Written and produced on their earliest record, Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset has given the indie rock community a glimpse into the bipolar state of mind many persons underwent during the late nineteen ninety’s. This mindset is summarized by two words: Oh noose. Admittedly, every human being will undergo good and bad occurrences throughout their lifetime. Human emotion has evolved into something very overwhelming for many to grasp yet in the same context, shaped our coexisted history as human beings.
The overwhelming dilemma every human is forced to deal with at one point or another in their lives is the legacy they leave behind once they no longer exist. Some base their entire livelihoods and daily decisions on this sole concept, and others just exist. Then there are those who fall in between. Modest Mouse’s twenty-year lead vocalist Isaac Brock is the epitome of those who fall in between. Constantly addressing his own existential crisis, Brock’s lyrical content ricochets from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, and addresses the full spectrum that is human emotion.
Through this evocative approach to writing, Brock transcends occurrences in his life into over dramatized songs that all of his audience has empathized with. That is where an understanding of bipolar disorder begins: Brock’s writings. As a young child, the musician was exposed to an array of subcultures. Being brought up in the Midwestern United States, he moved between hippy communes and churches located throughout Montana and Oregon. At the age of eleven, Brock and his single mother moved to Washington State where copious amounts of his lyrical content would find influence.
Found on the 1997 Lonesome Crowded West record, the song “Trailer Trash ? would reflect on Brock’s teenage years with lyrics such as “Short love with a long divorce ? and “I can’t do anything, ? Brock made it very clear that external conflicts in his childhood would influence the unstable person he’d eventually become. Seeing that his life was going nowhere in the eyes of society, and living in the shed of his mother’s trailer, Brock wasted no time with the formation of Modest Mouse in 1993.
At the mere age of eighteen, Brock and band mates such as notable drummer Jeremiah Green began recording their earliest tracks jumping straight forward into the DIY (Do it Yourself) attitude of the Seattle punk scene. They became an overnight success in underground music venues across the West Coast; straying from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest, their popularity picked up quickly and was officiated when they were signed by Warner based music label Sub Pop Records. Described by many independent music critics as introspective and cryptic, Modest Mouse’s mainstream success was one of biggest surprises the music community ever saw.
They became genuine rock stars while their musical peers like Built to Spill remained cult figures. Their success would lead Brock to the life of a Rolling Stone: drug addiction, alcoholism, numerous DUI charges and most notably, a rape accusation. Bipolar disorder, more commonly referred to as the manic depressive illness, is a disorder within the human brain that causes influx or shifts in moods while inhabiting the diagnosed person from performing every day tasks successfully.
While the medical community claims the disorder may very well be genetic, many professionals have claimed that in most cases, it is dependent on a person’s individual personality attributes. Manic depressives undergo overly long periods of feeling hopeless and lose interest in activities they would normally enjoy such as sex or human interaction. The earliest recorded example of Brock’s disorder can be seen in the title of their debut studio album: This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About. Brock used the endless desert roads of the Western United States as a metaphor to reflect his own mental state.
The record begins with the song Dramamine in that he describes his abuse of pharmaceutical drugs that in effect caused him to endlessly ramble on and on about nothing. “Traveling, swallowing, Dramamine ? continued with lyrics “But I can’t focus on anything. ? Further on in the record, Brock elaborates on what the bands success has done to him mentally. In the song Head South, he explains how the band “pawned their skis ? ultimately selling out for the “shape of the palm tree scene, ? detailing a situation many musicians were faced with in the grand scheme of becoming successful.
Brock was illicitly dealing with depression in the mist of writing the record as well, with apparent lyrics such as “cause here things go from gray to gray and back to gray again, ? revealing a repetitive mental state. This can be characterized medically as a “mood episode ? in Brock’s life. Episodes can be broken down into two characterizations. Manic episodes are described as overly joyful and exciting while depressive episodes are sad and hopeless. “Talking shit about a pretty sunset, ? begins with the lyrics “Oh noose, tied myself in ? indicating clear thoughts of suicide.
The song’s audience can hear the discontent expressed in Brock’s voice as his thoughts are brought out vocally. His lack of motivation and fear of commitment are all expressed when he begins to blame external parties for his own dissatisfaction. “And I claim I’m not excited with my life anymore, so I blame this town, this job, these friends, ? only to come to the realization that “the truth is it’s myself. ? Through complex breaks and a dramatic climax, Brock describes an emotional tale in his own life where self-actualization and revelation are unfolded.
After continuously engaging in counterproductive activities such as drug use and alcoholism he decides to take control of his destiny, “I’m trying to understand myself, and pinpoint where I am. ? He quickly comes to the realization that it is too difficult for himself saying, “When I finally get it figured out, I’ve changed the whole damn plan. ? This melancholy section of the song is concluded with the second mentioning of the noose tied around his neck revealing more coherent thoughts of suicide.
Followed by an intermission period of instrumentals that seem bipolar on their own, the climax of the song is reached. Within this climax, the lyrics expressed by Brock portray self-actualization and motivation. “Talking shit about a pretty sunset, ? is simply a statement to describe his cynical behavior. It becomes a metaphor for someone having a negative outlook on something positive. After these words are said, Brock becomes completely self-aware, “I’ve changed my mind so much I can’t even trust it.
My mind changed me so much I can’t even trust myself. ? After being in such a depressive state for an enduring amount of time, he finally begins to take responsibility for his own unhappiness, and comes to an understanding that he is his own worst enemy. These lyrics are the most apparent evidence in the musician’s writings that label him as a manic-depressive. Brock clearly understands he can never make his mind up because his mind changes him as a being from time to time.
As a young adult trying to find himself in a distraught society, Brock needed to find fault in everything, having intense phobias of liking something because it might disappoint him in the end. After the fact, Modest Mouse’s audience can understand that the noose acted as a metaphor for backing oneself into a corner, unable to get out, a personal situation many have gone through. Although it is unclear whether Isaac Brock is a diagnosed manic-depressive or not, the medical and music community has a lot to learn from his writings.
The band’s wide scale success is mainly due to how relative their lyrics were in a time where new medical diagnoses were unveiling and over the counter drugs were becoming the norm. In listening to Modest Mouse, any individual can begin to understand their own troubles and learn how to live with them, just as Brock eventually would. In conclusion, some may argue that being a manic-depressive is the ultimate guide to creativity, with figures such as Ernest Hemingway or Charles Mingus as prime examples.
Without the distraught occurrences Isaac Brock was faced with in his young adulthood or depressive episodes he underwent, Modest Mouse may have never seen existence. Investigated through the lyrical content of nearly two hundred songs and a dozen records, Modest Mouse’s audience has been granted the opportunity to relate their own experiences to that of Brock’s and have a better understanding of the troubling society that was shaped around them. Once passed, Isaac Brock will stand as a figure- head not only in the formation of Indie Rock but as a spiritual leader for manic-depressives across the earth as whole.