My loneliness is killing me

public.jpeg

That a pop song by Britney Spears as seemingly vacuous as Hit Me Baby One More Time would have such an existential line in it says a lot about the ability of pop music to capture the human condition, even its darker moments. I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about loneliness lately. I find myself struggling with some deep loneliness, mine however, isn’t born of lost love as Britney’s song seems to intimate, but rather is rooted in the major transitions I have made in my life over the past couple of years.

I made a conscious decision to uproot my life, to move away from a world that I had invested the bulk of my adult life in, in order to help with some pressing family issues and also to reframe my own life and sort of ‘start again.’ It’s something that I wanted and still want to do, and I knew it would heral a big change, and have emotional consequences, but I am not sure I was aware of just how big a change it would be nor how impactful it would be on my psyche.

Even though I have spent a lot of time before people-speaking, teaching, performing, I am essentially a person who thrives on being alone. I can get overwhelmed by people, even those I love deeply and being alone with myself has been a central part of my life. Most of the time I do not get lonely, I thrive on being alone and all the things it affords me, but I have found myself struggling with a deep loneliness since I made my moves. There are lots of reasons for my current state, both internal and external, and, I imagine, a lot of remedies for it as well, but I have yet to find them. I know it’s a situational and hopefully temporary state to find myself in, which consoles a little, but when loneliness invades it can be difficult to remind oneself of that. I haven’t really felt the need to speak about this much, and I’m not looking for sympathy, in fact, I’m only addressing it because of Nick Cave. I received Issue #61 of his Red Hand Files in my email inbox this morning and it addressed, via a fan’s question, the very issue that I have been wrestling with, so I thought I would postCave’s eloquent response to a person who echoed the cry of many about being alone and dealing with loneliness.

How long will I be alone?

LIII, KRAKOW, POLAND

Dear Liii,

I am sorry I have taken so long to answer this question. You sent it to The Red Hand Files almost nine months ago and I have carried it with me all this time, wanting to answer, but never quite knowing how. I think this little question has stayed with me, not just because of the lovely beat of pathos in it, but also because of its extraordinary existential reach. It seemed that it spoke to all of us, yet it felt simply beyond me to answer. 

Aloneness and loneliness are two very different things, of course. I spend much of my time alone; I always have. I have learnt that being alone, as bereft as it perhaps feels to some, is busy with meaning and disclosure. For me, it is an essential place that intensifies the essence of oneself, in all its rampant need. It is the site of demons and sudden angels and raw truths; a quiet, haunted place and a place of unforeseen understandings. A place of unmasking and unveiling. It can be industrious or melancholic or frightening, sometimes all at the same time, yet within it there is a feeling of a latent promise that holds great power. Like Jesus praying alone in the garden, or Mary Magdalene alone at the mouth of Christ’s tomb, aloneness holds moments that tremble on the brink of revelation and great change.

And then there is loneliness, which is aloneness without choice, an enforced condition that yearns for recognition, to be seen and to be heard. This brave and unguarded admission appears to be the aching heart of your question. As I sat on the plane travelling to Reykjavik for the last show of my ‘In Conversation’ tour, I felt suddenly that there was something I could say to you. Having spent much time travelling on this tour alone, it struck me that your question didn’t have to be answered, but simply acknowledged; that to reach out to you, as you reached out to me, could in itself be the answer and, perhaps, a remedy – to say to you, you are not alone, we are here, and that we, a multitude, are thinking of you. 

Love, Nick

Copyright © 2019 Nick Cave Productions
 

True Love Will Find You In The End

Another musician died recently. Daniel Johnston, who started out as a cult figure on the Austin, Texas music scene, and became a dearly loved and inspirational figure for many figures in popular music, died last week. Kurt Cobain, cited him as an inspiration, calling him the “best songwriter on earth,” and Simpsons creator Matt Groening was influenced by his magic-marker cartoons. Johnston had a lot of health issues, both physical and emotional, he was bi-polar and schizophrenia but they didn’t prevent him from a life of creative output. He began by handing out homemade cassettes of his music on the streets and their low-fi quality only added to the emotional ambience his lyrics and melodies offered up. His voice was high and unsteady and his guitar-playing was probably less than adequate, but his honest and vulnerable lyrics drew you into the songs in spite of all the technical limitations—which says a lot about the power of music. He apparently grew increasingly weaker of late, and passed away of natural causes last week.

