Now Versus Then
Then, when I was down (always), I listened to the Smiths.
By the time I got to him, he was already recording as Morrissey, even though I prided myself on having been one of the earliest in my area to have latched onto him as a cult idol. I liked Morrissey, but I loved The Smiths. The Queen Is Dead was my favorite album, though I had all of the albums and I had favorite songs on all of them. I collected them, and was so proud when, at 16, I went to France and found an album with a few unknown B-sides on it. After some years a few other, more popular people started liking the Smiths, too, and this kind of lessened both the love affair and the utility of the band for me. Still, I remember specifically a time in which I was able to recite the lyrics to “I Know It’s Over” without irony or self-consciousness to my own mother. Depression of that brand must be the specific luxury of the privileged late capitalist American suburban white teenager: perhaps it will someday be listed as having been a diagnostic criteria that an early penchant for music produced by emigrants from Manchester, England, suggests a dependency upon anti-depressants later in life.
Now, the fact is that life must go on, even in the midst of a funk. I do not have time for the histrionics. And besides, the peculiar alchemy of aging, parenthood, and medication has taught me to stomach it, soldiering on, setting my life to a soundtrack of slightly more upbeat music — The Killers, Arcade Fire, obscure alternative bands of one- or two-hit wonders of the sort they play on KROQ like Silent Film or Phoenix.
Weekends, we take Mini to Disneyland. It is the happiest place on earth. But it is not like they are checking serotonin levels at the gate or anything.
I hold his little hand in mine, noting the way he grips and regrips my hand, almost like from one second to the next, he is thinking about letting go, but then thinks better of it as he confronts new things and decides whether or not they can be trusted. Through him, I relearn the world, I get a second chance to enjoy things like Tom Sawyer Island and the Winnie the Pooh ride because he does. I start to think of my life as lucky because he is in it. We run in search of treasure, and when we get to the giant piles of painted metal and artificial wood, he says, “But Mommy, this isn’t real treasure,” and he’s right, of course, but he’s also only three, and isn’t there something to be said for believing in the magic, even if it’s only for just a little while?
I am at once so proud of him and terrified for him. His life is his own, but its secondary purpose to me is an experiment: what would happen if I had had a different kind of childhood? What would happen if I had been born a boy? Would it have been all the difference? When the time comes, will I be able to hide the fact that I’m waiting, hoping, praying, that some kind of depressive time bomb doesn’t go off in him?
What if I come home one day, and he is singing to me the words to I Know It’s Over? What if he doesn’t?
Sometime in the early 2000s, Morrissey moved to the Hollywood Hills. The first album he wrote here, You Are The Quarry, has a very Los Angeles feel to it, but it is a special Los Angeles — the Los Angeles that you only have access to for the first few years that you are here. When Los Angeles is new and still magical, before the traffic becomes tedious and the stories-high billboards fade into the background like they have decades before for the rest of us. It was his last good album. There was a time when somebody told me that Morrissey had been surprised, after living in Los Angeles for a while, that he found himself becoming, finally, happy. It was as if he realized that his career, all along, had been built upon Seasonal Affective Disorder brought upon by gloomy British weather. Now he was an ostensibly happy British expat in his fifties, hanging out at the Cat & Fiddle with Courtney Love and Michael Stipe, still weird, but not depressed. His music suffered, but he didn’t want to destroy himself anymore, so maybe it was a fair trade?
Can you be happy and still create?
This was something I wondered back when I first thought about going on medication at 19. I had worried that my voice was somehow tied to my depression. At that age, it probably was. But that was not necessarily a good thing.
Depression is in love with itself, convinced of its own beauty and sure that it is infinitely fascinating to everyone with whom it comes into contact. As I’ve gotten older I’ve finally started to realize how really boring and commonplace depression is — wherever you go, it is the same. It’s not special, despite what it will tell you, or what people who have it will sometimes try to convince you. I don’t know why we do that, unless it is because we have clung hard to this idea that there is some kind of heroism in a chemical imbalance. When really, it’s just a random jumble of numbers, the luck of the draw: something that might have been solved by changing a few factors, or with just a few more minutes in the sun.