height. Hey, look at that.
Here we can recall the capriciousness of youth's perspective — The neighborhood was the best place to be, but also a place to be left far behind as soon as possible. WGWG calls back to the days when life was good, being kids and not knowing much about the bigger world, being full of hope and potential. Great fondness for the physical and temporal realm of childhood and greater hope for what comes after and beyond.
Contrast with the Awful Grace of God reference in The Killing of Georgie (Part III):
In our own despair and against our will
Comes wisdom through the awful grace of god
(Aeschylus, Greek tragedian
quoted by Robert Kennedy when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated)
Perhaps the notion of god's grace doesn't hold up so great or good into adulthood, as one realizes more of reality. That's my take, at least.
Those nostalgia waves are bringing the tide in, by the way, and getting to chest-height.
The song goes on to prompt further reflection via sounds and words. Waves build and build higher and higher until the bridge ends with a hypnotic wall of sound sustained for longer than it has any conventional business being sustained for, swelling until nostalgia-inducing waves are well over your head.
It's pretty fucking magical. A magical musical spell, for sure. Tho' with the way I've been feeling, sometimes a little more wistful than I can handle.
WHAT IT TAKES
This is a thoroughly and ridiculously fun song that could easily double as an 80s sitcom theme. And I am absolutely 100% here for it. I take it as a gift to get through the despair of the pandemic.
Y'know, a sort of 'Fuck it, let's dance and forget the fucking world for a few minutes.'
"Turn up the vol-yuuUUUUUME—" while you're at it.
They must have had so much fun recording this one. Full of joy to hear and to sing along with. But I also hear a deeper meaning in some of the lyrics, so give it a listen, and see if you do, too.
Long As I Can See the Light
A really lovely really solid cover. I'm a bit neutral regarding the song choice, but once, long ago, Creedence Clearwater Revival was a contender for a position among my top 5 favorite bands. Nicely done. But it's also an entry on the "more introspective than I can manage lately, I will probably and hopefully appreciate more at some point down the line" side of this album.
The Truth Hurts
I don't know that I have anything specific to say about this, except it's another good, solid song. Combines "nostalgic sounds" with the more "singable up-beat" aspects that my brain still needs in plentitude. Not quite a contender for my favorite, but gets a lot of mileage singing in the car.
It Went Well
I love this one. Love the tune. Love the lyrics. Loved hearing it at Punk in Drublic in Worcester. I feel every piece of its relevancy. This frequently plays itself in the back of my head unbidden.
I Don't Want to be You
As an atheist, I also have a bit of a reaction to the notion of hell, particularly if it's used in telling someone that's where they're going.
That said, there are some who bring me to the verge of wishing there was a hell, because there would in fact be a special place there for them, if there were any kind of balance for justice in this universe. I'm pretty sure this song is at least partly directed at one of those people.
So I'm down with it.
Musically it walks on the reflection-inducing side of the line, so weighs a little heavier than my favorites of WGWG.
The Final Parade
I should love this song. I really really want to love this song. I really should love it. I actually kinda feel like a jerk because I don't love it. It's chock full of my favorite ingredients. It's a celebration of ska-punk with guest appearances from far and wide, fresh and classic, originators and groundbreakers and next-generationers. And it's eight freaking minutes of it. But for some reason it just doesn't click with me.
That lack of click strikes a little hard with me particularly as the song tops off the album. So many BossToneS albums end with a jaw-droppingly amazing blazing album closer, a song that is often my favorite thing on the album, or very close, or at least solidly in the top few.
Devil's Night Out --> A Little Bit Ugly
More Noise & Other Disturbances --> They Came to Boston
Don't Know How to Party --> Seven Thirty Seven / Shoe Glue
Question the Answers --> Jump Through the Hoops
Let's Face It --> 1-2-8
Pin Point & Gin Joints --> A Pretty Sad Excuse
Magic of Youth --> Open & Honest
While We're At It --> After the Music is Over
So The Final Parade leaves me a little unsatisfied.
And, for the record, I feel completely ridiculous saying that, because I'm so fucking grateful for this album.
