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Category Archives: Music

New Music & New Art

For a little while I’ve focused on visual art and gallery exhibitions. However, I’ve also been kicking around some melodies and lyrics in my spare time. I was recently inspired to begin recording some quick demos of my ideas.  Before I knew it I had twenty three songs! I will release them in the coming months and years.  I invite you to consider my work as a visual artist and as a recording artist as separate but related pursuits.

As for visual art, this summer I will have a piece in a museum in Korea and do a mini-mural art residency in Chattanooga, TN. In the fall I will exhibit two new works in two shows–one at the Pacific Northwest College of Art and one here in Pullman at Washington State University.

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Intellectual Property in the Age of Performative Images

The possibility of socialism, the efficacy and ethics of global capitalism, the 99%–there is a lot of talk about economics and income inequality in the news. However, few of these conversations put contemporary economics into a technological context as forcefully as Jaron Lanier’s 2013 book Who Owns The Future does.  In considering why this is the case, I am reminded of this quote by economist John Maynard Keynes:

“Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”

Globally, we are heirs to ideas from Karl Marx, the French Revolutionists, American Revolutionists, and Keynes himself and others.  The focus of most books about economics is thus the Nation-State, and economic relations between nation states.  However, our economic woes, Lanier contends, cannot be solved with old-world economics (if the last few years are any indication, even economists no longer understand the economy).  The mechanisms that have arisen with the internet have and will continue to fail to adequately reward citizens for their labor and contributions to this new society, defunct being the key word in the quote above.  Jaron Lanier has silicon valley street-cred as the inventor of virtual reality.  His book inspired several others and continues to steer the conversation.

Lanier’s sometimes rambling but often brilliant writing is essentially a tirade against what he describes as “Siren Servers”, large internet corporations like Google, Instagram and Uber that shrink and ultimately kill (“disrupt”) old economies.  Capitalism online has had a large hand in hollowing out the middle class from certain industries, exasperating income inequality.

To use one of Lanier’s examples, Kodak once employed 140,000 individuals and was worth 128 billion. By contrast, Instagram employed 12 people when it was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012. Yet photographic images remain every bit as important to our daily lives, perhaps even more central than they were. The music industry too, once employed producers, recording engineers, CD manufacturers, truck drivers hauling CD’s, record stores, etc. that’s not even to mention musicians. Now, the main players like Spotify have business models centered not on the production of music as a commodity, but on algorithms that track and record your musical interests. Music has been devalued while the value that comes with being algorithmically tracked has increased. As with photography, music remains important, yet our continued enjoyment of music no longer serves the middle class nor music producers or consumers. The main beneficiaries of these two “industries” now are the heads of large international corporations–the people with the most expensive and effective servers. What industries are next?

This trend will continue as social media platforms and siren servers dominate and decimate older industries, replacing labor forces with computers, servers and algorithms.  No amount of getting the money out of politics or regulating wall street (although that would help) will make American great again nor solve the issue that our old laws and ideas about labor are not equipped to handle ephemeral, infinitely replicated commodities of the information age, nor the value that comes with being algorithmically tracked.  Taking a critical look at how the current infrastructures of digital technologies might better serve a middle class economy requires some intensely imaginative thinking: Jaron Lanier and others have suggested that individuals simply get paid to create the content they are already creating.

Who Owns the Future - Jaron Lanier

Who Owns the Future – Jaron Lanier

Lanier’s ideas are overarching and cover any kind of content including a humble blog post like this one.  This post, for example, has taken time and energy–labor.  If this post is shared on Facebook, surely it will be read and shared more than it will be on my site.  Yet, Facebook stands to benefit more than I will by turning the reader’s eyes into the commodity.  This is the catch 22 that plagues modern producers of digital content.  In this landscape, content and labor are continually devalued while the gatekeepers (those with the Siren Servers) and not the producers ultimately benefit.

As a recording artist and visual artist, these concerns hit close to home.  Like Lanier, I had limited success in the music industry before it was torn apart (or self-destructed, depending on your perspective) by the internet and other forces.  Working in a mostly functioning industry that centered around the production of creative works provided me a first-hand look at how intellectual property laws can work to protect and serve creators.  This is an experience that few producers of content enjoy today.  Most artists and musicians I know know little, if anything, about intellectual property.  How is it that intellectual property laws are completely arcane to today’s most prolific creators of intellectual property?  This is simply because these laws no long protect the vast majority of creative individuals.  As creative works become easier and easier to produce while economies are engulfed by siren servers, those hurt the most are individuals who have dedicated their lives to the production of creative works.

Intellectual Property laws were written in an age where property and labor were physical.  While industrial revolution began to shift this paradigm, the internet has made these laws ineffective and often irrelevant.  Today, while creative works remain intrinsically valuable, from an economic standpoint the value is now in the transmission of content and the recording not of the song or image but of the actions of consumers.  Contemporary art thinkers have long predicted this shift in psychology and critical evaluation with the term relational aesthetics.  Now our technology has caught up.

It is true that digital images, like the physical prints that prefigured them, are protected by copyright law.  An internet user is not legally permitted to take photos from someone else’s site and claim ownership, post them, sell prints, etc.  In a system based on labor and physical goods, in order to steal a photograph, Jimmy would have had to walk into Jill’s house when she was not home and physically remove the print from her darkroom.  Today, Jimmy can visit, right click save as and “own” the digital photo.  Jimmy may chose to present the photo on his own site as his own, sell prints of the photo, or extract value out of it in some other way.  That is “piracy” at its most benign.  But who is responsible to flag Jimmy’s illegal usage in order to challenge or fine him?  Is it Jill’s responsibility to continually search all billion pages of the internet to see if someone is using her image?

