The True King…King

29 01 2011

From tonight’s Lefsetz:

“The consumer’s problem is not that he can’t find enough beat-driven Top Forty music. It’s that he can’t find anything new and innovative that he will pledge allegiance to.”

I’ve been reading Bob for well over a year, and it’s hard for a writer not to have an influence over me at that point. But this goes beyond influence, it’s synchronicity (you feel me JG?).


The Wager

28 01 2011

Failure is never an option, but it’s always a possibility. Especially when you’re trying to break out, to try something new or different, to offer a view or style unproven; to put forth the unconventional. Which is the bigger risk: people reacting negatively to your work, or never doing the work at all?

I met Myrlie Evers today, civil rights leader, first full-time chairman of the NAACP, honorary PhD at, like, ten universities, AMAZING woman, and an amazing speaker. Lucky me, my job is listening to people and making sure they sound good on tape. Her voice, part lecture, part testimony; her diction, erudite and mesmerizing; the stories were entwined with wisdom, struggle, and conviction. My mind swam with disbelief at being in the same room with someone who played such an important role in how the world is today.

On June 12, 1963, her husband Medgar Evers, was shot in the back in their driveway as he returned home. For over a decade the two had fought for civil rights, and with her husband now fallen, Myrlie continued to raise the flag on her own. Many, even from within the NAACP, told her that Medgar would be responsible for any of her future accomplishments. Her response: “Just watch and see what I can do.” If she had been afraid of failure, or of unwaveringly adhering to her conviction, we all would have lost out, and I wouldn’t have met her today.

By comparison, artistic struggles do not seem nearly as serious, as life or death, as those our civil right heroes were faced with, but the challenges may take to mountains in much the same way. And for those making their living by following the dream, it really is a creative life versus a soul-sucking occupation. If for an instant you let someone else determine your direction, diminish your contribution, or otherwise take control of your destiny, you are giving up the fight.

The True King

27 01 2011

The fact that I am about to write these words makes me want to vomit: A new kingdom will arise out of the mire of the many.

So ancient and itchy, I know, but as the core idea pertains to the status music today, I’m all for it. Don’t get me wrong, I think the proliferation of creativity and independent music is wonderful, for all the creative people taking part, for the gestalt, and for our culture as a whole. Affordable technology has placed production in the hands of the creative, myself included, and the results have been massive. There is some real evolution going on (creatively speaking), and the excitement level is so high, no body seems to care about where it’s going. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, because we’ll get there one way or another, right?

That’s fine. But, at risk of sounding old fashioned and impatient, I want to worship one new bad-ass band that redefines what a rock song is supposed to sound like! The beauty and problem with the state of things in 2011 is that we have too many bands doing this, each one a soma to its minor masses, each one contributing to the cosmic spiral of creative chaos, but none uniting millions of human animals and inviting them to leave their belief (and Blackberries) at the door and join them for two hours of face-melting magic.

I listened to the newest (not-so-independent) Kings of Leon record this morning, and I liked it. It really SOUNDS good. The production team behind it has a proven track record, and has helped make the band lots of money. But as good and as popular as the Kings are, what they are not is revolutionary: innovative enough so that you can hear a whole gaggle of bands after them and say, “Well, I know who they’re trying to sound like.” Please don’t confuse my discourse as sympathy for wannabes, because those bands are merely one of the side effects when a single band conquers all others and captures the hearts, minds and genitals of a generation, whose influence ultimately spans generations and lasts decade after decade! Who else out there is challenging the throne once held by bands as mighty as Led Zeppelin or Tool? Jack White clearly has the gravitas to command such worship, but his efforts are so spread out, there is no singular movement to get behind other than the man himself. And while there may be White Stripes reunions here and there, they already are a band of the past, though in terms of relevance and influence they certainly fit the pedigree.

I am not here to lambast the Kings, or any other band for that matter. They worked so hard, and they deserve the success that they have earned. I am just ready for the next band that just blows the doors of the establishment, strips the paint from the siding, blasts the glass into infinite particles that reflect the light from millions of smartphone screens and sculpt it into a mean and lustrous crown. Yet, given how personal music is and how many choices there are today, this discovery may very well rest with me, not our culture, and that’s what being independent is all about.

Extreme Tardiness

26 01 2011

How long can you carry the stone?

An article appeared in the New York Times today about author Barnaby Conrad and his newly published “The Second Life of John Wilkes Booth.” The topic of the book is not important to me; what is amazing is that it took him 60 years to write it. That may seem extreme, especially for Conrad who now feels as though a great weight has lifted, but consider that the man who suggested the idea, Nobel Prize-winning author Sinclair Lewis, told him, “You are never going to be a writer unless you write that book.” What a gauntlet! What a long time to wait for validation in a craft where pros must swim an infinite sea of harsh criticism. Such weight would sink less serious writers by the dozens. Yet, after writing over 30 books, and living a rich life that included a stint as a bullfighter, Conrad doesn’t have much left to prove. But I would bet he’s glad he doesn’t have to carry that one into the next life.

Click here to read the original NY Times article.


25 01 2011

In college, I had an instructor who idolized Raymond Carver, who worked as a janitor (among other occupations) and would do twenty or thirty revisions of his stories, sometimes writing in utility closets on his breaks. With a family to raise and support, he was not known for belonging to one scene or another, like so many other artists, though he did serve as an instructor at various points in his life. Following an all too familiar path, life’s pressures led him to dependance on alcohol, which he would never shake. It wasn’t until after his death that his work achieved wide-spread appreciation.

