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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.

Some Things I’m Looking Forward to Doing in September:

August 6th, 2009
  • Washing my clothes in strange laundromats
  • Recording noise guitar under the pitch-black skies of rural New Mexico
  • Writing songs in a tent
  • Buying single servings of milk to eat my cereal with
  • Drinking whiskey from a metal flask
  • Being in cities and having little to no agenda
  • Taking smaller highways, taking my time and going through the centers of small towns
  • Going for a swim instead of showering
  • Making a different mix CD off of my laptop for every few days I’m on the road
  • Taking more photographs in week than I’ve probably taken all year
  • Small moments of positive boredom
  • Trying to grill dinner at a wayside reststop

Open up…

June 15th, 2009

There’s something pure and infinite in you, that wants to come out of you, and can come out of no other person on the planet. That’s what you’ve got to share, and that’s as real and important as the fact that you’re alive… The world at large, careerism, money, magazines, your parents, the people at the rock club in your town, other kids, nothing is going to give you that message, necessarily. In fact most things are going to lead you away from it, sadly, because humanity is really confused at the moment. But you wouldn’t exist if the universe didn’t need you. And anytime I encounter something beautiful that came out of a human somewhere, that’s them, that’s their own soul. That’s just pure, whatever its physicality is, if the person can play a piano, if they’re tone deaf, whatever it is, if it’s pure, it hits you like a sledgehammer. It fills up your own soul, it makes you want to cry, it makes you glad you’re alive, it lets you come out of you. And that’s what we need: we desperately need you.

- Julian Koster of Neutral Milk Hotel, quoted at the closing of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Kim Cooper

I’ve always felt like I’m being distracted from what could be my own life.  The past few days I’ve been picturing myself as being in a cloud, where I can see myself but everything else is obscured, and I’m obscured to everyone around me.  I’ve always imagined the soul as being these lines that you cast out from yourself, to attach yourself to things.  I make music, keep up a few relationships with people, write a blog, etc.  There are things that pull at me that threaten those connections.  The demands of my job and my small role in this unnatural capitalist machine we live in, for example.  I think in your 20s you’re discovering yourself, and when you hit 30, it’s time to stop trying so hard and just be yourself.  I’m going on this solo road trip in September, and it’s by no means a way of finding myself.  It’s an attempt at being myself, without the distractions.  I think I’m dedicated to the idea whether or not I save up my ideal amount of money to make it happen.

I just finished the book that I quoted above, and it reminded me of what I’ve always thought life was about.  As soon as Careerism was mentioned it hit home why I spent 10 years recording fourtrack records that no one ever heard and unsuccessfully jumping from part-time job to part-time job, trying to get out what I needed to get out.  John Frusciante said that he believes most music is made for the wrong reasons, and I agree.  Sometimes I try really hard to make something sound a certain way, even though my heart’s not in it.  Then the songs I like the most are the ones where something just clicked and took off.  I hear about bands getting all this hype and going on these huge tours and it just seems like too much of an industry, and I’m still trying to reconcile that attitude with the fact that I need to make money to fucking survive and I really don’t see myself delivering pizza much past the first frost.

The new record is entitled OPEN and will be out September 3rd, my 31st birthday and the night before I leave for the road.  I decided tonight its underlying theme of authenticity.  I’m looking for something real in myself, and others, and in the world around me, and I’m struggling to find it.  The idea is that you’re more likely to find it by leaving your door open than by knocking on closed ones.

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.

The Return of the 8-song EP

March 29th, 2009

I was doing this a lot when I was using the fourtrack and burning CDs at home.  A large handful of really short tracks on a 20 minute CD, half of them noisy instrumentals and half of them folky vocal songs.  It’s a fun format.  It suits my music.  But it doesn’t really work if you want to do bulk runs or promote the disc commercially.

Also, once I decided I was going to try and promote my music commercially, I started wondering what I should do with all the weird, quick, noisy experimental stuff.

