I began with a classical training from age eight on violins made by my grandfather, from a half size to three quarter, then to his “number 2” with a finessed fiddleback grain in high glaze. His Luthier’s hands I remember as large and gnarly as they would trace the creases of my palm to elucidate future prospects. After ten years of scales and arpeggios working my way through graded texts filled with compositions by the gifted and deceased, a final concert in the embers of 1990 marked the occasion of my last musical performance on stage, aside from dreams.
Barely 12 months passed before my own strange sounds were committed to cassette tape for the first time, born of a natural necessity to do, and it was this background of prescribed exam pieces that gave me something to react against.
Listen to the song while reading the text.
Painting and its Antidote Music
Painting is my primary vocation and music its antidote in times of creative lethargy. Music taps that other part of me peopled by guitar heroes and the influence of the radio – the juggernaut of commercialism and its equally persuasive underbelly the “underground.” It taps my curiosity with that which is young; vital; dangerous; pop and anti-pop; infused with the nobility of expression in its attempt to weave a dramatic atmosphere.
I found commonality in layers of sound and the stages of a painting – a sonorous keyboard swell equaling a wash of pigment across white, or a staccato passage resembling a web of calligraphic marks. My earliest music is abstract, atmospheric and obscure providing the soundtrack to artistic happenings and counterculture performances.
There is always a temptation to reinvent the mundane aspects of life, to give them a fresh luster recast with greater resonance. This is part of understanding who we are and placing what we have done into the context of life worth recording.
A Marathon Project
But ultimately, judgment belongs to others, requisite on knowledge of the product, and can a song be judged as good if no one has heard it? So I have uploaded a back catalog of home recordings to Bandcamp dating from 1992, most of which have never been listened to. It has been a marathon project requiring antiquated equipment including computer programs requiring mac os 9, reel to reels and of course the obligatory cassette deck, not so easy to find in good repair these days.
The dignity of the unknown creation lies in its inability to be defined, or made useful or purposeful – or to meet a need or follow a fashion. I accumulate albums like pages in a diary never reliant on external forces to give rise to the next title.
The artist’s work is his life, and sometimes fragments repeat or are reworked with greater clarity – but I have rarely paused to learn a song beyond what is required to record it. I could ramble forever about individual songs, there meaning, their creation, and foibles, but they are too numerous, and it feels too presumptuous and pretentious. The great allure of the next project is what motivates me. Some 40 albums later I still crave that moment when a sketch is turned into a complete statement and can stand alone separate from me, yet beholden to my nature and memory.
Romeo and Juliet Died Ok!
Is there an air of madness in the band’s name? Romeo and Juliet Died Ok! Or a pessimism born of trench foot and self-imposed artistic confinement? Music is mostly a collaborative art form, but I have practiced it privately, held in check by self-doubt and a superior ability to disconnect. Now I put my musical oeuvre to date into a public space with the same lack of aplomb that made me feel so abashed after that final 1990 concert.
I find that the majority of music I listen to could be labeled as obscure or underground even by today’s standards kept alive by diehard fans posting to youtube. As a scholar of such things, I absorb with an alacrity that which sparks my feelings. I enjoy the surprising authenticity of the texture of the obscure much more than the highly produced and marketed alternative. I add my own contribution to that vast untapped and under an appreciated ocean of content because I can, and it’s the strong advocacy for content over style that lies at the heart of my entrenched prejudices.
Songs around every Corner
Songs can be born of melody, or a series of words, or built like a castle of sticks, each sound placed in reaction to its predecessor. They can be conjured through guttural emotion or pinched from the crest of a wave. Songs can be artificial, and they can be organic. They can capture you in a moment or fill in the background like a flaccid rain.
When I want to write, it just happens. In a session, 4 or 5 solid ideas may come alive bouncing haphazardly off my surrounds, and they must be captured or forgotten. I sometimes attempt to organize these things, write out lyrics and chords, etc., but then another explosion and something comes into being, though still confined by my average inadequacies. I continue to strive.
Around the corner, there is always something else, something really strange and original that can only come into being by this one person in these circumstances at this time. I don’t rule out collaboration, I would love to indulge in that process, and I reminisce wildly about an afternoon with a school buddy early ’80s who owned a Casio keyboard and microphone.
Maybe all of this is just the beginning for me, and I’m waiting for that assertive disconnectedness to transform into an audible canvas. Money is not the lure here, this is in me and cannot be denied, and the music needs to come out and find its audience. I leave you with a new song, a taste of my next album “Colour Field” to be released soon…