William's Study (Diary Of A Hyperdreamer)
Saturday 3rd November 2007 -- 4:00 pm
Although the following diary entry has only just been posted, I began writing it on the 29th of October, intending to post the following day. However, various post-Nelsonica distractions have taken up the time that I intended to devote to it. So, rather than re-write the whole thing to suit its later appearance on my website, I'll add the most recent section at the end.
Monday 29th October 2007 -- 6:00 pm.
Still trying to take in the fact that this year's Nelsonica convention was, on Saturday, finally seen through to its proper conclusion. And with real style and panache too.
I'm now able to wake up without the sense of panic that has filled my life these last couple of months.
The event was a joy on all levels. The feedback from attendees, both on the day and afterwards on the Dreamsville forum, has been joyously positive. The most commonly expressed opinion is that this was the best Nelsonica to date and in the best venue so far. A happy result, especially after all the hard work that the convention team and myself had put into the creation of the event.
I've recently found myself wondering whether Nelsonica is a sensible thing to continue to stage, especially when so many other projects demand my attention throughout the year. And this year has seen one task bleed seamlessly into another, leaving no time to gather my wits or recover energy. I'm ashamed to admit that all kinds of things have suffered as a result.
I'm way behind with answering emails from friends, even close friends. My family haven't had the attention from me that they deserve, and I feel as if my emotional and physical batteries have been drained to the point where the world flows through me with hardly a blip on my internal radar.
These last few months I've been working in a kind of fog, a mysterious, hypnotic state, guided by things beyond my control. It's been instinct and improvisation, thinking on my feet, flying by the seat of my pants, playing it by ear.
Somehow, though, it gets there in the end. Things fall into place and the target is hit, albeit with the collusion of smoke and mirrors.
The life of an independent artist certainly imposes peculiar and surreal demands, demands that I never had to think about when I was, (many years ago now), somewhat more 'gainfully employed.' People I worked with at that time said "don't give up your day job..."
The truth is, despite the inevitable struggles and frustrations, I think I'd put up with just about anything not to have to return to the life I lived before I threw myself 100% into the arms of the muse.
The work I do now makes the desk job I once held down feel like sonambulism.
Those days of shuffling paperwork from one side of the desk to another and back, the glassy-eyed answering of office telephones and the ritual morning and evening clocking in and out, the endless rattling of filing cabinets and the gossipy whisper of inter-departmental political intrigue. All the sly, prejudiced comments I endured, simply because I wore a pink satin tie to work or didn't happen to have taken in last night's football on tv, or watched a popular soap opera or game show, or 'gone down the pub' with the boys or bought the latest Eurovision hit single. Hard to believe, nowadays, the insults that my disinterest in these things aroused in ostensibly, superficially decent people. But I've learned, over all these years, that fear of the unfamiliar or 'the different,' drives vitriol through the fuse. And, by the standards of local government politics back then, I must have appeared very unfamiliar.
Sometimes, it was purgatory. So much so that I often dreaded going to work, simply because of the sly ridicule I'd have to endure.
Liberal attitudes, an open mind, any sense of cultural adventure or notions of racial and sexual tolerance, (in fact ALL the hard-won advances of the 'sixties counter-culture), were regarded by these staunchly conservative fundamentalists as some kind of left-wing plot.
It wasn't that I didn't TRY to communicate with my fellow workers, but the look of incomprehension in their eyes if I tried to explain what kind of things turned me on and why. Well...looking back now, it seems astonishing that such self-imposed limits of taste and ambition were regarded as some kind of 'standard.' I did what I could to understand and accept these attitudes but still found them disturbing, even a little frightening. I certainly felt intimidated.
Things have changed these days though...haven't they? Well, we like to think so but I suspect we're not much further down the road to enlightenment. Thatcher's bastard offspring are everywhere, even in the damned government.
Bearing in mind my natural inclination to plough my own furrow, I suppose it was inevitable that I would be regarded by certain captains of the office ship as some sort of freak from the deep, caught up in the local government net by an accident ofindiscriminate trawling. Certainly not one of their own but an unwelcome and uncertain entity. Maybe even, (check out that pink silk tie, boys), a raving queer!
