The word success is almost impossible to define, as it means something different to just about everyone. It’s much too large than a single word can contain, because it’s a concept. A floating concept that bends and morphs and matures as we do. What we think it means at the beginning of our journey, may be vastly different to what it means at the end. It’s a dream that, once it’s seemingly fulfilled, may be considered a burden. A curse. A prison cell. A nightmare.
Perhaps it’s God’s sneakiest joke on us all. Giving us what we think we want, in order to find out first hand how hollow it ultimately becomes.
McCartney hit it on the head, simplifying it to “Can’t Buy Me Love.” A record we could dance to, even if the concept was way beyond our comprehension at the time. Perhaps Paul was starting to understand how restrictive a “successful” life can be.
One of the Ten Commandments states that “Thou Shalt Not Worship False Gods.”I have interpreted that to include money = success. For I’ve seen first hand people worship it at the expense of their family, friends, colleagues, ethics, talent and own life.Their “concept” of success was so delusional it eventually devalued every thing of true value in their life.
I was once privileged to have had a song of mine selected for inclusion on the Ferrets’ second album “Fame At Any Price.” I loved that album title then, as I love it now. It was prophetically apt for a band that self-combusted shortly after its release. Perhaps from the pressure of having to follow-up a Number One single and a Gold debut album “Dreams of a Love,” which incidentally also featured a song of mine entitled “Killing Ourselves.” A lyric about the friends of mine who were falling in action during the Melbourne heroin epidemic of the Seventies. That song proved prophetic for the band too.
It’s one thing to crave success. It’s another to have the stomach for it. People take drugs like heroin to numb themselves to the world around them. Isn’t it bizarre that when many performers finally break through and achieve the success they’ve craved, they reach out to self-medicate themselves to…what? The pain of it? The disappointment that the concept of success was so much more thrilling than the reality? Or is it their fear that they, mere mortals, are suddenly treated like gods, and know they can’t sustain this facade for long without publicly falling? False prophets for a false society.
It says a lot about our society that Elvis Presley, the most famous and desired man in the world, died of loneliness. Photographs of him towards the end show a man who is dull-eyed, self-medicated to the point of not knowing where he is, and clearly not having a good time. He even mocks himself in his final heartbreaking performances as if all his dignity is gone. Pity the man who inherits the world, but loses his soul?
We are fed the “Dream” to keep us productive, and striving day to night to achieve our goal, so we can be happy. But, what if, as Judy found out, there’s nothing at the end of the rainbow except burnt-out, broken, despairing suckers?
I always thought the rainbow ended on the corners of Hollywood Boulevard and Western. It almost did for me one night, but that’s another story. And there are millions of stories in the naked city.
My father worked his guts out from 6am until 5pm every day in a thankless job that paid him nowhere near his worth. Then he’d come home and drink. Do you blame him? I sure as hell didn’t. He dreamed of reaching retirement age and getting a big payout. He didn’t make it. In one of the final lines in Arthur Miller’s cathartic play Death of a Salesman, “…No one dast blame this man…He just had the wrong dreams. All wrong.”
How much of our lives are wasted chasing the wrong dreams? “When I get a nice new car I’ll be happy!”…”When I get married I’ll be happy!”…”When I get a nice house I’ll be happy!”…”When I have a child I’ll be happy!”…”When I get divorced I’ll be happy!”… “When I can retire and live as I want I’ll be happy!” etc., etc. The truth is, we’re not happy to begin with. One thing I’ve learnt from my own experience is that money and success won’t make you happy. In fact, they will just amplify the painful reality that you aren’t.In order to enjoy money and success, you must be happy within yourself before you obtain them. Otherwise they are weights around your neck that’ll drag you down to the bottom of the ocean.
Bob Dylan once said that “a successful man is someone who gets up in the morning and goes to bed each night and in between does exactly what he wants.” So, there you have it. Real success is freedom. The freedom to be who you are, and do what you want to do.
I’ve always admired people who are good at what they do. That’s probably a working class respect I inherited from my parents who much admired skilled tradespeople.
