In my last post on Monday, I said I was going to go off-line for the best part of two days, staying away from all kinds of blue-light emitting devices. So, after closing down the computer at 11 on Tuesday night – rattling out no doubt vital emails and Facebook messages left right and centre, as if I was disappearing to the Antartic for three months – I was as good as my word, avoiding computers, laptops, TV, and anything but the most cursory glance at mobile phone alerts, until Thursday night, when I had an appointment with Nick Cave.
Here’s how it goes:
Wednesday morning: I wake early, and immediately start thinking about Facebook posts and Tweets. Then I get up, plug my synth keyboard out of its interface with the computer, plug in headphones, and write a song on it.
Now, that’s not so totally unusual. I’ve always found that the most creative point of my day – whether that’s for music, writing or even fee-earning work – is first thing in the morning. I used to tell my team at the Council that I had all my best thoughts before 11 a.m., so to catch me early. I think they thought I was kidding.
Early afternoon can also be a good time for me creatively, though not so much for work. That’s when I crave a Mediterranean-stylee siesta, and the left brain/right brain boundary gets squishy with sleepiness. On Wednesday after lunch, three or four tunes chase through my head like high clouds on a breezy day: I make no attempt to catch them. Instead, I pick up a guitar and work on a funny little rag-timey number that I started a few days before. It’s basically a 12-bar, so it’s in the transitions that I find I can make it a bit out of the ordinary. This afternoon, I nail it. Never going to be a central part of my ouevre, but it feels like it’s a step forward, guitar-playing wise.
The rest of the day is spent in various enjoyable ways. By evening, 22 hours into the experiment, I’m re-reading Charles J Smith’s entertaining history of South Edinburgh. I find myself finding points of interest that I can research further on Google. Not too hard to resist the pull of the computer, however.
Thursday morning: after breakfast, I have some free time. I write a new song, based on a C – Csus4 riff that I had already; then I attempt the words for a chord progression I’ve had for ages and have high hopes of. I’ve also had, half- finished, a set of jokey country lyrics for it I wasn’t happy with. I finish them, but I’m still not happy with them. I wonder briefly if it’s something to do with being screen free that I write in this style; last time I went off-grid for a couple of days, a daft song about dancing to Bob Dylan came out in the same genre.
That said, I’m excited about the other two songs I’ve produced in two days. They’re not in any sense jokey country. Is that creative burst down to not exposing my brain to blue light, or simply having more time unfettered by the need to post, tweet, like, and message across the various platforms?
Short answer: I don’t know, because neurology’s not exactly my strongest suit. Plus I probably needed to let the experiment run a bit longer before leaping to any conclusions. What I do know is I want to change my behaviour, a bit.
Since lockdown, I’ve noticed I’ve been spending more and more time at the computer. That’s not that surprising, really, and to an extent, it’s been necessary, as face to face contact has been replaced by the digital version. However, that excuse is starting to disappear. I’ve been quite good at keeping social media off my phone, but now, with the computer just upstairs, it’s been too easy to nip up and check who’s said what, how many hits there’s been on this blog, how many likes I got for the latest repartee, or a song I release. I don’t suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) much, but I definitely do enjoy those little dopamine hits of seeing positive responses to my interactions too much. Comes from being a people pleaser, I guess.
Speaking of FOMO leads me to the end of the experiment on Thursday night. I thought a suitable treat to end it would be for us to watch Nick Cave’s concert at the Alexandra Palace. Apart from being a big fan of the God of Goth himself, I liked the concept: tune in at 8 p.m. GMT (or other times in the rest of the world – it wasn’t live, as such) and never again. No recordings, no playbacks. Or so they say.
As I struggled with the fiddly links and codes that the organisers had used to let you access the gig, I was starting to experience a bit of FOMO by 8.15; however, eventually we tuned in and were able to see it from the start.
Reader, you either like Cave or you don’t, but if you do and you missed it, you really missed something: Nick, in the middle of Alexandra Palace, just him, a piano, and his magnificently complex songs. He did ‘Brompton Oratory,’ and ‘Palaces of Montezuma.’ Oh, and ‘Nobody’s Baby Now,’ and ‘(Are You) the One that I’ve been Waiting for?’ And .. and … ‘the Mercy Seat,’ ‘the Ship Song,’ ‘Jubilee Street,’ even ‘Higgs Boson Blues.’ 23 songs in all.
Some stuff you’d never think could be done on piano, and yet there it was, and there he was, seemingly alone in this vast space, sunlight flooding through the windows to light a thick fog of dust motes, his words (I almost want to write His Words) tumbling out one after another in glorious juxtaposition.
He did a bum note at the end of one song and chuckled, but that was it so far as interaction was concerned. Then at the end he just stood up and walked out into the dust mote soup like some sort of Gothic Ubermensch. Which of course he is.
It was a fantastic experience, eating and drinking in front of the screen as, outside, the Scottish summer stuck around, gently falling from the sky as the concert came to an end. I hope they’re true to their word and never show it again. Because that’s the best of life experiences, isn’t it – one night only? No mobile phone footage to replay to diminishing returns?
As for me and screen time, well, two songs I’m happy with in less than two days ain’t a bad batting average. I’m not about to close my windows on the world – they’re too damn useful, necessary even.
But I may draw the curtains a bit more often.