Thursday, January 31, 2013

I am not tired. I am hopeful.

This is my response to a rant by Robert A. Hall, former Massachusetts State Senator. The article is titled, "I'm Tired" and it came to me written as a chain letter by Bill Cosby. Sorry folks, Cosby did not write it

My response is written in almost the same format as the original article but with my own personal twist on the viewpoints. -Jerrod 

I am not tired. I am hopeful.

I'm 28. Except for a brief period when I was breast feeding from my mother, I have worked hard since I was 14. I have had no serious health challenges except for the day I was born. I was premature, and probably would have died if not for modern medical technology. I have had various forms of employment throughout my working career from hanging drywall and sweeping up construction sites to flipping burgers and serving drinks to rich old tourists in South Florida. I have never made a "reasonable" salary. For the most part, I have made minimum wage, or slightly more, working in service industry jobs and trying to get an education. This has been the reality for most people my age that I know. I didn't inherit any income, and every thing I have, I have worked for. Given the economy, it looks as though I will never retire. But that's OK. Why? Because retirement is a strange concept to begin with: this idea that one day you cease to be productive because you feel like you've paid enough dues and now it's time to collect back. 

I have never asked for money from a wealthy person or the government that I didn't intend to earn and work hard to pay back in full. I feel that I contribute to my community more than most people do, but I'd be willing to give more if I could. I know that there are people in need, and I could always do a little more. 

I know that not all suffering in the world is self-imposed.

I am not tired of believing that Islam is just as peaceful as any other generic religious label intended to encompass over 1 billion people. Every day I could read dozens of stories about men, of all different types of religion, killing or maiming each other in the name of whatever word they use for God, but I rarely believe what I'm told when it comes to politically motivated narratives. 

And I certainly don't see clear lines being drawn as to who is killing who for the best reasons these days. 

Sample sentence: [Generic religious label] murders [other generic religious label] over [justifiable cause 1] or [unjustifiable cause 2]. 

Every day somewhere in the world people are burning schools for girls, or protesting at homosexual funerals; stoning or raping women; beating and murdering people for being gay; dropping bombs on cities full of civilians with unmanned aircraft or crashing cars full of explosives into buildings full of innocents. 

It's always in the name of God or Allah or Democracy or Freedom or some other abstract concept that no one completely understands - especially not those wielding the weapons. We use these labels to justify murdering each other. But it's all the same. Killing is killing. Justify it with Sha'ria law or the Constitution. 

You get the same result: perpetual war as a result of intolerant dogmas.

I'm not tired of believing that tolerance is the true pathway to peace and not intimidation. "Peace through Strength" is a policy of intimidation and therefore, terrorism by definition. Terrorism will not bring peace. 

I will never know enough to understand all the vast cultures of the world, and I would not be so ignorant or arrogant to proclaim that I am superior simply due to my American nationality - a trait I acquired by birth. Again, I believe that people should earn respect - not gain it through some arbitrary birthright. 

I find it strange that our government spends more money trying to destroy other people and dangerous radical cultures rather than trying to understand them and reach out to establish mutually beneficial relationships. 

I do not find it strange that people chant "Death to America" in other parts of the world. I am well aware that we as Americans have been responsible for more death and destruction on the global scale than any other nation the world has ever seen. War is our biggest export.

We dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And now we have introduced the world to "drones." Automated killing at the push of a button has been our most successful industry for the past century, and we will reap what we have sown. 

Yet, I remain optimistic at the prospect of peace through education and understanding; trade and prosperity.

I do not believe that living more sustainably has anything to do with lowering my "standard of living." I see it quite the opposite actually. I believe that closing the loop on waste streams and developing more renewable sources of energy will increase efficiency and productivity, while helping the economy and increasing my chances of working hard to make a better living for myself and my family. I have seen thick clouds of coal smog over cities and billowing oil spills in the ocean. I have personally read the research about climate change. 

It is no longer a debate when 9 out of 10 of the most respected authorities, in any given field of study, independently come to the same conclusion. The debate is not whether or not it is happening and our behavior is contributing to it, but what should we do about it now?