Knowing it was coming got me through a lot of 2020, and listening to it got me through a lot of 2021 (and will continue to do so in 2022). All the songs are so strong, pushed and produced to 115%, I can hear it even in the ones that don't quite sync with me while my headspace is so out of whack and extra sensitive.
Maybe this should also be chalked up to there being something wrong with me. :D
For the record, if I should ever get to hear them play The Final Parade live, that not-quite-clicking will NOT, not for one moment, stop me from sloppily dancing and shouting out the lyrics while smooshed against the rail surrounded by a bunch of other people also sloppily dancing and shouting the lyrics.
I may be broken, but I'm not a monster. Fun is fun, after all.
And we could all use some more fun these days, eh?
Go give this thing a listen or ten or twelve. You'll be glad you did.
… and sometimes, you don't even have that. Because some times, or some places, or some head spaces, just aren't right or ready for dancing.
So. Ska + Hard Core Punk = Ska-Core
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have a long, established career of slapping a bunch of different things together and coming up with something brilliant. Something that works. Something that inspires others and endures. Really, for me, nobody ever made ska-core quite the way they do. A few bands come close, for sure, here and there. But in the end, aside from, say, Rancid, they tend to leave me wanting to reach for another Bosstones album instead.
With The Killing of Georgie Part III, they pulled from a '70s Rod Stewart song on the tragic murder of a gay friend, a sampling of current attitudes & vibes across this country, Aeschylus, a ~500 BC Greek poet – attributed by some as the father of tragedy – quoted by RFK on the assassination of MLK, MLK himself, current events specifically the brutal killing of George Floyd, and a sincere desire for togetherness, hope, and justice in the face of EVERYTHING .
They made something that – for those of us who "get" them – worked. More or less. It's not my favorite song on the album, but it's one of the ones that catches my ear. I don't think it among the best of their bestest work, but I like it quite a bit, and think it is pretty damned good, – the build up at the end is intensely good. I had, with some background worry in my gut, hoped people would "get it." It's hard to say how much background worry, because I have a long list of weighty worries both old and new that tend to reside in my gut most of the time.
I spent my previous post getting into some details. Feel free to take a moment and get acclimated through that.
Regardless of the song or whether the video was appropriate for the material, my pandemic life really needed four and a half minutes of Ben Carr dancing through a mostly-empty Boston, with bonus appearances toward the end from members of the Doped-Up-Dollies. He could have danced to anything, even a song I hate from a band I can't stand, and I would have happily watched it repeatedly (tho' probably with some other song-of-choice playing over it), and it would have made my heart sing every time.
But the world is very very very complicated, and nothing gets the luxury of being viewed only exactly as intended.
Particularly these days.
Enter some who, at a glance, may have been little more than pot-stirrers with perhaps not fully honorable motives, add the general tendencies of the internet, and you get… some heavy misunderstanding and unnecessarily crude escalation. It's impossible to measure how much or little any of them actually know of the band, nor how much or little the desire to "trend" spurred them on.
Regardless of whether the intentions of the internets were legitimately noble, I can't say they didn't have a point about a certain angle of view.
On the surface, a white guy dancing to an up-beat sounding song that, among other things, references the brutal murder of a Black man by police … it's not great optics. Pretty dissonant, from a particular angle.
But most or even all of this combination of critics and trolls also – willfully – ignored the Bosstones' decades of genuine, hard, anti-racist work – both inside and outside their music – and the actual multi-racial composition of the band. I wonder if they bothered to check some details, like the credited co-authors of this song in particular, before dishing out the disingenuous half-baked hot-takes for all to see.
But The Inertnet cares not about those things, once it's been encouraged or directed to think about a particular thing in a particular way. As time goes on and "likes" mount and threads lengthen, it becomes much easier to keep the shoddy bandwagon rolling forward, informed poorly or well, right or a little right or kinda wrong or really wrong. And who cares about the extraneous little facts that might make their 'clever' tweet less relevant or consider shifting their position even a little?
Their music, dancing, ska, the Bosstones themselves… it's about bringing hope. Since ± February 2020, capital-h Hope has had a really really rough, falling-apart during an earthquake roller-coaster ride on fire, at the very least. And it had already had a really rough few years leading up to it.
