On Tour Stories

It’s day three of this two week solo tour and everything starts to gain clarity.

It’s been a hectic start to the tour with three shows and around fifteen hours of driving. I’m feeling great emotionally, just tired and its starting to show in my daily routine, where every activity includes a little time for a power nap. So far I’ve napped before every show, napped roughly every three hours on the freeway, napped post-lunch, napped outside the library in Wagga (where I fell asleep in shade from the hot sun and woke to find bucketing hail). I’m getting remarkably good at closing my eyes, ticking off ten minutes and waking to a sense of peace. Think meditation but with a deeper dive than originally expected and occasional surfacing to find kids staring through the windows as I dribble down the steering wheel.

I wonder if this insistent napping is a sign of something below the surface, maybe a general life exhaustion borne not from burning the candle at both ends but from tossing the entire thing into the bonfire of running a small business and playing music and teaching part-time and also trying to be a creative being. But no, that couldn’t be it and introspection is for introverts, and I’m touring solo so I push all introspective tendencies to the background.

In normal life I don’t normally nap, although I often feel the urge. Tour life just allows me the freedom to succumb to it. Throw this into the mix of being an adult I guess.

I’ve come to realise that there’s a lot about touring that I love. Playing music is the main joy. Spreading music and practicing my live craft and experimenting with my songs in front of people. Sometimes it works and sometimes it fails, but even on the worst gigs I’m generally getting joy from it, even if it’s a post-show wry chuckle at what went wrong. Other touring loves include: exploring new places, eating out most nights of the week, delving into Australia’s thriving craft beer subculture (I’ve been tempted for a long time to do a ‘beers I’ve tasted’ list), listening to endless streams of driving music, and finding park benches to devour books and nap.

But more than anything, it’s the people that I enjoy. I’ve got a small but growing network of people I have itinerant relationships with. People whose lives I dip into, borrow some anecdotes and important facts from and then disappear into the night. Over time these chance encounters re-emerge, the ‘emotional neural pathways’ (yes, I’ve been reading ‘Incognito’) get revisited and the bonds get stronger. There are people who I met ten years ago in some band that no longer exists who see I’m coming to town and shoot me a message to catch up. There are people who hang around after the gig and offer me a place to stay and music recommendations. There are people who send me messages weeks after I’ve been to town to carry on conversations we never completed. There are many people who I meet in once off encounters and may never see again, but the stories stick with me.

Here’s a couple of anecdotes, borrowed from the ether. I’ve changed some details to save some reputations and possible make the stories more compelling, but at the heart of each is a kernel of truth spurred by a late night conversation.

“My parents only had me cause they didn’t want my sister to grow up alone.”

A mumble from the bar amidst a literal pile of beer glasses. It’s closing time and the bar staff have piled all the empties in one long sopping line along the edge of the bar in an attempt to make him see that they want to close and go home, but he sits with a well-nursed pint clasped between both hands and eyes off the couple of stragglers who totter out the front door as I roll the last of my cables and throw them into my Bunnings bag.

I hesitate to dive headfirst into a conversation which I assume will be a) laborious at this time of night when all I want to do is pack up, drive five minutes out of town and have a deep sleep in the nearby caravan park and b) rambling as his tongue is well greased by the copious beer I’ve seen him consuming throughout the night. But I’m a glutton for punishment and it’s been a quiet night and I haven’t talked to anyone beside bar staff and service station attendants in almost three days. So I pull up a bar stool, armed with the knowledge I can call the bar staff to attention if I want to bail on the conversation. You develop conversation deflection tools when you spend your life amidst people who either don’t take social cues or are just so excited by new conversational fodder that they’ll chew the ear off anything.

It’s worse than I expect, a winding backroad ramble through some sixty years of life experience, beginning somewhere in the early 90s with a dubious career as a festival promoter (“I brought Nirvana to Australia man, that first Big Day Out was all my idea”) then wandering backwards to birth in Malta and a long boat ride at age three to Australia. Everything is tinged with a vague sense of sadness, and I wonder if it’s retrospect that’s making him sad or if he’s carried self-worth issues through from an early age. His opening comments make me suspect deep-seated worries inflicted upon him by external forces, and I understand it because worries bloom in the fertile fields of man’s mind. Without the capacity to pull the electric pulses from another’s brain and turn them into language, we rely entirely on what the other tells us through word and body language to determine what they think. It’s a flawed system, for who truly says what they’re thinking? Surely every thought is encircled in a ring of protective language, the edges sanded down and smoothed out before it is thrown into the world and allowed to take root in the soil of someone else’s expectations. At best, we almost express what we honestly believe and then rely on the person to take it at face value. At worst we obfuscate our thoughts, and the recipient confuses them again in their interpretation and we disappear into an ontological blackhole where all participants nod in agreement and walk away confused.

We never actually discussed his relationship with his parents and his sister, but I start to see my ‘on tour’ role as less of an entertainer and more as an itinerant therapist (sure I’ll take your emotional baggage) and handyman (sure I’ll help you move the living room table).

She is an olive farmer. An award-winning olive farmer. I ask her, tongue in cheek, if she eats olives for every meal, and it turns out that yes, yes she does, and her recipe for Mediterranean scrambled eggs (think fluffy eggs interspersed with creamy fetta, halved cherry tomatoes and garlic olives on a floating bed of olive sourdough) is a neighbourhood hit.

Her farm produces some six hundred thousand jars of olives a year and I imagine some modern day ‘Plain of Jars’ scenario where down a back road in rural Victoria there exists vast fields covered in glass jars and the local village kids run barefoot, slipping in streams of olive oil and sneaking handfuls of puckered, salted olives into their mouths between replenishing the nation’s stock of stone fruit.

The reality is much more sanitary, an in-house bottling plant where all surface are sanitised multiple times a day and most of the process is automated. Imagine conveyor belts and hissing steam and vast quantities of freshly washed olives floating down stream to the olive pipping machine that gently punches each olive in the gut once, flicking the stone into an alternate life path where it leaves its fleshy covering to be soaked in brine and devoured amongst its own kind.

The olive stones disappear into bins and are then crushed and tilled back into the earth to create fodder for the next generation, but recently new experiments with olive stones abound, from potential use as car fuel, a replacement material for plastic and as a cleansing agent amongst industrial machines. Man’s ingenuity abounds and where once we discarded piled olive pits we now delight in second use cases, waste reduction and further chances to monetize our industries.

