4-6-04, 12:30 PM -
"There's a sort of greatness to your lateness."
So sayeth Fiona in Four Weddings and A Funeral, right before the dreadful Andie MacDowell makes her appearance and sends my wife screaming from the room.
Okay, so I've set a record, nearly a whole month since the last letter. But I swear there's been good reason. First, some entries I wrote in the interim:
3-29-04, 3:30 PM -
This is one of those days when the Snoopy in me kicks in.
"Here's the now-obscure, soon-to-be-famous songwriter casually strolling down 49th Street. His long overcoat flows carelessly behind him as the city goes about its business, unaware of his passing..." yaddah, yaddah, pipe dreams, yaddah, yaddah, broke as hell, yaddah, yaddah.
A potent combination of professional headway and several weeks of insufficient sleep kept me up fidgeting most of last night, a situation which led to this morning's revelation that I could not, in fact, get out of bed. So here I find myself newly awakened in the middle of the afternoon, going to Central Park to breathe a bit.
There are normally a couple of different reasons for my bouts of insomnia. One is despair and hopelessness. The other is optimism and hopefulness.
You see my dilemma.
The only time I ever get any sleep is when things are neither going too well nor too badly. Mediocrity, it seems, is the essence of sleep.
5:11 PM -
Dang, it's hard to find a quiet spot in this park sometimes. Had a ramble around the Reservoir, what with its new waist-high, cast-iron fence replacing the 8-foot chain link monstrosity that used to surround it. Big improvement, that. I'm in my usual area of the park now, below Belvedere Castle and above the Sheep Meadow. Seems to have some of the least populated nooks.
It reminds me a bit of my many hours spent in Fort Worth's Heritage Park a decade ago. But they're actually quite different places. Sometimes I try to put my finger on how I can tell New York nature from Texas nature. It's partially the different tree species, but often I think it's something else. The angle of the sun, the texture of the grass, the variety of dead leaves on the exposed soil.
I think the sun's the big one, though. Nature just looks different up here. Texas sun leaves nothing to the imagination; it's right up overhead. New York sun creates odd shadows and half-lit landscapes. It's rather more...dramatic, I suppose. Texas sun is very plain-spoken.
Sounds a bit stupid, but there it is.
4-6-04, 12:40 PM -
Now back to the present.
Been an odd few weeks. So little time, so much to consider. One of those pivotal "where-am-I-going-and-how-am-I-going-about-it?" times.
It started when I suddenly realized that I have my second album already written. I was thumbing through recent tunes and found that they all had a central concept (which I'm keeping to myself at the moment), and that they were, in fact, an entire album's worth.
Which set me to thinking: How much time am I going to devote to promoting the present album before digging in on recording the new one?
I settled on a date: October 15th. That was the official 2003 release date of texas, so by that point this year I will have been promoting it for a full 12 months. That also gives me some time to upgrade my studio gear a bit. I need a couple of better microphones, & I'd like to go at least 16-track this time. Dang, that's futuristic.
Another realization I had this month is that before long, I'm gonna have a label on my hands. Work is proceeding apace on Dorian's disc, & it'll likely be out this summer, as will Paul's record, which kicks all kinds of electronic ass, I must say. Both are coming out on Naive Music, and thus is a label born.
At the outset, we're all going to be handling our own affairs, but using shared intelligence & contacts through the label. Just a lot to think about, is all.
On top of that, I'm now playing bass in Dorian's live show, which is a hell of a good time. Sometimes it's nice to be on stage and not be in charge. Haven't done that in a long, long, loooooong time. Had to buy a bass in order to qualify for the gig, though. I needed one regardless, so it made a handy excuse.
But this is how broke I am: I had to get Dorian to loan me part of the money, and even then, I could only afford a bass that needed neck adjustment immediately upon purchase. This is a cheap bass, people. But thankfully, the bit they bothered to make properly is the bit that makes it sound good, so cosmetics aside, I done good.
In addition to the bass shenanigans, I also got signed up with a rather high-profile song placement agency, which should open up a few interesting cans of worms.
