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Late Walks and Real Life

June 22nd, 2011

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors may have had no need for something like music, and when I think about that kind of stuff, our culture seems pretty removed and silly.  But my thinking is starting to change. It’s built into us to connect with the world through our senses, and while there was no music in prehistoric times, there certainly was sound — and sight, taste, touch and smell.  There is nothing inherent in us that needs art, or music or anything like that.  We only need to connect with things bigger than ourselves through our bodies for the purpose of staying psychologically whole.

Music is just one example. I go for a walk with my MP3 player, listening to The Flaming Lips’ “Transmissions from the Satellite Heart,” and the sounds vibrate all these parts of my brain that are normally dormant, because I’ve built a connection to this record. I’ve also built a connection to the nighttime, the quiet city-neighborhood environment, the smell of new rain, the color of streetlights, and the feeling of freedom that forms when you combine a pair of earbuds and a pair of functioning human legs. All of these connections are a result of my life and how I’ve lived it. They are all positive things that contribute to my mental health. They are things that make me happy and do a little bit to keep me going. They are also the result of me psychologically anchoring my solitary experience in the world through indirect, abstract expressions of humanity.

I’ve gotten into the habit of judging an experience like this as not good enough, too detached and generally bad for me. The logical process spins out of that place in my brain that feels a persistent sense of alienation, despite the ways I anchor myself: My life feels lonely and isolated and unhappy, and I connect that with being detached from social life, and then go on to judge anything that is not social as contributing to loneliness, isolation and unhappiness. I’ve felt like I was enabling the loner in me while my people person whithers away.

Long walks at night with headphones can only do so much. It’s easily the kind of thing I cling to over and over again, only to wonder why it no longer carries the same spiritual weight it once did. But now I also know that when my world is crashing down around me, something so simple and solid in me as the pull of a song can keep me feeling like me. It’s important in dark times to pay attention to those things that keep you alive. They got you where you are right now, even though at the same time, they got you where you are right now. That is, no matter how bad things are, there is always something keeping it from getting worse.

I guess the cliché phrase is “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” although that phrase rubs me the wrong way. Being at peace with all the ways that my isolated self comes to seek wholeness will give the atrophied parts of my soul the room and freedom to exercise and grow. There is nothing wrong with being the kind of person who looks inward to find meaning and there’s nothing wrong with the means of seeking introspection and positive inwardness. I’m learning not to judge my experiences or emotions. In each moment there are plenty of signals that point us in the direction we need to go, although it’s easy to get distracted.

My brain has been trying to tell me things for years and years, but I thought I was smarter than it. I’m finally starting to listen, and now we’re getting along pretty well.

Keep Moving

July 19th, 2009

As I’ve been making progress on the final mixes for “Open,” I’ve been taking walks down 26th street to listen to them.  Looking down, I’ve noticed the words “keep” and then “moving” painted in alternating blue and red in between 35W and MCAD.  As I’m closing this record out, I feel like this little public-art gesture is speaking to me.

I always run into the darker parts of my psyche as I’m finishing a project like this.  Last year I ended up at the airport with bloody knuckles at one in the morning, prepared to spend the remainder of my savings on the cheapest flight going anywhere.  Luckily the gates were all closed and I bought a bus ticket to Chicago the next day instead.

This year, my little episode amounts mostly to bothering my friends and getting drunk listening to records.  Anyways, I’m starting to see that no matter where you get to, there’s always somewhere else to go.  Life is about journeys, not destinations.

I seem stuck on this idea that I need to spend a year making a complete, conceptual album of songs.  I’m going to rethink that in the coming year.  I’m taking a number of different approaches to try and change the way I write songs.  One is the YouTube video notebook.  I’m going to be recording alot while I’m on the road in September, and when I get back I’ll be teaming up with Sarah Wash to write and record new songs.  Maybe one of these projects will take two years to come to a close, and maybe one of them will fall into place within a month.  Maybe if I always have things flowing and regenerating, it’ll keep me going.

