Let’s talk about sex, baby. And mental health, while we’re at it.

I recently had a Tweet from a reader asking me to retweet as part of her campaign to bring herself to the notice of Joni Mitchell.

Two weeks later, my reply is still being retweeted and favourited by people I’ve never heard of.

You  never know with the internet, do you? You work your socks off trying to be noticed (blogging, Facebooking, SoundClouding) and then an off the cuff remark grabs all the attention.

This is what I said, in reply  to @SarahGSings, who wants to be noticed by Joni Mitchell:

SarahGTweet

I did, honest! On release in 1976, I reviewed Hejira for a weekly music magazine (long gone). Obviously, I raved about it. I finished up the review with the observation that “it’s better than sex”.

I wasn’t knocking sex. But while you can’t always get what you want in some spheres of life, music is always available to thrill, caress and lift you to heights…..oh, you know what I’m saying.

I was in a funny place in my life in 1976. After nine years of secure employment since leaving school, work was scarce and unreliable.

I was also going through an episode of what was later diagnosed as depression.

I felt, in a word, transient.

And then along comes Joni with a whole album about transience. The word Hejira derives from the Arabic for migration, or exodus.

She had already hit unbelievable heights with Court & Spark. But with Hejira she entered a whole new domain – she became, overnight, one of those rare birds in popular music. You could now regard her as an artist rather than as a mere musician or singer.

In one song, she’s talking to her lover, a ranch owner who is “brushing out the blue mare’s tail, as the sun is ascending, and I’ll just be getting home with my reel to reel” (that’s a pre-digital studio reference for you young’uns).

In Amelia, she addresses the wanderlust of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart. Joni’s “driving across the burning desert“, when she spots “six jet planes, leaving six white vapor trails“. They are “the hexagram of the heavens, the strings of my guitar“.

You need to be unattached, restless, with a lot of time on your hands to notice these things and write them down. But you need to be an artist to come up with that last line.

Lyric after lyric on the album spoke to the deepest depths of my soul.

But my favourite lines, which are never far from my mind, are:

There is comfort in melancholy, when there’s no need to explain.                                                                        It’s just as natural as the weather in this moody sky today“.

I imagine those words resonate with everyone who has suffered from depression. Melancholy is a familiar state of mind, and – naturally – it feeds creativity (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?).

It’s a funny thing, depression (or, in my case, bipolar). Unless you’re at the extremes of the spectrum – being sectioned or even straitjacketed – even friends find it difficult to accept that you’re not well, simply because you have learned to cope and behave in a ‘normal’ way.

I had not begun to talk about my condition, which had been diagnosed 20 years earlier, until nine years ago. Mostly I was met with comments of the “you’re not depressed!” or “pull yourself together!” variety. The breakthrough for me came when Stephen Fry did his two-part documentary for BBC in 2006.

As Fry described his manic phases for the tv cameras – shopping for England, buying again things he already had, moving at 100 miles an hour – friends were calling or texting me saying, “Oh my God, it’s like being with you!”

Being manic was wonderful. Almost everything I’ve achieved in my life of any note (other than my children) has been during a manic phase. I can move mountains. Nothing gets in my way. I say “was wonderful” because I haven’t had a manic episode for nearly 10 years. I really miss them.

But it is odd that people can recognise that aspect of your behaviour, but still struggle to understand that the other end of the spectrum, the depression, is anything more than feeling a bit down.

It’s also quite sad that people you’ve known for years suddenly start treating you like a leper. Not close friends, not people you can sit and talk frankly with. But some quite important bits of my life fell apart when I opened up about being bipolar.

Well, in the immortal words of J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs, ‘Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke’.

I wrote my own song about it, comprised in large part of things I used to tell people to try and help them understand. It’s called Trouble With Me.

I’m going to leave you with that. I don’t think it’s a ‘depressing’ song. It’s really a country blues. In the tradition, the lyrics are personal and explicit about feelings and about the reason for the feelings.

Joni Mitchell is much, much, much better at that than me.

Hallo? Joni? Are you listening…..

Sorry, @SarahGSings – can’t help. Joni’s just not paying attention.

 

 

Daddy, was your childhood in black and white?

