Sing in the Voice God Gave You

Sometime long about Nineteen-hundred and Eighty-o-three, I sent a tape of my songs to the Meat Puppets. Their album Meat Puppets II had just come out and I was playing it over and over and over. Zero Defects (ODFx) had played with them about a year before. I’d been putting together some of my own musical stuff and thought maybe they’d like it. It sorta sounded like what they were doing on their new record and completely unlike anything else I was hearing.

A couple months later their drummer Derrick Bostrum sent me a letter back. The main thing I remember was that he said, “Sing in the voice God gave you.” I’ve been trying to follow that advice ever since.

This is what I was getting at in the latest thing I wrote for Suicide Girls (see the link to your left, or if you’re reading this in the future try the link that says “My Other Articles for Suicide Girls” and look for one called “Study Mollusk Sex”). I can relate this most easily to music. But I think the applications are much wider than that.

In terms of music, consider the bobbleheads who wrote in comments suggesting that the songs I put up the other day were not to their liking. That kind of stuff used to bug me a lot, and I can’t say I’m so thick skinned or so “Zen” that it has absolutely no effect. But mainly I just don’t care. Here’s the history of my not caring, if you’re interested.

In the early Nineties after releasing five Dimentia 13 records to generally positive reviews but no sales, I was frustrated with my musical career to the point that I just stopped altogether. Dimentia 13 played its last show in 1992 to a crowd that couldn’t have cared less if we were there or not (except for our bass player’s wife Linda, who danced around like crazy — thanks Linda!). They were waiting for the lame-o Grateful Dead cover band scheduled after us and did not care for any real, living psychedelic rock. I put my guitars away and hardly touched them for about a year.

When I first moved to Japan, I joined in with an ex-pat band called My Niece’s Foot (you can see us by going to the link on your left that says “Links to All the Audio and Video Files I’ve Put Up”). That was fun, but the other three members left me high and dry and moved back to their homelands to start their “real lives.” After that I pretty much stopped doing anything musical at all. I got a job I liked, I did lots of Zen, and I had a good time. So I don’t consider those years wasted in any way. But I just didn’t bother with music much anymore. The reason I didn’t strikes me as completely stupid now, though it seemed to make sense at the time. The reason was that no one else wanted to hear my music.

But then, a few years into this not doing music thing I happened to put on a copy of Dimentia 13’s 1987 LP Disturb The Air. I was sitting there listening to it on earphones thinking, “This is a fantastic record!” With over ten years distance there was nothing egotistical about it. It was just a really good record. And I thought, “I’m gonna make another record. Only this time I don’t give a shit whether anyone listens to it or not. It is strictly for my enjoyment.” And I made that record, a 2-CD set called Hovercraft. I tried selling it thru my website. But only 2 people bought it. Yet those 2 people told me it was the greatest thing they ever heard. Then a couple of my friends asked for it, so I gave it to them. They liked it a whole lot, too. One of those people was a girl I had a secret crush on all through eighth grade who I hadn’t seen nor heard from since high school. That was really nice. These people weren’t just being polite, by the way. They were like writing me long e-mails citing specific passages in certain songs and all kinds of stuff. And I loved Hovercraft. I have listened to it more times than I have listened to any album including Meat Puppets II and Revolver by the Beatles, my two all time fave records by other people. I love the out of tune voice and wonky rhythms as much as anything else and wouldn’t even consider hiring a real singer or drummer to come and do them over.

So if some asswipe who downloads it for free from my blog wants to say it sucks, it’s just hard to bring myself to care. And I don’t say this defensively. It really is difficult to even get bothered by that kind of thing anymore. Too bad for you, you’re missing out on something great and you’re too much of an idiot to know it. It’s sad. But what can I do about it? (This is my approach as a Zazen teacher, too, if you wanna know.)

In terms of art, pleasing other people only really matters if you want to be financially successful, or if you’re just the type who gets off on pleasing other people. Some rare artists are lucky in being able to produce art they really personally like that just happens to be what lots of folks want to hear or see. Some artists are just people pleasing types and what moves them is making things that others like. These two types can get popular without really compromising. Then there are those who just want money and popularity and will make whatever’s selling well. Most of these types fail miserably. But a few make it very big. Generally, though, I think most artists produce art that’s never gonna appeal to a wide audience. Unfortunately the various pressures involved in making a living and all that usually snuff this type out rather quickly. That’s sad. But I think that’s going to change as the Internet makes it possible for this type of artist to find their audience and maybe keep afloat financially.