I'm not tired of fighting to end the "war on drugs." People should get what they deserve, but I don't understand why we spend so much money incarcerating people for non-malicious offenses. We condemn them to a life branded as a miscreant, forever unable, from that point on, to obtain a college education or viable employment. Then we wonder why they are repeat offenders who resort to theft and violence after they are drawn deeper into a vortex of misfortune. 

I have empathy for people with addiction problems because I have seen it first hand in my own family. Drug addicts are not just strangers on the street. They are sisters and mothers and brothers and fathers. They are veterans. Most of all, they are people.

I'm not tired of giving even though I know I have been taken advantage of before. I will learn from it and try to improve upon my actions to give in such a way that has the most positive impact. Everyone makes mistakes, and I will make a few more before I am finished. I am still young and very much alive. 

I will take responsibility for my life and actions. I always have. But I see a difference in acting to bring about positive change as opposed to only offering negative criticism to a conversation. 

I also don't really give a damn if people want to pierce or tattoo themselves. What the hell does that have to do with whether or not people are intelligent and capable of doing a job? Hire them! You're not the damn fashion police!

Yes, I am not tired. I am hopeful. I'm glad to be 28. Mostly, because I am excited to be a part of the world that I am helping to shape. I intend to leave my children with something better. Thank God, I have the rest of my life to make it happen. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sold Out for Nothing

Sold Out for Nothing

I always love talking to other music heads about the issue of "selling out." Aerosmith totally sold out, probably more times than we know, and this year they really out did themselves. They recorded a "Patriot's Pepsi anthem." 

That one is a pretty obvious sell-out, but I get it. Those dudes are getting old, and they have big Ferrari bills to pay. Too bad the Pats didn't make the Super Bowl, so they could milk a few more dollars out of that song. I wonder how many week's supply of hookers and blow that earned for ole' Stephen Tyler? 

Selling out is so relative. Some guys are getting fat checks to write jingles for bubbly sugar water and sports teams, while others are getting tiny checks to sit in the corner of a fish house and pretend to be Jimmy Buffet. 

So, that's my question: is it still selling out if it's barely any money at all? Is there an amount of money that constitutes selling out? Does the money even matter? Or is it more about what you do, and what is still respectable? How do you get your music money, and can fans still accept you in the morning after? 

Would people still think NIN was cool if they found out that Trent Reznor's first gigs were Boy George tributes at a Holiday Inn?  

I'm talking about the little guys. The upstarts. The musicians down here on the street, just trying to get by. Keep on keeping on. Music is an expensive habit to support, and we all got bills to pay. As long as I can keep going, just keep doing my thing playing and writing songs. Plugging away in smoky dives, it's just another day in the office babysitting a bunch of old drunks. It beats a real job. Or does it? 

Is it more of a sell out to get a real 9-5 pushing paper than it is to put on a Hawaiian shirt and play ukelele on Saturday nights? Maybe do some "Brown Eyed Girl" at the beach bar for a couple hundred bucks? 

The whole point for the musical artist is being able to write and record and create new music and new art, and there's a moment of validation when you finally get your bills paid as a professional musician. At the end of the week I think to myself, all I had to do is play guitar, and the rent is paid. That is freakin' badass. Is it even possible to sell out when you finally just crossed that threshold into being a full-time professional? What point do you cross the line even as a little guy? 

I've done local TV commercials for fish houses and news spots at beach bars. It wasn't how I would prefer to present myself as an artist. But you get what comes to you. If I had my way, I would play on the Daily Show, but Jon Stewart hasn't called me yet... For the most part, so much of it is beyond our control. You can only play the gigs that are offered, and people hire you for specific purposes. It is very rare to find a venue that will guarantee you a fair amount of money, while at the same time allowing you complete creative freedom.

