Do you remember when Mike and the Mechanics sang Over My Shoulder? I used to sing along to that song in bedroom, standing on my bed, yelling into a hairbrush. I was eighteen at the time. Twenty one years on, nothing has changed, except now I repeat the same performance with my eight year daughter. One the sad things about the song is that it is full of regret and hankering after the past. I was driving to work the other day when this song came on the radio and it got me thinking the consequences of looking back when we should be concentrating on the future. At the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife looked back and she turned into a pillar of salt. She was told not to, but a fleeting moment of curiosity ended her life. I don’t do regret, it’s a lens that distorts the reality of the future. It leads to nothing and makes us focus on our failures.
If we constantly have our eyes on the rear view mirror, we repeat the cycle of who we were and not what we could become. Time allows to move forward but never back. We are given a gift of moving forward and it’s up to us to choose how we react. We can meet the future with hope and expectation or with fear and sadness. Even when we pass through seasons that are not what we want, every day moves us closer to something much better… even when we don’t feel that way. When Alanis Morissette sang “the only way out is through”, she hit the nail on the head. Sometimes we have to grit our teeth and believe that there are better things on the other side of the season.
A few months ago I hit a wall with the whole music thing. Everything I had built up came crashing down and try as I might I could not rebuild it. Truth be told, I was too knackered and broken to fix it. Years of being a freelancer, performer, teacher, composer and everything else had worn me down. I kept looking in the rear view mirror and what I had lost and wondering whether there was any point continuing in music. But the law of life is that as something dies, something else is born and new shoots begin to sprout. Things are already moving on and I’m getting back some of the music opportunities that I lost a long time ago. I have opportunity to reinvent my music and in turn myself. Life constantly evolves and we should take every opportunity to grow and develop.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s don’t look back over your shoulder, face the future and reinvent yourself. Reinvent yourself…
We all assume artists will go on forever, that the muse will constantly demand some creative output. However, a few days ago I read a quote from Carole King stating that she no longer writes songs and prefers to write novels instead. I wasn’t shocked but I was intrigued; she claims that she feels that she’s just writing about the same topics over and over again. Notably she hasn’t stopped being creative, just channelled it into a new form. King isn’t the first musician to do this and she won’t be the last, but it can be hard for fans to understand why their favourite artist no longer wants to create in the same way. This got me thinking about seasons and how life changes and evolves…
Well it turns out the that The Byrds were right, “There is a season… And a time to every purpose under heaven.” Some people love change, while others hate it. Change often helps us to refocus and try something new; what seems unwelcome can actually be the making of us. Who knows if Carole King is the next big novelist? Only time will tell…
Seasons are necessary for shaping our character and making us more robust. Without challenges and successes, we wouldn’t know what we are capable of or how strong we are. What’s meant to throw us can often be the making of us. Seasons also bring variety and colour into our lives; without it, life would always be the same. One thing we can be sure of though, is that no season lasts forever. If you’re in a difficult situation, rest assured that it’s not forever, things will change and improve. What I admired about Carole King is that when she faced a wall in her creativity, she found a way to climb over it and start something new. She hasn’t wasted her talent, just shifted her focus. And of course, she is still touring and delivering stonking shows.
It’s knowing how to respond to change that dictates how successfully we will navigate the mountain high and low valley. The composer Aaron Copland retired from composing when his health started declining. He gracefully bowed out on a high and also went on to write a two volume autobiography with help from another writer. Failing health did not stop him! So next time the season changes whether it is for better or worse, find a way to be positive and find a route through. You may find you’ve got hidden talents! The the show isn’t over until the fat lady sings!
When I was 17 I had a dream of how my songwriting career would pan out… I would live in London in a tiny bedsit, just me and my piano and spend my days writing beautiful songs whilst trying not to starve to death from crap pay and late night gigs. My days would be spent thinking up new ways to be bohemian, playing my Carpenters vinyl and reading trendy paperbacks. To some extent my student days were like this: I lived in a damp house with 3 friends and piano, I drank Cinzano and Jack Daniels (not together in the same glass, that would just be weird), listened to Sarah McLachlan and Sophie B Hawkins (showing my age now!) and bought clothes from Camden market.
However my life 20 years on is very different. I’m married with two children and although I lived in London for 11 years, I now live in the Home Counties in a sensible house that hasn’t seen any bohemian, artistic deaths. My songwriting techniques have changed over the years and I’ve learned to adapt as my situation changes particularly with motherhood and the demands of running a business. Nothing ever prepares you for these changes but here are the things that I have found interrupt my songwriting…
- At the crucial lyric or harmony development stage, my 2 year old will always fill his nappy with something disgusting and demand a nappy change. Not only does it disrupt my creative flow, it completely and utterly kills the mood…
- I stuff myself with food. Yep I write 8 bars and then immediately think that I deserve some sort of treat for 15 minutes of concentration. Hello treadmill!
- Suddenly everyone wants to visit. My doorbell only ever rings when I’m working, yet no-one ever shows up when I’m watching TV or cleaning the sink.
- The smell of burning food. I can’t tell you how many dinners I’ve ruined by “just having a few minutes on the piano” while its cooking. I always get into the song, forget the dinner and serve up something cremated with a side of “would you like to hear my new song?”. My family aren’t impressed.
- My children join in… There’s nothing more distracting than my 7 year old daughter singing one of my songs in face or my 2 year old son banging the piano and pushing me out the way so he can have a go.
- The piano is too messy. I can’t deal with untidiness in the area I want to be creative in. If it’s not tidy then I’m not writing. I’ve spent many hours procrastinating under the guise that “I can’t possibly write unless the ambience is right!”.
- I’ll just check Facebook, Twitter, my emails. LISTEN UP HELEN: NO-ONE EVER WROTE A SONG BY READING FACEBOOK.
- I get lonely.
- The spreadsheet of doom… or otherwise known as “The album song list”. This can either cripple or energise my composing. It’s either “Ooooh I’ve written 8 decent songs that could go on the album, let’s write a hit!” or “Great. 8 crap songs, let’s see if I can completely kill the album”.
And then there are all the other things: accounts, emails, promotion and of course writing blogs! So I’m off to write a song…