Dear Mr Springsteen

born-to-run-front-cover-only12 May 2016

Dear Mr Springsteen,

I have epilepsy, and I have spent the last month and a half recovering from a bout of seizures I suffered in the middle of March. I used to work in radio, had a reasonably happy life in a city I love, living independently and working towards becoming a freelance writer. I’d recently joined my first band (!) and was starting to engage with some of the challenges I’d been dreaming about since I was a kid.

Now I’m living at my parents’ house, in a regional area five hours from where I want to be, with a stutter that has killed any chance of continuing work in radio and significantly effected my employability across the board. Even the most basic of tasks can be incredibly tiring due to my motor skills going AWOL, and holding a conversation is a struggle most days. I’m an avid lover of live music – oh, I’m sure you’d love some of the artists coming out of Canberra at the moment – but I won’t be going to any gigs anytime soon because now loud or unexpected noises put me on edge, further limiting my speech and greatly heightening my anxiety levels, leading to an further increased risk of seizure. My doctors and neurologists have no idea why this is happening (except that it’s not a tumour, stroke or blood clot, which is a blessing) so there’s no treatment plan for me, except waiting to see if it comes good.

Cripes, that was a bit of a downer to start with. Sorry about that.

But it’s important that I break it all down, because I am in a pretty dark place right now. I have nothing to hold onto. The rewards I would normally give myself to try and feel better – a trip away from home, a night out with friends, seeing a band – are all out of reach. All the little goals I’m setting for myself? I’m missing them by a mile.

In the days after the first in my cluster of seizures, I bought your Born To Run album off iTunes at the suggestion of my aunt. (I prefer concrete copies, but I haven’t been able to get to a record store since this all hit the fan.)

Since then, your album has been what I cling to. I was never really one for much mischief, but the youthful abandon and longing to throw off the shackles of life and be free described in “Thunder Road” and “Born To Run”? I was working towards living that, taking advantage of my youth (I’m 26) and being myself and how the system can go to hell. I had felt trapped in my last job, and I’d just broken out of it, putting in my resignation two weeks before I fell ill. I was starting to feel the wind in my hair, and I was looking forward to seeing where the road would take me.

And then came the contrast. Certainly not as violent or criminal or broadly devastating as the actions and consequences of your characters, but just as desperate. Locked in, and clawing to get out, to no avail. That’s me now, stuck in a brain that feels like it is short-circuiting almost constantly. I am writing this letter in one of the few moments of clarity I have been blessed with.

Your album has reminded me of two things. The first is that I am very lucky. I don’t have to resort to cross-river deals or run from guns and cops, because I am a white, middle-class woman, living in my parents’ house in a country town in Australia. The second is that I was so close to beating this condition – I’d been seizure free almost two years before my relapse – that I should be able to do it again; I need to fire up the engines and get going. (Ironic, since my condition eliminates me from being able to drive.)

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to Born To Run. It is the soundtrack to my days, my solace in the darkness, my motivator and my comfort. Though the story is different, the emotional ups and downs are calling me back to my own type of freedom. I listen to it every night as I go to sleep, willing it to imbibe me with its energy and the drive you used to make it happen, 40 years ago. (How was it that long ago? It still sounds fresh and vivid and alive.)

I’m yet to dive into your full back catalogue, although it does come highly recommended. I just don’t think I’m ready yet. If it’s alright with you, I’m just going to curl up with this album a little while longer, a little musical safety blanket to get me through the next few weeks, months, however long.

I honestly don’t know if I’m going to get through this, though. My speech was so precious to me, and now it’s barely there. I haven’t seen my friends in over a month, and the distance makes me ache. But even if I don’t, if I’m stuck in this shitty existence until I’m dead, I wanted to thank you for the little bit of peace you’ve brought to my soul and the little bit of fire you put in my belly. Born To Run is what my motor is running on right now, and I have needed every note of it.

Thank you. Thank you so much, for forever and a day.

Sincerely yours,

Noni Kuhner

*****

I initially didn’t want to post this here. I wanted to send it off into the world and never hear from it again. I wanted to send it to some vague record label address in the hope that it might one day get to the eyes I wrote it for. If it never did, that didn’t matter. It was the act of writing it, and of sending it that held meaning. It was an act of healing, where the process was more far more important than the result.

Two months later, I’m in a much better space than I was when I wrote this. I’m back in Canberra, starting to work again, and my speech has mostly recovered, though it does have the occasional hiccup. My brain still struggles a little when there’s too much sensory stimulation or I’m trying to think about more than one thing at a time, and I had another small seizure a few nights ago at band practice, but apart from that, I’m doing okay.

