An Invitation For Rebirth

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As published in the Japanese magazine BEEAST

Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer Khalil Gibran said “We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them”.  Do we?  Maybe we do… Do I? Maybe I do.

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I’ve been greatly awaiting spring to unfold its wonders, this year more than any time before, I guess. Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen much light since I came back from Japan last November. Everything goes so fast, too fast for me to truly see, if only as a by-standing witness trying to capture a furtive view of the magnificent seasonal colors I’m in. Maybe I’ve lost perspective of time, musing about the everlasting essence of the invisible. Meditating about long-gone ghosts, sorrows inevitably grow in you. Just like chasing shadows, if you’re ready to become one with these long-gone ghosts a little more every time you go running after missing pieces of memories, illusions inevitably catch on to you… until you lose yourself.

Therefore, when days feel like old photographs slowly losing their brightness through the over-exposed nights spent looking for a place to lay down, when comforting images we tend to secretly kneel before and reminiscence of joyful past whispers become all we have to feel alive, is it the reflection of our own impermanent nature that makes every single morning an even more precious moment to breathe into? As we fade away, as we disappear a little more every day, as we fight to keep a right balance between what is and what you dream of becoming, I now believe that every dawn is a gift, an invitation for rebirth, an open door to new beginnings.

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For me, just as I have experienced it the first time I had the blessing of dwelling in its welcoming arms so many years ago, my last visit to Japan with the band has been incredibly inspiring and meaningful for me. It was like walking in places where I could feel the halo of the past reverberating before my eyes, guiding my tired feet safely home somehow. It offered me a last look on dear and cherished souvenirs I thought had vanished in the vapor of my own self-painted nights. It was a last glimpse on things I needed to forgive, to be forgiven for, that I needed to be set free from. It reminded me of who I am, rather than who I was or allowed to become. The concert we played that night was the reflection of that freedom. Just like Hemingway wrote “We are all broken—that’s how the light gets in”. Maybe my heart needed more light than I was ready to acknowledge, than I was ready to open up to. Whatever it was, I received it for what it was, based on who I am; broken, but free.

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In fact, it’s while watching the official video for the band’s latest single, “1-2-3 (One Step Away)”, as I was getting ready for the “About a Song” live interview regarding the meaning of that song, that this statement by Khalil Gibran came back to my mind: “We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them”. The song and video so perfectly represent that state of heart and soul I was in when I first wrote the song and imaged its video. It now goes way beyond the images and its storyline. All the symbolic elements now represented through all the lyrics and different imageries are so incredibly more revealing than the words and scenes that I initially chose to keep myself away from, away from the true meaning of what I was actually living or wanted to embody. Consciously or unconsciously, the hidden truth exposed in “1-2-3 (One Step Away)” is the deep struggle between the self-resurrection that comes with a total abandonment to the light that Hemingway talks about and the living death reality associated to the hopelessness that is our surrender to fatalism. 

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As if Gibran’s words, “We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them”, and Hemingway’s, “We are all broken—that’s how the light gets in”, were different perspectives of the condition of the heart and soul, diametrically opposed to one another. I however think they are pretty much complementary to each other. We may have chosen long ago the nature of our present condition, but the invitation for a enlightened rebirth remains a constant reality, may we acknowledge the actual state we are in, totally broken or only slightly dented. New morning promises await our welcoming arms to shine upon us. Whether it be hiding a profound confession to finding another reason to keep faith alive or an uplifting celebration to let go and be free, the truth always lies within our personal desires to dig for more than what we have settled in. That’s what art is to me; the reflection of life evolving as we do. And for me, “1-2-3 (One Step Away)” is an honest embodiment of that emotional stream that guides us through time, that defines the measure by which we fade away, disappearing a little more each day, may it be elusive or everlasting. Are we also choosing that measure long before losing each and everyone of our personal colors to the night? Or is it the light we let in that creates the new colors we leave the world with, inspiring others to create what makes who we are eternal?

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When we wrote “Between Illness and Migration”, it was about staying alive. The notion of right and wrong, of true and false, of potential success and failure, of eternity and ending… None of that has ever crossed our minds. It was real, that’s all that mattered. It was an emergency to feel alive. It wasn’t an artsy statement, nor a well-prepared commercial release. It was us facing the worst of it all. Us, in a personal and collective way. That’s why I hated hearing myself on the radio. That’s why I felt so remotely uncomfortable with the album being praised, being so highly viewed by strangers. It is so personal. It took time for me to be comfortable to sing those songs. I never played much of the record live within the first year of its release. Was it too soon for me? Maybe. “1-2-3 (One Step Away)” was supposed to be the album’s first radio single, but I thought it was too intimate. I thought all the songs were, in a way. I needed time, way more time. I was still so fragile, broken in every possible way. But Hemingway was right… the light did get in. In a real, unexpected and significant way… just like we wrote the album. 

