Music

The Ariel Pink I’m Mourning Never Actually Existed

I won't listen to Ariel Pink again after writing this. I don't know where he went, or if he ever really existed in the way I thought - and I don't care anymore.

LOS ANGELES, CA. - OCTOBER 24, 2014: Oddball rocker Ariel Pink poses for a portrait in Los Angeles on October 24, 2014. (Photo by Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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Today, in 2021, I’ve set my Spotify to “private session” while I dive through the Ariel Pink discography so my friends don’t think I endorse Donald Trump’s insurrection.

No part of that sentence would have made any sense to 16-year-old me when I first heard House Arrest playing at Sydney’s Red Eye Records in 2006. My best friend’s ears perked up as soon as he heard it — “What is this?” — and he bought it on the spot in seconds.

It was a $30 import CD, a major purchase for a kid living off weekend jobs and pocket money. I didn’t understand what my friend was hearing at first, but later he brought it to school so I could rip it to WMA from Windows Media Player on my Lenovo laptop in the library at recess.

I don’t think I’ll ever listen to Ariel Pink again once I’m done writing this, but I’d still have to admit I consider House Arrest to be one of my all-time favourite albums. I’ve heard bits and pieces about his creative process in the Haunted Graffiti days — sloppy beatboxing, a two-stringed guitar, a milkcrate full of cassettes — but I still don’t understand what I’m listening to and how it holds up as well as it does. When I first heard him sing “Pop music is fun” I believed him, and that was all I really needed to know.

It all feels so long ago now. Bush was president, Howard was PM and I don’t think I’d ever heard of lo-fi anything before. It felt revolutionary to teenage me that I could just make music with whatever cheap equipment I had lying around, and that it might actually be good and could even end up at Red Eye Records. “Thank the Lord my standards for success are so low… It may not be much, but let’s see you try…”. It was like he was looking straight at me.

Around then I also watched the ‘For Kate I Wait’ video on YouTube for the first time. It’s a strange, haunting song. In the clip he’s wearing a dress, dancing sloppily, writhing on the floor, and begging for Kate Bush to arrive. The video cuts back and forth to an image of her smiling face, coloured lights dancing over it. I found all this absolutely captivating for reasons I couldn’t explain.

I made a lot of music inspired by Ariel, but I can’t listen to any it anymore and don’t talk about it much. Makes me too dysphoric. It may as well have never happened.

I’m Changing Day To Day

I came out as a trans woman in 2016. I’d mostly put Ariel behind me by this stage, but I still had that friend from high school and around that time he told me that the song ‘Menopause Man’ made him think of me. It irked me at first, but when I went over the lyrics I realised he must have meant well: “Change me, I’m changing day to day / Lady, I’m a lady from today.”

By mid-2017 I was not a happy person. I’d hit 12 months on hormones, had gone through some awful trauma, had lost most of my friends, and had moved cities to start over. I was lonely, struggling, and desperately suicidal.

One morning I woke up to a push notification about a new Ariel Pink single that had dropped overnight, ‘Time to Live’. The opening mantra was simple and clear and it cut right at me. I heard such determination and conviction in his voice — and it was a familiar voice that counted, one I’d drawn a lot of strength from over the years, a perspective that really mattered to me. It was all I needed to hear. It’s a full three minutes before there are any other lyrics: “Time to live/Time for life.”

I remember the moment in 2019 when I realised it wasn’t healthy for me to listen to Ariel Pink anymore.

I remember the moment in 2019 when I realised it wasn’t healthy for me to listen to Ariel Pink anymore. I was in the middle of a nostalgic binge and listening back through the whole catalogue when ‘Creepshow’ came on, from the classic Worn Copy album. Something stirred in me and I found myself suddenly turning it off, taking my earphones out, suppressing mild panic.

You know how in mindfulness exercises they say things like “Notice how your body feels in this moment”? It was like that. I had this sudden realisation that I didn’t feel good. I realised that his songs were so deeply wired into my brain and had so vividly soundtracked my experience of life as a warped, closeted trans woman through my early 20s that I had to file it all away and not come back to it if I wanted to move on with my life.

‘Creepshow’ is a creepy, claustrophobic song. Weird porn samples drop in and out. It feels unpleasantly sexual, like an adult bookstore in an industrial area in the middle of the night. It circles around and around. I don’t know what he was trying to say with it, whether he was thinking of the Stephen King movie Creepshow or what.

I haven’t a clue what most of his songs are about, and many are so poorly recorded I’ve never understood any of the lyrics at all. But I can tell you what I got out of it — I used to play ‘Creepshow’ to friends and tell them it captured how uncomfortable I felt being a man. I didn’t have those words for it then, but that’s what I was trying to say.

I’m just the man
I’m not the man
Please understand,
I am the man
Behind the mask…

I was done with Ariel already, and I’m definitely done with him now. I cannot imagine the mindset that it must take to support Donald Trump in 2021 and I don’t want to. Ariel has chosen evil. His behaviour has been consistent for years. I don’t want to waste time trying to understand how he’s ended up this way. I believe his ex-girlfriend’s allegations, too. None of that surprises me.

I’ve said and believed a lot of things in my life that are now repulsive to me and I reject completely. I was a fucked-up person with a lot of issues and I genuinely have changed. I used to project this narrative onto Ariel.

I wasn’t keeping up with every interview and every development in his life, but I’d heard stories and generously chose to think of him as an impish troll who would act out and say whatever for attention. He even had a song about it, ‘Acting’. I hoped he’d change one day. But now the classic Maya Angelou quote comes to mind: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

I don’t know where the person who wrote it went, or if that person ever existed, and I don’t care anymore.

I used to think the Ariel Pink catalogue would be something I’d dip in and out of, a body of work that would grow into new meaning more than it would gather dust. The songs of his I cherish the most are the sweet ballads about maturity, loneliness and longing, the feeling of being dragged into adulthood kicking and screaming. I’m thinking of ‘Good Kids Make Bad Grown Ups’, ‘Mature Themes’, ‘Crybaby’, ‘Life in L.A’, ‘Only in My Dreams’.

And I find myself coming back to ‘For Kate I Wait’. I looked up the video today and it’s still the same upload I watched in 2006. You know when you watch a movie again and know the ending, but still get involved like something else could happen? Watching that video, some part of me still hopes Kate Bush will show up.

The top YouTube comment on it is: “This makes me nostalgic for things that never happened.”

I agree.

The song I’m choosing to fade to black on is ‘Artifact’. It’s sung from the point of view of himself 25 years in the future, looking back on the past. It was released in 2003 and recorded earlier, so we’re not too many years away from that future point now. It anticipates how time will change him, the sadness and loss and wisdom he’s going to accrue. It reminds me of The Beach Boys’ ‘When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)’.

Never forget the Golden Age,
Doncha hear that this song is forever
Never forget the Golden Age,
Notice it didn’t remain as remembered
Never forget the Golden Age,
A quarter century from now
Never forget the Golden Age,
It never used to make you sad
But now you lost what you never knew you had,
This is an artifact of that.

I think it’s his best song. I don’t know where the person who wrote it went, or if that person ever existed, and I don’t care anymore.


Sylvia Aramchek lives in Perth with two cats and her husband, James H.

Photo Credit: Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images