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Fighting the Darkness That’s Always There

Each depressive episode is a battle in a war that will never end. Sometimes, you can see the enemy coming, its march toward you set up in straight lines like a British military exercise, and you have time to fortify yourself, to build up your habits and your friends and your resources to protect you. But sometimes, when everything seems fine, and the horizon looks clear, you face a guerrilla attack. Every episode, you must fight not for victory, or power, or glory, but simply to continue, to stay alive.

Here is a list of habits I have constructed to keep me here: I walk every day for more than an hour. I exercise three times a week. I do not have more than three drinks at a time. I try to eat vegetables every day. I see a therapist weekly for an hour. I get eight hours of sleep. I take two pills every morning. I go to museums and walk in nature and do things I like even when I cannot feel anything from them at all. I am fighting like hell, and I am so tired.

“What merely a few weeks ago had seemed beautiful to her, was no longer beautiful, it was nothing,” Karl Ove Knausgaard writes about his wife’s depression in his new book, Spring. “She hated it. There was nothing she wanted more than to free herself of it. It ruined her life, she often said. There was something other inside her that took her over.”

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That other, that creeping terror, that darkness is always there. It creeps around the edges of your vision even on the best days. If you get to the darkest part, and you are all alone, danger is there waiting for you. I’m a solid six out of ten.… I’m drawn to negatives in life, and I dwell on them, and they consume me.… If I get a couple of days a week at a seven, fuck, it’s great,” Scott Hutchison, the former frontman of Scottish indie rock band Frightened Rabbit, recently told Noisey.

I say “former” because last month, Scott Hutchison lost the war. Designer Kate Spade lost last Tuesday; celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain on Friday.

In the past year, four beloved musicians got stuck in the dark space and couldn’t find their way out. Chester Bennington of Linkin Park lost his war last July. Chris Cornell lost last June. Tim Bergling, the Swedish DJ-producer who performed as Aviciilost in April. I know how all these men died. I shouldn’t, but I do. I know how Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain died. I know if they left notes. I know what method they used. There are guidelines to reporting on suicides that are perfectly clear: Don’t describe it. Sharing these details, we know, is statistically dangerous.

Among the depressed — those on the front lines — war stories are allowed, encouraged. The more people who know you’re scared and tired, in theory, the more people you have on your team. Rarely do those stories leave the safety of like-minded people with the same fears. And so we all — those of us with the brains that lie to us, who can see the vignette of depression always just there — know plenty of people struggling with our same fears. But depression manifests itself differently in different people. Its symptoms are both weight gain and weight loss, sleeping all the time and not at all. It is a loss of pleasure, a slowing of the brain and the body, an absolute conviction that those around you would be better off without you. And it is hard as hell to talk about. In the wake of these deaths, more people have been writing about this struggle, talking about it, opening up. Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes admitted Saturday in an Instagram post to once having been “dangerously and actively suicidal,” and that “suicide has been an at-many-times daily part of my psychic reality.”

I’m a high-functioning depressed person, and I am not brave. For years, I hid those thoughts from everyone, kept them tucked away from even those closest to me. They were too damning to share, I felt, too terrifying. I could hide the darkness — not from myself, but from everyone else — behind good grades and hard work and productivity. It feels easier, safer, to be more like Kate Spade, to tell no one how extreme your feelings are. But it isn’t actually. In a statement, Spade’s husband said that she struggled with both anxiety and depression, took pills, saw doctors, fought. But still he was blindsided; her death was a “complete shock.” 

Mental health remains stigmatized: To take an antidepressant is still, in some perceptions, an undeniable weakness; to see a therapist means that you must be broken. We are getting better at admitting that people have depression; we are even trying as a society to talk more about it. But suicide? Suicide seems, in the court of public opinion, like another level of mental illness, something beyond depression. But it’s not. The darkness can arrive at any moment. Ready or not.

