Abuse, addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Consequences, DJ, Electronic Dance Music, music, Recovery, Religion, Trauma

A Resentment and a Milestone.

I know it doesn’t look like it, but this picture represents a milestone.

As anyone who’s read My Last Stand probably picked up on, my relationship with with my father has been difficult and odd over the years. We’ve had good times, to be sure, but I had – and continue to have – lots of unresolved anger there. I’ve been working on it in therapy, in recovery meetings, etc. for the last 10 years.

Some backstory: after my parents divorced, my dad kept the house that they bought in 1983, and that’s where I stayed. My mom was far too deep in her alcoholism to be anything like a mother, and I hated her for it for close to two years. Upon reflection, the house was simply too big for three of us, let alone my dad and I. Whenever families or companies move to a bigger, “better” building or home, it becomes a test. If you didn’t really need to move, problems will always manifest. I worked for an ad agency from 2003-2006. They made a move to a brand new building in 2005, and was never the same. By 2008 they were bankrupt.

So it was with our family.

Outwardly my dad is even-tempered, quiet, and a little funny (if somewhat awkward). He remarried my stepmom in 1993 and they’ve now been married 26 years, 10 years longer than my mom and dad were originally. They go to church every Sunday. He’s calmed down a LOT.

The flip side of his demeanor – the part my stepmom may have not seen – was his temper. The temper that my mom and I both grew up with. Cups and glasses thrown across the room, trash cans thrown downstairs, his bright red face, spit flying from his mouth. Since neither my father nor I had the benefit of outside counseling or therapy during that crucial time, we spent most of those years taking our anger out on each other. At the end of the day though, he was the parent. He was in charge, and the decision-making in his hands – something he frequently reminded me of.

No matter how I frame it, it will always be his word against mine. Even if I go back to my old journal entries, even if I had video or photographic proof that I was in the right and he in the wrong, it always reduces to he-said, he-said. On paper my track record and credibility are spotty – I, like my mother, am an alcoholic. My legal infractions can easily be found by searching online. My “sins” are laid bare for all to see. His, much less so.

But there are a few things that I know for certain. There is no disputing them because there is evidence. And one of those things is this: neither my father (nor my mother, to be fair), in the nearly 29 years I’ve been performing music, have come to see more than two of my shows.

One of those was my first show with the second “real” band I’d been a part of in college, SGO/Iscream. That was in 1995. My mom and her “friend” Debbie (i.e. romantic partner – she never, ever said the world girlfriend even when it was obvious) were there. I’d always thought my dad and stepmom were there, but he recently admitted that he doesn’t recall being there – even seemed proud to admit it as though I was accusing him of something he didn’t do. It’s entirely possible he has never attended a single one of my shows post high school.

Mom, always with an eagle eye for finding fault in anything, commented on the crowd’s divided behavior (moshing vs. hippie dancing), said I looked nervous and asked if I had realized the cord had come out of my bass during the first song. I don’t recall anyone saying “good job” except Debbie. That would be the last time either of them would be at a show of mine for 20+ years.

My parents came to all my little league baseball games when I was a kid. In high school my Dad came to many of my concerts playing trumpet for the band. My father has always used the excuse that my DJ shows are always “past his bedtime.” This, despite the fact that he goes to the Duke University Solemn Service of Tenebrae every year, staying awake until 1 in the morning, and has certainly stayed for overtime at many NC State basketball games that went past 12.

In fact, in 2015 I sat down and compiled a list of all the shows I’ve played as DJ as well as in bands (a few, but most were as DJ FM). My dad has been on my email list since the beginning of my musical career, so he would’ve known about them. What I determined was the following:

  • I’d played ~240 shows through 2015…
  • An average of 14 gigs per year, including…
  • 7 radio gigs (gigs where all my Dad had to do was tune in), and…
  • 16 private events (gigs that my father wouldn’t have been able to attend)

My brain will try to rationalize it. “I can understand Dad not wanting to come to my DJ gigs because he knew I’d be drunk/high.” This one could be valid – he made it known from minute one he was not comfortable with my drinking. But he never came to any of my shows post-rehab either. I sometimes wonder if I had been a baseball player for NC State, or a basketball player – would he have come?

One of the many reasons I drank and used was that I never thought my dad was proud of me. In 2009, right before the beginning of my descent towards rock-bottom, I went to a club in Raleigh called Mosquito. It was a frequent hangout of mine and my friends. That night, a fellow DJ (we’ll call him Nate) was opening up the venue. In front of the DJ booth, dancing alone, was a skinny, goofy-looking old man with curly grey hair and a beer bottle in his hand. I walked up, said hello, and I asked him how long he’d been listening to electronic music.

