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, 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.

2016-12-27-23-29-04
(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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Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Altruism, Consequences, Election, Religion

On Trump, and Religion.

The election of Donald Trump has pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks from blogging about either music or recovery. I’ve had a few sleepless nights, like many folks, and am trying to come to terms with everything. In the week or so since, a lot has happened, so I’d like to focus on one particular event.

My girlfriend – one of the most kindhearted and non-confrontational people I have ever known – posed a question on her Facebook page (always a dangerous move) after the election. Essentially: how could a person who identified as a Christian support a candidate like Trump, whose hate-filled rhetoric ostensibly goes against everything Jesus taught?

Before going further, I have a history with Christianity that I need to come clean with.

Following my parents’ divorce, I became depressed. I was failing the 8th grade, I was shop-lifting, I was lying about everything. Rather than put me in therapy, my father and I started going to church (as much for him as for me). My dad has always hated doctors and I’m guessing this was the only solution he could understand or trust. In any case, when I turned 16 I began going to a different church with some of my friends. I wanted a church of my own to go to. I accepted Christ (i.e. “got saved”) at this church, and my freshman year in college I became a member.

The former pastor of that church had this to say in his blog, about his early experiences as a young minister founding a new church:

“While I was in the ministry, I was deeply troubled by the ability of otherwise intelligent people to tenaciously embrace beliefs that were patently absurd…For example, there were those who believed passionately that the world was only 6000 years old, despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. Others would walk confidently into my office and tell me that God had told them the future, making specific predictions that never came true. Undaunted, they would confidently make even more outlandish prognostications, ones that would eventually prove false, as well. Nevertheless, they still refused to re-examine their belief system…

The most salient example of this phenomenon was the small group of faith healing aficionados in the congregation. Some of them carried vials of olive oil with them to dab on the foreheads of ailing people before proclaiming them healed. When the “healed” person later died, they would simply move on to their next patient, insisting that death was a form of ultimate healing, one that ended all pain and suffering, and that their prayers had been answered after all. It amazed me how quickly (and conveniently) they forgot that their prayer had been for the person to be restored to health and go home to their jobs and families, not to be taken immediately to heaven. If they felt uncomfortable with this obvious discrepancy, they never said anything about it to me. Rather, when I questioned them about the effectiveness of their methods and the genuineness of their healings, they explained away the facts and doubted my faith.”

I experienced my own disillusionment within that church. While working as a youth field staffer, one of my responsibilities was phone duty. We maintained a list of all the kids who came to the church regularly, and tracked from week to week who was in attendance. If someone had been there the week before, but was absent that day, we were to call the number they provided us with to check up on them. I was about as good at cold-calling for Jesus as I was selling fruit for my high school marching band, and hated it to the core.

For that matter, so did most of the parents I called. They would say, “He/she is home. They didn’t want to go. Why are you bothering us?” And that’s a very pleasant way of rephrasing it. They would then ask to be removed from the list. In fact, most of the parents who left their kids with us didn’t seem too interested in whether or not it was religious in nature. They just wanted to get their kids out of the house for an hour or two and not be bothered.

I heard and saw this sentiment expressed over and over again by many of the kids I talked to – “kids” who were barely 3-4 years younger than I was. As if I had any business spiritually mentoring anyone at that point in my life. But I was the one they talked to. Everyone else told them to “read the bible.” I would actually tell them my *life experience* – what we call sharing our “experience, strength and hope” in 12-step recovery. Telling someone to “stick their nose in a book” is no different than Dr. Jan’sI love you, go away” ACOA message. When you’re on the receiving end, it’s not easy to parse.

To be fair, the kids didn’t seem too unhappy to get out of the house. Quite a few of them would walk to the back of the building and smoke weed or do “whippets” – either aerosol cans from the grocery store, or whipped cream canisters containing N20 – which create a 30-60sec long “head-rush” when inhaled. Once, the youth pastor called the police on a kid. It was probably only the second time in my life I’d seen someone using substances other than alcohol. Behind a church. So much for being sheltered.

