Immunity

Clairo unpicks each stringy vein of my heart from the inside out, worming her way out through my throat, collecting my words and nestling in my voice box until I know her lyrics as if they’re my own. I have no business writing about this album as if I know anything about music production, as if the reasons I love this album can be boiled down to a riff, or a chord progression. And yet, I know Rostam has left his fingerprints in neat drum patterns all over this album. He echoes over every melody, rounding them into full, weighty songs. I don’t know if its the words or the music or the production but something in Immunity feels like it was born from my body, my best friends body, my sister’s body. Everything is delicate and violent at the same time – regrets and twinges are as heavy as they will be in fifty years, heavier even. Everything is felt at double speed, in technicolour, in slow motion, in black and white. 

Softly is tingly, tender; nervous anxiety that sits in my sternum, bubbling and fizzing when eyes catch, hands touch. Joni Mitchell drifts through Bags; my heartbreak album and my one last time album talking, communicating, rubbing up against each other in my stomach and overlaying, sliding in and out of each other. Because Bags tells me that staying in discomfort, in uncertainty must be better than absence, than leaving altogether. Clairo gives us flushed cheeks and wine glasses and four minutes of opening a window to might-say and never-said and shouldn’t-say.

The pleasure’s all mine

This time last year I wrote about female songwriters as storytellers rather than confessional poets, even though their songs sound just like the thoughts in my head. Nearly a year later, Clairo arrives and hands my own diary back to me, rewritten and distorted but remarkable in its similarity, so much that I double-take, double-check, and those imitations I wrote about last time seem to fall short in this doppelganger’s shadow. 

Ice cold baby, I’m ice cold. Frank Ocean floats to the surface in Clairo’s lyrics, referenced from Pilot Jones on his first album. Flashbacks from years ago; a small girl’s voice jumps and squirms through the album, settling on the final track, I Wouldn’t Ask You, which stretches itself over seven minutes. Reminds me of Ocean’s Futura Free which lies at the end of Blonde, and revels in its open expansion, in its unmoored, roaming production free of beat and confinement. At the beginning of this year, I wrote in an essay about Blonde, about undoing hegemonic, fixed narratives through ‘queering’ traditional forms. Clairo sings about girls on Immunity, about the slippery unsure tender way that relationships between women can change and fracture and sit in a strange, magical in between. 

Finally, quickly – Sofia. A song that articulates loving, worshipping women older and more famous and more accomplished – directors and artists and singers and actresses and writers, so so many writers. Sofia feels like all the love I have for these women who will never know me, and all the love I have for my best friends. Clairo and Rostam, I think, have made an album of finely tuned love songs filled with whispered confessions. I’d like to think it was made just for me.

Father of the Bride

If you want to listen to this, instead of reading it, the audio version can be found here.

Before we start, here are some very real concerns I had before the album came out:

What if I don’t like it / What if it’s been too long / How can I be a true fan / I miss being 15, 16, 17, 18 / What if I cry in public / I really really miss being 16 / What if I don’t cry at the concert / What if I don’t understand it / What if no words come out / What if you write something I hate / What if it doesn’t mean anything anymore / What if I’m not who I was / What if I grew out of you / What if you moved on without me / What if I don’t like it

I don’t what this *identity* means anymore. It’s been 6 years, and I have cultivated myself around this band, around music, around music writing. I don’t how to write this. I’ve been planning this piece for six years and I don’t know how to write it. I’m worried about making all of this mean too much. I’m worried about making this mean too little, because I am not me anymore. I don’t know how to listen to this objectively. I don’t know how to listen to this at all. I don’t know how to react.

I think the only way I know how to do this is to write six letters. Six for the number of singles released before the album. Six for the number of years in the middle. Six for the number of months until I see the music live. Six for the number of times I will listen to this album before I really know it, really hear it.

We’re surviving, we’re still living, are we stronger?

Dear Vampire Weekend,

I’m writing this two weeks before I finish my degree. Of course you would release an album at the very end of my youth; at the moment I have to start living life for real. Impeccable timing, as always. Of course you would release your album the day after I realise that I’m okay with being by myself, I’m okay with being in love with music and me, and no-one else, not for now. Of course you would arrive in time to remind who I am.

Harmony Hall was the first song I listened to. It was the first release; a huge deep dive into an unknown ocean. Orchestral? You’re a bit orchestral now. Bigger, wider, and stretched out. I feel like the song has to be big, because it spans that whole mass of time. It runs from New York to LA, and across band members and non-members and producers and instruments and key changes. I was sat around a bunch of theatre friends when it came out – I was close to tears because I was so overwhelmed but also because I was about to finish my last big production (it’s so silly because these worlds are so separate – they don’t interact and yet?) I remember being too busy to listen to the tracks until four or five hours after their release. Everyone else heard them first. Starting to let that kind of thing go. And the familiarity of something like Harmony Hall sits comfortably in my chest. It still sounds like you. Your riffs are still complex and settle in the verses. Your bridge builds and builds to bring in the nostalgia of the hollow drums and plucking rhythms. Except now you use a big grand piano, not a keyboard. You’ve grown. Grown away from me, a bit. I don’t feel orchestral quite yet. I’m still unsteady.

And the end – begin with the end – the end is the hardest part. I will never listen to this album for the first time ever again. If you wrote Jerusalem, New York, Berlin for Modern Vampires of the City maybe it would be different. It wouldn’t be quite so much like a Leonard Cohen song. It would be tight (not musically, emotionally) – it would be in a minor key and surrounded by echoing, deep synth (maybe more like Hudson?). When you sing this, I feel like you’re content. You weren’t content before. Before you squished everything into ten songs, and every lyric was pained with anxiety, with dread, with some kind of morbid fascination with your own existence. Now you’ve let yourself stretch out in the sun. The ticking clock has faded into the background, and now you’re figuring out to live the rest of your life, maybe even live the rest of your life with someone else.

I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die.

Dear Ezra,

We’ve entered into this contract together, I think. That unspoken unconfirmed contract between artist and fan, artist and critic, musician and audience. It’s a little bit of a one-way exchange; one where I gain everything, and you just give. I hope I’ve shown you what it means, even though you will never read this, I hope you somehow know you made me happy. I so often forget that you write about characters – that you’re a storyteller. It makes me think I know you – but I don’t know you at all. And you make these characters so that we can sit inside of them, and bask in the wide open landscapes you draw for them.

This Life and Unbearably White were my favourite of the single releases. They made me so happy. This Life follows that protagonist from songs like Campus, M79, and White Sky. I see his trajectory across North America, weaving through New England, New York, and now California. And he thought that this is where his life would end up, and he thought it wouldn’t rain here, if he’s a new man. That refrain “You’ve been cheating on me, but I’ve been cheating through this life” from iLoveMakonnen really captures that witty, charismatic, makes-you-think-twice lyric that you are so good at writing. And maybe this is that boat shoe, tucked in shirt, curly haired college sophomore aesthetic resurfacing in the most self aware kind of way. “Am I good for nothing?” – always a little self deprecating, a little self obsessed, a little annoying – this song is a bit like the posh straight guy in your queer theory seminar. And yet, in the second half of the song, you change gear. The rug is pulled from under me again, and suddenly I think this song is about America, and being American, and finally pulling away from the country that holds you. Because yes this is a love story, but it’s also a story about landscapes, cities, and feeling unmoored.

