Ocean

Dream:

I stop for gas along highway one, on the California coast. It's an old fashioned gas station, with antique pumps and a small, shack like building where you pay. It's set up on the edge of this sheer drop cliff that gives a view of the ocean hundreds of feet below. My girlfriend and road tripping companion Dawn waits in the car while I go inside to pay for the gas. It's a sublimely pleasant late afternoon, the sun is beginning to make its descent, playing off the ocean in sparkling flashes of blues, reds, and gold.

I go inside and there's a little asian lady sitting at the desk; there's an old fashioned cash register, made of heavy bulky iron that rests in front of her. The place is plain and tiny. I pay for the gas and ask to use the restroom. She points to a door in the back of the small building, the only other room in the place, and says "You can use it. But be careful -- the tide's coming in."

I step into the tiny gas station bathroom, there's windows to my left, along the wall, big windows that are open and let in the sea breeze. I look out a window for a moment and notice that the waves of the ocean, which a moment ago were at the bottom of this gigantic cliff, are now pushing up against the side of the house. We are now at sea level. "The tide is coming in," I remember the lady told me. The waves are big, white and frothy, strong and powerful; I can feel their force against the creaky old building. The sea water begins to rise into the bathroom through the floorboards. I move over to the corner between the sink and the toilet, my shoes now wet, but not soaked, and I'm wondering how I'm going to take a piss while all this water is rising from the bathroom floor. Stand on the toilet seat, aim carefully? (I think this in the dream.) The sea water outside is now nearly at the height of the windows, the force of the waves is massive.

There's a gigantic cracking sound -- the waves jolt the bathroom violently, suddenly ripping it apart from the rest of the building and dropping it into the ocean. "Shit. Like a pulled tooth," I think in the dream. Lost for a moment in this box of sound and sudden confusion, I feel the onset of panic begin to kick in, realizing that I'm about to be swallowed up by the sea. The sea: I visualize the endless expanse of the ocean in my mind: the unfathomable depths and amazing force of the ocean, the ocean: unflinching mammoth waves that will swallow me up with their power, I experience a modicum of the boundless strength of mother nature. The helplessness that man has against the earth, the environment. The sea has grabbed me and is taking me away. 

But panic doesn't set in -- my mind snaps to survival mode: I race towards the windows as a wall of ocean blots them in darkness, water furiously rushes through them in freezing salty deluges. I'm rocking violently in this little gas station bathroom, but I have to get out. "The windows, the door -- the door! Open it up, get out and swim!" I'll die, probably. A quick momentary flash of the current daily news: hurricanes in Florida, massive flooding in Texas, angry ocean, rising tide . . . The water in the bathroom is rising rapidly; I see myself swimming for my life, trying to reach dry ground, while furious ocean waves the size of buildings pull me back in. I know that the whole ocean is out there, and I know that I am nothing against it. But still, I am going to try to get out of this scenario and swim, and fight, and try to survive, even if it leads to my death. I reach for the door, ready to wrench it open -- ready to go up against the entire sea, man versus nature -- my hand touches the knob.

And then I wake up.

Bleed Out: A Deeper Look

Okay, so here's the deal. Six years ago this month (August), I was nearly killed by a drunk driver. She was going the wrong way on a freeway offramp in LA. I broke my knee, my arm, my back, my spleen was removed, they had to solder my liver back together, my face was ripped apart, I needed a blood transfusion . . . I spent the next four years after that spiraling down into drug addiction and suicidal depression, trying to stay alive while I wrote and recorded all the music I could. At age twenty seven, after a failed suicide attempt, I was admitted to Stanford Psychiatric Ward in Palo Alto. I was put back on meds, and I started doing yoga in the ward. When I got out, I had to stay sober and healthy, and I began to practice yoga and put together a home recording studio.

My newest album "Bleed Out" deals with the aftermath of the crash; from my drug addiction to my sobriety, from my self-loathing to my eventual self acceptance. It's a deeply introspective, dark and personal album that I began to conceptualize after Stanford. Many of these songs have been with me for a while, and just never got completed until now. This album covers a lot of ground stylistically: from dark and driving blues to latin infused punk rock, from grunge and metal to mellow acoustic grooves. I've spent the majority of my time working on this album, and it's finally ready to be recorded. I wanted to get my friends and family involved in the making of "Bleed Out," because it really means so much to me.

I'm working with a drummer, Austin Vidonn, on the album. We're at 11% of our Kickstarter goal of $8,000 already, which is great, but we still have a long way to go. Help me make this a reality. Love you guys.

 

Bleed Out: A New Album

I'm working on a brand new album. It's called Bleed Out, and it's set to be recorded in late August of this year. This will my first full length album in nearly four years. Sure, I've released a bunch of singles, a lot of recordings with Funk & Wagnall, and I've been pumping out a lot of music videos and blogs, but a lot has changed since my last album Desperate Times in 2013.

For one, I'm working with a drummer, one of the best drummers I've ever played with. His name is Austin Vidonn. He and I played in a band called the Shoes! in Colorado when I was eighteen. Austin and I share a strong musical connection, and we both have the same drive for the music. We reconnected two years ago when he recorded a new percussion track on my song "Secret." When I began to piece together the songs for Bleed Out, I knew that I wanted Austin in on the album. Rhythm is in this guy's blood -- he's a stoic, sturdy, rhythmic machine. Austin lives in Colorado, but thanks to the power of the web, and my home recording studio, I'm able to flesh out ideas and work these songs out with him as if he was living next door. I've also made a few undercover trips to Colorado to rehearse the album with him. These songs are his songs, too. He's completely committed himself to this album.

Another big change is the studio that we're recording in. We're recording at Scooter's Place, in Durango, Colorado. I worked with Scooter (Scott), the owner and sound engineer, when I was twenty years old. My band Strange New Shoes recorded a full length album called Dig This. Scooter's studio is absolutely top notch, and he and I really connected during the production and recording of the album. I'm incredibly stoked to work with Scooter again. This will be the cleanest, most consistent and professional album that I've made thus far. 

You may be thinking: Casey, you have your own home studio, why don't you just do the album there? For a lot of reasons -- mainly, I want the album to be the best it can be. I can record demo tracks and mix singles just fine in my home studio, but as far as taking on an entire album, and the amount of work and fundamental tech knowledge that goes into that -- well, I'll just leave that to a pro. And Scooter is a total pro.

However, I will be releasing a collection of Room Recordings. It features early takes of all the album tracks, with me on every instrument in my home studio. You can hear how the album evolved, and get a better idea of the writing process; you can hear what I was thinking when I was writing this album. The Bleed Out Room Recordings are a Kickstarter incentive -- more on that a little later.

Most of the songs on Bleed Out will be new; no one will have ever heard most of the tracks. There will be two songs that many people will be familiar with, and those are "Hope" and "Upper Hermosa Mtn Blues." I recorded those two songs in my early twenties, and I never felt like I was able to do them justice. They sound like demos (which they were at the time), and I've always wanted to record a definitive, professional version of those two songs. Under Scott's watch in the studio, and with Austin's percussion, I know that I can bring them to the level they deserve to be at. 

This album has been a culmination of some intense life changes, over a long period of time. Bleed Out covers a wide landscape of my life -- I've spent the better part of a year figuring out how the songs will work, both individually and as a whole. This album has come to life after two years of sobriety, meditation, yoga, school, and the construction of my home studio in Cupertino, California. I've spent countless hours figuring out the parts on each instrument, recording them, sending them to Austin, experimenting with tempo, arrangements, layers, tone . . . These songs all finally rose up to the surface, the album began to take shape, and I ran with it. 

I want all our friends to be involved in this experience. We're working on a Kickstarter campaign, with all kinds of cool stuff if you contribute. I know there's people that have been waiting a long time for a new CW album, and I'm stoked to be able to finally deliver it. Pitch in what you want, or what you can, and know that every cent will go towards making this album, and everything that follows it, a reality.

More to come.

Lap Slide Guitar & Folsom Prison Blues

Playing a regular guitar turned over on my lap wasn't an intentional attempt at originality. I simply didn't have any money for a real lap slide -- I could barely afford to eat at age twenty -- so I made my own. I was helping my friend Scott move out of his parent's house, and he had this piece of shit Korean guitar, a Tanaka, that he was going to pawn off. I told him to give it to me instead, which he did, and I raised the action on the guitar (the action is the space between the strings and the neck of the guitar) and converted it into a lap slide. I was amazed at how good it sounded.

It's less common to play an regular acoustic guitar like a lap slide, as opposed to a dobro, which is a pretty common instrument in bluegrass and country music. Dobros generally have a square neck and a very twangy, high resonance sound. The cool thing about converting a regular acoustic is that you don't have any of that twang; it's not bluegrass-sounding -- instead it's got a deep tone and it's bluesy and more rock-sounding.  (Note: "Dobro" is an actual company that makes lap steel resonator guitars, but a lot of musicians use the name in a general sense to identify a lap slide guitar.)

Growing up in Colorado, there was a pretty prominent bluegrass scene; some of my friends played dobro, and I liked what they were doing with it. I like bluegrass, but I don't really play it. My main influences on the lap slide are (in order of influence) 1. Ben Harper 2. Xavier Rudd 3. Jack White and 4. Morphine (the band). 

I still have the same lap slide that Scott gave me. I've broken it half a dozen times; twice on purpose. My friend Henry Rust in LA finally fixed it for good with some bolts and washers on the headstock, to keep it from cracking. It's got a lot of personality. I tune it to a really open drone, influenced by early Velvet Underground and the band Morphine. It only has two notes, a first and a fifth note, generally Eb and Bb, and that's it.

If I had to choose, I'd say my favorite song on the lap slide is my cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." Here's how that came about:

I had just turned twenty, and I was playing in a band called Strange New Shoes in Durango, Colorado. I had just assembled my lap slide, and I was messing around with it. I went out into the mountains, deep into the woods with two of my friends, and we took some acid. This dose was some of the purest LSD I've ever tried: it was an out of body, near spiritual experience. I played my lap slide for four or five hours, almost non stop, and it completely changed the way that I thought about music. It felt like I was playing the guitar backwards and upside down; I was totally reworking my brain on this new experimental instrument I had made. I really learned how to play the lap slide that day. It was such a rhythmic instrument for me more than anything else; really percussive when I got into it.

The musical waves were moving me hard, and I started putting together this melody in my head, and figuring it out on the lap slide. It became the crying, sorrowful, melodic solo to Folsom Prison, although I didn't know that then. The acid was so intense that I'd figure out a small part of the melody and then I'd have to stop and take a walk to breathe again. And then I'd trip out on a flower -- or see myself outside of myself, tripping on a flower -- and then I'd hear a little bit more of the solo, like it was a bird singing to me, and I'd go back to the lap slide and work it out, bit by bit, until I had this cohesive and really beautiful musical part. 

By the time I had figured out the solo and was comfortable with playing it over and over, it was night time in the woods. We built a fire, and I kept playing. I suddenly became aware that I was playing in open E, and I knew that Johnny Cash's song Folsom Prison Blues was just a 1, 4, 5 chord progression; that is, E, A, and B. Without thinking at all, I picked a few notes on the bottom strings, and out came the classic introduction to Johnny Cash's most famous song. It was fate, I felt, like the song had chosen me or something. 

I had learned to fingerpick by studying Paul Simon, playing his Simon and Garfunkel guitar arrangements, and I had just started getting into Lindsay Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac, so I started picking on the lap slide and going through the chords of the Johnny Cash tune. This was the very first time that I had incorporated fingerpicking into my lapslide playing. It was around the end of the night when the song came together. I recorded it two years later, after the band had broken up, and I was preparing to move to California and start over as a solo artist.

People sometimes tell me that they like my version better than the original. I don't know about that. But I will say that I think my take on it does the original song justice. I think Johnny Cash would like it. I grew up listening to Johnny Cash; I love his music, and he has a special place in my heart.

I enjoy playing covers on the lap slide because I make the song my own -- there's very little resemblance to the original song, and the only reason it's a cover is because I've made it a cover. The song Teen Spirit, off of my album Desperate Timesis a good example of that, too. The song came to me in much the same way as Folsom Prison did: under a heavy current of controlled substances. One minute I was jamming, and the next, it was like I woke up and was playing a Nirvana song on the lap slide. It just came to me, nothing was forced.

It's kind of unfortunate that so many of my songs have come to me while I was under the influence, but I'm grateful that I was able to take something from the experiences that I've had and create some positive art from it. I've learned that I was able to create my music in spite of my drug use, not because of it. These songs would have found their way to me eventually. Now that I'm sober (I just passed two years clean -- fucking crazy), I'm pushing the limits of what I can play every day, and there's nothing holding me back stylistically. 

Here's the Johnny Cash song. And the Nirvana one, too. I hope you like them.

Peace.

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A Little Bit On Music

This all started with my mother. The first music I ever heard was Paul Simon's Graceland. That album came out in 1986; I was born in 1987. My mother would rock me to sleep listening to that album, every night. 

I remember Paul Simon, Dolly Parton, and the Beach Boys. My mother's favorite band is the Beach Boys, so they're one of my favorite bands, too. By the time I was seven, I knew the artists by name and had memorized some of their songs. My mother's taste in music was the earliest and most impactful influence I've had. By age seven, I was obsessively listening to Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, and Simon & Garfunkel. I didn't know that Paul Simon was the same Simon that was in Simon & Garfunkel. I thought that nobody could have that much music. It's still kind of insane to me how much music Paul Simon has. Paul Simon is the reason that I play music.

I recall being seven years old, standing on the playground outside of school, leaning against a post, like Paul Simon on the insert of Graceland. He's wearing glasses in the picture, and I had glasses, too -- big dorky frames -- and I felt kind of cool wearing them. A little girl came up and asked me what my name was. "Paul Simon," I told her. 

At seven years old, there was a soundtrack that would totally change my life. My mother had the soundtrack to Pretty Woman, the movie with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. That album was actually a fucking rocking playlist: it had a bunch of stellar artists that I'd never heard of before. That album introduced me to Roy Orbison, David Bowie, Go North, Iggy Pop, and, most importantly, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I remember thinking what a cool band name that was, as I listened to their song "Show Me Your Soul." That song was like biting on an electric wire each time I heard it. I loved it. Seven years old and listening to the Chili Peppers. If Paul Simon was the reason I played music, then the Chili Peppers were the reason I played in a band. I listened to that compilation album nonstop, along with all the other artists that my mother had in her cd collection. 

My friend Dustin, whom I had grown up with since age six, was the other huge musical influence that I had growing up. It was Dustin who turned me on to Ben Harper and Xavier Rudd -- the two biggest influences on my slide playing -- he also got me into the Flaming Lips, the White Stripes, Beck, the Pixies, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, Nick Drake, Neutral Milk Hotel, Morphine, and a bunch of other bands. That guy really expanded my mind. Even today, when I'm writing a new song, I'll ask myself, "Would Dustin think this song was cool?" If the answer is yes, then I keep working on it.