Then the youth leaders began to question my music choices. As I’ve said in previous blog entries, the early 1990s were a great time to be an angry young man. And legitimately, I had a lot to be angry about – I just kept up the illusion on the outside that I wasn’t in any pain. I attended bible study, church, did well in the classes I was motivated to do well in (really not too different from my attitude in high school). I’d pull up in the parking lot listening to Alice In Chains, or Pantera, or Slayer, or some of the early industrial rock I had discovered like KMFDM. Many of them would try to introduce me to Christian bands which were “soundalikes,” just with religious lyrics. I always preferred the old hymns, sung by a choir, played on an old pipe organ.

The final nail in that coffin was when a youth minister approached me after finding out I’d gone to Lollapalooza in 1993. She took me aside and told me, flat out, that she didn’t think Jesus would’ve gone with me. I was completely taken aback and enraged. I stopped wearing preppie clothes to field staff meetings. I started wearing my hair down instead of in a pony tail, started wearing my metal t-shirts, and kicked my feet up on chairs during the meetings. And then I simply stopped going. I think I might’ve mentioned to one of the other field staffers that I was contemplating it – but really I was there, and then i wasn’t.

My former pastor concludes his blog entry with this
“But illusions need not be of a religious nature. As a pastor, I was merely in a position to observe closely the resistance to objective reality that existed in some devout people.”

What I began to see in the ensuing years was that “resistance to objective reality” becoming more and more widespread, specifically among devout people.

My father – a professor of counselor education – had in his toolkit a puppet called DUSO the Dolphin. DUSO was an acronym which stood for “Developing an Understanding of Self and Others.” For some reason I had this image of my dad sitting in an elementary classroom, talking to children with a hand-puppet. It always made me smile, thinking of him talking in funny voices and being kind to little kids. I don’t know if he ever actually did that, but it seems DUSO became a “desperate threat.” From the New York Times, 1993 (my sophomore year in college):

“The most frequently challenged curriculums in public schools across the country no longer involve sex-education programs or classic novels like “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” according to a national anti-censorship organization. The new battlegrounds are elementary school self-esteem programs whose imaginary central characters include a blue dragon named Pumsy and a dolphin named Duso.

“Local groups, relying in many cases on information distributed by conservative religious organizations, have challenged “Pumsy in Pursuit of Excellence” in at least 35 school districts around the country, said Matt Freeman, a spokesman for People for the American Way.

“Uproar over the program, which is used in about 17,000 schools, has also provided a key issue for grass-roots religious organizations seeking to place their candidates on local school boards, Mr. Freeman said.

“Opponents of Pumsy and similar self-esteem programs, which in part are anti-drug measures and are thus mandated for districts receiving Federal money, contend that children are being introduced to Eastern religion, the occult, ‘New Age’ spiritualism and relaxation techniques they characterize as hypnosis.”

(Did you catch that? ANTI. DRUG. MEASURES. Take away a child’s ability to center, mediate and be at peace and they will be at-risk for drugs and alcohol, especially in poor neighborhoods. Of course, they’ll run right into the arms of the church when they’re desperate – which is exactly what was intended.)

It would be another 10 years (2003) before I’d ever darken the doors of a church again. I had lost a relationship and a job, was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate. I listened to what my father had always said, and found a new church home upon moving to a new city for a job. I had also just been convicted for the first time in my life of DUI, so if I’d been smart I would’ve chosen to go to a 12-step meeting and quit drinking. Instead, I stumbled upon another evangelical church whose members referred to themselves as “sippin’ saints.” It is no lie when they say that an alcoholic can find the drinkers anywhere they go.

This church had its own brand of extremism. In Bible studies one of the texts that was taught was “Answers in Genesis,” the Young-Earth Creationism program created by Ken Ham (yes, THE Ken Ham of the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate back in 2014). Also, many of the churchgoers I ate Sunday lunch with would heckle the openly gay and lesbian couples they saw on the street. I could not abide this. I wouldn’t be a “jerk for Jesus,” nor would I hurl insults at people in whom I saw no wrongdoing.

After finding a job in my hometown a year and a half later, I moved back and haven’t attended a church since. I also got sober during that time and found a spiritual life far more rich, accepting and tolerant than any I found in an established “church.” I cannot over-emphasize how much of a role sobriety played in my becoming clear-headed.

————

Now that you understand my biases, I return to my girlfriend’s genuine Facebook post.

