# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities - #15- On Being Dignified and Old aka Ten Tips From Jah Wobble On How To Be Happy.

  by Steve Miles

published: 4 / 5 / 2024

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities - #15- On Being Dignified and Old  aka Ten Tips From Jah Wobble On How To Be Happy.

OK, so this is my life in a nutshell: I’m on a video call to a legendary musician and it started OK, but now it’s getting really good. The trouble is, I can’t afford a paid-for subscription for the software, so I know the call will get cut off soon. And I’m not sure if the person I’m talking to will be able or willing to do a second call, nor am I totally sure how to make that happen technically. Never mind, it’s going well. I’ve never met this person before, but they’ve been talking to me like an old friend; open-minded, open-hearted, eager to share, patient and respectful. And after we’d been chatting for a while, I took a chance to ask a couple of deeper questions. He warmed to them slowly. Then, suddenly, he’s on roll! The secret of his long success and happiness is about to be unfolded before my very eyes. His eyes light up as he says, ‘… So this is the spiritual path. And here’s the thing with it all - ’ And the call ends. The screen is blank. The audio silent. Cut off, mid-sentence. Like I said, the story of my life! Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Or is it? Because ten minutes later and we’re connected again! Joy of joys. A gracious acceptance of a second bite of the cherry and a triumph over gremlins. Why did I ever doubt the gods were on my side? ‘That was funny,’ he laughs, genially. ‘I was about to tell you the meaning of life there and we got cut off. Well, here goes…’ And I would tell you what he said next, but after another 40 minutes of wit, wisdom and cheery insight, our conversation finally ended, only for me to realise that I hadn’t been recording this second call at all. Like I said, story of my life… I am, I am afraid, unable to remember, and therefore to convey to you, the many secrets to life that were revealed to me in that second thrilling call. Nor indeed, can I quote the various marvellous and witty things I heard in that time. But nonetheless, it’s very much worth reading on. Because, a week later, we got to catch up one last time, and I got to ask him again what he told me the first time. I’d started our original interview by saying I wasn’t going to ask him the same old questions everyone else asked, and here I was, in fact asking the exact same questions twice in one week! ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's karma,’ he laughs. And off we go. But first, some context. It was April 1972 when Jonathan Richman sang ‘Someday I think I’ll be dignified and old’ in the song of the same name, and he was only just about to turn 21. The redemption he was anticipating was a very distant prospect. The young unsigned Bostonian songwriter felt ‘bleak and bitter’ - consumed by the ‘sadness’ that he refers to in every verse and was trying to convince himself (and the ‘hey kids’ of the chorus) through the song that life was worth living. He looked forward to getting through his emotional turmoil, overcoming his self-hate and his loneliness in a future where he would surely be at peace with himself because he was old. But it took four more years (after the band had broken up) until the demo sessions of that year were released as the Modern Lovers’ debut album, and strangely, the song wasn’t included on it. It wasn’t until 1989 that it got its first official release, by which time Jonathan Richman was already 38 years old. I first heard the song when I was about the same age as Jonathan was when he recorded it and was probably feeling much the same as he had most of the time then. Over the years, I’ve found that wistfully sweet promise of a serene, sedate future genuinely comforting, despite that fact that the song makes no convincing case for the sentiment at all. To the heart, it convinces. The singer’s obvious passion, the joyous melody and the compact, driving rhythm wins you over. But it offers no actual court-of-law evidence for the future being brighter, only a fragile proof of the need to have hope to get through. But now, suddenly, I find myself old. Unexpectedly, unwantedly old. Still listening to young Jonathan, and anything but serene. Which leaves me with a question that the song doesn’t answer: what happens when you get to be old, despite all the difficulties along the way, and dignity still feels a distant dream? Well, it’s a challenge. I have reached an age that I feel embarrassed to admit to, even to myself. I don’t want people to realise how old I am, and I don’t want myself to know either. If I have always expected - or