“Oh I’m just here to see Nate play – he’s my son!” (cue goofy dance moves.)

I mentioned that Nate was lucky, that my dad hadn’t been to one of my shows.

“Well that’s too bad young man.” Nate’s dad stopped dancing and looked me right in the eyes. “He doesn’t know what he’s missed…”

But it’s too late now. He has missed nearly three decades of shows, and will never have the opportunity to have seen me growing and changing as an artist. So I was shocked that he and my stepmom came to one of my gigs – playing music in a restaurant for people eating dinner. It was good money while it lasted, though it was low energy and there was no dancing.

So, is it a small sign that maybe things are changing? As my first sponsor wisely told me, “More will be revealed.”

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addiction, Consequences, DJ, Electronic Dance Music, music, Recovery

To Good Health.

I’m not very good at this blog thing.

I write only when the muse strikes, never regularly. I should probably check my keywords for SEO purposes, but I have to do that so much in terms of promoting my music it gets tiresome.

I do like to write about my victories, and this is one.

113/67. The lowest my blood pressure has been in years. I credit that to sobriety, to eating better, and to walking/jogging consistently.

Of course, in order to understand the significance of these two numbers we have to flash back a bit.

September 17, 2009. I was opening for DJ Heavygrinder in Raleigh, at a brand new venue called Solas. Five years prior I had DJ-ed an EDM Lounge called Rush Lounge. We were the new kid on the block back then, and I thought I was hot shit. I was also 60 pounds lighter.

Now Rush was closed and I was playing a 3-story dance club which stood half a block away. The torch had been passed. Had I been sober, I might’ve grasped the significance.

Instead, felt like absolute garbage. I had been drinking all day, and doing G. At that point I probably weighed 270lbs. I would get so nervous before a gig, I would have to be completely fucked up just to play. And I wouldn’t play well.

Some of the only photos of me that exist from that night…

View this post on Instagram

#DJ-ing @SolasRaleigh Sept. 2009. Dope #djbooth 🙂

A post shared by DJ FM® (@djfmdotcom) on

I opened, I don’t think I got paid. Maybe I did. I was too drunk and high to care. Somehow I made it from Solas down the street to a club called 606, drinking and taking G all the way there. I saw a friend at 606, who later told me I was completely incoherent. I couldn’t remember anything I did after leaving Solas, even how I got to my buddy’s house to crash. I vaguely remember driving.

I had a doctor’s appointment at 8am the next day. I think my girlfriend was the one who wanted me to see this particular doctor. I was having trouble sleeping (shock) and had terrible sleep apnea (again, shock). At that point I was experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, so I made sure to bring a supply of G and some vodka in a flask with me. It would get me through the doctor’s visit.

Even with all that I was terrified when i got to the doctor’s office. My shakes were bad, my anxiety was through the roof. How did I get home last night, again?

After an hour of waiting, they took me back. I spent another 20 minutes in one of those small examination rooms. They took my blood pressure.

The nurse looked at me and took it again. The look on her face was one of absolute terror. No one would tell me what my blood pressure was for almost 30 minutes.

And then I learned: 198/132. Heart attack range. Coma. Death.

For the next eight months, I would be on two different blood pressure medications. I can’t remember what they were. I also bought a blood pressure monitor – the same one you see in the photo. I was taking some measures to look after my health. Nonetheless, my DUI arrest would be two weeks after the doctor’s visit, and my overdose three weeks after that. Then a month of couch-surfing. Then rock-bottom. Then rehab.

Almost 8 years and a lot of history later, I get to see the benefits of my choice(s) to stay sober every day. Sometimes they’re big things – legal victories, musical accomplishments, amends and forgiveness.

And sometimes it’s just two numbers.

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Abuse, addiction, Consequences, Electronic Dance Music, Grunge, music, Recovery, Rock, Suicide, Trauma

Goodnight, Mr. Bennington.

(also published to Medium)

“One thing
I don’t know why
It doesn’t even matter how hard you try…”

…and no matter how hard I try, I can’t get away from this dude.

I’m in a Wal-Mart. A fucking Wal-Mart “neighborhood market” (as if there’s anything “neighborhood” about a Wal-Mart). And as I walk in to buy rawhide dog bones at 11:30 at night, there’s that voice:

I was living in Baltimore the first time I heard “In The End.” I had moved there in March of 2001 for a relationship and a job. Really, for the relationship. She and I had dated long distance for over a year and I was tired of the long drives from North Carolina to Maryland. I really loved this person, but she had fallen for an older co-worker with more life experience and more money. Her father even called her out on it once which was pretty funny. For my part I was clingy and insecure, which always helps.

