Category Archives: COVID

Finding a voice in silence / Song Analysis #63: ‘Til Tuesday – Voices Carry

You can Google and find the two most common explanations for the origin of ‘Til Tuesday’s ‘Voices Carry’ (here and here).  I’ve had a few musicians tell me that a song’s meaning should never be revealed, never quite as sweetly eloquently as magicians should never reveal their secrets, should they?  I would agree with that and also add that how you read a song’s lyrics and how they make you feel are influenced by your own experiences.

Two years after my father died, I took myself to see a therapist for the first time.  I knew his death hit me hard.  I read books on grief, but I often felt numb inside and didn’t know what to do.  Intellectually, I knew his death was affecting my daily life, I felt I didn’t have anyone I could turn to, and I wanted to take the appropriate action to help myself.  Therapy was at least worth a shot. 

I had a very clear idea in my head when I started therapy that I did not want to play the blame game.  Further, I was doing this for me.  I knew I was going to get flak about it from my mother.  There is a huge stigma in Chinese and Asian cultures around getting help for mental health.  It’s considered an admission of weakness if you have to go for help outside of yourself for your problems and worse, your family will lose face if the word gets out about it.  This concern about showing weakness also offers a good explanation to why there are far fewer divorces among Asian couples compared to their Causasian counterparts.

It would be some years later that I recognized this as akin to the British stiff upper lip.  I first saw in my first serious boyfriend and then again and again in friends and many of the men I’d meet and become friends with through my travels for There Goes the Fear.  My friends in Delphic and Everything Everything got involved early on in supporting the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).  After absorbing the stark statistic that suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in Britain, I felt a moral obligation to do something and started writing for CALM.

Today’s song is one I’ve sat with many a time because I felt Aimee Mann’s emotionally brutal lyrics spoke to me, but for much of my life, I never really understood why.  I remember having a conversation with my second therapist about the definition of trauma.  I had always assumed that trauma meant physical trauma, like sexual abuse or a soldier’s PTSD following an injury in the field.  I hadn’t considered mental trauma.  It took another 4 years and a painful falling out with a friend’s mother for me to come to terms with what I must have known subconsciously.  I was a child victim of emotional abandonment.  Like the clouds above me had parted, I then understood why today’s song left a lasting impact on me.  It was as if my parents had placed imaginary tape over my mouth when I was a child.  I did not feel safe telling them how I truly felt about anything outside of school or grades.  They didn’t seem to care about anything else.  

Many years later, when I met parents of bands and musicians who I helped promote through TGTF, I saw how proud they were of their children and their artistic efforts.  I would smile at them, but a part of me would die inside as I contemplated that as a child or even a young woman, I never got any of that support.  Therapy got me to the point where I was able to force myself out of my comfort zone and into the world, putting myself in social situations that were required for the Editor-in-Chief of an influential music website.  I did these things for me. TGTF helped me come out of my shell.  I finally had a voice.  My own voice.  A voice that I know made a difference.

I also wanted to feature this song here on Music in Notes because there has been a dramatic rise in domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the lockdowns because the abused are now having to shelter in place with their abuser.  If you or someone you know need help, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is a good resource to start with.  Just having to type this paragraph is making me tearful.  Please, please reach out and get help if you need it.  You may not feel this, but you have a voice.  There is someone out there who will listen.

Title: ‘Voices Carry’
Where to find it: ‘Voices Carry’ single and album (1985, Epic)
Performed by: ‘Til Tuesday
Words by: Aimee Mann

Verse 1
In the dark, I’d like to read his mind
But I’m frightened of the things I might find
Oh there must be something he’s thinking of
To tear him away, ay, ay
When I tell him that I’m falling in love
Why does he say

Chorus
Hush hush
Keep it down now
Voices carry
Hush hush
Keep it down now
Voices carry

Verse 2
I try so hard not to get upset
Because I know all the trouble I’ll get
Oh he tells me tears are something to hide
And something to fear
And I try so hard to keep it inside
So no one can hear

Chorus
Hush hush
Keep it down now
Voices carry
Hush hush
Keep it down now
Voices carry

Bridge
He wants me
But only part of the time
He wants me
If he can keep me in line