And that's what interests me, truthfully. All of these cans of worms I've never opened. TV & film placement, college & internet airplay, the great unknown whateverville that I've never really been at liberty to explore due to the focus on building my career the traditional way: gig, gig, gig.
I've done a lot of research over the past few years, both through reading and through conversations with peers at varying levels of success, and all arrows seem to be pointing in a similar direction.
The big-time music industry is now largely a succession of focus groups trying to determine what people want to hear before they get a chance to hear it. The independent, club-based industry is largely scene-oriented, which is as good as saying that it's crap.
So whither the free spirit?
I find that to be the question most on the minds of those I admire, and I suspect that the next few years will be those in which we, the oddballs, begin to forge that space for ourselves. Naive Music is a part of that. Hopefully a big part. There must be a space where the question is neither "Will it sell?" or "Is it hip?", but instead, "Is it good?"
I see it on bulletin boards and hear it in casual conversation all the time. We of the MTV generation have had music presented to us as a commodity for so long that we speak of it that way. Armchair and barstool critics debate the merits of music by either how well it's selling or who's into it. There's nothing wrong with music making money or being liked by Jim O'Rourke. But there is something wrong with that being the measure of its value.
All of this may sound a bit like sour grapes, but I assure you I've always held a healthy degree of skepticism as to the sales potential of my own stuff. When I get cheesed off, it's usually on behalf of amazing artists who I feel are getting short shrift.
I grow weary--no, blind with rage, upon receiving the dubious look in the eye of someone to whom I've just mentioned an artist they've never heard of. Is it okay to like someone who's not on the radio? Or would Thom Yorke's good eye look at me askance if I mentioned this artist? The lines are well-drawn. I wrote about them in Mountaintop 4th of July, the closest I can come to a left hook on the jaw of this nebulous opponent.
But here's what gives me hope: Those who don't know. Or don't care. To whom music is a private delicacy, not a committee meeting. I know these people exist, for I've met them. But they're very rare. Nonetheless, the advent of the Web has given me and the weirdo set unprecedented potential to find them. And I have found a few in exactly that way.
So what precisely is it that I'm saying? I guess I'm saying that a page has turned. Upheaval among those who create and use music is at such a pitch that I believe we are being forced to make a decision: What does music mean to us? And what is its role in our lives?
Natalie Merchant just released an album called The House Carpenter's Daughter on her new independent label. It's a collection of folk songs, most of which predate the modern music industry. I urge you all to listen to those songs. What did they mean to the people who first heard them? In the absence of a monetary or modish measure, what drew people to value music?
I often feel that it's the same thing that drew me to music as a child. It's an undeniable part of us. It's both a document of our pain and a salve for it. Which doesn't mean it has to be dirgelike. How often have you danced to a song about heartbreak? There are, or should be, as many kinds of music as there are musicians.
What bothers me, I suppose, is the way I see music treated. It's like a razor blade; use it till it dulls, then throw it away. And perhaps for that reason, that has become the way music is created and marketed.
I guess what I'm doing here is formalizing a mission statement I actually developed long ago without realizing it: To make and promote music for those who aren't afraid to get close to it. Who don't fear that eliminating the emotional and ironic distance the industry and the scene have created makes them naive. And if it does, then let's be naive together.
And so to battle.
9:27 PM -
How's that for a pitch? You see now why I've been in the Fortress of Solitude. Hopefully it won't take another month for me to wrap my head around it all. More to come soon.
In the meantime, go visit our friend Dorian. He gets lonely out there on Staten Island.
Paul's in Prague this week, so we'll most likely have another missive from Eastern Europe soon. I'll pass it on when it hits my Inbox.
Oh, and do yourself a favor: See Hellboy. It's Raiders of the Lost Ark plus X-Men plus H.P. Lovecraft. Can't beat that with a stick.
Time for posting this thing and getting back to scanning the political blogs. What's a ranty musician without ammunition?
Remember the Alamo,