FINALLY...

I have become a real writer in my own eyes. Not with a multi million publishing deal. Not with a glut of writer friends to eat noodles with on a Tuesday afternoon. Not with a crazy writing tour schedule in which I’m able to meet and greet people who say they love my work.

No... I have begun to drink red wine alone in the evening because... well I don’t have a good reason but it seemed like a good friend to talk about writing with and so far, so good. She’s a good muse and knows her way through the fog.

I suspect if you got to know her well enough, pretty soon you could learn not to give a fuck about anything. 

Meanwhile, this afternoon, I put a bullet in the head of my twitter account. Nobody cares unless you’re Royalty Famous. I walked. What used to be a good place has become a platfrom of such inconsequence, even a writer of Dirty Realism can see no value in it. 

This is part of a much bigger picture in which three of my friends have also closed ALL of their social media accounts along with me.

We all have our own reasons but the common denominator for all of us is how the ‘socials’ have you performing like a circus pony without you knowing you were doing it. If you’re still in that zone, take a long hard look at how much time you spend on your feeds, how they make you feel and what they have you talking about.  

If you’re honest with yourself, it ain’t good. It may have been once upon a time, but it isn’t anymore.  

 

HOME IS WHERE YOU HAPPEN TO BE

As the years do what years are supposed to, it's a good thing to remind yourself where you came from. Where you are right now is not so important because in the next second or two, you'll have moved on from that. You're about to go into your future and that's the way it is with every passing moment. The future seems to be the place in time on everybody's lips - probably because you'll have to live in it and you're the only one who can create it, but this too will eventually become the past.

Spare a thought for the past while you're busy being the one determined to die with the most toys. It's important to remember where you came from. This picture is about as early as I can remember:

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No phone, no TV, no car, hardly any money, what we ate grew in the garden and for some reason, my mother (not in the pic here, this is my grandmother) chose to dress me in the same clothes that Mickey Mouse would wear. For me, this picture is 'home' even though nobody lives there anymore. How I came to be the person I am is a mystery - just the same as you. Most of life is one long chain of accidents, good vs bad decisions and chaotic liaisons. 

I have no reason at all for bringing this up. Maybe it was going home for a few days that brought it on. Sometimes I wonder how I could have come so far and still have got nowhere - but I know the answer to that already. 


Like a stupid person, I promised myself that I would buy no more guitars this year - that three much loved guitars was more than enough. Then the power steering on my car decided not to be power steering anymore more and I'm staring down the barrel of close on £1000 for making it right again - I've bought cars that have lasted years for less than that before now. It's currently up on a ramp for another couple of days but as I was contemplating the best part of a grand for the privilege of steering with little effort, my mind wandered to the one that got away... and how it could easily not have gotten away if steering wasn't necessary. 

Next time I put cash to one side, I think I'll make the call to The Man In Germany and bring this Hagstrom home where it belongs.

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A man could write some great songs with that.

REALITY BITES

Last week, I downed tools for a couple of days plus the weekend and headed north to see The Mother, The Brother and his family and most importantly, my two buddies - Darryl & John - who have been my buddies forever and quite honestly, I can’t imagine them not ever being my buddies. One day, Death will drive a wedge between us somehow but that’s OK. Death likes to do that to everybody. We ain’t special... but Death.. if you’re reading, we’re in no rush.

It’s always struck me peculiar as to how the years make no difference at all to any of us.

“Hey, good to see you!” 

”Damn, you too!” 

Cue manly hug. 

Relationship continues like we saw each other yesterday, even when “yesterday” collectively consists of 14 years since I last saw one of them, 6 children, a bunch of houses and some ‘other people who drift in and out of your life’.

That’s real friends for you. I would have shed a tear if boys were allowed to cry. 

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I also saw this outside a pub and realised I missed somebody way more than I thought I would. It had only been two days: 

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Meanwhile, back home, I’m approaching the week I’ve set aside for recording home demos of the songs I’ve been writing. While I wasn’t looking, four songs turned into eighteen, so my task this coming week is to figure out what I think is good and what’s possible. I’d like to get through as much of it as I can because I can feel more songs bubbling around but that’s a dumb approach. I'll never get through all of them in a week.

Patience with myself is not my best skill. 

I don’t even know what to do with them when they’re done. I have a huge stack of demo songs here by other people - Chris Cornell, Bowie... that kind of level - and some of them are super lo-fi but mine are going to be even more lo-fi than that. 

I guess I'll get that far first and figure it all out later. It is what it is - something to build a band around perhaps (or perhaps not) then find a studio to run it all out properly... or maybe I’ll base my entire repertoire around just writing and writing and writing some more and never bother recording them on an industrial scale and simply be like ye olde wandering troubadour spinning tales because they are there to spin.

That sounds good written down. I’ll do that. 