Chorus
Hush hush
Keep it down now
Voices carry
Hush hush
Keep it down now
Voices carry

Outro
He said shut up, he said shut up
Oh God, can’t you keep it down
Voices carry
Voices carry
I wish he would let me talk

Wearing a mask protects the immunocompromised from COVID-19 / Song Analysis #62: Rob Thomas – Her Diamonds

Mask-wearing mandates are new to the Western world.  In stark contrast, mask wearing is all too normal in Asia, where large, urban population centers have been prime breeding grounds for virus infection.  In Asia, many people who are ill wear a mask when they go out because they don’t want to risk infecting someone else, a concept that appears lost on too many on this side of the Pacific Ocean.

Illustrated by this image posted last week by @jennykeogh on Instagram, 40% of transmissions of COVID-19 happen before obvious visible symptoms.  As many healthcare professionals have already stressed, you could be in the presence of and close enough to someone who is not showing any signs of infection or distress from COVID-19 and get infected by the virus from them.  This is why we’re being told to wear masks any time we are out in public, even if we are able to appropriately social distance.  As a former biologist, I wear a mask because I would rather not risk the odds of getting infected or passing on the virus to another person.

Why is wearing a mask so important?  As the image also shows, wearing a mask is all about stopping yourself from unwittingly spreading the virus if you are an asymptomatic carrier.  Simply put, wearing a mask reduces the chance that you will give the virus to someone else.  Unfortunately, there have been too many cases in America already where people who have refused to wear masks in public settings have become aggressive and lashed out against mask-wearing mandates and the store employees trying to enforce them.  For some, the thought of wearing a mask is causing fear, driven by psychological and economic anxiety.  A great quote from this Psychology Today article: “If you’re reluctant to wear a mask when required, question any automatic thoughts about others trying to take away your freedom. Most likely their goal is just to keep everyone safe, not to make you buy into a certain worldview or to force you to eat arugula.”

But what if we reframed mask wearing as an act of compassion?  If we were dealing with a visible enemy, like a monster mosquito the size of a fist whose bite caused immediate medical distress, I don’t think we’d have too much trouble getting people to wear masks.  With COVID-19 being invisible, it is impossible to know if it is in front of us or not.

When I see someone walking with a cane or in a wheelchair or a woman heavily pregnant and approaching the doors to a building, my instinct is to open the door for them, and I hope you do, too.  You can physically see the person’s need for your help and assistance.  However, there are many people in the world who have suppressed or compromised immune systems whose illnesses are invisible to you.  Through the simple act of wearing a mask, you’re doing your part in protecting every single one of them who crosses your path from getting infected with COVID-19.  Today’s analysis is on a song written by and from the point of view of a man whose wife is suffering from debilitating chronic illness, an illness that may not be readily apparent to the casual observer.

Title: ‘Her Diamonds’
Where to find it: ‘Cradlesong’ and ‘Her Diamonds’ single (2009, Atlantic)
Performed by: Rob Thomas
Words by: Rob Thomas

Matchbox Twenty were hugely popular when I was in university.  If you ever listened to top 40 radio in the late ‘90s in the DC area, you couldn’t escape their latest single.  Every time I wake up at 3 AM in the morning now, yup, I think of that song.  My best friend at the time was obsessed with the band and Rob Thomas, so it’s not surprising I became a fan of theirs through osmosis.  In my third year of school, Thomas married model Marisol Maldonado.  This wasn’t your average “rock star marries model” relationship.  The couple’s love of animals eventually led to the founding of Sidewalk Angels, an animal advocacy not-for-profit.  To date, the foundation has raised more $1 million to help organizations in America and the Caribbean to care for and protect animals.

I think people have this mistaken idea that when a rock star (or other famous celebrity) marries someone “normal”, it must be a fairy tale.  All marriages, regardless of which husbands and wives we’re talking about, require hard work, and the Thomases had no idea what was ahead of them.  Marisol has been through an absolute nightmare of confounding doctors with “mysterious fever and hives,” hospitalizations, and hair loss and being incorrectly diagnosed, all the while knowing something was seriously wrong.  Though she was considered to have symptoms similar to the autoimmune disease lupus long before, it wasn’t until after surgery to remove a brain lesion in 2015 that she was tested for and diagnosed with late-stage neurological Lyme disease.  Diagnosis of other illnesses followed.

