Monday, 7 November 2011

The Grotesque (Part II)

' Are you really considering getting on that insane merri-go-round one more time?'

So I started downloading and watching music documentaries. I was feeding something inside me. I needed to understand something about the path I had chosen through life so long ago, the one that led to The Crossroads, yea, that crossroad. I had been there. I'd met him, seriously I did, in a field one night in about '87 in Oxfordshire someplace, and I had refused him at the time, or so I thought, but I wasnt so sure now.

With the benefit of hindsight, it was clear to me that I had , since that date, lived the rock and roll lifestyle without doing too much of the rock and roll. I'd had the power gifted to me, and instead of using it to actually 'make it', I had just got lots of sex, and high all the time, with the occasional bit of music thrown in if I had to do it. I mean, if you are getting laid and getting high already, why bother doing the gigs?

But there was, I also realised, a certain freedom in coming out the end of that. Without the cash, success, or full-time gigging lifestyle, I'd survived, for one thing. And I hadn't yet been stuck into a pigeon-hole musically. Only by the few people who knew me, at least, but in that regards, I was still kind of a blank canvas publicly. The down side was that now I wanted to be a musician again, I was actually just an ex-druggie , too old to be interested in notching up one-night stands, and musically; a never-has-been. And when you are coming back to music as an unknown in your 40's, who the hell is going to buy your music, let alone be around to start a band with? Everyone has retired to working and family life. In fact the very idea of it suggests the need for some serious therapy.

There was another thing, the teachers at AIM music college, where I had enlisted as much to learn production skills as to find a way to give up music, had pointed it out to me,

'You are better off than us, we have to work in music to make a living and we never have time to focus on our own stuff, we have families and work all day. You on the other hand work in I.T., so you have some spare change, you have no family, so you have more time and energy, and you dont use up all your musical energy on other peoples music. You really are in a good position.'

They had a point.

So here I was with some free time, and with it I was hungrily lapping up documentaries about bands and artists I loved or was interested in, and while I did it, I tried to observe what it was inside me that was seeking to be fed. Then while watching The Doors – Classic Albums documentary, Perry Farrell from Jane's Addiction said something about musicians having this strangeness inside themselves, and they pull it out, and offer it up, and it is strange but they kind of like it too. And it was in that explanation that I somehow grasped, for the first time, the elusive thing in me that wanted feeding, that hungered to be recognised, that longed for the stage, and the lights, and the drugs, and the women, the fame, and the glory, and to write the best song in the world, and of course, to be adored. And it was 'strange', it was almost hiding in there. It wasn't sensitive so much, because it was bloody stubborn and defined already by its own nature as much as being driven by it. But it existed uncomfortably within me, it wouldn't just die and go away, but it couldnt seem to find a way to happily come out and express itself either. And a word popped up in my head, and it described it quite perfectly, and that name was 'The Grotesque'

I give some wiki definitions here:

The word grotesque comes from the same Latin root as "Grotto", meaning a small cave or hollow....

...grotesque has come to be used as a general adjective for the strange, fantastic, ugly, incongruous, unpleasant, or disgusting, and thus is often used to describe weird shapes and distorted forms such as Halloween masks.

In art, performance, and literature, grotesque, however, may also refer to something that simultaneously invokes in an audience a feeling of uncomfortable bizarreness as well as empathic pity

It was a perfect description to me. There is something painful and piteous about the expression of music, it seeks approval for itself to exist out in the world happily, it needs it, and that need is what makes it something that hides, almost lurks, in the soul like a timid child, an innocent, yet somehow an oddity. For me at least. It carries with it a sense of the predicted future, of change, and that creates reaction, and that reaction isnt always good, but it is a reaction. A reaction by the listener to the Grotesque. It's a freak show.

Making music for me is, and I hate to admit this, slightly Gollum-ish. It brings the feeling of being a freak to the fore, and I then find myself needing to seek approval for my existence, if someone knocks it, I scurry back into my cave and stroke 'my precious', as it were, until I feel better. I love the power it gives me, and I hate it's power over me.

So, as I observed myself watching these documentaries, I noticed I was doing a couple of things. I was seeking inspiration, or more precisely, trying to find support and confidence from others who appeared to have 'made it' , that had 'the grotesque' within in them, it troubled them, and yet they seemed confident enough in their music to have gone for it anyway.

Listening to Bono, in 'From the Sky Down', describe how he took on pieces of past musicians or elements in the world, and with them he built a mask to wear in order to protect himself. I understood that. And they all came out in his performance, or his clothing, or his show, or his mannerisms on stage. It was a shield. To protect that thing, as much as to protect himself from that thing . To enable it to come out into the light, and do its thing, and not change him, or damage him.

