fire on all sides
by James Rhodes
perhaps we’re all just a little bit crazy
how it (depression & anxiety) makes day-to-day living excruciatingly difficult
the stress of having to behave the way people want you to behave because there are expectations, because showing your true self would be career or social suicide
it’s a game a lot of us play all the time – the game of making it look like everything is ok. that you know your shit and you’re quite capable of adulting. as the singer elliott smith said before he killed himself: ‘everybody is (inconsistent). everybody pretends like they’re more coherent to that other people can pretend that they understand them better. that’s what you have to do. if everybody really acted like how they felt all the time, it would be total madness..
maybe not.. maybe that’s what we’re missing.. it’s certainly madness now..
wilde not us law.. et al
this book is not about who i am.. it is about how i am.. how, perhaps, we all are.. the fact that i am a father, pianist, writer, ex husband, pisces, idiot is irrelevant. it is the how that is important.. i’m convinced that how we endure and function in today’s world is not only vastly more interesting than our job titles and bank balances and instagram updates, but also something that brings us closer together at a time when so many things are pushing us apart..
i’ve tried w best possible motives, to share w you all the ugliness and rawness that’s w/in me.. i think it’s deeply important for us to see and be seen as we really, truly are.. t
for pretty much every second of every day for the last 35+ years my head has told me, in varied, imaginative and extravagant ways, that i ‘m no good. and that is what’s at the heart of everything that is painful in my life: my mind and what it tells me
my…. mind.. has, for decades, been given carte blanche to dictate and regulate my entire outlook on life..
in my case.. when my head isn’t quite right, if someone looks at me funny, doesn’t reply to an email fast enough, uses vaguely aggressive language in a text, unfollows me on twitter, brings me the wrong food order in a restaurant, i want to kill or be killed.. and i don’t think i’m alone in this.. we are all, to a greater or less extent.. splashing about in the same paddling pool of crazy..
i am frustratingly, in a self built prison and can see no way out.. 90% of my thoughts are designed to stop me from enjoying almost every aspect of my life and to keep me unhappy, unhealthy and unsettled..
it’s a drug, you know, fantasy; freud thought it was a defence, klein a projection and jung.. he thought it was healthy.. a pathway to creativity.. .. for all the neg’s .. fantasy is also what helps keep me alive.. and it almost invariably uses music as its backbone..
there is nothing more universal than music and the inner worlds it grants us access to.. music is, for me and for all of us, an entirely natural language more powerful, believable and authentic than words..
the biggest revelation to me is that these guys – bach, beethoven, chopin, schubert, brahms, rachmaninov and the rest – invented mindfulness.. you don’t need a squadron of bald, commando monks tying you down in a forest and chanting at you to find inner peace and meaning, you just need to learn how to shut the f up, plug in some decent headphones and escape into ourself while listening to the most immortal music ever written..
it’s not coincidence that the specific pieces i write about in this book are mostly all about fantasy.. songs i played on tour in 2016
and so.. inevitably this book is also sometimes about my attempts at head management
i beg you.. listen to this music
1 – bach prelude in c major
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLB64p4J8FQ] – 4 min by james
how to play piano – requested for library purchase
(after describing how incredible bach was).. that first c major prelude of his is a master class in simplicity and hidden depths.. a lesson in creating something so much greater than the sum of its parts that it’s the musical equiv of splitting the atom.. it’s a breathtakingly beautiful cascade of notes that strips away everything we think we know, burrows into our souls..t ..and allows us all to float away somewhere warm and safe and magical
there is a constant voice in my head. there are several…. i do wonder what those voices are..
eleanor longden‘s intervoice
honestly i don’t know how any of us manage to survive and endure. because have you met anyone, ever, who wouldn’t be diagnosed w something from the dsm-v..(the manual used around the world to put a label on our crazy)..t.. how are we all somehow managing to function amidst the noise and haste..?
all i really want to do is completely avoid interacting w anyone, walk straight from the hotel to the stage, not utter a single word, play, come back to the hotel, eat alone and pass out.. but i can’t do that
making music, painting, writing are not equations or formulas that can be solved or proved – they are fluid, subjective, imperfect structures that float into our world and are experienced thru our own filters and histories. perfection to one listener is utterly vile to another
2 – chopin fantasie in f minor
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V51xi02l8Ig] – 14 min by james
that the refugee camps are like a shopping mall for paedophiles and that more, much more, needs to be done to help the most vulnerable..t
they (save the children) have to work harder, try harder, not rest and not stop until more has been done. they have barely scratched the surface, and while we continue to insulate ourselves from the horror of it all it is continuing to happen on a scale that is unimaginable..t
i haven’t truly come out of anything and i feel like i’m on borrowed time, and while we’re all sitting here in this big fancy auditorium being served coffee and pastries there are hundreds of thousands of children going thru what i went thru and worse every single second of every single day, and why aren’t we all doing more, much much more..
busyness.. et al.. getting in the way.. let’s pause.. to reset..
the need for distraction and escape leaves me and i’m just there, floating on stage and present. for those fourteen minutes my head is blissfully quiet..
