In 2003 I was keen to follow up my songwriting segment on Triple J’s Morning Show. There was a new team onboard and they didn’t have a lot of budget. I ended up doing a bit of work experience. I’d just moved to Sydney for a girl and was finding it all a tad overawing. To break the ice with my new city I felt like running around with a DAT recorder and using the authority of being ‘Justin from Triple J’ to create some casual, whimsical vignettes.
The Heart of the Bollocks features my original music and poetry – honed from regular appearances at Tug Dumbly’s alternative poetry night Bardfly’s at the Friend In Hand pub in Glebe. One of the punters there heard my segment and said he liked how it just washes over you.
Here is it, twenty years later – still sounding fresh i guess.
There were four in all. I will post a new one each week under this link so watch this space and subscribe to my channel, buster.
Produced by Justin Heazlewood in Sydney, 2003. Hosted by Steve Cannane. Commissioned by Kyla Slaven. Cover photo by Tammy Winter.
Contains a sample of Benito Di Fonzo’s poem “I’m frightened, and I want my money.”
My current existential crisis is a fascinating one. I feel original in my contempt for modern circumstances.
I was always on the outside, feeling like something spectacularly unusual and formidable was occurring. The parallels between my twelve year old and forty two year old selves are intriguing as well as comforting. I can handle calamity, especially the internal interference kind.
IF (and it’s a big if) there is some semblance of context or continuity to it.
Let’s say it’s a full-time job trying to make sense of my own life. My ‘predicament’ if you like. Less a lifetime than a social experiment playing out in semi-real mind-time.
(I am) So utterly alive, yet, disconnected from the safety of the social grid. A community outlier. Self-exiled sounds a little too convenient. ‘Post-romantic’ perhaps.
My early life could be divided into a youthful Romantic phase. When I believed that A led to B and that I might be participating in a rough and ready fantasy kingdom where all my toil and anguish was for a greater good. A time when there was surely something fantastic in store, just around the corner. Some brilliant future where talent and hard work would be rewarded by a wise, kind, vigilant industry.
Then, there is now. The post-romantic era.
The bit / part where I don’t believe in anything. I’m like John Lennon’s God song where he doesn’t believe in the Beatles or Dylan or God. He does, however, have a girlfriend. This is a palpable step up from me. John is an activist for love. The kind of love generated by a long-term relationship. An emotional business arrangement that makes each living, laughing day an investment in your shared future.
I am more like the Solo Man in the Solo Man ads from the 1980s. I’m kayaking down a hill for some reason. I’ve made sure to bring along my favourite can of lemon drink. I scull it passionately at the end, mugging for the universal camera that I believe still holds a vested interest in the forensic follies of my introverted outback existence.
The camera is inside my dreams.
Only last night I continued a recent trend of a dream category I would dub conversational.
The premise: I am so bereft of interactions with my own people that my subconscious has taken to synthesising realistic social situations in which I find myself nattering away about subjects of high interest and little consequence.
Last night I was on a bus with two college kids, a boy and a girl.*
* In the interests of the authors reputational dignity, I’ll omit any psychosexual anecdotes that present themselves. Suffice to say, there’s definitely an aftershock of ageing which ricochets through the lion’s share of one’s conscious fabric on a near bi-daily basis.
The boy and girl were laughing about something. The boy said “no one is called ‘bad’.”
I sprang to life.
“There is someone called ‘bad’ – the WWF wrestler Bad News Brown.” I then leant on my bank of childhood wrestling knowledge to impart the few wrestlers of colour from the ’80s. I’m thinking Koco B. Ware (who had a parrot on his shoulder), Mr T, Akeem the African Dream and Virgil (the bodyguard of ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase).
So, this dream – as weird and as cryptic and as recognisable as any other, had me simply telling these kids about this bit of trivia.
Something something. Maybe I had an erection.
Look. The point is (‘I can see your point. No, it’s just the way my trousers ruck up’ – now I’m quoting Rik Mayall from Bottom.) I’m so under stimulated intellectually and impoverished socially that sometimes I catch up with people more in my dreams than I do in real life.
Similar to how a sexual dream can offset ones frustration in a meaningful way, these ‘natter-mares’ service a submerged part of my neglected inner-self with intriguing precision. My ability to withstand social starvation is being tested on a near atomic scale. It has been this way for some time.
A perfect storm of isolation through no fault of my own.
Picture someone who is a lone wolf wrestler writer. Take a personal memoir which they have to squirrel themselves away to write. Then add a pandemic where everyone burrows down for cover. Times it by being over 40 - a phase where virtually everyone you’ve ever known or liked disappears up their tree to nest, rendering themselves emotionally unavailable.
Oh and here’s the clincher - view all of this through the lens of someone with a heightened sense of abandonment, who feels like they are watching every single person succumb to smart phone addiction at worst and socially acceptable distraction at best.
The world used to be a party. Now it’s a series of messages in baby bottles.
If you scrimp and save and wrangle an in-person catch up, you will bear witness to the eerily subtle degradation of interpersonal skills - forced to dig deep in your memory hive to recall whether there ever used to be a time when you would walk away from hangouts feeling remotely satisfied.
See, it’s not even the technology but the structure of ‘mature age’ socialising that is flawed. In the golden days of uni and being in your twenties, you would see your favourite people all the time. You were on the same bus - the magical mystery tour. There was momentum. There were dynamics; harmony.
These years, you don’t see people for months. You get one two hour catch up blast. These coffees and phone calls can feel oddly transactional. Our tired brains have to work hard to think of high quality abbreviated chunks of information about our by now, quite separate lives. Nothing really changes. None of our decisions involve the other directly.
See, back in the day, you didn’t really ‘catch up’ you ‘hung out’ - the party was happening in real-time (even if the party was the pseudo prison of high school). There is something sadly / oddly (soddly?) nostalgic about a time when you were swimming in a temperate sea of social connections.
Life was a project you worked on together.
Now? I’m f l o a t i n g i n s p a c e. It’s peaceful, sure. But a little cold. I communicate via my fishbowl helmet. Messages are delayed. Voices crackle back through static. There are atmospheres between us. The world looks small from up high.
I faintly dream that I might meet another astral surfer. Some like mind – that whole
finding-love-when-you-least-expect-it claptrap. I’m not sure how little I’m supposed to expect anything.
I daresay if my expectations fell any lower I’d be in need of medical attention.
And so, my friends, we enter into the post-romantic phase of life. I don’t overly expect anything.
I do, sort of
I have hope.
I just don’t pretend to cover up how angry I am. How disappointed. I’m still keeping up appearances. I wear sunscreen daily, mainly out of vanity. But – I’m self-serving to a fault. I am honest and protective in a manner I could only dream about when I was younger and being walked all over at regular intervals.
No, see, the fallout I feel is from actually having a healthy self-esteem and, god forbid, more room inside myself to share with another than I ever thought possible.
The cruel twist in this wild little tale is that at a time when I find myself growing into the ideal version of myself – there is absolutely no one around to take any interest whatsoever.
i never saw that one coming
I change my statement about being lonely. I’m not lonely. I’m just alone. There is and always will be a difference.
I would rather be bored than stressed.
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NOTE: John Lennon doesn’t believe in yoga, but I do.
It started off innocently enough. One day, I found him sitting next to a fellow uni student mate of mine. From my glass collecting orbits, I could gather that Pat was a clingy old fullah, who appeared to be doing most of the talking and occasionally reaching for Bruce’s leg. Bruce, the cool customer, stared defiantly at his newspaper, occasionally making a laconical remark about sport or something irrelevant.
‘You’re a real nice bloke,’ Pat slurred from the bottom rungs of his nasal cavities. He had something wrong with his cleft palate, which left his face sort of crooked. His eyes were deep sea moons through powerful glasses.
‘Yeah you’d be really good for social work, you seem like a caring sort of person.’ I’d told him of my desires to enter the field. Then left, for fear he’d want to give me another handshake with the caressing thumb.
My shift finishes. With Pat in the toilets, I go over to Bruce. His lazy eyes roll over the pokie horizon.
‘He keeps on asking me to move in with him. I just keep staring off into the distance, in the hope that it looks thoughtful.’ Bruce demonstrates one of these stares. He does indeed look thoughtful – an expression of one who has done too much thinking.
Pat returns. He is having another beer. I don’t really want him to have another beer. He sings my praises again. And squeezes Bruce’s knee. Bruce does not flinch. Bruce goes to the toilet. Bruce is buying the next beer.
‘I wonder where he is?’ Pat says, checking his watch. I estimate Bruce has probably been gone fifteen minutes. Bruce isn’t coming back.
‘I’m not sure,’ I say in a tone that says I’m not sure about anything. The place smells of cigarette guts. I run my fingers up and down the material of my work pants. There’s hundreds of lint balls to pick off. A blind person could make a story out of them. There’s half a beer. Chit chat. Pat’s eyes are two blue torches in my face.
