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.”

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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, music, Recovery, Religion

The Codependent Love Songs of the 1970s.

I’ll be getting back to my sober DJ story soon enough, but for my first post of 2017 I wanted to share something a bit different.

Tommy Rosen, the founder of Recovery 2.0, shared a video on his Facebook page after his morning meditation which entailed pop culture, movies, the 1970s…the effect that those things have on children, and relates it to how he became an addict:

At first when he began talking about movies, he kinda lost me. I was thinking, whatever. Then he said something that made my jaw hit the floor. “You know what I grew with in the 1970s, if we’re really gonna be honest? I grew up with the codependent love songs of the 1970s.” Feels. (And doesn’t that sound like the title of one of those Time-Life greatest hits CDs?)

I remember the ballads, especially of the late 1970s/early 1980s. So many songs about unfulfilled and unrequited love. I remember hearing Dan Fogleberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” as a 7 year old and crying…kids know. Kids understand more than you realize. I remember my mom teaching class late one night and not knowing when she would come home, and then hearing “Your Song” by Elton John. Balling. Missing my mom. (I was a sensitive little kid, I’ll admit. Not much has changed.)

I also remember the movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s. If you saw the animated movie “Watership Down” as a kid, you know what I’m talking about. The movie “Kramer vs. Kramer” with Dustin Hoffman came out in 1979, and from the clips I saw on HBO it seemed that divorce was an epic event, with a big soundtrack, courtroom drama, parents yelling at one another and at the judge. Anytime I met a kid in elementary school whose parents were divorced, I felt deeply sorry for them. I imagined them in court with their parents, watching it all go down, and then having to take sides.

And then my parents actually divorced. And there was unfulfilled love, and anger, and infidelity and substance use between them. But other than the relatively few fights I saw – bad as they were – it was a very quiet process from my perspective. My dad told me my mom was moving out while I was watching Saturday morning cartoons. I never once set foot in a courtroom, never talked with an attorney. In fact, my mom told me that she had me live with my father because she knew that she was incapable of taking care of a child – that she thought he would’ve been better for me.

Like drunkenness, I learned that divorce too was very, very different from what was portrayed in the media. I accepted my mom’s version of the story for a long time, until I myself found recovery. I saw men and women, young and old, who’d just recently had their children taken away because of alcohol and drugs. I watched them in 12-step meetings claw, and grasp at every straw they could to hang on to sobriety, to get visitation back, to get their kids back, to be in their lives again. These were, by-and-large, people who didn’t have educations, people who simply did the best they could with what they had, some with extensive criminal records. Never in all my life had I seen a parent fight harder for their children.

You see videos of mothers and fathers in war-torn countries being re-united with their children after being separated, after being refugees for a decade, two decades, with no hope of ever seeing them. And a miracle happens and they are reunited. They are falling on the floor in tears, and the children are too. Wailing, weeping as though their lives depended on it.

My mother and father were both highly educated people. If I’m to believe my mother, she was invited to join Mensa at one point. Neither had criminal records. Even with all that, I began to feel once again like I had been “given up,” in early recovery, at age 36 after over 20 years had passed. The feelings stay there. You can’t deal with them until you face them head on.

You have to wonder what kind of force is so powerful that it decimates the instinctual bond between a parent and child. It’s not alcohol, it’s not drugs. Those are just symptomatic. As Tommy is noted for saying (and I agree 100%), the root of addiction is trauma. The trauma that occurred in my mother’s life when she was young, which was in turn a result of trauma that her parents had, and so forth. At no point did anyone put the brakes on it, because our “no crying in baseball” culture doesn’t believe in feelings – talking about them, expressing them or recovering from them. One county in Georgia even banned schools from teaching mindfulness because of the influences of “eastern religion.”

Look at who we elected president, for god’s sake.

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(no, we didn’t elect dan fogelberg)

When you experience divorce, suddenly everything that happened before you see through a new lens. Nothing was right, everything was wrong. Of course the whole thing fell apart. Dan Fogleberg was right. “She’d like to say she loved the man, but she didn’t like to lie.” And any happy song immediately became a lie. Hearing all those old songs made me even more emotional than they had when I was a kid, so my tastes gradually shifted away from even 1980s pop to the angriest, loudest music I could find. It was my only defense mechanism.

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(the loudest, angriest music I could find…)

Alcohol and drugs came much later, because watching my mother did make me afraid of their power for a time. But I was addicted to all sorts of things before that. Credit cards. Relationships. Materialism. Even the anger that I carried with me I was addicted to, in a way, because it was mine. It was something no one could take from me. Like the NIN classic Head Like a Hole, “no you can’t take it, no you can’t take that away from me…head like a hole / black as your soul / I’d rather die than give you control.”

