Author: olivermanning (page 1 of 2)

Day 18: It’s like doing bicep curls for the ego…

With regards to chasing the Yankee dollar, I need to shift my modus operandi. Busking, in its traditional outside-Mothercare sense, will soon cease to suffice. It’s going to get cold, and I’m going to get bitter inside, and I need time to record the album.

But that’s okay — I just have to get creative. Which is apparently, given my line of work, exactly what I am.

In truth, I’ve forgotten all about today’s five songs. I don’t care how good or bad they were. That happens a little bit more every day. It’s like doing bicep curls for the ego.

I have just seven more sessions left in this first-draft campaign. As I’ve go on, the sessions are becoming ever more brief. The time between starting to write the song and latching onto that point where the song presents itself to me has shortened.

That has been the most rewarding part of the whole experience. Let’s presume for a second that these songs exist in some kind of metaphysical sense, in some eternity somewhere in the clouds, and that they’re just waiting for a human like me to write them.

Writing the first line, your glasses are blurry. They’re caked in shit and grime and disease. You can’t see a damn thing. Then you write the second line, if only to keep the first company, and the picture is ever so slightly clearer. I’m talking 98% shit instead of 99%.

And you keep writing, and the song begins to write itself.

CAVEAT: I do not for a second mean that I’m sitting there not doing anything and not struggling and not second guessing, whilst a song waltz by onto my page. I just mean that I’m no longer sitting there throwing random, disjointed lines at the page with my Uniball — something is nudging me towards certain things and away from certain others.

To whoever or whatever is doing that, I have eternal gratitude.

And I think you really just have to stay with this process for a long enough time until you can say, yep, that is the song that was trying to be written, and I did my best to write it.

And then you’re done, right? Nope. Then you have to record it. Oh, God…

Day 16 + 17: He asked me why I didn’t just call it a day…

I realised just how much of a working stiff I’ve become during a conversation earlier today.

I was complaining to Andrew at Bank Street about what a fool I was to have publicly committed myself to writing 100 songs. In truth, it has become a burden, a weight around my neck, something I just want to be over.

I don’t want to write another fucking song in my life. But I’m going to.

He asked me why I didn’t just call it a day right there. I was sitting at the desk in the small room with the books. I was about to start work on Song #56. He had a point — I’ve written a lot of songs by now. If the point of this exercise was to amass material, I’ve done exactly what I was supposed to.

I said that I couldn’t possibly stop now. My public are depending on me. Pah.

The truth is that of course I could stop now — no-one’s going to come arrest me.

What impressed me, however, and surprised me like a ton of bricks, was that I didn’t even consider quitting. In the past I definitely would have. There was another human being telling me that it was okay to stop at the halfway point. My mind would have leapt on that — using Andrew as the perfect rationalisation, an utterly convincing one.

And then when I regretted never pushing through to 100, my damned mind would have probably made it all Andrew’s fault. Which it of course would not have been.

Anyway, enough about how proud I am of myself — for one thing, you don’t want to read that. Also, if the Gods do exist, they consider pride to be the ultimate sin. I have 40 more songs to write — I’d need the Gods on my side, not working against me.

That’s right — 60 songs down. By the end of next week I’ll have my 100. I cannot wait. I don’t yet know how I’ll celebrate.

I didn’t write a post yesterday — I was far too busy. Well, that’s half true. I was busy, yes, with busking and Bank Street and going to the hospital and going for a couple of beers, but I can think of a couple of moments I could have squeezed my post into. Even if it had been at a drunk midnight.

I apologise to you, oh holy reader. It won’t happen again. Rest assured I have slapped my wrists on your behalf. There will be none of this laziness in the future. That I promise.

Day 15: We need Manning, but he’s not running the show…

I kept my word, for about the first time ever, and I came in on the weekend.

Yesterday was physio and cake and doner meat and chips and The Killing…

And now I’m on 50 songs. I suppose I could stop now and still have more than enough to sift through and construct into some kind of album that humans might enjoy listening to. But I won’t. Because I said I’d do 100.

Granted, there is a time to swallow your pride, and to admit that you bit off more than you could chew. But there’s also a time to keep pride swirling around your gums, and carry on with what you started.

