I Spent Most of My Time Chasing Creativity

When I was in my 20’s and playing in a rock band I never thought about having kids- or even really growing up myself. I spent most of my time chasing creativity. I worked as a messenger, a typist, a production assistant and a sperm donor. As a messenger I reveled in the anonymity and the purposefulness of walking into strange massive buildings in midtown Manhattan delivering packages. I would read Henry Miller on the subway and nod to my fellow messengers in crowded elevators. A lot of the time we weren’t allowed to mix with the office workers and were instead shuttled to messenger centers that invariably didn’t access the glitzy entry way that the real workers passed through. I didn’t mind, I felt uncomfortable in the office buildings and identified as an outsider.

I always had my camera and I took pictures in the empty sterile hallways, crowded streets, and the subways filled with crazies. During the middle of the day the subways weren’t as populated as they are now, and a lot of the people on them were on journey’s to nowhere. My most vivid memory is of a guy who was probably in his late 20’s. he had a long blond Beatles haircut and he was wearing a skirt as he smoked a cigarette and hung off the pole in the center of the car. An older woman told him not to smoke and he responded in a drawling English accent, “I’m the Queen of England, honey.”

A lot of the time I felt a bit like a ghost, somewhat invisible as I floated through the city taking pictures and delivering packages. My pay was 65 dollars a day- and I got 3 dollars extra per delivery to pay for the subway. A lot of the time I would ride my bike to increase my take home pay. If I did three drop offs on one ride I would pocket an extra 9 dollars. If I stopped off at the sperm bank as well I could make 150 dollars that day, and cover my entire rent for the month.

While I tried to work at a job for someone else as little as I possibly could, on the days that I wasn’t working at a job I didn’t sit around watching TV or doing nothing. I wrote, read, took notes, and played music. I also had band practice two or three nights a week. The band was the major focus of my energies, and most of the art that I was working on was related to that. I hand painted t-shirts to sell on tour and I a silkscreened and woodblock printed other shirts.

{ I was working on these thoughts a few weeks ago- before I started the blog- I was doing a lot of reflecting on this time- trying to connect with the person that I was then. Then Alana came over – and sat down at the kitchen table to burn CD’s and make covers out of paper-bags. It’s been very fun to re-live my past through her exciting life these past couple of days.}

I had started my band with two friends three years earlier, when I was a junior in college. I didn’t really know how to play the bass but was fairly obsessed with music. The guitar player, Chris, knew more than me, and he had taught his friend Rachael to play drums that summer. Chris and I listened to a lot of the same music and the first time that we played it felt like we could be a band.

I had started playing bass in high school but never really found anyone that I played well with. I had terrible musical self-esteem. My father didn’t help with this at all. He kind of ridiculed my efforts to play, and the people that I did play with in high school had better skills, so I always felt like the weak link. When I got to college I met Gene, Tom, and Pete, and they all mentored me musically. Gene was the most extreme about it. In the first semester of college he introduced me to literally hundreds of records and dragged me to shows several nights a week. A lot of the music that he and I listened to was based less on musical chops than pushing a musical envelope- music that thought about music in new ways. I found myself re-inspired to make music but it still took me a couple of years to find a situation that worked.

When I came back to college for my junior year I searched out Chris. We had bonded over music the year before and had talked about playing together the next year. He too was excited to give it a try and right away we headed down to the basement to make noise. For the first several months we made played a couple of nights a week. The Cinderblock Room amplified our already loud exertions and my ears would buzz for hours after we played. Laying in bed. bone tired from too much studying coupled with an exhausting music session, and I would listen to the echoes of the practice as the sound bounced around my head.

After a few months we recorded a few songs and played a few shows. Our first show was in our dorm – we played to about 10 people. Adam Sandler, who also lived in the dorm, opened up for us. As the school year came to a close we made a collective decision to really focus on the band. We decided to move to Providence for the summer and practice a lot.

That summer we lived together, fought a lot, and managed to practice a little and play a few shows. Moving to a smallish town that was had a strong music culture helped us to truly become a band. For many years after that people thought of us as a Providence band. When school started up in the fall, we started to play out a couple of times a month in NY. We would load our equipment into carts from the dorms and push them deep into the East Village to play. We even made a couple of trips to Providence and Boston in a beat up station wagon. A few labels expressed interest in the band and we put out a 7 inch single that got a lot of airplay on college radio. It was time to tour.

I finished school a semester early so I had some free time to work on booking the tour. I had started working at my various jobs, but it was the first time in my life that the responsibilities of school didn’t carry over into my evenings. In addition, my low rent and lack of expenses gave me an incredible sense of freedom. This was before the internet , so trying to connect with people in other cities took a lot of cold calling and sending out packages. After a few months of trying i was able to book 5 or 6 shows over a two week period. Some of those shows seemed tenuous, but we figured that we could make it work. We rented a van from some friends and set out in late July on an adventure that would change my life.

Our first show was in East Lansing, Michigan. We played at someone’s house and it was awesome. I don’t think we were paid anything and no one passed a hat- but we sold a bunch of singles and t-shirts – and we were able to stay in the room that we played- so we broke even on gas money.

A couple of summers earlier I had driven across the country with a friend. It was a tough trip. While it was exciting to experience the country, we were aimless and disconnected. We had no way to meet other people, so we floated from town to town on the outside as observers. We stopped at a lot of thrift stores and had a few adventures but I think we were both frustrated rather than enlightened by our journey. I was working on a photo project where I shot photos in malls across the country and it was depressing because they were all so similar. When our car was broken into in San Francisco my friend decided that he wanted to head straight back. The next day we started a driving and went all the way to St. Louis before we stopped- 40 hours straight.

On our first tour as a band we ended up driving straight to the one place in town where we met people that we got along with almost every night. We always found a place to stay, got enough beer to drink, and enough money to pay for gas to the next town. On that trip I met 10 people that are still friends of mine 20 years later.

Hanging out with Alana has been bringing back a lot of memories of that period but also a lot of that energy. I have been shooting a lot and thinking about the film even more.

1 Comment
  • Fame and Fortune - NEWS
    Posted at 18:53h, 07 August Reply

    […] college radio was one of the biggest parts of a band’s climb up the ladder of success. A band would go on tour, play shows, visit college radio stations and spread their gospel. Now they also have myspace and pitchfork and […]

Post A Comment