Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Tight Rope - The Chris Difford Retreat Diaries, Part Thirteen

September 7th, 2007

8:00 p.m.

I have always maintained that co-habiting my head are three versions of myself, aged, respectively, five, nineteen and fifty. Sitting here at the dinner table, looking around at my new friends and co-writers, my thoughts are being passed between them like a particularly well-microwaved potato.

My hangover has lifted almost completely now, and, frankly, I feel the best I've felt all week. Or to put it another way, I have driven myself so thoroughly to the limits of what my mind and body can take, that the serotonin is flowing like cheap red wine and I'm on a natural buzz.

My five-year-old self is alternately bouncing up and down and sitting quietly in a corner wondering if anyone likes him. (Some of my most eye-opening and saddest moments in recent years have been watching my daughters begin to develop their own eccentricities and self-doubt, and feeling as though, genetically, I have handed them a ticking time bomb or an aggrieved snake.)

My nineteen-year-old self is exactly like my five-year-old self, except he's slightly more concerned if anyone likes him enough to sleep with him. The answer, of course, is no.

My fifty-year-old self is looking back on this as the beginning of wisdom, and wondering if there's anyone left who would still sleep with him, whether they like him or not.

This week has coalesced a lot of my recent feelings about what it is that I do and why I do it. "Being in a band" is a terrible phrase, conjuring up pictures of spotty oiks in dole queues, battered guitars in hand and a half-finished joint in their top pocket for later. Not that there's anything wrong with that - it is part of many of our natural evolutions.

But I want to make music. For some reason, more than anything else in this life, getting up in front of a crowd of strangers and singing for them is my aphrodisiac (and my poison). Said out loud, it seems ridiculous, like I'm being interviewed on X-Factor.

"I've always wanted to perform, like. When I was a child I was always putting on little shows, singing into a hairbrush...."

Really? No shit. Not like 75% of children everywhere.

It's not so much that I think I have something to say... although, occasionally I do... but that I feel the need to say SOMETHING. There is so much banality and so little actual humour in the world these days. You have singers trumpeting the fact that they love their "baby" or indeed, want to sex said "baby" up, you have the teenage and young adult experience summed up as "I'd rather be with your friends, mate, 'Cause they are much fitter" as though young people's lives consist of only the externals, the painkillers and the mating dance. (I'm all in favour of the witty dissection of everyday life, but that particular Kate Nash song makes me want to punch her parents for not condom-ing up.) Alternate experiences descend into violence and boasting, testosterone and estrogen trotted out as the be all and end all of our lives.

It's all so removed from my experiences, I feel like an alien.

I'm trying to work towards something that actually reflects what I and others like me go through - to tell stories that make you laugh and cry. This week has finally made it sink in that I am not alone in that. I needed that.

Of course, I also want to write a kick-ass chorus that people sing along with whilst waving their hands in the air (as if, perhaps, they just don't care).

I feel myself zone out of the conversation for a moment, and once again, I'm a little bewildered that I am here with all these people. Every single one of has continued to fascinate me, for a wide variety of reasons. I can't say I've become close to all of them, and I think it would be unrealistic to expect that. We're as different from each other as we can be. We come from different countries, different backgrounds, different outlooks.

Take Dorie and me, for instance. Dorie was raised in a house full of music. Her father is a musician. There seems to have been encouragement and a sense that music was something you could do for a job. I'm sure she's had her share of unhappiness, as have we all, but trauma is not heavy on her brow.

I was raised by lunatics who tried to beat me into a preacher, who discouraged and disparaged the things I loved until I no longer loved them. There was music in my house, but it became a battleground and, for me, an escape. It was probably an escape for my father, as well, who dreamt of glamour and exoticism and settled for bitterness and madness.

We're probably at the extremes, but, by and large, what we do is the same. You don't need to be damaged to make great music, you just need to care.

Of course, for all I know, she spent a year running a Taiwanese brothel, or as a serial killer, so my glib observations are probably best glossed over.

(Quick note from the present: Buy Dorie's debut album, The Courting Ground, out now.... Click Here!)

Chris Difford speaks with great affection of his parents, both in song and in life, yet you can tell that, in his life, there has been pain: heartache, confusion... It's a crap shoot, and at the end of the day, what you see in other people's eyes is as important as what lurks behind your own.

It's the same with everyone here, and I wish I had more time and less need for a gang. I wish I was a nicer person.

To Dorie, William, Riley, Danielle, Darren, Amber, Helen, John B, Chris, Emma-Quentin, Rachel, Rich and Geoff: I owe you all a tremendous thank you. You made a lot of things clear to me, just by being there, and being yourselves. That's not meant to be sickly sweet, although it is a measure of what a soft, overwrought bastard I am.

I admit to wondering what they thought of me, if they thought of me, while I was thinking all that. I'm a performer, I can't help it.

It wouldn't be too long, however, before they will all be forced to think about me, courtesy of Riley Briggs.


We're in the studio again, our penultimate performance. Rachel and I have just performed "The Man That She Left (Lying in Her Bed", and again, I am stunned by her voice, and revolted by mine. We are hampered only by a combination of low lighting, and absent contact lenses that render the lyrics on the page near meaningless for Ms. Dawick.

Eventually, she goes to fetch her glasses, leaving me to vamp.

"So," I say, in my cheesiest Blackpool comic voice, "Everyone having a good time?"

"Where you all from?"

This gets a big laugh, the mark of a group of people who have been attended FAR too many bad gigs in their time.

I'm proud of our song tonight, I feel as though I've told a story - mid-performance expletive from Ms. Dawick as she struggled to read my high-scoring Scrabble lyrics notwithstanding (she really seemed to worry about this. I thought it was fucking fantastic.)

But the best was yet to come.

Riley, Geoff and Emma-Fred have just performed a fantastic Meatloaf homage about the art of writing songs, complete with a full-on rock solo, performed on acoustic guitar. As they finish, Riley moves to the keyboard.

"This next song is going to get me killed," he says, before launching into a set of 80's synth chords, lifted straight from the Survivor/Hall & Oates catalogue.

The song is "Bent On Loving You" and it's about me.

Never tell new friends you just to be called "Benton" at school.

It'll be up to Riley to transcribe the full lyrics, but here's a sampler of the choicer couplets.

"He wears a waistcoat, a shirt and tie"

"He's got the old bass player from Hue & Cry"

or the one that will forever get me in trouble:

"You're the one that he loves the best-ah!"

"Forget the wife and the kids in Leicester."

Now I don't it's cruel to say that some of our party might have been deeply upset by having their character dissected in such a way, even affectionately.

What does it say about me that I was thrilled? Thrilled to the bottom of my long black coat. I felt as though I'd been noticed.

Sad, sad, sad...

All together now...

"He's bent on loving you.... What else can a poor Canadian boy do?"

I'm starting to get Sunday evening syndrome now, though. I shall be sad to leave. I don't feel like I'm away from home. I feel like I've been lifted out of life and put down in the way I imagine my ideal life to be. But there's no time to think of that now. Still another day's writing to accomplish, more jokes to tell, more nonsense to spout and more of this experience to unravel.

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