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October 2018
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07-08 James, youre not in the real world!

THAT is what my ex-manager would blurt out repeatedly, by way of a defence mechanism, whenever he was losing an argument and began to exhaust his supply of cutting retorts.

I responded by saying that I was very much in the real world. After all I was the one who was up at 3 and 4 in the morning to get to the airport for anti-social flights; or the one trying to catch up on valuable sleep in a mini-bus on an 8-hour cross-prairie drive; or having to deliver a flawless performance on early morning TV while jetlagged; or the one who had to at times go onstage in ill-health - thankfully very infrequently - and struggle through a show with only half my voice in working order. I still have nightmares about one German tour in particular. So I was very much in the real world.

But my ex-manager argued that he was the one left at home in Ireland to answer questions, to meet record companies, to talk to accountants, and to generally open career doors on our behalf.

 

Did he have a point? Do artists live in the real world?

 

Perhaps musicians, artists, writers and poets exist on a different plane, living in a sort of protected creative cocoon, one or two steps away from reality. After all, what is real about singing at night-time on a stage in front of a paying audience? At first glance, it is of course more real to work a 9 to 5 job. Students are said to be entering the real world once they graduate, but what was unreal about their existence up to that point? Performers dwell in a world of luvvies plastered in make-up, or perhaps just plastered.

 

I think it was mainly for this reason I went to Kenya this year. I needed a kick in the ass. I wanted a dose of reality. I was given an overdose. I wanted a dramatic break from the false world of performing, scenery, make-up, lights and luvvies. Even though onstage I am myself, and I think my real persona is transmitted to the audience most of the time, onstage (and sometimes offstage I regret to admit) I exist at times behind a mask.

 

Perhaps my ex-manager had a point, perhaps I am not in the **** real world.

As I wandered through the Kibera slum in Nairobi with an armed guard, I witnessed closeup the horrors facing the 2 million inhabitants of this 21st century hellhole. I was in pursuit of the real world. Had I found it in Kibera? Surely not - Please God No. But for a little AIDS orphan sleeping rough in the stinking streets by open sewers, the physical reality of their daily lives must seem very real indeed. For the residents of Baghdad, the daily car-bombs and killings are their reality. A terminally ill patient wishes their world was not real. Sadly the situations these people find themselves in are very much reality for them. Nurses in emergency rooms, firefighters, single mothers on low incomes, farmers whose crops fail or livestock die, or plastic surgeons who reconstruct looks are all very much in their own real worlds. Nuns in strictly closed or silent orders, though many might consider such a lifestyle a cop-out, dwell in their real world. Every single person on this planet is in their own real world, though some of those worlds may seem false, cruel, or dangerous.

 

Performing is my real world for now, but I think it is vital that we all should be fully aware of, and at times sample, all the other real worlds within our world.