XMR HUB Writing Club I:
Positive Songs For Negative People
- 07/09/2015 -
Writing is everything. It's a direct expression of who you are, and tends to reveal an honesty hidden behind social etiquette and posing. Why else would diaries be secret? How does pretty much every author end up writing themselves into their characters? The search for whatever truths your seeking can be revealed through writing out how you feel.
In this spirit — and mainly because writing is really enjoyable — XMR HUB has decided to start a writing club. Anyone is able to join in (hence "writing club" and not "writers' club") and the rules are scant. Essentially, we'll give a topic title (usually based on one of our artists) and you are free to interpret it however you want. It can be about anything as long as there is at least a tentative relation to the title; that's really just for inspiration. You then have two or three weeks to craft some words of fiction or non-fiction or something that lies between the two, and send it to us. We then publish the ones we really like (or if there are only a few, all of them). You can then choose to share your work with friends and family and strangers on social media. The idea is to build up a regular group, with people choosing when they are able or willing to write (nothing is compulsory), and have a selection every month (at least) for everyone to read and take tips from.
Appropriately, and entirely by accident, we're publishing the first bunch of XMR HUB Writing Club entries the day after '#ReadABookDay'. I mean, you could read a whole book in a day (To Kill A Mockingbird, The Bell Jar & the Butterfly, Mrs Dalloway, Frankenstein, the first book in The Dark Tower series are all excellent books — well, The Dark Tower I *leads* you to an excellent set of books at least — brief enough for most people to finish in a day) but you could instead read these pieces and that'd be a good chunk of essential reading done. See, XMR HUB can be good for you.
The first topic was easy: positive songs for negative people. The works below are almost all non-fiction and very honest. Perhaps that's what the title (and the artist associated with that title) brings out in people. Either way, it's all interesting and inspiring reading. We hope you enjoy.
If you're keen to have a go, here's the next topic title (sorry it's another album title, but it's a really good one):
"Hope Is Made of Steel — Northcote seem to believe that hope is made of steel, as their next album title states. What is hope made of, and what does it mean to you?"
Remember, this isn't an essay question; it's just a means to get you writing. What you choose to do next is up to you — prose, poetry, real life, make-believe, tragedy, romance; write as only you can.
1. Use at least one of the track names from the Northcote album Hope Is Made of Steel. You can find the tracklisting here.
2. Try to keep it below 2000 words. If it goes over, fine, but expect some editing if it is chosen for publication.
That's it! Everything else is up to you.
Please send your entries with the subject header "XMR HUB Writing Club: HOPE" by 25 September 2015 to: contributions[at]xtramilerecordings[dot]com.
A Cautionary Tale
Six months ago, I was a miserable human being. True story. I worked as though I were being chased by demons – often ninety hours or more per week, leaving no time for myself, my family, or my friends. I hadn’t taken a vacation since my honeymoon, more than 10 years previous. I was exhausted and out of breath, and the stress and dissatisfaction were beginning to take their toll. I was doing good work, even gaining some fulfilment from helping those less fortunate. But I was surviving, not living, and none of it was making me any happier a person at the end of the day.
When I first heard that my current favorite artist was going to be headlining a floating festival on a cruise ship, my wife and I laughed and dreamed. There was no way we’d be able to afford it, and the idea of taking vacation had become little more than a distant memory to us. As the months went by though, we kept coming back to the idea…and finally, in a moment of insanity where we utterly gave in to our wildest fantasies, we booked it and began to arrange a family vacation to Florida.
Life changed, from that moment – that simple act of just going for it. At first in subtle ways, and then with gaining momentum, things began to get better. Long before the trip was even upon us, I began to reengage with actually living life, and not just passing the time. I made new friends, discovered new interests, rekindled the old flames of my love for live musical performance – and slowly the scope of my world changed into something completely different than anything I had previously dared to imagine.
