On Songwriting and Performance

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Hey all! I’ve been really busy with my new job at Moscow High School. I’m enjoying the work quite a bit. This semester I’ve been working with one student on a project concerning songwriting. It began with the study of Disney songs and kind of turned into a project about the craft of songwriting and the performance of a song. For part of this project, my student decided to interview peer musicians and songwriters as well as myself. I really liked her questions, so I’ve decided to shard the interview. Enjoy!

Do you prefer to work alone or collaborate? Why?
It depends what I’m working on. I tend to work alone, but I prefer to collaborate. The problem I often find with collaboration is that it’s really hard to find artists and projects that I connect with. I am currently soundtracking a play for a friend, and I really like doing that because I feel that the project is well aligned with my aesthetic. The content and message of the play are really great.

What does aesthetic mean?
Aesthetic to me means the image and the message that I want to send to the rest of the world through my music.

I know what you mean, but at the same time, I’m like, okay, that explanation is a little over my head.
It’s like this: everyone has an image of how he or she would like to present herself to the world. Aesthetic is the crystallization of that idea within the artist, and I often judge whether or not I have accomplished the communication of that idea based on the audience’s response.

When/if you collaborate, how do you do it without completely taking over?
I think they best ways to avoid competition are to have clearly defined tasks and to be open to changing your ideas if someone else comes up with something better.

When/if you work alone, how does one person handle all the responsibility?
I think that your fellow student had it right when he talked about patience. It takes a lot of patience to work alone because the process takes SOOO much longer. It also takes love. I made my last album out of love of what I was doing and the belief that it was valuable. That love and belief gave me the patience to push through to the end. It was really hard sometimes because my producer was working on a lot of other projects with people who were better known than me. We’d have to reschedule sessions all the time, and sometimes it felt like he was doing me a favor because we were friends rather than prioritizing me as an artist. I don’t know if that’s true for him, but that’s how I felt. On top of that, I was going to college and working, and my producer was touring with other bands while either doing sound or playing music, and he was recording all these other bands. As a result, I learned to use lists and to do some basic music notation. I would obsessively listen to all of the latest versions of my recordings and come up with each instrumental part piece-by-piece. I needed some way to track all of the ideas I had in my mind, and that’s when I started making lists and doing some notation. I also spent a lot of time listening to albums that I liked and figuring out what kind of studio effects they used. If I heard something I wanted to use for a particular song, I would scribble a note in a journal or on a scrap of paper and then transfer it to my list for the next session. Sometimes it was really hard because I could hear something in my head, but I wouldn’t know how to write it. So, I guess the short answer is love, obsession, persistence, and lots and lots of scratch paper. I probably killed an entire rainforest.

How do you begin to write a song? What is your inspiration for your music?
I think I work in a kind of collage form. I usually either learn something new in music or have kind of a lyrical epiphany. If it’s lyrical I’ll scribble down the basic idea in a journal or something and then let it sit for a bit. Eventually, I’ll have a few lines of lyrics that kind of go together. From that point, I’ll try to find the basic idea of what I’m saying and use that to fill out the rest of a section. Usually, this section becomes the chorus. Once I have a basic theme in the chorus I can form a story for the verses. As I’m doing this, I’m usually going back to my guitar and playing little riffs and chord progressions that I’ve come up with and trying to sing the lyrics over top. If the lyrics feel too awkward, I ditch the musical idea and try using something else. Sometimes I’ll come back to a thing that feels awkward and try it again, and every once in a while it ends up falling into place. Eventually I have a song. I’ve been kind of trying to refine this process, but I think that the key to inspiration is learning new things and interacting with that new knowledge.

If you write music with lyrics, do you begin with the music or the lyrics?
Well, I think I’ve answered that already, but the short version of my answer would be that it all happens at the same time. I let the mood of each one influence the other with the intention of creating a cohesive feel. I want the music and the lyrics to communicate the same thing.

What kinds of projects are you working on and what is your process?
Right now I’m working on a collaborative project with a playwright. For that, we just have long conversations about the style, feel, and setting of the play and try to figure out what it’s about, and then I go write. I’m also brainstorming for a cover album and trying to figure out what to do with the songs I’ve written since the release of my last album. Some of them are kind of funny and sarcastic while others are more serious. I’m trying to figure out if I want to release them both on one album or I want to release them on separate albums with different project (band) names. Right now I’m kind of at the beginning stage of my process. I’ve had some pretty radical shifts in my beliefs and worldviews in the last few years, so I’m doing some research and trying to figure out how to communicate my new aesthetic. This research right now involves reading and listening to lots and lots of books. In the last year I think it’s been over 50. I just need to fill up my mind with new ideas all over again so I have something interesting to pour out into my music.

