a year or two ago, my friend adam asked me if i’d be up for recording a CJAM station ID. when he told me he wanted to build it around “i love you” from MEDIUM-FI MUSIC (one of the more intentionally twisted tiny songs i’ve recorded in recent years), there was no way i could resist.
i don’t believe it’s ever been used on-air. i pretty much forgot it even existed, until last night, when the memory of coming into the station to record the voice-over bit came back to me. adam was kind enough to send me the finished station ID, and i think it’s too hilarious not to share. so here! listen and be changed in some fundamental-but-indescribable way!
(yes — we’re both insane. but we like it that way.)
speaking of CJAM — it’s pledge drive time again. and you know what that means. time to break out the banjo and open up the old heart. i’d encourage anyone who has any affection for the station at all to give to the cause, even if it’s only twenty bucks. there are probably more cool pledge incentives this year than there ever have been before. i got me a gift bag, a vinyl record i was actually looking for (plucked from the 1,200 or so CDs and records to choose from), and an awesomable shirt. that’s right. awesomable. that’s what you call something that is equal parts awesome and comfortable.
someone at the station put my 2010 pledge drive jingle up on youtube last year, and though the bit about hoodies doesn’t apply this year, i think it’s worth sharing again, just for fun.
come to think of it, CJAM is pretty awesomable itself. until i popped in yesterday, i hadn’t been there in a while, and i’d forgotten how much i liked hanging out in that atmosphere.
it feels strange to be talking about lou reed in the past tense. he was one of those guys i always kind of figured would live forever.
as velvet underground geniuses go, john cale has always been more my guy. but lou’s music was an important part of the soundtrack to my teenage years. i have vivid memories of being scared shitless by some of the more menacing songs on the blue mask when i was fourteen, giggling at the audacity of the uncredited bruce springsteen vocal cameo on the epic “street hassle”, rocking out to “vicious”, and listening to rock and roll animal in italy a few years later, taken aback by the weirdness of lou reed doing straight-up anthemic arena rock. there are a lot of memories of listening to lou when i was a less hairy person. they’re all good ones.
sure, i always thought he was a bit of a dick. and that thing he said about his shit being other people’s diamonds? yeah…no. his bad music was pretty bad. but at least it was amusing in its badness. and i’m beginning to think a lot of the “arrogant prick” thing was a front he put up, to keep certain people from getting too close or ever feeling like they really knew him. a game he played. in the last interview he ever gave, just weeks before his death, he said some really thoughtful things about what music and sound meant to him. he also couldn’t resist bullshitting the interviewer with stories of making enough money to buy his first guitar by chopping down trees on the family farm.
he grew up in long island. his family was jewish. there was no farm.
i hadn’t really listened to any of lou’s music in a long time. how long is “a long time”? about twelve years. i’ve been doing some visiting and revisiting in the aftermath of his passing, and it’s been pretty revelatory so far.
the VU albums are all great. that kind of goes without saying. i’ve probably said before that i thought the velvet underground lost something fundamental after lou kicked john cale out of the band (though i’m glad the two of them would later stop hating one another long enough to write and record the great warhol tribute songs for drella together). i still think that. but even without john’s manic creative spark to play off of, some of lou’s best songs are on the third self-titled velvets album and loaded. i wasn’t trying to be ironic when i sang “sweet jane” at the audition for a high school arts night. i loved that song, long before i heard the narcotic lullaby the cowboy junkies turned it into.
then there’s the solo stuff, which is fascinating, and surprisingly far-reaching.
there are albums i already knew i liked a lot. hearing them now is like spending time with old friends i haven’t seen in years. they’ve put on weight in interesting places. they’re still telling the same stories, but i’m picking up nuances i didn’t know to listen for before. and there are albums i never really listened to much at all or didn’t give their due. some of those have knocked me off my feet.
lou did charming sleaze (and grating sleaze, and frightening sleaze, and glammed-up sleaze…) better than anyone. i don’t think any singer was more adept at sounding like they didn’t give a shit. but when he dug deeper, his music had incisive and often sobering things to say about addiction, debasement, love, hate, and the darker side of life.
