Officially the most depressing song on the face of the planet in history. When we got done with the mix on this one, Eric wanted a CD copy. He was going to buy a CD player and a really nice set of headphones, put this in the player, and put the package on the chick’s doorstep. I said no. No, sir, no. We gotta look out for each other!
I write and write in this blog for a couple of days and then I get burnt out on it. Especially if I have any kind of shift of conciousness that makes me step away from thinking about this stuff. I had one of those in a conversation with Jenny (my girlfriend) wherein she suggested that perhaps moving forward I should do something like being a personal trainer. Don’t know if I’ll do exactly that, but the thought gave me such relief that I no longer cared about railing on about music industry stuff.
Anyway that spurting inspiration (*snicker*) is another big thing when you’re trying to run a business in art. Good business is based on steady, predictable production, not spurting inspiration. One thing you can do is, if you’re prolific enough during your inspired times, you can create a backlog of work that you can slowly release over time in the business side of things. You just have to make sure what you’re doing will stay relevant. Stuff that’s really really current might become worthless quickly.
That’s another reason why performing live is crucial. Recordings and new songs come in spurts, but you can be on stage steadily every day in a more consistent manner than you can write new songs in a consistent manner (bullshit if you’re reading this and saying you can write a song every day from here on out, BULLSHIT - you WILL have down time and you BETTER be prepared). The key though is you can’t be all persnickidy about fresh material on stage, you have to be willing to play something a million times. Have the freshness be in each different experience, each day being different than the last, but also the satisfaction being in the wisdom of knowing that we are ever repeating, life is ever repeating, and that, if you think about it, that’s all of our goals, rather than this neo-christian-british-glory notion of “getting somewhere” we actually just hope to carry on. Endlessly repeating and repeating. If you can keep that in mind, keep in your heart a feeling of just BEING, this just IS what you are and you’re not going anywhere, you’re just living life, then you can keep performing and performing and performing.
But the problem is, when was that the attitude? Maybe if you’re David Bowie, you’re thinking you’re just maintaining and living. But if you’re an indie, you’re trying to get to being David Bowie. That constant mission and trying to become something you are currently not is ironically the biggest killer in getting somewhere because being consistent is the key to growing a business, including a musical one. You have to consistently show up for a fan base that slowly but surely grows and grows and grows.
Somebody like me tends to periodically, consistently, find the inconsistent and break down completely and reinvent. Somebody like Eric too. First being dominguez, then being semper Thou, then being Hericlitus. This is partly about being poisoned by the neo-christian-british-manifest-destiny-glory-trip but it’s also partly about being on a path of growth and creation, which means constant change. The irony is that some of the most creative and vibrant artists are that because of this nature of constant upheaval and change, and thus they’re the ones that never get anywhere.
So maybe it’s not entirely the fucked upness of the industry, but the nature of the beast itself. I’m sure there are plenty that would say that’s fine, because the point of the art is not to make money or be famous.
So all that may be why so much of what you hear that becomes “popular” is so boring and lifeless. And why there are so many things that a LOT of people know about, but most of those people don’t actually like it, and the whole boring perpetuation comes. Of course there are examples of people that break down and reinvent and make that be their strength. Madonna comes to mind. That woman reinvents her “image” every time she does an album.
But there are obviously some very crucial keys that DO NOT CHANGE with Madonna. That foundation allows her to change what doesn’t matter - her hair, her clothes. These are not the things that people latch on to. Her name, for example, cannot change. She, like any of us, would be dealt a great setback were she to decide the name needed to change. In fact that’s the number one thing, even more than the style of music. But her music, although changing much, adheres to a few basic principles, staying within a certain genre/category. She also changes ALONG WITH that genre, rather than counter to it, so she actually maintains a much more consistent connection than if her music were to remain actually static. She follows the trends, as it were.
Whether or not in her personal life she reinvents to any large degree I wouldn’t know. But you can tell that it’s happened some. Her lyrics went from bubble gum Cyndi Lauper style (that definition was vaguely recursive wasn’t it?) to sexual sex shock style to all this Om shanti shanti stuff but the progression was natural and again, she left it within the bounds of the genre. Another thing to note is, she may have reinvented her personal self to some degree, but not to the intense degree I seem to be, for example. IE: she may have changed, but she didn’t ever stop making music or think “hmm I think I’ll retire and become a personal trainer” - well maybe she thought that, but it didn’t happen.
Of course comparing her path to mine is a ridiculous thing to do, because she started out on major labels. Even if she had had times of complete seperation from it, the business of selling her music and her image was never going to stop. We would have kept seeing the imagery even if the actual Madonna human had disappeared entirely.
Hmmm. Maybe that’s the whole reason to not run the label your music is on. Maybe MOST artists disappear like I tend to. But their label carries on. The public never knows. Lest we forget, what you see on the TV is a ghost, a spook, an illusion of light and sound, it is LITERALLY only just the surface, and not the person.
This is a cover song. Dido. I forget if we made this one or another one sound so close to the original that maybe it was stupid but then again I don’t even care about that. I like doing that and I like making a cover that’s totally off. Like we had an acoustic guitar plus two vocalists “around the campfire” version of Killing In The Name Of by Rage Against The Machine.
Oh man I don’t even know what to say right now. Have I said everything I have to say? I’m sure I’ve said before what a nightmare it can be to put a cover on your record. There are two on this record. I bet I’ve also talked about sampling before.
Technically, cover songs are allowed. You can do a cover song and you don’t have to ask permission. You do have to pay though. And if the song is managed by the Harry Fox Agency (they all are, really) then they want you to pay a lot up front. But if you want to sample something, you have to have all kinds of written permission and probably you’ll have to pay. It’s not inconceivable that someone could give you permission to sample something and not make you pay.
