In 2007/2008 Maria Teicher and I started the artist collaborative named The Art Is Not Dead. The name we landed on came from lyrics I wrote around 2007, from a song titled “No, It’s Just Different” (Here’s a video of me performing the song in Bruck an der Leitha, Austria in 2008). Around that time we consistently heard how dead art was, and from the vast amount of creative talent from people we’d met in the last few years (as well as from a historical context), we disagreed. We truly desired finding a way to not only bring those people together, but help them any other way we could.

Therefore, The Art Is Not Dead started as a small indie record label and creative exhibition space (in south Philadelphia, which started in 2009 and ran until 2012). We were looking for an artist community within the city we resided, and set forth to find and tie into it (or build it). There’s much more of an expansive history behind all of this, but we’ll save that for another day. Let’s jump forward a few years…

After much planning throughout 2014 and 2015, we decided that in order to scale up and provide a larger impact in Philadelphia and for its exhibiting artists/musicians, we needed to incorporate into a non-profit organization. This confused many of our peers, to which we explain thusly:

Maria and I provide our services for artists for free or at-cost. We also both have our full time creative endeavors, full time jobs, and the typical perils of life. We’d like others to provide similar services to what we provide, but it’s hard to ask someone else to do it for free – nor should they (unless they’re crazy like me and Maria!). For example: If a recording engineer is good at his job, why should he take away time from his schedule that compensates him for his quality work in order to help out a Philadelphia band? Instead, what if we could, as a non-profit, pay that same recording engineer their going rate (or potentially a lower rate if they wanted to donate some of their time), so that the band receives assistance with the recording of their album AND the engineer is justly compensated?

What if we could provide more than just what Maria and I personally could provide?

So with the direction of incorporating as a non-profit, much was done throughout the first half of 2015. Business planning, meetings with small business professionals and lawyers, writing articles of incorporation, writing bylaws of organization, filing other necessary State and Federal paperwork – it was a tremendous undertaking. For us, and the vision of what The Art Is Not Dead could offer artists, musicians, and creatives – it was a task worth tackling.

On May 28, 2015, we received the acceptance of our incorporation within the state of Pennsylvania – the first completed step in the entire process of legitimizing a non-profit. For the purposes of this, I want to reflect on what has happened in the one-year since that moment. In the year since we incorporated with the state of Pennsylvania, The Art Is Not Dead has…

We’ve come a long way over the years. There’s still an exciting road ahead, and we have some wonderful things in store throughout the remainder of 2016 and beyond. Thank you all who have been part of this journey, from encouraging words to sweat-equity. We wouldn’t have gotten this far without your participation and enthusiasm.

The art is not dead, no, it’s just different – at least it is to me

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April 26th 2016:

As I prepare to go vote in the democratic primaries, I decided it’s perfect timing to share this short essay I never posted. The following essay was written immediately after I voted in 2015’s Pennsylvania elections (gubernatorial, etc), on November 4th.

If you’re reading this and reside in PA and are registered with your party and it’s still April 26th 2016 – GO VOTE! And no bullshit excuses, because the only thing worse than “just one vote” in a world of potential corruption or “choosing between the lesser of two evils” (or whatever rationale) is the fucktard that oh-so-conveniently hides behind such an excuse. People who don’t vote (yet are capable; an important distinction) are assholes, and don’t deserve the voice they use to complain about why they choose not to vote.

And as one last attempt: if you’re on the fence about voting, then there’s a possibility that a cartoon could help you decide. Here’s something I whipped up last night for such a person:

Give A Hoot

___________________________

November 4th 2015:

As I walked back from the South Philadelphia Senior Center, my local voting place, I saw a black woman in late 30s-40s hanging Tom Wolf for Governor door hangers on the side across the street from our home. She already hung one on our door, as well as the other doors on our side. I wanted to tell her “I just voted”, to see if she’d ask me for whom; and even if she didn’t I would offer that it was for whom she is hanging these for.

Instead, I just took the hanger off, unlocked my door, and walked in, while keeping the door open (but screened door closed), as it’s an unusually beautiful day – given the frigid weather as of late.

I walked through the living room, then dining room (though they’re not really separate rooms, as any row home resident knows), into the kitchen. As I put the political hanger on our fridge with a magnet amongst the other political hangers I hear a conversation start up outside across the street.

Before talking about the conversation, I think it’s important to acknowledge the differences in political “junk mail” our door step has seen. From Wolf: it’s essentially just “Vote for Wolf; polls open 7am-8pm”. From South Philly Democrats: it’s “vote democratic: 201, 202, 204; or push button #2”(straight ticket democrat). From Corbett: it’s an appeal to second amendment rights, and Corbett’s record versus the rights-stealing Wolf. I appreciate itemized breakdowns over generalities, but only when it’s not fear mongering nor propaganda.