Unlike the current music industry or the image industry, the pre-Napster music industry, despite payola, bloated contracts, was a functioning economy.  Songwriters doing the creative work of songwriting were paid every time a songs reached the ears of consumers.  Physical labor and intellectual labor were rewarded.  Within the music industry, there are performance rights groups that collect royalties for usages of music and pay those royalties to the owners and producers of content.  In retrospect, the music industry seems like a miraculous moment of societal intellectual property protection, making distinctions between different kinds of music uses and rights like mechanical royalties, performance royalties, etc.

Images today are performative in a musical sense.  An image shows up on a screen and then it’s gone.  Another image shows up.  Images operate temporally.  Images are no longer static pictures hanging on a wall, nor even magazine spreads that may require a moment of your time.  But unlike music performance rights groups like ASCAP and BMI, there are no viable image performing rights services that track the use or “performance” of images.  The reasons for this will become clear.

Images, because they were historically understood as paintings or prints on 2D surface (although now they effectively operate in the realm of 4D) were never thought to be worthy of performative protections.  Because the performative value of images is not recognized by copyright law, there is no revenue stream of royalties.  Because there is no revenue stream, no individual or company is motivated to create a service to track the performance of images. Artists and philosophers foresaw the coming ubiquity of images, but no one fought to set up systems of economic protection.  Conversely, because artists and philosophers are generally anticapitalist, and internet culture was initially a counterculture that actively sought ways to subvert or “disrupt” old systems and avoid paying people and corporations for things, the result is now that artists and non-artists alike must waive all of their intellectual property rights in order to be able to use online services at all. That’s not really free, is it?  (I can think of only one other economic system where individuals continually work for free for the benefit of those in power because they believe–rightly or wrongly–that they have no choice).

Glyph - digital print on fabric -

What’s an image anyway?  Glyph – digital print on fabric –

Let’s check in again with Jimmy.  Knowing Jill is a light sleeper, Jimmy decides not to rob her of her photos afterall.  Instead, cognizant of Jill’s innate human desire to share her creativity with the world at large, he offers her a deal: he will post her photos all over town, for free, as promotion.  Local businesses notice that customers are attracted to Jill’s compelling images, and begin paying Jimmy a small amount for beautifying their properties.  While visiting these businesses, surely, customers will notice Jill’s beautiful photos and be inclined to contact her for photographic services.  While many do indeed notice and appreciate (and even like!) her photos, Jill sadly does not receive even one phone call for photographic services, despite years of training and clear facility.  If this sounds like Instagram or Facebook, “image industries” you are right.  The difference between Jimmy’s Image Industry and say, components of the music industry like terrestrial radio or record stores is that the new image industry distribution companies do not pay producers of images.  Rather, in order to use Facebook, Google, or even an Apple computer users must accept lengthy contracts that strip away their rights and, unlike the music industry where content creators would receive advances in exchange for usage, are paid nothing for it. (Youtube has finally started to pay some royalties).

An information economy is not an economy of property or labor but of quantifiable, ethereal, media of numbers.  This understanding of labor and property has no precedent.  Silicon valley entrepreneurs have been able to capitalize on the system’s novelty while consumers and artists continue to embrace abstract ideas of sharing, open and free without stopping to think critically about what those words mean in this new context.  Content is the new religion, the new electricity, giving life and interest to all moments of daily life.  But unlike electricity, the line between producer and consumer has been blurred.
Who Owns the Future?  In short, it’s not those creating it.

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lexington demos reconsidered, new July For Kings album update

So oddly enough, my experience with blogging over the last ten years has landed me a teaching assistantship for a “Professional Practices for Artists” class at the Department of Art Architecture and Planning at the University of Cincinnati, where I am currently enrolled in a graduate program working on an mfa (master of fine arts) I guess this means I should set a good example and blog more often!

I hope you are having a great new year. i am sitting here listening to music and eating a Reese’s cup.  My cat is with me, not coincidentally pictured here on the cover of this album:

I  listened to my sort-of-album “Lexington Demos” the other day for the first time in years. this was a limited release with an intentionally DIY aesthetic (100 signed CD-R’s) to suit the low-fi home recordings. i think there are still a few decent songs so i have made the album available as high quality (wav!) downloads on this website here. I also added a bonus track–a demo of a song i recorded about that time called “Fog”. if you bought the mp3’s before but want to upgrade to wavs, e-mail me and i’ll send you a coupon.

this was just one of those days where i go back and listen to my previous work, including songs that have not been completed or released, to determine what i might want to mine for ideas.  it seems that i always have more ideas and more songs than i have time to actually record.  this is a shame.  perhaps i can catch up at some point.

speaking of time and catching up, i have been in the studio with July For Kings as much as i can, working a the guitar-oriented rock album that will melt your face off.  but my time has been split between art-making, grad school, website-making, and writing/brain storming for solo material as well.  when i think abstractly about all the things that i do (and enjoy doing) it seems like i am reaching too far and trying to do too much.  but on a daily basis, believe it or not, i find plenty of time to relax, read books, watch movies, hang out with friends, et cetera. my girlfriend and i are watching the television series Lost and we are on the fifth season.  do not tell me how it ends or i’ll kill you.

things are going pretty well with the as of yet untitled July For Kings record.  we have ten songs in various stages of completion, all without final lead vocals.  i have some other songs i am kicking around but we have decided to do things in two phases.  first we will finish up (or mostly finish up) the ten songs we are doing now.  then we will go into another studio and do three more or so and possibly cut one or two.  this way we will all be fresh and excited for the other tracks.  nearly every album i have created, there are always a few good songs that come out toward the end of the process.