How do you deal with performance anxiety?
That’s a hard question to answer. I don’t often get performance anxiety, so when I do have it, I’m pretty terrible at dealing with it. The best strategy I can come up with is to breathe, calm down, and take a few minutes to be alone. I like to find a quiet spot to center and focus. The bathroom works when nothing else is available. And then I have to remember to get over myself. Yes the performance is important, but no matter what happens, it’s a fleeting moment. Worst case scenario, nobody likes it, I get heckled, and I learn to change what I’m doing or to play to a different audience. Best case scenario, everyone loves it, and I feel amazing.

How do you get ready for a performance?
Practice. I mean it’s easy to get hung up on logistics such as advertising and making sure there’s a good turnout and figuring out whose PA system to use and how to get to the venue, but if you don’t feel comfortable with the material (and the equipment), the show is going to suck. This isn’t an absolute thing though. Sometimes I can get TOO familiar with the material. Sometimes if Imve played a song or a set a million times, it can start to feel dead. I need some newness and freshness. I need a little bit of thrill.

Do you ever feel like giving up?
I always never feel like giving up. And you can quote me on that. I constantly doubt myself and think that everything that I write is a big heaping pile of poop, but it’s that crazy obsession that keeps me going. It’s kind of an addiction. I want to give up sometimes, but I just can’t.

When I practice singing, I warm up first and then start working on my current repertoire. Are there any other practice strategies you would recommend?
I’ve read a lot of stuff about practice routines and taken courses from people who talk about discipline and setting practice times and stuff, but for me, it just starts feeling like a chore if I do it that way. I have to just practice when I feel like it, which is quite often, otherwise I stop liking it. And practice can be any number of things. Since I have basically two main instruments to practice, it’s really hard to give each one the appropriate amount of attention. And right now I’m working two jobs, so the only time I have is on the commute, so I’ll put on a CD with music and a melody that I really like in my range and sing along with that at different volumes. If it’s a singer that I like, I’ll try to figure out what that person is doing to get a certain sound. This doesn’t have to mean direct imitation. For instance, I really like Tom Waits, but I don’t have a gravelly voice, and I don’t really want to smoke a million packs of cigarettes to get the sound that he achieves, but he communicates a lot of emotion through the power muscles. (A lot of people mistake this for the diaphragm, but it’s actually your costal and intercostal muscles. These are, no joke, the same muscles that you use for pooping.) He also uses really loose and bluesy timing. When he repeats melodies, he will often change the phrasing slightly and unpredictably, but it always suits the moment. A few weeks ago, I chose a couple of his songs that had these qualities and just listened to them and sang along while driving. But I should also emphasize that this is just something I did without really thinking about what I was doing. Practice has just become a part of my life. I don’t have the time or the lifestyle to cram it all into a rigid schedule, so I’ve had to learn how to make it a force of habit. Any spare moment I have must be dedicated to making myself a better musician and artist.

What do you think about when you’re performing?
When I’m performing I just try to think about how much I love the music and how much I love what I’m doing. When I’m performing at the top of my game, I’m not even thinking about anything. I’m just letting the music flow out of me. I like it best when playing is feels like the unleashing of some repressed primal instinct. I like to almost lose my sense of consciousness and get lost in the thrill.

What gives you a sense of confidence when performing?
Just the thrill of being in front of people and feeling like they’re getting what I’m doing and what I’m saying. Just enjoying that brief moment when I get to completely expose myself to a crowd of people gives me a sense of confidence. I know that sounds weird, but once you’re comfortable with yourself as a person and you really like yourself, it’s almost more comfortable to be in front of a crowd without a mask.

No, the Girl on the Album Cover Is Not My Girlfriend (Even Though I’d Be Lucky If She Was)

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It’s been about a year since the release of my second record, which is a little depressing because it means that I should probably start thinking about putting out something new sometime soon, and though I’ve got some things in the works, it may be a little longer than I had hoped until my next release. But that’s not the issue I want to address this evening.

