Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Jumping Into The Void

This is a post I've needed to write for a while. I've been modifying my creative trajectory for the last year and it's brought up some very interesting challenges that feel both new and very old.

Let's go back a ways. I can distinctly remember when I realized how mystical musical instruments could be. I had made the transition from alto sax to bass and was trying to decide what bass would be the best for me. At some point it became clear that it was a good idea not only to find a bass that I liked, but to also find one that others found impressive. I found that I would personally get a mood lift from what my friends would say about my instrument. This quickly became addictive.

(Interesting side note - I picked alto sax as an instrument in the 4th grade because I thought it's what I "should" play. I had an uncle that was famous in the family for his sax work in high school. Famous to the point of having a recorded version of Harlem Nocturne on a vinyl record made by his high school band. I thought maybe I could be famous in my family too I guess. Maybe even beyond my family.)

Anyway, the mood lift was so addictive that not long after discovering it I reasoned that the best way to get a really serious mood lift was to actually make my own instruments. This would blow minds! And I'd be the mind blowing genius to get all the acclaim. Fame and riches would be mine!

And for a time, they were. Well, maybe not the riches part. But the fame was there. And I got very good at my art. I had to. There was an anxiety ridden child inside that desperately needed the addictive hits to his ego. It was how he had learned to find love. But it wasn't really love. It had an alarming quality of being frustratingly temporary. My realization of this quality took some time. And pain.

The cycles of needing and doing and finding "love" and being broken by the loss of it went on for many many years. Eventually the lack of my ability to find authentic nourishment caught up with me.

Please realize that this lack of authentic nourishment was self created by my own conditioning and my unawareness of that conditioning. I had no idea it was even a thing. No idea that I was needlessly jumping through hoops over and over for no reason. I'm not going to cast any blame here. It's just the way I was made. My version of reality came with conditions that I had to fulfill in order to find any chance at feeling "loved."

About 10 years ago now the process of unraveling this web began. A dear friend of mine had come down with stage 4 cancer and gone into treatment for it. I was convinced that he would beat it and everything would be ok. He didn't. He passed away in the summer of 2008. His death hit me very hard. It wasn't just the loss of a dear friend (and customer who loved my work), it was the cold hard reality that the universe could be brutally unfair. No matter how much I believed something (he would beat cancer) it didn't matter. My deep narcissistic feelings of omnipotence had been revealed to be a fraud.

I withdrew from life. I withdrew from my wife. On some level I began to rebel against the unfairness of it all. I found the temporary hits I'd get from completing a fantastic work of luthiery were losing their potency. I was struggling with self worth on an existential level. Depression became the background noise of my life.

Fortunately I found ways to keep my career from completely collapsing. I found amazing people that would work for and with me. They were able to help stabilize me and together we created something that could be likened to a realization of the classic American dream. Something that I began in my garage with narcissistic certainty of success has survived my own struggles and with the help of these gracious folks grown to a size where we support 9 workers with employment and health care and have become a widely known and respected brand in our little corner of the music industry.

But I digress from my point, which from the title at the top has something to do with a void of some sort. The concept of a void tends to be very challenging for a lot of people. Nothingness is hard to grapple with for the human mind and all it's attachments and conditionings. But it's my assertion that this void is precisely the place where authentic creative self emerges.

And lately I feel like I've jumped into it.

Let me flesh that out a bit with another journey back in time. While my gyrations around finding my version of love were largely fruitless on a deep level my profound love of music started very young and has been a consistent source of connectivity and deep relation to humanity for me. Music is what kept me profoundly grounded in a deeply optimistic belief that we are all connected and ultimately more similar than different in our desire to be seen and known and loved just as we are, flaws and all.

I resonated powerfully with the thread of painful loneliness wound through so much of Phil Collins' music. In the aftermath of my divorce the spareness of Bon Iver's first album somehow comforted and validated the emptiness I now felt in the home that my wife and I had shared - a home that was suddenly more empty than it had ever been before. And I'm still powerfully moved by Peter Gabriel's Washing of the Water. So much so that it has become something of an anthemic analogy for my life (and many others I'm sure).

The power of music, which has been comfortingly and consistently present in my life, has finally exerted it's influence on my very way of being in the world. The void I speak of jumping into is the void of being a creative soul that needs to manifest itself musically as often as possible. That creative soul is moving into a space (void) where there is no certainty of acclaim and no more hoop jumping for emotionally empty accolades. I will make music and put it forth into the world. A world where everyone is a critic and there is no guarantee of even a single positive response. This world is also one in which there is an impossibly vast ocean of music in which untold numbers of similarly moved souls are also struggling to be heard.