Iggy Pop: Free

IMG_1278.jpeg

This past Friday saw the release of a new Iggy Pop album, and yet another surprise in his creative output in recent years. Back in the decade before punk, Iggy and the Stooges engaged in a raw, emotional, chaotic and fiery form of music that gained them lots of publicity for Iggy’s self-destructive on-stage performances, but little in the way of real cultural and popular attraction. The Stooges broke up and Iggy went solo, rescued from obscurity, some might say, by his friendship with David Bowie, who produced Pop’s most familiar work, The Idiot, scored himself a massive global hit with Pop’s song, China Girl, and gave Pop a way out of a drug-fueled abyss he was ever-inching toward.

These days Pop is one of music’s legends, and in later life he has gained a level of adoration, not the least because of electric performances on festival stages and in concerts across the globe. His previous album, Post-Pop Depression saw Pop explore some new musical horizons with the help of Josh Homme. That album gained Pop a new wave of fans. The album was honest, open and experimental, not his most rocking album, but certainly one of his most mature and accessible. Many people also thought that it would probably be his last. There was a finality to it, a sort of tying up of loose ends, the work of an artist in his late 60s who wanted one last shot at capturing an essence of his musicality that he had yet to capture.

But then comes Free, somewhat of a surprise release, announced by a short video featuring Pop saying, “I want to be free” with a mournful jazz trumpet. Free is an even more experimental work that sees him joining forces with trumpeter Leron Thomas and ambient guitarist Noveller. It is surely one of his most beautifully produced albums, soaked in ambient sounds and is full of the sound of melancholy, not just Pop’s, but I suspect the melancholy that exists deep within all of us. This is an album for contemplation, for reflecting on one’s existence. There are moments of fun, the song James Bond being one of them, but overall this is a quiet reflective album showing sides of Pop’s musical character that he has hinted at along the way, but never fully realized until now.

IMG_1092.jpeg

Forgiveness: the ultimate act of resistance

I have spoken to a couple of people lately who have been struggling with finding forgiveness for people who have hurt them. Forgiveness is a complex issue, and often simplistically spoken about and invoked. Many people want justice or revenge or some form of vengeance, but it seems to me that forgiveness calls us to a different pathway. The philosopher, Hannah Arendt, said that the axis of forgiveness is the gift that Christ brought to the world, and it certainly seems to be a central thrust of his teachings and practices if you read the Gospels. I was thinking about this today when an e-mail from  The Red Hand Files , Nick Cave’s response to a question from one of his fans. Interestingly, the subject was forgiveness, and I thought Cave’s reply was quite brilliant. Here it is,   How do you forgive somebody whom you love very much but has done something truly terrible?   MEL, TRENTON, USA  Dear Mel,  Forgiveness is a form of self-rescue that goes, at times, against our very nature. Forgiveness can prevent us from becoming the living definition of the injury that has been inflicted upon us - from being consumed by anger, pain, resentment and bitterness. But how difficult it is to sometimes forgive; how unfair it seems to reward offence with compassion. Yet, despite our intuitions, despite the seeming insanity of the enterprise, we must try, because forgiveness can be the way to self-preservation. Forgiveness is an act of self-love where the malignancy you have endured can become the motivating force that helps enlarge the capacity of the heart.  How to forgive the unforgivable? Now there is a question. Sometimes we feel the crime is such a violation, and so egregious, that it is beyond absolution - but the struggle to forgive is where it can find its true meaning. Even the attempt to move toward forgiveness allows us the opportunity to touch the borders of grace. To try is an act of resistance against the forces of malevolence - a form of  defiant grace.   There are some who have found ways to forgive all manner of horrors and we look at them with awe. In Michigan, recently, a mother stood in court and told the murderer of her 17-year-old son. “I forgive you from the bottom of my heart. I pray for you as a mother. You are a child to me.” The mother of one of the victims of the Manchester bombing also publicly forgave the murderer of her child. These are forms of defiant grace, by people who refuse to be bowed by the malevolence of the world, and who rise to heights of compassion way beyond the reach of most of us, their acts of forgiveness a saintlike mixture of beauty, lunacy and courage.  So, Mel, how do you forgive the one you love for doing something truly terrible? I would try to see the idea of forgiveness as an act of insubordination, a non-compliance to the forces of malevolence, a recognition that you will not be defined by the offence that has been inflicted upon you. See forgiveness as a gift, not to the person who has committed the injury, but to yourself, in the form of self-protection. The sooner you start the process, the less time you may spend imprisoned by resentment and bitterness, hopefully moving toward a more resilient self. To try and fail is in itself a form of betterment. There are times forgiveness is beyond us but still we must reach, still we must strive.  Love, Nick  I’m not sure I’ve heard a better approach to how we might enact forgiveness.