To wrap up the week - because it sounds like I've done not anyting but hang about the world and eat barbecued food - when I got back, there was also a magazine to get to print. I've pulled this out of the proof I signed off yesterday simply because it's great:

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Sometimes I forget how much I love my job and how much work is put into it... mostly because it can be a pain in the ass like any job, but once a month, when it all comes together, I get that glow that tells me it's all been worth it - this one goes on sale a week today if you happen to be keeping track.


TATTOOED DUDE OF THE DAY WITH A GREAT VOICE TINKERING AROUND ON HIS PIANO:

(File under 'proper music')

A Week In Music

A man could get used to blogging once a week. Maybe I'll keep it up, maybe I won't but while I'm busy, it suits me fine. This week I have done NO WRITING AT ALL because I took The Mag to print (so I have written really) and for some reason, it was tricky beast, thus, my lust to string words together disappeared with the wind. This week coming is little lighter on the soul so I'll get moving.


Talking of strings - and I don't recall posting about this before, but maybe I did - David Hale (a tattooer and artist I much admire) blagged a guitar from Gretsch some weeks/months back - then set about it with his tool kit. It's finally out there up for auction and looks like this:

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AND HOLY MOTHER OF ALL GODS THAT EVER EXISTED, THAT HAS MY NAME ALL OVER IT.

I'm keeping my eye on it. If I ever post a picture of it again, it will feature me holding it. I'm so in love with the damn thing, if I can't have it NOBODY WILL... umm, except for the winner of the auction I guess. 

If you were going to have a guitar for life... that's what it would look like.

File under pending. In the spirit of raising money for the cause it was intended to and you fancy your chances at owning it yourself, here's the page.

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Meanwhile, writing songs continues. Some are great, some are good, some are in pieces all over the floor. Some never made past the lightbulb moment. One isn't for me to do anything with other than hand it on to somebody else... don't ask me how that works. Maybe songs just need bringing to life occasionally and then your job is to find a home for them. 


On which subject: 

I’m not the greatest guitarist in the world. Fact. Then again, as I keep telling myself, I don’t need to be - the guitar is the lesser of my triangle of terror. I’m a lyricist above everything, my voice is not so bad and the guitar is more of an accompaniment to those first two things... but that doesn’t mean I don’t try to get a little better every day. Some days are good on that front but some days can be horrendous. 

The mind is a peculiar thing. If I write a set of lyrics and later decide they are in fact, shitty, I’ll just throw them in the trash because some more will be along later. If I have a bad day with the guitar though, it’s like the end of the world. Makes me wish I had bought a piano. 

Anyway, a few weeks back, I ordered a capo from Thalia. They make beautiful capos and wrong though it may be, a good looking guitar is essential. Thus, the things you choose to dress them up with should be too. I figured it would be a good investment based on what people had said about them but I didn’t expect it to be quite as fine as it is. Makes me want to give all my other ones away and restock exclusively with these - which I probably will. They’re not cheap but nothing this good should be.  

It's been thought about at the engineering level, it works like a charm, it’s pretty and if there’s one better in the world I’d love to hear about it because this little baby is unbeatable. 

I've spent hours today putting it through the motions and simply from being happy in my workspace, stumbled across the bones of a new song. Maybe I should cheer up more often... but being cheered up is not as conducive to writing dark songs as I would like. 

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Finally, this is neat: the business card of Lester Bangs.

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Lester never seemed to be the kind of guy who would remember to take his cards out with him. Maybe there's a big stack somewhere with an elastic band around them. Unused and sadly, never to be used again. 

On the very same day, I saw this in the latest GQ in an article about business cards:

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So I threw all of mine in the bin next to some song lyrics that didn't make the grade.

Life is simple if you let it be that way.

THE WEEKEND IN PICTURES

The weekend looked a little naked so I went back out into the world and found Fatherhood In Pieces by Michael Chabon - he of the Hector doppelgänger - and Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine by Diane Williams, who I’ve never heard of but if Lydia Davis and Franzen are on the train, that’s good enough for me. GQ also arrived yesterday morning. Thus begins a weekend of reading underneath the umbrella.

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Talking of the umbrella, this little guy landed on it in the afternoon:

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That's shot on my phone camera - an iPhone 6S - but the detail in those wings is off the scale - good thing the sky was in the right place. In ten years, even pro-photographers will give up lugging around Canon bags and be happy with the slab of glass in their pocket.


I also decided the current capos I have for my guitars were letting the side down. A little investigation and I discovered a company called Thalia who make some seriously beautiful products, so I treated myself to one of these:

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If they're as good as people say they are, it's probably the first of quite a few. I'll report back - if nothing else, the kids will have Christmas sorted out for many years to come. We've come a long way from a Toblerone and a Doctor Who comic that's for sure.

