Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Daily Dose #72 "And So It Begins...."

The blank screen  stares at you. The blank page dares you. A glaring, white, mocking flung gauntlet.

“Just who do you think you are?” It asks. It aims directly at all the things that scare you the most. All that you fear. All your insecurities. All your perceived deficiencies, and all those that hide in the shadows of your unknown blind spots.

And so it begins. You either face all those fears, or you don’t. Not playing the game is always the third move on any chess board.

Its an internal confrontation, and one frankly, that I’ve been avoiding for quite some time. I reached a point in my life where I was just exhausted from waging a war with myself inside my own cranium. Call it battle fatigue, post traumatic stress syndrome, or whatever you want.

I retired. I got tired of failure. I got tired of loss. I needed some peace.

So I moved to Sodus Point in Wayne County, NY, USA to become “A gentleman apple farmer”. I was due for a major battery recharge, and this is where I found it.
The Gentleman "Apple Farmer"

I made a new life with someone I loved and someone that seemed to love me back. The genesis moment of a new me, really. I tended the “farm”. Cooked and cleaned, made sure my woman was taken care of. Toiled in the gardens, took care of the critters, fixed up the house… learned new skills that eluded me in my previous nomadic musician’s existence. I learned how to be simple. I learned how, above all else, to preserve my tenuous hold on my own sanity without the benefits of serotonin re-uptake inhibitors and lithium. I learned how to meditate. I learned that is was ok to just STOP. Take a break. In this case, it was a five year time-out.

One of the casualties, or collateral damage however you want to look at it, was that I stopped playing the piano for a few years. I wrote a song once about the piano being “the only thing that has never let me down”. That may be true. Perhaps I just got tired of letting IT down (and more importantly, letting my friends and people I truly loved down through the medium of playing the damned thing). It became pretty evident to me that no matter how hard I tried, I was never really gonna master that 88 keyed beast to the point where I was going to be able to play what I actually heard in my head.

Sorry, piano. It's been great fun, but like with any substantial future ex-lover, painfully it was time to say "Au Revoir". "Arrivederci". "Ciao". "Auf Wiedersehen". "Sayo-the fuck-onara". The future is now.

There was a lot of saying “goodbye” to a lot of things. Primarily, the definition of “self”. “Tear it Down, and Build it Up Again”. I was more than content stripping a deck, weeding gardens, walking dogs, and plunking on a ukulele every blue moon.

Exiled On Fitzhugh Street. A place to let go, relax, and empty my overflowing and chaotic monkey brain

I didn’t exactly stop being creative, however. I just directed my creative energy, and the disciplines I learned through a lifetime of creativity (and the music biz), and applied them to other things.

So I went on to other projects, and other objectives. I wrote a lot. Created a lot of content in the forms of Internet Dog Beauty Contests, Blogs, a video cooking show with my Dad that almost got off the ground, to continue to experiment with some theories and predictions I had about Social Networking Platforms (which proved to be pretty accurate). Worked a straight job that was deeply connected to the underbelly of the State and Federal government (Fun; even wildly compelling, but ultimately my exposure to sausage making in the political “Arena” was starting to be bad for my health...and Karma. Someday, I may write about those experiences, but in the meantime? I kinda like being above ground and breathing.) I got passionately involved in environmental activism concerning hydrofracking in NY State.    

But ultimately, no more music, and most definitely, no more “Little Georgie”. That set of clothes was just getting too binding; Confining. and I was beginning to get used to being fat and more specifically, centered and happy for once in my life.

Every once in awhile, my old life would reach out with an offer that involved music and I would have to be as gracious as possible while internally promising to myself that I wouldn’t turn into Al Pacino in Godfather III (“Just when I thought I was out….They pull me back IN….).

Or at least they were trying. I’m pretty slippery these days. Must be all the olive oil.

Some very prestigious and plummy studio production offers floated up from New Orleans with the production company I used to work for (those ones were tough to say "no" to), along with little local gigs, and bands looking for a “keyboard player” (I don’t even know what the fuck that IS, even… I’m a piannaplunker, and a hack at that at best...those ones were rather easy to say "no" to).

