By The Landlord
If I had a pound for each time in my life I’ve resolved to start over, renew the way I do things, refresh everything, change, rebuild, “get a new me”, I wouldn’t need to do anything of the kind. I’d just have to manage a huge mountain of pound coins. But then I’d probably have to think about how to manage those pound coins differently, because I wasn’t doing it right. I’d have to pick myself up, dust myself off, and … well you can guess the rest.
So perhaps the best way to avoid having to start over is really to write one of those million-selling, cliched, rehashed books on this very subject of self-renewal. Such books rely entirely on the human-based marketing formula of lucrative amnesia that doesn't recognise that the same books are published over and over again. So yes, perhaps I'd better get round to that when I've finished starting over, if I can only find a good book that tells me how to do it.
Who then isn't always wanting to, at least in some way, start over? Let's immediately bring in a heavyweight intellectual. Jean-Paul Sartre had something to say about this, and by sheer luck, being a man never unfond of a large tipple and a profound chat, he’s just this very minute popped into the Song Bar for a cognac: “Well then .... in life .... there always is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.” Does that shed any light, or leave you in the dark?
And who’s that fast-talking guy sat next to him and knocking back a few Jack Daniels? It’s his pal, the king of the horror novel, Stephen King, who puts it like this: “Life is like a wheel. Sooner or later, it always come around to where you started again … so, er, same again, barman.”
And who’s that sassy lady sitting in between them? It’s that former Bananarama and Shakespeare’s Sister vamp Siobhan Fahey: “Well guys … most of my life I've had long periods of feeling down and lost. That's why every five years or so I've smashed my life to pieces and started again.” Or indeed just get smashed, somebody jokes. You really never know who’ll end up at this bar next.
So throughout our lives we cannot help but yearn or try to do things that are just like starting over (over and over and over). And on a less lighthearted note, what an irony that that other great philosopher, John-Paul Lennon, who in 1980 had managed to start over after a decade of drug and other problems, and had begun to straighten his life out with his first recording for five years and an album, then had that life tragically cut short on 8 December.
So then this week’s topic of renewal, rebirth and starting over can cover life at all levels. It could, for example, take on a religious theme, perhaps with a Christian, Buddhist or Hindu element. In Hinduism, Shiva is a deity who represents transformation. As one of those very authors on spiritual renewal, Karen Salmansohn, put it, (possibly over and over again): “Through destruction and restoration, Shiva reminds us that endings are beginnings, and that our world is constantly undergoing a cycle of birth, death and rebirth. or with the latter, not just the idea of rebirth into a new physical life. In Hinduism, there are also interim stages of a form of rebirth, such as the Sanyasa, where an individual renounces their current life for a more peaceful, simple and spiritual routine. And it is not only people that can change, but also spiritual, real or mythical figures, in literature, from William Blake to RK Narayan to Yann Martel, all of whom have had a particular fixation with the tiger.
Talking of creatures, there’s also this rather shocking physical and mental rebirth at the hands of the paranoid Franz Kafka: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” There is of course strong evidence to suggest that in The Metamorphosis, Gregor had an ear for music: ““Was he an animal, that music could move him so? He felt as if the way to the unknown nourishment he longed for were coming to light.” It just occurs to me that perhaps Frank Kafka, through Gregor Samsa, could have been the original fifth Beetle.
This theme can also be about rebuilding your career. The hugely acclaimed series The Wire includes two particular characters who attempt a form of life rebirth. Reginald "Bubbles" Cousins is a police informant and heroin addict, who throughout the series struggles to improve himself and change his life, but finally succeeds. Dennis "Cutty" Wise, a former gang member leaves prison after a long stretch and instead of getting back into the game, sets up a community gym for local kids. Well, that's the aim. This handsome hunk of a man soon finds himself being invited round by all the single mothers who offer him more than their homemade apple pie. That aside, the scenario of giving up drugs or starting a new life after prison could certainly count this week.
Rebuilding is also an important part of creativity. One man who really knows about creativity and rebuilding is the that genius of odd-shaped architecture, Frank Gehry, who admits that it’s a lack of confidence to forces him to recreate himself anew: “Each project, I suffer like I'm starting over again in life. There's a lot of healthy insecurity that fuels this stuff.”
But the making of music itself is of course also a driving force for starting over, brought about when many songwriters hit a creative or commercial wall and feel driven to do things differently, whether that was Beethoven to Ray Charles, or Paul Weller to Beck. The latter, for example, has even dropped in for a coffee now at the bar, and cooly tipping his cowboy hat, politely tells us: “Every time you go into the studio, it's like starting over. You don't know how you did the other records. You're learning all over. It's some weird musician amnesia, or maybe the road wipes it out.” What happens on the road, stays on the road, eh?
For some artists, the process of career rebirth actually happens by giving birth. Here’s a lady with a big voice and personality to make sure we know, Jill Scott: “There's something really magical about having a child – it's like permission to begin again, start over, re-evaluate some things, check yourself. Recognise yourself.”
Rebirth then can often happen with an event, or something like a mid-life crisis. Is there such a thing? I’ve always felt that life is a continuous crisis. But certainly the classic male mid-life crisis has fuelled much in music, and perhaps continues to drive more work, as songwriters try to hold on to or regain the rock’n’roll lifestyle they had, never had but still crave. It has also been a current theme in the world of TV and comedy long before Alan Partridge or the increasingly desperate Ricky Gervais (or is that David Brent?- it’s hard to tell the difference). The sitcoms of the 1970s seemed entirely dedicated to a mid-life crisis yearning towards a starting over of careers. The Fall and Rise Reginald Perrin starred Leonard Rossiter, an irritable marketing man who fakes his own disappearance and takes on a series of disguises, doing other jobs.
Also very popular in our household was The Good Life, a cosy, and sometimes saccharine sitcom starring Richard Briars as Tom Good, who decides his career as a designer of plastic toy free gifts in cereal packets is not quite fulfilling enough, so aided by the squeakily enthusiastic wife Felicity Kendal and a pair of bemused, upper middle-class neighbours, he tries to become self-sufficient by growing vegetables and keeping livestock in his suburban residence. Easy when there's always Marge and Jerry next door to invite you over for dinner.
But perhaps the best TV programme from my childhood about starting over remains a marvellous children's animation. Mr Benn, a bored, middle-aged man who has to walk to work in a bowler hat, each week goes to a costume shop, and aided by the mysterious fez-wearing “as if by magic” shopkeeper (“this way sir”) shows him through to the changing room, after which, going through another door, a series of adventures ensue in which he renews his identity …. Could there be any better way of starting over whenever you like?
And so this, put your song suggestions on this theme below in comments, for this week’s ranger of rebirth and selector of starting over, the masterful Marconius to make playlists for next Wednesday. Last orders will be on called on Monday evening UK time. Let’s all make a change …
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