Wednesday, February 29, 2012

[ BtS ] Leo's Lullabye

Summer of 1999
While a bastion of liberal wonderness during the school year, Oberlin, OH during the summer is... well not the opposite. But the town and residents are just a definite shade more conservative. And, given that Oberlin is a good 30 minutes in the middle of nowhere in a state in the middle of nowhere...

Summers are different.

Early in that summer an interesting character popped in to my life. He found me on some (probably long-defunct) internet site. His pictures: him decked out in goth-style wardrobe; one crouching down like some sort of lion about to pounce... I was intrigued.

His name was Mike or Myke. He was a "townie". And I was now the only other gay person (in a reasonable distance at least) that he knew.

We started to date - taking it slowly. I was, after all, soon to start my last year at Oberlin.

I remember the first time we kissed. He had driven me back to my apartment and we were in the car with Sixpence None the Richer's, "Kiss Me" guiding us on the radio. It was something out of a teenage romance movie, I suppose. Silly perhaps. But it was our moment.

Over the next few weeks I grew to care about him quite a bit. We're both of a sort - feckless dreamers lost in our own heads. We hung out rather frequently either clubbing or just hanging out. He sometimes jokingly called me "Uncle Tosh" in regards to his nephew or friend's child. (Or maybe it was just a future/potential nephew.)

But our relationship was rocky. My state of soon-to-be-leaving and his turbulent emotional swings brought me to end the romantic part of our time together. I admitted to him I just couldn't handle it. At a length of two months (at most) it was my longest relationship to date.

We kept hanging out afterwards, though. One rather traumatizing incident later that winter, however, and... I started to back out of the friendship bit by bit. By the early spring of 2000, I was carousing Cleveland with an entirely different group of compatriots.

In May of 2000 I graduated.

I don't remember if I said goodbye to him or not. I don't even remember if I saw him before I departed for the next chapter of my life in Boston.

Winter 2004
I was now living in NYC and had been there for about a year. Myke and I had regained a little bit of contact but not a whole lot. I got a message from him that he was in town. We tried to catch up with each other but Fate was not playing along and he left without us meeting.

It was shortly thereafter that he told me the news. He'd been dating someone, they broke up, and somewhere along the line he discovered his boyfriend wasn't up front about his HIV status.

Myke was now HIV+, too.

Fall 2006
My life in NYC - 3 years - was a failure and I had returned, tail between my legs, to live with my parents where I'd grown up in Middle o' Nowhere, CA. Contact with most of my NYC and Boston crew was lost as I couldn't bear to face the pain and humiliation. Hope seemed scant. The future: bleak.

The neighbor across the street had a band in need of a bassist. I joined. It's my one lifeline out of my depression, despair, and desolation.

One night, during rehearsal, the notion of a bass riff spilled from my hands. It's simple-ish but tasty little thing - incorporating a bunch of tapped harmonics. After rehearsal I rushed to my room and proceeded to put ideas to computer.

I decided that the entirety of the work (the accompaniment at least) will be nothing but layers of bass playing. A few days later, the structure and textures of a song are in place.

Some time between Fall 2006 and 2007
"I'm gonna die. Will you write a song for me?" Myke asks.

"You're just HIV+ - not dying," I reminded him.

"I know, but..."

The conversation is a tad morbid perhaps but just sorta par for the course for us. I remind him that when people ask me to write songs for them, they usually don't turn out so much in the subject's favor. He doesn't care and wants a song for himself. I acquiesce.

Fall 2007
Earlier that year I finally managed to get my pull myself together enough to get my butt out of CA. I'd spent two months - February and March - betwixt San Antonio and Austin helping a friend through bone marrow transplant. This provided me the seed money to get out of California and, as of that May, I've started another chapter now in the Philadelphia area.

After struggling with the lyrics for months, Myke's song "Leo's Lullabye" is finished. It's a bittersweet tune - trying to capture the essence of both of us being naive dreamers with worlds in our heads and stars in our eyes and ending with the our realities splitting us apart.

I send him a link. He sends me thanks.