I always graciously and gratefully thanked folks for thinking of me and advised them I was “retired”, just hoping that the phone would stop ringing. It eventually did.
I still kept a bit of toe dipped in the music pool, though. In retrospect, I think I was always “cheating” a bit by doing so. I was still journaling, writing poetry, stuffing shoe boxes full of ideas and possible songs that would never see the light of day… maybe. It was a tiny ember, not the raging wild fire that its always has the potential to become. Man still needs fire, or at least a way to start one.

Several offers did come in from a few regional studios over those years, to specifically try and convince me to do a “spec” deal for a new Hungarians record. That was really the only bait that I would bite at and rationalize myself into a position of “un-retiring”.

The best part of being a musician, for me anyway, is recording. The studio is sacred ground. That’s where the real challenges reside. Ultimately, the goal is to leave something behind that is of lasting value, but to get there? All of your creative cylinders have to be firing at full strength.

Can you do it? Do you have anything to actually say? Can you write it? Can you organize it? Can you hear it? Can you execute it without compromising your vision, and thus your standards and principles? Can you calculate the distance to the far off target? Determine trajectory and escape velocity and come within a few light years of actually hitting it?

Here’s my cardinal production rule: If you feel yourself rationalizing and telling yourself “it's good enough”... it isn’t. Recording is an exercise in pushing yourself, and your boundaries, to a place you’ve never been before, and that place doesn’t have a safety net or fall back position. When you take it on, you better find a way to swim, because the only other alternative is drowning.

It's the ultimate “making art” experience in music, but when done right, it’s not for the weak willed, half assed, or feint of heart. All in, Baby.

Scary shit.

So I took those meetings with those studios. All fine facilities, all run and staffed by fine, adept and capable people. And yet there was always a red flag that would pop up.

One thing that I’ve become very facile at in my advanced years is recognizing red flags. In the past, I was ego-centric enough to think that I could overcome any red flag that would present itself.

I’m not that guy any more. Now? When I see even the potential for a red flag being raised, I run to the nearest exit. Especially when it entails a collaborative dynamic on the actual art that is the sole intellectual product of my own imagination. You dig?

Nothing really truly resonated at those meetings. There was always something that just didn’t feel right. The methods. The pitch. The room. The deal. Little White Lies or Tiny Sins of Omission. Hidden Agendas that became apparent after the fact. Bad communication skills. A lack of true transparency. Lack of Focus. No chemistry.

Always something a little jenky; suspect motivations that indicated the tip of a shit sandwich: Surreptitiously revealing itself and was definitely going to be on the menu down the line. I was going to be required to eat it with a smile on my face to get the opportunity to make and realize my vision, and then take on all the attached challenges of having that vision be judged.

So...fuck that. I’ll stay retired, thank you very much. I wasn't ready for those types of human clusterfucks. I'm still not.

From a business perspective, I understand the motivation of making the offer. Studios exist to make money to keep running. I respect that. And yes, amazingly enough, there is still an “Hungarians Cache”, if you will. Locally, and in a more minor capacity, nationally and internationally. There is a fan base out there, still; a testament to a great band, a great team that assembled and supported us behind the scenes, the work produced, a great design and a great concept. It was built to stand the test of time, and so far? It has.

Spitting out a Hungarians recording would present a lot of social networking opportunities as well. In the course of my career I’ve travelled in some rarified air at times. It was certainly possible to score a bunch of heavy ringers in terms of players and participants, if there were any kind of budget involved. I have “connects”, and if you’re talking about photos and videos being released over the term of recording, mixing, mastering, and producing finished product, combined with an integrated and funded marketing initiative, all of it being produced in your facility?  It isn’t a bad business idea for a studio to get behind it.

These meetings usually started with “I saw a Hungarians video on facebook, and I was amazed after all these years at how many views it got”. Leading with the metric data. Red flag #1. Again, from a business perspective, totally understandable… no harm, no foul. Just not where my head was at. Then things generally de-evolved and went downhill from there.

So invariably, it was back to the apple farm and self imposed exile. And it was all good.

Until I got drunk with The Mole at an Syracuse Area Musicians Award show in 2016. Then shit changed. More on that in the next installment of “Why George Decided To Open Pandora’s Box And Accept The Consequences Of Opening It”

Down The Rabbit Hole...or in this case, Down The Mole Hole.

"You may shoot for the stars and end up beaten and bloodied in a back alley behind Pluto, but at least I dare to dream; that’s better than being Earthbound mired in the muck of mediocrity"

I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.

The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right.