self-censorship is a funny thing. i think i’m generally pretty loose-lipped around here, but every once in a while i stop myself and think, “should i really say this?” a month or two ago, for example, i wrote a fairly long rant about the strangeness of hype, and how rarely it’s actually justified. i think it’s well-written, well-thought-out, and it raises some good points, with some personal experience thrown in to quantify my observations. even so, i didn’t post it, because some opinions could be construed as insults to people who i really have no bad feelings toward, and no desire to offend. so let it just be said that i think hype is pretty silly, i think some people take themselves way too seriously, and people with two faces should just pick a face and stick with it for a while, to see what it’s like.
to that end, last week i found myself writing a song that addressed a few naysayers, and it came just short of calling them by name. it wasn’t an exercise in bitterness, but rather something i was having a bit of a laugh about. i had no ambition to record the song. then i thought, “this is a pretty catchy tune. even if the words weren’t about anything, i like the music. why shouldn’t i include it on an album that’s already going to be all-over-the-place?” so i recorded it the other day, and it will turn up somewhere on MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART. part of me thinks it’s entirely unnecessary, because there’s a pretty good chance those select few people i’m referring to know what i think of them. they definitely have an idea, if they’ve ever read what i say here with any degree of regularity, and i think most of their grumblings have died down by now. most of the people who listen to the song will be those who have been nothing but supportive and enthusiastic about what i do, and they might wonder who the hell i’m singing about, and what crawled in my coffee and died. it might come off as seeming a bit vindictive, and needlessly so, especially when i’ve already said my peace here. but the thought of one of the people i’m singing about potentially hearing the song and gradually realizing it’s about them cracks me up. in a way, you could look at it as a compliment. how many people get to experience the wonder of hearing a song that’s been written just for them? it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, really. for most of us, it doesn’t even happen once. and at least you can’t say i didn’t respond to the criticism. i think it’s more respectful than talking smack behind someone’s back; this makes it pretty clear what i think, and puts it right out there in the open.
i felt a brief twinge of something that may have been my long-dormant conscience stirring, and asked myself if i should really release this song. it uses some strong language and pulls no punches. i’ve written songs with much more foul language in them before, and with much more aggressive vocal deliveries, but this feels a little different. it’s more or less taking the sort of things you’re not supposed to say, even if you think them, and putting them in a song, with no attempt made at being poetic or cryptic. i wondered for a moment if i might regret putting such a song on an album where a fair amount of people would hear it. then i thought about some of the old guys with dicks and early post-band solo material i recorded. there are some really nasty songs there that leave nothing to the imagination. some of the people i was singing about ended up hearing the songs eventually. do i regret being that honest about what i thought, even when it wasn’t very nice? no. not for a second. the whole point is that the music is honest about who i am, where i am, and what i’m thinking and feeling in the moment it’s made. otherwise there’s no point. i’m fascinated by being able to look back at music i’ve made over the years, and being taken right back to where i was at the time, whether it was a good place or not. all of these cds are sort of a musical record of my life, really. even when i’m not singing about or to anyone who actually exists (which is often the case these days), i’m still there in the songs. to start sugar-coating or editing things now would make no sense at all. does the song refer to anyone by name? no. will it offend a few people? maybe. will it piss off anyone i actually care about? i highly doubt it. so it gets to stay.
it’s an interesting thing to think about, though (i first typed “thing about”. ha!). and it’s funny how it works in different ways on different levels—in my music, i feel no need to censor myself or hold back, and there’s really no such thing as going too far (short of making racist or homophobic comments, which i would never do, because i don’t have any of those feelings). i’ve dedicated entire albums to spitting venom at people who i feel have wronged me in one way or another, knowing they would probably end up hearing the music at some point, and it would be pretty obvious to them what i was singing about. there’s never been any fear of reprisal. it’s simply a matter of what must come out…coming out. but on the blog here, every once in a while i feel a need to hold back a little, whether it’s reigning in a bit of the profanity occasionally (fuck piss shit what?), or simply not expressing an opinion i know may ruffle some feathers. like, say, being upfront about the fact that i think some music is pretty unimpressive, when it’s touted as being quite the opposite. with cookie-cutter pop music, i feel it’s pretty safe to go to town, but elsewhere it’s a different story. it’s not that there’s a fear of reprisal here…maybe it’s something about seeing the words on a screen, and knowing other people will read them, that gives me pause, while singing or speaking them is a different experience, because in that case there’s music to add to (or soften, or twist) the experience.