“I put Don Burrows in a mine” he claims proudly, assuming we have a knowledge of who Don Burrows is, and why we’d want him underground.

At first I assume it’s some word play on ‘burrow’ and ‘mine’ and underground semantics and maybe he’s functioning at some level of understanding much deeper than my own. But it turns out that Don Burrows is actually a renowned Australian jazz musician, and the mine was the Mt Lyell Mining and Railway Company.

As part of the mine’s centenary celebrations back in 1994, Don Burrows and his band Moment’s Notice (assumably named after the Coltrane album) were dropped two kilometers down a mine shaft to perform a show. The show was turned into a subsequent live concert which can be ordered via your local library’s VHS rental service.

Unfortunately all this information came to light months later via some internet sleuthing. In this current conversation he proclaims disbelief that we don’t know who Don Burrows is, and that we don’t know why he thought to put him down the mine in the first place. “How can you be an Australian musician and not know who Don Burrows is? If you don’t know your history how can you look to the future?” Relevant questions, but I’m a folk musician, and examining the careers of Australia’s mid-90s jazz clarinetists is not a current concern. Standing on the shoulders of giants, yes. Attempting to balance atop a revolving cast of the millions of musicians who have come before, not so much.

He storms off in a huff, muttering about youngsters who don’t know their heritage and I’m touched by the depth of human existence. For this man, one of the cornerstones of his life’s achievement is that time he put a jazz band down a coal mine, and I get it. It’s a beautiful concept. It’s newsworthy. It’s a memory that a select group of people will carry throughout their entire lives. It’s the kind of ludicrous idea that I’d probably put together myself and I imagine myself, fifty years in the future, beleaguering the next generation of young musicians who don’t understand their history and don’t appreciate the ludicrousity that is man’s imagination.

I gather these stories like blind mice gather grain. Haphazardly. Unplannedly. Totally-without-meaningfully. Some days the pickings are slim and some days I’m hickory dickory docking my way into fertile food stores and delighting in the flood of stories that I coat my body and mind in. I’ve started to journal the stories I’m told on the road for while the human imagination is a wild and wonderful thing, the human memory is remarkably suspect and I tend to forget more beautiful anecdotes than I remember.

I use these stories to springboard my own creativity: as song fodder, or anecdotal evidence, or even just as creative gristle to mentally chew over as I drive.

On Sparrow Song

This was originally a Facebook post. Copied here for sentiment’s sake.
It brings me great joy to share some new music. Click hear to listen.
When one of my primary school students asked me what this song was about (I showed them the live video in class and asked them to identify the instrumentation, tempo and mood, not sure if its a bad reflection on me that one of them identified Stephen Hornby‘s double bass as a banjo), another of the students blurted out… “did you want to be a bird when you were little too?”
Gillian Welch tells us that we should never dictate to our audience what our music is about, after all without an audience, music is causeless. In essence, the audience is the key part that makes the music meaningful and who are we to decide what our audience sees in our lyrics/art/performance?
So I had no choice but to say yes, and then we spent the last five minutes of class discussing what type of bird we would be if given a choice and then the bell rang and we went out to playtime.
Suffice it to say that I’ve never really dreamt of being a bird, but I understand the sentiment, and this song probably hints at some underground sense of escapism. Or maybe its a dissertation on the search for home amidst a shifting, shapeless 21st century multiculturalism. Or maybe I just saw a sparrow one day and wrote a song about it.
I found my first draft of the lyrics for this song, in my diary under the headline ’23/12/17′. I was interested to see that both the verses on this recorded version arrived fully-fledged in that first draft. The chorus was something entirely different and the bridge (probably one of the more interesting series of chords I’ve ever stumbled upon) didn’t exist.
I used the word ‘autotelic’ in the original draft. I had to look up what the word means as I’d forgotten it completely. It didn’t make the final version, but now I’m wondering if it should have.
(of an activity or a creative work) having an end or purpose in itself.
Big thanks to Lucy McKenzie-McHarg, Vinny Russell, Alexandra Keusch, Stephen Hornby and Damien Sutton for their musical expertise.
I’ll playing this song live with a full band. This Sunday, September 1st at The Wesley Anne.


On Creative Process

Today I spend thirty minutes wandering the backyard with a microphone. I’ve attached three mic leads together to the recording interface in my shed and cables crisscross the lawn in streams, knotting and twirling through the grass we haven’t mowed since summer.

I’m meant to be putting the finishing touches on my new single. It’s been a protracted effort: four months of recording and deleting and recording and deleting, because I’m remarkably self critical of my own voice. Not in a constructive way, I’m not constantly striving for a better performance, instead I’m a destructive critic, listening back and deleting everything I hate. And I hate everything I’ve made. So this single that should have been finished back in April has wandered unfinished into the start of August and now sits in a pile of its own filth, dreaming of the past and wondering why it wasn’t released in the press release for the tour I started last week.

This is why I find myself wandering the backyard with a clump of cables and a condenser mic. I realised early on in the process that it’d be impossible to cut all outside noise out of my recording. The traffic rumbles under everything I sing, shaking the walls of the asbestos shed I call my studio. For a brief period I recorded at night to eliminate car noise, but a family of possums tap and squeak in the roof and thumping on the wall only served to make them scratch louder and leave little droplets of poo that fall through a widening crack in the ceiling when my drum practice shakes the shed.

Meanwhile our neighbour sneezes absurdly loudly in the backyard and a tree full of birds chatter throughout. My recordings are a literal snapshot of this period of my life, background noises individual to today inscribe themselves into the background of my recordings. Rather than fight it I embrace it with open arms, recording the birds as a background soundscape to frame my songs.

This current song is ‘Sparrow Song’, a Tallest Man on Earth inspired ode to nature, and it seems pertinent that I adorn the edges of the song with bird sound. I did a class at university on semiotics, the signifier and the signified. There were days spent on Wagner’s leitmotifs and the augmented 6th chord and I have a jumbled mess of notebooks from that term where I scribbled business ideas and venue phone numbers around the edges of pages filled with nonsense copied verbatim from the slides our lecturer Tavis (no R, thanks parents) read from. It seems when the learning gets hard my mind wanders, and when my mind wanders it’s the business aspect that takes hold. I’ve always loved the planning side of everything, but now I wish I’d spent a little more time engaging in 17th century semiotics to make this whole thought pattern a little more circular.

