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I suffered a major depression the past few months. Things are better now and I’m getting my life together in Nashville. I’m busy looking for work and getting back into the world of software while working out daily and aiming to get in the best shape of my life before I turn 40 later this year. I’ve been writing, but still not ready to share anything. I turned off most of my social media accounts and that has been enormously helpful in getting my head straight. Lots of love goes out to anyone who has cared enough to get in touch.
This is an exploration into a song from my album Hahaha, out now on Exploding in Sound Records (2018). Scroll to the end for the lyrics. You can buy the LP from EIS Records directly, or buy the digital version from Bandcamp.
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“Penetrate My Mind” is the sixth track on Hahaha. It’s probably the song I’ve played live the least out of all the songs on the album. It’s also probably the most straightforward in a way (though it has some twists that have definitely proven challenging for the drummers and bassists playing it). The title might evoke something sexual (especially after titling my 2013 LP Undress My Mind), but really the concept behind the song is totally G-rated.
The main idea is that if you want to get through to someone, make sure you let your heart guide you. Being kind in your communication allows you to much more effectively penetrate another person’s thoughts. You might be correct about something, but if you are offensive in your presentation of the information, then it will have a much lower chance of actually getting through to the person you are communicating it to. People often shut down their receptive faculties when they are presented with confrontation and insult. If your intention is to actually communicate your understanding of the truth, then taking the time and effort to think up and deliver a kind-hearted way of expressing it is your best bet for getting your perspective across.
The whole notion of “brutal honesty” is defective. It’s born of a culture that (falsely) claims that punishment is the best way of correcting a person’s behavior. If you want to be honest, that’s great, but brutality is just going to get in the way of actually transmitting your communication. Using your creative faculties to construct language to present your truth in an open-hearted way sometimes takes additional work, but that is the necessary work for actually getting your point across. Brutal honesty is really only good for trying to prove your superiority over the receiver of your communications and is generally totally ineffective in actually communicating your information.
One major conceptual model that has influenced my thinking in recent years is complementary dualism. This is essentially what the yin/yang concept signifies: that all reality is composed of these two complementary energies, and everything can be broken down to sets of pairs of complementary qualities. To me, information and how you deliver that information are two complementary qualities that sum up communication. These two qualities are developed independently. What that means is that you can be really good at being correct, but really bad at delivering your information in an effective way, and conversely, you can be really kind and open in your communications, but if you are bad at gathering and seeing
To illustrate these two complementary qualities: first imagine a person who is very precise and scientific, who has a firm understanding of lots of concepts and truth, but who is a poor communicator because he/she lacks the empathy to actually present his/her information in a way that is easy to be received. This person is
This is a lesson that took me many years to comprehend, and I still sometimes fail to communicate effectively because I react emotionally instead of more carefully choosing my words in communicating with others. At least I can recognize my failures at this point, and try to correct them by taking the time to say what I want to say in a more thoughtful and open-hearted way.
The last verse of the song may seem out of place, but it speaks to my determination that, if I had to align these two complementary qualities with gender, I would say that correctness is “masculine” and kindness is “feminine”. Of course, all people have access to both of these energies regardless of biological sex, and so men and women and everyone in between can be both kind and correct without limitation. That said, in my family, I would say that my mother was the general source of kindness, while my father was the source of correctness. My attempts to cultivate my “feminine” qualities over the years have led me to the realization that how you say something is just as important as the thing you are saying, and I have to thank my mother for being an example of an exceptionally kind person.
I’ve been publishing these pieces of backstory in reverse order of the record, but I decided I would skip Tiger, which is track 7, for now. The backstory on that is something that is still playing out in my mind. Coming soon.
It's easy to be kind
Easier than trying to be right all the time
I have to see this as a sign
We finally found each other after all this time
Now you know I have your back, I hope you have mine
If I ever let you down
Just tell me gently and I'll figure it out
Listen to your heart if you want to penetrate my mind
Honey I know it feels good to be right
So count your bills and prove your science
But when you deal with living things that have feelings
I’d say it’s better for you to be kind!
Be patient with your mom
You never know how soon she’ll be gone
And it’s your mother, do you realize where you came from?
Honest communication requires vulnerability. Presenting your true thoughts and feelings to others presents the risk of ridicule, disagreement, pain, rejection, etc. This is something I face every time I write something personal on this blog, or release a song, or even just post on social media. All these forms of communication, if you are using them to be real, can generate the anxiety that comes with scrutiny. To me, having my communications be ignored or dismissed is even worse than having them be criticized because if people can simply ignore what I have to say, then I am not actually penetrating emotionally. The work I do as an artist and human is meant to stir up feelings, prompting reflection and conversation, even internally.
