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Manic Depresso or How The Chameleons and The Comsat Angels Helped Me Heal

Depression. The ole emotional ebb and flow. Sometimes it’s due to a string of bad luck, personal past trauma, a tricky assortment of chemical imbalances, a mix of all of the above, and something that may even feel hard to define if you’re the soul that’s in the eye of the hurricane. For me, it’s been an on and off recurring specter for most of my life. It’s like the world’s shittiest and shiftiest house-guest who eats your food, runs up your water bill and then proceeds to lecture YOU on all of the things you are doing wrong in your life. In other words, depression is a bit of an asshole. OK, more than a bit. Total flaming asshole.

The Comsat Angels

The only thing less appealing than oversharing for me is creamed corn, fundamentalist religions and the band Poco, so I will not go into any nitty gritty details of my own devils. (That’s what art is for! Also, add Starland Vocal Band to that list of disgusting.) But after going through one particularly dark and intense period, I want to share with you the things that helped me clear through the fog. Why? Cause we are all in this mess together.

Things like depression and anxiety can make you feel like you’re alone and left suspended in the ether, but again, it is a lie. As the old saying goes, “No Man is an Island,” and while yes, it is a cliché, it is a cliché for sound reason and firm truth. YOU are not alone and neither am I. No matter how alone you may feel and that emotional pressure of UN-connection is deeply scary, please know, not only is it not true but also that you deserve better. The true assholes of this world never have enough conscience to even mildly sweat their effect on others. If you even stop for a second to worry about another human being, you are ultimately fine. We are allowed our flaws and demons too, because they will never define the whole person. To quote an old acquaintance of mine, we’re beaten not broken.

There were several factors that have helped me wade through the depression/anxiety muck, including the immense blessing of having key loved ones and friends who were not only unconditional with their support but also real enough to say “Hey! Are you okay?”. Also, experiencing the stark realization of the fact that things like self-kindness are rarely taught to most of us when we are little beings. This is bonkers, because if you are going to be as a person, friend, lover, parent, sibling, etc. then you need to feel good. A golden warrior is a nourished one. Part of that includes things like taking the time to just fucking rest, breathe, go for a walk, drink a bunch of water and even talk to a healthcare professional if needed. There is zero shame in feeling sad, angry or scared. The only shame one should feel in this life is if a) you’re unapologetic asshole and have zero regard for your fellow human or creature and/or b) bad, heartless work. Everything else just means you have blood flowing in your veins and an actual heart nestled in your chest. You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs and to live in this world baby, we’re gonna break every single shell in the hen house of life. It’s how we learn and ultimately grow.

The Comsat Angels

It was one of my oldest friends that helped nestle me through some truly dark and shadowy times: Music and its fiercely beautiful creators.

Music has always gotten me through many a rough day, week or year/s. My entire adolescence and teen years alone were made bearable by movies, literature and, of course, music. With this most recent bout, the bands that helped push my head above water were the dreamiest double bill of two British bands, one from Sheffield and the other from Middleton: The Comsat Angels and The Chameleons. B

But I can’t stand up and I can’t sit down
Cause a great big problem stopped me in my tracks
I can’t relax cause I haven’t done a thing and
I can’t do a thing cause I can’t relax

“Independence Day” The Comsat Angels

Of the many multitudes of bands that emerged in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that never got their proper due, The Comsat Angels rank massively high on that list, alongside Wall of Voodoo, The Fast, The Gleaming Spires, and too many others to name. A band that was too damn good with a sound so thumbprint-like that as soon as you hear it, you’re instantly like, “Ah, the Comsats!,” they formed in 1978 and two years later released their debut LP, Waiting for a Miracle. If driving in the middle of night with your head swimming in fog, your heart pulsing with heavy worry while the mind feels like it is outlined and then smudged in charcoal, this is the soundtrack.

But it wasn’t just that album that gave me solace, but the bulk of their work, including 1981’s Sleep No More, 1983’s Land, and 1985’s 7 Day Weekend. They nourished me. The Comsat Angels’ 1970s has this way of acknowledging things like anxiety, emotional heaviness, codependency, and even just good old fashioned love in a way that is inherently honest. My 1980s artists are always the ones that will give you the art that you deserve and never play you as a rube or sucker. The Comsats fit into that descriptor like a snug, personally tailored Italian glove.