I paid 50 dollars to a bunch of Tibetan monks to let me use samples of their chanting CD.
It didn’t used to be that way with all samples. If you sampled a bit of a song, then that would be problematic. But if you wanted to sample a movie line, which I did a LOT of, all you had to do was give it credit in the liner notes. Nobody cared. I guess technically the rules were still the same, but nobody was getting in trouble. I did three records with hella samples in there. Various movie lines and other vocal snippets, never any music samples.
The first record, Martyrs And Heroes, that was fine, I gave credits, it printed, boom. For the next record, Artistic Apocalypse, I had to change printing companies to press it because the previous one had turned out to be overly Christian and wouldn’t print certain stuff. So I turned to Discmakers and they printed Artistic Apocalypse fine. All kinds of movie samples and stuff in there, all credited. Then things started changing. Napster was a real milestone but they weren’t the beginning of all this upheaval surrounding intellectual rights and the new digital media and stuff (mp3s and the like).
In fact the way I remember it, it didn’t even start with the “new media” (that’d be the mp3s copied all around on the interwebs) at all. In fact it was ALWAYS easy to copy music. We’d put records onto cassettes. Then we’d copy cassettes onto cassettes. Then we’d copy CD’s onto cassettes. In fact it only got even remotely difficult to pirate music when people starting caring whether something was a second generation dub or not. Long ago nobody thought about that. Now we try to get an actual COPY as opposed to a dub. What isn’t talked about is that for all this copy protection and shit, you can still just as easily dub something and make a copy. There are 1000 ways to do that now, too.
Anyway there was great upheaval before all that started being talked about. Honestly I have no idea why, but people just started getting in trouble all over the place. Around that same time, sampling became sort of frowned upon in some circles of fans. Like you’d find out such and such bassline was actually a sample from another song and you’d be crestfallen and then you’d hear all these nasty rumors circulating about how “oh fuck that song he stole that bassline! that’s a sample!” — “WHAT?? no WAY! REALLY? asshole!”
I remember that being said about Vanilla Ice’s big hit Ice Ice Baby. Maybe something had happened there where they didn’t get the proper permission to use that bassline, but I doubt it. Companies are pretty thorough and that was a well known line. It’s not like it was a secret.
To me that whole thing of getting disappointed in artists who sampled was just white kids coming into rap not understanding what it was. Rap/hip hop is totally about sampling. That’s half the culture. And it’s not a bad thing. Nowadays sampling is happening just as much, and it’s about paying homage to classic songs and also picking up on known themes as a means of building on that art to find new art. And it’s promotional. And it’s nostalgic. All of it at once.
But sampling ORIGINALLY was born of necessity. The first hip-hop stuff was not sampled, it was bands with whole horn sections and the like. But in the world of hip-hop, the liklihood that a kid with talent for rapping who’s killing it at cyphers and break dance circles having a BAND or being trained in an instrument is just very low. It’s a matter of money. As it turns out I was a hip-hop artist for the same reason. What money did I have for band equipment? Who did I know that could play? And for me, it was also a matter of not necessarily wanting to work with other people. Ironic, because I keep saying how it’s ALL about other people, but for a lot of us, it starts out very personal and even secret.
SO, all that having been said, if you don’t have a guitar and a horn section and you never learned to play anything, but you want to rap over some kind of music or beat - guess what? - you PROBABLY have a record player. So along comes Grandmaster Flash and he’s got TWO! He gets two copies of the same record and manages, through AMAZING SKILL (but you don’t need to do it like him, especially if you’re just recording) and you loop that beat over and over from the beginning of Walk This Way or something, and bam there you go.
From there you get creative. Maybe you let the bassline come in or you find another groove with no words, you invent scratching, or whatever. And just as prevalent as records are cassettes at this time, and dual well cassette players are in wide use, and a whole other subset of hip-hop artists like me create a whole other way of doing this called Pause Loop Beats. Capitalized that for emphasis. Pause looping is easy in concept, but like DJ’ing, VERY tricky to master. But with patience, possible, no matter how poor you are (other than having dual well cassette decks!). You just record a section of a beat to another tape and stop it when it’s past where you want. Then you play back that new tape and pause it RIGHT EXACTLY IN THE RIGHT SPOT at the end of the phrase and record engage. Then pause the original tape RIGHT EXACTLY IN THE RIGHT SPOT at the beginning of the phrase, then record-play exactly together and create another loop and then keep on doing that!
I made 100’s of these. I’d do a whole 3 minute drum track then get a third tape and put stuff on top, then I learned to overdub, etc. That started my recording career, but there were literally 100’s of songs I did before I ever wrote a note of music. It was a long time, actually, before I discovered cheap enough gear that I could make “original” music to back my stupid macho 14 year old raps.
So THAT’S where sampling of music comes from. Nobody ever thought of it as stealing, and the whole notion that you’ve revealed some naughty secret when you say someone sampled something is stupid because it was never a secret, in fact you LOOK for recognizable beats or basslines or what not, because rather than being something you’re trying to pawn off as your own, sampling is about adding your verse, your contribution, to a known song. It’s ABOUT it being recognized as a sample. The reason white guys in Minnesota don’t get that, honestly, is because they don’t recognize the old songs because they were busy listening to Pink Floyd or classical music or whatever. Basically it’s due to the long history of segregation and dual cultures laying on top of each other in this country, where there’s a whole long African American tradition that most white people have no idea is even there.
So when you hear that little bassline in Dr. Dre’s tune that sounds original to you and find out later it was a sample and think “damn”, it doesn’t sound that way to Dr. Dre and his family and all the guys in Watts listening to it. They immedietly hear Tighten Up or whatever it is and say “OH YEAH!” and then it takes a new direction and it’s like a nostalgic reinvention of a song and it’s loveable and danecable, original and recognizable at once. It maybe partly came from simple resources reality, but maybe it didn’t. Maybe it was genius to begin with. Maybe Grandmaster Flash makes a choice to get those turn tables instead of a guitar. Hell even Ray Charles was taking known gospel tunes and writing new more racy lyrics for them!
