Birthday Reflections 2016

Hello world – I am 34 years old. Yesterday was my birthday. 34, I realize, is one of those years that I hadn’t really thought much about. I wondered what I would be doing at 30, or 35, but I didn’t think to picture what I might be doing at 34. As someone who is regularly plagued with anxiety, this is a welcomed thing. I had no preconceived notions to give myself a hard time about not living up to. I find myself in better shape than birthdays past, which is good enough for me. Feeling that way is strange in its ordinariness.

With each birthday that rolls around, I think surely – surely I wont still be drinking and smoking and leaving minor (and the occasional major) disasters in my wake; only to have yet another birthday roll around where I am still “working on” quitting. Which is depressing at best. On my 31st birthday I sat on my Sacramento porch in the blazing sun, drinking warm 40’s of Steele Reserve and chain smoking, wallowing in a pity party so ruckus the cops should have been called. Except it was only raging in my head. I called no one, I didn’t answer the phone. I drifted in and out of consciousness, attempting to blot out what felt like an intolerable reality. This year on my birthday, I was only 8 days from my last drink. This year at 34, I recognized that I have now been smoking tobacco for 20 years.. Which is coincidentally about as long as I have been playing guitar. This year, I sit with a calm acceptance of my experience as it is. My definition of a “disaster” has shifted, and in consequence my feelings about the disaster-maker have changed. I have done so much intense soul searching and reading about mental health and intersectionality that it doesn’t seem logical to dissolve into an agonizing pity party, only to emerge three weeks later, broke and unimaginably hungover.

I can attribute this shift to plain ol’ ordinary time passing and growing up, a strange insistent drive to understand and not give up, a loving and forgiving community as well as the interpersonal hard knocks, and – drum roll please – my psych meds. Yes, I give my money to Big Pharma the same way I give it to Big Tobacco, to Big Booze, to Big Oil by driving and paying my power bill, to Big Textile when accepting gifted clothes on Christmas. The list is endless. Some of my money has certainly ended up in those off-shore accounts that have just been revealed in the Panama Papers. We are all complicit. But I have come to a point where I recognize that I am of no use to anyone or anything if I cannot function, and I will try any tool available to get healthy and feel like myself. It is a strange thought that I should have to do something extra to feel like myself, something “unnatural”, but I have come to understand us humans as so hopelessly mismatched to our current environment evolutionarily, that we have no choice but to tinker with ourselves and our environment to survive. One might even classify that as evolution itself. Adaptation is nothing more than trial and error, at least I can credit myself for those two. I get an A for effort.

So at 34 I am still smoking, still sweating out the booze from 9 days ago, still wrestling with my seemingly pathological inability to write people back when it is actually important that I do. The more important the communication, the greater the block.. I don’t get it yet, but it is so uncomfortable I can’t do nothing about it. Aside from these things, at 34 I have apparently relocated to Atlanta, GA for the time being, to join up with Pretend Sweethearts. I have been looking for a new band that is down to work hard, play shows, travel and tour, and seek to answer the unanswerable questions, and I didn’t give up looking until I found it. I had no idea it would bring me to the Southeast, to an incredibly talented couple with two kids. The music is totally doing it for me, otherwise I certainly wouldn’t be here. Sometimes I get the urge to coyote off into the desert to “figure things out” first, but I recognize that impulse for what it is – fear, and a desire to escape the hard work of being in the now. That impulse also assumes that there is endless time to spend. Not so.

Now I will go pull up masses of overgrown ivy from my sweet neighbor’s yard so that she can finally after many years tinker in her garden again. Then I will gratefully eat good food that I spent my hard earned money on, and then push through the discomfort of answering some of those scarily important communications. I will contemplate my 20 years of smoking and continue to manifest letting go of such a big relationship in my life. I will be grateful for my measly 9 days free of booze. I will exercise my greatest gift by playing some music. I will accept the world as is, including myself as a thread in the grand tapestry. I can live with this.

