"I came upon my fallen master, his helm all dents and breast plate pierced. His eyes still moved, and they fell upon my saddened face. I saw the life fading from them, and reached into my saddle bag for the instruments. The crumhorn and sackbutt were rusted, but the lute still fair, so I withdrew it to serenade my knight as he passed from this world. I knelt beside him, and love for him flowed from my heart, through my fingers, and into the strings. I choked back tears and sang of braveness and honor. Then his hand grasped me, and he whispered with his last breath, 'Play not, young Leofric, for the sound you create is a foul stench upon my ears, and will drive the angels from my side and invite hell upon my soul.' He died in the bloody grass, and I opened his armor to ease the way for the buzzards."
from "A Squire's Life" by Edgemont Puff
Band breakups aren't always bad. They often make sense: people move, creative tastes clash or change, and interest fades. I've heard it said often that a band is like a marriage, which sort of cheapens the idea of marriage in my opinion, but it is a complex relationship. I have been on both ends of the band break-up stick. Both ends are very sharp and splintery. Once I broke it off with some guys and it caused me strife for a longer period of time than the band had even existed to begin with. Everyone always thinks they're right and that the other party pulled the rotten move or caused the problems. Everything is a learning experience, and mostly I seem to learn this: I KNOW NOTHING.
I was kicked out of a band when I was 26. At that age, for me, my band was my gang and family, and I devoted everything I had to that union. Also, I loved them very much, and so when it ended I was wrecked. In hindsight, it should have been a relief, because there was a drastic musical chasm between them and me. Creatively, we were like conjoined twins, one a mall Santa and the other a Hasidic Jew. They were starting to veer from my very scripted songs and structure into a world of improvisation. To be clear, I don't know any scales or theory, and when it was time to vamp out and soar into musical orbit, I just played one note over and over and felt like a jackass. This was the direction it was taking, and the pool barfed me out before I drowned. They were free of my musical dipshittery and I was free to write songs and follow my own path. The only problem was, I had no path, only pathos for my pathetic self.
Megan lived in a group house that was kind of full. I had a futon, a van, and some visqueen. Guess whose backyard I moved into. Megan and her housemates gave me a corner of the back yard, and I made my visqueen tent between two trees and put my bed under it. In the mornings, I would wake up to the sound of squirrels dropping things on my roof, open my eyes, and see blurry nut shells suspended over my head through the clear plastic. It was on Division Street, before it was so madly developed. The mid-90's was a mellow time in southeast Portland, and I would lay back there strumming guitar and hear birds and wind and not much else. I floated in a cloud of summertime limbo. What I lacked in vision, I made up for in aimlessness. I had a part time job at a clay pot store and also a couple of bar tending shifts. These were not inspiring places to work. At the clay pot store, I was paid dirt to sell pots made of cooked dirt, and bags of dirt to put into them. The bar was a cans bar, and the stools were covered with elderly folks that would sit and sip cans of Hamms all day long. Every once in a while one of them would die. Both places had their perks though. I got to work outside a lot, and I really like old people. Then a thing happened that turned the pie on my face into the pie in the sky. (They're the same pie.)
One day Megan said, "Why don't you go record some of your songs with your friend?" My friend had a home studio, which was rarer then- half inch tape, 16 tracks, mixing board, ribbon microphone, the whole shebang. I always had some excuse though, my favorite one being, "What's the point?" That's not even an excuse, that's just a stupid thing to say. Then one day she basically just told me to go do it, and I did. And that was the prying loose of the boulder that rolled through the villages of five albums and several years of synergetic collaboration. I had a fresh mindset with which to attack this project with, and bandmates that shared my vision and liked my songs, and I loved the hell out of Portland and the clubs and bookers and other bands. It was a good time that came out of a bad time, and even though we shoveled a lot of manure together in that band, it was the overall happy backbone of my musical experience and output.
"Everything is cyclical" may seem like a tired cliche, but it is always being thrown back into my face as the truth. If the ball doesn't compress into the pavement, it won't bounce back up. Whenever I'm in a low spot though, I seem to forget that this cycle exists. There must be some way to put signposts down there to remind oneself that things will get better. Is that why people, meditate, practice yoga, read inspiring books, or do other smart things that I never seem to do? It is kind of horrible to have that "it's all just for nothing" feeling, but I love that recurring thrill of discovery when you climb back up and realize how the chewed-up rancid puzzle pieces actually connect to the crisp unfaded new ones. Even though that other band had bailed on my scene, I had learned a ton from them. As much as I was resenting them and feeling pain at the time, I was also using the skills I had learned from them. As I'm finishing this up right now, I am even feeling some of that bottomed out blues over something music related. I just need to scroll up and reread, then roll up the sleeves and believe. Because the thing I'm bummed out about, a certain festival that is the prom of the musical high school that I keep sitting outside of, hearing the low-end pump through the wall… See, I'm just sad sacking! It won't come to me. I haven't been doing the work and making the necessary connections. Instead of storming into Austin on Shadowfax with my long grey beard and cloak flapping in the wind, I've been sitting on a tricycle sticking my lip out. So I guess there are bigger and longer cycles that I'm in that I didn't recognize until just this second. Dear self: Keep your knobs all the way to the right and faders all the way forward.
Here is my favorite excerpt from the play "Southern Gents" written by the great Ari Steinstien:
Confederate Soldier 1: My wounds are grievous. Play me a song?
Confederate Soldier 2: I have been playing songs for the last hour, and jaunty ones at that!
Confederate Soldier 1: That is not a banjo, that is a long handled skillet. You have been eating from yonder mushroom patch, it has undone your brain.
Confederate Soldier 2: That is correct, brother. I'd be good company for a lonely potato, that is for certain. Don't worry, help is on the way.
Confederate Soldier 1: My misery is boundless.