Baby, I know hate is always waiting at the gate

I just thought we’d locked the gate when we left in the morning

I was told that war is how we landed on these shores

I just thought the drums of war beat louder warnings

I feel like those lyrics are about a fractious and torn relationship with a country that ceases to want your faith. Maybe not, but that’s what I see. Anyway, I love the final outro because it really feels like a return to some of the theatricality of MVOTC, even though this is such a departure.

And then Unbearably White, which is so provocative as a title, but I feel like you aren’t trying to be shady to any of your critics. You’re too interested in what people have to say for that. I’m writing this as if I know you and of course I don’t, of course I know your characters and some persona but maybe that’s what this whole thing is about. I’m not sure I know how to separate being your fan from being a critic of your work. Because I’m the definition of die-hard. But I haven’t fallen in love this time round. Not completely, not quickly, not fast, not dramatically, urgently in love.

Baby I love you but that’s not enough

Dear Eve,

I am writing to you five years on from where you are now. I do this a lot, probably because I miss you a lot, and I hope somehow you can hear me. And also because I’m reaching for my quickly disappearing youth.

I am writing to tell you that you are about to experience so much LIFE, and you will love this band for so long, and you will love art and you will feel a lot of things quite intensely.

I am writing to tell you that your favourite band aren’t a band anymore, and your favourite member has left, and their music doesn’t sound like the inside of your brain anymore.

You will associate Big Blue with someone you don’t even know yet. You will associate 2021 with a feeling you don’t understand yet.

And you would love Bambina if you heard it. That would be your favourite song. You’d listen to it so intently, and sing it under your breath in Maths, and doodle the lyrics in the margins of your history books. And you’d be so interested in that overt religious imagery with all its symbolism and weight, just like you were with MVOTC.  

I am writing to tell you that you are going to change a lot. You are going to realise that you like theatre more than music. You are going to realise that you should have a fringe and short hair. You are going to listen to way more female artists. You will be single for ages, and you will be very, very happy about it. Things won’t be how you thought they’d be. Keep going though, it’s worth it.

For now, ciao ciao Bambina

Dear Dad,

The biggest fight (debate??)  we ever had, or at least, the one that sticks in my mind is when I told you I thought certain albums weren’t for us. I don’t know if you still disagree with me, actually. You didn’t get how music wasn’t universal, wasn’t all-encompassing and wide reaching. That is actually a really hopeful idea, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily true. I think I’m starting to realise that this album is made for someone like you. It is full of references that you get and I don’t. I have to work a little bit harder to be let in.

I’m starting to realise that all the music I love so much is because of you and that’s amazing, but it also means that it’s quite a lot of men, especially the 2000s indie scene that we both unashamedly love so much. I grew up with my favourite musicians being men. And now you introduce me to amazing women like LP, Japanese House, Patti Smith, Let’s Eat Grandma, Ibibo Sound Machine, This is the Kit…Billie Eilish?! And yet. And yet, this album feels further away than before. It feels not at all like my life.

This album and this band will always be a little bit about you and me and music. I think your favourite songs on this album will be Sympathy, My Mistake, and How Long. The experimental, chaotic bravery of Sympathy is totally your thing. Your jam. It sticks out in the middle of the album – it’s just over halfway through and it’s maybe one of the best things Ezra has ever written. You’ll appreciate the sheer audacity of it, the rampant musicality, the strangeness of it. I think it kind of sounds like a Fleetwood Mac song? Or a kind of odd Beatles track maybe? You liked Sunflower because it felt like an experiment in songwriting. I wasn’t so sure. And then My Mistake sounds like it could be a Strokes B Side or a low key Tame Impala song? And also has those Bowie synths we like. These are definitely the songs on the album that took me longest to warm to – they’re sprawling and melancholic and kind of odd. The interlude of rippling water in My Mistake is the kind of acute attention to production that you’d notice. How Long could definitely fit easily into the other albums. It sounds like it’s been recorded underwater. It feels transitional – like it’s clinging a little bit to the existentialism of MVOTC and the naivety of Contra. But the melodies pull it back. The clicks and crunches pull it firmly into Father of the Bride.

I think I took myself too serious. It’s not that serious.   

Dear friends and fellow fans,

“To the fans:” That’s the beginning of the announcement. I’m sitting in the library and I’m deep in writing some essay and the album is announced. Just like that. And I reach across and I’m so excited and you look at me and smile.

Everyone messages me when it’s released. I am flooded with all of you ready to share it with me. You all have your favourites. I can see you all listening to it on my spotify. I get messages which all basically read: “I have LOTS of thoughts. I love it – do you?” I remember when Ezra teased Flower Moon back at the Ojai show last fall, and we all just went mad. And everyone is wearing their merch today. And everyone is always in the front row. And we are older and we are all saying how much has happened in six years, how much we’ve changed. “It’s gonna take a year. Let’s drink Coca Cola and red wine.” And this one too, feels familiar. It could’ve been on the last album, except that it works here because you’ve let your shoulders unclench, you’ve let the drums elongate, and imbued the riffs with lifeblood and joy, you’ve given some vocals to Steve Lacy. Tell me when you get to Stranger. This will turn out to be one of my favourites, I just know it. Again it’s a big country ballad, and they’ve got that brass section, and Danielle again. It all just screams golden fields, California sun, beer, and cowboy hats (??). And the little derivative in the outro is really nice actually. Rich Man is also a bit country. Lol. I really didn’t think we’d turn into country fans, but here we are. Let’s keep being fans. I will see you all at a concert in 10, 20, 30 years, I hope, sitting at the back drinking beer and wearing massive hats and with your families.

I remember life as a stranger, but things change. Things have never been stranger.

Dear Me,

Let’s talk about the love songs. Danielle Haim’s voice balances Ezra’s scratchy, wide vocals. Her voice is organically gorgeous – a tiny bit rough around the edges, but you can barely hear it. At each third, she intersects as his counterpart. The protagonist of these songs, of this album, keeps returning to her. He can’t hold her love in his hands, he can’t catch it all. It’s like sand rushing through his fingers. And it’s just all too good to be true.

You’ll play Hold You Now as you walk down the aisle, or for your first dance. It’s the song that plays over the montage. You’ll sing Married in a Gold Rush at a Karaoke bar. It’s the song that will remind you of 2019, 2020, 2021. You’ll laugh at We Belong Together with the only person it can be about. It will become about someone you haven’t even met yet. They will remind you of your youth, and all the ways that love will never be.

Hold You Now sits so strangely as an opener – it’s so choral? It sets itself up as a falling in love song, but it’s actually about falling out of love. And why would you open with that? It’s about an ending. So maybe, maybe we listen backwards. Start with We Belong Together. Rostam’s watermark stains each beat of this one. Particularly the piano in the background, and the strong strumming guitar chords. “There’s no point in being clever, it don’t mean we’ll stay together” And Married in a Gold Rush is openly romantic in a way they haven’t been before. Expanding their lexicon to country cringe in a way they would never have. “This is not some grand design” Is this what happens after the existentialism? Is marriage the solution to that ticking clock? Is that what you’re telling me? Really? But then, back to Hold You Now, and it’s ended. With each song, the voices and the characters they belong to fall out of love. Or realise that the love they have for each other just isn’t enough.

So when you remember the feeling these songs give you, remember summer and being 21 and falling in and out of love quickly and fiercely with everything and everyone. I thought you might learn the language. I thought you might learn to sing. I can’t decide if this is one massive end or a really new beginning. I think we’ll find out soon. I want to see what you’re like when the next album comes out. Will you stay up till midnight? Will you be in love? Where will you be living? Who do you know? Do you still use writing as a kind of ridiculous catharsis? What do these songs mean to you? Do you even still like music? I think you probably do.