in the studio while getting guitar tones and thinking about production we have talked a lot about July For Kings’ debut, the SWIM album.  while the SWIM album was not much of a commercial success, it had a dramatic impact on my life and on the lives of a lot of other people as well.  it put me in touch with friends and fans all over the world.  after losing the record deal, in a lot of ways i just did not have the strength to carry forward the kind of bold aesthetic that we had crafted on that record.  i did not feel that way anymore, that sure about anything.  plus, i was stubborn and took pains to avoid being pigeonholed creatively by doing the opposite of what i knew people expected me to do.  since then, i am far less uptight about trying win over every single person with every single creative effort.  i am confident about my abilities to the point that i no longer feel like i have to prove anything to anyone.  i can just make stuff.

i don’t really regret any of this.  diversifying my identity has allowed me to approach albums and individual projects in a more relaxed manner, allowing more consideration for specific audience.  writing for this record, i was finally ready to re-approach July For Kings for what it was and what it should always be–a band unabashedly making powerful, emotional heavy guitar rock music.  i realize that is a big set up for those of you who loved that album so much.  whether or not it falls short of this goal, we are up for the challenge, and we are having a good time making it.

some tracks include:

  1. Orchid
  2. Kite
  3. Song 3
  4. Feather of Maat
  5. Haunted
  6. Hole in the Universe
  7. Island
  8. Climb
  9. Middletown
  10. Tarantula

i have some other things we are kicking around, but looking over this list, it’s pretty solid collection of songs.  almost all of them i wrote in the last year or so, so i think it’s going to have a cohesiveness that will be really nice.    it’s just going to be a lot of pressure in me in the studio to get the vocals right!   i am just starting to feel that now.

completing this album and doing it right is one of my new year’s resolutions.  or maybe it only counts as a goal?  can a resolution be a goal?  i hope your year is a fantastic one.

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Cincinnati Entertainment Award Nominee 2011

Cincinnati Entertainment Award - CEA logoI have been nominated for a Cincinnati Entertainment Award in the category of best singer-songwriter! This is a powerhouse list of artists; I am super-psyched to be included.

Daniel Martin Moore
Kim Taylor
Dusty Bryant
Jason Ludwig
Josh Eagle
Joe Hedges

Would you mind taking a minute to vote for me?  Read the article about the CEA’s, including a list of categories and nominees here, or skip to the voting survey here.  The deadline for voting is Friday, November 11 at noon.  The award ceremony is Sunday, Nov. 20 at the Madison Theatre in Covington, Kentucky.  Thanks!

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The Joy of Trickery (This Is Not A Pipe)

In Newport, Kentucky just on the other side of the river from Cincinnati, Ohio sits a huge old mansion on a hill called the Southgate House.  When Abraham Lincoln visited the house it must have overlooked the beautiful Ohio river where you could watch the striped swimsuit bathers on the river beaches in the summers.  Now, The Southgate House overlooks Newport on the Levy, an enormous new development that is an indoor and outdoor mall flanked by fake Italian restaurants with freshly painted beige walls.  But inside the Southgate House history is everywhere; you can feel the ghosts in the cracked walls and see the aged framed portraits of mustachioed dead guys.  The word “House” is kind of misleading, as the structure underwent a massive extension to the back side at some point so that it now includes a massive ballroom.  The two-tiered room has red curtains and a speakeasy vibe, which seems appropriate when you learn that Frank Sinatra once performed on the stage where we would perform on December 17th, 2010.

To celebrate the release of my solo album Alchemy, i invited Chris Oberle, a Cincinnati area illusionist and conveniently a big July For Kings fan, to open the show.  My album Alchemy contains the word “magic” 50* times, so it seemed fitting that we would have a magician open for us.  * i just made that number up.

i had only communicated with Chris online.  Chris told me he had created his own tricks (sold by and crossed paths with David Blaine a few times.  Oberle seemed pretty legit so invited him to perform with us.  In the weeks before the event, Chris and i began hanging out and i got to see some amazing close-up magic.  in the first few minutes, i was a bit skeptical, as that is the natural human disposition toward magicians.  as Chris continued to perform i became a believer.  what is amazing is not only the quickness and thoroughness of his illusions but the sheer amount of tricks he can improvise with complete mastery.  cards move around, rings disappear, minds are read–and blown.  now i was feeling quite satisfied, having wrangled a real magician into performing with us at a mysterious, enormous and allegedly haunted house to celebrate the release of my dark new album.  naturally, i asked Chris the question i had been waiting my whole life to ask a magician: “can you make me disappear?”

flash forward to the evening of our Southgate House show, December 17.  by now i hope you know where this is going.  Chris performs a good opening set of illusions assisted by another magician Jason Jacobs, my friend and fellow singer/songwriter Samuel Lockridge plays an incredibly moving selection of original songs, and we are playing our set, which goes reasonably well.  I am performing with JFK members who had graciously agreed to learn and perform songs from my two solo albums Curvature and Alchemy.  Occasionally we are joined onstage by Chris as we attempt to weave some illusions into the music portion of the evening.  we closed the show with a song called “Magic”, the first track on Alchemy.  At the end of the song, there is a long dark instrumental section, which we extended for this show.  For the grand finale, Brian our bassist and John our guitarist leave the stage as my long-time drummer Dan McQuinn emerges from behind the drum set and begins wrapping me in a shiny purple cloth. This is the moment of truth.

at soundcheck, just a few hours before the moment of truth, we botched the illusion completely.

