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Student Blog: Paperweight: A Song By Philly-Based Creator Michael Bihovsky

A conversation about his haunting new song and music video surrounding love, Chronic Illness, and Covid

Student Blog: Paperweight: A Song By Philly-Based Creator Michael Bihovsky

"To reach, to want, to yearn...But when the world returns, I alone remain infected." A year and a half ago, none of us would have associated this line with the devastating virus affecting the globe, but today, it resonates on multiple levels, especially for the chronically ill. It's also the final, heartbreaking lyric that finishes off a dynamic new single by composer, director, singer, songwriter, actor, advocate, and teacher, Michael Bihovsky. Bihovsky suffers from a rare invisible illness, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which causes chronic pain. His latest song, Paperweight, is accompanied by a beautifully cinematic music video and holds advocacy for the chronically ill and disabled at its core. I had the privilege to see Paperweight in advance of its premier and discuss its story, creation, and intention with the creator himself.

What inspired Paperweight? Could you tell me about the circumstances that brought about this beautiful piece?

Back in 2019, I met a wonderful young woman. it was one of those crazy, kind of scary, immediate connections in a way that was, to me, kind of captivating, and, to her, overwhelming. I honestly don't know if there is another human being I've ever had more fun with. She ended up ghosting me and I never knew why or what happened, so I wrote a song about it called Ghost.

So Ghost was the prequel to Paperweight?

Well, kind of. I call it the Ghost trilogy- the first song was called Part of me, Part of you, which was based on Plato's Origin of Love theory. That theory says that we complete each other, so I wrote that we are part of one another, but also that we help each other through things. That was our relationship. It was very deep, maybe too much so right away. She ghosted, and I never forgot about her.

In that case, is Paperweight a reminiscence on your relationship before she ghosted or is there more to the story?

On March 13th of last year, right before things shut down, I sent her an email. She responded very excitedly, and we met up at the park where I shot Paperweight. It was this really bizarre experience where I'm spending time with this woman I used to date. I didn't know what the nature of our relationship was then, and there was really no way to find out because I had to stay 6 feet away from her at all times anyway. I was so glad to reconnect with her, but so confused. I got home and I wrote the poem in twenty minutes. There are parts of it that are identical to the song, but the song has much more to it.

Could you tell us about what made your connection so special?

She struggles a lot with mental illness, and I struggle a lot with Ehlers Danlos. What was beautiful about that, when it worked, was that she was able to help me not notice my symptoms anymore, and I was able to take her out of her depression, not just by distraction, but by meeting her down there and climbing up with her. I show that in the video. That's what's happening when she is under the bridge in the shadow and I nod the way out. She does the same for me when I fall in the bushes. That's us being able to rescue each other from our problems. Ultimately, her mental health issues won out, and she stopped showing up.

How did the poem turn into a song?

A friend of mine read this poem and told me I had to turn it into a song. I laughed and said "I spent 20 minutes writing it, I did that deliberately. If I turn this into a song, it's going to consume the next number of months of my life. I was very definitive, I said I was not going to do it. Then, I'm driving down the street, and, suddenly, I hear a melody.

Who would you say your musical influences for the song are?

I've never written anything in that epic style before. Musically speaking, my influence for this was Alex Lacamoire, and taught myself film scoring orchestrations through trial and error using software.

Could you tell me about your idea for the music video?

It's inspired by the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. You can see that I'm walking ahead of the actress in a lot of shots, and when I finally turn back, she dissolves. I knew I wanted my friend Jessie Seeherman to act in it, and she has a friend Evan Bollentin, who shot the music video. He's one of those guys that does anything it takes to get the shot. I wanted the camera always in motion.

Do you see this as potentially being part of a bigger thing, musical, songcycle?

As a musical goes, potentially. I think it would be really interesting to explore what a relationship looked like during the pandemic, with zoom dates and distance. I'm open to the possibility. I also think a songcycle would be an interesting place to start. For now, I'm really interested in making more videos like this.

Could you talk about the topic of chronic illness that shows up in Paperweight?

In addition to writing music, I lead support groups, I write articles, and give interviews concerning chronic illness. I do a lot of advocacy work, and one of my philosophies is the "Live Because" idea. How can I live a richer life and make art that is better BECAUSE of my problems? I use that as a starting point for conversations. I want to create disability advocacy and chronic illness advocacy music and musicals. Not just because it's so important to me personally and it's the most unique thing that I have to say, but because it is such an underrepresented group.

So, in a way, would you say the piece is advocating for making space for conversations about chronic illness in the theatre and society?

There are a lot of disenfranchised groups, and the disability community is a large one. By nature of it, a lot of us can't even try to break through in the arts because physically we can't do it. Writing this and making this was so physically painful. It was just through sheer grit and time that I got it done. This is the first time I've worn my shoulder and wrist braces publicly. If I'm going to talk about the stigma of invisible illness, although this is actually one way to make it visible, I have to practice what I preach.

How do you manage to stay positive and sane despite your struggles with chronic pain?

I'm writing some heavy stuff, but I try to look at everything through a lens of hope, when appropriate. Sometimes you do need to dig into hopelessness. Sometimes accepting it is all you need to do to be able to move forward from it. My most depressing songs have a glimmer of hope by the end of them, which is something I did subconsciously.

How are you feeling about Paperweight being publicly released?

I can't wait for people to see it. Even though it definitely has the chronic illness themes throughout, I think it's something everyone can relate to on various levels. A lot of people think that the line, "When ghosts are made of glass" is talking about someone who died during the pandemic, and it sort of is. That tainted everything. I lost my grandmother due to Covid in the process, so there was so much grief poured into Paperweight. But no, I'm talking about someone who ghosted me. But I'm very much a fan of personal interpretation."

One last question: Why the title Paperweight?

We are, in the end, merely the weight of paper. Our hearts break; our bodies tear. We can hold onto each other- but only if the other is willing to be held. This song is my paperweight. It is what has kept me grounded through a year of pain, joy, loss, and confusion. It is what I chose to make out of all those things. For the only reason is the one we make ourselves.

Michael Bihovsky's song/music video, Paperweight, now streaming on all major music platforms!

Watch the music video here on YouTube or click HERE to watch the music video on Facebook.

Check out more about Michael Bihovsky at www.michaelbihovsky.com


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