In the past couple of years there have been a lot of changes in my personal life, and I’ve written a little bit about them. I don’t plan on telling you all of them because, well, they’re personal. However, I do want to address some of the questions and comments concerning my album cover, and for better or worse, personal is bound to come up at least a little bit. Don’t worry. I’m not going to drag you through any lady drama.

When I first released my record, I was happy to find that many of my close friends, mentors, and family members were so anxious to support me, and it gave me an excuse to get in touch with some people with whom I hadn’t spoken in quite some time. As I handed out albums, people became interested in the music, and more importantly the album cover, and some of them wanted to meet up with me again after they’d had time to “digest.” One of the most important conversations was with my friend M.

M has been a mentor to me for at least six years now. He is just old enough that he could have fathered me at a young but reasonable age, and a he is a respected member of the Moscow community. Those of you who live in Moscow have probably seen him walking to and from the downtown area via Third Street in his suit and tie on the weekdays, or maybe biking around in the evenings and on the weekends in an oversized yellow or neon t-shirt with one of his two dogs in tow. Anyone who knows M would tell you that he has an overwhelmingly positive disposition, which in most cases would make a person seem superficial, but he somehow manages to put off an air of authenticity, and it makes his positivity…well…positively contagious. As cynical as I can be, this man has somehow managed to become one of my closest friends. There are some mysteries that will never be solved.

So, to return to the story, I met with M at some point, possibly to discuss the album, or maybe we just ran into each other, I can’t remember which, but the subject of the music came up, and M told me that when he first saw the cover he thought, “Man, Jeremiah wants a girlfriend so bad.” Now, I love M quite a bit, and I do enjoy having females around because, well, that’s how I’m wired, but when M told me his interpretation of the picture I have to say that beyond feeling pretty embarrassed, I was a little bit disappointed. And he’s not the only one. Coworkers, family members, even the people I’ve worked with at venues have asked me if this girl was my girlfriend, and until now, I’ve just said no and tried to shrug off my disappointment.

Now I could tell you all about Courtney and who she is, but it’s really not that important to the meaning of the picture. All that matters is that she’s a good friend who happens to be a beautiful girl and a wonderful singer. She agreed to pose with me in the picture and do vocals on a couple of tracks. And if you really really really must know, she has a fiance and she lives in California. End of story. I’m not going to tell you what specifically the picture means, but I will tell you that I planned nearly every aspect of that picture from the apple to the location to the framing. I planned it because I thought that it visually communicated the issues that I was trying to address in the record. My decision to leave–might I even go so far as to say divorce?—the church, but to try and do so peaceably after about 15 years of being a Christian was very difficult, and in part, I wrote the album to explain my choice to the people that I care about, and to hopefully give a voice to people who are struggling with similar issues. I also wanted to comment on sexuality because, and here’s where it gets personal, after 15 years of being a “good” celibate Christian boy, it’s really hard to leave the church and figure out sex and relationships all over again. I’m not trying to throw a pity party here, but try being raised as a hippie kid with several female friends only to enter puberty, be transplanted from one end of the country to the other, and be told that suddenly you can’t even touch a girl until you’re married, and then having to reprogram yourself in your mid-twenties. I’ll leave you with those points and let you figure out the rest of the picture’s meaning on your own.

Otherwise, I had one friend accuse me of using my confession of not being a Christian as a “publicity stunt,” which was hurtful, but I get it. In my own defense, I put up the post in April of 2013 and my album came out in November. If it was a publicity stunt, it was poorly timed. After seven months, people tend to forget things like that. Really all I was trying to do with the record was explain myself a little more, and I hope that my music has done that to some extent. Later releases will probably do a better job, although I’m in a very different place now and much more comfortable with myself, so the point of tension or even resolve from which the writing flows will be different. In any case, I’m sorry if I seem to be exploiting my unbelief, but my unbelief is important to me. It’s been a part of me that’s grown over time in spite of two years in Bible college and over a decade of denial.

