Stephen Andrew
The Palace, St Kilda, 2003

There is something wrong with me / My mind is filled with radio cures / Electronic surgical words – Jeff Tweedy, (Radio Cure)

On Boxing Day 2002 I contracted depression. It was like an illness, like an internal industrial accident. It was like I was a Pneumatic Man and the stopper that held in my airy substance had been pulled out. ‘Depressed’ felt like ‘deflated’. Punctured and flat.

I lost appetite. Sleep was a rigged lottery. I cried a lot but couldn’t say why the tears came. I spent a lot of time in bed. Or time spent me, I dunno which. I’d sit. Staring. I stopped listening to music. I stopped most things. I heard myself wonder if this is what the rest of my life would be like.

Wary of anti-depressants, I fended off suggestions for a course of medication. In their place I engaged seriously in a suite of treatments (exercise, vitamins, chiropractics, journaling, therapy, etc) and after a couple of months some of the darkness shifted allowing an occasional shaft of pale light to enter my sullen darkness.

One day around this time I drove past the distinctive beige cover of the Wilco album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, poster-size and plastered on a brick wall in Carlton. I caught only a glimpse but I saw enough to know that Wilco were about to tour Australia for the first time. There was a shift in my body when I saw the poster. I got lighter in my frame and I felt a wish, a desire – types of feelings that had pretty much left me the day the depression came. I wanted to see Wilco. I reckon that I, one of tens of thousands who would have seen that poster, was the only one who shed tears upon viewing it.

Three years earlier, I had become a fan of Wilco when I was sent a review copy of their 1999 release, Summerteeth. With its lush, ripe and multi-layered sound, it was my ‘record of the year’ and Wilco became my favourite band. I collected their back catalogue and when Summerteeth’s follow up, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, was finally released in 2002, I bought it on the day it came out. This sort of musical dedication hadn’t been a part of my life for years and I loved the feeling of being a fan again.

As I stood in The Palace in St Kilda waiting for Wilco to enter the stage, I felt trepidation. I feared that the depression, which had sapped me physically as well as psychologically, would not allow me to stay and experience, let alone enjoy, the concert. I foresaw the fire that would, years later, rip through this venue and wondered how all these people would make it through those tiny exits. As I tried to fend off this shaky panic and plot my early escape, the lights dimmed and Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy emerged from the wings with an acoustic guitar. He started singing Poor Places.

It’s my father’s voice dreaming
Of sailors sailing off in the morning
For the air-conditioned room
At the top of the stairs
His jaw’s been broken
His bandage is wrapped too tight
His fangs have been pulled
And I really want to see you tonight

I am swept up in the sound. The lyrics make no sense and perfect sense, simultaneously. I am flooded with associations; father, journeys, water, stairs, illness, injury, muting, bones, teeth and longing. This flooding is only partly analogous – I feel my hollow body being (re)filled by the music. The band joins in as the song builds. The lifting effect on my body increases as other instruments are added, appended by washes of noise and, finally, by the six spooky syllables of the album title, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot , looped from a shortwave radio signal. I discover myself smiling. I close my eyes and I want to cry. This time the tears are infused with relief and joy. Almost as suddenly as it had arrived, I feel depression beginning to leave.

Somehow, through chance and the desire, I had stumbled upon some accidental music therapy and I started to experience elation, a feeling that had evaporated in the hot fog of that summer.

At the end of the show, stuck dumb by exhaustion and the joyous side-effects of some sort of Radio Cure, I watched the crowd siphon out of the venue and into the balmy St Kilda night. But I couldn’t leave. As I stood and stared at the roadies dismantling the stage, I caught the attention of Wilco manager, Tony Margherita. I handed him the CD booklet that I had brought, on a whim, and asked him for the band’s autographs. He smiled, disappeared backstage and emerged ten minutes later with the signed booklet. As he returned my cover I noticed, over his shoulder, the band, heading for the exit next to me.

So, I left too. Clutching the autographs, a fan in rapture, I fell into step with and sort of momentarily joined my favourite band, as we left the building.

© Stephen Andrew.

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Stephen Andrew is a psychotherapist, writer and musician. A former contributor to Rolling Stone Australia, Rhythms and Juke, he is also a multi-instrumentalist of The Stereo Stories Band. Guitar, bass, vocals, drums...