Nick Southall is a former Stylus Senior Writer and has contributed to The Guardian, Drowned in Sound, and LA Weekly. Ian Mathers also used to hang his hat at the Sty and knows more about Spinoza than anyone I know. He regularly contributes to Pop Matters and maintains the Fractionals blog

Summer Pain by Nick Southall & Ian Mathers


1. Spiritualized – Medication (EP Version) (8:16)
2. Mogwai – Sine Wave (4:55)
3. Dinosaur Jr. – Feel the Pain (4:20)
4. The Smiths – Still Ill (3:32)
5. Six By Seven – Speed Is In, Speed Is Out (2:34)
6. Low – Medicine Magazines (4:34)
7. Morphine – Cure for Pain (3:15)
8. Horse Feathers – Mother’s Sick (4:36)
9. Siobhan Donaghy – Overrated (4:47)
10. Frank Black – Headache (2:53)
11. Animal Collective – Summertime Clothes (4;30)
12. The Tragically Hip – Titanic Terrarium (4:34)
13. The Beta Band – Needles in My Eyes (4:32)
14. Dirty Three – Some Summers They Drop Like Flys (6:20)

Total: 63:38

I’ve had the fortune, in my life so far, to be pretty well. A serious dose of chickenpox at 19 that left me looking, after three days, slightly decomposed. A virulent bout of real, bona fide influenza 18 months ago that left both me and my girlfriend bed-ridden and hallucinating for the best part of a week. A few low-level brushes with tonsillitis. A propensity for headaches as a child. A bad back from poor computer posture, easily corrected. A series of minor football injuries – sprained ankles, twisted knees. Nothing serious. I’ve never had a blood test, or a filling at the dentist. But as I approached, and then vaulted past (in mid May) 30 years on this planet, my body has started crumbling. Ian, too, has found himself in the wars in this last few months, and with this in mind, we’ve decided to theme our mix around this common unifying factor; intense physical pain. (Nick Southall)

01. Spiritualized – Medication (EP version)

Late last summer I discovered a bulge in my gut that turned out to be a hernia, and resulted in surgery this February. I now have a two-inch wide angry red wound just above my bellybutton, and a lump of scar tissue behind it that reminds me that I’ll never quite be the same person again. The operation itself was quick and easy, and saw me signed off work for two weeks. I went in at half past eight on Tuesday morning and was at home by two in the afternoon, watching DVDs and eating spicy beef pizza gently, having refused hospital food because “I only live down the road and I’m a better cook than you” and professed my desire to watch the complete works of Terrence Malick during my convalescence. When I got home, I felt like fucking Hercules. “I’ll go back to work tomorrow” I said to my girlfriend, as I chatted shit at her all afternoon, “I feel great, can’t understand what all the fuss is about.”

The little surgery instructions booklet said I shouldn’t be left alone for 24 hours after the anaesthetic. This is because I was absolutely off my tits on very strong drugs. I spent the next week either sitting very still, or hobbling about our two-storey flat like a tiny, crumpled old man. A visit to the supermarket saw me hold the trolley for dear life lest anyone come within 15 feet of me, my eyes glancing daggers at anyone I perceived to be a threat. Which was everyone. I’ve never been one for drugs, but for this brief period, full of a cocktail of painkillers and anti-inflammatories, I empathised with Jason Pierce, oscillating between superhumanity and being brought low by fearful physical delicacy. (Nick)

02. Mogwai – Sine Wave

Like Nick, I’ve been very lucky with my heath over the years (although I’ve almost died two or three times, depending on how seriously you take the doctor who told me when I was a kid that if that cut had been any deeper I would have bled out before I reached the hospital), and quite frankly I have no recent stories to match having a hernia. But the thing about being mostly healthy is that when you do suffer from something, it seems larger than maybe it should be and you resent it more because you’re used to your body co-operating with you. It used to be that I only got headaches when I was hungover (and I don’t mind those, perversely enough); then a few years back my head absolutely exploded while I was on the exercise bike.