berlin, bleak as it is, savaged as it was by a lot of music critics when it first came out, may be one of lou’s greatest and richest achievements as a writer. “the kids” in particular is devastating. he spends most of the song singing about a woman whose children have been taken away from her, building the case against her, attacking her and spitting a litany of every questionable and irresponsible thing she’s done. just when you’re starting to think maybe it’s all worked out for the best, he stops singing, you hear the children crying and screaming for their mother, and it’s a thudding punch to the gut.
transformer is as great as it ever was; “walk on the wild side” isn’t even the best song on the album, though it’s the one most casual fans remember lou for. street hassle is just as acidic as it ever was. “gimme some good times” is hilarious, with lou ripping “sweet jane” to shreds and taking a giant crap all over the more accessible music he’d been making in the previous few years at the same time he mocks his own limited vocal range with those insane jeering harmonies.
but those “easy-listening lou” albums have their charms too. coney island baby has some really great songs on it, chief among them the title track, which is some kind of sublime half-spoken-word pseudo-doo-wop. and even when he was at his laziest, he was capable of twisting the knife when he wanted to. sally can’t dance is one of his sleaziest, least loved (but most commercially successful) albums. it’s one of the only lou reed records you could conceivably throw on at a party without derailing the evening. and yet, buried on this bizarre and often bloodless album are “kill your sons”, a horrifying recounting of the electroshock treatments he was forced to endure as a younger man (his parents’ way of trying to “cure” his bisexuality), and “billy”, one of the most moving things he ever wrote, wherein he somehow becomes bob dylan for about five minutes.
the blue mask and ecstasy have always been two of my favourites, full of songs where lou is just being lou, albeit with a new maturity in his swagger. well…most of the time, anyway. there are a lot of people who can’t get through the 18-minute-long “like a possum”. me, i always got a kick out of the sludgy guitar heroics and lou screaming, “i got a hole in my heart the size of a truck! it won’t be filled by a one-night fuck!”
he could do something like that, or sing about sucking nipples and shooting junk, and then turn around and make an album like magic and loss — a startling meditation on loss and mortality. that sort of thing can be a difficult slog too, but “dreamin’” is another one of his most affecting songs. “if i close my eyes,” he sings to a departed friend, “i see your face, and i’m not without you.”
there’s the knife again.
there are a lot of great lou reed songs they never play on the radio — the poetic and pretty “NYC man” off of the underrated set the twilight reeling, intense and unsettling workouts like “the blue mask” and “waves of fear”, airy and dreamy moments like “open house”, the shambolic and caustic “dirt”, the bluesy and simple and just-right “paranoia key of E”. but the song i keep coming back to right now is one lou didn’t even write himself.
listen to the great drifters version of “this magic moment”. then listen to what lou did to it in 1995 for a doc pomus tribute album. it’s pretty daring to take that great orchestral ballad and turn it into a stripped-down rockabilly shuffle, but lou pulls it off. what’s more, he inhabits the song. he makes it his own.
lou’s passing doesn’t sting for me in the same way alex chilton’s did, or as much as john cale’s will, but i’d be lying if i said i wasn’t sorry he’s gone. he left a lot of good music. i don’t think i’m brave enough yet to tackle the album he recorded with metallica. but even if it is as bad as everyone’s said it is, that he would be insane enough to take on such a project does a neat job of summing up the kind of artist he was.
if you followed this blog back when i used to update it every few days (i now call that “the maniacal period”), you may remember a dude named steven leaving a comment on a post in 2010 or 2011, saying some very nice things. steven and james O-L are brothers. they’re also in a great local band called james O-L and the villains. they’re also two of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. they’re also both capable of growing some great beards.
i made a bet with myself to see how many times i could start a sentence with the words “they’re also” before my left eye started twitching. i only made it to three. shame on me.
unexpected things have a way of happening, never more so than in the realm of music. that’s the way it works for me, at least. to wit: i just finished recording an album with steven, and it should get an official release (and an official CD release show) sometime before the end of the year. “tire swing co.” is the band name. steven wrote and sang the songs, james came by to lend some tasty electric guitar and bass to the opening song, kaitlyn kelly sang some gorgeous harmonies on two songs, and i did my one-man-band-of-session-musicians thing — something i haven’t done outside of my own music since OUTSIDE THE FACTORY GATES.
