“I like your manifesto, put it to the testo” – The Sultans of Ping F.C.
For a long time, this blog was merely a repository for gig notices, occasional newsletters and photos from foreign lands. I want more. From now on it will be my diary. Fairly unfiltered and concerned with everything and anything that takes my fancy. I need a proper outlet for it rather than dumping it all into emails to my long suffering friends. I’ll install a ‘select category’ button somewhere, so you can simply view the posts you want to read. (“Music-only”, “all” or “daily nonsense” or something to that effect.) So, the blog will continue to function in the old traditional way, but you’ll have the option of devouring my daily ramblings if you so wish. The choice is yours. (Choice. I’m good to myself!) And so… for a confusing explanation and brief catch-up, read on…
For the past two years, since the release of Fingertips of the Silversmith, my second album, I have felt increasingly lost. Sitting in a vacant lino-floored laundrette, I’ve been waiting, interminably waiting, and watching my mind slop slowly against the porthole glass. Going nowhere. I realise that I’m entirely to blame for 99% of my failures. (The other 1% is of course your fault, as a member of that useful catch-all group : “people”!)
Yes, the music game has changed. Few people really know if there are goalposts anymore, never mind whether they’ve been moved or not. However, music is not to blame for my inability to make decisions. It’s not responsible for my “financial embarrassment”. Music is not to blame for my stasis. Nor for the rut that I dug for myself – the one that I’m finding nigh on impossible to climb out of. I’ve heard it said that one should never invest anything more than you are fully prepared to lose. We’re probably all guilty of breaching that guideline. I certainly am.
By the end of the promotional campaign for Fingertips of the Silversmith, having spent so much that I was unable to fund a proper tour and pay musicians/petrol-money, I was flat broke. Eventually, luckily, I still had a job offer on the table. (A rare thing in Ireland these days!) I took the job in order to rescue my situation, but it was a huge blow to find myself back working long full-time stressful hours, that finished too late and left me too tired to gig in the evenings. I realise how ungrateful that sounds – loss of pride and self-respect when I FIND a job… it’s ridiculous, offensive even, but that was my honest reaction, drenched of course in two gallons of guilt. A good friend of mine once shared with me the rules set by a well-known New York jazz player, whose name escapes me : Always look a million dollars – and never let anyone see that you’re broke. These would be good guidelines but for one thing… If everyone follows those rules, and nobody is willing to admit that we might have a problem, then how can we change or fix anything? We’re expected to vacantly talk everything up, like Comical Ali on a roof in Baghdad boasting of Saddam’s victories just as the American tanks roll into picture behind him. Just like our looney Irish economy, no-one willing to acknowledge the problems. We’re the climate change deniers. We’re the facilitators. Music is the drug, and we’re terrified that dissent will stem the flow of those lovely blue crystals from Los Pollos Hermanos.
So here’s the thing. I’m no revolutionary leader. (A bit of a relief really – Irish revolutionaries traditionally end up betrayed and executed by their own. As any correct Irish economist will tell you.) In truth, I can barely lead myself to get up in the morning. But I’m officially quitting with the ludicrous put-on-a-good-face that we do so well here. I’ve rarely done it in private – but I’ve tried to steer clear of this talk in public as much as I could. I’m rethinking that. Dishonesty is not helping many people, is it? But the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem, isn’t it? I need to do that. Our country certainly needs to do it. On the radio every day I keep hearing people saying that they’re sick of all the negativity, and that we should stop talking the country down. We should be optimistic, they say. Optimism is an outlook though. A framing or re-framing. Optimism will not mend your car, broken leg, or nation. As if talking positively will cure the economy and encourage investors! Investors don’t listen to desperate pleas – they’re just looking at the figures. If the figures don’t make sense, your über-positive dodgy salesman banter is not going to help. In fact it just embarrasses us further. We’re the fools who can’t or won’t admit that things here need radical, radical change. Who do you think is impressed by our failure to admit we have a problem? Europe certainly isn’t. Tim Geithner certainly wasn’t, when he threatened the EU with hellfire if the Irish nation wasn’t held responsible for the actions of a few small privately-owned banks. Until we admit that we have a problem, aren’t people supposed to refuse to help us? That’s certainly what the ECB and EU have been doing so far.
So to hell with all of that. I’m not going to deliberately set out to be negative – but I refuse, on moral grounds, to sugar coat everything. I’m going to call the pot black, the kettle black, and the death star : a negative development in the quest for a universal peace. We’re all grown-ups here (aside from a few avid feline readers who I’m sure are following this intently given the vast photographic evidence of IT-savvy cats). If things are working out, I’ll shout it loudly from the blog-tops. But if things are shit, I’m going to describe them as not going well. There is nothing to gain from it. Investors and business leaders will invest when they spot an opportunity to get in at the bottom of possible economic growth. They’re not looking for reassurances from those “wonderful” politicians of ours.
The main thing anyway is to be a bit truer to my own self… and “put myself out there” a bit. I’m a bit nervous, but more exhilarated by the prospect of it all. For the past year and a half I’ve been playing very few shows, touring very little, and I’ve been unable to commit to anything creative properly due to the silly working hours I’m doing. This is not good. Am I overly negative? I’m not really a glass empty or glass half-full kind of person. I don’t fit well into either category. My problem is much more fundamental than that. I’m much more likely to fixate on things like : Whose glass is this anyway? Do we know for certain that it is a glass? Humans generally don’t work well with grey areas. Our brains function like a series of binary switches : on/off, good/bad, tasty/nasty, etc… The world is usually a lot more complex than that, but binary choices allow for useful shortcuts. They prevent our brains from collapsing under the sheer weight of computation that would go into every moment of every day if we were not routinely making these sweeping generalisations.
Like “this wall is white” instead of “this wall is white except for 2 microns of unidentified black soot in the top right-hand corner of the wall”. Precision can be a killer. Again we’re back to grey areas. We must try to maintain the beauty of observation without being capsized by its heavy load. Science is “the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis with an ugly fact.” I’m going to attempt to live in a grey area in this blog. Embrace the doubt and try to allow precision to creep in… but not so much as to destroy everything! And so, onward into the grey…