COVID-19 has created immense distress worldwide. My chest is tight, there are moments when my right eye feels like it’s on the verge of twitching and sounds are sometimes muffled as hearing sensitivities can be associated with high levels of stress. I haven’t felt this type of unease since my partner committed suicide. Wow! I know you are all thinking, did she really just divulge something this deeply personal? I did. And now you are thinking why, and does this have anything to do with Michelle Mandico’s new music video called “Ptarmigan?” Bear with me. It does.
Mandico wrote “Ptarmigan” in 2015 on Christmas Day after skiing the pristine slopes of Loveland Pass, Colorado. She primarily used the ski lift called Ptarmigan, named after a cold climate bird that wears two types of camouflage. It’s white in the snowy winter and mottled brown/gray in the summer to blend with the tundra. Obviously the change in feather color is critical for the grouse’s survival. Associating Mandico’s own life experience during a particularly rough period where she moved from a place of darkness to light, like the ptarmigan’s plumage, the song was born.
“Ptarmigan” is melancholic yet still enchants the listener. The chorus is my favorite because it is the perfect crescendo that leads to the song’s climax. It also quite nicely mimics the video. The climax is the mountain peaks being kissed by the crisp, blue sky. The crescendo is the powdery, deserted slopes flanked by pine trees dripping with freshly fallen snow. Mandico increases her intensity. Her ethereal voice reverberates, “Drop me on the highest peak, with nothing but a word to speak. The air is thinning quick, like a pack of cigarettes. I’m alone again. A lone wolf again. I’m a ptarmigan. In my mountain home.”
This is totally cliché, but Mandico is a songbird. Not only in “Ptarmigan” but in all her music. She constructs Indie melodies with strong folk/country influences. I hear similarities between Joni Mitchell, Brandi Carlile, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, and Sara Bareilles. Each Mandico tune is absolutely beautiful.
“Ptarmigan” was written long before COVID-19 but both the song and new video are fitting for this uncertain and scary time. Mandico is sharing an important message about revealing our true feelings surrounding our own mental health. Through “Ptarmigan” Mandico exposes herself. So, this brings us back to why I revealed raw parts of me, both my emotional reactions to COVID-19 and how it is triggering memories of my partner’s suicide. I did it because, like Mandico’s song, it is healing to be vulnerable. It enables us to connect and now more than ever we so need to unite. (Just remember do it safely, 6 feet apart.) It normalizes difficult emotions which often are considered taboo and creates more understanding of our shared experiences. Speak up. Be real. Get support when you need it. Mandico, thank you for illustrating these critically important messages through your music.