I’m going on one final walk tomorrow morning with my tracks, and then I can spend the day preparing them for the mastering session.  After that, I think I’ll just jump right back into recording again.

Untitled July 13, 2009

July 17th, 2009

Final Title: Can of Worms
A little more about this YouTube project: I always do “sketches” in the early stages of songwriting. I used to hum and form melodies on a little tape recorder, then write the song later. Some songs were purely constructed in a notebook. For almost everything I’ve done in the past year, I would record the “sketch” directly onto the computer and then build the final track on top of it. I always forget about the raw character of the song in each of those methods, so recently I’ve been making quick videos of new songs instead. I work a little harder to get it working as a song, but don’t really worry about the production. Unfinished things can be beautiful in their own way. There’s sort of this uninhibited mixture of mining from my life and gratuitous fictionalizing going on in these songs, which can be tricky territory. A good song should feel like a friend telling you something, but a good songwriter shouldn’t treat songwriting as a substitution for talking to a friend. It’s weird because on the one hand, you need distance from your work to ensure that you’re expressing something universal, and on the other hand it needs to be close to your heart so you know it’s real.

So as far as these sketches go, I guess there’s a lot of sadness in my heart. I admit that. But I’m trying to leave the details of these stories open to your own interpretation. These aren’t my stories. Ideally they’re a collage of everything I’ve ever touched, and I like to believe that I share those things with the rest of you humans breathing the same air as me. Go figure I feel the need to explain so much when I actually decide to use the word “love” in a song!

Final Title: Can of Worms

take apart my love
and everything I tried hide it wrapped in time
I’m sick of all this stuff
it’s hard to feel alive, this time
even though I survived
the darker stuff I want it back again
set aside my faults
to diverge in a glacial unwind
it seems I’m badly designed
my heart’s a spark in the twisted sky

you keep it all inside
and find it hard to hide
you got the means to cut
the ties from what you find
you won’t be coming back
until these days run dry
until these days run dry
away from your eyes
so shy away from the times you lied
and even still you’ll be lost inside
I’m not about to look up
I’m not about to look side to side

take apart my head life
kill the light inside
forget what I said
loneliness is the logical end
open up this mess
I’ll see you when it’s all better described
I can’t won’t pretend I’m just fine
but that’s ok cause goes to show that this life’s not mine

Original Demo

Final track from “Between the Walls and the Sea”

I don’t just sit at home and watch TV.

April 13th, 2009

Large groups of people (society) fall into patterns naturally, and elements of power, whether it’s advertising and marketing or public policy, take advantage of and/or dictate those patterns so that society keeps within certain boundaries.  In other words, the world is mostly lame.  It’s up to artists to break away from that and do something different.

As expected, society makes little channels for artists to fit into.  For instance, if you’re a painter you go get a studio in the Northrup King building.  If you’re in a band then you get a practice space and book studio time when you decide to make a record.  If you’re a writer you sit at the coffee shop with your laptop.  None of these are necessarily deviations from the status quo. You’re participating in one of our “industries.”  Most likely you’re also participating in some other industry to make up for the fact that your creative activity doesn’t pay the bills.

There’s no doubt that artists benefit from having separate, dedicated space and time to do their work.  The problem is that your rent is not being determined by the economics of what artists are willing to pay for studio space, it’s being determined by what anyone is willing to pay.  My first studio was, before I moved in, a storage space for the Whittier Globe newspaper.  It was $100 a month and it was all I could afford.   Lots of buildings that would be perfect for artist studios are occupied by offices because anyone would value the same amenities artists value–things like high ceilings, historic character, and large windows.  Those spaces are much more likely to be snatched up by entities for whom those things are a luxury.