steven has a really interesting, unique voice. i like interesting, unique voices. if nick cave was more serene and laid-back, and less tremulous, he might sound a little like steven. on travis’ album, our vocal ranges are similar enough that if you don’t read the liner notes you might assume he’s singing all the harmonies himself (and he did do quite a bit of harmony-vocal-singing, but then so did i). in this case, there’s much more of a contrast, and i had a lot of fun playing with it. out of the seventeen songs on the album, there’s only one that doesn’t have me singing on it somewhere in the background, and that’s because it’s an instrumental and no one’s singing on it anywhere. unless you consider a banjo to be a voice.
hey — some people do.
i’ve really only recorded something other than my own music twice in the last decade. both were projects that kind of fell into my lap when i wasn’t expecting them. whatever is responsible for my musical lap-visitors, it has some good taste. there isn’t one song on the hour-long tire swing co. album that feels like filler to me. this is stuff i would want to listen to even if i didn’t have the chance to play on it. for weeks, i couldn’t even pick a favourite song to pull out for one of those “hey, here’s what i’ve been working on” moments, because seven or eight immediately came to mind and whittling them down was like trying to amputate my legs with plastic child-proof scissors.
what can i tell you without telling too much before the album comes out? steven played my 1951 gibson LG2 throughout, and i was reminded what a fantastic recording guitar that thing is. i played a lot of my newer martin OOO-15, because i liked the way the different tones of those two axes played off of one another. the funky old teisco wormed its way into a few songs. so did my long-neglected epiphone casino, which has been getting a little more love these days. i dropped my kay thin twin into standard tuning for james when he was over, and i really like the clean sounds he got out of it. there’s even some ukulele in one song.
i think the whole thing sounds like a unified, organic work, but at the same time there’s a lot of variety, and a lot of different sonic things happening, whether it’s a bit of delay coming in at the end of a piano solo, or the african drums gluing a song together in the most unexpected way. that last one was steven’s idea, and the sound works so well, in the last song i ever would have thought to use it, it’s insane. sometimes i forget how useful it can be to have so many random noise-makers like that lying around.
i was given a ton of creative leeway when we were recording. that was both a great compliment, and a little unnerving. it’s a great feeling when someone trusts your creative judgement enough to say, “here’s a song. do whatever you like with it.” at the same time, you want to contribute whatever ideas you might have without derailing the songs or making it sound like they’re yours, so your musical brain has to pull out some different dance moves than the ones it might normally reach for.
i’m still not sure i could call myself a proper producer, but i had a lot of fun arranging songs that were not my own. i think i only really went off the deep end once. there was one song i had a whole mess of ideas for, so i ran with them, and when i stopped running i looked up and saw that i’d kind of altered the whole shape of the thing. luckily steven was happy with what i did, and that song’s on the album.
the song is called “the maple tree”, and it’s up there at the top of the post. anything that sounds like a synthesizer is a fender strat played with a lot of reverb and manual volume swells. i couldn’t tell you where that guitar solo at the end came from. it was another one of those things that just happened, without any premeditation. i feel like it’s one of the best guitar solos i’ve played in my life. at the very least, it’s high on the list of my own personal favourite guitar moments. and it wouldn’t exist without the great song steven wrote inspiring me to find that sequence of notes somewhere in the part of my brain that speaks to my fingers.
as for the video footage — it’s from some public domain silent kids’ film from 1960 called the sky. i don’t know anything about it, aside from the fact that it was either horribly edited, or the version i found is incomplete. there are long stretches of nothing but black screen breaking up the images of actual things. nothing really happens on-screen, but i thought the imagery of sea and sky and dawn and dusk suited the music. i chopped it up, rearranged it, got rid of the kid (sorry kid), messed with the speed of some bits, and tried to assemble it all in a way that made emotional if not rational sense. there’s a gritty bit at the end of the smokestack footage, and i didn’t catch it until the video had already been rendered, but whaddayagonnado?
and in keeping with the recent theme of talking about live shows after they’ve happened instead of before, i should tell you we played a tire swing co. gig at taloola just a week ago. here’s the cool poster greg maxwell made:
there was a good turnout, and people seemed to like what they heard. for me, it was fun to get the chance to do something different in a live setting. most of the time when i’m doing the sideman thing, i’m playing piano and that’s about it. this time i played no piano at all. it was all lead acoustic guitar, except for a few times when i picked up a ukulele or banjo or melodica. i’m probably always going to be a little more comfortable sitting at something that has black and white teeth, but i like the challenge of not having that to fall back on. and i enjoyed how steven and i were both able to break out our vintage gibson acoustics and let them chatter at each other like siblings meeting for the first time.