  The Unholy Trinity

The Unholy Trinity


I also got tattooed last weekend by my friend Fiumix. Here's a small corner of what we got up to - because people like to steal things out there, this is probably all I'll ever post of it: 

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He also made/drew me a present. Here it is:

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Funny how the smallest things can make me so happy - not that it's small, it probably took hours to draw. That just about sums up my whole life and I should probably get it tattooed - it's certainly something I'm thinking about hard but no rush... I'm still getting over the hares.

I've never looked so good in my life as I do in that picture - see:

  I don't normally take pics of myself but I was messing about with an app called NOMO and took this by accident... at least it looks like me. 

I don't normally take pics of myself but I was messing about with an app called NOMO and took this by accident... at least it looks like me. 

Howl

The running programme came to a halt early last week when my knees decided they weren't going to be knees anymore. I strapped them up and went out anyway but they weren't very convincing about their role in the project at all. I figured I would give them a rest for a while and presto... I went out tonight and they were just fine.

I can't remember if I put up the playlist for Week Three so here it is because I've decided to go back and do that week from the beginning again. Never under-estimate the power of a great playlist to get your ass back into gear. Pretty sure I should be on something like Week Five now but I'll just keep chipping away here until I make it.


SKY NEWS called me earlier this morning. Asked me if I would be game for contributing to some live coverage on Raheem Sterling's tattoo of an M16 on his leg. Of course, the answer was yes... but I'll admit right here that until that a couple of minutes after that call, I didn't know who he was, had never heard of him and if it hadn't been for that call, that's how it would have stayed.

Having said that, the more I dug, the weirder it got. There's coverage everywhere about it online today, so I won't repeat it here, but the tattoo doesn't mean what the two newspapers (The Sun and The Daily Mail) insinuated it did (they didn't actually insinuate anything but by just pointing it out, did) and then Mothers Against Guns came out (or rather their spokesperson did) and said he should get it ..."lasered off or be dropped from the England World Cup squad".

In his own defence, Raheem's father was gunned down and from what I can gather, the guy is really just saying he shoots from the right foot - which is quite funny for a tattoo. I'm not sure I would have chosen it if my father had gone that way but Raheem was just two when that happened. I can relate to that in a kind of "don't miss what you never had" way. Sad - absolutely, but it's not a raw memory.

Anyway, I went ahead and figured I would back up his case on there. I was armed to the teeth with research by this point. Up against such a statement from Mothers Against Guns, I thought I might find myself in a strange war of words... but that's not what happened.

What really happened (I think) is that we met at the fence and more or less agreed with each other - the press have made a mountain out of a water fountain chat (and there's no way that tattoo is as new as they have made out) and left social media to do what it does best/worst... which is giving people with keyboards on their phones a reason to stab at them with sticky fingers.

News coverage and discussion sure does move fast these days and from my experiences over the years, if you can't say what you want to say in less time than it takes to brush your teeth, you're playing a losing game. There was a point where I was asked whether small children would see the tattoo, not read the backstory and think the message of it was something it wasn't - which is a great question. That could indeed happen. I remember seeing Paul Stanley wearing a Star of David pendant in a photo-shoot from the late seventies and adding it to my Christmas present list without a clue what it meant, but it's not quite the same thing at all.

My head began to formulate an alternate reality scenario in which I wanted to throw the ball back into the TV by saying "if you can honestly sit there and tell me small children went out and found Jesus after seeing David Beckham's tattoo, I'll agree 100% with you", but there wasn't time. I am built for long-form things rather than drive-by chat.

Mostly though, I was concentrating hard on not sneezing on air because The Old Hay Fever arrived with a vengeance yesterday. Here's me thinking about sneezing... and playing with my beard too much - which is better than playing the beat to Dr Feelgood on my teeth with that pencil I'm holding which is what I was doing while I waited...

  Pic by my good buddy John McMeiken... who actually has SKY

Pic by my good buddy John McMeiken... who actually has SKY

How Can May Be Nearly Over Already?

The pages are starting to stack up for Scenes From The Coffee House. I feel like a real writer again... it's a very different beast from the day job even though that involves writing too. The difference is the same as showing somebody your brain and showing somebody your heart. Anyway - it's getting somewhere fast. I'll post an update here at the end of the month because I hope I won't be far away from drawing a line under it and doing that thing known as Pressing The Button.

The songwriting is surging forwards too. My ambition is perhaps exceeding my talent but I'm working on balancing it out and some kind of 'thing' is coming together for sure. I should probably remind myself more often that I'm a lyricist not a guitarist but damn, my heart is firing on all four cylinders with the guitars and I'm even enjoying it. 

In a chain of events I didn't see coming, I've really grown to love the D'Angelico I picked up a while back and I write on it a lot more often than the Gretsch. Funny how things pan out.

