How I like to listen to Music

Most people like music yes? On the rare occasion I meet someone that doesn’t like music or doesn’t have a single cd, tape, mp3 or any of them old yokes I can’t remember the name of (joke!) or even any apparatus on which to play music, I tend to get very suspicious as to their mental stability. Lots of people listen to music casually while at work or while travelling and rarely ‘really’ listen to their music. For those of us music lovers, musicians, songwriters, etc for whom music is almost a religion or some kind of spirituality (me included), we tend to listen to music on a whole other level. Here’s what I like to do.

Go into a quiet room by myself late at night with no distraction or external stimulus. All senses except hearing should be shut off. I put on my favorite artist, Bob Dylan, The Doors….something timeless and brilliant and play it loud. Not loud enough to hurt or have the police around but loud enough to fill the room, drown all other stimuli and cause the merest of vibrations at least. Headphones aren’t the same. Many times I’ve been brought to tears just doing this simple thing – really listening to beautiful music. Not because it’s sad or nostalgic in some way, just because the melody, harmony, beat, tone and sentiment are great enough to overwhelm my senses and emotion. Tears of joy I suppose..

When I was in the band, we quite often deconstructed songs we wished to cover live. It might have been before Igot into computers because these days I’d just search for the tablature online but listening to a song over and over to try to get the lead guitar, bass or keyboard parts was a great education in how songs are written, built and recorded. I still listen to songs that way today and try to pick out each instrument and follow it along for the duration of the song. That’s why I say to people you could listen to a song 6 times in a row and have a completely new and great experience each time. Just listening to a great bassline can be hypnotic as can a cool drum beat. Listening to lead instruments can bring you on fantastic journeys and the whole thing together of course is just a symphony of color…even if it’s just a simple rock/pop song. Don’t even get me started on classical music!

The musical part of a song is always what stands out for me and what I listen to first. I could be years listening to some tracks before I totally cop the lyrics and meaning of a song and I’m quite often blown away when I finally figure out what a song is actually about! I’m also a fan of music biographies and have read many from Jim Morrison’s to Clapton, Hendrix, Dylan, Lynott and Bono and knowing a bit about the background of a band or artist can bring yet another dimension to the song.

If I could (and I have done in a past life..), I’d do noting else but listen to music forever..


My Mother, 10 Years Gone Today

On this day, 25th June 2000, my mother Noeleen Quinn, 52 years old, sat down in front of a train at Sandymount Dart station, Dublin and ended her own life. It was a life that had become unbearable in the previous 2 years and was the last in a long string of suicide attempts in that time as she desperately tried to get off the planet and find peace. It was a life that had never really found true happiness and one which, at the end, no person could reasonably be expected to endure for too long and retain any kind of sanity.

My mother was a deep, thoughtful, intelligent, creative, artistic, well-travelled, nature-loving, strong-minded person with a quick wit and who didn’t take any shit from anyone. In many ways, the last person you would think who might commit suicide. In fact not long before she got depressed and while she and I were looking at a tv program about depression, she mentioned that she could never understand how anyone could kill themselves.

She had found some kind of normality in the years leading up to her final bout of depression, successfully gaining a Degree in English and the History of Art from UCD in 1998 as a mature student. A great achievment for an early school leaver especially as she was caring for my similarly mentally unwell grandmother during studies.

She graduated just months before a serious cancer scare which turned out to be the final straw that sucked the will to live from her. Despite successful surgery and getting the all clear, the post cancer treatment took its toll and she had a nervous breakdown. For the next 2 years she done everything she could to die, multiple drug overdoses, jumping in rivers, drinking and even burning. I also suspect based on marks I seen on her that during her stays at various different mental hospitals, she tried other common methods too.

I lived with my mother through these years, just the 2 of us in a 2 up 2 down in Dublin and I still don’t have words to describe how horrible it was to see a normally strong minded and strong willed person completely lose their mind and will to live. The pressure and stress in trying to keep my mother alive and deal with her attempts were the hardest thing I’ve ever or possibly will ever have to endure and I’m not sure how I made it through. It seemed that every time I woke up or came home there was some dreadful situation to deal with. I think the only thing that got me through that period and prevented me from becoming another sad suicide statistic myself was my ability to shut off mentally and pretend I was somewhere else.

They say that 2 of the hardest things to deal with in life are bereavement by suicide and the death of a child. My mother’s death was different. Strange as it sounds, the relief I felt when the guards came to the door on Sunday night June 25th 2000, was immense and still stays with me today. There comes a time when life becomes so hard that death seems like a better state and that’s how it was. Depression is a horrible living nightmare for all concerned and connected but none more so than for the person suffering it. You retain your intellect but are paralysed and weighed down by an unexplainable grief and apathy. The psychotic self-harming tendencies that can result from unsuccesfully treated and long term depression are very, very scary and nightmarish to deal with and I’ll never, ever forget what it was like to see my mother desperate to die and even begging me to kill her on occasions when she herself had failed. Killing yourself, as my mother found out is really not that easy.