Five days after I moved, she decided she “needed some space.” Two months later, my job let me go. “It doesn’t even matter how hard you try.” I had no rudder, nowhere to go. I was drinking myself to death and hemorrhaging money. My dad told me to find Jesus and go to an AA meeting (some of you may agree with him – I did not).

My drinking, of course, got worse the minute he said that. He told me he’d drive up to Baltimore to read the Bible with me. Exactly what he did with my Mom when she was drunk. I remember the three of us going to church together at the height of her active addiction, some time in 1987. She would nod off in the pew like a heroin addict overdosing then coming to.

Being a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, I know better. Taking a drunk person to church, reading Bible verses at a drunk person…these are futile acts of desperation. I could’ve told him that as a 13-year-old who’d never had a drop of alcohol, but now I was in those crosshairs, as though he wanted to drive to Baltimore and perform a séance with me. I just wanted him to listen to me, not talk at me. It was not to be.

I was running out of money at and couldn’t find a job. I was in pain, and no one seemed to care enough to actually hear me.

Then 9/11 happened. 

The Pentagon was still smoldering as I had begun driving my stuff back to my mom’s apartment in North Carolina. I had utterly failed, and the world was crumbling down around my ears. “In The End” was one of 3 videos in constant rotation on MTV. “Overcome” by Live, as well as “Drops of Jupiter” by Train were the others. It was a sad time. Chester understood. He knew times like that.

…and then I snap back and it’s 16 years later. I’m still in Wal-Mart at 11:30 buying dog treats. 

And that voice, Chris, the band…god bless Mike Shinoda spitting bars that made me remember her all over again, the anger:

“Things aren’t the way they were before
you wouldn’t even recognize me anymore
Now that you knew me back then
But it all comes back to me in…the…end…”

I snap back again. Hard to shake the feeling, but that’s music for you.

I had often wished I could jump on stage with Linkin Park and fill in on bass for one song. Hell, I’ve played for 25 years, guitar and bass. Too late for that now, but if it hadn’t been for “Hybrid Theory,” I wouldn’t have made it out of Baltimore alive…

 

12 years after Baltimore, and for the second time in my life, I found myself in rehab. The downward spiral that began in Baltimore had started a chain reaction which I don’t think I ever really overcame. My drinking and drug use had spiraled out of control, and after a first trip to rehab, a near death experience from an overdose, and another failing relationship later, I was (again) at the lowest point in my life.

I was living in an Oxford House for the second time, once again re-assembling my life. And on Facebook, I heard a familiar voice:

“The nights go on
Waiting for a light that never comes
I chase the sun
Waiting for a light that never comes…”

Chester knew. He’d been there. And there was Mike with those bars again:

“Nah, you don’t know me
Lightning above and a fire below me
You cannot catch me, cannot hold me
You cannot stop, much less control me
When it rains, it pours
When the floodgates open, brace your shores
That pressure don’t care when it breaks your doors
Say it’s all you can take, better take some more.”

The beat was all EDM, finishing touches provided by Steve Aoki. But the guitar was in there, the voices were there, the interplay between Chester and Mike, the heart. It was my rallying cry. The guy old enough to know better had run out of lives to lose. Dad was nowhere to be found, except to tell me he was done trying to “help.”

Time to grab the reins one last time and right the ship, and then never ask anyone for help again. No more waiting for a light that never comes. My journey towards agnosticism – and personal salvation – began right there.

In my determination to never ask anyone for help again, help came to me.

I’m coming up on four years clean and sober. I’m engaged to the love of my life, a real woman who doesn’t need to “trade up” at the first sign of trouble. I have a good job, a good home, and somehow after almost 20 years the DJ FM brand remains and is somehow still relevant, even if I haven’t sold 1,000,000 copies of anything.

I never knew you Chester. I never got to see Linkin Park play. We weren’t even that far apart in age. You were so lucky that you got to meet Chris. He and his band got me though my teenage years, and it sounds like he may have done the same for you. I hope wherever you both are, you’re jamming with him and making amazing music.

I hope someday I get to see you and thank you for what you did. Maybe you can see me now, or maybe I’m simply thinking magically to make myself feel better. Either way, it’s a comforting thought.

Until then, take your rest Mr. Bennington.