‘You’re a real nice bloke Justin, I’m so glad to have met you.’
‘I’m glad Pat, you’re a real nice bloke too.’
‘It’s been a year since my wife died.’
‘Oh really? I’m really sorry.’
‘Yeah, I dunno mate. It gets so lonely in the house now.’
‘Yeah, it must be hard.’
Another silence. Pat fills the silences by staring at me with a look of someone who can’t believe what is happening to them.
‘You know what Justin?’ He leans in. Then pulls away, as if in two minds. He shakes his head. It’s all too much. ‘I could very easily love you Justin. You’re the kind of person I could love. But for all the right reasons.’
Yep. My gentle skin is pricked with alarm ripples. From this point on there will be no more small talk between us – ever.
‘I’ve got a secret to tell you mate, and I’m not sure if I should. I’m scared what you’ll think of me.’
‘It’s okay Pat, I’m not going to judge you.’
‘Thanks mate, you’re a real beautiful person, you know that? You are.’
I’m blushing in my uniform.
‘Oh mate, it’s hard to say.’ Pat lights the cigarette he’s offered to me a couple of times. I should have accepted.
‘I’ve been married 38 years, to a really beautiful woman, and I’ve had two kids. And I miss her like hell. But all that time we were married, most of that’s been a lie.’
‘I’ve got a thing. And it’s really hard to live with.’
‘I like blokes mate.’
He likes blokes.
‘Does that change what you think of me?’
‘No Pat not at all, why should it? I’m not worried.’
I’m not worried. I have a sip of my beer. My other hand is engaged in a handshake with the thumb.
‘I love you and I respect you Justin. I respect you mate. And I wouldn’t ever do anything to hurt you.’
I’ve shut down. I’m smiling and nodding. Pat has broken me with his intensity. I’m waiting for my beer to drain and the club to explode me out onto the street. I am hungering the hazy Saturday sun.
‘I’ve really got to go Pat. I’m going to a concert tonight.’
‘Give me a call sometime Justin.’ Those eyes staring at me. Those glass globes.
‘Yeah I will. I’ve really got to go mate.’
At 4:17pm, on February 21st 2002, a youth and a gentleman hugged in the old lounge of the Canberra Labor Club. No one saw. No one knew. No one cared and nothing changed.
Three months later. Today. Pat still says ‘you’re a beautiful person’ to me and ‘I love you.’ Now he has added ‘I only come in here to see you.’
‘Why didn’t you fuckin’ call me?’
‘Pat, I saw you last Saturday.’ My tone is defensive, which it never usually is.
‘I think about you all the time mate. I really want to have a beer and a talk with you.’
A beer and a talk has been promised since February, but so far I’ve dodged it. My heart is turning into a spa bath of blood. Today I am on tray service to the poker machines. As I wait for the barman to get my drink I glare out the side of my glasses. Pat is badly pixilated in the distance. I can make out his red and black bomber jacket and a small head with two giant windows facing me.
I can’t see his eyes. I don’t know if he can see mine. I am ignoring him.
My head jeers me. ‘There’s your boyfriend…hey Justin, your boyfriend wants to see you.’If any of the bar staff said that to me I think I’d have a stroke.
Pat says I love you, like others say how are you. His hand reaches out to me whenever I serve him at the bar. His grip traps mine while his thumb stretches around like a faceless worm.
Two days ago, when Pat came up to buy a VB, he asked what my last name was and walked away. The next time he asked where I lived. I said the street. He asked who I lived with. I said my girlfriend and best friend. Then, with the honesty trigger which continues to get me into trouble, I said I was thinking about moving.
‘Move in with me. No, I shouldn’t put that pressure on you. But I’d love it mate. I get so lonely, I’d love to take care of you.’
Beer pouring, head screaming. I don’t need you to look after me. I’m twenty one. Beer comes out. No words.
I am uncomfortable in my own workplace. I am thinking about Pat. His very presence smears my chest with something thick and unpleasant. I am angry.
After almost backing out, I take my lemon lime and bitters and walk towards him. There is another work mate with him, whom I use as a support.
‘You’ve got a break have you?’
‘Yeah, I thought I’d better give myself one.’ I’m desperate to keep things jammed in small talk.
The other worker returns to the bar, leaving Pat and I alone.
Silence. Here comes the handshake.
‘Andrew’s a top bloke. But he’s not very happy here.’
‘No, he hasn’t been since I’ve worked here.’ I’m surprised and ecstatic. I must keep Pat talking about something other than me.
‘The place just wouldn’t be the same without him.’
‘No, he’s a top bloke.’
I take a sip of the bitters. It is all rich fizz and lemon. I am never confident that I’ve made them properly. The silence is too long.
‘I’m sorry mate if I’ve come on too strong. You just tell me, you say ‘Pat, back off’ and I will.’
‘Yeah, well, I think you should.’ Toy guns are blazing.
‘I love you so much Justin. As the song says you’re always on my mind.’ His voice is a brown suitcase stereo.
‘Yes well I’m not necessarily comfortable with that.’
Why use necessarily… don’t hold back.
Pat leans back on his chair. His pursed lips sit a good five centimetres out of line with his nose.
‘I can’t help it. You’re a beautiful person mate. When you’re in the bar I sit here and I can see right into your soul.’
My guts are buzzing. It’s my pager, which means I have to go and get someone a drink.
‘I’ve got an order,’ I say.
Pat is smiling.
‘I know mate.’
I spend the rest of the shift hoping he will leave, otherwise I will have to confront him and avoid having a beer. Half an hour later I check, but he is not there. I am wary and sceptical. He could have gone to the toilet. Fifteen minutes pass and I go inside the toilets to check. There is one cubical that is engaged.
I am still not convinced. I consider peering down to see the shoes, but this day has been extreme enough already. Plus, I can’t think what shoes Pat wears.
With half an hour to go of my shift I check the toilets. All the cubicles are empty. Finally.
As I turn to leave the door swings open, like the final shock in a horror film.
I fully expect it to be Pat, but it’s a Chinese bloke. I see Pat’s empty chair and cannot control the peace and joy in my heart.
Do you have anxiety? If so, I’m sorry to hear that.
So dew eye, for what it’s worth. 👀
[Refer to the mockmarket of the soul and current value of a shitcoin]
2023 – could it be the year of beating anxiety? I’d say ‘war on anxiety’ but that doesn’t sound much fun (or a change). Pillow fight with mental health? Slightly sexy. Passive aggressive standoff with your other half?
My point is, Moby has just dropped an ambient album. (Do you ‘drop’ ambient albums or release them as one might release a mist?) He says it’s about helping tackle his anxiety. A donation to the cosmos. Cool. I dig it.
Anxiety, for the record, isn’t just a general state of feeling worried or uptight. It’s a physical thing. Like being softly electrocuted. A black magic chain of thoughts that hijacks your thinking, making you act irrationally. It lives under the skin, like an alien. An agitated immersion in a strange, stricken brew. A cauldron of caution. A maelstrom of malady.
Ambient music is a perfect antidote. It’s slow, for starters. Anxiety travels at the speed of unsound. It doesn’t help that the pace of the world has been increasing (along with the temperature) for the past thirty years. In 1990 we had grunge music with a bpm in double figures. Folks now listen to podcasts at double speed. Cramming data isn’t precisely what consciousness evolved for.
Ambient music (also known as new age) may be an acquired taste. It might not be your cup of herbal tea. ☕
Ambient is spacious. It doesn’t have beats or lyrics, much. It’s a space, man. It doesn’t ask much from your mind. You can slip on your life cancelling headphones and soak in the sound. Let your thoughts play host to singular, spaced notes. Slow honey for a blow up head.
It’s a gentle suggestion. I’m a fan of Brian Eno and Harold Budd and Radiohead. The latter had a crack at ambient with ‘Treefingers’ from Kid A. It was pretty (chime) ballsy of them. That album was popular. This is probably my first ever experience with ambient music. YouTube comments suggest ‘Treefingers’ is “the one everyone skips.” Honestly, I would be included in that. Young men are not famous for their patience – but it wouldn’t surprise me if it made a comeback. The world is much more electronic instrumental savvy than it was in 2000.
Don’t worry if you don’t know where to start (or end). The beauty of Spotify is you only need one song to connect with and then select the radio for that song. That’s all I’ve been doing for five years really – unboxing a pandora’s pantheon of timestretched permusations.
Stockpiling chillout I can access in the fraction of a migraine. 🧠
Heck, sometimes technology works in favour of mental health. Maybe this is the only time. Perhaps you find success with meditation apps? Personally I can’t stand someone lecturing me. Having said that, Lemon Jelly do have a song called ‘Nervous Tension’ which is basically a meditation routine set to music.
