"I hate being bipolar... its awesome!"
Well, like most people when Im working, my mind wanders... when Im doing things that don't require much concentration to other odd ideas and thoughts, although when I say my mind wanders, it doesn't just wander, sometimes it just fucks off completely!
So this week I want to talk about where my mind has fucked off to in recent months....
Im what they used to call a manic depressive, now its called Bi-Polar, it will probably be called something else shortly, but don't feel sorry for me, thats not what this is about! I find manic depressive a far better term than bi-polar, it illustrates what it is in an infinitely better way. You have depressive episodes where no matter what you do, what people say to you, how you were born, privileged or poor, its indiscriminate and cruel. A black hole from which there is no escape, it sucks you into its blackness without warning or triggers and it takes over completely. Then there are the manic episodes, like having a million thoughts at once and not being able to catch any of them, it sounds horrendous and usually is, but its often (well for me anyway) euphoric, I can be productive beyond measure, the life and soul of the party, but fortunately or not its temporary, completely false and utterly exhausting.
when my mind wanders, it doesn't just wander, sometimes it just fucks off completely
But one thing this does do is make you question who you are, who you REALLY are, and its constant... ! always with completely conflicting answers and this leads me to where I'm actually going with this. The question of who am I?
Im a punk... and any real punk should always question who they are, should strive to walk their own path, should say 'fuck you' to bland conformity and the manufactured plasticity of todays throwaway society where mainstream news is censored, YouTube creators get shadow banned and demonetized for creating content that goes against whatever Google's board of directors want us to hear and Mark Zuckerburg is deciding with his cronies who gets elected and where. (If you haven't watched the Netflix Documentary 'The Great Hack' I urge you to do so, its probably one of the most important documentaries of the last 10 years and has flown completely under the radar of the mainstream. I cant imagine why!) Entertainment is dumbed down to the level of the 'X-Factor', 'Love Island', 'This countries got no talent ' or 'Im a celebrity wanker, get me out of here' and don't even get me started on music!
Any of you who are reading this will hopefully have seen my Instagram feed and will have seen my logo at the end of my short videos. If not here it is...
Blind John's Guitars... Blues Heritage, Punk History...
Well the 'Blues Heritage' is easy... anyone with an ounce of historical knowledge of guitars will know that the Blues was born in America out of African slaves. Ill able to afford instruments so they made their own. An old cigar box, a broom handle and a piece of wire became a guitar or a Hobo fiddle, even saw blade attached to a barn all became percussion instruments... and the blues was born (as a very short and abridged version) therefore Blues Heritage is the easy part...
... but punk history...?
You might wonder where that comes from and how it links to the fact that Im a manic depressive and the relatively regular internal dialogue of who I am.... bottom line... as mentioned earlier... Im a Punk, I always have been and always will be. Even before I was old enough to understand what a punk was I was still a punk.
I grew up in North Yorkshire in the 70's. Not a particularly great decade to grow up in, for anyone... Amongst the miners strikes and families at war, Margaret Thatcher, the first woman prime minister in the UK , mountains of garbage due to bin men strikes, Concorde, Petrol shortages, bell bottom flares and Bowie mania, the IRA being a genuinely major terrorist threat, high unemployment, racism being the police (and countries) national sport, fuck off big collars, genuine civil unrest, 3 television channels that stopped at 11pm, platform shoes, the Queens silver jubilee and most importantly PUNK!
I was 7 years old when 'Never mind the bollocks heres the Sex Pistols' came out. I didn't really understand its significance the time, I wouldn't would I... I was 7! but I still thought it was awesome!
But in 1979 we moved from North Yorkshire to London. I was a shy kid with an accent in a new world that I didn't fit into and didn't understand, kids were cruel (as kids are) and I hated it. But I found two things, London Calling by The Clash came out and I discovered The Ramones self titled album.
Ive never been a conformist, in hindsight, when I was a kid I thought if I conformed to what people wanted they would like me... never happened and shit got worse. It wasn't until I went to art school at 16 I realised not only could I be who I was and that wasn't a bad thing...I wasn't going to conform to anything or anyone... I was determined to walk my own path regardless and I did. I went to art school, became a professional mountaineer, I worked as a mountain guide, a graphic designer, a barman, mountain rescue, and then a rope access worker. Ive worked in every hellhole, sandpit, snow hole and shitty offshore location you can think of...
