Certain albums are woven into periods of our lives, evoking immediate memories of those times. For me, one of the major albums was the Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible, which I listened to on repeat for much of my sophomore year of college. It’s an angry, vicious, depressing album, which perfectly fit my mood that year. I had voluntarily committed to a social group that was both verbally and psychologically abusive to me and others. The album addresses prostitution, anorexia, the Holocaust, fascism, and other lovely subjects that made my problems seem minor. It both allowed me to express my frustration through more than a desperate howl and gave me the strength to leave my situation. So when I happened to see by complete chance in the paper that the Manic Street Preachers were not only playing in the U.S. for the first time in six years, but featuring that specific album, I knew I had to go.
Listening to the album and being at the concert led to a deluge of memories. Sitting at my desk in college, playing music over my computer speakers, trying to drown out the fondness for pop country of my housemates. Playing the first song for one of the few people I thought would understand and having them dismiss it as “just punk.” Analyzing lyrics by the band in my communications papers in a desire to share my discovery. Escaping to hang out with my friend who introduced me to them, who now lives outside DC and attended the concert with me. And most of all, singing along with everything I had, clinging on to it, the music and the darkest lyrics resonating with the all the shit I was going through at the time.
But listening over the last few days was much more than a nostalgia trip. While other albums of theirs mean more to me now and music just doesn’t play as large a role as it once did, I still felt a kinship with it. Lately, I’ve gone through frustrating cycles of activist fatigue. I read about something unjust in the news, which makes me angry and sad. Black children and their parents needing to worry about police violence, climate change worsening with few successes in sight, water shortages and corporate control of water in California, pedestrians and bicyclists being killed in accidents with drivers, women gamers being threatened with rape, famine caused by war and broken food aid bureaucracy. I do what I can – sign a petition, educate the people I know, organize events – but it can never be enough. So frustration and helplessness set in, the antithesis of accomplishing anything useful. Instead of feeling hopeful about the ability to make change or at least fight the good fight, it drains me, leaves me empty. I read more and it starts again, reinforcing its ugly self.
But when I listened to angry music for the first time in a long while, I remembered why it was so powerful for me – it short-circuits that nasty cycle. It provides an outlet for the anger, stops it from turning into frustration, provides immediate catharsis. Most importantly, it draws the darkness out of my head, like sucking out a poison. All of the nasty unpleasantries that crawl through my mind about the general state of humanity are externalized, someone else’s words that I can sing but are no longer mine. That lifts the burden off me, allowing me to see the light and beauty of things. Banging on the elliptical machine with every chorus released something in me that I had been holding onto, holding down far too tightly.
Even more than just listening to the album, the concert provided that double dose of nostalgia and relief. While it started with a bit of a stutter – the first song on the album begins with a recorded quote and they came in way after the song would have normally started – I quickly fell into the Concert Trance. That’s when you’re watching a band that you know every song of theirs by heart. You let yourself go, allowing the music to wash over you. It’s both a communal and intensely personal state. It’s also uniquely freeing, especially because I feel responsible for something all the time, whether it’s my job, my child, my writing, my own well-being or an event I’m organizing. I sung along, head banged (gently), jumped up and down like a ninny, and disregarded any hesitations or judgements I might get from someone else or myself. Despite the darkness of lyrics, I came out of it clear-headed and renewed, able to breathe the night air in deep.
Besides the rare opportunity to see my favorite band play live, I’m so glad I rediscovered the power of this music. To my frequent bafflement, mothering has brought out much stronger emotions in me than I’ve ever experienced, both in my reactions to Sprout and the world around him. To be the type of person I want to be and set a good example for Sprout, I need to find better outlets for my emotions, better ways to filter and express them. I don’t think I ever verbalized it, but I think some part of me assumed this music was juvenile, something that moms of toddlers don’t listen to. But that’s actually harmful to my mental health. While it’s not important to me the way it used to be – thank God it doesn’t have to be – it still holds an important place in my life. And I have a poorly researched newspaper blurb alerting me to an incredible concert to thank for it.