Nov 27, 2013

The Beautiful Decay of Family Life

What is it like working with family?
I get this question a lot. The whole band does. It makes sense why people would want to ask. I imagine it's like a single child asking a friend what it's like to have siblings, or vice versa. And the answer is probably the same:
it's all I know... how else could it be?
That's usually my answer when I don't have time to elaborate, but that's only part of the answer and here I have time.
I have worked with other people outside of my family. Having had a few jobs other than music. I've been a teacher, a writing lab coach, a pizza maker, a waiter - the only time I've been fired so far...- a photography assistant among other odd jobs... did tile work, built a patio, etc.
All jobs with strangers and friends. I found in all my jobs a closeness bonding co-workers, whether or not I personally liked them. We spent hours grinding away together, doing our jobs, helping each other out. Sometimes competitively, sometimes cooperatively.
There are also the small moments, the lulls when daily conversation reveals more and more until you really start to know people.
But in all my other jobs, that closeness ended with my shift. With a punch-out-the-clock goodnight wave and  "see ya tomorrow," as the door closes at my tired feet.
With a band there is no end of shift. You are the band at every moment. An intense intimacy that could only be compared to a few life experiences. One of them being actual blood family, and military. On the road, at home, day in day out, there's always each other. There's only each other. And like every family, every band is different. Each with unique bonds, unique stories, unique dynamics. Forget what you think you know about the way bands operate.
I will give a secret, the image of the band you see in press or on-stage, "Lead" Members, "Support", who is in charge, who does the work, who takes the credit, is mostly a story pulled from strands of truth and woven into a web of quotable press releases and stereotypes. Don't believe it. Don't worry about it. Just listen. 
There are moments to bind together in the absolute machinery of compulsive searching, and a continual tension eating away at weak resolves of empty hearted hunters.
A knowing that goes beyond words. To feel what your band mates feel. To know what they will say before they say it. To intuit each other's playing. All of these are components of band relationships. All bands are families. Blood or no. You're in it together. And just like families, some survive, some divorce. For reasons only they know. They grow, together, apart. In the dynamic of all life. Every day. Every show. Every rehearsal. Every shared hotel room or long van ride. Every lunch stop. Every fight and laugh in the late-night, drunken re-birth. *
Sitting together after doors have closed. Gear packed. The unforgiving lights pushed off the last stragglers, and in the salty after-show sweat, sore-foot release; a night ending sigh and a cold beer. Words between soldiers. Re-affirming the fight, or a look like  death on our faces.  
I see it in other bands, not just mine. I can't speak for everyone, but I see it. The connections. All bands of siblings. Every other band cousins. It's love, wounded pride, surprise, disappointment, and all the beautiful decay of family life.

to be continued....


On a walk along the Cibolo
The Path. Bent legs extend across the green tides.
Life in-absentia.
Looking to the water for so long years grew under me.
River cut by generations of wakes. 
Weak leather souls worn down
Raised grass slid between my toes along The Gone Path.
Great white legs of the south lawn stood and left
While I wait for your return.
I want to walk you again.

*Image Source:

Nov 20, 2013

Past Life: Clinically, Scientifically Naked

See the man with the stage fright, Just standing up there to give it all his might - The Band

Past Life:

I've never been scared to be in front of an audience with the band. But that doesn't mean I've never felt the chest-thumping, quick breath fear that can overpower any performance. I've just learned to live in it.

Once I had an assignment for a high school speech class...
I hated that class, not my teacher she was great as were the other kids, but I was just out of place. Having been lifted up two years I was 14 taking a summer class with 17-year-olds giving speeches about my life, politics, and drama readings. As you can imagine it was awkward. I wasn't living their life, I didn't know their music, their movies, their parties... to all my classmates I was still a kid. It's amazing the social gap between high school-ers.

...  Anyway, every time I stood in front of the class seeing, what then looked like men and women, adult faces wearing too much make-up and the beginnings of very bad mustaches, I wanted to disappear. To run out the door. To hide underneath my hoodie and stay in the back of the class reading. But you can't do that in high school, because for some reason, the more you hide the more teachers try to get you out of your shell. So instead I had to stand at the podium with the feeling of my lunch crawling higher and higher up my throat, with my hands shaking holding my note-cards, and the words failing to come. Receiving a flood of rolled eyes, smirks, and sarcasm. But this assignment was different.

