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Blues is the healer

She's never been one to pull her punches but even by her standards, Mary Coughlan's latest album is a rollercoaster. Here, she talks about a life of love, loss, pain and redemption.

Peter Murphy, 23 Oct 2008

Another line, in ‘Mary Mary’: “They laughed about my temper back then/I thought it was the blues.”

“That’s a song about sexual abuse when I was like, seven.”

So is that where all the despair and self-destructiveness comes from?

“That’s where it comes from, the badness.”

So it’s not genetic, it’s experiential.

“Experiential. My experience was of being bad: ’I’ve been an awful woman all my life/A dreadful daughter and a hopeless wife.’ I was asked to speak at an Aware thing once, about depression. And I said I’d been depressed since I was seven, and a lot of people in the room put up their hands and said they felt the same, around about the same time, Holy Communion time, they felt there was darkness. I mean, I knew where mine was coming from, but I wasn’t prepared to talk about it. And this song is drawing a line around it and fucking it out the window. Some people say you’re born alcoholic, but I think shit happens. And I know shit happened to me, that’s all I know. And I don’t know any other way of being other than somebody who was shat on as a small child.”

There’s that line in ‘Bad’: “I’ve been the token woman all my life…”

“‘…Saving up to buy a gun.’ There were times when I thought about it. But mostly to get other people. Never myself.”

What eventually cured her? AA? Therapy?

“I suppose it all did really. I did the AA thing twice a day for a year and a half, and the once fortnightly one-to-one stuff. It all worked to keep me away from the drink, but it never worked… This has worked, this record. The space that I’ve been in for the past three years has worked. Getting away from the life I was living. Getting away from my husband, standing on my own two feet. My mother dying: ‘Cop on, you’re fuckin’ 48-years-old, you’re half an orphan, the eldest of your brothers and sisters, get a fuckin’ life Mary, stop fuckin’ whingein’ and do what it is that you do best.’ My counsellor said to me, ‘You’ve got to find some self-esteem somewhere and just work at it until it becomes part of your everyday reality, you’ve got to feel good about some parts of yourself.’

“And I knew that I could sing, so I said I’ll grab this one by the balls and I’ll ask (MCD boss) Denis Desmond for the money, and he said, ‘Go for it Mary’ and I fuckin’ did. There’s a lot of history between Denis and I, I really always liked him, but we fell out years ago over money and management and shit. So I said, ‘I want to see your face when you listen to the album, so when you have an hour free, call me. I’ll wait.’ So I went in one day to the office. Two hours later he was still going, ‘Fuck, is that you? I thought you were bringing me in a CD of Peggy Lee covers!’ I’m proud. It’s a good CD. It’s a really good CD. I’ve never said that before, about any of my albums.”

The House Of Ill Repute is out now on Rubyworks

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