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.
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!
I remember raindrops
I remember a child
I remember that look of yours
When we were young and wild
I drink to forget these days
And sing songs without hooks
As I search for my shirt
And go to burn some books
I remember outrage
I remember the shock
We stupidly thought we were free
As we danced 'round the clock
You made a beautiful bride
While I made a mess of things
We could not be enslaved
By the confines of rings
And yet I get sentimental
Every time I stumble
And in every reflection
I see Berlin in rubble
I remember lamb chops
I remember a road
I remember how much I loved
Before the teardrops flowed
I drove to Hollywood
While you drove me insane
Nowadays I'll be found
Among mementos of pain
And yet I get sentimental
Every time I stumble
And in every reflection
I see Berlin in rubble
I had a winning regime
Before Russia in the fall
In case you were wondering
In case I missed your call
And yet I get sentimental
Every time I stumble
And in every reflection
I see Berlin in rubble
(c) Frank Howson 2020
I am a soldier of many campaigns. I have fought wars on foreign shores
and at home, against many foes, and against myself. I bear many scars
invisible to the eye. Never having been decorated by my country you
won't find me in the history books. I have fallen by the wayside time
and time again while others soaked up the glory. Politicians have me
in their blindspot and I refuse to bribe them with dinners, girls, boys,
drugs or money. In short, I've been honourably Olsen'd.
It's winter in my car now. Like me it refuses to start. She, the woman in
the passenger seat, could've at least stayed and given me some warmth. But
why change? You know, the clock is wrong and has communist tendencies. The
gear stick on the other hand has been behaving like a dictator. And my
hand is refusing to have sex with me. It says it's bored. Well how does it
think I feel? Why does every living thing have to get bored?
It's dark tonight and so cold I'm afraid to fall asleep lest I not wake
again. My leg has gone to sleep but that's typical, as it's never done
anything I wanted it to. This may explain something to those of you who've
sometimes seen me walking along normally and then suddenly, spasmodically,
gone into the splits. It's a little embarrassing but usually garners quite
a bit of applause. Being an old pro I graciously accept it (I was taught
to never waste applause), and take a bow so that people think it was
intentional, and worthy of their response. This does place some added
daily pressure upon me.
But I must say, all in all, that it would be a shame to not awaken to
another day of dread and boredom. I'd wonder who won the football? Or
did every team lose? Just as an aside, has there ever been a war that
was declared a draw? And who decides? Is there a judging panel of experts
on the hill?
When I was a boy my first love was Hayley Mills.I must've seen that
fucking Pollyanna movie 46 times. Not because I was into the story of
Pollyanna, but I was very much into Hayley. Well, as much as you could
be from the stalls. As the years went by and I grew some hard earned sense
I realised our love was doomed before it could even begin. She was a film
star princess and I was just a boy from St.Kilda who'd never been anywhere
except to the local movie house. It was a painful realisation but there you
Still, if she spoke to me today I'd turn into that awkward shy boy. Funny
how that is, huh?
I have to stop putting my heart into everything I write as I feel there's
not much of it left. But should you ever miss me, I'll be right here.
(c) Frank Howson 2019
Let us kneel and say our prayers
That something hears our call
We think too deep
And we see nothing at all
Rome wasn't built in a day
But I bet it took an hour to fall
Let us not weary in our cause
Until we right the wrong
A place is not a home
Until you feel you belong
A country isn't great
Until it looks after its own
To value true friendship
You must walk many miles alone
Let us not rush to condemn
Until we know what's real
Let us try a little kindness
Until the broken hearts heal
Let us not worship false gods
Like money or power
For we will see their futility
In our final hour
And when we face the truth
May we hold our heads up high
And know we did our best
And that the seeds of those deeds won't die
And that the judgement we're given
Can't be argued or repealed
For the best of us did not rest
Until the broken hearts healed
(c) Frank Howson 2019
Photograph by Frank Howson 2019 Mui Wo.
I begin this story in the deep state of insanity, God knows where it will end. It is your fault as much as mine, that it has happened. For, you see, I was the one who came knocking all those nights you chose not to answer the door. But I have waited, without thanks or encouragement. Good things come to those who wait, my mother once told me. So here I sat, in this darkness, waiting for you to acknowledge me.
You didn’t kill me with your slings and arrows. Or your bullets and blades. No. You were crueler. You ignored me to death. I couldn’t find it in myself to forgive you. For you knew what you did. I bled in pain and, finally exhausted from hanging on too long, I suffocated.
