Wednesday, October 29, 2014

So - here we are -

So - here we are - almost two years down the road -

Lots of evolution in AWG-land. In my last post, I had just gotten canned from big-corpo-agency, and was (somewhat unrealistically as it turned out) optimistic about my prospects. I did a couple of short freelance stints (and one rather extended 5-month stint) at a few random businesses up until the summer of 2013 when it all came to grinding halt. So I drew unemployment, did whatever pick-up projects I could find, and settled in for what turned out to be a year-and-a-half long all-out job search. 

Over the course of that year-and-a-half, I …

• used up my unemployment,
• ran head-on into overt ageism,
• tweaked and revised various résumés, profiles, portfolios countless times
• drove a van for a friend's after-school music program;

And two other things than warrant more than a bullet point:

First - I  signed on with the Lyft - and later Uber - app-based "ride share" services and did that pretty much full-time from October thru July. 
As a result, I …

• kept the bills paid,
• put insane amounts of wear-&-tear on "The Silver Surfer" (my Honda Element),
• gave approx 1300 rides to thousands of (mostly drunk) strangers, 
• learned more about the people and places that constitute Atlanta-after-dark than I ever imagined,
• made some friends,
• gave up almost every weekend night,
• had an insider's view of the birth and growing pains of a surprisingly cut-throat new industry,
• likely saved a young man's life (he was OD'ing and I made a detour to the emergency room),
• had two people puke in my car (fortunately they each kept it in the barf bag!).

This adventure more or less ended when I started work at my new corpo-gig last summer, though I still drive from time to time, for extra $$ and, frankly, because it's kinda fun.

The other big thing is rather BIG indeed. I decided to go the college and get a Masters in Social Work degree with the goal of becoming a therapist. Note that I didn't say "back to college" because I am essentially starting from scratch. I have always felt called to therapy and counseling work. It's something I feel I have a natural ability for. However I never pursued it because that type of work requires a college degree. 

Way back "in the day", I never even considered going to college - mainly because I was a pretty bad high school student - barely squeaking by. It's doubtful I would have even been accepted had I chosen to go. I know now that much of this was due to my relatively severe ADD, and not a reflection of my own intelligence or abilities. 40-some-odd years of finding my way since those days have taught me much about myself. With technological solutions that didn't exist before, and with the level of self-awareness I now posses

Another part of this is I realize that, at 56, I'm staring at retirement in the not-too-distant future. I know that, other than Social Security, I don't have any sort of retirement funds and will likely continue working. I'm mostly OK with this. But not in the graphics industry. I enjoy the work, and I'm good at it, but I simply can't see myself in this industry once at 65. Likewise, I can't see myself on the self-employed roller-coaster either. 

And even though my new job seems like it could work for me for the long-term, the fact is that things change, and just because it's a good gig right now, doesn't mean it will be next year, or in five years, or whatever. And I really don't want to find myself back in the job-hunting vortex - at least not in this field.

But - seeing clients that need help and helping them sort through their problems. That's work I could do. And I believe I'll be good at it. AND I believe there will be a lot of open doors for me once I get through the process. Interestingly, this is one field where my age will be an asset. I have been on the periphery of the mental health field for some time through Jenny. Elle has been most helpful as well. She, too, went down a similar path a number of years ago and she has helped me map out my strategy.

So far, I'm straight "A" in the courses I've taken, and I've been able to get credit for some course work baked on testing and/or life experience. But I still have a ways to go. 

The downside? Less time and energy for artistic and musical endeavors. This prompted me to resign from the Eyedrum board just as they are entering a new phase and I do miss my active involvement there. I am "ex-officio" - still in the loop peripherally and in a limited way - but it's not the same.

As far as my own projects? I've had to accept the fact that there is no "big break" around the corner. There are two major reasons for this - which I recently wrote about in a Facebook status:

"The two reasons I am not a commercially successful musician, and why I'm OK with it: 

The first reason is a pretty common story amongst most musicians I know. In order to achieve success as musician, you really have to be willing to put the rest of your life on hold for a while. Marriages are hard. Kids are out of the question. Buying a house? Job security? Nada. Your only social life is amongst other musicians. You have to be flexible and available for anything that might come along. You can't let anything tie you down. I wasn't willing to make those sacrifices. I wanted a family. I wanted a home, and kids. And I have been immeasurably rewarded for making this choice, even though I've never been able to find commercial success as musician.

The second reason is more about me. I simply have too many musical aspirations. I have never been able to focus on a specific speciality. I am a keyboard player. I am a composer. I write musical theater pieces. I compose dance scores. Film scores. Prog Rock opuses. Multimedia events. I improvise. Jazz. Ambient. I produce other artists. I play cover songs. The musicians I know who are making a living stick to their main specialty - Bass player. Sax player. Teacher. Dance composer. Film composer. I just can't let myself settle in and focus on ONE aspect of all of this. I want it ALL. And I have been artistically successful in all of these to varying degrees. Perhaps if I had been able to narrow my focus a bit more, I'd be telling a different story."

All that being said, I am actually a better "musician" than I ever have been. Kinda odd, actually ...

So - music - 

I still have way more aspirations than I have resources. The projects that get the attention are the projects that involve other people. i.e. the stuff that is just me tends to get ignored. Which is kind of a shame…. 


