I was sat on an an old sofa somewhere in east Berlin. Uncomfortable and battered, it served as a cheap metaphor for my current condition. With only a few hours sleep the night before, I felt the cold in the room; a sharp hangover blending with days of insomnia to turn the stark white space into a pulsating, rhythmic vision of the music drifting in from another world. A door opened. “It’s time.” My reverie shattered, I picked up my guitar and walked out of the room onto a dark stage. Expectant faces filling the room and glowing in the darkness. Lights. A loud cheer. A rush of adrenaline.
Such is life on the road. Pushing yourself to the limit in exchange for a fleeting moment of unadulterated, euphoric existence. The allure of performing in exotic, romantic cities each night comes with its own risk. There’s a certain masochistic pleasure in traveling hundreds of miles a day through Europe to play for strangers in strange lands. Late nights and long drives oscillate between tension and boredom; endless roads and long waits punctuated by brief explosions of energy masquerading as music. Anonymous venues in unidentifiable cities litter my memories.
Hidden inside those forgotten details are moments that break through the grey matter. Snapshots. Memories that will stay with me always: a sunrise, a smile, a shared meal, a laugh. Freedom. Arguments with band mates are storm conditions that arise when large amps make small vans cramped hell-holes. Yet it’s these times, where blurred trees rushing past the horizon melt into wheels on tarmac, that often transform into endless laughter. A free afternoon in a city; seeing the ebb and flow of the populace, it inspires a chord, a minor key, a few words. These are the seconds and hours that reveal the secret to creativity. You must first experience. Only then can you learn and grow.
Van Gogh drove himself to madness in pursuit of artistic perfection. Starving, suffering for his creativity. The ultimate description of irrationality. But rarely do I meet a soul who does not find love in his art or solace in his story. Our lives are a microcosm of a similar search; striving for a state of consciousness that reveals our personal truth. A journey to self-discovery and redemption through acceptance. Some of us choose discipline on that journey. Others choose anarchy and chaos. I’ve often thought about the impact of the sunrise and how it divides us. The gentle birth of a new day, or the rapid decay of last night’s activity. You make your choice. Life with the dawn chorus of skylarks and blackbirds, or groping in the darkness; the quiet hustle of creatures of the night. When I look back at my late nights, it’s no surprise to see this approach correlates with an early grave. Live fast, die hard. I do not advocate one existence over the over. Beautiful is the choice. You will find masters of all arts and trades on either side of the dawn divide. For every Kurt Cobain and Dylan Thomas, whose endeavours had an ultimately destructive force, there are those who provide balance. Roald Dahl and Laura Marling nurtured their artistic power through routine and discipline. It doesn’t matter which you prefer. It only matters that you fight for your existence. Finding stability is an art in itself. An opportunity to poke and prod, searching out your inner fire. Creativity, friendship, travel; new cultures, foods and languages. Life, happiness. It’s there to be discovered. I chose to channel my energy in counterintuitive ways; sleeping on cold floors, unloading vans into turgid venues, and tedium to the point of bursting. Through abstinence of comfort I found my joy. Those difficulties granted me a clarity of thought and enhanced ability to express myself with art.
Alas, my mind, and my body had a limit. Like so many of my heroes with a penchant for the dramatic, I pushed myself to the brink. My joy descended into darkness. Life expressed itself as pain. The incessant drumming of my negative thoughts led me in quick-step unison to a bleak, passionless hole of nihilistic escapism. To survive I had to change. A near-miraculous metamorphosis allowed me to traverse the isolating chasm of the sunrise. From night to day, I found a new beginning to my creative adventure. Now my heroes rise early and set limits. I wake to the east. I hold myself to regiment.
For now. Follow your dreams. Buy a guitar, grow your hair, be you. Be free.