James Arthur – Back To The Boy

 

James’s story is a difficult and painful read, it made me cry more than once.  It’s deeply moving.  He has suffered so much abuse and cruelty, and endured such hardship, crippling panic attacks and real fear.  His triumph over adversity is nothing short of miraculous, and his searing honesty and self-reflection is both poignant and encouraging.  Here is a man who knows himself now, and has taught himself to emotionally regulate and overcome his inherited legacy of mental illness.

I had no idea he had been so emotionally abused when he was a child.  His mother also suffered from mental illness which she handed down to all of her children, but especially James because he was a boy, and she would shout and scream at him, yelling ‘You’re just like your father!’  (His mum and dad had split up when he was less than a year old.)  His ‘mam’ had a borderline personality- Jekyll and Hyde-ing between singing with him in the kitchen and having fun and always being super supportive of his voice and his music, (something she never waivered from) to hurling abuse at him and being very, very cruel.  Add to this how he was bullied at school because of a defect to his right eye, and his self-esteem was on the floor, and became his lifetime struggle.  He has suffered from anxiety and depression with panic attacks all his life, though now, because he knows himself so well, he recognises his triggers and can hold it together.

 James’s book opens with this text he wrote to his girlfriend at the height of his panic and despair, and from there takes us back to his childhood and music career to date. 

The bullying he received as a young child and growing up was hard to bear, and this also had a very negative effect on his mental health:

      

This was the defining moment when his self consciousness took root, and the thick glasses which followed did nothing to help him, nor did his crooked teeth, both of which he would correct years later with laser eye surgery and braces to straighten his teeth.  All of this was bad enough, but his mother’s hostility and cruelty was unbearable.  She, herself suffered from a borderline personality, and was always attacking James for being ‘just like your dad’ as she transferred all of her negative feelings towards James’s father on to him:

I truly believe that if you denigrate the other parent to a child, you are also denigrating them, the message they receive is that there is something wrong with them too, because that parent is a part of them.   She was undoubtedly sick at times, but could also be very loving and supportive of James, always believing in his music and his voice, and it was because of her pushing him that he even showed up to audition for the X-Factor, and of course the rest is history.

         

           

Simon Cowell’s label Syco offered him an £800,000 recording contract and overnight his life had changed completely.  They set him up in a flat in London, and it seemed to the rest of the world that he’d made it, but this was just the beginning of his self destruction, self sabotage and total breakdown.  He became agoraphobic, too scared to leave the flat at times to go and buy food, at other times ordering excessive amounts of  junk food which could be delivered to his door, smoking weed, drinking excessively, and then adding sex to an already disastrous list of addictions, and suffering repeated panic attacks so acute he was calling 999 regularly because he thought he was going to die, he would wait for the ambulance and the paramedics to arrive and would lie on the floor telling himself to just BREATHE.  The sound of the sirens would calm him slightly as they arrived, and the paramedics would talk him back down again.   Then due to his addictions and poor choice of coping strategies, he made some seriously bad decisions and engaged in those unwise TWITTER exchanges and was eventually dropped from his record label and had to go it alone.  

Devastating though this was for him, this breakdown would eventually become his breakthrough, and somehow he managed to dig deep and come BACK FROM THE EDGE.

Lyrically documenting all of his fears, torment, struggles and pain, this album became an internationally best selling phenomenon, James was resigned by Syco and became the X-Factor’s biggest success story.  The lyrics are raw and haunting and deeply moving, (even before knowing his life story) but when you understand what happened to him and have read about his panic attacks these lyrics become so much more meaningful. 

“Train Wreck”

Laying in the silence
 Waiting for the sirens
 Signs, any signs I’m alive still
 I don’t wanna lose it
 But I’m not getting through this
 Hey, should I pray, should I fray
 To myself, to a God
 To a saviour who can…

 Unbreak the broken
 Unsay these spoken words
 Find hope in the hopeless
 Pull me out the train wreck
 Unburn the ashes
 Unchain the reactions
 I’m not ready to die, not yet
 Pull me out the train wreck
 Pull me out, pull me out, pull me out
 Pull me out, pull me out

 Underneath our bad blood
 We still got a sanctum
 Home, still at home, still at home, yeah
 It’s not too late to build it back
 ‘Cause a one in a million chance
 Is still a chance, still a chance
 And I would take those odds

 Unbreak the broken
 Unsay these spoken words
 Find hope in the hopeless
 Pull me out the train wreck
 Unburn the ashes
 Unchain the reactions
 I’m not ready to die, not yet
 Pull me out the train wreck
 Pull me out, pull me out, pull me out
 Pull me out, pull me out, pull me out

 You can say what you like ’cause see I would die for you
 I’m down on my knees and I need you to be my God
 Be my help, be a saviour who can

 Unbreak the broken
 Unsay these reckless words
 Find hope in the hopeless
 Pull me out the train wreck
 Unburn the ashes
 Unchain the reactions
 I’m not ready to die, not yet
 Pull me out the train wreck
 Pull me out, pull me out, pull me out
 Pull me out, pull me out, pull me out

Even before ‘Back To The Edge’ James has always been an analytical soul searcher, and on his previous album the song ‘Recovery’ is also very revealing of his struggle with his inner demons and his determination to move on from them.

I don’t want to play this game no more
I don’t wanna play it
I don’t want to stay ’round here no more
I don’t wanna stay here
Like rain on a Monday morning
Like pain that just keeps on going on

In my recovery
I’m a soldier at war
I have broken down walls
I defined
I designed
My recovery

In the sound of the sea
In the oceans of me
I defined
I designed
My recovery

Keep soaring
Keep song-writing
Keep soaring
Keep song-writing

James’s RECOVERY and his unprecedented return BACK FROM THE EDGE is a true triumph over adversity.

Major spoiler alert here but during his most difficult period following his win on the X-Factor….Rita Ora?!!  Who knew?!!

NOT the love of his life though!  The love of his life is most definitely Jessica Grist, a dancer whom he met along the way and who has stuck by him ALMOST through thick and thin, they broke up at one point when the pressure became too much, but they got back together again and have been inseparable ever since.  She is his ‘happy ending.’

I have nothing but admiration for how he has come BACK FROM THE EDGE and of how he is now managing his life with such self control, dignity and grace.  Literally cannot wait for his next album.

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