America used to have a healthy competitive pride whereby whatever job you had, people wanted to be the best at it. Whether it was driving a cab, being a shoeshine boy, a bellboy, a clerk, a hot dog vendor, etc.
I’ve seen waiters in Los Angeles, old guys who had made a career of it, and they were perfection personified. It was riveting to observe their attention to detail, manners, diplomacy, professionalism, and so on. The top guys made a fortune in tips and deserved every dime. But more than the money, they prided themselves on being the best. Some, were legends. I was in awe of them and paid them great respect.
So, what is success? Is it determined by money? Or by your ability? Or what others think of you? Or how loved you are by your family? Or how many people know your name? Or how many of your peers respect you? Or how fulfilled you are within yourself?
Because, if we don’t know the answer to that, it means most of us have been striving for something that is so elusive, it is even beyond us. And, if we don’t know what we’re seeking, how can we expect to find it? Or ever be content?
I like to walk a lot and, when I do, observe people. You could say it’s part of my job. And in my journeys into the outside world, I have from time to time passed many happy people. The happy family man. The happy young girl walking hand-in-hand with her love. The happy little boy who puts his protective arm around his younger sister and smiles at her. The happy busker who has a captive audience and a hat full of money. The happy taxi driver who loves to chat with his passengers and treat each as a new friend. And so on. To me, all these types are successful people. In the truest sense of the word. They are happy within themselves and thus radiate happiness outward. They have not been shackled by expectations. Either of our own making, or of others.
I have also seen and met some of the wealthiest, most powerful and famous people in the world whilst I lived in L.A, and quite a few were utterly miserable, and made everyone in their presence feel the same.
In the some of the final lines of the classic movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” it is stated, “No man is a failure who has friends.”
I believe that. I have some very true, loyal friends. Their rock solid friendship make me feel successful, happy and content for having found them. No matter what I do professionally, or don’t do, or they do or don’t, we have achieved something rare, precious and beautiful. Something real.
I looked into the man’s face. It was etched with suffering. He had no doubt fallen many times in his battles with Life. It looked to me like the greatest pain had not come due to the falls, but from the effort required to rise, and rise again. I also observed the deep laugh lines that’d gathered around each eye resembling a spider’s web. Yes, this man had lived life to the full. He had triumphed many times and learnt nothing from it. That’s because the recipe for success changes frequently. No. It was from his failures he’d learnt everything. And the reason for them had been simple – he’d gone against his instinct.
He’d survived many things in his life. Wars, plagues, floods, marriages, injury, slander, lawsuits, success, failure, gambling, death threats, betrayals, great wealth, poverty, love, broken hearts, rejection, addiction, vicious dogs, adultery, asthma, poisoning, tightrope walking, gangsters, drive-by shooters, merchant bankers, and long debates with actors. As such, these days, it was difficult to get him excited much, or fearful at all.
He’d beaten his demons, and was proud of it. But it’d been some of his friends who’d done him the most damage. They’d posed as friends but were really opportunistic spiritual vampires, sucking off his life force in order to live through him. And when they’d been found out and cut like a cancer out of his life, they had flayed about like dying sharks biting at his reputation with lies, exaggerations and groundless accusations. Most of what they accused him of were acts they’d done. The fact that they were so blatantly hypocritical was what hurt most of all. And from then on, he’d rationed his loyalty to those who’d proved theirs to him.
Now, he spent much of his time looking for things he hadn’t found. It made him as expectant as Jungle Jim on a safari.
He’d once stopped a cab and gotten out to wander through a desolate, ravaged field that beheld the remains of what’d once been a theatre. The taxi driver was bewildered as to what his frantic passenger was looking for. Whatever had been here was long gone, he thought, as his meter ticked away. But his forlorn travelling companion was searching for something only he could see. His youth.
