Monday
Mar202006

« Of Sublimation And Guilt »

I have it again. That nagging feeling that materialism is keeping me from being something far greater than I feel I am now. I have been plagued by this off and on for about three years now in particular, and it usually comes in the form of a profound insecurity about whether or not I have any use for my musical gear anymore. Most of my time with this equipment has gone essentially useless and frustrating. I peaked in my materialism in 2001 when I inherited about $26,000 from my grandmother who had just died earlier in the year. I spent most all of that on new gear—primarily music and recording gear, but also my first computer and some of the things that accompany that. Most of this stuff has been sold off in a long and slow process of downsizing to get to what seemed to be a core of items that would allow me a wide range of options while not having the redundancy that I had in 2001. But now, the core itself seems to be a cancerous lump, and I am having more and more thoughts that it's just time to ditch most of it and get clarity. This would of course mean that I would essentially cease to be a musician, but most of the time now it is almost all frustration and self doubt when I try to do anything in music. All the little things I've tried, and all the big things I've tried have not really ignited a fire under me to work with the dedication to my recording and composing craft like before.

Last summer, when it was time for Kelli and I to move on from the house that I had hoped to live in for many years, I was confronted with all the gear I had, all the furniture, all the books and other household junk that accumulates when you don't have compelling reason to clear it out. Add to that all the similar stuff that Kelli has, and it was a total nightmare of trying to prioritize what to keep and what to toss. I'm sure we could have bailed on more. But specifically, the music stuff was like a dead limb for me—a vestige of some life I'd led four or five years before. It's not stuff that should just be thrown around willy nilly in a shed, or at a storage space. It's still useful in every way as if it was new. It still could be used as a great tool to provide diversion to my life, or to change the world. It's not junk in the least. But it's a lot of stuff to move around, all the while not knowing what to do with it. But the thought nags still! I could get rid of it but then would I soon realize what I had done, feel some loss, then mourn a decision which could not easily be reversed? If I hang on to these things, I have them. They are ready. They are within reach. They won't have to be bought. But if I ditch them, they will be gone and not available to me, and I'd have to spend money to get that sort of experience back, or borrow stuff.

And the greater thing than the fact that maybe I'd put myself out of a guitar or bass is that I am essentially not a musician who plays music solely for the fun of it. I don't know anyone else's songs, I barely know my own anymore. No, I have always used guitar and bass essentially as something to use to record things, sort of like a painter uses brushes or sponges to place paint on a canvas, and the recording for me is the art which sits on the canvas. So for me, or at least the me that I recognize, musical involvement is more than just strumming some Eagles songs on the couch. It's a far bigger thing. But it's a headache to move this stuff—now twice in the last several months, and likely again within the year since my current space is available for that period, with a general expectation that it will end when Adam returns from Brazil. It's a headache to move it all around, get it put together, make it work, relearn how to use things. I am growing ever shorter of patience with regards to gear, technology, material items. I find most of it just tormenting sometimes, quite like when I was seven and took my entire bike apart for fun but was ordered by my grandfather to put it back together, and I was just crushed because I knew I could never really do that.

Essentially, the lofty ideas I had in 2000-2001 about being a cottage industry of music production and promotion has just been a miserable failure, essentially because I gave up the devotion to music when I got on the computer and was sucked into that world of options. Now I swear it all drives me bonkers and furthermore, with my married life on a basically good track and being removed from some of the unnecessarily empty pursuits I ordinarily engaged in, it's just odd to choose to lock myself in the studio environment in hopes that somehow artistic greatness will flow from me. I do dabble on guitar, bass, and drums (all I have left for instruments—no keys or other things), and some of the things don't suck at all, but my ability to turn any of this into art is just lacking. It doesn't happen. My old reliance on "throw shit on the wall and work with the stuff that sticks" is fruitless. I'd prefer to totally erase all signs of an hour long jam if it means sifting for 10 hours to find the good stuff, yet I am not really in control of making good stuff at will. It's maddening. So I frequently storm out of the studio, frustrated, angry, and saddened, often with the idea that I will just turn back around and go to Craig's list and put up a hundred ads for all my shit.

I recently had an odd idea come to me regarding what would have been my muse back in my "main sequence" back in 1997-2000. An odd parallel hit me, and the question is more whether I am attributing too much to the coincidence, or not. Really, it revolves around this non-relationship with Shelby, a girl who I knew I would never ever really get with, but that for some reason, she was the target of my passion. She had primarily been out of town for most of the time I knew her, but I longed for the times she was in town. One time, there was a period of over two and a half years when we had no contact whatsoever. Then, in a total coincidence of me being called to work in La Mesa on a day off from the Pizza Hut, and only being asked to come in at will before rush hour, and making a 20 minute drive to do so, I happened into this Shelby in the lot right as I walked in. It was the first time I'd seen her in two years and eight months. We hugged and it was like angels singing on high for the rest of the day. We agreed to stay in touch again. It was on August 10th. Three days later, I was at a music shop where I bought my VS 880 recorder which was the hardy little machine which I used to record everything on for a few years, and historically now I see it was the best stuff overall.

Anyway, Shelby was on her way out of town soon after our meeting though maybe we met another time or two to reconnect. She was off to Louisiana where she was in school. This was after time in Alaska (where I had seen her last just after the start of 1995), and northern California, and before that back in San Diego, where we had originally met at my church in 1988. Since she was back in my life, I had this overwhelming desire to finally get with her, and was just nuts over trying to somehow get her to come around. I wrote long and charming but still tentative letters to her. I told her all sorts of things that I hoped would make her feel wanted. Blah, blah, blah. My other outlet was recording. If I wasn't somehow focused on this girl and our future relationship, most of my time was spent recording all sorts of things with my new toy. First it was at my apartment for about ten months, then finally at the old Hog Heaven studio at my grandmother's place. The spring of 1998 and the summer to follow was time when I was utterly beside myself with gaga for her. It also happened to be a very lucrative recording period. See, the big fuss was that she was coming to town, leaving Louisiana, and coming to stay at her mom's for a while, and maybe going into the Peace Corps. So of course, there I was licking my chops at the promise of a new period to work on this project with her. Blah, blah, blah.

