In these strange times, when the old rules and ways are breaking up around you, then letting go of old certainties and assumptions may be one of the most important and liberating things you can do. To do this, you will need to embrace the sense of being lost reasonably regularly!
Being lost is about not knowing where you are and not knowing where to go next. Or both. Being lost is not knowing what is essential, what matters, what is expected. It is when' they' are not around to help. It is not knowing what a reasonable goal might be.
This can be disturbing.
Our childhood fears of wolves in the wood, sleeping dragons, or being alone in the wilderness make being lost troubling. It brings out the vulnerable boy or girl within us, instinctively reaching up an arm to take a parent's hand.
But being lost is also a problem to solve, a land to be discovered, the key to the prison cell, the place you finally meet yourself.
To be afraid of getting lost is to be afraid of living.
I have had the immense privilege of being remarkably lost in the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara Desert, Tsim Tsa Chui in Kowloon, New Mexico, the back streets of Athens, Germany (where I accidentally ended up in Poland), and Nashville - nobody told me there were two Nashvilles in the USA.
I have also been more psychologically lost – when I left university without a clue of what to do with my life. When, as a teacher, I ran out of the love for the job, When I was recruited to a role in an organisation which the Finance Director informed me on day one didn't exist and hadn't been agreed. Or when as above, my business collapsed around my ears. All of which unexpectedly led me to quite wonderful discoveries.
As you enter the 'borderlands' between the assumptions and expectations of the old world and the potential of a place where nothing makes sense, a kind of psychological wilderness, embracing the feeling of being lost and then liberating yourself, may turn out to be one of the significant challenges of your life.
I mean this literally and figuratively. Getting lost awakens you more than anything else to the situation you are in and the way you are dealing with it – that feeling of being out of your depth, disoriented, and on your own. The first thing you meet when you get lost is yourself: your emotions, your abilities, or lack of them, your judgments about the situation.
I travel chaotically. The secrets of the competent wanderer are lost on me. Considering the farrago of misunderstood directions, impossible transport connections, and incipient disaster I bring to the endeavour, the fact that I invariably get to my destination is most often due to the kindness of strangers rather than navigational talent.
I speak, therefore, as one who knows.
Choosing to be lost is not so hard. It is letting a chance rather than a map guide your way. It is about doing something unfamiliar to you. It is doing something you have perhaps dismissed, something you were not capable of or of which not all others would approve.
Getting lost is about putting yourself undoubtedly in your discomfort zone.
The great joy about getting properly lost is you never quite get home again. For the act of adapting to the challenge changes you forever.
Think of your first day at school or in a new job. How lost were you? But you could not find your way back to where you had come from even if you wanted to.
Go and Get Lost is one of the Adventures and Investigations for a fashioning a new relationship with the world from Steve Bonham’s new book 'How to Survive and Thrive in an Impossible World – a practical guide to liberation.' Published as a limited special edition 1/10/2020 prior to global release - order your copy today! (click on photo)
I've been reading a book this week, Walking the Great North Line by Robert Twigger. Now, I've known Robert for a number of years. I think the first time we met was in Cairo, and he took me out into the desert with his very unreliable Toyota Land Cruiser. We've stayed in contact and been friends ever since. I think probably one of the reasons for this is that our brains think in the same sorts of ways characterised, by irrepressible curiosity, compulsive irreverence, and unabashed awkwardness. Robert’s brain though usually has the safety catch off.
Walking the Great North Line is a great book. Rob noticed that the Stonehenge and Lindisfarne and dozens of other ancient sites lie almost perfectly on a North tracing line, more or less along the East West watershed of England. Whether this line is an accident of geography or the confluence of arcane spiritual intent over millennia is not really the point. The idea of a such thing offers Rob a chance to riff away at some wild and intriguing ideas. This is what I love about his writing. It's an endless provocation of ideas, thoughts, asides and practical ideas. ( e.g. One large long pole is better for crossing a river than two shorter walking sticks). We live in the days of some really intriguing travel writers (such an inadequate term) like Rob McFarlane and Tristan Gooley. If they formed a rock band Twigger would have to be on lead guitar.
