Born to Run (2016)
BORN TO RUN
Off the road, life was a puzzle. Without that nightly hit of adrenaline the show provided, I was at loose ends, and whatever it was that was always eating at me rose up and came calling. In the studio and on tour, I was a one-man wrecking crew with a one-track mind. Out of the studio and off the road, I was . . . not. Eventually I had to come to grips with the fact that at rest, I was not at ease, and to be at ease, I could not rest. The show centered and calmed me but it could not solve my problems. I had no family, no home, no real life. It’s not news; a lot of performers will tell you the same thing. It’s a common malady, a profile of sorts, that floods my profession. We’re travelers, “runners,” not “stayers.” But each man or woman runs or stays in their own way. I finally realized one of the reasons my records took so long to make was I had nothing else to do, nothing else I felt comfortable doing. Why not, as Sam Cooke sang, take “all night . . . all night . . . all night”? My recordings were a return to that three-block walk to school I’d try to stretch into an eternity each morning. “Get in the groove and let the good times roll, we gonna stay here ’til we soothe our soul.”
’Til we soothe our soul . . . that could take a while.
Family was a terrifying and compelling thought for me in 1980. Since I’d been a young man, I was sure it was going to be a suitcase, guitar and tour bus ’til the night drew down. At some point every young musician thinks so. We beat the game; the rest was for “suckers” strapped into the straight life. Yet on Darkness I’d begun to write about that life. A part of me truly admired it and felt it was where real manhood lies. I just wasn’t any good at it. On my Darkness songs, I’d presented that life as a dark, oppressive and sustaining world, a world that took but also provided. “Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life.” That scared me. I only had my father’s experience to go by and no intimate knowledge of men who were at ease with family life. I didn’t trust myself to bear the burden of, the responsibility for, other lives, for that all-encompassing love.
My experience with relationships and love to that point all told me I wasn’t built for it. I grew very uncomfortable, very fast, with domestic life. Worse, it uncovered a deep-seated anger in me I was ashamed of but also embraced. It was the silent, dormant volcano of the old man’s nightly kitchen vigil, the stillness covering a red misting rage. All of this sat nicely on top of a sea of fear and depression so vast I hadn’t begun to contemplate it, much less consider what I should do about it. Easier to just roll.
I’d had it down. I’d routinely and roughly failed perfectly fine women over and over again. I’d wrapped my arms around that great big “nothing” for a long time and it’d been good. I suppose after my grandmother’s death when I was sixteen, my dad’s daily emotional bailout, and both parents leaving for California, I figured needing people too much might not provide the best payoff; better off playing defense. But it was getting harder and harder to pretend nothing was amiss. Two years inside of any relationship and it would all simply stop. As soon as I got close to exploring my frailties, I was gone. You were gone. One pull of the pin, it’d be over and I’d be down the road, tucking another sad ending in my pack. It was rarely the women themselves I was trying to get away from. I had many lovely girlfriends I cared for and who really cared for me. It was what they triggered, the emotional exposure, the implications of a life of commitments and family burdens. At work, though I may have occasionally blown it, I could take on all of the responsibility you could load on my shoulders. But in life all I could find was a present I could take no comfort in, a future with harsh limits, a past I was struggling to come to terms with in my writing but also running from, and time . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick . . . time. I had no time for time. Better off in that lovely timeless world inside my head, inside . . . the studio! Or onstage, where I master time, stretching it, shortening it, advancing forward, moving you back, speeding it up, slowing it down, all with the twitch of a shoulder and the drop of a snare beat.
With the end of each affair, I’d feel a sad relief from the suffocating claustrophobia love had brought me. And I’d be free to be . . . nothing . . . again. I’d switch partners, hit rewind and take it from the top, telling myself this time it’d be different. Then it’d be all high times and laughs until fate and that unbearable anxiety came knocking and it’d be one more for the road. I “loved” as best as I could, but I hurt some people I really cared about along the way. I didn’t have a clue as to how to do anything else.
Now, the less I traveled, the more the truth of what I was doing pressed in on me. It became inescapable. In the past I’d always had one surefire answer: get writing, get recording and get out. The road was my trusty shield against the truth. You can’t hit a moving target and you can’t catch lightning. Lightning strikes, leaves a scar and then is gone, baby, gone. The road was always a perfect cover; transient detachment was the nature of the game. You play; the evening culminates in merry psychosexual carnage, laughs, ecstasy and sweaty bliss; then it’s on to new faces and new towns. That, my friends, is why they call ’em . . . ONE-NIGHT STANDS! The show provided me the illusion of intimacy without risk or consequences. During the show, as good as it is, as real as the emotions called upon are, as physically moving and as hopefully inspirational as I work to make it, it’s fiction, theater, a creation; it isn’t reality . . . And at the end of the day, life trumps art . . . always.
Robert De Niro once said he loved acting because you got to live other lives without the consequences. I lived a new life every night. Each evening you’re a new man in a new town with all of life and all of life’s possibilities spread out before you. For much of my life I’d vainly sought to re-create this feeling every . . . single . . . day. Perhaps it’s the curse of the imaginative mind. Or perhaps it’s just the “running” in you. You simply can’t stop imagining other worlds, other loves, other places than the one you are comfortably settled in at any given moment, the one holding all your treasures. Those treasures can seem so easily made gray by the vast, open and barren spaces of the creative mind. Of course, there is but one life. Nobody likes that . . . but there’s just one. And we’re lucky to have it. God bless us and have mercy on us that we may have the understanding and the abilities to live it . . . and know that “possibility of everything” . . . is just “nothing” dressed up in a monkey suit . . . and I’d had the best monkey suit in town.