The first week I worked there, I accidentally overheard an office conversation. It went something like this: " Have you seen the new boy? He looks ill, like a skelton, too skinny, too pale. Something's wrong. I think he's on drugs. Dresses like a homo too. Wouldn't surprise me..."
The speaker didn't know I'd overheard him. But I was just the other side of an office partition when these words were spoken. I've never forgotten them. Why? Because they didn't know or understand the first thing about me yet were prepared to pronounce judgement in such a dissmissive way.
In truth, I couldn't have cared less about their accusations of homosexuality. I'd never been remotely homophobic, though from their derisory tone, I could tell they were probably typical of their generation. Back then, the slightest sartorial flamboyance got you labelled 'a puff.' I was actually mildly amused by the fact that they couldn't really work that side of me out. I considered myself to be reasonably sophisticated regarding sexual matters, knew exactly which side of the fence I sat on and was confident enough about my own hetrosexual orientation not to need to rush to its defence in these situations. What really got to me was the implication that I was ill, or strung out on something or other, no, maybe not even that, just the sheer audacity that they could presume to sum me up in such banal, conservative and inaccurate terms.
The John Lennon/Yoko Ono 'Two Virgins' calendar that I pinned on the wall next to my desk in the office didn't help matters either. I soon found out that it was o.k. to pin up the usual cheescake busty nudes from the men's mags of the day but a naked John and Yoko was one nipple too far, even though they had their backs turned to the camera. Two obviously deviant perverts was how they were seen by the people sitting in the office with me. In their eyes John n' Yoko were nothing but anarchistic, dope-smoking hippies...filth, symbolising everything that was wrong with the country, eroders of 'true British values,' (and one of 'em was bloody Japanese for Christs sakes! Didn't we fight a war to rid ourselves of these types?) They gazed at the calendar, then gazed at me in horror. I was told to take it down or face serious consequences.
Truth be told, I wore their angry glances like glittering medals. Their hatred felt like a badge of honour. I was glad to be the office enigma. But then, I was young, idealistic, enthusiastic, culturally ambitious.
I shared none of their traditional aspirations although I quietly envied what seemed to me their lack of any philosophical complexity. The world to them was a simple thing, subject to a black and white moral and ethical absoluteness. There were no shades of grey and certainly no spectrum of colours. They regarded themselves as guardians of the British flame and anyone who dared disagree was labelled weird, crazy or worse.
Of course, in many ways, I was just as ignorant of them as they were of me.
Let's just say, I was ill equipped to be a local government officer. The beaurocratic ink was dry in my well.
Nevertheless, I did try. I stuck it out, switching off at five pm every day, like everyone else, and never giving it another thought 'till next morn. The evenings were all mine, for writing, for drawing, for playing guitars and dreaming.
I eventually was able to take those youthful dreams and blew air into them, float them over Wakefield's grey skies, and set their sails for tomorrow. And the only compass I had to guide me was that of my imagination. I had to escape and my need to do so may sometimes have appeared to others as ruthless, 'though that wasn't my intention. But that's what I did. One day, I walked away from it.
And here I am now, doing what I once could only dream of. And now I complain that I'm exhausted. And still misunderstood. But, in reality..? I'm blessed. It's been a long hard struggle in many ways but I lead the life of an artist, not a pop star or rock guitarist. I've fought for the right to be free of all that. I hope it goes a little deeper.
As always, I've drifted off-topic. I was trying to come to terms with the possibility of abdicating from the annual Nelsonica pressure. I don't think that I really could though. Abandon the convention, I mean. Whatever the mental uncertainties and physical stresses and strains, after Saturday's warm reception from the Nelsonica audience, and the wonderful support from the team, it's hard for me to think about drawing a line under the convention at all. It's become a surrogate family gathering with a group of people at its core who have been with me for some years. They're as committed and inventive as ever and it's impossible not to be swept along on their waves of energy and enthusiasm.
I hope that they realise just how much their support means to me. Sometimes, it's difficult to communicate this without appearing maudlin or overly sentimental, but they're absolute gems, every one of them.