From my new years meanderings I see there’s a recently released The Art Of Meditation by Sigur Ros. Electronic dude Jon Hopkins put out a Meditations single in 2020 & Music For Psychedelic Therapy in 2021 (the latter is a bit rich for my blood). Meanwhile, my good friend Conrad Greenleaf released the ambient album Dreamtape last year – so it’s in the zeitgeist, surely.
There’s even Tasmanian based ambient artists such as Leven Canyon & All India Radio.
Chillout was huge in 2000, so it might be experiencing a twenty year ambiversary.
If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air
Quaint little villages here and there
Groove Armada – At The River
There are other strategies to combat anxiety:
A sleep routine.
Talking to a psychologist.
Lying in a dark space with a weighted blanket.
Repetitive movements such as playing an instrument, walking, swimming or massage.
It’s worth trying everything. Make it your hobby – discovering pockets of air within your dark cloud.
Unrest is the best that life can offer, sometimes.
Make the most of finding a way to live with it.
Half the fun is remembering how to train it.
Finding the time to take it for walks.
You don’t have to meditate to listen to ambient music. You don’t need ambient music to meditate. Both are notoriously niche and slippery to appreciate. I file them under exercises for exhausted people. Or, there are 200k worse things you can do on your phone.
Take care in there.
Justin, 2023. *
please see my little playlist elbow, I mean below.
Ducks are my new favourite animal. (Soz cats.) I love them waddling about with their handsome metallic green necks and feathery brown pelts. It turns out Burnie has a large, healthy population at Romaine Park. I adore how they travel in pairs and huddle in groups. They are not afraid of people and snooze out in the open. It’s so trusting and meek, my heart melts.
Apparently ducks rest in groups for safety. The outside duck has one eye open to keep guard.
The quack community.
Little duck bums.
They generate happiness in me.
Well, it was a year. Chalk it up to experience. Downgrade my heart from spectacular. Surprise my mind. Beautiful reluctance. Transcendental views. Average dates – (I’m looking at you October 7).
Dogs barked, muesli was eaten. Spotify playlisted and rage guest programmed.
Joy. Content. Heartbeats.
Dreams about…wriggly jigsaws and friendly abandonment. How am I here? Where am I there? State hopping, spoken word performing, mental health monologuing, man about house.
I’ve had it all – a lifetime of moments. Set to the soundtrack of an infotainment hotshot cathedral.
Dress right. Knuckle down. Buckle up. Take off.
WHAT I CHOSE TO WRITE ABOUT:
Mental health mainly. My opening gambit i is the loneliest letter was partly inspired by trawling through my musical archive. I found a stripped back version of my song I’m So Lonely, written in 2008. Just another patented Saturn Returns soundtrack to a suddenly bottomless life. I was impressed. If nothing else, it’s comforting to be reminded that you aren’t some alien version of yourself, just a boat rockin’ riff on previous themes.
Asking someone about their mental health is a confronting and private matter. It needs to be given the gentle, conscientious forethought of an orienteering operation. There’s strategy, tact, respect and craft. Instead, we get r u ok – (a high brow advancement on whatr u lookin at?) – the grammatical nature of which is enough to pummel my inner harmony.
Never fear, my well-meaning diatribes are here.
This year was marked by the premiere of my one man show Get Up Mum in March. It was epic. It was profound. (It was quite long, to be fair). I hope to perform it again mid next year in Burnie and Melbourne. I was interviewed by my new friend Helen Shield. If you were wondering, one of the most uncomfortable aspects of broadcasting such personal work is seeing the inappropriate tags and disclaimers clogging up the footer. It’s bemusingly ironic that mental health is either cloaked in euphemism or clownishly signposted in bureaucratic overreach.
I had surgery. An ulnar nerve transposition on my right arm (as you do). I’m past 40 and abstractly vulnerable. Well, to be fair, I was once described as ‘intensely vulnerable’ by Fiona Scott-Norman in an article about stand-up comedy in 2007. So, artistically, I’ve worn my brain on a chain. Only now is my physical self catching up to the costume. What could go right.
I wrote an article titledLiquid Mental. It was sparked after walking along Romaine Park and seeing a teenage boy wandering along the fields. His head was lowered, having mastered the art of walking and scrolling. I was haunted. I had to write something and incorporate Terminator 2 and the music of SBS Chill regular Eric Hilton. It was fun.
I packed up my place in Melbourne to return to Tasmania. As I was sorting everything it occurred to me that it was twenty years since I became “The Bedroom Philosopher.” Oh well, said the diligently private person to themself, I guess we could use this as motivation to launch a light to moderate assault of content – I mean – art, on the unsuspecting consumers – I mean fanbase. I rekindled pleasure in reimagining my first album of light-hearted folk songs, cultivated during my accidental dream job of being the weekly songwriter for Triple J’s Morning Show in 2002.
It was a nice time in the archives. I liked who I was at 22. In a not dissimilar creative time travel to the way I hung out with my 12 year old self in Get Up Mum – I had a beer or two with my 22 year old self in the Living On The Edge…Of My Bed release and subsequent memory lane / cassette digitising sessions. I even cut together my own radio documentary on the origin story of how I went from winning ABCs Heywire to scoring the gig of a lifetime, without having performed a single comedy spot.
It wasn’t all beer and skittles in that career. Sometimes it was sarsaparilla and quoits. I love nothing more than bemoaning the clusterfluff of riding success while being a share-household name in Australia. I feel like I’ve had so many backward compliments and subtle cracks at me over the years I wear a technicolour raincoat in a fickle bid to thicken my skin. Anyway, blow off steam I must – it felt fitting to hold my own Depress Conference.
And so on and so forth. I had two pieces published in the mental health themed poetry anthology Admissions. I wrote a letter to schizophrenia, gave a talk at a mental health conference and rereleased / reimagined my first ‘proper’ album recorded on a four track at the end of Hellyer College, 1998. (Peppered with lil’ somethings recorded on my cassette walkman).
It was nice to receive a kind letter towards the end of the year. Thanks Lucy.
Thanks to like, anyone who has read my self-published dalliances and gained any insight into the cosmic beauty of our abstract depressions. Power to thee.
The key is to….keep going (apparently). And try hard not to ask anyone if they are okay. And if you’re talking to me, try and avoid the sentence “I found some of your posts worrying.” It’s sort of patronising, sorry.
Bonding on that private channel requires you to have prepared an application with a backpack full of context. Put thought into what you say – as opposed to the industry standard of little. Do your interpersonal homework. Like a good essay, support your statements with evidence.
If you are truly, lastingly concerned about them / me, just be brave and ring them up. Have a friendly chat. Talk about the price of weather. Remind them they are cared about. It’s far too easy to forget. (If you are a bloke and can drop the ‘L’ bomb – well, good luck with that.)
Why the human heart is designed with affirmation amnesia I am uncertain. Perhaps we are animals after all; fitfully aware of the perilousness of our circumstances – the energy reserves required to survive in this befuddled bio-matrix claptrap of a bush doof. The casino of soft knocks and hard streams. It could not be more unnatural if it tried. One puts ones blinkers on. One runs ones own race. 🏇
Get human. Stay wobbly. subscribe/unsubscribe in/out/in/out
I’ve just signed up and wanted to let you know how I’m enjoying all of this. Your writing is so entertaining – love the fast-paced, psychedelic imagery and invented words (autobiocracy!) I also dislike of the question “are you okay?” – not just because it’s a bit patronising but it is also such a non- question, it lacks real curiosity and just leaves you to reassure rather than reveal. I think if the asker really wanted to know, it wouldn’t be a closed question.
I also wanted to let you know how much I loved ‘Get Up Mum.’ I cried many tears for 12-year-old Justin, but found myself equally in awe of the creative, intelligent, sensitive and resilient kid he was too. I work with therapeutically with children and have on occasion with child carers and so this resonated strongly for me. Thank for for undertaking such creatively courageous work. Digging up and reworking childhood trauma can be therapeutic but it’s also painful and can’t go back to being unseen, which comes with its own complexities.
Your stuff on loneliness has been so inspiring and helpful for me at this particular time in my life, so thank you! When is your next book!?
Forgot to say before, the free-associative flow of your work is really enjoyable to read. I’m not sure how you feel about Helen Garner, but I love her autobiographical stuff for the same reason. The way she layers little snippets and details from daily life that sometimes almost seem random, but in accumulation hint towards an unbearable/unknowable emotional truth lying dormant in the background.
“Just take those old records off the shelf. I sit and listen to them by myself.”
Old time rock ‘n’ roll by Bob Segar. It’s a song about being by yourself. Solitude. This poor bloke, just wanting to listen to his nostalgic music collection. It’s uncanny that this song is one of my standout memories from primary school. As juniors we would sit in a circle as our music teacher put it on.
“Now, just listen to it as an example of recorded music. What can you hear?”