Anyhow; I hear my elderly south Philly white neighbor across street start to, seemingly aggressively, talk to the lady passing out the Wolf door hangers. He says, “I already voted” in a stern voice. As I thought, “I wonder for whom” and “boy, does he sound angry; this can’t be good,” the lady politely says “Oh, I’ll just take this from your door then. Thank you for voting.”

He responds “yeah, I already voted; and so did my youngest son. We voted for Wolf.”

She sounded a bit taken back (so did I, frankly), and replied a quick canned response about the change Pennsylvania needs from someone like Wolf.

He agreed, then started to open up with why he voted for Wolf, and how he feels just terrible for the state’s teachers. His voice continued becoming more welcoming. They then started to have a short-but-specific conversation about issues they have and see with the state of Pennsylvania.

Although south Philadelphia leans democratic, I live on a street where I’ve heard neighbors complain about “jungle monkeys” encroaching into their neighborhood, from what “should” be their east-most barrier of Broad Street (our block is east of Broad). Given that sentiment, I was afraid for the lady hanging door hangers when I heard a neighbor sternly say, “I already voted”.

I enjoyed the experience that I witnessed so much – and how my initial perception was, thankfully, wrong, that I decided to start typing in a Notes document in my iPhone what had just happened. As I’m now wrapping up, I look outside in time to see another neighbor take the Wolf door hanger off his door angrily and through it to the ground.

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For as long as I can recall I have had distaste for electronic music. To me, its place is in 8 and 16-bit video games; and even THEN it should be midi versions of real songs that were written with real instruments that used hands or mouths or feet. Electronic music was space-bar enthusiasm that I didn’t get, and didn’t want to.

In the early 2000s I was playing in garage pop punk bands and was a pizza delivery driver. I had friends that enjoyed electronic dance music and the beats behind hip hop verses. It disgusted me. It wasn’t real music, and as a real musician, it was offensive. It felt like someone comparing a Microsoft Paint color-by-numbers (executed with just the paint bucket tool) to a piece by Mark Ryden. It was samples mixed with a beat mixed with minimal creativity – not something to be envied by a craftsmen of pop punk songs in major keys with bridges in the relative minor key – no no.

[Unrelated side note: I often do not appreciate the level of jackass or asshole I am when I am IN the moment. I can be oblivious during the moment; but in hindsight it can be painfully obvious.]

So in the 2000s, early 20-something Brian thought it’d be good to show his electronica appreciators just how easy creating that music really is. I had no background or examples of the style of that music other than what I had been exposed to in my friends’ cars, but I was confident (see side note above) that I could accurately create something that was as-good. With a Casio keyboard, a Jackson guitar and distortion pedal, and a pirated version of the Cool Edit Pro 2.0 recording software, I spent an afternoon writing, recording, mixing, and mastering the following:

 

I was proud of my accomplishment, though I recognized it was not nearly on the same level as the kind of music I was mocking – something I hoped my friends would not realize, as they were not in garage punk rock bands and were not real musicians.

I kept that recording as a joke – occasionally slipping it into demo session with my pop punk and later post hardcore bands; or generally into mix CDs waiting for someone to say “who the hell is this?” and the great story that would come afterward.

[Unrelated side note: I guess I always wanted to be a storyteller.]

[Unrelated side note: I did something similar with acoustic country-esque songs. I recorded three or four demos and called it “Brian plays country”. Those songs were later revised into Proof and Proving songs]

In 2011 I was playing in my singer/songwriter jawn Proof and Proving, which I still write/play-for today. At this time I had been with my now-wife Maria for a few years. While I admire her musical tastes that include 90s alternative and 90s/00s hardcore, I hated the fact that she occasionally would listen to electronic music while she painted; or that she and her friends Liza and Ashley would go to festivals where this space-bar-pressing music thrived. I wanted to try to expose both how easy and how stupid this style of music was, so (not unlike my early 2000s attempt), I decided I would write and record an entire album in a short period of time. Using only an iPhone 3g and the Beatmaker 1.0 app, I crafted an entire album. Furthering the point of obscenity that this style of music is, I also decided to create a fake band and persona around it. This was the start of JunioR.