Godspeed.

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Abuse, addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Altruism, Consequences, Electronic Dance Music, music, Podcast, Recovery, Religion, Trauma

Experience.

I was recently interviewed by InRecovery magazine for a piece on active addiction (shameless plug alert: you should go read it and then leave a comment if you like)
https://inrecovery.com/journey-fun-abuse-dj-fm

Sometimes it just doesn’t feel real to me. I’ve never thought of myself someone whose experience or opinions should be held in high regard by anyone. I’m just one voice among billions. Granted, in the last few years I’ve had things like this published about my journey in recovery in various places. I’ve also been interviewed twice on the Klen & Sobr podcast which was amazing. If anything, I am not anonymous.

But still, I can’t believe that it’s me. I often scoff at the Tony Robbins types. They seem well-intentioned, yet I’m never able to trust whether they truly want to help their audience, or simply like hearing the sound of their own voice. All of this of course speaks volumes about my own insecurities. We are all a work in progress, but I’m no one’s guru.

I also watched “The Defiant Ones” on HBO last week, a 4-part documentary about Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre’s musical and business collaborations, and their long history in the music. I am impressed by their stories. Two guys who literally came from nothing and now sit atop what remains of the music business. The greater the risk you take, the greater the reward I suppose.

I want to say I’ve never been the “starving artist” type, but in truth I was once. Between 1996 and 1998 I wrote and recorded my first album “Breakup.” I was 23 and had limited access to recording equipment, so I had to go into an actual studio and work with a producer to bring my vision to life. Of course, that meant paying for the time – and the money which went to the studio meant money wasn’t going to rent or food.

In fact, I was 3 months behind on rent and had to borrow money from my recent ex-girlfriend to get caught up. I was eating the leftover food my roommates didn’t want, and when there was none of that I was eating microwave popcorn. It sucked. My hat’s off to anyone who quits their job and goes out on a limb for their art. It created an added level of stress that I simply couldn’t handle. I have been attempting to find balance between art and “career” ever since.

Fortunately, my producer was patient with me and he came from a similar musical background and similar tastes. He taught me everything I know. I paid as I could, and “Breakup” became DJ FM’s first album. So many lessons were learned, and so many good things came about as a result of that album. Most importantly I learned the most was that if you want to be a creator – a musician, an artist, a writer – your vision comes first. Like I said, I have never believed that my opinion or my voice mattered to anyone else. Music helped me realize that my voice at least had to matter to me.

I now have a sponsee. One. The only sponsee I’ve had in 8 years of my hit-or-miss recovery. We “worked” together for an entire year, in which he didn’t call and didn’t do any actual work. I was his sponsor in name only. He is from India, and in the process of becoming an American citizen – not an easy journey in the era of Trump. Still, he wasn’t doing the work, so I fired him.

And then he had to leave the country, simply so he could re-enter and get a new Visa. I felt like a piece of shit. This was about the time Trump was mobilizing his travel ban and even though India was not on the list of banned countries, I worried for my friend. Who knows what an authoritarian regime is capable of, even in the United States?

He reached out to me from his home country a few times. We chatted. He asked if I’d be his sponsor when he came back. I told him “we’ll see – it depends on whether someone else comes forward.” I really didn’t know if I wanted to be his sponsor. I was at a point of not caring, because he certainly didn’t seem to care that year I tried to sponsor him. I blamed myself for not being tough enough, not being interesting enough.

Of course, in my mind I know that’s ridiculous. You can only lead a horse to water. What they do from there is up to them, especially in recovery. Those who suffer from substance use disorder are some of the most stubborn and incorrigible people you’ll ever meet. Have you met me in-person?

What happened was remarkable. He came back to the US, and it was as if a fire had been lit beneath him. He asked me twice if I would be his sponsor, and I finally said yes. We have been working together and every time we meet, he thanks me for listening, thanks me for guiding him. I see my experience benefitting another.

The way I was raised, and after most of the trauma that took place in my early teenage years, I spent most of my first 36 years of life feeling like I’d been permanently punched in the gut by god. Alcohol and drugs eventually numbed the pain of that sad worldview, but what I’ve learned is this: your vision matters. Your experience matters. Your voice matters. I would’ve never understood this without recovery.

You have to believe in you, first.

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addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, DJ, Electronic Dance Music, music, Recovery

Why So Serious?

djfm_masterclass_parody

I have a habit of taking myself way too seriously. You might not know that from this picture.

And no, I don’t have a masterclass. I do, however, have Photoshop, a degree in graphic design, and time on my hands.

