Reflecting on The Rolling Stones: ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ and ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’

Famous songs lose their context and impact when you grow up with them. You enjoy a great rhythm and learn to sing along without hearing the words. And sometimes when you do hear them, you hear the wrong parts too loud.

I was vibing with the lyric ‘What a drag it is getting old’ this morning and it made me dig out ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ and listen to it again:

‘Mother’s Little Helper’ official lyric video on YouTube

I know this song well and have long thought it was an interesting critique of the misogynistic culture 1950s and 60s housewives endured; worn out, unappreciated, and bored, relying on early prescription anti-depressants that were addictive and harmful. Not the take you expect from a bunch of young men living the life of rock stars.

Most are in a hurry to point out that the Stones are underlining the hypocrisy of middle class family values critiquing drugs in youth culture, but there are a lot of barbed lines specifically aimed at the misogyny and showing a lot of empathy for the women themselves:

“Men just aren’t the same today”
I hear every mother say
“They just don’t appreciate that you get tired”
They’re so hard to satisfy
You can tranquilize your mind…

And four help you through the night
Help to minimize your plight…

The song describes a woman or women heading for a complete breakdown and being offered drugs instead of help. The men don’t appreciate how much they do ‘that you get tired’, the experience of women is recognised as a ‘plight’ that’s being minimised.

The jaunty, off-kilter riff makes this sound like an upbeat song despite the minor key – it distracts from the fact that this song is actually quite empathetic and alarming (much like the tranquilisers alluded to as ‘mothers little helpers’.

All of this, I was pretty familiar with. What changed listening to it today was that rather than considering it a historical artefact – grounded in the situation of a housewife, a very alien concept to me – I related to it.

It’s not just that I myself am getting older, and seeing the big Four-Oh approaching. It’s that the anti-depressants I rely on to function are not masking the horrors of the life I am struggling to live in.

Anti-depressants have come a long way. I have unironically described the Duloxetine I’m currently on as a ‘Wonder Drug’. It does powerful good at controlling my anxiety without making me feel sedated. Depression and anxiety are the things that are altering my mind. the SNRI I take restores balance. Or attempts to.

And unlike what the song says, this is a genuine illness. I have an imbalance in my chemicals (amplified by trauma) that needs correcting.

But there’s no denying it, the situation I’m in is fucked. I do not think I would need the drugs I’m taking if I wasn’t frequently required to keep working through intollerable things.

For the mid-century housewife, misogyny and rigid gender division of labour, which devalued women’s labour, was the biggest cause. For me, an ableist, capitalistic hellscape fraught with growing fascism and transphobia is front and centre. But the two things aren’t that different. Both are rooted in binary gender essentialism and capitalist economic tyranny.

These are real problems. A real plight for which no one is offering tangible, practical help. So I need to take medication, because the heightened level of anxiety about real problems on top of my existing trauma, has just gone on too long.

The drugs in this case aren’t bad, but they’re not the long-term solution I need. In a more just society, I wouldn’t need them.

Which brings me to my second Rolling Stones song, which YouTube helpfully pointed me at after I listened to the other:

‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’.

This lyric hit a little harder, and rang a little truer than it had in previous listenings:

And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, we’re gonna vent our frustration
If we don’t, we’re going to blow a 50-amp fuse

I am so full of frustration – the ableism and transphobia are so overwhelming right now. Hell YES I feel like I’m gonna blow a 50-amp fuse.

Only there’s nothing like the demonstrations of the 50s and 60s, and I’d be too sick to go to them if they were any.

I want to RIOT but I can’t.

I also realised that over the last few years I’ve been misreading this lyric.:

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime
You just might find
You get what you need

I thought it was putting ‘you’ down for wanting things (‘I want doesn’t get’) and what you ‘need’ might be a slap in the face. The sort of thing a parent tells you to get you to shut up. I was not a fan of that.

But listening to the rest of the lyrics – especially the protest verse… It’s not saying to *stop* asking for what you want. It’s saying you have to keep trying to get what you want. You have to ask over and over, even if it means not getting what you want over and over. Because if you don’t ask, you never get what you need.

Sometimes you don’t get everything you ask for, but you still get something.

We have to get better at standing up and asking. And we have to keep standing up for each other. Because it’s hard to keep speaking up and getting your ‘fair share of abuse’.