It is his unaffected, uninhibited inquisitivness that is the heart of his genius, his openness to the world and the hidden gems that lie waiting to be discovered. He stopped en route at Thor's Cave, which is very close to where I live. This is a high cavern up in the Derbyshire Hills. People have slept in it for millennia. And now it seems Rob has himself, alone with the odd noises of the night and thoughts about child rearing, shamans and leadership!
The trip was a true rain-filled wild camp adventure, finding places to stop each night on or near the route, which in England is still legally dubious. Now, Rob is a tough dude. Perhaps the toughest dude I've met. His CV includes chasing the world's longest snake, canoeing across Canada, studying Aikido with the Tokyo police. But he can also take feeling sorry for himself to high art, describing his poor wet feet as pink and wrinkled like a baby too long in the bath. This makes him a great vicarious traveling companion.
It's a wonderful book. It's up there on Amazon and all the usual places. Reading it reinforced my own sense that rambling is at the heart of much good art, whether that's a book, a painting or a song. A chap called Frederic Gros, whose book, A Philosophy of Walking, complains, "Books by authors grafted to their chairs are heavy and indigestible like fattened geese." But walking upright, exposed to wide spaces, like a flower to the sun, opens you to a stream of unfettered unbidden thoughts.
Do you know, I think as much as anything else, the world is made of stories? They run like hidden streams across continents or like fantastical tree roots under oceans. They shape and bind what we see, what we feel, the whole dreaming devilish dance of life picks up their rhythm. Songs are just stories made musical.
A while ago standing on the top of Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa, I looked eastwards towards the Sahara Desert over 300 miles away and was struck with the absurd but totally compelling idea to walk from these high peaks towards that remote mystical wilderness. Setting off with a Berber friend, Moha, two mule boys, and two mules, exchanging them after 200 miles for three camels, I wandered through one of the least visited parts of North Africa.
I was on the trail of a lost tribe of dwarves and the echoes of the Glaoui warlords. These were the puppets of the French; who had ruthlessly controlled the region and were still displaying the heads of their enemies on the gates of the fortresses in 1947. I was also on the trail of the old camel routes, which snaked in and out to the Atlas and Anti-Atlas Mountains and to understand more about the Berbers, whose very name for themselves, the Amazighs, means free men.
On the way, I was possibly arrested for vagrancy, followed by the secret police on Velocette motorcycles, attacked by an Egyptian viper and protected by a spirit dog called Black.
But all this paled into insignificance when, after 450 kilometers, dirty, dehydrated, and thoroughly disoriented, I made my way out of the sand dunes to a place called M'hammed, a rough-and-ready village on the Algerian border, a kind of no man's land of history with too many bored soldiers for my liking. M'hammed is next to the last major oasis on the way south into the great Sahara, where trade caravans gathered before setting off to Timbuktu and beyond. Some as many as 5000 camels together would have made this trip.
But there are some hotels here for intrepid tourists who think the mystery of the desert can be discovered by traveling at high speed through it in a four-by-four or a dune buggy. And there being hotels meant there was a distinct possibility of a shower and even more remarkably a bed. Both of which had been missing from my life for too long.
We walked into the first one we saw. It was old and cheap tiles covered adobe walls, deeply dark inside and cold. The reception was empty. But in the corner, a young couple sat staring at PC screens. And that is how I met the girl from California. Now I don't know why, but there is a simple rule of travel that wherever you go, no matter how far off the beaten path you have wondered, eventually, you will meet a girl from California. When I asked her what she was doing there, she said she was painting hotel signs. And when I asked her what her, I assumed, her boyfriend was doing, she said, "Oh, he mends the shades." No backup information being offered, the conversation turned with the now customary incredulity over why we had walked from the top of the Atlas mountains to here. Eventually, we did meet the hotel owner, who turned out to be a Dutch car dealer from Amsterdam.
For various reasons, we didn't stay there. But my head started to create a backstory to why and how this particular California girl was where she was. Amazingly, a few days later, on the streets of Zagora as we made our way back, we bumped into the two of them. We talked more this time. And I had the amazing realization that this backstory I had created was more and more true. She said to me, "I feel we're connected somehow. We should stay in touch." She took my email address and said she would write. But of course, being Californian, she never did.
