I have been a longtime reader of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog over at The Atlantic. Although I occasionally think Coates’s blog is too narrow in scope, there is no doubt Coates is an unusually gifted writer. (Andrew Sullivan, who wrote alongside Coates at The Atlantic for awhile, was not only able to be an uncompromising advocate for marriage equality, but was also seemingly able to cover an unbelievably wide scope of topics. I found that having a sense of how Sullivan viewed the wider world actually strengthened his arguments for justice. Anyway, this is splitting hairs and is a topic for another day. I would feel amiss if I didn’t say anything, but this is really an argument about format and outcome, and not quality of writing.) Coates has a curious mind and without a doubt is someone that is always reaching for truth. Before I found myself reading a lot about the Civil War, Coates own research and exploration of that time period was extremely fascinating. I am happy to see that his new book, Between the World and Me, is getting rave reviews. The above piece is not only about the book, but also a look at Coates as a man and writer in general. It is a well written and interesting piece worth your time. Also, if you are someone that reads several blogs a day, I would definitely add his blog to your list.
I rarely ever reread my own blog, unless it is for the sake of editing or correcting a mistake. I have always tried to treat this blog like an outward looking journal. If I am excited by a certain idea or a piece of art, hopefully that excitement can translate into words and create something that will get the reader to take notice of the same thing. The idea is to get the reader to want to explore more things on their own, not to create a place that is a definitive take on anything. I’m not bound to write or cover anything, so what I write about are things that I am generally passionate about. This doesn’t negate other forms of writing, but only compliments them. Someone that is paid to understand the science behind global warming, for instance, will have insight and knowledge that I will never have. However, I might be able to get people interested to where they will find the more substantive article where they previously wouldn’t. Meanwhile, with more subjective matters like art and music, you should want both the writing of people that get why something is interesting because they are passionate about it and writing that takes a more cold clinical look at a thing’s importance in time and place. Between the two you can weigh out the subject for yourself. The only thing I will never write about is something in which I feel I have no grasp at all of the subject matter. I haven’t written about the crisis in Greece because I feel that I do not understand the complex financial systems in place in anyway. I can read other writers and get an idea of what is going on, but I feel that I would just be parroting them. This kind of writing is harmful because it can spread bad ideas without there even being any malicious intent.
But anyway, because I view blogging as a somewhat emotional and in the moment format, I have trouble rereading my own work because, quite frankly, I often find myself embarrassed by it. It can be like if you were caught on camera jumping up and down at the ball game. A picture like that might really translate the true feelings of that moment in time, but you certainly don’t want to relive it. You find yourself looking on and thinking, “Yes, that was exactly how that moment felt, but goddamn I was drunk…”
My friend, Chris Saunders, is helping me transfer this site and its content to a new location where I can have control over the format, etc. This process will take about another week, but shouldn’t be interfering with posting while we work on this, other than possibly cutting own on the amount of posts i can put up on the nights we are working on this. As far as reading this site, nothing will change, other than hopefully I will be able to make this site better and more comprehensive in the years to come.
Although i don’t see them, many people have told me that they are seeing ads on this site. These are WordPress ads, ones that I do not see any money from. When I transfer this site I will start seeing money from ad revenue. In less than two years I have already put up close to 1,600 posts. As you can guess I put an extremely large amount of time into this venture. My goal has always to make money from this site as a way to supplement income from my music career. In the music/entertainment business you often do not see one large payday, but get your income from multiple revenue streams. As well as loving to write, this was a way in which I could generate another income stream while doing something creative that I loved to do.
In my private life I avoid ads if possible. I don’t subscribe to cable, I don’t stream music with ads, and I rarely listen to the radio. Internet ads and print ads are the only ads that I encounter with any regularity, although of course I see billboards and other monstrosities when I am driving around town. I have conflicted feelings about making money off of advertisements. I don’t have a problem with advertisements in general. It is their placement and the fact that so many of them are purposely manipulative that I find degrading. If ads had their time and place it would be one thing. However, as everyone knows, advertising tries to reach people in ever increasing public spaces and intellectual realms. One should read Naomi Klein’s No Logo.
