Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Winters Tale

I started writing this, after Niz had been here for 6 weeks, and then just left it.  But best to publish it now as things change quickly with us.....

In the 6 weeks since Niz got back from Nepal and every day has been a beautiful, fruitful one.  We feel the same excitement as when we first met, but with a special closeness and understanding of each other, that only 3 years of loving, living, busking and traveling together will bring you.  We are shining very bright and feeling a special energy and bond.

With this great energy we have, we have been making great steps with the music.  Whenever we play we get a crowd around us, the CD's are flying out and I am really perfecting the introductions of the songs and silver speak in between, Niz is singing like a 1930's angel and I have such a better grip on my crackle voice and my clean voice.  The repertoire is growing and growing and the music is glowing.

I was so nervous meeting her after those long, but thoughtful 4 months apart.  I felt I had looked deep inside myself and realised that all's I want in life is to do my best to make it work with Niz.  Make her smile and laugh all along the road we share.  And on that day she arrived I was full of this optimism and butterflies.  As she stepped through the gate of the airport I felt an even greater excitement hit me.  She was home, and I was gonna do my very best to not lose eachother like we did that Winter.

That Winter was a strange one...We arrived in Berlin in October after spending a few months in Donegal writing and recording our E.P Evergreen Dream.  At that point we had been together virtually every single day for a year.  Busking and making music is a beautiful thing, but it is also quite stressful in ways that creative personalities clash and combine.  I think of that scene in Father Ted where he screams to just "Play the F*****IN NOTE!"

We had gotten like that a little.  We were screaming at eachother a lot in Ireland.  We had a beautiful little isolated barn to live and lots of inspiration from the surroundings, but it was a very strange time creatively.  If I compare it to the desert album, the difference was that there, she would get fiesty and insistent as always, and I just used to laugh and love that side of her, but in Ireland I started reacting to it, and we would end up screaming at eachother.

We would always come back to eachother after a day, maybe 2 maximum, of moods and broods though.  Deep down I wanted Niz to really shine on this E.P..  The first record we made, 'Melodies For The Moon', was mostly me writing and recording the songs in a week, as Niz got herself ill the day we started recording.  Where The Days Have No Name is like our baby, it's the best half of me and the best half of Niz and we came together so beautifully over this album.  Evergreen Dream would be Niz's E.P and I felt I should take a slight back step.

She really pushed herself creatively, doing hundreds of vocal and violin takes.  My idea and love of trusting the first few takes and not losing the feeling was not welcome in that creative process.  I would throw some chords together and write words with her, I just felt a little left out.  But I always gave way to and remembered how I felt I wanted this to be her E.P.  I had to take a step back and let her get out what was inside of her creatively.
We came to Berlin in October with these same mixed energies.  We still had our magic in many ways, but there was something in between us.  Perhaps because I had been a bit left out of Evergreen Dream I was losing touch with myself musically.  I was doubting things quite a lot and needed to re-find something.  After many arguments about me spending the busking money on drinking and going out, I decided to go out busking on my own and make my own money.  After a warm up set at Warschauer Brucke I went to Schleisches Tor and really played well, I had a crowd around me and a new energy.  I made 86 euroes all together and felt like a rich man!

Another problem that always arose between us was the money...Since we met we would share everything, it was always our pot of gold and we would hardly begrudge ourselves anything.  But my vices outweighed hers and it was creating tension and arguments between us.  We would argue when I would come home after such a nice night to hear that I am spending all our money.  I just wanted to live and enjoy the moment of being in Berlin in a still quite warm Autumn,  not get stressed about things, just know that the money will come.

Me going busking solved a financial problem, but in the process it also created another by dividing us a little more.  One night we were arguing and I just said "I can't be like this anymore.  I love you, but I can't feel like this.  We need a break from eachother."  We kind of broke up at that point, but deep down I just needed some space to find myself and make her appreciate me again.  From this point we would remain friendly, but with a cold distance between us.

I still loved the girl with all my heart, but couldn't continue like we were as it was breaking my heart and soul.  I would sit in a seperate room and hear her in the other room learning songs on her ukelele Devendra Banharts 'At The Hop' Hauntingly and perfectly became a soundtrack to that moment, with lyrics that touched the feeling so fittingly.We would share a joint and a whiskey on the balcony together being so nice and 'friendly' with eachother,  I wanted to keep it like that and I was afraid of going back to how it was, with us fighting all the time.

