The Waiting Room


I must start this entry by apologising to all of you who have tried to contact me over this past while, for not being in touch with any of you, and for not keeping up with the diary. I must also apologise to many of you for not visiting many of the towns I usually get round to on this particular tour. However, as you may understand from the following passages, life isn’t always that easy, as things like travelling by car have become very painful.

I’ve been working hard at stuff, but not the kind of stuff I would have been working on a year or so ago. As some of you have noticed, I have needed to have a couple of cushions to sit on in order to play for this past year. I have been in quite a lot of pain. At first we thought that it was prostate related, and indeed that may still be relevant, but just recently we have managed to discover more.

I have seen four specialists and I am on my way to a fifth. The one I have just seen listened to me list my symptoms and then told me what I had suspected for a long time, that it sounded spine related. I had known that, but I hadn’t really put it together with the pain. So off I went for the ct scan. I am not able to have an MRI scan, which would possibly tell us more, because that utilizes electro magnetic gear, and I have the steel coils in my lungs!

The scan has revealed some trouble at the lower end of the lumbar spine. Along with the pain that I’ve been experiencing there has also been a progression of neurological symptoms such as pain and sensation changes in my feet and legs. The scan requires some further investigation and I am awaiting a full neurological assessment. The pain has been with me for fourteen months now. It’s difficult to live with, but I’m making out, or trying to. The most difficult thing is sitting down. The pain is roughly at the back of my coccyx, but in all probability emanates from further up my back. This means that the only way I am able to sit is to have the coccyx in mid air, i.e. Not touching anything. This doesn’t alter the pressure on my back, but it does stop the pain from becoming too intense to remain seated.

It’s very difficult to sit for longer than minutes, and so the things that I used to do, like sit and think whilst I was writing, or indeed, just sit and write, are now consigned to the past, indeed, I now look upon that sort of thing as past luxury. I have a certain amount of renewed hope at present, because if it is just a question of manipulation then I might very well be able to live a more normal life again. Hope hope. But I can still laugh as loud as ever. And as usual I’m very happy to be on earth.

Reasons. Mmm. In the Spring of 2000 I felt very enervated, motivated and generally in good form…. And I spent a lot physically. I planted twenty trees, all of them at least as big as myself. In order to plant them I had to make holes with a pick axe into very stony ground. I dug up some of the piping in ground elsewhere to enable better drainage. I transferred trees from one place to another, and I built two benches from a kit, which involved lots of bending over. We built a wall from big stones, some of them very big, I helped with fencing etc., etc…..

In other words I spent much more than I had. I wasn’t really to know. After all I had never had such amounts of energy before. The operations on my lungs had enabled me to be thirty odd again…. Just for a few months. It was a really lovely time. I got lots done. I even made a great record… Leastways, one that I think a lot of. It was crazy to do that much, but looking back, I couldn’t have helped myself. What do you do with such huge amounts of positive energy? Except use it. Now I’m back where I was, but for different reasons…. It could also be something to do with the way I’ve sat with the guitar for the last 40 years.

I have to try my best to get myself out of this, whatever else I do. The biggest drawback is of course…. The wherewithal. If I’d had a sackful I’d have got my back seen to by now, but the big problem is that when you have to rely on the state, you have to join a long queue, and a lot of people are worse off than you are. The fact that it is just too painful for you to be able to write any more pales into insignificance next to someone who has breast cancer, multiple fractures or serious heart disease.

My philosophy and my self knowledge has seen me to this point, but when I look at this ‘point’ fairly and squarely I see a number of things. First and foremost in my mind is lying in bed in St Thomas’ Hospital Lambeth in 1972 and being told that I had about 7 to 10 years to live. That was the kind of pressure that produced ‘The Lords Prayer’ on ‘Lifemask’. In many ways that piece of work is a testament. A potential last testament. But most relevant to my present precarious position is that I never dreamt of buying any medical insurance until the late Eighties, at which point I was refused, point blanc.