Sometimes, late at night, he wished he was dead. But there was a safety net in knowing God never granted his wishes. This knowledge scared him with the recurring nightmare that he may live forever. And that’d be his punishment for having lived too well for a few years at the peak of his success, when he was too young and too busy to have enjoyed it. He’d once had immense power and never abused it. He’d also held the key to many vulnerable hearts and never used it. The facts, as opposed to the gossip, would show that his integrity was never bought. So God took these opportunities away and seduced someone else with them.
In exchange, the man in question, was given a rented studio apartment and enough food to get by. He was also granted the solitude to reflect on the follies of life, and write about them with a rich appreciation of God’s sense of humour.
He’d figured out the secret to God – He is passive. Having granted us free will he sits back and watches what we do with it. If you wanted action, you had to consult his competitive estranged brother, Satan. But that loan shark had interest rates that’d severely cripple your life, and could never be repaid due to the compounding penalties given only passing mention in the very small print.
And if you accepted that deal, you’d end up worse than alone.
The man who sat in front of me, felt many things.But he’d given up feeling what didn’t matter anymore. He told himself that he had enough heart left for one more great love. But she’d have to be an extraordinary woman, and he now suspected that such a perfect match only existed in dreams. Or delusions. He wasn’t sure what the correct word was anymore. All he knew was that God loved to tease him with possibilities that went nowhere that only foolish younger men or, those older bodies on the brink of madness, pursued.
He laughed out loud at how younger women now delighted in taunting him. They took so much but gave very little in return. They knew the art of getting away Scott free, and would only be able to get away with it a few more years before they too ended up alone. It was all about the promise and how much could be taken in the shadow of that. While one could. He knew all their tricks now and that rendered the game too predictable to hold his attention long. They hadn’t known him in his prime, nor would they’ve had the opportunity to. But these were different times. There were very few who could see past surface layers to find true love. Soul to soul.
How much do you have to hurt before you feel nothing anymore?
How much do you have to love before it means nothing anymore?
This man hasn’t aged from living. He’d aged from giving. And now all those who’d taken from him could celebrate the fact that there was nothing left.
They’d conquered something that felt important to them, but they couldn’t analyse what it was, or why they’d felt such compulsion to deplete it.
After all, they were good people, weren’t they? I mean, they wouldn’t hurt a fly.
The man now, each day, felt his spirit leaving his body and wondered what kind of life his shell would have. He thought, perhaps, he might be more socially accepted in this zombie-like state.
But who knew such things? And who the hell would even think about it? Other than a man with too much time on his hands, who’d stopped momentarily at the crossroads.
That was when I realised I’d been observing myself and the extraction had been successful.
Now is the hour of our incontinence made glory-holed by sons of Michael Yorke. “Bark” the Hells Angels sing. It is a Far East bitter thing I do now than I have ever dung. And on the bend the milk we shake is a quill to the love we break. Frankly, my deer, I don’t give a ram. And in the cruel, cruel, cruel of Jehovah, tell ‘em I’ll be bare. To flee or not to flee that is the equator. Four scored ears of men, our country assed us, “Do not ask what your country has done to you. Ask what you have done to your country.” And on the eighth day, God created mini-golf. These are a few of my Fahrenheit rings. Either this wallpaper blows or I do. “Right,” said Ted, are you having a larf?” At the third stroke, it will be a felony. Once I had a putrid glove. Love me Fender, love it tuned, all my screams are billed. When the goanna gets rough, get stuffed I’m goin’. Our father’s art is in heaven, Howard be thy blame. Twice upon a crime, a gem with windy hair lost her head in mime, and sad she loved me show. But that was ice above my lime, mammy months too low. Mammaries fight the confines of the blind. All clothed mystery mammaries of the day we stir. I luv you and dunce you regret it. It is the evening of the summer of the mourning that whence we came. The midget you fell through the floor, I could pee you were a mad ol’ distemper, a reel pig bender. I’m dreamin’ of a wide bagel, with hairy gals I sow. Fairy flossed da mercy. M-m-m-my Corona. Th-th-that’s Paul, yokes!
The thing about a star is, you can take that person and drop them into obscurity in some remote place that doesn’t know who they are, and given time, they will shine again. Stars do that. They are made tough by their early lives of not fitting in. But that very thing later became their strength and the foundation of their originality. They are conceived in darkness and magic. Pain and grit. Dreams and horrors.