…But… I was talking about the upheaval. Third record I did, Frosted Mini Wheats, had a bunch of snippets, from movies, video games, even a cassette tape of a stage performance of The Crucible. All credited, etc. Sent the record to discmakers and they called and said they wouldn’t print it! Sent me a form, which is now a standard part of their package when you send them a record, where I was supposed to get written permission from every sample. Hell one of them was Bobby Kennedy taken off of a Michael Jackson record. Where do I get that permission? There was no way. So I shelved the record mostly. Printed a few copies myself with stick on labels that melted or bubbled up or caused the CDs to spin wrong in players. Ugh. S’ok, it was probably better not to end up with 1000 copies of that record. I still have 700 of Cult Of Nice and that’s a FAR FAR FAR better piece of work.
So from then on out, and I KNOW I’ve mentioned this before, the rules and regulations and forms and suing and people freaking out and everybody being so “mine mine mine” about their “intellectual property” has totally changed the way *I* make art, and the creative decisions I make - and many others like me. I think it’s crazy but I can also feel for people. I mean you spend your whole life doing this stuff, and all you want is enough money to fuckin buy a sandwich, and suddenly you hear something you created out there in the world, making somebody else enough money to buy a sandwich and a coffee? Come on at least share the turkey a little.
Of course, there’s nobody in my realm that wouldn’t share the wealth if any ever came. Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m really thorough and careful about making sure I have it set up to share the proper wealth with contributers to my records. But I owe each of them about 4 cents each, so *shrug*.
Speaking of 700 copies sitting in the garage. Here’s something I just said in an instant message to a buddy:
“It feels like sitting on a huge pot of gold - 10 years after the world decided gold was just rocks.”
Man I love this one. But it’s actually a little intense to listen to too much. It’s very intense, emotionally and all.
Man though. It has these mandolins. This kid Eric just had all kinds of instruments in his little apartment and he could play ‘em all and he would bring ‘em over and go in the booth/Old Man Clothes Room and play ‘em and play ‘em. What a talented cat, srsly.
This one I really could hear it’s single quality, especially in the chorus. So much so that I couldn’t stand not to sing back up on it. But it’s definitely arranged wrong for a single. It’s creative in the way it’s arranged, but the arrangement isn’t single material. I mean you don’t hear that catchy chorus until way way in. It’s written more like a poem, but it has catchy melodies. I guess if we were really serious about making it a hit single, we’d arrange it differently or do two versions or something. That’s the difference between a small indie label and a major. On a major you’re just forced to be concerned about these things, whereas with a small indie, you don’t care.
People talk about that creative freedom and they talk about wanting it but I’m not sure how many people really would trade having millions of people listen to something for that creative freedom. I also think we probably are over-angry about lack of creative freedom at the level of the majors. I mean the fact is, for something to move the MASSES, a certain formula has to be applied (usually - there are definitely exceptions), and THAT limits your “freedom”, not an evil uncreative executive. Of course I temper THAT by saying that sometimes execs are OVERLY paranoid about formulas and sometimes we indies feel like they have so much power that anything they decided to force on the masses would reach at least a modest level of popularity, and why can’t they use that power to expand the minds of millions?
I don’t know. I know that I’ve always been an indie, and when you don’t give a shit about anything because you know nobody’s listening, then you pretty much do anything, and that’s fun I guess, but I improved and grew so much more when I started doing slam poetry because I was forced to really think about what was going to work for the people out in audience. I did a lot of experimenting and a lot of things didn’t last. That REALLY quickly developed my art as a performance poet, whereas as a recordist I didn’t develope as fast or as well, because I had no feedback.
The other thing is one of the major new themes of this blog, and that’s about being self centered versus concerned with other people. When you do something for other people it really holds a lot more power than when you just do it for yourself, whether or not you’re a Buddhist. And I might have already mentioned that in this blog. That yes there’s a sick sick fame/glory/money thing that happens, but originally, it’s about doing something bigger than yourself, and that’s not sick at all.
Oh well. La La La. Drink! ANNDNDDDD DRRIIIIIINNNNNKKKKK!!!
I wonder what I said last time. Maybe I should go look. Screw it I’ll just type. It doesn’t really matter which song, when I hear this record, this is what I think:
“Why is it that with the same gear and methods, my records sound like fisher-price toy bullshit to me, but this sounds like a real record?” and then the answer comes “oh yeah because this wasn’t just one person’s isolated thing”.
There’s some kind of magic in that. They say don’t produce yourself, they say vocalists shouldn’t mix their own vocals, and of course there’s some obvious practical things about that like your perspective gets skewed when you listen to your own voice, your emotional responses get in the way, and of course having more brains involved improves something just by catching problems you wouldn’t have, etc.
But I don’t know. I think there’s something just magical, and by magical I mean real but intangible in the sense that we don’t quite have a way to explain it at this point, about something being an actual team effort that turns into something that sounds real. (And maybe also my isolated records don’t sound so fake to other people?).
It’s funny that I keep wanting to say that about this album, and right now as I type this, an IM conversation is going on in another window talking about sharing ideas, Gougain and the impressionist MOVEMENT (as opposed to gaugane’s personal individual impressionist deally bopper), and who GIVES A SHIT if you “steal my idea” and - well - basically:
THE MYTH OF THE SINGULAR GENIUS.
I had this thought while watching a movie once a couple years ago, being overwhelmed by the sheer number of credits rolling past…and…well let me basically just paste from the IM window:
“a lot of what we’re talking about is sort of coming from an anger place - like fuckers! there’s too many assholes that want to be rock stars and movie gods to the point where now everybody who actually made a movie is lost in a huge list of contributors on the credits, anonymous - it’s just this big team effort….wait a minute….maybe this is good….”
