Music is generally a commentary of reality. Songs, at least those well written, are constant blank entities often changing meaning to suit the listener’s current emotional needs. We attach significant memories to a song. Sometimes, song meanings resemble current affairs, a global pandemic merely exaggerates this.
I once again stumbled across Depeche Mode’s ‘Shake The Disease’ in late February. Covid-19 for me, a twenty something Londoner, was approaching my periphery. It was ravaging China and parts of Asia, with the first real cases hitting Europe. I am a lifelong hypochondriac and, unlike certain governments, knew that my country was not immune to the dismal reality of the disease. In spite of this knowingness, I was not consumed by its imminent spread. Life continued with regularity. The vicious wheels of an urban city continued at semi-ignorant speed and one was unable to whimper to a virus which was, at this point, invisible.
And that is where my re-association with the song began. Released as a single on April 19, 1985, it epitomes the instinctive lyricism and synth bourgeoning instrumental of the Essex formed band. Depeche Mode define the 80s new wave movement. Their brand of sound contributed definitively to the riches of future generations. It sits on the outskirts of a non-stereotypical love song. Knowing a relationship is practically over, but not having the ability to shake the hollow feelings which comes with it. Lyrically it is open, it allows the disease to become a figment of the listeners mind. No doubt, this ensures its legacy as a true fan favourite. And, when taken with the current climate in mind, it remains more relevant now than ever. At this point in late February, my mind rewrote it as a semi-ironic take on the soon to be pandemic. Nothing more.
And then the disease spread, viciously. First it was Italy, then Spain, then France. Cities which, generally speaking, are local to Britain. I have friends in said places. I had once walked their now deserted streets. We as a European community are much closer than we think, no different in distance to that of neighbouring American states. In my mind, this was now a local issue. As other country’s closed down, mine remained open for business. Football matches, concerts and international gatherings all continued at the will of the government. A growing anxiety was settling.
“It is natural to feel lonely in the age of pandemic.”
Eventually, lockdown came. The seriousness of the situation was becoming apparent for all to see. Death swept the country. It still does. Lockdown might be the rightful distancing measure to stop the spread of the virus, but it is set to be the most vicious growth factor in mental health issues of our generation. Isolation from family and friends, relationships with a metaphorical wall placed savagely between them, lack of routine. Existentialism, the fear that the world is no longer welcoming, a global shutdown with no end in sight. No one is able to predict the future. If ‘Shake The Disease’ is about misunderstanding human emotion, then the emotional disparity isolationist events cause become the disease in which one must shake.
The human psyche is genetic, not resolutional. It is not built to differentiate between social situations. It is binary so to speak. When social commentators suggest sitting before a television set is nothing compared to world wars and natural disasters, they are right. But this still fails to render the mental health effects of said isolation as obsolete. We as a country, in Britain, have a track record of neglecting those who suffer from ever present forms of anxiety, depression and loneliness. It is ridden into our society. Austerity means that what little social services existed are now under severe threat. Covid-19 is a worldwide challenge, but the long lasting mental health effects will be a national disaster.
“We can create a kinder society.”
It is natural to feel lonely in the age of pandemic. I have often struggled with mental health issues, especially in recent times. Society is changing, fast. But this, this is unprecedented. Even those who are regularly well-minded are facing new challenges to overcome. New insecurities to battle. This is a new disease in which we must shake, but that can only be done with widespread support networks. It can only be done with the help of others, with national support at government level. But ultimately, it must be delivered through community, togetherness and new ways of thinking.
Society before Coronavirus was at breaking point. Our institutions were failing us. Why should we return to normality when there is the opportunity for global change? Via the mechanism of togetherness and human connectivity, we can create a kinder society. And, as is commonly known, a kinder society renders many mental health issues as partially obsolete.
You know how hard it is for me
To shake the disease
That takes hold of my tongue
In situations like these
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Image via Depeche Mode – “Shake The Disease” (Official Video) directed by Peter Care Original song from ‘The Singles 81-85’ (Sire/Mute Records – 1985)