I suppose I've never been particularly adept at expressing emotion, other than through my music. Other people, those really close to me, may disagree with this damning self-analysis, but that's my sorry take on it. Maybe it's because I'm frightened of pain and mortality and therefore scared of losing people who I deeply care for, (who isn't?) Perhaps I build barriers against losing them, or, even more so, them losing me.
It's that old Buddhist thing of suffering though, isn't it? Existence is suffering. He was spot on, old Siddhartha. Absolutely on the money. Nevertheless, despite his realisation of suffering, (or because of it), he became a healer of souls and minds, an optimist, a viewer of the bigger picture.
No one deserves trouble, no one deserves illness, no one deserves death and depression. The cruelty is that, whatever we DO deserve, we rarely achieve it. Things are generally unfair. Shit hits the fan with a regular dull thud. Suffering is as much our lot as breathing.
To witness the struggle of others to maintain some sort of decency in the teeth of life's hurricane is often so heartbreaking that we avert our gaze. I've turned mine away too many times to presume the slightest hint of strength or honour in these matters. I look to those who prevail and endure and maintain their dignity in difficult circumstances with nothing but envy and admiration. And a deep sense of my own inadequecy and shame. And that's enough self-immolation for now, thank you very much. I'm going to open a bottle of wine and taste the sunshine.
It's now Friday, 2nd of November. Time has moved on, as usual.
Some of the above was written at intervals during the last week. I won't bother to date each tiny section, just the largest chunks.
Nelsonica 07 was one week ago tomorrow. The pace hasn't slowed and I still owe some good people emails.
Went to see Honeytone Cody at 'Fibbers' on Wednesday. The sound mix lost too much of Elliot's guitar for my liking but they played with their usual dark energy and mysterious atmospheres...and in Halloween costumes too.
Even the staff in our village Co-op looked like extras from a Hammer horror movie. The young man who served me my 'Independent' newspaper was wrapped from head to toe in white bandages, like an Egyptian mummy. The parts of his face that were visible were covered in white makeup with dark rings shaded around his eyes. Fake blood oozed from gaps in the bandages at certain points of his body. He took my money and handed me the change as if there was nothing unusual about his appearance whatsoever . "You're looking well," I said.
Elliot called 'round today to show me his new car. He's very proud of it and rightly so.
My old banger is rotting on it's wheels. rust oozing from the inside out. Just had to spend almost four hundred pounds to get it through its MOT certificate. Two new tyres, a new silencer, couple of other things. I've had the car some years now and need to change it before it becomes totally worthless. But there are household/domestic priorities that need money spending on too. They're getting to the point where they can't go on in their present condition much longer. It's the same old story: As soon as any earnings come in, they're immediately spoken for. But, that's life.
Dug out some black n' white photos that I took when I was working with The Skids in Rockfield Studios in Wales, a LONG time ago now. I'd created a cartoon/graffiti drawing, on the studio control room doors, of an alien family. I'd built it up a little at a time, over the duration that we were working there. (I've attached the pictures to this diary.)
Also found some photos of myself with Elle and Elliot taken in the South Of France whilst on holiday. (Holiday? What's that?) Must have been a long time ago because they are so young. And I was so slim! Also found another picture of the first house I owned, 27, Anderson St. Wakefield. And a black n' white photo' taken of Haddlesey House from part way down the garden. It brought home the distance I'd travelled from Anderson Street to West Haddlesey. Quite a contrast! And all on the strings of a guitar.
Things change constantly, of course, and that wonderful 3-acre garden is now a bland executive housing estate. And, in the intervening years since I lived there, I've been without a home of my own, then living with friends in Japan, then in rented accomodation, (for which I had to sell my guitars to pay the rent), and now in a home bought by my sweet Emiko from the sale of her Tokyo apartment. And I've got guitars again. Things are always in flux but two things I've learned to trust are love and music.
It's 10:20 pm and I've had enough of sitting in front of this screen for today.
