I’m a bit broken and a bit messed up” – Darren Hayes on growing and accepting personal flaws

When reflecting on recurring schemes or patterns in your life, we’d often love to apply a very pragmatic approach: Something doesn’t work. We analyze it. We have an hypothesis. We fix it. Everything’s fine. Bad news is: Experience shows that it’s normally not that easy.

There are things that can be fixed, and other things that will probably follow us through the rest of our lives. There is a saying that even 20 years of psychotherapy won’t change a penguin into a giraffe. Obviously, you can recommend to the penguin that he might feel better leaving the ecosystem of giraffes in order to find something more comfortable for himself. But, nevertheless, both patients and therapists normally agree on a lesson learned by experience: By analyzing your patterns, you do not learn not to fall into the same hole over and over again. Normally, you just learn how to get out of it quicker and how to try to avoid it.

At first sight, this might seem a bit frustrating and disappointing. But actually, it’s not that bad, because in the moment we accept it, we feel the relief of not having to fight for change any more, and the sensation of a burden lifted can be enormous. Therefore, almost every form of therapy concentrates on two aspects: Acceptance and Change. Or, as my father used to tell me: If you can’t root out your neuroses, pour them some water.

To illustrate the point of acceptance, I’d like to quote one of my favourite Pop Singers, Darren Hayes.

2015-08-24 ttmabIn both, his career as the lead singer and songwriter of 90’s pop band Savage Garden and as a solo artist, Hayes used music and his lyrics to express feelings like alienation, solitude, anger, depression and longing. One of the first hits of his former band, To The Moon & Back told the story of an alienated lonely girl escaping herself in Science Fiction fantasies in order to express the wish to run from her bleak and desolate reality (which might even include an allusion to suicide). I have already mentioned Two Beds And A Coffee Machine, a song from Savage Garden’s second album Affirmation that describes a mother escaping from her home after experiencing domestic violence, caught between the responsibility to protect her children and the reality of not being able to provide them on her own. Especially his second solo record The Tension And The Spark dealt with many of these topics in a very blunt way: The lyrics to Unlovable illustrate how a recent rejection experience can reanimate 2015-08-24 ttatsold schemes of self-accusation, anger, aggression, shame, blame and self-hatred (You make me feel like my mother, she abandoned me / You make me feel like the act of love is empty / Am I so unlovable? / Is my heart unbreakable? / Do I remind you of a part of you that you despise?)

During the campaign of his third solo record This Delicate Thing We’ve Made, Darren consciously decided to disclose how his personal background and the way he grew up influenced him and caused a lot of these emotional turbulences:

“My whole career as a big commercial pop artist was fed through self-hatred, basically. It was all about escapism in a fraudulent way. I became a pop star because I knew I had to become something extraordinary to escape”.

If you trace a line through the work of both Savage Garden and Darren Hayes solo, there is a recurring theme of being unloved and unlovable. It is part of what connects him at his most popular to a mass audience. If Darren is a master at articulating the simple sentiment of what it feels like to be rejected, it does not come without its own poignant back-story.

Darren grew up in the working class suburbs of Australia’s Brisbane. In the early 80s, on the run from his Father’s violence and alcoholism he was just 10 when his Mother took him and his siblings to live in a caravan to escape regular scenes of violence. His relationship with his father has been both the making and undoing of Darren Hayes. His father having long since recovered and redeemed himself (sober for 25 years) – the childhood clearly left an indelible mark on Hayes. It was his need to please that propelled him to invent a life as a pop star. The fame came but could not fill an emotional hole.

(from the official promo biography 2007 written by Paul Flynn, source below)

In a blog interview during this promotional campaign, Hayes was asked about whether his view on these topics has changed thorough the years, and he gave some remarkable answers.

Do you feel that your prior concept of being “unloved and unlovable” is still a melancholic reality for you? I think there will always be a part of me that feels hideous. I am very lucky that I am in a really gorgeous relationship – I am loved by someone that just sees me for all my strengths and weaknesses and accepts me whole. I never thought I would find that, I always thought I would end up alone. (…). The fact that I can’t lie about my insecurities is my thing. I’m a bit broken and a bit messed up. Thankfully, I’ve worked out how to put one foot in front of the other one and get through life and smile.

