Happiness by Matthew Ryan


I now have my own upstairs flat with a bedroom, living room, study and bathroom. I also have shared access to a kitchen. It isn’t making me happy.

Roo’s MS has meant that her mobility is in a constant state of deterioration. It really is a cruel disease. She can’t walk without the support of a rollator and going out of the house requires her to use her mobility scooter. Several years ago, we seriously considered moving to a bungalow but we both like the house so we installed a through-floor lift which cost about the same as stamp duty would have done. This meant that Roo was able to have access to the top floor of the house. We could sleep in the same bed and she could use the second bedroom as a dressing room which we equipped with the accessories that she required. For most people, dressing and undressing is straightforward; for someone with MS, it’s a major operation. Her “walk” from the second bedroom into bed took her past the top of the stairs and presented a potential for disaster. A few months ago she decided that she would prefer to sleep in the second downstairs living room that we call Conyers.

Before I met Roo, I lived for 16 years in a small flat in Harlow, Essex. The block of flats was called Conyers and, living by myself, I was able to watch sport on TV, play music and generally be a slob without recourse to anyone else. In some ways, my life was idyllic but I was quite lonely. I remember one evening, as I searched for sleep, I hoped to myself that one day my solitary existence might be over.

In our current house we have two downstairs rooms and a bathroom. The larger room is an open plan kitchen/dining room/lounge and the smaller room has, until last week, been kitted out with a second TV so that I can watch rugby and Star Trek without annoying Roo. There was also a stereo where I could play what Roo calls “Dead Miserable Music”. In a moment of affectionate comedy (or cruel vindictiveness, depending on your point of view), I once named this room “Conyers” because that was where I was happy.

Over the past month, we have swapped the contents of the second bedroom and Conyers. We have also bought a hospital bed so that Roo can easily get into and out of bed. She is now living downstairs (in Old Conyers) and I have all four upstairs rooms. It’s much easier for her to get around and I have filled the second bedroom (now called “New Conyers”) with CDs, DVDs, books, a stereo, an armchair and SKY TV. In many ways, it’s lovely and I consider myself very lucky and yet it seems that I am spending more time alone, upstairs. Clearly, compared to someone with MS, I am extremely lucky. Nevertheless, it seems that my life is more solitary and I’m not a fan of sleeping alone.

I’ve had a number of fascinating interactions on the topic of solitude recently. I had a very distressing phone call with a suicidal bereaved man who was finding it almost impossible to live without his wife. A gregarious, charming, socially adept friend of mine, who is recently retired, has over the past few years, been on lots of short breaks by himself in this country and abroad, while his wife has an all-consuming, important and fulfilling job. Another friend is finding the relationship with his wife is draining him and he yearns for more solitude. Another friend, recently divorced, finds it easier to maintain the relationship with her husband now that they are living apart. She told me that she felt more solitude when they were living together and not getting on.

In the past, I have spent many an hour in Old Conyers listening to dead miserable music. That’s Conyers here, not Conyers in Harlow. Listening to music made by unhappy, miserable people can make me feel better as I seem to be able have a focussed release point for my negativity. Bottling up feelings of unhappiness is not healthy and so using, for example, Matthew Ryan’s music as a laser gun to dissipate those feelings is a release. Listening to him (or “Ghost Of David” by Damien Jurado, or “Nebraska” by Bruce Springsteen, or Side Two of “On The Beach” by Neil Young, or “Crazy On The Weekend” by Sunhouse or……) made me feel better. As I used to leave Old Conyers after an hour of dead miserable music, I would feel my mood lighten to one of renewed positivity. After I left Conyers, Harlow, to start my life with Roo in 1992, I was disbelieving that I could possibly have happiness in a relationship. After I left Old Conyers last week, I was very sad and, writing this post, I have come to realise that I need to work harder at being the best person I can be and not to dwell in selfish isolation in New Conyers.

For a long time, my go-to artist for miserable music was Matthew Ryan and, in particular, his ironically titled fourth album, “Happiness”.

The 12 songs on the album were recorded at his home and the first track is a very low-key song called “Rain Rain Rain”. Over 90 seconds, he describes walking by himself in the rain and seeing a discarded wedding ring in a storm drain. He didn’t stop but the sight of the ring caused him to think about his current, failing relationship.

The longest song on the album is “Emergency Room Machines Say Breathe”, which is over seven minutes long and consists of distorted guitar playing over keyboards, feedback and industrial noises. The only words are “Emergency room machines say you’ve got to get it in your head. You’ve got to remember how to breathe”.

Matthew Ryan’s singing mainly consists of a hushed, rasping whisper which only adds to the intense, downbeat mood of his music. Personally, I find his voice to be curiously uplifting but I can understand why some might describe it as dead miserable.

The third track on the album is the only non-original: a cover of “Something In The Night” from Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness On The Edge Of Town”. The feeling of darkness permeates the whole of Matthew Ryan’s album and this song, about reaching a fork in the road of life where the wrong choice can lead you further into a meaningless existence of misery and decay, fits in perfectly with the other original compositions.

“The Ballad Of So And So” reminds me of Mighty Ballistic Hi-Power with a distorted guitar sound, swooping synthesiser and angry self-loathing lyrics such as “My wife and kids can’t stand me and neither can I”.

My favourite track on the album is “Fd29yrblues”, which is a bitter song to his father, promising that if Matthew Ryan ever gets his father alone, he will extract revenge for the hurt he endured. Whether this is biographically accurate is unclear.

The word “cathartic” means to find psychological relief through the open expression of strong emotions. Hopefully, Matthew Ryan is a happy, well-balanced guy who has found contentment by releasing 18 albums of dead miserable music since 1997. As for me, my catharsis comes from writing a painfully honest blog. Thanks for getting this far.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

2 thoughts on “Happiness by Matthew Ryan

  1. Accessing our sadness, in whatever fashion, is, in my view, incredibly important. It can be a release … and a relief, however temporary. Music is one path to access, writing another and there are more paths and more outlets. Your sharing is brave.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An unflinchingly honest and brilliantly written blog. It’s great that writing is cathartic for you. I think the candid way you regularly describe (and confront) the ups and downs of life is cathartic for your readers too.


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