Marc Arbeeny was the third biggest musical influence I had. I wrote a long blog about him here

I get asked a lot what kind of music I listen to. I try not to say the regular "Oh, I like everything." I hate it when people say that. There's a lot of music that I don't like. Still, my taste in music, at this point in my life, is very eclectic. Just the other day, I put my ipod on shuffle, and I smiled as it jumped from Bach to the Beastie Boys, from Hank Williams to Lamb of God, from the Fugees to Frank Zappa, Aretha Franklin to the Misfits, Dave Brubeck to Garth Brooks, Leadbelly to System of a Down to the Everly Brothers . . . The only thing I don't really listen to is rap. I think that rap is so much more of a cultural statement than a musical genre, and I've just never identified with it. I don't want to force a connection with music that I just can't feel or relate to. That said, I do have Straight Out of Compton by NWA. Everyone should. And there's some some hip hop that I am into: Public Enemy, Outkast, Fugees -- although these artists bridge the gap between hip hop and rap effortlessly. POS is a personal favorite hip hop artist of mine. He's lesser known, perhaps; he's in the same musical realm as Slug and Atmosphere.

People ask me where I find new music. My answer is 88.9 KXLU Los Angeles. It's a college radio station out of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. I fell in love with KXLU when I lived in LA; it was constantly playing in my car and in my apartment. They have everything, and I'm not exaggerating. Vinyl avant-garde music, classical, old school ska, salsa, ambient noise, kids songs, sub pop garage rock, hardcore, girl rock, folk punk, lo-fi jazz . . . each show is entirely unique and different. I've fallen down musical rabbit holes that I never would have gone into had it not been for KXLU. Just stream it online, day or night, and I guarantee you'll hear some shit you've never heard before.

I enjoy it when people reach out to me and want to talk about music. I felt compelled to write this to kind of explain my early musical roots and answer some general questions that I get asked pretty frequently. I wanted to share, and it feels good just to write about music. Keep hitting me up with questions and comments; I love hearing from you guys.

Peace.

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Reservoir Dogs; The Specials; VOODOO GLOW SKULLS

I often overlook the major influence that Joe McCormack had on me. He lived just up the hill from my house in Hermosa Valley, outside of Durango, Colorado. His garage was a crammed up miracle of cardboard box mathematical architecture. His father was a fire fighter, a big, tall guy with long hair, and a deep voice. His family had like five identical Shitzus that would run all over the house, looking cute as fuck. I never really figured out how many there were, they all looked the same to me, and they were all over the place.

Joe was a year above me; he and I started hanging out my junior year of high school, after we played an impromptu bluegrass show for the school. Joe played stand up bass in the high school orchestra, and he and I had been tasked with opening up for a touring bluegrass band that was stopping by the school. Joe and I put a few musicians together, and I compiled a set list that included some Johnny Cash and some bluegrass-infused Bob Marley covers. I also wrote an original bluegrass song about drug sniffing dogs coming to the high school (it was actually a current event at the time), and how you'd better leave your drugs at home -- "Or better yet, don't do them at all," my mother wisely suggested. I ended up using her lyric, playing it safe. Joe was a great musician; he was easy to play with, and he was funny -- we laughed our asses off when we hung out. Our sense of humor was very like minded. 

Joe liked to party in high school. I had heard that he once went to school and drank a whole bottle of watermelon vodka. At the time, watermelon vodka sounded delicious to me. I have changed since then. But we'd smoke cigars together and play some ska songs that I wrote (ska and reggae songs -- I still hadn't found my own style back then), and some bluegrass jams, Joe playing on his huge standup bass in his tiny attic room on the top story of his house. 

"Have you ever seen Reservoir Dogs?" Joe asked me one afternoon. I said I hadn't. Joe immediately put his VHS copy into his VCR, and we watched one of the coolest movies ever made. I was blown away by the style, the dialogue, the ferociousness and violence of the film. It was so fucking bad ass, it made you feel cool just watching it. Reservoir Dogs is my favorite Tarantino film. I like it even more than I like Pulp Fiction -- there are scene that I can do without in Pulp, but Reservoir Dogs is all killer, no filler. It's 90 minutes of pure cool that blows you away, and leaves you stunned. To this day, it's one of my top ten favorite movies. Thanks, Joe.

Joe and I played ska together, a Reel Big Fish type ska, with upbeat and funny sarcastic youth-aimed lyrics. We played with my drummer Stephen, whom I had played with for years at that point, in a band called the Kriminals (spelled with a K -- how original). I wrote the song "Trazodone" while I was jamming with those guys. Joe introduced me to the Specials, the original ska band. One of my favorite ska albums instantly became the Specials self titled. As soon as the guitar and harmonica came in on "A Message to You, Rudy", I was hooked on that classic vinyl kind of old school ska. The Specials were huge to me -- such a cool band. I began to write songs with that kind of feel, so now I was listening to the Specials and Reel Big Fish for my ska fix. 

But then Joe turned me onto another ska band, this one was a hard-core punk-ska band. He told me when we were jamming in his room: "You know, there's other types of ska besides Real Big Fish and the Specials. Have you ever heard of the Voodoo Glow Skulls?" I said no, and he placed a cd in his stereo and pressed play. Then I was slapped in the face with the tight metal distortion guitar, the horns and hardcore vocal delivery, and the tight, lightning-fast punk drums that was the Voodoos. It blew my mind. "This album is called the Band Geek Mafia," Joe told me. He let me borrow the album, just like he had let me borrow the Specials, and I really got into it. 

Today, I've seen the Voodoo Glow Skulls live maybe six times. I love their shows. I'm actually seeing them in June at the Ritz downtown. Every time I've seen them it's a great show. But to me, their most memorable concert was the first time I saw them.

It was maybe three or four years after Joe had first showed me the band, and I was down in Tucson, Arizona, with my semi-girlfriend Kelly, during a month long roadtrip. I saw on a poster that the Voodoo Glow Skulls were playing in town. When? That very night. It was perfect. I was so stoked to see them; Kelly and I picked up tickets at some CVS or someplace for $15 bucks each -- I bought everything on that road trip -- and we picked up some beer from a pizza place. The young cute girls behind the counter never ID'd me, which was good, because I was twenty. I love cute pizza girls. I have a real connection with them. That night Kelly drove us to this little sports bar where the show was. I slammed five of the beers in the car, heavy IPAs, and took a hit of acid before the show. What happened after that was an amazing experience of acid infused drunk mosh pitting electrical stimulation of metal ska punk.

Looking around this dark little unassuming sports bar in Tucson, I couldn't believe that one of my favorite ska bands was playing there: my excitement was at its peak. The 21+ bar area had been sectioned off inside with a chain link fence. Kind of bizarre, but the stage area was all ages, so I didn't care. Besides, I had pre-gamed nicely. Three local bands played as openers as the acid slowly took hold of me. By the time the main act came on, I was frying hard. We had scored some good dose for our roadtrip. The Voodoos came out from behind the curtain, the lead singer donning a Lucho Libre mask, like the Mexican wrestlers wear. The distortion from the guitarist's Mesa Boogie amp melted the skin off my face; it was a wall of fierce, aggressive sound. The band played every song from the Band Geek Mafia, my favorite album of theirs; it was an epic fucking show. I was immediately caught up in a torrent of bodies, skanking and moshing and jumping around, out of my mind the whole night. I thought of Joe on and off the entire show, thanking him for turning me on to this amazing shit. After the show, I shook the drummer's hand -- goddamn, could that guy play. And then, once Kelly and I made it to the car, I promptly threw up everywhere. It was as if I had been saving it the whole show.

Later that night, Kelly and I got down in our tent, out in the Arizona desert, duct tape covering the tent opening (to keep the scorpions out). Having sex while you're tripping on LSD is a strange experience; I've done it only a handful of times. Your mind is all over the place, and it's hard to stay focused. My ears were still ringing hard from the punk rock show, my body was thrashed from the mosh pit. I was tired, but I felt electric; a live wire of sound and sensations. I was still frying as Kelly and I came simultaneously, out in the desert beneath the full moon. Beautiful stuff. It was an amazing night, all around. Moments like that stay with you forever.

Here, listen to some Specials and some Voodoos.

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Morphine: Cure For Pain

There's a band called Morphine? 

When I heard that there was a band called Morphine, I automatically assumed they were a punk band. I placed them in my head categorically with other bands like Rancid, the Descendants -- Morphine . . . I was at my friend and bassist Dustin Krupa's house in the mountains, and we were scrolling through his vast library of music on his computer. I was twenty. The band Morphine came up on the list as he continued down. 

"Morphine's a punk band, right?" I asked casually. In my head, I already knew what they sounded like: fast fast, loud, aggressive, punk.

"Nooo," D told me, shaking his head, his eyebrows furrowed. "Morphine is like bluesy jazz." And then he played me their song "Super Sex", off of their album Yes, and all my assumptions and presumptions melted away into the hot and dark rainy city streets deep jazz and poetic bluesy rock that was Morphine. Hearing Mark Sandman's deep baritone voice: "I got the whiskey baby, I got the whiskey. I got the cigarette." Morphine was nothing like I'd expected. It would be later on in the year that I really got into them, with their album Cure For Pain.

Cure For Pain, by Morphine. The album, with it's darkly haunting deep droning overdriven bass and sexy curvy baritone sax, it's tasteful and tight jazz drums; the powerful roar of Mark Sandman's two string slide electric bass, such an innovative instrument; the flow of the album from start to finish: it has dynamics, it tells a story, it takes me to another place.

The album conjures up my time spent at the apartment in the Mountain Sun apartment  (Mountain Slums, as we jokingly called it) in Durango, Colorado. I was living with my best friend Doc (Dustin Stoneburner). On the top story, the third level, all put together nicely in a two bedroom pad, everything was Doc's except for whatever was in my room. And it snowed that winter -- goddamn, how it snowed. Three feet high, we were snowed in, and I became deathly ill; hallucinatory and deliriously sick; the sickest I'd ever been in my whole life. This was in the apartment where I wrote many songs to my album Dig This: I wrote For "Fuck's Sake", "Pitch Black Blues in E", "King's Canyon", "Near Death" . . . it was the apartment where I started accumulating effects pedals for my newly acquired tube amp, where I began to tinker with my sound, with feedback, experimentation. In the apartment there was always music going. There was the Flaming Lips, the album Water by the Beautiful Girls, and for me, there was Morphine's Cure For Pain

Mark Sandman's low and deep voice, sophisticated, like beat poetry, snap your fingers in the dark jazz club. It changed me: the darkness of the songs, the overall arrangement, the beauty of it all. And many songs sounded alike, sure, but each song had the unmistakable unique style of Morphine; there's nothing like it.

Songs like "Buena", "Thursday", and the title track "Cure For Pain", were all dark and unique. There's not a bad song on the album. There are few albums that hold up in their entirety; most albums have at least one or two not-so-great songs on them; songs that don't seem to fit, songs that you intentionally skip over while listening in the car. Cure For Pain is not like that. I put it in, and it stays in; I don't need to touch the dial.

I listened to the album regularly, continuously, every time I was in my deathtrap breakdown car, as the snow dumped mercilessly on Durango, and the bourbon whisky poisoned my soul. Coming come at night, driving home completely shitfaced after a shift cooking at the fine dining restaurant north of town -- how did I make it home night after night? Drinking Maker's on an empty stomach, spilling the stolen food from the restaurant all over the walkway and the stairs, finally getting into the right apartment, cataclysmically wasted beyond repair. I lay on the futon and let the ceiling spin into oblivion, utterly lost, the kaleidoscope of burning fire rubbing alcohol fusing into my dying brain. Twenty years old.

I drank too much in the apartment, sure. Twenty years old, I got away with a lot. While I was living with Doc at the Mountain Sun, I'd come home with prime rib and Alaskan King crab legs and New York strips from the restaurant, we ate like kings. We constantly had two thirty racks of Pabst Blue Ribbon taking up all the room in our fridge. We had a bong that fucked your brain sky high; we were always getting stoned. Music constantly playing, guitars all over the apartment, cartoons (Aqua Teen Hunger Force, how I love that show even now), it was our own place. It was an amazing, creative time, short lived but impactful. And Cure For Pain was the soundtrack to this time period in my life.

Before I ever played lap slide, I listened to Cure For Pain; the open two note drone, the heavy rock two string slide bass was overwhelmingly powerful for me. Morphine was (is) a huge influence on my slide work. My main influences for lap slide guitar are Ben Harper, Xavier Rudd, Jack White, and Morphine; they have sculpted my style with lap slide. 

Listen to it. You might feel what I felt, to a certain extent.

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Aotearoa: Strange Weather

So, the first time I performed at the Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood with my band, Casey Wickstrom's After Dinner Theatre, I was twenty two years old. We were sharing the show with five other bands, one of which was a band named Aotearoa. That's A-O-Tay-Uh-Row-A.

When my band walked into the Whisky before our set, there were two guys on stage, one playing guitar, the other on drums. They were tall, skinny kids with long dark hair, and they were really grooving. The guitarist was looping some funky ass tunes; he had like four or five layers going. The drummer was tight, keeping in time with the loop. On the next song, they switched instruments. These two guys were the band Aotearoa. I really dug their set; I've always appreciated good looping techniques. My band went on later in the night. It was a great show all around, and after it was done, I went to talk to the two guys that were Aotearoa, Jake and Ilan.

They were super cool, friendly, down to earth dudes. We talked about looping and different effects pedals, and we exchanged cds. I left to go back up to Northern California the next morning, and I put the cd they'd given me into my stereo. I figured I'd just play it until I got tired of it. 

I drove for three hours straight listening to their five track EP, and even when I finally took it out of my cd player, I still wasn't sick of it. I was hooked on the funky looping grooves of Aotearoa. Their EP, Aotearoa, was a great piece of music.

We kept in touch, Jake, Ilan and myself, through the power of social media. We shared a few more shows together over the years: twice in the city (San Francisco), and once in Echo Park (LA). Each time was a blast. 

These guys have their shit together: they constantly tour, living out of a sweet van; they book shows everywhere, and they consistently release new music and merch, most of which I immediately acquire. They have seven studio releases, all of which have their trademark two-man nomadic jungle funk grooves and vibes.

But in 2012, when I was living in Los Angeles, these guys released a full length album that would become my album of the year, and would eventually make its way to one of my favorite albums of all time. The album was called Strange Weather.

The impact that Strange Weather had on me was a gradual influence. I loved the consistent quality of the recordings, the dynamics of the tracks, and the overall theme. It told a story, which is what any great album should do. I gained a real affinity for the album in its entirety when I was touring; I played it while driving, listening to it from start to finish. This was before I had started looping -- before I even owned a looping pedal. I can honestly say that Aotearoa was my first big looping influence.

The amount of music that these guys are able to create, just the two of them, and how they were able to conceptualize and bottle up this experience of an album, is really amazing. Their sound is kaleidoscopic.

I've always thought that with really great albums, each song should be able to stand alone, with the album in its entirety creating a cohesive and conceptual experience. To me, Strange Weather is like that: each song is strong on it's own. Of course, some songs stand out for me more than others; certain songs just reach me more, but there's not a weak song in Strange Weather. Each song kills it. 

The song "Jaguar Tornado," off the album, influenced some of the music to my song "Teen Spirit," off of my 2013 album Desperate Times. Most people wouldn't make that correlation between the two songs: electric jungle funk and acoustic lap slide blues, but it's there.

I'd venture to say that the mainstream isn't fully aware of Aotearoa's music, but to me, that makes it that much more authentic. These guys play and tour for the sake of playing and touring. They're real in what they do, and it shows.

I listen to the album Strange Weather, and I'm driving to Vegas again, cruising through the desert as the sun sets, fingers tapping the wheel, the wind raging through the open windows, my head and body grooving to the music; it's impossible for me to stay still while I listen to this album. Over the years, Strange Weather has remained one of my favorite albums, and I don't see that changing.

