Again, in life he felt like a refugee; the past a memory of blazing ruins, relatives killed before his eyes, the future; a long grey road and transit camp of the displaced heart. When home is someplace you can never return to, it doesn’t stop the yearning. Any desire for justice is overwhelmed by a longing to return to the way things were then.
The feeling of not belonging, of being a visitor gave him a backdrop in which to create stories and songs that people felt they could relate to in a shallower way than his intention. When he sang of loneliness and longing, the just dumped girlfriend related to it, took comfort from it for a while. A parent waving their child off to University could relate to the feeling of emptiness. For him though, the true story was about a family literally blown apart, a long journey across a continent and having to trust strangers, helping children without parents to make the same journey, living off charity.
In some ways he felt like a fraud, putting his words onto other people’s lips: “don’t let the experiences of the past dampen your enthusiasm for beginnings.” The just-pregnant teenager might have taken some solace from that song, but his beginnings had been forced upon him too, and how could he not be cynical about a country that took him in eventually, that interpret his words to mean; “love” and “regret” full of humility and life’s lessons of the past.
He felt like singing: “Well where were you when the barrel bombs rained down? When I needed shelter, food and warmth? But there was no health from getting angry.
He was finally noticed whilst busking on a street corner. Another busker who could spot talent when he saw it, who had connections and other friends. If he chose to belong, they could be a team. He went along and he sang their shallow songs and played their dull rhythms and they gained an audience and an income. Whilst they drank away their share, he wrote more heartfelt songs of ambiguity, promise, fear and hope. The tunes had depth and complexity that didn’t fit the commercial sound they were seeking. His songs were too “heartfelt”, too “hardcore”, too “heavy”. “Jeez, two people breaking up is sad enough, but no one wants a song about them both dying.” So, he wrote about saying his goodbyes to those he left behind and not to worry about who he will meet and where along the journey. He understood his meaning and the group were happy with the level of sentiment. They got a following and they got recordings and they played to bigger venues. It increased his unease, his feeling of survivor guilt. What he made he gave to Aid Charities. He didn’t join in the parties and the post gig frivolities. He earned enough to buy himself space. He needed space from everyone else, to write his own songs to express how he really felt. It was easy because the reminders were always there; the boats coming across the Channel, the displaced exploited and brain-washed to commit terrorism. It was a world his new country could not understand and world they didn’t want to know until some atrocity was committed. Well, that was his country every day. Every shopping trip considered a risk, every job cancelled out, every trade and qualification all for nothing and he sang their songs about how your girlfriend left you for another boy.
He was grieving, he should have known. He was angry and should have sought help, but he’d signed a commitment and felt duty bound to see it out. It made him more volatile. The juvenile pranks of the others, the lack of seriousness, the squandering of time when they could have been creative, the lack of punctuality at gigs, the procrastination in the studio. It was wasteful. The more he spoke out, the more shunned he became.
They met other groups and he spoke his mind to more serious-minded musicians. He got a solo slot as a support act, totally against contract, so he played incognito. He sang his songs, his way and people listened. Well, a few did. No one ever listen to the support act, but he got lucky that night because a producer was at the gig to hear the main act and arrived on time to hear him.
After the main act had finished, he’d waited for the group to finish and the producer came back-stage. The lead-singer stepped forward to greet him and the producer stepped around him and greeted the support act. He saw the looks of disdain on their faces. They wanted to offer him a contract as a solo singer. But it was a binding contract and his songs would not be his. He couldn’t understand how artists got into these traps; of documents written in their language (not his) and be blinded by promised wealth and fame. He had tentatively gone down that route with the group. It was all they wanted, their ultimate aim, to be owned and used at the beck and call of an employer. He suddenly saw it all for what it was and he walked away.
Here he was; a refugee again, at another station, designing his own tour, being his own manager, playing his gigs to who he wanted. He valued himself, for who he was, for who he had learned to be. His extraordinary experiences made him conscious of the feelings he didn’t want to feel. Survival was not enough; it didn’t meet the needs of his heart. He wanted to live fully and hopefully; joyfully and to do that he knew now that he must be present to himself to be aware of who his “self” was.
He sings now of joy, of starlit skies and summer love and they say he is too shallow and uncomplicated, but he feels true to himself and that is all that counts.