Over the next couple of years we'd chat every so often - pretty randomly. On several occasions Myke mentioned the desire to leave Oberlin and start a new life, a new chapter for himself. The reasons vary: job dissatisfaction, lover dissatisfaction, health care dissatisfaction, etc. I invite him to try out Philly and he sounds interested but he never visits.

A couple of times I mention the desire to return to Cleveland and Oberlin to visit and/or gig. But I'm still unbelievably broke and nothing ever pans out.

June 16th, 2010
Myke's body is found in the front yard of the home he shared with his father. It's first suspected that their dogs attacked him and/or that he died of a heart attack out of fright. An investigation is started but I never hear the results.

There's a memorial for him but I can't attend, of course. I'm too poor and can't afford to lose work nor get myself to Ohio.

It's now been eleven years since we met and at least ten since I've seen him last - since I'd seen him period. We never reconnected in person. I never got to see the person he grew into. And by all rights he grew into someone spectacular who found his place and touched many lives.

Life is short. Life is unexpected. Love who you love and make sure they know.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

[ BtS ] The "tattered hat" Years

[ I'm gonna hit the rest of the tattered hat tunes in one post. They were all written so long ago that it's hard to remember enough details to really devote single posts for each. ]

My foray into a sort of bluegrass feel. I had a patter-esque song in mind - something rather dark and cynical. I wrote most of it pretty quickly and even to this day I'm pretty happy with it. I don't play it much 'cuz it's effing FAST. Whew. Jon and I performed this on my senior recital at about twice the tempo of the recording. DA-A-A-AMN.

The chorus was originally supposed to be "Hallelujah, God is dead again!" - commenting more about religion and how it starts to eat itself. In particular, of course, Christianity - how God becomes dogma and cant, then lost... Jon and Chris, however, didn't feel comfortable with them. Although I think the lyric packed a bit more punch, I decided it wasn't enough of a point to fight about so I switched it up.

The guitar solo was a fun little section to write. I really wanted the chord pattern to go somewhere else and decided that B-7b5 would be PERFECT. Construction-wise I'm actually rather pleased with myself.

The best part of the whole is story is that we must have done a bazillion takes on that guitar solo. One after another, Jon was just NEVER happy with any of them. One day, as Chuck and James were loading stuff in to the studio, we decided to let him warm up on the solo. Luckily we hit record! Chris and I looked at each other and smiled, "that's it!"

Hold the Light
There's a bit of irony for me that people have heard this song and compared my voice to Eddie Vedder. For the longest time I COULD. NOT. STAND. Vedder's voice. So... it wasn't much of a compliment to get.

Black and Blue
It would little surprise to mention I developed a strong love for Alice in Chains while at college. I LOVE Layne's voice and especially all the vocals he and Jerry Cantrell would layer in their songs. I think I bought all of their albums in one sweep and had them on repeat for a good year.

At this point I'd started to really try and break out of my need for storytelling lyrics. I decided to follow the grunge/alt-rock sort of train (Nirvana, as a good example) and work on something a bit more stream of consciousness. I'm not really sure if the song has any particular meaning other than to string a bunch of cliches 'n stuff together.

Well that and I wanted an excuse for the background vocals to sing, "I still self abuse". LOL

I also remember having a very strong desire to have this song end the album with a mere drum beat fading away. I still like the effect.

Heaven On Time
When I started to write Heaven On Time, I really wanted something ethereal and soupy. And for the verses I wanted everyone to pitch in their ideas and contributions.

Originally I don't think the chorus did that half-step transposition. But Chuck said he loved that kind of shit so... somewhere along the line I tossed that little nugget in. All of it followed by a progression going down in whole-steps. Wheee!

As with Black and Blue, Heaven On Time was intentionally written from a more stream-of-consciousness type approach, lyrically. There was, however, one theme that really popped up in my mind: HIV

I grew up in the early days of HIV - being in elementary school and junior high, finding Ryan White to be one of my role models. During college (when I finally had the chance to actually pursue non-platonic relationships) I really started to ask myself how I would handle dating someone who is HIV+. Would I be able to? Would I freak out?

I think, unlike the heterosexual and lesbian community, that can be a pronounced difference - that dating someone with HIV is a probability and not just a possibility.