Ultimately I ended up a high powered managerial job with a ridiculous salary working abroad 80% of the time before all of it came crashing down around me. Turns out unmanaged depression and undiagnosed PTSD is difficult to live with long term (...who knew!) and suddenly I was angry again.... angrier than I think Ive ever been.
(Musically) in those in-between years I got more and more into music... I got into rock, I got into hip hop. When RUN DMC released 'King of Rock' I thought 'this is awesome... this is MINE!', it had this rough edge, crude... almost home made and it just mixed so well... (after all Hip Hop mixes so well with other genres... checkout GanstaGrass for a hip hop/country mix (https://youtu.be/cCEHQ_nhxOA) if you don't believe me or check out any of GURU's 'Rebirth of Cool' albums from the early to mid 90's for an awesome Hip Hop/Jazz mix) plus, as I had discovered, Hip Hop had grown up from a completely do it yourself ethos, block parties in New York in the late 70s... to quote RUN DMC, 'two turntables and a microphone' the birth of the real DJ's, cutting beats together and making loops long before the invention of the sampler. To me it's no different to learning 3 chords and going out and forming a band and lets be honest, a lot of Punk bands did exactly that!
Regardless of what else I was listening to though I always came back to those two albums, London Calling and The Ramones...
they seemed to epitomise what I had seen, what I felt and what I had been through. Little did I know at 13 I was becoming a genuine punk without knowing it! My internal dialogue, apart from who the fuck was I, was a constant and natural middle finger to authority, to conformity, to whatever was popular because we were told it was, to music that was manufactured and plastic. Even though I didn't have the confidence to say it out loud, it was there, and it was boiling.
“I think punk rock, especially for me, was a big middle finger to this whole talent thing.” – Mike Watt, The Minutemen
The late 80s changed everything for me, again... I had gained the confidence to actually raise my middle finger to authority and politically I was active, I had realised the system was broken. I hated Margaret Thatcher with a vengeance (I still do!), she had been in power since 1979 and shit was getting worse not better... the Poll Tax arrived and I sure as shit wasn't going to pay it and didn't! Twice I spent 3 days in prison because I wasn't going to pay it (back then you could do the time and the debt was wiped) I went to the Poll Tax demonstrations (still referred to by the media as the Poll Tax riots), Stock Aitkin and Waterman (UK Producers of Plastic Pop) began churning out number one hit singles one after another after another, the UK Ska scene was over, the New Romantics never held any appeal, I certainly wasn't going to be a shoe gazer or a goth, I was miserable enough in my head as it was and I hated it all with a fucking passion.
In hindsight I had already began to struggle with depression, but didn't know it. I put it down to the bullying I had experienced in school or my biological father being a dick etc. and this just made me angrier. Although in those days the phrase, 'snap out of it' or 'cheer up' were what essentially amounted to help for mental health issues . My work in art school became angry, the picture below almost got me kicked out.
This anger stayed with me. Throughout the 80's, 90's and 00's and its still with me (although tempered by medication somewhat). I had been a skateboarder since 76 and the whole 'skate and destroy' mentality was where it was often channelled, although I as kind of a lone skater back then. Alternatively I directing my anger at my parents, to the bullying I experienced/was experiencing in school. The fact I had a father who I was desperate to please despite the fact that in deep down I already knew he was really a total dick, his wife who I hated and a step father who was actually the real father to me, sadly at the time I didn't see that, he was the man that really brought me up, who really WAS my father and to whom Im closer to now than any other member of my family, although as I say at the time I didn't see that. Now Im 50 and still skate with probably more of that 'skate and destroy' attitude than I ever had... it beats therapy, it beats medication and it sure as hell makes me feel good. Not withstanding the fact I love the looks I get when people see a middle aged man on a skateboard and when people ask say "aren't you a little old to be doing that?" my stock response is "I'll stop doing this this when they prise that board from my cold dead hand".
Skateboarding not withstanding, these days its channelled slightly differently, after all it should be, Im 50 for fucks sake! People change, life choices get made, we all grow up, but the anger, the anti-establishment attitude is still with me, it always has been, and I hope to god it always will be. Its what keeps me going....
Im not sure when I realised I was a Punk. Im not even sure when I realised that Punk wasn't about music but it was a mentality, an attitude. It is home grown and do it yourself and it is beautifully ugly.