• Most of my music time these days goes into Jerome Newton. We are pretty set with our material, and by all rights should be in "maintenance" mode with occasional gigs. BUT sax-man Stan has moved out of the country, so we're having to work in a new sax guy - Brent. He is coming along well, but it's kind of a drag for us to be having to spend so much time working in the new guy instead having that time available for other projects. So it goes, but he is just about up to speed - and Meredith, our backing singer, has mostly learned the songs that Stan used to sing. Now it's time to once again try and find shows (which is more challenging that I expected - mainly because the available time and energy I have to seek them out is decidedly in short supply.

• My other ongoing project is Zentropy. I must admit approach this group with a bit of melancholy, because in its earliest incarnations, it had the most potential for "breaking on through" and becoming a pro act. But alas, personnel issues (some of which are documented elsewhere on my blog), and failure (on my part mostly) to make the necessary connections have consigned Zentropy to, essentially a hobby act. My bandmates in the current incarnation, while both quite good, aren't quite on the same page re. commitment, availability, etc. So, yeah, we get together every 3-4 weeks and make some good improvised music. We do a few shows a year at select (small) venues, and have fun. But I can't see it ever being anything more than it is. Heck, I haven't' even felt inspired enough to pull together a CD of some of our better sessions, even though they all have (more or less) been recorded.

I do have this idea of hooking up a video camera, and signing up with a streaming service and starting a series of monthly live-streamed events (later released as podcasts and Youtube ids), but with school, work, etc., I haven't made it happen yet. 

• While Z-Axis - perhaps the best band I've ever been in - ceased to exist a few years ago, there are a couple of completed tracks, and various other partially-completed tracks (awaiting ME to put the final touches on them). My aspiration, and (perhaps) my next project is to finally finish them up and release a posthumous third Z-Axis CD. Maybe by writing it down here, it will happen.

• Over the past few years, Stan and I would do some occasional duet improv gigs under the name Viet-Zen (Vietnam being his former band, and Zentropy my current one). These were actually some of the more artistically satisfying things I have done in recent years. There's a certain dynamic I find in a duo setting that seems to bring out some good stuff - and Stan was a great person to bounce sounds off of. I think the word is simpatico. But just as I was toying with the idea of making it a regular project, Australia called and Viet-Zen was gone with the wind. 

So now, I'm beginning the process of perhaps finding another duo-partner. I have approached Molly Harvey - local singer/performance artist formerly with the Residents. I've heard and seen what she can do and I really like her energy and aesthetic. And who knows? Maybe a little of the Residents mojo will rub off? But she's is busy, and in-demand, and I'm not sure she would be as into the idea as I am. But I've put it out there - planted the seeds - so maybe something will grow some day?

I've also approached Kris Nelson, a guy I've come to know through a combination of mutual friends and Facebook, he, too, seems like he may be "simpatico'. We had a meeting recently to discuss possibilities, and once Fall semester ends, I'm going to get together and make some sounds with him and see where it might go.

• A more controversial project that's brewing: revisiting Sisyphus. This was perhaps my "magnum opus" - my first foray into narrative musical theater and it dates back to my Nashville days (in fact, some of the material goes back as far as the 70s). It was in limbo for many years - existing only in cassette demos and a few rough notes. Then several years ago, I worked with a director to mount a staged workshop performance. The production was rough but relatively successful. Unfortunately, the whole thing had some major fallout in my personal life which I won't go into here except to say that I've been reluctant to revisit it since then. Fast forward to today - I have received continual encouragement TO revisit it from folks who were involved, and it IS some of the best stuff I've written - BUT - I have no time, energy, funds, or indeed inclination to try and mount it as a theatrical production again. I'm also VERY reluctant to risk reopening old wounds. The last time has some painful associations. Maybe it's time to reclaim it? 

Should I pursue Sisyphus again (and the jury's still out), it would be a very different process. I had an inspiration awhile back while watching "deleted scenes" from Pixar movies. These scenes had never actually been fully animated, so they used the hand-drawn storyboards as the visual elements. These images were semi-animated - by panning, zooming, etc. on the still images. So my idea is to find a visual artist to help create a graphic novel-style treatment to the story, then "pan & zoom" animate the images onscreen with a live soundtrack. The Jerome Newton rhythm section is down for it, so once JN finally moves into to "maintenance mode", it will be time to start working on the music - and recording it all. If I decide to pursue it, that is.

There are many more things I want to say, but I'm going to stop after this last bit. One thing that I've been drawn to lately is my "legacy". I guess this is part of aging process, but I've been experience this strong need to make sure my children, and grandchildren (PS - I've got a grandson now!!! But that's a whole different topic!) and whomever might be interested, has a way of knowing just what I've done in my life. So I've been spending random chunks of time digitizing old photos and videos, compiling dates, etc. So far, I've partially gone through this process with a number of my old bands, and I went through it on a big way with The Mind's Eye Group (my most successful - in every way - project). I've digitized and edited all of the Mind'S Eye video and photos, scanned all of our press clippings, etc., created an exhaustive chronology of all of the performances we did, etc. and put it all online here and I will soon be doing the same with Gnosis, and my more recent bands. I've also been slightly obsessing over a spreadsheet that lays out a timeline for virtually every significant thing in my life - marriage, children, places lived/worked/etc., bands, etc. What I realized is how little I know about my own parent's life (especially my dad's), and I don't want my kids to be as in-the-dark about my life. 

So, yeah, legacy. And the future. And the present. Onward ...