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Meanwhile, behind the scenes:

The Bridge IV is fucking wonderful and if you're not watching already, why not just throw your TV out of the window because it's obviously not doing anything useful. 

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Sadly, that's just one hour a week on a Friday, so if you're floundering in the wilderness for something to fill in the gaps because you've finished Netflix from one end to the other, Tabula Rasa (Flemish) is great. You can catch it on Channel 4 app type things. 

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Currently reading: 

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things - which will closely followed by Even The Dogs - by Jon McGregor. Why I haven't come across him before is a mystery - but from what I've read so far, he writes the kind of books I should be plucking from the shelf as soon as they come out. Good find Mr Smith...

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That's all I got. I just felt like being positive and emptying my head a little. There's a busy week coming up into which I'd like to stuff as much as I can before I disappear to Alexander Palace for a long weekend of hosting our Great British Tattoo Show.

I'll leave you with this:

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And back to work...

THE PENCIL OF TRUTH

Yesterday, I read an article on writing by one of my favourite writers - Joan Didion - and I’m going to steal chunks of it here because I think it’s important. It was for me, but maybe it will resonate with you too. Here goes:

Like many writers I have only this one “subject,” this one “area”: the act of writing. I can bring you no reports from any other front. I may have other interests: I am “interested,” for example, in marine biology, but I don’t flatter myself that you would come out to hear me talk about it.

Sometime later, she hits The Nail really hard in the face with The Hammer:

In short my attention was always on the periphery on what I could see and taste and touch, on the butter, and the Greyhound bus. During those years I was traveling on what I knew to be a very shaky passport, forged papers: I knew that I was no legitimate resident in any world of ideas. I knew I couldn’t think. All I knew then was what I couldn’t do. All I knew then was what I wasn’t, and it took me some years to discover what I was.

Which was a writer.

By which I mean not a “good” writer or a “bad” writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind?

That section in bold is the one that swung it for me:

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. 

When I had read this over and over because I was captivated by what it meant, I realised she was talking to me. 

I figured that what people respond to most is when I write about life. Anyone - (well, maybe not anyone) - can write a 'story' but only I can see through my eyes and colour it with all the filters that already exist in my head. I see no other reason to have accumulated so much junk in there and held onto it for so long. Thus, on this fine day, I have decided not to write certain types of things anymore - ie: fiction, though I do have a few scraps around here that I'll finish just because I should.  

There simply comes a time when you must decide what you're going to talk about around here - and that time is now.

It sits well. Maybe I need a photograph of myself that makes me look like the kind of writer I think I am. Here's a picture of Joan (from Vogue I think) that says more than any biography could. Once you know she's a writer, this photograph says everything else there ever was to say - in fact, you don't even have to know she's a writer for it to speak to you:

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I will more than likely steal this idea very soon. I don't think Joan will mind.

There's also a Netflix documentary about her called The Center Will Not Hold. Here's the trailer:


Later that same day, I went over to the bookstore looking for magic and found zero magic happening. No crime novels from any country at all jumped out at me, no music bios to speak of, no art books of earth shattering essentiality. I guess it could be me at fault but I'm not 100% convinced about that.

Determined not to leave empty handed, I dug deep and found this:

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Which is more or less about the lost art of finding your way around the place using your natural gyroscopes of intuition and feeling. Here's how Tristan explains it:

"A sixth sense outdoors is not something mystical or new age. It is expert intuition.

When we practice noticing certain patterns, signs and clues outdoors, there comes a moment when our brain will take a shortcut. When this happens we sense something without consciously thinking about it.

I call the signs that allow us to redevelop this ability the 'keys' as they help unlock this ancient skill.

This sense may not be mystical, but it can feel magical when we experience it for ourselves."

If nothing else, it's out of my normal scope of reading and that can only be a good thing. Maybe I'll even test it out.

The Red

The man with barely any meat on his bones walks into the coffee shop with a carrier bag from the supermarket around the corner. Perhaps not that particular supermarket but it could be. Aside from his skeletal frame, he is as inconspicuous as the next man.

He joins the queue and nobody pays more attention to him than they do anybody else, but I see him and he smells bad. I fold the corner down on the page of the book I’m reading and watch him - but nothing of particular note happens. He orders himself a frappe milkshake along with a triple chocolate muffin and bounces from foot to foot as the ice is punished in the blender.

The lady with the expensive hat who was standing in front of him in the queue collects her drink from the end of the counter and looks around for a seat. There are many to choose from. She takes one step and falls to the floor as the earth seems to disappear from beneath her feet. Her coffee flies up to the ceiling and everybody is watching now as it comes back down to earth in slow motion. It spins twice and lands next to her base down with the lid still attached - a miracle of physics. Only when it lands do we hear the splash. We did not hear it when the woman fell but we hear it now, delicate as it may be.

