Like A Shadow was a term I used to describe the weight and sadness that followed me around in 2015. I was reaching the end of my 20s and felt like a failure. All the bands I had been in had failed. The festival I helped organise had run out of momentum. My 7 year relationship had ended. I had quit my job and was sat at my parents home on Christmas eve in 2014 with what I felt at the time was nothing. A friend would in a few weeks remark, “what’s happened to you James? You used to be so whole and now you are just unround.” She is Austrian and was using a German word that I no longer remember.
I quit everything and went travelling to escape my own apparent misery. The first three months of that time were mostly spent in bars, drinking with people I didn’t really know. The nights involved a lot of smoking and drugs. I was on what we called at the time a rampage. Disguising my sadness and loneliness with a search for ‘freedom’ and ‘escape’ in late nights and oblivion. A pretty standard approach.
This song came during that period, when I was listening to the sorrow and loneliness of the old blues songs which helped me through my own period of feeling lost and hopeless. The song is about hiding from uncomfortable truths by running away from them, telling lies to yourself and the people close to you and having little responsibility for how your actions can hurt others. The more I felt like a failure, the more resentment and jealousy I felt for others’ success. My shadow came in the form of an internal Gremlin who I shall name Gary. Gary was a close friend and ally in these shadow times. He encouraged me to avoid talking, avoid being honest, to hide and to chase all the bad choices I could. Gary told me to lie to people’s faces to save my own self image. At the time it was exciting to finally live ‘bravely’ with no self evaluation but it only exacerbated the loneliness and disconnection I felt. I had tonnes of ‘mates’ but told no-one about the mental health crisis I was facing. The lyric ‘all this madness, that we hunger, we ain’t getting any younger’ kind of sums up my priorities at that time.
Guilt was an emotion I was drowned in. Guilt for upsetting people. Guilt for not achieving random obscure musical dreams. Guilt for running away. Guilt for the mean things I had said when I was angry. Sticky, icky guilt. Like oil or cigarette tar in your lungs.
It was only a few months later that I stopped drinking and started to face my shadow and take Gary under my arm. No longer avoiding Gary, I could see that really I hadn’t failed, I was now free to make the life I wanted. I realised that I hadn’t let anyone down except myself. I realise that a lot of my fears and insecurities were in my head and mindfulness and self acceptance could free me from this curse. I realised that I was the maker of my destiny, not anyone else, self responsibility and compassion could heal my wounds. I remember thinking one day, if my rigid unobtainable plan for my young life hasn’t worked out then I am free from expectation. I can be anything I want. I can be anything I want.
Making plans and having dreams are good but not when they cause you to hate yourself and beat yourself up for not fulfilling them. So this is a song about loving your shadow, gremlin or dragon. We all have one somewhere in the theatre in our minds. We have all the characters in our theatre in our brain. We have gremlins, angels, the brave and the weak. We are all these things. We are not just one of these things. All that matters is that we welcome all the characters into our life and choose which ones we want to be on the stage. We can choose. If you are fighting a battle in your brain every day it is exhausting. Talk to a friend about it. Putting our fears into words can help transform them into something positive. James x
I’ll just tender, to these embers
As they smoulder, we grow older..
All this madness. That we hunger.
We ain’t getting, any younger…
Guiltiness, you just can’t hide
Guiltiness, like a shadow at my side…
Why do we want, to meet magic
Why does it hurt, end all tragic…