I express this in terms of art and artists only because that’s what I know best. But it really applies to anything. It certainly applies to writers. But it also applies to science and sports and business and pretty much anything else.

In terms of Zen, though, there’s another side, which I think lots of artists miss. It’s also important to do things you don’t like when there’s a need to do them. Doing the dishes, cleaning the cat, going to see your pain-in-the-ass relatives, taking a job to support yourself when no one buys your stuff, and all the rest.

That’s my little Sunday sermon. I’ll leave you with two tracks from Disturb The Air. These happen to be my two favorites although the critics at the time all completely ignored “Yesterday Will Never Tell” and rarely commented on “St. John Society’s Children.” Enjoy them or leave nasty comments. Ain’t no thang to me.

Yesterday Will Never Tell

Dimentia 13 used to play a cover of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” One day a couple people in the audience were shouting for it and another couple started answering them, “And yesterday will never tell!” I liked it and wrote a song around that title.

St. John Society’s Children

This was my attempt to write a psychedelic freak-out jam along the lines of Iron Butterfly’s “Inna Gadda Da Vida,” but keep the length down to three minutes. I used to play it for people and afterwards ask how long they thought it was. Most answered between five and seven minutes. But it’s almost precisely three. Most of the lead guitar is by John Fallon of The Steppes.

35 Responses

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  1. Jaja
    Jaja March 18, 2007 at 2:01 pm | |

    That foot band stuff was really great! Sounds like skiffle! You guys didn’t happen to record anything, did you?
    If so, please let me know. If not, reunite. And then let me know.

  2. Silent
    Silent March 18, 2007 at 2:31 pm | |

    Sup. It’s uh, one of those dudes that showed up for a couple classes and was never heard from again. I couldn’t hack it in Long Beach, but I managed to get a job as a dishwasher in AZ in the back of a sushi bar. I wanna say, I miss your micro retreats, even though I only ever went to 1. I also wanna say, St. Johns’ is a nice piece. Seriously, good job. Yesterday Will Never Tell is cool too, but I have this thing about choruses :/

  3. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf March 18, 2007 at 3:09 pm | |

    Wow! Great posts at SG’s and here Brad.

    As for the SG article, I went through the exact same thing when I got into Buddhism. There was many things I love to do that I diden’t feel were so noble. I seemed to stop all creative activites for feeling they were a waste of time. I didn’t start enjoying many of the things I have always love to do until I read Hardcore Zen. I thought “Hey, Brad likes South Park and punk rock, and he is still a practicing Buddhist.” Why can’t I be myself and enjoy things that society labels “unnoble” as well. When I decided to go to college, I was going to be an Occupational Theripist, because it was the “noble” job to have. But when I really thought about it, I would hate that type of job. I would probably make many lives miserable for being so miserable that I was doing such a job that made me miserable. I finally decided to do something I have a passion for, something creative (I’ve always been a creative person), and that is why I’m an English major(Is that what I can do best? Well, I’m working on it. I have much to learn). I thought what would I do if I was a millionare? I would be an English major working hard at developing my creative writing, because I have a passion for it.

    As for Singing in the Voice That God Gave You, I remember the article that you/Brad wrote on creating the Hovercraft album, and how you were happily content if only the insects in the back yard heard it. After reading that, I began writing for the pure pleasure of it, not worring if what I wrote was good or bad. I’ve wrote quite a few short stories and started on a novel since then (ohh and a screenplay too). While I am in school and being critiqued, I need to keep this attitude in mind. Because it’s easy to get caught up in what other people think and changing to suit their likes and dislikes while being untrue to myself. Yet I have to be open to learning and developing. It’s all about balance.

    By the way, I’m always jamming at work to the Demintia 13 tunes, especially God Part III (I love that song). You should make the Hovercraft ablum available for purchase again.

    I’m still trying to book a lecture/retreat event here in Ohio. The Yellow Springs Dharma Center turned the idea down. I’m going to try Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana next.

  4. cromanyak
    cromanyak March 18, 2007 at 3:41 pm | |

    God Part III rules. The slidshow is cool too.

  5. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf March 18, 2007 at 4:34 pm | |

    I posted two poems written by myself at my blog.

    http://lonewolf333.blogspot.com/

    The first one, Escape from a Prison, is a poem I wrote during my transition from Tibetan Buddhism to Zen Buddhism. I felt I had escaped from a prison of romantic idealism. I recently finished A Heart to Heart Chat on Buddhism with Old Master Gudo (which I highly recommend)and Gudo Nishijima speaks on what Dogen calls being “tied up in Buddhism” or “wrapped up in Buddhism.” I couldn’t help but see how my poem related to this teaching of being “wrapped up in Buddhism.”

