how can we sing our song in a strange land?

I has been on a bit of a downer this week after spending last week in and around Dublin.

There are many reasons why I feel down but the main one is that just don’t feel as creative here in Belfast-Lisburn, I just don’t feel as inspired and free to make things or see new possibilities and this gets me down. I try drawing but don’t want to experiment and then get stuck in a rut, a bad rut. I hate the stuff I do and want to rip it up (which I nearly did yesterday afternoon).
I try writing a song but can’t get past the first two lines.

That is not meant to be a slight on either Lisburn-Belfast, I guess you can’t help who you love. You can try and give it a go, a sort of arranged marriage of sorts but it might be a unhappy arranged marriage at that.

The light, colours, angles, are all wrong. Nothing seems to fit properly and the shadows creep in all the wrong corners.  Everything is green and overhangs the pavement.

the fish out of water

I wasn’t expecting to sea bass
laid out on the pavement along the Belsize Road
at midnight
as if it was Saturday morning at St George’s Market
but there it was lying there
marooned, looking fresh

What can that mean?Surely it’s a sign..’

So  I pondered the sign on the way home and the only sign
I could come up with walking down the Moss Road
is that we’re both fish out of water here in Lambeg

the freedom of obscurity…


It’s one of those strange ones.

I’ll admit I do like it when some people read a blog post,
or listen to a song I’ve written and say they enjoyed it,
or buy something I’ve doodled
but
the moment I feel that there is an audience gathering (no matter how small that audience is or even if there is no audience at all and ‘the audience’ is only in your imagination) I start to freeze up and not know what to do.

There is definately something liberating in being able to do your thing in obscurity but at the same time it can deeply discouraging. Perhaps it’s just a paradox?

Robert Hughes writes a bit about this sort of thing in ‘The Shock of the New’ when describing how Picasso and Braque came up with Cubism. I’m not saying I’m Northern Ireland’s answer to Pablo Picasso by the way, just that the fact nobody is reading your blog or listening to you allow you freedom to experiment a bit and say things that you would never get away with if you had an audience.

‘But he [Picasso] was so little known, and Braque so wholly unknown, that in the public eye neither artist existed. The audience for their work might have been a dozen people….This might seem like crushing isolation, but it meant that they were free, as researchers in some very obscure area of science are free. Nobody cared enough to interfere. Their work had no role as public speech, and so there was no public pressure on it to conform. This was fortunate, since they were engaged in a project which would presently seem, from the point of view of normal description, quite crazy’
Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New

failing to put down roots.

I had one of those days that you reflect on and think yourself to be a loser or just not very capable at life.

It reached it’s zenith this afternoon in a failed attempt to make butterscotch for the church fair (or fayre as current spelling seems to dictate) with my new electronic thermometer which of course had run out of battery. Then the failed cakes for said fayre and the icing on the cake, a call from Talk Talk when I had briefly hoped it to be someone ringing to say I had a job interview for a job I would really have liked to do and had spent Sunday night filling in a job application for.

Then there are the many personal failures that would be unwise to put up on public display. Added together and more they seem to be pointing out that I’m a failure.

Anyway, it does seem a bit unhealthy an indicative of our modern age that I’m saying this stuff on an internet page instead of talking/praying it over with friends or family,(or church) but this is all I have at the moment.
I feel so discouraged, isolated and lonely at the moment and for a number of years. There you go, I’ve said it.
I’ve never really put down roots in this new soil up here in Lisburn, and like a seedling that doesn’t like being transplanted from where it was sown I have too have struggled with being transplanted from the south. I miss the soil of the south, the culture and even the light.  Walking along the canal at 1.00pm it just felt so dark and gloomy, a Mordor sort of dark and gloomy. I never remember the darkness being so dark in Dublin  and Dun Laoghaire.

The darkness has literally been eating away at my soul, I hate it and want the light. I want a place to put down permanent roots, somewhere with water and light. Few plants grow well in the shade, I don’t grow well in the shade either. And it must have healthy soil. Lord, is that too much to ask? I have the fear that you’re always going to ask me to do things beyond my capabilities and strength. This place you’ve planted me has been beyond my capabilities.  I’ve tried my best to flourish and grow, but I’m sickly and want to go home. I’m sick of the exile and sick of reflecting that exile on to other people.

There you go. I just want to put down roots.

a bend in the river?

