JEFF SHATTUCK MUSIC

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The afterlife.

Just in case the title of this post got you thinking about religion, let me set the record straight. I am not religious, and I do not believe in life after death.

Life after life, though? Now that’s possible.

Here’s what I mean: before my brain injury, I lived a very different life from the one I live today. I had a genuine career, I was single (albeit in a committed relationship), I had certain political views, certain perceptions, I went fishing every now and then.

Today, I have no career to speak of, I’m married, my political views are much changed, I see life through a different lens and I can’t go fishing (I’d fall in the river and be eaten by trout).

It’s a whole new life.

And in my continuing struggle to figure out why I’m now suddenly writing songs again — after years of never doing more than noodling on the guitar — I think this life-after-life idea is playing a role.

To want to do art -- any kind of art -- you need to relate to the world in a certain way, and my former life did not let me do this, or at least I could not figure out how to ever find time for anything but work, work and, um, oh, right… work.

Now, some might say that my work WAS my art, but I don’t think so. True, I was an advertising writer, and I spent a lot of time thinking about words and images, but advertising is not art to me. Wait, I take that back. Advertising is art, it’s just done with a far tighter focus than most other forms of art, and it’s not meant to last. The first aspect, focus, doesn’t bother me. I like focused art. But the second aspect, the fact that advertising is meant to be here then gone, well, that grew to really eat at me. I mean, if you’ve ever worked in an agency and seen the amount of blood, sweat and tears that goes into every single ad, you would not believe it. People KILL themselves to be great; they sacrifice relationships, sleep… living, all in an effort to create something that will be short-lived. Ads go into the world to die, that’s just the cold, hard truth.

Songs, on the other hand, and novels and poems and paintings, go out into the world to live, to be a part of peoples’ lives, to enrich existence. But when I was in the badlands of adland, I spent every waking and dreaming moment thinking about how to create something that did the opposite. Sure, people like Superbowl commercials and they might even appreciate the occasional print ad that informs them or expresses a thought in a witty way, but let’s face it: people try to avoid ads. They flip past them as fast as they can, or change the channel, or turn the radio dial. But a good song? People stop, they listen, they play it again, in time they associate it with memories. Songs are woven into our lives.

I knew all of this in my past life, but somehow I could not act on it. I was scared to leave my job, scared to leave my career, scared to leave all that was familiar, and so I stayed, frozen in a life I knew was wrong. Then that life ended. Cause of death? A tiny bone fragment that punctured my cerebellum.

Now, hokey as it might sound, I feel like I’m living in the after-life. No, it’s not heaven, but it’s a second chance, a new life and story, and I’m writing the soundtrack.