nonfiction about things that didn't happen

Sunday, February 12, 2012



Aware of my phone - over there - rattling up missed calls, but sufficiently detached from the existence of others that I failed to make the interpretative leap that another human might be attempting to contact me, I was missing work for the fourth or fifth time that month. An incredible sadness had enveloped me, as it had seemingly formed a habit of doing.

I was attempting to diagnose whether this was the type of sadness that might evaporate in a split-second, as was sometimes the case, or the type that grows ever more weighty and lumbering, only removed slowly and begrudgingly, with concerted effort over days or weeks.  It was hard to say - there had certainly been times where what seemed to be the hairiest, most slobbery of black dogs had turned out to be a shaggy ruse, skulking wimpily away at the sound of a friendly voice from the hallway or the sudden rememberance of an exciting variety of cereal lying in wait downstairs. Sooner or later all my depressions felt like that: something bearable and benign; something I could have wrenched myself out from underneath at any time; something that I could stomach repeating, if the outcome was to feel as connected to the world as I generally did upon coming out the other side. My breathing was fast and loud and interspersed with thick, gloopy swallows.

I had been obsessing, deliberately or not, over a song called 'Philadelphia' by Standard Fare, which I had first heard the previous Saturday in Birmingham, at a pub called The Victoria where the urinals were broad, tall and semi-circular, encasing the user in a manner that brought to mind the escape vessel used in the laborious rescue of the miners in San Jose, Chile.

These are the words to the chorus of the song:

"I'm gonna have to wait a year / To see you again, in Philadelphia"

Although I recalled the melody and sentiment of the song with precision, I could not recreate it exactly inside my head. My mind was hovering, static, above its memory, allowing it to be perceived at once in its entirety, but at an altitude so great as to disable the distinction of its separate parts. I pawed at my laptop to hear the studio recording - it was deeper and warmer than my mental recreation, but similarly unsatisfying - my tinny, sparkly, radio-speaker evocation had been replaced by a bassy, grounded rendition that felt marginally more substantial, but was lacking the most fizzy frequencies that had brought about my initial feeling, on the weekend, of total immersion and sympathy.

And in trying desperately to take hold of this music, to capture and retain every note as it bounded beyond me, I forcibly repeated each fragment as it passed, creating an echo chamber that clogged and throbbed and filled all available headroom with stodgy, mid-range nothingness, washing itself over and away. The inability to capture this music correctly in my imagination frustrated me to the point of tears, as did the failure of the studio recording to represent my superior imagining of the song.

The lie that music tells you is that you can go away with it. Music exists always in the past, sells you a ticket for a journey already departed on, completed. Songs will tell you that there is no death; that you can always return to the never-there.


In the apartment in Cotham that Colin and Natalie rent, I was looking up towards a door-sized shelf, housing four rows of DVDs - two hundred or so, arranged alphabetically with a thoroughness I had for whatever reason not expected. I think it was the afternoon, and I had showered, taking advantage of the towel left on the side for me, and the text message carrying instructions on how to turn on the hot water. The previous night Natalie had laid out a selection of vegan-friendly foods, to save me the indignity of rifling through foreign cupboards. Cleansed and dried, I had returned to my sleeping bag to keep this new warmth encased around me.

I had come to Bristol in the hope of finding some reason to stay alive, but it was a half-hearted hope, as I had also, paradoxically, convinced myself that it was necessary for me to die. I think, though I cannot remember precisely, that my plan was to skip between friends' houses, all the time starving myself, until eventually I grew weary and disjointed enough to throw myself in front of something, or off of somewhere. This would be a kind thing to do, I thought, for everyone. Nobody would ring me and worry why I did not answer.

On Colin and Natalie's sofa with my eyes closed I could only act as idle witness to morbid montages beyond my control, of mangled bodies under trains, all of them mine, trains attacking over and over at different speeds, with my body snapping and folding with infinite variety, the inevitable, grimly compelling output of a computer model processing for the most morbid of research purposes. The findings were prescient. At the slowest speed, the train would scoop me up softly, carrying me some distance before gravity would introduce me to the sleepers or the rails, and I would begin to grind and grate away until some part of me caught, and I would tumble under to the blackness of engine grease, my own innards clinging to the mechanical underbelly. At the fastest speed, there would be almost no time between the wanton skip onto the tracks and the compartmentalisation and redistribution of what was me. The train would continue unabashed, as a planet taken minutely out of line by the passing of a comet so greedily returns to its favoured orbit.

