Tag Archives: cultural history

A Book! And what to do with 1998?

I’m looking at the last date I posted on this blog and wondering what has happened in the last 16 months… In short, I’ve had a (second) baby, taken a year away from work to look after her, moved house (twice), settled my older son in a new school. I’m back at work now, sitting in my makeshift office (it should be the dining room, but we don’t ‘dine’ and it’s got a lovely log fire). So I’ve been writing, and watching the village comings and goings through the window over the top of my laptop screen.

The other thing I’ve done is to agree a contract with Johns Hopkins University Press for my book on a thousand years of migraine’s social, cultural and medical history. All of the things I’ve talked about on this blog will be in it. Thanks to funding from the fabulous Wellcome Trust, it will also be available Open Access – meaning it will be free to download for anyone who’d like to read it. I’m so excited to bring seven years of research together.

And I now have a computer (and several backup drives) full of draft chapters.

But there’s some bits of this history that I still don’t know what to do with. At the moment, it is two pieces of evidence from 1998 that I’m wondering about.

First, ‘Serotonin’. This was an album track from ‘Six’, the second album from English alternative rock band Mansunreleased in the UK in 1998. It opens with the lines:

My migraine makes me ill

My electricity is low.

‘Serotonin’ was hardly Mansun’s best-known tune, but it fit right in with the tone of an album variously greeted as weird, hallucinogenic, baffling, or endearingly flawed. No-one really seemed to know what to make of it, but the fans (including me, then aged 17) thought it was great. I still do.

And I drop and I drop

And my body levels drop

And my nerves clogging up

Sucking all the substance up

Mansun certainly got something about migraine right – the chemistry, the sense of falling, the clogged nerves. But Paul Draper, the lead singer, has never given much away about what inspired the track.

Then we have a Swatch watch. GK275. What was the designer thinking?

Swatch GK275 (1998)

A clear/white plastic watch, with a line of blurry black and grey circular holograms on the plastic strap, a jagged black star shape in two layers that changed shape at different angles, the top layer partially obscuring the movement of the hands. (I’m curious about how the holograms move, so I’ve just bought one of these watches from Ebay. As research, obviously.)

Swatch were producing some pretty surreal objects at this point, incorporating photography and holographic designs of explosions, bubblegum, teddies, pigs, snails. In 1997, the Ticking Brain watch featured a cranial cutaway revealing the movement within, with a vein and artery for hands. But if anything, after looking at some of the entries to the Migraine art competitions it is the watch covered in images of eyes, just staring, that feels more migrainous.

These things feel important – the 1990s was the decade that triptans transformed the lives of millions of people with migraine after all – but do they tell us anything more than that migraine had got into our heads? Or is it enough to realise that migraine – and some of its neuroscience – had entered the cultural subconscious?

 

 

 

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