Wishing everyone a happy springtime, personal illumination, and all the trappings of a joyful life.

j

Guns and Cigarettes

Guns and Cigarettes

I grew up in a house without guns. My parents are artists, they love a beautiful aria and a good book. We were not a hunting family, we didn’t even fish. I don’t recall one single conversation about guns. Their absence was entirely normal to me, in my quiet mostly white and Asian suburban world. I was mildly intrigued by the idea, the power and masculinity they seemed to imbue, but having little interest in sports or much of an inclination towards activities that required good aim, they left my mind as breezily as they went in. It didn’t occur to me what the black and brown kids who lived on the other side of the freeway thought about guns until I was much older. I found myself drawn to a different symbol of masculine self-reliance – cigarettes.

Visiting my brother in rural Ohio, I remember going into a gun store at the end of a quaint little collection of stores selling quilts, Amish furniture, antiques and the like. My brother and I, having never really been in a store that sold guns, went inside to look around. My father followed us in. At 5’10” in his Puma sneakers, with his hands in his pockets looking around, he smiled an expression that was not a smile, and he turned around and walked out. Something about that small moment struck me – the look on his face was a knowing look, with more than a hint of resentment and disapproval. He looked culturally out of place in that store, and he probably felt that way too. My father, who loves nothing more than puttering around the house and to fall into a nap with a spy novel and a cat at his feet, who will weep at the sound of a beautiful solo tenor or a chorus of children’s voices, exuded a particular version of masculinity to me, as his child. He has many traditionally masculine traits – he loves baseball and tools, women and woodworking, he was in the army reserves and was a pretty good shot. He was even pretty rageful and scary in his drinking years. But the unarmed, emotionally minded, gentle masculinity was what was passed on to me.

It is difficult to come to terms with the privilege I now know it to be, to be able to grow up in a world with not even the faintest fear of gun violence. It’s so easy for me to take a moral high ground and make a grand statement that I will never own a gun. That sentiment reminds me of the snarky comments I often received by those who clearly disapproved of my cigarette smoking and the effect it had on others. It was an obvious cultural difference between us, and I indignantly disregarded their comments. The gun lobby and the tobacco lobby share many similar traits – the stalling and hiding of science showing the heath risks involved in their products, the appeals to libertarian freedom of choice, invoking images of rebellious individuality, and the stoking of culture wars to keep the sales flowing. For both industries, it is ultimately about profit. I grew up in a world where cigarettes weren’t smoked in front of children, but was still something adults seem to enjoy, or was at least acceptable to do. I cringe at the thought of all the butts I threw from my car window, and all the youthful eyes that watched me smoke. My depression and anxiety had me searching the ashtrays in front of restaurants as a teen, and I have given god knows how much money to the tobacco billionaires, all for a cultural and chemical coping mechanism. Clearly guns and cigarettes are different animals, but both are animals none the less.

I could go down so many rabbit holes on this topic – how the relentless sales of arms has fueled the ridiculous violence we are seeing in the world, a musing on the human propensity to take a life, white privilege and guns, the sadness around so many unnecessary deaths cause by both guns and cigarettes… I could write about how I think regulating gun sales actually helps strengthen responsible gun ownership (look at Canada, look at regulation of driving cars), and speculate on how far past that point we are. Many, many rabbit holes. But what I sit here with is just the enormity of our shared predicament, and the powerlessness I feel to affect it as a single individual. It is a hugely complex issue that is interconnected to so much else, with no quick fix or sound bite slogan. Like the reality of poverty, its causes and solutions are multifaceted, requiring effort from all angles to even get it to budge. A myopic attack of one small variable will not move it.

When did you first experience guns? What was the culture surrounding them in your world as a child? Do tell 🙂

j

An Attitude of Gratitude

Hey folks!

I was in such a flurry to get the album done and get out of town on time, I haven’t had a minute to reflect on the process and give thanks where they are due. Scrambling out of the house, I took my ever-more beloved drive on highway 50 through NV and UT, jumping on I 70 in CO, and I finally had a chance to breathe. Now nestled in Rist Canyon, up the hill from Fort Collins, I’m watching the aspen leaves flutter in the cold morning breeze set against hills of pines and a moody sky. There are two kittens exploring my guitars by the wood burning stove, prayer flags happily hanging.

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I had some unexpected snafus come up at the most inconvenient time in the album-birthing process, and I am still fairly rattled. But – I got to see Mary Gauthier play last night at Avo’s in Fort Collins, and I’m starting to remember why I do this song thing in the first place. Making an album with all your guts spilled in it can feel like taking a picture of your butt and posting it on the internet.. and I’m used to there being two butts in the photo at least. It was a lot harder emotionally than I expected, all technical aspects aside.

