BLOOM WHERE YOU STAND
I began writing and composing and producing A VOYAGE FOR SOLDIER MILES as a way to organize a few thoughts and give voice to a particular point of view. It would be my way of making sense of the pace we live at and the lessons we never seem to learn. After so many years on the road, it seemed like a good time to take all of this ‘mileage’ and apply it to a tale of fiction, or a travel narrative, or maybe a combination of both. As you will see and hear, the eventual realization of this work was cast in another light altogether - but more of that later. Either way, getting this commentary down in one form or another was intended to accord a few relevant life experiences a legacy they might have otherwise been refused. And so, whether it is sprinkled lightly onto the grand illusion of a fantastic tale or dropped, not-so-subtly, from the back of a great melody, I’m inspired to present an artistic endeavor that comes by way of some suitably road-worn credentials.
That being said, I ended up writing this story realizing that we are all saying way too much. If this text serves any purpose at all, I’d like it to refuel our desire to listen; to look forward to those brief moments of silence that bookend our broadcasts of self-assurance and vitriol. There is beauty in those spaces, and there is understanding. Of that, I am truly convinced.
In the beginning, I had no intent to publish. I wrote a few treatments; I wrote a little music, and then walked away thinking I’d revisit the concept at another time.
Unfortunately, now I had a self-imposed dilemma: the outline I had sketched was such that no other project seemed worthy of effort. All other roads lead to destinations I had visited before, with little or no expectation of being deeply engaged or seriously challenged.
Maybe it’s because I have spent so much of my life working on humanitarian and environmental issues, but I kept coming back to these all-consuming and deeply nagging questions: “how does the sheer, concussive impact of so much positive energy, visible every day, all over the world, not resonate at a much higher volume?” and, “why is the ‘industrial complex’ of suffering so consistently spared any unfortunate consequence or intrusion?” It’s not a mindset that normally drives a piece of entertainment - but maybe this time it should.
And so the cycle continued: more questions; more writing; more music. The heartbeat was becoming louder and in context, the ebb and flow of our erratic behavior in times of war and in times of peace was pushing its way to the fore.
All that was missing was a suitable setting.
Without dwelling on sentimentality or cliché, I’ve always found the desert to be a wonderful, living, breathing metaphor for the aspects of our psyche that remain fiercely independent. A desert will absorb you, and it will dare you. It will test your grit and your memory and your will to survive - and it will do so before one boot has been planted upon its dry, parched tapestry. Whether dusted in sand or snow; whether equatorial or polar, the depths and mystery of our own magnificent journey can be mirrored perfectly against this inhospitable environment: the gentle movement of shadows and refracted light evoke forgotten dreams; the ripples of sand replicate waves of doubt and uncertainty; the intermittent gusts of sun-fueled thermals signify untapped resources of passion and bravery and courage, and if you look close, hidden deep amongst the undulating rock formations, you will find random slashes in the porous sandstone, where cold and incomprehensibly dark recesses harbor solitary patches of living vegetation that remain imprisoned within the confines of a sheer and endless rock face - a exhibition of survival that bores directly to the core of the human spirit.
Standing at a desert’s edge, one is rooted with the sudden realization of total self-reliance, and yet a sense of euphoria is omnipresent wherever you travel in the region. Your place in the universe is apparent, and it is not small and insignificant.
The openness; the sheer magnitude of what lies before you, validates your capability. In this place you will exhale deeply - as if for the first time. There is no place on Earth that empowers you more and enables you less; there is no quarrel here, there is only space.
As both a location and a metaphor, the desert informed this story far more than I anticipated. It somehow made sense of the entire journey. As a backdrop to many of the visual sequences, the setting encouraged a sense of idealization and fantasy for the main characters’ adventures. As a metaphor, we see the potential not only for profit, but also for ruin. Of course, all of this is subjective, but the story’s setting has forged its presence as an important character in its own right - not to mention providing an important virtual screen upon which your own life experiences can be projected.
