Motel Blues

During all these interviews for ITV and Channel 5 no one asked me about all the many times I’ve let my wife down or why I can sometimes seem so aloof. Nothing about the fact that if I’d managed to secure life insurance we wouldn’t be in this mess. And what about my lifelong fragile ego? The person that I can be am underneath all this: teetering between a sense of myself as Mr Wonderful or Mr Worthless. I think this could have played well on the ITV lunchtime news. But instead they chose to focus on my bravery and selflessness.

In geometry there is no shape that can encapsulate the many sided people that we are. And the different ways that all of us could tell our own story. Because my feeling is that we’re so much more substantial, and that we endure longer, as a collection of stories than as physical entities. Given what’s happening to me, I suppose I would think that.

On Tuesday I was collected by taxi and driven for two hours to the ITV studios in Kings Cross. I sat gazing out at the world listening to the self-lacerating songbook of Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Johnny Cash and the rest. But of all these tracks it was Motel Blues by Loudon Wainwright III that resonated deeply.

For those who don’t know this track, it’s about a touring ‘rock & roller’ and his desperate, failing need to connect. In the song he’s addressing a young woman and trying to persuade her to sleep with him. And his description of the empty paraphernalia of his touring life speaks of the emptiness that eats away. It’s a song about looking for connection in the wrong places. And the timbre of his voice is so squeezed and so pained. This is one of those songs that I would never want to listen to a cover of. The voice is the fabric of the song.

And here’s my fragile ego again – driving up to London to do interviews and identifying with a rock & roll star. Driving away from home and my wife and my children. Was I looking for connection in all the wrong places? Why was I here? Why am I giving this version of myself?

The person I’ve written and talked about in the media is definitely me. The Dad I’ve been in my life is definitely the very best of me. And grieving for what I am about to lose has enabled an honesty and openness that I have taken into the public sphere. But I’ve seldom found it easy to be open about who I’ve really been in life or about the many ways that I‘ve acted irresponsibly or how self-regarding I can be or how frightened I have felt for much of my life. With the end of my time approaching, and as I become frailer, this is the honesty and the bravery I seek.

Driving home in that taxi, I ditched the mood music. I just wanted to get home – to where I’m known. To the place where I am increasingly, thankfully, able to be open about the mixed life I’ve had. And to be loved, not from a single angle or for a single story, but for the flawed and uneven person that I really am.

by joe hammond

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