I know I loved you then, I think I love you now.

I feel like those little spoken interruptions in between the tracks are like after thoughts, something said without really thinking. Process bleeding into practise bleeding into product. It’s a bit messy, it’s a bit different, it’s a bit more human.

Six years is a very respectable amount of waiting time for an album.

Here’s to the next decade.

We took a vow in summertime, now we find ourselves in late September.

Photo: Vampire Weekend – Father Of The Bride audio cover | Sony Music

The Cane

I really really loved this play. It does that awful thing of feeling quite simple but also being totally knotted. Awful for me, I mean. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we react to reactions against injustice. About how the tendency, I think, is to laugh. Or at least, to shy away from taking it seriously. When someone takes the injustice that has been so violently thrust upon them and reacts against it, it is very easy to dismiss them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how audiences are powerful. I’d like to preface with what I am about to say with the promise that I don’t think there is any “correct” way to behave in a theatre. I think it is elitist to think there is. And yet. And yet, when I sit in the Royal Court, and I watch Anna (Nicola Walker) be called a cunt by her father (Alun Armstrong) and the man sitting next to me lets out a laugh, a guffaw, I grip the sides of my seat and I feel my heart catch in my throat. Anna is stony faced, up there, and I remain stony faced down here. Solidarity, I think. And when he shouts and shouts at his wife (Maggie Steed), bullying her and pushing her further and further into the corners of the stage, and a pointless quip releases people around me to giggle I just cannot stop thinking how, how can you laugh at a time like this. There is a very clear and tangible symbol of power on stage, and it is being discussed very frankly. There is no doubt that this is a play of pain and horror. This is a play about men, and the damage they inflict, because of the damage that is inflicted upon them.


I’ve been thinking a lot about guilt. About whether guilt is a useful feeling. Whether it is a feeling that is worth anything at all. I don’t mean small bouts of guilt. I mean that massive systemic guilt. Guilt that presses down upon your back like the ceiling of a house. Did you take any of your guilt with you into the night? I think about the huge window in front of us – a stage disguised as a window disguised as a mirror. I think a lot about how laughter is political. It seems to speak for everyone when it occurs because it is so vocal. Did you mean for that laughter to happen? Does it matter? But but all I can think as I walk out of the theatre is that I did not find that play funny. I did not laugh once.

Oh here I was thinking I was a person, but I was an institution this whole time

That’s not quite the line. The line is slightly different but that is the intent, and yet there is a murmur of knowing laughter. I didn’t see The Writer but I am not sure I could have coped. I heard and read from Ava that it was so incredibly wrong for it to be in The Almeida but also incredibly important for it to be there. I feel the same way about this. I’m not sure I can shrug it off.

And that last monologue. That last moment of the ceiling falling and falling and nearly not quite crushing while there is a release? A testimony. A plea for … for forgiveness? Acceptance? Kindness? When does forgiveness become history and history stop accusing and start understanding. Does it?  I don’t even know if it should. Just because you committed an act of atrocity as a result of an institution does not mean that you did not commit the atrocity.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of forgiveness, of kindness. Who is afforded it, and who is given the final word. There’s a tendency to let him redeem himself but but but what if I can’t   I can’t And if this play is about anything it is about how we react. How we react to abuses of power and how those with the power react to us. Sitting in those seats, those expensive seats, I wasn’t sure which side I was on.

 

Photo credit: Johan Persson

Lands; some voice notes

(for the first half of the post, and some context go to ava’s blog here)

*** the next day ***

Eve  0:58

I think with the metaphor, with what you were saying about Palmyra and stuff, I think that’s very true. Umm yeah I think that both Eurohouse and Lands did that very well, but I think I do get on with that kind of stuff because if it’s done badly it’s just

So

Shit

But if it’s done well it’s some of the most powerful stuff you can do because it’s so subtle and I’m really interested in the idea that you can talk about something and you can really make a statement without talking directly about it. I think it’s a really really interesting way of being like artistically political in a very kind of obscure and also enjoyable way, but also quite painful.

Eve  0:59

I mean obviously I was actually sick but I also wasn’t bc it was just paranoia! and I was fully just being a hypochondriac. I was thinking when you said that, I think maybe it was partly the show in kind of a good way like it really made me feel quite kind of physically like i wanted to

*hurl*

In a very visceral way. And I think maybe I was so kind of clenched the whole way through and just

Because you sort of know. You know how it’s gonna end like you know the direction it’s going in. As soon as she says that first line of like ‘I can’t get off’ I thought I know exactly what this is and I can see this and I can see where this is going and I don’t like it but I know I’m going to have to sit through it and I think that’s sort of the point.

Ava  0:54

Yeah like (what was I gonna say ummm yeah) the way that they both reduce down um politics or just sort of feelings, the way emotion is reduced to like an action and aCH I don’t know it’s really hard to explain? You’d think it wouldn’t be but it is.

I don’t really know what kind of theatre that is.

And I feel like there should be more of it but as you say it’s really difficult to do. Um yeah I mean maybe we’re both quite simplistic people but I get a lot out of that kind of thing and I think that’s why FellSwoop are so popular (well popular in this really tiny group) because it’s such an accessible way of doing it

Ava  0:52

Yeah I feel like I didn’t really know that it was about that, not that it was all about it but that like so much of it was going to be about getting Sophie off of the trampoline and I think to do that over what like an hour and 20 minutes is like the most difficult thing to do – like to just draw out that conceit and to not make it feel like it’s just a rehearsal technique, because it kind of feels like bits of that show feel like they could be things that people use in rehearsal – like let’s try and get this person out of the room or get this person off this thing like how many different ways can you do it. But the skill in Lands is that it’s never made to feel extraneous – it’s always very rooted in like those characters

Eve  0:52

I think also – sorry I haven’t listened to the voice note you just sent – but yeah I think something that definitely interests, certainly interests us, but also generally “”young”” people, is this idea of casualised violence and the idea that we see these little snippets of brutal and sort of hyperbolic like violence, destruction, catastrophe and it’s all like contained in a tiny little, like a bomb (??) I don’t know how to describe it but I think that’s sort of how the show felt. It’s something that Eurohouse/Palmyra did which is have this very contained, small but extremely explosive violence.

Eve  0:57

Yeah I agree. I think I’ve sort of said everything I think about it but I know what you mean about the rehearsal thing – I think that’s very true and I think it’s so hard to tread the line between ‘I’ve seen this before I know this I know the intent and I know the direction’ and then to also make it surprising and interesting and kind of playful and feel quite spontaneously playful because I think some of the worst things (okay not the worst things that’s not true) but something that I find frustrating sometimes is a fake liveness or pointing to a liveness that isn’t actually there. I think I find that frustrating but I think maybe Lands did that sometimes but I think other times it did feel quite true. So I thought they trod(??) treaded??? They tread that line very well.

