B15: Finn’s Friends


Last night I went out with my 19-year-old guitarist Finn and his friends after attending the first of a new series of filmed boutique 4 person concerts he’s producing in his bedroom. The night reminded me of how rock and roll saves everyone’s life somehow or another when they’re growing up and of how youth and its passion is so much more than hormones, energy and fearlessness, but something greater than the sum of its parts and something sacred, eternal and iconic.

 

It wasn’t an epic night in any way, no one I know of met their true love, there was no substantial fight (though Finn said a good friend of his punched him in the face and stomach during an overly emphatic piece of physical banter they were improvising), there were no gratuitously visible bodily fluids, no elaborate antics or practical jokes, no blood on a prom queen. This wasn’t the night that leaves you on a football field at dawn starry eyed and pining for the escape from the small town, or with eyes wide open and fully awake into the new era of adulthood. There were no car races and the bands that played through the invariably weak, over-driven sound systems that the poverty of youth necessitates, were mostly inaudible (and yet the voice of a 19 year old Dylan-esque pseudo-folk punk-rocker still echo in my mind “my Mother told me I have to stay off the hallucinogens…”) There were no profound , deep or romantic conversations had by me or anyone around me. It wasn’t Superbad, Stand By Me, Human Traffic or Dazed and Confused, it was just the typical late-teen/early-20’s night that Finn and probably half of the people of his generation have every couple of weeks or more. It was the nights I had most weeks up until I hit about 25 and fell in love with a woman with a daughter and got tired of being around the energy of drugs and alcohol and became more focused on connection and intimacy.

 

Admittedly the nights of my youth never had drugs or alcohol for me personally because I had to give them up within 2 months of my 17th birthday. I’d had wild nights before then but nothing that I can remember now, so they don’t constitute much of my impressionistic montage of memories of what were the wild, random and profound nights of my youth. Also I was always passionate about spirit, honesty, and intimacy so even if everyone else at the party was high and talking shit I was gravitating towards those more into exploring their heart and psyche, than those spotting in the kitchen or jumping off the roof. Well, I was also always drawn to jumping off the roof too I guess.

 

Music has always been the most meaningful experience on this planet to me, like back when I was 7 and I first heard Paul Simons GRACELAND, or at the countless parties of my Mum’s hippie friends who were playing either the evocative music of the 60’s and 70’s or the latest Talking Heads or Dire Straits record. I got into hip-hop a lot at about 10 but hated the misogynistic themes and violence so by 11 was on a straight Beatles diet which turned into anything psychedelic and 60s by 12 and evolved more into a love of the folk-rock sound of Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, America, Crosby Stills and Nash, Cat Stevens and Donovan by 13 and expanded to Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers Band and a million others by 15.

 

I guess I’d always had an aversion to violence and aggression in music, probably because they were parts of my self I strongly repressed. Maybe it was because I was raised without many men in my life, maybe it was because the most significant man in my life was my grandfather who died when I was 7 and though he’d probably lived most of his life with a stiff upper lip and an emotionally limited expression of self, as the men of his time did, as a granddad in his 70’s he was very warm and loving. What he did pass on to me as a result of the more formal suppressed life he’d led until then was the selflessness and goodness of his generation and religious convictions. The values of respect and integrity, of putting others first, of always doing what’s right no matter the consequence to your self.

 

The other men were Mum’s old friends from her twenties who’d all been partying, free- loving hippies and most of them had grown up to be either sweet, fun, gay men who were warm and affectionate or heterosexual rascals, who were often alcoholics, junkies and adulterers. I liked both varieties but didn’t feel safe with the latter.

 

From the age of 9 I started feeling overwhelming feelings of pining and wanderlust for life and the world itself, which I focused almost exclusively on infatuations with girls and from that age on I always had as many female friends as males and was often privileged to be accepted as ‘one of the girls’ and therefore privy to some very interesting and informative conversations.

 

So the whole classic rock and roll mythology of car races, fist fights, cheating, pinball (my crazy older brother was obsessed with electronics and technology so naturally I hated computers and video games and anything technical), surfing, driving all night, burger joints, etc immortalized by Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and Elvis etc, never made much of an impression on me. I was as uninterested in the original rock and roll as I was in classic country, traditional blues, traditional folk etc. My sound was psychedelic hippie pop-rock or the Laurel Canyon sound of warm acoustic guitars, ragged melodic harmonies, and poetic literate lyrics. I understood there was an American mythology which had been sung about since the 50’s which idolized  a certain James Dean version of teenage youth and I thought it was a classic aesthetic but shallow,  and I never used those images, icons or archetypes in my own songs.