I have spoken to a couple of people lately who have been struggling with finding forgiveness for people who have hurt them. Forgiveness is a complex issue, and often simplistically spoken about and invoked. Many people want justice or revenge or some form of vengeance, but it seems to me that forgiveness calls us to a different pathway. The philosopher, Hannah Arendt, said that the axis of forgiveness is the gift that Christ brought to the world, and it certainly seems to be a central thrust of his teachings and practices if you read the Gospels. I was thinking about this today when an e-mail from The Red Hand Files, Nick Cave’s response to a question from one of his fans. Interestingly, the subject was forgiveness, and I thought Cave’s reply was quite brilliant. Here it is,

How do you forgive somebody whom you love very much but has done something truly terrible?

MEL, TRENTON, USA

Dear Mel,

Forgiveness is a form of self-rescue that goes, at times, against our very nature. Forgiveness can prevent us from becoming the living definition of the injury that has been inflicted upon us - from being consumed by anger, pain, resentment and bitterness. But how difficult it is to sometimes forgive; how unfair it seems to reward offence with compassion. Yet, despite our intuitions, despite the seeming insanity of the enterprise, we must try, because forgiveness can be the way to self-preservation. Forgiveness is an act of self-love where the malignancy you have endured can become the motivating force that helps enlarge the capacity of the heart.

How to forgive the unforgivable? Now there is a question. Sometimes we feel the crime is such a violation, and so egregious, that it is beyond absolution - but the struggle to forgive is where it can find its true meaning. Even the attempt to move toward forgiveness allows us the opportunity to touch the borders of grace. To try is an act of resistance against the forces of malevolence - a form of defiant grace.

There are some who have found ways to forgive all manner of horrors and we look at them with awe. In Michigan, recently, a mother stood in court and told the murderer of her 17-year-old son. “I forgive you from the bottom of my heart. I pray for you as a mother. You are a child to me.” The mother of one of the victims of the Manchester bombing also publicly forgave the murderer of her child. These are forms of defiant grace, by people who refuse to be bowed by the malevolence of the world, and who rise to heights of compassion way beyond the reach of most of us, their acts of forgiveness a saintlike mixture of beauty, lunacy and courage.

So, Mel, how do you forgive the one you love for doing something truly terrible? I would try to see the idea of forgiveness as an act of insubordination, a non-compliance to the forces of malevolence, a recognition that you will not be defined by the offence that has been inflicted upon you. See forgiveness as a gift, not to the person who has committed the injury, but to yourself, in the form of self-protection. The sooner you start the process, the less time you may spend imprisoned by resentment and bitterness, hopefully moving toward a more resilient self. To try and fail is in itself a form of betterment. There are times forgiveness is beyond us but still we must reach, still we must strive.

Love, Nick

I’m not sure I’ve heard a better approach to how we might enact forgiveness.

