I don’t tend to do “year in review” type things, but what the hell. Since I’m not making a life-altering montage for the year-end video progress report like I did at the end of 2010, here’s a brief look back at what this year was like for me, at least in terms of music and the blog.
I write a random piece about the first Go-Betweens album. Lindy Morrison — drummer in the Go-Betweens — leaves a comment. I proceed to fall over.
Shortly after I manage to stand up again, the external CD burner for my digital mixer finally craps out on me after almost twelve years of faithful service. A few days later my CD printer dies too, maybe out of sympathy.
I manage to replace both essential tools without too much trouble, aside from the inconvenience of having to spend about a thousand bucks I would much rather have kept in my pocket. After having two Dymo DiscPainters in a row die on me, I make a note never to buy anything from Dymo again and invest in a different printer for my CD-related needs.
Official solo CD #31 is released — MEDIUM-FI MUSIC FOR MENTALLY UNSTABLE YOUNG LOVERS. If ever an album title of mine really summed up the music I make, it’s this one. I don’t expect the album to get as positive a reception as the past several have, given how willfully schizophrenic it is even by my standards. Once again I’m wrong. A few people even tell me it’s one of their favourite things of mine they’ve heard.
For the first time ever, I manage to film myself recording a song and edit the footage in such a way that the result is sort of a music video, where you get to watch me play and sing the song I’m playing and singing in real-time. I’ll go on to get a lot better at it in short order, but the first attempt doesn’t turn out too bad, all things considered.
I discover someone in London, England has been playing my music on his podcast for quite some time. One of the happier unexpected side-effects of that brief time in early 2009 during which I was okay with the idea of entire albums of mine being online in MP3 form.
I make a bunch of crude computer drawings to illustrate a heart-warming children’s book written by my friend Joshua Jesty and sell a bunch of gear I don’t use anymore through the magic of Kijiji. An unexpected development will grow out of this a few months down the road.
A companion album to MEDIUM-FI MUSIC is mostly finished and slated for a projected release date sometime in April.
I find myself chest-deep in a romantic adventure with someone who was kind of “the one who got away”. We lost touch about seven years ago and I assumed I would never see her again. Before I can catch my breath, I’m sleeping in her bed and we’re sort of seeing each another.
It seems pretty great for a few weeks. I feel like I’ve died and gone to some happy place. All my cynicism seems to flake off of me like dry skin.
Then the whole thing turns to complete shit, creating a lightning-fast transition from Cynical Single Johnny to Sappy Romantic Johnny to More Cynical Than Ever Before and Once-Again-Single Johnny. I throw out the entire almost-finished album I’ve been working on and start writing and recording some more personal material that better reflects where my head is at now.
As an April Fools’ Day joke, I claim I’m finished with music and will be releasing a greatest hits album as a way of saying goodbye. As flagrantly ridiculous as the joke is, with the mock cover art advertising an essay by my old pal Bono, a few people kind of half-believe it, which is pretty funny.
Work on the next album continues through April and May, and I make the unusual (for me) decision to play a proper CD release show for once in my life. I start rehearsing with a rhythm section for the first time in nearly a decade — Dan, who I sold a microphone to through Kijiji, happens to be good friends with Liam (the resident physician at Dr. Disc), they have a long-standing rapport as a rhythm section, and we figure it might be fun to try playing together as a trio.
Turns out it’s more than fun, and all at once I kind of have a band, when I never expected that to happen again after the last band I had dissolved in 2002.
GIFT FOR A SPIDER (official solo CD #32) is released. It’s the first balls-to-bones breakup album I’ve made in almost ten years, and the most unguarded I’ve allowed myself to be in my music in a long time.
Again I have a feeling not so many people will be into this album. Again I’m wrong. It debuts at #1 on the CJAM charts, staying inside of the top five for a month straight. I think that’s a new record for me.
I play a show at Mackenzie Hall to give the album its official release. It’s another show where everything is free and a lot of music is played. It’s also quite a bit different from the first Mackenzie Hall show. Instead of a one-man balancing act, things are roughly split between solo and band performances.
There’s a good turnout, the audience is as receptive as I could hope for them to be, I get them to sing along during a song about trying to save a group of young girls from an evil fake nun (really), and just about every insane musical chance I decide to take seems to pay off, culminating in a long and winding spoken word improvisation to end the evening.
I find myself in the odd position of not knowing what to do next. I can feel the breakup album took a little something out of me. Thus begins an extended period of writing a lot of songs but not recording much of anything at all. In the meantime, I revisit and re-evaluate CREATIVE NIGHTMARES, realizing for the first time what an important album it was for me and how much I’ve grown to like it.
The blog gets its third (and final) makeover. It’s the simplest layout of them all, but it feels less cluttered and more pleasant to look at than either of the other themes.
(I first typed “vinyl” instead of “final”. Make of that what you will.)