The final personal critique I’d like to address came up a few years ago before I went public with my beliefs. I was talking with a Christian friend of mine over beers at the Alehouse, our local brewpub. I think it was the spring before the big tour, so that would have been 2012. He was the second or third person I decided to tell about my choice, and when I told him, one of the first things he asked me was if, now that I wasn’t a Christian, I was going to go on tour and have sex with a bunch of girls, and whether or not he meant it, I couldn’t help feeling that by asking he was implying that my reason for leaving the church was so that I could have sex. I can’t deny that sexual desire had an impact on my decision, and if we’re being really honest, sexual desire has an impact on a lot of decisions for most if not all people. Sex is a primal urge. It’s a reflex. Of course it has something to do with decision making. But really my reason for leaving was just that church, religion, spirituality, or whatever you want to call it didn’t make sense to me anymore. I felt like I was a gear in a machine I wasn’t made to be a part of, and the experience was wearing me down. I couldn’t take it anymore, and since I’ve left, it’s been lonely at times, but I’m happier. I’m not going to try and proselytize anyone. All I can do is tell my story as it comes, and that’s what’s important to me.

So thank you all for reading, and thank you all for listening. For those of you who I’ve alienated in the midst of my confusion, I apologize. That was never my intention. As a wise man once said, this shit is hard to figure out. I’m just doing my best. I wish you all love.

What Jesus Couldn’t Save Me From

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Theorem 7:

Every man and every woman has a course, depending partly on the self, and partly on the environment, which is natural and necessary for each. Anyone who is forced from his own course, either through not understanding himself, or through external opposition, comes into conflict with the order of the Universe, and suffers accordingly.

Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory and Practice 

Ever since my admittedly haphazard Facebook post 15 months ago in which I revealed that I wasn’t a Christian, my friends and family have been asking me what I think and feel about…well…anything that’s not superficial, and for the most part I haven’t told them because I didn’t know if they could handle it. For a long time I didn’t even know how to put these thoughts into words. But there comes a time in a man’s life when he has to speak openly about his personal philosophy, so here’s a little bit of a look into the mind of Jeremiah.

It’s Monday night. I’m lying restless in bed next to a girl who will never be “mine,” and though I admire and truly care about her, I will never be “hers.” And I’m fine with this because ownership is for inanimate objects and not individuals, but there is something else that’s keeping me awake, and I don’t want to bother my friend with my tossing and turning, so I get up and go to the couch and finish the movie we left playing in the living room. Fifteen minutes later with my head still buzzing, I step outside for some air and think about going home, but I’m too tired to try and navigate my way through Pullman road construction, and I should be sleeping anyway. Just go back to bed. Be still and try to sleep. Don’t wake her.

Maybe it’s guilt. I should be touring. I should be out there booking more shows, but at the end of the day, I’m a songwriter who writes for a band. And though I greatly enjoy performing and entertaining, I am used to working alone. I get frustrated trying to sync up my own schedule with the schedules of other artists as well as venues. And between rehearsals and booking full band shows, I practice this self-defeating statement. And then I just read a book or write a song or practice because ultimately, the songwriting and the skill are the important parts, and as long as I’m stressing myself out about booking and social media, I accomplish nothing. I am fortunate enough these days to have a very generous friend who often allows me access to his studio equipment, so I’ve been learning to use ProTools myself and recording new songs instead of sending e-mail after e-mail to unresponsive venues. The studio is where I thrive, and the more time I spend there, the more I love it. Aside from my single adult responsibilities, this has been my life the past six months: working, coming home, reading, thinking too much, practicing, thinking more, writing, critiquing, and a bit of recording. It’s given me the space I need to reevaluate life. On my own terms.

And it’s a combination of events that have led to me reevaluating my life. Sure, I turned 27 and after four years of studying poetry and music, I’m still not a legendary songwriter, but I always knew that dream was crazy. I’m a relatively sane musician. I have visions of grandeur, I know they are ridiculous, but I can’t rid myself of them, so I keep working at my craft. No, turning 27 is not the sole catalyst. There’s something that happened in me back in March when, for the first time in years, I saw the girl I dated for the first two years of college. Her mother, a close family friend, was in the final stages of moving to Montana. There was a going-away party and a moving party, and I didn’t want to miss my chance to say goodbye. Needless to say, the ex and I ran into each other a couple of times, which was fine, but seeing her reminded me of who I was seven years ago and how much I’d inadvertently hurt her just by being a headstrong and self-righteous person. Now she’s married with two kids. And I looked at those kids and thought, if things had gone just a little differently, this girl and I could have had kids the same age by now. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I am too irresponsible and selfish to be a father, let alone a husband. But I’m old enough that I could be both. And I really don’t want that, but should I?

