Observational Comedy, Electronica, and the usual suspects

This is long but. Stuff. Things.

I’ve never been a huge fan of electronic music. It’s nothing against the artists, more or less, but rather the culture I’ve always perceived around it. I’ve always seen it as self-indulgent, hedonistic, and, above all else, privileged. I know DJ’s, hard-working artists, and a few wonderful people who are fans of some form of EDM or another. It’s just never seemed like something “for me” and that’s ok.

That said, in doing some research on another topic today, I ran across a story about the death of Avicii. The Swedish artist was one of a select few in the genre that I could appreciate. So much so that during one of my more trying times between 2013 and 2015 I listened to a fair bit of his work (and that of collaborator, Aloe Blacc). I found the words, such that they were, uplifting and enough to get me moving when it was once again difficult for me to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

It seems like more and more people who tried to distill hope by creating art out of their own frustrations and difficulties have found themselves at a point of late where there was none left. It leaves me, as I am in my own currently renewed existential plight, pondering what the point of all this mess is.

For a long time I’ve held the belief that we as people have some innate purpose on this dirt clod we call Earth. We may not know it but after enough time and some perspective I think it comes into a little more relief. At the same time, though, I’ve also believed that when our work is more or less complete our card gets punched. The method doesn’t really matter. It just is what is.

But this is all within the larger framework of my own self-reflection (read: indulgence; navel-gazing) as I try to control my spin out of what was a, more or less, comfortable orbit for about a decade. I’ve thought about where I am now, what I need, and where I’ve come from.

If you’ve followed along, you already know where I am but where I’m from, for me, continues to evolve which I guess proves we are never that far from the ground in which we first sprang up. I realized what may sound like an uncomfortable truth but in reality is actually kind of relieving because it has informed me a bit on why I am “me” and why I have always been this person. I hope it will help me manage that better in future.

I love my mom for everything she provided to me growing up but one thing I’ve come to understand is that I picked up some of her habits (as I see them), as you do, that came to manifest in not so great ways for me. I worry a lot about the future and sometimes forgot about “now”. I get anxious about things way beyond my control. If something seems too difficult I tend to turtle and distract myself, frittering away time as if its mere passage will solve whatever the problem is. I tend to put things off when they can be done quickly and simply. And like many people, these traits in others tend to bug me. It’s always when we see the traits we don’t like in ourselves reflected back at us that we tend to react, no?

Built out of that last trait I realized, though, that there was another piece. I avoid strife and confrontation, if at all possible. I know this is largely born out of the period when I was very young and my mom and dad’s marriage was disintegrating. I didn’t really have any handle on what was happening, just that, eventually, my dad was gone and he never came home. I hated him for a long time for that.

As I grew older, though, I came to understand that my mother and I (and him, ultimately) were better off. I am so grateful for the resilience that I saw in her as she worked to support us both. You don’t have too much time for drama when you’re focusing in on your own survival (yes, dear, if you read this I’m softly chuckling, sighing, and nodding at the “irony”).

However, I realize now that my mother didn’t have time for anyone else’s drama which included me and whatever feelings were spinning off tornadoes inside my psyche as I went from 5 to 25. I never really learned to express my feelings except through writing, reading, and music and that didn’t even truly come around until around the age of 13 which was a big year (1990-91) for me.

This was when I picked up my first guitar and started my first band. We did some things, we had some fun, but foremost, I began to express myself outside my own bedroom. I had no idea how to really relate but who does at that age? I began exploring authors and more varied music. I pushed boundaries and yadda yadda yadda. Overall, I was a moody teenager with some aptitude for these forms of expression and mired in, essentially, undiagnosed depression and existential angst.

What this meant, though, was that I didn’t have anyone I could talk to about the thoughts bouncing around in my brain. Further, I didn’t think I should. There was a shame in it, for me, that I could have, materially, everything I could need and yet an emptiness I could never resolve inside. None of this was something I could even articulate then even if I had been asked. However, if someone, anyone, had glanced through my notebooks or lyrics or collections of books and music, they’d have noticed a theme – one of dark cynicism.