These deaths are devastating. They are not romantic. They are brutal and terrible and so, so sad. Suicide is no one’s first choice. Suicide is an act a person commits because they feel they have no other option, because they feel — as David Foster Wallace so eloquently put it — like a person who jumps from the window of a burning building: “It’s not desiring the fall; it’s the terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk looking up yelling, ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’ can understand the jump. Not really.” Suicidal thoughts only make sense if you’ve at one point opened the front door of your consciousness to find them on the doorstep already pushing their way in.

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As Chris Gethard says in his HBO comedy special Career Suicideabout his lifelong battle with clinical mental illness, “Sometimes people just break.” It seems like more and more people are breaking, and not only artists or famous people or the rich. Depression does not discriminate. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that one of the action steps in preventing suicide is simply to talk openly and honestly about it. Not to debate its ethics, but to check in on people you love, even if they seem fine, explicitly about suicidal thoughts.

The hardest part for me about Scott Hutchinson’s loss, about Kate Spade’s loss, and Anthony Bourdain’s loss, is that we know they were fighting. Hutchison was even brave enough to talk about it publicly. He knew he was depressed, and he told us. He was vulnerable, and open, and he still failed. He found art that could mend him, and friends who could support him. He made mistakes, of course, but he was relatable. He lost a battle so many people are fighting. What happens if you fight like hell and still lose? You can know everything, be doing everything, and it might not be enough.

Perhaps the most important, most constructive thing we can do is continue to speak openly and honestly about the battles we are fighting; to listen, as Scott did, to each others’ stories and fears. Depression did not deserve to take any of these people. And it does not deserve to take you.

 

If you or someone you love is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It is free, operates 24-7, and provides confidential support for people in crisis.

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Soundgarden

In the ’90s, no grunge band played heavier, shrieked louder or spaced out quite like Soundgarden. Now that they’ve released King Animal, the sort of “good comeback record” all reunion bands strive for, they’re back to business as usual, playing super-charged concerts full of anxious intensity and sweat (lots of sweat). Frontman Chris Cornell’s voice might not waft up to the rafters the way it did 20 years ago, but, as they proved at last year’s Irving Plaza record-release show, he and his bandmates still play the heavy, lumbering grooves that made them legends like it’s 1992.

Tue., Jan. 22, 8 p.m.; Wed., Jan. 23, 8 p.m., 2013

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Soundgarden

If AutoTuning your solo album with Timbaland doesn’t work, it’s time to return to your roots–or maybe Chris Cornell’s triumphant reorganization of Seattle grunge-via-metal heavies Soundgarden last year was wholly organic. Either way, fans of the most ultramega riff rockers of the ’90s are winning one for once. Unlike the dodgy concert disc Live on I-5 released this year, which captures lackluster performances (to put it politely) from 1996, the band has been sounding energized and usually on pitch at their recent reunion shows. Just don’t stare too deeply into guitarist Kim Thayil’s chin fleece. With prog rockers Coheed & Cambria.

Fri., July 8, 7:30 p.m., 2011

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Chris Cornell

Now that Soundgarden has reunited, we’re less likely to see frontman Chris Cornell indulging in left-field one-offs along the lines of Scream, his universally reviled 2009 collaboration with Timbaland. But will he pretend that album never happened? Find out at Town Hall, where the singer’s website promises he’ll perform songs from his entire career.

Tue., April 12, 8 p.m.; Wed., April 13, 8 p.m., 2011

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FRESH RAGE

With Dave Grohl courting Grammys, Billy Corgan squashing his own legacy, and Chris Cornell aping Justin Timberlake, Trent Reznor is looking like a mighty respectable alternative-nation ambassador nowadays. Free from the major-label slaughterhouse, the doomy hothead is riding an Internet-fueled creative crest that includes meandering instrumental wank sessions (Ghosts I-IV) and brutal signs of fresh rage (The Slip). Though the Nine Inch Nails sound hasn’t progressed much since H.W. swore in back in 1989, Reznor’s wonky attitude toward technology, distribution schemes, and Chinese Olympics–style opening-ceremony LED blind-sides lend his enterprise a winning illusion of evolution. Reznor gets older, but his angst stays the same age.

