computer performers, and the art of being on stage.

30 September 2013 § Leave a comment

Okay. I could have titled this better. Don’t worry about that.

I’m concerned for your future live music experiences: they are in grave danger of becoming tedious and wearisome affairs whose facilitators’ bad posture and lack of communication with the audience threaten to forsake you, the paying attendee, the party-goer, the dancer, the let-looser.

Somewhere between the era of LP-addled radio stations where disc jockeys sold us on their favorite music (or that which record companies wanted us to buy), and the evolution of the MacBook Pro as a musical instrument, the attention of the audience wandered, listened to whatever happened to be on the station or stage. We the audience, lacking direction, sought pints of beer and electronic cigarettes to complement our inhibitions around dancing our asses off.

Luckily, this was not entirely our fault: massive collections of sheep-like humans who are corralled by electronic sound waves into the fenced and walled barriers around stages designed to keep our attention (bright, moving lights; BIG sound; pretty people) have been deprived recently of an important element left to rock, metal, and hip-hop.

The vital element of conversation as it pertains to musical performance determines the connection between musician and audience. 

When I had a narrower taste in music, and attended death, black, or doom metal shows every week (a wide diversification, I know – but listen to Burzum, then Cattle Decapitation, and you’ll know, too) – to keep in line with elitist opinions, add to my arsenal of black t-shirts, save money on import fees on CDs which at the time were not distributed in the US, and – most importantly – to spend as many sets as physically possible rocking out in the mosh pit, I learned how to converse with my favorite musicians, whether they were on stage, or smoking pot behind the venue.

They wanted chaos in the audience, and if we were still, they would ask for it. Demand, at times. We’d form circle pits and walls of death (where the crowd divided, each half moving toward a side of the floor, then, at the drop, ran toward each other at full speed), ecstatic for the opportunity to release whatever angst, anger, sadness, or joy we’d been carrying. Sometimes, it was like Fight Club, except with a better soundtrack.

The models of character musicians to me were invaluable: grown men – and some women – dressed in black leather with metal spikes jutting from their wrists, necks, and shins, who wore masks and face paint and whose vocal cords were formed more like steel cables than organic tissue – intertwined examples of owning their musicianship and theatrical performance. The blast beat or drone of the music was but one element of the shows, and so inspired by that madness and musical alchemy was the 17-year-old Sean that I decided that, while I had only a smattering of desire to someday partake in being on stage, I wanted to be a part of it by way of wanting the sound to befit the grandiosity of the performance. In the midst of my love affair with all musical things heavy, dark, and metallic, I went to school for audio engineering to learn how to polish the monolithic shows that had so enraptured me.

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Fast forward ten years.

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Needless to say, sound engineering and manipulation gained me an appreciation for music and performance that I had never before been open to. Interning at recording studios and running live sound squashed every cultural attachment I had to the correlation of my personal identity and the genres of music I listened to. Riding my bike around the playa of Black Rock City, as one example, caught me loving punk and metal again, and by night partner blues fusion dancing to Random Rab, or Kyrstyn Pixton.

What confuses me now is that when I attend shows by electronic musicians in Portland, the audience demographic transmogrifies into a beer-drinking, bearded man who does not move his body under any circumstances whatever. At a downtempo set on the playa, it is guaranteed that most people dance. The same set at a club in Portland will see a dance floor of still humans with pints in one hand, the other hand in a pocket. Talking amongst themselves.

This sounds like judgment; in truth it is curiosity laden with my annoyance with having not the space to dance, and wondering, who pays $14 to stand there and stare at a plain-dressed kid hunched over his laptop? Because I do that at home, but the lights on my stereo are equally entertaining. 

Every concert and show I’ve attended and performed (which together number in hundreds) has taught me one succinct lesson: the energy on stage and the energy in the audience mirror one another. Presenting one’s music can be a performance (done internally, for the self), or a conversation for and with those whom support your art. If you want the audience to dance, say so. Into the mic, Say more than Thank You, Do You Want One More?

This is an open request to performers, particularly those who employ computers as their instruments: pay attention to your presentation, and to your audience. Music is but one element of the performance. I will enjoy the show so much more if I experience your soul interwoven with it. Set your computer higher; stand up straight. Keep a mic nearby. It is your responsibility as performer to source only 50% of the set’s energy –  the rest belongs to the crowd.

If you’re not feeling it, be assured that neither are we; and if we’re not, then for whom are you performing, and with whom are you conversing? 

a human experience.

29 September 2013 § Leave a comment

We excel at that which we do often.