I have a bottom-scraping life, consisting of a part-time job (not career), my artistic goals (music), and a minuscule social life (made up mostly of artists and musicians.)  I’m continually fighting for the one element with any potential to pan out.  If I enjoyed prosperity in the other two elements of my life (career/money and social life) it wouldn’t be that hard.  But since I’m a natural misfit, trying to be successful at those two things would burn me out. I would rather risk burn-out doing something that’s important to me.

I make records at home.  I write and record music, in my apartment.  When I moved into my building it definitely felt like a creative community, but in the past six months or so I’ve felt like I’ve been intruding on people’s lives by doing what I do.  Meanwhile I’m probably living below the poverty line, which rules out any other options as far as living my life without any conflicts.  I won’t be buying a house or getting a separated studio space anytime soon.  Not on a delivery driver’s income.  I try to record as much as I can without feeling like I’m being too annoying of a neighbor.  But it’s hard  to do when you know people are just going to be passive aggressive.  It doesn’t help me feel like any less of a hack when I’m trying to work on a recording that isn’t working out how I want.  And the whole time there’s people out there making records and writing songs and forming bands, and I read about them on blogs and see them on radio station playlists and advertised playing shows and I feel like I’m missing something.  Either it’s because they have more money or more friends than I do, or it’s because I’m just not very good at what I do.

“Common sense” logic dictates that if you’re unsuccessful at something, you’re probably just not very good at it.  I refuse to believe that because it would force me to value my work according to the terms of capitalism.  But I’m losing that fight.  They say if you can’t beat them you should join them, but the only thing I have in the square world is laziness and alcoholism.  I don’t want to be any lazier or alcoholic than I am right now.

What to sacrifice in these dark times

March 12th, 2009

Here’s a list of things that I allow myself in life, and the things I’m sacrificing to keep them.

I get:

  • Time.  Plenty of free time to do what I want.  Sometimes that means laziness, others it means being creative. I never get up before nine. I get a three day weekend every week.
  • The following things are always on hand at home: cheap beer, frozen pizza, breakfast food, and coffee. I eat like shit and I know it. I probably drink too much. I’m impatient with food.
  • Trips to Caffetto if the walls start closing in. If you don’t go out because you’re trying to save money, going out for coffee is a good alternative
  • A band to play shows with. This is a good alternative to a social life, and a lot of times, you get a nice package deal: you get to go out, see a show, play a show, and you get paid a little. Plus playing and practicing with other people forces yourself out of your own head.

I lose:

  • Income.  I haven’t paid rent this month yet.  Car insurance is due. I don’t save money.  It’s out the day it comes in.
  • A social life.  I don’t care what people say.  Love costs money.  I don’t go out to eat. I’ll go to a show to see a particular band, but I’m in no position to be buying anybody their drinks. I don’t do dates. Every person I’ve ever been with, we just skipped that part and went right to “relationship.” I try to be nice to people but sometimes I come off as rude or anti-social. I don’t play games and I’m not going to be someone I’m not or try to get you to like me. I try to not try too hard. I’m alone in this world and I’m trying to accept it.
  • My passenger seat.  It had to come out because my driver’s side door is stuck shut, so I had a choice: pay to get it fixed or find some other means of getting in and out of the car without giving myself a new bruise everytime. (Delivering pizza, you can easily get in and out of your car up to 20 or 30 times a day.) There’s also no air filter in my car and it’s leaking oil somewhere.
  • My mental health.  I’m not clinically depressed.  I get depressed when I get tired of fighting for my own well-being.  I get bitter when I look at society and see the kinds of work that gets rewarded and the kind that gets overshadowed.  I get upset about how successful people use their resources.  And I hate that there’s nothing you can do about it unless you become one on them.  Lately I’m reading way too many people’s facial expressions toward me as saying “fuck you, I’m better than you.”
  • Hope for the future.  I tell myself, if I’m going to be living like this the rest of my life, then who cares about saving for the future?  If this is my plateau, then maybe the end is something to look forward to.
  • Material possessions, family (breeding) and empowerment.  These are things I never much thought I’d have anyways.  I always figured that by forfeiting my chances in these areas, it would open up for me those avenues which I wanted to go down.  I was wrong.