I’m going to write 50 more.

I posted a photo of a blank page to Instagram today, and made some kind of quip about how, to a writer, the blank page is more frightening than a pending pregnancy test.

I was trying to lighten my mood — I had just sat down, guitar on my lap, pen in my hand, and thought “oh fuck, what now?”

I was afraid, but I didn’t need to be. Writing these first 50 songs has demonstrated to me that you really just need to do one thing — attempt to introduce your pen and your page to one another. That’s all.

And what I’ve noticed is that so long as you do that, something bigger than you will invariably kick and start doing the work.

I’ve never been so convinced that the Oliver Manning part of this equation is nothing more than a dumb vessel for something bigger and better to do something in the earthly realm.

And that’s not to put Manning down — we need Manning. But he’s not running the show. Nor will we ever let him.

If you don’t yet subscribe to my email list, then let me know — I send out a bigger weekly email on Sunday evenings that doesn’t get posted anywhere else.

Day 14: Perhaps I just got lucky today…

I gave up after my guitar case blew away for third time.

I was playing outside the Yorkshire Bank on the corner of Fargate and Surrey Street. I have never enjoyed playing there.

I don’t feel good when I play at that end of Fargate. There are just as many people, but I feel invisible and inaudible. I feel no vibe with any of them.

When I’m further down Fargate, or when I’m outside Mothercare, or when I’m on Surrey Street, I feel a real connection with the people and the buildings — there’s an atmosphere. Not there. And I have no idea why.

The wind was shaking my microphone stand, my guitar case flew into me, and you couldn’t hear my vocals because the microphone picked up just as much wind as voice. I played “Your Song”, “Dirty Life and Times”, “Feelin’ Groovy”, and I think that was about it.

I didn’t feel bad — I had a good time playing at the coffee morning at Bank Street Arts this morning, and then I went and wrote my five songs for the day. The total is 45 now.

For the first time since I started writing this album, I got into it. I was actually pretty fond of the five tunes I wrote today.

Because I’ve honestly not given it a thought — I wanted to focus so much on quantity and so little on quality in order that I would be pleasantly surprised if (not when) I ending up liking some of what I came up with.

Perhaps I’ve hit a fork in the road. Perhaps I’ve unlocked something. Or perhaps I just got lucky today.

I’m taking the day off tomorrow because I have a physio appointment. You’re supposed to grow out of walking on your toes around age 3 — I never did and I’m paying for it now. Let’s see what happens.

But I’ll be back on Saturday to finish off this third week.

Day 13: One foot in front of the other + time…

It’s all about shutting up that evil voice.

The evil voice, the voice of Resistance, that arises within everyone, as an equal and opposite reaction to the desire to do something good.

You can shut him up with whiskey, but your breath will smell and your nose will get big and red and you won’t be able to get it up any more.

So you have to find another way.

I didn’t particularly care for what I came up with today.

I wrote songs 36, 37, 38, 39, and of course, 40.

One of them was about Stephen King, and unless I really rack my brains, which I won’t, I can’t for the life of me remember what any of the others were about.

And I only finished about ten minutes ago. That’s the artist’s memory for you.

Do you remember that thing about how an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters would eventually write a line of Shakespeare? I heard it on the old Ricky Gervais XFM show. I like to listen to them when I cook.

The point is that no matter how unlikely something is to happen, when you factor in infinity, it becomes possible. Infinity sorts it out.

Well, I don’t have infinity. And I don’t even have that long. But I do have whatever time remains in my life. And time is by far the most underrated, undervalued and misused element in the universe.

(read Seneca’s On The Shortness Of Life)

If you just have a little patience, and you’re willing to put one foot in front of the other, then time is the only thing you need to get where you’re going.

You can try to put all kinds of things on your side in the name of being strategic. Stay healthy, have a good network of co-conspirators, pray, do all that law of attraction kind of stuff…

But none of them can ever come close to “one foot in front of the other” + time.

I’ve spent years trying to cheat fate in order to get where I wanted to go, only to be disappointed when things never went my way. What I didn’t realise was that you have to work with fate.

And when it comes to making art, there is no better way to get into the good graces of the Gods than “one foot in front of the other” + time.