“…sometimes we get pissed seeing the beginnings of what is actually a beautiful thing…”
“what if it’s turning into a thing of movies and stuff are just created by a bunch of regular folks for regular folks. a totally sharing everybody gets to be involved thing? that seems awesome. but what’s got to be addressed is people making a living and being healthy and stuff - not disappointed and poor all the time”
I think that last part is where I can still get with the venom a bit, because really it’s the myth of singular genius thing, the whole mentality that the point of life is to do something totally “on your own” and have it be somehow better than everyone around. Have you been reading about the Winslet sisters refusing to audition for contacts their famous sister Kate gets them? I think that’s idiotic as hell. Who ever did anything “great” on their own? What’s this “I wanna make on my own” crap? If you extend that logic, then every time you get a job offer, you have to turn it down. Wouldn’t want to accept help from some already establish corporate person. Oh no, I wanna make money all by myself. Dude. You can’t make money by yourself. You have to sell something to another person. Then if you do have some money, and you’re on your own, what do you spend it on? What do you plant it in the fucking ground and grow spinach? This is STUPID.
And we’re being taught that this is what we should do, and we should feel guilty and lazy if we don’t? And we’re being taught this notion of singular exceptionalism which basically states that in a project the scope of a Hollywood blockbuster, which literally takes thousands of people to pull off, only one person can possibly deserve credit. Of course they list all the credits, so at some level, we do understand the reality.
But to someone like me, who grew up in this, and got on stage and started being told stuff like “you’re gonna be a star, you’re different, blah blah blah”, who began to think that the only way to make up for his shortcomings is to be somehow a star, a singular outstanding better than other people genius, the idea that the makers of a big budget film would all “languish” in anonymity was extremely depressing and even scary. I actually thought that the industry was crumbling because stardom seemed to be going away.
Wait what? Did I just say that? I thought the point of this blog was that stardom and the idea of wealth, glory and fame has run rampant, gotten out of control. Well it is, but a lot of times, what happens just at the cusp before something disintegrates entirely is it becomes a cancer. That is the nature of the world, especially if you’re very Taoist. Something that becomes too much soon disappears.
“…sometimes we get pissed seeing the beginnings of what is actually a beautiful thing…”
So I got depressed that day, but perhaps in reality, it will be a beautiful day soon. Lord knows we ALWAYS kick, scream and resist when the universe drags us into what we want.
This song drives my girl Jenny crazy because he’s out of tune by just a little and she has perfect pitch so it bothers the CRAP out of her. It doesn’t bother me as much.
At the end, he says something about being drunk and off key, so at least he knew This was recorded in one of our drunken one take sessions but I felt like he did a nice job with it!
He says something about hiding for 17 years, the cicada hiding in its shell being a metaphor, I guess, about him and hell us in general. One thing about running the label and making records is in the studio you’re very isolated from everything and everybody. Even though ultimately music is supposed to be for other people, you’re so isolated in the studio, and you can end up hiding for years and years and years if you’re not careful. A lot of times, if I’d been in the studio (or doing something computer intensive) all day and I had a gig or even just an open mic to go to that night, I’d be really really nervous and afraid. When I got to California, since I wasn’t committed to actual gigs much, I’d just skip the open mics most of the time.
That’s a promotional nightmare. Getting isolated and anti-social is not what you want from a rock star, or really any member of a record label. You want the whole thing to be a constant party, in a way. But you can’t get any work done that way, which is the other frustration. And party people tend to be people who don’t get anything done. I had trouble in Oakland getting somebody to simply mail one bubble mailer off, even if I’d already packaged it.
So right there is a sort of paradox that make the business of entertainment a bit hard. You have to be a serious master of changing between opposite energies, which is really rare; most people lean far one direction, and even those who can do both it can be a real chore and take a long time to get from one mode to the other. Newton’s law of inertia works on modes of being that way. The other option, I guess, is to have a team comprised of some connector/party people and some worker bees. But as it turns out, that never happened with our group. A few of us tended to be shy a lot of the time, but not productive. And most people who have a sense of sort of down home work ethic probably will just work for a real company, rather than invest their time for free in the hopes of a big payoff at some point. Hoping for that wild payoff after years of partying is kind of nonsensical, so you usually end up working with people with no sense.
That seems a bit harsh to say, but of course I include myself in that group. We all had SOME sense, but I think most of us NQuitter’s would now admit that we had less sense than we thought.
The biggest trap for me right now is in saying this stuff, I start to think that perhaps I could make it work by doing things right and being productive. Problem is, I always thought that, and so I’d keep getting myself in, and then not being as productive as I’d hoped. Now in other aspects of life, I’m trying to work things in a way that allows for my lapses in integrity and doesn’t have the flawed design of unrealistic expectations. The problem for NQuit right now is that I don’t have a design that leads to solid success that includes room for error. The only design I know requires an integrity and work ethic that nobody *I* know has, at least not when they’re making music or art and/or selling it.
But it was fun to be “drunk off the summer” with Eric.
Well I hope you maybe read my new about page.
If you did, you’ll know I’m supposed to be telling the frustrating idiotic story of deciding you’re a professional “artist”, amidst all the fame and celebrity insanity that goes around. If you happened to be reading before, you’ll know that originally I was just using this blog as a vehicle to show off all my and my label’s music. Well I had this shift in thinking, but I still have two albums I hadn’t talked about, and they’re not my stuff, so I felt like I wanted to still use those songs as a jumping off point.
