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Learning to be “Brave”

June 30, 2019

When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I was very angry at the world.  I was frequently arguing with strangers whom I found irritating: someone at the grocery store who had left their cart in an inconvenient spot in the aisle; groups of people standing outside a movie theater chatting, blissfully unaware that they were blocking the entry way; an individual speaking loudly on their cell phone.  I wanted to be angry at someone, but with this kind of diagnosis, at whom can you be angry? No one, so I sought conflict with anyone with whom I could justify.

I also felt very sorry for myself. There was an interaction with a grocery story clerk that certainly made a difference.  A number of people who cared about me tried to send me positive messages. That was very kind, but it was doing nothing to help me confront the darkness inside of me.  The message you get from the world is that darkness is a problem; you need to exercise it by being “positive” and “strong”

Fuck that.  I was pissed off.

Barbara Ehrenreich, in her book “Bright Sided” wrote about a similar dynamic in the cancer survivor community after her cancer diagnosis.  You were only allowed to discuss survivors; if she mentioned anyone who had actually died from cancer, the group facilitators cut her off, and encouraged her to be positive.  Problem was, she was angry, and when you’re angry, you don’t feel like being positive. Certainly, succumbing to anger is not going to help anyone; yet, denying someone’s valid angry response is incredibly belittling.  It is certainly not a step towards developing mechanisms to cope. Without a good way to channel that anger, it manifests itself in hurtful ways–whether you are being rude to strangers, or harmful to your loved ones.

And that’s where the band Marillion and their “Brave” album enters the picture.  

If you’re like most people, you’ve never heard of Marillion.  They are a British progressive rock band who have been around since 1982.   They are a “cult” band; not hugely popular (although more so in the UK, Canada, Europe, and South America) yet a strong enough fan base to keep them financially and creatively viable.  They are also the band that invented crowdfunding (they are featured in Michael Lewis’ book “Next: The Future Just Happened”). In 1994, they released a concept album entitled “Brave.” Don’t let the title fool you; it’s not an uplifting album, designed to fill the listener with the strength to go face the world.  It’s about a woman who is found on the Severn Bridge with no identity or memory. The album tells the story of how she ended up in such a state. It includes her challenging home life, being a runaway, sexual assault by her stepfather, a descent into drugs and her inability to form a meaningful emotional connection with other human beings.  It’s also partly from the point of view of the police officer that tries to save her, who in many ways is just as lost as she is. The album is extremely powerful, with strong songwriting and poignant lyrics. It also displays superb musicianship. But it’s not a “fun” album; you wouldn’t put it on at a party, unless you wanted everyone to go home.  One critic dismissed it as “dark and impenetrable.” The album takes it’s listener on an emotional journey. It can be exhilarating, yet exhausting to experience.

To be fair, the album does end on a high note.  This is fortunate, because otherwise it would likely be too depressing to listen to with any regularity.    While I had owned the album a few years, listening to it in my dark, angry state, I began to hear it in a new way.  It started to resonate with me in ways it hadn’t before. Yes, it featured a lost protagonist, and I was certainly lost myself.  And while I hadn’t given up, I could certainly imagine myself doing so. That was part of the resonance, but not all of it. The fact is that the album did something that my friends were unwilling or afraid to do, and our “survivor” culture doesn’t like to discuss: it validated the darkness in me.  I could lose myself in this album for forty minutes and safely go to my frightening places. But by the time I got to the last song (the appropriately titled “Made Again,” the aforementioned positive note), I felt better. I stopped snapping at friends. I stopped cursing at strangers. I started to figure out how to live.

I know the album isn’t the only thing that did help me cope. I know the support of my friends, my therapist, and interactions with others who had been diagnosed were all factors in helping improve my frame of mind. Regardless,  I listened to this album non-stop for months, and I know it was a key part of the whole process. I am not going to say I wouldn’t have been able to find a way to grow without the music. I do know for a fact that it would have been much, much harder without it.  

When I went to see the band in Montreal last month, they played several songs from the album–the first time I had heard them live.  I’ll be honest, I wept all the way through. It reminded me how grateful I was to have this music in my life. And how it helped me save it.   


4 Comments leave one →
  1. jennifer permalink
    July 1, 2019 1:54 am

    I’ve found music to be profoundly liberating in my darker moments as well Kevin. The validation and release..the way sad, angry, questioning, conflicted music allows me to be absorbed into my distress, grief, or pain, rather than fighting it. I feel it as sacred time; a sacred practice of giving all my attention to how I feel and whatever has been happening. It’s certainly cathartic and a gift. I’m so very glad you went to Marillion’s concert and shared this with us!

  2. July 1, 2019 2:15 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful response! I’m very pleased that you understand so well. It is much appreciated. 🙂

  3. K.D. permalink
    July 2, 2019 2:45 am

    Very nicely done, thanks for posting on the Marillion pages on FB to steer me to it. All of it touched me, for similar reasons. I’m very glad it’s helped you as it has, and hope it continues to do so, along with family, and friends, and long walks in the wild world… ❤

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