I’m celebrating a number of anniversaries this year. I haven’t figured out a way to celebrate yet. I’d give you a discount on my music but it’s all free anyway. I’ve been thinking about putting together a reel with clips spanning my musical career. That might be cool. And long. As the year nears it's end, I'm spending some time thinking back to the signposts along the way that stand out.
Thirty years ago I started playing guitar. Twenty years ago I joined a band looking for a guitarist, and it became Strange Land. Been divorced for 10 years. Been with my current partner going on 9. Moved more times than I care to remember, and I know I'm not done yet.
I’ve done a lot. Played guitar for a country session. Played mandolin in a pit band. Wrote two hand tapping music on banjo. I can’t play bluegrass for shit but if it’s got strings I’ll figure out a way to use it. I’ve made Prog metal, I’ve made ambient music. Been on film soundtracks and played dingy blues bars. Big band jazz, orchestras, trios, solo. At one time I taught 45 students each week, shaping young musical minds (scary thought, eh?).
I’ve always been a jack of all trades. It’s hardwired into me to be like that. But it’s not a bad thing. It’s given me a change to do such a variety of things, and ruminating on it now, some of it is downright weird. One of the most interesting gigs I ever had was performing electric guitar with an orchestra. In college we were celebrating the career of composer and professor John Downey. His The Edge of Space / Fantasy for Bassoon and Orchestra piece has a brief clean electric guitar interlude. It was actually a little scary at first since I had very little experience with real orchestra conducting. I didn't really understand it, as most high school conductors have to be a bit more obvious in their direction. I also had the opportunity to play in masterclasses with Arturo Sandoval and Gerald Cannon.
Strange Land's first gig was a weird one. It was St Patrick's Day, 2000. We played on a tv show at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. It was styled as a late night show, but broadcast live in the evening. Our keyboard player almost didn't show (there's always "that guy," right?). That night the guests included comedian Andy Dick and couple of strippers from the local night club. The studio audience consisted of college students who had been drinking since dawn. The strippers put on a little 'show' for the host while we played some cliché music, and after that the show was never broadcast live again. We also got to play a couple of our original tunes but I don't think anybody cared.
In the first ten years of Strange Land we were a live performing band. We released 3 albums and played a lot of shows. Some of those were significant, opening for Fish, King's X, Tiles, and Three (you prog heads will know what I'm talking about). Also played a lot of shows in smoky bars for 5 people who didn't give a shit we were there. Since the transition to studio band we've released 4 more albums and I'm in the early writing stages for more.
About the same time Strange Land got going, I started playing solo shows. Although I went to college to study jazz and classical guitar, I started playing steel string acoustic fingerstyle guitar at the end of my college time. I was introduced to players like Michael Hedges, Preston Reed, and Billy McLaughlin in college and started dabbling in the style on my own. It was a study option at my school but I didn't take that formal route. Ever since college I've run a parallel career of playing in bands and playing solo. I've mostly done coffeehouse-type gigs and short tours.
I taught my first lessons while in high school, but I made an official part time job of it from about 1999-2002, then full time until 2006. At one point during my full time stretch I had 45 students a week. It became sort of a second shift job and I was glad to end my full time run, but I do think about going back to a handful of students. I have had a few online students over the years.
In early 2010 I decided I had to leave Wisconsin. I'd thought about going a few times in the past but never made it happen. But the circumstances in my life at that time just worked out right to make the move. My best friend Tim had moved there in the early 2000s, and it was good to go somewhere I knew someone. Shortly after my move I met singer-songwriter Trinity Demask. I started playing sideman gigs with her and we became good friends. I was in Denver for 5 years, and we played many shows and I helped record and mix one of her albums. I also spent time in Denver playing metal with a band called Delusionist, and worked with a collective called the Stone Soup Soldiers. What originally started as a world/rock music jam/write/record thing eventually, under the guidance of group leader Mike Paul Hughes, morphed into a group that wrote some music for TV and indie films. I also met my better half, Lynette, in Denver, in late 2010. We were a good match, being at places in our lives where one thing we both wanted was to live in a "no bullshit zone". I won't say its all sunshine and unicorns, but I know we have an easier relationship than a lot of other people I know.
Once again the 'move bug' bit, and in 2015 Lynette and I started working toward a move to the Pacific Northwest. The story of this transition is actually very long, complicated, and frustrating so I won't recount it here. We did finally end up in Springfield, Oregon earl in 2016. I do really like it here, I think the PNW is a good fit for me. It's been a place to start new and to find out how one understands oneself upon moving into middle age. I've hit some serious bumps and sought professional help. I feel like I'm in a good place in my head, and if anything, let me tell you that asking for help, especially for mental health, is ok. It's a good thing. It's good to feel whatever you feel and there's no shame is seeking help understanding what it means. And I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised at how much people around here support live music.