Is it worth it?

Postbook: A mail art zine project

March 2nd, 2009

I’ve been wanting to do another zine lately, but I have far too many avenues for the control freak in me as it is.  So I’m starting a project called “Postbook” which will use the postal system to gather contributions for a collaborative art zine, using an add-and-pass traveling hard copy.

Each person contributes their art to a section of the hard-copy, writing their mailing address on the back of that section, and then they send the whole thing to someone else.  When it comes back to me, I’ll put the hard copy together and photocopy and bookletize it into a zine.  The zine will have an address index in the back.  Each contributor will be sent a copy, and I’ll distribute the rest via zine networks (mail order, zineswaps, festivals, donating to libraries.)  Then people who receive the zine can get involved in mail art by sending stuff to the contributors.

So, if you want to participate, you have to send me something.  I have a few mailing lists that I work off of, one of which is the Amorphous International Mail Art Network on Facebook, but I’ll always first send stuff to people I’ve received stuff from.  I’ll most likely start an online archive for the project on Detritus, but in keeping with the theme of that site, you would have to stumble on it accidentally.

Prokiev Projects + Publishing
PO Box 8804
Minneapolis MN 55408

Saturday Night

February 2nd, 2009

The Detritus downloads continue. Here’s an old track about winter and being bitter about others’ social lives and your own lack of one. I wrote it in 2006 for the “Lost in the Background” CD (the album title came out of the lyrics.) I didn’t include it in the end, partially because I couldn’t get over the obscure art-history reference I made to the daguerrotype by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, “The Boulevard du Temple” (1838). It was the first photograph ever taken of a person, simply because the long exposure time removed the moving crowds from the photograph, leaving only the single person who was standing still the whole time. This romanticized the idea of an anti-social artist to me.

they crowd into the streets
they fill up tables and their chairs
they laugh and smile among their friends
they walk around in pairs
they lose themselves in conversation
so young and alive
they’ll wake up in the morning, easy
everything is fine

but somewhere there’s a lonely drifter
small among the crowds
he’s quiet in a corner
simply lost in the background
like a long exposure photograph
from the 19th century
of a Paris city street
he’s the one that you can see

I gaze outside the window at the cars and ice and snow
listening to the sounds from the apartment down below
I’ll place a melancholy CD in my bedroom stereo
the evening is still young, but it’s not like I would know

someone out there has found a lover
someone else refilled their drink
but I guarantee those crowded bars
won’t leave you room to think
yeah, but thinking’s got the best of me
I just wish I could relax
for now I’ll transfer nervous energy to the tape
in my fourtrack

Download the Song

Restraint in Art and Life

December 19th, 2008

So I have this idea, and it involves incorporating art into your everyday lifestyle, as opposed to the other way around where you build your lifestyle to make room for art.  I guess that means throwing out your preconceived notions about the creative process and letting the circumstances of your existence dictate the details like when, where, for how long, what materials to use, etc. It’s not my natural line of thought, but over the years I’ve come to realize that you can’t discipline creativity.  It’s best to approach the creative process on it’s terms, not yours.  So many tracks for Exits + Obstacles, I would run my wheels into the ground working on them only to find that the song was uninspired to begin with.

So with a new approach to the division between art and life, I’m beginning to exercise my visual muscles again.  I decided on one simple rule as I create new pieces:  whatever you do, limit it.  If I decide I like newsprint, make one drawing and put it away.  If one photo looks really cool photocopied, it doesn’t mean I should gather ten of them and then go to Kinko’s.  My new idea is restraint.  When you really like something, it’s best to take a few steps back from it whenever you can.  Let it breathe and be itself.  Anytime you try to overuse something, it’ll become something it’s not.  Of course, I’m not just talking about art here!