JunioR, as I made up, had the following bio:

After performing throughout the majority of 90s in seminal Philadelphia punk and hardcore bands musician JunioR (not to be confused with 80s British R&B Junior Giscombe) decided to trade in his guitar and microphone and pursue his true musical passion. Receiving praise from artists ranging from MC Hammer to Gaga, and gaining loyal followings from LA to Berlin, JunioR has reaffirmed his mark in the music world.

It was a stupid bio, paled only in comparison to the music itself. With a fake bio, and after writing the entire six-song album on an iPhone and mixing/mastering in pirated version of Adobe Audition 2.0 (the successor to Cool Edit Pro, after Adobe purchased it and bundled in its Creative Suite; AND which I received from my friend Fred), I released my first joke album under a fake artist name JunioR. You can listen to it here.

With this 2011 attempt I put more effort than my prior attempt. I still did not see electronica as a viable/acceptable form of music, but I was finding particular things interesting. For instance, I wanted to title the songs in a funny way that reflected both the song as well as some sort of kitschy Philly reference. It felt weird to me. I was taking pride in the output. Not a lot, but some.

Interestingly, the audio streaming site BandCamp partnered with some third party to aggregate band’s show information into its page. Initially unbeknownst to me, apparently there is some artist known as Junior who tours Europe often, and their tour dates get pulled into my JunioR’s BandCamp profile. It’s not lying, technically; though I do understand the deception there. To clarify: Lying is the fake bio that I wrote; seemingly supporting that lie is the tour dates.

JunioR to-date has had hundreds of album downloads, and actually surpasses my album downloads for my serious music. Irony can be painful.

Fast forward a few years: Maria got me an iPad as a gift for our wedding. This is, by far, the best songwriting tool I have access to; and has surpassed pen and paper – a scary sign of the times. After demoing many “real” songs on it, I decided to try – ACTUALLY try – to create a better JunioR album. Maria had given me tips on how the songs could be better, which I stored in my head and was now calling on.

Within two weeks of off-and-on working in my spare time, I crafted a new JunioR album. While working on this project, which clocks in around 33 minutes across ten songs, I noticed something different than the prior attempts I made at this joke genre: I was having fun. I was getting vested in the work. I went over songs multiple times, the way I do when I normally write ‘real’ songs. I was caring about the work.

That said, I still think electronica is a joke of a thing in the world of music. However, I will acknowledge that this is just my opinion, which is swayed by the fact of my being a musician. Thinking in this kind of absolute is like saying only directors can have an opinion on movies, etc. Additionally, while still a joke, it does have its merit. Sure, it’s not classical or progressive rock; but listeners of those two genres combined are outnumbered to those who appreciate the various forms of electronica.

The new JunioR album was set out to serve a very specific purpose and sound. I wanted it to sound like having plans of spending a night partying with friends in South Philly, but instead staying home and playing Nintendo all night. I feel that I achieved that sound. Incidentally, it also makes for good music for playing video games or painting to. As a way of paying homage to Maria for encouraging me to go down this rabbit hole, I’ve decided to call the album “Music To Paint To”.

 

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My wife, Maria Teicher, and I founded and run a 501(c)(3) arts non-profit based in Philadelphia. Among our objectives is one to support emerging and mid-career artists living or exhibiting in the Philadelphia area. As such, our online presence is focused on promoting artists’ work as well as sharing tips and tricks; and at times giving some much needed motivation and encouragement.

Maria recently posted a very famous Kurt Vonnegut quote that speaks to the importance of the arts:

KV

 

After seeing that she posted this I went to our bookshelf to leaf through a specific book: Like Shaking Hands With God – A Conversation About Writing, by Kurt Vonnegut and Lee Stringer. The book, published by Seven Stories, is a series of interviews between Vonnegut, a veteran writer of several novels at the time of the interviews, and Stringer, a new novelist who had recently published his first book. Like Shaking Hands With God is a book in which Vonnegut gives honest and razor-sharp insight to Stringer about creativity, life, and humanity. This book was a great one for me, as Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite writers, and I myself am a member of the creative community (musician, writer, etc).

When I returned the book to the shelf, I saw a book I had recently spoken with a colleague about: Enough. True Measures of Money, Business, and Life by John C Bogle. This book’s introduction starts with the following:

At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds “yes, but I have something he will never have…enough.”

All of John Bogle’s books are tied to the financial world. While I am not a financial-book aficionado, this introduction was such a beautiful welcoming to what would become my favorite book by him.

John Bogle is the founder and former CEO of The Vanguard Group, the company I have worked for since 2006. Though no longer CEO, he still is the head of the Bogle Financial Market Research Center within Vanguard. He still publishes books, interviews regularly, and continues to make an intimidatingly large impact on the financial arena.