Their song, “Independence Day,” which first appeared on Waiting for a Miracle and then later on in a re-recorded version for Land, is one of the most honest songs about the quixotic and frustrating elements of depression and anxiety. In fact, if you are blessed enough to have never experienced these things or are trying to explain to someone what it’s like, play this song and Lou Reed’s “Waves of Fear.” Both certainly nail what my experience is like, especially that awful feeling of being nearly paralyzed by your own overreaching brain and nervous system.

The Chameleons

The twin beauty of “Independence Day” lies both in its honesty and hopefulness. They aren’t giving your superficial platitudes here, but instead letting you know that yes, this is heavy and this is real, but it isn’t the end. This kind of soul-resonance lies in so much of their music though. My life is so much the with having The Comsat Angels’ music in it. The dark satin fog of Stephen Fellow’s voice coupled with a band with each member, namely Mik Glaisher (guitar), Kevin Bacon (bass), and Andy Peake (keyboards) being a deck of aces is a gift of an overcast sonic seaside.

Don’t fall
I know your back’s against the wall
But this roaring silence won’t devour us all

“Don’t Fall” The Chameleons

Another band that was a huge beacon of light for me was The Chameleons, especially their lead singer and bassist Mark Burgess. They formed in 1981 and released their incredible debut album, Script of the Bridge in 1983. Much like The Comsat Angels before them, there is not a work of theirs I wouldn’t recommend. Albums like the aforementioned Script of the Bridge, What Does Anything Mean? Basically (1985), and Strange Times (1986) are rewarding both to the ears, mind, and soul. There’s truth and creative wordplay abounding with this band, all further fleshed out by inventive playing and musicianship that paints in Edward Munch-like strokes, but with more verve and heart than the genius painter. (Trust me, I love me some Munch!)

Songs like “Don’t Fall,” “In Shreds,” “Swamp Thing,” and many more confront some of our deeper and inner-fresh-scars in a way that is real, evocative, and yet, never ever depressing. Straight up wallowing was not something I cared to dive into whenever I have been in the thick of it. In the last really dark period, even songs that I had found beautiful, like Kate Bush’s “And Dream of Sheep” further dug into the wound, because I felt like I was drowning. I still love that song and of course, Kate’s a goddess, but I have a hard time listening to it even now because of that association. But The Chameleons were the aural salve that helped plant the seeds for me to start crawling, scratching, and tearing my way out of the paralytic emotional membrane that had grown too big and deceptively strong for my own good.

Mark Burgess

Bless Mark Burgess and his voice and words for having such a strong emotional constitution, old soul wisdom, and a one-of-a-kind vision. I feel happy to live in a world where we, the lucky ones, get to have access to such art. It’s a gift I never take for granted, along with the love and support of the true blue ones in my life.

While I wish there was one neat concrete thing that could fix it all, instead, we have so many ways and chances to help us heal better and get a little bit closer to not listening to the poison and interior worm that likes to gnaw and whisper when given the chance. If you’re going through this, please know that you deserve better and that beasts like depression and anxiety lie. Be as good to yourself as you possibly can, even if at the moment you might have a abusive relationship with yourself. I’ve been there and have spent so much of my life wrestling with intense self-loathing. But like all bad relationships, you will reach that “Okay, with this bullshit” point. We are all worthy of love, good health, the space to be who we truly arethe with and to have a fighting chance for happiness and that includes YOU and me too. To quote Mark Burgess, “The storm has come or is it just another shower?”

We can get through this and we will succeed.

About Heather Drain

Heather Drain is a fringe culture writer who has written for Dangerous Minds, Video Watchdog, Lunchmeat and Cashiers du Cinemart. She has also been a contributor to The Rialto Report, The Projection Booth, Paracinema, Cinema Head Cheese and, on occasion, as a guest writer at both Rupert Pupkin Speaks and Turner Classic's Movie Morlocks blog. Heather currently writes for Art Decades as well as her own site, Mondo Heather, and is the Music & Culture Editor at Diabolique Magazine.

2 comments

  1. This piece is amazing, Heather. I, too, like to take solace in music. It speaks directly to my soul. Much love, my friend.

  2. Not familiar w/ Comsat Angels’ work, but will check them out. Chameleons were (and continue to be) solace and inspiration. The beauty and pathos of their music is incomparable. Other artists from that era who healed my soul over the years–well, Kate Bush, of course, wouldncha know? Also The The, Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes. More recently, Nick Cave has been the one who’s kept me going through dark times. Thanks for a great piece–exciting to know there are other Chameleons fans out there.

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