The next day on my way to spend my 87 euroes I walked past the station where they give out busking permits for the U bahns and took a chance on 2 stations.  I bought myself a nice bottle of whiskey and a flask. It slowly warmed my chest and heart as I enjoyed the first chilly Autumn day in Berlin.  We had 3 months here and a Berlin Winter to face.  It was getting a little too cold to busk outside.

The permit was for Templehof which is quite a rough station in the East and I went there on my own to play in a slightly warm U bahn, the reverb was beautiful and I played lots of old songs I hadn't played for a while.  I stayed there for about 4 hours happily filling the tunnels with my crackly reverby voice and made 147 Euroes and felt great about myself!

After about a week of playing on my own and making good money I was ready to start playing with Niz again,  a little break and distance did us the world of good. We booked a station and we tried to play the old songs but they weren't working in this new busking environment, so we switched mic's and I did all the songs I had been playing on my own 'St James Infirmary' 'Wayfaring Stranger' 'Tango Till They're Sore' and lots of other dark and old ones.  This this new dynamic worked well for us.  We still had our distance but Niz seemed to be playing with a fire inside her and it was making me fall in love with her all over again.

 One day we had a really bad argument, looking back it was because we were getting so close again, and so I tore myself away, afraid to go back to how it was when we first got here.  Things were friendly and nice with us and I wanted to keep it like that for just a little longer.  We were arguing over something very petty and I said "I am going busking on my own" and with that beautiful fiesty heart of hers, she picked up my guitar and threw it at me.  I grabbed her and pushed her down to the floor and screamed at her...

It's very sad for me to write about this part of our journey, but I feel I need to get it out.  I went busking on my own with a flask of whiskey, a bag of grass and a heavy heart.  Later on I got a call from Anja who is who we had been staying with nearly all our time here in Berlin.  She is a dear friend and almost like a mother to us.  She says that both of us can't stay there anymore because of the arguments, so I agreed to leave the next day.

I carried on busking and drinking the whiskey and feeling as positive as I could about things.  I met this girl who sat with me the whole night singing and drinking, funnily enough she was Argentinian also.  Niz had slept at her friends and so I returned drunk to an empty room with an empty feeling in my heart.  The next morning Anja wakes me and tells me it's time I have to go.  It is a week before Christmas and I have nowhere to stay, 40 euroes in my pocket and a very sad feeling in my stomach.

I went to an internet cafe and searched intensely for a room on air bnb and sent some desperate couch requests.  After a few hours I found a room on Air bnb that was 20 euroes a night in a shared room with other people.  It was good enough for a start and I dragged myself and the busking trolley to Templehof where I had a permit to play that day.  When I got there, there was a homeless guy begging right where I play.  I asked him how long he would be, and he wasn't being very nice so I just setup next to him and started playing.

I was playing really well, considering.  But he was getting more drops than me!  This just disheartened me even further and almost with tears in my eyes I went about to meet the guy who owns the place I could stay.  He was a nice guy, just split up with his girlfriend aswell.  He has a place that is one big room, which he seperates with curtains.  The first night I had the place to myself, but then the next nights there were other guests and you could hear everything.  I can be a very light sleeper and found this very annoying, but still, it was a roof over my head.  I was already preparing to sleep in the U bahns.

After 2 days without Niz, I was completely broken inside.  I had realised so painfully what I had lost.  I missed her in every way and was feeling so stupid about what had happened.  I tried to telephone, they said she was not home.  Was that a lie?  I nearly cried.  I felt so alone and such an outcast.  Sometimes I would go past the house looking up at what I had lost, feeling lost.  I would busk with a broken heart and sing with a broken voice.  I would try and keep optimistic, but felt empty inside.

When I finally got through to Niz I emptied my heart to her and said how sorry and stupid I was to have lost her, I asked her if she would come back out busking with me, she agreed and we started to patch things up.  She moved in to this place I was staying and I was doing my best to make it work.  It was a strange Christmas this one, but we still made it through.  We found a place we could move in to with some musicians and we had a beautiful room to ourselves for a month.