I’d known long before she died that the mother I knew and loved and that raised me had gone for good and I was left with a hideous, evil creature, possessed by a devilish disease of the mind. It was obvious to me that after so many different treatments had failed to cure my mother and after any friends and family she had had been scared off, that it was only a matter of time before she died. She really had little to live for. The only shocking aspect was the manner in which it happened. She mirrored the death of my Aunt Helen, my mother’s closest sister who also took her life on a train track in the 70’s and I think, something which my mother never got over fully.

In the weeks and months that followed her death I had no option but to get on with my life. Bills had to be paid so I had to go out and get my first proper job and basically go out into the world and find/re-find myself. I had a little scare a year or 2 afterwards when I felt lonely and down and for a while I thought I was next in the family tradition to lose the plot but somehow, perhaps due to what I’d witnessed with my mother, I avoided that and managed my way eventually.

I am proud of my mother for what she achieved in life and perhaps controversially I am proud of her for being brave enough to end her own life. In some ways I see what she done as a kind of sacrifice for my benefit as well as her own. I knew that she knew how badly her behaviour was affecting me and how much I was at breaking point. Her death allowed me to live and I haven’t look back since. She of course was the biggest benefactor of her actions and in this case the so called selfishness of suicide was fully justified and allowable in my opinion.

I would like to take this opportunity ‘ma’, wherever you are, to thank you for all that you’ve done for me and for giving me the tools to succeed in life and to find the happiness you never did. I will keep you with me always and remember happier times and I will tell everyone who is interested, the many ways in which you were great. I will raise your beautiful grandchildren as you raised me, with an emphasis on learning, creativity, individuality, integrity, honesty, laughter and strength of character with a healthy dose of your cynicism thrown in too.

Your only Son and Child,

Leon (Nooney Moon)

Contact Aware for more info and support for Depression.

Some photos of my Mother, Noeleen:

William Blake Songs of Innocence

I like Blake’s poetry and got into him through the Doors who were also influenced by his “the Marriage of Heaven and Hell” which speaks “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite….”. I chose to add music to the “Introduction” to Blake’s “Songs of Innocence” poetry collection.

Here are the words, followed by my music (early effort!):

Piping down the valleys wild,
Piping songs of pleasant glee,
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he laughing said to me:

“Pipe a song about a Lamb!”
So I piped with a merry chear.
“Piper, pipe that song again;”
So I piped: he wept to hear.

“Drop thy pipe, thy happy pipe;
Sing thy songs of happy chear:”
So I sung the same again,
While he wept with joy to hear.

“Piper, sit thee down and write
In a book, that all may read.”
So he vanish’d from my sight,
And I pluck’d a hollow reed,

And I made a rural pen,
And I stain’d the water clear,
And I wrote my happy songs,
Every child may joy to hear.

Songwriting Tips

Here’s a bit about how I write (or used to write!) music and songs. Back when I had the time to write music full time and when I was depressed enough to have material to write about, I’d write and record maybe a song or 2 a day. Most of the 50 or so songs I’ve written were completed in the space of a few months.

My preferred method would probably have been to simply strum chord patterns on the guitar untill I found a progression I liked. Then I’d hum over it to get the basis of a melody. A tape recorder or dictaphone was invaluable for when you’d stumble on something decent because the chances of remembering it later were slim to none and there is no worse feeling than knowing you had something but it got lost in your head somewhere. These days if I have a melodic idea, I’ll probably record it on the iPhone!

Once I had the basis of a melody and harmony I’d have a look at chord and scale charts I had up on the wall in my music room to see where I could break out into a chorus or middle eight type bit, different from the main structure. Ocassionally I’d do the same on the keyboard or maybe start with a melodic riff on either the guitar or keyboard and try add chords to it.

Lyrics would probably have been my weak point and I remember getting pretty worked up about not being able to either find the right words or get them to fit into my musical structure. Thesaurus books and Rhyming Dictionaries helped big time here. For some reason, starting with lyrics and trying to add music to them never worked out that well unless the lyrics were written specifically for music. If not then they tended to be too untidy to fit into the rhythmical structure. I wrote a lot of poems for example and tried to add music to them but had a hard time with the more non-linear ones!

Of course one of the best songwriting tips anyone could give is to simply listen to as much music as possible to make sure you have a wide, eclectic resource to draw on when it comes to creating your own music. Despite this fact, a lot of my music came out bluesy/folky and dark but I guess you find your own stlye too!

Hope that helps any budding songwriters out there.