What’s the symbolism behind the paper crane that features on the cover artwork? It seems complicated, but it’s not. It’s an album about relationships and how fragile we all are. The paper crane is a metaphor for being alive. When you unfold it, you can see all of the creases representing the scars and choices that we have made, whether they are good or bad. That’s our life, that’s what 2015-08-24 tdtwmmakes us who we are. The idea of This Delicate Thing We’ve Made is just my way of saying that everything that happens to us, creates us. Essentially you see a whole life unfold when you unwrap the bird. [Darren then begins to fold a paper crane for me.]



Me & My Shadow // Albert Hammond Jr. – Momentary Masters (Album Review)

Albert Hammond Jr. (c) [PIAS] Germany

Albert Hammond Jr. (c) [PIAS] Germany

There is one specific moment that has shaped my first impression of Albert Hammond jr. as the rhythm guitarist of the Strokes. During one of their first appearences on Letterman (check it out here, starting from 0.22 ), Nick Valensi had just rattled down the first intro chords of “Take It Or Leave It, and except for Julian, all band members still stood there with their backs to the camera. Then, there was a change of perspective, showing Albert Hammond jr.s front, still facing the drums and waiting to begin main lick of the song, with an almost childlike, anticipatory expression on his face. When it’s his turn, it‘s almost like lightening strikes him, he turns around with a twist of his hips and feet, and starts playing and dancing along, almost lost in the sound, effortless, very cool. He almost resembles a marionette of the sound he is creating himself, an impression of naive openness and kindness, but also introversion. And obviously, not to forget: The hair. The Eyes. The Suits. All in all an appearance way more inviting than the frustrated, lethargic vampire on Benzodiazepines, as which Casablancas sometimes appears.

As it was extensively reported, Hammond jr. is a recovering alcoholic, in the sense that every person who once had a serious problem with drinking will be a recovering alcoholic for his whole life, no matter how much time has passed since the last drink. Hammond must be aware of the fact that there are a few lines on Momentary Masters, his third solo record, that will be perceived in reference to that (but if you’re pleasantly drunk you can’t hear a sound in “Power Hungry”, or the whole controlled abuse chorus in “Razors Edge”), but you’d do wrong to read these isolated lines as confessional statements. They rather contribute to the bigger lyrical context of the album, that aims at including, integrating the dark facets of character into a whole picture that is mainly characterized by acceptance.

In everything about this record (press campaign, artwork, lyrics), there is a multitude of references about coming to terms with formerly disliked, repressed, threatening aspects of one’s personality. On his instagram page, Hammond jr. quotes russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn,saying: „The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?“. The whole cover design plays with these aspects of repression, of the search for an integrated self-image, to build something from the stripes and the black-and-white contradiction into something more complete, integrative, and therefore probably more realistic. It’s no coincidence but a conscious move to provoke associations with psychoanalyst C.G. Jung’s concept of the „shadow“ of one’s personality.

Momentary Masters (c) [PIAS] Germany

Momentary Masters (c) [PIAS] Germany

The little short stories in his lyrics depict these conflicts more practically then all these theory might imply. When he finds himself left in his apartment after the ex has left, asking is the moment gone? (…) all the things we said, taking back yesterday? (“Born Slippy”). There are various scenes of parties and/or high society lifestyle where the protagonist finds himself confused, lost, out of place or simply disgusted by what he sees of the shadows of others and himself (“Power Hungry”). Allusions to leading a life in material abundance and wondering about still feeling a need so unsatisfied, that it’s just not enough. (have you been in a house so big, where some rooms don’t exist? from “Caught By My Shadow”). And always the tension between knowing that your decisions aren’t the best, but feeling the attraction and the need, seeing it in other people as well, but not being able to save them, either (“Losing Touch”, “Razors Edge”, “Drunched in Crumbs”). The placement of his version of Dylan‘s “Don’t Think Twice” right in the middle, the heart of his record, is a statement of self-impowerment: I can do all of this negative crap. As long as I can get out of it again and accept that and why it happened.