Again, the band has a history of musically stapling, gluing, and duct-taping all sorts of things together to outstanding effect. On their last album, one single song "After the Music" starts out like a jazz-club jam, marches into an all-out rock anthem, then flips into a Bosstones ska-riffic celebration before dancing out the door and slamming it behind them. I fucking love it.
So, with The Killing of Georgie Part III, it feels odd, like slipping into another universe, to see them put something together to have it trip so hard over its own shoelaces in how it's received outside of its more-narrow-than-previously-thought context.
Some flavors go really well together, some require a little culinary talent to get it to work, and some things should never be on the same plate together. Perhaps the recipe drew from related but ultimately mismatched incompatible resources, and they separated like oil and water when left alone without further stirring.
Once, at a party with my friend Mur, we discovered that gin and eggnog, as awesome as they are individually, do not go well together. Note: They also did not completely suck together either. It was not undrinkable. The two beverages somehow managed to negate the best qualities of each other without quite being something that had to be poured down the sink. We did vow never to do that again. This is a little tangental gift of wisdom I give to you.
So, this ambitious new recipe the Mighty Mighty Bosstones were trying to develop turned out to be the dish that blows up on the stove top, ruins pans, and gets someone booted off one of those Iron Chef type shows. Maybe, like a cake baked at high altitude, not enough consideration was given for the environmental pressure.
The whole thing makes me heartsick.
As a creative person, I know it can take a lot of courage to put something out into the world. Just imagining having nothing but the best of intentions, being proud of something and having it fall flat. It sits in the stomach like a cinder block. And I’ve never been in a position to have more than, say, a few dozen people not get something. And I certainly never tried putting together something with so many unusual ingredients.
The band knows that creations can take on a different meaning, a different life, once released into the world. Dicky has gone on record many times stating they do not want to take away anyone's personal interpretation of their songs. There's countless people who believe The Impression That I Get is about HIV or an STD test or a pregnancy scare. But if you want to dig a little, that's not where its inspiration originated.
I won't presume or guess what reasonings got the Mighty Mighty Bosstones to the decision, but they pulled the video quickly, without fanfare and, so far, without comment.
And, honestly, I think it was the right decision.
Interpreting a song differently from its initial conception is one thing. Without context, this music video had the potential to bring more pain rather than help bring hope. And its contexts are too numerous, varied, and / or obscure to expect a clear reception of its intended message. The alternate interpretations summoned by the internet are too opposite its intention, and too potentially painful for communities and people already hurting.
This country has shambled and is still shambling through some truly escalated challenges, facing yet again moments-of-truth that have very long been there but never been fully acknowledged. Black communities in particular are angry, hurting, and sick & tired of it. Beyond that, the pandemic and the early handing of it has strained sooo many to the breaking point. The election and months leading up to the January 6 insurrection were inconceivably mind-boggling.
People need hope, waaaaaay more than usual.
The Bosstones aim to bring messages of hope and togetherness in difficult times. Music can bring hope. And dance can bring hope. Dancing can be a form of protest, even. "Sometimes, dancing is all you've got," particularly if you're the band member who dances in a band who's stated "Our Only Weapon Is This Song." But, apparently and unsurprisingly, the country is far from the head-space where it's ok to staple all these worrying ingredients together into one song & music video, Bosstones style.
Please, for fuck's sake, go listen to the rest of the album. It's stunning. So much of it is perfectly made for summer-weather windows-down car-listening. Skip that song if you need to. Or try to unhook it from what others have said to think about it, and decide its meaning for yourself. Because that intense build-up to the end, wowz. Seriously good music.
I do hope to review When God Was Great in full sometime soon. I don't love love every single piece of it, but even the parts that don't quite gel for me are full of genius and style. And that stuff still might gel - some of their songs had to grow on me, and I look back and wonder what took me so long to "get it." I love so much about this album already, and I hope these guys keep stapling, gluing, taping, and nailing stuff together for many mighty years to come.
Make of it what you will, and go in peace with it. Love one another. We're all we've got, when we get to a point where we don't even have dancing.