The evolution of this story continued with a wonderful collaboration with Swedish sonic and visual artist, leif .e. boman. There was an immediate sense of free-form experimentation with the both the soundtrack and song ideas and it was so fresh and exciting. In due course, we developed a scenario whereby the collision of separate, purposefully written cinematic and music performances might be translated into an engaging and scalable live event - one that might utilize regional and cultural-focused talent to cross language barriers and find multiple, concurrent residencies around the globe. To bring this full circle, a completed story was needed; an original, inspiring, emotive, unforgettable, redemptive story that crossed myriad cultures and languages.
So, finally, I sat down and wrote it.
And then promptly threw it away.
The words were all there: the drama; the tragedy; even the humor. But the emotion was tired. I felt as though I was hearing it all second-hand. I know many writers consider this the draft stage, but for me, this time, with this story, the stakes felt a lot higher.
Instead of shelving the project, I raised the bar even higher. Tolerating no shortcuts, excuses or intrusions, I set about writing specific versions of the story to suit the silver screen, the live stage and the dramatized album. I would also write, compose, produce, play and record virtually every instrument on the soundtrack, and I would create the visual concepts to compliment every aspect of the ongoing production.
“Sometimes..,” quoting Ramsey, the story’s embittered protagonist, “you simply have no choice.”
To prevent myself from straying too far from the conceptual path during the long months of writing and recording, I placed two placards on the wall, inscribed as follows:
With all that we do, it’s never enough.
Our world is great.., let’s do better.
Two slogans. Two viewpoints. One throws in the towel, the other steps on the gas.
The first slogan portrays a soul fraught with concern and dismay. The second is pure motivation - a soul that is blindly determined to accept the responsibility of whatever lies within their control, regardless of circumstance. Both reflect our cumulative behavior and both project the internal conflict we manifest.
None of us are immune to either way of thinking - and therein lays the beauty of this story. Most days the posters would blend into the surroundings, hardly noticed and certainly never studied. On the hard days; the days when staring out of the window became an art form; when every tap on the keyboard and every pluck of the strings was akin to an Olympic event, the words would bore into my soul - taunting and provoking, the way precocious children can test your patience. But they were important days; vital days.
Specifically, the narrative was driven by a simple question:
“What if the Earth lost its faith in humanity?”
Not in an obvious religious or secular sense, but with a view to understanding and accepting our mutual dependence and connectivity with the natural world.
To begin to provide an answer, or at least suggest an appropriate plot, one has to assume that our wondrous blue planet had propagated a sense of trust with humanity to begin with, and having been compromised, this sense of trust, and indeed our very survival, was now dependent on our ensuing actions.
Distilling these thoughts into an engaging story that relies more upon realism than symbolism ultimately defined the work. For whatever amount of fantasy that is being promoted within the narrative, there are equal doses of real life - the frailty of the human condition, if you like - injected into every scene.
On the whole, I’m a fan of artists that choose to shoulder the responsibility for starting a conversation. They are mentors and they are in short supply and en masse, when their voices are raised in unison, they give our world the color and vibrancy it so desperately needs. That is why I enlisted the talent of so many international artists for the production of the soundtrack and ultimately, the power of their unified cultural significance will be evident on every page and in every song.
My hope is that ‘A Voyage For Soldier Miles’ propagates a debate or analysis, or at the very least, a conversation regarding ‘unity’. An incredible force, for certain, but one that is so often subscribed to only as a tool or a crutch in moments of dissent or great tragedy, and then summarily cast aside as the glare of the spot light begins to fade. I can’t help believing that it is here, during the quiet moments; the listening moments; the healing moments, when our unified expressions will matter most. When our guard is down we’re not only vulnerable, we are accessible, and the positive refrain that will echo everlasting will most likely come at this time. If we can find some way to cease to speak to each other of our apparent differences, we won’t overlook how much joy there is in our similarities.
Transcending boundaries of race and culture and prejudice that have been imposed upon us since we were babies is an enormous challenge for us all - no exceptions. It matters what we say and how we say it. We are all responsible. And in this effort, music and language are at their most powerful because we are able to communicate with a ready-made delivery system that is in keeping with the beat of our heart.
In whichever way it works for you, have a read of the screenplay; have a listen to the soundtrack, and pour a little love onto the burning sand under your feet. I think you will be encouraged by what blooms.