These streets seemingly paved with gold know the poverty of spirit of so many victims of choice who walk upon the burdened concrete reality. Not galant in stride. Not jovial in the hop to side step a strangerly neighbour. Yet to meet with fate or her match unmade in Hell. Better the Devil you don’t know at the end of the road you never crossed. Mercy’s mistress wets the night with pitiful tears and a Crocodile drys its eyes.
It dawned on me this week that its been 20 years since I’ve been writing songs. Over that time I’d like to think that I’ve learnt a few things about music composition and myself. I’ve always loved creating and over the years I’ve enjoyed painting, sculpture, and various genres of writing, but nothing has been as rewarding as seeing the germ of an idea travel through the universe of my heart, mind and soul into a song. It is a thing of wonder. At one point in time I was meticulous in keeping records of my work. Dates and places. Not so meticulous about equipment. I’ve worked with a variety of keyboards on the low bracket and three guitars. I’ve worked closely with one songwriting partner for a period but mostly alone. The gift and the curse is that an idea can take over your life. You persue it, in or out of pocket, whether its affordable to dream it into reality or not. You dream about what a song can be when given its wings. I’ve studied the work of many songwriters, famous and obscure, but when I create, its from the blood of my soul. This year I had the pleasure to complete the recording of a song that meant a lot to me at this stage in my life. I had to wait almost two years to get the artist I wanted to breathe more beauty into what was already the apple of my eye. I still can’t say I’m done with it but the journey is its own reward. I feel fortunate to have written it and the hundreds of others. I am also grateful for the people who have helped me in collaboration. Musicians and engineers. Friends and hired hands. The inspiration has come from every conceivable thought, memory, feeling,…all corners of the human experience. I thank God for my inner ears and the organs that work together with the spirit in me. Curtis Mayfield is one of my many teachers, and I know I wouldn’t have become the songwriter I am without the lessons I learnt from the craftsmanship of masters like him.
July juxtapositions strangers and life is an exercise for eyes that lament the unanswerable. Streams of thought drown out the intrinsic fear to ask of who they are and what they know. I often wonder about what they have seen when they gaze at the wind or the silence that screams their middle names out of view.
A man wrestling is a man whistling.
Do you always see ghosts and tell of their whereabouts? Hiding places are the low tide. I never question the voices unheard in the storm of ones incoherence. Or the certainty of the unbelievers in the masquerade. What burden of proof will you wear today? And how will you dress down your despair? Welcome is a mask without a face to invent. I wear every doubt you’ve ever had about me with pride. Shameless like you wouldn’t believe. But then again, most of us were reborn naked. Some of us will die that way
“You’re jealous of God!” That’s what the voice inside his head told him to say to me. Of course its a lie. Why would I be jealous of a sick man who is not God but is constantly being told that he is by the demons that hang out in his mind? Exactly. However the tormented still need to be fed. I made rice so that we would at least agree on something. He had two helpings of boiled hope on a plate. It doesn’t matter if my brother remembers that it was made by me. What does matter is that he survived today’s attempt on his life. If he was God i’d blame him for his insanity but that is not the case. Madness doesn’t need a disclaimer. Nor does pain. Nor does love. Nor does charity. Nor does mercy. We do what we can and sometimes what we must. And in between we eat what is cooked. Unceremoniously. Circumstance usually stays for dinner. God has a plate too.
An old friend of mine now runs the so called urban division of Island records which was once a formidable home to artists such as Bob Marley and Grace Jones. In the 90s they acquired the greatest British music talent to have come along is a generation. It seems nobody knew how to sell him to the fickle market place of shifting trends.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Columbia were faced with a similar challenge in the slow burning guise of a comet called Jeff Buckley. Though both would not go on to become household names, any musician of note, regardless of personal taste, would be remiss not to acknowledge the supreme gifts that they were endowed with. Sadly before maturation of potential, Jeff’s body tragically passed under the waters of the mississippi river to be discovered lifeless in Beale street and yet his music would be life affirming for those who found him later, like yours truly.
Lewis didn’t ‘die’ in quite the same way. Perhaps his tale of a prematurely ended career is a far kinder death of sorts because we can reassure ourselves with the hope that he might endeavour to create new music that escapes into the world again. Another North Londoner, Amy, would enjoy the commercial fruit of capitalist success that Lewis didn’t taste and the poison of that bitter fruit would enrapture her. Though thats an oversimplification. The hard facts don’t tell even half of the whole. I wonder if my old friend would have known what to do which such a gift in his tenure.
20 years ago we privileged fans of North London’s finest football club were fortunate to acquire the gifted feet and artistry of Thierry Henry. He was the revolution incarnate for the premier league. Such grace. Such power. Such beauty he brought to the field of play. This image was captured after his famous goal against Real Madrid’s galacticos (Zidane, R9….) at the Bernabeu. Watching it in real time in 2006 was such a thrilling experience. We had a young team. Fabregas was the prodigy. Our defence was really our attacking style of play though we didn’t conceed goals as cheaply as we have done in the last decade. But we were still the underdogs on route to a first Champions league final. Real Madrid on paper were Goliath but we had our David in the form of Henry. Our giant slayer.