I would often cover this up with a voracious appetite for knowledge and new experiences then being able to relate these things to people rather than what was “going on” with me. No one, in my opinion at the time, seemed terribly interested in *me* but they did take an interest in music or movies or verboten topics for our era and age. But I also used another common tool that the depressed use to hide: humor.

As much as I was raised by my mother, music, books, and so on, I was also “raised” by a small cadre of comedians who I would listen to or watch over and over again. George Carlin and Robin Williams became something like father figures to me. There were others but these two were central for me, the former for his inquisitive style and ability to link disparate topics in one narrative, the latter for his ability to laugh at life’s absurdities and tragedies in ways that made you forget about how dark a thing was that you were laughing about.

And so, this is where this sprawling thought train has been headed: I observed about a week ago in the classroom with my kids, that I have begun to lean on comedy; singing, dancing, clowning around, with the intent to break the ice and get them to re-focus when they become bored or distracted or whatever other condition is keeping them from what we need to accomplish on a given day. Without thinking, the first day I burst into a piece of a song from Aladdin. We all had a good laugh and settled into some riveting math homework.

A few days later I noticed my pattern of being very “up” with my students and then… well, most of what you read here when I am at home alone at night. Over the past few days I’ve been sitting with the comparison, the duality, and noticing it’s one that Robin had talked about before in interviews. It’s also there in the lyrics of Tim Bergling. An appearance of joy to try to uplift others while simultaneously trying to extinguish the inner demons with light.

Sometimes they wear sunscreen, long sleeves, and shades.



A man walks into a bar…

Tonight I found myself giving a pep talk to a man who had just learned he had lost his best friend to the viciousness of addiction. As I spoke to him, even as the first words of encouragement cleared my throat, I recognized the irony. Somewhere in these words I said to him, I reflected on what they meant to me in my current state.

Though my insides screamed “HYPOCRITE!” “FAKE!” “FRAUD!” at me, I persisted because I saw a person in pain. He was there with his parents. His father had told me what was going on after we had been talking for awhile watching hockey as a distraction from their familial pain. I already had gleaned some notion of what had taken this man’s friend but I simply listened.

Eventually, I took his father aside and requested permission to talk to his son about this loss. I explained that I had lost people to the very same thing and that maybe, if he thought it would help, hearing some kind words from someone who until an hour before, had never known he or his family, could be useful. He gave me that permission.

And so, as I talked to the son I made him give me a promise and we made a deal. The specifics of it are for us but for me it means I have given my word on something and I have to uphold it.

Hearing him talk about what his best friend resonated with me on many levels. Understanding his grief was like understanding my own. I hope I never receive a call like that about my best friend, the one I have lost, the one I would do anything to have back in my life, to have another chance to go around this world alongside.

It reminded me that life is short so say the things you mean when you mean them with every bit of your being. So… here goes:

I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the words that hurt and the actions that were betrayals. If you are who I know, you are, too. I’m sorry about what the process we are currently engaged in is doing to us, forcing us to reveal all of our secrets to one another even if most days all we want, both of us, is to simply be done with it all. I’m sorry I wasn’t better, let alone “best”.  I’m sorry we didn’t click together as well as we did apart.

I like to think we had our moments. I certainly wish there were more of them. I still want to make more of them and so I humbly request your permission.

We can’t take back words said or actions done but we can make new ones. I guess we already are, individually, but I wish for ones together. When I stand atop mountains and gaze at erupting volcanoes underneath falling stars; on black sand beaches with waves crashing all around; in jungles, both silent and deafening; in cities bustling with people, energy, and the very essence of life; these are all places I wish you to see and experience with me.

I return to my mantra of late; we are what we are, we is what we is, and what we is, is….


And now for something completely different…

But not really. I’ve been a bit stumped lately after a trip to the “big city” near me. It was invigorating yet melancholy in ways that I am still sorting out but then… what about my life, in the way that I express it, isn’t a bit melancholy these days?