Among the perks of Mr. Bogle continuing to be on Vanguard’s site is occasionally spotting him walking around campus or in the cafeteria, being able to receive copies of his book and to have him autograph it, and to be able to have conversations with him.

On November 24, 2008 I received my copy of Enough. I was able to briefly meet Mr. Bogle to obtain his signature on my copy. In doing so, we struck up an extremely short conversation, in which he asked me what I do outside of work. I said that I was a musician and had recently returned from a tour. I had stated it in a way that I recall feeling somewhat ashamed – akin to the way a teenager might feel if they said to their parents that they “want to be a musician” when they grow up. His response caught me off guard, and stuck with me over these years. He said that being a musician is something I should be very proud of, and that I was contributing to society through culture, and how that was extremely important.

Autograph

 

Our interaction likely only lasted 30-40 seconds, but it stuck with me. For the hours afterward, I wasn’t the business professional who played music on the side – I was a musician who played an important role in culture.

Encouragement goes a long way, whether it’s an empowering quote or meme, or quick conversation in passing. Granted, I understand that I will not be the biggest musician of all time, but the act of creating is immensely rewarding itself; and in a world where creatives are continuously told to ‘grow up and get a job’, hearing Mr. Bogle’s feedback had the same positive and uplifting response as the Kurt Vonnegut quote Maria posted on our page.

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This past Thursday I had stayed home from work. Among many things going on that lead to me staying home, a family member of mine had a stroke (or series of strokes), and was in the ICU the entire day. I could not be there physically (they are in another state), but I was on the phone with family throughout the day.

Maria and I were texting back and forth as well, while she was at work. She had texted me at 1:24pm, saying that if I needed to talk to her I could call her at work. I did not reply “Thanks babe” until 1:57pm. Since she was at work and thirty-three minutes of life-draining work had been occupying her brain, she didn’t understand my reply. To her, it was a seemingly out-of-the-blue “Thanks babe.”

She replied “?”. I was confused at why she was confused. I sent a screenshot of our conversation up to that point. She immediately got it, and we both went back to whatever we were doing.

 

After sending her that screenshot of our conversation, my brain somehow went trailing. I started thinking of using text message screenshots for lyrics, and wondering how one could illustrate something like reverb in text message. I immediately started creating this:

brianvsbrian.com

 

That song was the first one to come to mind. After I made that screenshot and sent to Maria at 2:10pm, my brain kept singing that song over and over again. After a while of it echoing in my head, I picked up my guitar to see if I could figure out how to play it. After I did, I then wondered if I would be able make a scratch recording of it on my iPad (a wedding gift from my lovely wife, which has facilitated much songwriting and demoing).

I spent an hour recording guitar, bass, and vocals; and mixing all of it together (all on the iPad). At 4:30pm I sent Maria this audio file:

 

I only did the first verse and chorus (it was just for fun anyways, not a legitimate song attempt). As I was getting ready to record vocals I brought up a website of the lyrics to make sure I was singing the right words:

Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone home?
Come on now
I hear you’re feeling down.
Well I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again.
Relax.
I’ll need some information first.
Just the basic facts.
Can you show me where it hurts?

There is no pain, you are receding
A distant ship smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.
When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now I’ve got that feeling once again
I can’t explain you would not understand
This is not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb.

I never quite appreciated the two-person dialogue going on in this song before recording it. The ‘doctor-like’ figure’s verses are in Bminor. The ‘patient’s’ responses in the chorus start in the relative major of D. It’s quite beautiful.

When I started writing this, I had the intention of wrapping it up around here, until I started realizing that I think my brain was playing some unconscious tricks on me.

Also throughout Thursday, while my family member was in the ICU after their stroke(s), one of the troubles happening with them was that they could not verbally communicate; nor could they open their eyes. They were only able to demonstrate their consciousness by squeezing their hands in response to questions.

Maybe this was lurking in the back of my head. Cognizant of it now, the thought of my family member on Thursday was somewhere between this song and Johnny Got His Gun.

On Friday evening, I received a text update passed along from another family member. My family member that had the stroke had been moved out of ICU into a private room. They have since opened their eyes, and will soon start physical therapy. The text ended:

…she can hear us. I am playing my iPad and she seems to be responding to music well. She hums and taps along to the rhythm. No talking yet but hoping for the best.

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Two years ago, in November 2013, I married my best friend – Maria. By that point in our relationship we had been together six years; had traveled Europe with each other four times; and had shared three homes. At some point through all of that, I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her; and somehow, apparently, convinced her the same for me.