Speaking of technical aspects – I want to give a HUGE thank you to Michael Connolly at Empty Sea Studios, who’s mind-boggling instrumentalist skills really brought out the character in the songs and made them come alive – not to mention the mixing and mastering, and doing it all remotely from Seattle. No big deal. Thank you Michael!

I’d also like to thank Ingrid Elizabeth, for showing me the ropes on this tour booking thing. I swear – if we hadn’t gone out in our RV and do what we did, I wouldn’t have known that this is even possible – (book a tour your damn self and then get in your unreliable vehicle and go do it.. are you crazy?!) I’m certainly not stellar at it, but it’s happening none the less. Thanks Ings 🙂

Coincidentally, the above two folks happen to be my Coyote Grace bandmates, and making an album without them was a strange experience. First off – there are so many damn decisions to make, artistic and otherwise, and it really lightens the load when you dont have to make all of them. Second, as I mentioned above, it’s nice to not be the only butt in the photo. And so many other lessons. Many people have asked about the status of Coyote Grace and whether or not we will be playing shows, and the short answer is – yes, Coyote Grace is alive and well, and no, we dont know when they will be back around. Joe is out and about with his solo project, Ingrid and Ty are gearing up for the Big Day, and Michael is busy recording everyone in Seattle. We will see what the future will bring. Or, from a great movie – “I dont know, it’s a mystery.” Here’s to the road, homies.

IMG_0777 editI also want to send my sincerest gratitude to all the music supporters out there, friends, family, and fans, all yall. Music is a reciprocal thing, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The songs dont really come alive and grow until they are shared. Keeping up in this industry, with all the new media outlets to be monitored, can obscure the true nature of the exchange that we do it all for, but not for long. Thank you everyone, for listening, supporting, and helping the songs grow wings and get on their way to do their work.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also thank Shaleece Haas, director of the documentary Real Boy that is beginning to make itself known to the world. While following me with a camera for over two years, we have become great friends, and her moral support has been invaluable. I tend not to reach out until it is an emergency, and then the poor person I reach out to has to deal with not just a stressed out friend, but an emergency. I’m working on it.. Thank you so much Shaleece. And of course, my parents, the musicians who cheer on their musical offspring with all the zeal they have. Thank you, thank you 🙂

And to the one who was always behind the scenes, with me through the whole damn thing, my sweet ladyfriend. I am no small handful, and this lady dealt with me with grace. Thanks, baby 🙂IMG_4676

I am looking forward to a week at the Rocky Mountain Song School to connect with a great community of music folks, and get caught up on some projects. The CDs arrive tomorrow……….!!! I wont believe it till I see them. The first leg of the tour has begun. Here goes nothing!

 

j

Queer Camp Reflections

This weekend I went to Queer Camp. I was so in the groove of spending all damn day on the computer, an endless stream of booking emails coming and going, flicking back and forth between map and calendar, Facebook and email, Songs of the People and album material… And then along comes Queer Camp, a 3.5 day camping trip in Castro Valley with no phones or computers, to build community and share art and social justice work with queers I may or may not know in a beautiful temperate place. I have to say, it’s not the easiest thing for me to mentally switch gears, especially when I am super nervous about something (like, say, booking a giant US tour and putting out my first solo project), so as fun as it sounded, I wasn’t entirely up for it. But I was teaching a songwriting workshop, so I had to go.

My first evening I had what I can only describe as work/internet withdrawal. My mind was elsewhere and I really wanted to be with it, and instead I was awkwardly meeting new people and swatting mosquitoes. But I figured, since I’ve got my recording schedule all blocked out and I start June 2nd, I should use this time to break out of my compulsive social media checking and energy intensive but only partially productive computer absorption. It turned out to be a good call.

I am always surprised, even though I shouldn’t be by now, at just how small a queer world it is. No one is too many degrees of separation a part, even when folks meet in entirely different ends of the country for seemingly unrelated reasons. Yet, here you are again, you know so-and-so, they know so-and-so who knows so-and-so, oh we met way back in random place with so-and-so. No way! Even so, there can be folks that you may share an entire circle of friends with, been at the same events, but have strangely never met. I was able to connect and reconnect with so many lovely, interesting, and inspiring people, and I fell in love with my community all over again.