This is blog is based on a trip from the High Atlas Mountains into teh Sahara which forms the subject of the book I am working on at the moment. Stumbling Over Eden which I hope to publish in the Spring of 2021 - watch this space! Cheers Steve . Patreons will be able to get early chapters and drafts.
We are blessed to have so much amazing recorded material instantly available to us. On our smart phones and tablets we can listen to music recorded anywhere in the world since that dog first looked down the trumpet speaker of the first record player. As songwriters we stand within and on the shoulders of this astonishing heritage. How do we approach this best?
I love music of the southern states of the USA. We’re talking of a great cauldron into which African music, Native American Music, the distinctive voices of central Europe, English ballads, the soaring bravado and pathos of Scottish and Irish music, Latin rhythms all the music of the whole damn world got poured into a song. And the songs were: RnB, country, bluegrass, jazz, honky tonk, rock’n’roll and more and more.
To me, as someone who writes songs the question how to I relate to this incredible richness is a great one. Do I revisit the songs of those who have gone before - mirroring their chord structures, melodies and subjects? Or so I try and take the gifts of these songs and try and reinvent them – even to the point of creating a new genre as others such as Bill Monroe (Bluegrass)?
The first - revisting – is an honourable and well-trodden approach. Staying in with the tight structures ( the 3 or 4 chords of country music for instance ) and remaining creative and fresh is a real challenge to be relished. I am not so good at that. As I keep telling myself ‘this is hard – there are so many great songs written already !
Reinventing is for musical genius. Not me. Perhaps only a few of us can redefine music this way.
I have been exploring the idea of reimagining in my songwriting. Re-imagining is a very personal thing. It’s about connecting your own emotional reaction to direct experience and seeing where it leads you through the vocabulary of the music that surrounds you. Direct experience like walking through the Appalachian Forests. As spiders fell onto my face; it was so humid I felt I couldn’t breathe; looking our for bears and rattlesnakes and sleeping surrounded by the mysterious noises of the night; I couldn’t help me think about the Native Americans and the settlers who once were hear and trying to imagine their world and their lives. The stories that wove themselves around me as I travelled came out as songs as I walked. And the music and form came from all of the sounds I ever heard in that marvelous musical place. Nothing I write is in one sense new, it is ignorant of the rules that is all. SO in a sense with me - the experience / the story comes first, not the lyrics, the story.
Of course - you don't have to walk through the wilderness to write great songs. But surely the heartbeat of a great song is pure experience - like when a newly-romantically dumped Percy Sledge stood on stage and hollered 'When A Man Loves A Woman'. And reimagining that song into existence is to unconsciously tune-in to the sounds you love and acknowledge the 'rules' but not be bound by them.
In the age of fake news, deceit, narcissistic posturing, climate change denial perhaps we need more than ever the power of prayer. Not for me religious prayer but secular prayer. Words that remind us of our humanity, our connectedness, the indivisible bond that binds us, for, as the murdered politician Jo Cox so memorably said, “We have far more in common than that which divides us’
Prayer? It may seem an awkward word and I am sure phrases like ‘protest song’ sit more easily. But prayers ultimately are about establishing rapport between an individual and something precious and greater than themselves. A song like ‘Forever Young’ by Bob Dylan is a great example of this, words of hope and love for his son yet universal its embrace of fatherhood everywhere.
I have been trying to create a lyric as a prayer. I cannot say how successful it is yet, I am still working on it. But here it is in its first wobbly steps.
Nashville when we got to it was a mixture of the musical sublime; Alison Kraus at the Ryman Theatre and Carter's Vintage Guitar Store; and the profane; tawdry and exploitive with endless bars playing over-amplified soft country rock, We searched along Broadway late at night seeking salvation and redemption but found only disillusion ! But we were to be saved! (from Steve's new book 'A Beautiful Broken Dream.
