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In Dreams Begin Responsibilities - Music and Mental Health - Searching for Harmony. A special interview with debutant Marlody on her new album.

  by Steve Miles

published: 7 / 1 / 2023

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities - Music and Mental Health - Searching for Harmony. A special interview with debutant Marlody on her new album.

In 1971, a bunch of advertisers working for the Coca-Cola company wrote a song they called ‘Buy The World A Coke’. It was a key part of a radio and TV campaign that simultaneously epitomised hippy optimism whilst selling a diabetes-inducing caffeine-based drink to kids. The advert was such a huge success that the song was quickly rewritten for full-length release, and hit Number One in the UK as ‘I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony’) by The New Seekers. To this day, Microsoft’s North American vice-president for sales and marketing considers the advert an iconic moment in the merging of marketing and culture: ‘Standing on a hilltop in Italy and each holding a Coke, they sang without irony about a wish for global harmony, peace and a deep emotional connection with other human beings.’ If they weren’t already, ever since that time, the two senses of the word ‘harmony’ have been aligned in popular consciousness. When we talk about mental health, harmony is a key word both ‘within’ and ‘without’. To be happy, you must be in harmony with other people – if not with the whole community, at least with a group of friends, colleagues or family. You need to feel at home in the world. But you also need to be in harmony with yourself, feeling some of the warmth and togetherness that belonging means collectively within yourself. You need to feel at home in your own mind. When we talk about music specifically, harmony has very specific and often complex meanings, depending on how deep your knowledge of music theory is, but even the most ill-informed of us know it means ‘sounds combining nicely together,’ and usually refers to vocals above all. The derivation is from the Latin word ‘harmonia,’ meaning ‘joining, concord’. The opposite of harmony is discord, dissonance and separation. Marlody’s debut album, released at the start of this year, makes me think about all these things a lot. The name ‘Marlody’ itself seems a composite of ‘malady’ and ‘melody’, a mash-up of good and bad, beauty and pain, harmony and discord, and it turns out that ‘Marlody’ is something of a disguise for the talented singer-songwriter, Jenny, who wrote, recorded, played and sang all the songs on the album. Why does she need a disguise? Is it perhaps because she wrote these songs just for herself, and recorded them herself, at home, just because she could, never thinking she would sing them in public or release them to the world on a record? Is it because the topics addressed in the songs are so intimate that it’s scary to be so exposed? Or perhaps because all the keyboard sounds and the many, multi-layered harmonies are (except for a smidgen of bass and harmonium on one track) all her own work and there’s no-one else to hide behind? Perhaps because she says she rarely listens to any other singer-songwriters, and the album isn’t at all what you might think a woman and a piano would produce? Or is it just perhaps because the name better suits the songs – a made-up word that unmistakably evokes and forefronts the notion of ‘melody’ that is the hallmark of the record, but adds ‘something a bit darker’ all the same? Which, if any of these, is it? I’m not sure at all. Which, strangely enough, is also the name of Marlody’s debut album. She explains, ‘The title was born through the sentiment… I feel as if I’m never sure about anything (though this is not entirely true, it’s a sentiment that resonates with me - I’m quite an indecisive person). I didn’t feel sure about releasing my music into the world, but I did it anyway. I’ve been trying to say yes to things I’m uncertain about. Like, fancy playing a gig? Erm.. yes?! That kind of thing!’ ‘When I was in this little band years ago, we recorded a few things but I think we just put them on MySpace or something. I don't think they exist anymore, they're not in the world, so yeah, no, I've never put out any music before.’ Despite this uncertainty, music and Marlody have gone hand in hand all her life, and she was kind enough to talk to me about both for this article, which is also, of course, about mental health, aspects of which underpin almost all the songs – and the search for harmony in particular. Harmonies are the hallmark of her music on this album. Most of the songs have multiple vocals, all sung by Jenny, adding to the main lead vocal. Often it feels as if the singer’s loneliness is assuaged by the second and third and fourth voices, which come in as the song progresses, echoing or upholding the lead. Often, I suspect, there are more voices than instruments on a song, as if there were many Jennies, all chipping in and helping out. This is always beautiful, musically, but also sometimes disconcerting, especially in the context of some of the lyrics, and that counterpoint is at the heart of the record, and the heart of Marlody. In getting introduced, as mentioned above, Jenny told me that as a young adult, she played for a couple of years in a ‘post rock sort of band with my husband (before he was my husband, when he was just a boyfriend) and a couple of friends who played guitar and bass’ and adds that, ‘that was fun!’ Playing music together can be a wonderful experience of a particular kind of being in harmony with others in an existential sense. Although – significantly – Marlody’s album has none of that (unless you count her various selves playing together), Jenny has experienced this togetherness through music before: ‘I had to sing in the choir at school – it was like a church school - and I had to sing Alto parts because I think there weren't enough people that could sing the lower part; so that's how I learnt to do harmonies and stuff just doing all these church songs.’ Is this music as belonging? ‘Yeah, part of my love of singing harmonies and stuff comes from that. It's quite nice, that feeling of being in an orchestra or choir – it’s just quite inspiring sometimes when you're surrounded by the sound of a full orchestra or a choir. It makes you feel very alive.’ Before that Jenny had an intense commitment to classical music as a child, where the word ‘fun’ doesn’t seem to fit so well. Despite playing recitals while still at school as far away as Norway and Sweden (where she was on TV aged about 15), and practising for hours with her ‘amazing teacher’, she suffered from ‘terrible stage fright’. ‘I used to get this dissociation thing,’ she tells me, ‘So I'd be like playing a piece of music and then it was like I disappeared from being in my own body and then I’d come round and these hands were playing music and I was like, what do I do now? And sometimes I'd have to stop playing and it's like the most humiliating thing like when you're playing in front of people and you just suddenly stop - oh God, it's so mortifying.’ It’s taken her a long time to get to this point again, and she did it all herself. ‘I did everything on all the songs… I really like doing it all myself, just in terms of getting it done, being in my own creative space, just immersing myself in my own little world and making something. I just explore what I've got available to me, like I haven't got much money, so I just used GarageBand on my phone, recording real piano as well, so like the synth sounds and the drum sounds and things, it's just like me just exploring what I've got available. I don't know the reason the songs sound different to each other, I think it's just each one is like, I just get into my own little microcosm with each one…’ When she started this process, she had a piano ‘which we got from a place called Necessary Furniture, which is like when you can’t afford to buy a sofa, you go to Necessary Furniture and get one of theirs. But they had some pianos there, we got one of them and then when we got this new one from a friend, we took it apart and put it up on the wall, so now we've got, the inside of a piano on the living room wall which is quite cool.’ When you have listened to the album, the notion that the maker of the album has taken a piano apart and put it on the wall makes perfect sense. That sense of putting the inside out, of seeing how things work, of baring the inner workings, of bits and pieces detached from each other which, when united, make beautiful music, sort of sums up the record. ‘I feel like I'm quite shy like in a sense of performing, I feel really nervous and stuff, but at the same time I feel like I don't really mind who hears these songs. I don't mind putting them into the world. I feel like I might as well share them because otherwise what are they, they’re just songs I make for myself really. I just feel like if I share them, then I don't know, maybe - I don't know, it feels weird to say - oh, they might help someone. I don't know how people then interpret them or anything but I try to find hope in dark moments and it comes across hopefully.’ There’s that searching for harmony with others which I mentioned, again. This time in a communing sense, a giving, a sharing of like minds. And, in the composing process, a search for harmony within herself: ‘I've been making up stuff for a long time but I think I've written probably about sixty songs or something just like within the last eighteen months maybe. It certainly hasn't come from any desire to be a performer or anything - I just write songs because it’s good for my head. Um, it just helps me make sense of things… It's something that I feel like I need to do regularly to keep me sane.’ Jenny explains that the album is actually made up of quite recent songs, mostly written since she was diagnosed as Bipolar, a significantly inharmonious condition. Bipolar is what Jimi Hendrix would have called ‘Manic Depression’ and both terms imply equal periods of great happiness and great gloom, but Jenny explains that the ‘manic’ bit isn’t about happiness per se, but just heightened emotions and activity. For Jenny, while depression has been a constant since childhood, the other side has grown over time. ‘I remember being at school and being accused of being on drugs by one of the teachers because I was being really hyper, so I have always had it, but over the years it got worse to the point of having, like, psychosis, which I hadn't didn't really get so much when I was a kid.’ The ‘depression’ side is more what you would expect. She candidly explains that, ‘I've, yeah, I've had times when I all I can do is sleep - I don't know what the right word is, but that was all I wanted to do; it was, like, an alternative to being dead was being asleep. If I can't be dead, then at least I can sleep, because then I don't have to do anything or participate in anything. It's just like really horrible depression.’ Contrary to popular opinion, that isn’t a very creative state. The songs on this record, though often dark, instead come out of her recent period of neither extreme: ‘I feel like I've had a period of recovery, like I had therapy, and being on medication that actually helps rather than hinders me, and I think it's definitely made me more functional.’ ‘Bipolar UK’ informs me that although the majority of individuals with bipolar experience alternating episodes of mania and depression, the severity and the type of influence that has on the individual is as varied as the weather. They say that the condition affects over one million people in the UK, being more than twice as common as dementia. Disturbingly, it takes an average of nine years to get a correct diagnosis of bipolar and there is a misdiagnosis average of 3.5 times. Bipolar increases an individual’s risk of suicide by up to twenty times. So it’s no surprise that Jenny’s mental health history is complex, but also that her diagnosis has been very recent, comparatively, in her life. ‘The songs were all written from within the last couple of years I would say, so some of them are still from when I was being diagnosed with bipolar. I’ve always thought I had depression and anxiety; all my life I've been taking antidepressants and medication for anxiety and things like that, but I didn't really realise that I was bipolar. But then it just got worse as I got older, and I started having, like, psychosis and stuff, and that's when they realised it was actually bipolar. Being on antidepressants didn't really - I mean it did help a lot, but then there came a point when it was just making me worse. I was getting these manic episodes and I think that was the most scary time, when I had - what's it called - dysphoric mania: it's like you're really energised but at the same time in a low mood. I could not keep still, my whole body was twitching, and everything was just like really fast and, yeah, I was seeing things in the corner of the room, and everything was like really scary, and it was horrible. That was part of a manic episode - people tend to think of mania as like people thinking they're the king and they get really happy, but it's not necessarily: you're not necessarily in a good mood and not necessarily so feeling on top of the world ‘cos it can also happen when you are actually in a bad mood, but you're just feeling really hyper and energised and, yeah, it's a difficult state to be in.’ ‘Oh, I’m lost, I’m lost, I’m lost/Is there nothing left to find?’ – ‘Wrong’. The first song on the album, ‘Summer’, establishes something of the Marlody sound and the Marlody method: musically, it’s made of cascading piano, and a voice singing along with itself multiple times. Its themes are loss and memory, topics that weave in and out of the tapestry of the album in almost every song. ‘There’s photos on the wall/ Without them I wouldn’t remember you at all.’ The memories are those reconstructed by a child who has lost their mother. It isn’t autobiographical, but Jenny explains that the feelings of her own mother’s death (when she was a young adult) obviously fed into the mix. Many of the songs on the album offer perspectives on memory. And Jenny’s own occasional experience of being ‘quite frightened that my brain isn't going to be working in the way that I need it to, and I'm not gonna be able to know what I'm doing’ offers a meaningful connection to the song’s (and album’s) focus on memory, as does her recent work caring for people with dementia – ‘especially the earlier stages of it where people don't really know that they've got it, they just get irritable and confused.’ Memories exist only inside our heads but the people and places and things which comprised the memories often remain in the outside world. Even those of us with so-called neurotypical existence know how fragile memory can be, how a face or a word or name is on the tip of your tongue but can't be retrieved. Even ‘normal’ people get times and places and events muddled up. This is because, as modern brain research tells us, memories are not filed away like fossils in a museum drawer as was once thought but are reconstructed each time we remember them by multiple neurons in different parts of our brain firing simultaneously, and are therefore shaped by our experiences since the events the memory refers to, as well as by the context and purpose of the memory: all these together shape exactly what we recall. We make our memories up, in many ways, and they are inextricably shaped by our emotional state, both past and present. This is why five people remembering one event all seem to remember different parts of the event, and why each often remembers something the others don't. This is also why we can disagree entirely and profoundly on some key events shared with others. If memory for neurotypical people can be so fragile, how much more unreliable and likely to be lost or muddled are the memories of those who struggle with their mental health? Maybe this is why in Marlody’s album emotions and meaning are often posited in external, intangible objects. Memories linger in ‘a ring’, ‘a coat he never wore’ or ‘photos on the wall’, while ‘A trace of woodsmoke on my clothes/ Still keeps me in your arms.’ ‘Yeah, I think I quite like the idea of holding on to symbols, ‘she tells me. ‘I believe that symbols keep us strong, like a smell or an object or something that you touch just helps capture a time or memory. I am a bit of a hoarder. I've got a lot of stuff, like pictures of my children’s drawings. If I'm walking in the woods, there’s a certain type of smell of rotting leaves that really reminds me of when I was a kid and I used to go off on walks on my own in the woods with my dog.’ I ask her whether there's an underlying unspoken fear of being lost and disconnected, of not holding on? ‘I have been - I've had this dissociation thing, in the sense of losing myself. Sometimes when stressful things happen in my life, I fall asleep in random places. Once, I was just walking up this hill alongside the road and then I woke up later. I literally just fell asleep on the side of the road. And then I would get it when I was driving; as soon as I’d get to like an open stretch of road, I’d fall asleep, so I’d have to pull over quickly and just fall asleep for like twenty minutes or something and then come round again. It was like a weird reaction to trauma – so yeah, that thing is like getting lost in your own body, in your own mind. So, losing control I find is something that still haunts me: not having control of my own thoughts and actions.’ ‘You’re floating fast away/You’re tethered to a boat/That’s got no mooring place’ -‘Otherly’. As with the album title, this idea is about ‘Being unsure about yourself. I remember when I was quite young, I used to get depressive times and I'd have to go for these really long walks, just keep walking until I sort of came back into myself. So it was a bit like running away, but somehow it was bringing me back… I would always end up wanting to come back to life, like reality… but I’d have to go through the process of acting as if I was running away…’ The second song on the album is, appropriately, called ‘Runaway’, starting with just a simple organ sound and a lonely voice singing about empty spaces, then at end, after some synthetic percussion enters the fray, echoes of the words through layered, almost competing voices, which appear almost to be comforting the singer. ‘I was nowhere to be found/I was nowhere to be found/But I was not lost, and I didn’t really want to be A runaway soul.’ Jenny says that when she first dated her husband she used to be petrified of losing him – because she wasn’t good enough for him and he would want someone else - and that the idea of loss haunts her quite a lot. ‘Everything you care about is decaying constantly, isn't it? So it’s just whether you're gonna outlive some of the things you care about, or they’re gonna outlive you…’ ‘So I crawled out/Of my hiding place/And I hung there in the empty space/Everything was gone/I was on my own/Left it all too late/To be getting home.’ The third song, ‘Change’, again addresses the notion of being lost, but goes to darker places still, with a clear narrative. ‘I was down by the water/With the stones to take me under/And as sure as all the bones beneath my skin/I could see me sinking in.’ The music is almost in binary opposition to the words, with a high-pitched tinkling piano like an old bar-room song, and as with every song, there’s uncertainty, anxiety and disharmony, internally, in the protagonist. ‘Yeah, there were branches I could’ve reached for/But I was so sure I didn’t want more.’ I asked Jenny if the song was based on a real event, and like all the songs it’s a composite of some of her feelings and experiences and some of other people’s. ‘When I worked with a mental health charity, I used to get quite a lot of calls from someone that used to call to say they were going to kill themselves. They used to get sent a lot of ambulances. But there was one time when I spoke to this person and they were outside walking - they were walking to a body of water and they were outside and I could hear the weather, and the sound of walking, you know, stones underfoot, and they’re telling me that they’re going to drown themselves, and it really felt like they meant it, and I had to try my best to get the right help and everything. I had felt those feelings before of wanting to drown myself, but this person sounded like they were actually going to follow through on it. It was very scary and it made me glad that I hadn't followed through on my own dark thoughts.’ This is clear in the final verse, when optimism and hope shine through: ‘From the dawn to the evening/Part of me gone the rest is healing/And I hope I don’t forget how good it is / Just to be here now again.’ That sense of redemption and hope runs through the album and makes it not at all the depressing experience you might think from some of the lyrics quoted. Jenny candidly discussed this with me: ‘I don't know, I think sometimes the thing that keeps you alive when you have really bad depression is basically laziness. It sounds really silly but sometimes a key part of when you're depressed is that you really can't, like, do anything. You can’t even get up. And to do something like to actually follow through on suicide requires planning, and you know an active state of mind. It’s not so easy…’ ‘Not so much on this album, but I do write a lot of songs about death! I just seem to be a bit obsessed. Coming to terms with losing people seems to be something I feel like I need to write about.’ She laughs and follows this with the admission, ‘Some of the songs are about quite dark topics, like suicide and depression and things like that, and I’m not really sure I want to share that with my kids, although I have played them the songs and they do sometimes sing along. I don't know, it's strange to write about, like, suicidal thoughts but it's got redemption in it, so I guess that's sort of my story…’ ‘Disappearing from the world, as in like death, I don't know if that bothers me that much - as in, I don't think, I mean I'm scared of dying, but I do feel like if I was dead then I wouldn't care! I wouldn't want to see the people that I care about upset - I would be worried for them - but yeah, I think I'm scared of dying but probably less so than maybe my music says. I mean I sometimes write songs about ghosts, but I don't know if I particularly believe in them. I believe in the people being haunted by memories rather than by actual spirits…I definitely don't want to die. Yeah, I like being alive! I like life. I like living. It would be so boring to be dead!’ ‘From the dawn to the evening/Part of me gone, the rest is healing/And I hope I don’t forget how good it is /Just to be here now again.’ - ‘Change’. The bravery and honesty of the album is something I greatly admire, as I believe that only through being open about our thoughts and feelings can we understand each other and love each other properly. But it’s not without its issues for a parent to put these things into the open, as Jenny is very aware: ‘I mean people get suicidal thoughts. I think that's part of part of a lot of people's experience, so I think it is okay to talk about that, and be honest about it. I don't know - as long as - I mean, I'm still here, so obviously haven't acted on it! I mean, my children don't really - they know that I've got bipolar, like they know I have medication, but they don't really think anything of it, I think. I think we did quite a good job - my husband did quite a good job - of not letting them be too affected. I mean, I'm sure they probably have been affected by it, like there was this time when I was having these seizures: I was at home with my kids and I had this fit - it's not actually epilepsy, it's just some weird psychological thing, so they had to, like, phone an ambulance and stuff, and that's probably the most scary thing that they've seen. I don't think they’re really massively aware of all the states I've been through… I don't really want my children to think that I am suicidal, but I mean, I'm not these days so it might be OK for them to know… I don't know… I don't know if it's okay to like admit that's part of my past - or at least I hope it's in the past! I don’t know what the future holds.’ ‘These Doubts’ is, lyrically, a lovely song, the lament of an anxious person who thinks it inevitable that their loved one will leave them. The music this time matches the uncertainty with strange synthetic sounds, an odd and intermittent rhythm and lots of competing voices, but with simple, clear, repeated lyrics, almost like a prayer, repeating over and again that, ‘You’re turning out/To be/More/Than I ever wanted.’ But there’s an upbeat ending with the hopeful refrain, ‘there’s no more reason for these doubts’, although Jenny undermines that by adding, when I point this out, ‘Well, you know it probably isn’t entirely true - but there’s no more reason not to think that than there is to think of the doubts.’ (I should add that I have the lyrics in front of me – they’re much more obscure in sound.) After that comes ‘Malevolence,’ which is about the disharmony Jenny’s mind once sowed in herself. It has a really modern bunch of sounds, utterly at odds with the first couple of songs on the album and spiky, unexpected rhythms, with an almost impossibly quick piano trill holding it together. The music again is, by itself, almost celebratory and triumphant, but the lyrics are disconcerting: ‘You really wanna smash their face/But you know you’re never gonna do it…/Sometimes you get so mad/All these thoughts come falling out your mouth.’ She explains, ‘I had this like unwanted thoughts syndrome thing where I'd have these fears that I was going to do something really violent and I was convinced I wouldn't be able stop myself from doing it… and it's weird to get stuck in these sort of thought patterns that feel very real. ‘Cos I've had like psychosis as well, some paranoid delusion stuff that was really quite terrifying. Being in that sort of place, I certainly wasn’t able to make music at that time, but in a more manic episode I've been just feeling really creative and staying up all night and not wanting to stop making stuff… which is kind of fun, but it's not very healthy - making stuff to the detriment of doing anything else, getting really obsessive about things, and not being able to engage with other people in a normal way, getting really irritable if anything stops me…’ The final line, ‘Yes, you will live with your regrets’, especially as it ends so abruptly, doesn’t seem as positive and upbeat as some of the other songs, but Jenny assures me, helpfully and happily, that, ‘I'm not really like this anymore, because I have like really good medication!’ As the song ‘Change’ puts it, ‘I won’t admit that I was broken/Just that my truth had been unspoken/And looking back I saw that what I’d feared before/ Was fading down into the dark.’ ‘Up’ features a vibe of relaxation spa music to start with and is pretty much a self-duet as it explores a couple’s complex feelings: ‘We were looking up/And the stars were rising/We would’ve taken all the pills/To feel like we were sleeping still’, while ‘Wrong’ has a rolling piano and a counter-melodic second voice in a more conventional arrangement, as it explores the notion of destiny. ‘There’s no right, there’s no wrong/ There’s only the way it was going to be. ‘Like free will,’ Jenny opines, ‘Is there really such a thing? I mean, like, can people find a way to you? Can you find a way to people?’ The song asks the same question: ‘But it can’t be real if it can’t be broken/Will you find the door if I leave it open?’ ‘Words’ is a heavy, intimate song, starting with a repetitive piano and choral singing almost taking the role of a lead organ sound; then a second keyboard comes in, then a third, and more voices, spiralling, building... The lyrics seem very precise: ‘I broke my mind/So they took my words away,’ and these words themselves are repeated as if to give weight to their importance, as if words themselves are more special things now for this past feeling of having lost them. The mood is confessional, candid and self-critical, admitting ‘And I hurt myself/‘Cos I wanted to be gone/ And I hurt my lover/With the way I carried on.’ Jenny explains the specific genesis of the song. ‘The first anti-psychotic medicine they put me on really like took away my imagination. It was really strange; I couldn't have any dreams anymore and couldn't really come up with any sort of lyrics: there was no sort of free-flowing thoughts anymore. It's very strange, it just made me feel a bit zombified. But when I was on that medication, I did manage to write this this song called ‘Words’. It was difficult being on that medication, but then I got taken off that one and put on a different one which is pretty helpful and nowadays I feel much more capable and able to do things - normal things like go to work, and looking after my family and stuff. I’m a support worker for people with learning disabilities which is fun, I like it, it's good.’ Her gratitude for the change is palpable in the song: ‘But I’m sorry now/I’m so sorry nowAnd I should be glad/I got my chance/To be okBut I don’t want to/Be this way/No, I don’t want to/Be this way.’ The penultimate song, the wittily titled ‘Friends In Low Places’, offers a shout-out for those who feel like Jenny, or maybe even worse. ‘This is for my friends in low places/I’m sorry I’ve been hiding from you’ and includes the bleak admission that, ‘None of us are searching for happiness/We won’t chase a ghost that doesn’t exist/But we try to reach out to each other/Just to keep from the jaws of the beast’. And there it is again - that searching for harmony between fellow sufferers, and, again, a grasping at hope, a signal of optimism, that, ‘We’re not lost yet/No, we’re not lost yet.’ The last song, ‘Otherly,’ a melange of low, growling synth noises and soulless percussion, piques me above all on the album as it encapsulates brilliantly a thought I have been trying to give form to myself for some time - or at least it does in my reading of it. Because here I have to confess that although I talked to Jenny for a long time, and about a lot of things, I didn’t really get from her what this song was ‘about’, because - I’m afraid to say – I spent the time instead telling her what it meant to me. In a way, that’s fine, because it showed just how excited I was by it, and because Jenny herself said that she is putting out these songs partly in the hope that someone will take something from them. So here’s what I take from this one. Or give to this one, whichever it may be. And that’s how I’ll have to finish, with my own interview of myself, but with gratitude to Jenny for talking to me and apologies for ending this way… So, Steve, what is this song about? ‘Well, I’ve been thinking a lot as I get older about how jealous I am, in a way, of people with really strong religious views, because of the certainty they have, and the community that comes with it. If I believed in God, or Allah, or even passionately and wholeheartedly in Trump or Brexit, or, I don’t know, ‘Game of Thrones’, I’d have an identity, I’d have security, I’d have certainty, I’d have a community. As it is, I have none of those things, because I don’t believe. I don’t believe in a meaning greater than that which we invent or make for ourselves. I don’t believe in any certainties with cast-iron confidence. I don’t feel I can march side by side with any large groups of people and have faith that we see eye to eye on everything. And because of that, I feel, and I have always felt, a bit apart, a bit other. Or as Marlody puts it, ‘You never seem to be afraid/Almost as if/You have some underlying faith/That somehow/Everything will be ok.’ Because of that I’m often anxious and depressed and reserved and defensive. Because of that my mental health suffers. And I am jealous of that belonging and harmony in others, and I wonder if I could surrender to faith, find belonging in some big idea, and I wonder, like Marlody, of these people who I assume to be so happy in their certainty, ‘How did you get to be this way?/Was there a voice/To give you/Reason to be absolutely certain/ In the things you say?’ Like the coke characters from the beginning of this article, believers of all kinds seem to have both an enviable togetherness with others and a miraculous togetherness within themselves. So I ask, like Marlody, ‘Is there a piece of wetted clay/That can be shaped/Into a/ Body that becomes itself/So wholly and so readily?’ But it’s rhetorical really, because I don’t think there is. I don’t think Marlody thinks there is either. And maybe they aren’t all as happy as they seem, these confident people? Who knows?’ That’s what you think is it, Steve, I ask myself? ‘Yes’, I say, ‘and, like Marlody’, I say, ‘I have to have some hope to get me through and I have to work at it. And sometimes it needs more than work and hope – it needs therapy, and medication, and people on the end of the phone when you’re desperate, and even paramedics. And it needs music to help you get by. Which is why I love it that the last words of her album, and the last words of this article, are about just that: a mantra for that vague, perhaps unrealistic, fleeting, and insubstantial, but hoped-for and worked-for harmony, to which we can but aspire and toil: ‘Believing somehow everything will be ok.’

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In Dreams Begin Responsibilities - Music and Mental Health - Searching for Harmony. A special interview with debutant Marlody on her new album.

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities - Music and Mental Health - Searching for Harmony. A special interview with debutant Marlody on her new album.

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In 'In Dreams Begin Responsibilities' Steve Miles assesses and talks to Marlody about her extraordinary debut album. ''I'm Not Sure At All'.

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