The story behind ‘Longing’
A lone astronaut is adrift in space, billions of miles from Earth.
He’s doing what he always wanted to do – push boundaries and explore new horizons – but there’s something missing. He’s on a mission but he feels lost. The initial excitement of the voyage has long worn off; he feels the cold of deep space and the isolation that is his world.
He hasn’t said a word in months. His communication devices have failed and there’s no one to talk to. He stares at a large, weathered poster of Earth, and then looks out his portal window at the tiny little dot it actually is. He misses home. He doesn’t wish he could go back, but still, he yearns for that which he left behind: friends, family, comfort, safety, certainty.
The picture painted here is pretty grim, though in his state of isolated despair, his flame almost extinguished, the astronaut nurtures a fragile ember; a glimmer of hope that he’ll one day find whatever it is that he’s looking for.
* * *
At the time of Longing’s origin, I was traversing a period marked by loneliness and uncertainty about the future. I was sick of my job. I’d been working as a Physio for 18 months in the same shitty nursing home with no end in sight. I won’t pretend that 18 months is a long time by any means, many people have endured much worse for much longer, but when you’re doing the exact same monotonous things day-in-day-out, in an environment where people are broken, sick and/or dying, you start to pine for escape, adventure, life.
I knew I was not where I was supposed to be. I knew that I had to get out but I didn’t know how. In many ways I felt trapped. All I wanted to do was make music, but I couldn’t. I’d get to work, have my coffee and be all-guns-blazing from 9am-1pm. Music pervaded my thoughts during these hours but when I finally got home and had the chance to put pen to paper, I was “too tired”. (I now realise that this was, of course, a pathetic excuse.)
I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to do music first thing of a day, and just work in the evenings doing something basic to pay the bills. The more I thought about it, the more obsessed with this alternate reality I became. But to pull the trigger would be suicide. I’d have to be crazy. Would it even work? There was only one way to find out… so I quit.
The week after I left that job, I was visited unexpectedly by an old friend from the UK. She was here long enough to stir up old feelings, but not long enough for me to act on them. Despite the fact that it had been 5 years since we’d last met face-to-face, every emotion that was there before was there again, just as intense… for both of us. Without knowing the full story it might be hard for you to understand, but when she went home I felt as though a part of me went with her. I was left craving that connection; wishing for something that, deep down, I knew I could never and would never have. A bit dramatic, I know, but it’s the truth.
The emotional climate that arose from my job dissatisfaction and bleeding heart is essentially what motivated me to work harder on Longing. I wanted to do the song justice, but lacked the skills to execute my ideas. Frustration mounted. The harder I tried, the greater the distance grew between my vision for the song and what was coming out of my speakers.
At this point, I started to drown in self-doubt. Once positive, optimistic thoughts became overshadowed by toxic one-liners stuck on loop: “you’re fooling yourself”, “you’re wasting your time”, “you’ll never be good enough”, “you should give up”… and I nearly did. Several times. What kept me going? Amongst the frustration, I found solace in production. Time spent working on Longing became a means of addressing my feelings in a constructive way. Producing at night made me feel better in the morning. Looking back, I guess it was the ultimate self-help therapy.
From what you’ve just read, it might seem like Longing was always “about” what was happening in my world at the time, and how it made me feel. I apologise for misleading you, but this is incorrect. As is the case with most of the songs I write, the music for Longing came before the meaning; and only over time did the two gradually converge.
The initial idea appeared well over 12 months ago; on one of those mornings that you just can’t be bothered to get out of bed. I was watching a documentary narrated by Sir David Attenborough, and inspired by the music behind his soft, soothing voice, I jotted down a few robotic piano chords. The song stayed in this skeletal form for quite a while because I don’t like to force what is meant to be natural. Then, slowly but surely, the song began to take shape and it evolved to tell the tale of the astronaut mentioned earlier.
At first, I didn’t think much of the story, it was just another one of many that has popped into my head over the course of my life, and it felt right to connect the story with the song. But the more I worked on Longing, the more I began to realise that the astronaut was far more than a fictional character. He was, in fact, me.
I don’t think I’ll ever know exactly how, but my subconscious developed a metaphor to help me understand myself and my situation with greater perspective.
After connecting myself with the astronaut, I realised that I had made the right decision to leave my job because in doing so, I had embraced my mission. In my jobless state, I was adrift in space. I was weightless; I was free. I had all the time in the world to work on music whenever I wanted. I was one small step closer to where I wanted to be, but one giant leap away from everything I knew. I was caught in the middle. I didn’t want to go back, but like the astronaut, I craved the safety and comfort of stability and certainty.
I was terrified that it might not work out; that I’d turn around in a few months time, tail between my legs, and look like an absolute fool. All of those people who raised their eyebrows when I told them what I was doing would laugh at me. I’d be a failure.
Going deeper into this reflection, I was able to see that this and everything else I felt whilst writing Longing, everything that the astronaut felt floating in space, was nothing special at all! It’s the nature of the beast.
Whether you’re baking bread, making music or curing cancer, the truth is that achievement of the most meaningful things in your life demands a leap of faith. In the face of uncertainty you must push ahead into oblivion without knowing what really lies beyond the horizon. It’s a HUGE gamble, but you must be prepared to walk away from everything you know and have been conditioned to want from birth, in order to reach for something you may never get, despite your best efforts. You must reach, knowing that even if everything falls into place, the stars align with your hard work and you achieve that which you set out to accomplish, you might get there only to realise that it wasn’t worth it after all. It might be horrible! Too hard. Too lonely. (Case in point: Steve Jobs [hoax?]). But to roll the dice is the only way. Choices must be made, sacrifices must be paid, and in this sense, seeking a life that permits the truest expression of yourself is not so different to the life of an interstellar traveller – at least in my opinion.
Aside from it’s power to transport and reveal, I believe that one of the great qualities of music is that the same song can simultaneously mean so many different things to so many different people. For me, the meaning of Longing revolves around self-discovery; the tension that arises from weighty life-choices and the sacrifices one must make in pursuit of what one really wants; and of course, to me, Longing sonically describes the personal experience that has led me to draw the aforementioned conclusions. But just because that is what the song means to me does not mean that is “what it’s about”. In truth, Longing has no objective meaning at all. It is “about” whatever you want it to be about, and it is my deepest wish that you can find something meaningful within it for yourself.
Listen to ‘Longing’ HERE