I recently started writing on my website about music; songs and artists and people that have influenced me musically and otherwise, and I wanted to do a piece on Strange Weather. It's not everyday that you can just personally reach out to the guys behind one of your favorite albums and ask them if they'd answer a few questions for your website blog. But in this case, I can. I wrote Jake and Ilan and asked them if I could do this piece. They said totally, and I sent them the questions. The interview is featured on the next blog

Below is the full album on Youtube. It can be purchased here.

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Strange Weather: The Interview

BAND INFO

CW: What are your names?

JL: Jake Lerman 

IG: Ilan Gitter

 

CW: How long have you been Aotearoa?

JL: We played our first show as Aotearoa on September 21st, 2010. 

IG: It was in the band’s hometown of Lawrence, KS.

 

CW: The band is just the two of you. Both of you sing and play guitar and drums -- switching off instruments depending on the song. When I share your music, people can't believe that it's just two guys. How long have you been looping, and playing the drums?

IG: We have been doing our current setup since the beginning of Aotearoa. Both of us have been playing drums and guitar since our teen years. 

JL: I bought my first looper back in 2009. It was the Boss RC-20, which is what we’ve used for the majority of our recording and touring. It turned out to be the signpost that let us explore new ways a two piece band could function.

 

CW: What's the general amount of looping layers you have in a song? 

JL: It really varies song to song. Typically we build a bass line, a rhythm guitar layer, some sort of accent part, and at least one or two textural layers. When you apply that to three or four distinct sections, it’s not unusual to have around twenty individual layers occurring throughout a song. 

IG: In the end, we look at the looper as a tool and try to focus more on the song construction.

 

CW: What's your equipment for live shows? I recall a Marshall solid state amp and a Fender Stratocaster (I think). Do you loop with a Boss RC30? What effects pedals do you use?

JL: You’ve got a great memory! The Marshall is a Valvestate I’ve had for years, it’s rarely seen as a sexy amp to have, but it was a real workhorse and delivered great tone despite the abuse of touring. The black Fender is a fat-Strat with a humbucker in the bridge position that my dad snuck me out to buy when I was 12. It was my first guitar, I love it and I still use it today. 

As for pedals, we’ve grown a bit since our beginnings but in essence, we still employ the same pedal chain we always have. I’m in love with our setup so I hope you don’t mind the detail.

[Editor's note: Those who don't wish to indulge in effect pedal chain details / amp specifications can find the Strange Weather album interview below this section. I love this tech shit, but it's because I speak the language.]

JL (continued): From the guitar we go straight into a Ibanez TS-7 Overdrive which we push through to the ever popular Boss DD7 Digital Delay. From there the signal hits the LPB-1 by Electro Harmonix. It’s a clean boost pedal which we discovered about halfway along our long tour route that proved massively helpful for cutting a layer through the haze of a heavy loop without resorting to the crunch from the fully driven TS-7. 

The next in line is a mini Q-Tron and the Octave Multiplexer both also by Electro Harmonix. If I had to pin our sound to any gear aside from the looper, it would be these two guys. The multiplexer is a monophonic octave pedal which is where we get all our low-end from. It’s massively flexible and unfortunately often overlooked in favor of the P.O.G. by EHX. The Q-tron is a funk machine plain and simple. If I never found this little beauty we would probably be making afrobeat records.  

Before reaching the looper the chain rounds out with a Cry Baby to a TC Electronics PolyTuner. Both of these were crucial to what we were able to manage live. Polyphonic tuning is miracle.  However, for “Blue on Blue” our most recent release, we’ve moved into some new territory... The Boomerang. 

Unlike our trusty RC-20 (which is an absolute tank and we couldn’t recommend highly enough) The Boomerang III Phrase Sampler has multi channel looping as well as stereo ins and outs. What that’s meant for us is that we’ve finally been able to route specific elements of a loop to specific speakers. 

We used to achieve this bi-amping by using a simple Y-Splitter to send sound from the looper to the Marshall and an Acoustic Bass amp. Both of which would be mic’d. We’d often hit the bass side to an EQ pedal with the highs rolled off before a DI box would pipe it to the house subs. In the hands of a good sound tech we managed a bass sound that could rival any full band. 

However each amp was always receiving the entire loop, which often left any mixing / balancing to us on stage rather than front of house.  Now that we can send pure bass lines to the bass rig and only guitar tones to the guitar amps via an A/B switcher it’s really made recording and live tone jump up to a whole new level. 

 

STRANGE WEATHER INTERVIEW

CW: Where and when was Strange Weather recorded?

IG: Strange Weather was recorded in three different studios over a period of 6 months in 2012. The Bomb Shelter in Nashville with Andrija Tokic, The Bunker in Brooklyn with Aaron Nevezie and Pieholden Suite Sound in Chicago with Matt DeWine. Mastering was done by Erik Wafford at Cacophony Recorders in Austin. 

 

CW: There's a definite theme to the album: something like vagabonds and hurricanes; tornadoes, down pouring rain storms, and funk. It's seems to tell a story. In your own words, what would you say is the theme or story of the album? 

IG: It explores loss, redemption, and an interconnected doomsday. But more importantly it tries to answer the less asked question, “then what?” Jake did an amazing job with the lyrics in The Gyre (named after the North Pacific Trash Gyre) that really brings it home.  

JL: The thread here is probably loss, and perseverance in the face of the big intimate natural disasters we all face. Perhaps not the most upbeat thesis for a funk band. But we always felt that the genre we we’re trying to couch ourselves in had much more potential to communicate than many of our contemporaries ever explored. After living out on the road for a year and half, I think the ups and downs of nomadic touring were finally coming out in the music. You begin to feel your own absence in the lives of the people you care for, you begin to feel the height of the hill left to climb in more detail and when every city you visit, is your first time in the market, you constantly fighting even to be heard above the noise. I think we saw the parallel in survivors of acts of god who somehow maintain that elusive joy of living despite the walls falling down around them. Even with the cover artwork on the album, which is an amazing image by the photographer Jeff Moerchen, we were hoping to evoke that bright kind of stamina. To contrast and evolve the “diamond in the back” towncar image that’s so familiar to groove music, by planting it against a calm neighborhood scene where a single house is has collapsed under some unknowable weight - The whole thing feels to me like singing into the howling winds.

 

CW: The album is so consistent in it's production. Did you record analog or digital?

IG: It was a combination but everything touched tape at some point. We did most the recording and mixing with Matt DeWine at Pieholden and he did an amazing job blending the sounds we got at the other studios. Also, Erik at Cacophony did a great job in mastering to give it all a unified feel.

JL:  I think we got really lucky with the cohesion on this record considering we tracked it over such a long period of time and in such different environments. But each of the studios we visited is a legend in it’s own right. The Bomb Shelter was fresh off of the Alabama Shakes first release and follow-up LP, The Bunker had been responsible for at least two Grammy’s off “Brothers” by The Black Keys and Pieholden, where we spent the longest amount of time, is the famed collection of gear by Wilco’s late Jay Bennett. Matt DeWine was such a great host and guide through that final process of tracking and assembling the record. We were sleeping in the studio just to keep our heads in the project and he would come in with a slow cooker full of curry to prop us up. 

We’d also worked at Cacophony to record our third EP. It was home to the some amazing Black Angels albums and he’d been a real help to us during that process. We knew he did great work and would be the right guy to bring the record home. 

 

CW: My favorite track off Strange Weather, if I had to pick, would be Jaguar Tornado. Any personal favorites of yours, and why?

JL: I’m glad that one stuck out to you! It’s always been a fun one for us to play live. I’d probably say “Red Tide” for me. It just came really naturally when writing and it was the first time Ilan and I were able to work in an instrument trade in the middle of a song. It really breathed a new life into the live shows and it always just had a mysterious weight to it, that made it really great to perform. Also, the key intro to “Park Bench Bail” still knocks my head back every time I hear it. 

IG: I love how the tracks from the Bunker came out. Mine might be “Thunderbird”. I can’t listen to that track and not move. I also love the electric sitar sound on “I’m Alive!”.

 

CW: You guys are perpetually touring, so it seems like ideas would be constantly flowing. How did you bottle up the experience that is Strange Weather? What was the conception process of the album? 

JL: That’s right, we were touring constantly at the time. When we began writing it had been around 18 months of eating sleeping living on the highway. Gigging in every major city for a month at a time, and playing every venue along the way that would have us. In regards to new material the hardest part of that lifestyle was the absence of a place to write and rehearse. We would take advantage of any sound check or empty night to develop the musical sides of our new songs. We even snuck some power from an abandoned ranger station outside of Death Valley to demo out some ideas among a pen of desert tortoises. 

IG: Yeah, the tracks were definitely a product of that lifestyle and the people we met. Because it was so hard to find time and space to write the tunes, they were usually written only because of people we met. A few were written in a friend’s cabin in the woods in Alabama. Some were written in a friend’s barn in upstate New York. One was in someone’s living room in Opelika and some were written from seeds from a jam at a show. When we had most the songs we sat down together, found unconscious threads, and wrote a few more tunes in Chicago to tie it all together.

JL: Lyrically, I remember we’d often write with acoustic guitars in the van as a starting point. That might’ve lent itself to a more confessional approach. I think like Ilan said, we were just able to recognize threads in the material as the songs began to stack up. As for inspiration, I think we were as much on the receiving end as the listeners. Ideas just came fast around the corner and we’d be lucky if we had the mind to catch them. 

 

CW: Any strange or funny anecdotes about the album? Favorite tracks? Any cool outstanding experiences during the recording?

IG:  I’ll always think of that album as a product of the road. If we didn’t meet everyone we met the songs would not have come out the way they are. If we didn’t meet a friend of ours because of a cat that attacked Jake, then we might not have written Jaguar the same way. And if we didn’t meet him we wouldn’t have met some other friends that let us stay at their place in upstate NY and write some of the other tunes or see a man zip line over a lake and shoot a flaming arrow at a ten-foot-tall wooden vagina stuffed with fireworks.

JL:  That’s a good one! It happened the night before our first session for what would become Strange Weather. We were playing a festival in Seale, Alabama called The Doo Nanny. It was a mini Burning man of sorts in Northern Alabama. Like Ilan said, each year the event culminated in the lighting of a 40 foot vagina effigy by the infamous artist Butch Anthony. 

This event occurred immediately after our performance, and set off what became a late night. Needless to say we had to wake up very early the next morning to make it to Nashville for our session at The Bomb Shelter. As the warm Alabama air hit my face I managed to nod off at the wheel and spin our beloved van Daphnie Valerie Vega backwards on the highway as semi traffic was approaching. Miraculously ending up in a embankment, all parties emerged safe and sound. 

Aside from explaining to an Alabama Highway patrolman that the Yerba Maté tea leaves which were spilled on the carpet of the car was not in fact Marijuana but rather an Andean loose-leaf caffeine alternative, we arrived at our session without further incident. 

A memento of this drive is actually seated in the last 30 second of “Antibad”. With the help of Andrija, we popped the hood and ran a microphone to the engine block of the van as we revved to check for damage. I’m happy to say, we all emerged from this experience for the better. 

 

CW: Strange Weather is a 15 track album, your longest record thus far. Are you planning on recording another album of similar length? 

JL: I think we would love to make another record like Strange Weather. The longer format allows for a more in depth narrative to bloom and for us to explore more nuances of our sound. If we can find the interest and support to devote the studio time it would take to do justice to another LP, I bet we’d be very interested in that. 

IG: You’ll be one of the first to know if we do.

 

CW: Thanks for your time, guys. And congratulations on the release of Blue On Blue.

JL: Thanks Casey, we love hearing from you. 

IG: Keep the new music coming!

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Jolene: Behind the Story

The idea of Jolene actually came to me when I was in high school, in history class. My teacher Rob Coddington was telling us how when he was in college, he and his roommates had a ghost in their house. One that would mess with the tv and the lights. He might have even said that the ghost's name was Jolene. I forget. I'll have to ask him. I thought that it was a cool premise: to actually KNOW the ghost that was in your house; to be on a first name basis with the ghost, and have it be fun at first, and then have it turn sinister towards the end. (Which never happened to Mr. Coddington; he had just told us the story in passing, planting the seeds in my head for a ghost story of evil and death.) I think I pictured the scene of the stereo exploding while I was in that class.

When I was living on my own after high school, living in a house on Richard Ave with three friends with names strikingly similar to the ones in the story, I adapted the ghost concept to our own lives. Any time something strange happened (which was really, really infrequent), I'd say that it was the ghost of the house, that it was Jolene. And my roommate Ben -- or Bill, in all my writings -- started saying that Jolene would come into his room, that she stayed in there, and she wanted to fuck him. He was kidding, of course.

Ben really did have a big bubble form above his bed, though, dripping water down from the ceiling. And he and I really did take mushrooms and ascend a harrowing and treacherous mountain top, both of us having vomited. The scene in the restaurant of me seeing the ghost of Terry Sweeney, and the crowd of ghosts at the bar, was true as well. I love Dolly Parton, that's true. The toilet paper conversation, and the infamous Blake's Lotaburger/ In N Out debate happened in real life. I like the dialogue throughout the story: some of it was conversations that I would have liked to have had with my friends, and some of it was actual conversations that didn't make it into my other writings for one reason or another. I got to talk about my fascination with Italian grindhouse horror, which is something I had wanted to integrate into my writing.

There's a novel I wrote called A Tragedy Of Youth, which has yet to be publishedAnd yes, the characters are exactly the same in Jolene. You won't see them acting differently from the novel. The house is exactly the same; many of the details in Jolene are exactly the same as Tragedy. And that was all intentional. 

At first, I had thought of changing all the names: new people, new place, new story. As I was drafting the early early edits of the story, I just used the names from Tragedy, because those were the characters that I had already pictured in my head. And I used the same house from Tragedy because I already had the mental layout of the house. It took me eight days to write Jolene; I just wrote pieces of the story at random, scattered and non-linear, and originally I had assigned the chapter titles just to keep track of what was where, so I wouldn't get lost with all these dream sequences and strange occurrences. I didn't intend to have the chapters sectioned out like that, with mostly one word titles, but I liked it. It added to the tension of the story. 

I eventually ended up keeping the characters the same because it made sense to me, and if you read A Tragedy of Youth (which, once again, will be published in the future), you'll already know and identify with the characters. The dynamics are the same, their relationships with one another are the same as they are in the novel, only now they're in a ghost story. I thought of incorporating some of the other characters from Tragedy, but it would've been too distracting. This ghost story was just about these four roommates. Tragedy is a fuller, more comprehensive story about us during that time -- Jolene is like an alternate reality story that didn't make the cut. Richard Ave, the spooky version.

It's a pure ghost story, no underlying twists or anything. The Dolly Parton song itself is very beautiful; There's a version that's been slowed down to 33 rpm (I added a link to it). It's haunting, beautiful, dark. If the story were a movie, the song would be the ending credits roll as the lead character drives through the New Mexico desert, the sun setting, until the car disappears from view.

(Spoiler alert!)

In the story, I knew that Billy had to die. I didn't know how until I wrote it out, and Joshua's death was a surprise to me. Never seeing Jacob again was painful in both the book and in real life, because he was such a good friend. I could easily find some symbolism or metaphors throughout the book, but really I just wrote and went along for the ride. This story was fun; it kept me up at night, working it all out.

I hope you enjoy reading it.

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Jolene: A Ghost Story

Jolene

A Ghost Story

By Casey Wickstrom

 

 

A Joke

It all started out as a joke. 