This was the pivotal year of the Wenger era. A chance to fulfill the promise that 2004’s invincible season teased. We would lose the last piece in the core of a great team with Henry’s departure to Barcelona in the following year. We should have won it all between 2004-06. It wasn’t to be. But the solitary goal at the Bernabeu and Henry’s celebration is still a memory to cherish. It was a shot in the arm that we and our national phyche needed. On that night Arsenal became the first English club to beat Real Madrid at their home ground. It reaffirmed the idea that greatness can prevail against the odds. In the final we faced another great team. The Barcelona of Ronaldinho and Eto’o. Our team competed valiantly and tasted an inglorious defeat. Henrik Larsson was the surprising game changer, coming off the bench. That was a hard one to swallow. I suspect Henry’s decision to leave was partially the result of that defeat. He would go on to greater accomplishments along side Messi and Eto’o. It was the right decision to leave. We would sadly regress and are still in rebuild mould in 2019. But at least for a while we had the poetry of Henry.
Oh but Confucius was wrong. Life is not simple and we did not make it complicated. We as in the debtors of this world and the situation we found ourselves in on arrival. Almost everything is chance and timing. An unearned providence. The will of the free is the slave of choice. A long hope is the length of a day times the width of perspective. Some will wait untill the mouth of reason yearns to feed that stretched out and guilty hand of reality. And breathe out the future we rolled the dice to inherit, when their nose of indifference has swallowed up the fragrance of time to drown out the noise of our silent tears stretched across the canvas of our fate. Such violence was born of light returned to sender and unclaimed. Crown your eyes with the love of priceless things and count the cost backwards.
Thank God for music and messengers of good will. Its in the light of melody that I often retreat when confronted by the indifferent and desensitised world of polar extremes. Like many, I discovered Jacob when he first started posting videos on youtube. How time has flown. He is now rightly acclaimed for his limitless musicality. I knew from the jump that he was a different level of musical possibilites than I had encountered in this young century. Its not like there hasn’t been virtuosos on the scene, but I don’t know if there are many or any with the depth and breadth of Jacob’s savant like gift. And where harmony is concerned, his innate ability is uniquely bewildering.
Today was a heavy one for a myriad of reasons. The load management of pain that is expressed in the phyche of the community can be overwhelming. I was giving moments of thoughtful reflection on lives lost and the present suffering. I was remembering dear Zainab and little Jeremiah. And I tried to stretch my mind and heart to things that I lack in understanding. All of life is seemingly politicised within constructs that are layered. Peeling the skin to get at the wounds within, it takes more than the bridge of well meaning words. Perhaps making sense of some things is beyond the relm of reason and so I find in music a gifting of discernment and sage wisdom in melodies. One such melody is Henri Mancini’s Moon River. The words and music of this composition are very special to me. The chords are so in tune with my heart. I remember how Audrey Hepburn’s plaintive rendition blanketed my heart when I watched Breakfast At Tiffanys for the first time. Its still a favourite. Then I experienced Terence Trent D’Arby’s spellbinding a capella rendition at a gig about 17 or 18 years ago. That was unforgettable. From time to time I go on YouTube and watch the late crooner, Andy Williams, wrap his velvet tone around the lyrics. And then we come to Jacob’s arrangement which I have listened to today. In his own way he has reached into his heart to pour out the wisdom and medicine of Mancini’s humanitarian aid to the broken hearted of the world. Its a blessing. A small mercy for the walking wounding, stunted and immobile.
A tower on fire burning lung after the flames were put out and the blood cries out. No Cain at the site of the murder. No justice. Just us. Souls taken up higher than the smoke, fly down to watch the mourners arise to a new day with their heads held up by rage and despair, and hearts bowed down and bowled over by the agony and incredulity of what happened. What really did happen?
We who knew the dead watched the conversation turn to the custody of the truth and the enquiry about the meaning of an event that forever changed the world of those who were loved and unloved in life, death and the afterlife. An afterthought in the aftermath, is the price of life that is haggled in the courtroom. Payment for the life of the dead, is a future for the children of Grenfell. But is it money? Or is it the mercy of confession? A courtroom of lies still engulfs the air, we share breathing space in the now. Two years dead and burried, yet the living have not the forecast of rest. And God be judge of the classified red ink on white papers.
I wrote a film score last year that I put away. One of several things I wrote in a prolific writing and recording period. Its just what I do in between my real life which is spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally labour intensive. But I digress. I didn’t have a title for it till today. Often the music will take the lead in the naming ceremony. After listening for a concentrated period, it began to suggest its ideal and ideas. Sonically its as harsh and as blunt as its subject matter till it opens up with a bit of colour after four minutes. And as I started to think about the contrast of sharp and pounding intensity of monolithic rhythm like a plantation field that shadows the soul, the humming dabs of colour stained the picture like droplets of sweet water on the tongue. And like a drop of blood mixed with sweat, landing without a parachute on the soil of that tethered soul. On one level its about the slavery that masters the body, which is mastered by desire or beauty or something else. Everything is a slave to something. Everything is mastered by something. So Its called ‘The Slave Who Masters The Mistress’. The recording has not yet been mixed and mastered.