At times like these I start wondering if I’ve even accomplished anything, so I start going through the mental checklist of my accomplishments over the last twelve months. This year I’ve released a second solo album, assembled a band, written the better half of a third album, been embarrassingly love-crazed, been irreconcilable, been heartbroken, and committed innumerable “transgressions.” Transgressions that I didn’t think I was capable of committing seven years ago. Transgressions that I didn’t have the self-esteem to commit seven years ago. And though I have accomplished things I never thought I could, I still suffer from the same insecurities that prevented me from accomplishing my goals at a younger age. And I still feel unsatisfied. But that comes as no surprise to me. I’ve heard every imaginable version of the story of the man built an entire empire for himself and died just as discontent as he was when he started. I may or may not end up with an empire at the end of my life, but I know that however much I accomplish, it will never be enough.

Some of you may say that my discontentment comes from storing treasures here on earth rather than the afterlife. To you I reply that the afterlife is a great unknown. Neither heaven nor hell nor any other future is guaranteed for that which some call the soul. I’ve wrestled with the question of eternity my whole life, and at some point, I just learned to be content with the idea that this life is probably all we get. The only afterlife we have is the hope of leaving behind our legacy and our work. Honestly, this life is all I want. Eternity is too long. I get bored enough as it is. And to get even more honest, spending eternity praising and worshiping some abstract spirit in the sky sounds just as bad as spending eternity with weeping and gnashing of teeth where the worm never dies.

But I can’t hear a worship song without feeling regretful. Regretful that following a difficult, but happy childhood being raised by hippies, single moms, and Montessori school teachers on the Florida beach, I was uprooted at the age of 10 and placed in Smalltown, Idaho. Regretful that my family subsequently converted to hardcore conservatism. Regretful that I spent the better half of my adolescence singing songs in church and watching holy-rollers on the floor laughing and speaking in tongues for at least 15 hours a week–no exaggeration–instead of making friends and learning how to manage affairs with the fairer sex. And then I spent the first three years out of high school trying to figure out the rationale behind maintaining a conservative and morally strict lifestyle without becoming a hypocrite only to come to the conclusion that said lifestyle was making me more and more miserable and lonely. That the so-called God-shaped-hole was an invention of my religion, that my involvement in the church had created the hole, and that my continued involvement was just making the hole bigger. And sure I had my social interactions and I had plenty of my delinquent moments, but not enough to save me from curiosity in adulthood. Not enough to give me the wisdom that I feel I should have at this age.

Yes. I do put pressure on myself. I know I do. I wish I didn’t, but I do, and I’m not sure where it comes from or why. I’m working on it. Every day I tell myself that circumstances were often beyond my control, but I still have my regrets. I can’t help wishing that things would have gone differently. I don’t want to be regretful. I don’t want to live in discontentment. I don’t want to hold on to these things anymore, but I think about them daily, and it hurts my head. My chest and gut cramp up. Wasted time. As hard as I try, I can’t think of any other way to understand it. All that time I spent trying to live righteously for God by immersing myself deeper and deeper into a culture that I never felt was truly accepting of me. Finally coming to a place of self-acceptance, but being so deeply immersed in the culture that I didn’t know how to display the self I had accepted.

Out of Touch

Hello, friends. It’s been years since my last blog post, at least 6 months since I’ve more than touched my personal Facebook, and (insert sarcastic tone) 2 years since my last confession. All jokes aside, I apologize for being out of touch. In the last year since I graduated from college, there have been a lot of changes and challenges in my personal life, and without going into detail, I’ll just tell you that I haven’t had the emotional or mental energy to keep up with the caucus race that is social media.

But alack and alas, the summer has freed me from my day job at the elementary school, and the DIY musician podcasts I’ve been listening to have been guilting me into updating my social media, so here I go.

First of all, I don’t mean to be a downer, I’m just a little sick of listening to people say over and over again that I need to update my Twitter and make music videos and take Instagram photos of my studio sessions and play a million shows in a million different places when I can barely afford the gas to travel after spending all the money that I don’t have on putting out a record that I can’t afford to properly promote in order to turn a profit. Speaking of profit, apparently the key to music sales is to stop selling and start telling a story and engaging people in your process so that by the time the product is ready, the people are ready to put money into it. In other words: “update your social media and tell everyone everything really cool that’s going on in your life all the time! It will make you really cool and popular!”

You know what? I was never popular in high school, and I was really glad when all that bullshit was over nearly ten years ago. I’ve never been great at the whole “win friends and influence people” thing. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because I’m too vocal about my opinions and too quiet when it comes to meaningless chit chat. In any case, I don’t give a shit because I think I’m pretty awesome, and I have no problem sharing that with the world, but quite honestly I get tired of running into someone on the street, trying to chat with them, and then hearing them say, “Oh yeah! I think I read that on your Facebook.” And I’m glad they care enough to follow and remember what I do, but then I get a little paranoid and start wondering what else people can tell about my personal life just by coming across my updates on the news feed or scrolling through my timeline. Not that I have anything to hide, I just like a little bit of privacy sometimes.

And then venues–bless them for giving us a place to play and to listen, and bless the bookers who have to suffer through the task of sorting through and figuring out who is and isn’t legit and who will get a draw–but I just get so lost on my end figuring out where I want to play and how I can get a good draw in an area I’ve never played before. And then they ask where else you’ve played in the area and say that you can’t play there until you’ve played a two hour set at another place down the road that won’t let you in because they’ve never heard of you. And all the while I’ve got to juggle that with two day jobs. By the end of the day, I’ve had no time for myself to process and appreciate or learn from each of the significant little events that have happened over the course of my day. Oh, and songwriting? Jesus! Who’s got a spare second to sit in front of a computer screen or notebook and agonize over message, story, line breaks, word choice, rhyme scheme, melody, harmony, and rhythm?

Anyway, I’ve said all this not to complain. I chose this life, and I still love the music. The problem that I have is that I never chose this because I wanted to be cool and popular and have everybody like me. I chose this because I heard more than a few songs that expressed lyrically and musically emotions, ideas, and conflicts that I didn’t know anyone else felt or thought about. It made me feel less lonely. I just want to create that for someone else. Unfortunately, finding the people who connect to my music in such a way is a difficult task that requires a lot of promotion via social media, so I guess for now I’ll bite the bullet and do it.

So raise a glass, and toast to electric vanity!

More Dreams, Nightmares, and a Little Bit of Hope

Recently I’ve been thinking quite a bit about dreams. I had a dream the other night that I was a senile Kermit with a drinking problem, and then I went to a haunted sleeping porch with beds infested by worms. Church people were coming out of the walls and trying to scare me, but I wasn’t really paying attention because I was too busy wondering why the hell a sleeping porch was supposed to be scary.

Well, it’s been a few weeks since my last post, and I’ve mainly been focusing on work. I was in the studio last week. Dropped some bass and keys on Wednesday and Thursday. We still need drums on a few tracks, but most of the songs are coming along nicely. Since my last record, I feel that I have grown a great deal both as a lyricist and as a musician. As a result, I have been able to more accurately capture my ideas in audio form.

You may also be interested to know that I have been working on a new side project just for fun. Our debut show is scheduled for October 12 in Moscow, ID, and I would love to see you all there. In the mean time, we’ll be putting together a mean set list.

Not a lot more to say at this point. Most of my creative energy has been exhausted this evening on a brief assignment for senior seminar. Almost finished with college, after which I hope to be able to focus my creative energy on more melodic endeavors. Until next post, love to you all. Read a book. I hear that’s good for your brain. There’s a possible side-effect of cynicism, but if you’re already cynical, you’ve got nothing to lose.

Not in Kansas, Peter Parker

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Yesterday was my third day in South Dakota. I-90 is littered with billboards for tourist traps. They’re starving for people in the Black Hills. After New Orleans, all activity suddenly slowed down. Towns are growing farther apart now, and they are looking more and more similar because they have less and less history and so many are made up of chain food restaurants: a Dairy Queen here, a McDonald’s there, a Subway attached to the gas station.

I can tell my mind is ready for home, and it’s not just because of the strange dreams and daydreams I’ve been having. My friend’s father was decapitated in a car accident with a semi when I was about 16. Now I rub my neck every time I am stuck on the highway behind a trucker driving 55 in a 65, impatient but afraid to pass…

No, it’s not just the fantastic flashes of car crashes. Those are normal, and I couldn’t help but have them last month after visiting James Dean in the graveyard. He told me all about how he died, and the story kind of freaked me out. I think the visions have gotten a little less frequent. They mostly occur when I’m on the highway or boxed in on the freeway, and I’ve avoided sleeping in my car to help keep the frequency down.

I keep thinking about that sign I saw as I drove within range of Tulsa: JESUS IS COMING. The style was outdated. The color was faded. The paint was chipped, and I could see the wood peeking through the holes in the lettering.