    There is another one of my poems posted on my blog called Writing Prayer in the Color of Clear. I will leave the meaning up to your own interpretations.

    Check out my peoms and tell me what you think by leaving a comment.

    Thanks!

    You can also check out the shitty written review I gave on the movie 300, which I enjoyed.

    I saw Number 23 last night. It was a pretty good psychological thriller. It will have you looking at all the numbers around you the next day, seeing how many times 23 shows up. Very unsual character for Jim Carrey to play.

  6. BlueWolfNine
    BlueWolfNine March 18, 2007 at 4:50 pm | |

    awesome!!

  7. BlueWolfNine
    BlueWolfNine March 18, 2007 at 4:51 pm | |

    thanks for the post. it really hit home.

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 18, 2007 at 4:56 pm | |

    Hey,

    I was thinking about something similar a few weeks ago. Imagine a world where everybody is psychoterapist – this thought was inspired by the fact that the lead teachers of many american Zen centers practice this profession. Half the population would die from starvation within a few days while the other half would survive, only for a while, on grass and other nutrational creatures from nature.

  9. Zac in Virginia
    Zac in Virginia March 18, 2007 at 9:01 pm | |

    One thing I like about Buddhism, Anonymous, is that I’ve never seen it referred to as a universal religion, the way that Christianity and Islam (and others) are.
    By “universal” I mean that the religion’s practitioners have this hardcore vision of “an entire world of [themselves]!” It seems to me, particularly because Buddhism shies away from prosletyzing, that it was never meant to be the religion for everyone.
    I guess I can kinda tie that back in to creativity: it doesn’t really matter whether Buddhism (or my novel, or some dude’s band, etc.) is loved the world over. What matters is that *I* get something out of it. Not that other people don’t matter, of course, but I don’t need to worry about what other people think of Buddhism (aside from persecution).
    Lone Wolf, I just finished my first novel in February, and I had (still have, ha) visions of making a Statement with my writing. I ended up just writing, and found out that I said a lot just through the act of writing itself. I still kinda justify being creative on the basis that it’s productive (since I’m trying to sell it), but I’m getting better about that. I just gotta write, you know? Even if only my girlfriend or my mom reads my stuff, I still got it out there.

  10. Wingedgopher
    Wingedgopher March 18, 2007 at 9:41 pm | |

    That’s all well and good but I can’t remember the last time I washed my cat.

  11. conelpico
    conelpico March 18, 2007 at 10:30 pm | |

    silent

    you are dishwashing in the back of a sushi bar in arizona? like where? i’m a cook in a japanese restaurant in az. tucson.

  12. oxeye
    oxeye March 18, 2007 at 10:48 pm | |

    If someone here said that your music sucked, I missed it. I liked both songs for what it’s worth.

    I do not think that art is about the people that make it. I think it is about the people that get to see it or hear it. I see art as standing or falling on it’s own merits. Great art can be made by asswipes and idiots and bad art can be made by Zen masters. Popular or unpopular is practically meaningless in art. If you expect people to like your art, it is gonna hurt if they don‘t.

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 19, 2007 at 2:32 am | |

    I’d like to hear the greatest album you ever heard. doesn’t seem available though :/ most of these Dimentia 13 seem pretty hard to come by actually.

  14. Milan Davidovic
    Milan Davidovic March 19, 2007 at 9:59 am | |

    Here (see #19), this guy says “sing in your own voice”:

    http://www.gapingvoid.com/Moveable_Type/archives/000932.html

    Kind of the same thing?

  15. Mockney Rebel
    Mockney Rebel March 19, 2007 at 11:55 am | |

    “So if some asswipe who downloads it for free from my blog wants to say it sucks, it’s just hard to bring myself to care.”

    If you do not care why the need to use the term “asswipe” to describe this person?

    It brings to mind the old story;
    The eight winds cannot move me
    One fart blows me across the river

  16. me
    me March 19, 2007 at 12:48 pm | |

    I think Zen has started to have an affect on me: I went sledding yesterday and had more fun hiking up the hill, putting in the labor and getting to the top, than I had sliding down.

  17. Silent
    Silent March 19, 2007 at 2:20 pm | |

    conelpico

    I live and work in Maricopa now.

    The guys I work with are Koreans and they speak very little english. I speak very little Korean and I don’t even remember what the phrases I learned in Tae Kwon Do mean anymore. Together we are superheros of incommunicado.

