01/13/05 – Block
This blog was originally posted to The Dresden Dolls Diary.
But I’m not.
But I think I am.
I don’t know. Surprise…..
It’s 3:30 in the morning.
What is it like? I wish I could explain. I’ll try.
Ever since I was a teenager, I grappled with how and what and when and why to write music.
Songs would come, early on, and it was simple. There was no point. Just to write a song was a wonder in itself,
a reward in itself, to be played endlessly for an imaginary crowd who would sit, impressed and awed, all five thousand of them,
attentive on folding chairs in the living room between the painting of the revolutionary war and the fireplace.
And I would play for them…..so simple.
Then came the tapes. I can’t remember exactly when it started….1990, I think. The industry had just started realizing that tapes themselves could be aesthetic little pieces of plastic and started marketing the clear plastic cassette tapes with neon squiggles and lines. Clear blue, clear pink….the one I started with was dark clear blue. I called it (later) “The Long Lost Blue Tape”…because I
gave it to someone to listen to, god knows why, and it didn’t find it’s way back to me till much later. But it was the first one: I wouldn’t just play, just write, I would ARCHIVE. I would archive this thing happening. I would record every thought, every idea, every line for a song and the stream-of-consciousness-nonsense that spewed out with it, and then..somehow….later….maybe…..finish it? When? I never did. I never could. An idea was always an end in itself; a convenient little package and tangible evidence of What Could Have Been a Brilliant Song.
As the tapes filled up and the unfinished songs started numbering in the hundreds, I (reasonably, I think), began to feel slightly distressed. This system isn’t working.
I went back to a journal of mine from 1998. I had finished college and was living in Harvard Square in a garret sublet for the summer.
The same catholic guilt, the same insane self-flagellation……”why aren’t you doing? making? performing? recording? finishing anything? why are you drinking too much? smoking too much? fucking stupid people too much? wasting your time? not finishing ANYTHING?” This refrain was so typical by then that is was almost laughable. Yet here I am, 2005, sitting in my apartment, wondering many of the same things. And I’ve “accomplished” plenty. The feeling doesn’t go away.
When I got to college things got remarkably worse. I stopped writing altogether. I don’t know what happened. I was terrified. So disappointed that college wasn’t the artists bohemian haven I has fantasized about, so disappointed that I had to start from scratch with a group of people I couldn’t relate to, and I had no piano to go to without trekking across campus to a dank and sterile practice room open until 10 pm while genius #56 on one side pounded out Beethoven Sonatas and disciplined music student #85 flew through scale after endless scale on their flute/trombone/jaw harp on the other side. I had nothing in common with these people. I was so much better, I was so much worse. I didn’t do anything right.
Not a moment of my life went by without the contemplation of the specter of the tapes that lay there, in a pile, intimidating, taunting, mocking me. So many of them. 20 maybe. Times ninety minutes. Each holding 20, 30, 40 ideas for songs I would never write or finish. I even tired to catalog, weed out the better ideas, listen and type comments into a document that I created in it’s own special folder on my very modern Macintosh Classic computer. Nothing came of that. Now I have a modern Dell. It organizes and also tempts with an unending stream of communication that I could tend to constantly, sitting here as things unraveled and raveled, as crises appeared and ideas and people and fans and friends beckon with their loving and distracting correspondence. I have no self-discipline whatsoever. The idea of putting aside an allotted amount of time per day during which to check email or get online is unfathomable. It’s all happening, right now. I want to watch. Now. NOW, godammit.
I can’t imagine what life would be like if I owned a television, but I can empathize with the addiction.
So when I needed to create my course schedule for my sophomore year, I went to a music professor and a theatre professor and conned them both into giving me a full course credit for doing an independent “performance art” project. Of course, I did nothing. Three weeks before the end of the semester I got to work. I work well under pressure. I mixed the bets of the ideas together into a one-hour sound collage on my four track and superimposed and interview with myself on top. I interviewed my pundit from the dead, basically. “What about those old tapes?” “Well, she had an INCREDIBLE amount of potential as a songwriter, you see. She was wildly talented. But she never really got it together. Such a shame….” The soundtrack was played during the performance, which was attended by about 50 people (including the two professors, of course, who had to grade me). I strung a white sheet across the stage and stood behind it, with a slide projector projecting light against it so I was in silhouette. Then I took the 60 or 70 some-odd cassette tapes that I had found at various thrift shops and yard sales (mostly terrible things from the early eighties, and blank mix tapes of Unknown Origin) and began unraveling them, gradually hanging the yards of magnetic ribbon on a clothesline so the screen would be more more and more darkened and obscured. Then I lost my patience and hacked them apart, dramatically, with a hammer. Oh, I meant it. I wanted to crush those fuckers, Dead. The performance ended, accidentally early, when the sheet fell down and I stood there, naked, screaming that I never wanted this, that I didn’t want to be talented, that I didn’t want to be a songwriter with any fucking ideas, good or bad. I generally had a good old-fashioned healthy public temper tantrum freak out.
Both teachers gave me an A, but it didn’t help. I was enraged. I had gotten away with murder, public wanking, and I was still stuck.
I could just let myself be, I suppose. I have been. Take a walk. Drink some coffee. Read a book. Answer the endless stream of email.
I did, I did all day. My calendar said “Day off. Write.”
And there they sit, the new batch of brilliant ideas, crouching on the piano like little fucking demons, like unfinished book reports, like abandoned children who knew I was the mother. I can’t sit down at the piano anymore, I’m just paralyzed with fear. Of what, I don’t really know. I’ve never known. I used to think it was fear of success. God knows that’s not true, nowadays. Bring it on.
Once an idea is finished, it’s not an idea anymore. It’s a song, good or bad. Possessing the secret weapon of a so-called brilliant idea feels much more exciting than following through, I suppose. Maybe that’s it.
Maybe I’m actually lazy.
Maybe I really need more time off to do nothing but take walks and drink coffee and read books and answer emails and whack off, basking in the glow of existence.
I spend so much time on the road thinking about this moment, this free time, this window in which to create, and here I am. Sitting behind my computer, hiding.
One of my best friends, Joshua, once wrote and mailed me a letter. I was 18, and he knew about the song demons.
All it said was
“It is saturday morning and I find myself thinking: are you writing a song or fixing yourself a bite to eat?”
Oh, Josh, I’d be so disappointing to you right now. But my kitchen is immaculate, and I’ve organized my tea alphabetically.