The artists I love take these extra-musical ideas and make them commonplace. So obvious and so included that they don’t pull in your attention until you listen again and again and again and wonder at man’s ability to dwell in tiny details. Robin Pecknold does this well, tying lyric and melody and harmony and linear motion into a web that hides the millions of instruments tucked away behind the machinery (listen to his Song Exploder podcast for a great example).

I used to think that the creative process was this hidden spark mechanism that clicked in to gear occasionally and created something amazing. But the more I delve into others work, the more it seems that its just a lot of hard work to make something magnificent. Paul Simon talks about his creative process and how there was a period in his early 20s were the songs just flowed, and then the next 50 years were a deliberate process where he sat down and worked and worked and worked to make it good. Interesting to note that his arguably most celebrated work Graceland involved a recording process where he recorded all the instrumental parts in South Africa, took them back to New York and spent a year writing songs to suit their vibe. Then he had to cut the original recordings into parts, pasting them back together in a new arrangement to suit the songs he’d written. All in all a remarkably laborious process, but the results speak for themselves.

So who am I subvert the creative process, hoping to twist it into a seamless system where ideas spark up regularly to create intriguing masterpieces to shift the social psyche and bring joy to the masses? Instead I’ll spend the afternoon wandering the backyard with a microphone and a head full of ideas, hoping that what I make resonates with people.

As an aside… I will be releasing this song this month, if you’re interested in hearing it when it comes out, please sign up here!

On Touring New Zealand

I wake on an alpaca farm twenty minutes out of Dunedin. It’s a homestay on the far south of New Zealand’s south island, an odd return to an unexplored part of my family history. Outside, a thin old growth forest grows stunted, pushing up against gravity’s interminable pull. The trees here grow at slant, aiming towards the sun, but the rolling hills and bleak cliffs are a poor place for trees, and the brusque winds gust off from the raging ocean and barrel down the hill towards the homestead.

Greg is short and smiley. His dad built the place and he was born here and has lived here ever since. At some point he bought a small herd of alpacas as a business investment (as you do), with the idea that he would breed pedigree alpacas. Now he just has a field with six alpacas in it, and an electric fence that has to be turned off before we wander around the field. We attempt to photograph each other petting the alpacas for Instagram. He tells us the alpacas are ‘just like cats, sometimes they like the attention and sometimes they don’t’, and suggests we crouch down and the alpacas might come close. So we crouch down for a bit as the alpacas munch through the mist and wee on the wet grass.

The local area is a smörgåsbord of introduced species and failed attempts to address the ensuing fall-out. Three people so far have told us of the possum plague that has engulfed the islands. Australia’s native brush-tailed possums were transplanted in the 1800s to fuel the world’s growing fur trade and promptly grew morbidly obese on the fat of the land, literally doubling in size and growing long luscious hair that was a boon to the fur traders. Little did they realise that two hundred years later there would be eighty million feral possums in a country of four million people, a much larger population than the second highest, sheep at thirty million.

A selection of deer were dropped here around the same time, and fled far and wide, multiplying in number until local hunters started to close in. Now the south island has a small thriving deer farming industry and an elusive supply of North American moose that were considered extinct in the 1930s but somehow still stoke up occasional tracks and hair samples. The national park of Fiordland is a wild and wonderful place, prone to hiding mysteries and bodies and vistas of astounding beauty.

It’s been ten days of wonder. First a flurried rush of days, burst from plane to airport to hire car to gig to bed to new town to gig to bed to new town. And then languid lazy days spent driving south, stopping at any sight that caught the eye. Owlcatraz, a pun worth stopping for, turned into a bird sanctuary, unfortunately closed today for a family event. A half hour down the road, a stream of sails setting forth across a parking lot turned into ‘Blo-karts’, literal go-karts powered by the wind. They roll silently in wide circles across some vaguely pre-determined route, while a kindly gentleman attempts to explain us the mechanism. ‘oh no, there’s no brakes, you just have to lean in to the wind to stop’. I’ve had vast experience with brakeless vehicles before (skateboards, childhood billy-karts, my first car), and these karts don’t appear to need a nearby fence to stop their forward motion.

On south to Queenstown, to find our fill of artifice. Ski-town dreams, built around tourist shops that stay open till ten pm, flogging an endless supply of overpriced t-shirts, precious stones and sheep puppets. We swear off consumerism, and swear on to veganism, but I buy a pair of possum merino socks anyway because they are truly silky, and local possums are a pest and besides I need a new pair of thick socks to fill these oversized boots.

We tour the local vineyards, and drink our fill of pinot noir. The first tasting is quiet and awkward, scattered couples sipping and spitting glasses while an Argentinean sommelier makes small talk, but by the second winery we are all friends and the third winery brings in-depth knowledge of each others lives, and a request for my CD on Spotify as background music, and suddenly I’m here, sitting in a tin-shed on the arse-end of the world, listening to myself on record while we down glasses of wine that frankly all taste the same and talk about the unhappiness that is life and how we should all move back to Britain because life was so much better then.

And I question myself, small dark questions that get bigger and bolder and build on the horizon in growing waves. You can see the swell building. You can feel that this question is going to be a big one, and maybe you should jump ship and dive down below before it engulfs you, but suddenly its here and you’re here and I’m here, and we have to think through our opinions and face the reality that at some point you have to start taking responsibility for who you are and what you’re doing.

It’s a wonderful space to be in. First you worry and weave all the worries together. Maybe I’m not enough. Maybe the way I express myself isn’t healthy. Or maybe what I’ve said is the true me and you won’t like it. But instead you grasp my responses and think through them, and respond in-kind. It’s like I’ve taken woven worries and willed them into a life raft, and we stand on this set of watery woven worries and float and float and float. And as much as you know everything might pull apart and you could get flung into the water below, its kind of ok, because this is life and you’re in it with someone you love and the heady enthusiasm of youth is enough to pull you through it.

Thanks for reading. If you got this far have a squizz at this? Unreleased music, consider it a reward for persisting through my ramblings!

On Mist

I wake to an early morning mist. It’s Melbourne winter, and the mist is within my bedroom, rising from my lungs and dissipating in a cloud across the room. A house that has stood for sixty years lives with its foibles, and these particular foibles are finger-width cracks around the window frames, plywood walls that flap when the wind blows, and a gaping hole where someone leant a little too hard and the plywood cracked and disappeared in chunks into the wall itself. Combine these to find a house that holds no warmth and hides no sound, allowing the outside to permeate the deepest depths of its interior.