All eyes fall to the floor and we see the woman, her expensive hat and the cup of unspilled coffee sitting in an ever growing pool of red. The woman begins to cry but the rest of us are wondering what the red is even though we know already. What we really want to know is where it has come from.

Simple detective work leads us to the supermarket carrier bag where the red is now dripping freely through the holes that let children breathe if they happen to put it over their heads.

The man with the skeletal frame is aware that all of us are staring at him. I had never seen a look of chagrin before now. The barista asks him what he has in the bag and he tells her in a low voice. Her hands fly up to her mouth. The other barista who was standing next to her asks the same question and he replies again a little louder - loud enough for me to hear this time.

“It’s my mother.”

I look down at the bag and see it has something round inside it. Football shaped? Melon shaped? He opens the bag, reaches in and pulls a human head out by the hair which he places on the counter.

The coffee house erupts into a sea of people desperate to escape and rush for the doors. Two people linger long enough to take a photograph for social media. The barista calls the police. The man with the bag is still waiting at the counter for his frappe. He has paid for it after all.

I push my book around on the table in front of me and wonder how far away from yourself you have to get before you consider cutting your mothers head off and taking it out in public to be a good idea.

OPERATION ANTI-BEATNIK

I got a newsletter in today from the very cool Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company. I've only been there once and it was a long time ago too so it's high time I went back. With one eye on my last post about things not being as relevant/cool/important as they once were, I'm going to steal their first paragraph here and tell myself it's OK because if you're not on their mailing list, you can fix that by going to that link and filling in the box on the top right of the page.

It goes like this: 

For almost three years in the late 1960s, Shakespeare and Company was barred from selling books. This was due to a bureaucratic imbroglio attributed variously to CIA influence, to the Paris Préfecture’s “Operation Anti-Beatnik,” and to simple bad luck in business. Undeterred, George Whitman kept the space open as the “Free University of Paris,” hosting discussions, concerts and readings, including one with poets Langston Hughes and Ted Joans. In May ’68, when the quartier famously erupted in clashes between students and riot police, the bookshop was perfectly situated to become a refuge, intellectual as well as physical. As Molotov cocktails flew across rue Saint-Jacques, the shop sheltered people fleeing riot police, and stayed open all night to host political debates. In our history book, the poet Christopher Cook Gilmore describes hiding out in the bookshop one night, watching from the upstairs window as students unfurled a huge red flag from the top of Notre-Dame. Standing next to him, George said: “Isn’t this the greatest moment of your entire life?”

Which says a lot about the bookstore, its owner, beatniks and the French. This is why Shakespeare is still open, still highly regarded and still on my radar when hundreds of others are a distant memory of averageness. If I ever get around to making a video series like Old Weird America (see same previous post as mentioned before) this is where I'll begin... because a man needs an excuse to go to Paris like he needs an excuse to buy another Gretsch. 

Books huh. 


Meanwhile, the running continues and my knees are screaming at me to stop. They're not in a good way but they're going to have to suck it up for another six weeks because we're finishing this little challenge one way or another.

I came back from my run last night (the playlist for week three is here) and crash landed in front of Lost In Space on Netflix. The first few episodes were pretty good so I stuck with it as something that passed before my eyes while I recovered and then... episode five we hit a jackpot.

Not only were we rewarded with giant lizard/dinosaur type things but also a fist fight between them and The Robot - and that my friends, is sometimes as good as life gets. A large mug of tea and a cage fight between a lizard and a robot. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

AND GOD CRIED WOLF

When his father pulled up outside the house from the hospital, he knew something was wrong. He didn’t much like it when things were wrong in the world, so he stayed in his room finding as many reasons as he could to keep on looking out of the window and not go downstairs, but the Mountain came upstairs to find Mohammad anyway, sat down on the bed and for the first time, a new kind of silence was shared between them.

“Come and sit down. I’ve got something I need to tell you.”

The boy sat down on the other bed in the room, not wanting to be too close, wanting to keep as much control over whatever was coming as he could.

“Your mother is fine, she has to spend a few days in hospital but ought to be back by the weekend.”

Well, that was something. For a fleeting moment, he thought she might be dead but it was obvious there was more and this was only the tip of the iceberg because his father never acted like this. He didn’t even recognise this tone of voice coming out of his mouth. He had never heard it before and it sounded almost soft.

“You have a sister…”

A pause piled itself on top of the previous one signalling more to come but the words had got stuck in his father’s throat.

“You have a sister, but she has Down’s Syndrome.”

There were so many silences hanging in the air, it was hard to know which one to look at.

“Do you know what that means?”

The boy nodded and now it was his turn to choke on the questions that had formed a queue in the room. He didn’t know which was worse - the news he had been handed or that he had never before seen The Mountain so unsure of his place in the world.

“Things are going to be hard and different when they get home.”

He paused again.