I take politics seriously. I haven’t blogged in awhile because our country seems to be coming apart at the seams. As I know from recovery, much of that is beyond my control, but it doesn’t stop me. I tried to write about it elsewhere.

There is probably no better example of how seriously I take things than my music.

The very first album I wrote was called “Breakup” – inspired by every failed relationship I’d ever had. Serious stuff.

I wrote an album while living in an Oxford House my first year in recovery. I was angry, scared, hurt, alone. There wasn’t much to laugh about. See the before and after picture below. It was the guy on the left that wrote “Last Man Standing.”

gratitude_day_26

This is a problem for a dance music producer.

Dance music has never been particularly political nor serious. Just look up the Chainsmoker’s first hit “#Selfie” on YouTube to see what I’m talking about. For earlier examples, look up “Don’t Laugh” by Josh Wink, or “Ebeneezer Goode” by The Shamen (a play on words about Ecstasy…”E’s are good.”)

So it took me by surprise when my girlfriend and I were Christmas shopping at Kohl’s in 2015, and I came across a toy in the kids section that grabbed my attention. One of those kids toys in which you pull the string and a wheel spins, playing a song about a letter of the alphabet. “J says jump! I love to jump up and down!”

I recorded it for posterity on my iPhone and told my girlfriend that I’d make a song out of it some day. I wasn’t ready then, as we had just moved in together. I was nervous about it because the last time I’d moved in with a girlfriend, I’d developed a pretty horrible drug habit and ended up in the hospital, and rehab, and an Oxford House, where I wrote an album and…you can see where this is going.

But I’m happy now. Happier than Ive been in a long time. I can laugh at myself. I come home from work, look at the life I have, and feel tremendous gratitude for the many bullets I’ve been allowed to dodge. I can take a deep breath and know that in this moment, I am content.

And it shows, even in my music – maybe for the first time ever. Hopefully, it won’t be the last. “J,” after all, “is for jump.”

 

 

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addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Consequences, DJ, Electronic Dance Music, Grunge, Recovery, Rock

My (Sober) DJ Story, Part Two.

When last we left our hero, there were 9 boxes of CDs all sitting in the living room of his apartment. Now he had to figure out something to do with them. Here’s what happened…

How to not come even CLOSE to selling 1000 CDs, but figure out other cool stuff to do with them.

The music world in 1998 was a much different place. There was no Napster, no iTunes, and very few electronic devices that could play MPEG Layer 3 (or MP3 files). The internet at that time was still very much like the wild west. There was SO much contact information for record labels, music supervisors, recording studios just floating around free, including email addresses. Encryption was a joke. No one gave it much thought.

By necessity, if you wanted to sell music, you had to get your CDs in stores. I landed a pretty sweet arrangement with a regional college record store chain called Record Exchange which allowed breakup to be sent to all their stores, as well as nearby college radio stations. I learned about the deal (getting featured on a compilation) from a local print zine, which had an email address listed. I didn’t have to pay for it, they curated the compilation and chose one of my songs. I’ve never done “pay-to-play” in my life and never will.

My first experiences with drugs other that alcohol took place between the years 1996-1998. I tried MDMA/Ecstasy a total of four times, it only sort of worked once. I smoked pot a handful of times, but I never felt “stoned.” The only drug I experimented with where I got a definite high was off mushrooms, and it was horrible. Mostly because the guy who’d given them to me/us (I had done them with a group of friends) was not a very good guy, and seemed to enjoy watching us freak out. I never saw him again save for that one time.

Always concerned about the illegality of drugs vs. alcohol, I decided to stick with alcohol. It would be the last time I’d experiment with illicit drugs of any kind for almost a decade.

I also began DJ-ing during this time, and learned the first rule of DJ-ing the hard way: if you want to be taken seriously, you have to DJ the same format (read: technology) everyone else is using. At the time, it was vinyl. Vinyl was still *the* format for nightclub DJs everywhere, all the way down to local and regional rave DJs.

