It’s been a strange 10 days with a number of experiences I’d like to draw together, if you can bear with my ‘ramblings’ as Trevor calls them. The experiences have all served to remind me to pause, look at my life and decide what is worthwhile and what to invest time in.
There are so many demands on all of us, so much technology, so much busy-ness in life that every one of us needs to stop and look around us, and see exactly where we’re at. At 64 I see the need more than ever.
The need to make the most of the time we have. To think about diet, about exercise, about family and friends. Before the distraction of that day-to- day busy-ness takes over and we run through life on automatic pilot realising too late that we’ve failed to look after out health and our relationships.
I loved the line when I first heard it, and it still hits the spot, that no one says on their deathbed, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”
I went to a gig at Queen’s University, near my home in Belfast, to see Loudon Wainwright for the first time in many years. He’s just celebrated his 70 th birthday. But he’s every bit as sharp and humorous as in his younger years.
If you’re not familiar with him, his new Trump-inspired song I Had A Dream will be a great introduction. Of his 26 studio albums, three have been Grammy-nominated.
Wikipedia says: Loudon Snowden Wainwright III (born September 5, 1946) is an American songwriter, folk singer, humorist, and actor. He is the father of musicians Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, and Lucy Wainwright Roche; brother of Sloan Wainwright; and former husband of the late folksinger Kate McGarrigle. He resides in Canada.
So you can see he’s the third Loudon in his line after his father and grandfather. Loudon ‘three sticks’ as my friend Tommy Fagan says. And I suppose I’ve always felt that people named in this way begin life with a cross to bear.
Rufus Wainwright (at least he wasn’t burdened with Loudon the fourth!) has written a song about his difficult relationship with his father. Martha even wrote a song about her dad, called Bloody Mother-******* Asshole! And Loudon has alluded to his own difficulties with his father as he was growing up.
So back to the gig last week. Loudon referred to his father several times. Loudon senior died back in 1988. He’d been on the staff of Life magazine and in 1964 began The View From Here, a regular and popular column that ran until 1972. Loudon’s been researching his father’s writing and says they now get along really well. Of course that’s nearly 30 years after his father died!
It set me thinking about the degree to which we are products of the circumstances of our upbringing. And the mysterious way in which negative things that hurt us are still very much part of us, and often the very behaviors we carry forward into our later lives. The ‘sins of the fathers’ replicating through the generations.
It takes a conscious effort to stop and think and analyse what each of us carries on from our own upbringing. Are there things we’d rather get rid of? Only if we identify them can we begin the sometimes very difficult struggle to break the cycle.
But, and this is not to excuse every extreme behaviour, maybe some of us need to go a little easier on ourselves realising that some parts of us are there because of the paradigm of our upbringing, getting a foothold we could do nothing to prevent.
At one point Loudon stepped away from his guitar and banjo, to sit down and read a portion of one of his father’s columns. It was very touching to have the son read the father’s words, and clearly get a sense of pride from them. But wouldn’t it have been so much better if that relationship had existed while his father was still alive?
This week has also reminded me of Alan Watts. Watts was a British philosopher I’d been interested in some years ago. He ended up in the USA and is credited with popularising Eastern thought for a Western audience. He died in 1973. I was listening to Van Morrison’s album Poetic Champions Compose, and had forgotten that Morrison wrote a song in tribute to him – Alan Watts Blues.
He was a popular figure in the counter culture movement that began with the Beats in the fifties and carried through to the hippies of the sixties. In fact his book The Way Of Zen was published ion 1957, the very same year as Kerouac’s On The Road.
And then out of the blue via Facebook, a friend sent me a link to a recording of one of Watts’ discourses. And it too was reminder to ‘stop and smell the roses’. And decide what my life is all about. It’s well worth listening to, whatever you may take from it. Watch it HERE
I then discovered a film, Why Not Now? was made about Watts in 2013. The director (thinking back to Loudon Wainwright’s gig) is Alan Watts son! Mark Watts has also taken upon himself the task of releasing extensive archive of his father’s talks. Click HERE to take a look.
When a friend or family member dies, I often hear people saying it ‘puts life into perspective.’ That might be the case but usually it’s only for a short while and then we’re back on autopilot.
The death this week of a musical friend, Bap Kennedy, was another call for me to stop and look at life. He was 54 and had pancreatic cancer.
His name was actually Martin. But in the way of Belfast humour, many people called Kennedy become nicknamed ‘Bap’. In Northern Ireland a bap is small loaf of bread and one of the most famous bakeries was Kennedys. In this case, the name stuck. Most people didn’t even know he was Martin.
Bap was one of the most quiet and unassuming people you could meet. He’d worked with Steve Earle and Mark Knopfler among others. Earle said he was the best songwriter he’d ever met.
I’ll leave you with encouragement to stop and have a wee think about your life. And maybe decide you won’t slip into autopilot, but commit to consciously think about doing the best you can to look after your health and your relationships.
And please have a listen to this song from Bap.
I’ve lived many lives
I’ve heard of many Gods
But I just don’t know
If there’s anyone at all
To be on the safe side
When I’ve had my final day
I have left instructions
To help me on my way
Just above my heart
There’s a small tattoo
Please return to Jesus
I know I’m a sinner
And I’ve been unkind
But if I had the power
I would heal the blind
If miracles came easy
Healing’s all I’d do
And if I had to choose a God
I’d probably choose you
Just above my heart
There’s a small tattoo
Please return to Jesus