[Originally Published: Nov. 21, 2011 – CBCRadio3 Blog]
“You must be prepared to work always without applause.” — Ernest Hemingway
“Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?” — Kurt Vonnegut
Writing is not publishing. As it were, I have over 30 songs in my songwriters quiver, 20 years of writing, and revising, and writing, and experimenting, and revising; and in the end this sweat of passion dripped quietly in the confines of the walls of that place called home. On infrequent occasion I stood on stage and declared my voice a relevant one worth listening to (Beijing, China; campfires; open mics; audiences of few), but these were moments either safe in their obscurity, or one-off performances that didn’t require follow-up; laugh them off, or take the praise, no matter the moment ended as it arrived.
All of this to say that, recording is not songwriting. To write and not record made me Vonnegut’s “one living in perfect freedom;” to have the words and not speak them demands the same pity. But, to record and find no audience, no applause, that was a possibility best avoided: until now.
The history of ‘Streetcar Curtsy 0001’ is best revised to the short version:
–Write the songs (as above)
–Play the songs (sparingly, to a selective, safe audience)
–Begin to consider recording.
–Create the writer’s block equivalent of recording.
–Have supporters who demand more than excuses.
–Spend a weekend discovering how difficult ‘nailing it’ really is.
–After circumspection verging on the spectrum…have supporters who demand more than excuses.
–Set a date for: CD release party.
–Find an independent CD manufacturer. Set a deadline for art and sound.
–Genuflect to the gods of procrastination, doubt, confidence, perfection, … and so on.
–Discover the state most conducive to the catharsis of art. (unexpectedly, this is total clarity–Keith Richards be damned)
It is at this point that I understood my ‘job’ to be complete. Sincerely, how many steps could there possibly be between the live recording and the published music?
[I should submit for clarity purposes only, I have a full time job as a high school teacher. So despite the total ineptitude of the statement above, …]
[I should submit for clarity purposes only, I have a daughter who recently began full-day JK. So despite the total ineptitude of the statement above, …]
There is a reason that Daniel Lanois is a genius: How one man can be involved in the production of so much mind-bending sound in the time we have shared on this earth I can’t begin to fathom.
Mixing and Mastering: to the independent artist might be an expense considered extravagant. To the independent artist who has completed the task, mixing and mastering is a necessary colleague not unlike Yoda, Mr. Miyagi, Bowerman, …
When I began to craft my live guitar and voice into polished songs, I began to appreciate the difficulty of this process. For the most part, Streetcar Curtsy 0001 is a raw, untweaked facsimile of a stage performance. Aside from some layered guitar parts on “Fell for You in a Frame,” what you hear is what you get live. However, to achieve that sound was not a matter of plug in, play, c’est tout. Far from it. I can remember one example that speaks to this: At the end of the process, very much like the scene in Once where Glen Hansard Et. al. get in a car to listen to the sound the audience hears, you play the music through the speakers. Inevitably things don’t sound right. In this example, the most recently written song on the album, ‘Walk Miles,’ has an irritating quality to it. The acoustic guitar is lost in a symphony of, well, something I didn’t put there. It’s late. I have to work tomorrow morning. I have to get my daughter to school before I go to work. And, yet, here I am listening to playback trying to figure out how, in the translation from recording to MP3 to CD quality, my guitar sounds like a sample taken from a record made of wax. It turns out that live recording is a talent based on the principle of limits: how to limit what a live mic hears and transmits. That sound, that sound that is driving me to cut the ear from my own head, is the ever-so-ambient-lightness of a guitar picked up by my vocal mic; it is the sound of dissonance that comes from a mastering effect unintended for the ghost track remarkably unheard until now.
Suffice to say that insight does not come to the listener in the time the writer describes it. Having said this, there are limits to the publishing. At some point, the writer needs to lay the pen down and allow the audience to absorb the results–applause or rotten tomato.
In the case of Streetcar Curtsy, I came out ahead of the deadline. The 5 songs are the culmination of countless hours of the writing process. A process that, until now, I only imagined in the sexy-overtones presented in “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.”
Jeff Tweedy is puking because the migraine is real. Too real.
And yet there is something invigorating about making sounds and making them heard. Whether the audience is there or not, at least I can say I’ve avoided the ultimate pity: to have spoken under my breath only to have thwarted the chance of an audience without hands.