 

At about 19 I had the most spiritually profound time in my life. I was traveling in a Māori theatre group for a year, staying either on marae or with school teachers, who were mostly local farmer’s wives. I was seeing the real rural New Zealand with a bunch of urban Māori and I was a vegan hippie who played folk music and wore skirts (when I was strolling down Cuba St or in Dunedin or Takaka at our cosy pot luck dinners). I was isolated beyond belief and my only refuge was my epic nightly walk where I would talk to myself until I changed from being the talker to the listener and the talker became a version of me with far greater wisdom, insight, inspiration and humor (I could never find a way to access him in public or with girls). Back then I called that voice the voice of spirit talking through me, and man he was tough on me, but whenever he’d have me in tears he’d suddenly bring me to my knees laughing hysterically. He taught me that pain, love and laughter are all connected and to surrender to one is to surrender to all and all are equally essential if you want to really live. My other refuge was found in the small pockets of hippies and alternative folks who I was lucky enough to stumble upon in some of the larger towns.

 

At the end of that time I was working with the same group in a youth prison and I had a little room in the old prisonguard’s quarters and I bought myself a second hand stereo from a pawn shop and at the same time got a double CD of Bruce Springsteen, whose GREETINGS FROM ASHBURY PARK I’d just discovered a year earlier and was amazed that, just like my Mum had insisted, instead of sounding like the mainstream rock of BORN IN THE USA, was a rambling formless masterpiece more akin to Van Morrison’s Psychedelic opus ASTRAL WEEKS.

The double CD I got had his 2nd album THE WILD THE INNOCENT AND THE E STREET SHUFFLE and his 4th album DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN. These albums slowly started to change my life. They were the first time that  I realised that that fiery, passionate and wild music called rock and roll had more truth in it than just wild abandon and sex, but also held the key to a certain part in every person’s soul which may be innate and primitive like sex, but like sex is also one of the most powerful, meaningful and profound aspects of humanity, and far from being shallow and destructive is a part of our souls that is unequivocally life-affirming and an essential drive in the very evolution of our species.

 

Without first fully comprehending Bruce Springsteen’s first 4 albums I’d probably not have understood why YOUTH AND YOUNG MANHOOD was such a brilliant album and album title, or why even though I know nothing about cars (American muscle or otherwise), or Buddy, Roy or Elvis, I carry them like totems deep within my soul.

 

I know this might sound all incredibly like the patriotic ramblings of a middle aged all-American who’s fixating on his glory days when life was like American Graffiti or Happy Days and is trying to say Fonzie is as significant as ‘THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN, and in a certain way I am saying that, in fact, yeah fuck it I am. Because although Fonzie was a fucking tool and a doofus, he represented something far more than whatever corporation-funded script he was constructed by, and that was ‘The Rebel’. Even as he was built by the man and marketed by the machine for the profit of the corporation he was still anti-establishment and as castrated and safe as he’d been designed he represented freedom regardless.

 

You can put an old plantation negro in a dress suit and get him to play blues standards for a white country club and pay him scraps, but that don’t make his blues dead. Think about what that really does to his blues.

 

The truth is New Zealand culture is  innately an extension of American culture. We’ve never had the resources to document in film, music or written word our culture to the extent or to the high standard of the countries that most closely influence us. Up until the 60s I assume it was almost exclusively an English influence which gradually became more US/English and Australian but certainly by the time I was a teenager the British shows were on the boring, straight TV1 and the edgy cool shows were all American and were on TV2 and we got TV3 a few years later. None of that mattered to me much because I was adamantly against TV and wouldn’t watch even cool shows like The Simpson’s just out of principle of being against things that I deemed were; a) mainstream or b) superficial, but I was inundated with brilliant American music and literature and AFTER THE GOLDRUSH and ON THE ROAD spoke to me in a way that Shortland St, After School, The News and A Dog Show never had.

 

 

When my first long-term relationship ended when I was about 25 I probably started going out a bit more again but I still preferred potluck dinners over parties and had stopped loving dancing just for the sake of it and had become more discerning about what I liked to dance to. Dancing became more exclusively an extension of loving music rather than a means in and of itself.

 

Within 2 years I’d fallen in love for the third time in my life, with the woman who is still the love of my life today, and again the way I best loved to express my passion and soul exploration became through the profound intimacy of all night long conversations where you challenge each other to the point of surrender, you grow by pushing the boundaries of one another’s soul and when you give in you find that your other offers no judgment or ‘I told you so’, just absolute unconditional love for you and the same starry eyed wonder as you that you found a way to arrive at that  place together somehow when minutes earlier the despair and darkness was like a wolf knocking at the door and there were no windows or back doors to escape through .

 

We don’t have conversations like that as often anymore, but our love is just as alive and deeper than ever. The problem is we fulfill each other so much, on so many levels, and in such a loving and comforting way that sometimes we can pacify each other. Make life too easy for each other. Why go out when you’ve got everything you’ve been searching for at home?