With my eyes open I could look at nothing but Colin and Natalie's shelf, and feel nothing but an intensely physical revulsion to the rows of films collected by my friends. What was the value of this cumulation of works, other than to manipulate, create falsehood and enact deceit? Films with a combined span of weeks or months, millions upon millions of frames, with the sole purpose of preventing their viewers from inhabiting their own natural existence.

Both collectively and individually the films served to re-enforce their status as one massive, unconquerable lie, the myriad variations on plastic casing of identical dimensions, uniform in their unique horrendous novelty, their garish fonts and facetious titles. The words "Matt Le Tissier" I could not look away from.

I could feel nothing but sick on attempting to take in the sheer volume on display. The total of time expended on the creation of this mass, the sheer sum of life made unrecoverable, seemed to be the most tragic waste. Why would anyone choose to gamble everything, to discard all sensibility for the sake of something that so patently could not effect change on the existence that really mattered?

Pausing a film in the split-second before disaster strikes does not offer its protagonists the opportunity to escape, nor the slimmest moment of respite. The characters are no longer present; their existence is replaced with that outside of the screen. Their terror; their certain doom: this is assured, eventually. What was the consumption of art, if not this process in reverse - a clumsy, bum-on-the-remote pause in the directionless, error-strewn Dogme 95 film of life? It did not even serve to delay the inevitable, as one’s own situation is not frozen or static, but non-existent. Art confirms its existence by destroying one's own, and leaves its enabler frigid and bitter in the wake of abandonment.

I could not escape the words of Jeff Mangum, whose music had so surely convinced me that beauty was an end in itself, but who did not have the ability to turn intangible songs into a tool capable of improving his immediate surroundings.

"The songs were what I stood for. It was a representation of the platform of my mind that I stood on. And if the platform of the mind is crumbling... then the songs go with it. Also, I think that the difficult thing after Aeroplane was that, when we started doing the Elephant 6 thing, we had a very utopian vision that we could overcome anything through music. The music wasn't just there for entertainment: we were trying to create some sort of change. We had a desire to transform our lives, and the listener's lives. I guess I had this idea that if we all created our dream we could live happily ever after. So when so many of our dreams had come true and yet I still saw that so many of my friends were in a lot of pain... I saw their pain from a different perspective and realized that I can't just sing my way out of all this suffering. I have to try to understand human nature and myself and the nature of suffering and a lot of these other issues on a deeper level. When I realized that a lot of my understanding of these issues was on a pretty flimsy platform, that's when the platform started to give way."

I did not remember these verbatim at the time, but the jist of them: that is what was in my head.


In the spare bedroom of Lisa's house in Bedminster, I could hear and smell that downstairs Steve was preparing dinner. I had not eaten for two or three days, and I hoped that he was not going to offer me anything, because I had committed to starving myself to death, and did not want to get into a conversation about it. I felt vaguely ashamed at inviting myself round only to lie in bed waiting for death.

All at once, without reason, spasms of a thousand different songs infiltrated me. I could hear, or rather imagine, simultaneously, every tone in the human hearing spectrum and beyond. At dazzlingly quick intervals a tone would rise up, sharp, demanding attention, yet when I tried to focus on it and follow its melody, it would sink back into the omniphonic morass, hopelessly intangible and infinitely distant. I was pulled viscerally all in directions equally by everything, and whilst at that time I would happily have been torn to pieces, the cumulative effect was that I was left immobilised, unable to focus on anything but the great pit of inaudible noise that I was situated both within and beyond.

Dan rang me for a second time, and this time I answered. He told me that he liked my album, and that I should have released it properly. He asked me if I was still coming to his brother's band's show on Friday, and I said that I probably was.

Like a stupid mutt I shuffled downstairs and asked Steve if there was any dinner left. I asked him what music was playing; it was the Bill Wells Trio. It was about ten years old, he said, but it had an air of timelessness.


When I was writing this, around the midnight connecting Thursday 9th and Friday 10th February 2012, a guy who I am friends with (only) on Facebook posted this status:

"Why do I always convince myself that mufasa won't die. I'm always disappointed and sad :("