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Julius Vasylenko: Seeing Stars

By Published: January 15, 2010

"I got sent to a partially-sighted school," Vasylenko added. "The way I discovered this, that I couldn't see jack shit (this was after the operation): every day a new kid in the class would change the calendar. And I knew my day was coming up, and I could not see the numbers on the calendar at all and I could not say that to anybody! It was a very oppressive atmosphere, this class—oh, I hated it. When it was somebody's birthday, they'd bring all their toys and just show the class what they'd got. And I couldn't believe that they would dare do that. I certainly couldn't believe they'd gotten all these toys—for one birthday? That's about six birthdays all rolled into one for me!

Julius Vasylenko's bamboo sax and curtain rod"And then on calendar day, I was seen as a complete idiot because I didn't know what day it was or what date it was and it was just because I couldn't see the damn thing. That stuck with me, you see. So right there you can see a lot of things: how I felt isolated, and alienated—and completely misunderstood. Right there at that early age you know you're not like anybody else, not just because you have a different name or background, you're just not the same, it's horrible. So I was sent to this school for the partially blind, Temple Bank; and what sort of strange amalgam of church and state is this name—'Temple Bank'?! As far as learning to read, I was fine, as long as the print was big enough...

"Temple Bank was very small and had no resources," he continued. "It was sort of a catch-basin for all these problem kids, too. Many really interesting people—and even an albino Indian. Children other schools couldn't contain, because they were setting fire to books, and this was under the partially-sighted umbrella. No languages, no labs.

"But there were two new teachers coming in who wanted to take us on camping trips. And this is where it started, I believe—being out and hearing the sounds of nature. This was another pivotal moment, and hearing the sound of the running beck [brook], and this being this constant thing, day and night. So we're camping by the beck, and I'm hearing all these sounds, which I'm very attuned to. That, and being introduced to classical music—Beethoven was my first rock and roll. Five, six, seven and nine were very big influences on my when I was 10 and 11. And then the camping and the sounds of nature, the water, and of course, the bird song, too. This constant very delicate trance-like river sounds and bird sounds, and then just walking, hearing rocks tumbling and sticks breaking. I was very fit. Good build, good Ukrainian peasant stock.

"I was very fit and indeed I wanted to go into physical education—and or languages so I could travel. So those were the early things...[Richard] Wagner's 'Ring Cycle.' It was so moving. There are parts where he's depicting nature just like Beethoven in the 'Pastoral' ['Symphony no. 6']. And the characters...And Tolkein's 'Lord of the Rings' was so simple and elegant; I don't know how many months it took me to read...I'm like 12—13 at this point. And what happens at the same time is that I've got these older cousins introducing me to progressive music, King Crimson, early Yes, Peter Gabriel's Genesis


— music I didn't know existed! And it's absolutely incredible.

"Fear of institutions: hospitals," he said, changing tack. "This goes back a bit...So I was born blind and had this surgery, just to let light in a bit, through my pupils. In the beginning, there was darkness and let there be light! And the smell of hospitals. I still can't go in. It's better these days but that just stays with you. And I think that smell, of the senses, is the time traveler...I remember being dropped off at hospital, I didn't know I was going to be there for days, and I just turned around and my Mum had gone and there was a nurse! Made me a bit paranoid, I've already got a genetic persecution complex because of my father being chased around by Stalin, Uncle Joe's boys. That didn't help. I think that's important. There's a lot of distrust. And these classes, I was never taught to investigate properly, I was dismissed as like the idiots. And then everybody following the rules and being bland.

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