Please enjoy this, one of my favorite fun, fast, & clever Mighty Mighty Bosstones tunes, 1-2-8:
They made something, they played something
Brand new a baby blue machine
Brass tacks, duct tape for the great escape
Packed in there like sardines
Back and forth, East, South, West, North
Shred the atlas, burn the map
Often lost and paths criss-crossed, wake me up I need a nap
1, 2 what's in the stew?
3, 4 no one's really sure
5, 6 what's in the mix?
7, 8 this stuff tastes
They did something, which meant something and that got them some attention
A roller coaster ride, great pride in this invention
I think they're selling snake oil at the dog and pony show
And in the garden gee, would you pardon me?
And by the way how does it grow?
1, 2 what's in the stew?
3, 4 no one's really sure
5, 6 what's in the mix?
7, 8 this stuff tastes
The explanation's unexplainable, holding onto something once dreamt unattainable
The course was never charted so don't look into the books
The secret's not the recipe, it's got to be the cooks
They made something, they played something
Blood, sweat, and elbow grease
Well, if you can't stand the heat in the kitchen
Get out it will increase
Last train to where? Hey get out of here
Nothing's measured and nothing's weighed
A dash of honesty in the recipe and that's the first mistake you've made
1, 2 what's in the stew?
3, 4 no one's really sure
5, 6 what's in the mix?
7, 8 hey this stuff tastes
1, 2 what's in the stew?
3, 4 (3, 4) no one's really sure
5, 6 (5, 6) what's in the mix?
7, 8 this stuff tastes
(1-2-8 by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones)
So instead of thinking about a post and getting it mostly squared in my head then never getting around to it, or having it all go stale or irrelevant by the time I can sit down to it, or letting enough time pass that I can't recall all the inspired blurts that I wanted to write in the first place…
… here goes.
I have been wanting to write up a review or individual song reviews of the new Mighty Mighty Bosstones release, When God Was Great. Hell, I still want to do that for their 2018 release, While We're At It, and still might. I wasn't sure if I would really get around to either, because all the reasons, but then Internet Stuff Happened and brought me here.
Twitter and I have been in a sort of trial separation, so I was hesitant to even go look when I caught wind of some strong opinions being tweeted about one of their songs/ videos – The Killing of Georgie (Part III), on the heels of a magazine article. But I did.
I tend to listen/ watch things a few times before I can figure out what I might think of something, and more than a few before I might commit some words to it. Some of that is the Fine Arts Bachelor's & Master's degrees, all the Art Theory & Art Criticism classes (If only I could give you some idea of how many times we devolved into passionate discussions of whether or not Thomas Kincaid qualified as an Artist…). Some of it is the brain since it got hit. Context is harder, holding all the factors in mind at once, connecting dots, seeing the whole picture, all that – I'm still a computer with wonky RAM. MUCH less wonky than the worst of it, but still work to be done if I can ever get to pre-accident brain. There's more to it than those factors, but in the interest of brevity and relevance, moving on…
When I first saw the video & listened to the song, my gut suspected some people might react this way, to how it appears on the surface. I gave it a few more views & listens (and many more since). I didn't know at first but learned early on that the title referred to a Rod Stewart song about a gay friend of his back who was murdered in the 70s. It was clear among the tweets that most had no idea of that detail, and when given the information (a few others brought it up) didn't care to explore or weigh it further for context relevance.
It was also pretty clear that many reactionaries had little or no knowledge of the band and their background. And I wonder how much knowledge of ska history weighed in on the "snappy" limited-character digs and take-downs? Ska takes peppy & upbeat, and, historically & often, mixes it up with the political. And, hey, didja know dancing can be a form of protest?
Context. Has it become optional? Hm. There have been situations where "context" and "nuance" have been all but weaponized. So even discussions of context are subject to context.
Maybe full context wouldn't help enough anyway, not for some.
How about metaphor? How many still consider complex notions like hyperbole, metaphor, symbolism, artists' other works, potential intent & all the angles, etc… when evaluating a work of art — whether it be a movie, a painting, or a 4.5-minute music video? Let's go out on a limb here: Could "the nicest man in the world," as I've heard Ben Carr called by those who know him, dancing through empty streets actually symbolize something? Like the attitudes of many people in the face of the challenges of this country and world? Or maybe it's a declaration of "sometimes, dancing is all you've got."