3 – chopin polonaise-fantasie
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qg1sfXdyL_c] – 12 min
tweet while reading:
James Rhodes (@JRhodesPianist) tweeted at 7:12 AM – 21 Apr 2018 :
The inside of my head right now https://t.co/4lNk3ejFC7 (http://twitter.com/JRhodesPianist/status/987680478298812416?s=17)
he (chopin) had realised by this stage of his life that people were living in their own heads, distracted all the time and unable to really listen. yep. even back in the 1840s we were constantly distracted.. he uses music as the vehicle to demand our attention..t.. jeremy denk writes: weaves the act of listening into the very fabric of this piece..
we all need to learn to listen more.. in particular, to ourselves.. it’s a dying art..t
self-talk as data
in this piece, we get these extraordinary moment of aural slaps around the face – repeated chords, weird harmonies, sudden u turns in pace or volume, bizarre harmonic shifts.. chopin is forcing us to listen..
maybe why i like raw improv ness.. and making instrument sound not like its conventional self.. not put to sleep/zombie by what’s expected
it’s an awkward, scary mixture of freeform improvisation and intense control all at once..t
i’d make damn sure, if i had my time over again, that i did whatever it took to celebrate quietness, to make feeling good enough about who i am, irrespective of all external shit, my number one priority..t
and that if you did this every day, just took a few minutes to disappear and go inside yourself, it could radically alter the way you perceive the world..t
the actress sees the photo, sends me a text to say that the photo looks like someone snapped me during a brief moment when i was free of all my shit..
it’s amazing how quickly i hand over all the power.. i know this is only a fling..
4 – beethoven sonata op 110
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LxF27T5Uss] this is op 31 #3 2nd movement .. but it’s one i love.. talking about bethoven
[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QI1viKPG3TI] op 110 – 22 min
what matters most to him (beethoven 1821), what causes him pain few of us could ever imagine, is his total and complete isolation from the world in which he exists.. has always existed. he has felt alone since he was a boy. beaten and abused, a survivor of an alcoholic and violent father, .. he is gifted unimaginable musical talents by a power greater than anything the human mind can conceive, and then, w a dreadful, cruel irony, he becomes deaf..
he starts to write. not words, though if they had been they would have screamed ‘hear me‘.. but something beneath words, beyond them.. he may be deaf but he knows exactly how he wants it to sound.. he writes as though his life depends on it, knowing he has little time left.. .. he is permanently tortured by the fact that he has a surplus of ideas and a scarcity of time..
that he is deaf, sick and heartbroken is immaterial compared to what propels him to stay alive. he has a higher purpose and he needs to make it count..
as he cries out to god, asking questions that can only be answered by a force that is wiser and older than humankind, he finds those answers by asking not w words, but in music, his mother tongue..t
there are rules to adhere to in composition,. strict and embedded principles and traditions. it has always been this way. but he’s beyond the point of sticking to what’s expected. his calling transcends what is normal.. he rips up the rule book w the sonata he’s composing and the result is the ultimate statement of heroism and survival..
if only he could mirror that in life.. but then again., how could he care about something as mundane and uninspired as life when he is capable of creating music like this..?
there is no one in my life w whom i can really share this passion and talk about these pieces, so having few hundred thousand captive radio 3 listeners to whom i can vomit out facts and details about the greatest part of my life feels glorious..
teodor currentzis (opera via teodor.. what he listens to while walking)
his conceptions of these works are so grand, so life affirming and life changing so far beyond anything that has come before it that it has, for me, redefined music itself..
there is no other album i have heard where i know, just absolutely know, that this is how the composer himself would have heard it in his head while he was writing it down on paper.. it’s as if currentzis has found some cosmic wormhole, tunnelled back in time into mozart’s mind and replicated what mozart was thinking in the present day. a freak teleporting of genius from across the space/time continuum.. everything about it is outrageously good – the attack of the strings, the unbelievably immediate presence of the sound where the listener feels like they are sitting right in the middle of the orchestra as melody after melody sweeps thru their ears, the quality of singing.. , the humour, originality, pathos, romance, verve, face punching force of it all.. it is completely overwhelming.. this is classical music breaking the four minute mile..
