27 Nov A Half-Cocked Thanksgiving
Despite the goddamn Pandemic, we had a really pleasant Thanksgiving with friends. We ate outside and while the food was awesome, the best part was sneaking down to the basement afterwards to make some joyful noise. Our band has been on hiatus for Covid, but a couple of us have been kind of quarantining together, and Suki has stepped in on drums. So last night we kicked out some jams and made up a bunch of new songs. When I first started a band, I was far from what anyone might call a musician. I had gravitated towards the bass because I didn’t have the dexterity for complex hand positions that guitar playing required (nor the ear for it). Unfortunately, I was rhythmically challenged as well. I wasn’t hopeless, but I did not have much hope that I would become a great musician. Still, I saw being in a band as being less about notes and rhythm and more as a way to be creative. Sometimes we follow our intuition and push past our resistance to notions that keep us stuck. That was 30 years ago, and while I still have some rhythmic challenges, I have increasingly become a pretty decent bass player. By objective standards, I’m still not “good,” but at least now I feel competent, and that is a profound accomplishment. Frankly, that competency has come through learning to get out of my own goddamn way; overcoming my doubt and just feeling my way through without unconscious contempt.
I think a lot about random connections and how they are often not as random as they might appear. Some people get freaked out by them but I love them to death. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine shared a picture of the ticket to see the premiere of our 1995 film “Half-Cocked” in Durham NC. The Thanksgiving before that screening we had launched into making the film, which at that point was still just and idea. I think we had a rough script in place. I had sent it to my father and he scrawled “where the fuck’s the conflict?” across the title page. That’s it. That was the note. He was right. So at that point we were probably hashing out what those conflicts might be. The problem was, the film was birthed out of love and adoration for a group of creative musicians. It was hard to write conflict because the people were going to be playing some semblance of themselves. The project was meant to document the music scene and we wanted to show how amazing it was. However, as my father pointed out, there’s no story with no conflict.
One of the people we talked to about the nascent film idea was my friend Juan Alva. It was Juan who dragged me off his basement couch the day after we graduated high school to go out and shoot photos of the Klan, so he has always been an artistic instigator. About 15 years ago, Juan’s family sold that house to my friends Toby and Caroline. Juan hates me thinking of it as his old house, but to me it creates a sense of continuum and continuity in life. It was at this house that we had Thanksgiving this year, and in that basement that we practiced last night. A year later it was Juan, who, as a projectionist at the Carolina Theater in Durham, arranged to have us screen it for the first time the day after Thanksgiving.
Here’s where the odd coincidences start to fly. First, that was a turning point in my life in so many ways. Like I stated earlier, while I loved music, I knew that I did not have the kind of musical talent to be a “musician”. I did know in my heart that the music community was where I felt connected. It was that intuition that led to the production of the film. Being in a band gave my photography more focus and connection, and the film was an extension of that process. More significantly, I had learned something about manifesting possibility in a world full of doubt and resistance. 25 years later, I continue to lean into these headwinds, and some ideas make it through those gale force winds of resistance.
It was a triumphant night in so many ways. Suki and I watched the film from the balcony. We had seen it projected at the cast and crew screening a few weeks earlier in NY- which was mostly crew cause the cast was mostly not in NY. This was the first time we publicly screened it, and there was a good crowd, filled with people from my childhood, and others who had become friends through music. From the balcony, we could see and feel the response move in waves through the crowd. There were two laughers in the audience; my father and my friend Chad. My father was kind of famous for laughing through movies and then expressing disappointment. I have a memory etched in my brain of him taking my brother and me to see “48 Hours”. As pre-teens, it was a questionable choice, and his wild laughter was kind of embarrassing. The sun was low in the sky as we left the matinee, and I remember squinting as he spat out “That sucked!”
This night I could see his laughs travel. He would chuckle, and each time a few more people around him laughed. The same was true with Chad’s laughs. Soon their circles joined and the jokes caught fire. It felt so good to have set out on that journey a year earlier, and after getting schooled by my father, finding a way to have conflict drive the narrative and still showcase the things that were so beautiful and complex about the community we were a part of. I felt like the film had not only connected with the community, but I had found some hard-won acceptance from my father. Unfortunately, the film world did not embrace the film, but the music community lifted it up. We did quite a bit of traveling around with a 16mm projector, showing it in rock clubs. That got a bit old, so we started a band with our friend Tim Foljahn called Drop Ceiling. Suki played drums and Tim and I traded guitar riffs. We were an improv band, but we kind of fell into some tropes that we built on. A few weeks ago, Suki stepped in to play drums with us in Juan’s old basement. It’s been great to play music again.
This morning, I woke up and saw that one of the collaborators on the film, Jeff Mueller, had posted about his printmaking. He makes such beautiful work so I looked for something to send to other people. I thought of Kevin Corrigan who I know loves Jeff’s band and the film. As I ordered him a print, I remembered that today is the 26th anniversary of that screening. Then I remembered that it was another musical master print maker, Ron Liberti, who had brought him to the screening that night. This prompted me to want to write about this, and as I sat down to do it, I got a text from my brother that it was 11:11. The text was also to my sister who loves numerical connections. For me, that number points to my favorite album by the band Come. A few years after Half-Cocked, they came to Spain as we showed it, to tour with the film and be a part of our follow up movie, Radiation. So, as I typed this out, I listened to the record that Suki and I bonded over when we met. We listened to it almost every night for months as we began the relationship that would beget Half-Cocked – and nearly a dozen other films over the past 25 years.
So, this morning I am thankful for so much. I am thankful that I found my community, that I still feel so connected to that community, and that it made it possible for me to pursue a life in art, even if I didn’t believe I was an artist until recently. Sometimes our energy calls forth connections. So often we get caught in frames of expectation. For me, art is about examining, challenging, and gently moving beyond those frames. It took a long time for me to dismantle my framing of what an artist is. When I had finally taken it apart, I realized I had always been home in that new understanding. Now I live in the house that I grew up in. It’s a constant reminder of what was, what is, and what can be. This morning, Suki was discussing ideas for changing the kitchen. I know I am resistant to those changes, but she’s probably right, so I’ll keep on dismantling my expectations and keep trying to make art.
Circling back to connectivity, it has been interesting to have spent the past 7 years living where I grew up. Our lives unfold in 7 year cycles, and the folding together of the past and the present has been a little surreal and integrative. Interestingly, I completed a 10-week meditation the day before Thanksgiving. The focus of the last week was on accepting and integrating just how non-random the seemingly random connections of our life are. The designer of that program urges the reader not to feel compelled to explain these random acts of connections to others because they will just challenge them. He says this because people will tend to challenge those awarenesses which also make us aware of our desire to convince others of what we think. I don’t care if you think I’m nuts. I know I am.