Belle & Sebastian's new record is about ME/CFS

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Hi everyone,

Although I have been a big fan of the Scottish indie band Belle & Sebastian (similar in style to The Smiths, Morrissey, Joy Division etc), I did not know that singer Stuart Murdoch struggled with ME/CFS during various points in his life. In his 20s he was bed-ridden for two years, and last time he spent five years recovering from a CFS crash. For those who don't know, Belle & Sebastian is a prominent and influential band in the British indie scene since the 1990s. They have not produced a new record in a while, and their upcoming new album, "Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance", includes "Nobody's Empire", which deals with Stewart's experience with this awful disease.

The song is emotionally heavy and incisive, narrating how his ME/CFS issues started in childhood, how things got worse, and how the world kept moving and evolving around him while he remained ill, alone, forgotten:


The chorus just says what we all feel:

We are out of practise we're out of sight
On the edge of nobody’s empire
If we live by books and we live by hope
Does that make us targets for gunfire?

It's refreshing to see references in popular culture starting to reflect the reality of ME/CFS, spreading the word, and contributing to the awareness of this condition. I hope more celebrities have the courage to come out and speak about their experiences with the syndrome.
 
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Interview with Belle & Sebastian in The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/20...ch-interview-girls-in-peacetime-want-to-dance

Murdoch was laid low by myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), or chronic fatigue syndrome, which he first experienced after he left school. The relapse led him to write his most startlingly autobiographical song yet, the album-opening Nobody’s Empire. When Martin first heard it she was “dumbfounded. It’s the most open thing I’ve ever heard.”

“There’s a year of my life bottled into every line,” Murdoch says. “When I wrote it I was fighting the same demons. I wrote the song to cheer myself up. I wanted to write my own ‘glorious’, in inverted commas, history. I want to walk out of this room and be a normal person. I want to go on tour with the band. All of this is a day-to-day battle so it was absolutely real for me, writing that song.”

Murdoch’s first experience of ME was, as he sings, “a vision of hell”, but it turned him into a songwriter. He considers his younger self profoundly unremarkable until, aged 19, his life was, in effect, shut down and rebooted. He spent two years incapacitated and a further five slowly recovering, during which time he wrote his first song (about his best friend and fellow sufferer Ciara, who appears on the cover of If You’re Feeling Sinister) and found his religious faith. “It was absolutely at the same instant,” he says. “I’d got through my lowest ebb and woke up with a sense of otherness about the wider spiritual world and the ability to string a few notes together.”
 
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Another long term B+S fan here. I found out about this around about this time last year from this interview:
http://www.cfs-info.com/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=92&Itemid=79
This prolonged period of not feeling at ease in his own skin was exacerbated by the fact that while studying physics at Glasgow University, Murdoch developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the beginning of “a nothing period that lasted for seven or eight years when I just dropped out of everything and had a shitty time”. He quit university and moved back in with his parents.


I mention that I have spoken to people who were ill as children, which turned them into outsiders and natural observers; although he sickened in early adulthood, was his experience similar? “Absolutely. It was the biggest thing that happened to me and will probably ever happen in terms of a crisis and change in personality. Everything changed within the course of a year. From being someone who was active in every way, suddenly I was not just observing, but fantasising about everyday life. Beforehand, I had been at university, I was running my own business – DJing and putting on clubs. Three years later, I’m sitting in a box bedroom in Ayr, unable to go out, and fantasising about going down to the shops or being able to make a cup of coffee for somebody. But these things were so far away from me, so all the fantasies became songs.”


What caused the condition? “I see it as a breaking down of your physical health due to long-term duress and stress, a physical manifestation of long-term mental stress and abuse of your body. That’s what happened to me. I drove myself into the ground.”


He was burning the candle at both ends? “Oh yeah, completely. All that stuff.”
Sadly, I think the new song's a bit shit, though I've liked the other songs from the new album. The last one was a bit patchy, so I'm hoping for a return to 'Life Pursuit' form!
 
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Another long term B+S fan here. I found out about this around about this time last year from this interview:
http://www.cfs-info.com/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=92&Itemid=79

Sadly, I think the new song's a bit shit, though I've liked the other songs from the new album. The last one was a bit patchy, so I'm hoping for a return to 'Life Pursuit' form!
This song is actually growing in me; the more I listen to it, the more I dig it. And the lyrics do resonate with some of my CFS experience.
 
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ME is not a "physical manifestation of long-term mental stress"
True. There's so much disinformation that even many patients that have it don't know the causes and attribute it to stress or overexertion (which in some people can act as triggers). Heck, ME/CFS is still considered and mislabeled as a "psychosomatic condition" by many doctors, including knighted ones.
 
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This song is actually growing in me; the more I listen to it, the more I dig it. And the lyrics do resonate with some of my CFS experience.
Hey, @Antares in NYC, what do you think of the album? I've been really enjoying it, a real return to form in my opinion!

I'm coming round to 'Nobody's Empire' a bit and, as someone who's recovering, I can take a little hope from the lyrics; it really does feel quite uplifting at the end, which is I suppose what he intended. But didn't you find the whole 'Oh, God sorted it out' business a bit patronising? I wish he'd taken the time to tell me what to do, otherwise I wouldn't still be stuck here after fifteen/sixteen years.