Some funky low-end. That breakbeat drop out bit. A curmudgeonly old rocker that seems to have stayed the same age as I caught up. Thirty years later and I’d be the one taking old records (and old CDs) off the shelf. I’d also be in fair agreement that today’s music ‘ain’t got the same soul’ – caught in the double-bind that simply admitting that is some kind of cultural own goal – basically advertising your own irrelevance to the younger, hipper generations. But then, who needs words to do that when I have my colourless hair?
(Bob Seger is considered the godfather of belligerence. He was the first Boomer to slag off the generation after him, a sentiment now carried in alarming numbers across every second youtube comment on any song released before 1980. Is it fitting that the music he’s dissing is probably the very early 80s soft-rock that I now commandeer?)
There aren’t enough cool, tough songs that casually mention being by yourself. (“Maybe he’s born with it….maybe it’s Radiohead.”) 90% of songs are about love and 90% of those are propaganda for couples, basically saying ‘being alone is the price you pay for fucking up love. So… love…don’t fuck it up!’
I remember feeling haunted by music in the wake of my relationship strike in 2009. Music became a surveillance ghost as tunes trailed me onto the bus.
“I can’t live if living is without you.”
“I know I’ll never find another you.”
“How am I supposed to live without you?”
I fought back with my first purchase of over-ear headphones and a predilection towards ambient electronic music. Boards of Canada, Four Tet, early Caribou – they had no words. I didn’t have any songwriters’ agenda being pushed onto me – like a liquified diary spray-painted on my garden wall.
Now, I’m sort of enamoured by mid 80s ballads that so brazenly and eloquently declare a stoically melancholic mood.
From the inappropriately boppy cover by Ace Of Base at my high school social*, to truly comforting black velvet cloud of nostalgia and ambience in my ballads playlist – this song has had a journey. I love that it’s by an artist known simply as Black.
* no wait, I’m thinking of the Ace Of Base song Beautiful Life – but then they did do a cover of Wonderful Life but not until 2002, when I heard it somewhere other than a high school social – you’d hope.
As a member of the solitude community, I deeply respect its acknowledgement of the simple truth that human life can be played out in relationship exile, through no particular design or fault of anyone. It’s a slight change from the default whitewash of families and couples that the large proportion of recorded advertising media is concerned with.
It has been suggested recently that there is still an obvious bias against single people. For example, theatre tickets are usually sold as pairs and sometimes single seats can’t be bought towards the end. (See: victory for spinster theatregoers)
Single people are assumed in deficit.
I’ve often thought, if you are by yourself and your main impression of this position is a sense of being incomplete, then how problematic is that?
All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
French philosopher Blaise Pascal (in the 1600s)
When there’s nothing to lose and there’s nothing to prove Well, I’m dancing with myself
British philosopher Billy Idol (in the 1980s)
‘All By Myself’ ruined Christmas. It’s such a crass take on the quiet, moving, wryly sophisticated juxtaposition of ‘Wonderful Life.’ Lately I’ve thought that Cat Stevens’ ‘Another Saturday Night’ also does justice. It humanises the lonely characters’ plight.
As an aside, I don’t think I ever knew this was a cover.
A hit that was largely background to me now plays as a doom-pop appraisal of a sometimes weekly predicament. For most of my 20s and early 30s, Sunday afternoons were the hardest part of the week to trawl through. Something changed in my mid 30s. As I began to make peace with my childhood blues, I realised that a social deadzone for making plans with pals was Saturday night. And so, a sense of foreboding and pressure built up, so that each Saturday afternoon felt like a mini New Year’s Eve without the parties or fireworks.
It was as if I had a weekly reminder that I was single. ‘Just think Justin,’ the cruel checklist insisted, ‘all those lovely young things out there on dates, together. All those long-term couples, meeting up with the other couples. And you, buddy, here, in this room, by yourself – as proof you exist.’
Ah, but see, I was never alone. How can I be truly lonely when I have music? Music is magic. Straight up.
And if music outstays its welcome then there’s always some kind of movie. And if that isn’t what the doctor ordered then surely beer rounds everyone up and wraps them in a team huddle and gives them enough of a pep talk to convince all the moving parts of the generous, loving, hope-drenched, melancholic_ambient person to crack on and forget about the flim-flam of the dickheads outside, that yabbering on is overrated and we have all the low-lighting and controlled-volume environment we could ever want right here.
It’s a wonderful, wonderful life with old time rock ‘n’ roll.
JJ Cale, he’s my man. The guy isn’t even alive anymore. What’s the point of meeting anyone, if I can’t even tell him how in awe I am of his music?
At all. Say anything. Actually fucking talk to them, I would have thought.
M e n t a l i l l n e s s is a desert. Communication is water. You can create water out of air, simply by saying ‘action’ and starring in a scene from your favourite film where the beautiful lead character reaches out and helps a friend. Sound fun? It’s not. It’s quite hard work, which is what actors usually say in interviews – and this movie is silent and in black and white and imaginary – but gosh, the rewards are colourful and the investment in your own hope and sense of wish fulfilment: golden.
Talk. Say words. Anything really. Except not anything because there is a right-ish and squeamish approach, which is why I’m writing this because I feel I can guide you in a general direction while still maintaining the simple rule that the best way to talk to a depressed person is by actually talking to them, if you catch my drift. As in, what use is my advice on what to say if you secretly never plan to push the boat out to water.
You see, I’m quite certain that due to the mild corruption of society (consumerism, the original popularity algorithm) and outsourcing malaise of social media, we have been essentially trained to keep quiet about emotional ailments and self-stigmatise common garden-variety troubles which we are all quietly going about dealing with on a daily basis. Depression, anxiety, mood swings, self-loathing, loneliness. I mean, how embarrassing is loneliness? Imagine actually trying to tell someone you know and respect that you have been feeling lonely and that it is becoming quite a problem lately.
i am cool
I would know, I tried. Well, I wrote about it on my website and that was a big step for me. This is another one. I’d like to involve you, radical magical mr / ms person whoever-you-are – let’s get married in a fiesta of concepts, I’ll let you keep your surname – I’ll permiss you to rely on your instincts, but I will carry a fairly big stick and give you a polite yoga master tap every now and then if I sense you falling into the bad habits that so many of our smart-pants-cynicool generation still do. Bad habits that result in my least favourite sound right now, especially when it comes to mental illness …
Polite silence. Sorry Justin, won’t be checking in on you there – you seem to have it all sorted.
Ah, mate, yeah, I was going to ask you about your Mum but I didn’t want to seem condescending as you are the expert on the matter and I’m only new to having a family member with schizophrenia.
Sure, the last one was a recent, real life example. Bless my friend. He said this by email. And honestly, it’s not even the novel concept of my biggest problem being that someone might appear condescending towards me – the thing that has me rushing out of bed to hammer this down is just the admission of a self-censoring subroutine. I mean, I get the sense that my friend is nowhere near alone. One thing we are probably all united in is a complex myriad of psychological excuses for getting out of doing really basic things like say – uh –
Asking for help.
Asking someone if they need help.
Following up with a friend who is down.
Admitting to being down.
Like, how many times have you maybe thought about toying with any of the above – only to let the faint, tickly trickle of pleasant endorphin based ‘get out of awkwardness jail free’ cards rain down like a hotbed of ghost lawyers dressed as you pouring your favourite cordial promising they can maintain these positive intentions of which you think while not actually placing you in harms way of ever having to carry them out.
👻 👻 👻 I don’t see why we should leave our comfort zone in this instance. I mean, what a week. We are tired and busy and this whole ‘talking about our feelings’ business will just complicate matters and could lead to an untenable situation of creating more work than we had anticipated and even the thought of this hypothetical botheration has us tensing up in the stomach. Nah, best to just pat yourself on the back and give yourself a little nod for being a decent enough person to have at least naturally conjured up the basic desire to help or reach out or connect while also maintaining the dignity, intelligence and street-smarts to not do anything rash like act on these impulses and reveal the pulsating, quivering tangle of nerves, bad dreams and unresolved conflicts that you actually are. 👻
So, now, I’m going to mention AA. No, not that AA.
The two A’s.
They go hand in hand, as far as I’m concerned. They are two peas in a pod and I want you to be aware of them.
Part one – Avoidance
It’s rife. We avoid situations that might make us stressed. We avoid interactions which could embarrass us socially. Fair enough.
If someone we know is depressed or down or not themselves or by themselves or not quite right or recently single or having a hard time, we are likely to sort of, well, avoid them. Not directly, not exactly, but not the opposite either. We siphon them off to a complex friendship ditch in the quarry of our minds. We could ring them but – yeah nah – maybe a text – a quick back and forth and – yeah – that’ll do, right? And distraction and smoke and mirrors and a hundred more tomorrows and nothing really changes.
You could barge on in and call someone. Yes, I mean type the actual numbers and ring them.
