Ticking… ticking.

Music is the window into the soul…

How true is that?  I’ve often heard people speak of how the music they grew up with has influenced their lives.  For me however, it’s quite the opposite.  I listened to and identified with songs that expressed my feelings, not the ones that affected them.

And I have to admit; it wasn’t pretty.

I grew up in the 1960’s, and reached adulthood in the 1970’s.  The music of the 60’s was more about social change directly or indirectly.  Pete Seeger, Alro Guthrie, Bob Dylan, The Band, The Grateful Dead; they all covered the evolving world.  Even acts like Sonny and Cher were different; never before had there been such openness about relationships.

But the music of the 70’s; Ah yes, the 70’s.

I went from puberty to young adulthood in the 1970’s.  Even from a rather early age, my self image and melancholy feelings drove my choice of music.  And at the time, there was so much being produced that matched my moods so well.

Generally, the beach is a happy place of family vacations and fun. Things that I remember early in my teens were sitting on the boardwalk overlooking the ocean singing the Beatles “Nowhere Man” to myself.  That was a perfect description of how I saw myself; all those around me were playing, making new friends, and having quality time with their family.

I hadn’t even turned 13, yet I just felt so alone sitting there watching it all.

Another artist that captured my youth so well was Janice Ian.  “At Seventeen” as a perfect expression of my life at the time.

“To those of us who knew the pain, of valentines that never came.  And those whose names were never called when choosing sides for basketball.  Wow; that was my life.  “The valentines I never knew, The Friday night charades of youth, Were spent on ones more beautiful…”

At seventeen I learned the truth.

Elton John and Bernie Taupin were absolute genius when it came to describing my life.  Sure, most of their tunes were upbeat and fun.  But there was a dark side too.  “Madman across the water”; hardly a happy story.  “We’ll come again next Thursday afternoon, the in-laws hope they’ll see you very soon.  But is it in your conscience that you’re after…Another glimpse of the madman across the water”.   To me that spoke of trying to hide the madness within, failing and being institutionalized.  Maybe that’s not what they intended, but that’s how I heard it.  The epitome however was “Ticking”.  What a scary song, yet appropriate.

“’An extremely quiet child’ they called you in your school report.  He’s always taken interest in the subjects that he’s taught.  So what was it that brought the squad car screaming up your drive.  To notify your parents of the manner in which you died.” 

The misery I felt at even an early age often ended in fantasies of suicide and death.  I fully expected that someday that squad car would be pulling up the drive.

“Some gook said ‘His brain just snapped’, Then someone called the police”  

Yes, that was me.  Always on the edge, just waiting for that moment when I’d had enough.  There was nothing specific, but a vague feeling that I could easily lose control and the anger inside would spill over.  Today I would call that a manic rage.

“And his parents never thought of him as their troubled son”

Maybe my parents knew of my struggles, and maybe they didn’t.  Frankly, I had such little connection with them at that time I don’t know just how much they realized.  In fairness, it could have been my own self isolation that I felt so removed, but regardless, I felt abandoned to misery.

“’Now you’ll never get to Heaven’ Mama said.  Remember Mama said, Ticking, ticking.  Grow up straight and true blue, run along to bed.  Hear it, hear it, ticking ticking”

The expectation of my parents and society in general just added to my angst and anger.  I can’t grow up normally; I’m not normal!  I had no idea what was wrong, but something definitely was.

“Ticking, ticking”

“Oh your childhood cried out in your head ‘they mean to do you harm’”

How did they know?  How could they possibly know?  But they did.

The overt story of this song is about a young man who goes berserk and starts killing people.  And no, I never had that feeling, and wasn’t capable of fathoming such a monstrous act.  I never, EVER had any thoughts of hurting anyone besides myself.  Just the thought of it is horrendous.  I certainly don’t condone it, or even understand it.  What I identified with was the pain, the isolation and loneliness that I felt in the song.