I felt that Nashville was starting to let us down. We walked back to Broadway, every bar continued to thunder out a blur of noise of contrived country rock songs played very, very loudly. Disillusioned, we decided to head back to the hotel. Dinny suggested we just looked at a few bars on the other side before jumping into a taxi at the line which was parked opposite. The first places we looked in were much the same as the others. Feeling like drowning, I summoned up the will to go in to one for a beer anyway, just to lament the lost dream. Dinny, who after last night’s excitement, looked so stoically mournful when she agreed, that I did not have the heart to inflict such punishment upon her. As we walked towards the taxi stand, we paused outside a joint called Layla’s. The trio inside were playing a good full on honky-tonk bluesy thing.
Something better was going on here, we both sensed it.
“Okay,” I said, “let’s have a quick drink, we can stand at the back away from the noise.”
Going in I got myself a Blue Moon beer and Dinny a Coke. And that is how we came across the Eskimo Brothers.
They were everything that had been missing all day. The lead guitarist was wearing a black sleeveless shirt, looking like a cross between Springsteen and the Fonz. He was playing an old, friendly Telecaster with verve, humour and no little skill. He could pick, he could strum, he could riff from the bottom to the top, roll round his thumb and make the bass strings sing. Another guy was playing a stand-up double bass. He had a more than passing resemblance to Jim Carey during his pet Detective/ Mask period, facial expressions and all. Sometimes he would lean his base at an angle of 45°, stand on the hip, sticking out one leg behind and slapping the thing as if he was trying to bring it back to life. The drummer was a bespectacled guy with long, straight hair, a round face and a beard struggling here and there. He looked like he might have a lot of video games back at home but played spot on the beat and kept the show from flying away.
The second number in we heard them play an outrageous rockabilly, bluegrass version of Queen’s ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’. Dinny grinned, reached for my beer and taking a swig, moved forward to the front. Keeping up the pace, they played a number of their own songs plus stuff by Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash (Folsom Prison Blues at 100 miles an hour), Hank Williams and roughneck versions of songs about cars, horses and getting into a fight. They ripped up a version of ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’, the speed of a runaway train, the bass player singing with perfect diction, stopping suddenly to grumble we were not clapping fast enough and then singing it even faster in high octane delight. They did ‘Suspicious Minds’ complete with passable and very funny Elvis impersonations. We stayed for a second beer, passing it back and forth between us and hollering and clapping along.
It was fun watching people coming in off the street – sometimes they looked, well a bit beat up, as if they were trying to grimly fulfil an imperative to ‘have a good time’. Usually a few steps in, as the band played on, there was a sudden smile. One couple came in and as they passed the stage spontaneously started dancing together. Another old fella, who must have been about 70 or even more, wearing broad braces did a little soft shoe shuffle as he walked towards the bar and reappeared a minute later with a middle-aged lady as they both hurtled about in some sort of country style jive.
The guitarist, who afterwards I found out was called David Graham, really worked the crowd committing himself to drawing everyone in. After a while, he slowed the music down and, as ‘Jim’ kept playing the bass and the drums kept on, he rested the guitar neck on one arm and said,
“In this town we don’t get paid except by you! It’s the tradition here. If you like us that’s great, if you don’t we’re broke. And, whilst you put your hand in your pocket, give a little out for the girls behind the bar, they ain’t paid neither!”
Bass player Jim stopped playing, laid down his bass and jumped off the stage walking around with one of those ice buckets, empty of course, except it wasn’t when he came back, it was overflowing with dollar bills not just singles but five, tens and even, for the price of a request, a twenty.
They kicked off again with a great old honky-tonk song called ‘Driving Nails In My Coffin’, made famous by the great Ernest Tubb. He of the eponymous record store and a million nights of the Grand Ol’ Opry, his ‘Walking The Floor Over You,’ may have been the first honky-tonk song. Called the Texas Troubadour, he famously couldn’t sing much but that didn’t matter. He must have a side to him I thought, he once fell out with a record producer and tried to shoot him with a .357 Magnum. Drunk, he aimed at the wrong person but missed and was promptly arrested. Apparently, he was so mad with the fellow he forgot to put cowboy boots on.
Heading reluctantly back I knew Nashville was saved. Moonshine Music played on.
If you would like a special edition copy of A Beautiful Dream go to the bookstore, Here if you enter the code NASHVILLE you can enjoy a 15% discount. If you would like a signed copy also drop Steve an email at firstname.lastname@example.org letting him know who it is for.