The weekend brought us all together, the programming got us all out of our comfort zones and interacting with everyone, and we all became very close. It’s strange to remember first looking around the circle at the semi-unfamiliar faces, and at the end, looking around at the same faces that were now familiar, that showed their depth and insight, and to feel real love between us. When the queer community is so often found in the bars, it was a wonderful thing (especially for this sober guy) to be in a beautiful place out doors, away from the party atmosphere to commune with my fellows.

The songwriting workshop was awesome. Each one is different and they really keep me on my toes, and I hadn’t done one in a while. We got some really interesting pieces out of this one! Someone gave me one of the best and most unique complements I have ever received – they said that I was the song mid-wife! Amazing, and truly an honor. The magic for me is finding that little nugget of concentrated truth, a shining piece of golden art in the ore of words someone just mined, pulling it out and setting it into a form, and building a structure around it. And thus – a song. The magic is also when someone sees their own words, their own story and experience, come alive is a piece of music. It is really, indescribably cool.

So now I am back at the computer, attempting to switch gears yet again back into work mode. The weekend gave me some time to ground out, and settle into my intention for this project. Yes, I am trying to make a living. I can’t do anything if I don’t make a living. But most importantly, I am trying to offer something useful to the world – doing the thing that somehow I seem built for and called to do, and trusting that it is not only an important contribution, but the best one that I can personally make. That’s a pretty tall order, and it reaches beyond this one album – it really is the way I want to live my life. I feel like a toddler in this sober life of mine, my functions barely back on line, the world seeming to be this wide, overwhelming place that I am bumbling through. If I stay the course, I may find myself able to handle far more than I can now, and that would truly be somethin’ else.

So here I go, this coming Monday.. I am locking myself in my studio and I’m not coming out (except to play church gigs, a wedding, and mow lawns) until it’s done. And it must all be ready for submission by July 11th. No big deal.

Wish me luck! Better yet – how bout some patience and perseverance 🙂

j

 

 

Donkey Lessons

The Central Valley is creeping into the triple digits and California is starting to burn down, just like we thought. I am sweating it out in my second story bedroom/studio, with no natural light and no air flow, laying down tunes. It should be called Funky Hot Box Studios. Sweaty Man Cave Studios. Enticing, no? Come on over for a sauna sesh.

I just sent out the first batch of Songs of the People, what a process it has turned out to be! I vastly underestimated the amount of time it takes to produce a decent song. It’s definitely not like my young days when I might sneeze out a song at any moment.. my standards are higher for one, craft is something I didn’t know much about back then, and the sneezers are like shooting stars – they do happen once in a while, but don’t count on it to happen on demand. I have already learned so much about my process: songs can go through many forms before snuggling in to the one that suits them best; there are an infinity of options at any point in the song (no pressure); they can also be very donkey-like, in that no amount of tugging will coax them from where they want to be. I also found that when it came time to hand them over to their patrons, I had a severe hide-under-the-covers avoidance response.. I clicked “send” feeling like I had pushed the “self-destruct” button on my life boat. I did not expect to feel so vulnerable. People were then waiting for their songs without any updates from me, which made it worse. Normally I would have gotten drunk for a week or two. Well, more likely I would have just blabbered on about the project from my bar stool and never actually started it. I’m so grateful for this project, thank you to everyone for bearing with me, and sharing your beautiful and unique stories. I have four more on the stove, and four interviews to schedule. Shoot me an email if you’d like to jump in line! I promise I will schedule them reasonably this time, and keep people in the loop.

You may have noticed, but I spruced up my website in the last week; gone are the dark brooding, hard to read pages. I also finally started a Facebook Fan Page, which will help me get the word out about the many goings-on in my music world. Like it if you like, annoyingly the numbers do actually mean something in the music business world.

Other news is that I am booking for my Big Damn CD Release Tour in Aug/Sept! I’ll be on the road for a solid two months, if not longer, throwing my new CD at everyone I see, so look out. Starting in Sacto, I’ll head east to CO for a show with Jill B, then split some shows with Iowa boy River Glen, up to MN to play with V and the Dirty Pretty. Then I’ll head down to the Southeast to do a leg with Humble Tripe, then it’s up to the Northeast to do some shows with Bethel Steele. From there I’ll start heading west, I’ll do some shows with Ohio’s wonderful Wormz and the Decomposers. From there we’ll see what comes together. Shows are listed on the website, stay tuned and they will keep rolling in. If you have a suggestion for your area, want to bring me to your college, or any other helpful hints, let me know! If you can’t wait that long, want to hear some new stuff before I get to town, or want to check out two of the Songs of the People, you can watch the Empty Sea show on demand, at The Roots Channel, for only 5 bucks! What a steal.

