Maybe it’s the monotony, or the blank walls, but there’s something about a long hospital stay that intensifies the reaction to any art that’s available.
My first hospital stay I can remember with any clarity was at around 13, for appendicitis. Just like everyone else who relates their appendicitis story, my appendix was fit to burst, another hour or so and it would have been fatal, etc., etc. I will say this, though: the pain was more intense than the endless, just been beaten up by 12 angry scribbles, pain of my stroke,. And, while I was at least mentally present, it was my first experience of being pushed around a hospital in a wheelchair.
I say, “remember with clarity”, but unlike many things that happened 20+ years ago, and like a bunch of stuff that happened last week, I can’t remember much else that happened during that hospitalisation. I do remember that I missed that weekend’s Scotland-France rugby game. And I remember, the video for U2’s With Or Without You on Top Of The Pops on Thursday evening. The sound and vision remains with me. So much so, that this is the second time I’ve written about it on the blog:
[I]t never ceases to transport me to a street with no name, in a desert I’m riding through on a horse with no name. Or, March, 1987, if you prefer…. Why seeing it should stick with me seems obvious. The video was striking, sure, all stark black and white. But the reason was the very reason that Paul McGuinness was against releasing it as a single, and the reason Adam Clayton thought “[y]ou wouldn’t expect it [on the radio]. In church, perhaps”: It was sonically unusual.
The history of its recording still makes interesting reading. If that’s your bag.
I was 17 when they were wheeling me around Edinburgh’s old Princess Margaret Rose hospital with a herniated disc. The first thing I remember from that hospitalisation was my pal, Allan, coming round with a bag of fresh cherries. I’d only had maraschino cherries before (this was Edinburgh in 1992, and rationing had just ended), and these mysterious, eggplant-coloured, things were a revelation. The second thing was The Complete Works Of Oscar Wilde. Yes, all of them. I think I’d borrowed it from the library before being confined to bed, but it was in hospital that I plunged into it and consumed every fleshy pink morsel in a couple of sittings before, sated, discarding the paper that held them by the side of the bed.
It seems that our medical professionals have cottoned on to the beneficial impact of art on the convalescent. At Rusk, we had the benefit of a Recreational Therapist, the lovely Deb. I don’t really remember much about the jazz guitarist she brought in, other than that he was quite virtuosic. [Get stuffed, autochecker. That’s a word. I just invented it.] And that the Wee Man and I were introduced to him as a Haitian Church Man and (as you may recall) a Scottish Hipster. Which led our new jazz-playing friend to choose from his repertoire something by Steely Dan, followed by Georgia, the hospital musicians’ standard. Natural choices for the audience? I still don’t know.
On another day, Deb brought around a young singer-songwriter called Aly Tadros. Not a name I recognized, but when she played a short set of covers and originals, I made a point of noting it. Here’s the contemporaneous tweet (spelling mistake stroke patient’s own):
Wonderful performance by #AliTadros in my room at HJD. I encourage you all to have a stroke, to see her in such intimate surroundings.
— Ricky Brown (@ricky_ballboy) November 8, 2012
She’s got a new album out this year, and is touring in support of it, including — attention, NYC readers — at the Monarch Artists Showcase in the CMJ Music Marathon at the only slightly less intimate Rockwood Music Hall in Soho on October 18. Don’t go because, as well as entertaining this ailing Scot in NYC, she has volunteered at care communities in Texas, and continues to perform at retirement centres and assisted-living homes. Go because she’s really talented, and like a proper Brooklyn hipster, you can say you saw her before she was huge. And because it’s free. More details and sounds at her website here.
Some of the musical talent was more homegrown. Another musician active in the community, my lovely friend, beatboxer supreme, Mouthmatics, and the similarly talented dj and sax-shredder, Nappy Pipes came in of their own volition one day, to stand at the end of my bed and perform their Michael Jackson tribute. All this eclectic talent was welcome relief from the TVs that now seem omnipresent in US medical institutions, and the terrible tunes that were meant to calm me as they were piped in during my MRI at Rusk. As well as bringing in a couple of charming young dancers from the Juilliard School who wowed us in a hospital corridor, and talked fascinatingly about the experience of being a dancer — it’s less like me jerking spasmodically at a wedding than you might think — Deb’s final contribution to my recovery was letting me borrow some meditative CDs:
The “at peace” cd collection: “No jarring tempo changes or unexpected interruptions”. But I *like* The Nectarine #9. #scottishhipster
— Ricky Brown (@ricky_ballboy) November 15, 2012
As regular readers will know, the attempt to maintain mindfulness in my life in a meaningful way continues. The local library has recently supplied me with a copy of Cheryl Rezek’s Brilliant Mindfulness, including the CD of guided meditation tracks stashed in the back. If you’re interested in exploring this stuff, I highly recommend.
Bringing us full circle, I suppose, friendoftheblogotherpaul brought in various movies and TV shows that Beth and I had discussed wanting to see. I could cuddle up, with the harsh hospital bed guard rail keeping my neglected left side safe, and the firm but supple Mrs. Stroke Bloke just keeping me safe on the other side, and we would gorge on Breaking Bad, before eventually continuing the feast on our return to 15th Street.
Just the other day, we watched the series finale on Netflix UK. Putting aside the fate of Walter White [this is carefully worded to avoid any spoilers, so don’t even speculate], it seems that notwithstanding my health concerns, Stroking Bad has worked out OK. Can’t wait to tie this story up in a neat little bow, with a happy ending.