(Photo: Doug Coombe)
Check out this exclusive stream of “Living Without Love” from Saves The Day's new album, Daybreak, out Sept. 13 on Razor & Tie. Scroll to the bottom, hit “play” and then read STD frontman Chris Conley's explaination of the inspiration behind the new album. You can also buy the track on iTunes here.
At this point in the history of mankind, we find ourselves in a world which values the external achievements and appearances of Life as opposed to the internal nature of the Heart. No matter your kindness, no matter your caring, if you don't look the way you're supposed to look, act the way you're supposed to act, and compete the way you're asked to compete, you are shunned, ostracized, left out in the cold. It is rare for us to talk to one another about the difficulty of this existence, so for those who do not fit into the established trends of behavior and appearance, there is sometimes great confusion, sadness, anger, and fear.
Growing up overweight, I was perpetually teased about being different, and found it difficult to make friends, leaving me isolated socially, and wildly awkward. I had no internal sense of being good enough the way I was, no confidence. It felt as if the person I was in my heart was invisible to all, and I was judged on my appearance alone. “Smile for the camera. Suck in that gut.” Under the barrage of insults, I grew to be dejected beneath the surface of my skin, turning away from the world, without comfort, without companionship.
Being an only child in the midst of this confusion was hard, because I had no one to tell me it was ok, that the world itself was confused, with its value system in need of repair. For my caring parents, my pain was overwhelming, and they simply told me the kids at school were being mean, that they didn't know to be nice because their parents never taught them. They were trying to make me feel better, but really, without a peer to share the process with, it was a nightmare to persevere.
In no time, the hurtful words of others became the harmful words in my head. “What is wrong with me?” “Why am I like this?” “Why don't people like me?” My heart built walls around itself trying to hold on, turning away from the storm, trying desperately to ignore the whispered jokes and pointing fingers. Trying to navigate the debilitating experience of rejection, my mind came up with its own conclusions. “I'm worthless.” “I'm disgusting.” “I'm a disgrace.”
Of course, my heart couldn't handle the ache of my own self-hatred, and as Life went on, I grew to be angry at the people who tormented me. Before long, I was full of hate for others. Hate for the world. Hate for my classmates. Hate for any authority who witnessed such insensitivity yet did nothing to help. There was no one there to hold. No one to talk to.
Without a way to bear the pain and sadness from the world's rejection, I focused my pain on the external world, judging society for its heartless condemnation of me and the many others who also did not fit into the accepted molds of behavior and personae. I hated the world and I hated myself. For years I believed there was something horribly wrong with me. Something unforgivable. Something unlovable.
What was unlovable about me? I was fat. I was awkward. I had acne. I was short. I was insecure. I was the punchline to every joke. Worst of all, I believed it. I became afraid of being myself, of letting people see the real me. In fact, in my mind, the world would be better without me. My heart couldn't contain the immensity of the pain. So I fought from within to force myself to be more like them. Do this, don't do that. Say this, don't say that. Whatever you do, don't show your true nature to anyone. I was on high alert at all times to make sure I didn't do anything which would prove me guilty of being different.
After years of fighting to hold myself together, to be what they wanted me to be as best I could, I became exhausted. I caved in to depression. I put dark curtains over the windows of my room to block out the Sun. I wished to speak with no one. I longed for an end to it all. No matter what I did, something about me was always different. Something was always wrong.
Somehow, in the middle of the turmoil and anguish, I discovered music. I got an acoustic guitar. Quite suddenly, I had a companion for the first time. I could disappear into a world of music for hours, without feeling the weight of the outside world. A peaceful place. Harmonious. I was in love. It was as if for the first time, none of their words mattered, nothing could touch me in that place. I began to thaw.
Slowly, I became more comfortable being myself, and people began to gravitate to me because of my music. A few kids from school wanted to start a band with me, where I would write all the songs and play guitar and sing. Wow. Fun. What a new feeling! I belonged. We quickly found that punk music, with its angst and energy, suited us quite well and we could vent our strange feelings through peppy powerful songs. The community of musicians which nurtured us in the underground world of punk was the first community where I felt at home. I could be myself, and it was ok. Years went by. I met a wonderful girl named Rosalee and she accepted me as I am. She loved me for who I was inside, no matter what the world had to say about me. We got married. We had a beautiful daughter, Luella. Life was beautiful. It was a Gift.