Some are great meditators, others mimic sloths; without context, they can seem equal.

Humans in my experience are spiritual machines, capable only of that which they believe.

eight days, and counting.

28 September 2013 § Leave a comment

In eight days I’m to marry the only woman I’ve met who is not only willing to tolerate my shit post-poetic charm, but professes to love me regardless.

She’s the kind of storyteller who speaks joy and inclusivity to the point where you might think, if what she says is not true, it should be. She’s human, and knows it. I hold that secret too, and tell myself in the mirror. Learning to be more so daily. We’re earning PhDs in Each Other, and some of the vocabulary words run off to be alone in the midst of planning a wedding. Later, to pout or cry in front of old friends.

Today was the first time in the two years since we met that I questioned whether, at the end of the day, I would still want to be her lover.

Engagement is not proving to be easy. I heard somewhere that we’re supposed to be at our most happy now, and I’ve experienced but bookmarks of bliss since we returned from fishing in Alaska this past summer. Then, the lesson was that our opinions of a ‘fantastic season’ differed.

I’m picking up words of a new language hourly – those of Love, of course, and it is everything it’s made out to be: mysterious, even when you know each other’s bodies like the route to the restroom in the dark; deep in the way that sub-sea level trenches cannot be trawled. They’re old explanations, yes, but once again, I’m in the Rite of Passage of Discovering Truth in Cliché, and writing, for me, has never been easy in these moments. I despise appearing within throwing distance of the normal way of doing things, and speak absolute truth less often than I’d like to think. Choosing the words of others to describe my emotional vortex does not work for me.

Ed Gish, the 85-year-old reason Heather and I chose life together in the same hemisphere, recently re-entered our space. He’s the officiant of our ceremony. Speaks Human, Potential, Spirit and Hollywood in the same paragraph. He’s the man I manifested from wanting to attract into my life a great storyteller from whom to learn. His greatest lesson for me? Be with the story; stand upon that makeshift stage, and tell it the thousandth time like it happened yesterday.

When counting to a number like a thousand, I’ve learned that each number likes to be remembered. Sometimes made up nicely, even tailored. The fine lines I color outside with my speech are the blurry limits of truth, which changes form as I learn more from the experience. What was truth for me in the month I spent walking through Scotland is different from what I’ve learned from the trip since. Now I’ve seen the world from the meanwhile perspectives, and can speak for all of them. I will tell the story our conversations needs most. We all know that this can border on what we do while sleeping.

I’m not sure of the money I’ve spent on this nearly-marital education. Today at the JazzKat Café I daydreamed, and pictured myself sometime in the future telling a woman the story that I was once almost married, once almost strong enough to face my true reflection, once almost loving enough to give everything for this thing I’ve wanted for decades, for which I’ve traveled thousands of miles – and over again, just to see – and kissed dozens of lips with hope and often envy. When I came back from the dream, I tried to remember how old I felt – was it close to now? Will I, in a weak moment, fall into the role of Wandering Traveler, who runs for the sake of running, because he was Once Almost, and needs to find himself again?

I’ve learned this before – I’m right here. A passport stamp will not change this. New photo albums and facebook friends, plane tickets and full moleskine notebooks do not carry me away from the life I’ve created. If there’s anything I can teach, it is this.

My heart knows small things. Like that when a man like Ben Kaplan-Singer calls me to express that in lieu of his presence at my wedding, he offers lifelong friendship and accountability, my only option is to accept. He is one of those men whom, if I could have one person witness the ceremony of my life, I would choose without hesitation. My posture improves on the phone with him.

To my proximity to influential and desirable men I have succeeded in a short time looking. I am honored by that the above paragraph could apply to any of two handfuls of men whom I consider brothers, fathers, and revered elders. In another life, some even lovers.

This morning, Heather discovered my secret that ‘Home’ is an idea that changes within me all the time. In consideration of her biological processes that are now thinking that she has found a mate with whom to nest and procreate, I understand it may have been a difficult notion. And, the idea impacts the world to which I wish to contribute; for example, one of clarity.

One year, five months and eleven days ago, in my flyest outfit and charm, I walked out of my hostel in San José, Costa Rica, hyper-aware that my last night of seven months in Central America was nigh. At a Mexican restaurant where she made forty cents a day, I met a nica named Dayra, and waited outside until she finished her shift. In the moments before she got into the taxi (for which I paid), I wondered if I’d ever hated myself more, or if my actions would convince Heather to do the same.

In eight days I’m to marry the woman for whom, since returning the the States, I’ve learned to manage and focus my energy, even when we don’t seem to know how to communicate desire.