“I need to get back to the hospital. I think there’s food in the cupboard but if not, we’ll get some when I come home later. I need to go into work too. You’ll be OK until then?”

He nodded but his father had already left the room because the last thing A Mountain wants anybody to see when the weather gets rough is the river bursting its banks and flooding the forest.

He heard the front door close and then the car door, and then a hundred other doors slamming shut inside his head as he tried to process the information. He sat on the bed and cried because he felt sorry for himself - and then he cried until he didn’t feel sorry anymore - and then he cried until there weren’t any more tears left to cry.

The boy took off his clothes, threw them into the corner of the room, knelt on the floor, clasped his hands in front of his face and prayed to a God he never before had cause to speak to quite so honestly. It didn’t much matter which God because surely one of them would be listening.

He told the Gods what had happened and listed some of the reasons this shouldn't have happened and in his own twelve year old way, asked the Gods to make it go away. He bargained and pleaded. Then he tried to reason with the Gods before offering to trade everything he had in his life - including anything good that might be coming down the line later - to rebalance the books.

When he felt nothing was happening, he got angry at the Gods and threatened them. He swore if they didn’t make themselves known to him and hand over a box with some hope in it, he would spend the rest of his life exposing their weaknesses.

When the prayer was over, he looked around for a sign that his words had meant something but all he could find in the room was another useless silence hanging in the air.

Notes On Being Yourself

This last few days I’ve been digging into GarageBand to get some songs down. The positive part of me wanted to get three songs into at least a workable state but you know how it is... you get started, overthink it more than you need to, battle some inner demons and come out the other side wondering why you’re not better at the things you love to do, but that’s pretty normal around here.

Then again, the one song I did lay down is one song more than I had on Friday morning before I started so that gets filed under ‘a step in the right direction’. Also in the win column is now that I’ve messed with a million settings, I shouldn’t have to mess with them any more and can just plug in and get more of them down. 

I did wonder for a while if anything worthwhile would come from such a DIY endeavour. The world is set up to make you think anything is possible if you throw enough tech at it and maybe it is, but I’m also a writer who endorses the fountain pen, a fistful of Blackwing pencils and to many notebooks. If you take a look around the web, there’s always somebody who’s been able to piece something solid together with tech but not so many people wielding acoustic guitars that I actually liked, or so I thought...

I came across an album by a guy called Dan Tedesco. He recorded his last album using 'not very much at all' on his iPad. You can read about his big plan here (if you can handle the nineties design of the news site it's on) and the link to his album on iTunes is here

Inspired by this, I see no reason I can’t play that game. I’ll more than likely use even less than Dan simply because I don’t understand half of what’s going on. Right now, my job is to get skeletons down and I’ll dress them in nice clothes later.

Dan also made a movie about what it's like to do everything yourself out there and he makes it look easy. It's called Chasing The Lightning. I could post it here but Dan would probably appreciate it more if you watched it on his site so here's the link

Meanwhile, I also came across a guy called Otis Gibbs. He runs his Own Damn Show and lives life on his own terms - or at least that's the message that comes across. He also makes fine records and has started a new video project called Old Weird America. You can find everything you need somewhere on his site, but here's his latest instalment of the OWA series... I adore this and wish the world was still like this way:

The days of wandering into a bookstore and finding a homemade pamphlet of Beautiful Words are long gone. I guess it got replaced by the internet but it's not the same because to make your own pamphlet requires Effort and Commitment rather than spewing up some words because somebody thought it would be nice if we all had keyboards on our phones. 

We need more people like Dan and Otis in the world. With the possibilities becoming ever more endless - and perhaps, meaningless - as human beings there’s way too much to consume out there. It’s almost impossible to absorb yourself into something in the way we used to. What’s going to count in the future is people going out on their own limb to create material that belongs to them and them alone. We’re awash with cookie cutter ideas and algorithms that tell you what you want to see next. 

If you have any desire at all to be an individual in a world that’s trying to make us all the same (for no other reason than to take your money from you), you’re going to have to do pretty much the same as these guys and have a little faith in that thing called Yourself.

You need to be the person that people in the future will talk about... or at least try.


Currently reading this: 

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Which is part of a trilogy and very, very good if you're looking for something different.

HEAVEN IS A FIVE LETTER WORD

“I’m telling you, heaven has got six letters. Any fool can see that. Even a six year old can see that: H.E.A.V.E.N. Six letters.”

Kevin couldn’t be bothered explaining it again - if his brother couldn’t see that it only had five, that was his problem. What was important here was the message itself.

Heaven was not everything it was supposed to be. It was only pretending to be more than it actually was.

WANTED. DEAD OR ALIVE.

This running thing. It's tough. My knees are objecting a little but I must persist as it's part of a bigger plan... and if I can't run 5km without having my lungs hang out of my eye-sockets, I may as well abandon all hope before I start.