Ava  0:40

Yeah no I totally agree about the violence thing. Yeah completely – the way it’s sort of like hyper-intensive and very small and sort of – I don’t know maybe that’s almost a response to the way that a younger generation are perceived as overly sensitive and stuff, but these kind of companies I feel like they really pinpoint why certain things are so horrific and they really sort of isolate them and put them in a sort of under a microscope and they’re just kinda like look this is really really horrifically painful

Ava  0:53

Yeah I think I’m pretty much done too but yeah the sort of fake liveness thing – I’m kind of getting increasingly annoyed now. I feel like that whole trend of like “oh, the performance is falling apart!” it’s kind of annoying me now. I feel like so many people have done it and it’s kind of like – I feel like an interesting way for it to progress (like for that idea to progress) is for that “thing” like that supposed breakdown of the performance to be recognised in itself as being artificial, as being part of the stagecraft

But then maybe that’s moving into like

Really really super super

Hyperpostmodern

Which i don’t really like

Lands felt very true, and not cynical, really.

 

a year of Half-Light

I was dead and born again / And soon it will feel all so long ago

Standing outside the venue I order an uber. Next to me, three women giggle about a setlist and whisper to each other. I look around, hopefully. I see Rostam exit the stage door but my uber’s just arrived and it’s central London. I get in. The driver asks me how my night was. We have a quick conversation and then I stare out of the window. I cry and cry and cry. The violins echo through my restless sleep that night. I dream of being front row again, knowing all the words but being a bit too scared to shout them – this night feels too special, too close. Bike Dream plays and I dance and dance and dance.

It has been a year since Half-Light was released. Feels far too long. How have we fit so much life, so much time in between? The album feels imbued with nostalgia – always associated somewhere in the back of my mind with a burgeoning love for music, new discovery via a band with New England in their song titles. Alongside me, the music has matured, the love has grown and expanded and stretched – grown taut. Something about the drum beats feels the same. Something about the play, the experimenting, the intelligence. That is not why I love this album, it’s only the beginning.

Every one of us has felt our heart beat pound / Every one of us has felt it on our own

In my room, second year of university, it’s the middle of winter. This bed, this space, feels temporary. My friend George comes round just to listen to music and talk. Just that. A special, close space. I have just received my Half-Light vinyl in the post. We listen to the whole thing start to finish. I tell him to listen out for Hold You, I think it will be his favourite. He waves goodbye to me from the street and I play the record all the way through once more.

String sections flit in and out of focus, rising and falling with my heart. The drums keep in constant time with my steps. The vocals coast around me and wrap me tight. They feel unavoidably familiar. It is selfish to assume that these words are holding fast to my bedside alone. They keep company to more than me, of course. But for now, they are all mine. The words, when they come into focus, repeat this image of looking at yourself, feeling outside yourself. There’s a distance between ideas and reality; an idea of what love could, should, might have been, but then waking up and seeing it for what it really is. Dreams and naps and sleep also feels really important, both in the lyrics and in the melodies. When sunlight peaks through the curtains and you are half awake, but slowly, slowly, you drift back into a half-sleep. I’m not sure if it is the ethereal strings, or the heavy, heady bass and drum kicks but I really feel like this is what those dreams sound like.

All of these dreams keep comin back to me / Slowly slowly

The rising chords are carving out a space in my chest. Some of the sounds remind me of my childhood spent in a country I was not born in. Lyrics become poems become repetition become mantra become second nature. I send the Gwan music video to a friend; listen to this isn’t it amazing I am seeing him live and can’t wait! im going on my own bc i want to do smthg that’s just for me… She says; yes I’ve heard it! you played it in a rehearsal.

I find it sprinkled, like sawdust, across so many parts of my life. See the songs crop up on my friend’s playlists, they recognise the name, the sounds. I find it reminds me of a thousand memories at once. All strong and tugging at me, from the year past. It does not feel like a year. It does not feel like it has been a year since I sat up late in my room waiting for the release and trying and trying to write about it but not having the words. Not having the knowledge to analyse but wanting so badly to express the inexpressible. My dad still talks about the albums that stayed with him from when he was my age. That indelible impression on your heart that sticks like a third-degree burn. If Half-Light reminds me of anything it reminds me of my love for rooted and nurtured friendships and simultaneously my love for solitude, for sitting up and writing late at night like I’m doing now.

I just keep holdin on / To what I’ve got till it’s gone

Music, like food, plays a central role in my home. So when Safura cooks for me and I show her Rostam’s album and she asks me to play Wood again, it feels special, close. I record the whole song for her in London. Every time I listen to it, I’m reminded of how sharing is really the root of our friendship, a constant interchange. Or maybe we just both really like good food and good music and laughter. Saf lives in Malaysia now and I won’t see her for a year. Wood sounds different. Happy/sad.

Half-Light has bridged that gap between an album I have shared and shared and shared, but also an album that feels so tightly sewn to my chest that I can’t possibly let anyone else near it. Does that make sense? Can two things be true at the same time? In a River was just released. It is different, because I have not lived with it for a year. I love it, of course. It feels fresh, different to everything else that I listen to right now. It is as if Half-Light encompasses a lot of who I am now. Because of Rostam, I fell in love with Wet’s new album, with Cosha, with Maggie Rogers, with Santigold, Charli XCX, Carly Rae Jepson. A wealth of influential women with kick-ass songs. Because he composed music for This Is Our Youth, I go and see the first piece of theatre that really sparks something inside me. I go home and I write the first page of my first play.

When you tie and knot your connections to pieces of music, it is easy to forget that they are not just yours. That these lyrics are memorised by thousands of others as well. That these string sections accompany walks home. That the album cover stares down from bedroom walls just like yours. It is that thing of music being so utterly personal and so completely communal at the same time. This is not a review, it is not a diary entry; it is a bit of both. I like to think that at some level, every time we write and think about art we are giving up a little piece of ourselves. It feels only fair, since those people you are writing about have given you so much.

It’s still all up to you

 

image is a still from Bike Dream music video by Rostam

 

confessional poets

I started trying to write a review of the new Wet album, but all the things I was writing about made me think about the sad girl songs that have followed me for the last two years; Mitski, Lorde, Karen O, even Lana Del Rey. I thought about something I saw, or something someone said (I think maybe Mitski said it in an interview) – about the idea that female songwriters are seen to be sharing a diary entry everytime they write a personal song, or even an emotional song. How that idea is so gendered. They’re never telling a story, or narrating – they are always at the centre.

 

But what if these songs sound exactly like my diary entries?

Kelly Zutrau (Wet) starts her album with the line “I wanna go where the sun is shining and no one knows my name”. Still Run is probably the most romantic, most confessional, most revealing that Wet have been? It’s a really naked album. I think all of Mitski’s songs are naked and vulnerable. Ok even the album cover looks like she’s just stepped out of shower; like a Jenny Saville painting. Zutrau took control of the songwriting on this album (you can kind of tell – it’s great). I think ‘Lately’ is actually about songwriting and about writing and writing and writing and not feeling appreciated, or not feeling like your emotional turmoil is being reciprocated – “you never like how my songs sound but you give nothing of yourself”. She keeps opening herself back up to them, to us in ‘Softens’. The melodies and the lyrics feel like she’s pulling herself backwards and forwards, someone gently tugging on her shoulder, being methodically moved by waves in the ocean, by fights and hugs in a relationship, by tears and sighs.

 

They are my confessional poets.

They are rearranging my vital organs into three minute songs.

Wet’s new album, like Melodrama (Lorde’s second album), you can dance to it but you might be crying at the same time, and you might not even know why. Songs like ‘Sober’ and ‘Writer in the Dark’ feel a bit like she’s lurching into the chords (especially the synth underneath Sober). It’s a bit about heartbreak and a bit about returning to yourself. It’s like sad disco. Then there’s Liability and Hard Feelings/Loveless – songs that my friends texted to me saying ‘this is ME, how does she know’. Feeling like you’re too much for everyone. The album now feels so familiar that it’s like seeing an old friend. I’ve listened to it in the shower countless times. (why does it sound best in the shower??)