Readiness is not the question; I am more prepared than ever, more inside the knowledge that this will be exactly what we create, and nothing more or less. To this extent our sway has no boundary.

Eight days until we begin again. My confidence in our strength grows, even on days that seem more like apocalypse. I wonder, how common is this?

Aural Pleasure

27 September 2013 § 2 Comments

“…I’ve decembered eastern european cities, and found graffiti rainbows muraled on the walls of bombed-out buildings, and all they were building there were churches.”

Krivo’s worn, upright bass and I grooved in the same Mississippi River eddy; Zach’s banjo twang rolled over rhymes which had been stuck in my throat for ages. Jazz and hip hop etched their spray can beats across the enraptured faces of our audience. A one-bulbed chandelier swung in small circles above my head, and my ephemeral kingdom reached to the far edges of Zigzag’s living room. The reign continued for a few seconds longer; I bowed and smiled, stalling to soak up the attention, then made sure to disappear to the kitchen while they were still applauding.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to the Portland Poetry Slam at Backspace. Now, I’ve been involved in Slam Poetry off and on for the last decade or so in that wherever I’ve moved, I’ve made it a point to find the local slams, lose at least five in a row, then resign to only reading during the open mic segments, energetically rejecting Slam’s competitive nature. It didn’t occur to me until that night at Backspace, a hip venue in Portland’s Pearl District, that one day I would grow out of Slam altogether – not just performing on its sidelines, but doing my own thing exclusive from its young and angsty passionstance.

Memorization has been a subtle enemy of mine for ages. To evolve the battle one night, I lay on the couch and plucked images from the air, hallucinations and dreams. Somewhere in my body they translated themselves into words, and journeyed into my throat and flew off my tongue and back into the atmosphere from which they came. They sounded like a raft drifting down the Mississippi at night, a woman swishing her feet in the water, decorated in filigree. Like a peacock feather birthed from the corner of her eye, spirals and vines in bluegreen violets swirling.

At the Poetry Jam Aural Pleasure #6, ZigZag and Susan’s lovechild, performers and listeners merged professionalism with infantile grace. I was honored to be amongst you. That inspiration flowed through me and into the microphone. The audience and musicians wrote my second poem; thank you. I choose to interact with poetry right now with a freestyle stream. My knees shake less; heart beats harder.

It snows sawdust in heaven when I cut down poetry to meter and rhyme. Thank you Roberto Bolaño, Saul Williams, and the mercilessly-loyal-to-form poets who thickened my skin to a clammy, callused tattoo. I’ve found a relationship with words that pleases me. Sometimes, it pleases others also: their faces glow, and air stops in their throats. The tempo of the music rises and falls like yogi rib cages on windy ridges. I’m glad to be on stage in those moments, with a mirror to show the audience the beauty I see.

fresh apple

21 September 2013 § Leave a comment

My under-the-stairs writing desk reminds me of Harry Potter’s room: the fake-wood work surface serves as the base of a right triangle whose chopped top angle tells me that there’s a limit to the sky. Perhaps the lack of windows and cluttered artwork clogs the flow of energy. If Feng Shui had an evil twin, he would live in my writing room, between the loud fan of my old Toshiba laptop and the laminate wood grain facade.

My favorite, or most useful, books live in a nook in the most extreme angle of the shape, hard to reach and certainly the first place a gumshoe would search for scarlet letters. This room is a vortex – the incandescent lamp with the stained-glass shade warms the golden walls. My shelf of worn journals and ideabooks, which now number almost to dozens, and whose truthful answers to any question one could possibly ask about me, Sean, the [insert projection here], taunt further honesty from my depths, pull me father into the portal, my face poring over a cheap plastic computer and brittle post-it notes long since expired, searching for some refulgent reminder that I’m sitting here for a reason, leaving the whole world behind in another attempt to reach within myself, because there’s got to be something redeemable there. It’s a lonely place in here – which is why I often go elsewhere. And, it takes but a small comparison to relieve heavy thoughts. Let’s take Adam, the “first” man.

Adam undoubtedly endured phases of loneliness and despair unlike that which anyone has experienced since, especially me. Whereas Joe might feel like there’s no one around who understands his hobby of hanging dead cats in doorways, or I, who might choose to not engage with others for inordinate amounts of time, thus projecting a wide misunderstanding of how the inner artist suffers; Adam was the only human alive.