Jolene was just the name that we put to the strange occurrences around the house. Jolene, like the Dolly Parton song. A pretty name, I've always thought. She was the ghost in our house: the one that would flicker the lights on and off as we sat in the living room drinking beer and getting high. She was the ghost who slammed the doors in the middle of the night, when we were all sleeping. She was the one who turned the shower water to ice for an instant, and then turned it searing hot the next. 

She's the reason the television exploded; the reason the stereo burst into flames.  

And she's the reason that people started dying.

So, this is a ghost story, but it's more than that, to me at least. Because I lived in this house with the guys, and I got to know Jolene very well. 

The House    

The house was nice. It was a two story duplex, blue on the outside, white trimming. A nice, simple, unassuming American house with a tall thin tree out in the front yard. It was on a street called Richard Avenue. When we moved in, I was the oldest, but not by much. I was nineteen, and the others were a year or so behind me. There was Jacob, Billy, Joshua, and myself. I had known these guys since high school, and we had decided to get a place together now that school was over.

We had been searching all summer for a place to live. Finally, when we settled on the Richard Ave house, it was the end of August, the beginning of fall in the small mountain town of Durango, Colorado.

Jacob was kind of like the leader; he had found the place. He had red hair and was built like a lumberjack. Billy was tall and long, with toned arms and shaggy blonde hair that hung over his light blue eyes. He had a big nose. Joshua was tall and lean, with short dark hair and an acne ridden face. He wore round glasses, and had a soft, quiet personality. These were my roommates.

Four guys, and one girl.     

Shock Scares

In the movies, the monster is always in the reflection of the mirror. 

Camera tricks: the girl is all alone; she opens the medicine cabinet mirror, takes out a bottle of pills; then she closes it, and BOO! Who's behind her? The killer in the mirror. 

Shock scares: build the tension to a fever pitch, then let it fizzle away. False alarm. BAM! Drop your guard, and you jump. It gets harder and harder to scare you, the more you watch out for it.

You see, it wasn't like that in the house. We were seldom startled by the occurrences. At first, they happened so infrequently that it would be like a strong breeze slamming the door to one of our rooms every once in a while. Except there was no breeze, of course. 

Looking back, it started with the stereo. 

Drugs

We did a lot of drugs in the house. We drank like fish. Nights of warm friendship, drinking and getting stoned, doing coke and shrooms, acid when we could score it; mixing them all up, taking hits of salvia through the bong as we tripped into the early morning. Youth is sweet. Maybe it was the drugs that delayed us in taking any action with the strange occurrences in the house. Being constantly submerged in the ocean of alcohol and controlled substances, we didn't take much notice to the fact that the stereo would click on all on its own, on a semi regular basis; the lights would flicker in and out occasionally. We figured it was just a defective stereo -- some kind of jammed button, or something. I kicked it once, and it shut off again. As for the lights, it was an old house. 

Then the doors started slamming.

I couldn't tell you which door slammed first, but the first one that I recall was the bathroom door. Bill and I were doing the dishes (a rare occurrence in our house), and the door to the bathroom, just on the other side of the kitchen, slammed loudly. We looked over towards the bathroom. There wasn't a breeze in the house. Not a door was open to the outside. 

We looked at each other, laughed, and finished the dishes.

At first, it was kind of fun. It gave the house character, personality. A door would slam, the stereo would turn on out of nowhere, softly playing. It was a kind of cool quirky thing to show our friends. "Did you hear a noise?" They'd ask. "What was that?"

"Oh, it's just the ghost of the house," we'd tell them. "Shit like that happens all the time here." 

It was a game. Cupboard doors opened and shut at strange times in the night; the light in the bathroom would flicker in and out before shining brightly again, as if nothing had happened. It was innocuous. 

Then the frequency gradually increased. It became more of a regular rhythm in the house; like living in a house with a train nearby. It rolls by throughout the day and night, blowing its horn, maybe even shaking the windows as it passes, and eventually it gets to a point where you don't even notice it. 

And you know, you see all these horror movies where you're thinking to the characters, "What the fuck is wrong with you guys? Get the fuck out of there!" But it wasn't scary for us. 

Three months passed, and as winter rolled around, and the world outside turned to ice and darkness and snow, it was only us and the ghost in the house, keeping each other company. We barely payed any attention the occurrences anymore.

But eventually it got to a point where it would be hard not to notice it. And then the dreams started. 

Dream Documentation

I remember my dreams. Every single one. 

I write down every dream I've ever had. I have dreams from when I was four or five years old that I remember and write down. I know that dreams are only interesting to the dreamer, but I've had some real doozies. I don't know how to lucid dream --  I've come close a few times -- but I don't really care; I just enjoy going along for the ride. But all the dreams I've ever had, I can honestly say that I knew that they were just dreams. I've always been able to distinguish between the waking world and the dream world that I occupy every night. But then Jolene started coming into my dreams, and things got strange. Things became different. The dreams that I had with her started bleeding out into the day time: moments of deja vu, a suspension of reality. It became too real.

When the dreams first started happening, I had no idea that the girl in them was Jolene. I didn't know who she was until she told me. Before that, she was just a beautiful and illusive girl; alluring and mysterious. She started gracing my dreams as a complete stranger. She came into my dreams in the beginning of November.

Floating

She's floating, suspended in space, completely weightless. Her nightgown is as white as the moon. So is her skin; it contrasts with the piercing small circular black pools that are her eyes. Her mouth is small, but sexy, and she has perfectly sized teeth, I think, although I didn't really see those. The way her mouth moved was soft and sensual, slow and beautiful, like each word has it's own emphasis, it's own purpose. She's speaking, but no words come out. She reaches out to me; she touches my right forearm, her finger is an icicle, freezer burn on my arm, and then I wake up.

 

Hey! This is Casey Wickstrom. I hate to do this, but if you want to read the rest of this story, you gotta go to Amazon and download it for a few bucks. It'll be up on Halloween! Thanks.

 

Cigar Box Guitar: A New Video

I was looking for some more slide instruments this year to add to my collection. I had considered a Weisenborn lap slide, but after talking to my friend Henry Rust (an acoustic instrument aficionado), I decided against it. It was too quiet and delicate for my style of playing -- I tend to beat the fuck out of my instruments. 

Then a thought occurred: I wanted a three string slide cigar box guitar. I set about finding one, looking around on the internet and calling into some local guitar shops, but I ended up where I usually end up: Amazon. It was there that I found this three string cigar box slide guitar, complete with a pickup, for $34. Jesus, what a deal.

It came in the mail later that week, and I assembled it within minutes, and plugged it into my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe amplifier. From there, I started in with some overdrive pedals: my OCD, which is a crunchy overdrive with a nice gain and cut to it, and my Crybaby wah pedal. I recently purchased an Ibanez Tubescreamer ts808 35th anniversary pedal (a nice pedal for collectors), which generally gives me a warm tube amp overdrive. But with the cigar box guitar, all it did was feedback like a motherfucker -- and when I put the Crybaby into it as well, it really lit up. I'm into feedback if it's done right: I dig the insanity and the offensiveness of the noise, all in moderation, of course.

So I started constructing a song on the cigar box guitar, and I reached out to Ali, the cinematographer from the NPR Orange Grove video and the Funk & Wagnall LA Sessions, and we set a date for a week later to shoot a video of me playing my new instrument. It gave me a little time to experiment with what I wanted, and what I didn't want. I knew that I wanted the song to be instrumental, and short -- people's attention spans (mine included) are getting shorter and shorter, so I wanted to pack a lot of musical action into a little time frame. I condensed the song into under three minutes (I think the finished project clocks in around 2:40).

Ali and Asal came over to the house, and we filmed in my recording room. The pedals were all over the floor just by chance; nothing was staged. It's a small room, so it was a pretty intimate shoot (which is a nice term for cramped and stuffy), with a lot of closeups and cool angles. I hadn't recorded the song take that would make the video yet, so I just looped and played along with general ideas while they filmed, figuring that I'd make the definitive track after filming. I know that I play with my mouth a lot; it's involuntary, I really can't help it. Looking at all the footage after the shoot, I had no idea that my mouth moved that much. 

After three hours, Ali and Asal left me with the footage, and I recorded the definitive studio track that would be used in the video. The same day I started editing the rough cut of the video. Within two days I had the rough cut done and I brought it to Ali, who really knows his shit with editing and all that. He went to film school; I'm just some dude with a laptop and a home recording studio. But I do alright; Ali said so. We took the cut and worked with it for a total of seven hours, and then, when we were both cool with it, I put it up online. 

For thirty bucks, this instrument is one hell of a good time. Here's the link to Amazon for any of my friends who want to pick one up; it's just cool to have around. The guitar comes with a glass slide, but I recommend just buying a Fender steel slide; it's much better.

Oh, right, and here's the video.

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Last Caress

Sean Armstrong was my neighbor in Durango, Colorado, when I was ten years old. He was a tall lanky kid, maybe four years older than me. He had long bleached hair with brown roots that parted down the middle of his head and ran down past his ears; his eyes were sunken in a little, and his shoulders were kind of slouched. Looking back, Sean was one of my first major influences growing up. 

I was a strange kid then, very insecure, out of place, dorky and desperate to fit in in any way possible. Sean was older, and I thought he was so fucking cool. He was the funniest guy I knew -- he was outrageously funny. There weren't a lot of kids in my neighborhood, so Sean and I would hang out pretty frequently, riding our bikes around, walking and talking about school, music, whatever. I wanted to be just like him.

This was in the late nineties, when the majority of what you heard on mainstream radio were actual bands. Alternative rock bands like Semisonic, Third Eye Blind, Eagle Eye Cherry, Fastball, Everclear; these bands got constant airplay. The Chili Peppers had just released Californication, which had saturated the radio waves with its title hit, and even more with "Scar Tissue", and "Otherside." Songs like "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)", and "Mambo #5" (fuck that song!) were playing day and night. Whenever I hear any of these songs (and thank God that I don't hear some of them anymore), I am immediately taken back to my old neighborhood in Durango, and I think of Sean. He had an ear for music, and he would explain to me how pretty much every song on the radio was the same. He'd go through the structure, talk about the bridge, and point out how in every song by Everclear, the lead singer would make the same stupid "Yeeaah . . ." This gave me a critical ear for music at a relatively young age, and I found myself dissecting each song that I heard on the radio, studying it, seeing if it was authentic, or just a predictable piece of shit.

Sean played the guitar. He had a nice old Gibson acoustic that he'd bring over to my house, and he'd play songs off of the radio, like "Save Tonight" by Eagle Eye Cherry, and "Californication." It was amazing watching his long skinny fingers move and bar across the guitar neck, in fluid technique, as we sat out on the brick porch of my house in Hermosa Valley. Looking back, Sean was the reason that I began playing guitar. My stepfather had an old Sigma, a Martin knock off, in the basement, so my mother got it out, paid to have it fixed up a little, and I started taking lessons. I learned a lot from Sean; he'd give me some pointers and occasionally we'd jam a little.

I remember sitting outside with him once, he was playing a popular song, and I started singing along with the guitar.

"Whoa," Sean said. "You have a really good voice."

I knew that; I'd been singing for years, classically trained and all that. But Sean complimenting me meant a lot. That was the moment when I thought to myself, "I should play guitar and sing."

. . .

Maybe the most influential thing Sean ever did for me was introduce me to the punk band the Misfits.

I remember it clearly: we were in his room, on the top story of his house, he had a cd in his stereo, next to his television, and he told me: "Listen to this. This is by a band called the Misfits." And he played "Last Caress." I listened to it, and I was struck. I remember thinking: "This is the most beautiful music I've ever heard in my entire life." Listening to Glenn Danzig sing, his dark and glorious voice was like an evil Elvis, a darker and ultra-violent Jim Morrison.  I would be able to recognize it immediately for the rest of my life. That was the first time I'd ever heard any kind of punk music. I was maybe eleven years old.

The song spoke of rape and violence. Rape, to me, was a terrifying concept. I had learned what it was only years before, explained to me by friends and my mother. I had been very sheltered as a kid, and anything having to do with sex and violence or even bathroom humor was strictly forbidden. I would become guilt ridden even thinking of such things. But when I heard Danzig bellowing in his illustrious voice about killing babies and raping mothers, and how it didn't matter much to him as long as they were dead and spread, I was completely amazed. It didn't scare me, because the way it was presented, to me, was so beautiful. I couldn't believe what I was hearing; I was in awe -- the power of this driving brutal punk music had suddenly transcended all the taboos in my life. I didn't know that you could just sing about that shit and make it sound so good. I'll never forget that.

The Misfits are still my favorite punk band, slightly ahead of the Dead Kennedys, and even before Bad Brains (blasphemy, I know). The horror-punk sub-genre that they created has never lost its appeal to me. They're like the Ramones, only more badass. While the Ramones wanted to sniff glue and sing punk love songs, the Misfits wanted your skull; they sang about Astro Zombies and the unholy living dead, murder and the macabre, dark and evil subject matter. They were violent, ferocious, and completely unapologetic. Danzig's voice is legendary; and the simplicity of the songs, composed with the structure of 1950's rock and rockabilly, each song is melodic and catchy, short and blasting. I love it.

. . . 

Sean moved away when I was thirteen. But I never forgot him.

Close to a decade after hearing my first Misfits song, I saw Sean randomly at Bonnaroo, a monolithic music festival out in the middle of Tennessee. This was the year that Tool played the festival; the Police were there, the White Stripes, the Flaming Lips, a bunch of bands. Sean recognized me, which was amazing because I hadn't seen him in probably eight years, and I had a mohawk and was wearing only board shorts and sunglasses. I was high on acid, too. It was a cool reconnection, brief but serendipitous.

I remember Sean for a lot of reasons; he was a huge influence on me. I'll always remember the first time that I heard "Last Caress."

p.s: The music video for "Last Caress" is as cool as the song itself; which is a tall order.

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Street Hassle

The first time I heard the song Street Hassle, by Lou Reed, I was sitting at the bar inside the Pocket in Santa Cruz, after hours, with vicki next to me. I was talking to Jerry, the bar owner and my very good friend. We both love Lou Reed, so we were talking about that, and then Jerry goes to the jukebox and puts on a song that swings and rocks in a jazzy lounge sort of way, and for some reason, although I've never heard the song before, I know that it's Lou Reed singing "I Wanna Be Black." Don't ask me how I know that, I just do. I ask Jerry, "Is this 'I wanna be black?'" And he nods, and proceeds to sing along with the track, which is offensive and racy and sharp and clever; punk rock in a swinging jazz suit. And then, after the song ends, Street Hassle, the title track of the album comes on, and my life changes. 

There's the looping circular motion of the cellos, the emotional modern classical hypnotizing feel of the staccato cello notes, and the warm tone of the guitar, whirling in a soft storm of art. In the bar, with my arm around vicki's waist; vicki, who I am really into at the time (and for only a short time), I am enraptured by this new song. The symphony continues for a while, and I'm taking it all in; it's pure to me, amazing. Lou's voice begins to sing/talk in the hybrid style that I've come to easily recognize, but this song is new. And it's long. It's a story, and I am immersed in the beauty of this track. Reed's voice remains cool throughout most of the song, but by the third part, it's vulnerable and beautiful, sad and poignant, deeply moving. It's a totally different side of Lou Reed.

The song is divided into three parts: "Waltzing Matilda," "Street Hassle," and "Slip Away".

First, it's a one night stand love story, lust and sex and New York nights, set to the hypnotic chorus of the cellos. And then the song fades away into the dark and haunting voices of the backing singers, beautiful black girls that bring the song to a standstill in a moving yet short acapella break. And then the cellos start in again, and I'm brought back into the flow of the song.