maybe next time i’ll say something here before a show happens, not after. we’ll see.
more about the album as it inches closer to a proper release.
the mission statement for rose city sessions was (and is): “a collaborative project that brings together windsor, ontario-based filmmakers, visual artists, musicians, writers, photographers, and recording engineers to shine a light on our community’s burgeoning artistic and musical talents.”
three years ago, the people involved in assembling and recording material for the project came here and filmed me playing a song. my first idea was to put a ragtag band together and play “to be frail is to begin to be free” (from MEDIUM-FI MUSIC FOR MENTALLY UNSTABLE YOUNG LOVERS). for some odd reason i chose not to follow through with that, even though i was a much more social creature at the time and could have found the musicians i needed without much trouble. instead, i played a solo acoustic version of “i’m a witness, not your waitress” (from MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART). even then, i could have shown off a funky vintage guitar for the camera. but no. i stuck with the guitar i’d used on the original recording, which was decidedly un-vintage.
in hindsight, if i was going to go it alone, maybe i should have done something more far-out with an electric guitar and some effects. i’m not sure why i decided to go for one of the catchiest songs i could think of, instead of something a little stranger. but you know what they say about hindsight — it’s a psychotic squirrel wearing too much eyeliner.
actually, that’s just what i say about hindsight. no one else has ever said that. but it’ll catch on. you wait and see.
rose city sessions was meant to be a monthly serialized thing that would ultimately lead to online archives and a DVD set collecting massive amounts of local music. that didn’t quite happen. the project stalled half a dozen completed videos in, when its creators/maintainers found themselves scattered in different cities because of work, or school, or evil flying squirrels (see how it always comes back to the squirrels?). a number of additional videos had been filmed but were left unedited.
slowly, a few of those “lost” videos started to trickle out into the world. when a teaser for my own video appeared on youtube half a year ago, it gave me hope. but when i asked if it meant i might get to see the finished product someday soon, i didn’t get a definitive answer. so i assumed the chances of the thing ever seeing the light of day were about as slim as my teenage waistline.
now, against all the odds, here it is.
i remembered not being entirely happy with my performance at the time. it sounds a lot better to me three years later. in the absence of other musicians to replicate the studio version’s full-band arrangement, my guitar-playing gets a good deal busier to fill in the gaps, and my singing is better than i thought it was. i’m not sure how i remembered all those words…i’m guessing i had the lyrics stashed out of sight, either on the floor or on a music stand.
so here i am, singing a song about snowbanks, leased cars, and eyes caked with dried paint. what do you think? me, i think the quality and editing are pretty wicked, the performance on my end is more solid than i thought it was at the time, and i’m glad i get to see it at long last and share it with whoever else wants to see it.
thanks to murad, eric, james, and dave kant (for supplying the artwork you see in the background now and then).
a few weeks ago i embarked upon a great cleaning adventure.
the “studio” is one area i’ve never bothered tidying up much. i didn’t think it needed the work. unlike my perpetual disaster of a bedroom, it was one spot that never seemed to get very messy. it almost seemed to keep itself in check because of the nature of what i was doing in the room. i probably wouldn’t have been able to work in there so often and so easily if it got too chaotic.
well, it turns out six years of occasional half-assed cleanings without any serious ass-destroying cleanings will take their toll, and just because a space looks tidy doesn’t mean it’s so.
it took a few days of intermittent work, but i got things looking better in there than they ever have before. tripping hazards were addressed and nullified. piles of backup CDs were labeled and organized. dust was encountered. wars were waged. hearts were eaten. and a whole lot of pieces of electrical tape were cut and written on with sharpie marker.
a saner person would have picked up a patchbay by now. a saner person would do a lot of things i haven’t done and don’t intend to do. i never came around to the idea of rack-mounting my gear. i tried once. it looked funny to me. it felt funny too. i prefer to pile things up on a massive desk so i can lean into it and let it all surround me. all i need are some pieces of coloured tape to let me know what’s plugged into what.