If you fall in the camp that perceives phone calls as anxious concepts then I suggest you try getting over this in any way possible. Why? Because some of us are in a communication connection drought and I am declaring a national emergency. You’ve read the articles, you’ve seen the stats. People are desperately unhappy and / or isolated in the nerve-control-inner-monologue-disaster-manipulation-self-destruct-bunkers of their sonic the groundhog twilight youth. It’s not pretty. I’ve been there. Some days I’m there still. And all I can say is that when someone calls me out of the blue I adore it.
Big Shout Out to all millennials and gen-z who have stopped reading at this point
Yeah, I was born in 1980. If you don’t like talking on the phone then remember that the very a c t i o n of reaching out to someone in a format that you are not completely versed in is in itself a powerful a c t. You can transmit power simply by proving that someone existed in your mind and their name was held by your hand. Words matter but actions rule. In this time of binge communication and lightweight haiku newsletters, how breathtakingly charming and dramatic the notion of a phone call.
Or a text, or a fax, or whatever. You do you.
Part 2 – Acknowledgement
You: How are you?
This is the point at which many people will baulk and retreat inside themselves. “Oh no,” they flail, “whatever will I say now. I’m not a trained psychologist. I was just eating an ice-cream when this compelling website implored me to phone a friend who has just lost their job and moved back in with their parents, and now here they are putting me under the pump with their gloriously honest answer to my classically mundane question. Quick, author of this post, or “ Justin” (or poor woman’s Tony Robbins) as you seem to go by these days, what would you have me say next wonderboy?”
Dude. It’s okay.
No, that is that you’d say to the person. ‘It’s okay.’
Or, how about ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
Be brave. Remember love. Think slow.
There’s no rush. You don’t have to solve anyone’s problems.
Do you know what a sad person needs more than anything? Ice-cream, sure, but… they need understanding – and the golden child of this conversation – acknowledgement.
I can’t tell you how important it is to have your feelings validated by someone.
Me: I feel – lonely.
You: Justin, that must be hard.
Me: Yeah – it is. It’s just my thing.
You: How long has this been going on?
Me: Oh, gee. A long time. It’s just been lately that I’ve really noticed it. I know I’m by myself too much. I don’t know. Often it feels like everyone else has people around them all the time but I’ve ended up by myself and that seems unfair.
You: You know there are a lot of people in your position.
Me: Yeah, apparently.
You: It’s nothing you’ve done. It’s just….how life works out sometimes.
And so forth. So, my main point is that rather than jump in and …
Me: I’m feeling lonely.
You: Have you joined any sporting teams or gone on facebook and tried to start a bushwalking club?
Me: No. * feels twice as alone *
Like, we’re programmed to live in this quick-fix society where everything has a solution and maybe if I just pressed the right combo of buttons I could defeat this evil ‘self island’ game that seems to be hijacking my waking vibe and ability to feel confident and consistent.
Well, no, because we are people. We are not programs. We are not machines.
We are rainbow scented, space cadet, all-feeling all-fleshy
And we are struggling. And we need gentle, thoughtful, nurturing.
Yes, even you gavin. Especially the blokes! (No shit, I know – who knew…..)
And we need acknowledgement.
That means – the simplest, smallest action of all. Showing us that you are listening.
“ dat sounds hard. ” “ i’s sorry to hear dat “ “ ooh dat sux ” “ u poor fing ”
Well, maybe not the last one. Perhaps that could be construed as a bit condescending. Especially when gavin has pulled the mining truck over to tell bernedette that he’s been having panic attacks. I don’t know what kalgoorlie mining co’s policies are on hugs in the superpits, but I would probably suggest that a hug would suffice.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to tell someone that I’m feeling down and all I’ve really wanted is a pat on the head and a ‘there there’ and all I’ve gotten is a hardcore delivery of suggestions of ways I could go and fix my problem and all I’ve wanted to do is reverse myself into a sinkhole of melted soap mattresses and initiate myself into a tribe of sophisticated duck wizards who would tuck me in and quack me a bedtime story.
Failing that. I have my friends. My acquaintances. Many of which have had a crack at connecting with me, and, unfortunately, it seems like (in the pyramid of petty social conventions), left me with the unnerving impression that I will be a lot better suited to life if I can continue with my only-child training and adapt to be a largely self-soothing, self-serving, self-analysing unit of progress and production who occasionally sees a professional psychologist in secret and deals with my complex emotional affairs in a setting that won’t bend the day of my loved ones out of shape.
don’t you open that trapdoor
because there’s something down there
“How’s your depression?”
He said it so casually. It was right up there with ‘did you see the carlton game’ and ‘how’s the tour going’ – I was gobsmacked. Truly taken aback. It was a wonderful moment of feeling shame and elation. Shelation.
“Uh, yeah – it’s okay”
I bought myself some time to conjure articulation in a subconscious Atlantis beneath the sea of deadpan humour.
“I think it’s getting a bit…easier.”
Did I say that? I don’t know. Did I mean it? Possibly not. But I don’t think that’s the point. The point is that Bruce asked his question. And even if I didn’t convince myself with the answer, hearing yourself say a hopeful statement, when prompted, is a song that can keep you company through a week of grey thoughts.
It’s communication. It’s action. It’s the vibe.
Bruce talked to a depressed person. He just barrelled on in there and talked to me.
I know what you’re thinking. You think you’re going to offend the depressed person. You’re terrified that you’re going to, god forbid, make them worse with your incorrectly placed question. You might say the wrong thing? You might, what’s that word the kids like to use… ‘trigger’ them.
I’ll tell you what’s triggering.
I’ll tell you what’s offensive.
In a garden of night, be the candle we’ve forgotten how to light. 🕯️
Talk to a depressed person today. You don’t even have to know if they are sad, or lonely. Chances are your instincts are already spot on.
For you are the intelligent dreamer – and I trust you to carry the weight of your own lack of practice.
We can do this. We can train ourselves to be better.
We can reach. For the stars. For the truth inside.
For each other.
maxwell the morose party star of fitzroy sez:
“search for the hero inside yourself”
RESOURCES: Amanda FKING Palmer has a self-help book about asking for help, no less.
Hi there. Today is World Schizophrenia Awareness Day. To mark the occasion I wrote a letter to schizophrenia. You can find it on the Satellite Foundation website. (I’m an ambassador for them.)
It’s the time of year where you deposit some thought to the gentle complexity of one of existences most cryptic yet vulnerable conditions. Why don’t we talk about schizophrenia more? Ever wondered that? I do, quite a bit. It seems to go under the radar quite effectively. There’s a whole stack of destigmatising to be done – or – to conjure a more handsome phrase – rehumanising.
I mean, I’ve been up close to someone with schizophrenia and honestly, my heart still weeps. I reckon my Mum is brave as all fuck for withstanding the atomic martian wildness of her own mind warping itself to fit through the eye of the needle of life.
These are real people. On the ground. Suffering. Trying to be good parents. They are gobsmacked by confusion. Their personality has secret mirrors growing like gills. They are x-men and women, able to see through time. Heaven and hell are storybook wonders compared to the cheek scolding heartbreak of disappearing in plain sight from the very people who love you more than anything.
Anyway, big hugs and NDIS support to anyone who is experiencing hard times.
We can be superheroes, just for one day.
g r o u n d h o g __ d a y ?
AT A GLANCE (STAT!):
Schizophrenia effects 1 in 100 people. The same ratio as autism.
It comes from the Greek word meaning ‘split mind.’ It’s not multiple personality disorder, it’s about the schizophrenic person having a fractured perception of reality. There is the real world and then there is their world. This results in them convincing themselves that they are not sick. Therein lies the paradox of trying to care for someone with this condition. You’re yelling via cup and string to a rogue astronaut on opposites day.
“I’ll be alright after a sleep tomorrow, I promise.”
In response to the comments beneath my Sky News soundbite. No, it’s NOTHING like Trump voters thinking their world view is right and everyone else’s is wrong. That is an extreme political ideology. At least Trump exists in our reality (I never thought I’d say that.) People with schizophrenia have psychosis. They experience auditory and visual hallucinations. This is why using ‘schizophrenic’ as an adjective is problematic. Voting for Trump isn’t a medical condition, it’s a personality trait – as much as the ‘hilarious’ jokes to be made would hint at the former.
Statistically they are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. The cliché of the unhinged guy on the bus or whatever – it’s a worst case scenario or its comic book fiction mate. When we went to the bank Mum would be very composed, even at her worst. People with a mental illness generally work twice as hard as the rest of the community just to be themselves. Australians love a hard worker, don’t they?
They are likely to be conduits of bizarre behaviour. Talking to themselves, nervous tics, agitated, scattered, paranoid thinking; things of the like. One friend said his Mum used to communicate with Jupiter. Another said his Mum would see a little man and woman walking around her flat, an inch tall, shining lights in her face and shapeshifting into animals. My Mum once told me she was ‘on the line’ to Mozart. This level of psychosis is creative at least and makes for a fascinating story.
