Tales Of The Unexpected Spectrum: Part Three
In November 1993 I was 18. I dived into a newsagent in Soho to get a new music magazine that I knew nothing about, but was seduced by the photograph on the cover; my two self-elected father figures at that particular time in my life: John Lennon and Bob Dylan.
The magazine was Mojo. It was the next best thing to hearing my mother’s stories of her recording with Jimmy Page in the 60’s, or dancing at The Scene Club with The Beatles. Her portal to the decades I missed out on, was now an actual monthly magazine I could disappear into, and I often have.
Compulsive Creation: Undiagnosed Autism And The Music Industry
During that time, I’ve released 25 albums independently, but none of them have been in Mojo. A combination of undiagnosed autism and ADHD meant that, without professional representation, there wasn’t anyone taking care of promotion or career development. And I couldn’t.
I just kept creating. Like a rocket on the loose.
Connecting with the music scene was complicated for me. I did try to fit in with the scene in my first band Jocasta and more so as ‘The Soho Hobo’ - an album, alter ego and homage to British pop culture. But they were both unconscious autistic masks. Even socialising in music venues was difficult, with auditory overload burning my brain. I hid the pain in public until I got home and had (what I now know was) an autistic meltdown.
But my compulsion to make albums never diminished.
Super Connected: The Seven Year Itch
For seven years, I’ve been working on an album that you might call a ‘special interest’ album.
A hungry beast of an album. Songs about mental disorders, consumerism, family trauma, human connection and more than a nod and wink to The Dark Side Of The Hunky Dory Hounds of Love. Seven years is a long time to work on an album for me. And there have been several moments on the journey when I’ve thought “I wonder if this one might make it into Mojo?”.
Writing music has never been about ambition. It’s been about restoring balance in my mind. Like not walking over the cracks in the pavement. But my approach is so hyper-detailed with endless fixations, that I write imagined futures in my mind when I’m making the music: performances, collaborations, interviews and even reviews, in my favourite magazine: Mojo.
Everything In It’s Right Place.
Super Connected is a whole world. I completed the record in 2019 but couldn’t release it. With balance not yet restored, I had to keep creating.
So, I wrote a screenplay for the characters I’d written about in the songs. Based on a true story about a teenager who locked herself in her bedroom suffering with social media addiction. I plunged into the study of mental health and made a feature length film drama about her, and her family.
Then I started a Super Connected podcast , interviewing experts on the album’s themes; how we all connect under the spell of social media.
But I still couldn’t release the album.
A Silver Lined-Lockdown
Like many of us, the pandemic began to shed light on my own mental health, and during lockdown I realised I needed professional help.
Two years of assessments began with the NHS, and the same week that Super Connected finally flew the nest as I sent it to be pressed on vinyl in 2022, I was finally diagnosed with autism. And this year, ADHD.
It’s changed everything for me. Including my music. My inability to handle admin turned out to be a result of my undiagnosed condition. The cycle of regret and relief went on for a while after this revelation, as I began to understand there had been neurological reasons for not being able to manage so many parts of my life. I finally accepted myself.
I realised I’d been trying to fit-in my whole life using masks. My albums are like ‘super-masks’. But that commitment to ‘fitting-in’ triggered meltdowns that resulted in depression, anxiety and when I was younger, addiction.
It was only on making a record about other people’s mental health that I got the chance to understand my own.
After diagnosis, I started to let go, and saw my music was a wonderful accident, and unconscious coping strategy for my undiagnosed autism.
As I was finally preparing to release the album, I looked at one of my lists and saw the word ‘Mojo’ with a huge question mark highlighted in red…
I‘d been trying to contact Mojo for a while, but the legendary woman who handles reviews was already the target of a plethora of post-pandemic albums, with Mojo being run remotely for two years. I wasn’t surprised I couldn’t make a connection. They cover the biggest acts on the planet.
But I thought I’d give it one more try.
Somehow, by complete magic, I got through to a human voice. And not just any human, but the actual editor of Mojo, John Mulvey.
I felt a panic attack coming on. I’d read Mulvey. But never met Mulvey.
I knew I would blather and get my words wrong, so I did what my doctor said I should now do when I meet new people — I said:
“My name’s Tim and I’m autistic”.
John Mulvey was one of the first people I ever said that to.
He was amazing. We had a really lovely conversation. Mostly about how a DIY artist might submit an album to Mojo.
Our conversation encapsulated just how life has changed for me from being the neurotypical person I thought I was, to the neurodivergent person I now know I am. I’d never spoken so honestly to anyone in the music business before. It felt okay to let the mask drop. And in that moment, the editor of Mojo became every person I’ve ever tried to connect with. In my head, they all suddenly seemed to accept me and the song ‘Start A Conversation’ from the album, suddenly made sense to me.
As we said goodbye, I felt the same relief that I had after my diagnosis.
Momentarily, I forgot all about promoting the album. I was happy to feel connection in the sound of a friendly voice. Balance restored.
As any autistic person will tell you, the info-dumping about themselves they give you is not self-absorption, it’s an innate desire to connect.
Nick Cave said something about song-writing which resonated with me in terms of autistic unmasking:
“It’s an act of self-murder that destroys all one has strived to produce in the past.”
When I look at my past, it feels like a worn-out husk of a version of me. But the future feels pregnant with possibility to understand others, and finally be understood.
Being on the spectrum is also a disability though. Physically smashing my arms against my head and my brain bursting out of my skull when I can’t fill out a form or failing to be my own manager isn’t a superpower.
It’s a nightmare. That I finally have tools for.
Until now, it’s been like climbing a slippery mountain with the wrong shoes and falling down with every album I’ve made.
But I can honestly say that this week, when Mojo published a four-star review of Super Connected, I felt like someone had given me a hand and pulled me up to the summit.
Tim Arnold is a singer songwriter, solo artist and film maker. He also mentors at the WaterBear College of Music in Brighton.
Edited by Kate Alderton