Earlier this week, the running track was full of people at rugby training which threw a brick through the window of my plan but across the road, there is a park. A kids park, general park - you know the kind of thing - just a big patch of grass really and there was nobody in there. I parked up, went through the gate and ran. It wasn't too dark when I went in but as the songs passed by on the playlist, it was kind of getting that way, but no big deal.

I had finished the scheduled run, went back to the gate and found it locked. No problem - there was another gate a little further along. Also locked. Down at the other side of the field there are some tennis courts but those gates were locked too.

Hmm. Not even nine o'clock and I find myself locked in a field. I'm not particularly inconspicuous and I wasn't running in the shadows but whoever it is that's in charge of the security of the field didn't give a damn either way and strapped those babies up good n tight with their industrial padlocks.

What's a man to do?

Close to the tennis courts, there's a house where I thought this security person may live. It's the only house within the field so it made sense. I looked around some and then shouted up at the only window with a light on:

"Hey motherfucker! How about letting me out!"

Action behind the curtains and I see a man looking down on my wearing blue pyjamas. You know what he did? He closed the curtains against me and did nothing at all.

Maybe I went in too hard a little too early.

The field, all the way around, is circled by one of those fences you find protecting schools. Metal rods about ten foot high with arrow-head spikes to stop people climbing over. The kind that, when you're in school, there's always some story about a kid who impaled his testicles on them when he went to get his ball. That was the first thing that crosses my mind while I was standing there looking at them.

To hell with it. What does a man need testicles for anyway in an already over-populated planet. 

Using the chain and padlock around the gate as leverage, I hauled myself up onto the top, teetered around between the spikes for a few seconds and jumped. 

Not so bad. The landing was not so good and my knees complained a little but I was out. If nothing else it might make a humorous story...

The following day, I took the dog out. To make a change in the mini-heatwave, I figured I'd take him to the park with the river running through it - there's not much he likes better than jumping in during the summer and getting cool. 

We parked up, crossed the road with some other people who were hanging around and found that over the winter, somebody had moved the gate and replaced it with a fence, though there was a sign saying to use the other gate maybe fifty metres along the road. Simple.

"Somebody moved the gate," I said to one of the guys who had crossed with us and was looking confused. This guy looked mid-thirties, maybe forty at the top end - certainly a fair whack of years younger than me anyway - which is important because then, he looks up and down the road and says:

"You're young enough to just jump over the fence."

And I stood there for a moment wondering if a) I suddenly looked a lot younger now I had been running for one whole week and/or b) pictures of me escaping from the playground had made it onto the internet without me knowing. 

Or maybe the old guy in the house had put hundreds of those blurry CCTV posters up around the place of me like when a cat goes missing. 

The universe sure does have a weird sense of humour. 

DREAM - 39 STEPS

I killed a man on a train with a knife, except when I look at the knife after the event, it's a pen. Then I run away. Not a sprint down the carriages but a real 39 Steps in the making.  

I open the carriage door, jump out while the train is crossing a bridge, plunge into black water, rise to the top gasping for air and find myself transported from a stretch of water nobody should ever find themselves in - possibly the Thames - into a clear shallow stream somewhere in the Highlands of Scotland. 

I drag myself out, a heavy coat dragging behind me and sit on the bank next to a man who looks like Tom Waits but I know is supposed to be my old man. 

We exchange pleasantries. 

“Did you do it?” 

“I did not. Did you?” 

“I think I did.” 

“That’s a real shame,” he says.  

The next time I look, my father has turned into Tom Waits for real. He pulls a full size piano from his pocket, a stool from the other and plays my favourite song of his, New Coat Of Paint, on the riverbank.

THE BREAKFAST CLUB

8am. Little does she know it but for one of the women waiting in the queue for coffee this morning, life will change dramatically and it will turn on the spin of a coin.

The woman in front of her in the queue - the one who still can't decide whether or not to add a pastry to her order - woke up this morning believing it would be her. The job interview is in one hour and it will turn her whole existence upside down in a good way if she succeeds but she won't. She is dressed for success, has done her homework and she knows her hair is immaculate because she checks it in every reflective surface she can find.

The woman behind her in the queue balances on a walker. She is old now - or at least she feels old. Four months ago, she couldn't walk at all. This is a Neil Armstrong sized step for her. She knows she has been written off in the eyes of those who look at her but right now, her biggest concern is how she is going to carry her coffee and move the walker.

But today, it is the woman in the middle we are focusing on. She checks her phone for the umpteenth time. Nothing. She holds it close to her face to see how many bars of signal she has and checks the battery while she's there. Both are looking good but still the phone doesn't ring.

The woman with the job interview has decided on a pastry after all. She pays and goes to sit by herself. Now at the front of the queue, our subject orders a latte and slips her phone into her bag as she fishes change from her purse. The phone rings! She drops the change into the barrista's hand and grabs for her phone - as her fingers find the slab of glass, she looks quickly at the display and it stops ringing before she can answer it.