Anyway, there’s theory and practice.  We’ll see where the line is drawn on that one.  There’ll be a running set of images on my Flickr page as this progresses.

First Dates and Fourtrack Tapes

August 24th, 2008

The normal thing for people to do it seems is make a lot of mistakes in high school, have a lot of fun and adventure in college, and then take what you get out of it in your mid-twenties and turn it into a “life.”  Turn your job into a career, buy a house, marry whoever you’re with, and become an “adult.”  I’ve always felt like I was 5-10 years behind.  My mistakes are more spread out.  My adventures have been a little less adventurous (camping in the badlands vs. backpacking through Europe.)  I hardly started dating by the time most of the people I know had met the person they were going to end up with.  The relationship I was in at 25 created more issues than it resolved.

I’ve worked more intensively on things I find personally important, and less so on things that are socially meaningful, mainly because I could do them at my own pace.  Social activities always put pressure on me.  I’ve found that creative things like art projects or music I could mediate the pressure and channel it properly.  The pressure comes from life and the world itself and as an artist you work as a filter for that, to make it meaningful and do something with it.  Social pressure is different and I never learned to deal with it.  It’s not as heavy but it’s directed right at you.  If you fuck up with a friend, you feel it.  If you do somebody wrong, it’s obvious.

Obviously the ideal is to live with someone that’s easy to live with and ignore the greater world around you.  Some people do that, but my guess is they do something for that greater world that supports the dominant powers within it to back up their lifestyle.  You can’t ignore a world that’s crushing you.

When you’re 22 and in college, living in the city, and everyone you know does art, and they’re all in bands and carrying notebooks around, it’s easy.  When you decide that you want to take that aspect of life seriously, you have to be ready for everyone that helped you to be inspired by it in the first place to ditch it for a more normal life.

I turn 30 next week.  My late 20s have hands-down and overall been the worst 5 years of my life.  I’m trying to dig up the parts of my younger self that I miss, and weed out the baggage that’s been holding me down since I was a kid, all while trying to hold on to the parts of myself I can’t afford to lose.  I’ve never felt this alone, and probably not coincidentally I’ve never felt less creative.  But knowing what you need to do and having the means to do it are two different things.

By the way, this blog is really supposed to be creative-oriented.  I don’t like this stuff, but I have to write about the things that are keeping me from maintaining that aspect of my life.

The Man and the Arts

April 24th, 2008

You can argue that things are getting worse for the arts in general. At best, one can argue that things are the same. But you’d have a really hard time convincing anyone (artists especially) that things are getting better.

I was driving to to work yesterday. I was about to cross the river on Central when I realized that I needed to go to St. Paul. So I turned and went down 2nd. On that street alone I drove past two brand-new modern buildings that house arts organizations: the Guthrie and MacPhail Center for Music. We also have a new Walker Arts Center facility. In these dark times, why are these places growing and getting better?

I think Minneapolis has a fear of anything that doesn’t come packaged in a shiny box. Large institutions are selling the idea of legitimacy so that we can believe we’re a part of something. Artists, on the other hand, need a community that’s more real and more organic. Artistic community cannot actually be created by an architect and a developer. I think the Walker is actually helping to dig Minneapolis’ artists their graves. It establishes a threshold of legitimacy that pretty much blacklists any upstart gallery from making a mark. It gives the public a cultural outlet they can trust so that they don’t have to be in the know. And now they even have underground parking so your nice car doesn’t get fucked with. Who cares that Joe Nobody can’t sell his art or get a job? This is capitalism. Survival of the richest.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the music scene. I’ve gotten one response in my search for gigs, and that response was a ‘maybe.’ The one show I had lined up at all this summer was supposed to be at the Belfry. The only thing that really keeps me trying is the fact that I don’t have any real-world job prospects. I’m still creating in a void. No social life, no money, working for my dad, and trying to record interesting music by myself at home. And every day it becomes clearer and clearer that I’m the only one who gives a shit. Institutionalize that, Minneapolis!