Wow, it has been a long time since I have posted anything here. My apologies to any of you who were expecting more regular output from me over the last five months or so.
My silence has not been spiteful or petulant, I assure you. I will admit that I have been struggling with the need to go off the grid for a while, however. I have always been ambivalent about my addiction to social media (though perhaps not quite this ambivalent), and I occasionally crave a respite from the visibility it compels. Not without some professional risk: it is becoming more and more impossible to have the sort of music career that willfully ignores the online environment. But I reached some kind of breaking point back in the Spring, and I dealt with the resulting tension by maintaining a haphazard presence on the "big two" platforms (Facebook and Twitter), while neglecting the blog for a bit. In retrospect, I feel like I should have done it the other way round.
In other words, I discovered that I truly missed blogging. Facebook and Twitter, on the other hand -- don't know if I would miss them if I could somehow break free. I participate, but participation takes energy -- and not always "good energy." Often it is the energy of shallow distraction, the energy of trying to keep up with all of the excellent things my musical friends and associates are doing -- a worthy enough endeavor, but one that, given its scale, comes at the cost of focusing on what I want to be doing, and maybe even one that threatens to undercut my own integrity as an artist. I worry about speaking just to speak, about becoming just another strident voice added to the self-aggrandizing din. (After all, who am I to distract you from the things you want to be doing?) But mostly, I worry about priorities, and time.
Of course, there have also been technical reasons for my silence here. The biggest is that I am still not finished with my damned book. Yes, I am very close, and yes, I expect to have it completed by the end of the year. But I have been saying similar things for some time now, n'est-ce pas?
The issue is this: in the process of revising the original manuscript over the last year and a half, and passing it around to various people, who have been giving me useful (at times brutally useful) feedback, I feel like I have brought the thing within striking distance of being a much better, more thorough, more compelling book than I ever imagined was possible in the first place.
That revelation has proved to be a heady wine, but it has also forced me to be patient. Indeed, the kind of excellence I am after has required more motherfucking patience than I thought was humanly possible. (Thankfully, my agent has even more patience than that.)
Patience is new territory for me. While I have always tried to be thorough and exacting in my work, I have also tended to give in to the impulse to move a composition (whether it be prose or music) through the pipeline, rather than lingering over it for too long. There was always something more important about the overall flow, about the collective statement of a body of work, than about any one piece in particular. I still think there is a basic value in that approach, but something about writing a book -- 300 pages or so that need to hang together in a single coherent line of thought -- has led me to obsess about this work more, and, perhaps, to give in to the agony of self-criticism more. Not so much that it leads to writer's block. But enough to extend my timeline a bit.
December. I think I will finish this by December.
What about the IJG? Well, I'd be lying if I said it hadn't become a bit of a struggle to keep it going in recent months. Let me be clear: like me, the band is not dead, we are just lying low for a bit. Aside from the energy it is taking me to write the book, there is a bit of a background here, a psychic melodrama that extends back a few years. After the disappointing "Rocktober" tour in 2009 (as I said, psychic melodrama: other people tell me it wasn't that bad), I made a pact with myself that when it came to the IJG I would no longer seek out or accept the kind of endearing but ineffective gigs I had grown too accustomed to over the years. No more cafe gigs for a percentage of the door. No more art galleries that couldn't guarantee a crowd. No more cramped stages with crappy acoustics. No more bullshit. I had put up with that kind of thing for too long, because I loved the music. But in 2009 the equation changed. The bullshit threatened to make me love the music less, and that scared me.
For a while, my newfound purist self-righteousness seemed to work nicely. We gigged less, but the gigs were better. Highlights included performances at LA's Hammer Museum, an always-enjoyable annual jaunt to San Diego, and a trip to Milan that was one of the best performance experiences of my life. (That last is a tale I have yet to tell, I know.) But for the last six months or so, the telephone has been pretty quiet. To make the situation more complicated, there has been a new IJG album in the queue for two years now. I have discovered an exquisite talent for belaboring the mix on that one. I'm still not quite sure I want to release it.
In short, every time I sit down to work on IJG stuff, I am put in mind of this Berlioz quote:
I dreamed one night that I was composing a symphony, and heard it in my dream. On waking next morning I could recall nearly the whole of the first movement, which was an allegro in A minor in two-four time. . . I was going to my desk to begin writing it down, when I suddenly thought: If I do, I shall be led on to compose the rest. My ideas always tend to expand nowadays, this symphony could well be on an enormous scale. I shall spend perhaps three or four months on the work [. . .] during which time I shall do no articles, or very few, and my income will diminish accordingly. When the symphony is written I shall be weak enough to let myself be persuaded by my copyist to have it copied, which will immediately put me a thousand or twelve hundred francs in debt. Once the parts exist, I shall be plagued by the temptation to have the work performed. I shall give a concert, the receipts of which will barely cover one half of the costs -- that is inevitable these days. I shall lose what I haven't got.
These thoughts made me shudder, and I threw down my pen, thinking: What of it? I shall have forgotten it by tomorrow! That night the symphony again appeared and obstinately resounded in my head. [. . .] I woke in state of feverish excitement. I sang the theme to myself; its form and character pleased me exceedingly. I was on the point of getting up. Then my previous thoughts recurred and held me fast. I lay still, steeling myself against temptation, clinging to the hope I would forget. At last I fell asleep, and when I next awoke all recollection had vanished for ever.
That's a weird place to be -- to be in touch with your own talents, to have the artistic self-confidence that comes from experience and maturity, and yet to feel a sense of dread about actually bringing a work to fruition, or to even bother with the first steps. Part of you wants to destroy each composition in the womb, because you know the agony that will attend its realization process somewhere down the road. Writing itself is no problem -- it's the same joy it always was, and melodies come to you in your dreams, while walking the dog, during dinner. You know each piece can be something beautiful, maybe even something astonishing. But what a pain in the ass it will be to actually get it performed! What a pain in the ass it will be to actually get anyone to hear it!
It's hard to write about this sort of thing without sounding self-indulgent. But honestly, these are the realities that all independent composers must face -- I'm just articulating them, not arguing for apathy in the face of them. (Of course the challenge is particularly acute when it comes to large ensemble music.)
My own way out of this dilemma, for the time being, has been to create a parallel experience while I quietly scan the horizon for the IJG's next adventure. In other words, to start another band. Even in the face of the realities I just outlined, the urge to write never goes away, and I have realized that if it doesn't have an outlet, that in itself is a risk factor for depression (for me). In fact, being technically band-less since March is probably one of the reasons I have been over-thinking all of the things I have been over-thinking. I'm worried about where that might take me if I'm not careful.
Starting a Portland band is something I have been pondering for a while. It's a little absurd how long it has taken me, given the fact that I have been living in this town since 2006. But this year, for the first time, I have actually tried to make it happen. The process itself has been a struggle. There have been many close calls and false starts, with potential new project after potential new project dying upon the rocks of scheduling difficulties and incompatible chemistry.
But now that the year is drawing to a close, I'm in rehearsals with a thing that seems to be cohering into an actual entity, and actual ensemble. At the very least it's nice to have some new music of mine raise its head and blink at the world for the first time.
The players may be known to you: David Valdez on alto, Scott Hall on tenor, Andrew Jones on bass, Todd Bishop on drums, Justin Morrell on guitar. I am playing keys, as best as I am able.
I'll have more to say about this soon, I hope.
What's next? I don't know yet, but I promise not to keep you in the dark for another five months.
Thanks for reading.