No empathy cooed from the eyes of his ghostly mother (in some belief systems, it may be considered blasphemy to entertain that Adam had a mother at all). He received no comfort when he tripped on a root in the less-tended orchards of Eden. He had no one with whom to relate. The sky was nice, but what is the use of an observer if there is no one with whom to share one’s observations? And why would he have kept a diary, if there was no one from whom to hide it?

As little boys, some of us dreamed, what would it be like as the last human on earth, or at least part of the last pair on earth, like a deserted island with a supermodel whom may or may not have been interested in copulation. It’s not wonder we dreamed so: the first man had that dream, too. There were less people then (one, specifically), so perhaps God was still taking requests.

Imagine waking up; you feel normal, lonely, thinking about that dream and what you might do if she was interested, having no experience in copulation at all – except for the novel sensation of the naked woman lying next to you.

Ever since, boys and men been trying to realize those dreams – waking up day after day, hoping that a beautiful woman broke into the house, and snuck into bed, lotus flower blossomed.

It’s a male thing. Genetic. Implanted by God, like skin wrinkles and spit.

I digress.

Picture: the eve of man’s fall into chaos, and the woman next to Adam wakes up. She nuzzles the spot between his collarbone and shoulder, fermented morning breath wafting. Startled, he jumps out of the palm leaf bed. He wonders if the swinging walking stick had anything to do with his sore ribs, his clay face a contorted work in progress.

What is that? he asks.

Oh, I thought you might be lonely, answers the sun.

That doesn’t answer my question.

Your question was ambiguous, the sun replies.
Disappointed with the lack of gratitude, God decides to give Adam the silent treatment, and unwittingly applies it to the entire potential of humanity.

Fast forward to later that day, when Eve (named for the day she found herself in Adam’s bed, with no memory of Before), walks about the garden, annoyed with Adam’s prickly nature. It does not seem strange to her that a snake speaks her language, or that he sounds oddly like the sun.
At the reptile’s recommendation (an early incarnation of Yelp), she takes the bright apple hanging from the tree. Its sweet crunchiness excites her taste buds, and sugars swirl through her body, creating the first erogenous zones.

You know the story after that: the mutable world went feral and mutant, God’s silence confused his creations, and the apple became a universal symbol of lost innocence, a moment which squashes any excuse to not do what pleases most.

So..

Picture: a shiny brand new MacBook Pro sitting shut next to me. waiting for its unfolding, waiting for me to taste its release of sweet digital endorphins and happiness because, for the first time in my life, I purchased a laptop. It’s a silver, glowing flame to strike when I’m running short of ideas, and it has a keyboard whose keys feel like miniature orgasms on my fingertips.

But we’re not there yet. I’m not ready to embrace it yet. There’s so much meaning-making to do, I can hardly pull my fingers away from the Toshiba, when I see a card under the stained glass lamp, propped between audio wires and an unused calligraphy pen:

Let everything happen to you,
beauty and terror.
Just keep going.
No feeling is final.
-Rilke

Imagine the loneliness and sweetness both subsiding once acknowledged, and the last physical remnants of an extinguished life let go.

This is where I am. I am here, now.

learning man stuff, step 2.

19 September 2013 § 2 Comments

Last night, between the purple pureed Peruvian potatoes and the Spanish coffee (which I ordered thinking was made from Basque coffee beans), Nick pulled me aside, figuratively, and the table went quiet. I could barely hear his hushed voice, but I got the idea. In intimate tones, he said what a turning point in his Burn it was, the day he taught me how to shave. That up to then he thought our connection might have been friendly, or even sexual, but no, it wasn’t those things. It was a moment, he kept saying, about role models and fatherhood, and how we could learn from each other.

Before this emotional exchange during which the three women at the table are sitting silently, and I’m acutely aware of the awwws in Heather’s throat; I could see from the eye in my ear the happyproud look in her eye she makes when her man has learned something new about being a man, much as I imagine she would look at our child – at this point a someday far-off possibility, and yet feels like palpable, like a persistent daydream.

Nick went on in a quiet you-can-tell-he’s-saying-something-but-what tone, the heavy restaurant noise behind him. Tears form somewhere between his nose and eyelid and I hear but not see them. My hands fit flat together, mantis, thanking the universe for this experience.

In front of me a man my father’s age, whom I consider a friend and peer, who was just laid off his Top 5% job and feeling great about it, telling me how a moment with me was so meaningful for him that he called it, with witnesses, the shining moment of his Burning Man 2013 experience. Shaving. Which at Burning Man likely isn’t a terribly common occurrence BUT I did, for the first time, do it correctly.