at least hoped - that dignity and age would come together, then it’s no surprise that I don’t want to welcome one into the house without the other. But why is that dignity not here? Why I am so uncomfortable with being old? I can dredge a few possible reasons from the murky pool of my poorly-understood emotions: a) I don’t feel anything like wise enough, or at peace enough, to justify having that many years under my belt. If age is supposed to bring experience and self-knowledge, then what on earth was I doing all that time to not have it all worked out by now? b) I still want to be someone who has most of my life ahead of me, with all that that implies. Sure, I’m happy to have some of the tough battles behind me – the unquenchable teenage angst, the anxious days and nights of partner quests, or the sleep-deprived years of young children, for example – but I’m not at all ready to give up on making my mark on the world. Not at all. I haven’t really begun on that, tbh. ‘Leave a legacy’ was right there on the top of my to-do list every week, but somehow, it’s never got crossed off. Sitting in front of the football on TV and dropping off just before the goals – that wasn’t even on there, but I’ve ticked that off soooo many times! If the meaning of life was waking up groggily to find myself listening to Roy Keane discuss the second-half I’ve snoozed through, I’d be a guru. If ‘he moaned every day about the road closures and the potholes’ were the words I wanted engraved on my tombstone, I’d be one very contented soul. If I could imagine a Blue Plaque on my wall in years to come, with my name and the dates I lived above the caption, ‘Steve Miles worried about a lot of things that never happened here’, my legacy would be secured. But I can’t. When I should have been making great music, I was sorting through my cds. When I should have been travelling the world, I was driving my kids to Brownies. When I should have been taking the world by storm, I was hiding from my neighbours. When I should have been taking over galleries, I was trying to paint the bedroom and getting more on me than on the walls. When I should have been pushing back the boundaries of technology, I was failing to fix the leak from the washing machine, and when I was supposed to be writing the best thing since the Bible, I was down a clickbait wormhole looking at ‘funny’ signs Americans put by the roadside. In short, the legacy isn’t there and time is running out. c) People look at my grey hair and my wrinkles, my sagging skin and my worn-out posture and automatically assume that I’m long since grown up. Whereas I’m very obviously not and I still don’t even know what I want to do when I grow up. d) I don’t feel so much as a tiny bit more reconciled to the world than I did when I was 21. It’s still an unfair, unjust, and un-redeemed ‘slough of despond’, as far as I can see. A world dominated by selfish voices, inequality, intolerance and stupidity. It’s hard to be dignified when you’re angry all the time. e) Last, but by no means least, I’ve started to be haunted by both death and decay. Things take lot longer to heal, in everything from paper cuts to muscle strains. My teeth and my eyes have got weaker, my arms and my knees have lost their suppleness and strength. Hair doesn’t grow well where I want it to grow any more, and sprouts like a weed where I don’t. And no amount of vitamins and exercise, no actually-carry-it-out-this-time new year’s resolutions will reverse this trend or make it better. People I know, in real life and via culture, keep dying. Every time one goes, I check their age – ‘Hell, he was only two years older than me; heck, he was five years’ younger than me.’ Every so often a proper oldie kicks it and I get a surprise because I thought they died years ago, but even then, they get a date check and a quick calculation of how many years I’ve got left if I live as long as them. f) All through life, counting down has been a good thing. Days till I leave school = the smaller the number the better; mortgage payments = the smaller number the better; hours till the weekend = the smaller number the better; weeks till our holiday = the smaller number the better. Now it’s all the wrong way round. The number is way too small. I want more time to do more things. There’s more, but you get the drift. All in all, it’s very clear that I have not succeeded in reaching Jonathan’s promised land and instead find myself in uncharted and exasperating territory. I dug out ‘Live at the Longbranch Saloon’ and listened again as JR introduced the song to a handful of college kids in 1973: ‘We've written a song saying how we want to see everyone when we're all dignified and old and how you shouldn't die now, tempting as it sometimes seems. So, with that thought in