For some reason, I have two copies of one of my favourite books. It’s by Wally Lamb and it’s called “I Know This Much Is True” so maybe this blog should have been about Spandau Ballet. I did go to see Spandau Ballet in Coventry with Percy at the height of their fame. Goodness only knows why – it was slick but not unenjoyable. We all shouted out to Steve “Plonker” Norman, the saxophone player and he seemed to milk the attention. I digress. I have two copies of this book but I have no idea why. Maybe I thought I loaned it to a friend and claimed it back by mistake.
I’ve read “I Know This Much Is True” at least twice (maybe I read each book once?) which is quite an achievement because it is 897 pages long. It tells the story of Dominick Birdsey and his identical twin, Thomas, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. He hears voices in his head and the start of the book is shocking and violent. There are some great passages in the book which describe the counselling that Dominick undertakes. HBO have recently made a 6 hour TV adaptation of the story with Wally Lamb as one of the executive producers. It is very good and Mark Ruffalo puts in a remarkable performance(s) as both twins. One of the writers of the series is Anya Epstein who also wrote 7 episodes of “In Treatment”. This was a fantastic series. It starred Gabriel Byrne as a psychotherapist and each half hour episode simply consisted of the dialogue between Gabriel Byrne and his patients. In “I Know This Much Is True”, the counsellor is played by Archie Punjabi who is incredible. I first saw her in “Bend It Like Beckham” and she had a major role in “The Good Wife” which was one of may favourite TV shows in the genre of “Sentimental American Bullshit” as Martin likes to describe them. I love TV programmes where there is intense conversation between just two people. Hang on, I like real life intense conversation with one of my friends. Maybe that’s why Zoom meetings with three or more people can feel slightly unsatisfactory.
The story in “I Know This Much Is True” concerns the main character taking on too many burdens for himself, blaming himself for any failures in other people and unable to process his own feelings. Roo once told me that a good way to get your point of view across is to say “I feel that…” because when you do that, it’s impossible for anyone to argue with you. If you say “I think that…” it’s possible for someone else to disagree but it’s impossible to disagree with someone when they tell you how they are feeling. You can’t come back and say “no, you’re not.” It’s a basic listening technique at Samaritans to say “How do you feel?”
One of my favourite albums is “The Killer Inside Me” by Green On Red. I’ve only just found out that this is the name of a book written in 1952 by Jim Thompson and subsequently twice made into a film – once in 1976 and again in 2010. The main protagonist in the story is called Lou Ford and he hears voices telling him to carry out shocking and violent actions. On the surface he was a good guy and people thought they understood him but under the surface he was a much more complex character.
Lou Ford were a band from Charlotte, North Carolina and on first hearing, they were a country rock band. However, under the surface, there was more complexity and ultimately, the music they played was guitar driven pop music. The first song on the first of their three released records is called “How Does It Feel?” and the opening lines are “How does it feel to have something real? To have something true? To know it belongs to you?” This chimes perfectly with Dominick Birdsey’s lack of appreciation of the support he has in his life and which he is unwilling to admit to, preferring to shoulder the burden of everyone’s life for himself. These questions feel like questions that should have been asked of Dominick Birsey in the book/TV series.
There are other brilliant songs on this record. B.O.G.L. has the lyrics “take me down into the water – wash my sins away” which, without giving anything away, has resonance with two events in “I Know This Much Is True”. It’s slower and sadder than the previous song.
“The Part Of You” has the great line “If they ever make a TV movie, they’ll give my part to Gary Busey but who’s going to play the part of you?”
“You Ain’t Worth My Time” is similarly guitar drenched, whilst remaining slow, sad and mournful, starting with “I want to live inside a bottle. It really seems like the place to be.” Again, it’s not very happy but the sorrow has turned to anger. “You ain’t worth my time. You ain’t worth my energy.”
Another amazing song is the title song, “Sad But Familiar” as the singer drives away from a failed relationship. “Just an empty seat beside me without a map to guide me. I set out on my way. If my hands don’t stop their shaking I may never make it.” I really like the chorus. “The same old road. Sad, but familiar. Miles and miles of colorful billboards selling things that I don’t need. The same old road. Sad, but familiar. The sign says welcome to nowhere. Nowhere that I wanna be.” This brings to mind all those drives through the States. Finally “There’s nothing but a rear view mirror staring back at me.”
How does it feel?