I was taken down from my cross by the few who loved me, wrapped in cloth, and buried behind a rock to make sure I didn’t keep coming back like Judy Garland.
But I did. Many didn’t recognise me as I stepped into the spotlight on the stage of Carnegie Hall. But there I was. Transformed. In living colour. “At the top of his game,” wrote one critic, a friend of the producer. “He’s a laughter machine,” wrote another. “What the Fuck?” was the headline of the New York Times. That last review killed me. Again.
I wasn’t used to the warmth of the spotlight so my face hurt from smiling. My hand hurt from shaking others. My back from being slapped by strangers. And stabbed by a few friends. The crazier I became, the louder they laughed. My jokes were all at my expense, hence my well-publicised bankruptcy. I had no idea where I was going, so that became my plan. It has been emulated by many since, and they’ve all ended up in the toilet. Some of us have been in the toilet so long, people are talking.
Your love only gave me cancer. You kept begging me for closure, but you were really nagging me to death. I see it all now. For in death, we all become safe, don’t we? And then others are free to rewrite their memories so they can live with them. And you become enjoyable dinner party chat (gossip that, now you’re dead, becomes safe enough to become fact), to sophisticated listeners on their own way to the big fade-out.
I have kept on living just to spite you. You stole the joy from my life so that I could be as miserable as you. You paid me back for having friends. For having a future. For having a past. For having a positive attitude. For having bothered to put up with you.
I knew that by falling in love with you I’d be destroyed, so I only have myself to blame on that count.
You have more in common with those you detest than you realise.
The years I spent with you weren’t wasted as I learnt more money needs to be spent on mental health.
I’ve been on the streets and caught its madness. Even the traffic lights are wrong. Yesterday the TV lied to me. The toaster has the shits about something. The bathroom has turned right wing. And the refrigerator no longer engages in late-night conversations about literature.
I loitered on the corners of Dream and Nightmare, where I died waiting for a handout. A leg up. A racing tip. A sporting result. A kind word. A smile. A passing ex-wife. Anything.
“Live The Life You’ve Dreamed” was a framed quote on the wall of the local drug dealer.
I have found Life to be quite addictive. Like an Agatha Christie mystery, you keep wondering what’s next.
I can’t afford to travel as much as I used to, so I spend my days going up and down in the elevators of tall buildings. Besides, it does you no good to get away I’ve discovered. Jesus knew that.
I can’t go home any more because too many strangers are living there. And I’ve been away so long nobody remembers me.
I spend most of my days gathering food for the homeless. I call it lunch.
We know what got into Chet Baker’s arm, but what got into his head? Have you noticed that nobody seems to care about the important stuff once they have their headline?
Where is that black girl who showed me that Life was meaningless? She said the less you cared, the more luck you got. I have some questions for her. But I think I may have lost her by confessing that I loved her.
My father always told me that if Hitler had been able to get out of bed each day before noon, he’d have won the war. I’ve not been quite sure what I was supposed to have deducted from that advice. So, subsequently I’ve forced myself to be an early riser for fear of becoming a lazy fascist.
My dear ol’ dad took things to extremes, and no matter what time of the day or night I got out of bed, my father was always awake. I suspect he feared that if he slept in it could lead to him invading Poland. A terrible burden for a man to carry to his early grave. But so you have it. That’s all I was left with.
But what do I know?
It came as quite a shock to me when I was asked to write a book and share my wisdom with the world. I was also somewhat confused when I delivered the finished manuscript to my publisher and he laughed out loud at all the places I’d cried whilst writing it. When I inquired as to why this was, he laughed so hard he fell off his chair and shrieked, “Don’t worry, it’ll be alright!” And collapsed in hysterics again on his expensive carpet. I had to step over him to get to the door.
Later that day I returned to his offices to pick up my hat (I’d left it behind), and was told that a board meeting was in progress discussing my book and it’d been going for hours and I couldn’t interrupt it. I listened at the door and heard many people squealing with laughter, and gasping for breath.
I cried all the way home.
But no one noticed me. Anyway, I see nothing in the eyes of strangers I pass on the street. Nothing. Just an abyss that goes so deep you can’t scramble back from it. I have found myself on occasion, falling. But then, I always lost me again. So I’ve kept falling over and over and over in search of something familiar. In the end, the falling became my life.