Why take the risk of open communication? Well the reward, for me, is tremendous. When I am able to communicate
My relationships have been complicated by my commitment to truth and to openness. I have lost friends and followers because I insist on being an open person who speaks from the heart and I refuse to hide my feelings. One of my goals is to encourage people to express themselves openly, even discussing uncomfortable issues, to the purpose of airing out difficult
I want love in my life, but true love requires a commitment to truth as well as to love! And communication is the only way to get to
This has been a really important lesson for me lately because I have failed at communicating with a person that I love so deeply, and have been at a loss as to how to get through to her. When I was young, I thought that if I just lived a good life and treated people with love and respect that I would be loved in return. Now I realize it’s not that simple, and that some people have such complicated relationships to themselves that my way of being is actually too scary to be around. These people find my relentless openness threatening, but they will eventually realize that it’s the only way to really have healthy relationships
So I encourage you to communicate with the people you love, even if it’s
This is an exploration into a song from my album Hahaha, out now on Exploding in Sound Records (2018). Scroll to the end for the lyrics. You can buy the LP from EIS Records directly, or buy the digital version from Bandcamp.
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“Do You Wanna Go?” lets me play the coy, persuasive, cocky playboy that I used to dream about being back in my days of youth. The title is supposed to have two opposite meanings, referring to the fickle change in attitude an immature person sometimes has about a partner once you’ve seen them at their most vulnerable. Writing songs in a fantasy voice can be a fun escape, and while this song might paint me as an insensitive womanizer if heard on its own, in the context of my record I hope it’s understood as just part of the balanced picture I’m trying to paint of who I really am and have been throughout my life.
The song starts with me trying to woo an impulsive romantic prospect, promising affection, fun, and satisfaction. These lyrics I can stand by as true; I’m an attentive lover, a fun partner, and an open-hearted person, I’ll give myself that. By the last verse, things have changed and I am trying to get some distance from this partner, who now is lingering while I have to get on with my day and my life! This has fortunately only happened to me a couple of times. It was just a fun way to throw a twist into the song to highlight some of the complications of giving your love away too easily. I would bet that I am probably more often attached and more sentimental than most of the partners I’ve had! It’s this dumbass bleeding heart of mine that will probably kill me some day.
Compositionally, I wanted to write something that was rooted in some of the upbeat blues music I love so much (mainly country blues from the 1920s and 30s), but I wanted to inject a psychedelic element into the tune, hence the key changes and rhythmic stops. I wrote the main riff for it on my acoustic guitar while staying at my friend Chris’s house in Long Beach, CA way back in 2012! I knocked the riff around for a few years before actually finishing the song in early 2016, where it was recorded by Mark Fede in Boston, MA, with Kris Kuss on drums.
Here’s a video of me playing the song with Nick Dooley on drums and Sam Gehrke on bass for BTR, filmed in May 2018:
Oh now baby would you stand here by my side
Oh now would you maybe tolerate my pride?
Over and over you hear me begging
Do you want to take me for a ride
I want to take your picture, give me that wild smile
I’m going to leave you open wide
We could be dancing and moving, bopping and grooving
Rocking till the break of day
Who knows where we’ll be tomorrow
Baby come on and play
Well I know a place where the sun is shining
Let me take you on a holiday
Take take take my hand
And let’s go run away
Do you want to take me with you?
Baby would you let me take your picture?
Don’t you wanna go with me?
Oh now baby
would you let me come inside?
Oh now baby
would you please make a little way?
Ooh now lover save some loving for another day
I got other things I gotta do today
But before I leave
Baby would you say cheese
Making honest art takes courage. Living with an open heart takes courage. Letting yourself love in face of the risk of pain or disappointment takes courage. These are all choices I am making, and I am here trying to make myself feel better about where I am in my life by reminding myself that my choices have not been easy, but at least I can say I have my integrity, my courage, and my will to love.
After a month of making work in my studio in Memphis every day, I hit a wall of emotional exhaustion. I found myself writing about people in my life that I love and miss, and found it painful to keep letting those feelings inspire me to work. For the past week I have barely made any music. I needed a rest from how intensely I was feeling these feelings, and I also was forced realize that some of these people that I missed and loved and was inspired to write about lack the courage to let themselves love as honestly and openly as I do, and that made it clear to me that the person I was writing this music about and for no longer exists except in my memories. People change, and it’s common that as people grow older, they become more emotionally conservative. Fear of instability grows as people age and sink more of their resources into trying to stabilize their lives. However, what is buried deep and never worked through becomes a huge liability, and so this conservatism creates blockages that creep up eventually in other ways, often leading to inconvenient eruptions of feeling when it’s least expected.