Some grow a hard exterior to protect their extreme sensitivity. And most will misjudge them. Their guards are invisible to the eye, but shield the kindness that has been taken advantage of by far too many. They learn to save the very best of themselves for their work. So it is in the work that they truly live, and with some luck, live on. They appear to be social creatures but in truth are hermits. Existing only fully in the deepest, safest refuge of the soul. It is this situation that leads many observers to ponder why they are wiser in their work than they are in real life.
It is a lonely place being caught in the spotlight. There are no safety nets, no parents, no friends, no protection whatsoever, only pure sweat and talent. But it is only there, in that lonely space that has become their only world that means anything, that they know who they are. The rest of life is just hanging around and waiting. Some die from hanging too long.
The dream and the curse walk hand in hand in Lonesome Town, where the streets are deserted, and the bums possess all the knowledge of Life. The fortune tellers, having glimpsed the future, left in the dead of night. And the terminally bewildered wander aimlessly along that fine line between delusion and someone’s personal view of reality. It is a dangerous journey, without road signs, and lined with an endless array of fire-breathing windmills that will break a million Don Quixotes.
Once you have purchased your ticket for this merry-go-round, there is no getting off. You can attempt to stop what you do, but that will only create a bigger hunger for those wanting to gate-crash your fake death with more ill-informed opinions and senseless questions. There are no answers. That’s what Art teachesus.
All there is, is a long road. A road you once tried to find love on in order to have a travelling companion.
You wonder whether you said the wrong thing, or gave too much, or gave too little. But, as already stated, there are no answers. Only questions. And these questions will surely drive you into madness.
Your torture for having finally amassed so much wisdom, is to have no one to share it with. That’s ironic.
Don't stop me from having some fun
Fun is in such short supply these days
When I was a child nothing made sense
And the school system shut me out
I was too busy dealing with things at home
To be expected to think during classes
All the lessons I needed to learn were there
Within my family
And I soon excelled at observation
And the devastating power of words
Achieving an A every year
My senses heightened to love
And other dangers
So I befriended broken people
Some were too broken and betrayed me
So they could claim credit for breaking me some more
But others bloomed when they received the loyalty
Of a friend
And I was nothing if not loyal
For loyalty has been my greatest gift
And my deepest flaw
It has undone me many times
In the light of day
The most important thing we can learn
Is that we know very little
We can send men to explore the outer realms of space
And yet so much of us is unchartered
If the moon landing was faked
It is probably the most revealing comment one
can make about human beings
God would smile at our arrogance
Attempting to create on such a grand scale for ants
It seems, to me, that it's not what we do that counts
It's what we appear to do
So, perhaps we have finally accepted
That we are just B grade actors
On a huge soundstage created by the Almighty
And each day we rise to go through the motions
And play our roles as convincingly as possible
For the amusement of God
You see, the poor bastard is so bored
Living in the great darkness he shares with Satan
Where there is no time
And not even the relief of commercial breaks
In my opinion that would make sense
Of the nothingness
And we'd at last know who we are
And where we are
Like the Joker
One has to go insane to see
the insanity of the truth
(c) Frank Howson 2019
I remember you
Even more painful, where and when
You told me when it was over
That you'd find me again
So you searched all the hostels
Inhabiting lonely men
I was killed by your mouth
You were killed by my pen
I told you I liked chocolates
So you bought me a cigar
You have a cruel talent
For pushing me too far
I remember walking miles
While you passed me in your car
The same one I'd bought you
When you became my star
Now the years are conspiring
To drive me insane
Along with some of my friends
Who only deal in pain
So let me spell it out
To you nice and plain
My dance is slowly fading
And it failed to bring you rain
I'll soon be gone like Jesus
To never come again
You nailed me to your cross
And made me watch you with other men
They all hurt and manhandled you
And I shed tears for my precious friend
But you stood with them and mocked me
I should've known how it would end
(c) Frank Howson 2019
If I should die tonight
What would I say?
