I’m not the only one who dreams of escape, am I? After ten months of no gigs, no travel, the same four walls (seventeen actually, my apartment has a lot of weird angles), the endless repetitive news cycle, the North East winter well and truly settled in, surely we’re all mentally tying together our bedsheets and clambering out the window to run off and set up shop somewhere exotic and romantic. Even at the best of times, daydreams of a different life take up many of my idle moments. I’m not making any plans, mind you, things are fine. But a break from this relentless reality would be nice.
When I was a kid I went to the movies whenever I could, sometimes with mates, but better on my own. Without the feeling of someone looking over my shoulder, I was able to disappear completely into whatever world was flashed up before me, almost literally absorbed. I would watch the same dumb film over and over, the story not important, just the mood, the look, the sound. Unaware of the passing time, I’d leave the cinema blinking, disoriented, somehow amazed that the world outside still existed, that the streets of Sydney on a warm spring evening hadn’t been transformed into Twin Pines Mall or Nakatomi Plaza. I would wander the streets dazed, trying to hold on to that feeling for as long as possible; street lights, billboards fuzzy and surreal as I viewed Sydney from inside a dream bubble. Not wanting to talk, certainly not to dissect the film in any intellectual way– taking a scalpel to the bubble would let the air out, sending it farting off into space, and dumping me unceremoniously back in the real world. Instead, I wandered until it gradually dissolved, the reality no more welcome, but the transition easier.
A little later and I was able to get that same feeling sitting in the audience at a jazz club, sucked into this weird world of unfamiliar sounds, the intensity of spontaneous creation holding me transfixed. The sets would be over in the blink of an eye after lasting forever. On the bus ride home the melodies would replay themselves in my head; gazing out the window, letting my eyes drift out of focus, the passing city a blur, my soul still glued to a chair in front of the continuing show.
Sadly my ageing brain has got too comfortable in its easy chair to go leaping into whatever alternate universe is presented to it. Music can still take me away for minutes at a time, but it’s hard to shut off the analytical impulse; and most jazz clubs are not designed for immersion– the seats are placed sideways and the wait staff are too good looking. And movies generally just annoy me– I’m sure the characters are no more idiotic, the dialogue no more ridiculous, but it just takes a strong plot line to suspend the weight of my 45-year old disbelief. Part of my consciousness stays with me, inwardly complaining about the uncomfortable seat, the sticky floor, and it’s worse when I’m in a cinema.
How much is it the skill of the artist that transports an audience? I would love to be able to affect an audience the way concerts used to affect me, have them lose contact with reality for a while. But the audience has to be receptive, the room conducive; it’s a minor miracle when all the elements line up.
Drugs and alcohol are thankfully always available for when the more nourishing pursuits fail or are unavailable, but they’re the lazy way, and obviously have their long-term drawbacks. For travel fantasists, there are countless shows promising to take you with them as they disrupt local lives with their camera crews. But being absorbed by almost anything is escape, and probably why work and sex are such popular addictions. And those with the ability to meditate for extended periods are often admired for their spiritual devotion, but maybe the big secret they’ve found is how to get away from the rest of us for a few hours.
Tonight I ate the earthly remains of a lamb in the form of leftover haggis while contemplating my empty February calendar, allowing me to feel present; more so as I dropped my fork to chase a mouse around the kitchen. He pulled off the ultimate escape, but to be fair he was running for his life which makes my desires seem rather puny in relation.
At 3am, taking the theme perhaps a little too literally, I went out onto the fire escape and sat amongst the drips of the afternoon’s snowstorm, and watched the smoke from my tiny cigar disappear into the blackness; the air was cold and wet, the stillness not disturbed but accompanied by the horn of a distant freight train. The drips on my head convinced me I was here and now, and it was comforting. The past is nothing to worry about, and the present is past as soon as it happens. The mouse probably knows the secret, but he won’t squeal. Besides he’s worried about the future too, especially when I’m chasing him, bellowing, with a rolled up copy of the New Yorker.
Of course all this talk of past and future assumes that time is linear, and that all events aren’t taking place simultaneously but on different planes, a concept I try to explain to my landlord each month when the rent’s overdue.
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