mind we say, Ready: 1, 2, 3, 4…’ and as the song played, I thought, ‘I really need to ask someone else about all this…’ Ideally, I thought, I need to talk to someone who is only a few years older than me but seems to have it all sorted. Someone, say, with a 5-cd box set recently curated, and an autobiography literally just about to be published, because they would surely have been thinking these very matters over recently, and would surely have all the answers. If only I could talk to someone who might tell me, for example, that, ‘Anyone who doesn't moan about the indignity of old age is lying. It’s fucking shit, you know! It’s one of the Four Rivers (in Buddhism). Birth, old age, sickness and death. Old age is fucking horrible. Like I had a calf strain yesterday. Getting out of an Uber yesterday, it was a big deal – Oh, I’ll just get me leg out… It’s taking me five times longer to get out of a car than it did five years ago! But it's teaching you something all the time - it's teaching impermanence. The reminder of suffering’s there, the reminder of impermanence is there and the reminder of the causes of suffering is there - which is ignorance. You know, if I make the mistake of thinking I'm this limited, finite, autonomous thing that's just getting old, and it's not interconnected with anything, then it doesn't make sense. Never mind the four pillars of Buddhism, I think that's the Four Noble truths. There’s suffering, there’s the causes of suffering, there's the cessation of suffering and there’s causes of the cessation of suffering. This is how it is. As much as anything you just have to accept it, make the best of it, get on with it. I've done my exercises today. You can work on the other parts of your body that are not hurt. I love walking, you know? I love walking for miles by the Thames. But yeah, you get old, and you deal with it.’ And so it passed that Jah Wobble’s real self, John Wardle, came to tell me this and many other pearls of wisdom, despite any technical failings and curses to the fates. And from that discussion, to help with my worries about dignity, age, and contentedness, I have compiled a practical list of Ten (Implicit) Tips From Jah Wobble On How To Be Happy, which I hope, dear reader, you will enjoy. Here goes: Tip 1. Keep Busy Our conversation started with 65-year-old John (aka Jah Wobble, born August 1958) explaining how busy he had been and why. ‘It's nice. I'd rather be wanted than not. Mad busy, you know. I’m no good at multitasking, so I can't be doing interviews and emailing. I don't have a manager because that 20% is your profit margin, so you just you have to kind of be like one of these guys that runs a building firm or something, just to do a lot of the stuff yourself.’ This theme went on for a while. Discogs informs me that he’s released 57 albums, played on at least 202 distinct recordings and can be found on at least 12 compilations. He’s playing 20 or so gigs this spring and has just released an expanded edition of his autobiography. So, it would appear that keeping busy keeps the demons at bay and engaging the world keeps the soul alive. ‘That’s musicians, you know? Moan if the world isn’t keeping you busy and moan if it is!’ Tip 2. Learn To Accept Other People For What They Are John’s candid opening monologue had ended warmly: ‘That’s enough about me moaning on, how are you?’ and I explained that I had been researching him in preparation for our call and could not believe how often the exact same things were repeated in his interviews, how over and again he was asked the same things. Indeed, even during our call he lapsed into some of these answers unprompted, as if his wheels rolled inadvertently down the same well-worn tracks. ‘The thing is with stuff you think, ‘Oh, just research it, you know! You’re likely to elicit an abrupt answer off a lot of these people - they're not as nice as me, a lot of these faded old rock stars from the 70s, they'll be a bit grumpy with you. But yeah, I try and be patient and act as if it's the first time I've ever been asked it. People sometimes lack awareness that this must be the 14000th time you’ve said, ‘Well, it was Sid that gave me my name…’ Later on, we’re talking about how so many autobiographies seem to be driven as much by score-settling as any other motive, and he reflects, ‘I think I've got an element of that: look at all these people, look what they did to me! But through gritted teeth I have to admit they contributed to my life and to things generally, you know, but yeah, I just tried to be as balanced as I could be. I've definitely been neurotic in my life, and egotistical and erratic and all that stuff. I remember, when I left PIL, I really had the hump with them, I thought they were terrible people, but one of the first