After a few noncommittal clinic visits they referred me to a neurologist (which did wonders for my peace of mind, I tell you). He took one look at me and told me that I was getting headaches because of my poor posture. I was so amazed that I actually let my surprise show on my face, which was a mistake; for demonstration sake, he triggered a vicious headache via pressing gently on part of my neck. From the first time I heard Rock Action the opening track with its gnashing distortion, garbled and burbling voices, and gradual build to something huge and noisy has reminded me of my headaches, although I sit up straighter now and don’t get them nearly as often. (Ian)

03. Dinosaur Jr. – Feel the Pain

My wisdom teeth have been slowly erupting for a number of years now. Following minor aches as they pushed their deep-rooted way through my gums, splitting tissue and rending the sensitive, nerve-rich flesh of my mouth on their way, close observation from my dentist lead to me having my head x-rayed. The lower wisdom teeth, the difficult ones to remove, should they be problematic, are impacted. This means they’re coming through at an angle, onto the teeth in front. This means pressure. Shifting teeth in firm gums. Enamel pressing on enamel. Wisdom teeth exist in evolutionary terms as spares from a time when we ate badly and ravenously, when we’d lose teeth in fights and forages, and these older, wiser, deeper-rooted molars would push forward, fill gaps, and keep us able to chew, able to stay alive. I have no such gaps in my mouth.

Shortly before my hernia operation was due, the gum around my lower-right wisdom tooth flared up. The dentist suggested this was because the tooth was only partially through, and the upper wisdom tooth was biting down on soft, pulpy flesh rather than another tooth, and thus inflaming it. So we scheduled another appointment for a little after my operation, and he took the upper one out. With what appeared to be a small crowbar. I heard crunching and cracking inside my skull as he prised the tooth from my face. But I felt nothing; a syringeful of some clear magic liquid made me immune. A few days later the bloodclot fell out of the ravaged gum in the middle of a meeting, and I had to cement my lips together and refrain from speaking, lest I look like Ed Norton in Fight Club when he spits through a blooded mouth. (Nick)

04. The Smiths – Still Ill

I was supposed to get my wisdom teeth (the bottom two) out in May, actually. I’d carefully saved up my money, being unemployed and government health care in Canada stopping at your mouth for some fucking reason, and I was all set – a friend had taken the day off of work, supplies were stocked, let’s go get some teeth ripped out of my head.

The night before the surgery I actually started thinking about what it entailed and getting a bit nervous (being relatively healthy, the last surgery I had was as a small child, getting my tonsils out), but I was also in Toronto for a long-planned concert (Mogwai, funnily enough). And then my foot started acting up. Like a lot of guys who’ve spent time in a gym, I have a mild but recurring case of athlete’s foot, and at first that’s what I thought this was – and then something like a hard blister formed on my right little toe, leaving my foot sore and hard to walk on. In my friends’ Toronto apartment after supper and before the concert I gingerly inspected it, only to find out that it had popped and what was exposed now was deep red and went down deep. More than a little scared, my night and concert was saved by TeleHealth Ontario (a rather wonderful service where you can talk to an RN over the phone and they tell you whether you need to go to the hospital and what you should do – free, thanks to socialized heathcare) but the next morning I had to call the dentist to inform them; they promptly yanked the surgery and told me to get well again. My doctor told me it was a bacterial infection, nothing serious.

A course of antibiotics and the occasional salt bath had my foot back to normal within a few days, but now the revised surgery date is coming up, and I’m feeling nervous again. A few days ago my right foot got red and itchy the way it did before my surgery cancelling infection. So I ask you – does the body rule the mind, or does the mind rule the body? (Ian)

05. Six.By Seven – Speed Is In, Speed Is Out

“I awoke with a pain in my head / I awoke / I AWOKE WITH A PAIN IN MY HEAD” yells Chris Olley during the chorus of this 2-minute “gobbet of spite” (copyright Ian Mathers, 2004). I used to drink a lot. Like, a LOT. But I’m much better now. I did, however, end up on the wrong end of a bottle of wine and several pints of beer the other week just after I turned 30, courtesy of my girlfriend’s brother and a bout of very sunny weather (which was, until this thundery morning, continuing pretty much unbroken since early April in South West England). Sun, booze, a much later night than I’m used to… I know now why I don’t drink like I used to. I know now how Chris Olley feels. (Nick)

