The Art of Encouragement and the Terror of Truth
The process of digitally transferring my first recordings from 1985 to 1992 continues this week and I'm currently listening to tracks produced in 1987, many of which would end up on the album 21. It's the first time in many years hearing it all, both the stuff that got released and the stuff that didn't make the cut, plus all of the alternate takes of songs and pieces. I was going through some shit. Musically, I was doing some really cool stuff for not having had any formal training, but my voice largely suffered from a) zero training and b) self-esteem issues and c) a thunderously naive approach to subject matter and lyrics. I should've been farther along at the age of 21, but that didn't stop me from working just as hard then as I do now.
But, holy crap, some of this stuff was played on the radio and some of it suuuucks! I mean, really sucks! I can say that, it's me.
There's something to be said for an unceasing drive that wakes you up every day of your life and says, "okay, gonna make music now." I was 19 when Plan 7 Distribution was created as a "label" that would distribute my fledging home-recordings. With Crazed Bunnyz, I had tapped into the underground cassette retail scene where there were loads of magazines that did nothing but review these lo-fi releases. Noise. Punk. Synth-pop. Experimental. There were zines for all of these and more. I was duplicating cassettes with six tape decks that my mother bought for me (I still have four of them, can't stand to get rid of them), designing my own inserts with clip art and hitting all of these places. They'd do a review and post my address and the orders would come in - it was encouraging stuff, favorable write-ups and what not.
But still, good lawdy.
I've cleared a room or two in my early days and that's a good experience to have, every performer should know what it's like to lose 'em. Hopefully, you learn how to not lose 'em. Other times, there's nothing you can do to keep 'em. Keep 'em hanging out for the show. Keep 'em buying records, keep 'em coming to concerts. People change and performers as well - sometimes they change together and sometimes they change apart.
And sometimes, it's a life-long love affair and the artist can do no wrong because, for whatever reason, you get it. I think that's all it takes. I've heard crap from my favorite bands, but forgive them because they've given me so much awesome.
People are great with compliments but we are terrible when it comes to saying, "I'm sorry, you really suck" and it's not considered good form to be subjective when it comes to that sort of thing. Besides, who wants to hear that they suck? There's usually something complimentary that you can say about someone who's having a go of it on the stage and, if asked what you thought, you can come back with something innocuous like "I love your phrasing on the word 'banana'" or something like that.
I'll never forget playing a show in 1998 at Midtown Tavern in Winter Park, Florida that started with a nice full seating area, people waiting for the show. And then I started my crazy shit that I was doing back then, songs with titles like "Tamagotchi Girlfriend" and "I Wanna Ride Space Mountain", and one-by-one, they all checked their watches and slowly relocated to the bar. Not their thing. That's alright. I still woke up the next morning and began booking more shows because I didn't have any choice in the matter. It's what I do.
There was another show in Orlando that same year at Yab Yum near the University of Central Florida. Even then, I was doing three-hour long shows, and this was a pretty good night, kind of a captive audience, no bar to retreat to. Throughout the evening, my attention kept being drawn to a guy slouched into the last booth at the rear of the coffeehouse. His sunglasses were over his eyes, head tilted back, arms folded across his chest. Sleeping. Sleeping through my show. It's all good.
It's around midnight as I play my last song of the night and there's maybe one booth with a couple of people in it, the people who work there, and the sleeping guy. As I say, "goodnight", he suddenly rises up, claps, then walks up to me and says, "I've been grooving to you all night, thanks for the music." Turned around and walked out. Who knew? The guy that dug it most was the guy I least suspected. More than that, though, was that he went out of his way to let me know. That's the art of encouragement.
I suppose I was encouraged by the reviews and album sales though I think everyone adapted their critique to the medium, meaning "a lot of people with boomboxes and 4-tracks and a passion for making shit up." It was playing with other musicians that I respected and having them see me as worthy enough to make the cut. That began the road to improvement as did the constructive criticism that was tastefully delivered by so many wise people. When you consider just how many influences we all have, people that we've met and interacted with over the course of all our lives, and how they've shaped who we are today, some have more influence than others, but everyone does their part.
But you can't rely upon the compliments of others to serve as the guidance for whether you actually suck or not, and that's why you've got to get your head together and get serious about your music because that will lead you to a place where you've got the plum line for your development. And there will be lots of encouraging ground gained at the same time that there will be spectacular failures and dead ends. Still, you'll know what to do and recognize the need to do it.
Nothing reveals the truth like unedited, unprocessed, raw audio or video of you doing something. It's incontrovertible and right there in your face, whether it's from fifty years ago or five minutes ago. That's how it looks and sounds outside of this bag o' bones; a different perspective is nice.
The terror of truth is that it requires your response. There is no dodging it or dressing it up as something different. It's there, it's you, now what are you going to do about it? You can't pretend that it's not happening, and if you do, then you're just fooling yourself and that's counterproductive. The only way forward is to acknowledge the truth and then take the steps to keep working towards your goals.
The truth might be that you still have much work to do.
The truth might also be that you'd better make some new contacts this week if you're ever going to take your act to the next level.
And so on.
Another 4-track cassette has been digitized for posterity. I switch it out with another cassette, bring up a new template in Logic Pro and start the machines. Ooh. First tape with the new drum machine. Wow. This is going to be an interesting listen.