There’s a TEDx presentation from Simon Sinek called Start With Why - How Great Leaders Inspire Action. I first came across the video a few years ago from a friend and mentor within the music industry and it has since cropped up again and again from various other sources.
The video is all about ‘finding your why’, that core value, that core desire, that core dream, that principle itch you need to scratch, the one that keeps you moving forward in the face of adversity, difficulty, pain, challenges. Each time the video has been thrown my way it has been with the intention of encouraging me to come up with my own answer to the question because if you can answer the question then everything else falls into place. Suddenly the what you do, how you do it, where you do it and who you do it with all have greater clarity once you have mastered that one single, all encompassing ‘why’.
There was just one problem.
I couldn’t answer it.
Sure, I’ve tried over the last four years to answer it and, on some occasions, managed to scribble down an answer. But it’s never quite stuck, never quite felt like that a core reason, a burning need and obsession that really scratches that itch, a reason that really comes from the core and deepest foundations of who I am as a person.
I couldn’t really go back to why I started making music in the first place either. The answer has changed over time. If you had asked me when I was sixteen it would have been ‘to be Bruce Springsteen’ (actually that one is probably still in there somewhere hah!). If you were to ask me at 18 it would have been ‘to put my hometown Tamworth on the map with me as its Rock n Roll icon’. If you were to ask me at 21 it would have been ‘to have a job where my ‘diet’ - for want of a better term - was considered acceptable’. At 24 it would have been ‘to bring poetry back into the mainstream’. At 26 it would have been ‘to prove those who told me I couldn’t do it wrong’.
And on and on the answers went.
The other difficulty I was having was wrestling with this notion of boiling oneself down into some sort of brand or business, a notion I still grapple with today. I’m a person, ergo I’m quite complex and a songwriter so melting myself down into a catchy sentence so as to sell myself on social media isn’t something I’ve found a great deal of comfort in. It’s not like setting up a business where one can just hide behind a product or brand as some sort of figurehead or puppet master, detached somehow leaving the product to do all the talking. The product is separate from you in that case. Whereas here, with music, the product IS you.
So I began to look at myself, look at the people around me, listen to their conversations, their attitudes towards life. I took note of the songs on the radio in the work van or coming out of the portable radio. What drivel! I listened to the friends and family and strangers who, it seemed, were yearning for something real, something authentic! Something that wasn’t X factor or Britain’s Got Talent related. Something that wasn’t rehashing old melodies and classics, something that was original. Something that wasn’t put together in a board room but from real life, guttural and visceral in its anguish and endurance of life.
Because there’s something a tad wrong with modern culture today isn’t there.
Now it’s not everywhere, mind you!
But it is there nonetheless.
I can’t quite put my finger on it and sometimes, when I think I have, it scuttles away from me in moments of contemplation where I extend my view and widen my scope of the topic.
But I feel it.
And I know I’m not the only one who feels it.
I feel it when Martin Scorsese criticises the spiritual and emotional weight the monopoly of the MCU juggernaut might be lacking. I feel it when Wiley stepped forward to criticise Ed Sheeran for being a ‘culture vulture’ a ‘golden boy’ who takes what he can from a niche sub culture of music and gives all but nothing back. I felt it in Joker, the genius it took to get a film so powerful, alienated in its character and delivery, a Trojan horse that smuggled its message into the zeitgeist and brought with it the relief of a tendon that had been wound to snapping point. I felt it when I saw the last two editions to the James Bond franchise, how they threw away all that deep, intelligent, emotive breakdown of the character over the previous films only to dash it all away for the cheap thrills once more. I feel it every time I hear a rehashed melody from an 80s classic on the radio as if the only way to get people’s attention nowadays is through the shameless cash grabbing and vampiric seduction of our propensity for nostalgia, like every time I see the trailer for a half arsed remake in the cinema that totally misses the mark of the original.
In the face all this hollowness and yearning I began to consider what the fuck it was that I actually wanted to see from pop culture.
I believe people deserve artists who refuse to succumb to apathy.
I believe that people are way fucking smarter than these board room decisions give them credit for!
I believe that decent, hard working people shouldn’t be hounded for their hard earned cash for anything that lacks so much as a slither of substance, authenticity and vigour.
I believe that people deserve things that strive to be bold, breathtaking and original even in the face of crippling, introverted nervosa.
I believe that people deserve artists who can find the extraordinary in ordinary things, face hard truths head on and dedicate themselves to portraying the nuance, the poetry in life. Warts and all. People deserve to be trusted with raw, passionate truth, not cynical, watered down commercialism.
It feels like something I find it difficult to argue with. There’s no second guessing, no flimsy foundations, no transparency. Popular music, popular culture in general, is a fucking shit show, an embarrassment to the previous iterations it is so eager to try to replicate. A walking, talking, dolled up fucking caricature of all of the scenes, styles, genres and decades that have come before. All sense of hard work, originality, authenticity, substance, inspiration sapped in the name of nostalgia. Nostalgia is quickly becoming a filthy word used only to grind us through the funnel of capital gains.
“Don’t look back - you’re not going that way.” - Mary Engelbreit.
So, what is my ‘why’? Why do I do what I do? What’s that burning desire, that itch, that core value that keeps me moving forward?
I believe that people deserve to feel like there’s someone out there who gives a shit about what they might be going through…
…and purges them of the strain.