Irish songwriter Moncrieff knows how to make just a few words achieve the volume of a symphony. His incoming EP ‘Highways & Hurricanes’ is a magnificent display of his talents, his soft voice slicing straight through to your core.
New single ‘Young Men’ is a case in point. Written in the aftermath of a friend’s suicide, it’s a plea for men to open up, to seek help, and to be honest with one another about their feelings. A frank and wise discussion of mental health, it aims to add something important to the conversation.
“Growing up in small-town Ireland, men’s mental health was never something that was talked about. As a man, If you’re hurting emotionally, you’re expected to man up and deal with it or failing that, as is so common in my area, all problems were pushed down and drowned with pints, joyriding, drugs, fighting and other destructive behaviour. As a result, young men have become experts at camouflaging their problems, often until it’s tragically too late.
I wanted to tell the real story. That behind the reckless behaviour and laddish exterior of a young man, lies a vulnerable, emotional human being who feels trapped in the psycho-emotional cage that the culture in Ireland and many other parts of the world have built for young men. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with Elle Brooks-Tao, who not only breathed life into the idea but brought a truly unique element of tenderness and human vulnerability to the video.”
An extraordinary video for ‘Young Men’ has just gone live, driven forwards by Moncrieff and directed by the award-winning Elle Brooks-Tao. Irish actor Eanna Hardwicke – Normal People, and many other projects – takes the central role, and it’s hard-hitting message drives home the song’s central message.
Online now, we’re able to present the video alongside this specially commissioned essay on men’s mental health by Moncrieff.
I knew a lad from my hometown. A lad that would do anything for his friends. His name was Brian, But we called him Kinto. We met when I was 14 one day when me and a friend skipped school on a Tuesday to go play pool in a dodgy pool hall called “Sullys”. He skipped school with his friend the same day so we played doubles. We played nearly every week for a year having the most competitive epic battles on the baize every Tuesday. Kinto was the best pool player I’ve ever met. I genuinely don’t think I ever won a single game against him. Despite the competition we became real friends… who never really talked about much. Ours was one of those friendships built around telling stupid jokes and taking the piss at every single opportunity, but that’s what a real friendship is where I’m from.
As time went on, our groups of friends began to mix and we started hanging out more. Kinto and I had our first bag of cans together. We’d smoke, and get McDonalds, and drive around under the illusion of independence. When summer came, whoever had a car would pick the rest of the lads up, blast some tunes and drive out to the beach. We’d play ball and when it got too hot we’d swim out to a floating pontoon and fight until it was last man standing. Kinto was petrified of water. He couldn’t swim, so he’d always just chill back on the beach alone, Those were the years when we felt infinite. All we needed was a ball, a car with some petrol in it and each other. When those summers came to an end and we finished school, most of us left Waterford to go to university a couple hours away, but Kinto stayed back to focus on becoming an electrician. We still hung out nearly every weekend, drinking the same cans and cracking the same jokes we always did. After a year, I moved to London to chase after what the lads thought was a mental dream of being a singer. I would come back home a few times a year and Kinto would always be there cracking the same jokes we did in the pool hall seven years previously. Where I’m from, real male friendships are based around moments of no importance. But the reality is, these moments were important. They are important.
I was taught, as a man, If you have a problem, you just have to man up and deal with it Or, failing that, as is so common in my area, a lad’s own personal solution is to drown those problems with pints, joyriding, drugs, fighting, and other reckless behaviour. Cheap Thrills. The only time we opened our mouths was either to rip each other, talk about football, girls or whose house was free at the weekend for a session. The Deeper Stuff never made it to the surface.
One evening, around a year and a half ago, one of the lads put a message up on the group chat asking if any of us had seen Kinto. He hadn’t showed up for work and his phone was off. This didn’t strike me as something utterly out of the ordinary but regardless, A group formed and went looking around the town for him. They came back that night empty handed. As did the following night’s search, and the following eight week search by the local marine search and rescue. The last place Kinto was spotted was by a CCTV camera outside a shop not far from the bridge in my town. Kinto has legally been declared missing for over a year and a half now. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. My friends and I have ours.