I poured boiling water into the large silver mixing bowl and carried it to El Trucko Sancho, Nick and Aieda’s 70s lovetruck, where we used the dusty side mirror because there wasn’t another around. He showed me how much shaving gel to use. A half-dollar. Rub to foam it up, then lather your face. Everywhere.

“Use as much lubricant as you can,” he said, “like in others parts of life.”

27 years old, and it was the first time I’d used anything other than water to shave my face. Nick flipped when he found that out. That’s ludicrous, he said. You can’t dry shave! Why would you do that?

I learned to shave from a movie when I was 12 years old, I said. There was a man and son in the mirror, and, while the dad used shaving cream, the kid didn’t have any hair on his face, so I figured I didn’t need it. Apparently, when I did start growing hair there, I didn’t watch the movie as a reminder, and water just seemed to work. I thought Macullay Culkin screamed in Home Alone because shaving hurt.

“Never go sideways,” said Nick. “You’ll get ingrown hairs. Just down the face, and up the neck. That’s it.” Maybe some men do it differently. That’s okay. This was the first lesson in being a man I could remember wanting when I was in Boy Scouts – at eleven – and not having the courage to ask my Scoutmaster, hey, I know there’s no merit badge for it, but can you teach me how to properly shave? It’s a lesson I think I might need sooner than fifteen years from now.

During the lesson itself, Heather and Aieda made a point to not come over to check my progress. They figured it was an important male bonding moment, and held space for what was happening. I appreciated that.

At the restaurant, Nick seemed like he wasn’t really crying anymore, and went into more of a thankful tone. I still couldn’t hear all of what he was saying, but I thanked him some more, and he thanked me, and there in the fancy Papa Haydn’s we stood up and hugged, his utilikilt and pink flying pig socks on display.

Like the angels they are, the ladies said little of Nick’s profession of his Shining Burn Moment, and let it pass, warm and significant.

mission statement.

18 September 2013 § 1 Comment

During yoga this morning, between warrior pose and a bout of dizziness (probably should have eaten breakfast), it occurred to me to write a feminist mission statement. Why, I do not know. Thoughts are just thoughts – especially during yoga, when the monkey mind will do anything to avoid the next stretch – but thoughts are also things: tangible, and subject to change.

I remembered that Heather, weeks ago, asked me to encourage her to exercise so that she might be more fit for the wedding. It is a request I have entirely failed to to respect. Why? I’m a sort of hermit, but somehow I got this body of a warrior, and it demands to be worked. I am at times defiant, but not lazy. Her request reached further into my heart than indolence. It spoke to an expectation and pressure that she should be other than what she was.

Okay, Sean, you don’t have to be so vigilant with your ideals – this is her wedding, she wants to look her best; so do most women for their big day. Some turn to yoga, some the gym. Others zigzag to an infantile and pretend anorexia which may or may not lead to other, and much bigger, problems.

Let’s step back for a moment from that story.

Once, in a grocery store, I watched a woman stare at tabloid magazines while unloading her cart. I saw her eyes scan the curveless bodies of bikini-clad celebrities whose thighs do not touch, and could hear from the back of the checkout line her breath fall from the crest she’d ascended that day when her son read aloud, without assistance, his first complete sentence.

Oh, my culture, let me count the self esteems you have destroyed; the minds, bodies and spirits of women you have driven to silicone prisons and disease. You stand outside the restroom demanding that they puke the food you sold them, and apply a good foundation before they walk outside.

You teach that I would not want them otherwise, that I would not be attracted by their light, even if it didn’t apply to their weight. That unless they met your ideal for beauty, they couldn’t possibly embody my utpoia for a lover, or my child’s mother.

In sooth, you’ve aimed for us both. I have not escaped your grasp, and will not apologize for broken fingers. The thing is, you’ve harmed the women whom I love. My request is that you acknowledge this. I’m capable of letting go, and forgiveness.

I hear silence from your invisible fist, so I’ll keep talking. Since childhood, my intention is respect. Not as a formality. Respect to me is that if I see the good in you, I’ll speak to it, in case you haven’t got a mirror handy. Sometimes I rely on the completed karma. My vision is better some days than others – when it’s not so good, I listen to what you say and ask you questions. I want you to understand your own potential. I may not know what it is, nor be the best partner for its cultivation, though often I’ve risked the interview process anyway, reckless and regardless, open to the possibility..  My heart as a result employs a plural state of peace.

I want you to know, my profligate culture, that I will take any risk to advance self-love and -acceptance. Even marriage to a divine creature who inspires me. Love is the least I can defy you.

Where Am I?

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