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

Goodnight, Mr. Bennington.

(also published to Medium)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then 9/11 happened. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, take your rest Mr. Bennington.

Godspeed.

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

Experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have to believe in you, first.

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addiction, Consequences, music, Recovery, Suicide, Trauma

Goodbye, CB.

This is Christy B, CB for short.

The picture above was taken at her birthday party in August 2006, several years before I first found recovery. We were both graphic designers and had worked for the same company – in the same office – for almost 3 years.

I learned last that Tuesday that she’d committed suicide.

It was completely unexpected, and a reality check for how fragile the human spirit is.

Two years prior to our meeting, I had moved to Baltimore, MD for a relationship and a job (really, just the relationship – the job was simply a means to an end). After 6 months, I’d lost both, and my drinking spiraled out of control. Then 9/11 happened, and I returned to North Carolina, tail tucked between my legs. Back in NC and living on unemployment, my drinking continued. I was about to go bankrupt, had been arrested for my first DUI, and was in a deep depression.

Fortunately, I found a job with a company in Wilmington, NC in August 2002. I moved there in haste simply to have enough money to live and go into credit counseling. Six months after moving, one of my oldest friends from college wrecked his car driving drunk and passed away.  A year after that, the Wilmington company ended up going bankrupt. Things were looking up, I had managed to get back on my feet, and my license had been restored. But I needed a job – again. I felt like life simply wouldn’t cut me a break.

In It was December of 2003, fortune smiled on me and I started freelancing for an ad agency in Raleigh called AdStreet, and with the promise of a full-time job moved back to Raleigh and became roommates with an old high school friend. Raleigh is where I grew up, so for me it was a relief to be in familiar surroundings, with people and places I knew.

When I first started working for AdStreet, the company was headquartered in what was an old warehouse, with makeshift dividers and sheetrock put up to make it feel more like an office. The “art department” (four graphic designers, myself and Christy included) worked in a 15×15 room with terrible climate control. We were all in the trenches together though, and we couldn’t have been more different. Being a graphic designer in a smaller urban area is like that. Raleigh isn’t New York. You take what you can get, and you end up meeting pretty much everyone. Sure, I could’ve moved to New York – and it would’ve eaten me alive.

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I went out drinking night after night with these people. I had a weekly residency at the hottest new lounge in Raleigh, and sometimes they would come out and dance.  Of course, I didn’t think of it as “active addiction.” I was free. I was back home and making a living after 2 years of non-stop crisis. I was paying down my credit cards, paying my bills, doing what I needed to do. I was grateful to celebrate with my co-workers, and it was always legitimately fun. We joked, we laughed, we argued. We went to lunch together. As frustrating as it could be sometimes, I’ve never been closer to my co-workers, before or since.

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As companies sometimes do, we bought a brand new building and moved into it. It was ill-advised – we could’ve stayed in the same place and done just fine. The two owners split after the move, and the company changed names. It would still be AdStreet to me, but things had changed.

Christy and I now shared an office alone. We introduced each other to new music, we joked about *really* random things. For instance, the time I’d found a factory sealed coffee creamer container that had no cream. We kept it and laughed about it daily. We shared each other’s personal struggles and occasionally got on each other’s nerves. We went to concerts together. One was a free VIP pass to see Coldplay in 2005, a band I would’ve never given a second about until I saw them live. Even better, all our food and drinks were free.

I ended up leaving AdStreet in 2006, but Christy and i stayed in touch. Once 2007 rolled around though, and I began experimenting with drugs other than alcohol, I left all my old friends behind.

Christy had her share of trouble to deal with in my absence. A series of bad boyfriends (one of them horrible), money issues, and a move to Austin, TX to “start anew.” Much like my move to Baltimore, it sounded like everything had fallen apart around her, so she “came home.” At a dinner in late 2013, after coming back from my relapse, she confided in me that her drinking had taken a turn for the worse. She said she now “got me” and understood on some level what it must’ve been like for me. I told her that if she thought she had a problem, I could help her. We never talked about it after that.

A year or two ago, she messaged me on Facebook. While the message seemed legit, it was somewhat incoherent and almost seemed like she was trying to express that she had feelings for me. We had never dated, and I certainly never saw her as anything other than a good friend. I asked repeatedly if she was alright, if she’d been drinking. I really didn’t need to ask – I knew.

That was the last time we talked, beyond commenting on one another’s Facebook posts.

And then last Tuesday, it was too late.

I want for it to not be too late. I don’t even know how she did it, or what tipped her over the edge. I don’t hold anger in my heart, I don’t blame or judge her. I’m simply sad, and I miss her.

The world is an emptier place without you CB.

If you can see me CB, you know everything now. You see everything I’ve thought and done. Yes, Barb and I were going out and kept it secret from virtually everyone. It was a wonderful few months. You know now. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you.

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Her nickname for me was “Johnny Dollar,” after an old beach music song her mother frequently played as a child.

I don’t know where you are, but I hope that your strong faith led you to the place you were promised.

And I hope it is a quiet place.

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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.”

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

My (Sober) DJ Story, Part Two.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blurrycd

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

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

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

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

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

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

redbut

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

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

19991201_realworld

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

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

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

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

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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.

jonjay2

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.

realwld1

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:

p1000500

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.

asylum-front
(The Asylum)
2am_cov.jpg
(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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