the thing is, a lot of those pieces of tape have not aged well. most of them still retain some adhesive properties, but in some cases the ink has faded far past the point of legibility. so i re-labeled everything, and labeled some things that had never been labeled before, and now i know the source location of every active patch cord — which is something you’d think i would have taken care of a long time ago. at least now i know where everything is going and/or coming from. that should help things run a little smoother from here.
a sample of some of the old tape i peeled off of patch cords and replaced:
i wish i’d taken before and after pictures, because i doubt i’ll ever let things deviate much from how organized they are now, and the transformation was subtle but still capable of inducing a medium-strength erection. instead, here’s a picture of the shelf in the stock room. the cleaning momentum carried over upstairs, and i thought i should take a crack at the mess that room had turned into. all the inserts and booklets that were scattered on the floor are now arranged like so:
every box is stuffed with inserts/booklets, and they’re a lot deeper than the picture makes them look. the two black boxes on top alone probably hold inserts for 20 different albums between them.
it’s a little strange knowing where everything is after getting used to having to do a lot of guessing and digging. it’s a nice change, though.
elsewhere, the mysterious album of stuff i am recording that i did not write myself is just about finished. a few songs just need a little tweaking/remixing, and then i will turn my attention back to this ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE behemoth. would it surprise you to know that the whole thing has shifted yet again, and the track list i started to carve out on the album page is going right out the window?
at last, all blog-related things are up and running again.
while the blog was sleeping, other things were happening. the recording of music that is not my own has continued, and is now moving into the late stages. sounds kind of like a video game, doesn’t it? i assure you it isn’t video game music we’re working on, though. sorry to disappoint.
the piano has been given a fresh voicing, with the hammers whipped back into shape. after almost five years of playing, they’d been worn down a bit and the tone was starting to get a little harsh in places. when ric put the hammers back into the belly of the beast after working on them, we both almost fell over. i’d never heard my piano sound so rich. it was as if a veil i didn’t know was there had been lifted from the sound.
the speaker in my grunty old paul tube amp finally crapped out on me, while the 14-year-old tubes continue to hum along just fine. finding an identical replacement speaker for such an obscure amp was always going to be a maddening task, but with the help of steve chapman i was able to find a celestion that matched the specs i needed, and that thing is now back in business.
i learned some things i didn’t know about this amplifier while steve was studying its guts. it’s 5 watts. there are three tubes inside, all with different voltages. someone rewired the amp at some point before i got it, in such a way that there’s basically no headroom, which is why it breaks up so nicely and doesn’t really do clean sounds. at all. initially steve took one of the tubes out so there would be a bit more clean tone before the distortion kicked in, but he slipped the tube back in once he found out i liked the lack of headroom.
the amp sounds just the same as it ever did, with no detectable change in tone or response — a bit of a relief given the speaker situation. the only appreciable difference is a marked increase in weight; this new speaker is a good deal larger and heavier than the old one.
elsewhere, someone picked up seven of my albums at a thrift shop. the good news is they were only a buck each and the money went to charity. the less-good news is my music was technically being sold, when anyone who knows anything about what i do would have a pretty good understanding of how i feel about that sort of thing, and i’d hazard a guess some of the CDs in question even said “this music is not for sale” on the inserts.
i kind of wish i knew who donated those CDs, but i don’t think there’s any way to find out a thing like that. at least the music ended up in the hands of someone who likes the stuff.
i also found my old art tube mic preamps and the aphex opto-compressor buried in the garage. i think i’m going to hold onto that compressor. you never know when that sort of thing may come in handy. i figure i might as well try to sell those preamps on kijiji, though, because i’ve no real use for them now. even if i only make fifty bucks or so, it’s fifty more dollars in my pocket and someone else will get a good deal on some perfectly decent equipment that served me well in years past. and you know what i can get for fifty dollars?
i just saw this video for the first time the other day. it’s one of the most crushingly sad blue nile songs, set against scenes from an andrei tarkovsky film (nostalghia, apparently). the music and the images work so well together, it’s a little surreal. i think it makes a more effective video than any of the official blue nile music videos i’ve seen, actually.
so there’s that.
what’s new ’round these parts?
i’ve been slacking with the updates again, mostly because all of my wordpress subscriptions need to be renewed before i can add any more files of any kind, and new posts don’t feel quite right without the ability to include any pictures, mp3s, or video content that hasn’t already been hosted elsewhere. i’ll get that taken care of at some point.
