Twenty five years ago, I wrote a song called So Far From My Home, while visiting my father in the place where I grew up. I’d like to tell how I came to write this song when I was home.
The funny thing is, I didn’t really understand the words at the time. Now it makes sense, after two and a half decades during which I moved country, married, had a family, divorced. Then, it was a sort of dreamlike feeling.
In 1996 I was 32. I’d left my birthplace in West Wales fifteen years before, and made my way in the world. But I had some problems, and I was struggling. I’d made a career as an electronics engineer, which was OK, but I just couldn’t settle. Worse, any time I started a relationship, it was great for about three years, and then it fell apart. I didn’t know why. It was very painful, and I really doubted myself.
Dad was great, despite having had a tough time. When I left, aged seventeen, things were tough. His second marriage had been very unhappy. His first ended abruptly when I was a baby, when my natural mother left him and us, which resulted in our living with foster parents for five years. We moved back with him when he remarried – the courts had dictated that.
Mercifully, things improved when his third marriage bought him stability and happiness. He deserved it – despite heartbreak and dissapointment, he was a gentle, if troubled, man (even when I was a very angry twenty five year old). I and my sister never doubted his love. He was and still is the only point of reference through my unstable childhood.
So, at age thirty two, I was visiting him and his wife at their home in Wales. I was very restless and trying to find my way. I’d been travelling in France, playing street music, and trying to figure myself out. All I found was a ton of grief and heartache – some days I just couldn’t stop crying, and I didn’t know why. I was doing all kinds of things, looking for a way – tai chi, meditation, music. But somewhere, things never stopped hurting.
One hot summer night, I drove to Newgale Beach to walk and run barefoot on the sand. I felt amazing, free. I looked up (with so little light pollution, night skies are incredibly clear there), and thought about satellites beaming their messages into TV here on earth, and of the whole damn planet, every rock and grain of sand, formed of little vibrating atoms, me a part of it. (Yes, pretty trippy, and no, I hadn’t been smoking anything.)
When I got back I picked up the guitar, and played the riff that starts So Far From My Home, and wrote the words that been in my head:
In the age of the atomic clock I hear the slave atom whisper and rock Her heart beats deep in the rock In tenderness Far above me the satellite Hits the world through the word box of light Far away from the sweet morning light In this wilderness But I wish that I did not feel So Far From My Home ...
I don’t know how much I wrote that night, but much of the song was there by morning, when I finally slept.
Update to this post : today, looking for something else in an old diary, I found my original first draft of the lyrics! It turns out that only a few lines of the song were there – the first line, the reference to the satellite. I’m completely blown away at finding this, especially on a diary page which gives the exact date when I started the song!
I’ve sung that song so many times that the words are now ingrained, and it’s easy for me to forget their meaning. When I made the lyric video a few days back, I realised just how prophetic they were.
To explain, I have to go into some personal matters. First up, I don’t hurt now like I did then (thankfully). Of course, I have good days and bad days, but not that dark thing, pulling me and those close to me downwards all the time.
I’ve been incredibly lucky. I know now that I had PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There’s much said about trauma these days. It’s a serious subject. For those that suffer it (many more than we generally realise, I think) it’s a heavy thing. In my case, it was caused by the loss of my mother as a baby, and worsened by the instability that followed.
PTSD is a destructive agony that can drive people to addiction or even suicide to escape the emotional pain it brings. It creates destructive patterns of broken relationships and personal failures which cause much loss of self esteem. I’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to escape its worst effects (especially as it began when I was less than a year old).
First, I was so lucky to find a positive addiction in music – an addiction that built my confidence, rather than destroying it. I’m forever grateful for what music has given me.
Second, I was lucky to have my Dad. Many men would have given up, turned to alcohol or become abusive, under that heavy load. Dad was strong, hard working, caring and gentle, and had the heart of a lion. He was also an artist and a kind of mystic : a self-educated man, endlessly curious, mindful, a seeker of wisdom.
Third, I’m lucky that, over ten years ago, recently divorced, I could take time out to heal. It was a hard time. My daughters (another way in which I’m very lucky) saw me in a very dark period, which was not easy for them. But I, thankfully we, got through.
Eventually, I had a quite transformative experience in which the root of my PTSD became clear to me. It’s not to be described here, but it had an almost physical effect on me. It was deeply shocking (and quite confronting), but since then, I don’t suffer like I did. It’s as if I’ve been unshackled and set free to rebuild my life.
I'm gonna reach down deep in the rock Find my way though the rupture, the shock Her heart beats deep in the rock In tenderness I'm gonna cry out like a prisoner in the dock I'm gonna break that chain and the lock Gonna end that deep mental block In readiness But I wish that I did not feel So Far From My Home ...
So, three years ago I organised a studio session and we recorded So Far From My Home (and two other songs). The next bit took much longer than I expected (thanks covid), but finally, here it is.
I'm gonna hold my head to the heights I'm gonna be like a beacon of light I'm gonna make my talent shine bright In this wilderness But I wish that I did not feel So Far From My Home ...
To be honest – I wonder if I’ll ever feel truly at home anywhere, except with a musical instrument in my hand, playing or singing. Recently, I read a quote about Prince which resonated : something like “playing music was just his way of managing to exist in this world”. Well, I’m not trying to put myself on his level, but that kind of describes me also.
I still doubt sometimes. But things happen, as they’ve always happened. Like the 19 year old girl, who I’ve never met, who told me on Instagram, how she has fallen in love with this song, how much it means to her. (Thank you, I think you knwo who you are if you read this!)
You see, I know that music heals. I am my own evidence of it, and sometimes I see the same in others. I’m so grateful, to have come through that darkness and pain, and to be able to use music to lighten and enlighten my life.
And sometimes, it seems that light reaches others.