Like a creature in captivity, schizophrenia is a lot less threatening when you spend some time up close. There is love in curiosity and I spent a lot of time observing my Mum. She would be laughing to herself as if having a tea party with her voices. I would have liked to have been invited. It’s a malfunction pantomime and who are we to judge the mind unknown and its methods to cope. There are worse contributions to the universe.
Schizophrenia is not full-time. Mum was well half the time and sick the other. She was still a wonderful individual with autonomy, functioning as best she could and getting me breakfast while navigating the extremities of humanity. Mum used to be ‘Mother’s help’ and visit my primary school and help kids in my class type their stories up on the computer.
As a listener to my radio version of Get Up Mum wrote: “I remember a Mum who would take me to sporting activities, cook dinner, have afternoon tea ready for me after school, and take us for swimming lessons at the beach. I also remember a Mum who would sleep all day, yell and scream, and a Mum who spent months at a time locked up in a high security psychiatric hospital.”
It’s a split world for everyone.
Caring is full-time. Two words: hyper-vigilance. Part of Schizophrenia Awareness Week can be devoted to carers who are most likely family members and in the most urgent cases – kids. If someone you know has a mental illness and they also have children – I’m telling you now – that child is a carer by default and most definitely in need of support. If you are unsure about resources, Satellite Foundation is a great place to start. Don’t be shy!
Hearing voices is more common than you think. Apparently 10-25% of people will hear voices at some point in their lives. Amazingly, it’s not always linked to schizophrenia. This was news to me when I watched the SBS Insight episode.
(If you can track down the full You Can’t Ask That schizophrenia episode it’s also a terrific resource).
Schizophrenia is devastating. Especially when used in Scrabble. You drop that thing on a triple word score and it’s WALK AWAY RENE!
A FEW LINKS TO PAST THINGS I HAVE CONTRIBUTED:
I was interviewed on Sky News during Schizophrenia Awareness Week in 2018, days after releasing Get Up Mum. I don’t get to go on TV much. (Spicks & Specks in 2010 featuring myself and Marcia Hynes together at last and me dressed as a cat on Channel 31 in 2017).
An interview (with fellow only child Elizabeth Flux) in the Guardian from 2018 which is all about my book and lived experience.
There aren’t that many movies about schizophrenia (I will not watch The Joker but can only imagine it has set the empathy cause back miles) but Sally Hawkins did a wonderful job in 2020’s Eternal Beauty where she portrays a colourful character. (Is it interesting how when Sia cast a non-autistic actor everyone went hyper-nuclear but the fact that an actor without schizophrenia represented this community didn’t ruffle a spacebar. It’s almost as if that particular aspect of the mental health spectrum is i n v i s i b l e .
Do-gooders be like – we’re championing this cause because it’s SO COOL right now, but that one over there is FAAAREAKING US OUT.)
There’s an article about how schizophrenia is represented in cinema here.
Other fine movies about mental illness include Angel Baby (AU 1995), An Angel At My Table (NZ 1990), Sweetie (AU 1989), Benny & Joon (US 1993), Birdman (US 2014) & Donnie Darko (US 2001). I really enjoyed Girl, Interrupted (US 1999) the other day, even though the reviews are subpar – (who doesn’t love Winona?) I recommendThe Sunnyboy (2013 Australian documentary about Jeremy Oxley, lead singer of The Sunnyboys who emerges from a 30 year battle with schizophrenia).
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is a way out film from the 1970s. The book was always sitting dramatically on the bookshelf at Nan & Pop’s. (The girl on the cover gave me my biggest ethereal crush since The Childlike Empress from Never Ending Story.) Anyway, I read it as an adult and it’s a most artistic deep-dive into the psychedelic secret world that I touched on previously. Greenberg writes in the voice of the ‘voices’ which I found thrilling.
I know you’ve got to be in the right headspace for these subjects. Or perhaps you don’t. Maybe there is never a convenient time. Goose step out of your comfort zone, throw some paint around in the studio of understanding and fan your aura to the experimental frequencies of the meek and neurologically diverse.
Schizophrenia is a cause that needs everyone to come together with education, patience and some emotional heavy lifting. Fire up lovely, I know you have it in you.
pps if you are still feeling overwhelmed or frustrated that you simply have no tangible emotional construct of what the heck anyone is talking about when it comes to this specific topic with the word which is even complicated to spell… Well, there happens to be a real easy fix to that one (for a change):
Most of the things I do are misunderstood. Hey, after all, being misunderstood is the fate of all true geniuses, is it not?”
Howard Stern, Private Parts
I have decided to clear up a few finer points about the condition my condition is in by holding a depress conference. This has been triggered by a reverse microaggression on social media in which I share a more experimental, personal creative piece and the only feedback I get is someone asking me if I’m okay.
Oh, don’t think this is the first time. There was a period in the mid 2010s where I was appearing on Dave Graney’s show on Triple R and it would always follow the same pattern. For twenty minutes I maintained my riffing vibe of Bedroom Philosophy central with gags, self-deprecation and kitchen sink kookiness people have expected / tolerated from me for the past fifteen years.
Then I’d fatigue. No longer able to maintain my irony forcefield, I’d open the Trapdoor about how things were hard and how vulnerable I probably felt. In the shadow of such stark honesty my self-deprecation tended to…say…depreciate in value. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be pretty witty – especially compared to the earnest world of online ‘confessionals.’ As far as I was concerned I was just mixing it up a bit by dropping a freestyle monologue from my inner self. I was in control of my domain. I wasn’t blacking out and reading animal poetry in fur voice.
The audience never seemed to hear it that way. Once the segment was over the producer would declare “i’ve just had three people call up asking if you’re alright.”
Sigh. I’m sure this didn’t happen to Dan Sultan. He got like fifty numbers from girls and sold about a hundred albums from sneezing out a soundbite. I was Tony Martin crossed with Steven Wright but with low energy and no one in on the joke.
I was still a bit cursed from Melbourne Comedy Festival 2oo4 in which my manager forced me to hand out flyers on the street before the show. The display of a withdrawn, round-shouldered nerd scowling at their own leering mugshot on a glossy pamphlet while mumbling ironic reviews of their untested show was enough for ticketed customers to march off to the box office and swap my subscription out for Lawrence Leung’s puzzle flashmob.
Was I alright. Really Triple R?
What kind of alright? Like did I need milk and eggs before popping home? Had I recently experienced a head trauma? Was I aware of the cultural ramifications of my starsign and like to align myself with Cancerians before a live séance at Ceres? Had I been diagnosed with ‘gloominess’ and in need of crisis uppers from the doctor off Channel 10s breakfast show?
Awareness of the nature of these calls coincided with a sharp downturn in spirits. Say, if someone had rung up to pass on that I was hilarious and honest and where could they get tickets to my show or the GPS coordinates to my bedroom, then I guarantee my mood would be emboldened. But no, I was faced with the embarrassing reality that I was (once again) personally responsible for someone’s day being objectively worse than it was due to my double robbery of stealing jokes from under their noses while leaving them with the upturned mindset of having to worry about me.
All those honours in the sick milky afterglow of having just revealed myself in public.
A) I was kinda fine (by my standards).
B) I hadn’t asked them to.
C) I was just being me.
(Christ, imagine if I really WAS out of sorts. Fantasise darkly what manner of entertainment crimes I’d be committing….oh wait, except I wouldn’t – you know why – because I wouldn’t be within like, a 10km radius of a studio microphone which I’d be avoiding like the proverbial emotional plague of depression being ridden out from the safety of my rumpus den AKA the cardboard box with blankets I keep in the garage.)
“Gee…” I thought. (Then and now.)
“…if I’m being myself (the real one – as in, the one Joni Mitchell warns you not to show anyone in Both Sides Now) and people are ringing up with a level of concern that feels completely out of step – the conclusion to this emotional maths equation is that I must be…wait for it…(depressed…..NO, something far more permanent with no known cure… misunderstood.)
Shit. Please don’t.
Perhaps I didn’t spend enough on publicists over the years with the press releases I’d written myself prepping people on how to receive my art. And here I thought I was in control of how people saw me. Oh no, wait, that’s right. I did technically spend thousands of dollars I couldn’t afford on publicists and media managers while coming to the slow, creeping realisation that it didn’t really matter how much I yelled and flapped my hands – people were going to stick me in whatever category they saw fit and at times (surely) have little to no idea who I was or what I was on about.
May you not feel the injustice of your myspace genre dropdown box.
Yes, just like Boards of Canada feeling short-changed in the mid 2000s that they were ending up in the ELECTRONICA section of the record shop when they saw themselves as a group that should sit alongside Badly Drawn Boy and Blur – so I saw myself as a legitimate artist who happened to play music, or a writer who told jokes or things of the like. When (and to this day it still rings true) the majority of people saw me as ‘Rodney Rude’ (rhyming slang for funny dude) of Triple J who sang one of two songs full of one liners and caricatures.
