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Why did I “un-retire”?


There is something about a person’s potential for doing the one thing for which they are specially suited, that once that potential is realised then it becomes irrevocably part of who they are. It defines their essence. Only by expressing themselves in this way, are they authentically who they are. Is this in the genes? Is songwriting an activity especially suited to me, thereby? Or is it simply that the gnawing emptiness I experienced when I “retired” was merely a consequence of ceasing something deeply ingrained through habit developed in my formative years which had nothing to do with any intrinsic aptitude?

I recounted before that I had started drinking heavily around the time I retired from performing. I had put my guitar in it’s case and locked it. I had informed my agent. Done and dusted. I got a “real” job. Doing work that I found deeply unsatisfying. The compensation, which I readily and often availed myself of, was to be found by way of the endemic drinking culture that existed in the industry in which I worked. At this time, it was brought sharply back into focus that I have a susceptibilty to depression. I had noticed this before but it had not been incapacitating and episodes had been brief. I had always been moody to the point that I had a reputation for disengagement and aloofness. It was just like having the blues. But in the summer of 1986 all that changed. I was struck so low and for so long that I lost my bearings entirely – a situation exacerbated by the copious amounts of beer I was now used to drinking. This is not a story about depression, dear reader, so I’m not going to describe my experience in detail – but they were dark days. But eventually I “surfaced” with the help of the medical profession.

Now, I had stopped playing in ’83 and only got the guitar out of its case thereafter to ocassionally attempt a lulaby at my son’s bedtime. I don’t recall these years in much detail outside of the hopeless days in an office building where I worked and spending lunchtimes and evenings in bars. I was no real husband or father outside of providing the essentials. I was certainly no fun to be around. I have memories of bitter tears of self-pity and remorsefull hangovers.

There was one shaft of sunlight, though: I discovered the music of Mahler. This might seem ironic since Mahler’s music is thought of many as the epitome of the neurotic (but not by me). Nevertheless, this music was a revelation. I have no idea why it took over thirty years of living before I stumbled across it. But It did reawake my interest in music generally and I spent a little more time musing over chords on the guitar than I had for a long time. I don’t recall the detail now, but I do remember the surprise when, sometime late in 1986, Red John and The Spaniard popped out as if out of nowhere. Again the detail is lost to me, but one thing led to another and I eventually got some courage to go the folk-club most local to me and play a few songs. I was rewarded with some bookings but this did not reignite any desire to perform regularly – or to be brutally honest – to put in the work needed to get regular bookings, far less tour again! This didn’t bother me since, apart from vague residual anticipation and pride in being asked (and chagrin in not being asked!), I had no plans to regularly gig. I was slipping in and out when the mood took me. No obligations. No commitments or judgements to be made. I could make a virtue out of being casual and could view others’ ambitions and competitiveness with disdain. But I think I knew really that this attitude and posturing was a contrivance – a defence mechanism. But that was OK. I could afford this self-deception for a time. Perhaps for a long time until some signposts coalesced from the vague longings and uncertain impulses.

But my muse was restimulated, certainly. And I had a nagging desire somehow to do something with the best of what I had written through the years but had remained unrecorded. And there were these new songs. What was the point of writing these songs? I suppose, in and of itself, songwriting is a harmless pursuit perhaps with some therapeutic value, and other such Voodoo. But that is not sufficient cause or reward for me. And yet the compulsion to do so was once again there. I felt a real need to have a justification for all that time and effort spent writing in the past – and a purpose to doing it once again. I needed to be able to look forward to some form of closure when I could say, with justification, “there it is” – and point to something tangible. It was almost as a means to quell a slowly rising panic that I came to the decision – after a modicum of research – set up a modest studio and buy some score writing software to get the stuff recorded and written down. It wasn’t clear to me exactly what I would aspire to achieve through this, but I knew that writing the songs down and recording them would be an essential first step.

So. Being this re-engaged, I can say, with hindsight, that I had come out of retirement. Why did I un-retire? Unfinished business.

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