  18. J Cret
    J Cret March 19, 2007 at 3:38 pm | |

    Brad-

    thanks for blogging. hardcore zen is the only blog i read regularly and i find it very insightful.

    I wanted to ask you about “art” from the Zen perspective.
    I have always been personally at war with the term- is it a thing? an expressed idea? is it following a style correctly? is it process itself? is it arbitrary- what one rich collector says is ‘art’? or is it something we all define for ourselves? is one an artist because they call themselves an artist?

    right now, i tend to prefer the notion of process to product.

    I would appreciate your thoughts on this if you have the time. apologies if you have already written on the topic.

    thanks very much.
    cret

  19. UncaDan
    UncaDan March 20, 2007 at 6:59 am | |

    As a closet singer/songwriter/musician I agree. I have been recording on my own since I purchased my first four track cassette recorder in the mid 80′s. When I first started I had the usual delusions that everybody in the world is going to like everything I do but once I got over that I was able to see my “craft” for what it was. Sure some/most of it’s crap, but it’s my crap! I’ve moved on from my tiny four track to a small studio setup in a corner of my basement that would have made George Martin drool in the early 60′s but is still far from bleeding edge today. I write and record my songs and put them on CD and give them to friends and family if they want it but mostly it’s for my own pleasure.

    I have found that the best art is purely selfish yet without the expectations of any reward beyond personal satisfaction.

    As for Brad’s stuff, my favorite so far is “108 Sacred Stages”. I am currently recording a collection of cover tunes and am considering this song for inclusion.

    On the topic of previous posts, I just picked up a book by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Called “What Makes You Not A Buddhist”. Just satrted reading it so no opinion yet just thought I’d pass it on.

  20. Esmerelda
    Esmerelda March 20, 2007 at 7:20 am | |

    I am not sure how Zen works with music and writing. It works with visual arts very well. One of the techniques for learning Japanese brush painting is to paint with clear water. The drawing vanishes as soon as it dries. You have to move quickly and focus with out thinking in order to finish in time to see it.

    Performed art really also involves the audience as well as the artist. I know you have been to and I would hope played concerts where part of what was great about the experience was the audience was so into the band. If not, go see Gogol Bordello. Greenday as big as they are, pull the audience into the performance as much as possible. They have fans come up and play with them. This is what makes live music different from sitting at home listening to cds.

    When Emily Dickenson was alive she never published any poems. She gave them to her friends. The ones they liked and saved evenually got published. If she were arround today maybe she would put it on her blog, like you Lonewolf.

    I do a lot of personal art projects and give drawings, jewelery or photos to friends. The less I think about it and just do it the better it seems to come out. I could and have made a living doing art related stuff, computer graphics. It wasn’t fun when I got paid for it, it was work. So I went back to doing statistics as a day job.

    Its really hard to tell if you are actually doing good. A lot of people start out being social workers or teachers, burn out and get really crabby. At that point its questionable are they doing good or making that kid really hate math for the rest of his life. I think that ‘the money doesn’t suck, you don’t hurt anyone and you like the people you work with’ is a good standard for a job. If it turns out the universe needs that job done – extra credit to you.

  21. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 20, 2007 at 9:11 am | |

    Brad wrote “the latest thing I wrote for Suicide Girls (see the link to your left, or if you’re reading this in the future try the link that says “My Other Articles for Suicide Girls” and look for one called “Study Mollusk Sex”)

    Hi Brad,

    Since I can’t comment on your Suicide Girls article over there, I’ll stick it here for what it’s worth.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking look at a subject that’s been on my mind for a while. I’ve got one of those jobs I absolutely love, but I just don’t make a hell of a lot of money at it. I’m always wondering if I should just give it up and reimmerse myself in the corporate world I escaped from in order to bring in more bucks.

    Reading your article made me want to just keep on doing what I’m doing, not because it’s prestigious or going to make me rich, but simply because it’s the highest-quality thing I can think of to do and I like doing it.

    Thanks,
    DB

  22. Stuart
    Stuart March 20, 2007 at 2:53 pm | |

    Zac in Virginia said…
    > One thing I like about Buddhism,
    > Anonymous, is that I’ve never
    > seen it referred to as a
    > universal religion, the way that
    > Christianity and Islam (and
    > others) are.

    There’s no necessity for everyone to be following any particular way. DNA, in her wisdom, spits out a certain percentage of humans designed to explore the boundaries of experience, and a different percentage designed to protect and cultivate in a risk-averse manner. Each of us has his own job.