We combat the cold with a massive gas-heater, the central point of the house. The house is built around the remnants of an actual wood oven, but this was removed in the 70s and replaced with a gas heater that still blows bright. It takes ten minutes to cough to life and then burns burns burns, turning imperceptible gas into invisible warmth. You lean against the heater at the beginning, a cup of tea grasped in hands to help the heat sink in, but after a couple of minutes you pull a chair a meter out to soak up the heat. Another twenty minutes finds the entire household gathered in the farthest extremities of the room, fighting against the searing warmth. That’s the perks of a gas heater designed with no temperature gauge but only a simple on and off switch. Unfortunately, the cold still subdues the rest of the house and we brave bed only when we’ve exhausted the ability to maintain conversation.

My twenties were a round of cold sharehouses, bundling into three jumpers and a beanie to practice drums in gaping garages. My thirties ease the trend: moving to a centrally heated house, an almost airtight shed that quickly warms with the glow of a space heater that warps the wrap on my vintage drum shell and sizzles moisture against the windows. I step out from an early afternoon practice session to find fingers of mist flaking in the backyard before the house.

I have a love of mist, and today it hits me that this love is hardwired, tied somewhere into my genetic makeup as a remnant from my ancestry. Two generations back was Northern Ireland and I delve into my own wistful remembrances of visiting the Cliffs of Moher (not Northern Ireland, but my closest experience). Scattered groups of tourists clicking their way through the fog, trying to get an iconic photo of sea swept shorelines between the mist and the crowds. Buses crowd the anteroom road that skirts the cliff-face and I stand rosy-faced and raincoat-clad amidst a place I’ve never identified with, but which clearly identifies me in language and skin colour and woolen jumper heritage.

I missed the chance to talk through childhood with my Grandpa but the romantic in me ties history into fantasy and Belfast sticks in my memory as a place to live and love and leave. I follow the fault lines back farther through supposed Celtic history and tribes who scattered through rain soaked hills and eked out a living amidst the peat. All of human history has been pushing for new horizons from the earliest of man, and my particular tribe has done its share of chasing new vistas (interesting how the word ‘tribe’ has re-emerged amongst the 21st century internet zeitgeist). This mist has permeated all of my memories.

I feel an ache when the mists roll in, driving me to walk home from the bar down the road. In summer this walk is languid, slow steps unslurried by a desire to arrive home, for the thirty degree Australian summer turns this sixty-year-old house into a heat-box. Why is it that the one time our homes trap the heat is when we sweat and stir beneath sticky sheets and long for sleep?

But this is winter, and the mist cloaks the street in both directions. We walk briskly, bundled against the cold, clutching each other for warmth and stability. Little did she realise my late night plans included a twenty minute walk, so she wore the cute heels that buoy her body to an almost tenable height but are completely unsuited to carrying her from one place to another.

I’ve stumbled home amidst the mist in countries all across the world.

The mist of Yemen’s highlands, sweeping in across terraced coffee plantations. This is the purest coffee in the world, built from hardy plants that relish the cold mountain air. Farmers who have lived generation by generation in the same little village in the same little tribe for the last two thousand years, have farmed the same coffee plants on the same terraces built by their great great great grandparents. The idea of ‘eking’ out a living in its purest form resides here amongst these people. We set-up camp along one of the larger terraces, a group of scattered white expats in pitied plastic tents while the locals live in stone houses built in Roman times and maintained by hand ever since. Late night downpours emanate from above and we flee the tents to shelter in a stone-circled goat shed among the local livestock.

The mist of Kenya’s Rift Valley where the year’s two seasons (wet and dry) alternate with frightening regularity. Over night the shift comes and you wake to torrential rain: weeks and weeks of torrential rain where the red soil slips and slides and swells into a red river that slowly washes down stream. Everything is caked in the mud of my youth, and we return to the dorm to find nineteen pairs of shoes under the porch overhang. This is the time of year to play rugby (the grass grows better in the wet), and the Junior team traipse out to the bus twice a week, riding to other towns to foe other teams of boys who fight dirty. They arrive home with black eyes and stomach scratches and talk of fields turned into swimming pools, and holes near goal lines where one boy was held under water for almost a minute by members of the rival scrum. When the rains finally stop, the mist settles in and with it comes hordes of flying termites. Tiny ant-sized bodies with four long wings, they flap and flutter their way in through the window my room-mate left open and we arrive home to find several thousand infesting the hallway. A simple solution from a boy born here, he pulls tennis rackets from beneath his bed and we spend a half hour smacking the termites out of the air to ground below. When hit, the wings come dislodged and fall featherlike, while the termite scurries for a shady crack in the wall. The joy continues, as the same boy sweeps handfuls of crawling termites into a dustpan and runs them to the kitchen at the end of the hall. He pours them into a frying pan coated in ghee and they sizzle and snap and taste a little like crispy chunks of bacon.

The mist of Tasmania’s Forth, a town of four hundred people. We leave the pub and wander, mandolin in hand, towards the top of the hill. Ahead is darkest forest, behind are scattered street lights, so we turn and eye off what should be a beautiful view of Tasmania’s old growth, but is instead a sea of white. Walk in step through town looking for some entertainment, and finally stumble head-long into the misty lights of a hotel and realise it’s the same pub we’ve been playing at for the last three hours.

And other mists remembered:

Years spent living in Sunbury’s abandoned Insane Asylum.

Early morning city mist in Yemen where the city sits eerily silent and government workers spray clouds of chemicals into the mist in an effort to defeat an oncoming scourge of mosquitoes.

Glasgow mists and couch-surfing with uni students who take me to the fish and chip shop to sample a deep-fried Mars Bar.

sonder, noun: “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”

On Worry

Two nights ago I woke at 2 am. It’s a fairly regular occurrence, and normally I toss and turn for a couple minutes then drift back to sleep. Sometimes I get up and wander the house before returning to bed. Occasionally I dip into my latest book for half an hour until sleep slides through the back of mind and tugs my eyelids downwards.

We have a new couch in our spare room, liberated from a lady in Preston who ‘wanted it to go to a good home rather than land fill’. It’s not particularly new (it came replete with stains reminiscent of a well-loved life, the wrinkles we gather through a life well lived), its not particularly comfortable (‘hard as a rock’ was one quote), but it was free and we’re saving the planet, one uncomfortable stained couch at a time. It also creaks slightly when you shift your weight.

