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TO DIE OR NOT TO DIE

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Self-destruction. An interesting topic and one that holds a compelling morbid fascination for most of us. Some of us, eSpecially those who are artists, have dueled with it for years, even choosing the weapons ourselves – cigarettes, alcohol, and the harder stuff. Are we drawn to these things in order to block out the world or just dull our senses to how hard the road is before us? All the responsibilities that living brings with a new cart load pulling up everyday.
I know a man who is brilliant. Genius even. In a world where the word genius is overused he is the bona fide true meaning. In the same way that the word star got so overused we had to invent the word superstar, this man is a super-genius then, and I love him, warts and all, as a brother. Today he is battling his demons and it’s a 50/50 bet on the success of this outcome. But with genius comes the heavy load of having to continually live up to that word in the eyes of others, and to oneself. Oh, what a relief it must seem to just close your eyes and make it all go away. The pressure of outdoing your last triumph or the humiliation of your last misstep hounds you and bites at your heels every step of the way. You are your toughest critic and will beat yourself up more harshly than the best Kenneth Turan could’ve dished out at his peak. Sometimes, like critics, we are wrong too. Sometimes an orange is just an orange. Or in some cases, a lemon. Do we over complicate our lives by looking too deeply? In the words of Bob Dylan, “Sometimes it’s not enough to know the meaning of things. Sometimes we have to know what things don’t mean as well.”
One day, although my mind has blurred the number of years if not the pain, I was sitting on the stairs of a grand house I once owned in the depths of despair having decided to burn the fort and lose everything, my career included, in order to be rid of a business associate neither I or anyone else could trust anymore. My son, Oliver, who must’ve been only 4 years of age, saw me and with quite some effort for his little legs climbed the steps up to where I was sitting, sat beside me, put his arm on my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry Daddy, it’ll be alright when you grow up to be a child”. Looking back, I think it’s the greatest piece of advice I have ever been told or even read in a book. Therein lies the secret to happiness. Learn to look at life as a child. To appreciate every moment. To take the time to be beguiled by the beauty of simplicity. To look up in wonderment at the falling of a star. Take the time to be silly, it helps you not take yourself too seriously. And to finally realize that if you have a warm bed, and a hot shower, everything else you get is gravy. And be thankful for it.
It is a shocking statistic how many genius artists have died before they lived to 36. Coincidence? Or were they killed by the fear and pressure of having to live up to themselves? When Elvis Presley died his ex-wife showed insensitivity by stating the obvious, “He died at the right time. If he’d lived any longer he would’ve disappointed us all”. Elvis? Now there’s an example for you. They say he “officially” died of a heart attack. Cybil Shephard, one of his last girlfriends has stated that his death is one of the biggest medical cover-ups in history. She said when he died he had enough drugs in his system to still the heart of an elephant, and that, in her opinion, it was the end of a very long suicide. Yes, it’s true he never got over losing Priscilla, that’s well known, and one can chart his rapid decline from the moment she left him. But was it not more than that? Ironically, the most desired man in the world died of loneliness, surrounded by yes men, a leach of a manager, and women he didn’t really love. You see, he’d been too long on Lonely Street. The reality is Elvis died from a lethal overdose of boredom, loneliness, Las Vegas and fear. The fear that it was all past him.
Felton Jarvis, the producer of Elvis’ last album “Moody Blue” has said that it was impossible to get Elvis to record the last 4 songs for that album. In desperation, Jarvis flew to where Elvis was on tour and tracked him down at his hotel, pleading with him to just give a few days of his time to complete the album….even just a day! To which Elvis just looked at him and said, “I’m tired of being Elvis Presley.” He was dead just weeks later and Jarvis filled out the posthumous album with 4 live tracks.
But the machine doesn’t want to broadcast to everyday people that someone that successful found success that hollow. It messes up the dream that keeps the wheels turning. That dream we all keep chasing and sacrificing to achieve. You mean – I can become king of the world and end up wanting to die? How does that happen? Is the dream just a lie?
I don’t know. I’m just a man wandering around in circles in the wilderness like everyone else. But I will share something I have learnt by looking at life from both sides now. Those who think they will be happy once they have money…or once they have a big car…or once they have a trophy partner…or once they have a huge mansion…are in for a jolt. The secret, from one who’s learned, is this; you have to be happy before you get those things. Put yourself in order first. And yes, if you are happy within yourself then of course money is the cherry on the cake and will allow you to have some nice times and comfortable living arrangements. Happiness is the foundation on which you build your life. Your inside breeds your outside. Not the other way around. Oh, and when you’ve got money, help out some true friends. Don’t forget that. There is no greater joy than to know you have affected someone’s life in a positive way.
In the meantime, send out some positive thoughts to those who are struggling tonight.
(c) Frank Howson 2014

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