As it turns out, even though I was feeling better and Life was getting more enjoyable, the echo from the endless years of harassment and torture at the hands of my peers, still rattled in my heart and mind. While I was beginning to come out of my shell and grow into myself as a Husband and Father, I still felt this sickness of self-hatred, the leftover whispers which I never turned towards, only able to turn away as a young child. Now, becoming a man, observing society not only as something I individually must confront, but as my daughter's inevitable Life Ground, I started to wonder why there were certain acceptable modes of behavior in society, why I had been judged at all, why I was left with this feeling of malevolence. What would the world be like for Luella? How can I protect her from it all? I felt like Life should be better, that people should treat one another more kindly, and I felt like things were careening out of control, as if people were more and more hurtful to each other as the years went by. Reflecting on the nature of society, I was unable to accept it as it is. How could this process which creates so much pain and confusion and misery be worthwhile? How can my little girl be expected to participate in the trials of this weary world? An angel in our midst.
The rules of society often dictate how parents, not just peers, criticize their children and attempt to correct apparent abnormal behavior should it show up in the early years of development. Even our parents are caught in the confusion of this strange value system which holds the external achievements and appearances of things as the most important aspects of Life. In turn, the criticism from those we love, as well as from our community, typically creates thought patterns that turn against us in our minds, harming us by trying to force us to be the way we are expected to be. We have to be like them or else. Or else what? What is truly at stake here? Or else be stranded out in the cold? Homeless? Unwanted? My little angel must face this test?
Yet, this is the world we live in. My Life is here, not in some Shangri-La. It is here in the world of hurt. Luella's Life is here. Rosalee and I cannot change the tides of time, not with our Love for our child, not with our Love for each other. I could no longer ignore it. I could no longer ignore the effects of living through this Life. Music and Marriage had given me the stability to examine Life from different angles, instead of being lost in fear and confusion. Now I was looking at things more closely.
What was it all about? Following the rules of this strange game until we die? Casting each other aside for personal gain? For years I was so angry. Fire. Burning seething raging fire. Later on, with the nihilism I had adopted from the world of punk music, and the sheer desperation of a concerned, caring parent, I began to get cynical. “This awful world. This terrible cold mean world.”
The heat of the rage within threatened to set me on fire, if not the whole world in the process. I could not accept the misery of the millions of others. I could not accept the inevitable challenges and difficulties Luella would surely have to face living within this sphere of competition and antagonism. I was angry that we don't support one another, love one another, care for one another. I was angry about how much I hurt… Then came an important realization. I realized the full weight of my Hurting. My longing to feel alright. To belong. To be accepted. My desire for a better world in which my family can live. My fear of it all. In fact, my anger was only an inability to feel the full brunt of my pain. Without a way to hold myself in the hurting, over years of confusion, it turned outward, blaming the world for my condition. A victim.
When I finally reached out for help and learned to face the pain for the first tentative time, oceans of tears were cried for my heart. Oceans of tears for the hearts of others. My fellow partners in Life. My peoples. My Love. I love you all. But wait… not all of us are hurting, some of us are perpetuating the machines of society. Some of us are creating the rules, shackling our neighbors. After initially feeling the overwhelming intensity of my raw emotions, I retreated momentarily into my original cocoon of anger and cynicism, only this time it was aimed directly at the system of the world, the rules of society, the accepted “norms.”
The realization that Money is the ultimate controlling mechanism behind the system of acceptance and rejection slowly dawned on me. Whether people can get by paying their bills is based on what kind of job they have which is based on how smart or how skilled they are, what they look like, what their core system of values is including religion, sexual orientation, and political affiliation, therefore creating the absolute necessity of being more or less what society wants you to be. What society needs you to be. What industry needs you to be. To be a worker. To be a slave.
Now hold on here just one moment. You can see how quickly this all turns to righteous anger and rage. Which eventually breeds violence. Violence…… I could not live this way. I could not take it any longer. My heart crushed by the weight of the world. Not only the hurt of longing for your loved ones who will surely suffer, but the hurt of having to alter your true Heart's nature in order to fit into the system. In order to make money. In order to survive. How could I be a good Husband and Father when I was filled with anger and hostility towards the structure of the establishment? How was I to live without hatred? How was I to come back to Life? How was I to be the example I need to be?
