Updated: Jun 16, 2021
This is a different one and it's hard to describe what it is.
It's an exploration of events, touching on the subjects of Zadie Smith's 'White Teeth', the hit US TV programme 'This Is Us' and exploring such themes as fate, coincidence & grief. I'm hoping you can simply press play & trust the unfolding story.
This is the piece of writing I read out at the end.
Cleaning the kitchen, I put on an album I hadn’t properly listened to for about 8 years, Elbow’s ‘The Seldom Scene Kid’. They’d recently caught my attention again, and I had completely forgotten that in 2009, during my first year of uni, this album rang through my ears constantly. Revisiting it was a really remarkable experience, transporting me back, bring with it a flood of nostalgic depth, as well as resettling into the melancholic yet nonchalant attitude.
On came track 8, Some Riot, a song not the most engrossing, but certainly proof for me of this album's high bar of quality. Then, halfway through, a certain lyric sends a bolt of electricity down my spine, I’m literally pulled upright, my head engages as if it were previously half asleep. My whole body awakens as if it were previously just simply reigning in a lacklustre performance. There’s prickling on my neck and an authentic, clear sorrow inhabits my head. I have been catapulted into the present, my focus rooted firmly in the past.
“I think when he’s drinking he’s drowning some riots.”
My dad died in 2011. The official date of his death was boxing day. Hepatic failure and cirrhosis of the liver were the official causes of death, bought on by decades of mainly alcohol usage.
When I first revisited this album, it felt nostalgic to listen to with my dad and brothers, but in hindsight, I’m not sure we really listened to this with him. It came out in 2008, so I’m not sure how often I saw him over the next year before university came looming. It might be that we did listen to it together a lot and my unreliable memory has once again reared its head.
I don’t, however, remember feeling those lyrics then like I did now. “I think when he’s drinking he’s drowning some riots.” That line really spoke to me. It feels fitting and truthful, as far as my understanding takes me, he was drowning some riots. Partly the reason I hear this in a new context now is that circumstances have changed. When this album meant so much to me previously, he was alive.
I also said as far as my understanding goes as well, initially because I think we all assume we know what someones going through, when actually we are simply projecting onto them what we think. We’re seeing their experience externally with all our biases, our history, our coping mechanisms, our personalities. Whatever someone else is going through, we can’t be them experiencing it, and the them is the vital ingredient in what makes this situation unique.
The other reason I phrased it that way is that as a teenager I was very internalised. I wasn’t very externally expressive at all, particularly with difficult emotional states such as depression. I was cut off from the outside world, and even to a large degree, cut off from myself. I daren’t face any of those challenging thoughts and instead retreated deeper and deeper, settling eventually at a near constant tone of numbness.
This meant forming and maintaining meaningful relationships was hard for me, and though I had a wonderful relationship with my dad over those years, there was a significant period of time when I simply wasn’t present enough. I couldn’t be, I was deep in self-protection mode. I was just trying to cope.
So I couldn’t be there to help, or guide, or even witness a lot of the time, but when I look back retrospectively, there was something that needed suffocating. The trouble is that I don’t know, and doubt I could ever will fully fathom, what inner onslaught was trying to be repressed. I’ll never likely be able to empathise with what a mammoth undertaking keeping those demons temporarily anaesthetised would be like.
I scroll around to find the rest of the lyrics to the song; “What is my friend trying to hide?”, “The booze turns a tall gentle boy to a terrible totem”, “When will my friend start singing again?” These lyrics, at least for me, really hammer home witnessing someone in the grip of an addiction - or even something more primitive than that - watching as someone spirals further and further into pain, not knowing if or when they’ll ever recover. Addiction, suffering, uncertainty, helplessness. I feel helpless with my dad.
This is not a conscious choice, but I’ve noticed that since he passed away, I’ve had a stronger desire to overcome my own sadness. I think previously there was a romanticised aspect to it as if struggling and settling into hopelessness implied some kind of heroism. Whereas now I don’t want to live in pity and self-loathing, I want authenticity and truth. I want to overcome these obstacles, spread these lessons to the people I love, through my community, expanding ever more outwardly, engulfing counties, countries, continents, the planet. I wanna provide the tools to all people, to unlock their grief and sorrow, using the universal truths that apply to every single human being, through biological, physical needs and our emotional needs.
I think this urge was born out of wanting to fix my dad, now. Even though it’s too late, and nothing can be done, I feel this awareness that if only I could understand how to help people, I can help him. I don’t have to let him suffer. Something innate in me still believes that his fate isn’t certain, there’s still time left. I can be there with him to nurture that pain, to physically hold him when all feels impossible, to sit with him one day at a time as he slowly starts to unravel from his traumas and rediscover his authenticity.
But I can’t. It’s too late. That’s no longer possible.
Logically I understand this, but the nucleus of this impulse doesn’t recognise logic or reason. We are not logical animals, we’re irrational.
Even so, I still treasure those brief, rare moments when a phrase, or a gesture - or a lyric - engulfs you enough to ripe you off your feet and present you with an opportunity to revisit, reevaluate and remember those occasions that need returning to. We can’t ever drown the riot, but we can take the time t understand why the riot might be there in the first place.
The Savage Balance Podcast is a weekly podcast offering a new story, essay, interview, thought or leftover scribble from the back of a napkin.