I’ve been taking some time off Born To Run over the last month or so, just to get back into the swing of listening to new things again. I’m loving Brendan Maclean’s funbang1, and some of the older gems in my collection from Inland Sea and Paul Dempsey. I made a mixed CD as a belated wedding present for a friend, and caught up on a whole bunch of podcasts. I finally got around to digging into some of Bruce Springsteen’s other works (Born In The USA is good, but inconsistent; Darkness on the Edge of Town is easily #2 on my list of favourite albums of his).

Right now, I’m listening to Born to Run again after a month or so’s break. I still love it. It still means so much to me. I still feel the need to say “Thank You” all over again.

It really is a great album.

Seven Songs

Seven songs. Seven stories. Some truths. Some lies.

Life On Mars – David Bowie

In bed, we’re tangled. I’ve lost count of the hours, and I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve done our best to eat each other alive, but I know that I have heard this song twice tonight. The first time was a sub-par cover by a female artist I do not dislike, but this time, it is The Man Himself, singing it how it should be sung.

My eyes are closed, and I see a stage that isn’t there. Performers stand on invisible platforms floating through the air. A grand Grimaldi stands opposite a Pierrot, strangely confident in his stance. Lions and silks and bubbles, all swirling around me, and yet I am not there. It’s all around me, but it’s still distant. It’s like watching television, except that I am surrounded and separated by and from its wonder. I feel like I’m spinning and swirling, draped in loose fitting robes that dance as I soar upwards-

He changes the track and I’m flung out of the trance. I am bitter, but I keep it to myself. The real world doesn’t allow me to float on the wind, but there are worse ways to spend your time than this.

 

Baby I Am Nobody Now – Andy Bull

Up front. Packed in. Sold out. Who would have thought it? Everyone should have thought it – it’s a well deserved warm welcome, and the audience are rewarded with a swathe of sound that twirls softly around us like a silk scarf. I get that hit, reach the little nirvana where I’m not stuck in this clunky body, instead I’m writhing through the air like an ethereal serpent.

The melodramatic metaphors come easily as the backing vocals swoop in to fill out the chorus. The sound is massive, so dense that it feels like it could scoop up underneath us and lift us to the ceiling like a cushion filled with air.

They’re playing their way through a fucking superb album, one that’s lifted even higher by hearing it being played live. I think about hearing it and seeing it again, this time with an orchestra filling out the places where the synths have been, raising the crescendo even higher. I get chills at the thought, on top of those I’ve already got.

I open my eyes and remember it’s still happening. I drink it in, and dance.

 

Cold As Canada – Paul Kelly

In the song, she’s watching him sleep, but he left hours ago. I’m sitting on the side of the bed, and I feel the light creep in through the shutters and hit my back. I didn’t stray like the woman in the lyrics, but that’s only because I was never really here to begin with.

There is no sound, save for my deep breaths and the ensuing sighs that reveal just how deep a hole I’m in. My ears don’t need to hear it; it’s embedded itself in my heart and my head and I just want to collapse in on myself and be wiped from the memory of the world.

Maybe not from the world’s memory. Just his.

I don’t know who’s committed a greater betrayal: the woman who knows what on earth she’s done; or the woman who could do no wrong.

She needs to walk away. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know when, but it needs to be soon, before the guilt eats her away to nothing.

It doesn’t matter how it happens. There are no winners here.

There’s no good way to say goodbye.

 

He Called Me Baby – Patsy Cline

Three times.

She had always hated the idea of being called that word. She was not a child.

But he said it, and she enjoyed it.

Three times.

She heard someone say once, “You should only use the word ‘baby’ in a song if it’s actually about a newborn.” She was pretty sure it was a bastardised David Byrne quote, but it didn’t matter where it came from. It seemed like a good philosophy.

The first time. She figured it was the heat of the moment. She tried to ignore it. Instead, she loved it. But she winced a little. Something was wrong.

The second time. Now it sounded deliberate, like they were actually going places. She felt warm, glowing despite the cold air, but something was still niggling at the back of her mind.

The third time. The last time. It hit her like a concrete slab.

She wanted to tell him: “You’re not calling me that because you care. You’re saying it because you think it’s the right thing to say, and it would be.

“But you’re not saying it to me. The woman you’re saying it to isn’t here, is she?”

Instead, she just said, “Please, don’t call me that.”

And that was the last time it passed his lips.