WEIRD RELIGION

Coming soon to a theatre near you hopefully, is a documentary about, a church, a church perhaps like any other you may have come across. I’ve followed them in various online forms over the years. Started by two self-professed weirdos, who created new personae for themselves and a prophet for their community, The Church of the Subgenius is out there in the world messing with our concepts of normal. The church forms part of what Erik Davis calls the weirding of religion which happened in the culture and consciousness of postwar American culture. You can find plenty of entertaining stuff until the documentary comes out, you can even get yourself ordained if you wish!

3e30b0ec3955d17ded7a8a3e85da9f88.jpg

Against: Tad Delay and the White Evangelical perspective

My friend Tad Delay has published yet another great book. His first two, God is Unconscious and The Cynic and The Fool, were deep dives into theology and the work of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. This time he has gone back to his own theological roots to explore the state of white evangelicalism. Against: What Does the White Evangelical Want? is a timely and provocative exploration of our current state of affairs through a very particular and pointed lens. I interviewed Tad on my Patreon site a couple of months back and thought I would post it here so that you can check out our conversation. Tad is a long-time friend and a great and insightful thinker, here’s our chat about all things Against.

Relationship Anarchy:

th-3.jpg

I spent yesterday afternoon is a small movie theatre in Soho with a group of mostly elderly couples. It wasn’t planned, it just happened that most of the people assembled to watch this particular film were couples, and definitely mostly in their late 60s and 70s I would guess. We were all there to see the only showing of Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love, Nick Broomfields documentary about the love affair between singer/songwriter/poet, Leonard Cohen and the Norwegian woman with whom he conducted an eight year romance, and who by all accounts was his muse.

It’s a lovely film, slightly sentimental at times, but also characterized by some harsh examinations of the actions of both parties, and the times in which they lived. I got the feeling that for many people the film was going to be about romance and the enduring power of that kind of love. The premise from the documentary came from a note that Cohen wrote to Marianne Ihlen as she lay dying. Although their love affair had ended many years before, Cohen wrote incredibly loving and tender words to her, and it was that note that prompted the exploration of their relationship in this film. Made up of archive footage, home videos and interviews, the film charts their relationship from its beginnings to its demise, or at least to the end of its romance cycle.

They met on an idyllic Greek island in the late 60s, when it was possible to live there on a $1000 a year! Ihlen, was a searcher and seeker, looking for something unidentifiable. Fueled by the liberations of the 60s counterculture, both sexual and psychedelic, Ihlen had a number of interchangeable lovers when she met Cohen. Their relationship was always somewhat unorthodox, it was the times as well as the dynamics and temperaments of both the lovers. Cohen was consuming massive amounts of speed and LSD, and working on what would be his last book, Beautiful Losers. He had yet to make a move towards making music as a career. He was also, as perhaps he remained his whole life, a lover of women in general, and it was the cultural moment when perhaps mutuality between the sexes and sexual openness were a possibility, and Cohen took full opportunity of that time.

They set up home together, along with Ihlen’s son, and lived a spartan but happy existence on the island. But it was not to last. They were together as a couple for eight years, but much of the time was spent apart, particularly when Cohen’s musical career took off. At first it was six months on and six months off and it gradually dwindled down to a few days here or there and then to nothing. At least, nothing on the traditional romance front, but as the film shows, the depth of their love and connection outlived all the conventions that society places on things like love, sex and romance.

If you were watching this film hoping to see some affirmation of the power of love, you might well find that, as an unexpected depth, but what you wouldn’t find is any sense that this was an easy relationship between them and the Ihlen’s pain over the loss of Cohen’s closeness and their life together is heart-breaking. Whatever love is here, is complex and damaging, perhaps to Ihlen most of all, who ultimately, despite her background of affairs and open relationships.

Cohen comes across as complex as one might imagine the man to be. he is caught in a moment of ascendancy in the film, and his immersion into the world of sex and drugs is both comical and insightful. And in this day and age, difficult to place anywhere but in a sorry place.