Wed., Aug. 27, 7:30 p.m., 2008

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Probably Not

At the end of the day Audioslave are simply a bore. Predictable, pedestrian, pro forma. Less than the sum of their parts, the album and the band don’t even amount to an interesting failure, because the known quantities do what they have always done only this time in tandem—Chris Cornell howls and croons; the Rage cats trot out their Zep and Jimi riffs laced with Tom Morello’s turntablist guitar moves. It might have been more enthralling had Cornell induced the band to come to him for alternate tunings, odd time signatures, and general harmonic, melodic and rhythmic sophistication, and also if he had taken a look out the post-9-11 window for lyric inspiration. Maybe, maybe not.

Unlike funk, rock is not its own reward. Unlike hiphop, it lacks a built-in sociocultural-tribal context to lend even mediocre acts meaning. Rock matters when it matters because folk are driven to create their own context, and their own engaging forms of exorcism, catharsis, confession, and martyrdom. In Audioslave, nothing is on the line other than perhaps the principals’ impending sense of mass irrelevance, pretty much the norm for rock in mass culture these days. Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden were exceptional rock bands for different reasons—Soundgarden for their high-poetic use of punk ferocity, Cornell’s pipes, and tossed-off musicianly sleight-of-hand, Rage for Zach De La Rocha. The Mexican insurgent provided the requisite outsider rage as Morello provided the double-entendre against-the-machine theory, directed both at the state and at his generation’s electric guitar(s), the turntable and the sampler.

De La Rocha, less successful in transfiguring his hiphop dreams, was a failed rapper like Mick Jagger was a failed soul singer, and out of that failure came something that rocked profoundly—more so onstage, where his implacable dervish provided the berserker quotient all great rock bands need to justify their existence. His lyrics could be more didactic than Chuck D on a lazy day, but his fervent way with them made Rage matter beyond the moshpit. Love ’em or lump ’em, they left a major socio-subcultural hole as the only multicultural (Black, Mexican, Anglo) modern rock band that had the ear of the young white masses, the ardor of MTV, and the attention of progressive African American hiphop/rock heads like this writer’s vicious circle. (Soundgarden was also multicultural on the down low—Native American, South Asian, and at one point Japanese—but suitably assimilated and too bohemian at heart to make hay out of it.) It’s worth noting that on Rage’s last album, The Battle of Los Angeles, De La Rocha whispered and nearly crooned. You figured maybe on the next one he might even sing something resembling a pentatonic melody. Instead he went off to do a hiphop album that’s now, what, five years in the making?

On Letterman with the ex-Ragers recently, Cornell looked as if he’d have rather had a V-8—absolutely tired of himself, more than of the band per se. There was something of a “What am I doing here?” look on his face, which was understandable considering where he’d come from. If go you by the number of times it’s rotated in my Walkmen, Soundgarden’s Superunknown was my favorite hard rock album of the past 10 years. One album later they bowed out so gracefully that their disbanding was like their last great song. Rage, on the other hand, came apart at the seams as young, successful, ambitious, tension-filled bands will when there’s no love lost among them, or when the frontperson up and quits, or both.

‘Taint hard to find irony in the most left-wing banner-flying band of the ’90s breaking up before 9-11 and the passage of Asshcroft’s anti-Bill of Rights wet dream, the Patriot Act. How far Rage might push the fuck-tha-police envelope in these muted protest times is a fascinating question to ponder. Audioslave fails foremost because the songs lack that elusive frisson thing that invokes surrender and delirium, but they also fail to make their joining of two great fallen houses matter more than the phone call that got them in a room together. Henri Cartier-Bresson said the difference between a great photo and a mediocre one is a fraction of a second. The difference in rock and roll terms is between having a great idea for a song and actually writing an anthem. Listening to this album becomes drudgery as you track through it—mostly because too many things sound the same and those that don’t, mostly ballad things, appear as not quite spirit and not quite flesh. It’s as if some pathetic half-formed golem were still being laboriously stirred to life.

