THE ENGINE OF MY CREATIVITY
I’ve decided, because of the situation I find myself in, to reveal that I have a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. I’ve never spoken about this publicly before because although it has caused me a lot of problems, I know that many people are more severely affected than me, so I never wanted to make a big deal of it. But it’s important for me to set the record straight now, because Asperger Syndrome (AS) is a big part of who I am.
In 1970’s Belfast when I was growing up, people had little time to look into things like Asperger Syndrome. Symptoms went unnoticed because there was so much else going on. We were too busy trying to survive, so I ended up without a diagnosis most of my life. By the time I came back to live in N Ireland at age 44 I was in real trouble psychologically, but luckily I met Brenda who was heavily involved in AS and had written books on the subject, and she pointed me in the direction of a professional assessment. My mind was absolutely blown as I began to understand for the first time why my life had unfolded the way it did.
When I was younger I spent a lot of time in bars with other musicians, and alcohol did a good job of masking my Asperger Syndrome. I was ill-equipped for the music industry from the start. AS makes you tend to misread what people are saying and sometimes you see things in black & white: You misunderstand. You find it difficult to believe that people may be saying one thing & thinking another – and that kind of attitude can be a real handicap in any kind of business. Over the years I failed miserably to negotiate the music business despite the help of notable musicians such as Steve Earle, Van Morrison and Mark Knopfler; and it ended up taking a huge toll on me.
By the time I reached my early 40s I was completely disillusioned with the music business as I experienced it. I took a part-time job in a pawn-brokers and gave up drink completely. And without alcohol in my life I began to realise that I was very, very obsessive. My job in the pawn-brokers led to an obsession with diamonds to the point that I began to study gemmology and became a qualified diamond expert and gemmologist. Then a few years later my obsession with the space race led to my album “Howl On”
Sometimes Asperger Syndrome gets a negative and unfair press. It is a complex and misunderstood condition and it covers a wide spectrum. You might hear that people with AS are totally inept socially, but that is not completely true. For me most social situations are quite difficult, especially now that I don’t drink, but some people may find this hard to believe because I can get on a stage and entertain people for two hours. But performing on stage is not like a normal social engagement. It is quite easy for me. I know everything I’m about to do. It’s all been rehearsed and (apart from a few ad libs & jokes) it’s all predictable. It’s worked successfully enough times for me to be confident that it will work again. The off stage bit is always more difficult for me and I find ordinary social engagement including small talk quite difficult. I can do it. I can do it to the point where I seem socially “normal” but privately I end up completely exhausted by social experiences.
Asperger Syndrome can make relationships difficult & this has been true for me in the past, but sometimes things work out really well. Brenda and I feel lucky to have found each other. We’re very similar so we enjoy each other’s intensity to the point that we have been together pretty well 24/7 from the word go, and it’s great to feel understood. I was also lucky enough to find a sympathetic and understanding manager, Willie Richardson. So the last decade of my life has been the happiest by far.
My stepson, Kenneth, is a great example of Asperger Syndrome and has found a way to be happy in the world, which I admire - I think the key is acceptance. So the thing I want people to know is that I’m not ashamed of my Asperger Syndrome. I’ve never been ashamed of it. In fact to be honest I’m proud I’ve got Aspergers. It is the engine of my creativity.
Peace & love,