May 21, 2014

Do Your Job Well, There's Nothing Better/ An Afternoon Lull

"I've been hunting something for a very long time. I guess since I started playing music."

Sheila wanted more of an answer, and was happy to work for it. Though it's hard to tell what she's thinking behind the straighteness of her smile.

An interviewer who wants, but doesn't give makes for a tough interview. But when conversation is slow, persistence helps, and Sheila never stops.

"Can you describe that hunt... what it is you're after? What it means to you?"

The two of us, and her tape recorder make three, are in a bubble amidst a fury of backstage noise. Other bands loading gear; stragglers and hanger-ons earning their titles. The melted ice sloshing in the tubs of beer emptied by young bar hands, and I remember having a few more than a few cans myself while I'm holding the warm remains of a can. I started to feel light, and the emptiness swirled in to my stomach, as all the brave fury seems to evaporate. And there's a strange feeling in the back off my mind when I know I'm going to talk too much, beer makes me talk too much.

"I wanted a purpose," I said with a thousand thoughts of my first days playing music playing in my head. "But less noble than that... I wanted to go... Away from people I knew. Away from my past. This feeling really started in high school. Some people had a great time and never wanted to leave. Some of us," I said with an raising brow, "couldn't wait to escape."

My eye zeroed in on her small notepad, and that red rubber ball of an erasure dancing up and down between her fingers.

"I knew the world was bigger. I wanted to run in it. Leave everything I couldn't change. Remake things I could. That's what I see most of us doing. Musician's, artists."

She's not writing a word I'm saying, I have a feeling this is unusable for her and we are just talking. I don't like giving interviews after a show, but it's the only time we had. I'm fried. Sweaty. Red faced. Ridiculous.

I spent the first few questions splashing water on my face from the small dirty sink, near-falling off the wall, in the edge of the room. I moved, slightly clearer in thought, on to the one cushion free of cigarette burns and questionable stains; but once I sit, I can't help feel stuck between the couch and the question.

Sheila smiled, "Do you think you've found the life you want?" Suddenly there's a commotion over a lost guitar, I turned my attention away. She leaned in, and hit me with her pencil dead in my hand. "Your purpose... did you find it?"

"Well I don't know..." I laugh, rubbing the small stinging pain, like an ant just had a snack across the back of my hand.

"How can you go up in front people and not know?" She pushed. The good ones try and let you lead because with enough space, people will confess as much truth as they can. And she's gave me more than enough rope to hang myself with some deep-old-dirty truth. But something's are too big to explain.

A great interviewer will bend questions, acrobaticly, weaving words to the right answer. I've had the privilege of meeting only a handfull of people who can, and do, this well. Sheila's knows how to get her way, not by tact, but it's her own lovely pushy-ness.

To tell the truth, I had asked her not to ask the regular questions. Tell me about your band? How would you describe your music? I could do without ever answering those again. But still some lazy writer, won't even give a Google to get those. So a few days before, on a phone call when I was still three cities away, I challenged Sheila to think of something different for us to talk about.

So now it's on me. Forget clever. Everyone wants to say something clever, but it's not easy when the question is there, and the moment is quick and tired. Stick to honest.

"I think I found a purpose... Trying. Every song. Every show... To try. Others want to change the world. Enlighten. They want their music to instruct. And they do. Beautifully. I guess I want that too but... there're many ways to do that. I'm just not so direct."

She started to write in her pad again, "so you consider yourself a teacher?"

"No," I laugh again. Artists hate being concrete. "Still a musician. But we can learn from everyone. We all have stories, not just songwriters." I search the shelves to find an un-opened water. "And those stories have truths. Even when I make mistakes," I finally find it and come back to my chair. "You can get out there and explain your message. Spread the word."


"By example. One note at a time."

My head is finally slowing down.

"My favorite teachers gave to me by example. By living clearly in the day-to-day. Subtle meaning you know? I feel like if I give honestly. People can listen honestly. That's all I have. My purpose. The simple tasks say so much. Showing up to a performance and not playing the motions, but really trying to get there."

I could tell she wasn't buying it, "example?“

"Great players, my favorite players, don't fall on theatrics or clothes to get noticed. They play. And that speaks for them. They don't even use the music. They play the song, the best they can, and let the music illuminate itself, not the person behind it... you see? And that's what makes them so special. So simple. To do your job well, there's nothing better."

Sheila put down her pad, then lays back in her chair. She asked, "Is that what you think people want?... A great effort?" And I have the feeling this is off the record now, but you never can tell in an interview. I heard always assume anything you say will go.

“I don't," I start then catch myself in half-lie, "I try not worry about that. I worry about what I can give. With my mind. My song. What they want is up to them... I can't control that. Only what I give. I'd go crazy worrying about others'. Though I admit it's a struggle."

Sheila sat for a moment before she reached for her pad and got back to her list of questions when my tour manager came in to get me. The club was closed. People ready to leave. The show was done. So was the interview. And we said goodbye, in the mess of a green room. But like any conversation not ready to end, there was more hanging in that room waiting to be said.

I rested my head against the window looking out into the night highway, and I can't help but think of what I said to Sheila. My home. And what I was looking for out here. I realize I wasn't done. In fact I wanted to change my answer. I hadn't lied, but it wasn't complete.