There was happy music of the time of course.  I’d sing along with The Three Dog Night “Joy to the World” when it came on my transistor radio (Remember those?)  I even had the idea that they played the same songs at the same time every day, and would make sure my radio was on when I expected it to come on the air.  Even those upbeat songs however could reach down to my sadness.  Captain and Tennille thought that “Love would keep us together”  but that wasn’t something I could identify with at all; I just felt like everyone else could find love, but not me.  Besides, the radio played that one to death, and eventually I wanted to scream when it was played.

That time was so very long ago, and I’m in a much better place now.  I’ve had a lifetime of mental illness and periods of insanity.  I’ve also had a lifetime of learning, and accepting my condition and the appropriate treatment.  Back then though, I was at an age where it was impossible to know why I felt like I did, or even realize that there was something truly wrong with the way my brain worked.  I just felt like nobody liked me, leaving me with a very low opinion of myself and a sense that I wasn’t worth being liked.

I’ve always been very musical from playing many different instruments and publicly singing to loving the music of others.  It’s definitely been an integral part of my entire life; an expression of who I am, however much that’s changed over the years.  The taste of genres and artists has been tied directly into my mood, up or down.  And yet, no matter how well I’m doing or how far I’ve come in my treatment, there’s always going to be that boy; that young man inside who is so very sad and wounded.

“’You’ve slept too long in silence’, Mama said.  Remember Mama said, ticking ticking.  ‘Crazy boy you’ll only wind up with strange notions in your head’.  Hear it…Hear it.

Ticking, ticking… 

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3 Responses to Ticking… ticking.

  1. I totally relate to how music reflects your feelings, I have found that a lot too. To the point of I have a playlist of songs I listen to when I feel certain ways because they help me express how I feel better. This was a very interesting post! Looking at your blog I’m going to go and do some more reading, its strong bloggers like you that have inspired me to write about my own dealings with mental illness!


  2. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G blog post!!!!!! My God! Kill me softly!! You really took me back. AWESOME!!!!


  3. Sheree Charf says:

    Dear “Ticking”,
    You’re the first person I’ve ever known, other than myself, that realized the significance of “Madman” and “Ticking”. The absolute genius behind the lyricist (Bernie Taupin) and the musician ( Elton John). I was born in the 60’s and raised on so many genre’s of music. But, the only one who really hit home for me was Elton John.
    I am a manic bipolar. I have been this way as long as I can remember. It went undiagnosed because my parents thought I was just willful because of my high IQ and level of intelligence. I played multiple instruments, just like you. I sang in public. As I was growing up from 5-12 my music flourished. I was writing music and playing the piano. I didn’t take a lesson until I was 12. I started playing the piano at age3. I just sat down, opened a book in the bench of my grandmother’s piano, and played! The music notes just made sense. That was my rise and the start of my fall.
    Suffice it to say that for another 28 years my life was one consistent high. I did drugs to sleep, to wake up, to deal with the painful destruction of my body from constant lack of sleep. Until, one fateful day at work, my “brain just snapped”. I’d been 11 days without more than 2 hours sleep every few days. My body just quit.
    My brain had been running so fast,for so long,without the other side being able to catch up, I broke. After 3 months in a hospital in respiratory and kidney failure, I was released into a psych ward. My brain was so broken that I couldn’t communicate with anyone. My dad brought in my favorite Elton John CDs. You see, I related to so many songs, that I lived off the music. It was my happy place. For over a year, the only way I could communicate my feelings was through Elton John’s music.

    That was 12 years ago.

    I’m now on a great medication regimen. And, most days are good ones. I know now when something is up, because I can see the changes in my behavior, my attitude, my language, my ability to speak. I’m 50 now, and my parents still don’t believe that I have an illness.

    I guess I just wanted you to know there is someone else who found the music of Elton John and Bernie Taupin to be a picture of their mind. It has given me a release from bad days, and lifted me up. I now have a collection of every record ever released by Elton John. And, a couple of ones that are very rare, as they were B side’s that weren’t going to make the album’s cut.
    I am a hyper-manic bipolar with late adult onset schizophrenia.
    I am proud of my abilities to cope with everyday life. Even though it’s with medication.

    I am grateful for my life everyday. After all, I almost lost it.
    I hope that you are well and still doing good.
    I just thought I’d let you know you’re not alone.


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