So imagine me: sleepless, wrapped in a sleeping bag, sideways on a slightly creaking couch, reading a book on copyright reform. After mindlessly flipping the same three pages for twenty minutes, I close my book and allow my mind to drift. I’ve become aware over the last several weeks that there are some issues I keep coming back to, and rather than resolving them, I’ve pushed them down into that back part of my mind, the part that only works when I’m incredibly bored or asleep. I’ll admit that I don’t think I’ve been bored since around 2008 (symptoms of a busy life, and the smart phone revolution), so my mind doesn’t get much time to work through the issues I choose to ignore.

It’s somewhat similar to the computer at my old workplace that no-one turned off for seven years (actually), and when someone accidently plugged the toaster in to the same power socket as a hair dyer, the building’s fuse flipped. When we flipped it back on, the computer attempted to restart itself, but being four versions of an operating system out of date, and having never had a security update it attempted to download 600 gigabytes of data to a 100 gig hard drive. We left it chugging away for two weeks and finally put it out of its misery, sending it to the repair guy who gutted it and put a brand new computer into the old metal box. Same old body, brand new mind, some slight foibles. The main negative was we lost some seven years worth of scanned documents (it was ostensibly my job to re-scan all these documents, but I quit shortly after to begin a career as a jazz drummer).

So what am I dwelling on, and how do I protect myself from allowing it to overload me? Where’s the reset button for the human mind? Are there effective ways to regain healthy sleep patterns?

I find my biggest sense of solace in a little diary that sits by my bedside. I’ve perfected the art of picking it up, scrambling for the pen that always finds its way to the floor below and shuffling in darkness out the door and down the hall to the spare room in silence. Flip the lights and begin to write.

It takes pages of fluff to get to the crux of the issue. And the issue is never the same. But as I flip in daylight through my night-time journal I find the same issues re-appearing, re-creating themselves in different guises, sliding themselves from the hidden cracks in the back of my mind and through my head to my eyelids where they force themselves into consciousness and force my eyelids open and force my awareness to engage with them.

Writing them down helps. My conscious mind knows I can engage with them later if they physically exist in the world. Writing them down also gives me scope to scoff at past Nathan’s worries. Like the worry I had in 2011 that I’d pissed off a friend who wasn’t returning my calls (turns out he’d dropped his phone into a toilet and spent two weeks living on vegemite sandwiches to save up the $200 needed to buy a third hand iPhone 3). Or the worry that I can’t play drums (turns out that I can play drums, but comparing yourself to others is a quick trip to an unsatisfied destination). Or years of worry that I might occasionally suffer from insomnia. You know, just casual stuff.

Drinking wine with friends helps. There’s a beautiful space, generally one or two wines in where you gain the ability to download your worries on to other people. Sort of like the Matrix, without the technology or karate. Heck, you can probably do it without the wine at all, it’s the friends bit that’s truly effective, but man is good at making tools to suit every occasion, and wine suits this scenario.

Exercise absolutely helps. It’s probably the most effective method of dealing with worries, but hardest of all to implement, because it requires putting on running shoes and that’s often a bridge too far. If only putting on shoes was as easy as opening a new Google Chrome tab to watch Youtube.

In the end I wrote down three big ideas that had been worrying me for the last couple of weeks. I woke up today and one of them had silently resolved itself. No input from me, it just untangled its knots and appeared in my inbox. Not sure if there’s a lesson here.

And heeeere’s some Bjork.

Ps. If anyone needs a couch to crash on, we have one. 😉

On How To Fill a Life

I see the same small group of elderly Italian men every time I go to the shops. They gather mid-morning at the terrible café in the heart of Northcote plaza and sit, clustered around a wobbly table with laughably small cups of coffee. I’m unsure whether the size of the cup is an attempt to squeeze more orders out of them, or whether the coffee is so remarkably strong that one thimble sized shot is enough to keep the conversation rolling. One of the men is noticeably older than the others. Happily tucked into a wheelchair, he slumps back, head rolling as people pass. The other men do little to include him in the conversation, but he is there every day, so someone must be making the daily effort to roll him out of bed, slip him into an oversize jacket and wheel him into the middle of Northcote plaza.

Some days I see two of these men, walking the street out the front of my house. They stroll nonchalantly, hands clasped behind their backs, beginning at the final house on the block, where I often find one of the men sitting on the trampoline nestled in the front yard. They step step step down the street, no conversation, just small steps beside each other. They reach the end of the street and turn and walk back. I stand by the letterbox, sorting a pile of glossy junk mail, election pamphlets and letters addressed to previous tenants. The elderly men stride pass in silence with a brief nod. Is this what old age has to offer?

I’m in a lull. A little period in between when I was last very busy (last week) and will again be very busy (July).

It’s an odd experience. I’ve been frantically pushing pushing pushing for what feels like the last fifteen years of my life. There’s been periods of intense ardour, Sisyphusian struggle up-hill against a million rocks of my own making, and there’s been slightly less intense times: days where the need to achieve rumbles quietly in the background as I attempt to laze away with re-runs of Seinfeld and an over-percolated strong black.

I find it so hard to give myself down time. Even on my down days I write a to-do list, the little note-book on my desk leers over me with scrawled reminders of things I thought important when I woke (washing, email, invoice, gtr) and things I failed to achieve yesterday. My to-do list becomes predictable, the same set of five to seven things appearing every day, so I mark them into columns and switch the orders daily, convincing myself that putting ‘reading’ below ‘drumming’ will bring order to my day. Invariably it all falls in a heap and I binge watch Seinfeld while half-heartedly reading a book on copyright reform.

The next six weeks are remarkably quiet. I generally book myself out three months in advance (as I write this I’m planning my August-September tour), so for me to have some down-time means I slacked off three months ago and didn’t book any shows. But that’s ok. I generally schedule my down time around my up time, and a ‘day off to read a book’ usually means I’m catching a flight interstate for a show and I can’t actually achieve anything in the air. The fact that I’ve got two whole weekends coming up with no actual plans is remarkable. Somewhere in the vicinity of man discovering the earth revolves around the sun.

So what do I do with down time? How do I fill the precious remnants of my time on earth?