We had to record ourselves as a Radio DJ, making a commercial segment between songs. So I grabbed a portable tape recorder, sat in my favorite spot: my bedroom had a window on the opposite side of my bed, I could sit look at the sky and no one could see me from the hallway, and I drained myself out in to the microphone. Recording songs off the radio, writing my skit, complete with a commercial break for Fizz Bang Cola

I got wild, gave my best Wolfman Jack impression:
Heeeeellllloooooooo, San Antooonne! So happy to be in the land of a thousand dances, a thousand chances, and the thousand lovers making gooood romances... hawr hawr...

There was no one watching. No faces to look at. Just me, the recorder, and my imagination. I wasn't thinking about what everyone else would think when I had to play the tape on Monday. I wasn't thinking about the grade. I wasn't really thinking about the assignment, cause I kinda went overboard making twice as long as needed. I was only thinking about the performance. I don't know why this project, why this time I decided to really try, but it felt different. It felt real. It felt comfortable.

There is a moment when a song finishes, no matter how quick the response is, there is a moment while waiting for the audience reaction that can be nerve racking. While the note is ringing out, and the heart beat raises a little. Waiting to see if you get applause or the silent death stare - I don't think people boo anymore. It's not that the audience controls me, I've played plenty of shows when the crowd and I just don't connect, and it doesn't mean we were good or bad, we just either connect or not. Still, in a performance something is given away and it feels so good when people receive it openly. I think that's where the tension comes from. Wanting to be understood. And the moment of uncertainty, that place can be scarier than first stepping out on the stage in the first place.

I was in that moment when my tape stopped. And I, the over-achieving 14-year-old watching the faces of the apathetic summer school 17-ishes and my teacher, waited for the verdict. 

Then the teacher laughed, the students laughed, I laughed, some of the kids paying attention even applauded, of course there were others who didn't really care. I was happy with that little bit of respect. But I gained something more than just my highest grade of the class.

I'd put myself out there and earned the response I wanted. They laughed at the jokes, they heard the words, it sounded like a radio program - poorly recorded - but legitimately like a radio program. It was a creative expression fully realized... Ah what a moment... And it was armor. And it was strong.

Making something without purpose and conviction will leave you feeling naked. You are exposed to every flaw of your humanity. Clinically, scientifically naked.

I go on stage believing in every song, in every note. That gives me strength to go into uncertainty.  To stand in front of people and sing myself. To write these words and give them to you. I have faith in my creation. In my ideas. I don't get my confidence from some in-born ability -  maybe others have that but I do not. I have honesty, and hard work. I have conviction. Living in the fear, is to free yourself from it.


Mother. At Mass
All of the wraps and knots a riddle.
This is the moment. She kept her fingers twisting threads
turning gold, her silken mind. Each thought golden
and each look... as the wick burned down.
What was it to know like she knew?
What was it like to turn a key?
All the answers I could never give.
The skill to unravel.
Understanding when we unravel, we go.

Nov 14, 2013

The Living Text pt. 3 And What I Heard

How do you become a band?
How do you become a writer?

The tough questions I've been asked. And my answer, not just mine but many others agree, is easy: bands make music, and writers write. That simple.
* You want to be a band: grab some friends and bash away until it works. You want to write: all you need is pen and paper. So what stops us (even me sometimes)? I guess the half-asked question wasn't really honest... what we really want to know is:

How do we become a money-making band? How do we make money as a writer?

That answer is hazier. I'm still not sure, though I'm looking - Maybe I'll write the answer in a post if I ever find out, let you guys know

Most writers and musicians who are successful have a unique voice, perspective, to set themselves apart. Being, or doing something new can you get buzz. I think that's a great, but the flip-side is that all the buzz building won't do any good if the substance is weak. You can get everybody's attention: perfect. Now what are you going to do with it? You have to have meaning. Something to give to your audience. I find that heavy buzzed often comes with light substance. Maybe that's what some people feel is lacking from big selling music.

A prospective, a plot, an opinion, anything, but it has to be something you believe in. Conviction is real inspiration. To feel something deeply. Maybe that's what tragedy gives. It's a fire. A burning understanding. The work burns away pain. The more you give to it, the more the fire will take. Let the flame take it all away. Give to it completely, be completely transformed, and it will give back something new.