(after describing figaro and cosi – teodor’s opera album – stories).. (i was amusingly, about to hesitate to write the following because it contains plot spoilers. but then i thought if anyone reading this is genuinely upset by an opera spoiler then please get in touch and let’s be best friends. because clearly, and perhaps sadly, no one else will really give to f s , and the fact that you do is amazing to me in a really good way)
even writing this, let alone listening to this put to music and played like a god by currentzis and his orchestra, i’m crying. because i don’t feel like i deserve that kind of love, that degree of kindness, and when it comes (rare, but it does come like it did that early morning at heathrow), i don’t know what to do w it other than absolutely block out any level of trust in it and assume it’s all a trick. that’s why i’m divorced, twice. and my exes and friends all call me the ‘anti trust guy’.. i hate it but i don’t know any better and i’m trying so goddam hard to rewire that part of my brain that was so appallingly betrayed when i was a little boy while it was still plastic and being formed and now will not, cannot, must not ever, ever, ever trust people
currentzis, however, i trust wholeheartedly. and i’ve never even met him.. his albums have become my best friends.. they offer me everything i’ve ever wanted – a deeper understanding of myself a beauty that is unimaginable a window onto another world that is better, safer, more profound and filled w more meaning than the one i currently inhabit..he keeps me company while i walk. and ride the tube, and make dinner. and during the lonely post divorce nights. and in the car, on planes, in hotels, backstage, on (too rare) holidays. he is the perfect partner, one who is incapable of betrayal.. buy his albums, i beg you..
it’s sad and surprising how people react to hearing the truth. secrecy is a difficult habit to break..t
i am slowly coming to realise that there is a middle ground in relationships somewhere between shutting down completely and being hyper needy. the fact that i’m learning this at this stage in my life would make me laugh if it weren’t so pathetically sad. i’m almost certain most people figure this stuff out in their teens. i want, more than i want anything else in my life, to find someone i can trust. to have a relationship where i know and accept that i have no right to control the other person’s life, where i can gently let go of someone even while i’m w them and trust that they may still stick around and be there and not end up despising me.. that’s what i’m looking for. one day. .. that’s when things will soften and open and start to feel safe. if that’s possible and it does indeed happen i think it’ll be the making of me..
i realise the fling.. has to end.. i though i could do a few short weeks. but then the feelings came too.. and w them the need to have her all to myself.. forever.. together w her constant reassurance that she was crazy about me.. and of course she wasn’t ..
i get up and pace and listen to teodor at 2am.. because that’s all i’ve got.. and actually, it’s not such a bad deal being in a relationship w music rather than w a girl.. if the only way to be free of all that relationship bollocks is to be single and alone, than as long as i’ve got music beside me, it’s totally worth it.. i fall asleep immediately..
there are odd harmonic progressions..and then this heartbreaking melody emerges, singing out over a constantly beating left hand accompaniment. all the fight knocked out of him.. it gradually subsides resigned in its sadness. beethoven called it his ‘song of lamentation’
5 – rachmaninov prelude op 32/13
6 – puccini arr. mikhashoff ‘o mio babbino caro’
it’s times like this that i feel completely alone and terrified. i’m missing the rule book everyone else seems to have..t
i don’t feel like there is anyone in the world i can call to talk to..because i should be better than this.. i should be more mature, than this, wiser, more capable. more normal…. from zero to suicidal in on hour
i walk to the venue like a condemned man. i am so bored w all of it. the pressure i put on myself, the constant fear that i’m too weak and not capable of meeting my potential.. all my old school reports shared the same singular refrain: james has a lot of potential but sadly isn’t realising it.. perhaps back then that was because i was out of my f ing mind and broken inside. but now i’m an adult (allegedly). i am more than capable of growing up , learning, adapting and being a better version of myself.
yet is just feels like the same old broken record keeps spinning..
there is so much i am missing out on in this world because of my head..t
i am convinced that it is this crushing lack of self belief and self esteem which is the biggest problem w me. not just w me but, it appears increasingly likely, w society as a whole. so many of us seem to feel shit about ourselves the majority of the time and spend our lives playing catch up to an ideal even though we know it’s false, even though we know it’s unattainable, even though we know that if by some miracle we can attain it, it won’t make a single goddam bit of diff.. it’s a great illusion…t
how do you stop something over which you have no control other than by using meds.. i would give anything to be able to stop this. anything and everything
the world is impossible still and silent right now. the air doesn’t move. it feels like there is no one else here on the planet w me; that sense of isolation is the curse of this f ing illness. if it is and illness.. depression? anxiety? ptsd? bipolar disorder? dissociative id disorder? what is it? i’ve been diagnosed w the lot and it doesn’t help to define it.. i am one person amongst seven bn.. sitting here on one planet out of eight..et al.. i am in effect a tiny tiny speck of dust spinning round in the middle of vast, infinite space and still my problems have no sense of perspective..
