- 09 Oct 19
We invited a chorus of artists, writers, musicians, broadcasters, sports stars, and more to contribute to Now We’re Talking, a mental health campaign, run in partnership with Lyons Tea and Pieta House.
My first album Record looked to recast my own experience of emotional and mental distress in my own words, beyond the reductive framework of medical jargon and diagnosis. While the album also spawned a theatre production, radio play, talks and writings, it is the songs themselves which I feel set my own record straight, in a manner mostly free of the inherited, internalised language which I found at times seeped into other modes of expression.
These songs seemed to come from a deeper, purer well, from a place which allowed me to listen to the essence of my own experience and, in the words of Yeats, to “hear it in the deep heart’s core.” During the course of that project I became aware of a long history of songwriters who, inspired by first-hand experience of mental distress, and often medical treatment, mined the depths of their souls to bring us new insights into human suffering.
The songs of Nick Drake, Roky Erikson, Peter Green, Lou Reed, Daniel Johnston, Daniel Berman, and many others, have invented new and precious ways to illuminate and articulate complex and distressing human experiences and emotions beyond the received lexicon of mental health. I believe that these songs tell us more in a few lines and bars about the issues at the heart of human distress than a multitude of textbooks.
As Rabindranath Thakur wrote, “when old words die out on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart.” This history of song invites us to listen deeper and beyond those ‘old words’ and to appraise anew the depth of experience at the heart of crises and of the human spirit and consciousness.
Many of us who have been through crises of heart and mind have at least some experience of being analysed and represented in terms alien to our own interpretations of our experiences, and of our own insights being sidelined as somehow less ‘expert’. As our conventional understanding of mental health comes under increasing challenge, and appreciation of expert-by-experience narratives grows, it is to the art of songwriting that we must look to reveal a new understanding of human distress and discovery.
Dylan Tighe is a singer-songwriter, actor and theatre director. His most recent album Wabi-Sabi Soul was released in 2016. A version of this text was originally commissioned by Arts and Disability Ireland for the project One Beat At A Time. His radio play Record was nominated for the Prix Europa.
Now We're Talking 2019
A partnership between Lyons Tea, Pieta House & Hot Press.
Let’s break the stigma and take the dialogue about mental health issues onto a new level
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