It gave me another view of the protests I’ve been too. Especially the last one (against Trump’s visit to the UK). It was depressingly small. A police officer made me censor my sign to be more polite under threat of arrest. A fascist infiltrated our tiny protest and the other protesters had to use their signs to cover his. I ended up getting too tired and had to go home early.

It was not exactly an uplifting experience.

But like Mick says, when it’s important, protests aren’t great, validating experiences. They’re running up against a dominant culture that SUCKS. You’ll get abused for going, and most of the time you won’t get what you want out of it. But you have to keep showing up.

You have to keep showing up and asking for what you want, or you’re never gonna get what you need.

So thanks, Mick. Things are pretty shit right now, and the utter apathy of the vast majority of people about the issues that are absolutely essential to me… it’s gutting. And I can’t afford to keep pushing myself if I’m the only one doing it. But I guess what I get from this is that even when it feels like you’re just volunteering to get beaten up over and over again, continuing to show up matters. Even if it’s just writing on a blog post or a committee that never seems to achieve change.

Sometimes you achieve change. Sometimes you’re an inert object that stops bad change from happening. Sometimes you’re just an irritant that slows the tank of capitalism down as it rolls over you.

You can’t always get what you want. But sometimes, you get just enough of what you need for it to matter.

We get more of what we need when we show up together.

I’m going to continue showing up in the shitty situations where I don’t get what I want and mostly don’t get what I need. But if you show up with me we’ll get what we need a little bit more often.

Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse, No. 6: Eve of Destruction, by Barry McGuire

Content note: there is no official video of ‘Eve of Destruction’, as it was written in 1965. The most popular video on YouTube for it is featured below, but please note that it contains numerous distressing and graphic images from warfare.

As an alternative, I have also included a fanmade video that mixes up the Barry McGuire version with a version performed by the character Larry Underwood in The Stand – the mini-series. I discuss both versions below.

Barry McGuire version:

The Stand fanmix:

‘The Eve of Destruction’ is a powerful protest song written by P F Sloan in 1965 and most famously performed by Barry McGuire. Under the threat of atomic warfare, with American youth drafted into the war in Vietnam, and with the unrest of the civil rights movement responding to racial violence, this song was written for a time of turmoil and pain. McGuire reportedly recorded  this most famous iteration in one sitting, and the building bile, anger, and disgust in his tone speaks to an immediacy of emotion that evokes a visceral reaction in the listener.

The lyrics tie the song to specific events of the time. ‘You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin” speaks to the draft for the Vietnam War. ‘Even the Jordan river has bodies floating’ speaks to the conflict in the Middle-East. Lyrics such as ‘marches alone can’t bring integration’ and ‘Think of all the hate there is in Red China/Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama’ refer to both the Selma Voting Rights Movement marches and the violent response to them, especially by police (as well as to the ideological tensions between a capitalist USA and Communist China). The narrator of the song calls attention to the hypocrisy of white, middle-class America maintaining a pretense of normalcy in the face of such tumultuous times:

You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace

It’s a call to action and a call to awareness. It’s tempting to see the reference to the ‘Eve of destruction’ as a metaphor, likening events to apocalypse times, but I feel that ignores the very real fears laid starkly bare in the song. The atom bomb is real. The threat of conflict with China is real. The war in Vietnam is real. The racial violence in America is real. There is a wealth of truth and pain hidden under words like ‘racial tensions’, which can be used to sanitise very real violence, dissuade real action. There is a temptation amongst comfortable classes to handwring in the face of such events and say ‘What can we do?’, hoping it will go away, which is reflected in lyrics such as:

Yeah, my blood’s so mad feels like coagulatin’
I’m sitting here just contemplatin’
I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation.
Handful of senators don’t pass legislation
And marches alone can’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin’
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’

(emphasis mine)

Expressing distress and then going  back to living your life doesn’t change laws. The (literally) visceral simile ‘my blood’s so mad feels like coagulatin” stands in stark contrast to the lack of action of those in power referenced later in the verse. And it’s a challenge to this listener. It takes familiar metaphors like ‘blood boiling’ and uses a less sanitised description to force a confrontation with how accustomed we have become to injustice. To say your blood is boiling isn’t enough. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. Whilst at the same time the narrator rages at his own hypocrisy – he’s just sitting here contemplating whilst the world disintegrates. The song’s building pace of anger hits a wall of lack of resolution that drives the listener directly to the stalling frustration the song describes.