As I watched the film, and even more so after, when I was feeling a little melancholic, in that post movie-watching way, I thought about love, sex, relationships and friendship and was reminded of something I read recently the Tumblr page of poet Trisha Low on relationship anarchy.

it can loosely be understood as a style of interpersonal relationships that doesn’t prioritize or hierarchialize relationships with others based on what takes place within them, at least a priori. In short, there’s a uniqueness to each relationship which makes their translation between relationships difficult to gather––a kind of ineffability that gets lost or violated in the transition. So, for example, you may relate with someone in a way that tends to be more like friendship: perhaps you sometimes get together for coffee, talk about things that are going on with your life, go for walks, make dinner together sometimes, etc––but, sometimes you mess around, not too often, but sometimes. Then, you may have another relationship that is a bit more weighty––for one reason or another it’s got a trajectory that shoots out into the future, a place where you may see yourself growing vegetables and living together, sharing projects, intertwining intricately. And then, just to have more than two examples, you may have a friend that is more traditionally just a friend: you watch hockey together, talk about books you’ve been reading, get a drink, whatever. There’s a complex calculus taking place in all of these relationships, a shifting definition, murky waters, not only interrelationship but intrarelationship, as well––just because you fucked around last time doesn’t mean it’ll definitely happen this time, just because you didn’t hold one another last time doesn’t mean you won’t this time, etc. 


The point being is that, out of the gate, you can’t prioritize based on the activities that go on within the relationship––the only thing that can be said is that the relationships differ. Now, in lived experience, you may want to spend more time with the person who you see yourself growing vegetables with (this is one of the miserable aporias of existence: love seems infinite, but time isn’t…) but this isn’t because you have sex or because you don’t have sex, it isn’t because they’re “more than a friend” or whatever coarse terminology is hoisted upon it––it’s because that’s the way that relationship goes, its particular mode––you require more time with them for one reason or another: they ignite you, they unravel you beautifully, they support you unflinchingly, they catalyze splendid complexity and nuance.”

It occurred to me that there were elements of this kind of anarchy in the relationship between these two lovers. There were times when their lives were intensely intertwined, but that changed over time, what didn’t change was the depth of their love and care for each other. As each of them approached the end of their lives, that love connection was a gift to them both. As with many things in life, social mores and accepted conventions sometimes place binary constraints on emotions and essentially make things either/or when there actually might be other possibilities. I’m not necessarily advocating relationship anarchy, but I’m not rejecting it either. It seems that is would take serious mutuality, self-awareness, and an almost entirely new understanding and attitude towards love and sex.

Their love endured many forms, thats the lesson I took away from the documentary. On Hydra, that beautiful Greek island, Cohen wrote a book that was a failure and essentially ended his literary career when published, it was called, Beautiful Losers. It might have been an apt title for this documentary, for surely the most beautiful losing game is love.

Creative Nomad

In the early 2000s, just below Sunset Boulevard, a restaurant/nightspot place opened. It was called Les Deux Cafe, for a few years it was one of those cultural hotspots that emerge and that are, for a while, the centre of ‘action’ in the life of a city. It was hip and definitely a place to be ‘seen’ but it was also friendly and unassuming at the same time. Even the space itself was unique, a bohemian bricolage of spaces, comprised of an existing commercial building, a recycled craftsman house and a Provence garden built on what was once a parking lot. It was opened by Michèle Lamy, a visionary French woman, a most unique human being really. She began her career as a lawyer, was mentored by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, was involved in the ‘68 protests in Paris, created a fashion line, and a restaurant, a club, a jewelry line, married designer Rick Owens, on and on. She is a force to be reckoned with, a woman with a singular vision about creativity, about life in general. Inspired by the Masai and other nomadic cultures she has developed her own way of being a 21st century nomad. I’ve attached a short podcast from the Business of Fashion podcast where she talks a bit about her life and her take on what it means to be creative and lead an iconoclastic life like hers.

IMG_5606.jpg

At Eternity's Gate

“A grain of madness is the best of art.”

I should go on record and say that I love every film the artist Julian Schnabel has made. Basquiat and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly are two of my all-time favourite films by anyone. I think it is his own artistic eye that makes his work so appealing to me. His paintings have always stirred me and I find myself in similar emotional territory when I watch his films.

