Television Personalities: My Dark Places

For fans of a certain kind of music, there is unlikely to be a more significant release in 2006.

The Television Personalities

My Dark Places

Label: Domino
US Release Date: 2006-02-27
UK Release Date: 2006-02-27
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate
Dan Treacy always was my idol

I still think of him

Whenever I'm feeling vaguely suicidal

Which is nearly all the time

So it's ominous and weird

That he's completely disappeared

-- Mr T Experience "I Don't Know Where Dan Treacy Lives" (2000)

My Dark Places is the first new record in 11 years from Dan Treacy and his musical vehicle, the Television Personalities, who will be referred to hereafter as the TVPs. For fans of a certain kind of music, there is unlikely to be a more significant release in 2006.

In 1996, crime-writer James Ellroy published a marvellous non-fiction book called My Dark Places in which he documented in painstaking detail the monster that loomed in his troubled mind: the death of his mother, raped and murdered in 1958 when the author was just 10 years old. The murder of Jean Ellroy was never solved, and in his book, her son discussed both his own attempt to solve the mystery, by hiring a retired homicide detective to investigate, and how he believed his mother's murder defined and shaped his own life. James Ellroy lived as a drunk, an addict, a near-schizophrenic, a derelict and a burglar before he found success and a degree of redemption in literature and AA. However, he's still not free of his driving obsession. At the end of My Dark Places, he wrote, "I know myself well enough to state that I will never stop looking. I will not let this end. I will not betray or abandon her again."

At times, Dan Treacy's My Dark Places is every bit as explicit as James Ellroy was. And, as an extra added bonus, it takes me back to many of my own darkest moments.

It was April 18th 1984 when I first met Dan. The TVPs were playing in the cellar of a West London pub called the Clarendon. Roughly 200 yards from Hammersmith's Odeon and Palais, the Clarendon show was as close as Dan ever came to gracing the major rock venues until Kurt Cobain invited him to open for Nirvana in 1991. It was also my first ever professional music review.

I could've chosen to watch and write about R.E.M., the Cocteau Twins, or Elton John instead, but somehow I ended up on a road less traveled by. It was by no means as dramatic as the murder of a loved one, or the end of a marriage, but it was still a decision that's defined a surprisingly large part of my life ever since. Yet it's a little like that story about the hens, the pig, and breakfast. I was involved with music. Dan Treacy was committed. Although the Dan Treacy I knew was a man with many interests, his music was, quite clearly, his beautiful obsession; and the root of his own personal tragedies.

To cut a very long story down to a moderately short paragraph, here's a few of the relevant headlines. The TVPs were actually named by BBC DJ John Peel who loved their first single. Their second release, the "Where's Bill Grundy Now? EP was a substantial popular success, and laid the foundations for just about every indie pop band ever to strike a chord and sing something plaintive about girls. Dan Treacy has written some of the most marvellous songs you may never have heard -- "A Sense of Belonging", for example, or "Someone to Share My Life With". He's also given some of the most inspiring and most intimate live performances you may never have experienced -- "King and Country", from the compilation Communicate -- Live at Thames Poly is all the proof I will ever need. His record labels have supported a number of ultimately unsuccessful yet influential bands. The Saturday nights he and his partner Emily Brown organised in a North London pub called The Enterprise gave a generation of disenfranchised popsters a spiritual home, and spawned a truly global scene. This is a man who has inspired a pop nation, and the people who have confessed as much include Alan McG(h)ee, St Etienne, the Jesus And Mary Chain, and Pavement.

Oh, and me. I quickly became a friend of both Dan and Emily. Yes, I knew where Dan Treacy lived. Indeed, I was a frequent visitor to 9 Poynders Court, Clapham, and I was even on first name terms with their cat, Hockney. My life became slowly but irrevocably entangled with those of a number of the bands I met through our friendship. My tape library became dominated by live recordings I made of the TVPs and the bands that Dan promoted. And eventually, inevitably, as I proved unable to achieve the things I desperately wanted to do with and for those bands, as the world I had built for myself began closing in around me, I hit a wall that Dan later described as "My Very First Nervous Breakdown".

Ultimately, my attachment to my obsession turned out to be less strong than those of many better people. When I realised what was happening to me, I got my flock out of Dodge and headed for the hills. The Italian hills, actually. I took a full four years out from music of any kind. I got healthy, a sense of perspective, and I got a life that had nothing to do with my impossible pop dreams, so that eventually I was able to re-engage with music in a way that worked for me.

But Dan couldn't stop dreaming his impossible dreams.

I wonder if he feels like a genius

Or if anybody ever really can

I guess we always knew Dan Treacy was

A deeply troubled man

And I've got everything he said

Still embedded in my head

-- Mr T Experience "I Don't Know Where Dan Treacy Lives

In the '90s, Dan Treacy descended into mental illness, addiction, shoplifting, homelessness and incarceration. For several years, he was missing, believed dead. This is the inescapable backstory to My Dark Places, a collection of songs that repeatedly address the issues that may have pushed him over the edge. Scorning the fine line tightrope between genius and insanity, My Dark Places merges the two defiantly, magnificently at times.

Curiously, the opener "Special Chair" does nothing to hint at what follows. Dan's guitar strikes dark, fuzzy felt chords. A rhythm builds and repeats, and rises into an insistently repetitive drone layered with psychedelic keyboards and a single note from what sounds like a children's piano. A story emerges that would be completely at home with vintage TVPs songs such as "A Family Affair" or "A Life Of Her Own". "An unmarried mum in a council slum" whiles away the days until her one true love is released from prison, by sleeping with his best friend. Her parents despair, and domestic violence is inevitable.

