I Am Still The Same is the first song on my first album Some Hope. But it was actually one of the last songs written and recorded. I wrote it very quickly after reading the true story of a woman with the condition Locked-in Syndrome, described in Wikipedia as “a condition in which a patient is aware and awake but cannot move or communicate verbally due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body except for the eyes.” It’s almost painfully disturbing to try and imagine yourself in this situation, completely aware of all that is happening around you, hearing everything that the doctors and nurses, your family and friends say, but unable to respond or even indicate that your are conscious!
Do I have to spell it out?
The story was hard to read, but impossible to put down, and there was some light at the end of the tunnel. This particular woman eventually learned to spell out words by blinking her eyes to indicate letters – a slow and tedious process. When her carer at last realised that this was what she was doing, the first phrase the patient spelt out was “I Am Still The Same“, which I found very profound indeed. Despite the fact that she was almost completely disabled, to the point of not even being considered conscious for a long, long time, she was still the same person inside! I could understand how every cell in her body wanted to scream that out, to tell the world that her identity didn’t consist of what she did, how she looked, how she interacted, her abilities or skills, even the relationship that she had with other people. Without any of these things, she was still the same person!
Well, it wasn’t very hard to write a song about that!
Recording the song
The song was well-received by my friends and fans and the few people who heard it. I’d recorded it very quickly and without much fuss. I put down a quick version in my home studio, recording the guitar and vocal at the same time, and started to add a bit of bass, a smidgeon of electric guitar, some percussion and glockenspiel, a few backing vocals to disguise the worst of my rough vocals, with the intention of then re-recording it “properly”. But I liked the feeling of this demo I’d recorded for myself, and I just kept it as the final version. Besides, I was too lazy to start again!
In early 2011, after the album had come out and failed to cause a stir beyond my own fans, a young friend of mine, David McGorlick, who was studying film at university, asked me if he could use “I Am Still The Same” in a video for an assignment. I said, “Yes, of course!” and went away without thinking much about it. He did actually consult with me a little about what he was planning to do but I didn’t give him any suggestions except to say, several times, just make sure no one overacts! He’d never made a serious film before and I didn’t expect much from it, but with this song and its subject matter I thought he might easily fall into the trap of doing something too literal, sentimental or melodramatic.
David borrowed a Canon 7D digital SLR, noted for its ability to give a “film look” to videos. He roped in a few friends to act and another friend to operate the camera. Beyond that had very little gear – no dollies or anything. (That’s a piece of film equipment, in case you’re wondering, but from all the evidence I have in the final film, there were no dollies of the other kind either.) I came home from work one day and Marjorie asked me if I’d seen David’s film. I said, no, I didn’t even know he’d finished it but I’d have a look. She said, “It’s brilliant!” And she was right – I was absolutely stunned! I’m no expert, but I know a little but about film, technically and artistically, and this looked like the work of a master! I immediately felt that I had received a gift from heaven.
Neither of us knew much about what to do with a film like that, except put it up on my Youtube channel. It got quite a lot of views in a reasonably short time -it was up beyond 6,000 if I remember correctly. But suddenly both of my Youtube channels were suddenly shut down and I had to start again! Since then my view rate has gone down across the board – I don’t know why that is.
Catapult Song Contest
A few months later, in late 2011, the song won the Australian national Catapult Song Contest, in fact it won both top prizes – the Judges’ Selection and the Overall Prize! I have to admit I was very surprised by that. I mean, I like the song – I wouldn’t have written if if I didn’t like it, but I never expected it to win a song contest, as it’s quite a sombre, reflective affair. But it did win, and that was a huge boost to my confidence in my own work, considering that I only took up singing and songwriting quite, um, late in life!
Words from a Locked-In Syndrome Survivor
A remarkable young English woman, Kate Allatt, was afflicted by Locked-in Syndrome in 2010 after a brain-stem stroke. She lay in a hospital for many months, completely aware of what was being said and done around her, but without being able to communicate that she was even conscious at all. Eventually, as with the woman who inspired “I Am Still the Same”, she started to spell out words to her carers. In Kate’s case, the first word she spelled out was “SLEEP”, as she hadn’t slept for two whole weeks and desperately wanted some tablets to help her doze off. We all know how terrible it feels if we’re unable to sleep for even a few hours, but imagine being in that state day after day, night after night, and unable to even move or tell anyone about it.
Unbelievably, Kate actually recovered from her condition, which is very rare indeed. Eventually she was able to move one of her toes, and gradually, through sheer determination combined with the brain’s remarkable regenerative powers (neuroplasticity), she regained movement and was even able to walk again and function as a normal, healthy person!
I met Kate on Facebook and when I read her remarkable story I naturally sent her a link to my song. She wrote the following words about it in a comment on Youtube
“I am astounded! Very well done. You have captured my feelings superbly. What a great soundtrack to my books Running Free and Gonna Fly Now! 7/2/10 brainstem stroke with locked in syndrome. The wheelchair, the mirror, I was the same person inside, not a patient number. I was a cripple to look at but the same Kate inside. This video describes my emotions in the early months of ICU. Then the Rocky theme tune best describes my fight back to full life and kids. Thank you so much.”- Kate Allatt (Youtube comments 7 Feb 2012)
Imagine how chuffed I was to realise that my song somehow managed to capture the feelings that a real locked-in person felt! Although I think we can all conjure up in our imagination some small idea of what it would be like to have that feeling of isolation and helplessness. I think the song speaks to people precisely because of that – very few of us suffer locked-in-syndrome but all of us go through times when we are disconnected from the world around us or feel lonely and abandoned. I deliberately made my song general enough that it speaks to all kinds of situations and feelings that can arise. But I was also careful to leave in a few hints of the real story behind the song.
I also entered it in three film festivals, just so that I could say, “at least I tried” and not have any regrets. It was rejected by a couple, including an Australian one, but was selected by the SoCal Independent Film Festival in Huntingdon Beach (Los Angeles) for their 2012 festival.
The second festival to screen it was the Newport Beach Film Festival, also in Southern California, in May 2013. Someone from there had seen the film at the first festival and suggested I submitted it to theirs. This time it was screened amongst a set of videos from some stellar artists, including The Black Keys/RZA, Sigur Rós, Alt-J, No Doubt and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros!
TO BE CONTINUED…