Or perhaps both?
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have made plenty of songs with unclear or double meanings. "The Impression That I Get" was not written about an HIV test or a pregnancy scare, but Dicky lets people make of it what they will. ((Great Chris DeMakes podcast interview with Dicky Barrett & Joe Gittleman about how "that knock on wood" song did come together, at iheart.com, or through iTunes))
They've also made plenty of songs that make a very clear stance: Mighty Mighty Bosstones on ‘Let’s Face It’ becoming an anti-racism anthem 20 years after its release.
The Bosstones have always stood for humanity, community, friendship, respect.
The thing about some online magazine "thinkpieces" is sometimes they don't do as much of the thinking as they think they do, or as much as they appear or pretend to do. And then some others read it & think the writer's taken in all the factors, done all the thinking, and then take those words as informed analysis, the full gospel.
Context. Metaphor. Subtlety. Symbolism. Dual meanings. Something created specifically to make people think about it. Dance can be a form of protest, and sometimes — like in a pandemic — dancing is all you've got. The Bosstones said it 28 years ago: "Our Only Weapon is This Song." Given that, what is the guy who dances supposed to do?
Those factors & considerations may still not make a difference for some to rethink the song and/or the video. And that's ok. Sometimes great creatives put things together that the intent gets lost, or some people just don't get, or just don't like. We don't have to all come to the same conclusions about things. I can't make anyone "get" anything in the way it fits together for me. From the other side, I also try not to 'yuck' anyone else's 'yum' (assuming that 'yum' respects humanity, rights, boundaries, etc…).
Could be I've thought too much on it. Could be I'm wrong all around. Wouldn't be the first time on either possibility. "The stars were not aligned." We could all use more wisdom, and could use less of it coming "through the awful grace of god."
So make of it what you will, & go in peace with whatever that is. Love one another.
I'm done & gonna go put "When God Was Great" on for another play (I can't write while listening to wordsy music). Because even with a few debatedly wobbly spots (hey, even I don't fall head-over-heels love-at-first-listen with every single word they sing), this album blows my fucking mind. This band, after more than three decades, still rocks. Hard. Knowing it was coming played a significant role in me getting through the past year. If this song / video keeps anyone from checking the rest of it out, then it's a damned shame.
I'll leave you with my last live view of the Bosstones: The close of the third night of the Hometown Throwdown, December 2019.
So this one's a little late. I actually had it written a few weeks ago, before the end of March, but didn't have any images and thought I might doodle a few. Well, that hasn't happened, and my hand is twitching to doodle things not-relevant to this. So here it is as is:
Among the things that getting hit on the head gave me is an appreciation for brain skills most take for granted, and just learning what qualifies as a skill.
Another one of the really important and helpful and useful things I learned from my speech therapist is this:
Aside from being a speech therapist, she was also a professor at a college with a concentrated communication disorders department. When we'd reached the limits of what she could do and how much the insurance company would cover, she invited me to the school to take some tests – to see if I might qualify for some studies. If I didn't qualify, I could at least be a subject for grad students to practice on.
While I did not qualify for any of the studies, the testing did help reveal a few things.
So, as I mentioned above, filtering out background sound is a skill. It was a skill I used to rock, without ever realizing it. And for me, it's one of the things that got knocked around pretty damned bad with that head injury.
When I explain this in person, it goes a little like this:
There were actual percentages involved, but I forgot the numbers and would need to dig up the paperwork. But the visual makes the point well enough. (Yeah, that's some of the stuff I was going to doodle).
My ears were ok, and the language center of my brain was ok. But the signal in between the two was having a particularly rough ride.
When they delivered this news, they made a point to mention that the signal from the left ear travels to the right side of the brain before it gets delivered to the language center.
At this point, my face probably went all scrunchy with thought, which then came out as, "I got hit on the right side of the brain…"
With something like a "mild" TBI and post-concussion syndrome and most of the 'proof' of various issues being a patient's say-so and nothing more, I cannot tell you how helpful it was to have some measurable results in hand that said it wasn't the metaphorical 'just all in my head.". A problem did exist within my head. For reals.