I feel as if I am drifting away from everyone and everything I know. I try to reach out and stay in contact with people I am close to but… sometimes many hours or many days go by without hearing from “home”. That’s not to blame myself or anyone else, really, it’s just fact. There’s a reason “out of sight, out of mind” is a phrase that continues to get a fair amount of usage.

That said, it’s not like I haven’t been busy. I’ve been fielding photography requests left and right. This is good. I’ve been doing work that makes me feel happy with my efforts but moreso for the many children I get to interact with and (hopefully) make a difference in their lives on a daily basis. When I’m not doing that, I explore this new place with my camera.

So, here is some of that exploration, as it gives me a bit of life.

stopping for chicken on a foggy evening

stopping for chicken on a foggy evening

kitten black and white dog family

A kitten takes in a dog and a man

Workers return from the coffee fields

Workers return from the coffee fields

dog street lights night

It’s a dog’s life

On the other side of that coin, though, I need to elaborate on my earlier post today. It appears, that two days after I wrote a post extolling the virtues of Frightened Rabbit and how their music helped me survive the last time I was thisclose, the man behind it all (most likely) took his own life.

Having this happen (once again) for a (different) person that I thought had it figured out is making it more difficult for me to continue “recovery” apace. In all honesty, there are conclusions I’ve reached and thoughts that are embedded that even the beauty above can’t undo.

It sucks. But it’s my reality. No one else has to live it but me so…. yeah. Anyway, at my lowest of lows, when I’m drunk and drugged beyond words, sometimes I will put this song on to convince myself that I will, indeed, save suicide for another year.

RIP Scott.

A dream journal

I had another dream about you last night and I want to jot it down before I forget it. A lot went on and I know I wish I had been able to sleep longer to stay in that dream world but I’m anxious to get the larger bits down so…. here.

In the dream I was with many of my/our WI friends in a hallway of some official building. It would certainly be easy to think it was the courthouse considering the current situation but I’ve tried to resist making anything definitive about it in my mind. You walked over to us where I stood facing the group who were leaning against the wall. We were having a quiet, seemingly somber discussion as you came up.

You gave them that semi-smirk/smile/shrug thing you do when you’re slightly embarrassed or admitting that you’re in the wrong on something as you said, semi-brightly “Hey guys”. The words hung in the air for a minute and you went in to give hugs to people.

This part was rough: some declined while others gave a quick, half-hearted hug. Then you started to speak. You apologized saying you were sorry for how everything went down but you still weren’t speaking to me. I was just…. there. In the background. An awkward, long silence hung in the air.

Finally, I spoke. It was something to the effect of thanking you for your apology but it didn’t change what happened. Then one friend interrupted me, “wait”, she said. “They missed you. That’s the part that you don’t know.” I was briefly stunned.

That’s when you turned to me, looked down at the ground in that sheepish way you would sometimes do, very rarely but I remember it clearly, and spoke again. “Yeah… I missed you. I miss my Bill. Somewhere I lost my Bill.”

In recalling this moment from the dream I find myself leaning back from the keyboard and looking out the window, contemplating what happened next, but the thing is: I don’t know what action occurred after that besides also leaning back in the dream and pausing.

From somewhere there was music and I recognized your voice. It was a song about the split. As the song ended, it was my turn to stare at the floor. The friend spoke up again:

“There’s one more verse, Bill.”

You quickly jumped in and said that there was, indeed, more to the song. You paused, awkwardly bit your lower lip, then your thumbnail, shrugged, mumbled a “fuck it” and then began to sing the unrecorded verse a cappella.

“I lost my Bill/my will/and I don’t know where to go”… and then I woke up because it’s a new day here and I had get to work on it but in that and this moment, my heart wants to work on another project.

Idk… idk… idk. Sigh.

Musings for my muse

I find myself continually living in three different head spaces. I’m constantly under a barrage of what to do in any given moment. When things are still, in the present, I try to allow myself to simply exist in that stillness but then my mind wanders to thoughts of the past or the future.