It was a nice time in this room, we were making great money on the Ubahns, but there was still this distance between us.  Her visa was up on 21st January and we talked about going to Cyprus, Turkey and Morrocco.  But my heart wasn't really in it.  I wanted her to stay in Berlin but she wouldn't overstay her visa.  She had made some friends with these meditation classes she was taking and they were planning to go to Nepal.  She was toying with the idea, but I didn't think she would actually go.  And then a week before her visa was up she came home and said she had got the ticket.  I was so shocked and couldn't believe it!  We had a strange last week of busking together and as she left that morning I barely opened my eyes, just let her go.

It felt like we were finished for those first few weeks.  I was busking on my own, drinking heavily and feeling like shit.  I felt so alone and drunk and sad.  I needed a change of Scenery.  I found a ride going to Amsterdam and went to stay with my dearest friends, Cato and Hans.  They looked after me like family and nursed me back to strength by believing in me, encouraging me and making lekker Dutch cooking.  I spent most days in the gardenhouse singing my heart out and writing in my journal.  I only drunk about 5 beers in the whole 2 months I was there, I lost my Berlin Belly, rode my back, drew lots of pictures and managed to record an album for Cato.

After 2 months in Amsterdam my 34th Birthday was approaching and I checked the weather radar and Berlin would be in 20 degree sun!  It was also a Sunday so Mauer Park would be alive again.  I decided to hitch hike the day before and get back to Berlin. I woke up a little late on the day I was leaving, had a nice breakfast with Cato and she gave me some chocolate and bananas and some Dutch cheese breads which would prove to be a life saver.  I had about 12 euroes to my name and a little bit of Nepalese hash.

I started my bike ride and approached Amstel station and a car came out of nowhere and hit a cyclist who went flying with his bike in a twist!  He got up OK and started screaming at the driver, I asked him if he was alright and offered him my bike.  He said no, as he was about to take a lot of money from the driver for the incident.  I found a road to hitch hike and waited at the spot with my thumb out and a sign saying Berlin.

It took an hour before someone stopped, it was a woman who was going to a yoga centre, but she could only take me 8km.  I took it, just to start the journey and know that I cant turn back.  She dropped me off at this bleak motorway station and I waited another hour before a ginger guy took me 20 km.  Another car took me 5 km and then a teacher took me 70km close to Appledorn.  Another guy took me to the nearest petrol station 2 km down the way..  It was just starting to get dark and I was just starting to worry.

It had taken me 7 hours to get 120 km out of Amsterdam and as darkness descended I started screaming out all these crazy thoughts in my head.  I would be filled with 5 minutes of complete optimism and positivity followed by 5 minutes of complete despair and fear.  I had no phone, and Niz had said she would phone me on my birthday from Nepal, my laptop had no battery and I had no idea what time it was, just that it was dark and cars wont be stopping for a tall bearded man in the middle of the motorway looking desperate singing and screaming.

The petrol station had closed so I guessed it must have been around 10 o clock.  The hunger started to hit and I remembered the chocolate from Cato, I paced myself with it and just took a few blocks of it and got ready for a night at this wretched motorway stop.  I rolled myself a hash joint and wrote 20 pages in my journal.  I would still try and hitch hike in the dark but it was a waste of energy.

It was just after midnight when the police came to me asking what I was doing.  I was still in good spirits and had a nice chat with them.  I told them it was my birthday and he said 'Do you smoke?'  I said 'Yeah' and he gave me a cigar and said 'Happy Birthday'.  They said they could give me a lift to a train station that would take me to Berlin, but when I said I had no money they said they couldn't do it because they would know I would be bunking and would have to arrest me.

There was a small playground at this station with a slide and stuff, so I lay on the slide and tried to sleep. Just as I got a little comfortable I felt a gentle rain start to fall, so I lay in this doorway shivering with my head in my arms.  I didn't sleep, just lay there uncomfortable and all through this whole experience I was telling myself I would be at Mauer park tomorrow with a beer for my birthday.  I finished every paragraph of my journal with that sentence..'I will be in Mauer Park Tomorrow'.  It was my mantra to get me through.

When the sun started to come up I waited for the gas station to open to drink a coffee and use the toilets and get myself together for another day of standing on a motorway with my thumb out.  I freshened up, brushed my teeth and washed my face and headed once again to the side of the road to begin the day.  The first hour I was so positive, I was screaming out 'Come on, who's going to Berlin.  You got space for one more, hey!'  After an hour and a half a car stopped and it was the police saying I couldn't stand here to hitch hike.  I told them my hard ships of the night and they said they could give me a lift to the train station.  At this point, I couldn't refuse.  I thought I would take my chances bunking rather than waiting in this dank motorway for another moment.