Philosophically I was against it in any case, because I had been brought up with the welfare state. Health care for all.. Level playing field, Bla blah, but in the eighties everyone could see that under Thatcher there was wholesale erosion of principal and promise, and that, effectively, we were all out on our ear. I did realise, and I did fill in the relevant BUPA form, but I was immediately turned down.. And they told me straight that I was a bad risk. Nothing quite like the truth.

At that point I knew that I was truly dependant on the state and I realised that I’d be lucky to get through the next couple of knock downs of middle age. Ninety percent of people have them. It’s just a question of how you can manage to deal with them, and whether or not such things as living in an area where a particular medical specialism happens to be available comes into question.

I got lucky with the coils. The procedure isn’t available in Ireland, so I jumped through the necessary hoops to get the state to progress me to where it was available, in London…. It took many months and quite a few hoops, but in the end it was much more than worth it. The only problem is… It gave me excessive amounts of energy+… And subsequently allowed me to injure a disc (perhaps more) in my back.

No pain no gain, or so they say, but when it’s continuous, and sometimes severe… Mmm It has changed my life. I can see that there could be some relief if manipulation is recommended, and if I have some success with it, but if surgery becomes necessary then there’ll be more hoops to jump through. I may actually have to ask for some more help. No, surely not? Not me… After all, the gods don’t have to ask for help do they? Come to think of it, I could do with a royalty cheque for all those radio plays.. Round about now….

God no… Not that old chestnut…

Meanwhile, lots of other nonsense has been happening. We’ve decided that, after eleven years of the bedroom being a holding station for the junk of previous lives, that we had to finally do the archeology and confine various elements to the dustbin of history. An entire three wardrobes of size 30 waist, circa 1969-97 was off-loaded to the Irish Wheelchair Association, (the local charity shop). There was a bonfire. Old pictures of past innocence were burned…. And a new bedroom is beginning to pheonix out of the old clutter.

The old bedroom was badly done in the first place. I got someone to do it while I was on tour eleven years ago. That was a terrible mistake. You’ve always got to be there. I’ve lived with the many consequences of that ever since. Eventually the plaster began to fall off the wall completely, in big chunks, and was becoming dangerous. Quite soon… The old one will be a strange humorous piece of memory. I now have to address myself with strange questions.. Like.. How much will I be able to help with the paint roller? How guilty will I feel if I can’t? Will we be in the guest bedroom for a year?

Then there was the Festival Hall business, which was hard work, but in the end very rewarding. I should refresh my mind and write the story of that one….. And the birthday party, which I really enjoyed.. Except that everywhere I looked there was someone I wanted to spend half the night with, which was really frustrating at various moments in the night. I thought that there could have been more people there. More people from among those who regularly support me, and there were a few of those, but eventually I have to think that I did as best I could, and that if any more had turned up it would have been crazy and I wouldn’t have been able to communicate with the sheer amount of people.

And then the record of the concert. It’s good. I’ve spent a whole two months learning a new set of recording gear. I’ve needed to do this for some time. I didn’t spend that much time mixing the gig, because it didn’t need that much mixing, but learning new digital equipment was convoluted. And nothing that could have been done in five minutes. For instance, I spent a whole couple of weeks trying to get rid of what I assumed to be distortion….

Right at the beginning of listening to the tapes we had noted this weird cracking up at the level peaks. I was mystified by it because it didn’t sound like any distortion I had ever heard before. After a couple of days of playing around with it on totally alien gear I just automatically slipped into trying to fix it with eq; the usual sort of thing. This went on for a couple of weeks… And drifted into the third.. As I read more of the manuals, and got to playing with the machines. Making do and mending.

Then Nick turned up and I took him to the studio to show him the machines.. And play him the distortion. He listened to it once and said, “Hold on… How d’you get into the setup menu.” I showed him, and as soon as we were there and I saw the words ‘sample rate’, I could see the problem unfolding in seconds. I’d been suffering from an advanced form of ‘finger trouble’, as we used to call it in the old days, when the trouble could usually be resolved by such basic remedies as plugging a machine in at the wall!

