I love this song but also the roughly hewn quality of the video with its endearingly wonky performance… He looks like a busy university lecturer who’s just returned from popping outside for a post-lunch fag to squeeze in a quick jamming sesh with his technician housemate in the Faculty of Engineering basement, ahead of their Sunday slot at a local pub, before shooting off to lead a seminar with a group of freshers, which thankfully means zero pre-class preparation on either side. (I reckon).
Whatever the backstory, I find its matter of factness and lack of pretence beguiling, and his lyrics a thing of poetic, anachronistic beauty:
Enthralled was I, so enthralled was I,
As I walked the woods and the mountains high, As I walked the woods and the mountains high, All in the morning early.
Then coming from anon nearby, I heard the sound of a baby cry, And I paused awhile, and I gazed and sighed, The cry was mine, the babe was I.
I was bilious, I was saturnine, As I walked from shrine to wayside shrine, So bilious, so saturnine All in the noontime early.
Then coming from an old mash tongue I heard the sound of a young man come, And I paused awhile, and I gazed and sighed, The come was mine, the man was I.
So bored was I, so bored was I, I stifled yawns, I swallowed sighs, As I strolled ‘mid tombs and sarcophagi All in the evening gloomy.
Then coming from a broken throne I heard the sound of an old man moan, I paused awhile, and I gazed upon The man was me, the groan my own.
Then they moaned and came and cried And raised their voices in dark triad, Saying, “The music of our tethered sphere Is only silence failing. It’s mere distraction, mere veneer, As we await our great our unveiling.”
Dark triad, dark triad, dark triad.
I tried to figure out what the final part means, including whether such a thing as a ‘dark triad’ exists and was delighted to discover it is a psychological term. Psychology Today describes it as ‘three unusually negative personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism’, which essentially amounts to unempathic, manipulative and ruthlessly self-interested behaviour.
I have no evidence to confirm what Mr Roberts was referring to when he penned this but do know he has a strong interest in northern European folklore. When asked by a journalist if his reworking of traditional ballads was because they’re ‘a primitive form of psychoanalysis, a way of releasing the collective unconscious’, his reply was ‘Certainly…Particularly in their interest in dark familial relationships, those Jungian archetypes and fears’. I love this as it sounds like a preoccupation of mine; a curiosity directed below the surface of the tangible and visible, towards less rational, more unconscious, spaces.
Back to the dark triad. Alasdair’s reference to ‘the music of our tethered sphere Is only silence failing’ speaks to me of attempts of the unconscious to gain voice within the conscious sphere and ‘It’s mere distraction, mere veneer As we await our great unveiling’ the possibility of this occurring, making me think of Jung’s shadow; this is a hidden aspect of the personality, containing deeply-rooted traits, the more negative, anti-social ones tending to resemble those of a dark triad, which we all have to some degree and in some form.
I also love the way he keeps realising through the song that things he believed to be outside himself actually reside within him. This sounds like projection – unconsciously ‘placing’ something that originates within oneself into someone else. For example, I might be feeling angry but be completely unaware of the fact; instead, I might perceive someone else to be angry when, in fact, it is me experiencing unacknowledged emotions within myself.
My thoughts turn to the current lockdown and to dark triad activity currently running riot behind certain closed doors and resulting in unimaginable suffering and despair; by way of an example, calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline have increased by a quarter since the start of the lockdown. A heartbreaking thought.
My thoughts also turn to the spiralling levels of grief this pandemic has and is showering upon humanity. I’m conscious that there is considerable individual and collective mourning to be done in the years to come for this loss of ‘normal life’.
It is an extremely precarious time for many, myself included. Thankfully so far, other than a few initial moments of anxiety and sadness that I made sure not to suppress or dismiss, but open up to and acknowledge, I’ve managed to stay positive and remain mindful that self-compassion is a prerequisite for compassion to others. A good cry every now and again has worked wonders as a form of release. Regularly counting my blessings and expressing gratitude has provided a great deal of perspective. But most significant has been finding something meaningful to focus on. More on that in a bit.
In order to process grief and undertake the important process of mourning – from either bereavement or the loss of one’s former life – and to navigate the fear produced by high levels of uncertainty, it’s important to remain in touch with one’s body and soul. Creativity, which necessitates remaining open to outcome and steering away from a fixed mindset towards a more fluid, open one, is a powerful vehicle through which to sublimate anxieties arising from uncertainties by tapping in to the essence of what it means to be alive. It’s been heartening to hear about an explosion of creative acts around the world amidst widespread lockdowns. What it clearly demonstrates is that, even within sometimes severe restrictions, creativity can still flourish. And this needn’t be in the form of ‘Art’. Coming up with a witty word play, freestyling with a recipe or using leftovers to create something original, even repurposing an object for an alternative use – essentially, finding new ways of doing things – are all expressions of everyday creativity.
The time and space afforded by my current situation, one that’s enabling me to live in rhythm with my natural flow, for a change, has led to me spending increasing periods of time creating. (I appreciate this sounds farfetched but I was so preoccupied with writing today that I actually found myself about to put my Macbook Air in the oven, instead of my lunch… Mac n cheese, anyone?) But, unlike normal life, my labour is now creative. Despite feeling tired from spending many prolonged hours engaged in creative activities, including writing, I’ve felt nourished, rather than drained. I’m getting to spend an extended period of time being me, rather than who I need to be to pay my bills. Like most people, my income-generating work doesn’t provide much scope for creative expression or use of my key skills. Rather, it has tended to block it, resulting in periods during which I’ve struggled to feel inspired or energetic enough to create anything. Not so now. During this lockdown, despite being housebound, I’ve felt as though I’ve travelled far and wide via my thoughts and the process of writing to new, previously unknown, locations. It’s been so liberating; at last, I can breathe freely.
And since I’ve started reconnecting with my inner child through my creative practice, I’ve also started playing with her again – singing my heart out, dancing like a banshee and generally making merry, (code for acting like an idiot, which happens to be a particular forte of mine).
I hope, dear reader, that you too get to sing your heart out, dance like a banshee and make merry – be it with your technician housemate, family members including pets or, in my case, lots of houseplants.
Going crazy sometimes is the only way we can hope to stay sane.