The Emptiness of the Prize

By John Doran

My name is John Doran and I write about music. The young bucks who run VICE’s website thought it would be amusing to employ a 41-year-old who has, of late, lost all his mirth.

In case you were wondering or simply too lazy to use urban dictionary, "menk" is Scouse/Woollyback slang for a mentally ill or educationally subnormal person, and is a shortened version of mental. As in, “Your Sergio Tacchini trackie is sick la, look at that menk Doran, he can’t even afford a Walker trackie. Let’s hit him with a brick and push him in the canal."

(Continued from last week. Read part one here.)

Imagine all the inner and outer audio signals of your life running down a cable which is plugged into a state of the art mixing desk. The talented, trained, sympathetic sound engineer who normally works with you is not at the mixing desk. Some loud, fast talking, high maintenance, bi-polar, drunk drama student in a comedy rainbow coloured Afro wig who specialises in ruining nights out is at the mixing desk. He is chained to the console and he has a gun so he can’t be removed. The booth monitor volume control, which represents in general terms how good you feel, has been turned down to somewhere between one and two. You’re praying for it to go back up to six or maybe even seven but it’s not going to happen. Not for a few more weeks yet at least.

All the first eight channels that your streams of conscious thought are being fed through – the ones you usually have full control over – are being faded up and down at random and having bursts of unusual FX applied to them. You’re trying to remember why you’ve gone to the supermarket and then someone switches on the ring modulator. Channel nine and ten have tinnitus allocated to them and they’re both up to eight. The next channel though… is the one. A line which is usually dead is now live and fully open. It is attached to a malfunctioning sampler, spitting out gobbets of low quality, over compressed audio. Non-stop. Relentless. Looped.

The sound effect to every cinematic gunshot wound to the head you’ve ever heard are on this channel. The sound the dog made when the car went straight over it that night down Rainhill Road, when it dragged itself away screaming by its still working two front legs. The answering machine message left for you after he killed himself. The sound the cigarette made as it was extinguished on the smoothest part of your inner thigh. That choking sound she made when you said you’d sooner drink yourself to death than dry out for her...

But this isn’t real life. It’s a clumsy analogy. So let’s unplug the non-existent sound desk. The point’s been made. There’s simply no need to be so fucking ghastly about it. There is no point in writing (or reading) something that you can’t learn from. And there’s nothing to learn from this.

Move along now. Nothing to learn here.

This isn’t real. It’s just a column on a website. Here’s how I’d like to approach the topic instead. When I heard the song "The Prize" by Gravenhurst, this is what it made me think about depression: 'As any counsellor or therapist worth their salt will tell you, excessive time spent ruminating is time spent doing something akin to self-harm. The point where you start going over past events again and again, is the point where the logical and linear exploration of an unfortunate or unpleasant series of events gets twisted into a loop that it is near impossible to escape from; where necessary examination of the past becomes a tar pit of depression in the present.

'Even if you understand what’s happening once you reach this point it's often too late to do anything about it. Like being strapped into some cheap and nasty funfair ride – once you’re on, it’s nearly impossible to get off again until it’s over. And then it’s only a matter of time before you willingly get aboard another ride.

'So how does one write about this ugly mundanity? This scar on the face of everyday life. The actual thoughts generated are too vicious and dispiriting; the metaphors and similes it creates too baroque. Even manic depressives won’t recognise them as having worth – even they can’t quite remember how bad a down is when they’re up… Nick Talbot, who is Gravenhurst, has written a beautiful song in "The Prize". It’s a masterclass in restraint and subtlety.

'He doesn’t/can’t/won’t look directly at the event itself but looks to the perimeters/to the aftermath: “As the house lights turn / reveal cigarette burns and the tide line / of last night's cries of despair / that emanate from the underpass and echo back to anywhere / Still the ties that bind us blind us to the emptiness of the prize...”

'This is something that finds melancholy brotherhood with Robert Wyatt, given that it allows one the dignity of hope. It contains the fleeting promise of transcendence, a helping hand to pull the listener out of the self-destructive loop of rumination.'

So that’s me at the moment. Lying in the gutter. Staring at the ashtray. Trying to ignore the racket of the dog. I’m still ploughing through my notes to Fabio, looking for some kind of clue as to when this fog will lift. When my guy will get his hands back on the faders.

- - -

Notes On Giving Up Drinking For Fabio (continued)

"What can I say? The depression. It’s fucking terrible. All you can do is take the edge off it by paying attention to your physical health and hope that this will impact on your mental health. (I think it will.)

"I made sure I looked after my health. Alcohol – which I didn’t know – is a massive analgesic and masks all sorts of secondary problems by softening pain receptors. As soon as you remove it, you start feeling all of this pain in your kidneys, your pancreas, your head, your joints… all over, basically. On top of that, being drunk all the time introduces a weird equilibrium to your body which is – unfortunately – a pain to disturb in the short term, meaning you have to be really careful you don’t pick up flu or a virus.

"Now this might not sound like much, but getting actual flu when you’ve already got something which is like a particularly hanging bout of evil psychedelic flu mixed with temporary schizophrenia is probably best avoided. So cod liver oil tablets, milk thistle for the liver, Vitamin B complex are what you should stock up on. And eat a banana and an avocado a day. This is something the middle classes know instinctively. What do you think the essential differences between Sean Ryder and Jason Pierce are? I’ll tell you, probably about three hours extra sleep a night and a banana and an avocado.

"The pain… I got addicted to painkillers immediately. Fucking stupid. Guess what the major side effect of coming off painkillers is? Loads of pain. You’re better off concentrating on things that help get your body flushed out. High fibre cereals, low sugar muesli, loads of water. Also I used these sachets of powder that you make up into drinks which really inject a lot fibre into your diet, also psylium husks in tablet form. I also tried to have zero fast food, etc and have a cooked meal once a day.