Nevertheless, these stories and hints are crafted into the record in a very unobstrusive way, so that Hammond Jr. still leaves it up to the listener whether (s)he wants to get involved with this personal stuff or not. Apart from that, you can still get a professionally recorded hi-fi and fun hype rock record, showing a lot Hammonds trademarks and signature sounds of his day job band, making it the probably most strokes-y record for a long time (including Casablancas project with The Voidz). This is new, as his previous brand of lo-fi pop almost seemed to intentionally bury the hushed, washy vocals below the lush singer-songwriter hippie arrangements and therefore set explicit boundaries to the comparison with the Strokes. In contrast, Momentary Masters dares more to rave musically, even if it sometimes is comparable to the Strokes, resulting in, contradictionally, a record that feels a lot more like a statement of independence, exactly because it doesn’t categorically try to avoid something.

Albert Hammond jr. (c) [PIAS] Germany

Albert Hammond jr. (c) [PIAS] Germany

You will find them all here, the famous ingrediences: The lead guitar lines that parallel the vocal melody. The geometrical guitar lines, rather referencing cold simplicit structures of modern architecture or the form of skinny jeans than a howling feedback rock’n’roll guitars. The melodies and zigzaging riffs, so rich on staccato-played notes spiraling upwards that one could almost get dizzy following them winding their way through the otherwise solid and almost static instrumentation. New are his experiments with his singing style: There is the distanced spoken word part, there is the falsetto that sometimes reminds me either of Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig or Take That’s Mark Owen, there are various sound and editing effects, but not anymore with the intention to hide the voice, but to vary the pronunciation.

There is a very charming video interview on Youtube (min: 6:54) of Hammond jr. talking very modestly about his guitar skills, and at one point, as the interviewer asks him about any recommendations for people who just picked up a guitar, he compares himself with other players he knows and replies that his specialty is not the left hand who’s playing the strings, but the right, strumming or picking hand:

“They just can’t keep it (the strum) steady. Almost the reason why i even fit in the band was that I could even just play straight. There were some people who could do solos that i couldn’t do, but they just couldn’t play straight on a chord.”

By not hiding his shadow, by accepting and integrating: Albert Hammond Jr. is ready, willing and able to strum. Steadily.

Tl; dnr: Albert Hammond jr.s third solo effort is musicially the closest to his dayjob as the rhythm guitarist of The Strokes. Lyrically, he deals with philosophical and psychological allusions to accepting darker shades of ones personality and relationship storylines in the context of a certain lifestyle.

GoodKill (Movie-Review) – On Survivor Guilt & ‘Proportionate Strikes’ via Joysticks

The movie GoodKill follows a military pilot fighter (Ethan Hawke) returning from combat zone to his home near Las Vegas, Nevada. While experiencing an emerging survivor guilt, his military unit at home begins to operate unmanned drones in Afghanistan in order to eliminate possible terrorists. By following the protagonist reflecting on the moral justification of his doings, the movie shines light on the subjective experiences of the people who work as soldiers in order to protect their country.

There’s a certain group of people who go to the military because it seems to be the most promising option for their future. If there aren’t enough resources at their home – neither in their families, their social class or their homeland –, enterying the military appears advantageous. It does not only free their families from a burden – the military offers them money, an education, and job perspectives – but at the same time, it also provides them a huge moral incentive and purpose for their lives, an increase of reputation: to serve their homeland. The whole concept of entering the military is deeply morally charged for them on various levels.

In the case of GoodKills protagonist, the viewer doesn‘t exactly know the previous history of Major Thomas Egan. What we do know is, that he’s having troubles because he feels that this moral justification is questioned by the change of type of the missions he is participating in. Having been a fighter pilot in combat zones, the fact that he was risking his own life fighting, and maybe (purely speculative) thinking that his enemies had fairer chances in the conflict of killing or being killed, gave him a moral justification to do what he was ordered to do.