The story turns dark: an overdosed girl in some house in the city; she took too much, and she's a goner. Lou's monologue is hip street poetry; he's talking to the guy who brought the girl over to the house:

"Hey that cunt's not breathing, I think she's had too much, or something or other, hey man, do you know what I mean? I don't mean to scare ya, but you're the one that came here, and you're the one that's gotta take her when you leave. I'm not being smart or trying to act cold on my part, and I'm not gonna wear my heart on my sleeve. But you know people get all emotional and sometimes, man, they just don't act rational; they think they're just on tv.

"I'm glad that we met, man -- it really was nice talking, and I really wish that there was a little more time to speak. But you know it could be a hassle trying to explain yourself to a police officer about how it was your old lady got herself stiffed. And it's not like we could help her, there was nothing no one could do, and if there was man, you know I woulda been the first. But when someone turns that blue, it's a universal truth, and you just know that bitch'll never fuck again.

"By the way, that's really some bad shit that you came to our place with, but you ought to be more careful around the little girls. It's either the best or it's the worst, and since I don't have to choose I guess I won't, and I know this ain't no way to treat a guest . . . but why don't you grab your old lady by the feet and just lay her out in some darkened street and by morning she's just another hit and run.

"You know some people got no choice and they can never find a voice to talk with that they can even call their own. So the first thing that they see that allows them the right to be why they follow it, you know it's called, bad luck." 

In the monologue part about the chick od'ing, Jerry is speaking along with the song, eyes closed. I watch him as I listen, trying to take it all in, drunk and stoned, knowing that I will have to get this album soon -- it's one of the few Lou Reed albums that I don't have at the time. Earlier in the spring, when I first came back up from LA, I went on a Lou Reed binge. He had just died the year before. I'd been an obsessive Velvet Underground fan since age twenty, but I was slow getting into Reed's solo stuff. I had Transformer, sure, the David Bowie produced album with "Walk on the Wild Side" and all that, but that's surface level Lou Reed. Mainstream, if you will. And with Lou Reed, there's so much more than Transformer.

Now that I was back in Northern California, I got The Blue Mask, Coney Island Baby (my favorite right off the bat; it was bright and tightly mixed and a good time of an album), and Berlin. Also, Live in Italy, Animal Serenade, Ecstasy, and Metal Machine Music. All of these albums came from the public libraries as I scavenged around like a kid in a candy store, bulking up my iTunes music library. But I had never been able to find Street Hassle, and I just wasn't sure about it from the iTunes samples that I had gotten online; it didn't do the album justice. I knew that I would get around to getting it, but I wasn't sure what would move me to get the album.

And now here I was, in the Pocket in Santa Cruz, after hours, drinking Coors with the owner, sitting next to my semi-girlfriend at the time, completely entranced, hypnotized and euphoric at the discovery of this new song, this new album. The song Street Hassle reminds me of Santa Cruz, when I would wake up next to vicki, a  beautiful poetic-looking brunette, hungover and a little sick, then sit out in the sun on her house porch and smoke a cigarette and read in the sun, my shirt off and my shades on. We went to the beach one day after breakfast, this must have been in July or even late August; the waves crashed onto the little children and I jumped in the water, briefly, in my underwear, then came out to rest in the sand and sun next to vicki. I remember feeling salty with the ocean and the sex that we had just had earlier. I wrote her some letters during this time, and for some reason, I never capitalized her name, which is why I don't here, either.

The first morning after I stayed over with her she took me to her work; a bed and breakfast near downtown Santa Cruz, where I stayed in the back room and slept some more. I woke up slowly, in quiet secrecy, because vicki wasn't necessarily allowed to bring in one night stands to her work to sleep in after a long night of drinking and cocaine and sex. vicki was a one night stand that lasted about a month. It was good, passionate and fun. Nothing lasts, especially with me. At the time, I was reading White Noise, by Don DeLillo; I sat in the lobby and read for hours until vicki was off of work. Before that I had raced through the Drive-In Trilogy, by Joe R. Lansdale: a raunchy gore-filled romp of sci-fi horror in east Texas. Great books, given to me by Jerry at the Pocket. All these memories connect with the song, emotions and experiences aligned in a single tune.

Street Hassle has the ability to take me to another place each and every time that I hear it. The album itself is so-so for me; half the songs I dislike, although the songs "Wait", "I Wanna Be Black",  "We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together" -- those are good. But the title track is the one, man. It takes me there. It is one of my favorite songs, ever. 

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Marc's Music

I was sixteen years old, a sophomore in high school in the tiny mountain town of Durango, Colorado, and I was in a community play called Godspell. Godspell is an absurd play, with religious stories told in a 1970s setting, with goofy songs and strange choreography. My mother was in the play too; she had a small supporting role, and she did some of the choreography. It was supposed to be a bonding experience for her and I, because at that time we were often at each other's throats, and home life wasn't so great. Parents divorcing, me being suicidally depressed, hating myself and everyone in school -- this is where I was at in my life. I played guitar and wrote songs, constantly, as I always have since I was very young, so that kept me afloat somewhat. And there was theatre. I was the lead in the high school production of Les Miserables, as Marius, and there was Godspell that I was in, too, around the same time. Theatre was a necessity for me then; I had to do something extracurricular, to stay out of trouble and off of drugs (which only lasted so long, anyways).

So, the scene is set for this goofy play called Godspell. I was John the Baptist/Judas (they're the same person in the play, some kind of dopey symbolism or something), and I was the youngest kid there. Everyone else were middle aged parents, even grandparents, and for a lot of them, it was their first play ever. 

I met Marc Arbeeny through Godspell. He was a middle aged New Yorker who had recently moved to Colorado with his wife and daughter, Maggie. Durango is the type of small town that even though I didn't know Marc, he had seen me as Frederick in a production of Pirates of Penzance a year earlier, where his daughter Maggie was one of the sisters in the play. So, he already knew who I was when we started talking during the Godspell rehearsals. Marc was funny: he had this thick New York accent, and he was kind of a goof. Godspell was his first play, his first introduction to the world of the performing arts. Marc Arbeeny would completely change my life, but I didn't know that then, of course.

So we would talk and laugh during the rehearsals, and one day my mother takes Marc aside and asks him if he wouldn't mind spending some time with me here and there, mostly because my stepfather wanted nothing to do with me, and there was a lot of drama between us at the house. Marc had said sure, but tentatively. He picked me up after school one day, across the street from the high school. We went out for lunch.

We talked about music. Marc knew a lot about music. Like, a whole fucking lot. He was a big Dead head; he'd been to over two hundred (yes, two HUNDRED) Grateful Dead shows. That amount of Dead shows alone would be enough to seriously damage your brain, but Marc seemed to recall a lot of his Dead days. So, we talked about the Dead, although I didn't really care for them, and I still don't, even as I write all this out over a decade later, and he told me that he might have some music for me to listen to. 

The next time I saw Marc, he had a collection of burned discs, each one titled for me personally, with an index card detailing the track names, the artist, the year, and the album. He had handwritten all of this out. Casey's Jazz. Casey's Zappa. Casey's New Wave. Grateful Dead, three disc live album, Madison Square Garden. Casey's Dylan. This is back when everyone had cds. Cds meant something back then; what a vinyl record must have meant back in the seventies, cds meant the same to me. I had a walkman (with anti skip protection), and I started listening to the cds that Marc had burned me. 

Here's the thing about my sophomore year. I missed the fucking bus every day. Like clockwork, I'd miss the bus. I was sixteen, but I didn't get my license for another year. So, I'd have to ride my bike to school. I had a nice Diamondback road bike, and even though I lived seven miles out of town, if it wasn't snowing, I could make it to school in under an hour. And I was able to listen to all of Marc's cds as I rode my bike to school. I still hear certain songs even today, and it takes me back to the exact moment where I was when I first heard it; where I was riding, I remember the location and the sensation. I remember all of it. Sophomore year of high school, my brain was a sponge. It needed new music to grow. Marc gave me more music than I ever could have imagined.

The jazz album was amazing: different artists, including Pat Metheny, whom I'd never heard before. The Zappa took a little bit for me to get into: "Trouble Every Day" was a good track, "Let's Make the Water Turn Black" was cool. "Sexual Harassment in the Work Place", that song rocked. Eventually I knew all the songs on that mix. Marc's Zappa mix would set me up for a lifetime of listening and studying Zappa's music. I fucking love Frank Zappa. That's because of Marc.

But the one that really changed me forever was the new wave album. It had bands that I had never heard of before: just reading the notecard Marc had written out for me, I knew no one on there: Television, Richard Hell, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, the Velvet Underground, the Clash (I listened to the Clash, sure, but only their radio hits). Riding my bike, the cd starts. The first three tracks are Television, a new wave band from New York in the 70's: "See No Evil" and "Venus De Milo": the guitar work is dualistically complex; each ear hears a different section of the song. The vocals are pitchy and strained, not punk exactly -- too tight and complex, too strange and, what's the word, artsy -- but definitely not pop. What is it then? It's Television. And then the song "Marquee Moon" comes on, the third track off of the New Wave compilation. And man, you hear that song once, and you're hooked. The guitar solos sing like screaming bluebirds streaking across the sky, so emotive and passionate, a wandering journey of mixolydian scales, notes that sustain and move in strange yet fluid patterns. The song clocks in at over ten minutes; a tour de force of art and music that transformed my youth as I rode my bike along the backdrop of mammoth mountains on my way to high school. Television is still one of my all time favorite bands.

And then, Richard Hell plays next. ("And that's really the guy's name?" I think to myself, reading the handwritten notecard. "Richard Hell? What kind of name is that? Is it a band? A person?" I would soon figure it all out.) I remember the first time that I heard the song "Blank Generation" by Richard Hell and the Voidoids: the guitar starts the song in, and I stop riding my bike, stupefied by the shattering sounds of Robert Quine's guitar: I remember thinking "Is this guitar? Is that a guitar that he's playing? Is he playing with a shard of broken glass as a pic? How the fuck does he make it sound like that?! I’ve never heard guitar like that before." The sound was ugly, bright and thin, grating and offensively raw. I'd never heard anything like it, and then the bass plops in and the drums explode like a machine gun, and suddenly Richard Hell is screaming in spitting poetic articulation of words and images, an emotional onslaught of poetic nihilism set to a swinging punk rock groove.

I was hooked. That very moment, listening to "Blank Generation" changed my life forever. That was the thing with the music Marc had given me: I had a never ending treasure trove of undiscovered wondrous music. My brain was soaking it all up, it was constantly evolving and growing and shifting with new experiences, new emotions brought on by music I had never heard before. Hell's song "Walking on the Water" comes next on the disc, the same kind of duplicitous ugly beautiful music that Richard Hell could make without even trying. And just to contrast with the song, Marc puts Creedence Clearwater's version of the same song: two songs for the price of one. Both unique, both different, each one its own song, its own expression of a story. 

Patti Smith comes next: "So You Wanna BeRock and Roll Star"; "Free Money"; "Dancing Barefoot." The poetic prowess of the slender Patti Smith is alluring, sexy, provocative and subversive. I can feel the sensuality of her words, the movements of sound and beat poetry put to rock music. 

After Patti Smith is Lou Reed, who later in my life would become a kind of musical God to me. The new wave mix featured just one song of his, off of his '89 album New York, the opening track "Romeo Had Juliette." I would forever know his voice after that. The cool famous talking/singing style of his, the dirty street walking drug shooting sunglasses and attitude Lou Reed. The dirtier and edgier Bob Dylan. It only took that one song to open me up to Lou Reed; it just cracked open the door, before I would blow the door open with dynamite at age twenty six and go as deep as I could with Reed's music. 

The first time I heard the Velvet Underground, not even knowing that it was Lou Reed's band, it was on the new wave mix: "Temptation Inside of Your Heart," an innocent, simple grooving track that gave me the impression that VU was a hippy kind of band, love and sun and fun. Wrong. Later on, at age twenty, the Velvet Underground would become my favorite band, surpassing the Red Hot Chili Peppers even -- the obsession continues to this day. The influence, the legend, the artful power and the amazing music of the Velvet Underground and all of its incarnations fascinated me. It became an area of intense study. (Clinton Heylin's book From the Velvets to the Voidoids is an illuminating and indispensable history of American punk rock, beginning chronologically with the Velvet Underground.)

And here's the thing: No one my age was listening to Television and Richard Hell in high school. I don't know what they were listening to,  (Blink 182, Green Day, maybe. Gag . . .) but I know that no one was blasting new wave punk into their ears night and day. I was alone in my life: surrounded by other students in high school hallways, I was popular and charismatic, I hated myself and everyone around me. I was alone, but I had this music. It was a secret level of existence that no one could fuck with; headphones pressed securely to my head as I walked through the halls, Patti Smith and Lou Reed and Zappa and Television blasting in my ears. 

All of this music had planted seeds in my brain that would eventually take form years later; it would later turn into an aspen forest of interconnected roots, roots of facts and artists crossing over each other, through time and culture and albums, a huge single organism of never ending potential musical knowledge and experiences.

And Marc didn't just know about this music. He had SEEN it all too. He had lived in New York during the 1970s; he went to CGBGs all the time. He'd seen the Ramones over twenty times, Television and Patti Smith and Richard Hell dozens of times -- he saw Lou Reed and Bob Dylan more times than all the concerts I've been to combined. He'd seen Zappa over what, forty times, fifty times? And he REMEMBERED it all -- that was the shit I couldn't even grasp. Talking to him -- and Marc could talk; it wasn't really us talking as much as it was me listening to him talk. Which was fucking GREAT. Talking about live shows he'd been to in his thick New York accent: "I sar them" (not saw -- Marc SAR bands),  and then he'd wrap up each story by saying quickly "At any rate . . ."

I'm smiling as I write this all out. Because I love Marc. Father figures were few and far between for me. Marc sharing this music with me was a kind of generosity, of love even, that I had never felt before. He'll never know how much that music meant to me, how much it changed me and saved me, and continues to do that all to this very day, this very second.

Another thing: Marc made me a four disc collection of Bob Dylan, each disc was colored a different hue. Dylan Blue, Dylan Red, Dylan Green, Dylan Yellow. After high school, I ran away from home and was living out of my car, out of a trailer with friends, no place to go, no direction; drugs and alcohol were already starting to dominate a big part of my life. And these Dylan cds became the soundtrack to my life at that time. Dylan green, with songs like "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding" (my all time favorite), "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall," and "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts"; Dylan Blue was my favorite: a deep and emotionally profound collection of what would become my favorite Dylan: "Shelter From the Storm", "Seven Curses", "Visions of Johanna", "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" . . . another story for another time. A story of my first love and drives through the Arizona desert, smoking cigarettes as I sleep in my car in an abandoned parking lot, age eighteen, listening to "Shelter From the Storm." Dylan Blue, Dylan Green . . . The music comforted me, it was my solace, my one source of light. It was just me and the music.

Marc still sends me cds. Just last year he sent me seventeen albums, many of which were double or even triple disc. He included with the albums a book of paperwork an inch thick: printed material from wikipedia and the internet, detailing the albums and the background info, the discographies and the track info. Just this month he sent me an eight disc collection of more Zappa (I can never get enough Zappa). It means as much to me today to receive new music from Marc as it did the first time he ever handed me a cd. The feeling is exactly same. 

I make cds for my friends now. I still sit at home, burning playlists of my favorite artists, and writing out the info for each song, each album. I want to share the wealth, even a fraction of what was shared with me. I feel it's the least I can do.