So a year ago, as we were attending the prestigious Canadian Juno Music Awards, when someone told me that being nominated for “Rock Album of the Year”, meant that “Between Illness and Migration” was now part of the immortal artistic heritage of my country, I thought it was as ridiculously pompous of a statement as it was reductive. As if a prize could ever determine the value of art. As if being nominated would ever define how difficult that album has been for me to write. I was somehow relieved we didn’t win after all, as if winning would have cursed “Between Illness and Migration” with the implacable desire of people to turn the wonders of its evolving impermanence into a frigid and sterile absolute. The album has kept on evolving tremendously ever since we released its first incarnation in Japan, for what looks like a lifetime ago. But I think it’s us who have evolved the most through it and by it… even more than I thought. 

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I never really thought about the true nature of the album until recently. It’s strange in a way, because I often write about it, and talked about it in interviews. But it’s when the band played the whole album in Japan that I realized a little more what the album was about for me. That’s the moment when “Between Illness and Migration” became something more tangible to me, beyond the “joys and sorrows that it became long before I experienced them. It all came in a split second after I got myself behind the microphone in that over-packed little room in Tokyo that it became real to me. Sef started playing what eventually would become the song “Satsuki Yami (My Heartbeat)”, and everything suddenly made sense, from the reasons we were on that stage, to why we played the whole album in a total different setting, in a complete different way. When I looked at our people’s peaceful faces, some having their eyes closed, some smiling, some holding hands in the air, some in tears, others passionately looking at me right in the eyes… It was a moment where I let the album’s music be, simply. Where I allowed myself to be one with it. Not close, not near, but one with it. Complete through it. Assuming every word, every sound and noise the album was or became. It was who I am. And maybe what I’ve always been but kept denying myself. Nonetheless, who I am.  

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We walked from the venue to our apartment with a lot of gear that night. We missed the last train home. More than one hour under the Tokyo stars. I will never forget that night, none of us will. We got to our apartment and no need to say, we knew that we all had experienced something that was louder than the band that night. I came back to Montreal free, ready to simply be, with all the challenges that would come my way, with all the doubts that would come back to haunt me, with losing friends, with getting really sick again… but most of all with a new and profound resolution to deal with every part of it as it was. And even more significantly, ready to face all that as I am. The same broken person, but living all shutters open now and welcoming the light in.   

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Shortly after, we were offered to release a deluxe version of “Between Illness and Migration”. We decided to accept at only one condition: to live the album as who we became today. Not to revisit any of it, but to incarnate it without any filters, just like we did in Japan that night. And for that reason, we decided to call it “Between Illness and Migration – Deluxe: Tokyo Sessions”. If some may say the circle is now complete, I think I can simply confirm, writing this article knowing what “Tokyo Sessions” is about to be released, that we are now ready to migrate towards the band’s next album. I wasn’t totally ready for it until that night of November, somewhere in Tokyo, in a overbooked jazz club playing an album I wrote and then could now embody. I wasn’t totally ready for it until we locked ourselves in studio to work on “Between Illness and Migration – Deluxe: Tokyo Sessions”. Some might totally dwell in the album and turn it into their favorite of all time, others might totally despise the outrageous abomination we have done with it… But whatever it creates, I’m ecstatically happy we did it, as it’s the sound of someone who is now free. The release will now come very soon. 

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Until then, I invite you to watch the official video for our latest single “1-2-3 (One Step Away)” for the first time, or with an invitation for rebirth in mind.

And like Rainer Maria Rilke, one of my favorite writers and poets, wrote a long time ago in his book “Letters to a Young Poet” on August 12, 1904:   

“The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.”          

Maybe that’s what it means to transcend time… to be eternal.

Comments (1)

  • Melanie Laberge

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    As I am reading the first sentence of your newest column, I am utterly shocked seeing that this was the very subject of the blog I just started to write a few days ago, and it really touched me in a profound and personal way. Thank you. Perhaps we do choose our own joys and sorrows because deep-rooted we don’t deem ourselves worthy of living such beautiful experiences and by thinking that way we constantly drown in the melancholic waters of a nightmare we now made our own reality. It’s quite tragic how we do not realize how much we are worth, and that we deserve so much more than this pessimistic version of what we think we are. I am convinced that it takes someone to notice that beauty and light in us, to get us to come back to the surface and breathe in every ounce of life back into our lungs so that we step forward into that brightness that is all around us, and continue to chase after it for the rest of our lives.