"All the Young Children on Crack" is the most obvious example of My Dark Places' tendency to rely on rhythm, rather than pop hooks. A strangely affecting, simplistic extended nursery rhyme, this song has, unbelievably, been released as a single. Sadly, I think I smell a record company determined to link Dan Treacy with Pete Doherty. Weirdly, I think someone could do a marvellous remix and make Dan enough money to buy a house.

"Sick Again" offers a melancholic Parisian keyboard and Dan's fear of relapse and recidivism. It also explains that "I lost the plot. I didn't know what I had". If "Sick Again" hints at what lurks in Dan's dark places, "My Ex Girlfriend Club" lets the felines completely out of the bin liner and no mistake. It's all rhythm and disassociated noise, with Dan in the sort of full-on free flow mood that always suggested he was making it up as he went along. "Hi! Welcome to my ex-girlfriend club. Have you met Alison, Emily, Christine?" Well, yes, actually. "Help yourself to the salad bar ... You wonder why I act the fool? Because you treat me like one". Self pity, self-loathing and bitterness trade blows with extracts from Althia & Donna's "Up Town Top Ranking" and a little something-something from J-Lo, "Don't be fooled by the rocks, I'm still Danny from the block".

The liberal and frequently surreal re-use of other people's work has always been a trademark of Dan Treacy's art. And while I prefer him when he's being angry on other people's behalf, I can't deny that "My Ex Girlfriend Club" is a staggering creation.

Fortunately, "The Sweetest Of Dreams" picks up the pop vibe a little, in as much as it offers a tune and a chorus, and introduces the contrapuntal vocals of Victoria Yeulet. The interplay between Dan and Yeulet is frequently conversational, and adds a new dimension to familiar sounds. "The Sweetest Of Dreams" could have slotted neatly into any TVPs set from the second half of the 80s, if it wasn't for the confessional lyrics and Yeulet's sweetly matter of fact voice.

From here on in, the remaining eleven songs on My Dark Places fall mostly into one of two categories, either resounding uptempo pop or gentle ballad-based introspection. And they almost all address just one issue: love, the pain of breaking up, and Dan's gradual sense of apparent closure.

"Tell Me About Your Day" is particularly strong, heart-breaking. A throatily grown-up Dan deals with his inadequacies over a sombre piano accompaniment, describing attempts to engage his loved one in conversation just so he can be sure he's still part of her life. "I want to give you the world," he says, "but I know all you want is your space". Amid repeated imagery of tattoos and scars, the message of My Dark Places becomes clear. Dan Treacy, pop genius, had everything, but somehow it all went wrong. It all seems so obvious as you listen to achingly confessional songs such as the closing trio, "I Hope You're Happy Now", "No More I Hate You's" and "There's No Beautiful Way To Say Goodbye"; but to these ears there's a critically important subtext to My Dark Places, a truth Dan Treacy has hidden in plain sight.

"Then A Big Boy Came And Knocked It All Down" is another slow song. Built upon something akin to Bach, it's quick to quote an old TVPs song, "Paradise Is For The Blessed". And although the context is never made clear, and it could be another song about broken hearts and coping, lines such as "What did they know that we didn't know?" and "Taken for a fool as usual" suggest otherwise. Is Dan Treacy still talking about lost loves? Or is he thinking about record companies and publishers? Or about the people he tried to help? Or the people who took their inspiration from the TVPs, and managed to achieve the commercial success that has always eluded him?

The most interesting song on My Dark Places is, without doubt, "Velvet Underground". Superficially, it's a casual guitar-free retread of a Modern Lovers song. But for all the throwaway humour of Victoria Yeulet's contribution ("Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone but Lou Reed"), and despite the slapdash Chas'n'Dave arrangement, this song strikes at the heart of Dan Treacy's past and future problems.

Despite the quality of his song-writing, despite the unique appeal of his live performances, Dan Treacy never managed to translate the TVPs' potential into sales, his songs into records that did them justice. As a lover of the band, I can cherry pick studio recordings that come closest to capturing what made the TVPs so special, but it's no coincidence that the best TVPs album up until My Dark Places has always been 1984's live recording, Chocolat Art (A Tribute to James Last).

So when Dan Treacy asks, "How did the Velvet Underground get that sound? Andy Warhol got it. I thought we had it. I've got the words, but how did they get that sound?" I don't think he's being flippant or casual at all. I think he's expressing the frustration at the heart of his personal problems. He knows full well he should've been bigger than the Beatles (I exaggerate, but the little indie girls will understand). He knows that his records should have sounded like a cross between the original Modern Lovers and the Smiths. And he knows he's failed where the likes of the JAMC and Morrissey succeeded. He's responded in the past with self-deprecating humour and a little light bitterness to the successes of others, but I guess the realization that, just like "an unmarried mum in a council slum", he was caught in a dream from which there was no escape, eventually became just too much for him to bear.

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? I think Dan Treacy did. Of course, my once and hopefully future friend genuinely wants someone to share his life with. But he also wants to be a fucking enormous pop star. And why not?

Seen through this half empty glass, darkly, Dan Treacy is not Pete Doherty. He's Elliott Smith, or Ian Curtis, but honestly, genuinely better and more gifted than either. So when you listen to My Dark Places, take a moment to reflect on the pressures and troubles born by many of the people who struggle to give us the art we so casually consume, and consider that Dan Treacy's work was once childlike in its innocence and seemingly, misleadingly, forever young with wonder.






Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".


Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".


The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.


July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.


With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.


Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.


MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.


Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.


Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.


John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."


'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.