I remember as far back as being 5 or 6 years old that I wanted to find something that was my own. Something special; a skill or talent through which I could express myself. Take that storm of ideas, emotions, loves, and fears that swirled in my head and heart and put them out into the world as something that made sense. Or at the very least something that at least resonated with another human being and maybe fill a connection I was missing.
Even that early I saw others in my life that had a skill or talent they could express themselves through. My dad loved cars. He could work on them, he knew classic muscle cars, and he could drive them really well. He had a couple racing trophies sitting proudly in the garage from his street racing days(I always imagined him as Harrison Ford in American Graffiti, except for the whole flipping of the ’55 Chevy, which my dad owned himself.) My dad was also an incredible artist, a talent he used to relieve work tensions by drawing people at work in peculiar situations. Someone picking their nose, or another standing in a pumpkin patch with Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear.
My brother was into sports at an early age. From tee ball to little league to pony league to varsity baseball, he loved the game and was a really good pitcher. He also collected sports cards. I can remember as a wee lad going into his bedroom and his entire floor was covered in baseball cards. He had meticulous systems for keeping and storing them, and would often re-organize them. It wasn’t just baseball cards, though. He had basketball and football cards, too. I remember he had a few sets of these large basketball trading cards. They were nearly double the size of the standard cards. I wasn’t a sports fan, but I admired his passion for collecting and caring for these cards. I think that’s why he didn’t mind his kid brother coming in his room and watching the process. By his junior year of high school he dropped out of baseball and dropped into an after school job and full time partying.
I had friends that were also sports guys. We had to work our hanging out time around their practice schedules and games. Again, sports never rang for me. I couldn’t find my in with the whole thing. I was more into toys and books. And movies. What was my skill? I guess I had sharpened my imagination skills to a fine razor point.
But the summer before my 7th grade year I started taking guitar lessons and everything changed. I went from the kid with the expansive collection of toys to the kid that played guitar. That was my thing. Music. I played and I collected stacks of cassettes. Music took the place of my obsession with action figures and kung fu grips. Music was my in at family get-togethers and gym class conversations. AC/DC and Metallica song books filled the gaps left by Far Side collections and Robert Newton Peck book collections. Talent shows, awkward practices, and hours of reading guitar tabs led to me writing songs at 19 years old. 4-track cassette recorders led to 4-track digital recorders, which led to bands and a year of bar gigs and chest colds.
I knew that playing in bars wasn’t for me, so basement recording and songwriting was my destiny. I thought I’d finally found my outlet, which was songwriting. I loved the process. I think I loved it even more than the finished product. Finding a melody within the buzzing of traffic on the way to work, or the hustle and bustle of buying groceries on a Friday afternoon. The anticipation of heading downstairs, turning on the recorder, and laying down a chord progression to a click track. Building a passing line or chord change from neurons sparking in my brain to an emotional ride inside a set of headphones was an absolute joy for me. Finding time between nap time and bed time where I could lay down drum and bass parts, or to knock out some vocal harmonies while everyone was out and about. Then mixing and listening through the studio monitors. All of that process was magical to me(still is.)
And it was my process. It was my outlet.
But something happened on the way to self discovery. I realized that the “thing” I’d always been looking for was something I’d had since the 4th grade. I’d written a play when I was 9 years old called The Birthday Party. It was a simple three-act about a kid who was invited to the neighbor girl’s birthday party. He liked the girl a lot, but was upset when another boy from school was invited and our protagonist was worried that maybe she liked the other boy and not him. Suffice it to say, I loved this assignment. The play won a Young Authors Contest and was chosen to be read at a Saturday morning event that took place at one of the city elementary schools. I was of course thrilled and absolutely horrified at the thought of reading some of these scenes in front of a crowd of my peers. I feigned sickness that Saturday morning and never went(something I would repeat over and over again in my life.)
Despite my chickening out, I found I loved writing. I began writing stories in notebooks and ate up Creative Writing and English classes in high school. Poetry, horror short stories, science fiction, and long prose were what I loved the most. I excelled at these classes(and failed miserably in math.) The stories turned into song lyrics, which satisfied both the songwriter and story writer in me. Looking back the heavy imagination and complex story lines I’d come up with while directing battles between the Rebel and Imperial Forces, as well as GI Joe and Cobra, make total sense to me now. I was scripting in my brain and my action figures were my cast.
So back in 2011 I started this blog. This was around the same time that I found less and less passion for songwriting. I wanted to skip the pomp and circumstance and get straight to the nouns, verbs, and adjectives. I’d found that long hibernating writer in me and I welcomed him back with open arms.
As I’ve gotten older the cryptic emotional camouflage I’d wear when writing songs began to seem disingenuous and more of a shell to hide in, as opposed to an open expression of how the hell I felt. Writing is cutting to the point and saying what I mean. I think that’s why over the last few years I’ve been drawn to instrumental music. I find more in that than just a pop song. Plus, it’s a hell of a lot easier to write to instrumental music than it is a “song” song(whatever that is.) And I just like the idea of Transformers battling it out to the sounds of Rubycon or Causa Sui’s Return To Sky.
Last week my beloved Samsung Chromebook finally died on me. After nearly 5 straight years of solid writing and emotionalizing, the old boy(or girl, can’t tell it’s sex) lost the will to power back on. It sits in my closet as I can’t quite get myself to throw it out. I feel it needs to be displayed in the Hubner museum, or the Smithsonian if they’ll have it. That little machine has been a part of me and my routine everyday since I opened it Christmas morning 2013. And with it gone I feel I’m missing something. A limb, even. I’ll have the urge to crack it open while sitting in my chair upstairs, even getting the sensation of typing on my fingertips. Of course, I can’t. The Chromebook is gone. So I sit in the near dark of my studio in the basement and type on this desktop that I rarely use. It’s not my preferred tool of expression, but it’s all I have at the moment. I need to keep writing. I don’t have a choice. That phantom limb tingles and I need to abide.
It’s what I do.