How can we not literally be on the eve of destruction when so much is wrong and there are no solutions?

[How can you] tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction

One of the most powerful and frustrating aspects of the song is its continued relevance. The lyrics tie directly to specific events happening right then in 1965. It is galling to find them still so relevant now.

This year sees the release of Selma, the film that deals with the events referenced in this song. And the film finds itself relevant not simply as an echo of the events of the 60s – the US has again been torn by racially motivated violence, police brutality, and nationwide protest. Whose blood does not boil in this, black history month, to find that a town named ‘Ferguson’ has become synonymous with protest and brutality, just as a town named ‘Selma’ was fifty years ago?

Whose gut does not sink as ISIS rises as a response to intervention by the US and its allies in an unjust war? Who does not look to Russia’s expansionist efforts with concern?

How are we back here again?

Are we not on the eve of destruction?

I enjoy apocalyptic music. I enjoy apocalyptic fiction. But there are two sides to that enjoyment. One is an escapist fantasy – wipe the world away with all its wrongs and leave me in peace. One is the tapping into very real worries, fears, angers. It can sometimes feel as though the first side is a cheap cashing in on the second. There is so much real pain and anguish and destruction in this world, how could one selfishly fantasise about more?

I first met this song not as a protest song, but in its cameo appearance in The Stand, the mini-series based on the Stephen King book, featured above. Larry Underwood is shown singing the song whilst perched on a broken down car in a traffic jam caused by people who died of the plague as they attempted to flee the city. Behind him, Des Moines burns. He is a man who was a successful musician before the apocalypse, and his success came from cultural appropriation of ‘brown sound’ – African American music and culture. Yet he had been unhappy in his success; there is an extent to which he is freed by this disaster. This formerly somewhat slimy individual will go on to become a hero.

As a teenager I loved this novel and the mini-series adaptation intensely. But as an adult I do recognise its issues. Women support men who go off to war. They take care of and tolerate the men who try to claim them sexually. A magical black woman, Mother Abigail*, enables four white men to go off and save the world. And the ‘saving’ is a rebuilding of the old structures, presented as good, in opposition to the satanic figure of Randall Flagg and his vision of sin and sexual freedom.

The fiction we love can be problematic sometimes. And sometimes the reason we love a thing can be as problematic as they are important to us. Sometimes we can desire destruction in our distress at current pains. Can apocalyptic fiction, art, and music be problematic? Yes. But I think part of its appeal is in the confrontation of our own conflicting desires. I don’t wish anyone dead, but sometimes I wish the rest of the world could be made to go away. Especially when it is hard and painful and its problems irresolvable.

‘Eve of Destruction’, by Barry McGuire is available from Amazon and iTunes.

Listen to the full apocalyptic playlist on YouTube – new songs added every Tuesday lunchtime (ish).

Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse, No. 5: Don’t Fear the Reaper, by Blue Öyster Cult

This one is an apocalypse classic. Whilst not strictly mentioning the end of the world, the spirit of racing against death, laughing in the face of death, is strong with this one. It is perfectly suited to the idea of living life to the full in a dying world, its minor key and memorable uneasy riffs conveying the sense of bitter sweet abandon – fear and rush.

Which is no doubt why it was chosen for the opening of the cult classic mini-series adaptation of Stpehen King‘s The Stand. After a deadly super-flu, Captain Tripps, is accidentally released from a top secret research facility, ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ plays as we scan over the bodies of scientists, children, and guards, and we know: the race against death has begun.

I was a teenager when I first heard that song whilst watching these opening titles. I had recently read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower* and was on a real King fix. And the apocalypse? That had always been my bag, but not least for a lonely girl who wished, as many a lonely girl had before her, that the rest of the world might just be swept away. A mercurial mix.

I still get chills listening to this. It makes you want to be the one who doesn’t fear the Reaper, who takes someone’s hand and runs away to live in the moment whilst the rest of the world goes to hell.

Don’t fear the Reaper, dear readers. Listen to his music instead.

‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ is by Blue Öyster Cult, and it’s available for download from Amazon and from iTunes.

Listen to the full apocalyptic playlist on YouTube – new songs added every Tuesday luntime (ish).

*The first three novels of, that is. They were all that existed at the time.

Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse, No. 4: Four Minute Warning, by Mark Owen

Aaaand we’re back, following Christmas and unexpected financial difficulties and an exciting new virus that gave me labyrinthitus for added shiggles! Sorry you’ve been without your soundtrack to the apocalypse for such a long time. But fear not, we’re coming back with one of my favourites: ‘Four Minute Warning‘, by Mark Owen.

This was an unexpected single from the former Take That member; a bit more of a rock edge, with both dark and satirical undertones, this song surprised me and, I think, never really got the attention it deserved.

The title ‘Four Minute Warning’ references the public alert system in place in the UK during the Cold War to give a four minute warning of nuclear attack. Although the system was no longer in use by the time of the song’s release (2003) it’s still a powerful cultural artifact, raising the evocative question explored in the song:

Everybody wants to know,
What should we do?

Regardless of whether the nuclear warning system is still in use, the question remains: given that any warning of nuclear attack could only give you a few short minutes, what would you do? What could you do that would be worthwhile?

Throughout the song we see glimpses of people’s lives: Sasha, the dude who spouts nonsense in a cafe; Polly, a girl with ambitions for a music career that can now never be realised; Lucy, who’s had a hard time with love, but who’s going to go out living in the moment and making it the right time; Michael, just a dude in a pub, filling time and talking to strangers to feel less lonely.

It asks questions: has Sasha wasted his time? How can it be fair to snatch away Polly’s life when it shows such promise? Should Lucy have learnt to live in the moment before? (And, given that she’s doing what most people say they’d do if they got the four minute warning, how quickly can she actually get off, and is that really worth it?) Will Michael be alone when he dies? Is that OK?

The song counts down with each verse: ‘Four minutes left to go’, ‘Three minutes left to go’, ‘Two minutes left to go’… each verse adding to the sense of tension, of time running out, and towards the realisation that if you only had four minutes left to live you’d probably spend them panicking about what you should do with your last four minutes:

Cry, laugh, feel love, peace, panic,
These are your four minutes,
(I’m counting you down, four minutes of sound,
It’s always a rush when you’re around)

The final story is one of me,
Who with four minutes left has used up three,
I think of you, I think of me,
Then I think of nothing, it’s the end you see, yeah!

Like so many apocalyptic works, the song is bringing us to a confrontation with the starkness of existence: it doesn’t matter what you do with your last four minutes. None of it is going to change the fact that after that you’ll be dead and not feeling anything at all after that. ‘Cry, laugh, feel love, peace, panic’ – none of it matters. It will all be over – at the end we all ‘think of nothing’. The narrator ends the song singing ‘I’m fading away’, reflecting the destruction of meaning and sense of self in the confrontation of brute existence. And yet the exit has tones of the joyous – of soaring escape, freedom, wry amusement at fate.

If you’ve read/listened to/watched my Existentialism and the Terminator, you’ll know I have a habit of reading existentialist thought like the above into apocalyptic media, but I genuinely think it’s a recurrent theme in the works themselves. This shouldn’t be surprising, given the rise of existentialism in the aftermath of the Second World War and the atom bomb. Confrontation with both one’s own and civilization’s mortality is a confrontation with the end of everything that generates meaning in our lives as we know it. The existentialist thought that existence has no meaning beyond that which is assigned by people both draws and repells us. Gives us both a sense that we can sweep away the impositions of society and unease at our own demise.

And if anyone thinks I’m reading too much into a pop song, all I can say is that I think you’ve misunderstood music and criticism both. The writer and composer may or may not have explicitly thought through these implications, but even if they didn’t, they understood how combining such and such elements (a lyrical count down, short snippets of people’s lives, intimating that at the end there is nothing) would produce an aesthetically effective result. And when I come along and apply my analysis I’m seeking to explain the effect on my own feelings, and, I hope, the feelings of others.

Nothing is ever ‘just a pop song’, but I do think that this one is particularly good. Especially if you’re a fan of the apocalypse.

You can buy ‘Four Minute Warning’ from Amazon and iTunes.

Listen to the full apocalyptic playlist on YouTube – new songs added every week (ish).

Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse, No. 3: It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

It’s way too early in the apocalypse to get maudlin. Keeping it up beat with REM, ‘It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’ launches us into the abyss with abandon.

How does the world end? Earthquake, hurricane, fire, a government for hire, low flying planes, overpopulation, the Rapture – you name it, this apocalypse has got it. The pounding stream of consciousness lyrics that release into the slower refrain of the title perhaps capture the appeal of the apocalypse to the modern consciousness – that the hecticness and relentless slog of life in an uncertain world, attacked from all sides, is something we fanatise about being released from. However civilisation collapses, if you can come out on the other side freed of civilised burdens, maybe you’d be just fine.

