How one gig changed my life (write in style pt. 3) A story of yoga & rock and how to write love letters to life

I wrote this fan letter exactly five years ago. At first glance, it doesn’t seem to have much to do with my series on HOW TO WRITE IN STYLE, the current focus of my Blogging DiAries, but when you think again, it actually has EVERYTHING to do with it. It is, in fact, the perfect response to a statement recently made to me by a wonderful friend and colleague, who declared:

Do you know what? I have no idea what you actually stand for anymore!

I totally get why she asked. After all, I make music, I write and I teach yoga, all of which seem to be completely separate entities. Nevertheless, they are all connected by one shared effect, which makes the answer to Katharina’s question very simple indeed:

I stand for freedom – freedom from negative patterns of thought defined by others and the freedom to love, to have feelings and to be vulnerable. Freedom is all about actively experiencing life and feeling alive, about seizing the moment as often as you can. It’s about escaping from the constraints of your mind and using your body so that you can come back to thinking with a clear head.

I’m well aware that for some people, such an approach sounds awfully pathetic. But don’t judge me just yet; I’ll tell you exactly what I mean in a bit. A visit to one single concert, for example, can change an entire life. It can be a truly revolutionary experience. Sounds like pathos? Well you’re actually not far off the mark: “pathos” is the Greek word for “passion”. And come to think of it, passion is something that we all desperately need to have.

I also stand for the knowledge that I am more than just what I think and feel. With all of this at the back of my mind and pulsing through every cell in my body, I’m perfectly equipped to write, to make music and to teach yoga, always using words and sounds with an inspiring impact, motivating both myself and others to follow our intuition and do exactly what is right for us, even if it means doing nothing at all.

This was not the only thing that I learnt while training to be a yoga teacher with the BDY, a course that I finally began five years ago after being inspired by this concert (and successfully completed last autumn after four and a half years that flew by like just a couple of months). My training also pulled an abundance of knowledge back up to the surface, knowledge that used to be at the forefront of my mind during my punk rock performances in the Palatinate provinces of Germany or on the mat at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in London at the turn of the millennium or even when reading the works of Rilke or Nietzsche at various unis.

At times, this knowledge was once suppressed and buried by a professional upbringing that required me to adapt to the ‘normal’ world of work by means of full capitulation (including crying on the toilet, being bullied by patriarchal bosses and suffering burnout due to absolutely no life-work balance or time for my kid WHATSOEVER). It is the knowledge that Henry David Thoreau’s book WALDEN, including its strong advocation of carpe diem, and the film Dead Poets Society actually anchored at the core of my inner being at a very early stage of my life, namely knowing how to be a free spirit who needs to be surrounded by and communicate with like-minded spirits. Why? In order to save the world, just a little bit (and with a bit of pathos thrown in for good measure!).

And now, after five years have flown by faster than the speed of light? I still cry, of course I do, but I don’t do it in secret on the toilet anymore. And when I do cry, it’s not for all that long or all that often and most definitely no longer has anything to do with a job that makes me miserable.

happy tears on stage with jetsun. yoga and rock and writing go together.

I sometimes even cry simply because I’m so happy and grateful, for instance for the fact that as a mum in her mid-40s, I can still (or, indeed, finally) get up on stage myself with my band Jetsun and see the impact that I can have on my audience. Who knows, maybe I can even inspire some of them just like Jay inspired me five years ago, on the day that I decided to completely transform my life.
Put in a nutshell, my message is clear: Get moving – it’s your life to live! Start out by asking yourself: “What do I stand for?”

Do you need another little nudge to get going? In that case, keep reading and be inspired!


Jay Buchanan and his Rival Sons, photo by Ed Miles.


“Don’t treat him according to his deserts; after all, how would even the best of us fare if we got our deserts? No, think of him as he was in the hour when you loved him most…”

 – Jens Peter Jacobsen.

For many people, the word “love” is four simple letters that can send shivers of fear down their spine. People who want to be taken seriously in intellectual or academic discourse in particular steer well clear of it. This is surprising given that love leads to knowledge and emotional cognition, especially in the case of a love of music or, indeed, love resulting from music.

Forget cock rock; cog rock is where it’s really at!.