    Stuart
    http://home.comcast.net/~sresnick2/socalled.htm

  23. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf March 20, 2007 at 8:36 pm | |

    “All that is is the result of what we have thought.” said the Buddha.

    What do you think about this quote?

  24. William Shakespeare
    William Shakespeare March 20, 2007 at 11:04 pm | |

    So if some asswipe who downloads it for free from my blog wants to say it sucks, it’s just hard to bring myself to care. And I don’t say this defensively. It really is difficult to even get bothered by that kind of thing anymore. Too bad for you, you’re missing out on something great and you’re too much of an idiot to know it. It’s sad. But what can I do about it? (This is my approach as a Zazen teacher, too, if you wanna know.)

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

  25. Zac in Virginia
    Zac in Virginia March 21, 2007 at 8:11 am | |

    I was actually reading Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind recently, and I’m at the part where Suzuki says there’s no need to make big declarations like “I don’t need this thing” or “I’m just fine with ___” and so on.
    Topical.
    This blog is always topical for me.

  26. Anatman
    Anatman March 21, 2007 at 8:50 am | |

    “If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”

    JOSEPH CAMPBELL

  27. UncaDan
    UncaDan March 21, 2007 at 11:21 am | |

    After downloading these songs yesterday at work and taking them home to listen I must say that these are the best songs Brad has posted yet. Great job. Whenever I am in a store that sells used vinyl I look for Dimentia 13 but here in the midwest of the US finding stuff like this is rare.

    Would anyone here have some advice on where I might be able to post some of my music? I would really like to share some of my songs but I have no budget for web hosting so I need a reliable and trustworthy site like the old mp3.com. I’ve been avoiding myspace because it just seems messy.

    I am also in the middle of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. I still can’t bring myself to call myself a Buddhist (not sure if I ever will, he said trying to avoid a long explanation) but I have yet to come across a core teaching that I had trouble with or could not accept.

    I will leave you with my favorite J. Krishnamurti quote:

    Religion has nothing to do with priests, churches, dogmas, or organized beliefs. These things are not religion at all, they are merely social conveniences to hold us within a particular pattern of thought and action; they are the means of exploiting our credulity, hope and fear. Religion is the seeking out of what is truth, what is god.

    -Think on These Things p. 255

  28. Rod
    Rod March 21, 2007 at 3:53 pm | |

    not quite related bu thought you’d like to know this.

    http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20015535,00.html

  29. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 21, 2007 at 5:06 pm | |

    I never heard the phrase “Zazen teacher” before, but I like it. Seems to avoid many of the issues with “Zen teacher.”

  30. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 22, 2007 at 12:17 pm | |

    A reminder to myself and others…

    Until the voice you were born with
    can pay the rent,
    don’t quit your day job.

    ;)

  31. Francisca
    Francisca March 22, 2007 at 3:08 pm | |

    I like your posts Brad…even if you care or not.. ;)
    However I do not believe that you do not care at all what other people write as comments. You seem to occupied with it in your posts to not care. And why should you not care…you are not a robot, now are ya?
    Its normal to care about what people think of stuff you made, the question here is what you do with it? Just go on and do what you feel is best, would be my guess!

    And even if you do not wanna hear my opinion, I will just send it to you anyways; I did not like the first song so much (mostly the vocals), but really really liked the second one!! Great guitarplay.

    Take Care, Francisca. :)

  32. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 26, 2007 at 8:07 am | |

    Wow,

    You call people that don’t like your music “idiots”.

    At least admit that you are really attached to your music and to what people think of it.

    “So if some asswipe who downloads it for free from my blog wants to say it sucks, it’s just hard to bring myself to care. And I don’t say this defensively. It really is difficult to even get bothered by that kind of thing anymore. Too bad for you, you’re missing out on something great and you’re too much of an idiot to know it. It’s sad. But what can I do about it? (This is my approach as a Zazen teacher, too, if you wanna know.)”

    Why did you write this at all if you didn’t care what someone thought?

    It is really obvious you are bothered by what these peope thought- and that you are trying to?tell us you aren’t.

    Get back on track Brad.

  33. Anonymous
    Anonymous June 12, 2007 at 7:38 am | |

    Hey, I recently added a news widget from http://www.widgetmate.com to my blog. It shows the latest news, and just took a copy and paste to implement. Might interest you too.

  34. Caverta
    Caverta September 28, 2010 at 1:28 pm | |

    I really love the name of that Album. I think that it is quite interesting name and straight forward you don't have to interpret the name.

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