I'll try to complete this entry tomorrow, 'though there are several things already scheduled to take my attention away from it. My friend Dave Standeven is calling round in the morning to collect Steve (Cook's) keyboards and amps which he left here last week, after Nelsonica. Dave's van should be able to accomodate them and then I can shift my own gear upstairs. It's all still in the hall and dining room as I need to clear Steve's stuff before I can find space in the spare bedroom to store everything. It's a real jigsaw puzzle, getting it all to fit into the house.
Saturday 3rd November 2007 -- Afternoon.
Dave called and we put Steve's gear in the van. Steve's ancient Fender Rhodes piano, which has been stored here since the 2004 tour, was a real backbreaker to get down stairs. How people used to lug those things around on a regular basis back in the '70's is beyond me. My lower back muscles have gone into spasm just dragging it from the spare bedroom downstairs and out to Dave's van.
We're going to our friend's bonfire/fireworks party tonight. Lots of booms and whizz bangs. If my back holds out.
Must make sure the cats are safely inside though. Just the two of them now...the two we've domesticated, 'Tink' and 'Django.' The others fell victim to our neighbours' desire to rid the area of them. Some went to the Cat's Protection League, some to a farm elsewhere, some mysteriously disappeared, and one, gentle and elegant Gizmo, was hit and killed by a speeding driver travelling at hellish speed down the lane outside our house. The two we've domesticated, (they were originally semi-feral), are funny, affectionate and dependent upon us. We'll have to sort out a cattery for the four days we're away in Paris. Something else to organise as soon as possible.
Looking forward to our Paris break. I've finally got everything booked, Eurostar and a hotel. Have to decide on clothes to take yet though. Must make an effort to be stylish...it is Paris, after all. I'll make a start on the packing next week.
I'm about to telephone my mother for a chat now, so will close here. Hard to take in that Nelsonica was exactly one week ago today. Time, as one strange scientific theory has it, is definitely speeding up.
The images accompanying this diary entry are as follows:-
1: Dreamsville Art Advert.
2: Bill Nelson on stage in the USA, 1980's.
3: Bill, Elle and Elliot in St. Paul, France. '80's.
4: Bill's Rockfield Studio art .
5: 27, Anderson St.
6: Haddlesey House, early '80's.
Thursday 29th November 2007 -- 8:00 pm.
Got back from Paris just over one week ago, 'though it now feels much longer than that. The timing of our French break was a little unfortunate as it coincided with a civil service strike which shut down the Metro system and caused traffic chaos in the city for the duration of our stay. It was difficult to get around and as a result, taxi's were almost impossible to find unoccupied. Emi and I eventually resigned ourselves to walking almost everywhere.
Of course, walking in Paris is no great ordeal as the architecture is so breathtakingly beautiful, but the weather was cold and wet and we were glad of the warm clothing we'd packed.
Despite the cold, we found ourselves stopping regularly to admire the exquisite details of the buildings, pointing out to each other little twists and turns of ironwork, the patina on door handles, the sculpting of stonework, the proportions of window frames, the art-nouveau richness of the stained-glass and so on. We also discovered exquisite, independent shops and galleries in the narrow streets of St. Germain Des Pres, not too far from our hotel in Montparnasse. I bought books at the 'Village Voice' bookshop and some beautiful little ruby red cut-glass, engraved goblets at a very chic interior design boutique. We also enjoyed browsing in the 'Agnes B' boutique, (one of our favourite designers, along with Margaret Howell, Paul Smith and Dries Van Noten), though the prices were high enough to be thought of as silly and certainly beyond our reach.. However, Emiko DID buy me an Agnes B black scarf that I took a shine to. It is to be one of my Christmas presents from her so has been hidden away until then.
Our hotel, ('Hotel Raspail'), was situated on the junction of Boulevard Montparnasse and Boulevard Raspail, (actually on 'Place Pablo Picasso'), just across the road from three legendary restaurants, 'Le Dome,' 'La Coupole' and 'La Rotonde.' Whilst these venerable establishments are not quite what they were in the days when Montparnasse was an artist's village, the ghosts of Picasso, Man Ray, Leger, Kiki, Cocteau, Hemmingway, and even Lenin and Trotsky still haunt this area. It was once a vortex of creative energy, lit by the electricity of new ideas.
