Forgive Me, Lana, for I Have Sinned

Last summer I needed new music. I got in the habit of putting on a couple of playlists on my streaming service at the time, Apple Music – mostly The A-List: Pop and The A-List: Alternative. I found a few bops here and there, and even ended up discovering a new favorite Scandinavian songstress, Anna of the North.

I’m not sure which playlist it was on, but one song captivated me. A woman breathily singing about climbing up the “H” of the Hollywood sign, then a falsetto voice joining her, proclaiming that saying the good die young just ain’t right.

I stopped chopping vegetables to see exactly who was singing this dreamy ballad. It was Lana del Rey and The Weeknd.

The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face” was already an established bop. I hadn’t paid much mind to Lana del Rey, though. I mean, I remembered when “Video Games” came out and, sure. It was fine. And I remembered the disastrous Saturday Night Live performance. And there was that one night I was white wine white girl drunk with “Young and Beautiful” on repeat. I didn’t’ get my friends’ obsessions with her.  But “Lust for Life” was different. All of a sudden, I was yet another unsuspecting victim of Lana del Rey’s enchantment.

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The thing was, when Lana came out, I was told not to like her. She had a fake name and a fake face and a rich dad. She’d done music under her birth name, Lizzy Grant, to little success. Lana was a fabrication. She called herself “The Gangster Nancy Sinatra.” Sure, it was all very eyeroll-y, but you know what? So was my deflection of my original instincts. Truth be told, even though “Video Games” was mediocre, I kinda liked “Blue Jeans.” Unfortunately, I bought into the Hipster Runoff-fueled backlash against a new, young woman who seemingly ascended to unprecedented popularity overnight.

The thing was… no one cared about all of this! And I shouldn’t have, either! I love me my manufactured pop stars, so why couldn’t I love this one?! By the time I came around to Lana del Rey, she was no longer the enigma who came out of nowhere—she was a bona fide pop star. She’d dated Axl Rose and G-Eazy! She was five albums deep, Grammy-nominated and had achieved gay icon status.

I didn’t realize at the time how sexist and silly all of the Lana backlash was. No one cares about Hollywood stars’ plastic surgeries! No one cares about men with stage names like Iggy Pop, Sting and Meat Loaf, let alone women with stage names like Lady Gaga and P!nk. What made Lana so different? Sure, her ~*~aesthetic~*~ was carefully curated, but really, what pop star’s isn’t? What made her old Hollywood noir glamor with hip hop flourishes less valid than Bjork’s avant-garde alien sexuality or the Pet Shop Boys’ geometric minimalism? And Lana wasn’t the first musical guest to bomb on SNL, and certainly was not the last.

I fell in love with the album, Lust for Life, when I’d forgotten my medication while in Niagara Falls for a weekend last year. I was hypomanic, which was better than being depressed, but I had a tough time calming down and an even tougher time trying to sleep. Hearing this beautiful person with beautiful problems helped soothe me, and eventually I drifted off. The next day, while the rest of my in-laws napped, I hummed one of my favorites, “God Bless America (And All the Beautiful Women in It)” while walking the Canada/US footbridge, just to take photos at the borderline and admire the Falls.

SQ between two worlds at the Niagara Falls US-Canada boundary line, July 22, 2017

SQ between two worlds at the Niagara Falls US-Canada boundary line, July 22, 2017

Since becoming enamored of Lust for Life, I’ve had the pleasure of digging through the back catalog. I’d say Ultraviolence is her best album, Paradise is great, Born to Die is inconsistent but promising and, other than a couple tracks, Honeymoon is kind of a slog.

My favorite song was “Brooklyn Baby,” because I loved the clever, self-aware, self-deprecating humor in the lyrics. “Well, my boyfriend's in the band/ He plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed/ I've got feathers in my hair/ I get down to Beat poetry/ And my jazz collection's rare/ I can play most anything/ I'm a Brooklyn baby.”

Well, it was my favorite Lana track until a few days ago when she released a 9+ minute epic called “Venice Bitch.”

 

“Venice Bitch” opens with a slow guitar riff that doesn’t get much faster, but the additional instruments come in gradually and flesh out the sound. It reminds me a bit of Sun Kil Moon’s “Duk Koo Kim,” a song I was obsessed with in 2003/4. Sun Kil Moon is singer-songwriter, Mark Kozelek’s on-and-off moniker over the past two decades. Kozelek’s 90s band, Red House Painters, were pioneers of the sadcore genre, along with other favored artists of my early 20s, such as Low, Ida and Cat Power.

Lana del Rey’s music has been described in the past as “Hollywood sadcore,” which I’d call apt. But with “Venice Bitch,” Lana has finally released a song that can stand alongside the actual sadcore greats!

