It was comforting to see the walls are still green, with the carpet to match, if only a bit worse for wear. Even the desk I used to have is still there, the office not much changed, only now occupied by a Japanese woman. Nearly ten years ago I put all my personal belongings in a box and walked away from the record business to start a completely different life. As I am not in the habit of looking back or second guessing I never stopped to think how my life would have been different had I stayed. Would I have survived the layoffs that have plagued an industry that is trying to find alternative ways of operating in the midst of changing media? Would have I thrived under the guidance and partnership of my former boss who, himself guided by the extremely talented man at the helm, has become successful beyond his dreams?
At the time, I was telling myself I was leaving because I had fallen in love and was moving away to be with the man I loved. Whilst true, I had also become jaded and tired. I remember refusing to even meet the artist whose album (yes, there is such a word) I was working on just before I left – I couldn’t get past his alleged misogyny to recognize the brilliance of his music. I was tired of travelling, of artists’ seemingly random demands but, above all, I had stopped being a music fan. When the department used to meet and decide which project were going to be assigned to whom, there was never anything anymore I felt passionate about. And I was working for the best and most creative label in the industry.
On hindsight, I think I had enough of working for talented people while my creativity lay inert and forgotten. It wasn’t serving my artists anymore and it certainly wasn’t serving me. While riding in the elevator to my former place of employment a few nights ago, all these thoughts and questions came crashing in uninvited. Only one thing is certain, had I stayed my bank account would be a lot happier. But would I?
It took me three years to regain interest in music, to hear something on the radio and pause to listen because something caught my previously trained ears, a sound that was not derivative, a voice that touched notes in an unexpected way, a mind-boggling production. I remember driving home one day and hearing “Famous Blue Raincoat” by Leonard Cohen, which I hadn’t heard in such a long time- I had to pull over and stop. To this day, that song represents perfection to me: a complete narrative, love, pity, compassion and a touch of revenge, perfectly woven around a haunting melody – I thought it was time to fall back in love again with the art form that pushed me into the business in the first place.
What was I doing in my old stomping ground anyway? My former boss pulls me out of his hat at random times and on this particular occasion his team was looking for someone who could coach an American singer to belt two verses and a chorus in Italian. I enjoyed the first two hours of free-forming in the studio, watching a creative process unfold, I even enjoyed all the hanger-ons that always camp around rock stars. By 11:30pm I just wanted to go to bed and remembered the series of long days and nights spent on the road, in studios, at concerts, at rock festivals around the world – music festivals are just the worst, even with all access passes – bad food, smelly toilets, drunken youth, long drives and mud – because it invariably rains. So, no, to those who ask, I don’t miss it. Maybe I am just getting too old. The only things I miss are the expense account and the Four Seasons. Although I landed in Berlin once feeling very sick – the bed at the Four Seasons felt like home, I curled in it and fell asleep. When I woke up the next day, I wasn’t sure where I was, a too familiar feeling. That was when I decided that the bare and transient apartments I had lived in for 15 years had to come to an end and that to feel at home at the Four Seasons was wrong.
It was fun to walk down memory lane for a few hours, to walk along the corridors filled with the gold and platinum discs that went back to my time and see that, on the surface, not much had changed. More upheavals are on the way for the label I used to work for when the new President takes charge next September. I wish them well and can’t help breathing a sigh of relief – my bank account might not be fat but I am glad I started the long process of reinventing myself on my terms.