a good chunk of my creative energy over the past little while has been funneled into recording music that isn’t my own. i won’t say too much about that until work is finished, but it’s been fun to flesh out someone else’s songs instead of mine for a change. haven’t really done that sort of thing in a while. even after all these years, this kind of work still seems to bring out some of my best musical ideas. maybe it’s something about being freed from any sense of ownership, and operating more as a proverbial decorator without the responsibility of building the entire musical structure from the ground up. but i’m also playing an awful lot of different instruments, and in one or two cases i have basically rebuilt the songs even though i didn’t write them, bending things in odd directions. lucky for me, the reaction has been positive.
one thing i’ve learned in no uncertain terms — i am not the guy you come to if you want an album that’s polished to within an inch of its life and sounds like it walked out of a six million dollar studio. i’m not going to tell someone how i think they should sing their own songs or ask for twenty vocal takes if the first or second take is solid enough. i’m not going to spend an hour mic’ing up a drum set. i’m not going to use a click track if the person i’m recording is more comfortable working without one (as long as their sense of rhythm is good enough not to create any serious problems down the road). i don’t have access to autotune, and i wouldn’t use it even if i did. i’m not set up to do beat-aligning or serious editing of any kind, and i have no interest in that approach to recording.
at the same time, i’m not going to just move a few microphones around and press a few buttons. i’m not going to record something and take a hands-off role. i could do that if i absolutely had to, but i prefer not to. there are other people who are much better choices for that sort of thing.
i guess i’m someone you go to if you want a recording that has character, that has some of my own musical ideas swimming around in the soup, and that has some imperfections. i like the odd hesitation or unintentional ambient noise or bit of studio dialogue here and there. i think they’re humanizing moments. i’m not going to make someone else’s music sound like “johnny west music” (whatever that is), but i’m going to dig in and contribute as many of my own ideas as i’m allowed to, while working to understand and accommodate the artistic sensibilities of whoever i’m recording.
basically, if you don’t like the way i approach the recording of my own music, you probably don’t ever want me recording you. i think it’s better the way it’s worked out, with me only recording a few friends here and there…i can keep things very laid-back and it never feels much like work. it helps when you like the people you’re working with, too.
as for my own noise, i haven’t been putting as much work into finishing up that big bloated magnum-grope-us as i’d like to say i have. but i’ll get it finished this year, or else i’ll junk the whole fucking thing and never speak of it again. that’s a promise. it’s now or never time, because i need to get this elephant out of the room so i can move on to other things.
one good thing to grow out of the album having such a stupidly protracted gestation period is the added time i’ve had to re-evaluate things. i came to the realization not long ago that the way i’d put some of the pieces together suddenly didn’t feel right anymore. so my sequencing ideas are going to be altered pretty profoundly, some songs are going to get thrown out, and the whole thing is going to change shape completely another time or two before it hits the finish line, i’m sure. i’m on the fence about boiling it down to three CDs, or sticking with 4 maxed-out CDs for maximum sprawl. one way or another, i’m going to make sure the thing flows as well as it can and makes emotional sense for me. what anyone else will make of it is anyone’s guess.
and i’m playing a show at the FM lounge on sunday, backing travis up, opening for three little birds. instead of a full band show like the last one, it’s just going to be the two of us, which isn’t something that’s happened in a live setting in a while. so that should be interesting.
i’m not a huge taylor swift fan, though i still say if she wrote an album full of songs like “safe and sound” (her contribution to the hunger games soundtrack), i would run out to buy it in a second. and that one dream i had in which she appeared as my girlfriend…that wasn’t so bad, either.
this, however, may be her best work yet. there’s an edge there…a kind of raw energy i’ve always felt was missing in most of the rest of her material. give it a listen and you’ll see what i mean.