in the same way a rock band learns songs and practices them relentlessly until they are correct, Chris, Dan, and I rehearsed the illusion in the weeks leading up to the event until it felt right.  At first, we were instructed by a veteran Cincinnati area magician and escape artist, Phil Dalton, who Chris brought in to teach us the basics and give us pointers.  Once the trick began to shape up, we performed for John and Brian as they pointed out small mistakes until the illusion looked like real magic.  what i learned about stage and close-up illusions in the course of the few weeks during my pseudo-magician internship with Chris, is that there are few “magic” props that eliminate the need for human skill.  each trick requires a particular combination of timing, dexterity, and patience in different dosages.

all of that rehearsing seemed for naught when, with John and Brian watching again as the only two members of our audience, our sole attempt at the trick during sound-check at the Southgate House looked like an absolute joke.  we left the stage dejected.  the doors of the venue were opening and people began filing in so there was no time for another run-through.  John and Brian began expressing doubts that we should even attempt the stunt in front of a large crowd–it could be the most embarrassing, awkward ending to a concert ever.  but after a month of preparation, i decide we will take our chances and attempt to fulfill my dream of disappearing onstage, a dream that took hold when i was eleven as i watched David Copperfield perform live at a theater in Cincinnati with my father.

Where were we?  At the end of our last song “Magic”, Dan wraps me in a shiny purple cloth.  The audience is confused.  In literally a matter of seconds, the cloth drops to reveal not me but magician Chris Oberle standing on stage in my place, who points a finger and directs the audience to look up at me–standing in the balcony behind them!  a group of people standing in the balcony is completely oblivious until the moment of my appearance a mere five feet beside them.  they spin around and gasp saying “he is quick!” as the room fills with applause and the house lights come on.

“how is it done?” you might ask.  well, there are a lot of ways one might disappear and reappear or switch places with a magician: trap doors, body doubles, underground tunnels–we used none of these, honestly.  it was magic!  if i was talking about a song, i would tell you exactly how it was created, and that would enrich your experience.  this is not the case with magic tricks.

it is no coincidence that david blaine and chris angel and a host of other illusionists have enjoyed greater popularity in recent years.  we live in a paranoid society where missing the “real” truth could mean voting for the lying candidate, drinking from the water bottle that leeches toxic chemicals, or believing in a god that does not exist.  we no longer trust our government, our corporations, or our religious institutions.  And maybe we never did?  but access to a deluge of conflicting and vitriolic information has rendered us almost incapable of trust, and more vocal about our lack of faith.  ideology colors everything.  and as we slowly begin to realize that our ideologies are ephemeral and socially constructed, we cling ever more tightly to our precepts, lest they lose all of their fundamental power.

ironically, a magic trick gives us something to believe in.  we know it isn’t real, but as we are thrust into the moment, that suspension of disbelief is genuine refuge from the misery of postmodern paranoia.  and the real kicker is that the only consequence of being so completely fooled is pure joy–a net positive instead of a negative.

during my one-minute career as a performing illusionist i felt the rush that comes with breaking laws and rules, with doing something bad for the sake of being bad.  but we weren’t robbing a bank.  we were using lies and deception to bring joy into our own lives and into the lives of the audience.  as the supposedly magic purple cloth first touched my body, the timing was perfect.  it just felt right.  i knew we had nailed it.

but magicians are not the only weavers of illusion.  every act of creation is at once a truth and a lie.  every artist–including painters, songwriters, movie directors, poets, and so on–is a magician, an alchemist.  we take from reality and reconstruct a world that does not truly exist, a world that is a mere reflection, a lie of the “real” world.  we are thieves and liars of the best sort.  here is to the tricksters, to the craftsmen of ruses, to every act of amiable social deviance!  Thanks to Chris, my band, and everyone who came to the show and continues to support my music.

now you see me, now you don’t!

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college degrees, brand-building, justifications, cereals

Holy crap I have a new website! And a place to blog again. I hope you are well. It has been a long while since I have written. Let’s catch up!

I have graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Studio Arts with an Emphasis in Painting. I have been accepted into the graduate program at the University of Cincinnati to pursue a Masters of Fine Art. That begins in the fall.

With some extra time on my hands the last few months I created this website for my solo music, and a website for my visual art. I am working on a new jfk site as well.  My old website became outdated both in terms of content and web accessibility. In the process of creating the new site I went back and dug out some extremely old blogs (from before the word blog existed, as i like to say) from the early July For Kings days.  Unfortunately I lost some photos for some posts in 2005 and 2006. But all the text is intact. If you are long-time fan (or former band member, for that matter) it is entertaining reading. Some of the writing is rather bland but it does at the very least, say what happened. Which at the time was all an “online journal” was supposed to do. I guess now a blog is supposed to be interesting. Ha!  i have created a category called Favorites for entries that were intentionally or accidentally interesting to read.

We played a July For Kings show in Dayton, OH at McGuffy’s last week with Smalltown Sleeper that confirmed our deepest suspicions–we still have fans!  and lots of them!  we were overjoyed by the turnout and really encouraged.  it had been a while since we had played with JFK (and longer since we had promoted much).  the timing is perfect as well, since I have written a more guitar-oriented, driving July for Kings album. I have demos that I am really excited about and continue to record but no, sorry, you cannot hear them as i am singing in a half-assed falsetto so as not to disturb my neighbors.  We will begin recording the masters in the next few weeks, and i will do some real singing and possibly even some throat-ripping screaming, which i have not done on an album in a very long while. I will write more about that as it unfolds. It is still early–we are expecting at least four or five months until you can hear anything–but I am excited about doing something more rocking, coming off my solo album Alchemy.  Alchemy was well-received but probably would not be described as hard rocking.  increasingly, jfk and my solo adventures are different entities, and that is very fun for me since i must constantly create, and i can’t make the same kind of pie every day because i may have adhd or add or aaaaaahhhh i want a gourmet ice cream sandwich!  wowow okay.