No, it’s not the crazy car crash thing that makes me think I’m losing my mind. It’s the fact that after I watched Spider-Man in Tulsa at 10:00 AM, I had a hard time remembering who I was: Peter Parker? Jeremiah Akin? Stan Lee?

It’s the fact that I identified so deeply with the characters in the new movie.

It’s the fact that I allowed myself to be so manipulated that I walked out saying, “Wow! That’s exactly what my life was like when I was sixteen, except for the superpowers and having a girlfriend like Emma Stone’s character.”

It’s the fact that I fell in love with Gwen Stacy for a whole two hours, and then I had to remind myself that she wasn’t a real person.

It’s the fact that it now seems normal for a belligerently drunk man to come on stage with me, steal the mic, and sing all the lyrics to “Dammit” as I am playing the song. I could taste his breathe from three feet away. It tasted like burnt cigarettes, marijuana smoke, and cheap beer.

It’s the fact that it now feels weird when I play a show and no one tells me that I’m pretty. In Arkansas a man mistook me for a “friend of Dorothy.” In Kansas a girl wrote “I’m not wearing panties ;)” on my mailing list and told me I was very handsome. I’m not trying to brag, but more so trying to acknowledge how vain I’ve become. Surprisingly, I’ve managed to simultaneously cling on to my self-deprecating sense of humor. I’m not sure how that works, but I think it has something to do with the fact that self-hatred and self-love are two opposite manifestations of narcissism.

I played a gig on Thursday in a town that consisted of two bars, a library, school houses, and a post office. “Main Street” ran through the neighborhood. Train tracks crisscrossed the street with the bars, library, and post office. About two blocks from the door of the bar were infinite acres of cornfields.

Well, as boring as the Midwest can be, the Black Hills are beautiful, and Rapid City has been an adventure. Last night after my show I was invited to a strange basement apartment to play music in exchange for $40.

“How much do you charge per hour?” asked the older-looking woman in the onesie and fedora.

“Umm…what?” The context of some of the experiences I have had on tour paired with my narcissism led me to believe this woman was making a less than admirable proposition.

My soundman interrupted: “He only plays music.”

Good. At least I’m not the only one sketched out by this situation.

“Yeah. That’s what I mean. How much would it cost for you to come over and bring your guitar and play us a couple of songs? We’re having a party.”

I finished up the show at Hall Inn and walked over the this woman’s house. I made my soundman and the venue booker come with me. I played a few songs to a tightly-packed smokey room of about fifteen people sitting around on couches and talking loudly. We left at about 2:15 AM.

I stayed on the property of the venue booker, a sweet girl who works at the winery I had played the night before. She owns land that she leases to her parents. I slept in the spare bedroom of her parents’ house, and she slept outside with her pet raccoon. From what I gathered, sleeping outside is the norm for her. When I walked in the house, there was an overweight naked man on the couch watching television. I waved. He stared. I kept walking.

Raccoons are fascinating up close. This girl’s raccoon was only a pup (or was it a kitten?). His name was Max (I know. Rocky would have been perfect in the Black Hills). The fascinating thing about Max was that he moved with such fluidity. Cats and dogs are very mechanical creatures in comparison. Raccoons seem to have a far less square type of structure, and when they walk it looks like they are using every muscle in their arched little bodies.

I’m pretty excited for Colorado today. The first time I went through I had two pretty fun shows. Tonight will probably be pretty low key since it’s a Sunday. No worries. Gwen Stacy just called and told me she was going to be there.

Faith & Fear

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“Nightmares” by Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside

Faith studies neurology at Tulane. She says that one of the theories of dreams is that they are the result of the unconscious working through hypothetical situations in which fear may be present. She says this theory has been confirmed by the experts at Wikipedia.

Charity sleeps upstairs in the top half of a duplex after staying out until 4:47 AM. We danced to rockabilly and climbed trees. I showed her how to East Coast swing; she showed me some of New Orleans.

Faith tells ghost stories in the back yard in a lawn chair by the light of twin tiki torches. Hope hangs on to every word. I try to listen as Louisiana mosquitoes sink their needles in my skin and stick an itch below the surface. I dig to find the itch later while I dream of doing somersaults in my Corolla.

Hope asks Faith for more about the collapsed quarry and other stories of paranormal activity in Pennsylvania. Yesterday, Hope asked how many women I had slept wtih. She was drunk. I didn’t answer. She got distracted.