'Punk rock is just another word for freedom.' Patti Smith
It's this freedom that I love in Cigar Box Guitars, its the do it yourself attitude, the fact there are absolutely no rules... and that... is Punk! But even here, with the whole 'no rules' scenario. I still want to be different, to do it myself, to do it all myself... just the term 'Cigar Box Guitars' makes me consciously refrain from using the cigar boxes that Ive seen anyone else use because fuck that! Thats not what its about...
People have made 'cigar box guitars' out everything, tennis rackets, microwaves (yes really!) biscuit tins, hub caps and Ive even seen a model of the millennium falcon made into a guitar! These are all absolutely awesome, I applaud the builders absolutely and utterly love the attitude of these people.
However, I still need my guitars to be practical, to sell and to be playable for their entire life. Im not saying the guitars Ive mentioned cant be that, but I need to temper the extremes of what want to do with the 'saleability' and 'usability' of what I've built. Ive used a wooden suitcase from 1947, a writing box from the turn of the last century, a vintage cake tin, a wine box, waste or up-cycled timber to make my own box or body from, I constantly strive to be different, to do something different, to not do the obvious, to give my middle finger to what everyone else is doing... and that, to me, is Punk.
The vast majority of the most punk people I know don't even like the music, the scene or the stereotypical 'punk' clothes and would never dream of calling themselves 'punk' They probably think that to be a punk requires a green mohawk some safety pins and bondage trousers in red tartan! and no 48 year old accountant that makes cigar box guitars or pedals or rides a vintage triumph in old school biker leathers on a weekend is going to do that? But what is common in all of them is an outsider mindset and view of life that is not the 'norm' or what 'the man' may tell them to think or what they expect of them and especially what everyone else is doing...
Punk is about being true to who and WHAT you are... with no embarrassment, no care, no shame and certainly no concern about what you perceive other people may or may not think. Its about the deliberate decision not to be 'a sheep' or as my better half would put it be part of the flock of 'sheeple' and she is one of the most punk people I've ever known!
Personally I still have issues with authority, I still rage against the machine at every opportunity, I still 'skate and destroy' at 50 years old and I absolutely cant watch mainstream TV nor news on any channel anymore. It's just too dumbed down, it's far too easy to see through the narrative and there is just so much that isn't reported that should be. So much that doesn't even make a byline in the newspapers anymore. It makes me wonder why so many other people don't see it and it makes me so vehemently angry I end up shouting at the television. Its like a magician doing a sleight of hand trick, watch the right hand so you don't see what the left hand is doing. Makes you wonder why the media (or people who control it) think we all stupid... thankfully we have citizen journalism nowadays for all those that want to look for another view or another angle that again makes (or should) make us question what 'the man' is telling us and more importantly, why.
On a personal level, if you believe your 'punk' but you cant be who you are, act/dress like you want to for fear of other peoples attitudes or opinions then you're failing miserably as a punk. It's individualism in its purest form that is the epitome of a punk attitude. People are pigeon holed more now than they ever have been. Your a goth, an emo, your white privileged, your an ethnic minority, your gay, straight and the list goes on. You only have to look at the whole trans debate to see its just another pigeon hole. According to the BBC now there are 100 different sexes. If that isn't politically correct pigeon holing in the extreme I don't know what is! What the fuck is wrong with just being YOU?
and this is what brings me full circle, not all manic depressives are punks, but all manic depressives in recovery have a continuous and constant battle in their head of who they are... and any self respecting punk that hasn't worked that out will also continuously question who they are, I don't think we ever work it out completely. Well Im certainly no closer overall. So my internal question keeps going, some days are easier than others but Im striving to be different, Im never going to conform, I won't even try. Doesn't mean Im a bad or difficult person its simply the part of me I have worked out... Im a punk and always will be. You can give me labels like manic depressive, skater, artist whatever. Im still going to be a punk.
So friends, keep that internal dialogue going, be different for different sake, don't be pigeon holed, constantly question who you are because that will constantly change and evolve and never ever follow the fucking crowd, after all nobody was ever remembered for doing the same as everyone else.
But remember… if you 'used' to be a punk; then you never were.
Blind John Feb 2020
'I knew who I was this morning... but Ive changed my mind a few times since then!'