 

Grandma’s Herbal Cure All – Moochers Inc

The fact that she would never see these people again intoxicated her to the point that she just let it happen. She danced in the street, tearing her shoes to pieces on the cobblestones, letting her hair fly in the wind.

 

Man Like That – Gin Wigmore

She often thought about the revenge fantasies she would play out on him.

But every time she thought of one, she would find herself taking him back.

It was a dreadful waste of plotting, in her opinion.

In the end, she just threw coffee on him. Easy and effective, cheap and classic. Him and her.

 

Good Intent – Kimbra

New shoes. Black. Small heel. Buckled, not laced.

Old shoes. Black-ish. Smaller heel, more worn on the left side; wobbles when walks. Buckles are buckled, coming undone.

These things that are comfortable never last.

Hottest 10(0) Picks for 2013

Democracy is a pretty awesome thing. Sure, sometimes it doesn’t go the way you want it to (big shout out to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and the people of Geelong), but the idea that you get to have a say in something that’s a bit of a big deal is a pretty cool concept.

And when you’re voting for songs rather than politicians, what’s not to love?

Yes, it’s time to get your votes in for the triple j Hottest 100, where the best songs of 2013 battle it out to see if they can possibly, just maybe beat Lorde1 for the coveted number 1 spot.

Most years, I get to January and find myself having completely forgotten who I loved in months previous, but this year I got myself a system – loved a song? Buy it and whack it in iTunes. When the time comes to vote, arrange by year and voila! You’ve got yourself a shortlist, with an indicator of how many plays each one got, should you need to whittle down the numbers.

Funnily enough, this year was a breeze. I picked a shortlist from iTunes before running through the list of suggestions on the voting page to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, and here’s the run of ten that I finally settled on for my vote, in no particular order.

(No pressure, but I reckon I’ve got pretty damn good taste.)

Note: Those marked with (DIY) aren’t in the suggestion list provided by triple j, so you’ll have to add them yourself through the… well, “Add Your Own” feature.

***** 

Citizen Kay – Raise A Glass (feat. BKBB)

Yes, this choice is full of Canberra pride. The nation’s capital welcomed me back with open arms in 2013, and I repaid it by getting stuck deep into its local music scene (more on that in future posts). This is undoubtedly one of the biggest songs of the year from the ACT, with Citizen Kay and The Brass Knuckle Brass Band (aka “feat. BKBB”) getting a whole lot of airplay on the national youth broadcaster, and it’s been a real delight to hear it coming out of headphones, radios, and cars over the last few months.

Plus, they’re both killer live acts. I’m still pissed that I missed seeing this in the flesh.

Dan Sultan – Under Your Skin

Ahhhhh… Dan Sultan. If there is an album I am absolutely falling over myself for in 2014, it’s the one that this track will be a part of. The growling, howling vocal in the opening bars immediately talks to my lady bits and the video clip… Excuse me. I’m going to need a moment to compose myself.

Fun Machine – Naked Body (DIY)

The first time I saw Fun Machine was in early 2012, when they were supporting Mikelangelo and the Tin Star, and to be honest… I didn’t get it. Sure, I could see why so many people had told me how awesome they were, but something just didn’t click for me. Even though they were deemed by many to be one of the acts to see in Canberra, I didn’t go in for a second dose for a long time.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to give it another go, I was just always busy/sick/broke/lacking motivation/just too damn pretentious to go. Then this song dropped and it was like a light switch flipped in my head. I suddenly *got it*. And I loved it.

So I started to plan to go to a Fun Machine gig. Somehow, the universe had caught wind of my initial doubt and inevitable change of heart and decided that I deserved to be punished for my foolishness. Hence, I endured months of not being able to get to see Fun Machine. Stupidly heavy rain storms, seizures, clashes with family gatherings… Until I finally got to a couple of their gigs in December.

And now I have a massive crush on all the members of Fun Machine. And we all lived glitter-ly ever after.

(If you were expecting my blurb about Fun Machine to make sense, you do not understand Fun Machine and you should come with me to one of their gigs so that you can understand.)

The Preatures – Is This How You Feel?

The jangly guitars, the sultry male and female vocals, the Instagrasm-style vintage-esque video clip: there is nothing about this song that isn’t amazing. You will undoubtedly have chunks of this tune floating around in your brain for weeks after you’ve hit play on this video, and you will enjoy every minute of it.