This big L-word is certainly the perfect way to describe the phenomenon better known as Rival Sons. When it comes to inspiring strong emotions and, what’s more, actions, the band’s singer and songwriter Jay Buchanan is the master: his songs and his presence have that special performative impact that can only be achieved by great art and great artists. A visit to just one single concert performed by this band can change an entire life. It can be a truly revolutionary experience. Sounds like pathos? Well you’re actually not far off the mark: “pathos” is the Greek word for “passion”. And come to think of it, passion is something that we all desperately need to have.


Left to right: Scott Holiday (guitar), Jay Buchanan (vocals), Robin Everhart (bass), Mike Miley (drums), photo by Ed Miles.

It actually all started out pretty harmless: When I came across the track Face of Light by chance on Facebook, I immediately fell head over heels in love. Its lyrics, vocals and arrangement are a prime example of pure song-like beauty at its very best. And then I saw the video, which hits the nail on the head in terms of simplicity and genius with its slow-motion scenes of the members of band wrapped up warm and strolling through a typical English landscape. Show people! Show nature! It really does work. Not even the drum set and amps slap bang in the middle of green-grey meadows and in front of picturesque stone walls can take away from its perfection, which is precisely why I turned up the volume and watched the video time and time (and time!) again, for months on end.



In contrast, two of the band’s three albums released so far, which I obviously purchased the moment they came out, failed to knock my socks off. It’s a well-known fact that Pressure and Time can transform coal into diamonds, so it comes as no surprise that the second album, which bears this name, sparkles brighter than Head Down, the band’s latest, and third, LP. A big part of this success is indeed down to Face of Light, the impact of which is best described by a line from its very own lyrics:

It’s a brilliant Roman candle, separating day from night, it’s a clean, clear truth, separates the wrong from the right.

And that is precisely what this song does: it cuts through the crap. Face of Light is a prime example of Buchanan’s ability to take feelings and make them accessible to everyone. The fact that the song is dedicated to his young son makes perfect sense and everybody who loves somebody, especially their own child, is sure to understand. When played on the radio, such a gem of a track really does make the songs that precede and follow it sound like nothing but a collection of dull and droning purposeless sounds.

But if we step away from Buchanan’s lyrical abilities for just a moment, it has to be said that good music communicates before it is understood and that a good band is more than just the sum of its parts. This is proven by the fact that the band’s albums really grow on you and seem to get better and better over time. Furthermore, it becomes completely and utterly clear when you Experience the band live – and when I say Experience, I certainly mean to use a capital E. Although I wasn’t blown away by the band’s albums, I didn’t hesitate to get my hands on tickets for the first concert on its European tour the moment they were released. On 22nd March, we set off on our journey to Bonn, where the show at the “Harmonie” venue blew us away!


Jay “Janis” Buchanan in der Bonner Harmonie beim Auftaktkonzert der Europatour im Frühling 2013.


When they hit the stage, the four members of the band simply explode with unbelievable energy. You can feel the immediate power of the songs, all of which were produced in record time: For both Head Down and Pressure and Time, the band headed to the studio with no prior material whatsoever and went on to achieve everything – the arrangement, lyrics and recording – on location within just 21 days. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, they normally only needed 1 or 2 takes to do so. This speedy production is accompanied by true musical talent: the intricate tapestry of sound woven by the guitarist Scott Holiday alone is a thing of indescribable beauty. The drummer Mike Miley brings character to the group with his humour and charm, while the bassist Robin Everhart is the sea of calm in a raging musical storm. On top of this perfect combination of personalities and talents, the communication between the members of the band comes so naturally that they barely need to look at each other. It’s certainly been a long time since I last enjoyed such an amazing live experience. There was jumping, there were tears and there were even moments where I simply stood there with my mouth wide open in amazement … it really was everything all rolled into one – and not just for me, but for everyone in the room!

This band is unique, the kind of band that only comes about once every 20 years.

It quite literally strikes a chord with its audience, making you feel real sadness as you realise that you would simply love to wave goodbye to life as you know it and make a fresh start in which you are true(r) to yourself … like I said, its revolutionary! This moving impact is partly thanks to the words sung by the overly charismatic Jay Buchanan, in which he demands that you “don’t give them your soul!” or throws around the accusation “sit on your fence and keep screaming about injustice!”. Like a poet, he expresses truths, even those hard home truths that trigger something inside of you. He mourns, laments and rebels, establishing a strong presence before intensely and openly asking every single listener questions that cut right to the heart:

And you? Are you really alive? Why don’t you try to make the world just that little bit better?

