Blue Tiger - Why Bother?
I often wonder what the point in making music is. I often wonder what the point in any form creative endeavour is. I have my own jumbled mess of doubts, confusions, musings and wonder that could possibly be untangled and laid out as a relatable theory. I have been wrestling with all kinds of thoughts along these lines for months, even before the whole lockdown thing. I have been reading a lot of thoughts and theories on the creative mind and listening to many other creatives talk about their personal battles with these kind of thoughts. Here is a short essay on how I see it.
Art as a monetising commodity or a pathway to fame, glory and power seems to be the most widely accepted ‘point’ there is. Particularly by those who do not partake in artistic work. But what about when you make no money, get no fame and have no glory but still continue to create; Why bother at all?
I am one of those artists. I make music that no one listens to, with concepts so extravagant that no one understands. I spend what little money I do have on maintaining my tools and instruments and adding to my studio when possible. I show up in that studio each day just to see what the creative forces may conjure. I work for hours and hours on lyrics, arrangments, production, mixing and mastering, like a sculptor would a giant lump of stone or a painter would a canvas. The more I work the more the music takes shape, or in some cases not at all. When the song does not fit, it sits in the corner of my hard drive like the potter with mountains of incomplete vases and bowls in the corner of his workshop.
I’m not alone. There are authors out there who grind at the keyboard for months to write 80 thousand plus words of prose that no one will ever read, movie makers whose life’s vision in film no one will ever see and there are musicians who bring to life beautiful compositions that people won’t hear. We are the proverbial trees that fall in the proverbial woods when no one is around....if no one hears us, do we even make a sound?
Of course we do. Without fail we continue to show up at their desks and workspaces, pick up our tools and create each day because we simply cannot help it, that’s why.
As I have explained in previous blogs, when the output is for self gain, I feel hollow. That is why I have always donated the meagre earnings I get from streams and downloads to charity. In a world where fame, glory and money is the purpose for most action, endeavours like this make no sense at all. Why waste all that time and energy for no reward? Well, if money fame and glory is the only reward you seek for art, I have news for you, you are probably not an artist and you’d never understand.
Without the concepts of money and fame and glory, if none of these notions existed, us artists would still be doing this thing because our motives are not to gain external validation. Our motives are to go out and create that which does not yet exist and make it so. True art for me is the act of expressing new ideas and asking new questions rather than finding new answers. It's about new ideas, new inventions, new suggestions and new ways of looking at the world.
I speak like a true penniless and fame-less artist. The type of artist who creates an ideology around their work which promotes the spiritual and psychotherapeutic aspects of his art because the external, material validation has never been there. Or is it?
I am studying psychology as well as being an active artist. I use the term artist over musician or songwriter or producer because there is a lot more to the musical work I do than just writing songs. I’m an album maker, I make every album with a concept, with a binding story or train of thought that runs through each album. That is why I have no interest in the current race to the ‘top’ which insists on singles. I don’t think in single songs, I don’t create in single songs, I have too many ideas bouncing around in my head to just do 3 minutes of talent flexing.
My reward for my endeavours, is simple; sanity.
When I create music I calm the voices in my head both positive and negative. I feed the whisper, shun the growl. The whisper is the madness of imagination, the growl is the doubt which tells me that I can not or should not create. That voice which says it is all pointless folly, that voice which says no one cares, that voice which says my songs are shit, that voice which says I should quit, the one which sneers, ‘why bother?’.Mostly that voice is in my head but I imagine some actual people would echo what it says. That voice internal and external is only silenced by action. Action stimulated by the resounding whisper that says, ‘do it.'
I give myself up that whisper which is more powerful than most would be even willing to consider exists. I let the madness that I am a capable of run free. As author Steven Pressfield puts it, ‘I take the train to the dream realm’, the world where all us artists go to find our ideas. I believe you can only get access to this realm by letting go of the physical and surrendering the most authentic version of yourself as the toll. You cannot hide anything in this world or in the art you take back to the physical world because somewhere in the fabric of your work lies the clues that identify you and your purpose.
Brilliantly, Pressfield refers to this as the ‘Superconscious’ and not the sub- conscious. There is nothing ‘sub’ about this realm, it transcends any earthly thought we are capable of. It is a world that runs parallel to the world we physically inhabit. Its a world of songs, pictures, visions, films, stories, creations. Its is a ‘world of pure imagination’ as Willy Wonka once sang.