When I was at uni I obsessed over music. I had an expanding selection of CDs, bought new from JB, bought second-hand from eBay, borrowed from friends, inherited from ex-housemates. I could listen to jazz and identify modern drummers based on drum sound (Bill Stewart’s ride cymbal click from the way he chokes his thumb high up on the stick, Jorge Rossy’s laziness, more straight quarters than a ding-a-ding feel, Antonio Sanchez’s swing eighths that border on straight, presumably borrowed from a love of latin music). I’ve successfully extinguished at least two romantic relationships due to extended hours spent in the practice room.

When it was last week I obsessed over politics. I had tabs saved across multiple devices. Opinion pieces harking to a sure left wing. Stats and opinion polls pointing to the amount of money the far right spent on scare campaigns, and indeed an open tab dedicated to the bookies and their thoughts on the upcoming election. Every conversation in the near past verged on political and it plied its sneaky ways into my world through advertising slogans, shareable online content and oversized yellow billboards placed surreptitiously in green heartland.

Today I went for a walk around the block.

Final thought from Geneen Roth via Anne Lamott’s beautiful book ‘Bird by Bird’:

“Awareness is learning to keep yourself company. And then learn to be more compassionate company, as if you were somebody you are fond of and wish to encourage.”


On Rebellion

I had a period of rebellion around age 16.

A remarkably typical age for rebellion, I met my best friend Stephen at Bab Al-Yemen (The Door of Yemen), a free-standing Arab city buried in the heart of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. Built by the Turks in the 1700s, Bab Al-Yemen sits on the foundations of one of the longest populated places in the world dating back at least some three thousand verifiable years. Legends hark back to Noah’s day.

‘Al Bab’ is an astonishing mishmash of everything amazing about Yemen. Local entrepreneurs vie their trade, from 10-year-old boys rolling wheelbarrows of seeping prickly pears (supposedly a delicious afternoon snack) to pottery crafted from centuries old oral traditions. Inside these ancient buildings lie cheap ‘fast food’ restaurants, roaring gas flames deposit steaming stews into stone bowls shared across the table with whoever happens to sit closest. One underground basement houses a camel, destined to live its days in darkness and trudge daily in a ten meter circle. Tied to a wooden wheel, this contraption mills wheat two levels above ground. This is the way this family has made a living since anyone can recall.

Every second person carries a weapon of some description, most men outfitted with a ‘jambiya’ (a ceremonial curved dagger generally strapped to the front of your belt), and at least one in three is carrying an AK-47. This country of 20 million people is second to only the US in gun ownership.

The shop-keeper recoils. ‘La, la, majnun (no, no, you’re crazy)’. Men in Yemen don’t pierce their ears. They’ll happily kiss other men’s faces (a sign of greeting) and walk hand in hand with other men down the street (its what good friends do), but pierced ears are strictly women’s domain.

So we wander, stopping in at numerous jewellery stores, hoping for a friendly face to wish our wills upon. Finally we find one, and with a glint in his eye he pulls a pair of jewelled plastic studs from a drawer. He breaks them from their hermetically sealed plastic package and carefully wipes the ends with his fingers, slotting one into his piercing gun. I’d done my research at home, conscious of impending high school perceptions, and chanting “left is right, right is wrong” (it’s the early 2000s and conservative values stigmatize), Stephen and I each get one jewelled stud shot into our left ear. I wander home, a little worried at what mum might think.

Fifteen years later, my piercing remains, jewelled stud traded out for a gold ring borrowed from my mother (one of a pair that lost its partner, I assume she doesn’t need it back). But getting here had its share of troubles.

Two weeks post piercing. I return to boarding school in Kenya. Conservative values abide and pierced ears are strictly prohibited in young men (as is swearing, wearing t-shirts to church and giving frontal hugs to girls, its all side on here). I come prepared though, ready to fight the system. 16-year-old rebellion serves to fight the ruling elite and inspire a younger generation to chase my footsteps.

Knowing that I’ll be made to remove my piercing immediately on arrival at school, I bring a bottle of rubbing alcohol to campus. On my first day back I strip the acacia tree behind the dorm of its thorns, two inch long spikes that start needle thin and expand to a centimetre thick at their base. Sterilising a thorn a day, I remove my stud and slide the thorn into its place. Then I snap both ends off the thorn, leaving a little wooden stake holding open the piercing. Each night I put myself through excruciating pain, removing the thorn from flesh doing its best to grow back around it and slide my metal stud back in. A little pain is well worth the price of rebellion.

The piercings don’t end here. My Swedish room-mate Joe delights in my new look, and deigns to join the rebellion. Picture three teenage boys, leant across a bathroom sink. One swabs his ear with an ice-cube, while another takes a needle (mum gave me a pack of needles to sew my clothes when necessary, I currently use the same set to repair my girlfriend’s jeans) and attempts to dig a hole through the fleshy earlobe. The first stab is diagonal, pointing up towards Joe’s skull (“this is a lot tougher than I thought it would be”). Pull out and try again, now with a slice of apple held behind the earlobe to gain some purchase (a concept borrowed from that Parent Trap movie). Blood drips drips across the floor, down the sink, into a pair of shoes, spewn across everything we own. We lack a jewelled stud to hold the piercing open, so start with a paperclip (decidedly unsanitised) and the next day we realise Joe’s ear is infected.

Rebellion feels decidedly harder in your 30s. You can rebel against speed limits, rebel against immigration laws, rebel even against the government, but the penalties mount up and the consequences seem to have some bite (except if you’re Clive Palmer). You can rebel against societal norms (goodbye Facebook), rebel against the status quo (goodbye ironed shirts) and indeed rebel against partaking in society at all (hello Walden).

Lately I find myself rebelling against buying a new couch (finding a free one on Gumtree), rebelling against going out on weeknights (spending more time in bed instead) and rebelling against responding to messages. Rebellion has become decidedly passive, exchanging things I should be doing for the betterment of man (and myself) and instead avoiding doing anything at all.

In the spirit of passive rebellion, I’m taking a little break from shows. I’ve been busy over the last two years, playing around 140 guitar shows at last count, as well as a similar number on drums with various projects. This seems like a nice time to space out for a bit, have some weekends off, and finish off the new EP.

I’ve got one last Melbourne show, this Friday at Some Velvet Morning with Mandy Connell. Would love to see any Melbourne peeps who are out and about!


On Books I’ve Read (Dec 2018 – Jan 2019)

I’ve been on tour across Australia/New Zealand for the last six weeks. During this time I read a lot. Here’s some thoughts.