You can get ‘It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’ from Amazon and iTunes. It’s also on the Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse playlist on YouTube.

P.S. watch out for the Christmas Music for the Apocalypse count down starting tomorrow!

Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse, No. 2: The Zombie Song

This Tuesday lunchtime I won’t be eating your brain, even if I’m a zombie.

‘The Zombie Song’, from Stephanie Mabey’s Wake Up Dreaming album is maybe the most joyful song about the apocalypse every written. The protagonist declares that her love is so strong it would carry on even if she were a zombie and the catchy refrain ‘If I were a zombie, I’d never eat your brain’ is possibly the most original way of declaring love I’ve ever heard. This quirky, upbeat song can’t help but bring a smile to the face of even the most world-weary survivor.

I particularly enjoy that this song casts the woman as the monster and the one in pursuit of the man. Women are so often placed on pedastals and even displaced as agents in our own narratives, but this woman, even in the position of a typically agentless shambling zombie, is a gleefully active participant pursuing the object of her affections. Her personal beauty is of no significance – the implication that she only has one eye (picked up on in the video) is expressive of the fact that this is not a cleaned up zombie – she is the monster.

Hunger and Desire Demons from Dragon Age

Hunger and Desire Demons from Dragon Age

In mainstream media women are forced into sexualised ideals that please the heterosexual male gaze even at their most monstrous. Contrast the female Desire Demon from Dragon Age with her male Hunger Demon counterpart (where are the male Desire Demons? the female Hunger, Rage, and Sloth Demons?).

As a woman geek and apocalypse junkie, there’s a real pleasure in listening to a song that turns gender expectations on its head whilst also celebrating the genre I love. And I know that this song could bring a smile to my face  no matter how bad things got.

Keeping it upbeat, ‘The Zombie Song’ is number two on our Apocalypse playlist.

You can buy Stephanie Mabey’s album, Wake Up Dreaming from her website for just $10. The rest of the album is also amazeballs, and I reviewed it here.

Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse, No. 1: We Are Not Going to Make It

It’s Tuesday lunchtime, but it feels like the end of the world, and this is the song to go out to.

‘We’re Not Going to Make It’, by The Presidents of the United States of America is a little known track off their  debut album, The Presidents of the United States of America. The album is better known for songs like ‘Lump‘ (inspired by composer Chris Ballew‘s benign brain tumour and a vision he had of a swamp woman) and ‘Peaches‘ (which may either be a critique of borgious capitalism, or it may be about sex, or maybe just a man who really likes peaches).

In keeping with the band’s irreverent style, ‘We’re Not Going to Make It’ is ostensibly about the band’s own failings, individually, as a band, and even within the song itself. But it’s impossible not to be swept up with the joyful embracement of failure and feel it as your own, and as society’s collectively. If we really do screw the pooch on the world, this is the song I want to go out listening to.

Buy from Amazon.

Background to Rhube’s Music for the Apocalypse

A few years ago I was involved in an awesome project called the Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse, which was the brainchild of Adele Wearing (@Hagelrat on Twitter and Aunty Fox of Fox Spirit Books). It was basically a group blog on the theme of survival advice for girls in the apocalypse that we all know to be nigh. I’ve talked about why this was an awesome thing to do in the interview we did with Pornokitsch in 2012, and you should totally go read that if you’d like to know more.

As a part of the project, I started an article series on Music for the Apocalypse – ‘songs to kill zombies, fight robots, and outlast the plague to’. Once a week I (and sometimes other people) put up a new song with reasons why it should make your apocalypse playlist. It was a lot of fun, as most things GGSA were, and I’m sad it petered out. But it was also something I threw together in my lunch hour, week to week, in no particular order. So, I’m relaunching it.

I’m relaunching it with a view to creating a more cohesive playlist. There will be a lot of the same songs, but not in the same order, or with the same commentaries. And week by week I’ll also be building a playlist on YouTube. Where possible, there will also be links to where you can buy the songs. If you have an apocalypse song, or know one that’s not on the list yet, please do tell me about it in the comments 🙂

Review: Wake Up Dreaming, by Stephanie Mabey

Album cover for Wake Up Dreaming, by Stephanie Mabey

Album cover for Wake Up Dreaming, by Stephanie Mabey

Whoooo-boy. It’s amazing how ranty people get when you like things they don’t. Or when you critique things they like. Comes with the territory, I suppose, but I’m sort of beyond busy at the moment and haven’t had a lot of time for responding to the Angry Internet, let alone writing new critical posts for them to stew over.

