Music and Records

Try to make the knot unwind

I kept a blog for years. It had hundreds of entries. I thought this mile-high stack of personal essays was a desirable thing for some reason. Strangely, at some point I felt that it was time to retire the thing entirely. There was something about a veritable play-by-play of my psycho-emotional development laid bare that I suddenly wasn’t comfortable with. That was a number of years ago. Lately, I’ve found myself longing for a place to write freely, away from the self-promotion of my records and performances. I wanted something without restriction. So I created this place, where I can retreat and reflect and share. Now that my new album is finally complete, I need to recover a bit. Perhaps instinctively I know that writing will get me there.

As much as I enjoy the satisfaction of making records, it is some of the hardest work in my world. Harder than writing the music and performing all the parts is the emotional roller coaster of working in complete isolation. For me, finishing a record is always difficult. I always reach the point of psychological finality before the work is actually complete. I often liken it to a feeling I had when I was a junior in high school. I had made the point. I had shown that I could hack it and I was done. Too bad I had another year of nonsense to endure. Records aren’t finished until the final mixes are made and masters approved. Until that time, no amount of work really has amounted to anything. Art is in the finishing. It is only through finishing something that you earn the right to put it behind you and begin anew.

Before I can begin anew, see who I am now in the music, and apply what I’ve learned, I have to climb back from the physical toll the obsession of my project has taken on my body. I’m tight. I’m balancing on a narrow edge. I haven’t come down from the intensity of pushing myself to the limit. Tonight Jersey Jeff compared it to a sort of PTSD. I don’t know how traumatic it was, but it was a trial, a monumental challenge of the spirit. With all of my soul, and all of my strength, I pushed harder and harder to get the sounds, to capture the performances and create a forever document of a moment. While I did that, unbeknownst to me, my body reacted to the intensity. Now that I’m emerging from the channel state, that place of focus, I attempt to untie the knot I’ve become. The title of this passage is from a Todd Rundgren lyric. That’s what it really feels like. And the process takes time.

Making records for me isn’t like they show it in movies. They would have you believe that guys that make records are always singing and playing and once in a while they set up a microphone and press Record. Making records, especially when you do it all yourself like I do, is about capturing enough moments by which the song in your imagination is chiseled into being. Even the finished product is an illusion for the ear and the mind that only the most skilled can make you believe. Countless takes and playbacks, layer after layer, are stacked like a house of cards that you hope against all hope will not succumb to the gentle breeze of distraction, the doldrums of failing energy or the gale that is the loss of conviction.

All of this is happening at the same time life is happening. Records seldom tell the story of the cold you had or the flat tire that interrupted the day you moved into a new house or all times your dog refused to walk in the rain despite his ballooning bladder. These things are not glamorous, but they happen when you’re planning to record a killer vocal or comp your organ solo. Records, independent ones especially, are made against all odds. They very often are the most criminally unsung triumphs of human will. One session spent checking out samples on Bandcamp with this in mind will empty your wallet, if you don’t have a hole in your soul.

My new record, New Aquarius, will be released soon. It’s a watershed moment in my life. Last summer, I was struck by the conviction that if I finished it, my life would change. So I set out to do just that. I’m at the cusp of that change now that the first copies are due to arrive tomorrow. I feel as if my Sisyphean stone at last remained at the top of the hill. Would Sisyphus have celebrated? Or would he have been overcome with anxiety? From where I sit, I think he would have taken his time deciding exactly what his fortune meant.

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