So here’s Ladybug Heart, by semper Thou, aka dominguez, aka Eric, who played all the guitars on my last album. I think Eric is really fucking good. I think he’s got something really amazing and in producing his record, I really felt like I’d done something that sounded like a real record, and really for the first time. It’s very simple in scope, usually just an acoustic guitar and vocals, played live. Maybe a few overdubs. But I think it sounds really clean and natural and man I’m proud of it. The other thing is Eric is well rehearsed and/or very skilled in that things don’t take forever. He will actually pick up his guitar and play. He’s very easy to work with.
I think I can really jump off about the frustrations from a label point of view on this song. You do something like this and the first thing you think of is some other album that might be comparable that you’ve heard on some major label like Arista or something. And you think MAN, this could GO somewhere! Every song starts to sound like a hit single, not necessarily like Britney Spears on KOB Top 40, but something. There are different kinds of hit singles in different niches. But as an artist, my skill is really not in promoting things, and honestly, that kind of thing takes money and connections which I’ve never had. Even when I do have it, I’m too scared to spend it. And you really can envision this series of calls and emails and successes and you start to get this start-up mentality. Now that I’ve worked for a few venture-funded start-ups, I feel like every new record release is like a new start-up company. And I don’t know if it’s from TV or what, but you get this picture of three or five people in a room just buzzing and buzzing and calling and booking and emailing and writing press releases and making something happen and having pizza and staying long hours and creating this Google campus feel. Suddenly you think you’re some hipster next Google company.
But here’s where I call bullshit, because honestly, that doesn’t happen. If you don’t have a paycheck for people, there’s not gonna be that kind of passion. And don’t get a room full of wannabe rock stars together to try and push one of their records. Mostly they will sit and pine and drink and play video games. I’m not kidding. If you want to be professional, and run a business, then you need to run a business. Not a playhouse. When this record and Bleed (my record) were being finished, we had a loft full of things like a hockey goal and Corona and guitar hero. There shouldn’t be a playstation in your studio. But you see that shit everywhere. Go and audition for that “modeling opportunity” down in Houston. You’re going to walk into a room with three hip-hop looking dudes playing Madden 2000 on a Playstation and right then you’re gonna know there’s nothing going on.
So there you go. It’s not REALLY because you don’t have money or connections. It’s because of a strange haze that comes over you where you just don’t do the work. I try to imagine if my DAD was heading NQuit. My dad gets up at about 4AM every day and goes to bed probably 11PM. He works basically that whole time. His office is an office. He has no interest in video games or hipster anything. His toy is the plotter in the back room. What if you ran your little label with that kind of passion and intensity? You’d be Dr. Dre. You’d succeed. But Dr. Dre succeeds like that for the same reason my dad succeeds at being a waste water treatment engineer. Because it MATTERS to him. It matters to other people. And because he isn’t some white boy with just enough money to get some beer and pizza. He’s got NO OTHER OPTION. He can gang bang, which he did, or he can successfully run a business, which he did. But the honest truth about NQuit Records (and a lot of other entertainers) is that they’re there because they don’t want to do anything, and/or they have no idea what to do. It’s probably the malaise of wealth, because don’t forget, if you’re an American, you’re filthy fucking rich, I don’t care who you are.
Anyway Eric’s as frustrating as anything I’ve done of my own, because I feel like he’s really good, but dude is all over the place. He’s a human being running around the Earth. If he had no brains or no education or no life, maybe I could pin him down and have him on the road all the time playing these songs (and if I could run my side of the business like I describe above, it might all work). But I can’t do that. Plus whenever he plays, it’s in some apartment for some girls, and yes they all think he’s a rock star, but he has nothing to offer them (because of aforementioned laze on NQuit’s part). Hence, I don’t have the money to print 1000 records for him, and the best thing I can ever do to promote is get on stage myself, but people that dig my show don’t want to hear me go on about some other artist.
The other thing that drives the label nuts is this fuckin guy changes his artist name every other day. His poetry name is dominguez, mere days before we finished this record, he says his music name is semper Thou, and now I think he plays music as “hericlitus”. Arty, Eric, really creative, but to a label exec, a fucking nightmare.
I guess the basic point is that one of the things that’s really taken its tole on my passion in this business is that our best work is the most frustrating, because I want so bad for it to be fully maximized and heard, but the motivation do make that happen is lacking.
But I like this Ladybug Heart song. I like this whole guitar driven acoustic album. I think Eric’s really good. Now I’ll tell you this warning though: this is the saddest album on Earth. Seriously. The saddest, period. This fuckin guy was so broken up and obsessed with this one girl in Houston, who’d sort of dumped him but was also just not as into it as him, and all this stuff that sounds real familiar to me! But this guy’s like NIN - EVERY single word in EVERY single song is about her! *LAUGH*
I guess that’s not totally true. This Ladybug Heart and the next one, Cicada, are kinda…something else. Eric can get really political sometimes and I dig his messages.
But anyway. I’ve driven up some points here, and I know I haven’t been totally thorough and clear. But this isn’t a book, it’s a blog. I know I’m gonna touch on most of this again and again and I’ll try to explain myself. For a few entries, though, I’m gonna let myself drift so I can still present the songs I have left to show you. Because in the end, promotion or not, that was what it was SUPPOSED to be about. I want somebody to hear the stuff.
Here’s the last track on the Bleed CD. It’s not labeled in the liner notes, so it’s sort of a hidden track, sort of.
This is my most popular ever slam poem, Blink. It was about my then girlfriend, mentioned many times in this blog, Tamara. I wrote it in Albuquerque by listening to a song on the record we were doing together over and over and over. It was written kind of before we were an item, or as we were just beginning or something, and it was a lot of unrequited love stuff. It’s very repetitive. People fucking love it. Black women in Houston fucking love it. When I was 10th in the nation, it was ’cause of this and one other poem.