My life has been full of constant change. Not that I'm unusual, but sometimes I just want to stop. I've moved nearly 20 times in my life, 10 of those moves coming after college. Part of the adjustments I'm trying to make in my mind now is just adapting to the idea of staying out. I'm in a house now that I could be in for 15 years, maybe longer. I have no concept of how one does that.
At least at the moment I'm starting to feel like I'm settling into a new phase. I also now can count myself as a professional drone pilot and photographer. I've become something of an event videographer, totally by accident. I hosted a futurism and science podcast for two years and 90 episodes. Interviewed a lot of cool people and covered cool subjects.
I still make a lot of my own music, under my name, Strange Land, and some other avenues. Somewhat unplanned, 90% of my gigs the last 3 years have been jazz gigs. I'm on pace for almost 70 shows this year, and I'm sure this has been my busiest year by far. Although I studied jazz in college I never really pushed to be a serious jazz musician after school. I did it more as an avenue to learn more about music, and then did my own thing. Returning to it has been good for my playing skills and musical growth, and good for my social life (as little as it is). All this has never led to the financial success that America demands of you to be considered worthy, but I'm learning to better enjoy what I have. It's mine, I did it my way, and I think this is the only way it could be.
I debated whether this should be a PanFuture article or a personal blog, but I think it's both. Herein I get my cranky old man on, and also ruminate about the state of our society and future of civilization. There will also be swearing.
I have a special hatred for those articles that you see saying things like "Do these 3 things and retire before age 40" or "These are the simple wealth tricks no one does". They make me want to scream in someone's face. You've seen them, or any of a dozen variations on that theme. Sometimes they are aimed at younger people, sometimes at those more in middle age. But as far as I can tell, they all have one thing in common.
It usually comes early in the article, maybe a paragraph or two after the introduction. Whether it's from the person writing about what they did, or just a generic example, there's a mention of how much money you make. Often delivered as an offhand comment, no big deal. Like "hey, by the way, now that you earn a shit ton of money you could do this and get even more. It's easy and everyone can do it". It's an apparent complete and utter disconnect from how most people actually live
And here is where the face-palming problem with all these articles lies. From a recent headline: "6 Things to Do With Your Money Once Your Salary Reaches $70,000", which is mostly just to sell you shit you probably don't need. Or from another recent article titled "I saved $300,000 by 26—and doing these 5 unusual things helped me save like crazy". Two things immediately stand out from this author: "I also worked hard to earn scholarships and chose to go to an in-state school for financial reasons. But that, in addition to the job I took on as a research assistant, didn’t make school that much cheaper. To cover the $21,000 per year tuition, I did have some help from my parents and was able to graduate debt-free, which I consider an enormous privilege." She worked hard, good for her. So did I. She graduated debt free? Yeah, not me. And then this gem: "After college, I landed an internship at a biotech company that paid $32 an hour. Then, I moved on to a junior software engineering role that offered a $65,000 salary, along with a $10,000 signing bonus." She further managed to get by on only $20k per year and saved the rest.
YOU GOT AN INTERNSHIP THAT PAID $32/HR AND A STARTING JOB AT $65K! Normally I don't shout in caps, but it's shit like this that just makes me want to scream out loud and dismiss the rest of the article out of hand. Sure, she lives in Portland and that's pretty pricey, but holy shitballs. I'm 43 and I'll be lucky to crack $38k. I might be able to get by on $20k a year, but it's not like I have a choice. Save $300k? Ain't happening for a schmuck like me. Every last one of these articles never understands that most people don't get that lucky, and they don't understand how much easier the game is when you get a head start.
The more I thought about these articles the more it occurred to me we have a problem with income shaming. On the surface maybe there is good advice here, or maybe sometimes its just a scam to sell you that one weird trick. But more and more it reads like shaming. In the same way, especially here in America, we're told all the time how we're not thin enough, not ripped enough, not pretty enough. All these messages are often delivered in a way that says "if you're not this way, you have no value as a human being". We're often told we're not rich enough if we don't own the right things. And there's interesting wordplay in many of these articles. They always refer to wealth, not being rich. There's something different between those two. Like being rich makes you an asshole, but having wealth is all soft and fuzzy.
Of course the awful catch-22 of the whole thing is that the more money you have, the easier it is to gain more (or conjure out of thin air in the stock market). If you have little or none, it's nearly impossible to gain. This just makes the income inequality problem worse. In truth, most of us die where we were born. America has a Caste system, it's just not so obvious to most.
Most people don't have that kind of luck. Most people don't start ahead of the game. It's time to stop judging our value based on what we own or the size of our portfolios. Wall Street is not Main Street, and I am not just a credit score. What I do in my chosen jobs educated children, entertains people during a night out, preserves memories, and facilitates communication, among other things. Is all of that only worthwhile if it puts a lot of money in my pocket? I don't think so, but that's not how American capitalism is set up. It's time to separate value from money, self-worth from wealth, and vocation from compensation.
(As a related aside, any article that talks about 'side hustles' can fuck right off. I've been partly or fully self employed my entire adult life. It's all side hustle for a freelancer.)