Charity wakes up. We all take turns getting ready.
We are leaving.
Wait! One more…
Seven people shuffle back and forth between couches and bedrooms–bedrooms strung together like a long and sleepy hallway. I decide it’s time to leave.

I dream of falling asleep at the wheel. I dream of car crashes. I wake up in the passenger seat of my parked car at 5:24 AM. The truckers in the gas station parking lot are still asleep in their semis. I drive until 10:13 AM and slap myself awake every ten minutes. The pain assures me that I am no longer dreaming.

Beach

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I’m sorry for the long break this past week. I’ve been in Jacksonville, FL for the past few days, and I’ve had a couple of days without shows to regroup. My booker coincidentally lined up time off with Florida shows, so I’ve been enjoying time at the ocean. An old friend gave me the keys to his beach house, which is only about two blocks away from the house where I grew up.

I can’t tell you much more about what has happened at the Beach. This has by far been one of the most personal parts of my trip. Having grown up here for ten years and then abruptly moved to the Inland Northwest, I am still sorting through all that went on as a result of the dramatic changes. What I can tell you is that being at the beach and swimming in the ocean and spending time with old friends has been therapeutic and given me a sense of resolve.

The weather here has been less than agreeable. There is a tropical storm coming up from the Gulf Coast, so we’ve had a substantial amount of rain. One of my friends here told me that the road to Pensacola has been closed, so I’m holding out hope that I can still get to New Orleans in time for the show.

Writing more soon. Bedtime now.

Apples and Insomniacs

I should be sleeping right now, but I’m in workaholic overdrive mode and have to write before I can let myself go to sleep.

I love the New England area. It’s so rich with history, and the and the architecture is so intricate. I have been staying with a good friend who has been living in New York and studying art for quite sometime, so she took me to the Met today. To see Renoir, Degas, Pollock, Warhol, and so many other famous artists’ work in person was invigorating. The main complaint I have is that I felt my experience was interrupted by the tourists who were taking pictures. I mentioned this complaint to my friend, and she agreed. To go to a museum and see famous pictures that you’ve seen before and then take pictures of them is meaningless. As fleeting as the moment is, it seems more valuable to me that a viewer experience the piece of art by viewing it from all angles and different distances so as to come to a greater understanding of what the artist is trying to communicate.

Besides the thoughts about art, all I have to say is that tonight’s show was awesome and that I have survived NY driving so far. For this reason I am quite proud of myself. Take care. I’m falling asleep now. Goodnight.

Ohio is for Hipsters

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This post is a rant from midnight last night.

I had a few minutes of silence before the show tonight in Pennsylvania to get all introspective, and the quiet made me realize that I haven’t written many introspective or personal things in my previous posts.

Let me begin by saying that I loved Toledo. As predicted, the show was great. I had the pleasure of getting to know Kellen of Kellen & Me and the members of River Whyless before the show, and it was one of those times when you know a show is going to be good before you hear the bands. I know that’s dangerous to say because it sounds like I prejudged the music based on how much I liked the people. That’s basically what I did because I am shallow and illogical and base judgements on unrelated things, but a broken clock is right twice a day…unless it’s one of those military clocks. In that case it’s only right once a day.

What I’m trying to say is that everyone was awesome, and the music was too.

Ottowa Tavern was one of my favorite shows so far. In a lot of ways, it felt like home. At one point, I was talking to a cute lesbian in a retro thrift store skirt and she told me “this is where all the the hipsters congregate.” I like that. I think it’s high time we hipsters embrace the label. Let us free ourselves to enjoy the ephemeral nature of the trends we currently love. Let us admit to ourselves that we are following masses. Let us do so while we are still young and attractive. Yes, we will indubitably look back at our old photos and hate our styles, but this is all part of life, and we need to accept it. One day we will all be old and boring parents (except for maybe the lesbian with whom I spoke and those of us who are too cool to have children). For now we are the cool kids. For now we know everything. For now we have all the answers. Let us be stubborn and young.

While I was driving today, it occurred to me that next time I tour, it will probably be nothing like this. Hopefully it will still be fun, but it’s never going to be the same as this time around. This time I am in love with everything, and I don’t even care that it turns me sappy and stupid. I normally hate people who love everything, but I am a self-proclaimed self-righteous cynic by nature. Allow me to justify myself: I have to enjoy this moment as the child inside finally shuts the hell up for a few seconds and stops asking “why” so that I can enjoy my life.

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