I was shunned by everybody and then told to make my own way. I wasn’t in the club. I hadn’t gone to the right schools. My parents were poor. I’d read about universities but didn’t know where they were. This was in the dim dark days before Google Maps. When the Labour Party believed in who they were. And so did we. Everything I learnt I achieved by doing, and not from some academic book. So, I became the eternal outsider. Always looking in on others easy-come good times. Watching them through the window as they munched on expensive Government funded finger-food and sipping vintage French Champagne. Some of the organisers saw me standing outside in the rain, looking in, and felt sorry for me. They said I could come in if I promised to dry off and only have a cup of tea with the kitchen staff. But such treatment only made me stronger. And hungrier. So I developed the necessary resistance to haunt them. Eventually they thought they should give me an award as my alienation was becoming obvious. So, they gave me an award nobody had ever heard of but it had my name on it. It lasted a few years before it fell apart. Beating me by a few months. But while I was somewhat together, it got me a few easy lays and a social disease. And, for a time, it felt good to be noticed. It reminded me that I was alive.
It’s best summed up in the words of Ballsack who once said, “There is something out there that stems from something that makes no sense whatsoever to anything other than the something you may attach meaning to.” I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
I do sometimes remember to look around at the exquisite beauty of nature and am filled with humbling wonderment as well as contrasting anger at man’s obsession with destroying anything he hasn’t had a hand in. Such is our envy. Such is our insecurity. Such is our shortsightedness. Such is our spiteful will to bring about our own destruction. Although, in those last despairing moments of our self-inflicted demise we will cry and whimper like the true cowards we are. And shake our fists at our mothers for bringing creation to us and thus sentencing us to death.
Exist-tense, if we stick with it, rewards us with a present. A gift, if you will. But that can only be fully appreciated if we turn our backs on the past because what happened then was just a series of presents that we initially devalued but either gained from or lost our minds over, and here we are. At the crossroads, going forward or being pulled back into the abyss of “What if?” or “Why?”
People with rooms to spare won’t take in a friend who is homeless. Why not? Because they’re afraid you won’t leave. They don’t mind killing you as long as you don’t die on their premises. And once you do depart this life, there are so many stories they can twist to elevate themselves.
I recently saw workers erecting a monument to someone. It wasn’t finished yet so I couldn’t define who the subject was. But the shoes looked a lot like mine. I wondered whether this monument was a tribute to me and my life. A life in which everything I had ever loved I’d reduced to ruins.
The boy called me old man but I pitied him and his youthful arrogance, for I knew the pain that waited ahead for him. Life humbles us all. Even the ones who think they are Superman in those summer days of our lives. There will be plenty of time for him to look back at how much he squandered his power on those who let him down. Like an incessant drum beat that slowly fades and diminishes altogether till there is only the relief of silence that comes to those old enough to appreciate it. Some will rage against the unfairness of the inevitable but will fall where they stand as young men step over their bodies in their excitement to enter the ring.
When we are young we dream of running away with the circus. When we are old the circus runs away from us. But by then we can see through the grandeur to the sweat, fear and blood of the performance. And the toll it takes from us all.
It is unjust that we amass some experience and wisdom that gets us nowhere but a park bench in the sun. For no one is interested in listening to what we know because they’re too busy rushing around making all the same mistakes we did. And good advice is only met with resentment from the young, like telling someone how a book ends and spoiling it for them.
Some young men have so many women they don’t know what to do with them. Eventually the women realise this and leave for greener pastures and something more substantial than big talk. Or a big car. For they were never really interested in the car.
Time is a serial killer that picks its targets indescriminantly but will eventually come knocking for us all in the dead of night.
Even for those who were once arrogant young things who thought they knew it all
I’ve been holding out
Thinking you’d let go
But your shadow tails me
To faraway parts of my heart
I’ve stopped waiting for our Messiah’s return
And watch the football
And all the moves you make
In your quest to break me with jealousy
Trouble is I don’t get jealous
But it’s cool
I ain’t complainin’
The crops look good
And it’s rainin’
Nothing to fear
Unless it floods
I watched another cowboy movie
But it came out all wrong
The good guys got away with murder
Then the credits rolled and they played a song
And I got to wondering
Just who the savages were
History is rewritten by liars
Then exaggerated by Hollywood hacks
And given awards
For burying the facts
Me? I don’t know nothin’
Except you love me