 

Wild women don’t get the blues but I find that

Lately I’ve been crying like a tall child

At the end of ‘Drunk Walk Home’ Mitski just screams into the microphone. At the end of ‘My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars’, she screams ‘Go on, kill me’ into her guitar. It’s kind of weird if it comes on shuffle but if you have the build up of the whole album it is So necessary. The chord progression in ‘First Love/Late Spring’ feels like it actually shakes with power. As part of a live art performance as part of an instillation as part of a show I screamed and danced to this song with two of my favourite women ever – we were protesting the way women artists do everything first, and then all the credit goes to the men. Sorry, Dad, but the Smiths do nothing for me – they don’t even come close to Karen O singing ‘Love is soft, Love’s a fucking bitch’, and then screaming endlessly into the microphone in ‘Body’. Her album ‘Crush Songs’, was recorded when she was 27, and is super scratchy and lo-fi. It sounds like she’s singing from inside a cavernous heart. I think she was my first foray into music that was written for women and by women. They are me. 

Mitski’s coming out with new music, too. I feel like her sound is ageing with me. ‘Nobody’, is her new pop tune. It’s still super sad and intensely emotional. The difference is you can dance to it. Then there’s ‘Geyser’ – a song (probably) about Mitski’s relationship with music, with writing, and with art. It’s jagged, jarring, and almost choral in it’s scale. It’s a statuesque song. I wasn’t sure I liked it at first. ‘Feel it bubbling from below, here it call to me constantly’ – it’s a bit romanticised but yeah, that’s it. That’s the guttural thing that makes you write down your worst fears and share them with, like, everyone. My best friend said she couldn’t be a writer because it wasn’t her first love.

I think it might be mine

Wet’s album brought all of this into focus. This endless love between young women and their guitars and their headphones and, yeah, their diaries; their words.

 

 

Reading Speed Death and Stranger Things as Ecological Texts

This year I got to write an essay about two of my most favourite bits of art from the past nine months. One was a play called Speed Death of the Radiant Child by Chris Goode that was directed by my pal Ben and produced by my other pal Emily. Also many pals were performing in the play too. I loved it with all my heart. The other one was Stranger Things, a TV show that I didn’t think I would end up loving as much as I did. The danger with writing an academic essay on things you love is that you get carried away. I wrote an essay on Anatomy of a Suicide and it was damn hard to separate my love for the show with critical analysis.

I think I did okay with this one though. This module was HARD but I really loved it. We looked at environmental texts and ideas of ecology and nature and waste. I learnt a hell of a lot and it’s the reason I could write down these ideas. I am damn proud of this essay. It didn’t get the highest mark in whole word, but I don’t care. It took me a very long time to write, and it’s one of the things I am most proud to have researched and thought about and I know for a FACT that no-one will have written anything like it yet (probably) so that makes me feel like maybe someday I might sort of be an academic?? Maybe. Anyway, I wanted to publish it. SO if you want to read it, here is my 5,500 word essay on Speed Death and Stranger Things as ecological texts that trace our collective nuclear history through internal and external environments.

 

Bodily Pain as Environmental Trauma in Speed Death of the Radiant Child and Stranger Things

‘Eternal source of light divine

With double warmth thy beams display’

Eternal Source of Light Divine (Birthday Ode for Queen Anne), Handel

Speed Death of the Radiant Child by Chris Goode and Stranger Things by the Duffer Brothers both explore imagery of young bodies in pain. Bodily pain is presented as the cause and consequence of environmental damage, particularly in regards to radiation and nuclear activity. This essay is punctuated by lyrics from songs which appear in Goode’s script and which inspired a student performance of the play in 2017. These two texts can be read with a view towards ecocriticism if they are framed as a diptych. A diptych is a painting or tablet with two panels, connected by a hinge, that conveys a discursive message. Serenella Iovino and Serpil Oppermann use this framing in their essay ‘Theorizing Material Ecocriticism: A Diptych’, and it is helpful to see the two primary texts of this essay in this way. They write that ‘the diptych exceeds its “merely” material dimension, and creates a double bridge of meanings between the “text” it conveys and the world in which it occurs.’ (448), and so Speed Death of the Radiant Child and Stranger Things reflect each other in their interlocking themes, but spread out in their scope and investigation of trauma into the world around them. On the left hand panel of the diptych is Speed Death, a play which focuses on a hospital that houses Charlotte (a troubled young woman with a mysterious blue tube in her inner thigh) and the people who orbit around her. Goode’s script is abstract and impenetrable in its intellectual scope, often spiralling out of control. The hospital becomes a leaking nuclear power plant, and as the toxic leak is subsumed into the characters they become one body, and at one with the building. Then on the right hand panel, Stranger Things is a TV show which fits more into the science fiction genre. Will (a young boy) is taken into the Upside Down; a world parallel to our own but is rife with danger and destruction. In the second season, which I will be focusing on, the monster of the Upside Down enters Will and begins to use him as a host. What ties these two panels together is their discussion of trauma and how it is tied to environmentalism. The bodies in Speed Death and Stranger Things experience traumatic bodily pain because of their environment which has been wounded as a result of a toxicity. Nuclear radiation seeps into the body and disrupts the ecological landscapes of the text, and so both pieces show how a broken environment causes and is caused by the broken body.

‘I imagine what my body would sound like

Slamming up herest those rocks’

Hyperballad, Bjork

As the audience are confronted with bodies in pain and pleasure in Speed Death, both become synonymous with (simultaneously causing and caused by) the leaking hospital. Bodies become buildings and buildings become bodies; bodies act as containers and vessels (also seen in Stranger Things). Charlotte introduces this idea in the first lines of Speed Death – ‘This deep blue light. Filling the whole building…And I keep thinking, blue the colour of… Stupid.  / This building full of blue light.’ (7) The colour blue is linked with the glowing light of the hospital, but also with the toxic glow of radiation. Radiation is seen as a toxic contamination of the body which Goode presents as both a contamination on the body and something that lives within it. Later, Charlotte clarifies, ‘This empty building with all the machines and animals sleeping full of blue light, and I, I keep thinking. / Blue the colour of skin’ (8). Charlotte’s skin is blue like the inside light of the building; she is both a vessel, as the building is a vessel, and a contaminated host. A line can be drawn to Will in Stranger Things, in which a child’s body becomes a host for a parasitic monster.

