Yesterday morning at 6:30am I arrived to walk Mt Eden Hill in Auckland City. It was dark and misty and there was dew on the ground. These are ideal circumstances for me as Auckland can get mighty hot and I miss the cool and damp mornings of Christchurch and Dunedin.
In the car park there was a white Holden Ute which seemed to be surrounded by an air of gloom. I could make out that sitting in the driver’s seat was a bearded bloke about forty years old and he was sitting listening to Scott Walker’s No Regrets at a high volume. A feeling of sadness permeated the entire car park and drifted off into the surrounding trees. Darkness settled on darkness and the shadows danced and I imagined for a brief moment that I saw the devil and he looked like Gregg Allman.
The whole scenario was like being at a Nick Cave concert except a lot cheaper. The guy running the lights was a lot better too. I suspect that sadness is a lot more exciting to people than hope and it definitely sells more records. Sadness can be a powerful marketing tool as most people understand and identify with it clearly, but I think that Scott Walker lives every inch of his sadness and I too find that very appealing. There is something incredibly genuine about Scott Walker who resisted the star machine and went his own way and on a pushbike, too.
I stood off in the distance and watched the Holden Ute just in case the situation was going to get worse. A man, once he’s started to listen to Scott Walker at 6.30am, is capable of doing just about anything and a number of these actions can be very destructive.
Yet, the Buddhists tell us that we are all merely stuck on a wheel and that our feelings will change, that we are in a cycle called ‘Samsara’ and that our feelings of sadness/suffering (‘Dukkha’) can be eliminated. I have a number of friends who study, intently, old Robert Mitchum and Sal Mineo movies in order that their Dukkha stays, but that’s a whole other story. Some of them make great art and music and they are wildly rewarded for this. So it’s in their best interests to stay stuck in the despair. You never want to interrupt that despair as it is a comfortable old coat to them like Gogol would have worn.
Then, I have acquaintances who vigorously mine politics and the awful and pitiful side of life and they get fifty likes on Facebook and so they set about getting even more depressed for the intermittent reinforcement.
I find Facebook to be a cruel and wicked joke on humanity and I long for the dear old days of the Grand Old Opry and the Hank Williams brand of genuine sadness and enormous talent. At some stage back then the notion of hope became a prevailing wind and I too bought an old Volkswagen Kombi and enjoyed the good life. Whereas I find Facebook to be a massive machine which is grinding the sensitive down into the dirt.
I had a friend last week telling me via an angry and frustrated Facebook message that he was drinking Tequilla and unless I unfriended his former wife then he was going to unfriend me. He used the word ‘Goddamn’ and said he would give me ‘One more day!’ He’s a great musician and a genuinely good bloke who, for a moment, was at the end of his tether. We’ve all been there Bubba. I hear talk all around the camp fire of people being hurt via Facebook and of bullying and ‘obtuse’ comments. I long for the days when you could only fit twenty five people into a Volkswagen Kombi, a full p.a. system and a half pound in the glove box and you knew what everyone was genuinely thinking. You tied the drum kit to the roof and everyone knew the drummer was best when he hung off the side mirror with his feet dragging on the ground. Boy, I’ve met some…
Don’t get the idea that I’m saying if one acts in a certain way then one’s sadness will disappear. I would never say that. I spent a long time trying to override my sadness and in the end it came home to me like a steam locomotive down the end of a tunnel on the Oamaru line. It was just like when I was a kid and a boy called Keith Jopp died in the bed next to me at Dunedin Public Hospital. I saw him drift away and if you want fucking sadness then this is it. But I try not to dwell on it or to make gains out of it.
I find one of the choices that really helps to cancel out sadness is kindness. I really like George Saunders as a writer as he can string together many nutty and joyous ideas in a single sentence. He also writes about the dark and perverse side of the American Dream in a way that has me hanging onto my ass in case it falls off. The only writers who make me laugh as hard or get me thinking more are Barry Hannah and Thomas Pynchon. Then, when I want to really be in my cups, I always read William Faulkner. My dad read William Faulkner and managed to stay sad for the last twenty years of his life. But, by God, I love my dad so and I miss him every day.
George Saunders talks about the ‘failure of kindnesses’. These are times in his life when he was faced with a chance to be kind and just didn’t do it for one reason or another (anxiety, fear etc). Times when he could have said something kind to someone and this could have made a real difference. In an interview, he describes being kind as ‘our greatest ecstasy’ and this I know to be true.
Sometimes I sit and think about the people along the way who have been incredibly kind to me and I feel the incredible flow of warmth that George Saunders speaks of. Unfortunately, like a lot of people, I can get stuck in the groove of thinking of the people who haven’t been warm to me and next thing I’m reading William Faulkner again… but I try to arrest the process by thinking of the nurse in the hospital who helped calm me after Keith Jopp died, of my dad buying me a typewriter when I was ten and Miss Johnstone at Arthur Street Primary School in Dunedin who told me when I was a kid that I could write.
I would respectfully point out that sadness is distinctly different from depression and I have suffered from clinical depression at least twice in my life and it’s no picnic and ‘jollying up’ becomes a hated notion, object, and item. People who tell depressed people to just be happy deserve a visit from Omar Little. Omar has a code and it’s one I also believe in.
Anyway, what happened in the car park at Mt Eden is that the bloke’s girlfriend came screaming up the hill (maybe he made a call) and slammed to a halt beside him in her little Toyota. My work was now done and so I left.
They might have been parting, I don’t know, but when I came back down the hill 45 minutes later they were standing in a park with their arms around each other. Actually, they may have been brother and sister. I don’t know and, hell, stranger things have happened at sea.
It’s love, comfort, and kindness that keep us all going. And there is nothing quite as powerful as reaching out to another human being even though he may be the drummer. The Scott Walker moments in life keep me going.
A Tinker’s Cuss started life on the Phantom Billstickers Facebook page – it’s a new feature here at Off The Tracks and we’re repeating the earliest posts before carrying on with new words from Jim Wilson.