I am an alien in most places, and increasingly so. People seem to be wary of me because I am so open and so committed to openness. The choice to live openly requires courage that is commonly lacking among the average layperson, and I’d say that even most artists are pretty guarded about their feelings. Art is meant to convey emotion, not just be a vehicle for outstanding technique (which, without feeling, is simply craft and barely art), and yet in our current day, even artists get away with making abstract work that conveys the bare minimum of the human element and calling their work ‘art.’
I live this way in order to attract open, loving people to me. I want to build a community of such people, but I have found that it’s really only young people that have the courage to live this way, and as they age, and the fear sets in, I go from being an inspiration to a threat. My openness is exciting to someone who lets themselves enjoy the thrill of being an open person, reveling in honest emotions, without the anxiety of bottled up feelings that is so common. But as people age, they seem to get jaded, and scared, and conform to the ways of a repressed society. I have committed myself to remaining open until I die because that is the antidote to so much illness in society. Opening up the channels lets us air out the build-up of unspoken feelings and thoughts, gives us opportunities to have dialogue, and to resolve tension that otherwise would manifest itself destructively.
I am suffering, not for my openness, but for my loneliness. My experience in Memphis so far is that people here are generally more guarded than most places I’ve been. It makes sense in a certain way, given that it’s a violent crime capital with lots of racial tension and socio-economic imbalance. Religion has a strong foothold here, and it further allows people to live in a repressed manner. I want to stay here, but I also don’t know if I can continue living here without having a community that values openness as I do.
I don’t know where to go anyway. New York has some openness, but it is also such a hostile place towards artists that I can’t fathom going back. I considered following my heart elsewhere, but I think that dream is dead. I have no family and no obligations. Where should I go where I can feel at home? Where do I find other courageous people? I am tired of being disappointed by cowards.
The past month has found me totally immersed, and only now am I settling into a rhythm that has let me breathe a little. It won’t last long, but here’s an update on what I’ve been up to.
The last week of January I was in Buffalo. It was snowy all week, and I spent almost every day planning my move to Memphis. I had to sort through literally all my belongings, most of which were at an outdoor storage room. I was spending hours each day outside in the freezing cold going through all the boxes of stuff I’d accumulated over the years. Clothes, books, DVDs, CDs, instruments, electronics, all of it. I trashed a bunch, sold some, donated a lot, stashed some in the attic at my brother’s place in Buffalo, and the rest I brought with me: an entire minivan packed to the brim with gear and clothes.
I left Buffalo at 7PM in the middle of a snowstorm after packing all day. I was exhausted, but knew I had to get a few hours of driving in that night (Jan 30) because I would have to drive the entire next day to make it to Memphis at a reasonable hour. The winds were blowing the snow around, highways were closed, and at some points I had literally zero visibility. I could have driven off a cliff and not seen it coming because the snow was obscuring everything.
I made it to Cleveland that night, found a cheap motel, and crashed for the night. I drove all the next day and arrived at my friend Robert Barnett’s house in time for something delicious he’d cooked up. Hell yeah, it felt good to be home.
I moved into Crosstown Concourse the following day, which is the building where I am living and working as an arts resident. Crosstown Artshttps://crosstownarts.org/, the non-profit arts organization who is hosting me, was responsible for the redesign of this massive building I am living and working in. It’s a million square feet of space over 10 floors, and it hosts a shopping mall, a high school, a gym, a health center, a radio station, residential apartments, and a lot more. It’s hard to describe, but I can say it’s like living in a space station. Some pics:
I live on the 8th floor in a dorm type apartment, with a bed and bathroom, and I share a kitchen with the other residents. My studio is on the first
I’m almost four weeks in
It’s honestly a two-edged sword living in this way because, unlike lots of artists, I am making things (songs) that are genuine reflections of my emotions, and I have been unpacking a lot in recent months. Especially that I am sober, I am facing a lot of hard feelings of longing, heartbreak, and sadness that I have otherwise been too busy to attend to. This is the stuff that I am immersing myself in daily, so it can be exhausting and sometimes depressing, but I also make sure to have fun regardless of what kind of song I’m working on. Most of everything I’ve written so far is about love and longing for special people I am missing, but today I spent the day working on a bassline for a fun upbeat song. Here’s a little clip of one of the guitar parts I’m working with for a new song:
I’ll be posting some more finished demos soon on my Patreon page. I’m still working on healing my body and voice completely, so I haven’t been able to record vocals that sound very good quite yet, but I’m hoping that will happen in the coming weeks. Stay tuned! Lots more coming…
My 20-year long love affair with Memphis actually began in 1997, my senior year of high school at the United Nations International School in Manhattan. I was over at my friend Martin Celis‘s apartment in east Midtown Manhattan on a sunny Saturday afternoon in spring, watching TV like the couple of indoor kids we were. Although I grew up watching MTV, discovering it at age four and quickly becoming obsessed with music and television, by around 1995 I’d lost interest since they stopped playing music videos and blatantly began pandering to teeny-boppers (this was the dawn of the era of boys bands like Backstreet Boys, etc). But Martin had the deluxe cable package and they had just launched MTV2, where they promised to actually play music videos. We sat unimpressed and watched for a while, but eventually we were rocked by a truly funky song with a hilarious video from a band we’d never heard of, Big Ass Truck.