By looking in the setup menus for both the machine and the mixer we discovered that the mixer was running at 44.1 KHz whilst the tape had been recorded at 48 KHz. We set the desk up to run at 48 KHz and, hey Preston North End, the ‘distortion’ had disappeared. Unfortunately, so had all the automated mixes that I had set up @£$%^&*(… So it was back to square 1. Yes.. Sometimes I have awesome fits of stupidity too. I can only compare it to running into a brick wall for a month before I find out that it’s only three and a half feet high, and I can just step over it.

Most of the time, thank goodness, my brain does wonderful things for me, but there are loose moments..and they can get set in their ways. Well, almost.

Come to think of it, my entire life can probably be described as a loose moment. I have plans for the tour. As usual, the times we live in occupy my thoughts. I have found myself telling a journalist in the last few days that I think that the social situations we find ourselves in now are worse than at any time since the second world war. We have a media that is trapped into only being able to address questions to the grand concept of G8, which as we all know, is a bottomless plastic dustbin.

It is perhaps too easy to say that… as soon as we allow all of the people on the planet free access, then the sooner we will have peace. It’s perhaps too easy to say, and it will be hard. It will be extremely hard for all the figments of wall st. To own up to this, and after all, it was advocated in the century before last by people like Karl Marx. After all, how the hell could I give up all this space, and my silly cyber space computer?

I wrote that last night. We have since been to see another specialist. The following afternoon. This afternoon. It is Tuesday the 11th of September, and as we waited in the communal ex 20th century linoleum clad waiting room loosely glued to the new shampoo ad on the tv in the right corner of the ceiling, a hospital security person hurriedly came in, switched channel to RTE news and I was straight into the middle of a Hollywood blockbuster featuring the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. One of them was ablaze… I pointed this out to Tracy. I was quietly amazed. I thought it was a disaster, and I thought for a moment about Steve McQueen…

Then we saw the other building explode. My next thought was Osama. Me and 500,000 others. But it was still hard to believe, because it looked like a movie… And of course it was. As I watched it unfold, all sorts of things occurred to me. Like, who would be pleased.. And who wouldn’t. Where celebrations for a great victory would be going on, and where misery was about to overtake hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

“Oil”, I thought. Out loud. The markets. Confidence.. Then all three of the doctors in the cubicles in front of us came out to see the world exploding. It was funny to see them. I knew that whole sections of the world were now temporarily suspended. And some of them for years. I realised that the land of baseball had been rudely creamed into the twenty first century.

How innocent are any of us? I thought. How innocent can any of us be when billions of us are being deprived.. In the face of huge amounts of wealth. I could suddenly hear the worldwide clammer for recriminations. I silently wished we were all in the global village as equals. Then I thought that I’d rather be in a village of 100 people.. Self sufficient.. Where leaders couldn’t be ‘elected’ by spin. I was dreaming again. What if…

Then I thought that we had all deserved this; that we hadn’t taken care of our own. That we had let them fester in heaps of fundamentalist rubble until they had puked their disease all over us. Do we have to test each other’s bravery so much?

Then I think of my song ‘I Hate The White Man’, which was written so long ago now, and was written because I was outraged by the actions, ignorance and attitudes of western Europeans and Americans. The same people who are outraged by events that seem to impact upon their greed and overweening wealth, but who forget all too easily what they might have done to cause these events, and then, to compound the felony, forget about any of it altogether. As if nothing happened. Arrogant.

People who go to see fantasy films about ‘Braveheart’ or the romance of the Viking conquests, without realising that the same spirit will still be alive in humans of all shapes and sizes until at least the next step on the evolutionary ladder. That it is a fact of life. Here and now. There will always be the disaffected and disenfranchised; until we really take care of all our own. Until we give ourselves enough time to be able to realise that doing so is the only real key to human fellowship.

This isn’t anything that poor old George or the American hegemony will even remotely consider. What they will want is revenge. I need only say it once…. When they think that they have found the perpetrators of the events of Sept 11 2001; and they have ‘tried’ them, and ascertained their guilt, THE WORST POSSIBLE THING THAT THEY COULD THEN DO WOULD BE TO COMMIT THEM TO JUDICIAL MURDER. This will only turn these people into martyrs, and a new generation will then seek their own retaliatory form of ‘justice’. My advise will not be heeded. I don’t have insurance cover.