I am Driver 67 and I am a one hit wonder.

There, I’ve said it. After 35 years of frustration and embarrassment, my friend John Williams told me last year: get over it; embrace it; use it.

So I started to plan this blog where, each week, I will put up a song and tell you the story behind it.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, BBC4 started replaying the old Top Of The Pops I had appeared on. Suddenly the pressure was on to get the blog out there. I was trending on Twitter, according to the BBC.

So here it is. The Driver 67 Blog.

Some of the songs will be old; most you will never have heard. One a month will be new. Most will be my own, but occasionally I will talk about songs by people I know, or have worked with.

I’m kicking off with a new one, just so you know I’m still capable. Plus, if I’m going to blog about writing and recording songs, I thought I should start with a song that was pretty easy to write. That way it’s easy for me to explain the process.

Also, I imagine that most of the people reading this will be of a certain age and will relate to the lyrics, which is another good reason for kicking off with this particular song. (If you’re not ‘of a certain age’, welcome. I’m flattered!).

Mind you, ‘lyrics’ is pushing the definition a bit. What happened is this. I started to make a list of things that had happened in my lifetime, starting with childhood and working through to the present day. The headline to this blog is something my youngest daughter Lily said when she was about six. I was driving on a motorway and trying to explain there had been no motorways when I was her age, and that I remembered the first car in our street. And that’s when she asked the immortal question: “Daddy, was your childhood in black and white?”

Well, no it wasn’t, obviously. But where I grew up, in Wolverhampton, there were still – in the early 50s – streets lit by gas. One friend even claimed to remember the ‘knocker-upper’, the man whose job it was to extinguish the gas lights as dawn broke and tap on the windows of those whose shift was about to start.

The milk and bread were delivered by horse and cart. (Milk and bread were not the only commodities the horse carried with him. The gardeners in the street, my Uncle Jack among them, would be out in the street, early mornings, waiting with bucket and shovel: if the horse crapped outside your house, that was your manure for the week).

Of course, because of the war, there were no bananas, and television was a totally unknown entity to us. No-one we knew had one. I think I was nine before I even saw a tv, let alone watched it.

So my list started like this:

  • – Gaslights
  • – Horse and cart
  • – No bananas
  • – No TV

We were Irish. We were working class. Is the Pope a Catholic? Church was demanded. On Monday mornings, the nuns who taught us would ask each class, “Who didn’t go to Church yesterday?” There was no point lying. Lying about going to Church was a mortal sin. You’d rather suffer the cruelty of the nuns than imagine the Big Black Mark on your Immortal Soul which such a lie would surely cause.

So the list continued:

  • – Church on Sunday
  • – Nuns on Monday

I looked back on those days, and then looked at the world we live in now – computers, iPads, exploring Mars, instant communication, instant gratification – and I couldn’t help but ask the question:

How did we get from there to here in 60 years?

And, Bingo! There’s the song.

By the way, in case anything I say should sound like a complaint, let me say I LOVE the progress we’ve made in my lifetime. Of course I could moan that no-one’s going to pay me for writing this blog; and that I’m putting music out there for people to listen to for free.

Well, that’s my problem. I still haven’t worked out how to make this free-for-all pay for my life.

But just look at what I’m doing. I’m publishing my thoughts to the entire world. How many will read them is down to me and how clever I can be using Twitter, Facebook, Google etc.

And I’m putting music out there that I’ve recorded, on my own, in a room, in my house. How cool is that? No studios to pay for; no engineer getting in my way; no musicians to pay for; all the time in the world to make my mistakes and no-one else around to make me feel embarrassed by my inadequacy.

So this first song, This Is A Life, is a celebration not a plea for commiseration.

It takes us from gaslit streets to global communication, and simply asks: How did we get from there to here in 60 years?

It also has a couple of significant nods, mostly to Arcade Fire, whose almost retro approach to production and arrangement gave me the confidence to record this song exactly as I wanted to. I imagine seeing AF live today is like seeing Springsteen in the 70s.

Also, Paul McCartney has a song – That Was Me – which is really worth a listen.

And finally, a nod to my friend John Howard, who has shown that it’s possible to write about being older without being maudlin. More of that in a later blog.