Carver’s story is a sad one, but also inspirational. He had a meticulous work ethic (pre-alcohol) all writers should all strive for. Painstakingly crafting stories in a dim dust and ammonia filled closet! That’s the point my instructor really tried to convey. A brilliant writer can arise from the most unlikely of environments. As a student, with no real life experience comparatively, I found it hard to convince myself that my own writing could ever contain the same clarity, such eloquence and authority. Obviously, I missed the point (revise, revise, revise, revise), and continued to miss it for over a decade.

The one thing in your favor when delaying a career in writing is life experience. But is it worth writing about? Going out on a limb, I would say, yes, any experience can be worth writing (and reading) about. The success depends on the skill of the writer to make it interesting. This goes beyond the Composition 101 lesson of show don’t tell. As I reader, I want writers to cast a spell, to concoct an intoxicating brew that you can smell, touch, and feel, not just see. It’s a painfully high expectation that leads to many disappointments. (Context, as well, is important. I don’t expect such wizardry from a staff writer at the AP, although I have read a story or two in the New York Times where a writer took the meat of the facts and glazed it with some artistic license).

As a writer, I hold myself up to these same standards, even though the record itself will show my words to be frequently less than magical. With age, I have warmed to accepting this. Yet, young and still fresh out of college, I could not live up to the unreasonable standards I had set for myself, some due to certain literary circles but otherwise self-imposed, which is why there is missing from a ten-year period of my life a single cohesive written work. But now that time has passed, and my anxiety and insecurity has softened, I can look back on that time away not only as a period of growth, but also as pure, raw material.

It’s Nice Today

24 01 2011

I had three conversations just about the weather yesterday. Am I really so uninteresting or uninterested that it has come to this? My understanding was that that sort of ennui was reserved for people more advanced in age, who had lived the best and most important part of their lives, whose critical duties involved trips to the supermarket, taking out the trash, going to Church. 

Here I am, still with a long climb towards the zenith of my creative and productive contributions, standing on the sidewalk, a dog leash in my hand, and all I can think of to talk about is how good the sun feels, and, yes, I heard next week will be warmer, and, yes, I think it will get cold and rainy again before spring sets in for good.

What about budget cuts? The state of the union? Production in LA on the upswing? More threatened cuts to public broadcasting? Or even…are you excited for the Grammies? So have you seen Skins yet? Even though those last two lack the intellectual stake of the formers, there exists potential for personal investment in the conversation. But no, leave it to me to be so camera shy as to suggest the most obvious and common subject partaken by humanity since the invention of the sun.

Now, wait. Obvious…yes, but also visceral. Sometimes you just can’t get over how good it feels when your skin is warm. After spending most of the winter so far working in Midwestern states, I can testify to the glory of January in Los Angeles.

Still, the physical comfort and gratification of an early afternoon walk in Mar Vista cannot MASSAGE the wounded pride RESCIND the self-inflicted insults to my intelligence RENEW belief in my wanting social skills or INSPIRE faith and REASSURE that I should have anything to do with communication on a micro or macro level all because I couldn’t  squeeze a topic even only slightly more interesting from my heavily-guarded thought dome they call a cerebral cortex! Well, actually, now that I think about it…yeah it can, just a little bit.

Too Much Inspiration

23 01 2011

Could there really be such a thing? 

Without a doubt. Especially when faced with menial tasks, such as cleaning the house. It seems my inspiration likes to peak at these times just to challenge me, as if it had signed a treaty with the more domestic side of my personality. Bastards!

I am living proof that you can have too much inspiration. Our house is currently undergoing a post-construction deep cleaning. With no privacy, I had to get out. So I took Roxy for a walk, and on the way, I had ideas for three blog entries. This being one and one each for two other blogs I am attempting to get off the ground. Being that I am giving this writing thing a go, I’ve GOT to follow through on all of them…tonight. Sleep? It’s cheap, when you’re not working.

Here’s the thing about inspiration though: it can be a bit like an ecstasy high, once you blast through all your serotonin, there’s a crash and until your brain builds it back up you remain a hair inconsolable. Thus, so exist the cycles that make creative endeavors so catalyzing (when you’re up) and frustrating (you get it).

Man (sorry to jump) isn’t it great though when it hits? It’s like you’re directing connections with a seventh sense; synapses in a stellar brain cosmos connect and fire with the point of your finger, and it then it gets so good you don’t even have to point, or barely even think it. The magic happens.  You don’t worry about whether people will like it, or get it…until later.

“Art is making something out of nothing and selling it.” That’s my favorite thing Frank Zappa ever said. I imagine when he said that, he was far past the place of caring what most people thought about what he did (as long as they paid for it!). One thing I do know about Zappa is that he didn’t take his fans for granted. He knew the number of records they bought would largely dictate the budget for his next record and thus the ambitious range it could contain (though I admit it’s against nature to imagine Zappa limiting himself creatively).

Here’s a clip of Zappa on Letterman talking about how he went about getting the London Symphony Orchestra to play his music for an album, and why he probably wouldn’t be doing that again any time soon (the video quality is bad, but the sound is pretty good):

Zappa was an anomaly. He not only had a steady stream of inspiration his entire productive life, he had the intelligence to translate it for his band members, the technical knowhow to bring it to the public himself, the experience to know when to tell the industry to go fuck itself (which was, and remains, often), and the balls to do it all.

It’s a powerful thing, this ethereal commodity, without which all our lives would be emptier, darker, colder. Even those who never get to experience it firsthand at all, who never get to feel their heart about to explode because they can’t get it out fast enough. Those of us who do get to bathe in that rush, that godly deluge…man, we are a lucky bunch.