For the past few days I’ve been thinking back on the “fight to end all fights” or the “shit show”, as you called it, and what I see now is that by, what for me was, simply correcting a fact in something we had previously discussed you assumed it was meant in a way that was attacking or presumptive about your thoughts. I tried to express this to you after the fact but your feet were already set, your armor on, the offense taken. I had become familiar with this trait of yours.

In the early days of our relationship I recalled a misunderstanding that we had that I felt required an urgent call home to you while I was on the road. At the end of that conversation I remember that we both agreed that it was great to finally have partners that we could talk things out with and correct misunderstandings. Somewhere along the line, though, we lost that ability.

This is part of why I will always be confused about how we wound up this way. Today, though, I found myself thinking back on when you really seemed to be fading away from me and us. It was before we got married. In the days leading up to and through your hospitalization I could see in your eyes a certain vacant, hollowness that hadn’t been there before, though I had heard it in your voice occasionally over the years in late night phone calls.

That emptiness, for lack of a better word, seemed to communicate so many things in our lengthening silences. Sometimes it was a simple “I don’t want to talk” or “I can’t communicate what I’m feeling in a way that you will understand” but, to me, it always carried with it a note of “please, don’t give up on me. I don’t know what’s wrong with me but please understand me. Please be careful with me.” At least, that was what I read in those deep eyes of yours that I so miss seeing every day, even when you felt bereft and exhausted.

You were still my light even as I became increasingly frustrated that our friendship wasn’t, in fact, carrying us through those tough times. But, in the end, you felt like I never really understood you. The fact is, that I did and I do. I just wanted to find a way out of the way that you were feeling, the emptiness that you occasionally found the words to describe for me.

Our ways out differed and we never found the space to actually talk about it. As friends. As partners, even if we were no longer going to be either.

I also find myself thinking about the future. Mine and what’s left of “ours”, adversarial as it has become. I don’t want what’s to come of this. I don’t just mean the divorce but everything that comes with it. That’s also a conversation that we never had. I’d still be open to it but cautious, of course. That’s how hurt people respond and we’ve both been hurt, by each other as well as by other people.

I don’t know how else to say it. I still love you. I still don’t really know what to do with that but for now I need to return to my present; the next lesson, the next class, the next step out the door as I put on my mask that says “I can do this” when inside I still feel anything but.

As for the future, who knows?

“You know what you are to me…”

On the back of my last post, I felt like I should mention artist number 2: Owen aka Matt Kinsella out of Chicago. On a misty night in Madison I went to see a show of his in, essentially, a basement venue on the UW campus. I’m not sure it ever really got resurrected after a big redesign and renovation of the student union building but as it was, I stumbled upon the info about this show. I don’t even remotely remember how. At the time, much like now, I was in a phase of full-on depression and alcoholism.

Wisconsin was not the place to go if I had planned to stay sober in this period but, as the famous Vonnegut refrain says, “so it goes…”

Anyway, I found myself enlivened by the sardonic, sarcastic, and downbeat wit of Kineslla whom I was familiar with from some of his previous projects. His solo acoustic (mainly) project featured amazing guitar playing that, as a “musician”, I appreciated even more beyond the connection I felt at that time with his lyrics.

As I battle through this latest phase of massive depression and alcoholism I found myself returning to this music. One song, in particular, I strongly felt connected with my situation with that ex was “Bird in Hand” partly because the relationship I had left for this other person was one that I entered into fully intending to, one day, marry them. Looking back, this was beyond naive.

However, now that it happened with “the one” (or more appropriately “the final one”) I find this song in a new context and yet what I felt and believed about myself when I sang along with this the first time applies even more now than it did then. If anything, I wish we could redo that moment clearer in who we are, what we want, and what we need. I would give anything to put that “suit” back on…

Instead, I think, we are both worse off and, basically, alcoholics trying to “live”.

To wit…

whiskey and me

whiskey and me

whiskey and me

whiskey and me

These photos were taken, roughly, fifteen minutes apart. Que sera, sera.