We laughed, and my friend Dima Drjuchin eventually discovered that this band had a website, which was a pretty novel thing among bands at the time. We checked it out and saw that they were actually from Memphis, TN (none of us had been before), but that they would be on tour, playing at Tramps (RIP) in Manhattan later that month! I was stoked. I bought their album Kent and became obsessed with the weird and fun sound of the band. They had a DJ who scratched and played funny samples! They had a funky rhythm section! They had killer guitar solos! I was down with all of it — a true 90s teen.
Come the night of the show, it was mid-May, and I had my physics final exam the next day, but I wanted so badly to see the show, which was advertised as free on their website. Yes! I walked over to Tramps only to discover that it was a 21+ show, a true bummer for 17-year old me. I pleaded with the bouncer, lying to him that I was a Muslim and wouldn’t drink anyway (true that I didn’t drink though), but to no avail. I went home, booted up my 28.8 baud modem and went to the band’s website, writing each band member individually to express my disappointment at not being admitted to the free show in walking distance from my house.
They wrote me back, and we hit it off. I went off to college later that
By next summer, their drummer Robert Barnett had invited me to come visit with him and his girlfriend Susan in Memphis. I had never been to the south and had no idea how different it would be from the culture of an international school student in NYC. I flew into Memphis International Airport and was shocked at the racial tension and segregation before I even claimed my baggage. On that trip I saw lots of great music and met lots of people that have influenced my musical trajectory tremendously. Robert Barnett, Robby Grant (guitar/vocals) and Steve Selvidge (guitar/vocals) have probably influenced my musical tastes and expanded my notions of music more than any other people in my life. They turned me onto bands my young and stubborn mind would have rejected if they weren’t being recommended by these musical heroes of mine. I learned about XTC, Donny Hathaway, The Police, Eddie Hazel, Fela Kuti, and lots of others just by hanging out with these guys. They even let me join them on stage for a song or two once, but that’s a story for when I’m feeling ready to embarrass myself.
I continued to visit Memphis in the summers and then started coming for Thanksgiving. I was invited to Robert and Susan’s wedding and was able to make it, scandalizing him at the rehearsal dinner by starting my speech with “I met Robert on the Internet”. These are people that I will always admire and love for how they took in a strange superfan from NYC and treated him like a friend, and eventually, like family.
Well here we are 20 years later, and thanks to Robby Grant, I applied to an artist residency program at Crosstown Arts in Midtown
I’ll be documenting my processes and making my life and work as transparent as possible. It’s a vulnerable act, but that’s a crucial part of the value of living as art. My life is my primary art piece, and so I must display it to get a proper
One last thing: in the US today is a holiday celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr. He was assassinated in Memphis in 1968, and while I didn’t intentionally announce my move to Memphis on this day, it feels right. I hope to make work that celebrates his legacy, and builds on it. To one day have the courage to step to injustice the way that he did would be my dream. Of course he had a church congregation listening to him and supporting him… hmm that gives me an idea…
Sometimes I lose control of my thoughts and they get the best of me. Overthinking has been one of my problems for most of my life, though thanks to figuring out the technique I discuss in the video above, I have at least figured out how to shut down cascading negative thoughts before they sap me completely. The key realization I had was that there is no magical thought out there that will silence your mind of thoughts; you have to attend to your senses if you want to actually quiet your thoughts. Your breathing makes a particularly good object of sensory attention for helping to clear your mind since it’s always happening and always new.
Since I spent such a large portion of my young life doing my best to ignore my body, I was ill-equipped to quiet my mind until after I started actually paying close attention to my physical expression (i.e. my body), starting around age 31. I imagine that in a nation like the US where so many people are obese and out of shape, we are largely disconnected from our physicality, and thus generally without defense against our overactive minds. We’re overstimulated, and so to even focus for more than a few seconds on a single object of attention, whether something mundane like your breath or something scintillating like a flame, would appear to be a challenge for most of us (I know I still suffer from a
Anyway, I produced this video completely on my own (only my 2nd ever production), while suffering from walking pneumonia (which I’ve been battling for a few months now), so my energy levels and my voice were affected. I’ll keep working on new videos, discussing topics that have been valuable to me in the course of my development. If you have any questions you think I could answer or suggestions for topics you’d like to hear discussed, I want to know! Drop me a line.