I'm glad you came along
And chose to stay
And thank you for the love
Shown to an orphan gone astray
If I should die tonight
That's what I'd say
If I should cry tonight
Don't turn away
You've been my ray of sunshine
Come what may
You helped me through the storm
Through all the nights that followed day
If I should cry tonight
Don't turn away
You see me
When others don't
You're the one who tries
When others won't
In the temple of truth
I was humbled and confessed
If this be love
Then I've been blessed
If I should die tonight
What have I learnt
From all the battles fought
And bridges burnt?
I bore a heavy load
Through all those dreams that wouldn't cease
If I should die tonight
God grant me peace
(c) Frank Howson 2019
He's in that room
Second door to the right
Asleep on the couch
Exhausted from trying to make sense of it all
And from staying out of anyone's way
He can't play the person he was anymore
The clothes don't fit
The lines don't ring true
And the lighting isn't right
All of his happy endings
Added up to one massive disaster
He stood up once
To be shot down
But that bravest hour
Misreported by many
Cost him more than money
And the loves of a life
Although the fire was extinguished
Some embers still burn
When it's that three o'clock hour
And the world is silent and God whispers "Don't worry"
To thwart the attack of the shadow people
For it takes a lifetime
That the more you're taught
The less you think you know
It's all part of the process
Of shedding skins
In order to set the spirit free
From the chains of this world
For you have to be beaten
Time and time again
On your road to humility
That will eventually carry you
Above these prison walls
The world has been taken over by idiots
Gossips shows and celebrity chefs
And is a place where a couch
In a tiny room
Has become someone's refuge
As he puts on his coat
And goes walking with his ghosts
Into a familiar surrounding
That is at last bearable
As he wanders
With the knowledge that
With wisdom comes predictability
And explains God's boredom
Can you imagine?
Take this man
Oh, take him, Lord
He who lived with trauma
And the insanity of hope
And walked streets that turned back into themselves
Like people do
And was insulted, defamed and betrayed
By those he'd shown the most kindness to
How much am I bid for his heart?
It's weary from caring
But it is still in working order
What do I hear for his love
That has the capacity to extend to so many
For so little in return?
What am I offered for his feet
That have walked the world many times
And yet were still able to stand while others fell?
What will you give for his voice
That was silenced for a time by experts
Who feared his truth?
Words (c) Frank Howson 2019
photograph by Bruce Woodley.
Where do you find someone
Who’ll give you their heart?
And won’t take it back
Just to tear you apart
Someone who is
Everything she seems
A dream you wake to
When you wake from dreams
I’ve been searching so long
And learned to live alone
You kinda park your life
In a holding zone
But I believe one day
If you keep on giving
You’ll stumble in the dark
And find your reason for living
For it’s a contradiction
That in the darkest night
We see in the faraway distance
The brightest light
Down here on this barren battleground
We have been issued no orders
We don’t even know who we are fighting anymore
Yesterday the fog was so thick
We mistakenly shot our own leader
And laid him to rest ‘neath a tree
Perhaps we should withdraw
Which is not a surrender
We mustn’t surrender
For there is too much to lose
But we’ve forgotten what
Send word back
That we have not thrown down our weapons
But we need back up
It seems we have gone weeks without sleep
As we sit in the dark every night
Waiting for the enemy to attack
But they never come
This is a very sophisticated strategy
That we have not been briefed on
For our leader is dead
And his family have not received word
For they will only grieve
And too many tears have been shed
Too many hearts broken
Too many roads taken
Too many widows haunting us
In the mists of dawn
But we are holding our position
And ready for action
Eager to do him proud
To fight to the last man
We have burnt our white flags
So we wouldn’t be tempted
Our enemy has a lot to answer for
We just haven’t been informed of what
But we’ve been told to hate them
I wonder if they’re scared like us?
I wonder if they sleep?
I wonder if they just want to go home
Like we do?
I wonder if they’re still there?
Perhaps the war is over
I wonder who won?