A few years ago I was in La Rochelle, France. I was walking around the town and I was amazed at how aesthetically pleasing it was. I suddenly realized that there were no ads or billboards, only hand painted store signs. Once you got further out into the outer rim of the town one would start seeing more traditional advertising, but not in the center of town. This seems sensible to me, to have places, whether in the real world or intellectual space, where ads are allowed or not allowed. However, again, advertising’s very nature is to try and nudge further and further into our public and private spaces.
At the same time I am under no illusion that until you reach a certain threshold of people willing to pay for content, which even large publications have struggled with at times, advertising is the way to get paid for working on a blog. i do believe that people should be paid for their work. One must earn a living, and in these times it is no small feat to do so.
As someone that has been highly critical of large corporations and the role they play in American life, I ask myself if i can remain neutral, while at the same time making a small amount of money off of that very system. it is fair for any of you to question that as well. At the end of the day though, I must only answer to myself. I simply want to make those of you that keep coming back here aware that I am aware of all of the ethical questions concerning these matters.
I am about a week or so away of making these changes to the site, at least before you notice them. Although work has begun, none of the changes will be made public until that work is done. Perhaps then I will have a better idea of what I am dealing with. I would have made these changes sooner, but my schedule has prevented me from doing this. I was poised to make these changes a couple months ago, but I ended up recording a solo EP in my spare time. Anyway, it is long overdue. That’s where I’m at. If you have any thoughts or questions in the mean time, feel free to send me your thoughts.
I can tell it is a slow Friday at work for y’all. My blog stats are up, despite only having one post up today on account of travel! Stats are always highest during the work day. When I used to work an office job I swear some days I thought I found the end of the internet. I know what goes on out there. They key is to position your desk in such a way that your boss can’t see what you are doing. (That is if they can’t monitor you.) That way you can be playing video games and shit, but you’ll be so quiet that they will think you are a diligent worker. I once worked somewhere where there was an extremely high turnover rate. After about a year, except for management, I was the longest serving worker. Someone remarked that the reason I lasted so long was that I was always at my desk, quiet and hard working. I was playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out when they made that comment!
So if you read my blog while you are at work I understand. I support it. There are a lot of soul-crushing, mind-numbing jobs out there. American is full of jobs that bring zero meaning to one’s life. As well as working office jobs I was also a janitor for awhile, among other things. Today on the van ride home I was thinking that at least when you are a janitor and you clean something, or you mow a field, it looks nice. Even if it doesn’t last you can be proud of it and it increases of the quality of other people’s lives. Kids can play on a nice newly cut field. I’m not saying you didn’t do a lot of stupid shit as a janitor, you did, but at least you had tasks where you could take pride in your work some days. Some of those office jobs were beyond meaningless. You almost felt that the work you did was so meaningless that you somehow were going back in time creating more work, instead of getting anything accomplished.
Why is it that we value some people’s jobs more than others? Often that value has no real connection with a job’s value to society. (Hey it’s Friday afternoon. I thought it would be a good time to raise these questions. If you try really hard you can black out enough over the weekend that this blog will be a long distant memory!) All I’m really trying to get at it that we should not be so quick to judge those who have jobs that we find undesirable. Society would be pretty bad if the blue collar workers all got up in quit, but the world worked just fine before the internet.
And don’t think I am casting judgment from down on high because for the moment I am making my living as a musician and don’t have to work a day job except for on occasion. Even if you aren’t willing to hear the argument that being a musician is not as glamorous as you think, there is no guarantee that this lifestyle is going to last. Second, I’m pretty sure that if the deal goes down, and World War III starts, that playing a guitar will most likely qualify you for cannon fodder!
But its ok. I am used to non-sympathetic treatment. I remember one time my brother and I were riding tractors mowing grass on a super hot summer day. A local denizen, who knew we were both musicians, was jogging by and asked my brother how our day was. Covered in grass, bitten by flies, and sunburned, my brother replied that our day was pretty shitty. To which the citizen replied, “Why don’t you sing me a fucking song about it!”