    What you just expressed, in the most honest of ways made me think of this Gandhi quote:
    ”Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn”
    I believe as you live each moment of every day through truthfulness and fight with all your strength to keep that flame lit in the darkest parts of yourself; remnants of your old self, the image that you wished and prayed would fade away slowly drifts further into nothingness, and you achieve a little more liberation to get closer to touching the purest of lights.

    Even if you were in the depths of hell I would walk with you, love you and guide you through the most powerful storms until you found a source of peace and comfort, and even if you discovered which path to take to find it, I would still accompany you day and night; that is how much I care about you and your happiness Alex.

    Forgiveness is such a difficult and unpleasant subject for me to talk about, because to pardon others is the simplest of tasks but when it comes to erasing the ugliest of colors I once painted along my path through life; is something that even the most freeing of instants and purest of love could probably not conquer nor wipe off. Once again, going back to what you were saying at the beginning: ”We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them” and for some reason I always embraced suffering or the idea of it, because to me it was more realistic to living the epiphany of what happiness really is and as honest as these words may seem, I refuse to lie and say that sorrow is not as welcoming anymore, but eventually I decided that I rather live the elucidation of being alive then perish as a shadow of a person soaking in my own misery. I sometimes realize how lost I am as a person, but I think that the worst possible situations can give birth to extreme personal growth and its by accepting the love offered by those around us, that we think we are not worthy of that we learn to live again through the rebirth of that heartfelt affection . I believe that this strong emotion can even remove the thickest darkness around us but mostly the shadows that live in us. Therefore, no one is lost when the pathway to be found lies within our own hearts. If only I had known that years way back it would have avoided me from living such agony, but I am grateful for all the heartache and torment that I endured for so long, because it made me who I am today and well it brought me to YFE, to you, and I am eternally grateful for that.

    Every time I view 1-2-3 (One step away) I feel… (I cannot help but be emotional when I talk about this) like I am slowly letting go of the dimmest shades that decorated my very existence for so long. Including all the tears that were never released, that were submerging me in my own despair, but at the same time were somehow comforting me and confusing me into seeing the peace in my own demise. I am now aware how being alive is a privilege, and how beautiful living can be once you let love in, and this genuine affection saved me from myself, from morphing into the monster I was slowly becoming; that was feeding on my sorrows and nourishing me with utter bitterness; this love unchained me from the grasp of my own demons. When I listen to the lyrics, and watch the video, each time I see myself let go and let float into thin air the bleakest of times, as I wait for the cleansing wave to wash away all that I was, once I am soaring through several levels of peace, I float towards the almost blinding brightness that is rebirth; I open my eyes to a new me, a new day, a new life; I am free. You have no idea how thankful I am to have entered this new chapter of my life and having you and the whole family with me is so positively uplifting, and is in the end the answer to the prayers I have been asking for what seemed like decades now…to have a place where I belong and I found it, in you. Thank you.

    I love that Hemingway quote it feeds hope to the gloomiest of moments, it helps to perceive the world and all the pain in another way, fueling optimism that we may be broken but the light will always find a way to reach us. How inspiriting is that? We could go through any kind of distress and the luminescence will strike us, consume us and deliver us. I came to understand that the colors we let in creates life and shapes this world around us; it inspires others to embrace those hues and paint them alongside their journey and speak truth of them to others.

    Being a very private person myself, I more than understand how difficult it is to share our vulnerability to the world but nevertheless even if it took you time to do so, all that matters is that you did it and how incredibly heartening that is. You might think during moments like these that you are filled with weakness but all I see is tremendous strength and courage to live life in the most vibrant of colors. You have no idea how impacting it is for me to see you take major leaps toward emotional freedom every day…all that you are is beautifully imperfect and it is impossible to not to be distracted by who you are as a person because you are just wonderful. Be proud of who you are, of all that you have done and where you are going. YOU ARE AMAZING!!

    I understand, as I too thought the same thing about the Juno nomination and the whole orchestrated event, and how futile winning is and would destroy the very foundation and meaning behind who YFE is and what BIAM means. I more than fathom how such an act would be a curse but personally I always thought (Who Fucking Cares about Awards lol) so I guess the story ended well.

    Wow that story about Japan really touched me, it’s beautiful to witness all the things that you live each day and while you are touring. Thank you for sharing that with us.
    The words at the end: as it’s the sound of someone who is now free.
    WOW. No matter what the album makes people feel or go through it is not what matters, the important thing is that you guys live life truly as a band and be honest with yourselves. WOW. I am so proud of you!!!!!!! I cannot wait to hear that album…You are the brightest star in the sky never cease to shine Alex!!! You are so beautiful!!!!!

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