Yes, words. Buchanan isn’t really a fan of them. If you ask him, “words can make a daft person seem really smart and a smart person seem really daft” ( Instead, he prefers to emphasise “the superiority of the human singing voice in cutting through the crap”, believing that while using nothing but words provides some sort of camouflage, a singing voice leaves you with no place to hide. This fact was even recognised by Nietzsche in his first monograph, The Birth of Tragedy, in which he woefully declares: “It [the soul] should have sung!”. By his own admission (Buchanan’s, not Nietzsche’s), he was initially too shy to sing because it felt like crying on stage, in front of everybody.

As a singer myself, I totally get what he means. Oh Jay, it’s such a shame that I can’t sing to you right now, but I’m afraid my words will just have to make do. So let me tell you that your performativity had such an impact on me that on that very evening, I decided to finally start training as an Ashtanga yoga teacher, a dream that I had been fostering for so long but never dared to explore. Come to think of it, yoga actually has a similar Dionysian and Apollonian effect to a good rock concert: you can completely lose yourself in the moment while you systematically learn how to mute that disco of thoughts dancing around in your mind. (My belief in this yoga-and-rock analogy is currently stronger than ever thanks to my recent participation in a highly fitting course in the philosophy of yoga held by the legendary Eberhard Bärr.)

After the concert, we lingered at the merch stand for a while, accompanied by the sounds of the supporting act, Hong Faux from Sweden. The band was pretty good but not in the same league as the true stars of the show. Suddenly, these very stars, all of the Rival Sons, were standing right next to us, making their way through the crowd and picking up where their music left off, namely seeking direct contact with their audience. I must have been one of those people who came across as truly verbally stunted that evening as I stood there, my knees shaking, and failed to produce anything more than a nervous stutter. When Mr Buchanan, the modern personification of both Apollo (the God of form) and Dionysus (the God of ecstasy), stated: “Hi, I’m Jay, what’s your name?”, I responded in what can only be described as a very un-God-like voice, much like that of Andy Pipkins in Little Britain: “Yeah, I know, you’re a poet”.



Jay, I’m sorry, but like I said, poets can reveal the truth too. Words can be manipulating and can act as a veil, but they can also do so much more. And you, Jay, you’re clearly one of those people who simply has to write, both texts and lyrics, in order to live and be alive. This was certainly the advice given by Rilke in his Letters to a Young Poet when somebody asked him if they were good enough: “Ask yourself this, Kappus: MUST I write?” If the answer is no, then you’re not a poet and should simply leave it be.

Rilke also believed that being loved is harder than loving somebody: “Loved ones live poorly and in danger. Oh that they might transcend themselves and become lovers!”. This is an opinion shared by Jay Buchanan, the part-time Buddhist and poet against his own will. He then, however, goes on to emphasise just how important it is to learn how to let people love you, to leave the “worthless rounds in the ring” be and to stop always fighting yourself and others. It’s hard to imagine how such a clearly contemplative and sensitive individual who wears his heart on his sleeve every time he takes to the stage has the energy and emotion to survive such a tour like this, which is now coming to an end after four whole weeks, night after night.

Jay, look after yourself! I would normally say “don’t give us your soul” but doing so is precisely what makes him and his band so amazing.

The Rival Sons are, without a doubt, hippies, but in a good way. Not only due to the satisfyingly gender-bending flowers in the hair and kohl around the eyes of their androgynous singer, who is immediately reminiscent of Janis Joplin and her power born from fragility when you first see him up on stage, but also because they spark a fire that burns for love and justice and by doing so, finally do justice to the world of rock and roll. They represent what rock and roll is really all about. They are THE live band that everyone needs to see right now and, as trite as it may sound, they should be the name on everybody’s lips within the next year – in a world in which fair’s fair and true talents get the attention they deserve. The Rival Sons can do something that Chris Martin and his namby-pamby woe-is-me Coldplay music will never be able to do: they can pick up the baton from U2 and throw in outstanding content for good measure. They are sons of rock who are on a par with and can even rival their fathers from the likes of Led Zeppelin etc. To put it in their own words, they’re also not a soul band, a blues rock group or the product of rock combined with music journalism. No, they’re simply rock: JUST ROCK. And Jay Buchanan will just have to get used to the fact that he’s an expert at inspiring love.

You can see the concert described above on the “WDR Rockpalast” music show here.

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