"I couldn’t face coffee for the first few weeks – it just gave me panic attacks but after that I got bang into having loads each morning. I’d drink litres of espresso until I felt like I could see into the future and control the weather.

"Coffee is an alcohol substitute. Over the last few years the major alcohol substitutes I’ve gone in for have been cake, cocaine, MDMA, Coca-Cola, amphetamines, coffee, record shopping and painkillers but they’re all quite clearly and definably things that I would ‘use’. But you have to watch it because you can use anything. The Rastafarian got into eating ice-cream. It was demented. He was worse with ice-cream in some respects than he was with cocaine. I love the Rastafarian. If he hadn’t stopped drinking first I doubt I would have. I didn’t even think it was possible. It’s like he says now: 'I love not drinking. I wake up and my first thought isn’t that I want to cut my throat any more. And some mornings, maybe even most mornings, I’m even happy to be alive.'

"Even if you’re refusing to go to AA you need to have someone who lives near you who doesn’t drink who you can talk to. Even if it’s only for meeting up with them every so often to blow off steam. People who still drink just won’t get it on a fundamental level. I still have people even now who seem to think I could just drink weaker beer if I wanted or have a glass of wine with a meal. I get people asking me when I’m starting again and people who don’t even seem to realise that wine, spirits and beer are all the same thing to me now. Irritatingly, and odds suggest this will always be the case, I’ve had one or two people try to get me to drink again. Not in a very aggressive way but enough that it’s unpleasant nonetheless.

"The main reason why you will start drinking again is because you will persuade yourself that you need to or that it is alright to. You have to be very self-aware and very, very clear that by stopping drinking you mean exactly that. No treats, no rewards, no exceptions, no booze under any circumstances. This is the crux of the matter and is loads more complicated than it sounds. It needs 100 percent vigilance for the short term.

"Like I was saying about grief or heartbreak, your inner monologue becomes deafeningly loud for a while after you stop. Almost overwhelming. This goes away. Gradually. And while this is happening I would stop going to the pub. All of this torturing yourself with nights out drinking Becks Blue or Kaliber while everyone else is getting clattered simply won’t do. You aren’t missing anything, just don’t go. Good mates will come round and see you at your house or meet you in a café or a restaurant. The others, temporarily, can fuck themselves.

"Seriously, you aren’t missing a fucking thing. Here’s an experiment. Try going to a Wetherspoons pub sober for a few nights. It’s like having a wank with a sandpaper glove. Seriously, you’d be better off sitting at home, sitting in a trough full of pig shit ripping all of your money into tiny bits of confetti and then throwing them out of a window.

"You can’t become agoraphobic but I’d seriously cut back on going out. At first all I’d go to social event wise – for about half a year – were birthdays, weddings and funerals. And then it was more a case of showing my face for a bit and then leaving. After that I’d go to the pub on special occasions but always have an escape route planned. If I felt odd or unhappy or drunks were doing my head in, I wouldn’t beat myself up, I’d just get in a cab and leave.

"Now, people can be a bit rubbish about this. Really unhelpful actually but you just have to keep on explaining to them in as conciliatory a way as possible that it’s not a diss, you just have to leave. People who don’t have a drink problem will not get it. It’s such an alien concept to them. Don’t let people bully you. After about a year, I was letting people act like it was just normal me not drinking – they were thinking of me as ‘cured’ (which in some respects will never happen) so people made me do a few things I didn’t want to. I never want to have to go to a nightclub with drunk people ever again.

"After ten months dry I had a massive birthday party at the Mucky Pup for my 38th against my will and it was fucking horrible. Like one of the worst nights out of my entire life. I was nearly in tears by about two in the morning but no one notices because they’re all raging drunk and getting you in a headlock. You’ll mention a cab home at 11PM and it still hasn’t arrived by 3AM. One girl told me the same anecdote about Joan Jett 16 times.

"Of course, what makes it worse is that you know that you’ve been all the other people present yourself, the guy saying 'Cheer up,' the person incomprehensible, the annoying bloke wanting an argument... But none of this is your problem. You simple don’t have to put up with it. You don’t need to do penance or make up for anything by wearing a hair shirt. If I annoyed some people when I was drunk then that’s their fault for hanging out in the kind of pubs where awesome drunks hang out. Now that I don’t want to be annoyed by drunks I don’t got to the kind of pubs where any kind of drunks hang out. Or at least I don’t stay there after 10PM.

"You will ‘lose’ friends. It’s inevitable. I haven’t fallen out with anyone per se but there are people I just don’t see that much any more. Some people will only ever talk to you about your drinking from this moment on. Get used to it. This happens especially in pubs. People are fascinated by it and will have the same conversation with you, grinning while you explain exactly the same information to them again, as if you’re detailing your membership of the Flat Earth Society or some photographs you’ve taken of faeries.

"Occasionally someone wants to talk about it when they’re sober which is totally cool, as I had to talk to people about it in a similar way but there will be people who insist on talking to you about it when they’re really pissed which can be annoying. I’ve got a rule now that if anyone wants to talk to me about it when they’re fucking wankered I’ll speak to them the next day instead.

"I always do and they never know what I’m talking about. It just saves you having to listen to some load of old rubbish by some fucking Sunday drinker who’s never gotten over the fact that he pissed his pants once or sucked his flatmate off. If I’d only ever pissed my pants in public once I’d have it printed on my fucking business cards."

Continues next week…

Previously: Menk, by John Doran - None of Our Secrets Are Physical Now

You can read all the previous editions of John's Menk column here.