Addicted to the new

Attention wavers, interest peaks and abates with the speed of a burning fuse.

The follow-up question: is that a terrible thing? Sometimes — that’s an answer, not inaccurate. The inertia of mentioned a few days ago never builds positively. Sometimes not, though — the roller coaster seems to always come back to the really important stuff.

Perhaps I’m willing to give in to this addiction because it — like most other addictions — feels good, but unlike most others, isn’t inherently unhealthy. At least, not that four out of five dentists surveyed have pointed out…

Or maybe I’m just trading in, one addiction for another, one vice to fill the gap another left behind.

I think I’m okay with that. Or at least okay enough for now.

Inertia Creep

I have determination enough to realize that there’s a ton of things that I really want to do: re-record the album’s worth of tunes that I wrote and recorded in my early- to mid-twenties (good songs that I remain proud of, but badly in need of better arrangements and production); finishing the novel that I’ve started twice now; working on a new movie, for which various friends have pitched great ideas on top of my own.

That’s about where my determination stops. Or maybe where my distractability takes over, because look! Squirrel! (More accurately, in my case, it’s look! Vodka! or Music! or … well, okay. Squirrel!!!)

I suppose at some point, discipline will be learned, or another lifetime of potential will have been wasted. Seems to be a recurring theme in my life, that either/or thing (guess which one usually wins, at least historically…).

There is no cure for willful stupidity, nor for willful laziness.

Appropos of no one in particular, but everyone, too

 

 

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It’s amazing to me, the number of otherwise seemingly intelligent friends that I have in my life that not only believe things that are proven to be untrue (as well as the more-than-occasional not-proven-but-c’monfuckingseriouslyyoustillthinkthat concept), but encourage others to do the same.

Here’s one important link, since waaay too many of you seem to be to lazy or incapable of doing some simple basic research instead of simply believing whatever you’re told: Snopes.

I’m not saying that whatever source you’re getting your information from is always wrong – but only because I don’t know what your source is, and a broken clock is still right twice a day. I am, however, saying that you clearly never learned to think critically, or possibly at all.

And while we’re on the subject, did you know that people that give me half of their income every week live an average of five years longer, and are demonstrably happier? It’s true. Saw it on Fox News.

If you can’t tell, I’m on the road to being smoke-free.

The Internet is no place to be if you want to remain a happy and calm person.

If this is your only friend, it's okay to be a little angry.

If this is your only friend, it’s okay to be a little angry.

Or maybe it’s perfect place to be. Once you realize that the anonymity and physical distance of being on the interwebs allows people to cut loose with their Id, to be someone that they want to be rather than who they feel forced to be in their everyday lives… it allows you some frame of perspective. You can read and process their comments and thoughts, and then take a breath, read it again, breathe more deeply, and then move on.

It’s 90% stupidity and vanity out here in the wildwildwest.com, all opinion and hoping for your fifteen seconds of fame and viral exposure (the fact that I keep a blog is your first clue that I’m no better than that which I decry). The loudest voices are those of the lowest common denominator and the furthest fringes. Intelligent, considered moderation gets lost in the ocean of noise – but then, this is a reflection of the world, of the culture that we choose to live by surrounding ourselves with the people and places and thought processes that we do.

I heard once – more than once, but who’s counting? – that the Internet (see also: FinalCut, ProTools, etc.) would be the death of society. Hey, now anyone and everyone can write, or post their music or movies or art, in a forum that literally anyone with access to a computer with a modem can view. It’s even better than American Idol! Except… when the floodgates open, the signal to noise ratio goes through the floor. There are more needles out there to find, but the size of the haystack just grew exponentially, impossible nearly infinite – so said the naysayers, who (in my experience) tended to be people that had financial loss  in their chosen industry motivating their words.