His latest is At Eternity’s Gate, a story about the end of Vincent Van Gogh’s life. It advances a controversial theory that his death was caused by mischief rather than suicide, but whatever ones position on his demise might be, it is hard to find much to critique in this deeply emotional and eloquent homage to V. v.Gogh.

This is a film about painting and a painter and their relationship to infinity. It is told by a painter. It contains what I felt were essential moments in his life; this is not the official history - it’s my version. One that I hope could make you closer to him.” Julian Schnabel.

Willem Dafoe plays the artist with his usual intensity and passion (he was nominated for an Oscar for his performance). There are moments when he makes Van Gogh eerily similar to his portrayal of Jesus in The Temptation of Christ, and there is a bit of a hagiographic use of the camera at times, but it isn’t cloying or sentimental.

This is a film that takes art and artists seriously and etched into the visuals and the story are references to artistic process and meaning. Schnabel does a wonderful job of telling the story of Van Gogh’s tragic last years, it is quite a dreamlike and meandery telling at times but it works with the films focus in Vincents mental state and general struggle in life. Schnabel also infuses the film with great visuals that give glimpses of the world seen through Van Gogh’s eyes. The locations were in and around Arles where Van Gogh painted and lived and this adds to the overall beauty and melancholy ache of the film. The film tackles Van Gogh’s disturbed mental condition well and doesn’t whitewash the negative ramifications of its effects on his relationship with the local community.

As I said, the circumstances of the artists death are drawn from a somewhat controversial book written in 2012, by Steven Naifah and Gregory White Smith. I think it will be up to each viewer to decided for themselves about the veracity of the claim about the manner of his death, but this doesn’t affect the film at all, at least it didn’t for me.

The film has a beautiful and melancholy solo piano soundtrack by Tatiana Lisovskaya, which adds to the melancholy and dreamlike beauty of both the artist and the film.

IMG_4954.jpg

A Fortnight Of Tears

IMG_3545.jpg

A new show of works by Tracey Emin just opened at White Cube in Bermondsey.

Emin burst onto the art scene as part of the Saatchi sponsored, Sensation show, which introduced the world to a group of emerging British artists in the 90s (Hirst, Gavin Turk, Marc Quinn, Sarah Lucas et. al.). She was bold brash and scandalous, putting her actual bed on display, complete with all the detritus surrounding it, like used condoms, cigarettes, empty alcohol bottles. It generated one of those Duschampian “is it art?” moments. She followed up with a tent embroidered with the names of everyone she had slept with up to that point, friends, relatives lovers. She has since become a mainstay of the global art scene and a much loved public figure who can be counted on for brutal honesty, self-revelation and politically incorrect opinions about anything and everything.

The latest works, gathered together under the tile of A Fortnight of Tears, are classic Emin. It’s virtually impossible to separate the artists from her work, she herself refers to her paintings as her children and has described her creativity as a moment of conception. It’s a large show, featuring drawings, paintings, iPhone photos, neon sculptures and huge bronzes. It’s a moving exhibit, Emin’s work is visceral and riddled with the complex emotions of human existence. Love, anguish and pain haunt both her and her pieces. a gallery called the Ashes Room contains images of the casket holding her mother’s remains and self-portraits of Emin, it’s a room where grief holds sway and it’s hard not to cry when you encounter the works in spite of the crowds surrounding. Another room is called Insomnia and features huge prints of iPhone selfies Emin took of her struggle with sleep, they are confrontive images, devoid of any attempt at filtering out the ravages of life and sleeplessness.

This is art as self-examination, it is intensely personal and subjective and that’s what makes it so universally accessible, she gives voice to our own sense of grief, loss, joy and hope. Her well-documented rape and abortions, her odes to motherhood and sex all feature here as you might expect and she continues her long artistic relationship with image the combination of image and text and her love of translating words into neon. She scratches, she scrawls, she writes, she wails and she casts her feelings onto canvas, out of neon and into bronze and it is beautiful to see.

IMG_3566.jpg
IMG_3549.jpg
IMG_3551.jpg