I recently happened upon a reference to this song.
To begin properly, it should be known, I was dork child. My little inner nerd had taken a look around and decided that he could thrive within the likes of me. I was nowhere near the top of the grade school stratification system, and it was no secret. So when I found out that the Mtv god existed in my grandma’s television, it was a pretty big deal for me. I was actually allowed to witness something cool, something REALLY cool. I watched as much of it as I possibly could.
This was back when Mtv was brand new and used to just play music videos all day long. I was an altar boy in a small Midwestern town, so everything I saw on every video was new and crazy to me. It was like rounding that bend and seeing the first ‘real city’ skyline I’d ever seen, it was the embodiment of contrast and it was dangerously shiny. It was fucking dynamite. I was enamored.
About five years ago I started seeing a therapist, first for couples counseling and then on my own. Therapy gave me a guided tour through aspects of myself that tended to remain tucked away. It was often difficult but it felt illuminating. Although I left each visit emotionally drained, I left with a sense of accomplishment, like smoking cigarettes with a gang of friends while watching the sun come up, like I had survived some shit.
As I drove home from one of these sessions, the song In a Big Country came on the radio. It was one of the songs I had enjoyed as a kid at grandma’s. I had loved it, I still did. It had this crazy bagpipe guitar part and there were these awesome rolling drums and there were fucking jet skis in the video. Now, deep in the midst of post-therapy comatose, two lines I’d never paid much attention to suddenly became extremely relevant: “because it’s happened doesn’t mean you’ve been discarded,” and “stay alive”.
I was a very freshly recovering alcoholic in couples counseling and individual therapy. I had my issues. I was no stranger to feeling like I’d been discarded, there were even times when I felt like it was the only real solution, like I deserved to be abandoned. Just out of therapy and emotionally spent, the suggestion that I could rejoin the world one day and maybe even be forgiven was very powerful. I’d certainly understood the concept of forgiveness but at that time in my life, I hadn’t really imagined that it could happen to me.
Then came the second part that caught my attention, “stay alive”. It still blows my mind. Two simple, gut wrenching words. Stay alive. Two words a familial embrace. I turned that song all the way up and I sang those words loud and I sang them with every last bit of my exhausted heart and I started to feel better. I could have driven for hours and sang that song 1000 more times. Whoever wrote it knew.
Not long ago I listened to an interview with Tim Kinsella, an author, singer, and musician whose work I love and respect. The interviewer mentioned how a friend of his, after a long breakup, had used some of the music that Tim helped create to cheer him up over the course of a long, depressing drive. Tim replied that it seemed odd to him that anyone could derive such positivity out of that music because everyone involved in its creation was so fucked up at the time.
The gnarled nest from which that music was born is exactly what makes it so special. Pain begets a very specific and recognizable pleasure. There is a bliss that arises distinctly from the ruins of despair. There is a celebration so sick and tired of what has preceded that it shouts recklessly into the sky and dances to within an inch of its life.
“I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the desert,
But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime”
I need survivor music. I need to believe that while the shit I’m going through may not wash off entirely, at least I’ll be able to find something worth while on the other side. I need to hear these songs to know that someone like me has done the same.
I recently learned that Stuart Adamson, vocalist and founding member of Big Country took his own life in 2001. Apparently he had issues with alcohol. I never knew anything about him other the lyrics he wrote to that single song and I’m still on the verge of tears every time I read this.
This is my lash out. This is my fuck you to the questionable deaths I’ll deal with for the rest of my life, and to the pain that they caused the people I love.
Reach out and hang the fuck on.
all material in quotes from the song In a Big Country – ADAMSON, WILLIAM STUART/BRZEZICKI, MARK