This post could fill a book. One day perhaps it will. So I'm going to make this the very short version.
I came to live in New York City in 1988. It was a dream come true. It was like stepping into a Bob Dylan song - or rather a hundred Bob Dylan songs. Positively 4th Street.
I stayed for seven years before I moved on to San Francisco. I knew almost as soon as I got there that I had done things the wrong way round. I knew just as quickly that I would be going back to New York. Four tumultuous years later I did exactly that.
In March 1999 I moved into the loft in Tribeca that I had never managed to afford during my first stay. It was very different. I was different - already in my late forties I was planning on getting married for the first time (it happened in 2000). And my city was different.
The changes the city had undergone were subtle at that time but they would become trends that would become waves that would see me and my favorite place diverging more and more.
In the next ten years I went through the biggest changes of my life. My very happy marriage. The sad loss of my father. The loss of dear family members back in England. The incredible highs of working with some great people who will be my friends for life and the slow realization that my life in the corporate world was coming to an end. The roller-coaster cliche (that I once made good use of in a TV commercial for AT&T) was very real.
Towards the end of this time I rediscovered, largely through the loss of my dad, my love for songwriting, music and poetry among other things. And again with the help of many incredible people I was able to step back into a world I thought I'd left behind in my British youth. I put out a CD of songs that, infused with the experiences I had now lived, I could finally say I was proud of.
In parallel to this I was losing more than a little of my love for the advertising world that had been so kind to me through the years. Again, this one point could fill a book but it's enough to say that all industries when threatened with extinction tend to make the wrong decisions and put the wrong people in charge. When I found myself working for one of the most shallow, talentless, narrow-minded men in the industry I knew things would come to a brutal end. And they did. I'm happy to report that my "end" has turned out to be a great start. He's still unsuccessfully working on a new start three years later. Some things and some people never change. And that, sadly, is advertising's problem. Talking change is easy, living it is hard.
I gave it one last, very enjoyable try - starting a company with one of the best men I'd met in the industry and in life. But our timing was wrong. The clients were not lining up as they would have in better economic times. But I would not trade one day of the year I shared a little office with Steve running our own company in our own way.
But back to the city. In the last ten years I've watched as neighborhoods blended with each other, as buildings of stark glass and steel and concrete were put up with zero attempt to match their surroundings. I watched neighborhood cafes, bars and restaurants go out of business because they couldn't match the rents that star-chef eateries and high end Sake bars and Champagne Lounges were willing to pay. I began to feel like I was living in a fashion magazine not a living, breathing city.
I watched as the Towers fell. The fact that there is still little more than a hole in the ground where they stood after nearly eight years is a fact this city should be ashamed of. And I've nothing more to say about that.
And now the economy has collapsed. The fat cats of Wall Street have brought this country to its knees. Yes, it's that bad and, I believe, about to get worse before it gets better. And suddenly those high end places that kicked out the family-run joints don't know how to keep going with less money around. But the businesses they replaced cannot come back - it's too late. You don't know what you've got till it's gone.
And so we leave tomorrow to start a new life in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A life based on love, music, art, new experiences, new sights, sounds, smells - with, at the heart of it all, a renewed passion for living and learning. In short, all the things that once brought me to New York.
I'll be writing again soon from the new home in the desert - but until then, thanks to all my friends, thanks to all my enemies (learning what you do not want to become is equally important!) and thanks to what my dear, dear departed friend Mark Gault used to call "This once-fine city."
"You can also say that everybody in society has moved up a notch and everybody just wants the executive summary." Bruce Sterling, on why novels are no longer important.
Has knowing the outcome really taken over from enjoying the journey? I fear this may be a very accurate description of what is, in my opinion, wrong with the way we live today. Taken to extremes it is this mentality that leads to apathy - why do anything at all because one day you'll be dead.
The most troubling part of this quote is that being satisfied with the executive summary is equated to "moving up". As politics becomes nothing but sound bites and literary masterpieces are summed up in a few easily digested paragraphs, I think it's time to realize that all we have gained is "extra" time - but we are paying for that bogus benefit with the loss of our culture.
"Dent's previous book The Great Boom Ahead (Hyperion, 1993) accurately predicted the stock market boom of the 1990s. In this one, he looks ahead to the new millennium and claims that the Dow may reach as high as 35,000 within the next decade, due in large part to the changing demographics of baby boom investors." - Amazon.com
I actually have to admit that I own this book. I read only the first couple of chapters and knew, even back then, it was a crock of shit. It will not be among the books that make it to our new home in Santa Fe. In fact, few of the small number of business books I ever bought will make the trip.
I wonder what great future Harry S. is cooking up for his next book? Well, he isn't. This is his latest:
Was he a lying shit back then or is he a lying shit now? Makes no difference - he'll say and write absolutely anything that sells books. Harry S. Dent Jr. - today's "worst person in the world".*
One of the songs that I performed at the Cornelia Street Cafe recently is called In Broken Sleep. Judging by the comments I've had since then it will certainly make it onto my next album. I wrote the words some time ago, in fact here's a blog post from two years back:
In Broken Sleep: A work in progress #4
So much of life is hidden behind 'pleasantries' - a word I don't hear very often in America but one I heard frequently growing up in England. I think it's true that the notion of pleasantries is very British, saying what you know should be said rather than what you'd like to say. This song is clearly about more than this. But I loved the non-British surprise of following "soft hellos are spoken, the pleasantries are said" with the brutality of "I haven't seen you for so long I thought that you were dead."
Beyond the simple fun of writing, this song examines a world in which I think many decisions are made and many lessons learned. In broken sleep. That state when we are not sure if we are truly awake or truly asleep. The mind is confused. But happily confused. There is nothing better in life than when you and the person sleeping next to you both 'awake' in this half-world and make love forgetting how old you are or where you are or what you are or even who you are. Of course we always wake up to the realities. But for a while they are kept at bay.
IN BROKEN SLEEP
In broken sleep we love again like the present is the past Our bodies and our hearts now know the fire that cannot last Though love and time are enemies And both are on the loose The only thing worth fighting for is the momentary truce
In broken sleep we meet ourselves and watch through different eyes As strangers who we barely know materialize Soft hellos are whispered The pleasantries are said "I haven't seen you for so long I thought that you were dead"
In broken sleep we wonder what it's like to never wake But soon enough we will see the road that we all take The darkness fills our minds with things We should not contemplate We have no way of knowing if it's early or it's late
So, in broken sleep we love again like the present is the past Our bodies and our hearts now know the fire that cannot last Though love and time are enemies And both are on the loose The only thing worth fighting for is the momentary truce
In this case the words obviously came before the music! I think I went through five or more variations before ending up with the rather simple approach that worked best. If the video from our leaving party turns out ok, I'll post it very soon. You'll see that I changed a few words but nothing significant.
On another note, this song has already performed a second duty. It has given me the title of a new book of poetry I'm working on. Unlike or words to that effect the new book has a theme - I hate to sum that theme up with three letters, sex, so let's say it is focused on what I recently called "the ecstasy of every collision of hearts". The title of this new collection is lifted from this lyric...The Momentary Truce. Because the poems are about the moments when there is a truce between all the factions and factors that clutter our daily lives, the moments in which we are at our most fragile, our most human. It has always fascinated me that we are all most alike in the moments we share with only one other person.
Of course, there are those who share those moments with more than one other person but that requires a different kind of truce!