the entire audience on their feet clapping and laughing. which feels so liberating and such a lovely way to end the tour – a little reminder that this music and this industry really doesn’t need to take itself quite so seriously.. the presentation of classical music is so far up its own a it could clean its teeth from the inside.. and god know s beethoven would have thought it depressing and would have desperately wanted things to change rather than have so many a holes running the shows where his music is presented.. if only we could all lighten up a little and realise that music isn’t some fragile, ultra elite premium product that needs to be reserved for a certain kind of audience..
7 – gluck melody from orfeo ed euridice
i have such a strong connection w the people who write to me, and these brave, powerful messages are so overwhelming. i find myself once again just desperately sad at the level of pain that makes up such a big part of our world..
there’s a big gap between not sweating the small stuff and simply not giving a f about anything or anyone, and i worry i’m doing the latter right now..
what if doing what it took to feel peaceful and content was more important than chasing the dubious and temporary approval of others..?..t
it occurs to me that perhaps the most beautiful thing in the world we can do is to truly listen to someone else..t
i make a mental note to remember the link between not practising the piano that day, a carefree walk around the city and a lovely long afternoon nap and what was, for me, such a good performance.. concerts are so much a mind game. well. everything is really, isn’t it? diffusing the self imposed pressure, being relaxed, positive, confident and less anxious leads to a much better performance on and off the stage..
i’m starting to understand that my life is only going to improve by doing the things that go against what my head instructs me to do..
to stop thinking quite so much and start just being, enjoying life moment to moment.. i’ve been trying in vain to follow the instructions. i want to burn those instructions and start again..t
i’ve really, truly learned that despite what my head tells me, it is, the vast majority of the time, completely wrong and acting on false info
8 – encore – rachmaninov étude-tableau op. 39/5
251 – all my hero pianist idols: evgeny kissin
first one listed.. and that’s who’s playing in clip i found.. cool
all the things i can’t talk about w anyone else because it’s so delightfully niche..t
they are the loveliest couple of guys and it all feels so magical, so easy, it’s one of those rare moments for me when i am so relaxed w the company i’m in that i drop the mask(s) and am completely myself, all childish enthusiasm and adult focus. . t.. which for music, for anything creative, is the best possible combo
i realise my outlook has been getting more and more positive since i began doing things to move towards the pain, not away from it. .. it looks like we have such an aversion to pain that our gut does all it can to avoid it, but the truth is i think it’s only by going towards it, almost making friends w it. that we can find some kind of peace and acceptance..t
i decide here and now to dedicate it quietly to the 6yr old me who had to (literally) suck up all that pain and deal w the hell of my toxic f ing childhood in order that he can be here now.. fit, thrilled and, joyfully, able to do justice to the thing that has sustained him for all these years…
the end result of the last few months has been the realisation that no matter what is going on in my outer world, it is only by accepting things at a core level and giving up my incessant, pathological need to control, protect, defend and secure myself that i have a shot of finding any real, lasting happiness.. if i can’t do that then i ‘m back to simply existing.. existing while dying by millimetres. i’ve had enough of that way of life.. like many of us, i feel like a freak too much of the time as it is.. .. letting go of the things that cause me pain is a lifelong pursuit.. .. peace will come only from self awareness, form surrendering to the siege in my head rather than constantly defending against it..
since i was a kid i have instructed my mind to do an impossible job in the belief that should it fail in this job then i will die. i have directed it, repeatedly and consistently, to constantly analyse, solve, fix, guard, figure out, manipulate, examine, predict, determine, protect, understand, compartmentalise, make sense of and explain every single facet of my life, real or imagined, 24 hrs/day.. all of this so i can enjoy the dubious illusion of feeling safe..
i know i’m not alone in feeling like this, of being in desperate need of untangling and learning how to let go.. t i can’t quite bring myself to believe that i am one of the tiny few who is constantly f ing things up while everyone else is quite happily living their lives w no ups and downs, doubts and worries and middle of the night freak outs..
if i’m right, if we are all varying degrees of f ed up,.. we all need to figure out how to change our f ing priorities..
to truly love both self and others means you have to accept the agony as well as the ecstasy that comes w it, and that is what makes loves so real, special and worthwhile. same goes for life..
it’s time to stop fighting and to start accepting even celebrating the things i’ve ben ashamed of for so long – the awkward moments the clumsy mistakes, the f ups, slip ups and errors, the simple, honest mortality of my own existence..