The truth: I was running. I was exploring. Searching the country. Collecting. Hunting. Looking for it or away from home. Away from the things I couldn't change. Away from the life that was. In every part of my journey I have gotten something, but I also realized then, I brought something too. I was carrying all the best parts of home with me, and gave them to everyone I met. I carried the movement of the people in our streets. The songs of the wild hill country beauty that surrounds my home. I carried the subtle meanings, and lessons of all the wonderful people I knew. I wasn't just leaving home, I was being sent out.

An afternoon lull, a long breath of street
in a lonely town. Stores are quiet,

Doors closed, keeping out a summer heat
only the brave would wander.

But if they follow the end of the sidewalk
wrapping round the last posted light

Down a worn and broken row of slippery rock,
it might even be lost for a while,

Down through a huddle of branches,
under their low unkempt strays,

Down away from the plague of concretes,
where the hum and highway whistles never reach

There, they can cool in the long waiting shade
take off their shoes, and be light

Under a vault of oak, listening to the fade,
the song of evening.

May 14, 2014

Warped Wax, Where Did It Go

My love of listening, my growing appreciation of sound composition, started in San Antonio but flourished in Boerne. For that I am grateful to this city, my home. This story is the beginning of finding my home.

I don't think it would come as a surprise for me to say, Boerne is not in a cutting-edge city like New York, Chicago, L.A., London, The list goes on... I'm not taking about the people in the city but the lifestyle of the city itself. Boerne's pride is history, tradition, and nostalgia. A time machine, rose-glassed look at the best parts of our past.

You might think it is not the place for someone who wants to be forward-thinking artist. Who wants to be a rejectionist. Who wants to jump off cliffs of creativity without a care to where to land. And while I was younger, in high school, eager to begin my life, I thought like that. But like a lot of my adolescent beliefs I was wrong.

It was on one of these adolescent days, with nothing to do but walk and dream of far distant Americas and the adventures I was sure to have, that I entered into an antique store.

I'd been coming to main street for years with my parents, both avid antique lovers, probably one reason why we moved here, but I never paid attention to what was inside.

Usually I waited, moaned, rolled eyes and was difficult. That day I was on my own, shopping for me, and uniquely interested in finding something. Music. But not the music available at Best Buy or Target. Also it's worth a note to say, I was too young to shop online, no credit card, and too young to drive to Austin or any trendier record shops. I was looking for music I hadn't heard before. Tired of the radio, feeling rebellious, I was lured by the charm of rock'n'roll and finding it the cheapest way I could.

To my great teenage delight I found a crate of vinyl hidden under a table, containing a strange array of music I'd never heard or seen before.

These were not perfect by any means, nor collector pieces. They were dirty: covers torn, stained, and ripped, records scratched and dusty. Some in the completely wrong sleeves. Lots of oddballs, Ping-Pong percussion* anyone?

"What do you want for these?" I asked not trying to sound too interested.

The old man at the counter scrunched his nose so much it lifted the glasses an inch as he examined the crate I was pointing at with my sneaker.

"What do you want them for?" He laughed to himself, a joke I still hear shopping today: "Do you even know what those are?"

He went on to explain how they were his son's records: mostly from the early seventies, he'd left them at home when he went to college, never picked them up, and they'd sat under this very table for a year or two. He took $10, all I had in my wallet - goodbye lunch tomorrow, for the whole crate.

It took me a while to figure out how to put my father's system together. We had used it when I was younger, but since we moved a few years earlier, the turntable, stereo, and speakers were boxed and stored in different places. Cables and plugs had to be hunted.

Next came a thorough cleaning of every disk, as well as a total examination of every record cover and sleeve.  I was most attracted to The Who and The Beach Boys, a few country records, and a best of Dion and the Belmont's which proved to be phenomenal.

I'd like to pause from this story to mention:

This boy and his new found treasure trove worked very hard to get his vinyl sounding great. I'm not one to romanticize the pops and cracks, lack of high and low end, or the eerie warble of warped wax. Those artifacts which some find charming actually bug me because although a part of the experience they are not part of the music. I also do not enjoy people who talk during movies at the theater. But there's an atmosphere and quality in vinyl that's only now being matched. A liveliness, a magic, bred into the medium, which is why it is my favorite format for listening.
Early downloads, napster, mp3, CD's, tape cassettes, even the first iPods paled in comparison. And once I heard the difference, it was undeniably better. I couldn't go back. There was a universe of warm, inviting comfort in vinyl. I also didn't care much for the artwork, not that the artwork wasn't beautiful, I was just interested more in the songs within, and soon found out that a quality record inside a torn or distressed sleeve would go for considerably cheaper than any new music.
Back to my story.

Finally I had the records cleaned and began listening one by one. Unknowingly I'd planted the seeds of my future, and the toe path of that journey came was in this sleepy city.

Boerne, gave me the music education I couldn't get in bigger cities. It was affordable though the selection was erratic, sometimes strange, but always unique. So much great music waiting to be found, and it was all hidden away down the street in dusty bins and slopped shelves, piled on floors and underneath porcelain figurines.

Now that I've traveled, now that I've seen shopping center after shopping center with the same stores and restaurants offering the same experiences without any regional individuality, I can appreciate my home so much more.

Small towns and their oddball beauty can only be felt once in a specific time and a specific place. It's precious. I love it. I was lucky enough to be open to new surroundings, even if they were hidden in old packages.

Where did it go?

My fury of noise                    
pitched pain
subtle lulls
Tear and tempo                       
once so sure
in blood, an bone
Crying they found me             
when low, very low
life had pushed

I'd looked back                        

only once
but where did it go?


*image source: