On July 2, 2013 I almost drowned on an afternoon kayaking expedition in Sechelt Inlet.
I hadn’t quite gotten the rudder pedals adjusted correctly, so I wasn’t able to steer right, and as I was drifting off course I ended up sideways to the incoming waves and got turned over.
Then I couldn’t get out of the goddamn kayak.
Fortunately we were out as part of a “learn to kayak” thing, so the instructor was already headed over in my direction when he realized my steering was screwed up, and while I couldn’t get my head above the surface [which I could see clearly from below], I could wave my right hand up over the surface.
I’m still not entirely clear on the geometry, where I was relative to the kayak I was stuck in, but I recall clearly that I could see black below me and clear white water above me. Which doesn’t make sense, really.
But anyway, I blacked out. Last thing I remember thinking other than “don’t exhale so goddamn fast, conserve your air” was “oh shit, I think this is how people drown…”
Not too profound, but there you have it.
The next thing I knew I was up on the surface coughing up water and bawling and being reassured by said instructor who’d rescued me.
Certainly wasn’t under or out long enough to cause any real damage but I was goddamn lucky.
It was at that point that things in my life came sharply into focus, or perhaps more on the long drive home after dropping my friend off.
Things I’d been meaning to change or shift but had been putting off, toxic people I needed to cut out of my life… things I wasn’t happy with in my career and artistic output…
I got to thinking about how unhappy I’d been with the industrial shit I was making, how sick and poisoned I’d felt when working on the experimental/spoken word shit I’d done in October/November/December 2012 to the point of just wanting to quit making any music anymore… which led to thinking back to what had made me want to get into music in the first place all those years ago. What did I actually like listening to? What made me happy to hear and happy to make?
Which turns out to be old hard rock and punk.
In fact, the whole drive home I could not shake the following song out of my head:
Particularly the prechorus, which makes sense considering what had just happened, but it was also a marker of sorts: one of my favorite songs [“Nature of My Business”] from one of my favorite albums [Shooting Gallery], a side project of another of my favorite bands [Hanoi Rocks] from when I was a kid.
Not industrial, which I had spent the previous 5 or 6 years wallowing in. Not experimental. Not noise.
Nope. Punk-infused hard rock with a funky edge to it. No machines. 100% human-made.
I still regularly wake up with that song in my head.
And I thought, wait a goddamn minute… didn’t I set out to make music like that, not like I’ve actually been making? My output had been constrained and guided by two negatives: 1. my personal circumstances and poisoned relationships [vs. me cutting that shit off and improving my situation and strengthening connections with saner friends], and 2. using samples and programmed MIDI and noise and making do with whatever I could do with those [vs. building my abilities to make what I wanted to make and what I could hear in my head].
I’d been taking the easy way out and then wondering why I wasn’t satisfied with the results.
It was a couple days later I dragged my ass to the Tom Lee in Richmond with to do what I’d been telling myself I’d do for months and hadn’t yet done: suck it up, buy an acoustic guitar, slap it into the drop D tuning that I’d always heard described as “even a retarded chimp can play guitar in that tuning” [reasoning being that I’m at least marginally smarter and more musical than a retarded chimp so it seemed like a good place to start] and get to work sorting through which of my old songs could be saved and reworked and which to consign to history and then start figuring out how to play guitar with an eye towards open mics and actually gigging maQLu more.
I still have work to be done, but I have hit an open mic as well as playing Shindig in November and opening for We Found A Lovebird in May. Which I do believe is 3x as many live appearances as I’d done in the previous year, so… progress.
And while I’m a million miles from Steve Vai, I’ve forced myself to work at things such that I’m a much better guitar player than I ever was with the synths [granted that one can draw just about anything in MIDI, but that’s the iMac playing it, not me].
And I got back into listening to all the old bands I’d loved when I was a kid: GNR, the Stones, Hanoi Rocks, etc., and then I quickly got to work on catching up with the various side projects and solo projects and related bands and influences I’d missed the first time around [eg. finally getting into the New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders whereas when I was a kid I din’t quite get them, even though I loved the Sex Pistols and the Ramones and various other related bands]. Eventually that cognitive dissonance led to making my radio show much more eclectic as of October, as indeed it had originally been when launched in 2002. [Had I not taken that step, I don’t think I could have continued doing the show.]
I’m also a lot healthier this July 2 than I was last July 2, so more progress.
Of course, I suspect what many people may have noticed most is I have even less patience for bullshit now than I used to have. Comes with the territory of knowing how quickly everything can be lost. If I’m thought of as an asshole for that, I’m cool with it.
Anyway… this is a bit of a rambling post, but I figured I’d make it anyway. I suppose the tl;dr version is that July 2 feels something like a secondary birthday or New Year’s: a time to reflect on things accomplished and work yet to do.