Earlier today, I read a facebook post from a friend of mine, where she listed the top ten albums that were life changing or influential in some way. NOT her favourite albums, but the most influential. Which got me thinking: What has influenced me in my life and why? Well, I just had to blog about it didn’t I? So here is, in no particular order, some books, movies, people and life events that helped shape and mould the person I am today.

Stand By Me
I first saw this movie in a friends house when I was about ten years old I think. This was a time in my life when I was obsessed by books and movies (not a lot has changed since) but at that age, if the book or movie didn’t have magic, wizards, elves or some sort of fantasy element to it, then I wasn’t interested. I had never heard of this movie and I had no idea it was based on a novella by Stephen King either (I actually don’t think I knew who Stephen King was at that age either) but as the movie began I felt an instant connection with the characters. Four young boys, hanging out in their tree house, playing cards and having fun. I was immediately drawn in. Of course, the boys set off on an adventure (to find the dead body of another young boy) and this in and of itself was enough to capture my attention completely. Didn’t we all want adventures when we were young. The scene where the train almost hits them on the bridge; when Gordy has the leech on his balls; where they jump the fence after the dog chasing them. All things I could relate to as being ‘fun’ even at that age. It wasn’t until later, as an adult, when I watched the movie again did I notice the real tones lying beneath the boys escapades: Memories, life and death, a longing to be young again and friendship. This was the first movie I saw that showed me a story didn’t have to be fantastical to be a good story. Still one of my favourites to this day.

The second studio album by Nirvana, but the one that shot them to instant stardom and made Kurt Cobain ‘the voice of a generation.’
The first time I heard Smells Like Teen Spirit was on a kids TV show called The Den. It was 1991 and I was twelve years old. The opening clang of chords, followed shortly by the pounding drums and heavily distorted guitar. If that was enough to make me look up, the broken voice of the dirty-haired blonde singer sure did. Yes, my attention was caught but I didn’t know what to make of it. I knew I loved it, but at twelve years old I also loved Michael Jackson. Somehow I felt that it was ‘wrong’ to like something so completely different. But over the next few years, up to Kurt’s early death two and a half years later I found myself outgrowing Michael and becoming increasingly obsessed with Nirvana. Puberty had hit and passed and with my body and mind confused by the changes within myself, I found the anger and melancholy within Nirvana’s music and Kurt’s lyrics something to hold on to with a fiery passion I had never experienced before. After his death it became even more so. I listened to them incessantly, found myself in trouble in school for constantly singing their songs in class and dressed as much like Kurt as I could. Which was easy. Converse, torn jeans and dirty jumpers (sweaters). Kurt was the first person in the world of creativity where I felt I understood him, that we were kindred spirits. I can firmly say, that album and his death were seminal moments in my young life and undoubtedly led me on a path to follow my creative desires and place them above security and ‘settling’ for a ‘normal’ life.

As much as it’s easy to say I shied away from what can be considered a normal path for a young man to travel (school, college, job, career, wife, kids) it was the death of my maternal grandfather that put the final nail in the coffin (pun intended). We were very close, he and I. Well, closer than I was to any other of my grandparents. I had two other grandparents who died when I was younger so I wasn’t as affected by their deaths as I was by his. I was in my mid twenties and a little bit lost. I was fighting a battle within myself to follow my creative urges or conform to what was expected of me. In doing so, I ended up attempting to do both at the same time, resulting in anger, confusion, resentment and not living either of my lives very well. But when he died, that all changed.
He was the first person I ever truly cared about to have passed away and I had an epiphany of sorts shortly after his passing. His life had ended. There were no do-overs, no second chances. He lived a good life, had children and grandchildren and always seemed eternally happy. Yet, I pondered on how would it be if he had lived a sad life, full of regret, doing things that brought him no pleasure or satisfaction? He would still be dead.
This was my epiphany. My grand discovery. Something that we all know deep down but rarely allow to surface in out minds, at least not with any real fervour. I will one day die. As will you. As will every other thing that lives. I decided then and there that I did not want to live a life that wasn’t true to myself. Would I forgo a steady job with a nice income to follow my dreams? Yes I would. Would I challenge myself to follow my heart and not the wishes of others? Yes I would. Would I live a life that I could be proud of? Yes I would. For one day, I will die. And I want my life to be filled with happiness, creativity and accomplishments, not regret and bitterness at never having tried.
When my head drops, as it sometimes does, and I doubt myself, I just remind myself that one day I will die. But I am alive today and no one gets to choose how I live my life except for me. To quote Stephen King and The Shawshank Redemption: ‘Get busy living, or get busy dying.’

So that’s a quick snippet inside my head. I’d love to hear your feedback and if you blog, then perhaps you should write a similar piece about your influences and how they helped shape who you are.

One response to “Influences

  1. It’s no secret what a huge Nirvana fan I am having gone as far as to write a poem called “The Birth of Grunge” which I dedicated to them. This post spoke to me Jay. It was giving me a glimpse at the boy with an artist inside struggling to get out when Kurt broke away at the wall and let him out. I luv this and will be sharing this with our writing community.

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