I won’t bore you with a verbal slideshow of my vacation, like some vicious internet auntie just back from her trip to the Grand Canyon. The cruise itself was amazing, but it was simply the last nail in the coffin, the culmination of a process that had started months earlier. They say you should never meet your heroes. I think I understand why now; it’s not because you might be let down – you might be, it’s true, but I certainly wasn’t. It’s because whether or not they live up to your expectations, the way you relate to that person or their work forever changes when you get to know them, as you begin to approach them on a human level rather than gazing up at them while they stand upon the pedestal you have erected for them. Once you discover that they’re just human beings too, the pedestal has to come down. Your heroes lose that larger-than-life status that you so carefully built for them. Soon, you find yourself with no more heroes, and just a list of people that you admire instead…
Now that Positive Songs for Negative People has been released, it seems a fitting soundtrack to the changes (dare I say, the growth) that has defined the last six months of my life. I came into all this as a negative person, but since then I’ve rediscovered a passion I had nearly forgotten existed within me. I’ve made myself available to life again, and it’s led me to some crazy situations. I’ve made personal friendships with some of my favorite artists and spoken to people I never would have expected to give me the time of day before. I’ve dropped everything to go to shows hours away at the spur of the moment, helped musicians with load-ins / load-out and enjoyed a taste of life backstage, and once I even got to drive a tour van for some very talented artists.
It might sound like a romantic existence, but this is a cautionary tale. A fable, if you will. And like all fables, there’s a moral to this story… Do you like your mundane, normal life? Like predictability, knowing what each day is going to bring before it begins? Do you fear excitement and the unexpected, preferring to live by the status quo? Do you want to keep your heroes and idols, and clutch to your belief that somehow those people have more value than you do yourself? Then for the love of god, whatever you do – never, ever get on a boat with Frank Turner!
"Positive Songs For Negative People — as a statement, a title, an album, a collection of songs, a way of life, a way of relating to one of your favourite artists: what does this mean to you?"
To me, Positive Songs For Negative People is an album I needed years ago; it’s an album that will give me a kick up the backside when I need it. As a predominately negative person with mental health issues, I find it difficult to see the positives in any given situation. Music in general helps me do this — songs such as those on this album prove that there are positive things in the world, and that there are good things to look forward to no matter how bad things seem at the moment.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Frank has been through probably more than his fair share of shit storms in his life. You only have to listen to his back catalogue to notice that. While the other albums do have positive songs on them, songs that would be fitting on an album such as PSFNP, there are a whole heap of negative ones out there too. Some of them are heart-breaking, and some hit just a little bit too close for comfort. However, the positive songs on the album are the fist-pumping, dancing, screaming-at-the-top-of-your-lungs type of songs; the ones that feel absolutely amazing and encompass exactly why I love music so much. Even the saddest song on the album, ‘Song For Josh’, has a positive message — there’s always hope left. Having stood up on that ledge myself, I know the power of being told that by someone you love, whether that is a significant other, a friend, or even your favourite musician. I know music is what a lot of people, myself included, turn to when they’re going through a bad patch. Having an album such as PSFNP in the world will give a whole lot of people a boost when they need it. The fact that it is an amazing album that captures the band’s live magic helps too. But when the next storm hits (which inevitably it will), this album will be one I turn to when I need a reminder that I can and will get better.
There aren’t many things in the world that have a positive impact on me. This album symbolises everything and every reason why I love Frank Turner, and will be the album I point people towards when they ask where they should start. The album will improve many people’s lives simply by existing, and I don’t think there are many more albums that could come close to claiming that. The songs represent everything that is good about Frank; the lyrics, the catchy melodies, the storytelling, the T.S. Eliot references, and the history references. And of course you can't forget The Sleeping Souls, the four people who really bring Frank’s music to life. They exceeded themselves on this album that manages to capture some of the magic of seeing them play live. It's exciting and energising. It really does make me happy. I've heard most of it live too, a mixture of solo and full band, and it is just as special as I thought it would be.
Positive Songs For Negative People is an album that will long be a favourite. I'll turn to it when I need a lift, and otherwise it's an album I could listen to on repeat for a very long time to come.
I Regret Nothing
“Hey, Jenn, is Jacksonville anywhere near you guys?”
My cousin paused before answering, probably to collect herself. Despite the fact that she’s lived in Florida for almost ten years and I’ve been one of her more frequent visitors from home (home being just north of Boston), my grasp of Florida geography is still abysmal and that was actually a sincere question.
Jacksonville, for the record, is not remotely close to Cape Coral. It’s a five to six hour drive if you trust Google Maps, an admittedly dubious prospect. Jenn explained this to me, and I frowned at the laptop I had open in front of me while I’d been chatting on the phone with her. I was looking at a Facebook post on the North American Frank Turner fan group about a show in Jacksonville in March, and some casual internet acquaintances were peer-pressuring me to go. I hadn’t seen a show since May, and we’d recently learned that the new album wouldn’t be dropping until some vaguely defined point in the summer, thus pushing the next actual tour further into the nebulous future, so I was jonesing for a fix (this all seems a bit petulant now, writing in September with tickets for five shows sitting on my desk, but it was a tough winter for us Massholes and I needed something to look forward to).