This space in which this music is created and offered up is that void of which I speak. To be truly free to create the music that comes from authentic self one must be free from attachment to outcome. The creation must be offered up with the full acceptance that any desired reactions may not come to pass. This requires profound and complete vulnerability. It also requires being deeply grounded. And deep grounding doesn't happen without deep self work. But that's the subject of another blog post for another time.

What I'm trying to say here is that at this time I'm leaving my "career" as a luthier behind. I have a handful of instruments to finish in order to fulfill some obligations. After that I'm not sure what will happen. I'm not looking for lamentations from folks who have appreciated and supported my work and are saddened to hear of my choice here. Please know that I deeply value your support and love and am in no way meaning to invalidate or minimize any of the kindness and appreciation I've been graced with over the years. Thank you.

But I am moving in a new direction. I am attempting what is widely considered to be an impossibility these days. I am attempting to find a career in music. It's ultimately who I am and I can no longer deny it. Sheesh, it sounds like I'm coming out. I don't mean to be so heavy, but here we are and I guess the scared part of me is really showing up at this particular moment.

Anyway, over the last year I released an album I did with my friend Edward Heppenstall called Moba Jones - Soul Fish. You can find out more at our website. Currently I'm working with Julia Lenhardt and Matt Coleman on separate projects (both absolutely fantastic) as both a producer and as a composer/musician. I have my own website to that end here. There's a lot more music to come. And honestly, the music is the easy part of this.

The hard part is getting folks to listen and pay attention. The even harder part is to find income out there in this vast Wild West of a music industry we are now faced with. But that narcissistic child still has some obsessions up his sleeve and the main one he's curious about now is how to solve this particular puzzle. His puzzle solving skills are pretty imposing and hopefully they will serve both he and I well in this endeavor.

The hardest part of all though is the vulnerability required to put ones work out in the world consistently and authentically. I really struggle with this and this is where the void tends to get pretty scary. More on that in a sec.

Coming soon I will have a Patreon page. And we are starting a "label" called Redlands Records, which has a Facebook page (please go "like" it now if you don't mind) and we'll also soon have a website. We'll be getting into making videos because these days if you're not on YouTube with videos you don't exist. I'll be looking for placement in film and tv (one of the last bastions of potential musical income - any solid connections anyone might have here would be deeply appreciated). Etc, etc.

So, while all this is and will be happening I still have to deal with some of the "very old" challenges I spoke of at the very beginning of this piece. Primary among these are the profound feelings of inadequacy that show up and stop me cold from time to time. From this place there's the perception that I don't have any musical chops to speak of. I mean I can play, but not with the technical and harmonic ability that so many of the fantastic musicians in my professional circles have. Self judgement can be paralyzing this way. I know this is a common theme for musicians and we all struggle with it regularly. For me, it's a bit new. But the fear is old and very familiar. It's part of the void. There is nothing to hold on to in this space. Any idea I might have about who I am as a player (or person) can quickly become limiting. Being in the void means being free from those ideas and attachments.

But it also means I need to study and practice. In order to have true creative freedom we must have fluency with our medium, which in this case is music. And I have vast holes in my abilities. I'm working on my harmonic theory knowledge (now with piano). I'm working on my guitar playing. I'm even working on learning to make my cello sing. Oh, and then there's singing too. I've taken voice lessons for the last 3 years and seen vast improvement in my abilities. Learning to really find authentic voice and sing without tension is much like going to therapy in my opinion. It's a deeply personal practice. But again, that's probably a subject for another blog post another time.

The Audio company is going strong - stronger than ever. And it will continue that trajectory largely due to my incredible team here in the shop. I will of course keep watch over it and develop new products as the ideas come. We have the Rocket Surgeon pedal project which is just getting started. Who knows what other cool stuff will come along? Whatever it is I'm sure it'll be fun and exciting and we will continue to contribute to our little corner of the music industry and our place in it.

As I've indicated above I'll be spending a lot of time in the studio, but I have another project in the works as well. It's a podcast called What Makes Music and in it I interview prominent musicians about where music comes from for them and those they work with. I'm deeply curious about creative sources and I'm really looking forward to exploring that with my guests. Look for more on this project on my website coming soon.

In the mean time I'd appreciate feedback about this piece. There's a part of me that's terrified of this super risky direction I'm moving in and that part would love a bit of support. Also, the whole me would be open to exploring some of the admittedly deep stuff I've gotten into here. Hit me up with any questions, comments, or complaints.


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