“I’m depressed”, I told Simon Wallace, for whom this wouldn’t have been an earth shattering revelation. It would have been as superfluous telling him I was a paranoid manic depressive, an alcoholic drug addict who later scored 18 out of 20 on a test for psychopaths. (I still have empathy and occasional regrets but I’m working on it.) We were recording a track on an album of new Fran Landesman lyrics sung by Nicki Leighton Thomas, for which Simon, an exceptionally talented pianist and composer, had written the music. Fran Landesman was the legend whose work had been covered by various deities: Miles Davis, Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald – and the merely world famous. As usual I couldn’t see past my problems.
“I’m depressed,” I told him.
“Don’t be,” he replied.
It took me some years to see the wisdom of this, at the time I thought this was just ‘pull yourself together’, what people who have never been clinically depressed generally say. It was actually closer to the wisdom of a Zen Master. Or perhaps he was channelling some of Fran’s mordant Jewish humour. In any case, ‘poor you’ wouldn’t have helped neither would indulging such a basket case in a talking cure – not unless we’d had some decades to spare. I later drove some therapists nuts picking apart their systems – ‘I don’t think writers should do therapy’ said one eventually, more restrained that I may have deserved. I had the feeling he may have been saying a great deal more to friends or his own therapist, perhaps a priest may have been required. The best cure on offer was the cognitive behaviourial shock of Simon’s ‘Fix it!’. Although I didn’t like it at the time.
There followed therapies, chemicals – some legal, mostly otherwise – philosophical and spiritual dabbling and far too much debauchery. Waving the white flag of Stoicism eventually helped – it’s often not possible to be happy so don’t beat yourself up – but I’ve never been one to put up with reality if there’s an alternative. And you still need a cure for pain.
One solution – temporary, like the others – is to use toxic experience as fuel for stories and music – or just jokes as an instant salve. I never tire of Larry Sanders on the Jewish Mcdonalds menu option: the Never Happy Meal. You can almost see the bickering family.
“When the life you’re livin’ don’t make no sense
And the pain it’s givin’ gets too intense
If you’re lookin’ for a sympathetic ear
Never tell your troubles to your near and dear
Find an audience”
Back then I was also editing Fetish Times: Fran was happy for us to include a poem featuring a dominatrix. Mose Allison also liked the mag. We should probably veer off the subject of jazz musicians and fetishism before I mention that Miles Davis was once found by a lover called Susan in some of her clothes. (‘with those skinny little legs he looks just like Minnie Mouse’) Too late.
She was immortalised in the track Lazy Susan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGQIDNCQWlY
Nicki Leighton-Thomas’s Forbidden Games is available here, CD and download http://www.amazon.co.uk/Forbidden-Games-Nicki-Leighton-Thomas/dp/B00005RT85/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1417230395&sr=1-1&keywords=forbidden+games
I play on ‘Waiter the Check’, a Noir lament, beautifully sung. I’m…well…a tad wayward, OTT, borderline insane. That’s method acting for you.
Ian Shaw’s deservedly highly acclaimed cd of Landesman lyrics A Ghost In Every Bar includes twelve written with Simon Wallace who accompanies on most tracks. This shows off Ian’s range, both tessitura and tonal quality, without the virtuosity getting in the way of the songs or blurring the words. Soulful and beautiful. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghost-Every-Bar-Ian-Shaw/dp/B008B2IIRG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417232439&sr=8-1&keywords=ian+shaw+a+ghost+in+every+bar There’s a very fine version of ‘Down’ about the perverse attraction of depression.
‘Down has some terrible attractions, featuring some desperate distractions
and that hook of misery sings I’ll never set you free
Down makes some dangerous suggestions, taunts you with those sweet depressing questions.
and you tell yourself to quit but you really must admit there’s something irresistible in Down.’
Finally, who can argue with her ‘Jewish Haiku’?
‘That summer I met a handsome biker on crutches,
everyone has a brick wall waiting for them somewhere, he said, smiling.’
Fran Landesman 1927 – 2011
Ten great Fran Landesman Simon Wallace songs on Sarah Moule’s excellent Songs From the Floating World http://www.sarahmoule.net/?page_id=39
Fran’s Desert Island Discs http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/desert-island-discs/castaway/ed752f26 Includes some of her best songs, fascinating tales of Lenny Bruce and Miles Davis, being lured to London by Peter Cook, open marriage and the Beatnik parenting maxim: ‘Hang loose and lighten up’ – which led to one of her sons moving out for a year, in search of boundaries.
Biographical material from a proper journalist, Marc Myers. Photos of the young, gorgeous Fran.
Next Time: Kratom. An actual cure for depression, a relaxing, euphoric herb which mimics opoids. Might be habit forming. What could possibly go wrong?