A point being that even under the name The Bedroom Philosopher I recorded and released heaps of songs that hinted at a darker, deeper side to myself and laced these sentiments of alienation and melancholy throughout my banter as well. Thing is: this material, exclusively, sat at the bottom of my itunes sales tallies. A macabre metadata diorama of the way in which society judiciously and meticulously edits out, overlooks, bypasses, supresses and ignores any negative references to emotions or anything that might make them sad or uncomfortable.
Fair enough – paying comedy punters and Triple J listeners are well within their rights to be fickle.
In the same way, I, as the independent artist, am obliged to be wilful in persisting with my ideals. In my defence, I’ve parked myself under my own name and regularly release things that have nothing to do with BP and everything to do with Justin Heazlewood. Confused? Compromised? So you should be – I haven’t even mentioned the fact that my own name was a Siamese twin the entire time I was trying to establish a comedy persona under a moniker, a stunt that upset a belt of rusted on gen-x stand-ups who would narrow their eyes and give me advice after the show that ‘perhaps you should start wearing jeans and use your own name and people will warm to you a lot more’ – the only warmth I felt was the defensive puddle of urine I was spraying on their legs in the obligatory post Comedy Festival psycho-sexual anxiety dream. (But who’s counting Charlie?)
END OF PART ONE
Bookers prefer to go through managers and agents rather than deal with the artists themselves. Artists tend to be confused and emotional.
A manager, circa 2010
Hey, here’s a thing™. And I know this might sound a bit harsh or controversial but….when people write ‘are you okay’ messages on new work I’ve posted on social media, I find it quite patronising.
Now, I’m not saying for a second that the whole ‘r u ok’ movement isn’t legit. (That particular campaign is problematic for how reductive it is, but I guess it’s a start.) If someone in your life appears to be struggling in their mental health or going through traumatic stuff, then I am literally trying to position myself as an advocate encouraging folks to check in on the isolated and overwhelmed among us. It’s just that, and you might find this ironic or darkly ‘fitting’ or just plain appropriate; high achieving mr so & so here is not immune to having it asked of him – but I have to make the point that it isn’t the message I take issue with but the timing and manner in which it’s ‘deployed.’
If I did a post that said something along the lines of ‘I’m really struggling with stuff at the moment…’ then sure, ask me if I’m okay. But, if all I’m doing is posting a link to a youtube of some startlingly honest sound art / performance podcast I made as a tribute to my 40th birthday, (c’mon Justin, why didn’t you think to take a photo of yourself every day for ten years and then you could have two hundred million views like this instant epilepsy) well, look, here’s a suggestion – if you feel compelled to give some feedback then perhaps make it about the material itself.
Sure, the lines are blurred when I make something personal and honest, but if you’re a follower of what I do, especially the work under my own name, is it really such a stretch or a surprise or a shock that I would be putting it all out there in this way, with a clear-heartedness I have chosen to watermark my work with for many years?
A video of me slurring to my belly button with title in capitals (and misspelled) – perhaps a cause for concern and out of character; (says the guy who gave us Pup!) But a nuanced twenty minute audio track with sound edits and guitar laced through? If that isn’t the creative outpourings of a lovingly ‘mad’ larrikin then sure, but an actual, legitimate cry for help – I mean, anyone who knows me (which is last count, about three people. no wait…..two), knows that if I actually did need to or want to reach out for help – the last source of wellbeing, inspiration and support would be Times Square of my anxiety and self-loathing, or as you might know it ‘facebook.’
I’d be just as likely to run to a Fitzroy bar, scrawl HELP IM HORNY and fly a paper plane towards a barrel of hipsters.
(Don’t worry, I’m getting to the helpful section where I give you examples of things you could write which wouldn’t compromise proceedings) – you could say things like ‘I reckon I prefer your comedy songs.’ Or ‘not quite sure where you are going with this Justin’ – except um…don’t, because I guarantee it will make me feel shit and that’s why I don’t read the comments anymore.)
Sigh. I really felt like we were getting somewhere.
Oh Justin, but aren’t you supposed to be able to handle anything we say once you put your art out there – isn’t that the unwritten contract of artists and audiences that has been going on since Geocities?
Well, maybe, but I adhere to the principals that suggest the only law I follow is that of my own personal boundaries and what I’m willing and not willing to subject myself to as an underpaid emerging song & dance legend. In this case, as someone who has had a hundred people take a thousand pot shots at them over the past fifteen years – forgive me if I really don’t feel like absorbing another lukewarm, subpar bit of review shrapnel to clog up my spiritual innards.
It’s not that I have low self esteem. It’s just that my high self esteem does an alarmingly good impression of low self esteem, especially while being hypnotised by the high grade anxiety I’m filtering at any given time of my life.
I saw an ad on TV a couple of years ago raising awareness about anxiety.
I was taken aback. I’m someone who thought he was well educated in mental illness. Yet, even in 2017 I hadn’t put two and two together that anxiety wasn’t just about the prickly, electro static in my guts – it was also contributing to the negative self-talk in my head and almost medical grade paranoia that a lot of people, including my own friends, didn’t really like me.
I’ve been battling that for….ever? I have a memory right now of sitting at the lunch table in grade twelve in the cafeteria at Hellyer College and wondering if my cool band of alternative friends would notice how quiet I was. (As in, I was letting them down and the pressure of that mounting like radioactivity from a malfunctioned sun.) I have a similar memory of ‘hiding out’ in plain sight while panicking about my stagnant ocean of worry from say, university until uh, f u c k i i i i n, every year after that. It’s not all the time, sure, but once you experience that level of anxiety it’s not something you ever forget.
Not only do I have this panic-static, which is almost certainly corrupting my world view in its own insidious way (as we speak), for which I am as diligently self-aware and combative of as I can be, but I also have an unfortunate collection of actual, concrete evidence that I have offended people with my art – largely via the great Tall Poppy Backlash of 2010 when everyone seemed to flip a switch from ‘Justin is alright that sexy nerd scallywag’ to ‘Oh look at bigshot hitting the bigtime and thinking he’s so good’ – and even if that was say, a smaller percentage of my audience or friends (and the entire Mess+Noise message board), the loaded arrows fired were so laden with toxic barbarity that my supple, (I assure you) mostly defenceless sensitivities are not only still healing, but will, I must confess – simply never recover.
I wasn’t built for that shit. And yes, a lot of people were mean to me. Online or real life. Ex girlfriends accusing me of being arrogant. Friends accusing me of name dropping. Photographer frenemies painting me as a prima donna. (Oh wait, he’s Asperger’s, scrap the last one.)
Maybe half of it was true. Maybe half of them were joking. Maybe half of it should be taken with a grain of salt. Maybe I’m half wrong. It doesn’t matter which half. Which half of the grenade blew half your leg off? Hearts are slow like snails. Salt is poison.
END OF PART TWO
When you go on a long rant on your computer now Microsoft word eventually pulls up a dialogue box and asks you if you’d like to save. Awwww, thanks technology – at least someone’s looking out for me.
When you ask me if I’m okay. Ask yourself, what are you really trying to communicate? Are you sure you’re not saying ‘change your behaviour Justin.’ ‘Don’t post lo-fi abstract recordings of yourself, we only like you when you’re shiny and glamorous and obvious.’ Are you absolutely certain it isn’t you who isn’t completely okay, with me, in that moment?
If your intentions are good and you were genuinely concerned and are now quite taken aback bordering on offended that you’ve elicited such a jovial backlash, then at least sit back comfortable in the knowledge that you are part of the rich tapestry of misunderstanding that has strip-mined the wellbeing and context of thousands of convict descendants, bitter nerds, white types and men throughout the millennia.
And as far as being misunderstood. Are you sure you know who I am and what I’m about?
I think I have a three pronged chip on my shoulder:
I’m a child carer of a Mum with a mental illness. The fallout from the trauma is my baseline emotional makeup. Sure, I’m strong and intelligent and talented and funny – I’m also – a flat packed house of cards covered in coffee rings and tear stains.
I feel a bit ripped off by fame. Bear in mind no-one is more aware than me of how bemusing anyone complaining about fame is – in fact it’s arguably my favourite genre of documentary – (I think Naomi Osaka is the benchmark, I especially love the bit where she’s just bought a new mansion but can’t sleep because it makes noises.) Thing is, I’m famous enough in certain circles to have this perceived power which makes others act a bit different around me (or jealous of) and puts me on a pedestal I never asked for and can lead to a sense of alienation (let’s call this, the worst part of fame) but not enough to have a huge following that lifts everything I do into the sky and makes me cash money to afford to live in my favourite suburb of Thornbury (let’s refer to this as the best part of fame).