Day 12: I thought it was a foggy day… turns out I just needed to clean my glasses…

I spoke to a man today. He told me that his girlfriend had died six months ago. He’s not sleeping well. He came into town just to tire himself out and he happened upon Oliver Manning, standing outside Mothercare playing “Keep Me In Your Heart”.

He stayed for about eight songs, asking me after each one what I’d been playing, and then apologising for bothering me. But he was no bother.

I remember “Romeo and Juliet”, “Girls Are Like a Black Cat”, “Suzanne”, “Heart of Gold”, “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her”… all the classics.

I thought it was a foggy day, but it turns out I just needed to clean my glasses. I seemed to chat to people as much as play songs today, but that’s no problem.

I’m on 35 songs now. And what surprises me — though I suppose it shouldn’t — is that they just keep coming. There’s always something there, waiting to come out.

We really aren’t blank canvases. There is always something there. And I wonder if your creativity muscle is something you can infinitely strengthen?

I’m starting to think that this campaign of mine, to write 100 songs over a 4 week period, is probably some kind of genius psychotherapy method.

I’ll probably come out the other side a happy and balanced person.

I could bottle it and sell it for millions. The irony is, of course, that if I had millions sitting in the bank, and I didn’t need to work a day longer in my life, I’d probably spend my time writing songs.

But I’d be doing it in more expensive shoes.

Day 11: Good for you, Jeremy…

Jeremy Corbyn got re-elected. RE-elected. That’s how unelectable the first politician deserving of his job title in my lifetime really is. Good for you, Jeremy.

And I was back in Bank Street Arts this afternoon, churning out another five songs. We’re on 30 now.

I brought in my blue acoustic guitar today. It was a gift from my parents for my 12th birthday. All those years ago.

I definitely write different songs on the blue acoustic than if I’m playing my orange electric, Mr Burns. That’s the kind of guitarist I am. I respond differently when it sounds different.

And I love the Burns. But it drives me crazy. It’s in and out of tune constantly. It was sold to me in a less than perfect state by an unscrupulous Welshman who has a shop on Ecclesall Road, and worked upon by no fewer than three reputable luthiers, each of whom told me they had got it as good as they could, but that it’ll never be perfect.

When it’s in tune, it sounds gorgeous. It sounds perfect. And my friend’s step-dad’s friend John did an incredible set-up job on it for me, so at least it plays like a dream. It’s the nicest guitar to play that I can remember playing in my life. And all he wanted for it was a bottle of Jack Daniel’s honey.

It just won’t stay in tune.

I chatted to Andrew and Tom from Bank Street Arts today, before all those songs came out of me. We spoke of the future, near and far.

I’ll be playing a set at the coffee morning at Bank Street Arts this Thursday, from 11 til 12. Pop in if you’re in town. Sneak out for an early lunch break. I won’t be playing new material, but I’ll be playing the old material in a new place, if that counts.

We were also talking about me putting out a Christmas single. A bit like when The Beatles were recording Sgt Pepper, they put out Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane as a double A side to keep their fans satiated.

Perhaps I’ll do something like that. It might even be Christmas themed. But that’s a promise I don’t want to make.

Day 10: Twenty five songs later…

It was the kind of good busk that makes you forget the bad ones.

Surrey Street is particularly beautiful in the autumn sun, and between the hours of around 10:30 and 12, it’s relatively quiet, and your voice and your guitar bounce around from wall to wall and back to you.

Buskers tend to favour pitches with decent footfall, but it’s not everything. Atmosphere is everything. Better to have one person walking down the street with a tear in their eye really digging your rendition of “So Long, Marianne” than twenty people who don’t give a shit and who never will.

You don’t have to play loudly to hear yourself, and so you can back off and get a little more subtle. Songs like “One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong”, “Walking Through Your Town In The Snow”, even your own “Girls Are Like a Black Cat” work perfectly in this situation.

I have certain administrative things to take care of — I get asked for business cards every day, or if I do gigs, or if I have CDs available… if I don’t get a handle on these things I feel I’m throwing money away that would be quite useful to have. But that’s okay. Really, it’s about days like today.

When I finished busking, I wrote another five songs at Bank Street. That’s 25 now. I’m resisting the urge to “check my work” for reasons I’ve written about before. It’s really hard.

