Issue #66 / October 2019
Why do you write?
WILL, NASHVILLE, USA
What are your political leanings, in a broad way?
SNORRI, REYKJAVIK, ICELAND
How ‘woke’ are you?
STELLA, PORTLAND, USA
Dear Will, Snorri and Stella,
One of the reasons I write is because it allows me the freedom to move beyond the declared world into the uncanny and unfamiliar world. As a songwriter I have made a commitment to uncertainty and to embrace that which I do not know, because I feel this is where true meaning exists. It allows me to write songs that have within them the spirit of enquiry and reciprocity. It leaves me open to chance, a sense of open-ended potentiality, and fills me with a devotion to the mystery of the world with its deep oceans and dark forests. This notion of uncertainty, of doubt, contains an enormous amount of creative power and is always accompanied by a state of yearning for something beyond certitude, beyond comprehension. My songs are essentially religious songs in that they hold within them a condition of longing for some approximation of Godliness.
But organised religion itself poses a huge problem for me. Even though it would be so much easier to doze off in the arms of a mutually decided truth, I find that, in most cases, structured systems of faith are specifically designed to switch off the apparatus of inquiry by presenting themselves as the ‘one true religion’. As a consequence, I am left feeling bored and cornered by the hubris of their own sureness.
I have always found great motivating energy in the idea that the thing I live my life yearning for, let’s call it God, in all probability does not exist. I feel my songs are conversations with the divine that might, in the end, be simply the babblings of a madman talking to himself. It is this thrilling uncertainty, this absurdity, from which all of my songs flow, and more than that, it is the way I live my life.
So, for me, Stella, living in a state of enquiry, neutrality and uncertainty, beyond dogma and grand conviction, is good for the business of songwriting, and for my life in general. This is the reason I tend to become uncomfortable around all ideologies that brand themselves as ‘the truth’ or ‘the way’. This not only includes most religions, but also atheism, radical bi-partisan politics or any system of thought, including ‘woke’ culture, that finds its energy in self-righteous belief and the suppression of contrary systems of thought. Regardless of the virtuous intentions of many woke issues, it is its lack of humility and the paternalistic and doctrinal sureness of its claims that repel me.
Antifa and the Far Right, for example, with their routine street fights, role-playing and dress-ups are participants in a weirdly erotic, violent and mutually self-sustaining marriage, propped up entirely by the blind, inflexible convictions of each other’s belief systems. It is good for nothing, except inflaming their own self-righteousness. The New Atheists and their devout opponents are engaged in the same dynamic. Wokeness, for all its virtues, is an ideology immune to the slightest suggestion that in a generation’s time their implacable beliefs will appear as outmoded and fallacious as those of their own former generation. This may well be the engine of progress, but history has a habit of embarrassing our treasured beliefs. Some of us, for example, are of the generation that believed that free speech was a clear-cut and uncontested virtue, yet within a generation this concept is seen by many as a dog-whistle to the Far Right, and is rapidly being consigned to the Left’s ever-expanding ideological junk pile.
This is not to suggest we should not have our convictions or, indeed, that we should not be angry with the state of the world, or that we should not fight in order to correct the injustices committed against it. Conviction and anger can be the most powerful expressions of universal love. However, my duty as a songwriter is not to try to save the world, but rather to save the soul of the world. This requires me to live my life on the other side of truth, beyond conviction and within uncertainty, where things make less sense, absurdity is a virtue and art rages and burns; where dogma is anathema, discourse is essential, doubt is an energy, magical thinking is not a crime and where possibility and potentiality rule. The answers to the secrets of the heart may just be there, in the inscrutable dark of the forest, in the unfathomable depths of the sea, at the uncertain tips of our fingers.