06. Low – Medicine Magazines

Over the years I’ve spent more times in waiting rooms as moral support than as the afflicted. Hell, in my undergrad years I wrote a paper on the phenomenology of the waiting room (I wonder if it was any good). Low have written many good songs about medicine and sickness, but most are terrifying or despondent (or both); “Medicine Magazines” is about waiting in a waiting room for someone who is sick or dying, someone who may not care about you as much as you care about them. Or maybe it’s just that the sick don’t have as much emotion to share as the healthy do – pain eats up your life. But when the time comes, whether you care for that person or not, you’re going to need someone to walk you out. (Ian)

07. Morphine – Cure for Pain

As detailed above, my wisdom teeth have been an issue. A month or two after having the upper right one torn out with a crowbar by a professional maxillofacial butcher, I had a little pain again in the lower right wisdom tooth. “It’s probably nothing” I thought on Friday evening, “just the tooth coming through a little more; it’ll pass.” On Sunday morning I got up even earlier than I usually do, and spent a quiet hour in the living room, crying solitarily. On waking and seeing me in such a state, my girlfriend rushed to the pharmacy and returned with a cocktail of strong ibuprofen, paracetemol, and codeine, which I ate like sweets for the next few days. An emergency appointment arranged with my personal maxillofacial butcher revealed an infection in the gum around the lower right wisdom tooth. The hernia was nothing. The extraction was nothing. Breaking my arm when I was 11 was nothing. All the twisted knees and sprained ankles from football were nothing. I have never, ever known pain like the pain I felt from that infection, at the centre of my consciousness, in the middle of my face, where it’s unignorable, inescapable, like a large knife being pushed slowly and firmly into the flesh of one’s mouth. I hope I never feel anything like it again. To try and prevent feeling anything like it again, I’m having that tooth, and the two left-hand wisdom teeth, removed under general anaesthetic in a few weeks. More painkillers ahoy. (Nick)

08. Horse Feathers – Mother’s Sick

As I said, my spring hasn’t been as dramatic as Nick’s, but as I get older I find that pain is slowly creeping into my body, in mild but alarming ways. Just this morning I was suddenly conscious of a twinge in my calf, the first harbinger of the nighttime cramps that I’ve gotten sporadically since I hit my mid-twenties. They wake me up screaming, part of my leg feeling like it’s trying to rip itself away from the rest of my body. It’s uniquely disturbing to reach down to my leg to massage it out (which, these days, is more like forcing the muscle that’s locked into overextension back into place than anything soothing) and feeling a hard box of muscle standing out from my leg in sharp relief. Every time it happens I can’t quite believe how painful it is, the first five seconds or so of me howling profanity are accompanied by my mind trying to figure out how it could feel that bad.

I went to a doctor and he ran some tests and said they weren’t caused by anything serious, and that as long as they remain 3-4 months apart there’s no point in performing the exploratory surgery it would take to figure out what’s going on. He advised I get some quinine, which means that every time I have a gin and tonic I’m self-medicating. I’m not quite at the Louis C.K. stage where the doctors just tell you you’ll be in pain for the rest of your life, but the notion that I’m now old enough that there are things that are just part of the way your body and time have taken their toll is disconcerting. (Ian)

09. Siobhan Donaghy – Overrated

I don’t mean to boast about the pain I’ve experienced this year so far, to make it seem glamorous and romantic, as if I’m some kind of tortured poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge off his face on laudanum and composing Kubla Khan during breaks in his pharmaceutical consciousness. Far from it. Pain is an awful thing, and not, in my experience, conducive to creativity in the slightest; convalescing from the hernia operation, all I could do was watch films from the sofa. At the points when my cocktail of drugs wore off and the infection in my gum reminded me of its presence, I could do nothing at all except hold my face and whimper like a kicked dog. Pain is definitely not something I would recommend to anyone. (Nick)