 They took me to the station and showed me where I could get a ticket.  Just as I looked down, I found 5 euroes on the floor!  It was a bit of luck after a hard night.  I pretended to buy a ticket until they left and then went to the platform.  I was building this story in my head for what I would say to the ticket guard.  I waited 40 minutes until the train come and then got on.  Just to see that it said 'Berlin' on the front was enough for me to take my chances.

After about an hour of cruising through the landscape in speed and style, a big German woman came down from the carriage asking for tickets.  She was slowly starting to approach me and my heart was thumping.  I had the story in my head..."Do you speak English?  I have spent the night trying to hitch hike, and it is my birthday today and I really need to get to Berlin!"  She was a few seats away and getting closer and as she got to me I just froze.  I didn't move or look at her and the guy sitting next to me got out his ticket on a sheet of paper.  She looked at it, smiled, and walked straight past me!

I was nearly crying with joy, she must have thought the guys ticket was for 2 passengers!  It was a 5 hour journey though and I knew she would be coming back at some point.  But at least I was in motion, getting closer to Berlin.  I tried to sleep on the train, but I was still uneasy about the ticket situation so I just calmly watched out the window us crossing the border between Holland and Germany.  After about another hour she came back from the other side.  They original guy next to me had gotten off the train and someone else was sitting by me.  She got closer and closer, and as she got to us, she just walked past!  I think it was just the energy I was emitting.  Sheer desperation to get to Berlin.  Maybe she sensed this and that's why I was able to make it to Berlin in 5 hours.

Pulling in at Berlin Haubtbanhof, I couldn't contain my joy!  I was tired and weary but so happy to have made it here.  I had 7 euroes to my name.  Enough for 2 beers and a Doner.  I went to the nearest Doner stand and ordered a special.  It tasted fantastic.  I then jumped the train for Mauer park taking in the atmosphere of this great city.  It was raining and cloudy in Holland when I jumped the train, and now it was sunny and hot with fluffy clouds floating around the new Spring sky.  I bought 2 beers, a Berliner Kindl and a Pilsener and made the ten minute walk to the very special place and finishing line 'Mauer Park'.

The first thing I did was throw my stuff down, lie on the grass take a swig of beer and write in my journal in shaky victorious handwriting "I did it!!!  You see, life.  I did it!"  I met an old busking pal, Zicamen the Brazilian who was just starting.  When he finished we smoked a nice joint together and I told him my story.  The sun was shining nice, and after a cold dark winter I could feel the first warm suns of Spring break through the darkness and sweep the Winter away.

I finished my beers and got ready to make it to Anja's.  The boys were already so excited to see me again, and I hadn't turned up the day I was supposed to.  I got on the S Bahn and started the journey,  a few stops into it a bunch of ticket collectors jumped on in plain clothing and started asking for tickets.  Again, I just froze.  I didn't do anything and they just passed me by!  I couldn't believe it!  Twice in a day my luck had saved me.  Elated, I made it to Anja's, gave the boys a big hug and rested well, knowing that I had made it to my destination at last.

In the 2 months I spent there before Niz got back, I just took it easy with the busking.  I would go when I needed to, and when I wanted to enjoy it.  When I had no money, I would busk and then just enjoy Warschauer Strasse or go to a music bar.  Buy a big cigar and a few beers and just be a nice presence in Berlin.  One day I was going through the second hand shops and found a very stylish brown suit that fitted perfectly!  I took it as meant to be and bought it for 24 Euroes and looked very stylish in the process.

I just drifted along like this for these 2 months, counting down, but appreciating the days until Niz got here.  It was hard to busk outside again after playing in the reverby Ubahns.  I struggled at times but had to make the shift as the weather was so beautiful.  I spent a lot of time with the boys, taking them to the playground and writing in my journal.  The weeks passed quickly and soon it would be time to meet Niz at the airport and see how we felt with eachother.  I nervously sat at the airport looking at every face that was passing through, meeting up with loved ones and smiling and kissing.  Just when the last few were coming out, there she was, shining brightly.

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