I consume ridiculous amounts of information. Life is a constant stream of stuff coming in: emails, social media, websites I frequent, books, music, conversations. Everything constantly streams in and I find myself, sitting here in a muddied lake of my own making, trying to sift out the important threads.

In an effort to reduce the amount of useless information I consume, I’ve installed a little Chrome app on my computer that eliminates my Facebook feed (and replaces it with an inspirational quote, some of which are good, most of which are bad). I’ve also stopped checking my notifications. I still browse Facebook everyday, its just nowhere near as interesting as it used to be. Here’s roughly what the experience looks like:

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 2.24.01 pm.png

Anyway. I find I consume information in the same way that I achieve most things in life. In bulk and as fast as possible. I’m always the first person finished with a meal (something I attribute to growing up at boarding school. The first person to finish could get up for seconds and Tuesday lunch was burgers with a limit of two per person, so we’d madly finish our meals and scramble back to the end of the line in the hope that we could get another two). I tackle projects voraciously, knowing that the more I can finish in one big session, the less I have to do later. My initial attack is always massive bites. The follow-up is little nibbles as I lose interest, slowly petering to nothing. I really need a ‘finisher’, someone who’ll take everything I do and edit the final form so it makes sense. This could apply to my songwriting, cooking meals, work-out routines, general conversations etc.

I read in the same way that I eat. Compulsively consume as fast as possible. Don’t reflect, don’t react, just consume. Which means I get through books ridiculously fast, but also means I often don’t get as much out of it as I could (like comparing a five-minute burger and chips with five courses of dabbed olive oil and single anchovies on a plate I guess).

To counteract this, I’ve started making notes on the books I read, mainly so I can reflect on the information I’m taking in, but also so I can remember what I’ve read in years to come (I occasionally find myself thinking plot points feel familiar, then realizing I’ve already read the book).

Over the last six weeks I read ten books. Here’s my thoughts on some of my favourites. Also if you don’t like having plots ruined, don’t read this post, but watch Tim Minchin instead..

The Lesser Bohemians (Eimear McBride)

Seriously amazing. Mcbride writes with a sort of broken prose. 75% of the book is written in this heavy stream of consciousness, words left out, sentences not resolving sort of style that starts out as a slog to read (I found myself actually dwelling on each sentence as it goes past). Then about two thirds of the way through the book the main male character does a 60-page monologue in straight hard-hitting sentences, full grammar, syntax complete.

It’s a brutally heavy book, the plot has some amazing twists and I careened through the whole book in less than 24 hours in a field on top of a mountain in New Zealand. I fluctuated wildly between heady optimism for the characters followed by immediate dense depression and despair. This is the kind of book that feels like it was written about real people, but real people on the edge of my friendship group. These are the ‘others’ I hear friends talk about and vaguely know but never have a strong relationship with.

At the heart of it, this book does a great job of reflecting the fragility and sheer trauma of romantic relationships. With a little shock value and a heart-rending story to boot.

Do The Work (Steven Pressfield)

I loved aspects of this. Basically Pressfield got asked to write a book on how to beat all the things that trouble ‘creatives’ (procrastination, self-doubt etc), and he came out with this. Its kind of an off-shoot of his other book ‘The War of Art’ which I haven’t read but is on my list for the future.

I hate the ‘self-help’ style of writing. Its very ‘do this, do that, have a good life’ kind of writing. but some of the ideas really stick out. He suggests trying to condense an entire work (song, novel, screenplay) into a single page as a way to map things out. If it doesn’t fit on one page, its too much (which is fine for a song but tough for a long form work right?). It makes you stick to just the bare bones. One thing I don’t often do is sketch out songs prior to writing them, so it might be an interesting exercise to go ‘this song is THIS thing, here’s where it starts, here’s what I’m trying to portray etc’ and see how that feels as a creative activity. He also talks about trying to explain your work/project to someone in thirty seconds (think elevator pitch) which is something I and most musicians I know struggle with… ‘So what sort of music do you play?’ Gah.

A lot of this book is based around how to get off your arse and get started which I don’t often have a problem with, but I’ve pulled ideas out that I’ll come back to in the future and if you find yourself struggling creatively it might help.

Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl)

So I read a lot through an app on my phone. The particular app I have been using (Kobo) has this terrible bug where every so often it resets and you lose everything: all your books, the saved progress section and worst of all the saved notes. As I read I highlight sections and put notes to myself so I can quickly refresh what a book or section was about. Anyway, my damned app reset just after I read this book and all my meaningful quotes and notes are kaput.

That said, here’s a couple of takeaways. Frankl lived through WWII in Auschwitz, and through that experience formulated a strong personal theory on what gives humans meaning. There’s three aspects (creating something, experiencing something and the attitude we take towards what happens to us). He goes on to say that the third is probably the most important as its something no-one else can take away from us. This vaguely ties in with some of the readings I’ve been doing on Stoicism (thanks Seneca).

Some of his stories about Auschwitz resonated heavily with Behrouz Boochani’s book (No Friend But The Mountain), which I read last year. Some devastatingly interesting parallels arise, with Frankl talking about how the concentration camps were designed to break human spirit: names are stripped away and all prisoners are given numbers, something which happened also on Manus Island. Boochani’s book dwells on a ‘kyriarchal system’ used on Manus to oppress and dehumanise prisoners, I wonder if anyone has done a comparison with Frankl’s work?

The second half of the book is a dive into Frankl’s ideas on Psychotherapy (which he formalizes as ‘Logotherapy). I took scattered ideas from it, but I feel like some of it had aged poorly (for a book on the workings of the mind written some seventy years ago that’s fine right?). Also my notes have all disappeared and it’s a dense read, will try and tackle again some day.

Home Fire (Kamila Shamsie)

I was told I had to read this by my partner. Something to do with connections with my own life. Vague connections include a Pakistani-born family, religious connections reverberating through a lifetime and a childhood displaced by families uprooted and thrown to the other side of the world.

I really don’t want to spoil the plot or indeed the journey of reading it, so here’s my immediate scribbled thoughts from when I finished reading it:

“Gaaah. this is incredible. beautiful writing, an incredible plot line. twists and turns and genuinely one of the best endings to a story I’ve ever read. heartbreaking moments, some beautiful back story and a seamless arc. unexpected.”