I wanted to do something different, because I wanted to be able to play my *original* music in my sets in addition to other music, and vinyl wasn’t very cost-effective to press up. So I took out a loan and bought Pioneer CDJs. A CDJ is to a compact disc what a vinyl turntable is to a 12-inch dance record. It allows you to beat match tempos, find cue points, and in a primitive way, “scratch.” But at that time, they got a bad rap. There was a lot of misinformation about them, claims that “they do all the hard work for you.” “They automatically sync the music together” (which most DJ controllers and software do nowadays by default – and no one bats an eye).

blurrycd

But worst of all, in the minds of teenage boys, it wasn’t “keeping it real.” How a kid from suburban North Raleigh with a record player and some records could call out another kid from suburban North Raleigh for not “keeping it real” is beyond me. With a few exceptions, the local DJs I dealt with at that time were elitist dicks. In all my travels in the EDM scene I have rarely seen “PLUR” in action. Just a bunch of assholes playing other people’s music who wanted the drugs and chicks for themselves while waving the banner of “integrity.” They also needed somebody to clown on, and that person became me. I rarely got booked my first year DJ-ing, and it was not fun. And since no one bothered to take me aside and help me learn, I also wasn’t very good. As with all things, I learned the hard way – and on my own.

So I tried a different approach. I was reading CNN and found an article about a music industry “tastemaker” named Braden Merrick, who’d started a website called Redbutton.com. His site hand-picked artists to feature, and according to the CNN article, label A&R representatives were following him very closely. If you were selected, he would feature your song on his site, and would also allow users to purchase your song for $1.99 as an MP3 download (brand new concept at the time).

Braden would go on to manage a band called The Killers. You may have heard of them.

In any case, I was working for IBM at the time as a graphics contractor – meaning we did presentation graphics for the sales team. We were second-class citizens, paid less, looked down on by full-time IBM’ers (who were experiencing the effects of layoffs and outsourcing). We were required to use Microsoft Powerpoint’s IBM knockoff for this task, Lotus Freelance. The software was awful, but only 1-2 hours of any given week involved any kind of actual work. During the remainder I searched for music contacts, taught myself HTML, and ate free filet mignon brought up to us as “leftovers” from sales briefings. It was a cushy job to say the least. Why I didn’t simply stay there and milk it for all it was worth is a mystery, but I’ll get into that later.

I found Braden’s email address, and reached out to him about my CD. I had a very primitive website up which had RealAudio samples of some of my tracks to preview. He wrote me back with an address, and I mailed him a CD. Once he received the CD, he said he’d listen and let me know over the weekend whether or not RedButton would be featuring the CD.

Needless to say, it was selected and became the highlight of my press kit. They picked “Proton Girl” to feature, did a nice review of it and gave it prime placement.

redbut

A few weeks went by, and nothing. I became deeply depressed.

Then I came into the office and saw a “While You Were Out” note (similar to this one) on my desk:

19991201_realworld

You can imagine my surprise. My officemates were just as surprised and excited for me. I called Chris back. Apparently he’d heard my material on that Redbutton site, and wanted to license my music on MTVs Real World – the hot reality show of the day, and still several years ahead of “Survivor.”

Moby, one of my main musical influences, had released his “Play” album that year, and all of his songs from that album had been licensed for radio, commercials, movies, etc. An underground electronic artist from my youth was finally getting his due because of a very smart marketing decision. So I understood all too well the importance of music publishing and licensing.

Chris showed me how licensing worked, how to join ASCAP and get paid for my music getting played on-air. My music ended up being used on Real World Hawaii first – here’s the video clip:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGBGaEhcLfw

I got my first check from ASCAP a few months later. $250 for less than 60 seconds of airplay, of a song I had composed in 15 minutes in the studio close to two years prior. I was blown away. I realized at that moment that my primary source of income wouldn’t be from DJ-ing, but my original productions. And I had just put together my first home studio, so it was time to get to work…

equip
(My studio set-up, circa 1999)

Since no one would book me to DJ, I would go back to the only thing I knew well: live performance. My friend Jason, who had played drums in my band SGO during college, joined me on drums while I sequenced music in my computer and played live guitars and keyboard. A good friend booked us for our first live show – “Rapture” in Asheville. We were supposed to go on at 12am, but our set ended up getting pushed back. Everyone at the party, including the promoter was on drugs of some kind. Everyone but me (I’d had a few beers – okay fine, that’s a drug).

rap_frnt_72dpi

When our set finally took place at almost 5am, Jason and I were both beat to shit. But we pulled it off. Half the crowd danced their asses off, the other half just stared at Jason in disbelief, at how fast he was playing. It was something.

I wish I had pictures of it, but sadly this was in the days before iPhone cameras existed. We had no video of the performance, no photos, no nothing. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had close friends there who were involved in the show, I wouldn’t have believed myself that it happened. The only photos I have are of Jason and I rehearsing for that show.

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Our friend who had offered us a place to crash after the gig was nowhere to be found. So we drove back to Raleigh the same day. I nearly passed out behind the wheel. I got home, unloaded my car, and slept for almost 18 hours.

