I don’t remember my first kiss. I don’t remember my first drink or first cigarette (though I do remember my first Marlboro. I nearly fell over, and had to pretend I was deliberately leaning against a wall, all nonchalant like a cat pretending not to have done anything it didn’t intend to). But I do remember my first gig, my first nightclub, and the first time I heard Throwing Muses.
Mark & Lard’s Graveyard Shift radio show in the ’90s was responsible for the majority of my taste in music; two hours of mind-expanding excellence, four nights a week, during my most impressionable years. Like a cool older boyfriend, but without the seediness or leather-jacketed heartbreak, they took me by the hand and turned me on to Nick Cave, Belle & Sebastian, The Flaming Lips, Stereolab, Tindersticks. But they could have played crap non-stop and I’d forgive them it, so long as they still played Dizzy that one night, the night I turned the radio on and heard Throwing Muses for the first time.
Poppy and fun, Dizzy is very different from the darker tracks that became my favourites. I guess it was my gateway drug to their close-to-the-bone, raw-edged other songs. The view into darkness that I got from their music was important, because when the black dog came to rip at my own throat few years later, I recognised it. I’d seen it in books, heard it in songs. I knew that some of my heroes had been pushed to the edge and made it back. I knew that they had experienced the walls closing in and the ground falling away, the same way it was happening to me.
It wasn’t anything as conscious as that at the time, and I don’t mean that the music I listened to glamourised mental illness or that my experience was as intense as Hersh’s bipolar disorder. That’s not how it works – it’s not a game of Snap! where only people who’ve had the same experiences can understand or help each other. I listened to stark, lost music not to wallow in how I was feeling, but because it comforted me to know that other people had felt that way and managed to return to centre in the end.
Hunkpapa, along with PJ Harvey’s Dry and, later, Bjork’s Homogenic, became my first aid kit, applied whenever I get fragile and frayed.Even before I had my own frame of reference, there’s something visceral about those albums, an honesty that makes them compulsive.
Muses songs are also damn good fun and sound fantastic played as loud as possible – don’t let my reference to depression give you the wrong idea. Screeching along to ‘Mania’ is one of the most invigorating ways to spend 3 minutes 2 seconds, and I challenge anyone to get 2 minutes into ‘Rabbits Dying’ without bouncing around. Watch this video for ‘Not Too Soon’ and witness perfect pop.