One of the reasons that I started this blog, despite obviously loving the written word, was the far less noble pursuit of earning a living. The music business, tougher than ever, had me casting about for an alternative income stream. Luckily, I am one of those musicians that earns almost enough to survive on. Thankfully, enough of you have also tuned in that I am getting close to generating some revenue from my work here. In order to do this I have to make some structural changes. When I started this blog I didn’t know that it was much easier to earn through wordpress.org than it is through wordpress.com. In fact I knew nothing about the technical and structural side of blogging. I just followed all of the advice columns that said I should write as much as possible if I wanted to get traffic to my site.
So I am currently transferring this blog over to wordpress.org and making some much needed changes to the overall structure as well. I have no idea how long this will take me. I am hoping it is a seamless transition, but I have no idea what I’m in for. The process has already begun. If you notice any hiccups, that is the reason behind it.
Although there may be changes to the structure and look of this blog, I plan to keep writing in the same style that I always do. I have an uneasy relationship with advertising. While I acknowledge its place in the modern world, so much of modern advertising makes me ill. I am hoping that my own compass, and the fact that I predominately earn my living as a musician, will keep me honest. No one wants to buy the records of a sellout with nothing to say, or at least I don’t. (Come to think about it, a lot of people want to buy records by musicians that are sellouts with nothing to say! Fuck!!!)
I do believe that musicians, artists, writers, should earn a living from their work. This whole streaming thing troubles me, because it does not yet seem that it pays anyone anything that they can survive on. But hey, y’all got a blog out of it. I might not have ever started this blog had the economics of the music business been different. I really enjoy working on this though. Even if the economics changed, I don’t think I would stop now, for any reason. There is a lot more I want to add about how economics, and people’s support for the arts, directly effects the kind of art that we see. I am late to start packing for tour right now and that will have to wait for a later date.
I just got a copy of the new Shinyribs record that I play bass on. Mr. Russell even gracefully allowed me to coauthor one song, which I am extremely excited about. The record, which has long been in the works for sometime, should be out soon. As soon as I have a finite date, I will make it known. The Ted Hawkins tribute record I played on, that I have previously mentioned, is supposed to be out later this year.
I also hope to record a solo record this year. I don’t like New Year’s resolutions. A February declaration seems fitting somehow, as February seems like no one’s idea of a time to begin anew. Why can’t it be? My goal by the end of the year is to have three records in various stages of completion and to have this blog newly formatted and running clean.
Anyway, I’m off to Louisiana for a tour, as soon as I can stuff enough random things in a suitcase to feel like I tried. Over and out…
The hour is getting late, but I wanted to mention that tomorrow I will be going on tour with Shinyribs in the great state of Louisiana. The above link is to the Shinyribs tour page featuring dates, venues, etc.
The new Shinyribs album will be out soon. Tonight I just heard the final version of it for the first time, so I know that it does indeed exist!
I am bringing my computer with me so that I can blog from the road. Posting has been slightly slow the last few days. This is partially due to the fact that I am making some structural changes to Windup Wire that I need to make. I will comment on those soon enough.
In the future when all’s well…
I was checking out Ta-Nehisi Coates blog tonight, I came across the above piece on Andrew Sullivan. (Coates and Sullivan both used to blog for The Atlantic. Coates still blogs for them.) The piece is not only interesting for its views on Sullivan, but because it is also about how error is an essential part of intellectual pursuit. This is a good read, especially for those of you interested in writing.
Andrew Sullivan, soon to be retired blogger and creator of The Dish, posted some of his earliest words about blogging itself. I think he is someone that understands the best of what blogging can be. I think that it is a valid form of writing, but it is a new form of writing. It operates with a different set of rules than other forms of writing. It is more about capturing the honesty of the moment, and through a cataloging of moments, capturing the larger arc of the world around us. Here are some words on blogging from Sullivan’s piece:
[T]he speed with which an idea in your head reaches thousands of other people’s eyes has another deflating effect, this time in reverse: It ensures that you will occasionally blurt out things that are offensive, dumb, brilliant, or in tune with the way people actually think and speak in private. That means bloggers put themselves out there in far more ballsy fashion than many officially sanctioned pundits do, and they make fools of themselves more often, too. The only way to correct your mistakes or foolishness is in public, on the blog, in front of your readers. You are far more naked than when clothed in the protective garments of a media entity.
