I’m starting this project because I’ve recently come to realize how important music is to my life. You remember how you felt when you were in middle school, and you felt like the only people who were ever going to understand you were the bands you loved? Well, to me, now, music is more important even than that.
After a year of soulless corporate slavery, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to actually do something about my passion. I’m starting this blog in hopes of turning more people on to the music I love, and collaborating with artists and fans who love it as much as I do.
Below, I’m reposting an essay I wrote four months ago that sums up the psychic crisis I’ve been going through over the past year. The last line is “I need a dream.” Well, with this blog, I’m getting started.
Note: I started out this blog post trying to write a review of my cousin’s band, the Bi-Polar Bears. Somehow the review went far astray and turned into a rambling essay on…something else. I hope you enjoy it anyway.
I love thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for my family is a big deal—it’s not just an annual meal of epic proportions, it’s a reunion with our extended family in my grandmother’s house, the same house our thanksgiving meal has been in since before I was born.
The gathering was pretty small this year, only about 25 people. I remember thanksgivings with 50+ people; all extended family and friends of friends sitting at tables and chairs people had brought with them in anticipation of the shortage. Sweet tea was brewed, and everyone brought a dish of something (although after aunt Kyra ruined the sweet potatoes one year, she was forever relegated to bringing the salad which was sparingly added to plates only to help her save some face). All of the family gathered together to celebrate each other’s presence and the strange bond that held us together.
Sitting at the adult table was a dream I gave up on a long time ago. There’s practically an endless supply of Aunts and Uncles to take up any spare chairs, and it’s a running (grotesque) joke that the only way you make it to the adult table is if someone dies first. The only chance any of the (now all adult) persons in my cohort have of getting called up to the show comes with a marriage license, and even then (in the case of a particularly crowded Thanksgiving) it’s no guarantee.
Family politics aside, Thanksgiving is the one time a year I get to see my cousin Daniel. Daniel and I were born 23 hours apart on opposite sides of the country. The story of how my grandmother managed to miss both of our births despite accumulating enough airline miles to book a roundtrip vacation to the moon is one of her favorites to tell (second only, it seems, to the story of the time the 3-year old future author of this blog post absolutely refused to put on his pants for a whole day). Daniel was born in Austin, Texas to my Uncle Clay and his wife (whose name I just can’t remember at the moment), a beautiful fiery woman from Venezuela, who, at least in the muddled version of my memory, is eerily similar to the character Gloria in Modern Family.
Daniel grew up bilingual in a household whose situation was markedly different than the circumstances provided by my own graduate-degree-holding suburbanite parents. Soon after Daniel’s parents split he began spending most of his time in Miami with his mother, and as I was being moved around the country as my own father struggled to settle into a job which offered both stability and enough autonomy to be fulfilling, family holidays became the only chance I had of seeing my cousin. We made the most of our time together during the holidays—there’s a special bond between cousins which often goes unappreciated in literature and movies. The love between cousins can be almost as strong and as unconditional as the love between siblings, although distance often alleviates the tensions and competition which accompanies brotherhood. No matter how long it had been since our last reunion, Daniel and I were instantly the closest friends during the chance holidays that brought us together.
As so often happens with childhood friends, time quickly pushed our lives in different directions. As I floated to the top of my high school class and began weighing my college decision based on the size of the scholarship they were offering, Daniel (blessed with a set of genetic gifts which somehow skipped my mother and her descendents) picked up a guitar and quickly lost interest in learning anything else. Both Daniel and his father were born musicians, able to listen to a song and instantly emulate it with either a piano or a guitar. After a few tragic piano lessons as a child, my parents quickly gave up any hope for my success as musician and redoubled their efforts to push me to excel at school. Daniel’s parent’s accepted the fact that he was going to play music or die trying much less easily than Daniel did. As he likes to put it, only after he had absolutely failed at everything else did his parents finally start supporting him as a musician—reluctantly driven to this last citadel of hope for their son.