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Turkey Shoot

It’s barf time once again at rock’s big table, and I’ve got a question for the ipecac people. Do all the indie labels in the binge-and-purge below reflect alt’s compromised preparation standards? Or has the biz gotten so disgusting there’s no place else to eat?

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

Grow Fins: Rarities (1965-1982)

(Revenant)

If you have any doubts about needing this handsome $94-list package, you don’t. If you’re moved to ask pop-friendly me, you don’t. Every CD box is larded with marginalia, but the good folks at Revenant—who last year reckoned Charlie Feathers cut 42 “essential” tracks between 1954 and 1969—live for it. They believe consumers should share the thrill of digging through the crates, palpitating as the voice of genius emanates from a dusty reel of tape. So instead of winnowing out an hour or so of lost songs, jelled jams, and unjust outtakes, they throw in a 13-minute CD of dim studio chatter, a minute of Don Van Vliet playing the harmonica over the telephone, etc. Take it from pop-friendly me—if you’ve spent more time with the Captain’s free sessions than with Ornette Coleman’s, you need to get your priorities in order. C PLUS

Chris Cornell

Euphoria Morning

(A&M)

For years Cornell struggled to claim the class rage and overgrown-adolescent angst that is every metalman’s birthright—only in Soundgarden’s last years did he find the macho muscle to fully inhabit that role. Now, as if to prove he’s perpetually dissatisfied, he sets his solo sights on the manly empathy and world-weary remorse of the big-rock balladeer. Here’s hoping he never gets there. C PLUS

Creed

Human Clay

(Wind-Up)

In the year rock died again, what should come storming back but metal—d/b/a “hard” or “loud” rock and, as Syracuse demonstrated, uglier than ever. Yet these God-fearing grunge babies sound falser than rape-inciting Limp Bizkit, abuse-tripping Static-X, party animals Buckcherry, or even world-dance Days of the New. Because their songs address universals, they don’t debase women, a plus. But their spirituality is as sodden as their sonics. I mean, it’s not as if familial oppression isn’t real. It’s the main thing that turns the hard and loud into truth-seekers and revenge-seekers both. So after years of Marilyn Manson lies, young bands seem to have found a psychic space where such themes open up the musical imagination. By contrast, these guys are still in denial, bellowing regressive circumlocutions to drown out the truth inside. Which is what? Maybe lust. C

Lee Hazlewood

Cowboy in Sweden

(Smells Like)

Hazlewood is an “interesting” figure, always was. A natural hipster, in the biz but not of it, pop and rock and country and just plain weird—Duane Eddy, Nancy Sinatra, and Gram Parsons is quite a trifecta. Problem is he’snever been all that good. There’s a nice best-of hiding in his collected works, including the new standards collection. But his vogue transcends crass track-by-track quality controls, combining the usual convolutional one-upsmanship, a visceral distaste for roots-rock’s sonic canon, and a generation of aging slackers’ discovery that doing bizness needn’t deaden your mind or rot your soul. If slick blues licks make you sick, Hazlewood’s studio hacks and string-section dreck will be some kind of change. If you like Nancy Sinatra almost as much as Karen Carpenter, thin-piped Nina Lizell will clean away enough Janis-and-Bonnie grit. If you doubt all shows of soul, the flaccid sentimentality of “Easy and Me” will be one more trope as far as you’re concerned. But without opening a book I can recall half a dozen unreissued singer-songwriter albums that do more with their varied conventions than this Europe-only 1970 rarity—by Thomas Jefferson Kaye, Nolan Porter, Marc Benno, Hirth Martinez, Alice Stuart, Mississippi Charles Bevel. And I shudder to think of the unreasonable claims to be made when their time comes around again. B MINUS