Because my music had been used on MTVs Real World, my album “breakup” could be featured online at a music retailer called CDNow. But I had to first secure a distribution deal with an online “middleman” that would allow me to place “Breakup” in retail stores, both online and brick-and-mortar. This company was called “The Orchard.” Just because your music is in a major retail store, however, doesn’t mean it will sell. Unless there’s an end-cap somewhere with a big “DJ FM” sign and a listening station, “breakup” was sorted alphabetically among hundreds of other nondescript artists. Looked pretty cool, though.

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In any case, my life was taking another turn. I had flown to Los Angeles with Jason during the summer of 1999, to attempt to shop our demos with labels and reconnect with some of my former school of design friends who lived in West Hollywood. Mostly we drank a lot and partied, both in San Diego and Los Angeles, but I made it out to see where my former design friends were working – the Museum of Contemporary Art. I looked at the work they were doing and became jealous. Here I was, sitting behind a desk doing shitty Powerpoint presentations, and my friends were doing all this amazing work. I went home jealous and envious.

I ended up leaving my job with IBM for another company down the road. It was a good job, with slightly better pay, but I didn’t have the same freedom that I did at IBM. I wanted what my friends in Los Angeles had – a graphic designer career putting my skills to good use. During that time I began dating a young woman long-distance in Baltimore whom I had been friends with for close to a year and a half. We hadn’t really planned on dating long-distance, but we seemed to fall for each other hard. She’d spend every other weekend in North Carolina, and I’d spend every other weekend in Maryland.

I had a great life in North Carolina. I was now roommates with my producer, Tom. He lived in a house near Five Points in Raleigh which was a quiet neighborhood. I’d left a bad roommate situation to move there, and it was the first real peace I’d had in months. I would come home, usually with a six-pack or 12-pack of Heineken, sit out on the front porch and sip a beer, listening to the wind chimes on the porch. Tom would get home late from the studio, we’d go grab steaks, fire up the grill and work on music until 2-3 in the morning. I’d go to work the next day hungover, but happy. It wasn’t the most healthy routine, but it was a routine. And for awhile it worked.

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(Netscrape Navigator GOLD son!)

My album “breakup” continued to do well for me during this time. It had been featured on Abercrombie and Fitch’s website. It had gotten reviewed by over 15 different online “zines” and had also gotten a mention in CMJ (College Music Journal). I had an assembly line in my bedroom closet – press materials, 8×10 photo, CD, and cover letter – so that whenever I found a new contact to send the album to I could put it together a mailer in minutes. I sent out hundreds of them, and must’ve spent hundreds on postage, if not thousands. I even entered “breakup” in a competition and won a Sennheiser microphone that I still have today:

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Jason and I played a 2nd live show at a venue called Local 506 in Chapel Hill. Again, this is the pre-iPhone era. No one had cameras. There might’ve been a video camera somewhere. My girlfriend from Baltimore had driven down to be at the show, Jason’s little brother…but no cameras. No photos. Or if there were photos, or cameras, none got footage of us. According to crowd reaction, we had put on another good show…but how could I prove to record labels that I could pull this thing off live if I had nothing to show for it?

I began to feel pressured. I was tired of driving to Baltimore to see my girlfriend, tired of going long periods of time without seeing her. So, in typical Adult Child of an Alcoholic fashion, I dropped everything I was doing, found a new job in Baltimore, and left to be with her. Everyone I knew tried to convince me it was a bad idea, that she wasn’t ready, she was afraid of commitment. My two best friends did. My parents (arguably, not masters of romantic relationships) did.

A week after I moved, she dumped me.

Two months after I moved, I lost my job.

I was up to my eyeballs in credit card debt and unable to pay rent. I’d never seen such a cascade failure in all my life, an really had no clue how to navigate it. I spent several months interviewing for jobs and drinking myself to death.

Six months after I moved, 9/11 happened.

I moved back to North Carolina after that with my tail tucked between my legs. Music was all I had left. I had been talking back and forth with a guy named Keith about cross promoting his rave production company (2AM Management) and my music. He then invited me to play at his artist showcase that November in Springfield, MA at a club called The Asylum. He said he had hired a video company (TranzTV Visuals) to record footage – cameras would be placed at all angles around the stage. They’d be producing a DVD.