Early in the first year of our relationship (2006) we found “our song”. As most guitar players do at some point, I started showing Maria how to play guitar. Both of us were fans of The Weakerthans, who have a song called “My Favourite Chords”. Here are the lyrics:

They’re tearing up streets again.
They’re building a new hotel.
The Mayor’s out killing kids to keep taxes down,
and me and my anger sit folding a paper bird,
letting the curtains turn to beating wings.

Wish I had a socket-set to dismantle this morning.
And just one pair of clean socks.
And a photo of you.

When you get off work tonight,
meet me at the construction site,
and we’ll write some notes to tape to the heavy machines,

like “We hope they treat you well.
Hope you don’t work too hard.
We hope you get to be happy sometimes.”

Bring your swiss-army knife, and a bottle of something,
and I’ll bring some spraypaint and a new deck of cards.

Hey I found the safest place to keep all our tenderness.
Keep all our bad ideas. Keep all our hope.
It’s here in the smallest bones, the feet and the inner-ear.
It’s such an enormous thing to walk and to listen.

I’d like to fall asleep to the beat of you breathing
in a room near a truckstop on a highway somewhere.

You are a radio. You are an open door.
I am a faulty string of blue christmas lights.
You swim through frequencies.
You let that stranger in, as I’m blinking off and on and off again.

We’ve got a lot of time.
Or maybe we don’t,
but I’d like to think so, so let me pretend.

These are my favourite chords.
I know you like them too.
When I get a new guitar, you can have this one
and sing me a lullaby.
Sing me the alphabet.
Sing me a story I haven’t heard yet.

The combination of me showing Maria how to play guitar and my leaving to go on tour frequently in our early relationship solidified “My Favourite Chords” as OUR song. There were many times while I was far from home that I would listen to that song after talking to Maria on my cell phone – using the song as a lullaby to calm me into happier thoughts of being at home with her.

In 2007 we lived in Port Richmond in Philadelphia, in an area that was not very pleasant and therefore was very affordable. For our one year anniversary Maria painted me a still life based on the lyrics of our song; a gift which would become one of my favorite gifts ever. She had painted it and wrapped it up for me to open on our anniversary date.

One day in July 2007, before our anniversary, both of us had the day off. We decided to go to the post office to pay some bills and come home in time for Judge Mathis, one of the only programs we got with bunny ear analog antennas (this was before it was made digital a few years later). We left our home around 1pm, and returned around 1:20pm. In that time someone had broken into our second story bathroom and stolen Maria’s Macbook, my laptop, change jars, and various small electronics (iPod nano, small digital camera, etc), and exited out the back kitchen door that they had unlocked from the inside. All of last few years of Maria’s art was on her Macbook, and the album I was in the middle of recording was on my laptop. As two poor young adults with no real possessions other than what we used to create art, to have such critical tools taken from us was devastating.

After hours of devastation, filing police reports, and questioning the safety of our own home, Maria decided to let me open my gift for our anniversary early. That gift was the still life painting.

 

 

It was bittersweet. Such a beautiful gift from the one I love, given to me at a time when we were both still wrapping our heads around what had just happened to us.

Years later, I can’t help but think that as random as the burglary was, my receipt of the painted still life at that exact moment further solidified the meaning of the song as it relates to us. At any rate, fast forward a few years…

In November 2010, I had asked Maria to marry me (which is a hilarious story itself that I’ll save for another day). In February of 2011, soon after the euphoria of “we’re engaged!” had worn off, Maria got accepted to her top two MFA programs. She had decided to attend the MFA program in NYC; so we decided to wait for our wedding until after she completed her program in mid 2013.

By the way: 2013 was a CRAZY year for Maria: She graduated with her MFA after final crits; had a solo show in Philadelphia; had planned a wedding; and had married a stud – all in one year!

 

While Maria was at school, she was building up her artist network and was testing the social media waters. On a now-archaic photo sharing website, Maria had posted a photo of the still life she had painted for me, which later rendered these comments:

Cara and Maria went on to become friends, and we even have some of Cara’s work hanging in our home today.

Even before we got engaged, I knew that Maria and my first dance as a married couple was going to be to the song “My Favourite Chords”. After stewing on the comment that Cara had said to Maria, and as Cara and Maria started to talk more, I got a crazy idea. Could Cara talk to John Samson (singer/songwriter of The Weakerthans) and ask him to perform a video dedication to us on our wedding day? It was a long shot, but one that I really wanted to try for.

I found Cara’s email address and started talking with her about this. We had a few weeks of correspondence – the most nerve-racking weeks of my recent memory. Could she get in contact with him? Would he be open to do it? How would the logistics work out? Am I asking for too much of a favor? Et cetera.