“Venice Bitch” is the third song from Lana’s to-be-released album, Norman Fucking Rockwell (because, of course it’s called that!) to make it onto streaming services. The album is said to be a co-production between herself and pop production superstar, Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lorde). The first single, “Mariners Apartment Complex,” opens with piano not dissimilar to Britney Spears’ “Born to Make You Happy,” and continues in a contemplative, but uncomplex classic Lana ballad similar to previous album openers such as “Love” and “Ride.” Second single, “Serial Killer,” is pure Antonoff, with trademark Lana flourishes over a tempo not dissimilar to Taylor Swift’s “Getaway Car” or Lorde’s “Green Light.” If these three new songs are indicative of what’s to come from Norman Fucking Rockwell, my premature evaluation is that it’ll knock Ultraviolence out of my top Lana album slot!

So, forgive me, Lana, for my past sins. Like you, I’ve been misjudged. Like you, I’ve tried and failed. Like you, I hope to succeed doing what I love. Like you, I’ve been addicted to substances and struggle with my mental health. But most of all, Lana, you can bet your ass that this baby Lana Stana, Shaunna Fucking Quin will be seeing you on your next tour!

A Love Song for Demetria Devonne

The skyscraper fell

Nearly gave us a heart attack

But give your heart a break, girl

We’ll help you get back

 

So, you’re back to your old ways

But you promised us no promises

You’re still our unbroken lionheart

Sober or otherwise

 

La La Land is rife with

Temptations, parties, being torn apart

And what’s cool for the summer

Won’t necessarily fix a heart

 

It’s tough to stay on the line

Even those made in the USA can break

It’s stone cold to shame her

She simply made a mistake

 

Daddy issues run deep

Don’t forget it’s hereditary

We’re hitchhikers on her journey

The neon lights can be scary

 

A nightingale who sings her truth

An advocate, a warrior, a survivor

Concentrate on your health and recovery

Our love is only forever

 

Skyscraper fallen,

Confident you’ll rebuild

 

A poem for Demi Lovato, using a song title in every line

I, Talking: The Problems With #BellLetsTalk

 

At the end of January, the day comes. A well-meaning relative reposts from Bell’s Facebook page, with the pledge of a nickel to vague “mental health initiatives.” That acquaintance from your hometown you haven’t spoken to in 15 years decorates their profile picture with a Bell Let’s Talk frame. Platitudes about “ending the stigma” abound. It’s time for Bell’s big moment again!

In past years, Bell’s “Let’s Talk” campaign had billboards, posters and commercials featuring white within-Canada-only “celebrities.” Howie Mandel is still its most recognizable International Star Ambassador. They’d smile as they held smartphones, imploring you to “talk” while you waited for a bus or for the latest episode of The Bachelor to resume.

2018’s campaign finally directs its focus away from its privileged celebrity endorsers. On their site, you can watch a video of a psychiatrist give a quip about kids not knowing doctors can be mentally unwell. A veteran talks about her PTSI, depression and anxiety. There are mentions of coming out of the other side of homelessness and addiction, suicide survival, and more depression and anxiety. A radio ad features a bipolar lawyer.

Where are those who struggle with schizophrenia, eating disorders, psychosis, dissociative identity disorder or personality disorders? Where is the representation for people who are currently homeless or struggling with addiction due to their mental illness? Where is the representation for those of us currently in a manic episode, a dissociative episode or even in the throes of depression? Even though Mandel is a spokesman, there’s no actual discussion about the realities of OCD!

There’s so much emphasis in the recovery and the “good side” of the illnesses, that when Bell talks about “ending the stigma” it, in fact, further stigmatizes the folks who don’t fit into their neatly-packaged version of mental illness.

Bell Let’s Talk is the name of the day. Of course, the multi-million-dollar conglomerate’s name comes before its so-called charitable mission. In contrast, earlier this month, an anonymous donor gave 100M to The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital.

It figures; Bell has a monopoly over half of our choices in phones, cable TV and internet, it’s only natural that they’d want a monopoly in the conversation around mental health in this country.

There’s been lots of criticism aimed at Let’s Talk from former employees, including one with a lawsuit, and from professionals. Maybe you were affected by Bell’s recent data breach – how did that affect your mental health?

I reached out to a few friends who live with mental illness for their thoughts on Let’s Talk, and here’s what they had to say:

Friend 1:

“I'm conflicted. Any encouragement to discuss mental illness more openly is beneficial. However, anything like this pushed by a giant corporation like Bell angers me on principle because I'm not sure the work environment they provide or their overall policies favour mental health and wellness.

Any push like this for talk tends favour more palatable mental health issues like anxiety and depression, leaving out the less appealing things like mania, psychosis, most personality disorders.”

