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Thursday, 4 October 2012

Eels - Beautiful Freak (1996)

I should probably preface this one by saying that it might get a bit soppy because I’ve just become a dad. You may also wonder what on earth child-birth has to do with Eels. Bear with me – you’ll see how they’re linked.

On the Sunday before last, my wife went into labour; and the word labour in this situation is quite fitting as it lasted for 114 hours. She’d been having practice contractions every couple of hours over the previous week, but from around six on the Sunday evening they came thick and fast.

The first night was pretty difficult but manageable. My wife woke up every ten minutes and grabbed my hand, meaning that my night’s sleep was fractured. We didn’t mind because we thought that this meant the baby would be coming. I called my friend who had offered to take us to the hospital to be on stand-by for the big push.

Another day passed and the contractions still kept coming, and another shoddy night’s sleep followed. By this point, my wife was exhausted: she was having contractions every ten minutes, but nothing seemed to ease off or get stronger – they remained at the same level. By the early hours of Wednesday, my wife had had enough: she hadn’t slept since Saturday night, and the painkillers had about as much impact as a fart in a hurricane. She called up the Leeds General Infirmary, and they agreed to give her some stronger painkillers.

Hospitals at night are strange places: eerily quiet, save for a few bleary-eyed people wandering the corridors aimlessly. My guide dog Watson didn’t really know what was going on: he’d been fast asleep on his bed when I woke him up to get into work mode - he’s a trooper, and after a few minutes of being a big dopey hound, he took it in his stride. Once my wife had been checked over, and given stronger painkillers, we were sent on our merry way.

At home my wife went and slept in our attic room for a few hours with her mother who had travelled from Cumbria to help us out. I managed to get a few hours of sleep before being woke up at about eight on the Wednesday morning with a panic: the contractions had gone down to three minutes. Adrenalin suddenly hit and I sprung into action, gathering up hospital bags and calling our friend to take us to the hospital.

It was pretty stressful on the way into the hospital: it was rush hour and the traffic was heavy around Leeds city centre. As we crawled towards the hospital the contractions kept coming. We eventually arrived and my wife was given a bed on the maternity assessment ward. And that is where she lay – for hours. The contractions slowed back down to ten minute intervals, but because my wife was almost a fortnight overdue, she was in a Catch-22 situation: she was too far gone to send home or induce, but not far enough along to go to delivery.

As the day went on, my wife got increasingly distressed. She was given some stronger pain killers that allowed her to sleep for a few hours, but they began to wear off by the evening. Though the sleep had helped, it became evident that my wife had been given all of the painkillers she was allowed that day. By ten in the evening my wife’s mother came along to take over and allow me to get a good night’s sleep – I was knackered, but I can’t imagine how knackered my wife must have been.

The next morning, I was back at the hospital – it had not been a good night. My wife hadn’t slept, and was still in a lot of pain. At around four in the morning she was told that a call had been put through to the delivery suite to induce her. Every half hour or so a midwife would inform us of delays – this went on until five the next morning.

If the sleep deprivation and pain wasn’t bad enough for my wife, it seemed that constant dangle of the hope carrot made things worse. That night she was very distressed: she’d taken her fill of painkillers for the day and was delirious. She seemed to go through the same emotions that are meant to occur when grieving: pleading, anger, bargaining, acceptance, etc. – it was heartbreaking to watch, and what made it worse was feeling so powerless.

At five o’clock the following morning (we’re on Friday now), a doctor came to see my wife. She offered my wife a deal: either they would get her up into delivery, or put her on diamorphine. She went away for about half an hour, and when she returned, she told us that we could move up to the delivery suite. We gathered our things together, and we walked the long corridor to the delivery suite – my wife full of grateful tears, and me feeling drained but pleased.

I called my mother-in-law to come and join us (you were allowed two people with you in the delivery suite at any one time), and over the next hour preparations were made to induce labour. My wife was hooked up to all manner of machines and monitors, a drip was put in her arm, and she was given an epidural (a very strong local anaesthetic). We then sat for hours and machines beeped and midwives and doctors wandered in and out. After about four hours, I could see that the midwife overseeing the process was concerned: she’d been reading a print-out of the baby’s heart rhythm for a while and was scratching her head quite a lot. She went away and returned with a group of doctors. Words like ‘suspicious’ and ‘pathological’ were banded around, and I just stared with dazed concern. A consultant arrived at about 11:30, took one look at the print-out and decided that things were too serious to hang around. I was told to change into scrubs, and my wife was wheeled down the corridor for an emergency C-section. The speed at which all of this happened was amazing. I went into the theatre and they were preparing my wife: they pumped her with anaesthetic and put a curtain up around her chest so that neither of us would look down and see a big gaping hole being cut into her.