In order to understand the overarching metaphor of bodies in pain, it is useful to note that Speed Death and Stranger Things both grapple with the idea of the body as an ecosystem. In their essay, ‘Material Ecocriticism: Dirt, Waste, Bodies, Food, and Other Matter’, Dana Phillips and Heather I. Sullivan unpick how material ecocriticism is ‘radically local’ in its efforts to examine ‘the ecosystems on your skin, under your shoes, in your digestive tract, and in your very cells, too.’ (447) Similarly, it seems the bodies in Speed Death are dissected in almost minute detail, both in the psychological framing of Nick’s research and in the biblical readings of Justine’s artworks. Justine notes that to truly understand the body’s pain and pleasure ‘there has to be this encounter with the body and that means getting inside the body’ (38). Will’s body contorts and so often becomes the centre of scenes of trauma in Stranger Things. His body becomes emblematic of the ecosystem of Hawkins that connects to the Upside Down. As Justine describes in Speed Death, we understand everything through the body. It is our indicator for the moments when meaning is distorted and environments are corrupted:

(We share) a sense of the individual body as a container and carrier of information. We absorb and we radiate. We record and we play back. We are read and we ourselves write…The fundamental unit of our social relations and our civic meaning is the individual body (60-61)

The body is the beginning and end point for all human life, and anything that holds that life up. It is how we experience the environment around us. Significantly, the body is altered in Speed Death. It is often consumed by pleasure – Nick shouts ‘You know I can feel it. Can you?…All down the spine….It’s like being…Fucked’ (90-91) as the radiation leaks out of the hospital and into the bodies of the characters. Justine calls it the ‘erotic collapse of the distance between us’ (38) – the barriers of the body break down and mutate because of the toxic environment that it is contained in. Pleasure as an altered physical state is linked with pain in Speed Death through Keith Haring’s painting, ‘The Radiant Child’, which somewhat acts as the iconography of the show. Haring was a gay American artist who died of AIDS in 1990. AIDS is an illness where pain and pleasure meet. The homoerotic connotations of AIDS is tied to the severe pain that the patients experience. In this way, Goode allows a line to be drawn between pain and pleasure as significant ways of altering the body.

In examining pain as a thing which alters the body, it is useful to look to Elaine Scarry’s book, The Body in Pain. She states that pain is a wholly inexpressible bodily experience. She writes,

The events happening within the interior of that person’s body may seem to have the remote character of some deep subterranean fact, belonging to an invisible geography that, however portenuous, has no reality because it has not yet manifested itself on the visible surface of the earth (3)

Here, Scarry is explaining that whatever is happening inside a body is unknowable to the person standing next to them – it has no reality because it cannot be seen or felt in any true way by the other person. Therefore, pain becomes an ephemeral beast to try and qualify. Scarry pinpoints the difficulty of a thesis such as mine, in that although ‘there is virtually no piece of literature that is not about suffering’ (11), pain seems to actively destroy language in its very existence (4). Although pain drastically alters the body, there is no way to accurately describe this altering. The pain in Speed Death is often deferred or emotional – there is only one moment of physical pain, when Ash burns himself on a tealight:

In the distance, what sounds like a car alarm going off. / He holds his right hand over one of the candles, palm down. / After a while his hand starts to shake with the pain. He holds his right wrist with his left hand to steady himself. / The alarm continues to sound. (60)

It is in the character of Charlotte that pain is most abstracted by Goode. Proof of Charlotte’s self-harm comes late in the play, in the forms of scars on her body. It is referenced throughout, and visualised through Nick’s psychological analysis; ‘repeated self-administered lacerations, apparently carried out over a period of six to nine months, most probably using a Stanley knife or similar blade. Over thirty separate scars were counted.’ (78) This is explained in parallel with the blue rectangle in Charlotte’s thigh – Goode leads the audience to the conclusion that the two are one and the same. Charlotte’s self-inflicted wounds are inseparable from the toxic radiation which has lodged itself inside her. In Stranger Things the pain is often more visceral; both Will and Eleven experience intense physical pain. Significantly, their pain is because of a supernatural attachment to an outside force. The parasite in Will’s veins is paralleled with the veins that track underneath the surface of the ground in Hawkins through cinematic visual metaphors. This connects the disintegration of the pumpkins in Episode One and Will’s deteriorating health. Therefore, when Will screams in horror as Hopper sets fire to the roots that connect to the Upside Down, it is clear that the trauma inflicted on the environment directly affects Will’s body. In both Speed Death and Stranger Things, a body in pain is never an isolated occurrence. In these texts inexpressible bodily pain is communicated through a wounded environment, and further in Will and Charlotte, pain cannot be separated from the toxic environment the characters live in. Bodily pain is shown to be the twin of environmental trauma – one cannot be experienced without the other.

‘His wound is bleeding day and night’

Corpus Christi Carol, Jeff Buckley

Marianne Hirsch notes that ‘trauma, in its literal meaning, is a wound inflicted on the body’ (72), and so if we consider trauma as defined by its Greek etymology ‘wound’, we might gain a better understanding of how it manifests in art. The wounded body is easier to comprehend than the traumatized body. A cut knee or scarred body are visible wounds, whereas childhood trauma or a tumour is far less visible. Furthermore, the earth is also a kind of body which can be wounded and experience trauma. Images of a beach devastated by a tsunami (“Then And Now: The Aftermath Of The 2004 Indonesian Tsunami – In Pictures”) are more powerful than statistics about beetles deteriorating in the Amazon (Thompson). In a review of a student production of Speed Death of a Radiant Child, it is noted that there’s a lot of pain. Pain quite literally with the nurse convulsing on the floor and the doctor being knocked unconscious’ (Harrison). Bodily pain and trauma are in conversation with each other in a play like Speed Death – the wounded body is equated with the traumatised body, and so one begins to see how the literal wounds inflicted on the body and the earth also manifest in psychological wounding. Charlotte’s scarred body is also a deeply troubled body, and so the two begin to become synonymous. Scarry’s assertion that pain is an inexpressible human condition can also be applied to the trauma of the play. Similarly, a blog about Stranger Things notes that the show ‘is about grief and loss. It’s about trauma.’ (Stephens), particularly the trauma of young bodies. The blog is not an academic journal, but it gives important insight into the audience reception of the show, and how the themes of trauma are interpreted. The trauma in Stranger Things is explored through metaphor and monsters, both the monster and the trauma are presented as undeniably real occurrences. Will is not only suffering from PTSD, but he is also being infected by a monster in a parallel universe. Both the trauma and the monster are somewhat inexplicable in their manifestation and reality, and so the Duffer Brothers allow an exploration of trauma through science fiction. Stranger Things is set in an America consumed by fear of the Cold War, and the threat of nuclear destruction, while Speed Death is set in the Windscale Nuclear Plant in post war Britain. Both Speed Death and Stranger Things examine corrupted bodies as a result of human interference. Therefore, the texts are located in different genres and geographies, but interconnect in their analysis of trauma as an inexpressible experience.

The young bodies in these two texts are interwoven with their environments, and their environments become toxic, which in turn makes the bodies toxic; an inherited trauma from the land to the body. In ‘Bodies That Remember’ Derek J. Thiess explores how bodily histories are inscribed by the environments that they live in and are therefore in opposition with one another while also informing each other; ‘there is a clear juxtaposition of planetary ecosystem and human body such that they continually call one another into question—their living and dying mirror one another.’ (141) In Chapter One of Stranger Things, Will is brought into Hawkins National Laboratory to help him recover from the trauma of being taken to an alternative dimension. The scientists connect receptors to his brain (again the body is the site of trauma and remembering) and ask him what happens in his “episodes”, where he feels as if he is in the Upside Down. He says ‘there was this storm…I felt. Frozen…Just frozen…I felt this evil like it was looking at me…To kill…Not me, everyone else’ (24:00-26:10). Significantly, Will mentions the storm before he describes the creature that is looking at him, suggesting that the environment of the Upside Down is as important as what inhabits it. The environment of the Upside Down is written onto Will and into his bodily history as he becomes infected by the monster in the storm. Will is weakened by the environment inhabiting in his body, but he is also connected to the alternative dimension and when it is harmed, he is harmed; they mirror each other, as Thiess suggests.