Eventually, Cara was able to work out the details. She was just as crazed as me, since she’s just as much of a fan as we were! Cara video-recorded the performance and emailed me after she did. THIS was the first moment when I realized that it was actually going to happen. I received her email as I was driving home, and I nearly crashed because I was crying with joy (and emailing her back). And in her helping out for this, she just got a private performance from John Sansom, something I’m jealous of to this day.

 

She later sent me a draft version, and I was equally losing my shit.

 

After I received the video from Cara, I decided to edit in some photos of Maria and I over the years of our relationship. The end product is displayed at the end of this.

Leading up to our wedding day, I worked with the DJ and venue to make sure I had access to a projector for my laptop to play the video. The day of the wedding was an insane day, filled with missing adaptors, glitching playback during a dry run, and me sneaking around with my laptop for seemingly no good reason (to Maria); but in the end it worked.

As we approached for our first dance, I pulled out my laptop and hooked up the last of the cables, and set up a projection screen. Maria was understandably baffled at what the heck was going on. The galaxy background of my Macbook came up on the projection screen, then the solid black QuickTime window; then I hit play and rushed back to Maria.

HOLY SHIT! ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?!” Maria screamed at the top of her lungs as the video came on, and repeated that second sentence several times throughout. She instantly became a wad of mush. We danced slowly while watching John Samson serenade us for our first dance, as well as a slideshow of the last few years of our relationship scrolled by.

 

Most of the family members in the audience did not know who John Samson or The Weakerthans was. Some even asked if I had someone else play one of my own songs. None of that mattered – Maria got it.

This is only the second time, but whenever our wedding anniversary comes around I do not only think about the tons of fun the actual wedding and the “friends-moon” afterward was. I also think about how this video came together with the help of good friends, luck, and a song that my wife and I decided was OUR song some nine or so years ago.

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I very often lose faith in people, as a whole. They tend to be greedy, unrepentant, pestilent, and self-serving. This morning seemingly started in that vein.

I saw what looked like a parking ticket on our car’s windshield (a car we never drive because we don’t trust it). We live on a heavily monitored street that is permit-only parking beyond two hours. Our car has been there about five months. What is under the windshield wiper is not a ticket, but a note; soaked and bleeding ink from last night’s storm. The note reads “I broks your tail light so sorry”.

 

Awesome. Wrapped inside the folded note was a business card that, seemingly ironically, said “We Got Your Back”.

 

I walk around back, and indeed, they did get my back – a busted tail light and some dent damage.

 

 

 

I brought the note and business card inside and rested them on a paper towel to dry, and went back into the drizzle weather to re-start my commute to work by walking to the subway.

My rides home from work have been less than relaxing, namely due to the shittiness of those with whom I share the ride with back to Philadelphia. This typically puts me in an unpleasant mood after work, and supports my loss of faith in people. So it goes.

After I got home today, I called the number on the business card. I explained why I’m calling and the guy right away started apologizing. He kept saying he’s sorry, and how it was an accident, and how he wanted to make it right by getting a new taillight and either replace it himself or get a mechanic buddy of his to do it. He even insisted on stopping by to apologize in person, and did so about 15 minutes before I started writing this out. The guy was genuine in his apology. He was honest enough to leave a note under our windshield to let us know that he is the one who did the damage (someone else, months ago, backed into the front end of the car, smashing the front grill; and did not leave any note).

Sure, there’s still a dent left un-addressed, but I’m not going to split hairs about that. This guy went above and beyond. He made sure to do right by me, and in the process he had lessened my loss of faith in human beings. Meeting solid people in life has become such an occasion that I feel the need to write about it, especially when it could have gone in such a different direction. 

This guy did wrong and fessed up to it. This guy got my back.

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Before I started to take playing music very seriously, I was captivated by a quote I heard (that I later learned was attributed to Paul Stanley of Kiss): “Any song that doesn’t sound good on an acoustic guitar is not a good song“. As I grew into a musician in a day and age of MTV Unplugged, and as music became more of an important role in my life, I thought of that quote and how it works with various styles of music.

I thought that any good song could/should START on an acoustic. I even remember sometime in 2004 watching or listening to an interview with Andre 3000 talking about writing the song Hey Ya on an acoustic, further proving to me the power of writing with an acoustic guitar at the start.