I needed to bring my heart back to Life. I needed to find a reason to love the world. I needed a reason to Live again. I found that reason in my Family. I found that reason in my Heart. In my Hurting. My Caring. My Loved Ones. My Neighbors. You and Me. Me and You. To turn away from it all would be to turn away from You. You Whom I Love. All of You. You are my reason. I am my reason. We are the reason. Our shared experience in all of this, our ability to care for one another, our longing to belong. We are good people trapped in a broken world. We turn nasty and fight one another, but we don't mean to, it's just the pressure, the weight of it all. We lose the goodness in our hearts in the callous cold of the world outside. It's our exhaustion trying to be other than we naturally are. Trying to survive. Trying to get by.
And how then to save a broken heart? How to come back to the world? To belong. To bring my Heart back to Life, I first needed to learn to hold myself in the pain. In the Center of the Heart of Hurting. To be there with myself and others. To feel the pain. To give in to the weight without turning away to lay blame. To breathe. And to let it go. Let it go. Let it go. Truth is we are all in pain. We all have different ways of expressing it. Some of us make millions in an attempt to ensure as much security and stability for ourselves and others before the ultimate end. Some of us learn to be the strongest in the room, the one who can fight the rest into submission physically or mentally, to create the most comfort before the ultimate end. Some of us learn to run. To turn away from it all. To hide from the pain. Some of us get angry. Some of us get even.
Why do we protect ourselves in these ways? What are we afraid of? What is the ultimate end? Death? Are we hoping to feel the illusion of safety before the inevitable end? Before the beginning of the end? Isn't this something we all must face? Must we cling so tightly to Life, desperately trying to make things the way we want them to be, fighting each other in the process? Can we breathe and listen and feel and learn?
Not wanting to fall into any of these traps again, yet understanding and sympathizing with them all, I knew I needed to find another way. I knew I needed to find my way back to the Heart. The Heart that can hold both the pain and the joy of the world and breathe and know that all things pass and it is not ourselves or each other that we need to blame, it is merely that there is nothing to blame, there is only the one true fact that Life itself is Hurting, and without knowing this deeply and sharing in the experience of surviving one another's passing, we turn to fight off the feeling of Life's pain and change it, to make it go away no matter the cost, no matter how many lives are sacrificed and lost in war, and no matter how many broken homes and starving families, no matter how many tomorrows we have sacrificed to our time, we only wind up fighting ourselves and killing each other and it is time to stop the bleeding. To hold each other in the hurt. To turn this all around. And this is the message of my heart.
I began to write. I started at the beginning. The pain. The anger. The confusion. This became Sound The Alarm, the first installment in the Trilogy, an album so raw and wretched, the fire almost burns through the speakers, with lyrics about death, doubt, denial, and a dream to see the world burn down to dust. In the title track I sing, “In the darkness of my mind I hear a voice that seems to sigh I'm gonna die before I save myself.” This was the conclusion of a heart swallowed by fear, without hope. Without future.
Next, in the second chapter of the trilogy, Under The Boards, I detailed the turning point when the pain and anger and confusion begin to erode the fabric of your life, when loved ones turn away out of their own hurt watching you self-destruct, when you are left alone to decide to face the fear or die by its derangement. The album is mercurial, twisting this way and that before finally giving in to the pain for the final three songs, which are akin to the descent into the depths of hell in the dark night of the soul. In the last song, “Turning Over In My Tomb,” I finally reach up for the root to pull myself out of the darkness of pain, and into the light of acceptance. It will be ok.
Finally, to complete the trilogy, Daybreak is the album about putting all the pieces back together. It's about bringing my Heart back to Life. Turning it all around. It's about understanding why and how my heart was swallowed by fear, and learning to breathe and to let it go. After getting lost in the expectations of a world focused on external achievements, Daybreak celebrates the inner values of believing in ourselves, coming home to ourselves, staying true to our original nature. To survive this world, we only have to look within, become quiet, and listen to the message of our heart. When we ask “Is this all a waste of time,” we receive the comforting answer from within ourselves, “You are not the one to blame. The past, the pain, all of it at once became too much to hold, too dark, too cold. You lost your way, that's all.” And we know that we can abide here for the remainder of our Lives, held in the spacious caring of our Heart. Alive in the midst of the Hurting of the world. And we turn around. And we face one another. And we begin to Live again.