 

Don’t worry,  I’m not suggesting for one second that my being in love has diminished my passion or inspiration. It’s really the opposite, and single or in a relationship, I’ve always worried that it is in fact my love of films that has taken precious time away from me being more musically productive, not deep profound connections. So I would never place the burden of my unachieved rock and roll dreams at the doorstep of the woman who showed me how to make myself whole.

 

When we first started falling in love I told her “this timing is terrible, I know what it’s like to be in love and in a committed adult relationship and that energy of nurturing and fostering love, of contentment and stability, of peace and joy is a beautiful experience, but for my music I need the energy of searching, of seeking, of  “what if it’s tonight” of  “what if I meet her out there”, of longing, of pining, of hope. Not of fulfilled hopes but of yearning for the hopes to be fulfilled.

I knew I’d be a little pacified by our love but I would have had to have been fucking retarded to turn my back on a love like that and so I went with that love with all my heart and I married that girl.

 

For our generation marriage is so different to our parents’ generation and a million worlds away to what it meant to their parents. See now there’s no expectation whatsoever to marry. In fact, in my circles it’s considered so kitsch and stuffy and funny and irrelevant that it’s almost expected you wouldn’t. So to me and Nicola it becomes all the more romantic to embrace it. Not so much in an ironic way like dancing to terrible pop music on the radio but more like in the way musicians like Gillian Welch sing traditional bluegrass, she does it not because she’s a slave to Nashville and has to make music that follow certain conventions, or because she’s expected to, or because it’s the only option for a woman singer, or because she thinks its so old fashioned and silly that wouldn’t it be funny to do it. She does it with a modern awareness of what the connotations and landscapes of that music are and what they represent to different sections of the world and she decides which of those emotional landscapes speak to her heart and she embraces it and recreates it with part of her modern consciousness and though it’s not observably different to the version made 60 years before, it’s profoundly different and yet beautifully and essentially the same.

 

Anyway we never expected or wanted to fulfill each others every need and desire and we never tried to, we socialise a lot together but we are both really busy and often do our own thing. We trust each other implicitly and don’t mind being apart for nights or weeks at a time. Instead we embrace the feeling of missing and the new appreciation that distance gives. But when I think about going out to some band I might not like or staying in with her, for the last 4 years I mostly stay in with her. Or if we go out and there’s music that’s not immediately resonating with us, or lots of alcohol and drugs then sometimes we can bring out the worst in each other and become judgmental and cynical and decide we’re tired or bored, or this is superficial chemical nonsense and go home early.

 

Also there’s something about our age where were not used to being older than some or lots of the people. We were always the youngest and now we’re really not. I think there’s a temptation to protect yourself from that realisation by being critical of youth and labeling or judging it as immature, uncouth, superficial, inexperienced, shallow, arrogant, boisterous, self-centered etc. but the truth is many of my favorite musicians wrote all of my favorite songs of theirs between the ages of 18 and 28. The most profound, the most transcendental, the most inspiring, the most wise and just totally fucking mind-blowing songs?! Also, though I don’t know much about it, I’ve read that that’s the same for scientists, mathematicians and all sorts of other geniuses, which is further evidence I suppose that there is more going on than just superfluous energy and hormones in those impetuous young tikes.

 

There are some things women can probably never know about men, about our very souls and of course I imagine there are certain depths, innate truths and drives in a woman that even the most empathetic of us males will never fully comprehend as much as we may appreciate it. Nicola is incredibly patient with me as I incessantly rant at her about music: the spiritual depth of an interview, the gravity and importance of pivotal albums, or the profound historical significance of a lyric, but as much as she loves music too, for her there comes a point where her interest can’t help but wane. Not me. I’m riveted, though as I become aware I’m the only one talking I try to wrap it up…

 

For me talking with Finn’s drunk friends last night about records, bands and women was like resurfacing. It was like being in a speeding car with Neil Cassidy heading down to New Orleans, making love to some Maria underneath the fairground while the waves crash around the dilapidated wharf that industry itself made redundant, getting too lippy with the wrong dude and having to duke it out with bad odds.

 

As a teenager I’d hear that Californian folk rock and it felt like a past life experience. I felt I could remember sitting by the fire while Joni Mitchell worked out that bridge in FOR THE ROSES in a Laurel Canyon Winter, or sitting with some close friends while Hendrix played ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER at Woodstock. When I first heard GOING TO CALIFORNIA at that same prisonguard flat when I was 19 I felt like I’d written that song for Joni myself because I knew the pining in it word for word and I knew the fulfillment the promise of that pining held and I knew the joy of pining itself. I didn’t feel that warm homecoming feeling last night of being with like-minded gentle hippie folks, though the aesthetic of the place was exactly like a 1967 love-in or ‘happening’ and the people looked just like the people in footage of Andy Warhol’s Factory heyday. Instead I felt the heartbeat of the road, the thunder of the crowd and the pulse of something deep and black and beautiful and dangerous.