10. Frank Black – Headache

Pain absolutely stifles creativity, but the relationship isn’t just one way. It’s weird to remember what ‘sick days’ were like as a kid – since I was rarely actually sick, these were mostly mental health days begrudgingly and sparingly granted by my parents. I got so much done with a full day and youthful enthusiasm at my disposal. My last job, I took two sick days; one was for when my brother, his girlfriend, and I all got food poisoning from some bad pizza, and the day was spent vomiting. The other was as a result of a bad cold, too little sleep, too much booze (of too many types) and generally feeling as if I was about to die. Neither occasion saw me doing anything productive but sleeping. But even when you don’t take a sick day spending a day doing nothing, or rather finding yourself unable to do anything (whether because inspiration isn’t there, or you’re brooding, or what) can be more than frustrating. It can really get you down, so down you get a goddamn headache. (Ian)

11. Animal Collective – Summertime Clothes

Possibly the most painful thing I’ve experienced this year, though, is the shame of my about-face regarding Animal Collective, and specifically Merriweather Post Pavilion, which I dismissed on first hearing as being a step beyond their normal pointlessly whooping cacophony into complete and utter unlistenability. I then continued to dismiss it the same way for five months, periodically trying again to get whatever it was that everyone was raving about. But no, nothing; each time I put this damned record on, it gave me a headache, the bustling, oversaturated mix confusing my aural eye, overwhelming me with too-close-colour, like a giant butterfly batting its wings in my face – I could sense that something, somewhere, was beautiful about the experience, but mostly it was just obnoxious and uncomfortable. Then, after the night out with my girlfriend’s brother that I mentioned above ended in him managing to pour a glass of water over my (much neglected except for films) main hi-fi, I knew I had to test it once the sun had dried it out.

So, early on a balmy Saturday evening in May, I put MPP on the big speakers for the first time, windows thrown open. And I had an epiphany. Given space and proper amplification, Animal Collective’s synaesthetic, electronic psychedelia suddenly made sense. Huge, baffling, enormous amounts of sense. I heard melodies, I heard songs, I heard soundscapes, I heard joy, and the headaches that this record had caused me melted away. (Nick)

12. The Tragically Hip – Titanic Terrarium

Maybe this is a Canadian thing, but convalescing is a bit like riding out the winter. “We don’t declare war on idleness when outside it’s cold and shitty,” sure, but we also don’t stir ourselves when that idleness is because of pain. The result can feel a bit like being walled off from the world, sealed behind glass. Out there life continues, in here there’s just the dull ache that invades the space behind your eyes whenever you think about getting up and doing something. It’s part of why, I think, faking being sick is so dishonourable.

If the afflicted could do anything but languish, they would – if you’re of sound mind and body, pretending your incapable too is pretty infuriating. But mostly there’s just the infernal miracle of the way your body stops responding properly, the way suddenly hours or days pass and you’re taking another pill, going back to sleep, shambling over to the bathroom again. Suddenly you long just to go for a walk, to talk with someone without having to still your nausea or agony, to go back to work, to do anything. But like the man says, “if there’s a glory in miracles / it’s that they’re reversible.” (Ian)

13. The Beta Band – Needles in My Eyes

If the continued brushes with agony that I’ve sustained this year have taught me anything, it’s that… no, actually, they’ve taught me nothing. Made me no more resilient than I was before. Given me no profound insight to the human condition. Pain, either physical or mental, may be a leveller but it is not a nurturer, not a teacher, and certainly not a lover or a mistress. I am glad that I am lucky not to have felt as much over my life as many. Glad that “Needles In My Eyes” makes me feel a certain way because it is a piece of art powerful enough to create a new feeling within me, rather than remind me of an old feeling from my past. Because as much as I love this song, I don’t want to have to feel the way that I imagine Steve Mason must have felt in order to create it. (Nick)

14. Dirty Three – Some Summers They Drop Like Flys

This summer may go down to pain, or it may not; but we persevere. (Ian)

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