I hope this finds everyone well. I have to say, none of this would be happening if I wasn’t sober. Gotta give thanks where thanks are due. It has been a weird two plus years since the beginning of Coyote Grace’s hiatus, this isn’t where I thought things would be at this point, but I’m not complaining. The lessons reveal themselves. They can be very donkey-like themselves. Best to just be a vessel and let them evolve.

j

Back in the Sac(ramento)

Back in the Central Valley after a beautiful springtime loop through the Northwest! Traveling can be so packed full of new experiences that two weeks feels like a month.. I am just coming back from the last week out in the far reaches of eastern Oregon, Idaho, and seriously isolated parts of Nevada. My favorite!

I had a great run of shows with Drew de Man, bringing his lap steel stylings to my tunes, joined by Brianna Blackbird in Portland and Seattle, the other half of their duo Pretend Sweethearts. I got to squeeze many friends from Eugene to Seattle, dropping in on the Camp Ten Trees annual auction, which is truly an event that can make a trans man cry. And that ain’t easy! I spent Easter with some great friends eating great food, then waddled over to Empty Sea Studios for the final show with Michael Connolly and the Sweethearts. The show will be ready any day now on The Roots Channel to watch on demand, for those of you who missed it. I’ll keep you posted.

Then, my lady friend and I took off for the Great Basin, and this happened:

 

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Yes, that is a bathtub in the northern region of Washoe County, rigged up with a pipe flowing from an incredibly hot spring. Sarah and I found it following vague directions with flashlights after sunset, and saw a sea of stars like only Nevada can reveal. Here was another awesome one:

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This one was outside the ghost town of Unionville, east of Lovelock. I swear, I could wander around Nevada for a year. One day I just may.

So as of now, I am trying to re-acclimate to the urban environment I live in, and am busy as ever writing songs and working on my solo album set for release in August, and setting up the tours for the late summer and fall. Songs of the People is trucking along, I’ll be putting up videos of some of them soon, stay tuned!

j

Birthday Boy!

So now I am 32. I feel completely different! Just kidding:) I do feel a little different though. 31 is not like 21, that’s for sure. 32 at least feels a little more solidly in the 30s. And I have finally broken the pattern of hazy birthdays drifting aimlessly by, half baked ideas forming momentarily and then fading back into the ether from whence they came, few real signposts to mark the passage of time. I said I’d be damned if I let another birthday go by drunk and alone, throwing a pity party so rowdy it should have been broken up by the cops. I’ve said a lot of things, but at this I have been successful. As for next year – one birthday at a time.

I found my old camera yesterday and looked through it. Road trip after road trip, punctuated by solo drinking/smoking sessions, apparently in an effort to keep myself company. The longer I’m sober, the more I get a sense of how long I wasn’t, and how valuable that time was. Everything I was seeking is right here, in the moment. All potential energy exists in the moment, and that potential is directly related to the machine’s capacity for creative action. I wasn’t capable of much in my ever-present stupor. I may not feel amazing all the time, but I am capable of much more than just lighting another cigarette. I feel, again, like I have woken up from a dream, except this time I am 32. I’ ok with that. I cant think of any good reason not to be.

I’m looking forward to heading up to the Northwest this coming week, playing out some of these new tunes I have here will feel good, and it’ll be great to be back on the trail. My US trip in Aug/Sept is also very exciting!!! I used to traverse the country a few times a year – something about crossing the landscape of my homeland is very awesome to me, even if at the end of the summer with all its humidity and bugs and sunburns.. Songs of the People is also rocking my world, such amazing stories! I definitely took on a huge batch to start out, and I’m going to need to put in some hours to get caught up. Although I can hardly classify this as work! I’m a lucky fella, getting to do this.

This year (like every year) I have many plans. Although this year, I have a far better shot at making some of them happen.

Thank you everyone for all the birthday love! It means a lot 🙂

j