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Hotel Story

Hotel Story

by Casey Wickstrom

Note: These pages were found inside a night stand drawer, in the hotel room I was staying at while on tour in California.

Hotel.

When I saw the hotel, I instantly knew. It was off of the 5 freeway, off to my left side, near the exit. It looked small and quiet and lonely. Set against the backdrop of sloping towering mountains, the sun was just beginning to go down. I pulled off onto the exit ramp and made my way over. I just felt in my body and in my mind that this was the right hotel. 

I checked into this room at $125 a night, which is a little steep, I guess, but it won't matter much after the three days that I spend here. I paid for three days up front, cash. The outside swimming pool was covered with a blue plastic sheet, the sign on the fence said "Out of Order." My room is #132 on the second floor. The inside of the room is lightly quiet and smells old and a little dusty; the walls are brown paneled fake wood, and there's a picture of a farm above the headrest of my single bed, which squeaks slightly and doesn't feel all that comfortable. There's a small television that I turned on only for a minute, just to see if it works -- a reflexive habit that I have in hotel rooms. Next to the tv is a small table with a lamp above it coming out of the wall, where I put my typewriter and a stack of blank papers. Near the window, with the heavy blinds drawn, there's a wooden chair that I moved near the table, and I'm sitting here typing this into the typewriter now. I feel settled in already. No one knows I'm here. This is exactly as I planned; three days will go by quickly.

What am I doing in this small and lonely hotel off the 5 freeway in the middle of nowhere in central California? I'm here to kill myself. 

I have a single travel bag, it's leather, with a toothbrush, and three bottles of pills. The first two bottles are a mixture of different painkillers that I hope to finish by the third day, when I'll take the entire contents of the last bottle, which has thirty five tiny white pills of pure hydrocodone.

I bought this typewriter because I wanted to document my final three days of life from the seclusion of this cheap little hotel room. I have thought of doing this for a long time now -- for a few years in fact -- and earlier this week I decided that I'd finally do it. I got in my car with my bag, picked up a typewriter from the pawn shop near my house, and just drove. I drove without aim or direction, in a completely random fashion, and I told myself that I when I found the right hotel, I would know. I drove around for about a day, although I was prepared to drive for however long it took to find the right place. I was actually pretty lucky to find a hotel that spoke to me so quickly. So now here I am in this room, writing this introduction. Tonight doesn't count as a day; tomorrow will be day one, and I'll take the first bottle and start the countdown.

I feel tired, so I guess I'll sleep.

. . . 

day one: morning. 

I have woken up from one of the best night's sleep ever. These next few days will be wonderful. Just writing, taking these pills, not leaving the room. Time alone. 

Many people think that suicide victims hate themselves. I do -- I can attest to that. But there's something about suicide that many people don't understand: it's an act of love. You reach a point when you just simply can't suffer and hate yourself any longer, you reach the point of no return, and after years or decades of hating yourself, you decide that it's time to end your suffering. And ending your suffering is an act of love. No one else can save you. You have to save yourself. And you can rescue yourself, you can find peace -- you can finally, finally, be at peace with yourself. Having woken up this morning, I felt for the first time in how long I don't know, that I can stand myself. It was as if the darkness inside of me had reached a truce with the rest of me. It was a mutual understanding that this is the end; we can resolve our differences and be friends for these three days. I am able to find my own self-love, by freeing myself from . . . well, myself.

Staring at the ceiling for a prolonged amount of time, just feeling at peace with the world, at peace with myself at last. I am doing the right thing.

Hours later.

I don't understand gunshot suicides. It's too messy. I get it to some extent, because it means that you're serious. If you stick a fucking gun in your mouth and pull the trigger, then you're serious about dying. And how fucked is it when you hear about these guys that shoot themselves in the head and they survive? I mean, that's brutal. If you shoot yourself in the mouth with an AK-47, that's not a cry for help.  You're aiming to kill yourself. And if you can't even do THAT, with an AK -- man, you thought you were depressed before? You can't even kill yourself right.

But I think of Hemingway. I think of Kurt Cobain, in his loft in Washington, needles everywhere, dreary gray weather outside, maybe cold rain belting at his window, and he sticks the shotgun in his mouth and pulls the trigger with his foot, right? Something about that seems like it would be easy to romanticize, maybe the rain helps. I read that Hemingway shot himself with his favorite shotgun. His favorite shotgun -- he had multiple firearms, but he decided to use his favorite one to blow his head off. I can almost grasp the beauty in it, but I'll never know why people blow apart their skulls. Too messy. I want my body to be intact, a dead replica of my living body, everything that I was, except now it's free of breath, free of life, free of soul. Soul free. Cold stiff body of a stranger on the scratchy red carpet floor of a run down cheap motel in the middle of nowhere. Typewritten pages filled with words, and a leather travel bag full of drugs. Now that's romantic to me.

Slitting your wrists . . . Not my thing. I couldn't cut into my arms like that. Horizontally if you want attention; vertically, all the way down, if you're serious. That's the rule of thumb that I've heard from experienced cutters. I wonder, once you cut one arm, will your hand work to let you slice into the other forearm? Or will your fingers no longer cooperate once you sever the myriad rivers and streams of your veins and tendons; do you just wait until your life pours out of your one arm? A bathtub, lobster red boiling hot water in the tub, that's how I'd do it, if I had to. I don't like the idea of getting cold: I get the mental image of dried fruit, an old apple left out, shriveled and dry. What sound does the razor make when it tears its way through your forearm? How deep do you go, does it make a tearing sound, a rip? How much blood is there? Enough to drain you. Sitting in a tub of hot water as the water is dyed red, blood red (obviously), and you get cold. I don't like the cold aspect, and cutting is for high school girls -- that's my reasoning. 

Hanging.

Christ, maybe. Getting warmer, at least. I've been choked before, once when I was really young: a girl at school grabbed the hood of my sweater, she was standing behind me in the auditorium, and she pulled it back and up in such a way that it began to strangle me. I couldn't breathe. And I didn't try to fight it; I figured eventually she'd let go. And then there was a hot fluid fire light-headedness that filled up in my skull, my body became weightless, it completely overtook me; it was a warm suffocation, and those dots that come after a flash photograph exploded in my eyes, and the music in the auditorium became muffled, like I was under water, warm water, or floating in space, the bright lights like stars, the warmth of it all. I felt euphoric, in a way, and I couldn't breathe. My thoughts came to a halt as the temperature rose in my face, the image of a thermometer rising until it bursts at the top, my eyes melting out of my skull in hot white light. And then, of course, the girl let go, and I could breathe again, and I came down. I liked it. Even then, as a little kid, there was something foreign, and slightly erotic to being choked like that -- although I couldn't describe it like that then; the words just weren't there. Autoerotic-asphyxiation was not in my vocabulary back then. Like the late David Carradine, all bound in leather, wrapped up in his closet, the closed back of the door splattered with cum, the collection of shoes beneath him covered in feces (you evacuate your bowels when you die, yes? Remind me to use the restroom before I go. I'd like as little mess as possible).

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, I remember reading the part where a girl hangs herself. The lady in the book said "I'm afraid she's hanged herself." Hanged. Not hung. I remember thinking how strange that was. She hung herself. No, she's hanged herself.

On hanging: there was a girl that I dated, and later on, she confided in me that at a certain point in her life, she was seriously contemplating suicide. She was going to hang herself, she said. She was living up in the Santa Cruz mountains, with three other people. Her roommates were all out of town, and she was going to hang a rope from the balcony, outside, looking towards the mountains. And she planned to put a tarp beneath her, she said, "in case she made a mess." And the other thing that she told me was that she was going to be naked. The mental image of this beautiful brunette girl, hanging by her neck, completely naked, outside and swinging off of the balcony, the backdrop of the Santa Cruz mountains, the grass, the trees, the dusk setting sun, it was all so poetic. It was dark and insidious and beautiful and poetic. 

But I could never hang myself.

And then there's gas. If it wasn't for the drugs, and the hotel room idea, I would choose gas. Sylvia Plath, with her head in the oven, breathing in the gas stove until she just fell asleep. That's the way to do it. In the garage, you start the car, crack the windows, and just breathe. Play some music on the stereo, you could even make a playlist for the occasion. Simon & Garfunkel, some Beethoven piano sonatas as you relax and let the carbon monoxide take you away to dreamland. You just get tired, your eyelids get heavy, things get surreal, thoughts slow down, the warmth of the softly rumbling engine lulls you, its mechanical drone soothing you to sleep. Why not? 

Throw some pills in there, and you're fucking golden. A handful of hydrocodone, let it sink in, the car running in the garage, the music playing, and you're rushing on the painkillers and relaxed and sleepy, so just let go. Just let it go. Just let it go. Just . . . sleep. 

Man, if it wasn't for this strange obsession with a hotel room, I'd be in my garage right now, just chilling in the cloud of carbon monoxide, stoned out of my head, no longer living. I just saw this hotel in my head; not this exact one, but close. I had a hotel archetype, and once that thought got in there, I knew I just had to drive until I found it. Time was on my side, because I wanted to do it all right. For some reason, dying in some anonymous hotel room off the highway, where no one knows you from Adam, and no one will ever know you, something about that just made sense to me. This room is perfect.

night.

Not a good night tonight. The first bottle is gone, a high wine in my ears, a heavy dull rush that I know very well, but after ten pills you're just not high anymore. And the ten that you take after that, it's like each pill eliminates your high even more. I can't sleep. This room feels closed up, like it's underground, and I'm hearing things.

hours into the night.

I hear the roar of a chainsaw ripping through the darkness of my room. The screams of children, high pitched and terrified, bright in my ears. Hot bursts of industrial light tear and explode behind my eyelids, the sawing and grinding of deadly machinery splits my skull in half. All of this in the next room, by my head. An ocean of fear engulfs my dark single room entirely. The wired galactic dendritic maze of my brain snaps and pops in electrical flashes, overload, blown fuses, crackling hot wires, fried and charred and smoking thin snakes of electricity.

day two: morning.

I woke up on the second day, in my bed, the sunlight filtering in, creeping in through the opening on top of the heavy closed blinds. It cast angled reflected lines of light on the ceiling. It could have looked creepy, but I think it looked beautiful. I glanced over by the old television set and noticed that there was someone else in my room. My heart didn't skip a beat, like that falling drop in your stomach -- no fear to instantly suck the wind out of me, fight or flight mode. I was still high from the night before. 

The shadow looked like the figure of a man at first, and we just sat there in the silence of the room, with the lines of white sunlight streaked open on the ceiling. The shadow was smoking a cigarette; the smoke rose in a twisted fluid stream, rising upward until it dissipated close to the ceiling. The silence was heavy, although I could hear cars out along the freeway. Maybe even a few birds. The figure that looked so much like a man slowly and gently morphed into the dark silhouette of a woman. Like a camera lens shifting into focus, her body image became clearer and clearer, and I saw that she was a very beautiful woman. Wearing a light brown skirt, her legs were crossed. She looked older, her face was not as tight as a young girl's might have been. Her lips were full and sensual; she might have been in her early forties. Her hair was auburn and rested easily on her wide shoulders. She just stared and stared at me for a long time, saying nothing, the smoke of her cigarette rising into warm heavy silence.

  I felt that I had to break the silence.

"Are you real?" I asked. I was still high, but I also had the feeling that I was dreaming, the subtle breaths of phantasmagoria and sleep still had me in its clutches. 

"Yes." She said, and her voice was quiet but full, sexy.

"That's good," I replied, feeling confused, but playing along, like you might do in a lucid dreaming state. "Can I help you with something? I think you might have the wrong room."

"I don't think you can help me," she said, her dark eyes never leaving mine, she never blinked. "You can't even help yourself."

"Oh. How do you know that?"

She said nothing, just stared. I began to feel very uncomfortable, and a little impatient.

She finally blinked and turned her head up and away to the side, as if examining half of the room for the first time. 

"Pills are such a weak way to die." She said. The mechanical wheels in my mind churned to keep up with her statement.

"Okay. So, what? I'm weak?"

She turned her head back to face me. "No, you're not, you're just having a moment of weakness. There's a difference."

"There's not enough difference for me. I'm here to die, and that's what I plan to do, tomorrow."

She shrugged. "Suit yourself. But I think that you should know that if you follow through with your plan, you'll miss out on the party."

"What party?" Images of floating balloons and confetti exploding in a brightly lit room expanded inside my mind briefly.

"The one that we're all having." She said ominously. And then she sat there in silence again. 

"Okay, this is getting weird. I think you need to leave."

Then her voice went low, very low. Way too low. It slowed in time and dropped to a heavy and deep bass octave that sounded like a vinyl record being slowed down dramatically. 

"The party we're all having . . ." she said, and she stood up and rushed towards me in a snap of motion like a wild animal. In an instant she was next to me. My mind popped in terrified panic, sheer high pitched terror, the snap of fear was almost audible. I lifted my hands up in reflex, covering my face, like a petrified child. If you don't see it, it's not real, right? The thoughts that go through your mind when you panic: I thought of my eyes being gouged out, my face scratched, completely vertical pinstripes of red, a bloody jail cell on my face. A choked scream, a nightmare, underwater, quicksand . . .

I woke up in my bed, my heart laboring much too fast, covered in cold sweat, my head spinning, it felt light, disconnected, like it might just float off of my shoulders like a balloon. So it was a dream. These pills can do that to me. It was a long time before I felt better again. And even then, I didn't feel better, really.

afternoon.

This typewriter was a bad idea. It's killing my fingers. I just thought that it would be classy, a romantic thing; I had a mental image of the cleaning lady opening the door to the room, seeing my body lying stiff and motionless on the rough thin red carpeting, the typewriter on the table near the television, papers strewn all over with ink and words; a hurricane-aftermath-like feeling. It seemed right. Nothing written in a laptop could achieve that kind of thing. A notebook would be close, but that would be too neat, too easily preserved. I want scattered, unorganized papers, these typewritten pages accumulating. Put the pieces together -- you figure it out. 

Of course, I'm pretty sure that no one will read this. Police evidence, maybe. Most likely to be thrown into the trash afterwards. Room clean, next guest. I wonder how many people have died in this room before me?

So the typewriter stays, and the pages keep coming, but fuck, these keys are heavy, stiff. Even with the drugs, they hurt my fingers. 

night.

The second pill bottle is almost done, completed. Like a level that I must beat to progress to the next one. Reactions are slow, heavy, deliberate, drowsy, but I can still type on this thing. The heavy keys of this typewriter click and clack in analog archaic rhythmic sounds. Bukowski did this. Mark Twain did this. And now, my second to last night of life on this planet, I do it too. I take drugs and write. Not that I'm in any way comparable to Hemingway and Bukowski -- that's not what I'm saying. It's just the typewriter, you know? I write for no one, but I'm writing nonetheless, rambling in a near incoherent state of being.

night, later.

Talking in the room next to me, through the wall behind my head:

"I don't think we can do this tonight."

"Really? Why not?"

"I just don't think that it would be right."

"Wow. Well, okay. If that's how you feel."

"I'm sorry, but it is."

"Alright then."

Silence. 

Riveting.

Then there's the loud deep blast of a shotgun that rockets through the room, it explodes in my ears, a bomb, a flash of white light, instantaneous panic, it takes the breath from my lungs. I jump up out of my bed, an animalistic reaction -- I crouch down beside the night stand before the sound of the shotgun blast even fades, huddled in primal fear. I wait a few moments for a reaction from the other rooms. Phone calls, police sirens in the distance, getting closer and closer until the wailing sounds and flashing lights engulf and circulate the world around you; I wait for the banter of other hotel residents, screams and reactions. After the blast there is only silence. I've been getting scared like that these past two days. Dreams, violence, hallucinations. Like the lady earlier this morning, how do I know that this is real? 

night, continued.