Jenn registered my disappointment and asked me what I’d been planning, so I told her I was thinking of spending my tax return to fly to Florida to see this show and meet some internet folks. If it had been close to her, I’d wanted to fold in a trip to see her and the kids, but as Jacksonville and Cape Coral are not within an easy distance of each other, I was starting to think that I’d be better off putting the tax return towards an apartment I was saving to move into in March. I really wanted to go though, so Jenn and the internet Turnerds had little difficulty talking me into it. My adult sense of responsibility isn’t as developed as it could be, and there’s a refrain in the fan community that you only regret the gigs you don’t go to.
Plus my cousin and I could have used the road trip to work on our ailing friendship. Jenn’s five years older than me and our mothers are identical twins. When we were kids we felt more like sisters than cousins. I hero-worshipped her, and music was always a huge part of our relationship. Jenn plays acoustic guitar and piano. She used to perform her songs at cafes and kidnap me for midnight excursions to play and sing together on the rocks at the beaches in Gloucester. She’s the most likely reason I developed a preference for singer-songwriters who play acoustic guitar.
When she moved to Florida our friendship started to strain, and by January of 2015 it had broken a few times. We’d managed to repair it, but I was getting suspicious that Jenn was less and less interested in the maintenance of it as our lives changed and we drifted apart. I don’t blindly hero-worship her anymore, and I’m not sure she likes the adult I’ve grown into.
Still, a road trip to introduce her to my favorite musician seemed like an ideal way to repair the breach, given how important music is to us. I was cautiously optimistic about the trip, with some reservations. The tickets for the actual show weren’t that big a deal, but plane fare and missing work (no paid days off for the low-wage earners) was a considerable burden. I’m a starving historian dependent on a tourist economy with staggering student loan debt: I don’t have a lot of money, so treating myself to a frivolous trip made me feel guilty. Plus Jenn hasn’t always been the most reliable person, so in the back of my mind I kept worrying: ‘what if something went wrong and I’d blown all that cash for nothing?’ My mental health was suffering at the time, and the getaway was much needed. But if I screwed up the trip then ‘everyone’ (a vaguely defined mob created by my anxiety with much more investment in my personal business than is at all likely or plausible) would know what an irresponsible screw-up I was.
It’s like all my worrying manifested itself. Owing to a death in her husband’s family, Jenn couldn’t justify the drive to Jacksonville. She told me through a Facebook message a few days before I was supposed to fly down. At this point I’d already made plans to meet up with those internet acquaintances (some of whom were becoming genuine friends), and I’d emailed Frank to request a song.
I like to think the panic attack I suffered was the result of more than just the prospect of losing my vacation. I was under a lot of stress at the time, and freaking out to the point of uncontrolled breathing and chest pain seems like an over-reaction, to put it mildly. It was also incredibly embarrassing. Luckily I have a good support system. My sister helped me through the actual attack, and then my mother helped me rearrange my travel plans so I could still have my trip. I managed to get Jenn on the phone that night, and when I hung up we were good. She apologized for blindsiding me, and we talked about the possibility of seeing a Boston show together sometime instead.
She had a change of heart, because the next morning I got some nasty messages from her. The contents have a bit too much history to get into here, but the gist of it is that she wanted me to break my plans and still fly to see her, so I could spend my getaway sitting in her house while her family grieved. She was pissed I manipulated everyone so I could go to a concert when I’d already seen the guy a bunch already (this was my fourth – rather light for a committed Turnerd).
Yeah, we’d grown apart a bit.
So I flew to Jacksonville alone, an emotional wreck for the entire solo journey. I had layovers since the flight was changed last minute, and the hotel was not near the venue. I don’t drive, so that created something of a pickle for me. My internet friends came to the rescue, although since they were at this point solely internet friends (I’d never seen a single one of them in person before) this was still a source of anxiety. I am a petite woman who looks younger than she is – not exactly intimidating. I made it sound like I knew these people better than I did to my concerned mother, and accepted a ride to and from the venue with them. Thanks to her ubiquitous presence in the fan communities I was reasonably sure that Darlene at least wasn’t a serial killer, so that was somewhat reassuring.