Tommy concludes with observations about the media our kids are seeing today… “I’m not even sure what’s going to happen to our children today…the jury is not in yet, we hope that we can get our kids excited about the magic of life without dooming them to… a life of seeking through the outside world to create some bizarre reality…” The jury is still out. We don’t know.

I agree with what Tommy is saying. I also agree that I am 100% percent responsible for my actions. I can’t blame anyone but myself for what I did in active addiction, and I certainly don’t blame pop culture. What I do believe is that art, music, and media are a lens into our culture, an expression of it’s own reality. It may seem bizarre, and frightening, much like the gangster rap of the early 1990s was to suburban parents. But our art tells a story about us.

And if it’s any indication of what we’re feeling as a culture, I give you a lyric from one of the most popular songs of 2016…by the Chainsmokers:

“I think I’m losing my mind now

It’s in my head, darling I hope

That you’ll be here, when I need you the most

So don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me down”

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addiction, Consequences, music, Recovery, Rock, Uncategorized

On 2016, Sentiment, and Loss.

2016, like years past, has been full of it. It’s all over our news, our Facebook feeds, our 24-hour news cycles, our pushed updates.

Loss.

I’m nothing if not sentimental. I have a tragically good long-term memory, and tend to remember the good and the bad in equally vivid measure. I’m also a pack-rat, keeping every correspondence with people I’ve known, some of whom are no longer with us, and some who I lost contact with years ago.

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(correspondence)

If love could be measured in terms of that correspondence, then I am the most loved person of all. Hundreds, maybe thousands of letters, from college friends, my grandparents, loved ones from years ago are stored in plastic bins which I’ve organized over the years. As I’ve been putting together my book, I’ve been going through my old journals and letters to read what was going on at a particular time in my life – to make sure I have the facts straight. Or at the very least, my interpretation of events at the time.

It has been a journey full of surprises, a teaching tool for me in both in terms of my recovery from substance use disorder, and in terms of understanding how my life in general has unfolded.

It is also one of my defense mechanisms against loss. That person, that event, that thing I loved may be gone, or missing, or estranged. But the piece that worked, the love, the friendship, the enlightenment as it was documented and saved, will be with me as long as I have the capacity to maintain it.

Regarding 2016, I see a lot of false bravado on Facebook, the same kind you find all over internet chat rooms, message boards, and social networks. The irreverent, blasé angsty name-calling and deprecation that has long been a part of adolescent youth culture (which even “adults” are now engaging in.) “You didn’t know George Michael/Prince/David Bowie, so why are crying like a baby?” I even see people doing it with Carrie Fisher, who passed today at the age of 60. “Princess Leia’s dead. So what?” (and these are some of the nicer posts I’ve seen). I could also delve into the more existential “losses” felt by any person or social group negatively affected by Donald Trump’s victory, but I covered that in a different thread.

Then there’s this one: “2016 didn’t suck. People die ever year.” True enough.

And yet it is the great defense mechanism of our culture. It didn’t hurt me, therefore I’m not affected. Therefore, you shouldn’t be either. Every year sucks, so why care, why be shocked, why be sad?

I really don’t need to talk about what kind of impact Star Wars has had on my life. I didn’t weep when Carrie Fisher died, but I certainly “felt” it. The writer of “Watership Down,” Richard Adams, passed away also. It was made into a very disturbing, violent and sad animated film my parents allowed me to watch as a child. I hesitate to watch it again, and I never read the book. However, I felt the emotional knock at the door when I read about his passing.

Then there’s George Michael. As a musician, I feel it when another musician has passed. Because I know what it is to write music. You live life very much like an open nerve ending. You have to learn how to govern what you take in over time, how to process it – the pain and joy alike – or it will consume you. For many years, it did consume me. I sought ways both healthy and unhealthy to redirect and numb myself from it. As it seems like George Michael did also.

I knew of “Wham” peripherally when I was a child. I was 10 or 11 when “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” came on MTV, and I hated it. It was another in a series of throwback “doo-wop” music for baby boomers who were “30-something” at the time. But in 1987, when his “Faith” album came out, my parents’ divorce was in high gear, and all the awfulness associated with it. Much of the music of 1986-1988 reminds me of that very dark time in my life. “Faith,” “One More Try,” “Monkey,” and “Kissing A Fool” were all songs that stuck with me. I didn’t really pay attention to the music he wrote that came after, except for “Freedom ’90” (solely due to the music video and the supermodels all lip-syncing his vocal parts). But that music produced emotions as vivid in me as I did when I was the scared angry kid that heard them.

My appreciation for “pop” music left after that, and my musical tastes did a complete 180…to Queensryche, to Metallica, and Anthrax…and the even heavier and heavier music it spawned in the decade to come.

