Stuart is the band’s lead singer and main songwriter. He is also a composer, writer, film director, and father. Some of his songs and movies show how hard it was for him when he got ME/CFS and was too sick to work or go to school for seven years. Stuart talks about how these songs and films appeal to a wide range of people in this video. They also show how much he cares about the millions of patients who desperately want a cure so they can start their lives over again.
In the late 1980s, Stuart Murdoch was an active, lively college student in Glasgow, Scotland. He was going to school for science and had finished the Glasgow Marathon in less than three hours. But over the course of a summer, Murdoch’s energy began to fade.
He said, “It was like the battery in my car dying.”
Murdoch was finally diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, which is more commonly called chronic fatigue syndrome in the United States. Researchers call this illness (ME/CFS.) Even though he knew what was wrong, his doctor didn’t know how to treat it and told him, “You just need to rest.”
He moved back in with his parents and had to stay in bed. He says that his symptoms are like having the flu on the first day. This kind of sickness is at the heart of it. But the problem is that it won’t go away. It never stops.”
Even after 28 years, he is still very tired, has trouble sleeping, and hurts all over. “It was the biggest thing that had ever happened to me, and in the end, it would make me a completely different person,” he said.
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How Music Became a Way out For Stuart Murdoch
Even though ME/CFS left him paralyzed, cut off from his friends, and with no hope of getting his old life back, Murdoch said he stayed positive for three or four years. But when a new doctor didn’t give him the cure he was promised, he lost it.
“I was feeling pretty down…. “I think that’s pretty normal when so many of a person’s abilities are taken away,” he said.
He sat down at a piano in the dark and began to play a few notes. Before Murdoch knew it, he was putting his ideas into music. His songs didn’t make him feel better, but they helped him picture himself in a different life.
“I was very attached to this one thing. He said, “Like a person who is drowning holding on to the side of a boat.”
He put together a band of random musicians and called them Belle and Sebastian, which was the name of a French TV show about a boy and his dog. The band’s first album, “Tigermilk,” came out in 1996.
An indie pop butterfly came out of a cocoon.
How Band Rose to Stardom
The next year, the band released “If You’re Feeling Sinister,” which Spin magazine named one of the 100 best albums from 1985 to 2005. Belle and Sebastian have put out nine studio albums and toured all over the world, playing at Radio City Music Hall and the Sydney Opera House, among other places. In 2005, The List chose the group as the best Scottish band of all time. The movie “Juno” and the TV show “Gilmore Girls” both used music from the band.
Murdoch’s Are Songs Inspired by His illness?
Murdoch’s songs are often about the people he saw out in the world and who were part of social groups he couldn’t join because he was sick.
“Normal people were like book characters. “To me, they were like superheroes,” he said.
In his 2015 song “Nobody’s Empire,” he talks about his battle with ME/CFS. He sings, “I clung to the bed, I clung to the past, and I clung to the welcome darkness.” Even though Murdoch’s career took off and he was almost cured for years, he said that his illness has gotten worse over the past five years.
He said after a performance, “I’m the boring one who sneaks back to the hotel and gets into the bath, maybe as soon as the concert is over. I’m going to feel sick, and for the next 24 hours, I’m going to look like a sick person.”
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Charity Work Inspired by His Own Illness
In 2016, thousands of people with ME/CFS and their families started #MillionsMissing rallies, which are held every year to bring attention to people who have to leave their families, jobs, and lives because of the illness. In dozens of cities, people lined up empty shoes as a tribute to the millions of sick people who couldn’t leave their homes.
Murdoch spoke at the #MillionsMissing event in Edinburgh, Scotland, this year. He told the crowd, “It does seem like we’re turning a corner in how this is seen.” He recently became an ambassador for the Open Medicine Foundation, an organization that works to bring together ME/CFS researchers from all over the world to find a cure.
ME/CFS took Murdoch’s life away decades ago, but music has helped him get it back and bring attention to a disease that affects more than 17 million people around the world.
He said, “It might be the most important thing I ever do.”