It's always strange thinking about music in that business sense. It's an emotional art form for me and very personal. The sounds just burst out in creative fits, but most patrons or benefactors, promoters and venue owners don't see it that way. They just see "products" that are purchased in markets or corporate themes and aesthetics. How I look is just an image or brand that people either identify with, or they don't. In the latter, they'll say it's weird or cheesy or a style for old people or hippies. 

"We've decided to go in a different direction" or "I don't think you would be the right fit for our crowd" or "The indie psych-folk is really catching ground in the South East regional markets" or "We're looking for something more along the lines of Adult Contemporary Pop." It dwindles the whole art form and expression into the most superficial relationship of consumers and products. Don't people care about unique ideas? Innovation? Emotion? 

The truth is, I don't really want to ask people for money, so that they can hear me play music. I want to enjoy life and express myself and my unique perspective of the human experience. I would share my music with anyone freely. But a man's got to pay his bills, and put a roof overhead, so there's a dilemma. 

So, how do you make the transition into full-time artist while maintaining your integrity? If you want to dedicate your life to your art, at some point you have to get paid for it. Or else you'll just be a bum, and you won't be able to afford the tools of the trade. Can't afford that studio time, that new guitar... Even in the new reality of prolific recording technology and digital media, microphones cost money, domain names, server space, cameras, graphic designs, computers and programs, applications, gas and transportation, rent... 

I don't really have an answer for what constitutes selling out. Maybe there isn't one. It's usually just a gut feeling response to the question of "am I ok with that?" 

It's like anything that people do for money: what is your definition of integrity, and how much is it worth to you? 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Keep it Raw or Go BIG?

Since we have been recording some new material with Between Bluffs, it has sparked ideas and conversations about one of my favorite "great debates" of the musician - how to approach producing a studio album. 

Do you stay true to what can be produced in a live setting?
Or, do you go all out and try to create something unique altogether, utilizing all the tools of recording technology?
Or is there somewhere in between?

Keep it Raw!
On one hand, they say, Keep it Raw! Keep it Real! Don't do more than what can be done live. Stick with your style and try not to deviate; that is the true form of your music and how people will experience it. Reproduce that live show of the stage as closely as possible in the studio because when a fan experiences your music at a live show, they get a certain expectation. If they enjoyed themselves enough to want to buy a CD then they get home they want and expect a similar experience. Maybe they will enjoy the translation from stage to studio, but maybe not. Can that experience on stage ever truly be translated to a studio disc? How can you capture the energy of hundreds or thousands of people together in a room vibing on some good music when you are sitting by yourself in an isolation booth trying to lay down a vocal track , staring into the black insulation foam? Maybe you record as much of it live as you can? But then are you not just doing live album? What is the point of recording in the controlled atmosphere of the studio when you are just going to basically track a live show? Why not just record the next big live show and get the fans on tape too?

Go Big!
The others say Go BIG! The studio offers you the chance to do things that you could never even possibly try to imagine doing live. Layers upon layers of harmonies that fill the void; string and horn sections you could never possibly afford to hire for every gig; collaborations with members of other bands who are way too busy to hit the road with you; imagination being the only limitation to ideas coming to fruition. But then there's that disappointment factor again. The fan who experiences your music for the first time online then comes to a live show and realizes that you don't actually have a string quartet or horn section, or group of awesome black soul singers. It's just a power trio or standard rock four piece. Maybe they are impressed at the raw transformation of the sound, and like it even better. Either way, it's not what they expected; maybe even not what they wanted.

Stuck in the Middle
Is there a middle ground? Can you capture something in the studio that is both a fair representation of the live show, but also something grand and spectacular that takes it to another level? How do you know what to emphasize and what not to in order to achieve the best of both worlds?

Butch Vig, Rick Rubin, George Martin, Brian Eno, Phil Spector, Quincy Jones all seemed to have cracked the code on making a fantastic album. They made great records that will transcend time and stand on their own, but how did those records translate to the live stage? In some cases, not nearly as well. On the other hand, bands like the Grateful Dead and Widespread Panic had spectacular live shows that never quite translated into a studio album of equal quality. It's a catch 22.