It’s really nice, actually, having this one under my belt, ’cause I know for sure it actually moved people. You could hear them going apeshit during the poem everywhere you went, and that’s a nice feeling. People would come up to me about it - two people that I know of went and performed it for their lovers or families. One sort of saved a relationship with it, he said. See that’s kind of the whole point of any of this is feeling like “hey I fucking affected people! I really made their lives better.” Especially if you do it by just saying whatever you were thinking about at the time.
That’s the real reason, I think, that you continue wanting to be famous, long past any desire for “glory” or money or bitches and blow. You’re just like dammit I wanna hear that somebody did my fuckin poem in a debate competition or something. I wanna hear that somebody came out of their dulldrums or got inspired and made something good happen, or decided they could do that too, and became an inspiring poet themselves, or whatever. Feeling like nobody cares is the WORST feeling in the world, the WORST. But it’s almost like an evil siren drug, when you hit something right, because then it draws you back in! But then again, it really does feel worth it when people get really moved, and you really do feel really badass.
Everywhere I went for a long time, it was going to be for sure for sure that people would want to hear this poem. I didn’t ever have any of that “I’m bored with this fuck you” thing going on that you hear about performers having. If people actually WANTED to hear something of mine, I was glad to do it. Because mostly I figured me even being there and having people listen was a favor they were doing to me, and a lot of times I felt like I was jamming something down their throat that they really didn’t want to begin with, so any time I really got a request like that and I knew everybody in the room would pretty much dig it, I was totally glad to do it.
Especially with this poem. But there was one poem, called Yellow And White, that one friend, called Spec, would (will still) always request that I was hesitant to do. Mostly because I would always forget it. But I think also because it didn’t hit people like, say, Blink. Mostly it was only her that liked it! But I’d do it for her. I remember one time at some feature performance I stumbled all over that poem for her.
Anyway, that’s something we’ve talked about in the whole promotion cycle. You finally get something you think will move people, and you suddenly want to go promote promote promote, which eventually is unhealthy and selfish, and drives you into a not good place. Cycle cycle cycle. Sometimes the cycle is just, make a record, promote, make a record, promote, and you don’t get screwy, but I think spiritually, there’s still a bit of a cycle between loving generosity and creativeness and self centered desperation. At least for me, I’m usually relatively more generous and wise during creation than during promotion.
I thought I’d mention that, as talking about that stuff is where this blog is starting to go. I even changed the about page!
This particular recording of Blink is from the 2003 Houston Slam Off, the competition to determine the “city champion” and the team that went to the national poetry slam. I won, of course I think I got all perfect scores that night. I like these live recordings because you can hear people reacting during the poem. The only thing I don’t like is that Dave (the venue manager and recordist that night) went and edited out the cheering AFTER the poem, which to me is like the whole point! So I apologize for not having that on here, nothin I could do
The saddest thing though is the first time I came out (at all!) after me and Tamara broke up. I was so broken hearted that I stayed for a couple of months in my apartment just drinking and doing music theory homework, and one night the phone rings, and I answer it, and it’s venerable Houston poet Marcell Murphy, and he’s yelling at me to get the hell down to the slam.
I said “i got homework to do man” and he’s like “that’s BULLSHIT!!” and I said “I got nothin to prove” and this guy’s so great - he goes “YES YOU DO!!!”
*Laughs* So I drug ass out there, drank a few Pabsts, and in the first round of the slam, I did Blink, and everybody for a couple years KNEW it was specifically about Tamara, and they all knew we’d broken up, so they were like “awww”. I remember another great poet/performer/singer Keshia saying really loud “AWWWWWW :(” at the end of it. Then I walked off stage and straight to the back room, hid in there and just fell to my knees. But the odd thing was, as I fell to my knees, I knew just a bit that that knee falling action was a bit more dramatic than I actually was feeling. Somehow I just wanted to have a story. That’s how you do sometimes, out there, you fake a lot of shit because you think things are supposed to be hard.
Sometimes you fake it until you make it, but in a bad way where your fake dramatic bullshit turns into actual pain. That’s just dumb. Don’t do that. See that’s one of those things that I’ve discovered in this industry/world of entertainment and art that is just bullshit. I call bullshit on artistic drama. Art doesn’t have to come from being tortured. And I swear, most mother fuckers are faking being tortured because they heard some romantic story about Jackson Pollack or DaVinci going apeshit and cutting their ear off or throwing paint on the sidewalk. Or they saw Walk The Line and now they think to be a rock star they have to get a lot of beers and pills and see if they can puke up a piece of their intestine. Idiots. Absolute idiocy, really.
But uh, enjoy the poem, eh? It’s a love poem
This is another 6 minute double song This one actually is two whole different songs. One’s called 18th Street and the second one’s called 16th Street. This song has an “homage”, as it were, to a poem by Jason Bayani, a badass Bay Area poet. He has a poem about a kid who’s grown up in San Francisco and has never seen the ocean (for those of you that don’t know that’s ridiculous - San Francisco is 7 miles across - but that’s what happens when you’re stuck).
This is a song that’s all about San Francisco and New York. I wrote the first verse of 18th Street while driving around in the dark in the mission trying to find the damn freeway. In San Francisco there are places where it will have a sign that says “freeway” and point right - not “880 N” or “110 S” but “freeway”, and you turn and there’s never another sign and you just get lost.
Then the second verse is about New York. I was working there a lot, I think I spent 4 weeks there and then 3 or something. I did NOT like Wall Street. “temples and icons and choking and rocks” I have a bite from White Lines (the classic Grandmaster Flash song) in that verse.
Man there’s such sadness in these San Fran songs. “I’ve been every place I could think to go, still I couldn’t find what I’m looking for”
In the 16th Street side, it’s more of a rap. I wrote it on the train on the way home from 16th and Mission, where they do this outdoor poetry reading/whatever (juggler? fire eater? violinist?). I performed there a few times, but the first time I went, I was totally by myself, and I totally got scared and turned back. I just got back on the train. I don’t know why I was afraid. I’d done so many performances, open mics, etc. It wasn’t that. It could’ve been the location or something. It was a little bit of a wild place. Half the time a drunken guy would try to start a fight.
