August 28, 2011

Tending the Echoes

Over the past several weeks, I've uploaded some old unreleased tracks from what I'll laughingly call the Ipecac Loop vault to SoundCloud for posting on Facebook. (It's nothing so grand as it sounds. It's merely a fire safe the size of a few cement blocks stuffed with DATs and CD-Rs.) The results of this little endeavor don't surprise me, but the process has proved disconcerting.

I should be clear about my motivation for releasing this stuff into the wild after so many years. I've seen others set free aging works after long periods of inactivity, only to catch flippant quips from their supposed compatriots. "Let it go, dude," they'll say without a moment's consideration once out of earshot. "Dead is dead."

Those folks aren't entirely wrong, of course. It's not a large percentage of the world's music that ages gracefully, and I'm sure there are aspects of my work — indeed, entire songs, or perhaps even all of it — that elicit cringes from listeners more reliably than emotion in the harsh sun of 2011.

However, the point hasn't been to blow on ashes as if they're embers. Hell, Ipecac Loop was a dark horse object of obscurity when it was still fresh from the furnace. The point, insofar as the idea of purpose itself isn't arguably nonsensical, is much simpler than that, if necessarily also much more self-indulgent.

For a long time I haven't known how to come to terms with the extreme detour I allowed my life to take during the middle and late '90s. Through the time-constricting lens of hindsight, it seems there was a distinct moment of choice, a fork in the path that would come to decide the warp and weft of much of my life to follow. To make a long story short, let it suffice to say that I chose poorly.

Rather than allow myself to look back on all the effort and passion I poured into the work that preceded that choice with some degree of satisfaction — quite independent of whether all that ardor has ever been apparent to what few listeners the music ever enjoyed — I instead allowed it to become, at least in my mind, emblematic of failure. I had sacrificed what meager gifts I possessed in pursuit of comforting delusions of love and security, and each step I took down my chosen path found me ever farther away from my soul's true home.

I'd once felt as though my early efforts had scraped away a loose cover of dirt to reveal the barely perceptible tips of the spires of some forgotten city. I felt like that city was there just for me, that I alone could unearth it. I felt it was somehow my duty to help those interred structures, and the strange things that might dwell within, find their way into the light, even if nobody else would ever choose to gaze upon them. Perhaps most importantly, at least as I look back, I felt I could spend the remainder of my earthly span scrubbing at that ground with a toothbrush, and connect with some modest measure of happiness in the process.

To those few who see me with any clarity, it's no secret I stopped traveling down that particular dismal alley years ago. In the period since, I've not been so blind to the nature of my place in time as to believe I can retrace my steps and choose again, but nor have I truly stepped off the trail and gotten down to the difficult business of hacking a new path through the brushwood.

There are myriad practical excuses for this, naturally. The miserable economy certainly hasn't made eking out a living any easier, and it's frustrating to see the cost of every damn thing in the world increase rapidly while the payment you receive for your own services remains static. What's more, it often seems as though a day doesn't pass without some new calamity rising out of the abyss to cleave a chunk from the spirit. Beloved pets and friends sicken and die, and the city to which you feel an undeniable (if largely unexplainable) attachment catches the same ugly brand of earth-shaking trouble twice inside of six months. (Sadly, no amount of time and effort can ever restore Christchurch to the version that yet thrives in my mind's eye.)

Good old existential angst plays its part, too, and can be even more troubling than practical matters. Given the virulent anti-intellectual bent of what somehow manages to pass for contemporary American culture, there are precious few people with whom one can speak of it without catching an earful of sarcastic idiocy and a faceful of eye-rolling dismissal. Anyone with any kind of internal life at all has surely struggled to reconcile the need for personal meaning with the crushing weight of infinity that sits on the other end of the scale, but one quickly learns not to bring up such matters in polite company unless one has some ravenous masochistic appetite for becoming an object of mockery.

And, of course, there's always garden variety apathy, and the fear of same. In all honesty, the number of people I've been able to coax into so much as listening to any of my music over the years is hilariously small.