Losing Kinto left a hole in my friend’s and I’s chests, like someone shot us with gunpowder and it didn’t have a clean exit. There’s sinew loose, and ragged edges that haven’t healed well, and there’s phantom pain that’s spread to areas we probably haven’t even realized yet. We’ve tried threading each other’s wounds by asking every question imaginable, but absence is heavy, and it cloaks every conversation over a pint and every weekend get together.
The immeasurable, overbearing emotion I’ve felt when thinking about Kinto in the last year and half has been guilt. I feel guilty because I knew a lad. I knew a lad that was going through the same thing that I went through and I never knew it. I knew a lad that I Loved and I never looked him in the eyes and told him. I Knew a lad that was one of my closest friends for most of my life and not once in fifteen years did I ever ask him how he was truly feeling. I Knew a lad that would have done anything for his friends, and in his time of need, I was probably playing a piano somewhere and talking about myself.
I’ve written and re-written this three times now and the words are slow to come out correctly. I’m writing this letter to whoever cares to read it because you know this lad too. You hang out with him when you both have time. He’s in your group chat, He’s probably one of the last ten messages in your phone. He’s your friend or your partner or your brother. You probably crack the same jokes that Kinto and I did but you haven’t gone deeper than that for a while, maybe ever. He might have just gone through a break up, he might be changing course, he might be watching all his friends leave, or be fighting world war three at home. You Know This Lad who’s fighting his own battle right now, with nobody even aware it’s happening. And you haven’t gone deeper because the truth is, It’s Strange To Talk.
It’s our responsibility to clean up the shitstorm of previous generations of stigmatization of men’s mental and emotional well-being. And it’s not a complicated process. Send that man a message. Go for a walk or a pint. Just ask him what’s going on in his life, And just listen – there might be details in there that you had brushed past previously. Guys are experts at playing down and brushing off their problems. Behind all the jokes, smiles and laddish exterior lies a vulnerable, emotional human being who feels trapped in the psycho-emotional cage that culture in Ireland and many other parts of the world have built for young men Reaching out and checking in on your male friend reminds young men that they’re not machines – they’re human beings. It’s totally normal to feel like shit sometimes and it’s just as normal to talk about it.
If you are this lad – I know how it feels to walk around everyday with a fifty kilo weight on your shoulders. No-one sees it but it’s there. I know how that weight can slowly change and contort you until you don’t recognise yourself anymore. I know what it’s like to think of yourself as a burden and everyone would be better off if you weren’t around anymore, and I know that this thought only gets harder to ignore the longer it lingers.
I know because I went to that place when my brother and sister passed away. The only thing that pulled me out of it was a conversation in my friend’s car, parked up outside the church in my hometown. Eventually I tried to casually slip into the conversation that I felt like I didn’t want to be around anymore. This was the most I had said to anyone for months. Thankfully he knew what I meant. He told me that he needed me around so that was out of the question. It all spilled out in the car. I initially felt embarrassed and a bit ashamed, but by the time I got out of that car, 20% of that weight wasn’t on my shoulders anymore. It didn’t fix things straight away, but at least now I knew that there was someone out there that knew the world I was living in, so I wasn’t alone anymore. With more conversations and time, that weight became lighter and lighter until I woke up one morning and it was gone. Looking back at that night in the carpark, mumbling to my friend about how I was feeling was the most important thing I’ve done – because it saved my life. You probably feel like this won’t work for you, I felt that way as well. You don’t owe it to anyone but yourself to try and there is someone in your phone right now who hasn’t heard from you in a while. Let them know. It takes real courage to reach out for help.
I wrote a song called ‘Young Men’ that I released last week. I wrote it for Kinto so that I never forget him and what happened. I wrote it for my friends because we’re hurting and I hope this will bring us a bit closer together. I wrote it because I can’t afford to lose another young man in my life. If The Weight is heavy on you today, share it. And thank you, for letting me share with you.
Photo Credit: Nicholas O’Donnell