Saskwatch – Hands

The day that Saskwatch played Transit Bar, I was a wreck. I’d had a seizure earlier in the week, I was tired and emotionally vulnerable, and in the end I couldn’t even bring myself to stand up to watch their set, choosing instead to sit and listen quietly from a nearby couch, my view blocked by all the happy punters.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to see anything. They were so good that I was entranced and delighted by just being in the same room as them and hearing them be bright and happy and funky and awesome. It took me a long time to pick between this and “I Get Lonely“, but this one seemed to have got a little bit more airplay, so I figured my vote might be better spent with it. Hopefully my cynicism pays off and it gets a spot!

Vance Joy – Riptide

For me, Vance Joy’s ‘Riptide’ is this year’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’. Working in commercial radio, it has been in my ears almost every day, but it’s such a great tune that I can’t bring myself to hate it. In fact, I still love it immensely, right from those beautifully chirpy ukulele chords and confessions of ridiculous phobias in the opening verse. It’s just sweetness, pure and simple.

Fun fact #1: When I first heard it on the radio, I thought it was some jaunty side-project from Alex Barnett from Sparkadia. (Come on, they sound a little bit similar…) I confused many cab-drivers with this assertion.

Fun fact #2: His real name isn’t really Vance. This still infuriates me, because people called Vance are awesome, like my great-grandfather and my 8-year-old cousin.

Twin Beasts – Badlove (DIY)

I can’t remember how I first came across The Toot Toot Toots. Maybe it was when I saw them at The Phoenix back in 2012. (Or was it earlier than that?) Maybe it was when I first heard ‘Fool’s Gold‘, off their debut album which is a gorram Spaghetti Western Rock Opera.

However, the last twelve months have meant a transformation for this delightful band, with a complete name and sound change. I’m not disappointed though – their new direction as Twin Beasts is absolutely kick-ass. Plus, the video features a guy who reminds me of Peter Capaldi flailing around in one of the best pieces of interpretative dance/acting I’ve seen in ages. Hit me right in the guts, man. Right in the guts.

The Basics – So Hard For You

Sure, 2012 was the Year of Gotye, but 2014 could well be the year The Basics, my favourite of Wally DeBacker’s projects, really come into their own. This song is absolutely killer, and now that they can count an ARIA-and-Grammy Winner among their members, their fantastic brand of retro-pop-rock might just get the attention it deserves, especially with the swell the genre is currently riding with the likes of The Preatures and Jeremy Neale.

With a new album apparently in the works, keeping an eye on The Basics should be one of your major hobbies in 2014.

Brendan Maclean – Stupid

I don’t know where to start when it comes to Brendan Maclean, because he is just a brilliant human being, even before you take into account how amazing he is at music. His songs are not only catchy and brilliantly entertaining, they’re also surprisingly raw and revealing.

And seriously, look at that face. How could you deny those gorgeous puppy-dog eyes a vote? Do the right thing, and give a tune that is unashamedly about unrequited gay love a spot in your short-list.

The Growl – Douse The Lamps (DIY)

And now we come to the song that gave me more lady-tingles than any other. Seriously, that bass line. You can feel the rhythm weaving its way into your hips. Arch your back to the gravelly-gorgeousness of Cam Avery’s voice. This song just screams “SEX”. It’s primal and gritty and just makes me want to do something my mother wouldn’t approve of.

And then you strip it all back to two guys in an alley, with nothing but a double bass and that gorgeous voice, and it still gets into your blood stream and sets your insides on fire.

Sure, Dan Sultan is sexy, but this song is just something else, to the point where I am terrified of seeing The Growl live… I’m just not sure I could control myself…

*****
What were your songs of 2013? Leave a comment below and we can create our own little “Warmest 100”.
Endnote:
1 Yes, I realise Lorde isn’t a 100% sure bet. Daft Punk are also major contenders. But even though I have come to be really sick and tired of ‘Royals’ due to hearing it all the time at work, it’s still not as infuriating as hearing ‘Get Lucky’ every two hours. 
Also, it’d be nice to have a solo female artist win the title for the first time ever, who also happened to be the first New Zealand artist to win… and the youngest winner ever.
But mostly because I want to see a young woman at the very beginning of her career kick the arse of a whole bunch of dudes, especially some who’ve been in the game for almost two decades.

A Farewell – Gigs Out West

Goodbye, Gigs Out West. It was fun while it lasted.

Today I did something that I have been putting off since I found out I had got a job in Canberra.

I closed Gigs Out West.

Hopefully someone will find it and want to give it the love and care it needs and deserves, but until then, it’s in a deep hibernation.

The blog post for today is here, and is the letter I wrote to explain why I am no longer running the site.

Excuse me. My heart hurts a little bit.