Emi and I breakfasted at 'La Rotonde' and ate lunch at 'Cafe Flore' and 'Les Deaux Magots,' savouring the atmosphere and watching the elegant Parisians go about their daily business. I'm sure Emi caught me admiring the French babes out of the corner of my eye too, but she's magnaminous enough to not make a fuss. Jealousy is, thankfully, not her suite, 'though I'm sure she'd let me know if I ever overstepped the mark!
On the Monday, we walked all the way to the Musee D'Orsay, only to find it closed. Damn, should have made enquiries first. So we walked a little further, crossed the Seine via Pont Royal and continued to the Louvre where we enjoyed a satisfying lunch with wine and an afternoon wandering through the museum's antiquities section, marvelling at the endless treasures on display.
Afterwards, I bought myself cologne at the 'Fragonard' shop before ambling gently back through the charming streets of St. Germain (and the wintery weather), to our hotel, pausing to inspect more magical shop discoveries en route.
That evening we went to the 'Casino D'Paris' to catch Rufus Wainwright in concert. He was his usual utterly charming and humungously talented self, chatting amusingly in French throughout the show and singing his heart out like the 21st Century Diva he is. This is the third time we've seen him perform live.
I'm not in the habit of going to see concerts at all, these days, let alone three by the same artist in a concentrated period of time. But there's something about the boy.
My only regret about this particular show is that I lost my favourite hat there, a black 'beanie' style cap that I often wore on stage at my own concerts. (Most recently at Nelsonica.) It suited me and is kind of irreplacable as that particular style isn't easy to come by at this point in time, at least in the U.K. (Not high street fashion, I suppose.) Anyway, I'd stuffed it into my coat pocket during the Rufus' concert, only to discover later that it had gone missing.
I also lost my bio-magnetic bracelet in Paris, though I can't say that the aches and pains I bought it to relieve have become worse since it fell from my wrist somewhere in the Parisian streets, or maybe on the train coming back to the U.K.
Getting a taxi back to Montparnasse after Rufus' concert wasn't easy. We'd met up with four of our friends from York at the show, (they'd travelled by car and ferry whilst we'd opted for Eurostar). We had dinner with them at a swish restaurant the previous evening. It was the first time they'd seen Rufus live and were duly impressed. I particularly enjoyed his beautifully sung version of 'A Foggy Day In London Town,' but then I'm a sucker for those old standards.
After the show, we all decided to find a cafe bar to hole up in until the audience had dispersed, (beer and frites all round), then we waited at a taxi-rank until cabs arrived. Emi and I eventually got back to our hotel in the early hours and then packed in preparation for Tuesday's trip back home to England.
On Tuesday morning, there was some panic about getting to Gare Du Nord from our hotel. The hotel receptionist said, with a stereotypical French waving of arms in the air, that it would prove impossible to get a cab but, miraculously, one arrived within minutes of our requesting it and we got to the station in plenty of time.
I'm very impresssed with Eurostar. It was quick and comfortable and we were served champagne, wine and reasonably decent food. It really felt quite effortless. In fact, the least comfortable part of the journey was that from London back to Yorkshire on the standard GNER train, not least because of the boorish yobs in some of the coaches. I've reached the age where 'youthful high spirits' translates as 'ignorant louts,' I'm afraid. But this kind of senior-citizen grumpiness comes to us all, in time, I presume.
Since returning home, it's been domestic catch-up time. The Nelsonica preparations occupied me for many weeks and, as a result, more prosaic tasks have accumulated. Mountains of emails to answer too.
One of the first things we did on returning from Paris was to spring Django and Tink, (our feline friends), from the cattery where we'd left them. It was the first time they'd been away from their home environment and I was concerned about them whilst we were away...Needless to say, they appeared pleased to be back in familiar surroundings. Since we decided to look after them as domestic pets, (earlier this year), they've become a soulful part of the family and our home wouldn't feel the same without them now.
Even though there's a LOT to occupy me domestically, I'm still thinking about musical work. Whenever am I not?