While I went away to college in Arizona, eventually graduating and a taking high-paying job in Boston, Daniel moved back to Austin to pursue a career in music. Like most of the other aspiring musicians in Austin, Daniel took a part-time job in the food service industry, started a band, and seriously increased his cigarette consumption. And this is roughly where his life is when I found him at Thanksgiving this year. I had heard some stories that he went through a pretty serious rough patch since the last time I’d seen him—he’d caught his girlfriend cheating on him and suffered a pretty severe bout of depression.
However, it was the same old Daniel sitting next to me at dinner. Manic as ever, Daniel caught me up to speed on the state of his band (now picking up gigs at slightly-higher-profile venues in Austin) and his love life (about the same, although the frequency of such gigs may be slightly exaggerated). Reunited, Daniel invited me to go out with him and one of his bandmates, Caleb (whom I’d met a year before in the presence of she-who-must-not-be-named), at a bar near their apartment on South Lamar.
These two guys have the stuff to make it. They’re very talented musicians, but talented musicians are a dime a dozen in Austin and any trip to any scummy bar with a stage will teach you that raw musical talent is surely no guarantor of success. What Daniel has is passion and the capacity for the sort of raw unfiltered creative output which has fueled bands from The Beatles (Lennon), to the Flaming Lips (Wayne something-or-other I think), to Radiohead (Yorke). Daniel talks a mile a minute, especially after a few vodka tonics. The only thing he’s interested in talking about revolve around his band and new ideas for concept albums, stage performance, or recording tricks. Most of these ideas are terrible, but they flow with such volume and at such a rapid pace that it’s no surprise that he’s able to generate multiple great ideas a day.
Discerning which ideas are great (or at least feasible) is the perfect job for Caleb. A 6-foot 3 Jew from Connecticut with Dylan-esque hair and mismatched socks, Caleb has the solid musical foundation and pragmatism necessary to harness Daniel’s often maniacal creativity and channel it into fully functional autonomous pop songs. After a few hours speaking with Daniel, one gets the impression that without Caleb’s influence his music could easily drift toward jam-band experimentation and the abandonment of the structural confines of pop music. Daniel’s musical talent and creativity are very rare gifts—so rare and impressive that they elicit awe and envy (in varying proportions) in almost everyone fortunate enough to someone who possesses them.
Surely it did the same to me. It’s no secret that I love (even worship) music and the artists who make it, and as I begin to accept the fact that I’m likely going to be chained to a desk doing mildly-interesting work for the rest of my life, the oppressive feeling that my life is missing something is made all the more acute. Listening to Daniel dream of life on the road once he and his band finally make it really depresses me. We’re exactly the same age (give or take a day), and yet he has the courage to chase his dreams in Austin, Texas while I twiddle my thumbs waiting for graduate school (“or whatever”) in the gray North East. Caleb says it’s uncanny how similar we are—how apparent it is we’re related once we’re talking in a room together. This only makes me wonder why I’m not there in Austin with him—why don’t I have the strength to leave my yuppie job (and very nice IKEA furniture) to chase my dreams with him in Austin?
I’m saddened to realize that until very recently, I didn’t have any dreams to chase. I grew up getting ready for college, and I spent all of college getting ready for a job (“or whatever”). I didn’t have time or use for dreams, but now that I’m staring down the barrel of a long career in Economics Consulting (you don’t want to know), I can’t stop dreaming. Only now, I feel like it’s just a little too late. I don’t have the strength to give up the reasonably-comfortable lifestyle I’ve come to like reasonably-well. My life is drifting dangerously close to edge of mediocrity, and I’m running out of strength to keep from falling in.
As different as our lives are, Daniel and I are a lot alike. Knowing this gives me hope that maybe I can man-up and abandon my responsibilities. Maybe I can live on dreams alone. Maybe I can make it. But still, there’s one thing missing.
I need a dream.