13. Walking To Do – Ted Leo & The Pharmacists 2013 and the future
I had a wobble today. A sense of wondering what the point in carrying on with this was. Maybe I’d gotten a little too obsessed with the WordPress stats page (there’s nothing more dispiriting than a day of no visitors and no views) and a little removed from the original point in writing again.
So what was the original point ? I guess it was a combination of things. In part a recognition that, in some shape or form, putting thoughts down on paper (in actuality or virtually) has been a part of my life since I was 12 or 13 and not doing it cuts off an important outlet for me. Also, in part, a desire to prove to myself that I could commit to and complete a writing project of a certain size and scale – this was a way in, a route to getting past a novel length number of words within a defined timescale. The 42 was plucked somewhat arbitrarily based on my age at upcoming birthday next February and, slightly more esoterically, as a reference to the answer to life, the universe and everything from “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”. There have been a number of occasions in the last few weeks when I wished I’d picked a nice, round, small number like 20. Finally, the point was that this was intended to be about me as much as it was about a bunch of records – a means for me to work some stuff out after a difficult couple of years. My choosing to do that in a public space stemmed from a genuine desire to connect with people, both people I already know, and maybe people that just found this stuff. Being honest about certain things – not always being okay, depression, a love of country music – has generally been a positive experience and prompted a richer connection with people. Not everyone obviously, I appreciate the country music thing is hard for some people to accept.
There’s a place I go sometimes and I don’t know how I get there. Why would I ? It’s not somewhere I want to go, just somewhere I end up. It’s a place where I’m locked away inside myself. Stuck. There’s a bunch of metaphors that I’ve thought to myself when I’m there – it’s like being deep under water, not able to surface; it’s like being overrun with weeds, nothing else can grow; it’s like being in a cave, it’s dark and you can’t find the way out. None of them are really adequate and I don’t have the breadth of expression in my writing to explain it. Put in clinical terms it’s depression and it’s fucking horrible.
I wasn’t there today but there was a wobble. I was a bit flat. Could hear that, at first, small, insistent voice that wanted to just give in, sink into it, and stop bothering with anything. Because: what’s the point ? I was trying to write. Trying to force some words out about Springsteen’s “The Wild, The Innocent & The E-Street Shuffle” and feeling mildly intimidated by it. The record is so good and he’s so important to me – in a way far beyond anyone else covered on the 42 so far – that I’ve been running a bit scared of trying to tackle it. My gung ho attitude to it first thing this morning (the product of a couple of weeks of pure, unambiguous happiness and contentment) quickly evaporated as I got stuck in clichés about melting pots of musical styles and hyperbole about New Jersey’s favourite son. Or at least that’s how it felt to me. Reading it back some of it’s not so terrible.
So I stopped doing that. I stopped doing that and, perhaps with half an eye on the weeds analogy above, I raked leaves up in the garden. If you know me at all you’ll know that this is somewhat out of character. In fact, I believe it may be the first time in my life that I’ve raked leaves in my garden. After all, what’s the point ? They’ll only fall down again next Autumn.
But there was something in it that got me to thinking about tending. Obviously, in a literal sense, about tending to the garden but – and here’s that forced metaphor again – also about tending to myself. It was the first time in a long time that I’d been aware of that nagging, disruptive, unhealthy voice in my head telling me that I was worthless and had chosen to quiet it. Not in a dramatic way, just in the simple act of finding something else to do. In not continuing to bang my head against its own internal brick wall. That image doesn’t work does it ? How can you bang your head internally ? You get the general idea. There’s a wonderful bit in the Steve Coogan / Rob Brydon series “The Trip” (which I’ve already referenced in “The Winner Takes It All” piece) where Coogan trys to cross a river across a series of stepping stones but gets stuck, and subsequently falls in. Brydon baits him by shouting “you’ve got stuck halfway to your destination, you’re stuck in a metaphor”. Well, clearing the lawn of leaves I was stuck in my own.
When I came back into the house the record that I put on was this one. It was deliberately chosen because it has become my go-to record for hope, for determination, and for helping me believe that everything will be okay. It’s not a record that’s specifically about depression but it acknowledges that life sometimes throws up the “cruel and hard” but that you’ll be fine if you stay on your feet and keep walking. It’s enough in the ballpark of how I feel for me to force my own interpretation onto it – to adopt its positivity and spirit as rallying cries. If we were doing a quick round of “what’s your theme song” (really ? you’ve never done that ? must just be me) then, lately, I’ve tried to make this mine.
It’s fairly straightforward lyrically, adopting an extended metaphor about life being a journey to be walked through and how two people can draw strength from each other by walking alongside each other. There’s a neat rejection, early on, of the idea that meaning in life comes from some external, higher power:
Would you take me where my feet feel happy in their own time
And the cathedral of reason let’s the bells chime
And the lighting is fine ?
I’m old enough to know that people waiting for some big sign
Should quit their waiting on the Divine
Divine is what’s in your mind
From then on it’s a message of companionship and support – a sharing of the journey, a sharing of perspectives – and a clarion call that there’s more to do, more to see:
I see the road is long so get on my side – there’s a whole lot of walking to do
And if we stay on our feet, we’ll make it in our own time
And though the road has got some steep climbs, I believe we’ll be fine
Towards the close there’s a quieter section (you musician types might refer to this as “the break down”) which, literally, recounts the places that the singer and companion have journeyed together: my house to your house, Bethnal Green to the tube, Aoyama to Shobuya, Rock Park Creek to the Avenue, and on past the zoo… There’s a whole lot of walking to do. It’s brilliantly done, rooting the song back in reality after the abstracts of the original analogy: this is where we’ve already come from, where we’ve already been… Still lots of places, literally and figuratively, to go in future.
Right at the close the song unwinds with a jubilant call and response, pitched full of joy, life and defiance:
Well I’m here – and you’re here – and it’s true: there’s a whole lot of walking to do
And I’m cool – and you’re cool – and it’s true: there’s a whole lot of walking to do
There’s no fuss and I trust – I trust you: there’s a whole lot of walking to do
And you’re strong and I can be too: there’s a whole lot of walking to do
And you do – and I do – there’s a whole lot of walking to do
There’s a clue too in the “you do, and I do” that the companion in this song is Leo’s wife, which clearly makes sense in the context of the rest of the song. I always take that as my read anyway and this is another song that reminds me of the continued strength and support of my own wife. I always think of her in that final section of the song.
It finally ends with the sound of glasses chinking as if everyone’s sat in a bar, surrounded by friends, and enjoying life. I adore the end of this song. I adore the whole song and am indebted to a very old friend for introducing me to Ted Leo. I love that it doesn’t gloss over that life can be hard but that it’s okay, if we stick together we can get through it. I love that, musically, it kicks righteous ass: if you want to ignore the words and just jump around inanely to it, go right ahead, this song will serve you well. I love that it’s smart; richly observed without disappearing up its own arse (which may or may not be where I’m currently headed). But whatever, love makes you crazy and I love this song.
So, now we’re a long way from the wobble. A long way from the deep sea depths or the choking weeds or the cave. We’re out in the open, drinking in the air, grateful for being alive, for sharing it with some incredible people, and with some belief that there’s more to come. And that it will be good.
There’s a whole lot of walking to do.