The Dent In The Pillow
Let’s time travel for a moment, shall we? This is an essay I wrote to accompany the 2013 release of my second solo album ‘Sons Of The Sea’ and its visual counterpart/book titled ‘So The Echo’.
A funny thing occurs in us when we get everything we want… we die.
Funny, not because getting what one wants is funny, or that dying is funny. But “funny” because it would seem that our brains and or our bodies are not wired for continual satisfaction. They are for some reason, instead, programmed for an everlasting longing. One that keeps us in search of a nebulous reward that, if found, signals the start of our demise. Now, I am sure there have been examples here and there of the lone outlier who made his or her fortune, married the person of their dreams, slayed the last dragon, milked the unicorn, won the lottery, became famous, blah, blah, blah and found unwavering happiness; only to live blissfully ever after in a featherbed of abundance and daily massages. That occasion is exceedingly rare, if real at all. The unfortunate truth of ‘arrival’ in this sense is a death in some manifestation. Either a literal death or a metaphoric one; if your engine doesn’t quit on you altogether, the spiritual fire that keeps the light burning behind your eyes is somehow extinguished. Resulting in the ugliest of depressions, the squandering of resources, being convinced by every prescription drug commercial one sees, bon-bon binges, and ultimately the death of creativity.
Perhaps it’s a complacency; a conceit that intervenes at some point during our journey skywards. When the advice about traveling too close to the sun given by an elder goes in one ear and out your asshole and suddenly your wings begin to melt sending you hurling earthwards in a spiral of collapse. Or maybe, once again, it’s that we are wired evolutionarily a bit like a donkey, concentrated on the carrot dangling from the stick. Reaching, longing, hungry and oblivious but safe in our ignorance and in the meantime pulling the weight of ten men. Then one day the stick breaks! The carrot swings into your mouth, the delicious orange crunch echoes in your ears and you henceforth sit on your ass forever. Or, in this case, until you die. One can only survive on carrots for so long.
That longing exists in me; but it’s a creative longing. My carrot swinging frustratingly out of reach is a painting that I know needs to exist, and a song whose melody haunts me incessantly. I catch it as I hover in that fuzzy zone of waking first thing in the morning, and sometimes I can write it down and record it. Then right as I think I have pinned it down and I put a title on it, she slips out from my fingers and slides across the shower floor. (We’ll pause here momentarily for the many unspoken visuals that were just evoked…)
I admit that I have felt the urge to stop chasing the carrot a few times in the past. There are a handful of milestones that I never imagined I would crest in this lifetime that have come and gone; photos snapped and my yearbook signed, “Have a rad summer! BFF 4Ever!”
But maybe, under rare circumstances, I saw the bait on the hook, tasted the carrot, sensed the danger in the impending complacency and ducked it. Perhaps in brief moments of clarity I heard the advice of my elders and not only stored away a stockpile of acorns but understood that inside each acorn was a blueprint of a mighty Oak! Maybe if I familiarized myself with this ever-evolving map, became comfortable in the process of moving targets, I might coerce my impending creative demise into more of a conversation! Keep Muse wet between her thighs often enough that she’d always be interested in what was happening in my dimensional space. Create an atmosphere that was welcoming to her and made her want to visit more often than not. Maybe even garnish a longing in her, balancing the scales a tad. But there I go, thinking I’ve got it figured out, taunting the light of the sun, and look at my waxen wings starting to sag in the heat. Let’s come down a little and talk about Art, shall we?
I’ve barked about it ad nauseam for decades now. Music is Art, Art is music. I didn’t choose Art, it found my name in the local birth registry then came and found me. Hovering over my basinet she whispered, “Hello there, baby Brandon. My name is Artura. I’ll be your guide this time around. Don’t tell your parents about me until you’re at least 16 or 17, they’ll only worry. Let them dream about you being a doctor before you break the news about me.”
Her influence first manifested as visual expressions; in crayon swirls and floorboard portraits, then to tiny illustrations in tiny sketchbooks. By the time I entered my teens she(?) morphed into a hungrier hippo and eventually wanted to be heard! She encouraged me to grow my hair long, ink symbols into my skin, write down the disparate phrases and melodies she’d left around my room and by 15 years old, with two of my best friends, I started a band. With Incubus she found a seemingly limitless architecture to decorate and to occupy, but once the city she had co-created was inhabited, Muse seemed to start to wonder what was going on in the forests bordering the little civilization she’d helped to concoct. And who am I to tell her she can’t keep exploring? “I’m the singer of this band! I say when and where, who and what!” I’d hear my demons squawk. Muse has a funny reaction to those little egoic, human upwellings; she seems to smile sympathetically at them, like a compassionate but otherwise impartial lover who sees that her present partner thinks this fling is going to last forever, but she knows her flight leaves in the morning. She’ll kiss him gently on his forehead as she slips out, and he’ll wake minutes later to the empty ruffle of bed sheets she left; her scent still clinging to the dent in the pillow.
My little fling with Muse has been a multifaceted one. A polyamorous romp through the countryside AND the cityscape! On one side, music emerges. On the other, painting and illustration; two branches on a firmly rooted Oak tree, as old as the Universe, with countless arms reaching in infinite directions. Two of them, (for our purposes today) authored in part by me. Duel branches sprung from the same tree.
