Continuing along the theme of ‘the stressors of touring’, in this week's blog I will be looking at travel, the waiting and the adventure.
It seems like an odd subject to write about in the context of musicians and mental health, but the constant travel from touring can often create a cycle of stress from the free-floating anxiety of boredom, through to the hyper excitement of exploring cultures far and wide. And of course, these emotional experiences are often mitigated through drugs, drink and other vices.
From my personal experience, the heavy touring schedules were a place of both excitement but also exhaustion. The constant ebb and flow between airport delays, missing flights, splitter vans, tour buses, time zones, garage diets and sporadic foreign eating was a challenge at times. Yes, it was freedom, pirate like and laden with the spirit of an adventurer travelling to foreign lands, but it did take its toll after a few years of mental trampolining (for me anyway). Towards the latter part of the intense period of my career (of DJing especially) I would dread the prospect of another Luton-esque, early morning taxi, flight and splitter van across Europe. As a result I would subsequently find my own ways of getting through the dehydrated boredom to placate me just enough to enjoy the excited buzz, de-compression of the mystical 2-hour set. It was an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows. Of course, this ‘getting through’ didn’t always involve the healthiest of methods.
This dilemma is often apparent for many of the musicians I speak to on the monthly ‘Tonic Music’ radio show (especially apparent in Ian Broudie’s experience) you can listen again here. The musicians talk about how the joys of touring and camaraderie are embedded with the difficulties of travel, the mundanity of waiting around and the long hours of being thrown up and down emotionally. I’ll talk more about this waiting around in the next blog.
This dilemma or paradox (as I called it in 2016) is the core of the touring musician’s struggle. This paradox is the main thread running through a musician’s professional life. The good but bad, the bad but good and we all adapt to it from our own nuanced perspectives, heavily dependent of our own wounds and mental health style of being.
In particular, the travelling can also be quite lonely, I can remember one solo tour in particular that prompted me to question my decision to mooch around Europe and the UK as a solo artist. From these experiences, I can no longer tolerate Travel Lodges, the smell, the towels, the weighted doors, the burns on the tables and the sad old water left for months in the bottom of broken kettles. Having a few weeks of back-to-back solo dates around the UK in a cold January was one a most depressing experience that still burns deep on the isolation scale. This, I’m sure wouldn’t be the case for everyone but for my own mental make-up, I really struggled. The exuberant energy of the shows and the solemn isolation of the travel and accommodation prompted me to never again do a solo tour of that length, at that time of year, in that type of accommodation, it just felt too brutal and detracted from the beauty of the art.
But, again as expressed by all of the musicians I speak to, even as I write this, I feel a level of guilt derived from the privilege of being able to do this. Yes, we are lucky, but it can also be shit at times and we need to remember that!
This paradox and insider-understanding is the basic fuel for the Tonic Rider Peer Support Groups.
Adam Ficek hosts a monthly show 'Tonic Music' on Totally Wired Radio, where he talks to various guests about music and mental health. You can listen again to any of the previous show on the Tonic Music Mixcloud page.