High time for something different – finally some music again!
For newcomers: no, I do not play music to cheer you up (there is enough of that all over the Web). I sometimes feature a song here because the artist in some way – melody, lyrics, voice, atmosphere – translated an aspect of depression into music. It may well sound a little depressed or even depressing to you, and not be your kind of music. Still, you might recognize something of your own moods or emotions in these songs. In a few rare cases where you get the feeling the singer is really singing about you, perhaps this will make you feel a little less alone.
What has “Morphine” to do with depression? Morphine, an older version of heroin, is derived from opium and was originally used as a very strong pain killer. In the 19th century it became popular among drug users (and it proved very addictive). It will very effectively numb your senses and can give you a good feeling and sweet dreams instead. This made it an attractive drug for people with depression, too.
Depression can for some of us come with an oversensitivity or hypersensitivity that at times does feel almost unbearable. Almost as if the signals that enter your brain are no longer filtered or properly selected, no longer tuned in proportion, but instead they all smash with full force straight into your head. Light (not just sunlight but any light) can become sharply painful. Sounds can become painful. Touching a table or chair can become painful. Feeling your own heartbeat can become painful. The whole never-ending jumble of bodily sensations (and emotions) can become painful.
This oversensitivity is exhausting, certainly if it comes on top of a mood that is already depressed and hardly bearable. You want to lock the windows, close the curtains, put your hands over your ears, you want to escape from this relentless stream of sharp and painful sensations, to make it stop at any cost – but it is inside you, too. You want to stop feeling yourself.
Such an intense need to escape from one’s self is one of the main reasons why some seriously depressed people will try using (and easily get addicted to) this kind of “escapist” hard drugs. There appears to be some statistical correlation between depression and hard drug addiction. Of course this might just as well work the other way around: depression may perhaps make people more likely to develop a drug addiction, but addiction and its consequences could also make people more likely to develop depression. More about this another time.
Here I want to focus simply on this intense longing to escape that sometimes is a part of depression – longing to escape from unending painful sensations, from an unbearable self, from a hopeless world. In its most innocent form, this longing to escape can mean you try to sleep for most of the day. In its most extreme and final form, this longing to escape can drive people to suicide. Using drugs to escape, to numb yourself, is a dangerous route that lies somewhere in between.
This is the singer Jolie Holland. Personally, I love her songs. Here, she sings “Gimme that old fashion morphine” in a way that, at least to me, acutely evokes a little of that atmosphere of depression and the sad, forlorn longing to escape. Perhaps her repeated “sister don’t get worried, because the world is almost done” is a key phrase here.
She tells us that this old-fashioned morphine was “good enough for my grandpa”, “good enough for Billy Burroughs” and “good enough for Isabelle Eberhardt” and therefore “it’s good enough for me”. **
Of course, let me add this to prevent silly misunderstandings among the irony-challenged, the whole should not be interpreted as a kind of morphine commercial. Here is Jolie Holland with her Morphine song:
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• tip: For more info about Jolie Holland and her music, take a look at the Jolie Holland website. Her albums can of course be bought online. For other songs/singers/groups previously featured at StayOnTop, see here.
* footnote: “Billy Burroughs” often refers to the alcoholic writer William S. Burroughs Jr. but in this song it probably means not him but his father, also a writer and also named William S. Burroughs (1914-1997). He was a notorious drug addict; his 1953-1959 novels Junkie and Naked Lunch were partly inspired by that addiction.
** footnote: Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904) was a for her time very unconventional, Islam-converted diary-writer. A modern edition of her diaries is still in stock at Amazon as The Nomad.
Her entire life was, in all respects, one big escape: sometimes disguised as a man, she traveled for years on horseback in the deserts of North Africa, experimenting with free sex, alcohol and a lot of drugs – a hippie girl born in the wrong century. After her untimely death (at 27, she drowned in Algeria) she became a kind of cult figure.
She is one of the many people on my list of Really Fascinating Long Dead People I Would Have Loved To Meet.