I had also to consider that there had been an element of self-sabotage along the way for me, something Anthony Robbins had put me onto was that if we have conflicting needs then we are unable to progress, as one need pulls us one way, and the other goes in the opposite direction. We have to resolve these inner conflicts, but first we have to recognise them. It wasnt until 2007 that I recognised one of those; much as I longed for fame, the stage, the recognition. I feared giving myself away or getting it wrong, or being labelled, or losing my privacy, or dying in a champagne supernova. The conflict was that, as much as I wanted to make it, I really didnt want to either. The reasons made up a long list; I feared not being strong enough to handle fame. I didnt really actually like the look of fame. I didnt want to lose my freedom. I was a bit lazy too. I didnt like the idea of touring. I didnt want to rise up to have to fall down, and I was well aware that if you didnt fall down, the press sure liked to shoot you down. I didnt much like the industry, nor the game. But at the same time, just sitting at home making music wasnt enough, learning the art of music was not enough, nor was playing gigs to a small loyal crowd going to be enough. I was in a state of permanent conflict and inner turmoil with music. Hungering to make it, yet struggling to avoid it too, fearful of it.

In fact when I considered it , I wasnt really sure what I wanted. And that was probably why I hadnt really gone for it properly either. That, and then there was the obvious lack of self-confidence in my own singing ability which drove me forward and then backwards in equally erratic force, so that essentially I went nowhere, but thought about doing stuff a lot, planned a lot, but ultimately, didnt do a lot.

Watching the Jim Morrison doco called 'When you are Strange' surprised me to hear that he doubted his singing ability too, even at his peak. I would kill for his voice. And as the story unfolded it was clear that the rest of the band were much more skilled musicians in their own right than he was, he didnt know an A major from a B Minor, which probably pushed him further into a sense of low self-worth, which he made up for by becoming more and more of a spectacle, and a drunk. To some extent their abilities held them up through the insanity.

Something else I could relate to when I considered the last few gigs I did in England, Cornbury festival acoustic tent where I was so drunk I couldnt tune my guitar, and asked the audience to help me out. No one did. They wanted someone sober who could play to come on instead. 4 hours earlier I had played one of the best renditions of Sympathy for the Devil I had ever done with a band. I'd been drunk then too and the response had been uplifting enough to make me play the acoustic tent later. I couldnt even see the strings. I found solace in more drugs, and sex with some random.

The footage of Jim Morrison working on the last album shows him with twitches and ticks and drunk all the time, so much of a mess that Paul Rothchild, the producer, walks out and does not return. Though in the end it probably helped make the album, it didnt help Jim avoid his ultimate fate, which was clearly sealed by then regardless. His girlfriend-inspired attempt to pull up involved him giving up music, and moving to Paris to try to be the 'poet' , which is where he had come to music from, and where he felt more at home. As the poet, the shaman. That is more what he was, he ended up a musician by accident really, and then as a result, in the '27 club'; dead famous. But then didnt Jesus get it at 32 and he did everything right, allegedly.

The poet and shaman

I wondered about this. I related to Mr Mojo more on these terms, even though I could play a few instruments with confidence, though I couldnt sing with confidence, much to my chagrin I wanted to, I needed to for some reason. I needed a voice. But now, I wasnt sure it was really the music that was the essence of what it was all about for me. I loved making music, but at the risk of being sacrilegious, I couldnt give a rats ass for the music itself. I didnt collect music or learn all about every musician. I just had particular things I liked, or related to, and that was it. The poetry, and the shamanism of it, I liked more. In particular, the shamanism of it. That is more where I felt my 'Grotesque' became defined.

So, I was trying to define my Grotesque. I was also trying to learn from my mistakes, learn from those who walked before me, and also, it is fair to say, figure out a way to do it one last time and do it right, maybe even big. I felt I deserved big. It was the ego maniac in me, or was it the truth, I didnt know yet. My Grotesque was a freak amongst the world of the grotesque, I felt it deserved recognition as such ...or rather, it had been in its day.

I was in now my 40's ! Wtf was I thinking. Once again I had to ask myself, is this really how I want to be spending my time?

I watched a doco on Lemmy. That made me laugh. I used to see him in the St Moritz propping up the bar, a part of the furniture always there. It was a good doco. He is a good example of how to survive the industry and still be yourself. Handled it better than Jim, but then was he really a shaman type? Silently, I felt yes, maybe in his own way he was. He came from Anglesey after all, the last bastion of defense in pagan Albion by the druids before the Romans slaughtered them. Besides, only a looney shaman could wear shorts like that and get away with it. Heavy Metal was never my kind of music but I liked the documentary, and then all the shots of him on his own on the tour bus watching crap TV traveling alone to shows. How did he live like that? God knows. I wasnt sure I could do it. I needed more input to my life. Maybe he was an accidental superstar.

I watched more documentaries, ones that I would not normally be drawn to, yet interestingly I found a commonality in each that related to me somewhere, to my path, my dreams and ambitions as a musician.

Metallica – Some kind of Monster. Music I really did not like, and yet how much had my bands been just like that, albeit without very many fans at all, and certainly no record deals. But the story was the same; the struggle, the dream, the longing to feel worthy, feel recognised as what you feel you are, a musician, if that it be. I found it interesting that the people we would look at and consider as having made it, they were also still looking to their heroes trying to feel like they had made it. Weird. Did anyone ever really make it?