In only a few minutes a living, breathing, beautiful baby boy was passed to me. For a moment the world went still and I was taken over by a sunburst of love and emotion that I had never felt before. It was as if something exploded inside of my heart, something amazing and indescribable – I wept. For that one moment I was struck by pure unconditional love, and to say it took me by surprise is something of an understatement. After a few moments my wife joked: “oh Jon, you’re such a cliché” – we laughed, and cradled our child.

As my wife lay there, the other side of the curtain probably looked like something out of the Walking Dead. We stared for what seemed like an eternity at a baby that had been quite an abstract notion in bump form for the previous nine months. As I stared, one line from the Eels’ Beautiful Freak kept going around in my head: “And that is why I love you” – I warned you this would get soppy. So, the next time I got home, I immediately hunted out the album. I hadn’t listened to it in a long time and I was desperate to hear that song again whose words had just entered my head in the hospital theatre.

Over the next few days, at home and on car journeys with one of my closest mates, I listened to the album repeatedly. So, to end the long digression, and to get back to the task in hand, this is meant to be a music blog after all.

Beautiful Freak is an album I’ve owned since I saw Eels perform ‘Novacaine for the Soul’ on Top of the Pops. Like most ‘Alternative’ acts on Top of the Pops, Eels had to mime. Rather than stand there mouthing along with the words and pretending to play their instruments so it looked as if they were really playing them, they performed the song with children’s toy instruments including a tiny Mickey Mouse drum-kit. When I saw this, I knew who my new favourite band were going to be.

Album opener ‘Novocaine for the Soul’, even with its liberal use of the lesser-known past participle of spit (‘sput’), is a perfect pop song: simple chord patterns, catchy vocals, and a child-like twinkling glockenspiel. The vocals are quirky without sounding twee, and the lyrics would fit easily on Beck’s Mellow Gold. ‘Susan’s House’ is charming, with soporific melodies and lazy vocals that tell stories about city life as if through a telephone. ‘Rags to Rags’ builds up around a finger-picked melancholic guitar loop and electronic bass before hitting the chorus with big anthemic chords and sing-along vocals. ‘Beautiful Freak’ is absolutely stunning, and I’m sure that every time I hear it from now on I’m going to be reminded of the birth of my son. ‘Not Ready Yet’ is another laid-back offering with a massive chorus. I love the way the distortion on the guitar almost swallows the mix during the chorus. ‘My Beloved Monster’ is probably best known for its appearance in Shrek and is very similar in terms of structure to ‘Rags to Rags’, but has a tenderness which the former lacks. ‘Flower’ is backed by choral synth sounds reminiscent of the choral tones you’d hear in melodramatic role playing games on the SNES such as Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana. It’s a down-tempo piece of music that is both reflective and hopeful. ‘Guest List’ is a laid back groove that showcases the warm simplicity of E’s vocals that makes them so evocative. He has the similar directness of Damon Gough, in that he doesn’t have widest range, but it is incredibly endearing. ‘Spunky’ sees Eels drawing from the same emotional space as ‘Beautiful Freak’. The keyboard and strings combine in a very moving way, and the sparseness and simplicity of the music only adds to its emotive effects. ‘Lucky Day in Hell’ is easily one of the best songs on the album: it’s perfectly structured, the vocals are perfect, and the bass groove and subtle guitars seem to drift in and out of the type of beats that Air would come to utilise only a few years later. Album-closer ‘Manchild’ feels more like a musical interlude than a song: with its light instrumentation and almost formless arrangement it shouldn’t work, but somehow manages to close the album perfectly.

I’m definitely going to be keeping this one in my collection. I’ll always associate it now with the birth of my first child, and that’s more than enough to save its skin.

Next time I should have got all the baby talk and soppiness out of my system, and the updates should return to their normal frequency.

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4 comments: said...

Congratulations on your new arrival! Glad to hear you're keeping this album, it's a beauty!

Anonymous said...

wow, what a crazy week! congrats, nothing is more rewarding

Jon Cronshaw said...

Thank you. Mother and baby are both doing well.

Anonymous said...

wonderful read.

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