Sandra Steingraber writes in Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment that ‘our bodies, too, are living scrolls of sorts. What is written there – inside the fibers of our cells and chromosomes – is a record of our exposure to environmental contaminants’ (236). Steingraber compares the human body to the trunk of a tree; the rings of the tree narrate its history just our body narrates our history. This can be applied to a literal wounding, or to a traumatic wounding; it is all kept in the body. This is seen in Speed Death as the environment of the hospital and the nuclear plant sits within the bodies of the characters, most obviously in the blue tube in Charlotte’s leg. The Windscale fire at the nuclear reactor plant in 1957 is the heart of Speed Death and is the setting of the play. This is the toxic environment which bleeds into the bodies that inhabit it, just as in Stranger Things. Justine quotes Rene Richard’s essay ‘The Radiant Child’ in Speed Death, saying that in Haring’s painting, one sees ‘the child’s body being bombarded with what he calls communications, “radioactive communications”’ (9). Here, Goode introduces an intellectual reading of the painting as a microcosm of the image at the heart of the play – a body being ‘bombarded’ with radiation, and ultimately becoming synonymous with that radioactive environment. As Justine elaborates on Three Mile Island as the worst civilian nuclear accident at the time, she explains that ‘those lines, that’s not a metaphor, that’s not information as radiation, that’s radiation as radiation.’ (10). The radiation can therefore be read as the wound on the body – it is the reason for the collapsing body and collapsing landscape. As the radiation finds its way into Nick’s body, he becomes increasingly broken, and at the end his body fully collapses. Furthermore, an inexpressible traumatic pain is represented through the wounds inflicted by leaking radiation. It is a wound in a metaphorical sense but also in a corporeal way.

‘Muscle connects to the bone

And bone to the ire and the marrow

I wish I had a gentle mind’

Marrow, St. Vincent

After examining the nature of the trauma that afflicts the characters in Stranger Things and Speed Death, it is interesting to examine how these two texts intersect in their discussion of vulnerable bodies. In both pieces, children are at the centre of the ecological trauma. Charlotte in Speed Death is just 19 years old, acting as the only visible child’s body, and Jordan Beaker is a dead child star that Laura, Charlotte’s nurse, is infatuated with. Further, Will is merely 14 years old alongside Dustin, Mike, and Lucas. The child stars that act in Stranger Things have an almost uncanny resemblance to Jordan Beaker’s fame that Laura discusses in Speed Death; ‘Suddenly he’s in Hollywood. And everyone who’s a vegan says he’s a vegan and everyone who wants to marry a rabble-rouser says he’s a rabble-rouser and everybody, everybody, is convinced he’s bisexual’ (42) A child actor is caught between childhood and adulthood; living within a vulnerable body in a world they are not yet built for. It is in this vulnerable place that Jordan Beaker dies; ‘By the time they get him to hospital, his skin is blue, his lips are dark blue, his fingernails are dark blue.’ (42) Again Goode reiterates blue as a colour of death and radiation, but also of pleasure and the body. Each time it is mentioned, the body is redefined. Whether it is Charlotte’s body becoming a building, Ash’s body in a dream, or Jordan Beaker’s body in death, the audience are confronted with blue as a signifier of the body changing. Laura echoes this by saying, ‘you trust someone beautiful, and then they die, and then you have to trust that.’ (43) In the final moments of the play, Charlotte walks across the stage, naked, and she is bathed in ‘deep blue light.’ (93) It is in this moment that she becomes a vulnerable body in the most visible sense. Both as an actress and a character, Charlotte is exposed and reborn. In this way, the vulnerable body of a child is emblematic of a body in flux, dictated by environmental disruption. Theiss writes that ‘biological body and written history are one and the same…reshaped the boundaries among history, place, and body’ (145). It might therefore be useful to think of a child’s body as vulnerable because of its yet unformed history. If biology and written history are the same, a young body is physically and emotionally susceptible to the environment surrounding it. Furthermore, the body mirrors the environment but in so doing sheds light back onto the characters. In Stranger Things the environment acts as a metaphor for adolescence – for Will’s emotional and physical growth which mirrors the entropy in the landscape. In  Monstrous Nature, Murray and Huemann discuss Germany Year Zero, a film which explores ‘effects an eco-horror caused by total war and occupation has on innocence, especially the innocence of children whose external and internal landscapes have become broken’ (xx). Huemann and Murray’s description of the children’s broken ‘external and internal landscapes’ could be applied to the children of Speed Death and Stranger Things. All the young bodies in these texts experience trauma and loss; their bodies are attacked physically by a toxic environment. Furthermore, in Chris Goode’s abstract world, it is the death of Jordan Beaker that causes the fire in the nuclear power plant where Charlotte is housed. The timelines falter in the world of Speed Death, meaning that the vulnerability of a child’s body causes such a rift, that a hospital turns into a power plant, and the radiation inside it leaks out.  

‘I am blue inside, I am the blue light’

Braid of Voices, DM Smith

Building on the idea of radiation as a contamination in the environment that inflicts wounds on bodies, it is potent to consider the wider ecological implications of this analysis. Radiation spills are an example of human interference with nature becoming destructive, or even fatal. Nick shouts to Justine that there are ‘Fifty thousand leaflets in boxes in our bedroom, our bedroom, about how nuclear waste is transported by train every week about a mile and a half from our house and I’m making you scared?’ (83). Matt Chester notes on a blog about energy technology and policy that the Hawkins Lab in Stranger Things could be considered a close allegory to the Manhattan Project. He reasons that the ‘mistakes’ made in creating the Upside Down are comparable to the mistakes of the scientists who created the atomic bomb. In this way, Stranger Things widens its lens out to historical moments of destructive nature; moments where man has used nature in ways which cause harm. This can be usefully paralleled with the leaking nuclear power plant in Speed Death, set in a post war Britain which needed a bomb to establish itself as a world power. Environmental damage in these texts is tied closely with the Conservative politics of the times (1957 and 1982). Political decisions about the development of nuclear activity and schemes that will cause environmental damage have shaped disasters such as the Windscale Fire, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and even oil spills such as Deepwater Horizon. In his introduction to Eco-Trauma Cinema Anil Narine states that ‘nature, whether it threatens us, we threaten it or we see ourselves as part of it, remains sublime in this way: something too vast in its beauty and power to comprehend.’ (1) Whether the environment is damaging us or we are damaging the environment, the destruction and pain that occurs from it is as incomprehensible as it is fascinating.

