On headphones in the day case ward and in my kitchen late at night, Mogwai’s New Paths to the Helicon, Pt. 1 (aka Helicon 1) became my go-to piece of music while I was being treated for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2006.
For three years afterwards I could not hear it without crying.
I had heard it for the first time the previous spring, in my brother Martin’s kitchen (that’s him in the photo), over his aubergine bake with a glass of red wine. One of the many things I love about my brother is that he does not do cosy-dinner-party-music.
Helicon 1 is so bound up with my treatment for cancer that I find it almost impossible to write about. It assaults the listener with what the Pretentious Music Journalist from Steve Wright In The Afternoon used to call ‘a sonic cathedral of sound’, bludgeoning them into acceptance, submission or withdrawal. Or perhaps all three.
It does not require the greatest leap of the imagination to make an analogy between the studious causticity of this music and the poisons being pumped into my veins. But beneath the fury of its surface, Helicon 1 is hummable as a lullaby: there is balm in its toxins.
Ultimately I think of it as closer to sacred or devotional music than metal or punk.
It makes no reference to anything outside of itself, daring you to accept or reject it on its own terms. You have to deal with this, it seems to say. There is only this, and you cannot avoid it.