also, i have found that there is little tolerance for variety when it comes to artists.  we have come to see creators like companies.  artists build brands the same way corporations do, and don’t stray from their brand much (see shepherd fairey).  if you are a rock band, you have a stylistic thing and do it over and over.  if you are a visual artist, you make the same kind of painting over and over.  there are some exceptions to the rule (Picasso, Radiohead), but many times the people who have gotten away with this have done so because their entire schtick has been eclecticism.  since i am no radiohead or picasso, it is easiest to divide my life into different categories or brands, which has been a good way to direct my energy.  right now it is Alt-Rock Frontman, Prog-Electro-Folk Singer-Songwriter, and painter.  any pursuit i get into is going to have its own set of rules, so it is easiest to kind of keep those lines drawn.  i am not sure why i started writing this.  i guess i spend a lot of time justifying myself, which is what happens when you go to art school.  see how i just justified the reason i was justifying myself?!  after i get my masters degree, i probably won’t be able to think or create at all!  i will be in a paralyzing coma that alternates between self-doubt, self-justification, and fear.  i hope though, that i will have Mom’s Best Naturals Mallow-Oats cereal, my favorite new cereal.

Speaking of cereal, I only have one really great story since the last time I wrote a blog, and it has nothing to do with cereal.  the story takes place at the Alchemy full-band show in the historic ballroom at the Southgate House.  I will post it after this.  it seems that life is just not as interesting as it was when i was trekking all over europe during the summer.  but it would be a shame to exclude this one story, even if the telling is belated, as it contains suspense, American history, deception, philosophy and more.  all of that wrapped up in less than sixty seconds of my life.  yes, really!  the sixty seconds i was a magician.

That is the update for now.  xoxox

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on the eve of my thirtieth birthday

perhaps, in a world of fortune tellers or time travelers, age would be measured not by the distance one is from birth but by their proximity to death. and maybe i would be much older or surprisingly younger, if tomorrow afternoon i am crushed by a satellite that has fallen out of orbit. or maybe there is a formula for measuring age that could be instituted based on temperament, physical appearance (including size and quantity of face wrinkles and dead hair follicles), wisdom, knowledge, worldly success, amount of children, tendency to say “like”, tendency to text during dinner, tendency to use the number and letter 401K or at least have heard of that combination of numbers and one letter, the frequency of waning rock concert attendances, or any other number of measurable variables that are outward sociological indicators of age. without such a formula, our numerical ages and the stigmas that come with them are as arbitrary as the calendar that we live by created by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. he was 80 years old.

but i guess if 30 was not a milestone, then i would not write about it. perhaps, i imagine myself doing a very small part to dispel the myth that you cannot be musically or artistically creative at 30 (as a side note if i still had managers and a record label, they would probably ask me not to post this). frankly, i think many “adult” artists are better equipped to communicate with a larger portion of the populace than artists like justin bieber or miley cirus. the reason more and more young people dominate the buying population is that less and less music that is pushed on radio is intelligent enough to be appealing to people over the age of twelve. it is cyclical. in 1985 Phil Collins won album of the year for No Jacket Required. This year? Taylor Swift. you just cannot have a receding hairline and a number one album anymore. i don’t know if that is a bad thing necessarily… but it’s something to think about.

i know that i have been around the sun about thirty times. just a speck or smaller than a speck on a speck on a big watery rock. i do like going around the sun. a few weeks ago the earth passed through the trail of a comet known as Swift-Tuttle. every year this happens and creates great show of shooting stars known as the “perseids” as rocky pieces of the comet burn up in our atmosphere. this is the most reliable of meteor showers and i am among the most reliable of audience members, having watched it almost every year since i was a kid, or at least every year that earth weather offered me a clear view of space. meteor showers are the only times that i think about the fact that the earth is careening through a vacuum of nothing and dust at 66,660 miles an hour. how is it that i am aboard this ship, or that it goes around this particular star, or that i first came into existence on this day, labor day, september 6th 1980? in answering this question i must believe that i am at once the least and most significant thing ever.

a speck is a speck. but for each speck on the planet, a near infinite array of atoms have collided in a precise order so that our tongue cells have traveled from a distant star and been rearranged a near infinite amount of times to form our flesh so that we might taste ice cream. some stroke of fate caused my mother and father to fall in love. someone at a condom factory overestimated the strength of the particular blend of condom latex that broke some winter evening some nine months before i dropped through the curtain of existence and screamed my first healthy scream. almost simultaneously in hospitals all over the tri-state and beyond my friends and future lovers were being born.

i don’t know for sure that there is an “i” that really exists. that there is a “self” that is not just a network of synapses that have been arranged in such a way as to believe that they exist apart from the whole of the swirling, blending, changing motion of the cosmos. but i know existence itself is real. here is to that wondrous truth.