The summer of '98 was incredible, not because anything actually did happen between us, but because I believed even to a fault that something would happen. She ended up going into the Peace Corps and going to the eastern part of Africa. This lasted for all of two years and more—basically the same period of our total silence, but this was not going to be a total blackout. I was like an eager teenager too choked up on the stagefright to actually say anything that would destroy our friendship, so I always tippytoed around my real feelings, though they had been batted down rather harshly back about eight or nine years before in the earlier days of our knowing each other. The reason I had to tippy toe is because I knew full well it would happen again. But I had hoped that maybe all those intervening years took some of the edges off.

After she left for the PC in September '98, I began a rather prolific two years of recording. I had the space, the gear, the time, and apparently the muse to do that. Oh, I was just head over heels about her, even though I realized that nothing would ever come of it. I continued my letter writing, each time trying to evoke something that would make her come home to me, blah, blah, blah. All through 1999 and 2000, I was recording my own stuff, and things for Loaf, Tamara, Mike Keneally, Mark Decerbo, and others. That little 880 got used like mad.

In the last half of 2000, right before this Shelby was to return to San Diego, giving me another giddy spell of anticipation, I had finished my CD Receiving. In the few days before she actually returned in December, I engaged in a mad flurry of recording activity while I spent about a week recording what turned out to be my Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music CD which I originally made because of another girl who had entered my life: my four year old neice Kaitlin. Kaitlin and I met only before Thanksgiving when I launched another period of relationship with my mom and her family, most of our lives estranged from each other. Anyhow, I had recorded 15 minutes of music in about a week and was excited to have done it, despite being essentially creatively drained after mastering the Receiving CD in September and having worked on it for a year before that. I finished the Holiday CD on the 21st or so. Shelby returned on the 22nd.

To make my already long story shorter, let me say that our "relationship" that I had so patiently tried to cultivate came crashing down in a single day on the 22nd of December—the day she returned and when we met for lunch and some errands. Total wipeout. I knew my worst fears of it failing were coming true, but in my effort to salvage it one last time, I wrote a long letter with the exact feelings that I'd never revealed to her—good, bad, ugly. I told her of all the times I hung on to this relationship like there was nothing else in life. But I was ready to let it go. I delivered it by hand to her mom's mail box in La Mesa. After that, we barely exchanged a word. By that point, it was in the email realm and I don't think anything exists between us since March of 2001.

The odd thing that freaks me out is this. In the same way as the most prolific recording period of my life started in the very same week as she and I started a new chapter, I am just now catching on that it ended in a similar way, in reverse. I've said for some time that the Holiday CD was the last good thing I recorded that actually got finished. It's the last thing that was done in my usual production style, and to my usual standard. It was the last whole project that started and ended. It was the last one that was done exclusively on the 880, before I went in search of other possibilities with all the gear I bought in 2001.

I'd hate to give this broad more credit than she deserves, but the story has baffled me for a few days now. I already knew she had worked on my psychology for a long time—I already knew I was sublimating a feeling for her and turning it into musical art. I just had not really realized how the times were linked—the new recorder and her reappearance in my life triggered nearly two and a half years of mad recording, and both the recorder and the artistic streak came to an end essentially in the same week as this broad made her final exit from my life.

So now I wonder what my muse really is. Shelby isn't around to mess with my head and drive me to record, and nor should I want that. But what does drive me to record now? I've had some great emotional pain from moving house, or dealing with my psychotic old man. No real music to come of that. I spend my time entertaining notions of civilizational collapse and environmental destruction. No music to come of that. I love my wife, we do things together. No music to come of that. I am aligning myself more and more with the Christian model. No music to come of that. What gives? I find myself asking 'what button do I push to get something out of myself, musically? Who or what is my muse anymore? What the fuck is the hold up?'

If my muse is gone, and I don't get off just playing Eagles and Stones music on a guitar just to pass the time, I find myself wondering what in the world all this gear means to me any more? I have a nagging feeling that maybe $26,000 could have been placed elsewhere, or not spent at all. Who knows what killed my muse? Who can blame me if I find that I'd rather have dinner or a talk with my wife, and not isolate in my little box? Who can hold it against me that maybe I now have what I was so desperately pining for all those years? I don't know that anyone is holding a gun to my head expecting to hear my new music. I guess I just don't feel the need to do this, or to do it the old way. What I keep insisting would do me good would be to find a band and channel my energy that way, but it's hard—I've tried that too, on somewhat my own terms, but it's such a hassle to find people who can work together for more than a few weeks. Even Glenn is too busy working around the clock. I have a shifting schedule. It's hard to make the time for this if people are going to be let downs. That is why I worked solo for so long—to avoid being the victim of letdowns. I've asked Kelli to take part in recordings too—we did one in 1998/9, but to no avail.

So I don't know what to make of it. As gear is concerned, I get crazy messing with options. I get neurotic. As art, I generally have relied on lots of paintbrushes and other applicators to do my painting. As an investment, it's still useful if it's called upon. I got rid of most of the completely gimmicky stuff. My gear now should enable me to make a durable piece of music using the time honored guitar/bass/drum formula, if I can coax ideas from them. I'm just lost.

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