I was still panicky right until the minute I got into Darlene’s car. In fact, I’d been doing a guided meditation for anxiety before they got to my hotel in an effort to calm down. For the next several months I was convinced I was a horrible person who exploited their friends and didn’t deserve vacations and that everyone secretly hated me. Jenn knows me well enough to hit just the right buttons on my anxiety disorder.
This group of Turnerds though. The ladies (and later Seth) took me right in and set me at ease. Apparently they all liked my contributions to the FB group, and we had a great time discussing social politics during the drive.
The show itself was, of course, totally worth the agony it took to get there. Frank played my request, which pretty much made my life. He also played a few songs from the yet-to-be-released Positive Songs for Negative People. I’d gotten my first tattoo in October; an FTHC logo on my left wrist, a spot with some negative associations from my past. The tattoo encourages better behavior. I’d been wanting to get some lyrics to go with it and had all but settled on my choice. Then I heard 'The Next Storm' live for the first time.
I don’t normally get much out of a song on the first listen. I usually need to meditate with it for a bit, give it a few listens, but sometimes a song grabs me right away and this was one of those moments. Considering the winter I’d had, that song resonated, so I decided to hold off on the lyric tattoo until the new album came out.
Frank’s music hits me in a way other songwriters don’t because the lyrics resonate with my struggles with depression and anxiety. I requested ‘My Kingdom For A Horse’ mostly for the line “I’ve been stuck inside this comforting familiar disease” – it’s the most apt description of depression I’ve ever heard. It nails everything people who don’t have depression don’t get. Of course you don’t enjoy functioning this way, but you can. It’s familiar. It’s the routine, even if it is terrible and full of self-harm and fear. The thing is, I’d used the old songs to wallow. I realized I needed less ‘Tell Tale Signs’ and more ‘Get Better’. PS4NP feels like it came out exactly when I needed it to.
After the show my new friends gave Frank a somewhat garbled account of my travails – getting ditched by my cousin at the last minute, flying alone from Boston (probably not a big deal for a touring musician, but scary for an anxious little historian who doesn’t venture out of New England with any regularity). First thing he said: “Well, fuck your cousin. I’m glad you’re here.” It’s petty of me, but I still giggle over that. I do want to make up with Jenn someday, but at the same time she really hurt me, and having that acknowledged by my favorite musician was pretty satisfying.
Six months later and Jenn and I still aren’t talking, but my gig buddies and I still are. I’m seeing a bunch of them at shows later this month, and hopefully many more in the future. Darlene, far from being a serial killer, is a wonderful friend, real as well as internet. And they were right: the only gigs you regret are the ones you don’t go to.
Ask any Frank Turner fan to explain why his music is so important, and you will hear each and every one of them talk about some aspect of community. Even if the fan base can’t always agree on everything, when we show up for a show, we’re all in it together. Frank himself has been hailed for his beautiful mid-Photosynthesis speeches about music bringing people together, and I know I personally have never left a Frank Turner show without feeling as if the spirit of rock 'n' roll has bonded me to every single other person that was in that room with me for the past four hours. Even if Positive Songs for Negative People hasn’t yet become every fan’s favorite album, there’s no arguing that it embodies that community spirit, especially in the song 'Glorious You'. During his live tweet listening session of the album, Frank mentioned that he wrote the song for his cousin at a time when she really “needed a hug”, but the lyrics serve as a hug for anyone who’s ever garnered acceptance from the spirit of music.
Going to a live show, especially one performed by Frank and the Sleeping Souls, truly embodies the lyrics about being able to “lift up the weight of the world from [our] shoulders, just for a moment or two”. Every time I’ve been lucky enough to see them play, the whole crowd has pulled together to create a beautiful experience for everyone to forget about their problems and simply enjoy the show. Between dancing with strangers, singing “bah bah bah” at the top of our lungs, and doing jumping jacks, there is so much happening at a Frank Turner show that one can’t help but have fun and put the real world aside for a while. 'Glorious You' mimics that energy and almost brings the show right into your bedroom, the back of the bus, or wherever the music moves you. The perspective the song offers is a unique one, and every listen feels like a reminder that you (yes, you) can get through anything. With the spirit of rock n roll to help us along, I’m sure that we can.
Enjoy? Come join the writing at the XMR HUB Writing Club. Read the intro for the new topic and send us your stuff. Keep writing; you'll always get better, even if you're already the best.