(note: because the music industry is full of capitalist whores lacking any semblance of a sense of humour, every version of this video keeps getting removed from youtube. each time the video here goes dead, i’ll find another functioning one, until the end of time.)
my friend adam just released an album, and he’s giving physical copies away for free at dr. disc and ah some records. if you like isn’t anything-era my bloody valentine, bleach-era nirvana, and/or “dirty, slippery, visceral, palpable intensity weathered by destruction and delirious lust”, you should check it out. i dig it. you can borrow my shovel and dig it too, if you’d like. but you have to bring it back before april. i’m gonna need that shovel when the spring rain starts to fall.
this is one of my favourite songs on the album. it makes me think of what might have happened if mark sandman decided he wanted to write a melodic grunge song.
and hey, my name is in the album credits as a mastering engineer. mastering music i didn’t record myself isn’t something i’ve ever done before, and not something i consider myself all that adept at…but it was a fun challenge to use the gear i had to try and beef things up and bring up the volume while keeping it musical. adam was happy, so i must have done okay! bandcamp makes it sound a little more compressed than it really is, but ain’t no big thing.
mindy mccready had been troubled for a long time. it wasn’t a shock when i heard she’d killed herself, so much as it was startling to learn how she’d gone about doing it.
in january, david wilson, mindy’s music producer boyfriend — and seemingly one of the few stabilizing forces in her life in recent years — shot himself on the front porch of the home they shared. no one seems to know why he chose to take his own life. a month later, mindy shot herself on that same front porch, after shooting her boyfriend’s dog (to “take him with her” so his owner could see him again, a friend explained to the press). she was 37 years old.
at the outset of her promising musical career, no one would have ever dreamed it would end this way. she had a record deal in nashville, a double platinum-selling album, and a #1 hit single, all when she was barely into her twenties. she was beautiful. she could sing. she was poised to be the next faith hill, without the early hair issues.
each successive album she released after her first sold less and less, until she was dropped by her record label. she got another record deal, released an album that did even worse business, and was dropped again. it’s not clear where things began to really go wrong. maybe it was when her country singer boyfriend billy mcknight was charged with attempted murder for beating and choking her until she blacked out. she attempted suicide two months later. she survived, they got back together, and she had his child.
maybe it was the drugs and alcohol. she was arrested in 2004 for drug fraud after buying oxycontin with a fake prescription. a year later she was stopped by nashville police while driving drunk with a suspended license. two months after that, she was charged with identity theft, unlawful use of transportation, unlawful imprisonment, and hindering prosecution. and on it went. probation violations. assault. resisting arrest. more probation violations. jail time. a sex tape. a custody battle after her son was taken away from her. she tried to kidnap him while he was in her mother’s care. the two of them were found huddled together in a closet, hiding.
something must have led to all of this. there had to be a tipping point. three years ago, in an interview, mindy summed up her life as “a giant whirlwind of chaos all the time. my entire life, things have been attracted to me, and vice versa, that turn into chaotic nightmares. or i create the chaos myself.”
then, in january 2012, she posted an update on her website that may be the closest we ever get to an explanation for what went wrong, and why:
the following is an overview of a future book about my life.
i haven’t had a hit in almost a decade. i’ve spent my fortune, tarnished my public view, and made myself the brunt of punch line after punch line. i’ve been beaten, sued, robbed, arrested, jailed, and evicted. but i’m still here. with a handful of people that i know and trust, a revived determination, and both middle fingers up in the air, i’m ready. i’ve been here before. i’m a fighter. i’m down, but i’ll never be out.
this book is not about shifting blame. i know i’ve made mistakes and i take full responsibility for those mistakes. this book is part diary, part therapy, part confessional, part job, and part apology. but mostly, i just want people to understand me better. so when people like nancy grace or the TMZ parasites pass judgment, they can do so with the full story.
she went on to write:
my drive came from an abusive upbringing and the dependence of two younger brothers. my fame came from my success as a country music singer. my infamy came from outside my career: bar-brawls, secret affairs, domestic violence, drug charges, jail time, rehab stays, and suicide attempts. i could say that the information was taken out of context, blown out of proportion and completely misconstrued, and a lot of it was. some things, however — more than i’d like to admit — are just the sad truth. but what nobody knows are the details behind the splashy headlines. the person i am, the intentions behind every bad decision, and events leading up to each “i can’t believe i did that” moment. this book will supply me the opportunity to show that i’m not so different from my fans and antagonists.
i was an underdog from birth. i was born into an unhealthy house ruled by a mother who was too young and too violent to successfully take care of children. my two brothers who would eventually look to me for rescue came later. nature gave me the ability to sing and favorable looks. my mother taught me the art of manipulation and convenient detachment. my father taught me to depend on no one. my brothers showed me the necessity to succeed and sever the dependence on our parents. armed with this, i graduated high school early and moved to nashville to be a star.