In this new scenario, where he is sitting with his military unit in an airconditined container somewhere in the surroundings of Las Vegas, Nevada, this moral justification is taken away from him. There are various sarcastic comments about shooting people, finishing at business hours and getting home to the wife and kids to have barbecues, or various allusions to joysticks, or first person shooter video games. What for the other combatants is a joke, in Thomas Egans eyes, these comments only enforce his scepticism and amplify his survivor guilt.

Additionally to this change of the location of the operations, there is a change of command in the unit of Egan. His superior describes it with the words: They [the CIA] progressed from what they like to call a personality strike, where we know for sure that our target is a fucking bad guy. Now they’ve come up with something that they call a signature strike. What that fucking means is, that it is a hit based not on a suspicion of guilt, but on a pattern of behavior. So you may be called upon to fire at any dumb in Warziristan who is carrying an AK 47. Even though we all know that everyone and their mother in Waziristan carries an AK 47.

goodkill1The most striking term in this quote is a pattern of behavior, an allusion to psychological research and statistical analyses. One of the most basic forms of statistical analyses of behavior (and one of the most used) is linear regression. By using mathematical means in order to make the best possible prediction about the connection of two variables with each other, it is tried to find the best mathematical method of connecting them via a line. In other words: How can we find out certain aspects or behaviors of persons, that, in the past, were linked with other persons who commited terrorist acts, in order to identify future terrorists? Which statistical variables (carrying a gun, visiting a certain house, to be of a certain age, gender, political opinion) have the best predictive value in order to predict whether a specific person will commit a terrorist act? I’m pretty sure that the CIA will have advanced methods of data analysis then the pretty simple linear regression analyses. But still: These statistical analyses only can indicate relationships (based on past data), not causalities. Statistical analyses implicate relationships based on numbers and figures, not on aspects of the content of the variable.

In this context, the military language in this movie is also remarkable. Targets, proportionate strikes – these terms seem (and intend) to express that the decisions that are made – which are human, evaluations of impending danger, subjective interpretations based on statistical data – rather appear as objective, even scientific statements, in order to reduce or distribute the individual subjective responsibility for the actions. It is implied that these decisions stem from a scientific certainty. But this certainty does not exist. And Major Thomas Egan begins to get a notion of this.

goodkill2It is so easy to judge on the basis of a Hollywood movie. I’m not saying that the movie is a realistic depiction of what is going on – I’m not in an informed position to judge (and yet I’m supposed to be an informed voter on similar topics in my country). Especially the characteristics of modern warfare- without announcements, no confrontation of two identifiable professional armys, but paramilitary groups acting in spontaneous and desorganized ways, not distinguishing between military and civil population –  have to be taken into consideration. One might just as well dismiss the whole movie as an anti-war hippie leftist intellectual feelgood movie, or an populist conciliation movie for the guilt-feeling audience to have something to be upset about (and then go on with their everyday life, reliefed for the feeling that – at least – they reflected critically on the topic). And I wouldn’t exclude myself from that.

But what this movie illustrates imho is not only the question of war, the question of whether there is a concept like a „just war“, or „proportionate actions“. To me, on the one hand it’s about how authority, the use of de-subjectivication, the pretense, that science is absolutely objective, are used in the movie in order to manipulate people. On the other hand, it’s about the deeply subjective perception of an individual standing in the middle of so much noise, so much information, and so little certainty. Trying to make sense of it, and trying to find a position of his own.

To find more information about the actual practise of drone strikes in the USA, check out the New York Times article from earlier this year.

Another detailed review of GoodKill can be found here.

tl; dnr
GoodKill offers reflections on the use of scientific findings in the context of war, on the way military language tries to reason subjective decisions with allegedly objective scientific certainties, and how the wish to identify with his job on a moral level affects an individual soldier.

Sources images: imdb.com