No offence is meant here to the people I know and love, or to anyone else. But sometimes don’t you wish you were on your own?
Not because of unhappiness, anger or any other feelings of bitterness. But just because. Because you want to be on your own? I do and I think I always have.
Back when I was nineteen years old this feeling was defined for me by a song I’d never heard before.
It’s November 1973 and I’m sat in the Empire Theatre in Liverpool watching Neil Young for the first time. I’ve arrived in a good mood having looked forward to this for weeks. Even the unknown support band have joined in with this optimism by being surprisingly good, singing their driving down the highway harmonic songs. A group called The Eagles.
But Neil’s come on, under a single dangling light bulb, and is now five songs into a differently difficult sounding set that’s beginning to worry me, as I’m not recognising anything he’s singing. Until he and the band ramshackle their way into a song that’s also about an American highway. He sings:
‘I’ve been driving down the road
And I’m starving to be alone,
To find somewhere
Where they don’t care who I am’
This I recognise. Not the song or the sheltering from fame, but this ‘starving to be alone.’ And I realise I’ve been feeling it for most of my life.
Walking is where it’s been most obvious. Even by nineteen I’ve got a long history of walking away from where most of the people are. Sometimes. Other times I’m more than happy in a crowd. But now, then and frequently this need to be alone builds up in me like a feeling I’ve never found a word for, until Neil Young calls it ‘starvation.’
And that’s it. A need like extreme hunger for my own company. A need that defines me as strongly as socialism or Liverpool and has got me into all kinds of trouble over many of the subsequent years. For refusing to join in, with anything, sometimes.
Sometimes the hunger makes me walk or maybe read. Other times I’ll just sit somewhere contemplating. This time it’s made me write. And write about the song too. Remembering the long ago evening in the Empire when Neil Young defined the feeling that defines so much about me. And maybe you too?
I certainly know other people with the same occasional longing. The need for the feel of wheels under you. Your own choice of where to go, what to do and what to listen to. Even if your choices are ‘nowhere’ and ‘nothing.’ Especially if.
Other than Neil Young’s song, the best description I know of this longing to be alone is in the blog post “The Long Light & The Deep Quiet” which my partner Sarah wrote earlier in the summer about her three weeks alone, sea kayaking in the Outer Hebrides:
‘Here I have calm and deep peace. Time for me. Time to consider life. I have craved, needed, wanted this– so much. To give myself some perspective, to reflect that life is short. Too short to not do what gives you joy. Too short to get side-tracked by the diversions that don’t matter.
I have a craving for quiet. I find it here.’
Sarah’s away sea kayaking again this weekend. So I’m on my own and looking forward to it.
The Neil Young song, by the way, is ‘Albuquerque and it turned out to be on an album called ‘Tonight’s the Night’ that didn’t come out for ages after the Empire Concert. Instead he released an equally ragged blues thing called ‘On the Beach’ where he sang:
‘I need a crowd of people, but I can’t face them
day to day,
I need a crowd of people, but I can’t face them
day to day.
Though my problems are meaningless,
that don’t make them go away.
I need a crowd of people,but I can’t face them
day to day’
He was onto something back then was Neil. Starving to be alone.
See also ‘Alone.’ Looks like I write this blog post every three years or so.