times I sat down, I thought, are they really completely terrible people, a complete waste of space? Is there anything good I can think about them? And of course you can. Even when you're still raw about something, you can see not only where they've been good, but where it's been good having a relationship with them. Do you know what I mean? And so you get some feeling of interconnectivity, and some degree of maturity of how you see life. You work with people, you move on, you don't take things too self-centred, too personally, you know. I can also think of so many times, especially in drink, when you’re completely not like that. You’re completely self-centred, completely blinkered, and childish, and that’s where self-development comes in and you develop a calmer, kind of more relaxed view… I wouldn’t agree with Johnny Lydon’s world view (he had been in the news on the day we spoke) obviously, and I know a lot of people will be piling in on him for that, but it’d be too easy for me to do that, d’y’know what I mean? He got me in the game, and he’s worthy of respect for what he did then, you know? The lyrics on Metal Box are like Samuel Beckett or something. I must admit, last time I saw him, I thought, God, what happened to the bloke that wrote that, you know? That’s probably damning with faint praise, but…’ Tip 3. Realise That You Don’t Always Have To Win In his middle-aged period John was, at first, both ‘catching up on where I should have been if it hadn’t been for the drink and the drugs’ but also balancing a career alongside family, having to ‘graft’ and earn a living: be a father, husband and musician all at once. And that taught him a lot. ‘With making records, I was very drawn to it, because I'm good at it. It just doesn't ever feel like there's too much resistance there, you know? But all growing comes from resistance. At times you might have to push back against the resistance, and sometimes you've got to just allow that the resistance to dissipate and find a way with humility around it. You can't always be the winner. Making records, I can be Jah Wobble, big fucking character, always the winner. I'm putting myself in situations where I can only win, you know. But when you’re just a dad, or just a fucking worker, then just like everybody else, you’re down in the ship, you’re down in economy class, battling your way through in life. And, actually, that's where you grow, you really start to realise your humanity. You realise you have to give and take. You’re part of humanity and it's shit and you win some, you lose some. You know it's a dirty, filthy fucking business being a human. We push it in more ways than one, but that's stupid opinions and this and that. So when you can just knuckle down, for a big ego guy like me, just to knuckle down and get on with it felt like a real win for me. Ha, I’m talking about winning again!’ Tip 4. Try To Be Generous and Inclusive ‘I do like the word inclusive, you know? Music’s for everybody. So you don't wanna give people the impression that you might in some way be prejudiced against them, whoever they are, whatever race, whatever creed, whatever colour… and the more you look at all that anyway, everyone's a mix. Everyone's a temporary phenomena. As a musician, you gotta be generous, you gotta be open-hearted, in order to perform, and go out and reach people. You know, when you go out playing music, you don't sort of think, well this musical wave is going out only for this kind of person, it’s not for that cluster of people in that corner, or this person over here. It’s for everybody, you know.’ John explained that his original autobiography only really went up to the end of the twentieth century, so there was lots to talk about in the new edition. ‘This is catching up with the last 25 years, as well as expanding one or two sections in the book. For instance, Keith (Levene) died, so I was duty bound to say what I felt about that. Plus, anyway, 15 years of being able to think about it a bit more and you have a bit more depth and clarity to it. There's also Brexit: maybe I banged on about that too much in the book (he then goes on to do so again) but I felt I couldn't not comment on that, you know. ‘The funny thing is a lot of these blokes I know that voted for Brexit are far more inclusive than any of the remainer class. They’ll get on really well, they’ll be on first name terms with the Poles that they know and would treat them fairer than most of the remainers would treat their Brazilian cleaner.’ John laughs a lot. It’s a good trait. Tip 5. Try To Be Both Genuine And Humble The section above was part of a much longer diatribe about the political and social change of the last twenty-five years, which John discusses readily and passionately, and thinks deeply about. His take on politics comes proudly and unapologetically from the perspective of old-school working-class culture, embellished by his remarkably wide reading and keen insight. Yet while he is happy to have his thoughts shared and his voice heard, he recognises both his limitations and the good fortune he’s had along the way. ‘I mean too many musicians anyway, or public figures think they should speak out about stuff. And too many journalists have always hung on the words of arseholes, us idiot musicians. It’s like this thing that we are somehow going to be more wiser than the average man or woman in street, and that's definitely not the case, I'm afraid. Probably the opposite, you know what I mean?! And thank God I don't have to solve the world's problems! Tip 6. Try To Keep Some Perspective On Your Life ‘Obviously, if you have the chance to compile musical anthologies of a couple of decades of your recordings and write, at a major publisher’s behest, the story of your last quarter century, you’re getting paid to reflect on your life, and can do so with confidence, at your leisure, and with the secure knowledge of an audience, a hearing. Very few of us have that luxury, but that doesn’t stop us – and shouldn’t stop us – from taking stock, looking back constructively (not regretfully or self-shamingly) and seeing what in the past can help us move forward even better.’ I asked John whether that process had been helpful – helping to get dignity in age. ‘Very much so, yeah. It has to because even if you wanted to escape feeling like that you couldn't, because as you compile the anthology, or you look back and remember things that you're writing about, you obviously start to get the feeling of a narrative. You remember how you felt when you made that record, as compared to when you made other records, what you maybe started to try to develop in the sound, and it's linked with chronology obviously, linked with time. So it’s like a movement through time. It's a narrative, you know. Obviously, it's subjective: we edit out stuff we don't want to think about, or we deem as unimportant or unpleasant or whatever, but, yes, very much taking stock. And you also feel the culmination of something. Also, with the first anthology, I never dreamt in a million years, and I don’t think anyone else did, I’d have a second and a third anthology. Not in a million years did I think that.’ But it wasn’t just writing an autobiography and anthologising his recordings that gave John this perspective on his own existential path. It was also, crucially, his journey of ‘self-betterment’ beginning with giving up drink and drugs in the mid-80s, and leading into Buddhism. ‘I’ve had this sense of narrative for a long time. Because I ended up going to AA and you end up telling your story. So I've become very aware of the of the narrative. You know, for better or for worse. And that helps you actually 'cause you’re taking inventory, and it promotes self-awareness. So when you, maybe, start getting fed up with something or pissed off with it, and you’re getting a bit resentful, you're able to think, ‘Ah, I’d better be careful here, 'cause in the past when I got like this, I got all self-centred and things didn't get better, they got worse. So you know, I don't want to pick a drink up again. That's the last thing I wanna do, that’s where, in extremis, it could lead to. I don’t want that to happen. But even before that, I don't want to be unhappy. So let's not fall into that trap.’ Tip 7. Be Grateful For Good Fortune Much of what we talk about is that journey, that narrative arc touched on above and more fully explored in his book. For a lad from a council house in, who left school young, and got into reggae through his older sister, he’s done well. What’s lovely about John is he both knows that and acknowledges it. Thus, he avoids that arrogance and entitlement that plagues so many of us today, whether famous or not. ‘With me, my life's gone a different way obviously compared to most people. Most people, you know, are not in this world that I've been in. I’ve touched on the straight world as well at times, when I stopped drinking, which was very good for me. Being in the undisciplined world I’m in, you pay a price for it, I think. But I've been in very many ways, very lucky. I have been quite devoted to the music; I keep coming back to it but… how can I articulate it? A mate of mine who works for a record company, he was telling me about his son, I think it was, doing something about this test at university, where they made a mock video game, yeah? And they had two teams of students, Group A and Group B, and they had to do these games, this task. It was very competitive and quite edgy and very ruthless, but it wasn't a fair game. It was weighted in favour of group A. All the time they were given the breaks and the luck of the draw, so to speak, so it was designed that Group A won. And then a psychologist interviewed both teams and Group A, the winners, were convinced they’d won because they had great strategy, you know, and they were just so clever. And I've seen that with self-made blokes who (adopts comedy Yorkshire accent), ‘If I can bloody do it, anybody bloody should. The bloody trouble with this bloody world is people are bloody lazy.’ And what people often can't see is they've just had good fortune, and I've had good fortune. I’ve had good fortune. What do they say? Success has many fathers, failure has few, something along those lines. And you see at the end of successful projects, everybody thinks their part of it is so much more important than everybody else’s, you know? Does that answer the question? I don't even know if that answers the question, but…’ Tip 8. Accept Impermanence We discussed the famous friends of John who have passed by the wayside, and this led us into the heart of his philosophy. ‘I mean, impermanence is - you look at Shane (McGowan), Sinead (O’Connor), and there's been a lot of other people died that I knew that are not public figures. Well, life’s impermanence anyway, but we’re all getting to that age. The interesting thing is most of them are not making their three score and ten, you know they're dying mid-fifties and mid-sixties, they're not getting to 70, you know 70-plus. A lot of people from my sort of world have gone. Like I said, I'm very influenced by Buddhism. You know, I've gone on that path. I like to think I wear it lightly. I can't stand people that go (adopts pompous voice), ‘I’m A Buddhist!’ You know? Well bully for you! But the four pillars of Buddhism, one of them is impermanence, which means death, really. It leads onto what I was just saying about the interconnectedness of everything. Nothing, no conditional phenomena, has inherent existence. There's no way I exist as a self-contained, autonomous thing because we're so fragile really, and so interconnected. It's scary, but then when you start to relax within it, it's actually beautiful. You are that impermanence. You are the witnessing presence, and all this is a kind of movement of sorts. They used to call it the void. Which terrified me. They used to call it the void, which is the emptiness of this insofar as there isn’t a solidity to things, there’s a flowing, empty quality. When I first heard it called the void, I thought, well, there’s one religion I’m never gonna follow, I’m not fucking having that! There is no fixed quality to it, you know. You know, that's really scary and lonely at first, but actually you realise it's lovely 'cause it makes you not all claustrophobic and tortured.’ Tip 9. Find A Space For Creativity John talks a lot (with wisdom) in between other topics about how different the music industry (touring, recording and releasing) has become through his time, but how, although he’s someone with a huge back catalogue, he still pushes and strives to do new things: ‘There has to be an open, spontaneous quality to it or it just becomes very dull. You have to have some expectation of surprise. Obviously, what we were talking about before, normal people in normal jobs doing normal lives… The danger of that kind of routine, it becomes a dull routine and everything - the vision - becomes very small, you know? So that's the challenge not to let that happen in life. OK, you have to work. If you’re in that straight world, and you ‘re finding it a burden, well, when you knock off, at least try to find some meaning in the leisure time you've got. Find some meaning and start some kind of project that you can lose yourself in, no matter what it is. Could be meditation practice, could be painting, could be music. Look, life’s suffering. Life’s a challenge and life’s suffering and that’s one of the other pillars of Buddhism – all conditional phenomena are suffering. We think we’ve got inherent existence, we think things have got inherent existence, so it sets this whole complicated chain off… Understanding straightforward enlightenment is a piece of piss compared to understanding karma! But what you find is that one thing doesn’t have one cause. If you’ve got a good heart and you’re warm, all’s good! To be a musician today you need money and you’re not gonna get that from streaming. You're not gonna earn enough money to survive. Unless you’re in a network, when it’s not what you know but who you know. It's a lot of privately educated kids that crack on now (with music). Dilettantes: they can just hang about not earning any money. There's no urgency, no fear to survive because they have assets. They’re taken care of one way or another. Their parents won’t rent a