My late maternal Grandfather was my greatest supporter, full stop. He'd rattle the walls of his front room — a room which itself no longer exists — blasting a cassette copy well before I even considered looking around for a record deal. (I spent a great deal of time with this remarkable man when I was a small child. That I only saw him a handful of times in the decades that followed did not in any way diminish the deep sense of connection I always felt to him.) When he died not long after I last saw him in 1999, I felt like most of the magic and mystery of life's vibrating threads had packed up and set sail for some other galaxy.

Mind you, I am extremely grateful for the close friends whom I trust are not merely blowing rainbows up my ass when they offer encouragement. All the same, feeling like your potential audience can be counted on a single hand doesn't exactly put your productivity chestnuts over the campfire.

Yet despite all the adverse circumstances and formidable obstacles, it seems that once ignited, the urge to create can be smothered and stomped and swamped, but never quite extinguished. You'll run out of firewood, snow will drift against every exit, and the pipes will freeze solid, but that goddamn pilot light never goes out — even if you sometimes desperately wish it would, as excruciating as the frustration of its purpose can be.

As much as it often pains me, though, most of me is still glad that the desire to excavate that tantalizing hidden city remains. So what if nobody's likely to be terribly interested in getting a close look at the result? Surely that doesn't negate the energy that goes into the process, or the satisfaction I might take while it's happening — if I can once again learn how to allow myself that satisfaction, that is.

In service to that goal, it's time I stopped treating my past efforts like grotesque oddities to be hidden away in the attic. Listening to this music usually takes me on a tumultuous trip down a pretty dark version of memory lane, but it's also a vital part of my history; it's about time I embraced it as such.

I've no doubt this whole mess will come across to many readers as so much pretentious hot air, that the words I've strung together here are just so much warm fart blown across the 'net. (Assuming anyone at all reads it, of course.) And perhaps it is pretentious — heaven knows this all reads as a hell of a lot more hopeful than I actually feel most days. In the end, all this is really just my rambling way of saying it's okay that only a small handful of people have had the slightest interest in listening to the sounds and songs I created all those years ago.

I never expected anything I made to move heaven or Earth back when I made it, and I certainly don't expect it to now. I don't know if I'll eventually soak up enough sunlight to grow out from under my current rock, and thus bring something new into the world once more, or fade away to an albino white and quietly return to dust. I do know, however, that looking back on my past efforts with shame and regret feeds all the wrong forces. Taking all these uneven old artifacts out of their hiding places and putting them out on the mantle is, at least in part, my attempt to teach myself how to do that.

And so what if from time to time I allow myself to believe my Grandfather is whispering encouragement in my ear from some other plane of existence? I'm slowly discovering — or, perhaps, just deluding myself into believing — that impermanence does not imply meaninglessness. Indeed, the notion that nothing is eternal has come to be a source of some comfort to me. The ripples I generate in this infinitesimal pond might become still water again sooner than I would prefer, but they're still there because I put them there, for better or worse.

Does that sound a bit too much like merely wanting to make my presence felt? I don't know, perhaps it really is that basic. Maybe the difference between an adult artist and a child banging two pots together is a subtler one than we like to think. Maybe at its core all this noise-making, navel-gazing, and metaphor-mixing boils down to "Cameron was here, even if you didn't see him." True or not, it doesn't make the urge itself any more or less of a blessing and a burden.

Is there an infantile and narcissistic part of me that's disappointed there isn't somebody standing on the shore and paying attention? Absolutely. But you needn't have an audience for your actions to have value, your words to have meaning, or your music to color the air we breathe.

1 comments:

Valerie said...
Did you know that your maternal Grandmother's maiden name was "Voice"? As a young person I had a sense of never having had a voice of my own, and, yet, there it was in my own ancestry! And, now - journeying towards claiming and proclaiming my voice.

The journey may not be all that important in the grander scheme of things, but it is important to me, and thus I am obliged to make it, and to make it as well and as fully as I can.

In retrospect I can see, and acknowledge, that your maternal Grandfather was also my biggest supporter. although I did not recognise that until he was in hospital those last few weeks, and then only dimly and vaguely. Without him I would not now be the person I am, even if it has taken me all this time to realise that.

I am the summation of all that has happened to and in and through me over the years, and maybe this is what life is about - to be who we are, no matter what, to discover who we are, warts and all, and to make that journey, wherever it may take us.

Thanks, Cameron.

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