Something happened this evening. After the shock of the gun blast in the other room, I turned on the light next to my bed, finished the second bottle, feeling much too warm and fuzzy, itching and scratching long thin red lines all over my chest and upper back, scratching my shoulders raw, and I got up from the typewriter for a moment to look in the mirror. The mirror is in the main room, outside of the bathroom. The bathroom is tiny, with only the toilet and the small shower, and the mirror and sink and the small coffee maker and some bars of hand soap rest on the sink counter in the main room. Anyways, I was much too high -- which I can easily distinguish when I am -- and I began to look at myself in the mirror: the dark drugged despair bags beneath my eyes, my hazel eyes looked like circles made entirely of sharp tiny broken glass shards, millions of slivers exposed in my dilated pupils that shone in the mirror with microscopic clarity, even in the low and dim yellow light above the mirror. I saw into my eyes, like I was seeing myself for the first time, and I know that this sounds stupid, but I saw myself as a kid, in the reflection of my eyes. It sounds strange and corny, but I'm already onto the next line in this thing. Time is short -- my time is short, anyways -- and this is more of a stream of consciousness thing than any kind of serious writing. No one will know that someone spent three days and nights in here, slowly and methodically killing themselves, writing in an old typewriter, chronicling the last days and hours and moments of his life before he finally seals the deal.

Back to my eyes. I started to cry. I felt it coming on, looking into my eyes, the same eyes that I had when I was a child, the eyes that I was born with, the eyes that saw the world through my sad and broken mind. I fell into the round pools of hazel colored kaleidoscope broken glass shards and I just let it go. I didn't cry very loud, or even very long, but it was a deep cry, a despairing sob, tears fell into the sink, sobs racked my shoulders. I felt completely alone, as I've always felt. I turned my head away, and when I looked back into the mirror, my eyes were horribly bloodshot and cashed out, my face was streaked with tears, snot ran from my nose, I had a hard time breathing, my breath caught and my face tingled. And then, as my eyes regained focus into themselves, a comforting warmth that I had never felt before completely wrapped around me like a warm blanket during a snow blizzard, all encompassing and true: it was the knowing that I was going to die, and the comfort that came with that. The supreme knowledge that my life was my own, to have and to hold (in sickness and in health), til death do us part. There was a grounding feeling of closure, something indescribable (though I'm trying here, really trying to describe it). It was the calm in the storm, the breath of peace before the plane crash, the feeling of salvation, the embrace of a loved one in the midst of tragedy; it was safety and it was resolve. Resolve, that's a good one. Knowing that I was going to be ending all of this, the gravity of my decision had finally sunk in with a heavy and sure finality. I knew, I felt it, and it will soon be over.

But the hallucinations keep coming. 

After I had stopped crying, I still heard soft thin sobs, like far off ocean waves. They persisted, and I realized with some confusion that they were the quiet sobs of a child, in my room. In the reflection of the mirror, I saw a small dark human figure sitting on the floor, the shadow of a child, head and shoulders over their knees, it's arms wrapped around them, slowly rocking back and forth, sobbing quietly, alone and sad. I waited for the figure to dissipate, but it remained, the sobbing continued, in a very human way; it ebbed and flowed, still quiet, but varying in it's rhythm. My heart hurt. The pills had their grip around it, but it was also something about this small human sitting on the floor, crying, all alone. I could see the metaphor, surely. I slowly turned around, thinking that once I left the view of the mirror, the mirage would disappear. And yet, when I turned around, the figure was no longer a shadow, it was an actual child, a small girl, twelve years old, maybe, I don't know. But she was still THERE, crying, her sobs were softly shaking her small and feminine frame, her dark brown hair hung over her knees as she continued to weep. I stood there, waiting for the next move; waiting for the nightmare part to take over -- like the woman in the morning, or the shotgun blast; this time I was ready to be taken aback, scared, horrified. But none of that happened. The girl lifted her head from off of her knees, and turned to look at me. 

(Her eyes are going to be bleeding, I told myself. She'll have no eyes. Something. She's going to scream and it will set this room on fire.) My heart pounding in anticipation of the fear. She looked up at me, and her eyes were bright, beautiful, young, a darker brown than my own; they were shining and wet, and our gaze met. There was a locking connection between us. The pain that this small child was feeling was also my own; she was weeping for me -- somehow I knew this. She was sad that someone had to die, that people die, everyone dies, and she was so little that death still seemed so abstract and unreal to her, but she knew that I was going to die. Tomorrow, I was going to die. And so she was crying. I didn't know this girl -- she wasn't even really there, I reminded myself. I'm just losing my mind a day before I kill myself. Simple. But we looked at each other, and I was so overwhelmed that I slowly walked the four or five steps over to her, and she didn't move away; I didn't scare her. I knelt down beside her as she continued to sob, a little louder now that I was right next to her. I didn't know what to do at first; I felt awkward, like the wrong movement would cause her to evaporate back into the ether of the room. Yet she was real, this little girl, and I touched her left shoulder, and that was real, and her dark brown hair was soft and real, and I felt her shoulders shaking softly. My hand stayed on her shoulder as I knelt by her on one knee; an infinite amount of time passed, and then I knelt down beside her on both knees, and slowly wrapped both of my arms around her. She didn't disappear. Time stood perfectly still, it lay heavy on us as I held her, and her small and frail arms, soft and hairless and warm, reached up and cradled my arm in a soft and intimate connection, (she was real, she had to have been, I could smell her hazelnut hair, I could feel her breath shaking her shoulders). I held her in my arms, comforting her, both of us alone in this world, all alone, so sad and alone. I held her and whispered words of solace to her. We slowly rocked and swayed as she cried, my chin and mouth rested on her head, the scent of her hair filled my nostrils, and I felt beautiful. I held her until she disappeared. 

. . .

final day, morning.

This is the last day. I don't really have a time table for how I want to do it, although I know that I'll just take what's in the entire last bottle and call it. Man, my fingers are killing me. This typewriter is the real deal, heavy metal machine contraption, working it all out in clicks and dings and crunches. My fingers have blisters, dull and throbbing pain, what pain there is left to feel. Not to brag, but I've taken two bottles of pills in two days. Thirty each. That's right. Sixty pills in two days. I'm not dead; I'm writing this all out, because I'm a professional. Thirty pills a day is excessive even for me, but these are not the killer pills, not really anyways. These are just a combination of norcos, vicodin, percoset, a little morphine, some dilaudid. A cocktail of pills. It's the bottle today that will seal the deal: thirty five little white dots of pure hydrocodone. No acetaminophen in those babies. That's a guaranteed overdose, boys and girls. And I know that it will feel great going out. A heavy, heavy drop into sleep. I haven't decided if I'll lie on the bed to go out, or just swallow the whole fucking bottle and write into this thing as long as I can before I just keel over and fade into black . . . Probably the latter.

I wish there was something that I could write, a final goodbye, something deep and profound, a prolific quote that would make the literary world stand on its head. But I have nothing. Besides "goodbye," and how fucking stupid would that be? I could apologize to my family, but I'm not sorry. I'm doing what must be done, what's right for me, and I know it, I know in my heart that this is what must be done. 

.  .  .

I just took the whole bottle. Just seconds ago. Start the countdown. A mouth full of pills. Like candy, they begin to melt; I keep them in there for a minute until I think I might start to choke, then I down them with a little water from the paper cup at the sink. I think I'll place these pages in the drawer near the bed. A secret stash of suicide letters.

Maybe a flash of insight before I leave. I'd say I have a good ten minutes -- fifteen at most, before it takes hold and stops my heart. Fourteen minutes now. I feel like an astronaut, preparing for takeoff. A really fucking high astronaut. I want to write faster, but I can't.

Fuck, what to write when you only have minutes to live?

.  .  .

I have it. 

I want to end with something, it just came to mind. 

It's nothing amazing, but I do think that it's beautiful. It's the words I said to the little girl that I held in my arms, in my room last night. Comforting her, I held her in a warm and loving embrace, and as we slowly rocked back and forth, I was her solace in this dark and sad and lonely world, and she was mine. As I held her, I whispered something softly to her.

"It's okay." I whispered to her, over and over again. "It's okay."

Like poetry to me.

My Night With Billy Pfalmer

Note: Originally written 2/27/16

My Night With Billy Pfalmer

Billy Pfalmer was a senior when I was a freshman at Durango High School. I knew of him because he played in a punk band called the Randibles. Billy was certainly a punk. He had bright blonde shaggy hair, he was tall and slim, and his eyes had dark bags under them, like he was always stoned. His clothes were all baggy, and his jeans hung down low, which was the style of the nineties and early 2000's. I had never spoken to him, but I had seen his band play at a school battle of the bands. I didn't understand punk music then, and seeing Billy sing and yell into the microphone while the other band members thrashed and drove through these frantically fast one or two minute songs was a lot for me to take in. The only words that I could understand from their fifteen minute set was when Billy moaned into the mic: "I wish I could have it my fucking way . . ." Nevertheless, the Randibles were a band that I had long known about from my older friends; they were somewhat like local legends in the small mountain town of Durango. Billy Pfalmer was the essence of punk, in my mind, and in the minds of many others. His band was an expression of himself, and the first time I saw him perform, although I didn't understand it, I was impressed while witnessing the legend that was Billy Pfalmer. 

The next year, Billy graduated, and I remained in high school. I forgot all about him. When I was a junior, I started doing a few drugs and drinking a bit, and some of my friends that I hung out with were older than me, around Billy's age. One of my friends, Boo Burnier, worked with me at the hot springs near my house in Hermosa Valley, north of town. Boo was Asian. He had a nice car, a red Eclipse; he and I would sit out back of the front office and smoked rolled cigarettes and talk and laugh about things. Boo was super fucking cool; he was older than me, and it made me feel cool to hang out with him. One day, he asked me if I wanted to come along with him to a punk show, and I could drive him home afterwards because he wanted to drink. I said sure, and he asked me if I could drive stick. I said I could, even though I'd never done it before, because I really wanted to go. I had never been to a punk show, but I really wanted to now, because I was partying a little bit and I was starting to feel a little like a punk. Boo picked me up outside my house and drove us to the VFW, where the show was. I was excited and a little nervous.

Billy Pfalmer was there with his new band, The Colorado Folk Revival. There was a punk band that played before, and there was a mosh pit. I jumped in and experienced my first pit, running and stomping in a circle, shoving and moving in a current of punk bodies and teenage aggression. It was amazing -- I had never experienced a high like that. Billy's band played after, they sang some acoustic folk renditions of punk songs they had written, including a pirate ballad: "I'll drink when I'm thirsty, I'll drink when I'm dry . . ." something like that. After the show, Boo went to the bar of the VFW. I followed him, and I saw Billy there, his tall, blonde, slim figure hunched over the bar with a drink, slurring his words at the bartender, something about the turnout of the show. It was cool to see Billy like that; I remember taking a mental picture of him in my head, the punk rock star of Durango, drunk, after his show, in his element. After Boo had a few drinks, it was time to go, and Billy asked Boo for a ride. Boo said that we could all go to his place for a few more drinks. So now, I was driving Billy and Boo back up north towards the valley.

In the nice red Eclipse, Billy was in the back seat, and Boo was riding shotgun. It was soon obvious that I didn't know how to drive a stick shift. The car stalled a few times, I bottomed out coming out of the VFW parking lot. Boo sighed loudly, and began trying to explain to me how the clutch and gas worked.

"It's like finding the g-spot," Boo explained wisely. "You need to just ease into it, with a little balance, back and forth smoothly." I kind of got the hang of it. Billy was in the back seat, pretty drunk.

"Man," Billy slurred. "If I didn't know how to drive a stick, I'd kill myself."

"This kid's cool, Bill." Boo assured him. I drove us through town, praying that we didn't hit any red lights. It was a nervous ride.

"If we get pulled over, I'm running." Billy said from the back seat. "I got warrants." 

I finally made it to Boo's house at the Ranch, an upper class suburb in Hermosa Valley. Boo's parents were out, so Bill and him started drinking a little bit more. Billy was swaying back and forth in the kitchen. I couldn't stop thinking about how cool he looked, how close I was to the lead singer of the Randibles; I was a fly on the wall; he was completely oblivious to me being there.

"Man, let's find some sluts!" Billy kept saying to Boo. They talked and laughed and I just hung out, quiet and smiling. 

"Fuck, I need some cash," Billy said. "I need some cash for tomorrow." He slurred on: "Boo, can you spot me twenty bucks, man? I'll pay you back. Just twenty."

Boo took a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket and handed it to Billy.

"Here, Bill," Boo said to him. "Don't worry about paying it back, man."

"No, I'll pay it back." Billy insisted.

"Don't worry about it, Bill. I mean it. It's a gift, man."

It impressed me to see Boo give Billy money, just like that, and expect nothing in return. It added to the coolness that was Billy Pfalmer. A little while later, I left with Boo, and I gave Billy a high five on my way out.

"Later, man." Billy said, slouched in a chair. I felt cool. Boo drove me home. I've never forgotten that night.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .

Maybe three years later, Billy died of a heroin overdose. I was now a punk myself, doing a lot of drugs, living fast and recklessly. When I heard the news from a friend, or from a few friends that he had died, I immediately remembered the night that I hung out with Boo and Billy. I was so glad that I had that night.

I went to Billy's memorial, where there were a bunch of kids that I hadn't seen since high school, they were sad and a lot of them were fucked up. Billy was a huge part of the local punk scene, and his loss was one of huge magnitude for the town. It was a somber moment, but to me, it wasn't that sad. It didn't surprise me in the least that Billy had OD'd on heroin -- that was punk. Billy Pfalmer was the essence of punk rock: he had lived punk, breathed punk; ostensibly, it was all he knew how to do. If I had expected anyone to go out in the glorified punk rock fashion of a drug overdose, it was Billy. I admired and respected him for going out like that. Of course, I felt bad for his family, who had pulled the plug on him after it was clear that he would never come out of his drug induced catatonic state. That was sad. 

But what would Billy have done differently? Gotten a suit and tie job? Played in a punk band on the weekends while he slaved away in some office cubicle? In my mind (and I really had no idea besides my own impression of Billy that had been established from only a few glimpses and a single night), Billy had fully committed his life to punk rock -- it was like his religion -- and that was how he would have, and should have, gone out. 

I don't know. Maybe not. There very well could have been many different sides to Billy Pfalmer, seen by those that knew him much more than I ever did. But as a teen myself, Billy had left a mark on my life, just from that single interaction we had shared years before; I was proud to have known him only in that single moment, and I knew in my heart that he had lived life by his own rules, and gone out the same way. At the memorial, we all shouted out "Fuck off, motherfucker!" Which was a song lyric of Billy's, and what he probably would've said to all of us if he had walked in to his own memorial that day. 

.  .  .  .  .  .  .

Many years have passed since that time, and I have lived many different lives. I too have struggled with hard drugs, overdosed, relapsed countless times; I have felt the pointlessness of life, and felt intense pain at the futility of everything around me. The attitude of punk rock still makes sense to me at times. But I have been able to move past many of my demons and come around to a better existence. I write, I play music, I tour, I make films.

And even now, it amazes me that that single night with Billy Pfalmer is so ingrained in my mind. It always will be.  