I walked home from Belfast through Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon park and along the Lagan coming to rest just before the M1 bridge. I read the 88th Psalm and tried to take stock of my life, or have a moment of calm.
The lamenting song writing project has hit the buffers a bit for different reasons. These range from doubts of the value of doing them to feeling lonely while writing  to hating my voice and the sound quality to being forced to deal with that strangest of feelings, joyfulness.
Because all among all the sadness, (and there is a lot of sadness out there from car bombs being left under cars to unexpected deaths to great ‘natural’ disasters) there are things that are just joyful. Take two of our best friends having a little baby girl, a little two day old girl clinging to her mummy. Or unexpected engagements from other friends and family members. It’s very hard not to be joyful….and yet there is so much sadness that clings around and haunts the place.

This is the longest build up to Easter I can remember both metaphorically and literally. I still need to lament and be in the desert but I also want to go home, to leave the exile of sitting feeding pigs in a shit hole. For a moment  the walk home along the Lagan didn’t feel so clautrophobic and the view widened out to something bigger.

thoughts about writing/recording songs about suffering

Thinking out loud again.

When I started out trying to sing the exile over Lent the idea was to try and be honest and purge the crap, to lament  the state of the world around me and in me and  give myself a challenge because I need borders in place to make things.
I thought I would treat them like Psalm’s or prayers mostly on a personal level but by going through the process maybe it would connect or resonate with other people going through the same sort of thing. Perhaps there would be enough ‘good’ songs at the end to make a small CD or something.

Then a couple of unexpected tragic events happened which shook me a bit and brought me into uneasy territory.  Watching the images from Japan of the wave come in and sweep all before it and then learning on Monday about the tragic death of young man who was loved by so many friends has made me want to lament and ask questions of God. So some of the things I was thinking about the goodness and character of God that day, or wondering if there was a God found their way into the song from that day.

But then that is what brought me into uneasy territory because you never want to think that you’re using tragic events for your own gain or to try and impress other people. Sorrow is sorrow is sorrow and the people involved in the hurt are the main people to be concerned about. At the same time though other peoples sorrow makes you ask questions of yourself and your faith because it could just as easily be you or me getting a terrible early morning phone call and you can’t help wondering ‘What am I going to when/if this happens to me/us?’

For instance on the morning that the earthquake smashed into Japan I went straight into my room and quickly recorded a song. My initial thought was ‘How many have died?’ and the first reports seemed a bit light So a song came out of that.But a few days later when the full scale of the tragedy was unfolding the tune of the song seemed a little bit jaunty or something even though I liked the tune. My feelings at the time where true, but when recorded in song and played back a few weeks later out of context it might seem distasteful

Then there is the thought of would it ever be right to try and sell songs or art that have found their beginning in tragic events or other peoples sorrow, even your own? If at the end of trying to record a song/music/sound every day of Lent there was four decent songs would it be right to put them on CD’s and say ‘Hey guys, I  recorded this over Lent if you would like to by it’

I don’t think so, it would leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I find the idea of taking a song , turning it into a shiny attractive thing that people would want to buy a hard thought to get my head around especially if the songs have been brought on by suffering.

The idea of selling the songs to raise money for something like the earthquake in Japan doesn’t really sit well with me either because

a) people might feel guilted into the songs as they think it’s a worthy cause or something.
b)you might be trying to raise money yourself using  other people’s grief and suffering

Yet by giving the songs away for free you run the risk  that people think  the songs cost you nothing to make or that you  didn’t do work making them. The truth is that every song you record or write (no matter how bad it sounds!)does take time to make.

Because we live in the digital age which allows us to zip around the internet from one song to another we have  lost the sense of the work that goes into writing a song and think that an artist came up with and recorded a music as quickly as we found it on Google.

The very least time I could write a song and have it ready for listening would be about 10mins.
For that you would basically have to pick a guitar without thinking,  play straight away and sing the song straight out of your mouth – 3mins.
Then you would need to listen to the song through and mix it first time and burn to CD – 5 mins.
Take CD to computer and upload to web site straight away – 2 mins.

Of course that nevers happens. I reckon that you’re looking at least 10 times that amount of work for even a basic out of tune song.
So  a very very rough guestimate 100mins for one of my out of tune songs.
That’s  makes it about £10 if you where being paid £6 per hour for time.

It reminds me of those very bad 5min talks I used to do for the kids in church. It might have only been a bad 5min talk but it was sometimes hours in the making because its takes a lot of time to take a big idea and try to whittle it down so that a 5 yr old can understand.

Or its like an iceberg with only a small part  of the whole visible to the naked eye.