For me, though, it’s been a wondrous experience, the last fifteen years. Sure, it’s opened up a lot of opportunities for me personally — with my writing, my short foray into filmmaking, my music all getting wider exposure than I could have ever hoped for as a guy from Birmingham, Alabama. But it’s a font of knowledge and learning, like being handed the gathered teachings and perspectives of the world in a compact but infinitely full (and still expanding) encyclopedia. Yes, there is a lot of noise, but some of that noise helps shape and contextualize the signal.

An old high school acquaintance (warning – amazing photographs of, among other things, creepy crawlies, especially spiders) posted on Facebook recently:

The fact that you’ve had your feelings hurt by someone doesn’t mean that you’ve been attacked or wronged in any way.

It may happen that one or both of those are true, but it’s not automatic!

I’m not certain that that sentiment is any more or less necessary for people to hear and consider than it was twenty years ago, before email and MySpace and Facebook and comments on news sites, but it is, in my opinion, necessary. And it’s true, too, with reactions of anger.

Just because you post something on your blog, or social media, or in a comment or a reply to email, that I read as stupid or narrow-minded, doesn’t make you stupid or narrow-minded. I’m learning that more and more every day, forcing myself to consider context and viewpoint, and then to ignore the stuff that I decide fits into my instinctive reaction. Because, really, life’s too short to spend all pissed off about things that you can never change, at least not as easily as you can avoid in the first place.

Ghosts in the wires

There’s a negative connotation that goes with the word “ghosts”. It conjures images of frightful things, trapped or angry spirits who can’t move on.

There are all kinds of ghosts, though. Some are happy, some are sad, some are angry. Most are not ready to let go, or if they are, they just don’t know how.

My head — all of our heads — are full of ghosts.  They span the emotional spectrum, from those we happily visit from time to time, to those that come at us out of the blue, bringing a sudden and unexpected shower of tears.  Ghosts of yesterday, of long ago, and even of tomorrows that are no more. They’re wispy and ethereal, impossible to grab when you want.  They’re there and gone, and you’re left with a shadow of a ghost, nothing more until it comes back to visit again.

Every one of my ghosts has a soundtrack.  Sometimes, when I am visited, the appropriate song pops into my head; more often, the song triggers a visit from the spirits in my memory.

I try to remind myself that it’s all about perspective: if you can change the way you look at something, the definition shifts. Good becomes ugly becomes inspiring becomes wrong becomes the way forward. But sometimes, these damn songs force a point of view on me, the emotional memory that goes with each one.

And some ghosts, fresh as they are, have a lifetime of music to play for me.

And for a rare moment,I find myself praying, wishing, begging, for just a little silence. At least until I can find the perspective that makes this look not so painful.

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The death of the wait

In January of 1984, I got to go see Van Halen at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, with Autograph opening up. I was (and still am) a big fan of both bands, and was thrilled to be going to my first ever concert. It was a huge experience, made even more so by having no idea what to expect going in to the show.

Back then, there was no Internet from which to download setlists or even reviews of previous night’s concerts. There were fanzines and newsletters, but those travelled by US post, and were put together with Xerox machines and typewriters. Bootleg cassettes and LPs existed, but were only available at small specialty shops and record collector conventions. Video cameras were bulky and expensive, and so pirated live shows were few and far between.

Last week, I went to see My Morning Jacket at the Alabama Theater. I’m not that familiar with the band, but I was able to listen to random selections from their discography throughout the day of the concert by searching for their material on iTunes and YouTube. Since this was their tour opener, there was no way to know what songs they would be playing — though I reviewed the show, and the next day I had emails and comments asking for setlists and clarifications. My girlfriend (a huge MMJ fan and the reason I went to the concert) had said a few times that she wanted to go back and do it all again, that the show was in her top three MMJ concert experiences (she’s a repeat attender) — and by 10 AM the next morning, I had managed to find a quality recording of the show (bootlegged by an audience member) online, downloaded it, and burned it to a couple of CDs for her listening pleasure.