What did that really mean? Well, let's talk a bit about my pre-accident brain and way of life:
I liked noise. I liked having music on, and different kinds of playlists for different kinds of tasks.
My painting session playlists would often have chunks of audiobook or podcasts, broken up by a few songs every 50-60 minutes to help remind me to take a break.
The sound helped me concentrate. Without it, I would think about other stuff, think too hard about the painting, overwork details, get bored, and be prone to all-too-frequent snacking.
Soundtracks and mostly wordless music made up my writing playlists. It helped me focus on what I was doing, and get in "the mood" for the story. I'd often use more dramatic soundtracks for more dramatic scenes. Some of my favorites include Heroes, Constantine, Battlestar Galactica, HALO, Tron: Legacy, Blade Runner, Danny Elfman's Batman Score, Akira, Titanic… you get the picture, right?
Beyond music, the sounds of activity in the background also helped. I enjoyed writing in coffee shops, and even downloaded an app – Coffitivity – for use while writing at home. I had an approximate optimal volume setting for the music to balance against the Coffitivity sounds.
A good punk rock playlist was a great way to motivate me and keep my mind from thinking about how hard it would rather be doing something else.
Music while driving – at moderate volumes – helped me concentrate on the road better. Without it, my mind was prone to getting bored and wanting to drift to other things, and impatience for getting to wherever I was going…. VROOOM VROOOM.
After the accident, all that went out the window.
Just listening to music by itself was hard, my favorite music in particular. I remember having a really cruddy super depressing day and swearing I was going to listen to the entire Rancid album "…and Out Come the Wolves" (favorite song off that = Ruby Soho - and the video even features a kitty!) no matter what, even if it had to be really quiet, just to try to feel normal or something. TRY to alleviate the depression. And I did, but … it hurt to listen to it.
I feel like I should say something about my "migraines" during this time. I call them migraines because they came with severe sensitivities primarily to light & sound, but also often scent.
But they were NOT anything like the 2-3 migraines I'd had previously, many years before the accident and a distant memory. I would take those long lost migraines over the mTBI / PCS brain overloads without hesitation. It wasn't just that they hurt, a lot. Holy cats, did they hurt like I still don't quite have words for. It was that my brain felt like a computer logic board short-circuiting in the rain, relentlessly assaulted by signals that it couldn't make sense of and just wouldn't let up. Sharp and stabby bits and pieces of information.
Sounds shitty, right? Well, imagine when your favorite music has that effect, and it has nothing to do with the volume.
I still listened to it, sometimes, and even went to a few concerts (with heavy-duty near pro-grade earplugs) because damnit if I didn't have to have some reminders of why it was worth it to try to hang in there to see if things would ever get better.
It's been a few years, and some of that has come back. Not all of it, but a lot of it, and some of it I haven't yet put to the test. Around the time I thought I might try writing in a coffee shop again, all the coffee shops, restaurants, and effectively everything closed because the COVID-19 virus was traveling too far & wide. It's occurred to me to give the Coffitivity app a try again, but I would need to spend some thought on the set-up, as I've shuffled computers and speakers around and don't have a dedicated writing spot in my current residence.
But I do have background music on a lot more often. I had to build that tolerance slowly, with some seriously simple stuff. A series of ambient meditative sounds (some from Moby) were all I could handle for a while if I expected to be doing anything other than absolutely nothing, and with my eyes closed. I've worked my way up to and through things like Brian Eno Atmospherics, Siguros & the like. Now I'm able to listen to my 9-member ska-core favorite-of-favorites Mighty Mighty Bosstones most of the time. My writing session soundtracks are less dramatic but getting there, and I often have to choose smoother, less dramatic soundtracks & instrumentals. Sometimes I just can't quite do an audiobook or podcast while painting a trickier part of a painting, not without something suffering for it, be it my comprehension or the painting. So I pause for a bit, and sometimes even remember to un-pause when I've resolved the trickier bits and can get back into 'the zone."
So, slowly working my way back to the noise-ful life I love.
author / artist rambles on about painting, writing, cats, punk rock, vampires, ska-core, mTBI, comics, and life in general.