Saturday, May 15, 2021

I Just Can't Turn It Off

Next week I turn 43 years old. I started my first band when I was 13. 30 fucking years ago. I haven’t not been in a band during that time. There have been times when I’ve felt like stopping, but that has never gone beyond the stage of muttering to myself that maybe it’s time to give it in. The fact is, being in a band is a huge part of my identity. For a long time, it was my only identity. Now there are other aspects of my life that are vying for the position of “Who am I?”. Parent. Social worker. Book nerd… But when I was sat eating dinner with my friend Gill and his family, Gill plays guitar in our new band A\\VOID, and Jen, discussing the bands we’ve played in, it hit me just how fucking long I’ve been doing this, and for how long music has been the dominating element in my life. My life has almost entirely revolved around music. Quite a thing.

Things have evolved and adapted over the years, of course they have. That’s only natural. I don’t spend five or six hours of a day listening to music anymore. I don’t have the time. I’m maybe down to one or two hours a day, when out walking the dog or biking to work. Although podcasts have taken over a lot of that time, too. I still get a buzz when I begin on a project, though, normally in the guise of taking on a band’s entire discography and listening through in chronological order. Sonic Youth, Jesus Lizard, Tonbruket, Black Flag, Fugazi, Mogwai, David Bowie, Brainbombs, Shellac and Iron Maiden (up to Fear of the Dark), have been some of the latest projects. But listening to music doesn’t take anywhere near as large a chunk of my waking hours as it used to, as it did up until about seven years ago. Incidentally about the time we had Polly and I began studying again.

But one thing has not changed since I was 13. And I realised as I was talking about it at dinner this weekend that this thing is the reason that I’m still playing music after all these years. Playing live has always been a big part of the rush, as has touring and journeying all over the world, playing to new people, making new friends, absorbing new sights and cultures. Touring, though, especially the way we do, has become more a physical and mental strain with age. I still absolutely love it, don’t get me wrong, I love the adventure of it, but the length of time on the road I can handle in one stretch has reduced dramatically these last ten years or so. It’s not just that it’s physically tiring, it’s also hard being away from my daughter for more than ten days or so, especially at the age she is right now. When she’s older things might change again, who knows.

All this being said, something else quite staggering hit me as we were on this subject. 2020, the Vile year of our Lord, was the first year since 1994 where I didn’t play a single live show. That made me think about a lot of things, and I’ll probably write another post about that.

The thing is, whilst the attraction of touring for months on end no longer exists, I’m still, after all these years, playing in bands. Three right now as a matter of fact. Four, if you count D?B!, which you probably shouldn’t. But there is Victims, A\\VOID and Nubenegra. So, if not touring, what is there? Well, I assumed a few years back that what kept me playing in bands was the issue of Identity. Since I was 13 it’s been “who I am”. If I didn’t play in bands there would be a huge hole in my life, a massive part of me would be lost. And holding on to that for that reason is purely based on fear of changing. But that’s not why I’m still playing in bands. I have other aspects to my identity now, aspects mentioned above, that I’ve fully embraced. The reason I’m still playing in bands is because the need to create music, to make things out of thin air, to produce things and put them out into the world, no matter the scale of it, is something I can’t simply turn off.

Maybe one day it will no longer be there. But until then, I will continue to play and write music with other people. That could be next year, it could be when I’m 70, who knows?

But as it is, right now, it’s still an obsession that has a hold over me.

When one of my bands has a new record on the go, whether it’s Victims where Johan has been writing most of the music recently, or A\\VOID where I’ve been the main writer, the new songs we’re playing around with orbit around my head for months on end. I play them over in my head from start to finish. I do it when out and about in town, out with the dog, lying in bed at night in the short space of time between putting my book down and falling asleep.

As in the case with A\\VOID right now, I’ve been in a long period of inspiration, thinking about new songs, writing something every time I pick up a guitar at home, it just seems to be flowing out of me. It’s truly like a spring that’s been tapped and I can’t help but drink from it. And at almost 43 years old, 30 years after being given my first guitar as a Christmas present, this still has me as excited now as it did then. Without wanting to sound cheesy as shit, it makes me feel alive, creating music. As long as making music makes me feel this way, I’ll most likely keep on keeping on with it.

In the midst of everything that has been completely and utterly shit during this pandemic, starting up A\\VOID and being asked to play guitar in Nubenegra has kept me sane during what otherwise has been a down period for Victims. Of course, my family, my job and all that, they give me meaning in my life, but making music, I realised maybe more than ever during this last year, is simply something I can’t live without. It’s not even a question of will, it’s simply something I can’t turn off.

As I write this, I dare to hope that the light at the end of this tunnel we’ve all been in, truly is the end of the tunnel, and not an oncoming train. I hope that in a few months time we might just be able to start opening up society again, as it should be, and start playing shows again. And then maybe I’ll have something to start writing about on here again.

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