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i am in america looking out an airplane window at what must be a great lake. there is no horizon. the faded blue of the lake comes up into a band of white hazy clouds and becomes sky somewhere. this will be the last time i write from a plane, trian, or boat for a long while. i have been in five countries in two months. i have seen some of the greatest cathedrals and monuments and museums in the world and i am convinced i have met some of the nicest people on earth too. and i have done all this for little–not much more than my usual cost of living at home, assisted by a small art scholarship and a handful of hospitable friends and fans who graciously let me into their homes and sheltered me and fed me and escorted me around in exchange for me singing my simple american songs. for a month i have been a kind of traveling minstrel, and i have been fortunate to find small audiences and even more fortunate to now consider them close friends. my world has gotten smaller and larger at once. i see myself as more american than i ever, but more than that i have thought about the common humanity of other cultures and the things that transcend country lines, things like music, art, food, family, and friends.

in paris i stayed in a cheap but decent hotel in montmartre, an area of town which is famous in part for the moulin rouge and the behemian culture of artists it helped to inspire. artists as varied as Talousse Latrec, Salvador Dalí, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh all lived or worked in montmartre at some point. the clubs in montmartre are some of the seediest in the world, and the area remains as unpredictable and dangerous as it must have been for talousse latrec in 1900. pigalles and the boulevard de clichy strip is a far cry from the cleanliness and cheeriness of the red light district in amsterdam. the moulin rouge, however, now attracts large groups of tourists to its nightly shows and to its brightly lit red exterior where americans pose for photographs and think of nicole kidman.

my first day in paris i went straight from the train station to the hotel and then to the louvre. at the louvre i only had a few hours so i went directly to the mona lisa first. the image is so well known to me that i spotted it from within another large room when it was just the size of an ant. there, masses of asian people swarmed around pushing and shoving with cameras trying to get a photo of themselves in front of the painting. i stood there for probably five or ten minutes, longer than anyone else in that time period. i am not sure anyone was really looking at it but only looking at the idea of the mona lisa–the most famous painting in the world. i have never seen anything like it. it was as if brad pitt had just stepped out of a limo. never had mona lisa’s knowing smile seemed so hilariously perfect to me, as if saying “can you believe this?” i almost wonder if davinci anticipated this kind of scene, or if the response was similar in the quattrocento. slowly i worked my way to the front and center and became the silent motionless eye of a tornado of ridiculous excitement. and there i decided: yes. it is one of the very best, a perfect painting. the right kind of atmosphere, mystery, beauty. despite becoming a cliche and a tourist trap, the mona lisa remains a timeless masterpiece. and even if it’s only in that one corner of france, somewhere for some reason people still get very excited about colored pigment on a flat surface. that makes me smile too.

that night i had paris by night tour and a drink and an open faced french sandwich with my first ever french friend benjamin (who shares my exact birthday) and his wife. they drove me around to show me monuments and important buildings, a tour which would have been impossible in one day on foot. i was still tired from my trip from lyon so that night in montmartre i slept like a baby from babyville despite the sounds of young artists drinking and laughing drifting through my open window into the late hours.

yesterday, tuesday, was my very last day in europe. i went to the Musée d’Orsay, perhaps the second most famous museum in the world after the louvre. the orsay was at one time the most modern train station in paris, now it is home to many of the best works ever from the impressionists and post-impressionists. there i saw monet, manet, corbet, and many other artists whose names end with et but are pronounced ay. most of the artists at the orsay walked the line between tradition and modernity. i think that is the job of every artist.

what would you do, if you had just one more night in europe after a two month adventure? i took a cab to the eifel tower to get there fast enough to catch the sunset. i walked on the lawn weaving through young and old bodies kicking soccer balls and drinking wine on blankets. i found a patch in the grass with a good view and bought a bottle of cold champagne from a vendor. i watched the sky turn from blue to pink to dark blue to black and the tower turn from orange to night and the lights come on. i made an effort to reflect on everywhere i had been and all the things i had done. my thoughts turned to home. after sitting around by myself for a couple hours i finally had the guts to approach a young guy sitting by himself with a backpack. i assumed he was a solo traveler like me.

“do you speak english?” i asked
“yes” he said with an accent i could not place.
“do you want a glass of champagne? i had to buy a whole bottle but i won’t drink it all.”
“sure!” he said with genuine enthusiasm, so i sat down.
“this is going to be the last conversation i have in europe,” i told him and we talked for an hour or so. i would learn that he was from quebec, canada, and spoke a form of french that could not be understood by french people living in france. it was his very first night of a european adventure. he had just found his way from the airport.
“i saw the eifel tower so i thought that would be a good place to start!” like me when i arrived, he had no return plane ticket, and only a rough idea of what he wanted to see. so with unspoken poetry, i passed the torch. the eifel tower, i thought, is a good place to end.

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Frogs in France

i am on a train cutting a path through the beautiful french countryside going faster and faster. today i am traveling from a village outside of lyon, france to paris. it is a high speed train and now the meaning of high speed is becoming clearer as it shakes like a space shuttle. this is an odd way to travel through such a slow moving landscape. the country rolls and sways in patches of sunny green and yellow with gentleness. the word beautiful does not do it justice. perhaps the the french words for beautiful, belle and beaux are so short because there are so many things in france that need to be described this way.

when i arrived in lyon i was greeted by Jérémy, a longtime supporter of mine and a big american music fan. if not for his thick french accent i could have taken him for an ohioan–he wears cut-off tee-shirts, sunglasses and sandals and walks with the casualness and unhurriedness of someone who lives in the country. he is average height and about my age. from the airport we drove to lyon, the second largest city in paris although maybe you haven’t heard of it and i really hadn’t either.

we took a funiculare (that is the italian word but i cannot remember the french word) to the top of a mountain and looked out at lyon from the foot of a the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, a castle-like cathedral that can be seen from anywhere in the city. lyon (pronounced kind of like lee-own) is sprawling and not very tall, the way most old european cities are. it has one or two or three skyscrapers and a river snaking through many clay roofed buildings looking like tan and red-orange legos dropped onto a green shag carpet fading into the hills in the hazy distance. french cities and villages look a lot like italian cities and villages and when i noticed this Jérémy reminded me that italy is not far–they are both southern europe. the language and culture however, could not be more different. in europe you can travel less than an hour and find that everyone speaks a different language and eats different food and even in the same country they greet each other with a different amount of kisses and in a different order from left to right. in america, i told Jérémy, “you can drive for 20 hours and see the same stores, meet the same kind of people, and speak exactly the same language.”