Just doing a quick life maths add-up – I, Justin Marcus have accumulated most of the worst parts of fame without virtually any of the best parts. That’s my beef. Organic, sure, grass-fed – but still beef. La beef if you will – (Matt Damon’s Texas Ranger in one of my favourite movies True Grit. (Which is definitely spelt LaBoeuf.) Not that I would ever coat my steak in spelt flower no matter how gluten free I was. (Not that that is the correct spelling of flour even though last time I went to Naturally On High they were charging $8 for a punnet of edible flowers.) *
The third and final exciting genetic anomaly in the Escher staircase Rorschach test of my ouroboros Never Ending Story Being Justin Heazlewood movie within a movie postmodern psychedelic only child Gemini ego freakout? Oh yeah, I can’t really stand the modern world. It’s too bright, too loud and everyone is addicted to their smartphones and I have no meme game and I’m not a dog person or that into hip-hop and that’s before you factor in the fact Melbourne is a bit of a shitshow at the moment I just turned 40 and my knee is playing up.
Fair dues, review and recap the above trifecta of complexity and perhaps the most warm-hearted and emotionally generous of you will conclude that any ONE of these chiperoos would be enough emotional fuel to power ones angsty disposition and / or make them particularly sensitive to blow-in, deconstructed, thinly-veiled sideswipes and criticisms leeching into the comments field of your internet feed. I mean, I’ve seen how others do on Instagram – one breakfast shoutout and cute husband humble brag and the lovehearts and hand claps are raining down like alphabet soup on LSD. Good ol’ silver fox Heazlewood takes to the stand to offload his perpetual musings from the safespace of his off-grid autobiotocracy and suddenly it’s like a horse and carriage has been plopped into the middle of a Grimes concert. HOW DARE YOU IMPRISON THAT ANIMAL! As I am dragged and chastised in a slightly sensual manner by a sea of millennial girls donned in cullotes and shapeless cardigans.
WHY ARE YOU ALL DRESSED LIKE MY FRIENDS MUMS IN HIGH SCHOOL?
I cry, backwards.
Being in a popular band, there’s such a lot of garbage that goes with it. People pissing in your pocket and saying stuff they don’t mean. I don’t enjoy that side of it. The bullshit around limited fame is so hollow. It doesn’t even give your ego a boost.”
Andy Kent, You Am I, Juice, 1998
You did that book, the one about where you complain about being famous.”
University friend Deb at my ex’s wedding in 2020, referring to Funemployed
It’s not fair. For your work you have an audience literally clapping and laughing and supporting what you do. For me I have to sit in a dark room on my own with no-one around in complete silence.”
Argument presented to me by a girlfriend, near the tail end of her PHD (and our relationship)
If you don’t know me by now, you will never never never know me.”
* NOTE: Yes, the worst parts of fame as I’ve just mentioned is technically the best part because that perceived power dynamic surely instigated icebreakers that led to every sexy encounter I ever had in my twenties and thirties BUT – um…ok this is going to be a hard sell…imagine, say, I’m going on a date now as my humble writer self and people think I’m this Northcote hipster bigshot and to be honest the last girl I dated was so self-conscious about showing me her book collection because she thought I’d judge her that I became offended because, as I keep telling anyone who’ll listen, I see myself as a bit of a bogan from Burnie who’s punching above his weight. Anyway….this is a postscript to a footnote in a rant about fan engagement, not my hinge profile.
“CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS CUNT!”
Heckler cogging around my desk in a micro machine. (Also the sound of my anxiety – I think his name’s Glen)
DEPRESS CONFERENCE 2022
For the next seven days I will be taking questions in the comment fields of all social media with the exclusion of ‘Are you okay’ and ‘Have you seen Nanette?’ You are welcome to email anything through and I shall update this post in time. In the meantime, here’s a couple of easy training questions to get you started.
Q. Yes yes Justin very good but dude, seriously, are you ok?
A. If I can answer a question with a question young buck, I would ask – are you ok with my artistic direction lately? Are you so very anti-war that my truth bombs have you feeling existentially compromised? No wait, don’t answer that with your words, do a meme or gif of Shirley Temple twirling infinitely or Steve Urkel falling down and getting up again or whatever contextless shit you infantilised avoidance enablers communicate in. 😊 xx
Q. Why are you Justin Heazlewood sometimes and The Bedroom Philosopher also. It’s confusing.
A. Here a rule. The Bedroom Philosopher is for the humorous songs I do and comedy material and so forth. Justin Heazlewood is for all my writing and pretty much every single other thing – especially the stuff that isn’t comedy.
Q. Not good enough, I’m going to tear you a knew one like that punk Oliver Mestitz from The Lifted Brow did when he reviewed Funemployed.
“But who is Justin Heazlewood? Is he the same person as The Bedroom Philosopher?
There are at least seven Justin Heazlewoods in Funemployed. First is Justin Haezlewood [SIC]* the “full-time writer” who, through writing, is attempting to “unpack the layers of ceaseless adrenalin and ruthless self-management … to back my memories up”. He’s written articles for frankie and had a long career in the arts and wants to take some time out to become self-sufficient. This may or may not be the same person as the second-year student who, years earlier, “spewed like a volcano of self” in an opinion column for the campus magazine, CUrio (the name of his article was “Being Justin Heazlewood”).
* as in FULY SIC
Next is Justin Heazlewood the comedian and musician, who most people know as The Bedroom Philosopher: when talking about this review with my friends, I told them I was writing about a book by The Bedroom Philosopher. As the introduction states, this Justin Heazlewood “represents the category of ‘mid-career artist’” who has come to think of The Bedroom Philosopher “as a character”. This Justin Heazlewood is obsessed with his career, his audience, and himself. He reads all of his reviews and the YouTube comments on his film clips and agonises over the fact that, as a comedian and a musician, his art is often too cutting-edge for a mainstream audience. He’s the kind of person Steph Brotchie has sympathy for when she says, “if you use your name on stage, then you have to talk about yourself like you’re a bottle of milk”. He’s often reflected upon and scorned by the first Justin Heazlewood.
The other Justin Heazlewoods play minor roles. There’s “Little Justin”, who plays as many open mic and poetry nights and comedy and folk festivals as he possibly can; “Mr Puzzles”, who peddles jokes and word games in the campus newspaper; “Captain Freelance”, who publishes stories in Voiceworks and writes reviews for BMA and MUSE; “Mr Heazlewood”, the self-employed performer’s “boss who doesn’t know what’s going on”; and “Indie Justin”, who books his own national tour and pops a button on his cardigan when someone refers to him as “emo”. Add to these the metaphors that are used to describe an artist’s ego (a “little creature living inside their chest”), depressive moods (“The Black Dog”) and jealousy (“The Black Cat”) and you begin to understand what Jean Cocteau meant when he referred to Victor Hugo as “a madman who believed he was Victor Hugo.”
That’s pretty great Oliver. That might be the most accurate thing anyone has ever said about me since the random online commentator: “He seems a lot more comfortable onstage when he’s playing a character.”
“Heazlewood’s decision to focus on how art is used rather than how art is made paints a skewed portrait of what the book’s subtitle promises: Life as an Artist in Australia. While I was reading Funemployed I assumed that its subtitle was “My Life as an Artist” (I once wrote a song with the same name) and it wasn’t until I sat down to write this review that I realised the mistake. Either way, Heazlewood’s life as an artist is far from the definitive one.”
If I can just say like a couple of things in response to that…..*becomes bob dylan in that press conference where he snaps ‘would you ask the beatles that?’*
Yeah but I interviewed 100 other artists and feature their quotes throughout the entire book.
If the memoir was just my voice for 60, 000 words, then ‘my life as an artist’ would make heaps of sense. I conducted 100 interviews for the sole purpose of getting other perspectives and voices in the mix. Okay?
Well, cool beard and how is the girlfriend now and I hope your band The Finks is going okay and honestly, I’m pretty honoured by how thorough your review is, even if I don’t understand most of your arguments and would probably dismiss it as overly pedantic which is the skinny white inner-north of Melbourne equivalent to walking up to you in a bar and shoving you and saying ‘what did you say c_nt?’
Last week I dreamt that my girlfriend left me. In the dream she said that Neil Young had convinced her to do it. To be a great artist, he’d told her, there has to be great heartbreak.”
Oliver Mestitz reviewing a book while leaving his ego at the door
If we’re going to take the ‘media’ element of social media seriously, then the audience are by default, citizen journalists. If the artist (or as some might call them these days, the truly dystopian ‘content creators’) are going to buy into the perceived right that by putting themselves out there they must then be prepared for whatever ‘constructive’ criticism blows back their way, then so to the fans or ‘consumers’ may want to uphold a certain respect and integrity for the dialogue box of the comments field – in the same way that journalists have certain morals and ethics which they must abide by.
Remember in school when you’d be just sitting there and you’d have ‘sad resting face’ and someone would bound up and go ‘What’s Wrong?’ and they would literally make you feel a bit worse by even asking that? Truth is, nothing was wrong, you were just doing a bit of contemplative day dreaming, utterly disconnected from the vanities and self-consciousness of your facial muscles for a few delicious seconds.