It’s fascinating to me, the differences of twenty-five years, brought by technology. I remember not a decade ago waiting anxiously for CDs to hit the store shelves on Tuesdays, ready to hear the latest discs that I had been reading about and imagining for months. Fifteen years ago, I would record videos on MTV and tape radio shows because they would get songs from albums that were two or three weeks away. We would read guitar magazines and Rolling Stone and Spin and Revolver to get what scraps of news we could about albums or tours that were in the works. Even five years ago, the bandwidth wasn’t necessarily there to grab songs at a whim or find pre-releases without a little bit of luck.

Now today, release dates are a guide as to when you might start checking the BitTorrent sites for review leaks. If you’re wanting to see a band live, you can read a billion reviews from pros and fans alike the day after their first show (if not sooner), find out if they’ll be playing your favorite songs, watch videos from the current tour on YouTube and maybe download the audio (or video) from a few shows, and then purchase your tickets online before you head out the door.

Part of me is a huge fan of all of this. I’m a data junkie and patience is not my strong suit, so being able to find out anything and everything about the upcoming Pain of Salvation or Devin Townsend albums and listen to song samples is exciting and important to me. I can check out audio and video from shows I could never attend, across the country or across the world, and record those alternate versions of songs that I love to my iPod for listening anytime, any place.

But I remember those days, those days of old when we would run to the record store uphill, both ways, in 2 feet of snow and hundred degree temperatures in our shoes made of wood. The excitement that would build all day on Tuesday, as we sat through school or work, thinking about the new CDs hitting the stores, and how awesome all those songs might (or might not!) be — that would eat at us, but in the best possible way. Going to concerts having no idea what surprises might be in store, what songs might get played. Finding that bootleg recording of rare b-sides or amazing shows that you had heard whispers of but never imagined hearing was a once in a year occurrence.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m just as anxious to hear Road Salt One in a month, to see Devin Townsend when he tours later this year, as I was as a teenager.  But it feels like maybe something’s lacking, like I know too much too soon now to appreciate it the way I used to.  It’s not age — my passion for music has only grown as I’ve gotten older.

This isn’t meant to be a luddite rant at all — I love technology, that I can fit my entire (and rather large) music collection in a wallet-sized piece of metal that can be played at home, in the car, on the computer, or through tiny ear-bud  headphones.  I love that music can be recorded, bit-by-bit, as perfectly or as loosely as the musician chooses. I love the sound effects and DTS 5.1 surround.

I do feel for those that will never know the anticipation of a new release, and for those that feel that if it’s out there, they somehow deserve or are owed this music.

And I wonder what the music fan who is twelve or thirteen today will bemoan in another generation.

Dried up roses scattered on the mound / Honouring the one engraved

There’s a magic quality about music, that it possesses the ability to carry one to another time or place or state of mind, completely and without warning.  It reminds me of the connection between the sense of smell and memory, only perhaps more powerful for some.

I sat today bemoaning (quietly, of course, because this sort of thought gets you branded as a heretic in the southeastern US) the imminent arrival of spring, the eventual farewell to the cool temperatures that I spend 60% of my year craving and dreaming about. It was a gorgeous day — the occasional lazy, fluffy white cloud punctuated the bright blue March sky, a light breeze breaking up the monotonous air here and there — but already it’s too hot for me.  And immediately I was missing the winter that we never really got (I think I wore my “heavy” coat for a total of ten days this season), and readying myself for the next one, like a cubicle ant on Monday morning praying for the weekend.

It must have been this line of thinking that pushed me to line up Opeth’s BLACKWATER PARK into my iTunes. It’s a disc that I haven’t listened to in a few years (although their last album, WATERSHED, has an inordinate amount of playtime, according to my iPod), and I’m wondering why. The entire album — both the quiet, acoustic sections and the heavier epic-sounding riffs — is permeated with autumn, or perhaps winter, evoking visions of snow and barren plains, misty breath, coats and that stillness that comes only in the depth of January.  It’s evident on their albums since, but none moreso than BLACKWATER PARK.