we found our way to the art museum in downtown lyon kind of by accident. Jérémy had never been to the art museum and didn’t know where it was. i just assumed as we were walking that there would be an art museum and it would be a good one since we were in a large french city after all, and the french impressionists and post-impressionists had made arguable the most important contributions to painting ever. sure enough, in the most historic area of town we found it. unfortunately the beautiful old stone building did not have air conditioning, or the air conditioning was out of order. on one hour of sleep (as i had played a late acoustic show in london the previous night), the heat was quite uncomfortable. but i was in france dammit, and i was determined to see some great paintings. we wandered through room after room and made our best conversation considering Jérémy has only some interest in art and my tiredness made it difficult to communicate anything with enthusiasm.
“i will sleep when i get to america,” i told him when he realized how short the previous night must have been. between blinks of sweaty tired eyelids i saw some monets and pissaros and vuilliards and bonnards and other artists that i know a little more about than a lot of french people. i thought about trying to make a list of all the art museums i have been to in the last two months and realized what a daunting task this will be.

so i can name some french artists and what their main contributions to painting were. that is the only thing that prevents me from feeling completely ignorant in the company of french people.
“do you know our president?” Jérémy asked me and i responded “no” with a little embarrassment (it’s Nicolas Sarkozy, btw). but that is why people travel, right? to learn things? later that night his friends and family members would ask me questions like
“do you know our music?” or give me the name of some french singer or movie star who i could not place. france, we wikipediaed, is about the size of texas, although maybe the french know much more about texas than texans know about the french. i think that is a safe bet, if george w. was any indication. i told them that austin texas, is a current american center of progressiveness and that there area always exceptions to stereotypes. as as sidenote, the french have never heard of grey poupon.

these kind of conversations, not unlike the conversations i had in germany, holland, and england, were nearly constant for the next two days as we ate and drank and wandered around the beautiful old towns and villages of saint-clair-du-Rhône, Saint-Pierre-de-Boef, and Chavanay, described by the official website as a pleasant village at the foot of Mount Pilat. the Rhône river weaves through the area and is so blue-green it is like a ribbon strip of water cut directly from the fabric of the ocean.

Jérémy lives with his wife blondina (a local name) who is one of those people who glows warmly like a sun, and two beautiful daughters in a typical french house with stucco walls and the red-orange roof, a house they built themselves recently. sitting in the backyard you can see vineyard-covered mountains. every inch of available hillside in this area of france is covered with grapevines. over the weekend we would spend many hours in the backyard eating bread, cruissants, pork, frogs, snails, duck, more bread, patte, drinking local wines and watching the sun set behind the vineyards.

Jérémy’s friend jeff is the most french man i have ever met. maybe i am not qualified to make that kind of assessment as an american. but with the limited knowledge i acquired in three days i think it is true and i said so the other night and nobody at the table argued. jeff is pensive and stoic, with a knowing smile, very dark hair and a stubbly face. he is a jazz piano virtuoso and an amazing chef.
“everything jeff does, i do,” i said as jeff applied a large amount of homemade mayonnaise to his duck medallion and i did the same on my plate. i would follow his lead in matters of food and wine pairings throughout the weekend.

jeff’s father grows grapes and jeff worked on a nearby vineyard for three years when he was younger. the vineyards that cover the Rhône-Alpes area of france are planted on extremely steep mountainsides and hillsides that makes harvesting hard work, work that is more akin to mountain climbing–complete with a pack on your back of sticky bunches of grapes–than it is farming. it is hard to overestimate the importance of wine in french culture.

the weather is the greatest enemy of all farmers and winemakers are no exception. in some areas of france, upon the first signs of hail–which would utterly destroy a crop, authorities will launch missiles into the air to break up the ice balls. yes, missiles. i guess this is called cloud seeding and is used for various purposes in different parts of the world, but i cannot imagine a defensive military maneuver being a component of winemaking in the united states.

jeff’s father has thousands of bottles of homemade wine locked away in a cellar, bottles which would be illegal to sell on the french market since the vineyard is unlicensed.
“then what will you do with all of it?” i wondered.
“drink it. we are hoping that maybe we will inherit some of it,” jeff said. “when i was sixteen i learned about wine. i kicked the door open with my foot and stole some bottles. you can still see the…on the door. what’s the word?”
“footprint,” i said.

my acoustic guitar, which was lost in London by the airport, eventually found its way to Jérémy’s house. saturday evening i played a living room concert for Jérémy, his wife, jeffs wife nathalie and their daughter Charlotte, a wide-eyed fifteen year old who wears a lot of colors and is quickly learning english, and a handful of other friends. Jérémy plays the guitar and teaches guitar lessons, his wife blondina is an excellent singer and toured with a choir, and their friends are music teachers and pianists and clarinetists et cetera. i was a bit intimidated in a room full of musicians but i played well enough and everyone seemed to enjoy it. afterwards, they played some of their french and english songs for ME and we played some cover songs together.

“good bread, good cheese, good wine.” those are the perfect ingredients for a happy french person according to Jérémy. that combination made for one happy american too and last night my happiness was mixed with the knowing sadness of the impending end. Jérémy and company told me that maybe the french as a romantic people was just a stereotype. but that night with Jérémy and his loving family and friends with our stomachs full of the most amazing food and drinks, lying on our backs looking up at a clear warm sky translating words like milky way and satalites to french and english as we spotted shooting stars, i cannot think of a better word.