After ‘White Fluffy Clouds’, and ‘From the Murks of the Sultry Abyss’, two books of sketches, illustration, strange observations and photography, I began to desire a more focused effect. A new group of visual works that complimented the fiery bursts of inspiration I encountered over the past few years. ‘So The Echo’, my latest visual offering, is that and then some. It does have that same scatterbrained romantic effulgence that some of you have come to know of me, but in many ways it transcends that and is entirely new! If I could be so bold as to say so, that is. Here, I allow entire watercolor & ink pieces to radiate alone on a page; undistracted and absolute. Single photographs consume two page spreads, drawing the viewer into an embrace of not-so familiar memories. I offer up some of my most vulnerable observations yet, unedited and out on a limb, and I benchmark each chapter in misty swathes of vellum. I really hope you enjoy viewing it as much as I enjoyed making it. After all, the echo towards a life of expressivity is only as loud as the call! Or as the saying goes, “As the call, so the echo.”
My two headed muse isn’t blind on one side though; quite the opposite in fact. In many ways these temporary bursts in process feel almost incomplete if one branch on the tree is left alone to wither in the summer sun. With Incubus taking an indefinite break after a long and tumultuous campaign for ‘If Not Now, When’, I began to work with Brendan O’Brien over the span of about 6 months on what would become my newest musical adventure, ‘Sons Of The Sea.’
After much toiling and overthinking about how I was to go about starting a new music project, I decided that the best way forward was to let go completely! Trust-Fall into the arms of inspiration. Stop thinking about where, when, what, who and how, and simply…GO! Thinking too much while in process for me is a little like fucking up a cherry pie; you gather the ingredients, measure everything out, put it in the pie dish, set the oven to your desired temperature, slide in the dish and close the oven door… Then you get hung up on who you’re going to invite over for dessert and forget you had a pie in the oven. It sits in there an hour or so too long and what you get is reminiscent of a cherry pie but tastes more like a sweet and sour crunchy ashtray. Most of the time, making something entails the seed of an idea and the wisdom to know when to get the fuck out of the way. Simply let it happen.
So Brendan O’Brien and I agreed that we both enjoyed after diner sweets and that starting to sketch out some ideas would be fun and mostly harmless. That is exactly what we did, and fun it was indeed; but harmless? Not at all… In the span of those six months we did some serious harm. And by “harm” I mean magic. Magical, mystical, waves of inspiration and newness! Caffeine fueled and locked in a recording studio we carved new pathways in a circuit board that thought it had already figured it all out. It was challenging, electric, spontaneous, heartbreaking, elegantly confused and hyper-focused all at once! What we pulled from the oven is what he and I both started referring to as “Oddball Pop”. ( Sorry, that wasn’t supposed to be gross sounding) It’s familiar in the sense that (I think) at this point my voice brings a quasi-recognizable through line to the table, but with the sonic backdrop being so new and different to what I had grown accustomed to working with, it enticed a strange, wonderful, and fresh manifestation of sound out of us both!
Here I go again, hovering a little high. But I must challenge that a bit today; how the hell am I supposed to convince you to check out this album without embellishing it a little? Talking it up here and there, making it feel welcomed, like the new kid in school. There’s only one seat left in the classroom, and it’s an awkward walk to that chair, but it’s next to the window and there’s a great view of a big old oak tree.
On the first track, ‘Jet Black Crow’ there is a stomping playfulness set along a lyric about the hemispheric shifts one can experience during Love. “When I’m around you, it’s a lot like a lullaby/ sung by a murderer/ You’re a Jet Black Crow/ deadly and beautiful…” The melody (true story) was literally dragged out of a dream; that wispy, not quite awake-not quite asleep, blissed out purgatory that in my experience of late is “where all the songs come from”. (wink, wink.)
‘Untethered’ was inspired by the poem from Emily Dickinson entitled, “Tell All The Truth”.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
Herein I compare the glaring light of truth to the act of staring too long at the sun and the fear that wells up in us. Not of blindness, per se, but of what the truth might reveal. Hence the need to—
“…tell us the truth but tell it to us gently/ ‘lest we all go blind/ Let go of all the lies/ we’ll learn to be untethered…” suggesting the potential for a kind of awakening in the light of those newly learned truths.
‘Come Together’ is a far more tidy song; both in its structure and its content. It’s a song about sex and the many carnivalesque emotions that ride on the hips of that coveted experience. Not a new topic of song or conversation, but one I predict we’ll be writing about for a while still.
‘Avalanche’ is a song about the potential structure inherent in chaos; the subtle yet profound shift in awareness that under certain circumstances can lead one into a way of perceiving wherein she can be witness to the beauty in ALL things. Enlightenment through creativity, as it were.
‘Sons Of The Sea’ is an accurate audio depiction of what I am hearing today. ‘So The Echo’ is, as well, a fair assessment of what I see when I stare long enough at a blank sheet of paper. After all of these albums, books and many years in process, maybe a part of me has died, and maybe it is sort of funny. Both funny “ha-ha” and funny as in “isn’t it funny how things turn out once you let go into the river and let it take you wherever it’s going to take you.” Does that mean I got everything I ever wanted? Yes. But I say so with the utmost humility, and “what I wanted” probably isn’t what you’d expect. For after the little dreams came true and the shock of the realities about those dreams snarled their mangled teeth at me, I was privy to an understanding: There is no end in creativity. Hence, to strive towards an end result is a fool’s errand. Set goals, make music, and paint pictures, but know that the crux of your happiness balances delicately on the wings of the act of creativity itself. Not at the finish line. Understand this, and you will never die. I have, on occasion, managed a glimpse or two of this, and it made me want to draw with crayons again.
I hope you enjoy these new offerings, but most of all I wish to relay to you the deepest gratitude for the opportunity to write, sing and paint. I appreciate it more than I could ever express. So I will continue to express it in these many pliable mediums.