There's a slight irony to the story that must a couple years later I would forswear dating almost entirely.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Year Ago Today(ish)

A year ago today - February 16, 2011 - my grandfather passed away after a bit of a drawn-out struggle with a head injury. The end snuck up as it always does. It caught him quicker than we expected but not so fast that we didn't see the pages about to turn.

No, this isn't a woeful and lamenting story about how life became an unyielding nightmare of chaos and drama afterward. There's no tales of betrayal, family feuds rekindled, no surprising debts uncovered. Fortunately it was all far from that - for me at least. In fact it was a turning point.

Death has an interesting way of acting as a catalyst sometimes. The loss of someone can bring perspective around: the shared grief, the memories, the pain, the priorities... We look at what is now gone and what we have yet to lose.

And sometimes we see just how much we have left to grab on to.

Up till then there was a LOT weighing in on my soul. The years I lived in New York City still clung to me - fighting for survival, for control of my life. My failures - returning to live with my parents in CA - convinced me I had none, that I didn't deserve them.

Four years or so later and I still carried those demons, skeletons, and wounds around. Further struggles served little but to reinforce this destructive self-hatred: years at a hellish retail job, inadequate income, a lack of health insurance... I'd survived but not really prospered.

And yet life *had* gotten better. In May of 2010 in a rather ironic twist of events I'd finally escaped the dead end world of retail and started a second part time job at the school doing reception work and accounts handling. It's not glorious work (still no benefits for example) but it turns out I have something of a head for it. And I could move upwards.

However my eyes were still backwards. (They *still* are sometimes...) I was only looking at what I once had and how I felt like I'll never have any of it again.

Failure stood taller than future. And cast its shadows out to engulf hope in a cold mouth of futility.

But then there I was: standing in front of the saplings and seedlings my grandfather had been planting up to his dying day. In years they could be glorious and he'd spent so much time on things he'd never get to witness.

So why was I still living like I was dead?

The past year I've re-opened myself to life. I still have my moments of wallowing in the the muck, of course. But my heart is open to new things or things I thought I wasn't good enough for. I'm once again entertaining the idea of enjoying life. I am seeing more things to life *for*.

The scars I bear are still there. There are days when the wounds still ache. But, at the same time, they're my wounds. They're those wonderful little things that make my life *mine* in all the crazy detail they weave. And what's more? All the future wounds and triumphs will be, too! (Though I admit I'm not necessarily looking forward to some of that painful process.... Ah well.)

I'm somewhat disappointed that it took his death to wake up. But... I woke up. That's saying something.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

[ BtS ] Running Barefoot

Most of the time I feel like I'm fighting with lyrics. Every line, every turn of a phrase is a battle between me and the sentiment I am trying to portray. Every rhyme is a sacrifice between poignance and necessity. Every verse is a ... Well, I'm sure you get the picture.

Running Barefoot is at the opposite end of that spectrum.

I can still remember sitting at the VAXA terminals in the computer lab between Oberlin's program houses - either the cute Apple Macintosh SE's or the dumb terminals we could access. It was there that this image of someone running barefoot through clouds popped into my head.

It was an interesting image: at first soft and serene. Yet it held a certain sort of coldness and aloofness, distance and melancholy.

I think I wrote all the lyrics there before I left for the night. My muse knocked and, for at least once in my life, I figured out how to let it flow.

Barefoot has always been an interesting song for me. The image of someone so beautiful that she can get anything she wants - fame, fortune, riches, admiration. And yet she's struggling to understand what it is she wants. She's afraid - afraid of ... something. And that fear traps her inside this cocoon of a world where it's simpler to take those things that come so easily...

And from a narrative point of view, it's sung from the point of view someone who sees through her. It unfolds with a sort of resigned compassion - knowing what is going on and, by that token, the narrator will probably never be let inside close enough to help.

The music followed suit - came together pretty quickly. I don't remember if it unfolded *quite* so easily. But in quite a short bit of time another tune was born.

The perhaps ironic point to the song is that it took us maybe one or two takes to nail the full-band sections of the song (and one SWEET-ASS solo from Jon!). Yet it took Jon and I about a gazillion tries to get that intro and outro down. Somewhere there's a gag/outtake compilation of some of the better moments.

I need to see if I can find that... LOL