One of her former church friends posted the following rant in response (not edited for spelling,  grammar or contradiction):
“It has been prophesied by many that this is where he [Trump] is supposed to be at this time. He is far from perfect as many Christians are. He did give his life to Christ several months back. The media and Hillary have made him out to be something he is not. The “racist”, “womanizer” & more. He is the closest candidate aligning with God’s wills. As paster Mike spoke about on Sunday. Abortion is not of God. That simple. She is for it. He is against it. We need real drastic change and Christians have been coming together and praying for it. He is going to bring it. Check out some prophecy videos online. Some recent and some dating back a ways. He wants people here legally. He wants to change our economy. He wants to protect our lives from terrorism. Unfortunately. . The majority of illegal immigrants are Hispanic. The majority of terrorism comes from Muslims. So we need drastic radical change. Its not going to happen over night and I feel he will give opportunities to become a citizen the right way…And the woman… not women.. he called all those names was only.. Rosie O’Donnell. That was many years ago after she bad mouthed him publicly…Rich Vera .. John Paul Jackson .. CK & Mike Thompson .. and Kat Kerr .. All well known prophets.. all said the same.”

My response:
“People are often subject to confirmation bias – the human tendency to use new information or evidence to give validation to our existing beliefs. It is no more evidence of God’s will than me running into the street and claiming that *i* had a vision. There is no such thing as prophesy – you have been sold a bill of goods by people attempting to profit on your sincere faith (of which I have no doubt). Jesus says it best in Matt 7:15-20 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits…I promise you, not today, not next week, not even when Trump is sworn in…but soon, you’ll know him by his fruits. And when you do, see it for what it is, and don’t dismiss it. The message, the lesson, will be right there plain as day.”

Her response (verbatim):
“The prophets that have made these prophecies are not false prophets. Im sorry you have never had an encounter with the Holy Spirit to know that prophesy is very real and it is one of the 5 fold gifts of the spirit from God. These well known prophets all heard from God that Trump would be in the White House. Whatever preconceived notion that you have of Trump from the media is false, right along with a little less than half of this country. I have first hand seen prophesy come to pass…Trump is not a racist. He wants people here legally. That includes all races. Most illegals just happen to be Mexican. ALSO Muslim is not a race.. it is far fetched that he wants Muslims out.. but unfortunately.. the majority of terrorism comes from Muslims. sooo we got to do what we got to do to protect us.. The US.. The media made him look racist. Trump did not mock the reporters disability. Look it up!!!…Mainly.. Trump gave his life over to the Lord recently and thats what is most important. JUST WAIT and see.. you have no choice but to.. or you can just move out of the country :)”

For my girlfriend, this was not the end of the story. She plays piano for a small church (a paying gig for her, nothing to do with faith of any kind), and after the most recent service, an attendee who had seen her Facebook post approached her saying, “I’m one of the ‘basket of deplorables’ who voted for Trump” and proceeded to chastise her – despite the fact my girlfriend voted for neither Clinton nor Trump. She came home in tears after the service, and is now considering leaving the job.

My former “paster” from the 2nd church I attended also posted a snide comment on my timeline the day after the election, saying that now I would know how he’s “felt for the last eight years.” Take note, this is not a white working-class individual. This is a straight, white male who came from considerable privilege, who clearly also believes that Trump is the fulfillment of some modern-day prophesy.

“Or you can just move out of the country.” Smiley-face.

Go to hell and God bless.

This is what it’s come to. I love you, go away.

So I now pose my own question(s) for the religious right, those who voted for Trump despite his hateful rhetoric, despite his clearly immoral behavior (behavior which they’re all-to-happy to point out in candidates from other political parties), despite his clear love of money.

First, how do you account for the Apostle Paul’s statement to his followers in Romans 12:18?
“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”

Live peaceably, with ALL human beings. Seems like a pretty clear message.

What about Matthew 5:9, one of Jesus’ beatitudes?
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

There’s that word peace again. And the people who make it seem to be pretty important!

Or what about Jesus driving the money-lenders from the temple in John 2:13-16:
“And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

If you believe that Trump is prophesied to bring about the 2nd coming – a man who has been interviewed sitting on a throne of gold in his high-rise in Manhattan – then I hope you’re prepared to allow the money changers back in.

Because in my estimation, you too have betrayed your faithand for far less than 30 pieces of silver.

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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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