As any person with chronic illness will tell you, diagnosis is only half the battle.  I am not fond of the “spoon theory” because I find it depressing as a concept, but it is a good visual to give your family and friends an idea of how each day in your life might look different.  Personally, I find the debilitating fatigue that may exist with chronic illness one day and not another is one of the hardest things to explain.  How can you, when the next day you may look like you’re fighting fit and completely normal?  For the loved ones in your life, it may be difficult for them to relate and come to grips with your illness and how it can come to define you.  You may not be able to do the same things you used to or be the same energetic person that they remember.

I can relate to some of Rob’s worries and concerns for his wife because I have seen them in and heard them from my own parents.  I imagine writing ‘Her Diamonds’ was quite cathartic for him.  He describes his wife’s tears as “her diamonds on the floor”, parts of her that she has lost.  When you love someone, it’s only natural to want to remove your loved one’s pain and suffering but often times, we can’t.  He feels helpless (“And her diamonds bring me down / ‘Cause I can’t help her now”) because he can’t do anything: “And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do / But if she feels bad, then I do too / So I let her be”.  He hides his emotions from her because as the “healthy” one, he’s supposed to be the strong one: “So I sit down and I cry too / And don’t let her see.

In the public eye as Rob Thomas’ wife, Marisol is valiantly fighting every day to live with chronic illness.  Every day is a struggle, but she is an inspiring role model because she never gives up and has hope that there will be a cure one day to relieve her of her suffering. I encourage you to read her heartfelt and inspiring speech from the 2017 Global Lyme Alliance New York Gala where she was honored here. 

Verse 1
Oh, what the hell she said
I just can’t win for losing
And she lays back down
Man, there’s so many times
I don’t know what I’m doing
Like I don’t know now


Pre-chorus 1
By the light of the moon
She rubs her eyes
Says it’s funny how the night
Can make you blind
I can just imagine
And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do
But if she feels bad, then I do too
So I let her be

Chorus
And she says oh
I can’t take no more
Her tears like diamonds on the floor
And her diamonds bring me down
‘Cause I can’t help her now
She’s down in it
She tried her best but now she can’t win it
Hard to see them on the ground
Her diamonds falling down

Verse 2
She sits down and stares into the distance
And it takes all night
And I know I could break her concentration
But it don’t feel right

Pre-chorus 2
By the light of the moon
She rubs her eyes
Sits down on the bed and starts to cry
And there’s something less about her
And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do
So I sit down and I cry too
And don’t let her see

Chorus
And she says oh
I can’t take no more
Her tears like diamonds on the floor
And her diamonds bring me down
‘Cause I can’t help her now
She’s down in it
She tried her best but now she can’t win it
Hard to see them on the ground
Her diamonds falling down

Bridge
She shuts out the night
Tries to close her eyes
If she can find delight
She’ll be all right
She’ll be all right
Just not tonight

Chorus
And she says oh
I can’t take no more
Her tears like diamonds on the floor
And her diamonds bring me down
Cause I can’t help her now
She’s down in it
She tried her best but now she can’t win it
Hard to see them on the ground
Her diamonds falling down

Surviving the spectre of COVID-19 / “Song Analysis” #61: Pet Shop Boys – Numb

I have been writing quite a lot during the pandemic, but there’s a lot of drafts that sit unfinished. Every time I’ve started a new draft of one of these analyses, I think about how infinitesimally unimportant my writing is in the current world we live in, and I feel guilty. People are fighting for their lives from hospital beds and from the streets. There are pockets of unrest and discord all over the world that look like tinderboxes ready to explode at any moment.

None of us here on Earth have a crystal ball, but I think it’s safe to say that everyone on this planet is in for a rough ride for the foreseeable future. There are a lot of people hurting, confused, and feeling hopeless. There is a lot of advice out there already, but I wanted to provide my take on things you can do today that will help you cope during this difficult time.