place for them, they’ll buy a place for them, and that’ll become an investment. But most ordinary boys and girls, you know, they're going to have to work. But many great authors and musicians have had straight jobs. So you have to make the best of it. And if you divide your time correctly, if you apply yourself correctly, you can do it. It’s wonderful to have this human life 'cause you got this propensity for change, and for realisation of sorts, and higher degrees of consciousness, I suppose. Of course, if you’re starving and you haven’t got proper drinking water, if your kids have got parasites and you’re struggling for the next bit of food, then obviously you can't reflect on these things. But if you’re lucky, and you've got a job, and you've got some leisure time, you can now make music very easily on a laptop or an iPad, or your phone even. So if you're really determined to make your music, nothing can really stop you. You don't need to save up lots of money. You can make recordings as good as the best studio in the world if you start to learn some basic stuff. You can publish yourself. You get your stuff out into the world. And that's only going to get faster with AI applications as well.’ Tip 10. Engage With The Spiritual, In Whatever Way Works For You. ‘I suppose I was always strong spiritually. I read the Upanishads when I was 15, you know, so I was very drawn that way. Probably the Catholic upbringing helped. But I said back then, when I stopped drinking and drugging and was going on a kind of spiritual path, as you do, ‘I'll never become a Buddhist. How can you have a religion without God, without a centralised concept?’ I couldn’t see that. They talked, as I said, about ‘the void’ - now it's more called ‘emptiness’, it’s so difficult with translations - and I thought, I don't wanna fucking void! That sounds so lonely and scary, with nothing to hold on to! That’s cold, I need warmth. I need my void to be filled with something, let alone to put my void into another void! But actually, in a way, you put your emptiness into the emptiness that is. In that, nothing has inherent existence. There's all kinds of schools of Buddhism… but everything is impermanent, nothing lasts. Nothing’s satisfactory. Ultimately, everything is unsatisfactory, in as much as there's terrible suffering at times, even at the best of times. Eventually it's just unsatisfactory. So only being free of the notion of ‘me’ as an autonomous self and the world as this other thing outside of myself works: being free of ‘I'm solid and unchanging, it's solid and it doesn't really change. It’s always shit and I haven’t got a great relationship with it, but I take it very seriously.’ When you loosen up, and you become a bit spacious with it, and you realise nothing has inherent existence, there’s this sea, this flux of moving stuff – then, there’s a sense of freedom and that's the only place only thing really to take refuge in. You know, then then you kinda lose some sense of having this physical body, which is almost like a target because of your physical body, you're guaranteed suffering really. I had issues at times in the past when I would want some sort of focus, but for me now that just means present awareness. And I think it does so for a lot of other people. But I'm not a Buddha, so I have to be very careful, I can only explain my own limited sort of view on things. Meditation took me a long time to understand. It never stops, you know? Just having a sense of flowing through the world, you know, allowing the music to happen and allowing things to happen rather than controlling everything together. Hopefully, whatever you're doing, you have some sense of freedom.’ So does that mean you can be happy every day? Can you work on yourself? ‘Well, I had to do that yesterday, as it happens. I just felt very out of kilter, you know? It was almost like getting out of bed on the wrong side, hassled with everything. Yesterday I just felt very out of sorts and then you almost become like a shit magnet. You know you're gonna attract the shit, you're part of the confusion. And I saw a couple of really horrible arguments in the street, two blokes screaming at each other, and you just think, Don't buy into things. Because you’ve been pulled into conflict. So, I go for a walk and halfway through my calf goes because I shouldn't be walking on it. The only thing to do with the calf strain at times is resting it. So I’m pissed off with it, there’s arguments going on, I gotta talk to somebody at the council, and I just got a really rude and unprofessional person, and so I said (to them and to myself) it doesn't matter. As my old mate said, ‘We’re here because we're not all there.’ We're not machines. We're not perfect. Sometimes you get it wrong, and you've just got to kind of - you look at the 12 steps of AA - when wrong, continue to take inventory, and when wrong promptly take action. And if you’re wrong, you say to people, ‘I'm sorry. I've got that wrong.’ At least you've said it. You’ve tried to keep your side of the street clean. But we're only human, so you can't get this stuff perfect. It’s like a football team. When the pitch is good, and you’ve got your full team, and the opposition aren’t very good, fantastic. You can knock the ball about, ping it about, play your football. Everything's fantastic, you’re laughing. But when it's not like that… you gotta dig in sometimes to get a result. You gotta win ugly, you gotta get sweaty, and that's part of it. Sometimes life’s a little bit of a struggle, sometimes not. And those days, I'm very mindful at the end of the day - if I get through and I still don't feel quite right, I just think, well, at least I've not put my shit onto somebody else. I can sit; have a stretch, and go, Is everything all right in this moment? Am I aware – what’s the problem? It might be something that seems specific or it might be someone around you that’s acting like a fucking arsehole. Or it could be, like yesterday, you just feel everything’s too full, you’ve got too much to take care of, and it gets to you a little bit. And then another voice will say, ‘Fuck off. If it was completely quiet, you'd be upset.’ But in the end it's all movement. So, just let everything settle sometimes, let the sediment settle, you know? And you can do that even when you're walking along the Thames - you can still be in that state. It's not contingent on sitting in the full lotus position!’ And so my time talking with Jah Wobble finally ended, letting the sediment settle and making sure that our side of the street was kept clean. There was a lot more, with some especially some interesting and passionately expressed insights into class, education and our rulers’ scandalous failings, but maybe that’s for next time, because I need to get on and practise the ‘Ten Tips’: there’s work to do. Which brings me back to Jonathan Richman. He’s 72 now, and I haven’t had the opportunity to see him live for a few years, so I can’t say if he feels dignified now that he’s properly old. But on his latest LP, ‘Want To Visit My Inner House,’ released just two years ago, he shares, candidly, that there have been many wrong turns and false steps along the way. ‘I had to see the harm I'd done/ Before I could change/ I had to see the harm I've done/ Before I could change my ways,’ he sings, before going on to list, quite harshly, many other ways he’s missed the mark over the years, but also suggesting that he's learned from that to become, eventually, a better person. And, although he recognises the ultimate vanity of all existence, the search for meaning and progress still inspires him: ‘I'm a spark/ On a journey from the dark/ Who's not ready to return yet/ I'm just a spark/ On a journey from the dark/ And I'm not ready to come home.’ Or, as John put it, at the end of the final chat when I asked him directly: are you a better and a nicer person now than you were when you were young? ‘Yeah, I think so. Yeah. More consistent. I look back and I can see that I knew what was right, what was wrong. I had the propensity to be nice and to be compassionate and to be understanding, but I was also very erratic, where I could quickly fall back into very entrenched, egotistical positions, and just not see the world clearly. Take everything too personally and too seriously. Hopefully, with a bit of age and a bit of wisdom and maturity, that changes. Calms down, you know?’ You can catch Jah Wobble on his 2024 UK TOUR: MAY Thu 02 GLASGOW Stereo Fri 03 EDINBURGH Voodoo Rooms Sat 04 BUCKLEY Tivoli Thu 09 YORK Pocklington Arts Wed 15 POOLE Lighthouse (METAL BOX) Thu 16 BRISTOL Exchange (METAL BOX) Fri 17 NORTHAMPTON Roadmender (METAL BOX) You can also buy his new updated autobiography, DARK LUMINOSITY, which was published on 7th March by Faber and Faber. And here are those ten tips again to help you this Spring: Tip 1. Keep Busy Tip 2. Learn To Accept Other People For What They Are Tip 3. Realise That You Don’t Always Have To Win Tip 4. Try To Be Generous and Inclusive Tip 5. Try To Be Both Genuine And Humble Tip 6. Try To Keep Some Perspective On Your Life Tip 7. Be Grateful For Good Fortune Tip 8. Accept Impermanence Tip 9. Find A Space For Creativity Tip 10. Engage With The Spiritual, In Whatever Way Works For You.

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In his ''In Dreams Begin Responsibilities' column Steve Miles talks to former Public Image lLd bassist, solo artist and practising Buddhist about his top tips for being happy.

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