two years later that is just what i was. with my first album i became one of the top selling debut female country artists of all time. the view from the top of the charts was inspiring but fleeting. the men i dated on the way up and the way down were incredible and terrifying. i’ve been engaged to a movie star, courted by a prince, kept by a professional baseball player, and nearly beaten to death by the man who would father my son.
now, i have no delusions about my seemingly precarious situation. i have served a total of seven months in jail. i have just spent six weeks at an inpatient facility where i worked with doctors and counselors every day. the FBI and U.S. congress are currently seeking my testimony against roger clemens, a man i once loved. my public persona is badly warped and bears little resemblance to the person those closest to me know. my musical career has been on hold for several years. still i have a record deal, a reality TV show in the making, a full team of managers, lawyers and assistants, and a new clarity to accompany my devilish determination and ferocious work ethic. i’m ready for whatever comes next. i’m down but i’ll never be out. this extraordinary life, begging to be written, is a comeback story.
she didn’t live to write that story.
mindy’s last boyfriend, with whom she had a second child, was probably the closest thing to an anchor she had left. she called him her soulmate. once he was gone, she must have felt completely alone, abandoned, and used up by life.
she attempted suicide four times in seven years before finally succeeding. you get the feeling more could have been done by those around her to try and help her. i’m not sure celebrity rehab with dr. drew was the answer. she was hospitalized in the aftermath of wilson’s death to receive treatment for “alcohol abuse and mental issues”, only to be released to an outpatient facility almost immediately when it was determined that she didn’t fit the profile for alcoholism and was capable of living on her own.
some people have written about how selfish it was for her to leave her children behind. i don’t think they understand the way a person’s mind works when they’re in that amount of pain. you just want it all to end. you feel like you’ll be doing everyone a favour if they’re rid of you. you don’t think you’re doing them any good at all by sticking around, because you’re nothing but a soulless void. human waste. you can never feel any real forward momentum, no matter how you try to search for reasons to keep going. you’re running in place on a set of legs that no longer respond to the signals your brain is trying to send them. and you don’t see any light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. there’s just a viscous sea of black stretching out in every direction, as far as you can see.
try waking up and dealing with that every day, all day. then try being a woman who has it hammered into your head by the media that your best days are behind you and, nearing 40, you’re no longer considered beautiful or desirable. try realizing you’re no longer welcome in an industry that’s more interested in taylor swift’s six millionth song about what an awful boyfriend some other celebrity douchebag was than anything you might have to say. try fighting for years to gain full custody of your oldest son, finally winning that battle, and then a month later having the man you plan to marry shoot himself in the head. try then having your children taken away from you for good and placed in a state care facility, and dealing with the possibility that at some point the ex-boyfriend who tried to kill you may get custody of at least one of them.
see how well you do.
mindy wasn’t a songwriter. not really. and this is what i keep coming back to. on her last album, she’s credited as a co-writer on a few songs, but in the country music industry, all that usually means is the singer came up with a vague concept or contributed a few rhymes, while the professional songwriters did the heavy lifting. she was a song interpreter. and that’s very different from being a writer. the most skilled song interpreters — singers like frank sinatra, billie holiday, sarah vaughan, and elvis presley — could take just about any song and make it sound like no one in the world had ever sung it before them, and no one else ever would again.
the trick is, a singer who isn’t a writer needs other people to write the songs for them. architects to build them rooms to walk around inside of. and i don’t imagine it’s easy to find songs you connect with on a deep enough level, and rooms you feel comfortable enough inhabiting, to make music that means something to you. those of us who are writers, we’re lucky. we can at least throw a leash around our demons and try to lead them somewhere. we don’t need to look to someone else to do it for us, hoping they’ve got strong enough hands for the job. we don’t need anyone to ghostwrite the autobiographies of our souls.
mindy didn’t have that catharsis — that place she could go to wrestle back some control, however fleeting. and i can’t shake the feeling that it might have made a difference if she had. it may not have saved her, but it could have given her an oar to row through that deep black muck she got lost in. maybe she would have been able to keep herself afloat a little while longer.
how lonely it must be, to be a singer who can’t find the song that might set you free.