Poor old George. He made a speech which you could see and hear that he was reading from a place to one side of the camera. It was embarrassing. I felt for all of his nation who don’t believe him. I winced. He was almost smiling because he thought that he had read it right. Every time he didn’t make a mistake there was a weird kind of surreal joy in his eyes. It was awful. “We’ll get those folks”!! He said. And how inappropriate that sounded. It could after all, have been four Timothy McVeighs at the time.

I feel very sad today. Very sad to have witnessed such an unnecessary loss of life. The clowning and cavorting of the Wall Street masses did not deserve annihilation. They needed a serious wake up call. But wipeout isn’t really that useful. Even in the land of Eldridge Cleaver. The Black Cloud of armed jehovahs witnesses into the middle of the party was very unrefined. The world of ‘The Dharma Bums’ was getting there anyway. It would probably only have taken another ten years of relentless world news-go-round to have effected huge areas of western life with a degree or so more humility. Maybe even longer than ten now, given the likely setback.

As I’ve just said to one of my American friends, America is this great lumbering giant who’s been looking for trouble for decades, but on the other hand is the source for so many of my inspirations, and those of my friends. Republican fascism is hard for me to take; to have been so angered by Vietnam, and horrified by the American destruction of President Allende in Chile and the subsequent sponsorship of the murderer Pinochet.

And yet so hugely inspired by the freedoms of the jazz age, ‘Bird’ and Miles, Kerouac and the Beat Poets, Steinbeck and Hunter Thompson. The USA is a great juvenile melting pot, and that’s all there is to it. The great sprawling American landscape of diners and canyons, cowboys, hobos, dancers and trippers is part of my lifestyle. It is still a weird and wild frontier, and even in it’s most obnoxious manifestation, much more acceptable, benign and romantic than any grim blinkered worship of a fantasy deity which one could be required and compelled to worship five times a day.

A living experiment with millions of tides, attitudes and quirks powered by at least the idea of freedom of expression. And developing. And though I rail against the many obvious injustices, at least I am free to do so. But to want to turn everything from Morocco to Egypt, from Turkey to Pakistan, to lead, is not the right way. It’s exactly the wrong way. What America now has to do is what we’ve all done in the last day, which is to take a good look at ourselves. And what we’re doing in the world. And to the world.

This episode doesn’t so much seem to say “Osama” any more. It feels more like some Gulf lads got really pissed off with their brothers being needlessly picked off by Norman and the boys in the desert. It has a kind of an absolute abandon about it. Like religion is only one component. There’s nothing really tidy about it. It doesn’t seem to really squeak, like after the second rinse with head and shoulders. Less than all will be revealed. Do we really need to know their names? Can we avoid knowing any names? When they’ll be front page in Ariel Sharon’s bedroom. Don’t kill them. Just let them slowly disintegrate into the rot they are. And cut out the emotion Roy.

And let America now go out into the world. Not as tourists, but as equals in it’s hope and despair. Not to gape at Buckingham Palace or the Eifel Tower, but to look into the eyes of nations, and to take home some understanding. Not to further sour the world with retaliation, but to teach the world a lesson with restraint. To attack another nation is only to contribute to further reaction and to eventually bringing the whole pack of cards down.

Maybe You think it needs to..

The previous paragraph intones my hopes for my world. In the cold light of day, what has been enacted in New York is of nuclear war proportions. It is inconceivable that the USA will not not respond in kind if it can locate a target. It will also pull in it’s allies. I am one of those. I’ve now stood up. And I’ve now been counted, and I have to own up to my own heart. Sink or swim.

In the full range of human emotion which will fill the next few weeks, it may be sobering to remember what we imagined the Japanese national pschye to be like after Nagasaki. They may have been a defeated nation in a way USA 2001 will never be, but in those haunted faces we all witnessed our own feelings about the nature of destruction, precious life, and the dawn of new light.

Copyright 2001 Roy Harper