Anyway, if this is of further interest to anyone, they're playing on BBC Radio 6 Music today on the four o'clock programme. It'll be up here at some point.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04xwzhh
 
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Hey, @Antares in NYCI'm coming round to 'Nobody's Empire' a bit and, as someone who's recovering, I can take a little hope from the lyrics, it really does feel quite uplifting at the end, which is I suppose what he intended. But didn't you find the whole 'Oh, God sorted it out' business a bit patronising? I wish he'd taken the time to tell me what to do, otherwise I wouldn't still be stuck here after fifteen/sixteen years.
I think the "Oh, God sorted it out" has to do with his finding religion during his time of recovery. People use different ways of coping with adversity, and he's been very open about his religious beliefs.
The thing that sort of worried me a bit about his recent interviews regarding ME/CFS was his belief that it was "caused by physical and emotional stress". He's one of the lucky ones to have recovered from this dreadful illness, and it happened before the Internet was a thing. I'm sure he missed on all the research and sharing the type of info we do in forums like PR, so he always assumed that was what made him ill.

Regardless, I'm glad celebrities are coming out and talking about their ME/CFS experiences, and even telling their stories in artistic form. Wish more came forward. I'm really digging this album, and I'm still quite emotionally taken by "Nobody's Empire"; some verses do relate to my own experience.
 
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Gingergrrl

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I just listened to the song/video on You Tube and really liked it. I admit I had never heard of this band but now I want to get the song on i-tunes. Thank you to @Antares in NYC for posting it!

ETA: I bought it on i-tunes and am listening to it now and great song. For some reason today I am able to listen to music and read and type at the same time. I hope that means something is improving in my brain (but it could be a fluke.)
 
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I like B&S too, but mate, nothing I've ever heard by them sounds anything like Joy Division :D
That's totally fair. I was making a very broad comparison, in lieu of saying "dark indie pop" or some other similar explanation. ;) In a forum like PR there are people from different age ranges and cultures, so I used very broad and generic examples.

That said, here in the US, people who listen to The Smiths, Morrissey, Joy Division, etc tend to listen to bands like Belle & Sebastian (I can speak for me and all my "clad in black from head to toe" friends). I know well that in the UK pop and rock music have a much more sophisticated system of styles, categories and sub-categories.

PS: I'll go even further and say that without Joy Division first, there would be no Belle & Sebastian now. Makes sense?
 
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PS: I'll go even further and say that without Joy Division first, there would be no Belle & Sebastian now. Makes sense?
You'd be getting me into nerdy territory there, but I don't know about that. I don't really find them that depressing, whereas, as a previous student devotee of Joy Division, the one thing everyone would agree on is that they are grim. There's much more of a humorous, romantic element about B+S. I suppose you could say both bands deal in the poetry of misery, but it's from a very different perspective.

They couldn't have existed without The Smiths, definitely, and things like Felt and Orange Juice as well. I see them much more as a 'floppy fringe' band than a 'clad in black' sort of thing! Though I suppose you could say that without post-punk as a whole and the whole DiY music ethos, the framework for such a band to emerge wouldn't have existed.

I don't get to talk about this stuff very often. Can you tell?

I've got a feeling I'm going to get told off in a minute for not talking about ME.
 
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I don't get to talk about this stuff very often. Can you tell?
I've got a feeling I'm going to get told off in a minute for not talking about ME.
I could nerd out about music any day! :D We could take it on email or chat one of these days if you want to. I was deeply entrenched in post-punk/4AD/indie territory in my teens, and all these bands are very dear to me.
 
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Very different bands and sounds, but I have to agree with you, between the two, I also prefer Joy Division.
For the record Ian Curtis suffered from epilepsy.
It's funny (well, not hilarious, but...) that during the time when I was getting ill, the two things I listened to the most were 'Closer' by Joy Division and the early records of Belle and Sebastian. I hadn't thought about them both being the work of men suffering from illness before, but now I think of it, Joy Division really expresses the kind of desolation and animal rage of the whole experience whilst Belle and Sebastian is more of an attempt to turn it into something romantic, almost a positive experience.

I've read Stuart Murdoch say before that his early records were a kind of message to his younger self that it would all be okay in the end and I think some of those lines made sense to me in that way at that point ('What do they know anyway, you'll read it in a book', etc) - it felt comforting that someone could make it sound like it wasn't such a bad thing to be stuck in and not doing the things that you'd liked to do. I can't say it felt like that once I was severely affected, but there it is.

I still admire Joy Division, but I can't really get along with them any more - I think I had to let go of that anger at some point because I just couldn't be like that and carry on living in the severely restricted way that I've had to go on. Whereas Belle and Sebastian mean more to me as the years pass. I found out that Stuart had ME on a hunch, I looked it up rather than discovered in by chance; it felt a bit like I could particularly identify with those records for a reason and I was right. It's just a shame I don't have any of his talent.

how about This Mortal Coil? Any of you two into them?
Some music brings back memories of a previous life!
I never really heard much of This Mortal Coil, I think I (perhaps unfairly) tagged them as Ivo's vanity project, but I reserve the right to burst into tears whenever I hear Kim Deal sing 'You and Your Sister'


We could take it on email or chat one of these days if you want to. I was deeply entrenched in post-punk/4AD/indie territory in my teens, and all these bands are very dear to me.
As indeed they are to me (Cocteau Twins, Lush, My Bloody Valentine, etc). But joking apart, I think the worst that they can do is consign us to the Community Lounge dungeon, I don't think we're bothering anyone here. And I almost got the thread back on topic; anything to avoid the prospect of actually learning how to use the site. Perish the thought...
 

Wolfiness

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Very different bands and sounds, but I have to agree with you, between the two, I also prefer Joy Division.
For the record Ian Curtis suffered from epilepsy.
I don't think he did, all his EEGs came back normal. I think they were psychogenic. But that's a whole other thread, probably.
 
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Stuart on his ME, apparently:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02s2y70
Haven't listened yet (I'm not really all that sympathetic to Stuart's view of his illness to be honest. "He told me to leave that vision of hell to the dying": well, cheers). Anyway, I'd be interested to hear any opinions from we few regulars in this thread (and anyone else interested obviously).