All I know that is I have a thick pile of A4 sheets with lyrics and chords on, and corresponding voice memos saved in my iPhone. So I’ve done my work.

And now I can take a couple of days off to drink wine and go to the theatre and watch Dances With Wolves.

Day 9: This baby had his nappy changed whilst I wrote a song…

I’m fitting a lot into my days at the moment.

I got up at 7 and walked down to the gym. Did all that Schwarzenegger shit.

I came home, made scrambled eggs on a toasted hot dog roll. I had a shower.

I busked outside Mothercare for three hours or so, then wandered down to Bank Street and wrote five songs.

Came home again and did an email interview with The Busking Project.

This must be how most people live. I can’t say I care for it.

I’m on 20 songs now. God knows if any of them are any good, but as I keep banging on and on and on and on about… who cares? Literally nobody.

On the way home I listened to Leonard Cohen’s new song. You Want It Darker. It frightened me.

Today I wrote a song. Then I went to the toilet. When I came back a lady was changing her baby’s nappy on the sofa in the little room I’ve made my office.

I asked how old he was. 2 months. I wonder if he’ll have done anything with his life by the time he’s 25.

She changed him and he seemed more cheerful for it.

I’m looking forward to taking the weekend off. That’s a good feeling. I like to earn my weekends. Else I don’t enjoy them.

I’m too tired to write any more today. I’d like some wine.

Day 8: Make that page scream and hurt…

I’m on 15 songs now.

I’m fully into “first draft” mode. Don’t look back. Get it all on the page. Make that page scream and hurt. Write 5 songs from scratch every day. As quickly as possible.

As Steven Pressfield says in “Do the Work”:

“One rule for first full working drafts: get them done ASAP.”

“Don’t worry about quality. Act, don’t reflect. Momentum is everything.”

“Get to THE END as if the devil himself were breathing down your neck and poking you in the butt with his pitchfork.”

“First draft” mode is a lot of fun. I leave Bank Street Arts having made something exist that didn’t exist before. And not just that — I can forget about today’s work. I don’t have to pick apart today’s work for another few weeks. Joy.

But it’s also terrifying. What if I get to the end of my first draft — I want to have written about 100 songs by then — and they’re all shit? Then what will I do?

Temptation rears its ugly head. I sit on the bus home, going past El Paso, going past Noodle Inn, going past that Polish restaurant whose name eludes me. I listen to Linda Ronstadt and wonder if I’ll ever be as good as her. Like it matters. And I wonder if I’ll be able to write a single word tomorrow.

So I try to keep this in mind: for today at least, and indeed at most, I did my job. Tomorrow can go fuck itself.

I talk a lot about Steven Pressfield. You might not know who he is. He wrote “The War of Art” which has changed my life every time I’ve read it.

The 3 act structure of that book is:

Act 1: There is a force called Resistance that pushes us away from doing what would be beneficial to ourselves and the world and towards doing anything but. Think of Resistance as “The Devil.”

Act 2: We can overcome Resistance, and it’s as simple and as difficult as “turning pro” — showing up every day and getting on with our work, whether it’s writing or dancing or caring for our children.

Act 3: When we adopt the attitude of the professional we set into motion a mystical and mysterious process where things just seem to fall into place, ideas are coming from nowhere, and our work is getting better and better.

Then he wrote “Do The Work.” It’s not a sequel — it’s more about guiding you through a project. Encouraging you, and preparing you mentally for the moment you inevitably enter the belly of the beast.

And the reality is that the Devil is breathing down your neck and poking you in the butt with his pitchfork.

The Devil is Resistance.

And in order to do anything worthwhile we have to keep him at bay. And for me, right now, that is writing shitloads of songs. I mean… a really stupid amount. Too many.

Who needs 100 songs? Nobody. But I know that if I keep myself busy doing that, then the Devil might keep his filthy hands off me.

I’m terrified of Resistance. I’ve spent my whole short life succumbing to it, with the odd time I accidentally beat it. With each year I get a little bit more aware, a little bit more able to keep the Devil at bay.

Except that he gets smarter each year too. Oh, well. It’s all just a ride anyway.

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