And thus ends book club for the week. Nah seriously though, I’ll try to occasionally do a post like this. Interested to see if anyone else is reading the same books I’m reading. Interested to see if you’ve got book suggestions for me. The other books I read this month (and it’s a super eclectic mix) are: The Mars Room (Rachel Kushner) [very good], The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov) [wild but quite long, Russian fiction from the 1930s], The Planet on the Table (Kim Stanley Robinson) [some strong moments, I loved sci-fi as a child but am finding it harder to dive into these days], How To Be Good (Nick Hornby) [not as good as A Long Way Down, but still enjoyable, the ending disappoints], A Man of Two Worlds (Frank/Brian Herbert) [expected more from the author of Dune, but my assumption is Frank’s son Brian did most of the writing and it shows] and About Grace (Anthony Doerr) [author of All The Light We Cannot See, this is his first novel and the sheer volume of research he puts into his character’s backstories is inspiring]. I’m almost done with Creativity Inc, [the book by the guy who started Pixar] and I’ve just started Extreme Ownership, [a book about the US Navy SEALS which I’m finding problematic, BUT the lessons are probably still valid].

I promise I don’t normally read this much. I made a remark to a friend yesterday that I don’t allow myself to read when I’ve got other important stuff to do (booking gigs, practice, teaching etc) because I devote 100% of my time to the book until its completely finished. There was a three year period at uni where I basically didn’t read fiction because I knew I had a degree to complete. It’s a problem, but a good one to have I guess?

I’m going to have a lot less time to read over the next couple of months. I’ve got a tour to announce (this week), a video to release (also this week), and a bunch of shows to play.

On Waking Up

The sun snakes its way through the zipper of the tent. I lie on a camping bed, some sort of daft hammock-type situation. Arms tucked down my sides, wedged to my sweating torso by the heft of my own body weight.

Tendrils of dust float through the sunlight, buoyed back and forth by the slight breeze that flaps the tent walls.

Its seven am, and already Illawarra Folk Festival is in full swing. It starts with the cry of crows, back and forth they scream across the camp-site, short guttural screams, three or four little punches and then one long cry that starts high and descends in pitch. The menacing cries feel like they come from within my tent itself, so close these crows come, but everyone in the festival swears the crows were situated directly above their tent, so its either a single solitary crow cry carrying in the morning air or a murder of crows infesting the entire festival psyche.

With the crows comes an influx of visitors. The food trucks roar to life, cars rumble into the single round-about that marks the entrance of this thousand person festival. A man yells instructions to the best of his ability but a line of cars waits to enter the roundabout and someone up the back beeps impatiently while the cars in front pause in the middle of the roundabout itself, unsure of where to go.

I hear car doors slam. I hear tent zippers, sliding up and down in this identical tent city that houses the festival’s artists. I hear a violin spring to life, and somewhere else I hear someone else cursing them out. It is still seven am after all.

I’ve spent years of my life sleeping in close proximity to other people. At a young age it was with my brother, dual beds in numerous countries until my parents succumbed to renting houses with a room for each of us.

Through high school I bunked up with three, then two, then one of my best friends.

Memories flood back, waking to find gangly blonde Joe leant over my bunk. My Swedish Year 12 roommate brushed his teeth every morning to Coldplay. He swore his dentist told him the song ‘Fix You’ was the perfect length of time to maintain adequate dental hygiene.

Waking another night to find Joe sawing a hole through the window’s security bars with a hacksaw blade he ‘borrowed’ from the school workshop (the reasons behind his sawing: we had a nine pm curfew at boarding school and it was of utmost importance that some twenty-three boys leave the dorm that night to pull pranks on another dorm).

Waking to early morning yells and thumps down the hallway, the dorm set up with an odd hot water system that preferenced the upper floor to the lower floors. Anyone showering in the lowest shower would risk uncontrollable water stoppages. The water wouldn’t slow to a trickle, it would physically stop flowing at all. The boys on the lowest floor developed a ‘rain-dance’ to let the upper floors know their plight, stomping and stamping and yelling and tapping the roof with a couple of well-placed broom handles. Invariably the upper floor boys didn’t care so there were constant trails of suds and water leading down the fifty-metre hallway, up thirty stairs and into the next shower room.

Another odd facet of dorm room showers was the lack of privacy. I spent four years showering in a large room with three shower-heads jutting from the wall. A metre separated them, nothing else. No shower curtain, no walls, just boys trying to maintain their pubescent modesty. We eventually gave up our modesty and found a park bench from one of the school grounds and snuck it into the shower under cover of darkness. Just long enough to fit three seated boys under three shower heads, you’d wander into the shower in the morning to find half the dorm waiting for a spot while the earliest risers carried on casual conversation under the steam.

Waking on tour to find a well-drunken band member tumbling through the door in an attempt to locate their bed. Not realising it was the wrong room they cosied up on the floor and I, in a rare fit of empathy, threw them a pillow and a towel to use as a blanket and sizzled back to sleep.

Waking at nine am to missed phone calls. We’d left the gig straight after playing the night before but one member had kicked on with the intent to arrive home later that night. Six am rolls around and they arrive but can’t find the key we’d left out for them. Door knocks and phone calls to no avail, the band slumbers on. We wander out to find him happily snoozing against a pile of dirt in the backyard, head propped on a sack of gravel he procured from the garden shed.

Not sleeping on one particular tour as a six-piece band lay in a row on a friends floor. Six yoga mats, five complaining backs, one sleep-apnea affected member keeping the rest tossing and turning to loud snorts.

We’ve slept a lot this tour. Not in the conventional sense. No solid eight hours a night. No bedtime curfew and early morning rise for work. No routine at all, so the sleep invades all other areas of band life. Some members sleep in the car on the long drives down the East Coast. Some members sleep in the green room, stealing a sneaky fifteen minutes between sound-check and dinner. Some members disappear post-gig to nab the best section of floor. Some days the entire band falls asleep in the park, worn out from a day of beach and beers. One un-named member even manages to fall asleep at a gig, propped up in the back row, feet on the floor and facing the stage, soaking in Balkan strains as a raucous lullaby.

Back here I find myself. Waking to the sounds of the festival. No room for sleep in a packed day of seeing great live music, diving into vegan curry, running to the beach for some bonding band exercise, attempting band admin with a laptop in a tent and a shaky mobile hotspot, and of course playing, the main reason I wake at all. Time to get this day started.

Ps. One thing that has helped me sleep for many years in many countries over most of my life is Brian Eno’s Music for Airports.

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