 

Finn has for a long time been one of my closest friends but because he’s 12 years younger than me and hangs with people his age, we’ve never hung out much or partied much except for after our shows, which is a lot in and of itself. Finn is one of the most creative, intelligent, inspiring and hilarious people I’ve ever met and much to my surprise many of his friends seem to be as amazing as he is. For one thing I’ve never had more than a handful of New Zealand bands that I’ve ever liked much at any one time and only about 5 in my life who I’ve ever thought were as good as the Ryan Adams or Iron and Wine’s of this world. But in the last year I’ve met 3 friends of Finn’s who are as good a songwriter as Band Of Horses, Kings Of Leon, Cat Power etc, and that has completely blown my mind and got me questioning whether or not evolution can actually be happening much faster that ever before.

 

Like the cultural experiences of our ancestors are actually passed down through DNA and without any exposure to certain events, people, places, emotions and experiences we inherently understand fully those things and the emotional gravity and psychological underpinnings they manifest.

 

You know that ‘hundredth monkey syndrome’ about how monkeys on separate islands get taught certain skills and the monkeys on the other island that don’t get taught who haven’t known that skill for millennia pick it up without ever meeting the monkeys from the other island. My supervisor would probably tell me I’m completely exaggerating what was probably a badly executed test in the first place. But I think there is a universal consciousness (not a benevolent intelligence just a collective pool of information) where we do somehow have access to physical, mental and emotional knowledge beyond our experience. Like how everyone started saying BALLSACHE at the same time and we all think we started it. Actually not like that at all, that probably comes from us all being so internationally hooked up to the same media and that expression reached critical mass through being said over a few months in a couple of movies or TV shows. But as a younger man I would often have profound realisations about things and then tell them to other people (of all different ages and generations) who had had the exact same realisation or experience recently themselves. I know that’s not proof that geographically isolated monkeys can teach each other things.

 

Anyway like I said there was nothing special about last night except that every night is special and some nights help you remember that better than others. Some nights you feel less oppressed by the reality of your arsehole boss and your dead-end career and even if you’re not really any closer to achieving your dreams of success (in love, music, topography, science, making friends in a new town, whatever…), some nights make you feel like you’ve already achieved them. It was a totally normal youthful night which I took for granted a hundred times last decade but which after 4 hours sleep, 2 hours spring-cleaning to Bruce Springsteen (and an hour left to go), an hour writing this up, I feel really committed to not taking things? for granted again. If I have to leave the beautiful love and warmth of my sweetheart’s arms a bit more and go it alone with these youngsters (who thankfully don’t seem to look at me with eyes radiating confusion and seemingly asking ‘are you closer to my age or my Daddy’s’) in order to remember that I am lot more than my boss and my job and my fading musical dreams would lead me to believe, then it’s a fucking small price to pay. Music is in every part of my soul and I write about haunted hobos on the railroad and faded whiskey dreams of bootlegging crippled ex-horse jockeys(a horse jockey? Just a jockey?), just as well at 10pm when Nicola’s fallen asleep to the TV as I do at 2am when I get back from a show. But sometimes in order to catch a thief…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also I’m sorry I’ve stopped my reviews (I’ve got another 100 that I wrote but couldn’t be fucked with the data entry) but a month ago I saw Bruce Springsteen’s The Promise which is a documentary about the making of DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN, the last of his youthful albums. I personally think even Buddhist monks and businessmen should see this film but especially if you love rock and roll (whether you give a fuck about the Boss or not) you must see this film. It brought me to tears about 10 times, which is at least a couple of times more than most half decent rock biographies, and these tears weren’t the choked-throat watery-eyes tears, these were the “I would fucking storm the trenches for you Bruce, that’s how much these things mean to me… I would wash your feet and fetch the logs for your fire… oh someone wants to talk shit about Born in the USA? I wish you would muthah fuckah I wish you would. Go on say somethin’. Say somethin’, I fucking dare you, plus talk some shit about redheads too you Aryan fucking dickhead, make my day with your demonstrations of total fucking belligerent ignorant nonsense”- tears.

 

Again, you don’t actually have to like Bruce (least of all the mainstream rock he’s now famous for) to like the film, but for the sake of your soul you should watch it.

 

 

Now I better go finish this cleaning and meet my friends for a midwinter sauna and ocean swim before I remember why 31 year olds shouldn’t stay out late…

 

 

One Response to “B15: Finn’s Friends”

  1.  john savage Says:

    nice mate

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