What’s funny is that given who I am, I feel like I’m supposed to just TOTALLY relish that wild energy, the crazy badass we’re doing poems in the street what, anything could happen, freedom of it all. Badass! And it is, but I didn’t really relish that particular version of it. I suppose I relish the wildness of the entire world, but the mission district in San Francisco, you can have. And let’s be honest, it’s the danger. Really the mission district is thought of as a dangerous place, and it is. It’s not more dangerous than a lot of places, though. But it’s dangerous enough, and there’s a spiritual side to it. There’s a lot of anguished energy there. This whole song, both 3 minute halves, is about that danger, really. It’s about two things: The danger, and the unhealth of seeking fame, fortune, whatnot.
Which put together really means it’s about my own unhealth in general. But as I always talk about the poetry knowing more than you, the song says it at the end. It talks about how I was afraid and how danger can come in many forms and how I turned back, and all of this stuff, and in the end, the lyrics are advising me. I become this sort of teacher character like a lot of poets do, but I’m not really trying to teach anybody but myself.
There I am the whole song talking about A) that i’ve been seeking and not finding and B) that i’ve been afraid and focused on danger - which ultimately leads to C) nothing. But the lyric at the end is:
don’t know what you been told but the danger’s in YOU
it comes with you when you leave the platform sinew
no matter how you run it will catch up with you
no elbow knife or gun can ever kill it
voodoo comes because you’re scared and you hide like I did
everybody sees through your shut down eyelids
I don’t know what to do when I’m frozen neither
I try to warm it up but I come up empty
next day I’m back to the working stiff beat
until my eyes glaze and raise up a steel sheet
maybe that’s why at 16th and mission
nothin i could spit could get me what i’m wishin
i just wanna smile at a girl in san fran
and have her look back and see somethin different
i know it can be done hell i done it myself
but i guess it’s never gonna be a spiritual cakewalk
down where the bells toll backwards brimstone
and hippy kids play with the gangsters watchin
maybe the next time i’m lookin at that shit
i’ll drop the facade hit the street and spit
Jeeze. I actually feel like getting back on stage now after reading that.
Another one I can play and sing (a version of). I just realized how that’s not usually news. But I really could never do that so it’s exciting.
My friend Larry wrote about this song in his music blog, 365 Songs.
I was really touched by what he had to say. That’s kind of the point of his music blog, is to write something profound about people’s songs, and hopefully, that’ll be pretty moving to the artists. It really is. You go all your life making this shit and being self centered but the point is you’re NOT just a selfish prick, you want to move and affect other people. You want them to listen, of course, to what you have to say, but the reason is you hope you can touch them.
I sent the lyrics of this when I first wrote them down to my friend Suzy (mentioned in previous blog entry) and she cried. Sent them to Tamara, who was notoriously unmovable, and she said she was flabbergasted.
So the point is not to brag as much as to just be present to that and say “wow something worked, something was honest enough and caring enough to move people”.
The song moves me, I really like the words. I don’t know how it was me that wrote ‘em. They’re not works of complex Shakespearean genius, they’re just honest or something. I don’t know really.
The beginning is an actual message that Eric (guitar player Eric, if you follow this blog, which I know you don’t, because I’m watching the stats), recorded. I had left that message at 5 in the morning after this weird evening where I went down to this bar and was writing poetry while this rock band played. I saw this girl with this sort of built plastic surgery body but kind of hot in that playboy sort of way, and I looked at her, wrote her off as too much for me, and went away. Well this band was playing and she was sitting about two chairs away and just suddenly reached over and scratched my head with all four fingers, like from front to back - not like painfully but like sexually. So I went over there.
It was really loud and what I thought she said was “wanna fuck?” and so I just said “YES!” but reallly she’d said “wanna bump?” - and so immedietly she’s offering me a fingernail full of what I was told by a more savvy friend was “glass”, which in that case meant a mix of coke and meth. She gave me two bumps of this stuff - not sure when the 2nd was. I was also of course drinking like mad. So I was hangin all over this chick the rest of the night, figurin ahh gonna get laid by a freaky playboy drug slut. Yay.
Well something happened where a couple of total strangers really needed a ride home bad, way out in North Houston, so I stuffed them in my truck and told the chick I’d be right back, and drove them - drunk of course - (Jenny’s gonna kill me for that but I no longer drink and drive or do “glass” so no worries, babe!).
Then I had no idea where I was or how to get back, and I was alone in this half ghetto and so I just started sort of driving, trying to feel my way back. So while I was drunk, driving, lost in the dark, I called Dustin up in Cali on the cell phone. Boy was he worried. I was trying to get him to guide me home, but he’d never even BEEN to Houston. What a trip. Then at one point I informed him that “oops I’m going the wrong way on Highway 59 freeway” and he thought I meant the WRONG WAY but I just meant I was headed in the wrong direction. I fixed that, felt my way back, and found that chick again.
She had lost some of the intensity of interest, but I was still able to sit with her. Only problem was I’d developed some mighty gas and was farting her out. I didn’t tell her it was me but she kept really being sensitive “what is THAT SMELL??? OMG!!” and so it all fizzled away.
And I had work as a stage hand for some university graduation or something that I had to arrive at at 7:30AM and it was 5AM. So I called Eric when I got home and ended up saying “fuckin fuckin fuckin fuckin”.
Hmmm. But that may not be the story I should tell. Maybe I should be talking about the lyrics. Flash forward a year or so and I’ve moved to Oakland and me and Dustin are there and I’m alone on the Bart train late at night, trying to get home. For the life of me I can’t figure where I would’ve been. On a plane? At work? At a venue?