Friend 2:

 “It's a huge marketing ploy and I don't believe for a second that Bell actually cares, espesh considering their track record with employees. It's a tax write-off for them.

Also bullshit is that it gives members of the public a falsely proud feeling of contributing to mental health research while actually doing very little, a great example of slacktivism. For me, it's up there with wearing pink in the name of breast cancer research, another hypocritical corporate marketing initiative.”

Friend 3:

“Bell Let's Talk is the most surface-y, sad, miss-the-point waste of time thing I could imagine to combat stigma!

You ever notice they've got no poor people in their campaigns? The focus seems to be ‘See, even rich people can get this highly stigmatized thing!’ This is not an approach to combating stigma that is supported by the evidence. Neither is the ‘mental illness is a disease like any other’ trope. Those approaches, when studied, do not reduce stigma levels.

The only thing that really works is social contact. Being with people and learning not to be afraid of them, learning a bit more about their lives and what goes on inside their heads. I've also never noticed a person with schizophrenia in one of their campaigns. One of the big sources of stigma is fear of people being violent. No one really grasps the statistic that mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Because it's a statistic, it's a fact, it's not experiential. Until you sit down and get to know someone and sit with your nonsense fear and swallow it, good luck with combating stigma. I guess do your Bell Let's Talk tweet and go back to silence for another year.

Also ‘Let's Talk’ about how crushing poverty exacerbates mental illness! I would like to see them "talk" about how fucking impossible it is to get an employer to accommodate this kind of disability to any extent, or how ODSP is a fucking joke living in a city like this. Let's talk about how when people are stressed and scared and worried about their next meal, the voices in their head get way meaner and tell them to do way worse things!

Until Bell Let's Talk wants to LISTEN to some people who are down and out, who don't get a square meal, who have been rejected and abandoned and ignored for their whole adult lives, who have been beaten up by cops and jail guards more times than they can count, left in solitary when they're sick, attacked by another patient on the psych ward, missed their mom's funeral because they were locked up.... I WILL HAVE ZERO FUCKING INTEREST IN THAT STUPID CAMPAIGN.”

Now that you get the picture about how me and my mad pals feel about Bell’s Very Special Day, let’s talk.

1.      Talk to Us

Your friends, family and colleagues who live with mental illness. Even if we’re seemingly “fine” – ask how we are really doing. If you can tell we are struggling, offer help. Go out of your way to learn about our illnesses and disorders. Read actual books, don’t just skim a few webpages! Be someone we can trust will take us seriously.

Some of us might want to talk about our diagnoses. Some of us might not. Some of us might think we don’t have anything worth talking about. Engage us. We’re usually watching, listening to or reading something.

2.      Be Mindful of Your Words

Not sure how to talk to us? Here’s what not to say. Don’t tell us to exercise. Don’t tell us to use herbal supplements instead of prescribed medication. Don’t ask if we’ve considered eliminating nightshades and gluten. Don’t over-intellectualize. Don’t say “I know what it’s like” or “I’ve been there” and make it about you.

Words mean things. Nobody uses “the r-word” anymore, and that’s fantastic. Take this a step further and eliminate sanist/ableist language from your vocabulary. Instead of calling a party “crazy” or “insane,” call it “wild.” Don’t call inconsistent weather “bipolar,” say the weather is “unpredictable.” If you haven’t been diagnosed with OCD, you’re not “like, sooooo OCD!” because you like to keep things tidy. Think twice.

3.      Engage with Us

Are we going through depression? Everyday tasks can be burdensome to us. Offer to help us do some chores. Try to get us out of the house and to the grocery store and cook a meal with us. A friend once offered to tidy my apartment. I was too embarrassed by the state of the mess (which probably wasn’t really that bad) and said no, but the offer meant a lot to me. It showed their great insight into what might be difficult for me. Ask us for coffee/tea. Just a general catch-up and seeing your face means more than text and gives us an excuse to get out of the house if we’re in a slump. And if we say no, we’re still happy you thought of us.

4.      Listen to Us

Most of all, listen. Listen when we say we’re not okay. Listen when we say we are okay. Read between the lines for signs of depression and/or mania in our social media posts and check in. When we cancel plans at the last minute, hear it as “I’m too anxious” rather than “I’m flaky.”

5.      Don't Post; Do

Finally, don’t share anything #BellLetsTalk in your social media feeds when the time comes. It speaks volumes if you are someone in our lives who does not make any effort to talk to us but lazily re-posts in the performance of “caring.” Your intentions may be good if you share a Bell Let’s Talk ad, but when it comes down to it, it’s an ad. And if you’re sharing something that allegedly promotes “mental health awareness” or “ending the stigma,” take a look at what you’re actually doing to actively engage with the mad folks in your life. If you aren’t, reach out. Not on the day Bell tells you to “talk,” but when you’re thinking of them.