As I progressed in my music career, I always wrote songs on an acoustic. For the 2000s through the early 2010s, any punk or hardcore/metal songs I wrote were on an acoustic. For me, this proved to be an effective writing tool and methodology. Tempo, accompaniment, vocal stylings – THESE are what differentiated the genre; but they could all START on an acoustic. A song wasn’t metal until it was at 220BPM with high gain on the guitar and angry shouted vocals; but take that same song and play it at 120BPM with light palm muting on an un-distorted electric guitar and softer vocals and you have indie rock gold. Of course, neither of those work if you don’t have a good song.

Although I was still playing in my post hardcore band at the time, in 2008 I decided to start to formulate the idea of what music I wanted Proof and Proving to be. In thinking through it, I realized that I wanted the music to be more, I don’t know, “timeless” than say a genre that can by commonly associated with age or period of my life (logic that is not without its flaws, I associated punk and youth; hardcore and young adulthood; indie rock with adults in denial and young adults trying to be double-counter culture; etc). I didn’t want to be any one of those genres, though I didn’t want to be excluded from them either.

Let’s shelf this idea and point-in-the-story to shift gears for a moment.

When I started to take Proof and Proving more seriously, around 2009-2010 – when my post hardcore band stopped playing out and started its still-continuing hiatus, I wanted to keep it as a solo act. I saw the difficulties of trying to coordinate multiple members’ schedules, talents, and lives; and I wanted to avoid all of it. Full disclosure, I did not say this as elegantly when I was in-the-moment of the band slowing down. Here’s a funny interview I did with a Temple University writer in October 2010 (pages 9 and 12): http://temple-news.com/files/2010/10/Oct.-12-Edition.pdf

With all of the above in mind, when I started to write albums and play out, I wanted them to be one-in-the-same. While I could play things like bass and drums on a recording, I wanted the album to sound like how I could perform it live (with the only deviations perhaps being back up vocals). Humility In The First Person was the first album where this was a conscious idea; to keep all of the songs to just an acoustic and vocals.

After some US touring, comps, smaller EPs, EU touring, split 7″, and countless cheeseburgers, it came time to write another full length album. With Proof and Proving still being a solo outfit, I mostly stuck to the same concept as I did with Humility for this next album, The Lineage Of The Recluse. I did decide that, aligning with the concept of the album, I would include others to accompany a song here or there; but for the most part nearly all songs were still acoustic and vocal centric. With two songs in particular, I decided to expand even a bit more. I had played drums, bass, acoustic, electric guitar, vocals, backing vocals, and had my extremely talent friend Michael Anticoli play grand piano. While these songs fit with the storyline of the concept album, they stood out on their own. I enjoyed working with them, but at the same time felt guilty as it broke from the mentality I set into years ago – acoustic and vocals only, since that’s all you can do live.

Fast forward to now. I realize that I was working with flawed logic. Thinking that I should leave a song acoustic-and-vocals-only because it could be perceived as style agnostic – or that I should restrict the outcome of an album by what I can perform live – is stupid. There were ideas for Humility and Lineage that I avoided because I didn’t want to add too much to shape the songs, but it really did a dis-service to the end goal, and the end piece of work.

This is what makes the next phase of Proof and Proving exciting. I give zero fucks whether or not I can perform a song live as I record it. If I record drums but don’t have a drummer at a show, no one will care, so why should I? I want to keep writing-a-good-album and performing as two items that are not mutually exclusive. I am going to use all the tools in my toolbox to make the best piece of work that I can, both with albums and with my live show.

So with all of that in mind, here is a glimpse into what’s in the works for Proof and Proving. No working title (“blah blah blah” was Maria‘s idea). All the songs were recorded on an iPad with the built-in microphone. I initially recorded these as scratch demos, but had too much fun with them and decided to share here. I’ve broke out of the limited tool set of only-acoustic-and-vocals, and in addition now use on this: mandolin, electric guitars, piano, drums, bass, and some effects that I’ve denied myself for years (tremolo, etc). Happy listening!

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Although I went to high school in an area that was no stranger to heroin, I was largely oblivious to those who used it. Any of the symptoms that I now know as tell tale signs of usage I would chalk up to being tired, or the use of some other less-demonizing narcotic. It was only around tenth grade or so that I heard the term “dirthead” in a heroin-specific identifier. Until then, I never even thought of that drug being in that town or county of Pennsylvania.

 

I have learned over the years that it’s common nature for some (such as myself) to be oblivious DURING the moment, and see only a skewed version of what’s happening; but in hindsight it can be painfully obvious. It’s something that I closely associate with logic of the black swan theory – a concept I’m intrigued about so much that I loosely wrote a song about it.