The questions of success may never be answered. There is only you and the words. The thoughts you have incubated. The life you carry waiting to be heard, to be read, to escape.

I have grieved. Am grieving. And with every song try to burn more of that away. I sing about the places I knew, and my trying to re-build. That was Shakedown. The match being lit.  That is writing. Audiences are fickle, fame and money are a delusion. Writing can be real if you let it.

It took me a long time to be comfortable with being a writer. Saying it. I always wanted to see one of my poems in print, but I've learned that being printed doesn't make writer. Being recognized doesn't either, by news or people.

The words, the work, that gives me the title. It gives me everything I need. No one else can. No record deal. No publishing company. Let everything else burn away. Sure, I take the opportunities that come, work them hard. Unafraid to chase, to game, put myself on the line, but never need it. Never depend on it. Never make it the purpose, or else substance will fail. And empty words, quick words, never last.


PS. this is a special post. the reason: 11/13/13 Ulysses R. Villanueva

For you are all-things

All around the fire light, the feel pound
giving us freak ambition, feverish pulse.
All around, in every body, hidden sounds
flash morning. Your little light. Your lighting form. 
Do you know what's waiting? 
Who made you your crucible?
Can you see the hammer dreams the anvil?
The time of fire is gone, let the bell ring all
bouncing against my own forgotten tones. 
The signal, the warning, a beautiful song.

* Image:

Nov 6, 2013

The Living Text Pt. 2, What Banksy is Telling Me

There's no right or wrong in making, but music is more than just making, music is connecting. With that thought, from my home in Texas, I've been keeping a half-eye on the October Banksy art attack. And though I'm not so much a visual artist,  as a writer I was drawn to something in his work.


A lot, not all, but a lot of his work involves writing. At the very least the titles, but some works actually incorporate textHe lifted words off the page and put them in a new context, and by doing so has given new life to their meaning. This is not so different as trying to put elements of artful writing into song.

His writing is not poetic. There's nothing drastically interesting in the words, or arrangements. Simple clear statements accompany the meaning of the graphic, but the text is critical to the understanding of the piece, and the work as a whole is saying more. And that's poetic. 

Writers, even the most fore-thinking, are traditionalists. Why else use such an ancient form of communication for your craft? And by being traditionalistic, it becomes hard to adapt. There are many of the global literati, who oppose eBooks as a form of distribution. Who prefer the printed text - Or like me, the handwritten document - Who shy away from changes in dialect, or the improper jumble of texting language. Who see language as right and wrong. There's nothing bad about being so stern, but without change, without adaptation, we risk losing relevance and falling into extinction.

So there's a need to be adventurous with our work. We could start by thinking about writing in different ways. Transmitting in different forms. Don't start to graffiti on my account, but that is one idea. Banksy reached a whole new level of cultural acceptance and notoriety by moving beyond the canvas and onto the streets. More people are seeing his art, not because of content but because of presentation. Because of style. Because of context.

Achieving the sort of immediate viatality most artists crave but will never have. His work isn't in a museum. Not relegated to a small genre trade zine or blog. He is in the news, he is vital. That is not to say good or bad, but alive. It is a great achievement.

As a poet, I chose to move to music to spread my writing. I felt as a songwriter, my writing had a wider audience reach than I ever could as simply a page writer. 

Now I'm thinking about what it means to be a songwriter... How can a band reach a wider audience, in a climate where the doors are closing? Opportunities narrowing. The internet is quickly becoming more and more selective. As does media in general. And audiences too.

I'm not a bandwagoner, don't expect a rap album from us, but it's hard not to ignore what's happening. Are rock bands necessary? How do you compete with DJ's, million dollar pop stars, and a unstable shapless industry?

Banksy might not have an answer specifically useful for musicians or poets, but he does give some inspiring presentation. Proving the world is hungry for creative output. For unique perspectives from artists with the guts to try.


The street in roar by foot, fire, mesquite
Her tongue jumps from tooth
to sweet tastes sunk in bone.
Bells, un-even hoofs fall, a wooden moan
Head down in the black iron café. Sheathed
No words drawn.
                            Something's are not to-be.

*Image Source:!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/banksy15q-3-web.jpg