So I didn’t know George Michael. I never attended a single concert. But his music had a long and lasting impact on me which I “felt” when I saw that he had passed. And to insinuate that I or anyone else shouldn’t “feel” something because I didn’t know him personally? That you believe – because social media is just one great extension of both the telephone game and a high school classroom – you have say-so over the emotions I feel and the emotions I carry simply because you have a mouthpiece?

Go fuck yourself. 

This event, this moment, this person meant something to me. And someday, you will hit a wall where you also will lose something of value. Because that’s life. I can promise you I won’t be there to tell you “how it is” simply because I’m insecure with what I believe.

Much of life is something we have to “feel” our way through. There’s the pain, then you embrace it, feel it, allow it in, then let it wash away. Because all emotions eventually run their course.

I will not allow myself to become jaded ever again, to hold back because emotional expression isn’t “cool,” or warranted in our culture. If something means something to me, I will allow myself to feel it and express what I choose in the way that I choose. And I won’t blame you for doing likewise. I expect the same respect in return.

Because to do anything else is disingenuous. 

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Altruism, Consequences, Election, Recovery

Change.

Change is the only constant I’ve known in my life. Just when I thought things were stable, going okay, consistent – that’s the moment I had the rug pulled out from under me. Every damned time, from childhood up to now.

So here is a hard truth: you cannot vote for change. Change is a force of nature, neither serving the good nor the bad. It happens in direct response to our actions. It is neither a bolt of lightning from the sky or a magic wand. It is a simple consequence of personal choices. Some of those choices lead to the positive, others to the negative.

I used to not deal with change in healthy ways. Often times, I found more and more creative ways to destroy myself because of someone else’s bad decisions or mistakes. The “other” was either out to get me, or the “other” was who would save me. I was never to blame for my own potential demise.

Then I almost did meet my demise. I saw death in the headlights quite clearly.

And it was at that moment of decision it dawned on me: I am responsible for myself and my actions. Likewise, I am not responsible for anyone else, though I might alternatively wish to save and/or suffocate people depending on the day. The people who hurt me have most likely been hurting themselves for years. They have their own crosses to bear.

Eight years ago, I voted for hope and change – and I can tell you the measure of change I got wasn’t the measure I was promised. So if you voted for change yesterday, I feel for you. Truly. I don’t blame you for feeling left out, and you certainly made your voices heard. I can tell you, however, that the measure you want will not be the measure you get. Despite your best intentions to vote for a candidate outside the system, they are now a part of the system, working for a party and on behalf of leaders who have stymied the legislative process for at least the last 4 years if not longer. Most of them are still in office.

It’s the system that’s broken. Nothing will change until you begin making promises to yourself, and then keeping them…

I will treat my family better.

I will manage my money and my resources better.

I will navigate difficulty with my head up.

I will learn to navigate the new world we live in without fear.

If you don’t know what to tell your children, tell them these things. Do good when those around you do bad. Help when you can. Fight when you must.

When they go low, we go high.

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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).

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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.

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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:

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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…

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(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).

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

My (Sober) DJ Story, Part One.

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I’ve been a music lover all my life. My tastes run very eclectic and very polarizing. One minute I’ll be listening to dub techno. The next, classical guitar. The next, metalcore and  deathcore. I’ve never been able to sit still in one genre because almost *all* genres of music have meant something to me at one time or another in my life, save for what I call “nu-skool pop country.” I do love Patsy Cline.

I’m not from New York, Los Angeles, or Miami or London. I was born in a tiny town in Pennsylvania and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, a longtime suburban bedroom community which has always tried way too hard to be the “big city.” I’m about as far removed from being “streetwise” as you can get. I think if I were to live in New York or Los Angeles I’d be eaten alive, either by the pace or the personalities. For me growing up, a DJ was a “radio personality” – not a party rocker, turntablist, or music collector. Just some guy on the radio that announced the next song to be played – which gave me just enough time to put in a cassette and record my favorite song. That was as close to Napster as my generation (X) got.

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I’m old enough to remember listening to AM radio on long trips to see my grandparents in the 1970s and hearing music like this. I’m old enough to remember owning my first walkman (a Sanyo). I’m old enough to remember when MTV happened and actually played music videos. The first video I saw on MTV was Howard Jones “What Is Love?” and from that point forward the DJ and the VJ were constant companions. Back then it was all so new and so exciting to watch. I heard music there I couldn’t hear anywhere else, certainly music that wasn’t played on any major radio station in North Carolina.

My first experience of a club/party DJ was at my 8th grade end-of-year dance. Until that point, I had never really seen a DJ perform. I’d seen a video on MTV for a song called “Pump Up The Volume” by MARRS, went up to the DJ and requested it. He looked at me as if to say “how in the hell did you know about that song?” He showed me the record and played the “bonus beats” remix (one with an extended intro/outro for a DJ to mix), then pulled out another copy of the same record and segued the bonus beats version into the “radio” edit. I really didn’t understand what I was watching, it all looked like magic to me.