At any rate – growing up, I didn’t realize those around me who were on heroin were on it. Living in Philadelphia, on the other hand, I have learned. Though not specific to heroin, there’s the terrible skin, the skeletal frame, the glazed over look. Specific to heroin are the sways/nods – the falling asleep in place (or who knows, maybe I’m wrong now, and these are signs of other things). I’ve seen it on the streets and on my commute, though it’s usually just in a quick passing. Today was different.

My work commute is the 105-minute bookends to my work day. Going to work, this involves me walking from my house to the subway, taking the subway for four stops, walking a few blocks to the train station, taking the train for about an hour, catching a shuttle, and walking into my workplace. Very little happens on the walk to the subway and on the shuttle ride to my building. The excitement, if there is any to be had, is on the subway or the train. This morning was uneventful. A coworker who sat in front of me on the train was slightly younger than me but balding. That was the only observation I had of the morning commute.

Coming home from work I called into a meeting, read and wrote some work emails, and screwed around on Facebook for a second before arriving at 30th Street Station, one stop before mine (Suburban Station). A woman got on and was talking somewhat loudly, especially given that we were in the QuietRide car. As she sat and chatted behind me, I saw a reflection of a disheveled woman whom I wished would shut the hell up.

She continued to seemingly aimlessly talk, though I didn’t make an effort to listen in on what she was actually saying. The train moved on and approached Suburban Station before coming to a stop, as another train had yet to depart the track we were on. For some reason my ears began to focus on what the woman was saying.

She asked what appeared to be the ceiling of the train “Have you seen a blue bag? A duffle bag with straps?” She then looked around at the people in the car. I was very thankful that I was watching her through a reflection. She asked again. No one responded because it made no sense. She just got on one stop ago, then started asking if anyone had seen her bag. She then said “Wifi doesn’t make it to the second floor. You might need to take the elevator to get to it. Do you understand?”

Again, no one replied.

She sat down, and within ten seconds had fallen asleep.

Less than a minute later the train started to finally move, and I heard gasps behind me, and the conductor loudly say “MA’AM! MA’AM!”

She replied “Oh…I’m sorry! I’m so sorry. Thank you for waking me up. I didn’t want to be that person that spills all of their prescriptions on the ground.”

What I’m guessing happened was that the jolt of the train moved her, and she dumped the contents of her clear plastic bag all over the floor. Pills everywhere, small 10mg sized pills. The conductor tried to wake her to pick up her contents.

The train stopped. By this point I am standing and watching her pick up her pills and put them back into her baggie (not a prescription bottle). The doors open, and anyone who was closer to her than me nearly sprinted to get off of the train, including the conductor. As I walk up closer to her, I see that her dark sweatpants are salt-stained around her butt, a sure sign of her urinating herself at some point in the day. As I walk by her, she asks people who are still seated, “Is this the last stop?” Being mindful of my steps, I see a pill that I’m sure she will miss because of how far it rolled away from her.

I get off of the train and the conductor, whose shift just ended, is trying to explain what the conductor starting his shift is getting into. I walk up the stairwell I often talk about via social media that homeless people use as a toilet. There’s a fresh pool of urine at the bottom, but my mind is still caught up in what had happened on the train.

Tangentially, I write short pieces about the things I see on my commute. I started using a funny hashtag “#SEPTASPILLS” just for this purpose. While most of what I post on social media relates to the absurd and gross, they are parts of a larger essay I plan on writing eventually, where I plan to start to highlight the positives and interesting elements as well as the absurd. In particular, I am enormously grateful that my commute involves me walking by a polka accordion player, various violinists, a blind tenor with a beautiful voice, and many singers with acoustic guitars. While some performers are more frequent and predictable than others, I always know I’ll see at least three performers during my commute to and from work.

After getting off the train this afternoon, as I walked towards the Broad Street Line City Hall stop, I walked by a guy playing acoustic and singing. He’s newer, in that I’ve only started seeing him in the last couple months on my commute. He’s got a great voice, and plays guitar and sings with passion. Most of the guys who do this perform covers, and so does this one. Today he was playing something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I was thinking to myself, “Oh, well, he’s older, so maybe he’s playing an acoustic version of a 70s or 80s song”. As I walked away from him, repeating the words of the chorus he just sang as I tried to figure out what that heck it was, I saw that he was balding too. By the time I got on to the subway, I realized that the guy was playing a Weezer song; and that the guy was very likely my age.

On my commute to work, a balding coworker is my perceived junior. After a day of work and a somber and depressing happenstance on my commute home, a balding singing guitarist is my perceived senior. I can’t help but think that I’ll see more in this once I’m further removed from the moment of it.

 

 

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