That whole experience in the Bay Area was an experience in watching homelessness, feeling homeless, watching and feeling lonliness (even though we had 3 of us in the apartment and quite a crew of stragglers and community, it was still really lonely). I was sitting there in the train looking out into the darkness. The whole place is one huge huge huge urban area. There is no part of California really that’s not an Urban area. It’s basically one big city from San Diego to just south of Napa. With a few exceptions.
So I used to either stand on my friend Teresa’s balcony or look out the window of the train into the unending field of lights wondering if there was anything good to find out in it. I was doing this and I saw this flash come from the electrified third rail and I really did wonder what it was.
I wrote down the first line “sometimes I see a flash from the third rail and I wonder where it’s from, it’s like a pinhole shot from a .38 that broke the aching sun” and thought I was gonna write a clever slam poem, but it didn’t come out that way. It came out as this rhyme and for me at the time, the whole cleverness of it was the triplets and way I was going to rap it. I figured its cleverness was the rhythm, and I almost didn’t even finish the thing because I didn’t think anything of the content, but then Suzy cried and I looked at it again.
I dunno man. I dunno if I can explain the lonely hopeless vastness of urban california, and how you feel like you’ve disappeared into a chasm, and you can barely survive and you don’t even know why you would, and the sort of saddened freedom you get from just sitting there on the train staring at the ridiculous pincushion of light and steel and concrete. I can really feel that feeling when I listen to this mix though.
God it makes me want to cry, really, and just sort of drop to my knees in the dirt and thank god for my family and my girlfriend and having got out of there. I miss my boys, especially Dustin, but man. That place is strange. And yeah, listening to the song is making me appreciate things now. Especially that feeling of having met Jenny and having this feeling of suddenly the ground just reappearing beneath my feet and this utter relief. Relief from the fuckin Third Rail flash thingymabob.
There’s actually some other subject matter in the actual lyrics (you may remember me mentioning how the musical energy trumps the lyrical content in a song for me in the last entry - or not) - about darkness and giving the sun a break - neat stuff that I can’t really speak on right now but I’ll paste the lyrics.
sometimes I see a flash from the third rail and I wonder where it’s from
it’s like a pinhole shot from a .38 that broke the aching sun
I look to daylight for the answers but there’s nothing left to ask
and daylight just laughs and breaks his foot off in my ass
sometimes its way too bright in the grainy place with this gathering of souls
and just to get a sense of dark we need that little hole
even the sun needs help some days to make it through the cold
’cause answering every question in the world can get a little old
it’s like a way tall man began his day by sharpening a stick
and gave the light a little prick since it was feeling sick
and on the other side of this broken ball of dirt we call the Earth
a little woman in a scarf begins to say a prayer
she says “Release the sun from all its woes and I will be your slave
let 70 and 21 begin afresh today”
and the little woman made a pact with everybody tall enough
to give the god of heat a little break and let the cold come in
so every day a little baby dies or someone chokes
or someone hits a stroke of bad luck and ends up in a box
behind a fence inside a vast expanse of dust
and every evening someone lingers in a broken doorway shallow
and he knows he’ll have to sleep tonight on concrete wet with breath
and when he wakes up it’ll rain and no one walking by will care
but it’s a cost, he pays it gladly so the rest of us can see
we call him crazy but he’s just a prayer sent all the way from somewhere else
and everyone in Columbine or Red Lake, Minnesota
will shed another 7 years of tears we’ll use to lubricate
the stones we’ll use to sharpen every stick
that every tall man needs to prick
a little pinhole in the sun who aches for someone to appreciate
the days we’re sitting in the sand and nothing in the sky
can contemplate another strategy to make us hate this nutty fate
I remember everything I said when I was mad
I can’t believe the things I’ve seen
I can’t believe the things I’ve had
I jerked my mind off in my liver
and I waited for it to cum
now everybody’s watching me
and can’t believe the shit I’ve done
I stare off into empty space when I look in people’s eyes
it’s like this train has got a hold of me and I need a new disguise
I see a flash from the third rail and I wonder where it’s from
it’s like a pinhole shot from a .38 that broke the aching sun
now what it’s gonna take to give the light a goddamn fucking break
I can’t believe the things we leave
I can’t believe the things we take…
I see a flash from the third rail and I wonder where it’s from
it’s like a pinhole shot from a .38 that broke the aching sun
This was fun. I played it live in the studio. So obviously I can play it and sing it. I think it’s my second song written that way.
This song has verse for my friend Suzy (the first verse) and a verse for my friend Tammy. (The second verse - her picture was on the keyboard when I was writing).
And then of course the chorus is supposed to be all about how life’s not THAT hard, your limitations are perceived, you can do it! Dunno if anyone got that from it though. The energy in the song is real sad and sad-reflective and it’s hard when you mix energies like that. I really think the energy in the melody and stuff trumps what the lyrics are saying every time.
It was a lonely sad hard thing sitting in there writing and playing in the studio. I think the piano sounds beautiful though, I love the sound of clean, real piano recorded decently. But totally lonely and hard in the studio. Beautiful studio, hard wood floor, great mics, Stanford privilage, but hard. I was always writing things basically that were these sort of prayers to the wind to find my wanted girlfriend. Met Jenny after was done with this record and Stanford. I had a girlfriend for like 3 months during that time but it didn’t go too far. I think she liked this song though. Her and some other people said it was the more powerful one on the record. One friend of mine said he much preferred it to all the overdubbing and production in the title track.
That’s a good lesson is it’s easy to overproduce and especially if maybe you have some real passion or some talent, then you should allow yourself to be more naked and revealed out there and don’t cover yourself up with too much trickery. I mean I guess unless your talent IS the trickery.