Aside: I later found the “stems” for “Pump Up The Volume” on a bit torrent site and did my own remix:

In any case, I was not going to embrace DJ-ing at that time. Loud rock music was to consume the next 5 years of my life. My mother bought me a guitar for my 16th birthday, Nirvana released “Nevermind” when I was a rising senior in high school, and I was off to the races.

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I grew up on 80s synth pop… Howard Jones as I already mentioned, Depeche Mode, Human League, Thompson Twins, Information Society. I always appreciated the sound of keyboards in music. As a kid in the 1970s, I heard disco on the radio but never enjoyed it. The electronic beat had more punch. Then after my parents divorced, I underwent a musical sea-change. I was angry, and depressed. I began to gravitate towards the loudest, darkest metal music I could find: Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Prong, Pantera, etc. That was my therapy. They were the soundtrack for my family falling apart. And if you wanted to be an angry young man, the early 90s was a perfect time for it.

sgo1(DJ FM on bass, with long hair, circa 1994)

I played in several bands during this time. The first was a doom metal band called Static Character, with my friend Jason on drums. The first time I jammed in a room with him, I began playing the main riff of “To Live Is To Die” by Metallica, and he immediately began playing drums. He would go on to become the drummer in my second and most long-lived band up to that point, SGO (Silence Grows Old) or, as it was first called, “Iscream.” My college band. In 2005 I put up a tribute page to our music on myspace, 10 years after it was relevant (now, 20 years):

https://myspace.com/silencegrowsold

It wasn’t until college that I really discovered electronic dance music. It was 1993 and I was still knee deep in grunge and metal. I was in school for graphic design and was starting to hear house, trance, and techno emanating from boomboxes all over our studio (though I had no clue about what genre was what). I enjoyed it but it still wasn’t angry enough for me…and then I heard industrial music, NIN, KMFDM, Front 242. That was the next step.

About this same time I started hearing about “raves” and “rolling.” I was working in the stock room at a Toys R Us and one of my female co-workers told me about ecstasy. At the time, I hadn’t even been drunk yet – or really taken a proper drink, really. I was scared of drugs and alcohol because I saw what they had done to my family. It’s a fear I should’ve held on to longer, but it was not to be.

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I went to what would be my first rave at a club called The Depot in Greensboro in 1994. I heard a DJ that night by the name of Ed LeBrun, one of the first rave promoters in NC (who sadly was murdered 5 years later). Though I *loved* the music, I wasn’t drinking or taking drugs, and I felt like a fish out of water. I was still in my grunge phase and still way too angry for rave culture, if not rave music. I would not go to another party like that for almost 3 years.

My best friend from high school and her older sister were both Grateful Dead fans who became ravers after Jerry Garcia’s passing in 1995. I guess they needed something new to “tour with” and follow. I knew many people like that. While I experienced rave culture peripherally through them, I continued to focus more on rock music and producing my own “dance” music, usually a combination of rock and electronic sounds. By the time The Prodigy released “Fat of the Land” and Crystal Method “Vegas,” I was already paying for studio time to record my first album “breakup.”

My producer had spent his formative years in Chicago, and was working in a parking garage, teaching himself to program MIDI while sitting in a tiny booth. He knew about Steve Silk Hurley, about the Muzic Box, about the origins of house music as well as the EBM and industrial scene which also had a foothold in the city. My college band recorded out first and only album with him, but when I saw his music collection, I thought he might be someone who could help realize my vision.

studiob(Studio B, where “Breakup” was recorded between 1996-1997)

Home computers were still not as powerful as they needed to be to record digital audio, so I recorded my first album “breakup” using Mark of the Unicorn’s Performer software (just a MIDI sequencer, no hard disk editing yet) in Osceola Studios, room B. I would sequence MIDI on the fly while my producer sat at the mixing board adjusting levels. Very much an in-studio performance, all recorded to Alesis ADAT tape (I still have all the masters). We got pretty good at it. If I’d had the money to simply go to the studio day after day, I would have. Instead, I traded studio time for graphic design work, and actual payments where I could afford it.

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(DJ FM’s ADAT Tapes)

I had the album mastered at The Kitchen in Carrboro, NC. Seriously one of the most mind-blowing experiences I’d ever had, to hear my music in that context. The picture does it some justice:

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(The Kitchen)

This was all happening in the first two months of 1998. There was no Napster, no iPod, no iTunes. MP3s were still very much “underground.” So I had to have a run of CDs pressed, 1000 of them to be exact. I remember the day in April when I came back home to my apartment and found 9 boxes of CDs in my living room. My roommate Yancy gave me a high-five, took a swig of his beer and said, “Okay, what the fuck do we do with these??”

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Part Two: What FM did with the CDs…dun dun dun…

But before that…read this…

 

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