Jamiroquai

Synkronized

(Work)

Hoping to prepare for future outbreaks of rhythm pap by discovering what put these London clotheshorses over, I found but two clues: acid jazz and Heatwave. Both of these apply only in Britannia. How the band secured its Grammy I defy Fredric Dannen to determine. C MINUS

Lenny Kravitz

5

(Virgin)

His racially convoluted formalism having long since come clean as a total absence of original ideas, he grabs the brass ring from the back of a tacked-on Guess Who cover best heard on the far more imaginative Austin Powers soundtrack. Lenny, your work here on earth is done. We’ve got Derek Jeter now. C

Les Nubians

Princesses Nubians

(OmTown)

Certainly not “Nubian.” Biology not being destiny, not “Cameroonian” either. “Princesses” metaphorically if at all. Not “Miriam Makeba meets Wyclef Jean” or any half of same. “Soul II Soul meets Zap Mama” a smidgen. “Sisters” if they say so, “soul” if the “5th Annual Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards” says so. “French” definitely, “hip-hop” forget about it. Coverers of Sade with rhythmic spoken-word interlude indubitably. Blander than their bass lines you bet. French definitely. C PLUS

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Lit

A Place in the Sun

(RCA)

Led by two Orange County lads whose dad was a pop DJ, they like Vegas and old Cadillacs, make too much of their play on “come,” “complete,” and “completely miserable,” and serve as a dull-dull-dull reminder to anyone besotted with Blink 182 that punk in itself guaranteed nothing even in the days of the Real Kids and the Suicide Commandos. C

Ricky Martin

(C2/Columbia)

The boy-group boom is harmless-if-bad. Martin is more like bad-if-not-worse. Since he was already marked for death with Menudo, don’t be so sure his rebirth is a one-shot. But don’t make him a Latin-pride poster boy either. Slicked-up rhythm workouts and romantic pap were tokens of progress circa Xavier Cugat and Desi Arnaz. In an America where Spanish is a second language, they’re the reactionary strategems of one more crappy pop star. C

Mobb Deep

Murda Muzik

(Loud)

“Guns, money, pussy, cars, drugs, jewels, clothes, brawls, killings, buroughs, buildings, diseases, stress, the D’s.” And then: “Straight reality.” Yeah, right. B MINUS

Mogwai

Come On Die Young

(Matador)

Young Glaswegians extolled by those weary of verse-chorus-verse as “radical,” “beautiful,” and other things that would never occur to the rest of us, they mutate the forgettable mess of their debut into something altogether more deliberate and kempt—occasionally tuneful, invariably slow. Only on the oceanbound land mass where acid house was Beatlemania would anyone sit still for such earnest post-rock tripe. C

The Olivia Tremor Control

Black Foliage: Animation Music by the Olivia Tremor Control

(Flydaddy)

This division of the Elephant 6 consortium loves tunes, and its soundscaping has few equals in indiedom. When it mixes the two, the result is often kinda beautiful even though the lyrics are avowedly “not going to shed any new light on humanity,” and even though the sonics tend toward the perverse—disembodied outtake snippets, mechanical malfunctions, and tape fuckups that their hip-hop counterparts would bury in beats or declare inimical to organic life. But as the album goes on (and on), the strategy becomes not noize-toon synthesis, but weird song as reward for unpleasant sound. At its most generous, this may be the music of the young Brian Wilson’s dysfunctional dreams. But at its most pretentious it’s his bad trip. And bad trips weren’t the main reason the psychedelic worldview fell into disrepute. The main reason was that it was full of shit. B MINUS

Iggy Pop

Avenue B

(Virgin)