I get older. Again. And here I thought you could just start skipping those birthday things after a while. I still don’t know what to focus my musical energy on, and continue to write a lot without recording much of anything.
I play a gig with Liam and Dan at an outdoor festival. It’s not a fun time. I have such a negative experience, I start to think I had the right idea when I said I was done with playing live in any capacity and concentrated on writing and recording exclusively. I make a note never to play another show I don’t have complete control over, if I bother playing live again at all.
I write one of those borderline think pieces that show up here every so often, this time about actress Barbara Payton after reading a book about her life. The author of the book comments on the post. I fall over again.
I go on to write a long email to Ray Carney that I’ve been marinating in my brain for about a decade, thanking him for writing Cassavetes on Cassavetes, which introduced me to the films of John Cassavetes and remains one of the best and most fascinating books I’ve ever read about anything. He responds the same day with an email almost as long as mine.
I attach retractable wheels to my back so any future trips to the floor will be more pleasant, and become a temporary human gurney.
After years of half-assed threats, I finally sit down to untangle the story of my self-imposed musical re-education.
My friend James opens his own record store and gives me my own section.
My protracted period of musical inactivity (at least in terms of recording anything of substance) comes to an end when I resolve to finish THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE — a tangled beast of an album I’ve been picking away at here and there since 2007 — one way or another.
I get fed up with reading bullshit on Facebook from people who call themselves my friends while failing to ever communicate with me in any meaningful way and deactivate my page. The Facebook Vacation of 2011 begins. I go one better and gut my CBC Radio 3 page, since deleting it outright doesn’t seem to be an option. Feels like it’s time to jettison some dead internet weight.
My friend Joshua Jesty comes down from Olmsted Falls to play a show at Taloola, and we meet in person for the very first time after sending epic emails back and forth for a good three or four years. The turnout at Taloola is pretty much nonexistent, which is disappointing. But somehow it makes for a better show, because the few of us who are there end up becoming a part of what’s happening in a way we probably wouldn’t if there was a larger audience present.
I pass a hundred thousand blog views — not an earth-shattering number for some people, but mind-boggling for a small potato like me.
And there you go. As always, if you really want to get a feel for what went down, you can trawl through the archives or check out this year’s video progress reports. But those are some of the more notable happenings.
For reasons that mostly went unmentioned here on the blog, my 2011 was kind of a piece of shit. I’m not at all sad to see it disappear. At least it was a good year from a musical perspective. While I didn’t put out as much material as I planned to, I’m happy with the two albums that did escape, and I managed to put a good dent in that ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE beast as the year was winding down.
Most of the music I heard and films I saw this year that really moved me or got me going in some way were not released in 2011, so a “least crappy stuff of the year in my opinion” list wouldn’t be of much use.
You don’t come here for that sort of thing anyway. You come here for the dirty words and innuendo. You know it’s true.
I will give you this much: the most moving thing I heard all year was this. The most abysmal things I heard this year, if not in my life, were this, and this, and especially this steaming chunk of ass vomit.
Musical goals for 2012? Why not.
My plan for ANGLE — and I think it’s a pretty realistic one — is to have the whole thing finished and ready to go by the end of March. I’m well aware that I’ve been setting myself deadlines for this album throughout the entire life of this blog and blowing every one of them, but there’s a big difference this time. In the past I was always working on other things at the same time and had a general attitude of “maybe I’ll get to it”. Now there are no other distractions, the album has my undivided attention, and I feel the urgency. I need to finish this thing before it gets away from me.
I’d like to make an artistic and unorthodox music video. Not another chopped-up-public-domain-film experiment (though I enjoy making those and don’t plan to stop anytime soon), but a real music video that’s a wholly original creation. If I can’t find someone who’s capable and interested in directing/filming something with me, with no ambition to get on television or drum up any attention, I’ll stop trying to find a collaborator and just do it myself.
I’ve been storing new songs and ideas that seem like they don’t belong to ANGLE (while not hesitating to send new material over there where it feels appropriate), and after that album is out of the way I think it might be time to do something that kind of redefines whatever my musical language is at this point. So after taking care of an album that is almost insanely ambitious in size and scope, I’d like to do something that refocuses the ambition and channels it into different crevices. I feel like ANGLE is going to close a chapter for me, and after that it’ll be time to go somewhere else. Maybe that projected collaborative album with Mr. Jesty will come to fruition at some point in the New Year as well.
And I’d like to see if I can find a mastering engineer who might be able to work a little sonic magic on a few albums from the back catalogue like YOU’RE A NATION and STELLAR, where I’m unable to do a proper restoration job of my own. If I can find someone who can tame the clipping and carve out the low end mud on the former and clean up the latter a little, well…it sure would be nice to be able to hear that music sounding a little more refined, if only for my own enjoyment.
As always, we’ll see what happens.
The last video progress report of the year should be along in a day or two.