So here’s a little article that’s all about joy and celebration. You all need to get your ears on this album: Wake Up Dreaming, by Stephanie Mabey.

This album is just a breath of fresh air, joy, and exuberance. If you’re a geek and you love quirky, beautiful, original music, you need this album in your life.

I first encountered Stephanie Mabey’s work when Battleaxebunny posted ‘The Zombie Song‘ as part of the Music for the Apocalypse series that I started over at The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse. I have an extensive knowledge of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic music, but I’d never heard this one before. One of the great things about being involved with this series was actively looking out new songs and finding the indie creators that I’d never hear just listening to mainstream radio, but when Battleaxebunny posted this one I had barely dipped my toe in that water, and it really opened me up to the amazing stuff scrappy creators are doing independently of big business.

If you haven’t heard ‘The Zombie Song’, allow me to improve your life (complete with some really fantastic artwork from Maddy Ashton):

When I had a post-apocalypse themed birthday party last year this song was the one everybody’s ears perked up for. The catchy rhythm somehow manages to suggest the lurching movements of a zombie whilst remaining charmingly upbeat. The lyrics are witty, sweet, and dark all at once. They clearly come from a place in love with the genre and simultaneously breath new life into the undead and into love songs:

Our love story

could be kinda gory

far from boring

We’d meet at a post…


The narrator warns, perkily, instantly setting the tone – this is going to be both a love song and graphically macabre, but no part of it will be maudlin. It’s not just a pleasing juxtaposition, these first lines trip us from the clichéd, saccharin notion of a ‘love story’ to the equally cliché ridden zombie genre, highlighting how narrowly both are often viewed and how much fun can be had in mashing them together, each using the other to throw its own bounds open to new possibilities.

And, as a woman listening to a female musician with clearly geeky tastes this also confronts head on the idea that women are somehow ‘naturally’ more suited to the romance genre. ‘You think I can only write love songs because I’m a girl?’ the song seems to say, ‘Well, take this love song.’

But it’s not just a ‘I’ll show you!’ forced affair, this song is written with love for a genre whose tropes are known by the writer and held with great affection – an affection that is somehow in tune with the love that is also central to the song:

You’d be hiding in

a second floor apartment

knocking all the stairs down

to save your life…

from the undead.

Double-barrelled shotgun

taking out the slow ones

then you’d see the passion

burning in my eye

and I’d keep my head.

But beyond the interest, the quirkiness, the experimentation and juxtaposition, this song is more than anything else fun. It’s so catchy I woke up with it in my head the other day and I’ve been singing it since… and I’m not sick of it yet. It’s not the sort of catchy that comes from mindless repetition; it’s the sort of catchy that comes from a tuneful, original, easy to sing chorus set in the context of genuinely interesting and non-repetitive verses. And the chorus itself catches the attention as the singer lets out her (powerful and expressive) voice in a tone whose passion and poignancy cannot help but make one smile when applied to lyrics that say:

If I were a zombie

I’d never eat your brain!

Honestly, the whole album is worth it just for this song, but after a year of loving this one track, a friend (who had bought the album after I played her the song) persuaded me to buy the rest, and boy, it was worth it.

Mabey sets the tone for the album with the joyfully apocalyptic ‘I Pushed the Button’:

Again, it’s a love song, but the metaphors via which the narrator’s emotional state is expressed are of swinging wrecking balls, having a heart ‘shaped like mushroom clouds’, being ‘wired to delete’ and ‘disassembling‘. We’ve all heard a million songs about people who sabotage their romantic relationships and self-destruct, but rarely is the familiar state of mind conveyed via such distinctively geeky reference points. It’s delightful, and the fairground quality of the melody perfectly chimes with the sense of someone who is queesily out of control in a Waltzer, (rather than the conventional rollercoaster) of highs and lows and unpredictable turns. This song is coming at a familiar idea about love from a new angle, finding extra nuance along the way, and laying out Mabey’s geek credentials up front.