My best recommendation? Stay safe and healthy, which means isolating when and where you can and wearing a mask if you must go out and interface with other people. If you need help, reach out. I cannot stress this enough. Life is always tough, but it’s especially tough now given that many of the usual, healthy coping mechanisms like seeing friends, being social, and going to the gym are prohibited or may look very different than what we’re used to. We’re going through an unprecedented time, and the feelings you have may be unfamiliar or heightened. None of this “I have to be productive like everyone else in isolation” if your mind can’t go there. It’s self-defeating and entirely unhelpful. Don’t compare your response to that of others. We all react to stress in different ways. Give yourself plenty of slack. Be gentle with yourself.

If you haven’t already tried this, a constructive, artistic outlet to release your negative feelings can really help. It’s a great option if meditation, sitting still, and contemplating your navel doesn’t work for you. Listening, dancing, and/or singing to music can be therapeutic. Writing out your feelings can be another big help. Just getting it out on paper is a good exercise to get it out of your system. Writers like me do this all the time.

Above all, if you’re feeling anxious or depressed, please don’t suffer in silence. It isn’t hopeless. Help is available. I saw this Instagram post from A Safe Place Inside Your Head recently, and it really hit home for me. I can help you find other resources, too. Find me on Twitter.

Title: ‘Numb’
Where to find it: ‘Fundamental’ (2006, Parlophone [UK], Rhino [US]); ‘Concrete’ (2006 live album, Parlophone [UK])
Performed by: Pet Shop Boys
Words by: Diane Warren

I put song analysis in quotes in the title of this post, because I feel that the words of the below song are self-explanatory. I did, however, want to post the lyrics for the person who is reading this post, can relate to them, and may find solace in the song as a whole. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with disconnecting from the news and social media right now. We are in the middle of an emotionally overwhelming situation, with the end and resolution uncertain.

I’ve been listening to a bunch of different music while in isolation. In the past week, I’ve been seeking out live albums on Spotify that I’ve never heard before. I came across ‘Concrete’, a 2006 live album of the Pet Shop Boys that was recorded for a BBC Radio 2 programmed called Sold on Song. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe specifically chose songs for the setlist that had been previously written to have orchestral backing, making this a beautifully unique set.

‘Numb’ is an unusual song to feature on Music in Notes, in that the song was not written by the Pet Shop Boys themselves. It was written by Diane Warren, a well-known name in the pop music world, having penned many a mainstream top 40 hit. The song was a single off their 2006 album ‘Fundamental’. This song follows 3 years later after another famous tune called ‘Numb’ by a singer we sadly lost in 2017.

I hope that if you’re reading this post, reading the lyrics, watching the live performance in Mexico, and hearing Neil Tennant’s plaintive voice below provide you some solace. Please know you’re not alone.

Verse 1
Don’t wanna hear the news
What’s going on
What’s coming through
I don’t wanna know
don’t wanna know
Just wanna hide away
make my my escape
I want the world
to leave me alone
Feels like I feel too much
I’ve seen too much
For a little while
I want to forget

Chorus 1
I wanna be numb
I don’t wanna feel this pain no more
Wanna lose touch
I just wanna go and lock the door
I don’t wanna think
I don’t wanna feel nothing
I wanna be numb
I just wanna be
wanna be numb

Verse 2
Can’t find no space to breathe
World’s closing in
right on me now
Well that’s how it feels
that’s how it feels
Too much light
There’s too much sound
Wanna turn it off
Wanna shut it out
I need some relief
Think that I think too much
I’ve seen too much
There is just too much
thought in my head

Chorus
I wanna be numb
I don’t wanna feel this pain no more
Wanna lose touch
I just wanna go and lock the door
I don’t wanna think
I don’t wanna feel nothing
I wanna be numb
I just wanna be
wanna be

Bridge
Taken away from all the madness
Need to escape
escape from the pain
I’m out on the edge
about to lose my mind
For a little while
For a little while
I wanna be numb

Chorus 2
I don’t wanna think
I don’t wanna feel nothing
I wanna be numb
I don’t wanna feel this pain no more
Wanna lose touch
I just wanna go and lock the door
I don’t wanna think
I don’t wanna feel nothing
I wanna be numb
I just wanna be
wanna be numb
I just wanna be
wanna be numb

Outro
All the madness
I wanna be numb