to be clear, i’m not sitting over here with piles of posts i’ve held back for fear or pissing people off. 99% of the time i say exactly what i think, unencumbered by any thoughts of “who might be offended by this?” and the long-winded posts stretching all the way back to the beginning, attacking anything from ashley dupre’s five-second music career to being misquoted in print, will attest to that. in the two and-a-half years i’ve been writing this blog now, i think i’ve only had about three drafts that have found themselves sitting around collecting digital dust. it felt good to get out my thoughts and purge some things, but there was really no need to make those posts public, and there’s no need now. i think there’s a fine line between speaking your mind, and becoming one of the shit-talkers my tender new song is about…and maybe that’s what makes me think twice before i say certain things. some opinions are best kept to yourself. like, say, the opinion that mel gibson just might be a complete raving lunatic. oh, wait…everyone in the world thinks that now. no matter, then.
still, i keep wondering what it is about music that makes this occasional self-censorship disappear. there’s another song going on the new album called “those who hunted passenger pigeons are now burning in hell”, sung from the viewpoint of a member of a species that has been extinct for almost 100 years. the title on its own is a pretty bold statement, but it was what i felt. i was reading about these birds and how they were treated, i got angry, and out came a song. the anger isn’t in the delivery of the song itself, so much as it’s in the song’s title. and yet, i would never say on the blog, “i hope anyone who massacred those birds in such a cruel and disgusting way is now burning in hell, regardless of what my spiritual beliefs are, or how decent they may have otherwise been as people.” it would feel like i was going too far, while to sing about it in a song feels completely reasonable and gives me no pause at all.
maybe mel gibson knows the answer.
i suppose the point, if i have one, is that self-censorship is sometimes necessary, and sometimes a good idea, particularly when it’s done in the interest of not needlessly offending people who have done no wrong. but i think it’s important to have an area where there is no censorship or compromise of any kind, and i guess music fits the bill for me. i’m not a political writer (nor do i ever think i will be), and i don’t really do love songs, but i’m always there in the music, with no holding back.
speaking of the new album, it continues to inch ever closer to the finish line. the pace is seriously picking up now, as i’ve made it my goal to try and have the whole thing finished and sequenced by the end of this week. i think i just might be able to pull it off. there are a few songs i need to record, a few songs i need to add a few things to, a few mixes i need to tweak, and then it should be ready. assuming i can come to a comfortable decision on how to sequence 32 or so songs over the space of two cds without taking too much time to figure it out. then i just have to take care of the post-production stuff, printing inserts, copying cds, and putting it all together. hopefully, with a little elbow grease and bellybutton lint, it’ll be all packaged and release-ready by july 30th. i’m gonna give it the old high school try. if it doesn’t make it there by the end of the month, it will definitely appear in early august.
then i can get back to working on THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE and trying not to drown in a sea of songs that keep saying, “what about me? pay attention to me!”
there will probably be an especially long video progress report for the end of july, and it might kind of turn into partial “making of MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART” affair. we’ll have to see where it goes. i can tell you right now, it will feature a dream sequence and a mini-music video, and that’s just the first three minutes or so. it’ll change your life, or make you laugh at the audacity of someone who doesn’t even attempt to hide their hands manipulating stuffed animals on film.
back to mel for just a second—jon chattman wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about how the dude might theoretically rescue his career, and the phrase “jumping the christ” is one of the funniest things i’ve heard in a while. who wants to jump a shark when you can jump a whole deity?
on yet another note, that’s “god’s gonna cut you down” by johnny cash in a new car commercial. johnny cash. in a car commercial. really. how low can you go? “hey, need music for a commercial? just get rid of the singing and make a loop of one or two bars of the music. johnny’s dead. he won’t care.” seriously. do you think johnny cash ever wrote a song thinking, “man, i hope this gets used in a car commercial someday…maybe i should change the lyrics from ‘i walked into a ring of fire’ to ‘i bought myself a new camaro’…or would a cadillac be better?”
people who make these decisions and create these commercials should be lined up in a fast food restaurant’s parking lot and shot. with a gun.
now there’s some self-censorship for you. i mean, i could have said, “they should all watch in horror as their genitals are slathered with the worst-smelling cologne in the world while they’re bound and gagged, and then forced to endure a senile old woman repeatedly squinting up at them and saying, ‘your naughty bits smell funny’,” but i held back. willpower, you see. willpower.
ETA: a nick drake song is in a new at&t commercial. i just saw it on tv. kill me.