I’m going to do the Belle and Sebastian thing.  They had a habit of releasing EPs in between all of their proper albums.  I’m recording enough these days to do that.  So I’ll be “releasing” a new 8-song, 20 minute EP in May.  It will likely only be available on my websites and at shows.  I am also working on a new full-length, which is likely to come out late this summer.  That one will be available everywhere possible.

No more lemon sour?

January 19th, 2009

Today I found $100 that I forgot about.  Must’ve been my tips from New Years.  So I decided that instead of just buying my normal 12 of Black Label on my shopping run, I’d get some liquor too.  One of favorite (and cheaper) things I like to make are whiskey sours, with Schweppes Lemon Sour and Jim Beam.  But, I was informed that Schweppes Lemon Sour has been…


What the fuck?  I did a google search and saw that it’s even being sold on Craigslist.

So instead I figured that if I’m not going to mix whiskey with anything, I might as well get something I don’t mind drinking straight:  Jameson.

I got groceries too.  Watched some 30 Rock on Netflix, played some piano, programmed the drum machine so Sarah and  I can cover “Loneliness” by Ed Harcourt, made a new cable (a 50-foot Y adapter) for my sound system and cleaned my apartment.  A productive day off, but fuck if I’m not pissed at Schweppes.

The Practical Side of an Otherwise Impractical Career Choice

January 14th, 2009

I’ve been pretty broke lately as the pizza delivery business has slowed down some, and as such I’m trying to take care of business.  I cleaned up my hard drive and I’m trying to organize my press contacts and research more opportunities.  I decided I should be playing a show every month or so.  My natural rhythm of things is to book too many shows in a short period of time, and then not play any for 3 months.  I’m trying to do better.

I also have some backup in the works.  My friend Sarah has been practicing with me, doing keyboards and harmony vocals.  The upcoming shows should be interesting as the sound continues to fill out more:

I’m still working on booking a February show.

I had to go to a clinic to get my ears flushed out, and now I have my hearing back!  It’s amazing how much you appreciate something so simple after not having it for five days.  Especially being a musician.

I also revisited my makeshift guitar building studio for some long overdue sanding and practice with the router.   I’m reinspired.  Which doesn’t mean much when you’re broke, since guitar building is a pretty expensive hobby.

Perception and some tangents…

January 8th, 2009

My right ear has been plugged up for the past 48 hours.  On top of that, I’m wearing my eyeglass prescription from 1999, since I wrecked my glasses right before the count on New Years Eve.  So, so far, the outer world is continuing to lose focus as 2009 drags on.  Not good.  I went to America’s Best to look at new glasses and I made an appointment.  After that, I proceeded to work the longest and slowest shift in (my) pizza delivery history.  That means I’m broke.

So I’m on self house arrest.  I can’t hear and I don’t have any money.  I have cans of beer and a working internet connection.

I decided that my week is divided roughly in two.  The first half, roughly Sunday or Monday through Wednesday, I don’t work, don’t spend money, don’t stay out too late, work on music, etc.  My apartments a mess and everything else is easy-going.  The second half, usually Wednesday through Saturday night and maybe Sunday, I work long shifts, I’m stressed out, I have plenty of cash and I waste no time attempting to recover my social life, given the chance.

Is this good?  I don’t know.  I also decided there are three equally important major facets to my life:

  • Creative Work
  • Income
  • Social Life

The only way for me to maintain my sanity is through those things overlapping in some way, i.e. creative work providing part of my income and part of my social life.   I’m trying.

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.

Fourtrack Hibernation

December 5th, 2008

A new song inspired by days long passed:

These tired days of silent dreams twitching awake
I found myself peering into what I made

it makes me nervous, it makes me fall down in my sleep
and I’m not sure about this, but what the hell, it’s good for me.

I lost myself in a window-framed picture of snow
covering a field of roofs and trees obnoxiously

with the radiator on, turning my thoughts into steam
you got me marking up my mind, you got me picking at the seams

these tired days and six pack mess with fourtrack tapes
magnetic awkward to stay inside of a backwards place

and I put myself out for my broken slice of economy
and I just reach inside somehow, still unsure what’s left of me