Music - as saviour, and assassin
"Please state your current location?" "I'm standing on the edge". "Sorry - did you say 'Orpington?"
The only 'soul' I have is just psychology at it's most mysterious. This is not my belief, I just know it's the truth. The truth is difficult most of the time, and insurmountable the rest of the time. We all know it deep down, below the layers of derma, subcutaneous tissue, fat, muscle, or whatever 'deep' means. We all know we're ultimately alone.
Music makes me melancholy. It can be simultaneously my saviour, and my assassin. It leads me into the woods and leaves me alone in the dark with only the wind in the leaves for company. When I'm flashing back to what happened, and when I'm lying awake, staring into the darkness, I hear it mocking me. It persuades me I have power over the emotions of others whilst having no power over my own; that things I write could make others feel as lost as I do. I get caught up in the story that isn't; it isn't, and it never was.
This wasn't how I imagined my life to be when I was a child - I thought I was destined for something great - something that mattered. I was dragged away on residential courses for 'able' children, studying rocks in quarries and reaching new heights of disengagement in knowing I'd pay for my ability upon my return to school, where the 'normal' kids would be busy not being in quarries. I remember being summoned to the headmaster's office to explain why my report on sandstone didn't live up to expectations. I was always at a loss as to what those expectations were, which as it turns out, was a running theme in my life. Maybe everyone feels special - I read somewhere it was a phenomenon of children brought up in the 80s, but I think perhaps it's just in us. Some of us get to live it out, most don't. Many live it out vicariously through their own children. I had already begun to retreat inside my mind for comfort, foolishly assuming this would one day give me super powers.
I discovered music very early on. Both of my parents dabbled, and my mum gave piano and guitar lessons whilst I was still in utero. It's odd how people sing songs to children as if they were vital to normal development - if you don't have a song for everything from nappy changing to cleaning the sick off the wall, you're not nurturing their psyches, yet if you announce to your careers advisor (aka the ex-military history teacher with the metal plates on the bottoms of his shoes that puts the fear of god into all children just by approaching the classroom) that you want to be a musician, you're informed that music isn't a proper job, so you should do maths instead. In all fairness, it's not really a proper job - at least not like most other jobs. Being a fuck-up is expected in music, rather than tolerated. A certain story in the Daily Mail was based around my fucked-up-ness purely because that's the only version they'd accept.
Half my school peers busied themselves identifying new ways to reduce me to tears (although I never once cried), whilst the other half was lauding my performances as leader of the orchestra, jazz singer in the spotlight, soloist in the school play, processional leader in the cathedral carol concert. I imagine now that experience would be similar to 'Glee' (the TV show about teens trying to form their own identities as members of a club specialising in overly camp singing performances, hated by everyone else at the school, and used as a target, even by the principal).
Even now I'm not exactly textbook chart fodder - I sing like an 8 year old boy and look like Kate Bush on a bad day. 'We don't know where you fit you in the market. What's the concept?'. Well, there isn't a concept - I'm a person, who writes songs and sings them, y'know, like err Charlotte Church? Oh no, sorry, she sings other people's songs doesn't she - ok, like Elton John? Hmm, he wears glasses though... gosh, maybe I do need a concept. How's this - I'm a classical crossover artist who DOES write their own music - all of it, every single tiny part. No? So many people in the creative world have mental health problems; being expected to live up to a superficial ideal in order to succeed is not conducive to good mental health.
People don't actually mean it when they say it's ok to talk. "It's ok to talk" (but only if I'm not the one listening). "It's ok to talk" (but only if what you say doesn't make me uncomfortable). "Talk to me", (but only if you get these tasks done at the same time). What are the words I need to use to make you hear me when I'm saying "I'm not ok! I'm not ok and I'm falling - I'm falling - and I want to fall - out of the race, out of sight and out of my mind - I have nothing left to give." People need a stiff drink before they can listen to that. How do you deal with someone who goes from ambitious and driven, to wounded and burnt, in the space of 5 minutes?
It's ok to talk when you're well, when you can offer up amusing anecdotes, messages about strength and resilience, heroic stories and the promise of a light at the end of the tunnel. But what if this journey doesn't have a light? Nobody wants to go with me down that particular tunnel. I don't blame them - as soon I start to really talk, people back away.
But if you do it through music, it becomes 'tortured genius'; the 'voice of a generation', and other such sickeningly plastic sentiments. Right place, right time - right? Or maybe it's time to grow the fuck up and start giving people music they'll like for music's sake. Christ, even I struggle to imagine a world where that could happen.
The most painful part is the imagining. Imagining what I could've been. Who I could've been. And what makes someone a 'who' anyway? When people reinforce the idea that you're in some way gifted, failure to live up those expectations is (soul) destroying. Many of my friends have achieved massive notoriety in music; they've toured the world, headlined festivals and lived the life I worked my arse off for, for almost twenty years, before I finally gave in to plan B and forged some semblance of a career in a world where I'm a metaphorical square peg. If I could fully give myself over to plan B, I probably could succeed, but there'll always be that nagging feeling I'm missing something.
Someone at work recently told me that once you get above a certain corporate grade, the pay off is that the things that were the reason you're doing it all start to suffer. You might be choosing between buying a yacht and a canal boat, but you've got nobody left to enjoy it with. So how do you choose? You can plod through life with a settled family life, but with a lot of 'what ifs', or you can live the dream and die alone.
We love playing games. But some of us just don't want to play.