I'm currently assembling an 'experimental' running order of tracks that will probably make up my next album. The album's title is 'SILVERTONE FOUNTAINS' and, at this moment in time, it consists of 16 instrumentals, a few of them left over from the now abandoned 'Frankie Ukelele And The Fire In The Lake' album. I'm planning to give the Nelsonica Team members a home burned cdr of the album's draft running order, (each CDr with an individually hand-drawn cover), at the annual team dinner party on the 1st December. Last year, I gave each of the team members framed drawings but thought that a preview of 'Fountains' with home-made packaging might be a nice idea for this year's dinner get-together.
The album is still a work in progress though...I may yet decide to set aside some of the tracks for next year's limited edition Nelsonica album, whilst continuing to record further pieces for possible inclusion on 'Silvertone Fountains.' We'll see. here's the experimental track listing. (It will most likely channge by the time the album is released though.)
(Experimental assembly only.)
1: 'The Fabulous Whirligig Of Now.'
2: 'Silvertone Fountains.'
3: 'Switch On The Sky, Light Up The Stars.'
4: 'The Walls Of Which Are Made Of Clouds.'
5: 'Marvelous Model Kit.'
6: 'No Memories Here To Make You Sad.'
7: 'Art Is My Aeroplane.'
8: 'The Standard Fireworks Stomp.'
9: 'Silver Sailboat On Samsara Sea.'
10: 'Summer Over Soon.'
11: 'Frankie Ukelele And The Fire In The Lake.'
12: 'The Phonograph Bird.'
14: 'The Lost Art Of Doing Nothing.'
15: 'Frankie Surfs The Milky Way.'
16: 'We Vanish At Shadowfall.'
It's one of those albums that seems to be slowly evolving or mutating into something I can't yet quite grasp. The album has already been through several changes, giving birth to the 'And We Fell Into A Dream' album and parts of 'Secret Club' en route. And all this started from the 'Frankie Ukelele' concept.
I wonder what the final result will be? The pleasure, for me, of course, is in the finding out, rather than in the end product itself. Once I feel it's arrived at its musical destination, I'll move on to the next thing, with my usual lack of interest in work completed.
Current reading: 'Tripmaster Monkey, His Fake Book' by Maxine Hong Kingston. 'The Underground Man' by Mick Jackson. And 'Considering Genius, Writings On Jazz,' by Stanley Crouch. Oh, and Eric Clapton's autobiography, (this last a gift from a generous fan at Nelsonica).
Current listening, (mostly in my car): Les Paul, Johnny Smith, Bill Frisell, Wes Montgomery, Chet Atkins and a selection of 1930's popular songs by various long dead artists. Nothing remotely modern, rock-oriented or new. Must be that age thing again.
My problem is that I've heard so much music during my lifetime that work by younger artists rarely surprises me anymore. (There are a few exceptions, of course.) It all seems to be a re-hash of something originally made years ago at a time when the idea was really fresh. Even current day contemporary composition, the nouveau avant-garde, seems to be going over old ground. Some of it very nicely raked, but not startlingly cultivated or filled with beautiful and exotic blooms.
Perhaps it's no longer possible, (or even important), to come up with anything truly new. Nevertheless, I tend to listen to music where the process of making it is invisible to me, where I can't quite understand how it's put together, technically or academically. I crave the surprise of not-knowing.
Listening to ancient, promitive recordings of beautifully written and arranged music by the great composers and songwriters from the '30's and '40's appeals because, as well as being aesthetically beautiful, the music's inner clockwork remains a mystery to me.
And, even more than this, I can hear time itself crackling in the ploughed circular furrows of the music's black plastic sound field. It conveys a poetic quality, a wistful, yearning dreaminess, a sophisticated, elegant sensibility transmitted from an imagined 'Golden Age.' At least, that's how I feel as I type these words. I may feel less romantic about it tomorrow. But mellow is my mood right now.
Images accompanying this diary are:-
1: Hotel Raspail, Paris.
2: Bill Nelson in Paris. November 2007.
3: Dreamsville windmill ad.
4: Dreamsville girl ad.
5: Dreamsville ad.