But, somehow, you’re liberated as well as nude: blogging as a media form of streaking. I notice this when I write my blog, as opposed to when I write for the old media. I take less time, worry less about polish, and care less about the consequences on my blog. That makes for more honest writing. It may not be “serious” in the way, say, a 12-page review of 14th-century Bulgarian poetry in the New Republic is serious. But it’s serious inasmuch as it conveys real ideas and feelings in as unvarnished and honest a form as possible. I think journalism could do with more of that kind of seriousness. It’s democratic in the best sense of the word. It helps expose the wizard behind the media curtain.
I am finding out late, as keeping up with my own blog has not allowed me the time to read his like I once did, that Andrew Sullivan is retiring from blogging. I am deeply saddened at this. I think Sullivan’s The Dish is the best blog going, a blog which greatly influenced this one. Sullivan is someone whose interests seem to know no bounds. You can go there any day and find discussions on politics, religion, art, and any number of topics. Although his blog skewed slightly to political issues, I would say only slightly. Some days you will pull up his blog and find a poem at the top of his page. Sullivan is Catholic, gay, and moderately conservative on some issues. (If you use the word conservative in the way that it used to be before the anti-science, corporatist, religious right completely took over.) I am none of those things. However, I knew that anytime I went to his page I would be opened up to new ideas, and most importantly, made to think.
There are several minor stylistic things that I stole from Sullivan, like not allowing the typical internet comments to play a part in the discussion. (As they usually just end up consisting of endless tirades and insults.) If Sullivan had a reader write a thoughtful dissent to what he wrote he would post it. He allowed the best of his critics a voice.
But more importantly was the idea that a blog didn’t have to be something narrowly defined. That in its own way it could be a kind of art form and window into the world. Political ideas, poetry, videos, and all manner of things could exist on a blog in the same way they do in our real lives. His blog created a community that was hungry for ideas and that wanted to think and be challenged. His blog inspired critical thinking and how many things in our media saturated world can you say that about? It was the first blog that I remember that was outward looking and not just a diary of the self. Although you felt like you got to know Sullivan through his writing, he was much more concerned in trying to shed light on the world.
I am hoping that this is a premature retirement, that like many musical acts he will return after a brief interlude of rest. If not, his blog was extremely important to my life and I know to many others. Although there is still talk of The Dish continuing in some form, I advise you to check it out while he is still at the helm:
“I will participate in the game. It is a wonderful, wonderful opera — except that it hurts.” – Joseph Campbell
Life is an opera. This is post number 1,000 since I began this blog in August of 2013. Whether performing music or writing here, I am constantly aware of the absurdity in doing. When I get on a stage, whether it is real or in the mind through writing, I am constantly aware of the ridiculousness of the situation. Although I can’t say that it is a constant feeling, there is always a moment when things become surreal. Why is it that people like to drink and stare at other people bopping around making strange noises on instruments? Why does anyone want to hear some thought that I have at 1am on a Tuesday when there are so many other people out there with thoughts, many who are way smarter than I?
It is so easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of doubt. If you look at most situations, there is some absurd element in them. I think it is good to always keep those thoughts in one’s mind. If you don’t you run the risk of getting untethered from reality with an ever expanding ego.
But again, life is an opera. One can either choose to be a part of the game of life or to retreat from it. Both options have an element of the comic in them. There are an infinite number of ways one can participate in life. Whether you are teaching college students or cleaning streets you are doing something of value to other people. And if you do participate there is only one real reason to do so: “To help each other get through this thing, whatever it is”, as Kurt Vonnegut said.
For myself, music and writing have brought me great sanity and comfort. They are my passions, so I hope they bring something to someone somewhere down the line. I have spent an incredible amount of time with books and records. I hope to share a little bit of the things that have kept me going so that maybe others too might find some value in them and keep going as well. I have no idea if it is any more of an important thing to do than someone who keeps the streets clean, someone whose work is measurable in real quantitative means, but it is what I’m into. I’m just wired this way, an accident of birth and circumstance.
It is only through others that we have any idea of value. I know that other’s words and songs have kept me alive, those souls I will forever be indebted to. Those of you that keep coming back here, or show up at the shows I play, are the reason I keep doing this, that make me think that maybe all is not for naught. The great comedy of life keeps spinning. I’m forever grateful for getting to share little bits of it with you, for awhile anyway…