The two ideas of ‘nature’ and ‘pain’ parallel each other, particularly when considering the trauma of ecological disasters. Not only do these ideas encircle each other, but they interlock in the case study of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Ghosh notes that ‘the history of oil is a matter of embarrassment verging on the unspeakable, the pornographic’ (75) In 2015 an article was published in the Journal of Behavioural Health Services & Research which detailed how the Deepwater Horizon spill left Gulf Coast residents traumatized. It is defined in the paper as a ‘non intentional anthropogenic (human-generated) technological disaster involving a hazardous materials spill (petroleum and dispersant chemicals) that generated severe ecological impact’ (59), however the paper then goes on to detail the trauma side effects it had on residents and workers. In the paper they reference the Exxon Valdez spill, where ‘exposed clean-up workers had significantly higher rates of generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, and major depression compared with non-exposed controls’ (60). In this way, ecological disaster begins to have tangible effects on bodies and minds, even if it is not directly destroying human life. In Speed Death, then, the impact of the radiation spill begins to root itself more firmly in reality, particularly when seen in conjunction with cases such as Deepwater Horizon. Environmental trauma is proven to have psychological effects on people, and so the bodily pain in Speed Death and Stranger Things can be read as a literal pain, as well as in a metaphorical way. The wounding that comes from a radiation spill is not only the long term effects on the planet, it is also the effect it has on the bodies that inhabit that planet. These two texts discuss this trauma through metaphor and genre, but they touch on an important analysis of environmental impact, which might change how we see our relationship with nature. Global heating is often an ethereal issue which does not suggest immediate threat; perhaps in understanding that the effect that nature has on our bodies is parallel to the effect we have on nature, we might come to understand the importance of tending to our wounds. Murray and Heumann map the horror genre as an ecocritical examination of a nature which fights back at its human inhabitants: ‘Godzilla springs to life from the radiation left by nuclear testing’ (xi) These critics are arguing that through the literal monsters of the horror genre (particularly in film), there is a repeated theme of human destruction of the environment. This monster imagery is apparent in Stranger Things, significantly in the final episodes of both series, in which the characters must fight off the mutated creatures that emerged from the alternate reality. Murray and Heumann write that films ‘provide a space in which to explore the complexities of a monstrous nature that humanity both creates and embodies.’ (xii) Therefore, the creation of a monstrous nature that fights back against humanity can be paralleled to the way that the Deepwater Horizon Spill was traumatic for both humans and the environment surrounding them. The oil spill was a human created disaster that affected the land just as it affected the human body, and therefore reading this with an ecocritical view shows that the line between human and nature may grow thinner, but perhaps in ways that are toxic (as in Speed Death). With this view, it is significant that the destruction goes two ways in Speed Death and Stranger Things; trauma is passed through bodies and land in a cycle of damage.

‘Drone bomb me

Blow me from the mountains, and into the sea’

Drone Bomb Me, ANOHNI

Expanding the discussion of these two texts reaches to a discussion of a collapsing world expressed through collapsing bodies. Both the hospital and nuclear power station in Speed Death are places that allude to broken bodies, particularly if we see the power station as connected to atomic bombs. In Stranger Things, the Upside Down is a destroyed world that houses destructive monsters and Hawkins Laboratory is a site of collapsing bodies (the experiments conducted on Eleven). Throughout both pieces, but more significantly in Speed Death, there is a continued theme of emergency and collapse. A collapsing environment becomes emblematic of a collapsing body; ‘I’m guessing my heart will explode for a start. So the fire alarm might go off. The whole city could very well be plunged into a state of emergency’ (16) In the Guardian review of the first production of Speed Death, it is stated that the play ‘captures the edgy anxiety of a world in meltdown and of people surviving against the odds with their tarnished halos intact.’ (Gardner) The worlds of these texts are fragile; Hawkins balances on a knife edge between our world and a dangerous alternative reality. Inevitably, this draws parallels to the climate change disaster that faces the earth. The world is on a collision course to disaster, and the anxiety about this is felt across most of the world. (Wayne Smith et al).  The impending collapse of the planet and all its ecosystems is felt in both of these texts. One way this is shown is through a collapsing language. In both pieces there is a motif of language as a barrier but also as a tool. In Stranger Things, Eleven is never taught to speak, and so it is only in the second season that she begins to use language to describe herself and her abnormality. Furthermore, those around her continually do not have the words to describe her or her powers. In this way, language begins to be insufficient. Similarly, in Speed Death the language begins to break down half way through the play. All the actors start talking at the same time, speaking directly to the audience. While this happens, Ash is talking about Laura, and she falls to the floor and begins to convulse:

Unable to speak because she doesn’t trust the language she stands up in…She realizes she’s stopped breathing. She can’t remember how it goes. And a kind of alarm begins to suffuse her body…Why does this hurt? she thinks, as her heart starts to go tick tick tick…   Boom. / All the streetlights outside and the lights inside begin to flash (61-62)

It is in this moment that the thesis of this essay is most clear in the text of the play. The toxicity of the hospital is subsumed into Laura’s body and she becomes part of the hospital (a vessel and a host), all because Jordan Beaker died far too young. Language collapses and speech stops working, so the body takes over. As Laura convulses and the radiation enters her veins, the environment outside starts to glitch and the world verges on collapse.

Both of these texts suggest that bodies and environments collapse together. The characters in Goode’s play refer to themselves as buildings, cities, and whole landscapes. As is noted in a review of the student production, if the body goes down, the whole city goes with it (James). Towards the end of the play, Nick and Laura discuss the state of the hospital:

NICK: This is a collapse scenario.

LAURA: I know. It’s a nightmare. (89)

The collapse scenario is happening to the hospital and power plant, but it is also happening to Nick, as he falls unconscious in the final moments of the play. As Justine notes, ‘The biggest lie, the biggest betrayal you can ever experience in art is the sham prestige of transcendence. Art that takes you, quote unquote, out of yourself.’ (75). Everything in these texts is centred on the body – there is no transcendence because it all comes back to the body. The body collapses with the earth because ‘inflamed lungs and sinuses prove once again that there is no difference between the without and the within’ (Ghosh 5), meaning that as the earth becomes increasingly toxic, so do our bodies. Theiss writes that ‘to destroy the human body is to destroy one’s planet is to destroy written history’ (139), connecting the body with the earth and reinventing them as collective rather than separate histories. As the children of Stranger Things and Speed Death become connected to their respective environments through toxic bodily invasion, their ecosystems become intertwined. As a result of this intertwining, they collapse together. Goode and the Duffer Brothers might be saying something about nature in this imagery, significantly our relationship to the land we inhabit. Reading these texts with an ecocritical lens encourages these stories to be read as allegories for the increasingly destructive world we inhabit. Our bodies are both the cause of this destruction (oil spills, global heating etc) and become destroyed as a consequence (radiation poisoning, PTSD etc). In order to decipher this allegory, it is necessary to find a new, shared language. As Nick says to Charlotte in Speed Death, ‘I need you to teach me the words. So we can have a shared language. A common ground…We have to create the language. We have to invent the ground to stand up on’ (33). This new language might be thought of as a rebirth, in the same way that Charlotte is reborn in the final moments of Speed Death.

Chris Goode’s sprawling and difficult play, Speed Death of the Radiant Child, informs how we might see the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things as an ecological piece of cinema. Both pieces investigate how the body becomes a vessel for the ecological workings of the world that contains it. Bodies become entry points for the trauma of their surrounding environments. They embody this environmental trauma through physical and mental unrest; the pieces suggest a new language is needed for describing this trauma, and for curing it. The radiation from the hospital seeps into Charlotte in Speed Death, just as the ‘upside down’ nestles into Will in Stranger Things. It is no accident that these two vessels are not just bodies, but children’s bodies. Their bodies are vulnerable, and therefore susceptible to the world around them. To read these pieces with an environmental lens is to understand that contamination in nature (radiation leaks, oil spills etc) leads to contamination in the body, in both a corporeal and ethereal way. Most significantly, these pieces and the critics that accompany them in this essay, are interested in collapse; both bodily and environmental collapse, as the place where rebirth might occur. These pieces allow us to see our environments differently, and further, allow abstraction to inform a newly developing language of trauma (both of the body and of the land). Reading Speed Death and Stranger Things as ecological texts that are speaking to each other about new ways of thinking about the relationship between the body and its environment invites a rethinking of the body in pain as necessarily caused by and the cause of a toxic environment.

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