Anvil – the real, live Spinal Tap. A classic story. A pair of 50 year olds playing metal that only a bunch of people have ever heard of, and even less really liked, unable to give up, finally 'making it' as a result of the documentation of their inability to do anything other than fail dismally at 'making it.' The exquisite irony.

It all lead to the same basic questions – What qualifies as 'making it?' , what is it really, what would satisfy that, if satisfying it was really what was needed, and why am I still hungering for it at all.

Answering these questions would , I hoped, lead me to know what to do about it.

The Grotesque (Part I)

This isnt exactly a blog post, so much as a journal, or an observation, or an attempt to try to dig out my soul. I havent written for a while, I have been in a place of peace: inner peace, I guess. After all what is there to write about when you are happy?

I now live in a beautiful, spacious, flat overlooking the ocean in Kiama, Australia. I work only two days a week in my own business, and it is enough to survive and pay the rent. I have a beautiful girlfriend who I am in love with, and will marry. She gives me just enough space to feel comfortable, just enough love to feel I don't own her. She has two kids, a boy 8 and a girl 4, who I seem to have adopted with ease thus quelling any fears I was passing the age of having a family and going to die alone. And she is independent enough to be non-plussed by my controlling side when it tries to come out.

You could say life is perfect, and it has been this way since earlier this year. And best of all, BEST OF ALL...I am making music again, and it is prolific. I have a back room converted into the beginnings of a healthy home studio. This is great news to me, as just having passed my 45th birthday, I have spent the last, nearly, decade thinking music was pretty much over for me, and trying to figure out how to replace it.

So, I guess this post is about music, about what music is for me. And though at 45 years old you would imagine that I should understand that very well, I have discovered that the truth is, I really actually don't know what it means to me at all, nor what it is really for, nor how to approach it to feel a sense of true satisfaction in it's execution. It's changed, I've changed, the world has changed, the industry has changed, the availability of music has changed, the money in music has changed, the style has changed, the reason for making it has changed, the future has changed. Everything has changed. And with an awareness that I was clearly preparing to dive back into it, with possibly even more gusto than I had felt in my youth, I realized it was important that I knew what the fuck I was diving into it for this time.

I needed a reason, a purpose, a strategy. She'd hurt me before, or maybe I should say that I had hurt myself along the way; singing to her from beneath the light of the streetlamp under her window, I had gotten in spots of trouble here and there. But I couldn't afford to make the same mistakes again, and I didn't want to feel that sense of weakness, anxiety, frustration, directionlessness, or meaninglessness, again. I didnt want to feel lost when trying to woo her. If I didnt stop to consider my actions, you could be sure that I would get lost again. But despite the sense of fear, of insanity too; insanity at the idea of being 45 years old and trying to make music. And that sense of uncommon un-certainty of direction, which would descend so often that I never quite understood, and which would make me tail off from any idea , and ultimately give it up. But there was an undeniable certainty of purpose and fatefulness about it all this time, something inside me was calling me to duty, and that excited me. I always KNEW I was born to make music even if it was just for a while, even if ultimately I might very well give it all up, and try my hand at writing, or something else instead.

I have spent the last 5 years seeking a way to give up something I had invested most all of my life into. It took a lot of work but I had almost achieved an acquiescence to the sense of failure that came to me whenever I thought about music. That was the hardest thing, the cruelest thing; I felt she had lured me, all along, to be suckling from her bosom only to end up shoving a dried-up teat into my mouth and laughing at me. I couldn't understand why, all my life, I had held onto the steadfast belief, and internal drive, the certainty that I was going to 'make it' despite everything everyone said to me, only to discover in the end they were right; it had been a dream, a delusion, nay, a lie. I had not only to accept that music was over for me, and that I had failed, but worse that my intuition and self-confidence could not be trusted either.

That was a confusing and hard thing, the hardest part was to accept it all without falling apart.

So I turned the corner, and finally started to let go, accept that music was over for me, but that my life had to carry on.

Then what happens?

A collaboration from a few years ago with some random friend in Sydney gets signed up by a label in the UK and cut to vinyl. It ends up reaching over 50,000 hits on Youtube and getting airplay in the very clubs I used to frequent. It's like fucking making it without trying, and in a genre I wasn't even really working in !
The irony of it all wasn’t lost on me, but it did something else for me. Two things in fact. Firstly, it gave me the feeling that, at last, after nearly 30 years going nowhere in the music business, I had finally made it, I had put my name on the god damn wall, somewhere down the bottom, but that wasn't the point, I was up there. I didn't make any money out of it at all, I made probably about 100 english pounds in total, but that is the ridiculous state of the music industry today, and a whole other story which is a part of why I write this now. But what else it did for me, and probably most importantly, is it gave me back my confidence. Enough to consider whether really, honestly, truthfully, had I given music up ?

She'd got me. Like a true woman, played me to the very limits and then when I finally stopped chasing her, she flipped the script. My god, in a funny way I actually thought it was beautiful. I fell in love with her all over again. And at the same time my life changed for the better, as I said in the first part of this post.

And that brings me to the here and now.