“Now that we’re here”
Sitting by the side of the I-5 freeway somewhere in the middle of California, I had a sudden pang of understanding as I stared out the car window at a hastily rising sun.
I, like many others, first encountered Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha in high school as required reading and, while I enjoyed the book, I cannot claim to have fully understood it (or at all) beyond its simple enough tale of a man’s lifelong journey towards enlightenment…
But upon re-reading it in my mid-20s (while on a classic literature kick that saw me revisit the likes of previously “required” classics such as Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being or Joyce’s Ulysses), I mused on how odd it was that Hesse, a German writer living in the tumultuous and awkward era between the first world war and the second, traveled to India, lived there for a spell and wrote this book. At that point, I realized it was a tale about his own journey towards enlightenment and specifically penned in sharp contrast to the prevailing philosophies gaining steam back in his homeland.
And yet still… I did not unlock the deepest level of interpretation, its most important lesson of all.
It wasn’t until in my mid-30s, struggling to make sense of how my own life was crumbling all around me, my dearest relationships dissolving in a sea of forgettable regret, that I “read” the book yet again. This time, sitting there in my car listening to the audio book, I finally understood.
The book doesn’t only tell of Siddhartha’s journey or Hesse’s; it told of mine as well. And pretty much just about anyone else’s, too.
“Truth is, I lied.”
I was already a few years into the writing of Sad Man on a Rock by the time I re-introduced myself to Siddhartha. At that point in time, the album had already grown up from being a loosely cobbled collection of songs into a much more deliberate admission of my many mental health struggles and personal demons. That, in and of itself, was already a major step for me. For many years, I maintained an unhealthy obsession with ensuring zykO was the “coolest,” least-fallible version of myself at all times and that, at least to me, was painfully apparent with every release.
That was ultimately why I came to resent 2008’s Circumstantial Zen and it came to a head with my last official release, 2010’s A Mild Suggestive Moment. Suffice to say, I was dissatisfied with my work, unsettled in its lack of integrity and bored with its blase energy. It wasn’t until the final two tracks on the 2010 record, “B43” and “el viejito,” that I had finally allowed myself to just be myself without any reprehension (incidentally both songs were about my late father who had just passed a year prior to then). Sadly, I have just about disowned everything else from that album entirely.
Sad Man on a Rock was, then, a spiritual continuation of sorts as I recommitted myself to baring my emotions and leaving them on the chopping block for all to hear. I no longer cared if you knew me as zykO or as “weed” or whomever; you were going to have to deal with Waleed sooner or later.
After all, as I would eventually discover over the past half a dozen years, those closest to me had no choice but to do the very same… for better or for worse. I burned bridges trying to keep from exposing the chaotic turbulence I had fought so hard to hide. But alas, by the time I came to my senses, there had been no pacifying my demons and not enough bridges remaining nor wood to rebuild them.
Sad Man on a Rock had, until Siddhartha, been no more than a series of musical admissions to this end.
“I know now where I come from, I know now where to go.”
I only had lyrics for maybe a handful of songs at this point as I had essentially finished writing all of the music and tracked much of it before penning even a single verse. There were some exceptions, of course but, for the most part, I hadn’t really written any lyrics by the time I re-read Siddhartha.
Siddhartha, then, guided me to the true purpose and meaning of the album; the album itself was my journey towards enlightenment (but not actually culminating with it)… and not just a collection of songs telling the story of that journey, neither. That was the profound realization I made by the side of the freeway that day. The river and its symbolic meaning existed outside of the book just like it existed within and without the album. They were one and the same. I was as much a part of the river as Siddhartha or Hesse or you. It had become clear that my commitment, then, would have to be to much more than just telling a good story. In the end, the album itself was the meditation, was the journey and may as well have been about cats.
For me to be able to convey any manner of sensible narrative through it, however, I had to tell you my story in all its deformed morbidity and with the patience and poise of a monk numbly practicing their breathing.
“Free of rock and dirt, I rise”
Listen, there really is a great deal of personal ugliness on Sad Man on a Rock. I won’t sugarcoat this because I didn’t sugarcoat it on the album: you’re invariably going to discover a few ugly truths about me (some of which some of you probably didn’t know) that I’d spent many years lying to myself about. Whether it is my recurring depression, my crippling struggle with anxiety, my tendency to rage or my near-cyclical commitment to self-sabotage, these are the very truths that nearly pushed away just about everybody I ever cared for save my mother until I committed to healing from a lifetime of self-induced wounds.
That’s why the album begins the way it does, its very first lyric an ominous and reluctant warning:
“Truth is, I lied.”
Whether you stick around afterwards is something I’ve risked because, as Siddhartha had come to realize, it’s much wiser to not fight the river, instead allowing yourself to sink to the bottom and letting it smooth you over with its current until you are one with it.