And it’s not the only fairground-themed song. Track number 7 (far enough into the album to avoid overdosing on the fairground) ‘The Main Attraction‘ tackles directly the link between the modern meaning of the word ‘geek’ and its origin as a term for sideshow ‘freaks’ – ostracised by society in a way analogous to what most of us with geeky tendencies (especially women, who tend to be shunned both by the mainstream and by male geeks) grew up experiencing. In identifying herself with the ‘bearded lady’, Mabey reminds us, again, of the special pressure on women with regard to appearance. There’s something intriguing about using an identification with outsiders as a way of expressing to fellow geeks that she’s ‘one of us’, and theme of the song draws out the special comfort of finding solace in one who loves you because you are different in the same way as they are:

None of your friends

comprehend why we’re both so happy

Your parents just think

we’re a couple of freaks

Solidarity in exclusion really means something. And isn’t there something universal in that, too? We all want to feel different because our individuality makes us special, but equally we want to find someone who shared all the special things that make us different. And love is like that: that contradiction – needing someone to be like you in the ways that make you unique, unusual, different.

The title song, ‘Wake Up Dreaming‘, could sit respectably on any number of pop or rock albums:

And he can’t shake the feeling

that this whole world’s asleep

He’s full of vision no one else can see

Granted, the song’s about a wannabe comic book artist with a boring day job, but I like that it appeals to such a universal trope: to want to somehow ‘wake up’ in the dream world – the one where you’re famous, or rich, or you have the job you’ve always dreamed about – and the encouragement to keep on dreaming, that you might get there if you just hold on… And by likening the ‘day job’/dream binary to the secret identity/superhero one it’s a really clever way of exploring how geeky passions aren’t so very different from so-called ‘normal’ ones. It’s just another way of dreaming of a better life.

It’s a recurring theme throughout the album, which I guess might be why the title takes its name from this song. Some of the songs, like ‘The Zombie Song’, wear their geek card front and centre, perhaps culminating in the final song ‘The Next Level’, with 8-bit tones and lyrics which read:

I wake up, I’m pixellated

Ching, ching, collectible coins

The music gets all evil

Creepy, could this be

dun, dun, dun

The theme song for the boss

This is a song with geekery in every beat, but the overall album shifts between the geeky and more universal themes that riff on this thought of the interrelations of apparently niche passions and more generally accessible themes of what it is like to be a human.

Stephanie Mabey is a great artist with a beautiful voice turning her talent to the sort of subject matter that, if you read this blog, should be right up your alley. I can’t recommend her work enough, and she’s an indie creator, so if you give her money you’ll be doing a good thing to feed diversity in the arts.

Go here and buy her album. It’s only $10 for 11 songs, which is, like, £6.50 at the time of posting in Brit money. BARGAIN.

Relevant to my Interests: Man with Wings

As some of you will know, I’m currently writing a superhero novel. Some of those people know that its lead character is a man with wings. Others of you will have seen the background of my twitter account, which includes a copy of a painting I did four (?) years ago, of a man with wings. This is not the only piece of artwork I have done of people with wings. I like drawing wings, I like drawing people, I like the combination. Anyway, point is that this was a thing that was likely to be relevant to my interests, hopefully it is also to yours!

Sufjan Stevens, with wings

(image via @mhtoomes on Twitter)

This, I’m reliably informed, is Sufjan Stevens. Who it turns out is a rather cool musician. I would not have heard of him but for his admirable wings. Kudos to you, sir! Only too happy to spread the love and point people at this rather beautiful song of yours:

(via @Contrarah on Twitter)

We Are the Champions, My Friends…

So, I was totally planning on hacking away at the cliff-face of The Giant this evening anyway, but spurred on by my fiction publication, I decided to sit down, shut up, and get the bloody thing done.

And it is.

So, whatever else may not be going 100% awesomely, today marks a kind of a milestone. This is the longest piece of fiction that I have finished, at 23,600 words*. Maybe not that impressive to some of you multi-noveltastic people out there, but quite good for wombling old me.

I have no perspective on whether it’s a good ending, yet. It’s entirely possible I just hammered out a few thousand words of complete tosh. But that doesn’t matter tonight. What matters tonight is that I finally got from ‘It’s just got another couple of thousand words to go’ to ‘THE END’ after months of stalling.

I am finally free to get on with everything that’s unbelievably urgent in my real life my new superhero novel.

Or something.

*Not to be mistaken for my longest single work, for which the frustratingly stalled Cyborgs and Androids still holds the crown.