If you liked this video and would like to support my cause in sharing with the world at large my knowledge of self in the course of my personal development, please consider joining my Patreon, where you’ll get all kinds of extras in addition to feeling good about supporting someone who is truly committed to the evolution of humanity (that’s me). Check it out:
Today has been especially rough. Some days I am flying with enthusiasm and hope for my future. Today was not one of those days. I thought about just writing in my journal to try to console myself (which usually works), but instead I’ll use this blog and post publicly what I’m going through. I figure my life is about to get a lot more transparent since I will be in full creation-mode starting Feb 1 for three months (full details to be announced soon).
Anyway, picture my situation: I’ve been living with my younger brother and his wife in the suburbs of Buffalo since the beginning of November. They’ve been very gracious to put me up, letting me occupy the second floor of their comfortable but modest home in Amherst, NY (rated by Money Magazine as the best place to live in NY state in 2018!). I love them both for letting me crash here and letting me have my space, but I do feel quite isolated without a car here. They’ve let me borrow their cars when they’re not at work, but neither has a rigid schedule and so I cannot really depend on using their cars. Plus, I don’t really know too many people in town, and so my social life exists basically online. For someone who considers themselves a very social person, it’s been hard to be so isolated. On the other hand, it’s been nice to get some solitude and time to rest and heal after a very hectic year traveling around the world. But the bottom line is that I miss being with friends around whom I am comfortable being myself. My brother is a cop and his wife is an esthetician, and neither of them are particularly interested in culture or art. I feel like an alien here, but thankfully I am at a point where I am used to being an alien, and I generally own it. It just would be nice to be around people who “get” me for a while.
Another complicating factor is that I have been sick for a few months without health insurance. I am pretty sure I have a fungal infection in my body and lungs, and I have made good progress in dealing with it, but I still feel very strange every day. I feel drunk and disoriented, and I have oral thrush. I have been throat singing for hours every day, coughing up insane amounts of mucus daily, and though it seems like there’s no end to it, I feel like I am making progress in emptying my lungs of the fluid that is in there. My throat singing tone gets a little purer every day, which means that I am actually clearing this stuff out.
I’ve been eating a very basic diet to accommodate the infection in my body, avoiding sugars, grains, dairy and rich foods. I still indulge, but way less than I used to. I basically eat one big salad a day and then maybe some toast with almond butter in the evening and that’s it. I work out almost every day, but otherwise I am very sedentary. I have definitely lost weight and toned up since arriving here, but I feel very lost with regard to my health. I don’t want to go to a doctor that is going to cost me money and try to get me to take pharmaceuticals because I know that’s not the solution. I have faith that my body wants to heal and knows how, I just have to maintain the right conditions in order for it to do so.
Then there are my finances. I have accumulated over $40,000 in debt over the past few years, trying to make a record and then borrowing money to fund my tours and travels. Maybe it was arrogant of me to think I would be able to figure out how to pay for all this, but it’s caught up with me and I am at a loss as to what to do. I think I am going to end up borrowing more money, which means my hustle in the year ahead is going to be insane if I am going to be able to pay it back anytime soon. The thing is, I am confident in the value I have to offer. I am a hard worker, an astute observer, a diligent problem solver
Finally, I am feeling especially remorseful these days about lost love and expired friendships. I want to be friends with everyone forever. Unless you have wronged me repeatedly and caused me intentional harm, I am a forgiving person and would want anyone I become friends with to be my friend until I die. Of course, not everyone I know has this same desire, and I have lost lots of friends even though in my mind I’ve done nothing but try to be a good person and to show everyone love. I feel so misunderstood that people would want to cut me out of their lives even though I have done my best to show them nothing but my affection and respect. I’m an imperfect person, and I have not always behaved in ways that I would repeat, but I also have never egregiously insulted or hurt anyone. It’s painful for me to have no control over the lost friendships, and I guess I normally don’t have time to dwell on it, but I’ve been so isolated lately that I have had nothing but time to dwell on these memories.
Anyway, in spite of everything that is worrying me, I have a strange fatalistic hunch that everything always works out the way it’s supposed to, and so I am just gritting my teeth and hoping for the best. And if I die, then that’s just how it ends, which is probably exactly how it’ll end.