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tastes of england

i am sitting in a holding pen on a runway on lyon, france. i flew on the low cost express airline easyjet across the english channel from london. easy jet is not at all an easy way to travel although it is a jet, as far as i can tell. you can only bring up to 20 kilograms of luggage, it can cost over 100 euros to check bags, and they make you wait in line after line in the airport of departure and now on the runway where i have arrived. i’m in a white tent with other passengers; it is as if we have some disease and have been quarantined. i have never waited so long on a runway just to enter an airport and i’m now realizing the wait must be because of customs and i guess they are actually worried that we might have a disease. but i do not.

*** update the airports or airlines have lost my acoustic guitar. i was forced to check my guitar and it has not arrived from london to lyon. we shall see how this shakes out. but the day is a beautiful day and the sky is a perfect blue to white gradient, a vast improvement from dreary london.

i try not to stereotype. one stereotype i had hoped to disprove is that the british do not have good food. in every place i have visited i have made an effort to try the local cuisine and england is no exception.

on the front cover of the menu at wetherspoon pub, a successful chain of pubs perhaps equivalent to applebees in the states, was a beautiful photo of a dish called a Ploughman, which includes a Melton Mowbray pork pie, a special kind of pork pie which comes from a specific region of england. the picture on the menu is the classic restaurant food picture: the light is perfect and the depth of field is very narrow allowing the focus to be on the pie while the side dishes have a bit of atmospheric blur as if all the components are in some kind of dreamy food heaven beckoning you to taste. i was confident that the featured entree at one of the most popular restaurants in england would be delicious.

when it arrived it was cold, which is the traditional way to serve it. okay. but it tasted slightly like sausage, except with almost no flavor. i thought maybe sausages were just flavorful by nature, as they are in germany or the usa, but i guess there is a way to make pork into sausage while making sure no flavor accidentally sneaks in. maybe they have a strainer which removes the flavor. between the cold pork substance and the cold crust there was a layer of what appeared to be some kind of industrial window caulk or perhaps animal fat that had congealed into a hard murky gelatin. in short, weatherspoon’s Ploughman was one of the worst entrees i have encountered in europe. but i ate almost all of it because i was hungry and i slightly enjoyed the humor in it, knowing it would at least make a good bad food story later.

having little luck with restaurant food i turned my search to grocery store cookies and candy. one of the most popular cookies here in england are “digestives”. the label says “Digestives” in white lettering against a bright red background and underneath “Dark Chocolate”. “Digestives” has got to be the worst name for a cookie i have ever heard. for me, and i don’t think i am alone here, digestion is what happens after i eat. before i eat, i don’t need to think about digestion. if you’re going to call your product digestives why not take it a step further and call them “poopers” or maybe “excramentives”? i guess it’s hard to know where to draw the line, but where i draw it is with chewing or before. charleston chew–acceptable. charlston esophogus slider…eh, on the cusp.

i did have one delicious plate of fish and chips, naturally. but i think it is safe to say that england is not known for it’s cuisine.

however, none of this is or was the fault of my kind british companions tom and joe, two brothers from Bushey, just outside london. tom and joe cannot singlehandedly affect the food taste crisis their country seems to be undergoing, but they were kind enough to put me up at their place and show me around. tom introduced me to “revels”, my new favorite candy. they are like american whoppers, milk duds, raisinettes, chocolate orange, and one other thing that i cannot remember all in the same package. and it is a surprise which flavor you will get! so for someone like me who enjoys surprise and adventure, it is a wonderful mini taste odyssey that is predictable enough to be pleasing but unpredictable enough to be exciting, the same way a great pop song works. after talking for two days, tom suggested that i buy some revels for my band mates john and dan. my bassist brian ives, however, gets the more consistent tasting “Maltesers” because of his occasional aversion to fun.

we spent one evening with tom’s parents and found that we had a great deal in common. for my sake tom’s father did some independent research focused on Bushey’s rich art history which included Von Herkemmer, a german immigrant who was a painter and filmmaker and founder of an important art school in Bushey, and Lucy Kemp-Welch, the illustrator of the original edition of the classic equine book, “Black Beauty”. the next day at the very small Bushey museum, i saw several enormous canvases of masterfully painted horses, and one smaller quick painting by Lucy Kemp-Welch of a horse and horse owner near the Santa Trinita, a bridge in florence italy where i studied art last month. my eyes saw the painting but i did not feel it until my heart recognized it as florence and a bolt of something came through me, one part longing for florence and one part appreciation. the painting is actually just a sketch for a larger work, and although the sketch is lonely and nearly forgotten in a dusty corner of a small town museum it is masterfully executed in a fresh, quick style, which i prefer to her larger canvases which occasionally feel belabored. but me as an american looking at the little painting of florence italy executed by an english artist who was trained by a german i felt a connection with all these different places i have been and times i have studied and the entire history of creatively minded artists and adventurers and in this moment i knew for certain that i was on the right path.

that night i played an acoustic show at the Dublin castle, a famous bar in london which hosted acts such as Madness, Travis, and Blur as they were getting off the ground. i played one of my better acoustic sets in a while, complete with one-night-only trumpet and trombone accompaniment from tom and joe, respectively, for the song “mitral valve prolapse”. tom and joe are both extremely talented university trained brass musicians. unfortunately, i started the song a half step too low but i just went with it and forgot to let tom and joe know. joe is one of the rare human beings with perfect pitch and knew immediately my mistake while tom, who like me does not hear pitch as well as a robot, was left to struggle through the first chorus until it became clear to him what i had done. but by the second chorus everything came together in a triumphant brassy rendition that was truly special.

i am here in lyon, france for three days.

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