Unless “A masterpiece without a frame” and “I want to fuck her on the floor/Among my books of ancient lore” are jokes no one gets, the sole compliment one can pay this confessional poetry by a fiftysomething cocksman who Cannot Love is that at least he’s willing to look like a fool. But that’s been his shtick since he was bleeding himself with broken Skippy jars. Right, Ig, you’re “corrupt”—no news there. Unfortunately, blaming “the paranoia of the age” and bitching “I gave em every part of me” is also corrupt. Plus one more thing: Until you learn to sing a little better, maybe you’d better say goodbye to Medeski Martin and Wood and put in a call to the Sales brothers. C

Professor Griff

Blood of the Profit

(Lethal)

Begins with indisputable documentary evidence that race-mixing is a Communist Party plot. Gets worse. D

Virginia Rodrigues

Sol Negro

(Hannibal)

Notes by Caetano Veloso, who’s clearly stunned at the ability of the daughter of a street vendor to evoke “operas, masses, lieder, and spirituals,” a response shared by many Lusophiles and every fan of the Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir who’s in on the story. The rest of us will be stupefied that such a “celestial” voice can exist at all. She never stretches her rich, Ella-like highs into a scat—though the few midtempo numbers have a nice jazzy lilt (dig that berimbau), her instincts are exceedingly solemn. Veloso is Veloso, which means he “transcends the distinction between erudite and popular” far more vividly than he thinks Rodrigues does. High middlebrows Djavan and Milton Nascimento don’t, and their cameos give the game away. B MINUS

Shedaisy

The Whole Shebang

(Lyric Street)

Here’s something you don’t know how much you don’t need—Dixie Chicks imitators. I do, because I also played the Lace album. The best-selling Osborn sisters have more jam. But although they swear they “won’t wear stiletto heels” (unlike all those hussies at the Wal-Mart?), they definitely make nicer to men than Dolly and Loretta if not Tammy and Reba. Nothing in “Still Holding Out for You,” cowritten by none other than Richard Marx, suggests that smart sister Kristyn wouldn’t dress like a slut to get him back. Somebody send that lovelorn lass a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. C PLUS

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Sixpence None The Richer

(Squint Entertainment)

If you hold your breath and are very good, maybe “Kiss Me” will prove a fluke even though it’s been the most durable single of 1999—in the end, only the innocent invitation to making out a deserving teen subdemographic craved. But don’t tell yourself stories about biz or fundamentalist plots. Christians not proselytizers, they’re an indie-rock success story who come by their limpid sound more organically than the Sundays or the Innocence Mission, both of whom they sincerely admire. Leigh Nash’s clear little voice, like a young Natalie Merchant without the neurotic undertow? Her own. Matt Slocum’s classed-up minor-key arrangements, like an acoustic Radiohead without the existential foofaraw? His own. They hope to create pretty, well-meaning stuff like this in perpetuity, for the sheer joy of it. Which means they could be nauseating urban skeptics for years. C PLUS

Rick Wakeman

The Art in Music Trilogy

(Music Fusion import)

You thought he’d died and gone to his reward, and so did the All-Music Guide, where his timeline ends in the ’80s. But his discography tells a different tale: easily the most prolific “rock” artist of the ’90s, manufacturing “instrumental new world ambient music” and God knows what else at a staggering clip. Night Airs, Aspirant Sunrise, Aspirant Sunset, Black Knights in the Court of Ferdinand IV, Phantom Power, Softsword: King John and the Magna Charter [sic], A World of Wisdom, and 2000 A.D. Into the Future get us only to the end of 1991, and he’s kept it up—by my count, 35 albums in the decade, including this recent set, all three discs of which I swear I listened to while awake. Suffused with the twixt-strings-and-keyboard echoes that are the special curse of synthesizers on today’s auriculum, these brief pieces favor harpsichord over piano and will dabble in anything a synth can, including drums and voices. The first disc, “The Sculptor,” is the most soporific, which isn’t a dis—”The Writer” gave me insomnia, and not because I blamed myself. D