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(The Asylum)
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(The Event Flyer)

This was it. This was the opportunity I’d been waiting for. A big club, a big crowd, lots of cameras. All I needed was a few minutes of footage in that setting to showcase what we were capable of. Broke, jobless, living upstairs in my mother’s office/guest room, I began remixing/re-sequencing the songs (including some new ones, like “I Believe“) so that they would flow together like a DJ set would. I chose which parts I would play live and which I would sequence as backing tracks. It was a blast.

Then my lead vocalist flaked. Then my drummer flaked!

No matter! I wouldn’t be deterred. This was my career! So I found a replacement drummer, and Tom’s girlfriend at the time agreed to sing. I borrowed $400 from my mom to rent a minivan to drive up in. I agreed to pay everyone’s way including the hotel – and man was it a shit hole. But it was still a hotel.

After much haggling, after driving 12 hours, after load in and setting up – we played. We did our best. For one hour, I got to see 1500 kids dancing to music I had written. There were mistakes, the power even cut off – but fortunately my laptop battery was charged, so the music sequence continued to run and when the power came back, the music didn’t even skip a beat. We lost power and kept going.

That was the moment for me. Everything I’d been working towards for 3-5 years, wrapped up into one hour. I even sold a few CDs in the crowd after the show. We went back to the hotel room, and I think I slept maybe 2-3 hours. We drove 12 hours back to North Carolina the next day, but it was all a blur to me.

All I needed was that video. That was my whole reason for doing the show.

A month went by. Two months. 6 months. Rumors about the video company not being paid by the promoters (a real shock in the rave scene), miscommunications. The video guy, who’d been good about writing me, stopped. I called a time or two, he answered once. Nothing. NO VIDEO.

Life started crumbling around me. My drinking was getting worse, and I had moved into my own apartment which my grandparents chipped in money for, but I had no job, no money coming in, my unemployment was running out. I ended up pawning my DJ gear, my PA system, my amp, just to pay my credit cards. Thousands of dollars of musical equipment, sold for a few hundred bucks.

It was 2002, and music career was at a standstill.

And all my copies of “breakup” were gone.

What next? Stay tuned…

See what came last … or go back to Part One

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addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Altruism, DJ, Electronic Dance Music, Recovery

My (Sober) DJ Story, Part OnePointTwo.

So this isn’t the actual Part Two. I haven’t quite finished writing it yet. Because, lazy.

This is an interlude of sorts.

I’ve spent my life watching technology get smaller and smaller, and more accessible. I owned a walkman as a kid which could play one cassette, had auto-reverse, Dolby-B noise reduction and an AM/FM radio. By contrast, my iPhone 6S – coming in at 1/3 the depth and half the weight – can hold every single song that I’ve ever listened to, in any format, since birth, allow me to access the sum total of human knowledge, help me navigate virtually anywhere on earth and serve as a portable HD television studio.

Oh, and it makes phone calls too. It’s almost quaint that it uses the word “phone” in its name.

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(This was the “phone” we had when i was a kid. Trimline, SON! And it came in more colors than the iPhone!)

With that in mind, I made my first full-length music video over the weekend, using footage I took at various gigs since I first got sober. I used nothing more than my MacBook Air, the same iPhone I mentioned above, iMovie and Adobe After Effects. A $4,000 investment, tops. Not counting what it cost to produce the song, using the same laptop, and other software. Not 15 years ago, these endeavors would’ve required huge studios, crews, hundreds of man-hours. The democratization of technology really allows us to express ourselves in any way we choose.

To any millennials who may be reading this, make no mistake: we live in remarkable times.

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(So meta. A picture of the video I made, with the blog post I’m writing about it – as I write! Dear Apple, I love the walled garden you’ve built.)

In early sobriety, everyone’s expectations for you drop. So every little thing you do sober is much like when a baby takes its first steps.

“Oh look honey, our recovering boy just took his first shit in sobriety! Good job kiddo!”

At first, it feels good – everyone congratulating you on every little thing accomplished. After awhile, for me, it became patronizing. I DJ-ed my first sober gig in a bar and everyone who knew me came up to me to tell I played better than I ever had in my using days – which I found very hard to believe. Again, I knew they meant well, it just seemed a bit much.

Now, 7 years into the process, two rehabs and one relapse later…I have the footage to prove they were actually right. Hours and hours of it.

I find it a little more than coincidental that technology has arrived at the place it is – and my sobriety has brought me to the place where am – that I can write a piece of music while living in a Oxford House and seven years later have the footage to prove I can DJ sober AND use said footage to tell the story.

I truly have been able to “face down” all the demons I’d been holding onto for so long. Enjoy the video.

 

Okay, go read Part Two 😉

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