The display reads: 

UNKNOWN CALLER

She sighs, drops the phone back into her bag and notices the woman with the walker standing behind her. Things could be worse, she tells herself, but they couldn't really. She just doesn't know it yet.

SIGN O' THE TIMES

Today, the Prince corporation (I'm not sure what else to call the people that have been left in charge of his catalogue) have released the original version of Nothing Compares 2 U in various guises (notably here - where I can't find it at all yet but I guess they may add it soon, and here).

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I'd never heard the story of what the song was about before (you can read that here at The Guardian) but right at the end of the piece, there's a quote from his sound engineer, Susan Rogers, who says this about him: 

"He realised he had to socially handicap himself to be the artist he wanted to be, and that to do that without being an asshole he had to be a complete enigma"

While I don't have the inclination to be anything like a total enigma, this rang with me. Any creative field at its core has to be about doing whatever you want to do (or not as the case may be) and at the extreme end of that is accepting responsibility for failure as well as success... but you can only do that inside your own head. The only way to be authentically creative is to ignore both praise and criticism and keep working. Your only role in the grand stage-play that is your life is to produce the work regardless.

And if there comes a day when The Angels are too busy looking after some other shit to fill your being with inspiration, so be that too.

I guess the hard part of being fiercely independent is making the money part work for you... then again, as Prince said of the whole affair regarding the dirty stuff:

"Money?! It’s not about money!"

Because when it does start to become about money, you're screwed. You're better off working in a petrol station and writing/recording/drawing whatever the hell you like than you are being at the beck and call of a 'company' whose very existence relies on whether you're commercially viable or not. 

You can learn a lot from Prince - particularly about how to write good songs.

Stand By For Pain

Where my head has been for the last six months I have no idea. Maybe I burnt out a little. Hell, maybe I burnt out a lot. I put on some weight, went back to my legendary smoking crutch and wandered about the place like a lost soul. Pathetic.

I blame getting my hair cut back at the end of November - for the record, it was just broken and I needed to start again. Six months on it seems have come out of the shock, woken up from its coma and with Spring in the air, it's doing what it's supposed to. To help it along, earlier this week I started training for a 5k run. 5k is not far, but the last time I ever ran 5k was ummm.. 1991 perhaps. My breasts don't quite swing in the wind from a lack of activity but when you're a man, it's best to arrest these things before they get out of control. If you're on Apple Music, you can share my running playlist here. If you're on Spotify, you'll have to make your own. These are the two camps we have been forced into. It ain't about politics, race or gender. You will now be categorised by which music streaming service you use and given those other alternatives, that's a good thing.

A few weeks back, I discovered something called Live From Daryl's House. The main site is linked up there but you can find most of it over on YouTube - natch. Every episode is wonderful and makes me think this is the way forwards for many, many things. It breathes life into everybody. There are no losers in scenarios such as this. You don't even have to be a particular fan of Daryl Hall to enjoy it but if you weren't before, you will be after. Inspiring is what it is. Imagine a similar show from Alice Cooper's house... Nancy Wilson... Brian May... visited by other musicians who 'got it'. Sheeran... Randy Crawford... Bernie Taupin... Trent Reznor. 

It would only be a matter of time before fools decided they would like a slice of the pie but it would be great while it lasted. Anyway, if you have time for a taster, here's the entire episode in which Cheap Trick turn up at the door:


Meanwhile, I have decided to step away from and close down the Big Bear Rescue project - if you happened to buy one of the shirts we had out there or threw some coins into the digital jar, thanks a million. Really. I learned many things from trying to help the world out in a small way. Things like, how hard it is to be heard in a sea of voices all saying similar things. Things like how 'busy' huge organisations can be when you ask for their help with a little social media leverage - and if you read between the lines, you can read that as 'not very helpful at all. Ever.' There are other factors along the way and it makes me feel sad that I couldn't grow it how I wanted to. Truth be told, it feels like a huge failure but I can shoulder it.

If I was Neil Gaiman, the whole thing would have taken off at such a rate of knots that healthy bears would be roaming the earth like some acid-tinged remake of Planet of the Apes but I'm not and it didn't. A little part of me thought I might have some leverage with the magazine readership but back at the ranch, The Boss kindly used some of his own cash to spread a post about it to our 1.5+ million followers and you know how many shirts it helped to sell?

None.

Down, but not out. I figured out that my time would be better spent as a small wheel within a much larger wheel. More on this in the next few days... I'm waiting on some confirmations coming back and fingers crossed, I can get my hands dirty again... or my feet wet as is actually the case.

I guess there are life lessons to learn here. Maybe one day I'll figure out what they are.


Finally, no resurrection of my blog would be complete without The Hound having the last word...

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