And I wonder how much of that is a memory association of my own, based on my listening patterns; how much is my knowledge of Opeth (i.e., their Swedish origins); and how much is based in the music itself. There is some music that I will forever associate with winter, some with summer and the beach, some with autumn; some day, some night.  And I’m certain that there’s some level of my own personality or experience in there, but I’m also convinced that some of that quality resides in the music itself.

On some level, too, I’m not concerned with the why, because for now and for the next six months, I can count on Opeth and others to help get me through the god-awful oppressive summer heat.

Observations: October 2009

Some things are no one’s business but your own.

Some things aren’t your business, no matter how curious a being you may be.

Life moves forward, whether you are ready for it to do so or not.  If you’re not careful, it will pass you right by.

There are things that happen in life that may seem to beg an explanation.  But when you can accept that the universe unfolds as it should in bad situations, then you can learn to accept the same in good moments as well.

“Bones doesn’t feel the pressure to act or do or say anything that she doesn’t want to.  And no one – no one – can make her. And that’s what makes her Bones.”

Why is it that we seek the approval of others to the point of compromising ourselves to get it?

There is no such thing as too good to be true.  That’s fear speaking.  And we have no reason to fear the unknown.  Just clowns and spiders.

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It’s winter he says of his dream.  It’s winter, and there’s a light snow falling.  Not that that matters, since everything’s already buried under a thick blanket of blinding white.  Isn’t it funny, how even though there’s clouds in the sky still dropping the little crystals on the world, it’s blinding white?

He pauses, then, and I can’t help but think he’s a little sad.  Or not sad, perhaps, but wistful, wishing that it were a memory of tomorrow instead of a dream of yesterday.

There’s a field filled with people he continues, the smile returning to his face like a Woodstock, or one of those outdoor festivals?  And I mean filled with people — it’s weird, how the world flows seamlessly from snow to people and back to snow, and I can’t tell where one begins and the other ends.  Except…  he trails off for a moment, and I swear that I can see his heart skip a beat in his eyes … except for her.

And I don’t know why this is important, or how, but the air is music.  I mean, I know that music is just vibrations in the air, right?  But that’s not it.  We’re not breathing oxygen in and carbon dioxide out, but notes, and harmonies, and polyrhythms. Do you get it?  The air, every molecule surrounding us, me and her, this woman who is the only thing that isn’t snow or faceless people, is living and evolving and shifting.  And there’s no band, at least not that I can see maybe they’re buried under the snow, I think but there’s music everywhere. And it’s the most glorious, intense, powerful, soul-shaking thing I’ve ever heard or felt.

He stops. The smile is still on his face, but his eyes are glistening.  As I watch him, waiting patiently for whatever’s coming next — because he’s surely not going to leave me hanging on this — a lone tear swells on his lid and escapes down his right cheek. He doesn’t even twitch a finger to stop it, and I can barely resist the urge to catch the drop on my finger, like a butterfly that should be touched before it flies away forever.

I think that music that was in the air was unique for everyone that heard it, that it became whatever you needed to hear, whatever would touch your soul at that moment.  And maybe some of those people heard Mozart, and others heard speed metal symphonies, and probably some of them heard silence.  But it was different for everyone, because that musical air was alive and intelligent and just wanted to make everyone happy.

And while I was losing myself in that space, that tick between inhaling and letting it go, feeling the snow gathering on my hands, she turned, and I saw every feature, every detail. And her eyes – my god, her eyes, like stars being born – met mine.

His voice cracks, and I suddenly realize that the one tear has become a genuine river of tears, but all the while, his smile just gets bigger and bigger, and I can’t help but feel some of his happiness myself, so contagious is it.

And I know — KNOW he says with such emphasis that it shakes me — that she and I, in all the world — we two are hearing the same song.

And it’s the only song either of us ever needed.

We sit in silence, then. And I envy him, and his dream, and his memory of the music that connects.