Happiness is Only Real When Shared: Venturing Performance on My Own.
Growing up, one my favourite films was Into the Wild; a true story centred around a man’s self-exile into the Alaskan wilderness. The movie starred one of my top childhood actor’s Emile Hirsch who depicts Alexander Supertramp, as he became known, and his search for happiness away from human materialism.
His real name was Christopher McCandless. Born to incredibly wealthy parents Billie and Walt McCandless. Alexander, as I’ll call him from herein, was a top student and fantastic athlete who had graduated with ease from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. In a rather unbelievable turn of events, he gave away his entire savings to charity, ignored his academic achievements and went onto a journey into the Alaskan Wilderness completely on his own.
“For me, the exile was the very idea that I could perform my words as a piece on their own, unaccompanied…”
Now, this man was and is an icon to me. And although I only know his story from the world of Hollywood, I think it’s rare to find a tale of someone going in search of true peace and tranquillity away from the money and the lights. Most significant perhaps, that he undertook this journey completely on his own, not a single person to rely on, or even contact throughout his exile.
I’ve been performing alone since last August. After nearly 15 years of making music with people, I’ve decided to try this alone. My last live gig as a band with Fall Short! Conform! was on 31st January 2009 at Newcastle Academy. The gap between that show and my first show on my own, as the Eagertongue was big. And the process to get there was more than just an artistic journey; it was a mental one. Maybe even a physical one. I’m an incredibly different person compared to how I looked back then in the cold North Eastern winter of 2009. I’m an incredibly different person to know at all.
Alexander was someone who on the face of it was surrounded with love and opportunity, but a lack of fulfilment is what sent him on to this journey. He wanted to live and experience a life outside of the norm. In May 1992, he set up camp in an abandoned bus (The Magic Bus) just outside of Denali National Park without any contact with his peers or his family. My journey to self-realisation was nowhere near as outlandish as Alexander’s, but none the less a spiritual one for me. I myself began writing in my own Magic Bus, around December 2014, with the simple yet striking idea of the words being read aloud, alone. For me, the exile was the very idea that I could perform my words as a piece on their own, unaccompanied by music, a band, or even a set plan of how it might work out.
During Alexander’s realisation that he himself would “go it alone”, he destroyed all his credit cards and personal identification. No longer was he Christopher McCandless. Although my credit cards are still intact, and my passport still reads ‘Graham MacMillan-Mason’, the moment I read out the words in that book, I became ‘The Eagertongue’.
I write this a mere 2 weeks after The Eagertongue has just supported one of my favourite artists, Listener. Listener are a band fronted by Dan Smith, and joined by former The Chariot member Jon Terrey with Red Sweater Lullaby frontman Kris Rochelle completing the line up. Listener began as a spoken word project, with Dan Smith the lead vocalist, providing a platform for some of the most exciting lyrics and performances on what I would class as the alternative music scene. Their single, ‘Wooden Heart’ was myself and my wife’s first dance song at our wedding, so when the band slept over at my house, this marked a somewhat surreal moment; perhaps the most important yet on this (so far) short-lived journey of The Eagertongue. This really was an “I’ve done okay for myself here” moment. The Eagertongue had become worth it, even if this was as far as it had gotten, or was ever going to go.
This was not the weirdest part of the evening though. I had always had confidence that my words and performances could stand up amongst people I look up to. Always. A month or so ago, I recorded at Glasswork Studio with producer Lewis Glass. Lewis had spoken to me once or twice and come to see some of my performances. He really, really believed in me. I felt it in the smile as I recorded my poems with him.
I eventually asked him to perform with me. To add a sole drone guitar to my recordings and live sets. This was a big thing for me. I do not like compromise and The Eagertongue was always to be my solo thing. My journey. My words. My direction.
As I came off the stage with him, high-fiving him as we lay together on a rug in a moment of almost romantic solidarity, I knew I had made the right decision to add him to this story. He had come at just the right time too.
It was at this moment I remembered my love for the film Into The Wild, not because of his disconnection from the modern world, not because of his bravery, but because of the words he wrote in his diary when, in August 1992, Alexander’s decomposing body was found weighing only 66lb by hunters in a converted bus on the Eastern Bank of the Sushana River:
“Happiness is only real when shared.”
― Christopher McCandless/Alexander Supertramp