The act of creating Music, art, dance or literature takes the mind to a trance like state known as flow. The short way to describe flow is when the action takes over the thoughts. The act of creating is the only thing on the mind, the mind is empty but for the painting, the song, the dance, the story that one is creating. I get flow while running long distances when my mind empties and all that exists is the rhythm of the road, and my physical body working in harmony to allow the oxygen and blood, the life force, to flow to every extremity. I am working on methods to share for anyone to reach flow state as I can generally reach it as a reflex now, but my initial observation is that flow can only be achieved by completely surrendering yourself to the moment. When you are in that state anything can happen and anything does happen.
I write fictional stories also. Nothing has been published or even sent to a publisher as yet but it is something I will undoubtably do when the work is right. Whenever I have sat down at the keyboard to write a few thousand words of fiction I only have a vague idea of a character and their story. As soon as I begin to type, new characters emerge, new plot lines are exposed, scenes are built, conversations are had and a whole new world begins to manifest itself on the page. It is one of the most exhilarating and magical experiences I have experienced with any creativity. Creating music has the same magic. I get chords, melody comes to me and then the lyrics start to form. It’s all being found, collected, panned for in this realm of new ideas. Like these ideas already existed and flow has allowed me to enter the world they grow and to help myself to whatever amount of goodies I like.
During this time of lockdown, the physical world and all its pleasures have been removed from our lives. There are no pubs, gyms, cinema, nightclubs. There are many of us who are struggling with the absence of these outwardly pleasures because so much of who we think we are is tied into those very things. We define ourselves by the world around us and neglect the world and potential worlds that exist inside us. The lockdown has made no difference to me. I am recluse and to some I may seem anti social but to me life is perfect. I have everything I want or need to keep nourished and stimulated. No gym, pub, restaurant or nightclub can give me what I have inside. No social circle is better for me than the family I have around me. I am so fortunate, grateful and privileged as I know some are not so.
Our sources of entertainment are in books music and film that we have. You could look at that as a means of wasting time or you could look at that as an inspiration to start creating something yourself. Perhaps you like films, read books or listen to music. Perhaps now the idea to make a film, write a book, create some music has sprouted in the long days of lockdown? Perhaps you have had the time to finally take up painting, sketching or knitting. Whatever it is there is potential for a magical journey in any creative pursuit only this journey is internal, it will fix you from the inside out. It does not need all the external world to allow it to happen. It just needs you and your willingness to create.
When you truly surrender to the act of creating, external validation becomes the least of your concerns. To rephrase another Pressfield quote;
I feel I have reached a point in my own life and artists journey where I have learned how to ‘be’ alone. By ‘be’ I mean exist parallel to the real world for my art and in it for my influence. I have learned to find emotional and spiritual sustenance in the work.
My need for third party validation has attenuated. I still ask a select few, “what do you think of this?” But I evaluate the response within a framework of my own self grounded assessment of my gifts and aspirations - and how well or poorly I myself have used one in service of the other.
The select few I do ask are only those who operate in and understand the same or similar gravitational pull as I do. That pull towards the madness of creation, of imagination, of the ‘Superconcious’
That is what my new album made in lockdown, ‘Blue Tiger,’ is all about. It is my seventh album and It is about what happens when we embrace the madness and surrender to the vision. What happens when we let go and let the creation guide you rather than you attempting to guide it. Most songwriters will agree that writing songs is a never ending process. We are always writings bits and pieces, sketches if you like. We then take what’s best and put them together as a record. This time I condensed the time frame and wrote everything new specifically for this album. Knowing the kind of music I enjoy making and knowing that the work and the satisfaction of creation IS the reward. The buzz of writing, producing, shaping the songs. The excitement of naming the songs, naming the album, coming up with the artwork for it. The feeling of exhilaration when you snatch the line of lyric from thin air which sums up the entire song and gives everything in it meaning. The listening to the mix downs and the final thrill of seeing your work immortalised in cyberspace. Then I take a deep breath and start again, without a single piece of adulation, without a single penny of profit because this is what I do.
That is why I bother.
Album is out 18.06.20.