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.
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.
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.