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Still Silence: Meditation And Your Brain

 

Note: This was written for my psychology class at De Anza.

Still Silence: Meditation And Your Brain

Meditation is one of the oldest practices of attaining higher consciousness, by focusing on the simplest, most basic form of life itself: breath. While often associated with Eastern religions and philosophy, the act of meditation is actually transcendent of any specific religious affiliation, and has been practiced throughout history as a major element of all religions and faiths, including Christianity and Judaism (Weiten 161). Meditation simply refers to a family of practices that focus attention to heighten awareness by bringing mental processes under greater voluntary control (Weiten 161). Research from various experiments suggests that regular meditation can lower stress hormones, help control blood pressure, aid in regulating sleep patterns, and help increase pain tolerance (Weiten 162). However, some psychologists are quick to point out that the same effects might be attainable through other relaxation techniques, as well as through use of placebos. To be sure, additional research is needed to shine a light on this practice, and the potential benefits and effects of meditation need to be studied objectively and empirically.

Modern research is lending a hand in explaining some of the science behind meditation, and its potential neurological and physiological benefits. Studies from some of the country's most distinguished universities have yielded data that have put the ancient benefits of meditation into scientific terms, and the results are astounding and exciting. With the use of fMRI and EEG technology, scientists are able to objectively study, document, and begin to visually comprehend what it is exactly that meditation does to the human brain.

According to a study performed at UCLA, it was discovered that long-term meditators had better preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged (Walton). That is, participants who had been meditating for twenty years or more showed more grey matter throughout their brains than their non-meditating counterparts. Grey matter makes up the majority of the brain's neuronal cell bodies, and also includes regions of the brain involved in sensory perception (i.e sight, sound, emotions, self control) and muscle control (wikipedia). As Florian Kurth, the author of the study, explained: " [. . .] what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain" (Walton).

A recent study from Harvard and the University of Sienna found that mindfulness meditation can reduce anxiety and depression by actually altering the physiology of the human brain (Hall). Scientists took 24 subjects that had never before meditated, and guided them through an eight week meditation course, where they meditated for 45 minutes a day. They also completed a two and a half hour session each week detailing the various components and methods of meditation. MRI tests were conducted before and after the program, as well as extensive psychological evaluations throughout the experiment, and the data gathered revealed astonishing results: 

"[The study] revealed that the subjects experienced a thickening in the part of the brain responsible for emotions and perception. Such changes strengthen the body's physiological resilience against worry, anxiety and depression" (Hall). 

 This is not merely a single, isolated experiment -- a 2011 Harvard study found the same thing (Walton). Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and her team at Harvard Medical School, gathered data that corroborate these findings. After eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), it was discovered in the subject's brains that the cortical thickness in the hippocampus had increased. The hippocampus is the part of the limbic system involved in learning and memory (Weiten 76), and plays important roles in emotion regulation and self-referential processing. There was also a decrease in brain cell volume found in the amygdala, the area in the brain responsible for aggression, fear, anxiety and stress (Walton). A similar study carried out at Yale University also achieved similar results, seeing an overall quieting of the Default Mode Network of the brain, or DMN, which causes incessant worry and repetitive thought patterns (Walton). These studies led scientists to conclude that meditation can lead to volume changes in key areas of the brain.

A potentially huge breakthrough in meditation research is that it can provide a heightened tolerance of pain (Weiten 162). In the US, there is a worsening opioid epidemic, with overdose deaths reaching an all time high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2000, opioid drug overdose deaths have risen over 200% (Kounang). Each year, the number of fatalities increase, with opiates involved in 61% of all drug overdoses (Kounang). In the midst of this ever prevalent crisis, safer alternatives to methods of pain management are in high demand. A number of recent studies have demonstrated that meditation can in fact increase the tolerance of pain (Weiten 162). In a 2009 study, Grant and Rainville compared the pain sensitivity of thirteen experienced Zen meditators and thirteen non-meditators. Carefully controlled pain was administered by applying heat to the participants' calves. The Zen meditators were able to handle significantly more pain than the control group (Weiten 162). Further studies suggested that the heightened tolerance was associated with increased thickness in the regions of the brain that register pain -- that is, meditation appeared to have produced enduring alterations in brain structure responsible for the meditators' increased pain tolerance (Weiten 162).  

Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a psychologist and Senior fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, has plenty to say about the human brain. Dr. Hanson is the bestselling author of Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom (2011), and more recently, Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science Of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (2013). A leader in the understanding of the science behind meditation, Dr. Hanson continues to gain insight and share the benefits of mindful meditation practice. In Hardwiring Happiness, Hanson explains the intricacies of the human brain:

"As you read this, in the five cups of tofu-like tissue inside your head, nested amid a trillion support cells, 80 to 100 billion neurons are signaling one another in a network with about half a quadrillion connections, called synapses. All this incredibly fast, complex, and dynamic neural activity is continually changing your brain. Active synapses become more sensitive, new synapses start growing within minutes, busy regions get more blood since they need more oxygen and glucose to do their work, and genes inside neurons turn on or off. Meanwhile, less active connections wither away in a process sometimes called neural Darwinism: the survival of the busiest. . . . Day after day, your mind is building your brain" (Hanson).

With so much constant neurological and cognitive action, it makes sense that even a few moments of regular concentrated stillness and mindfulness can bring about significant changes to the way your brain works. Only recently have we been able to scientifically pinpoint how meditation works, and what it does to the human brain. Amazingly, this is only the beginning -- as technology continues to evolve, we may continue to see further evidence as to how something as simple as focusing on your breath consciously and regularly can bring about massive shift in how the human brain functions. 

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Sources Cited

1. Weiten, Wayne. Psychology: Themes and Variations, Briefer Version, Ninth Edition. California: Wadsworth CENAGE Learning, 2014. Print.

2. Walton, Alice G. 7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change The Brain. forbes.com Forbes. Web.

3. Hall, Alena. Meditation Is Even More Powerful Than We Originally Thought. huffingtonpost.com Huffington Post. Web.

4. Grey Matter. wikipedia.com Wikipedia. Web.

5. Kounang, Nadia. Drug Overdose Deaths Reach An All-Time High. cnn.com CNN. Web.

6. Hanson, Rick. Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science Of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. New York. Ebook. 

 

Twenty Influential Albums

Note: I made a collection of twenty albums on burned discs as a gift for my friend and physical therapist Chaula. Afterwards, I wrote a little bit about them. They are in alphabetical order.

1. The Animals: Retrospective . . . Such a great band. Eric Burdon is one of my favorite singers. One of the greatest bands of the sixties.

2. Aotearoa: Strange Weather . . . These guys -- and it's just two of them -- are friends of mine. I met them the first time I played the Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood, and I've followed their music ever since. These guys are master loopers; they loop electric guitar with a bunch of effects and play the drum set; switching instruments and vocals depending on the song. This album is their magnum opus. It's one of my top ten favorite albums of all time. These guys are pretty much the reason that I got into looping.

3. Barenaked Ladies: Rock Spectacle . . . A great album; listened to it in middle school, great musicianship and live performance, some of the best renditions of songs, better than the studio recordings. If you can get past the band name (which my mother had a hard time with), they're a real treat.

4. The Best Of CAKE . . . One of my favorite bands, this is a compilation that I made for myself, taken from four or five of their albums. People either love CAKE, or they can't stand the dry beat poetry, sarcastic articulation laden vocals. There's really no in between, I've found.

5. Chaula's Surf . . . The Ventures, Dick Dale & The DelTones, CW, and the Beach Boys. Pure surf sound.

6. Chuck Berry: The Great Twenty Eight . . . the king of rock n roll. This album covers a lot of ground. You'll notice that many of the songs sound the same -- that's because they are pretty much the same, with just different lyrics. But this music wasn't a thing before Chuck Berry started doing it, so it was his style, and he took it as far as it could go. His influence is vast, from the Beatles, to the Rolling Stones, to Elvis . . . no one could play rock without crediting Chuck Berry. He just turned ninety, and he's coming out with a new album. 

7. Dave Brubeck: Time Out . . . A great standard jazz album, perfect for driving around Christmas shopping, good holiday music. You'll recognize Take Five, but they're all great songs on this album.

8. Fela Kuti: Zombie . . . The famous album that caused a governmental uproar and backlash in Africa against Fela Kuti. Amazing composition, AfroBeat music from the creator of the genre. A great introduction to the artist.

9. Glenn Gould: Goldberg Variations . . . the Canadian prodigy Glenn Gould was a neurotic musical genius in the fifties, which is when this amazing album was released (1955). "French Suites" is also a recommended album of his. This is Bach, by the way, and nobody can play Bach on piano like Glenn Gould. 

 10. The Best of John Cale: Cale's early musical career started with experimental music, most notably with the influential art-rock band the Velvet Underground. His solo career was successful, his music more subdued to be sure. He also produced Patti Smith's music, the Stooges, and Nico, the German ice queen singer. As an aside, these songs take me back to when I was first released from Stanford; I had a new and healthy lease on life, and these songs fill me up with that feeling again. 

11. Lou Reed: Coney Island Baby . . . Lou Reed has has an amazing career, both solo and as the frontman of the Velvet Underground .(Reed died in 2013, while I was living in LA. I was so sad. Brubeck died that year, too.) This is one of his cleaner albums, a tight, bright, nicely produced and beautifully rendered album. One of my favorites. He has a much more raw and offensive side: The Blue Mask, Transformer, Street Hassle, Metal Machine Music, there's plenty to get into, but this one is one of my favorites for sure.

12. Morphine: Cure For Pain . . . A hugely influential album for me, a top five in the list of favorite albums of all time. Listen to the sound of the two string slide bass. With the baritone sax and the jazz drums, Morphine is a sound all on it's own. A huge influence on my lapslide playing. I think that this is their best album.

13. Red Hot Chili Peppers: By The Way . . . After Paul Simon's Graceland, this album ranks #2 in my all time favorite albums. I love the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I have nearly all of their albums -- this one came out when I was a freshman in high school. Blood Sugar Sex Magic, Californication, and Stadium Arcadium are albums that are time period pieces of my life. This album is amazing. 

14. Seu Jorge: The Life Aquatic Sessions . . . This guy plays David Bowie songs on classical guitar, singing in Portuguese. There's a film directed by Wes Anderson, an art film called The Life Aquatic; Seu Jorge does the soundtrack for the film. Wes Anderson makes some beautiful artsy films with amazing soundtracks -- Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic, and Moonrise Kingdom are some good ones.

15. Simon & Garfunkel: Sounds of Silence . . . Freshman year, this album was the soundtrack of my life. I remember each song, playing on my walkman, as I walked through the high school hallways, or took a stroll downtown alone. April Come She Will and Kathy's Song are some of my favorites.

16. Television: Marquee Moon . . . The often overlooked 1970's new wave band Television's magnum opus album that influenced so many musicians. A major influence on my lead guitar playing (when I play electric, something you've haven't seen yet). The melodic scales that Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd play on this album are amazing. I listened to these guys sophomore year; they were introduced to me by Marc, who made me all those cds. Also Richard Hell, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground, the Clash, the Grateful Dead . . . Marc changed my life. He's why I share music like this with people. 

17. The Velvet Underground : Self Titled . . . One of the most influential bands way ahead of their time, this album was after John Cale was fired by Lou Reed, and replaced by Doug Yule. This album was a game changer for the band, in that it had a lot of soft, intimate, beautiful songs, whereas the first two VU albums were a tirade of feedback and offensive subject material. My favorite band in the whole world, even above the Chili Peppers. Although not my favorite album (my favorite would be their second release "White Light/White Heat"), this is still a beautiful experience.

18. The White Stripes: De Stijl . . . Now separated, this husband and wife duo (or brother and sister, as they once claimed), are the originators of a style now known as garage blues. Their earlier albums are more raw, bordering on punk rock, trash garage rock, with a lot of noise, offensive to many. I love this band, I saw them in Tennessee in '06. Jack White continues to create music, but I have since tuned out, because I don't think that his new stuff is any good. This album is a good, cleaner introduction to the White Stripes, and you can probably get a sense of my lapslide and blues style influence from them. 

19. Xavier Rudd: Solace. . .This album is the reason that I play lapslide. Ben Harper, too, but I heard Xavier Rudd first. This is where I first heard No Woman No Cry on lap slide, and my life changed. This whole album is why I play lapslide in the style that I do. I've seen this guy three times, the first time was amazing, the second time was so so, and the third time I walked out because I was so bored. The first time I saw him, it was just him, with a lap slide, and he played digeridoo and percussion with his feet while he played. Xavier Rudd plays all the instruments on this album. Solace was shown to me by my best friend Dustin (as was the White Stripes, Ben Harper, Morphine, and a bunch of others). In a totally inappropriate anecdote, I lost my virginity to this album. Good stuff.

20. The Zombies: The Singles 1964-1969 . . . one of the greatest (and most overlooked) bands of the sixties. This album covers a lot of ground; there's not a song that I don't love on this album. The Zombies were an amazing act (the remaining members are actually on tour right now. Old!), but the band received no recognition whatsoever until they had disbanded. They had been broken up for years when their first hit "Time of the Season" finally came out. 

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11/9/16

Originally written on the morning of 11/9/16

 

How did I contribute to Trump's win? After all, I campaigned for Hillary -- I made calls on her behalf, I donated money, my hard earned money, to her campaign. And yet none of that secured a win. Trump won the presidency -- I am actually writing these words out.

So what happened? I must take some blame for his win; I feel like I should shoulder some responsibility for the majority of my country voting for a man whom I find absolutely reprehensible. What part did I play in his shocking victory?

Perhaps Trump's message of hate (as I heard it) was simply met with more hate from my own party, which allowed it to grow exponentially. I clearly underestimated just how many people wanted change -- change much different than I perceive it.

The things that matter to me are women's rights, gay rights, the right to choose, climate change, gun control, health care, and comprehensive immigration reform. Clearly, my priorities do not align with the majority of Americans with whom I exist. So what now?

The sun will still rise, but it brings with it a new day of self-reflection, and a new reality that many -- myself included -- find bleak and terrifying.

I donate $20 a month to Planned Parenthood; I have for over a year now. I will continue to stand with them while we as a nation lean from left to right. I will wait and see what happens with my health insurance plan. I will try, really try, to show more compassion and loving kindness to those around me, regardless of race, gender, religion, and even political affiliation. To say only that we are fucked, that this man is not our president, that this is not our America; to refuse this new reality that I have in some way contributed to, is going nowhere -- it takes me even further back, and I personally need to continue to move forward.

Sometimes the bad guy wins. I've been waiting for that sinking feeling of despair in my stomach, but it hasn't come yet, and I don't think it will. I don't feel as fucked because I am a white, straight, legal American male citizen. I cannot change that. But I can use that power to make a difference, no matter how small it may seem. I will show more compassion (a word that I keep coming back to) to strangers and friends. I will practice patience, knowing that nothing lasts. Most of all, I will try my hardest to have love for Trump supporters (a hard sell, I understand).

We all want what is best for ourselves and our families, though what that entails clearly differs for everyone. I long to find some kind of common ground with the "other side" that I worked so hard to defeat. I am proud of what Obama accomplished -- I campaigned for him in both '08 and 2012 -- I think he is amazing. Now it it is someone else's turn.

Am I scared? Sure. Definitely. But I'm choosing to use my fear as a catalyst for further change, a more positive, loving, compassionate change. I can feel outrage, repulsion, despondency, amazement, disbelief and despair. But how I feel and how I act do not need to be synonymous.

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