Wall of Death

It was a song that finally broke me.

I’d been thinking about it for a while, but it was a song that finally pushed me the last mile.

‘Wall of Death’ by Richard Thompson. Hadn’t heard the song in years, and all of a sudden this DJ starts playing it night after night when I’m on the graveyard shift in work. The first time he played it, I didn’t pay too much attention. Then, I hear the lines:

“Let me ride on the Wall of Death one more time

Let me ride on the Wall of Death one more time

You can waste your time on the other rides

This is the nearest to being alive

Oh let me take my chances on the Wall of Death.”

I still don’t know what it’s really about, but what I heard was about living life on the edge and not taking the safe way out. And, at that time, that was all I needed to hear.


I lived in a rented house with a rented companion, both of us living rented lives. Her name was Amanda. She worked in a clothes store; I worked in a factory making toys. I don’t know if we were ever really happy, but I do know we were never as unhappy as we were in those few months before I left. She wanted security and routine, but told herself she was a free spirit; I wanted to play music and write, but told myself I could do it while suffering the brain-numbing depression of working in a room full of people who had given up living.

I don’t think I ever knew Amanda, really. When I met her, I was in a band, and only interested in playing my own music, smoking dope, and getting laid. In those days, your job was just something that happened in between having a good time. So, she adopted her best ‘party girl’ persona and, pretty soon, I was hooked. We started going out and, within a few months, we’d moved in together. It was then that I started to see the true side of her.

It’s not that I wasn’t ready to get serious. The fact was, the ‘wild and crazy nights’ had all gotten a little old by then. I’d written stories since I was a kid and had played music since I was fifteen. But most of it had taken place within the safe bubble of the same group of people in the same small town. I started to realise that if I was ever going to become something other than just another Joe Schmoo working at the day job, I’d have to get serious about my music and my writing. Sitting around decrepit practice rooms and playing the local clubs once every few months wasn’t going to cut it anymore. It was just that we had very different ideas of what getting serious was about.

For me, it involved getting serious about my music. For her, it involved me getting serious about working for a living.


So, one day I’m in work and I hear this song and it all becomes blindingly clear. I had to get out. Not just the factory, but out of the rented relationship, out of the provincial mindset I was submerged in … out of Ireland.

After that, everything seemed to fit into place as if it had all been preordained. The only question was … where?

Truth be told, it was hardly ever in doubt. I’d been reared on a staple diet of New York movies, New York music, and New York stories. From Scorsese to Woody Allen, Springsteen to the Stooges, the Bottom Line to CBGB’s, whenever I had an image of being a famous rock star or writer, there was never any other city that could accommodate me.

Sometimes – when I was fourteen and fifteen, listening to the Springsteen live box set – I’d be on stage at Giants Stadium; other times I’d be hanging out in the coffee shops of Greenwich Village or busking in Washington Square Park.

So, I told her I was leaving for New York. I don’t think she really believed it at first. Not until I came home from work and told her I’d handed in my notice. Then came the arguments and the accusations and recriminations. Who the hell did I think I was, and how could I give up a good job, and how did I possibly hope to make a living?

“You could come,” I told her, but she never answered that one.

I’m not sure what I would have done if she’d said yes.


(Image: Click the pic for credits)

14 thoughts on “Wall of Death

  1. What an awesome post… I have always been fascinated with those pivot points in life, where you think (often long afterwards) “if I had done differently… where would I be now? Certainly not here.”

    Such an interesting thing to consider — but maybe, as C. S. Lewis said, “That is the one thing never given to men: to know what might have been.”

  2. Fabulous post, Derek. I love your honest, heart-felt stories about your journey (Oh God, did I say ‘journey’?). I hope you post more of them – dying to hear what happened next. x

  3. Your last line made me laugh. Not about the painful time in your life, but about the truth of it. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve invited someone to stay in my life or to be part of my life even though I knew better. You always strike a chord in me, Derek. Thanks for posting this. Now I’ll have to go off and listen to that song on You Tube.

  4. Derek, I wrote a long thought out response to this post last night on my phone, and somewhere between typing a word and moving the phone ‘just so’ the entire thing erased. Frustration was the word of the moment so I put it away and now, the next morning, have to recapture the original sentiment behind my reply. Sigh. Technology.

    If this post had been an actual book I wouldn’t have been able to turn the pages fast enough. As it was, I couldn’t look away. I think we’ve all been where you were. Perhaps not exactly, but in a stagnant ‘rented’ place, and some small thing changed our course.

    Knowing the exact moment your own course changed is a remarkable thing, and being able to pin point it to a song is even better. Music is an amazing thing, it moves us, guides us, and makes us look deeper within ourselves.

    I can’t go a day without music. It is that big a part of my life. I’m by no means a singer or musician, but I am an avid listener. I listen to music for inspiration and clarity. Stories start from the smallest line in a song, and blow into full length novels.

    I for one, am glad you took that step and followed your dream from Ireland to the bustling streets of New York. I’ve never been to either place… I’ll have to live vicariously through you…for a while at least.

    Keep writing, keep the music playing.


  5. Just read your post Derek, you’ve a lovely easy style…oh the honesty of it, just great, It takes raw guts to make those kinds of changes, a great snapshot of that crossroad in your life, I want to know what happened next now too 🙂 hurry up !

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