Victorian College of the Arts
Winter is coming
Check out my other blog. It’s not quite as narcissistic as this one. mindspillage.tumblr.com
Just after the second mile in the State cross country meet, I watched a runner ahead of me collapse. As I ran past, I slowed and desperately yelled out his name, “Seamus!” I immediately knew we had lost the race. I turned away and kept running.
Senior year of high school was a strange time in my life. The school was under construction all year. Jack hammers and nail guns could be heard throughout the building. Additionally, our valiantly insincere principal, Mr. Kane, chose that year to have a mental breakdown. This left the school in the hands of the first-year Vice Principal and the school cop. Before too long, kids were being dragged out of class in handcuffs for shit-talking the vice principal on Facebook. It became a police state.
Despite the battleground that was my high school, my cross country team gave me a goal. Running to win helped me find focus that I hadn’t known since Freshman year. Although I had been on the team since my Sophomore year, none of us took it seriously until we realized we could win races. Senior year there was an intensity and camaraderie that was new for all of us.
Outside of my cross country practices and races, I had my shit together. I had A’s in every class except AP stats, I was with a wonderful girlfriend, the acne that had plagued me for the past couple of years was on its way out, and I had my driver’s license. I was on top of the world. At 17 I had life figured out.
Our first cross country meets went exceptionally well. There was only one Class A team in the state that could compete with us, and as we neared the State meet it seemed certain that we would beat them.
My team was made up of the most unlikely group of athletes I have ever had the pleasure to know. Monte was type A, the hard charging leader of the team. He was the best runner and worked hard in both school and in practice. Seamus was the most naturally talented runner. Fun loving, quick of feet and wit, and like a younger brother to me because we’d known one another since we were little. Chris Phipps was the most weirdly eloquent and hilarious person on the team, which might have been due to his Aspergers, but was probably just his personality. Charles was a quiet, funny kid who I had to kick awake in novels class every day. Jacob was a valedictorian, son of an AP math teacher, the classic socially-awkward nerd. John was not the most talented runner, but he worked harder than just about anyone. Charlie Mogan was the gangliest, most physically awkward, exceedingly white, boy I have ever met. I fit in there somewhere as a bridge between all of the different personalities and interests. I loved them all, we were a family.
The night before the State meet we had a team dinner. I drove Seamus back to his house in my dad’s subaru. We listened to some Kanye and talked excitedly about our shot at being the first team from Park High to win State. We stayed up texting stats and potential results to each other. We were the favorites.
The race started too fast. The first mile was behind everyone in less than 5 and a half minutes. At the second mile I was on target for my goal time. Then Seamus fell. I have often wondered why I didn’t stop, even knowing it wouldn’t have made a difference.
I saw Seamus’ dad, yelling for me to kick it to the end. I knew he was wondering where Seamus was. I finished the race. 16:42. A disappointing time.
Nobody knew what was going on. Seamus had been seen turning blue by my coach. He administered CPR and paramedics rushed him to the hospital.
Our team left the course before hearing the results. We found out later we had placed 4th as a team.
A week later Seamus was dead. He never regained consciousness. Apparently he collapsed from some sort of undetectable heart condition that I still don’t understand. It sounded like “We don’t know why he died, his heart just gave up,” the sort of excuse that people with doctorates will try to feed you when they don’t have the heart to tell you “shit happens, and we don’t know why.”
I stopped going to school for a while. When I returned I couldn’t care less about my classes. Mr. Kane had been “sick” for several weeks at this point. The school didn’t know how to handle a depressed student body, and my teachers didn’t expect me to show up.
From the moment that Seamus fell, my life fell into a spiral. I went numb. October 22nd was the day of the meet, October 28th was the day we learned he died. It has been two years now, and I can still see him falling.
Seamus and I were in grade school together. We would carpool back to his house from Learning Circle Montessori Elementary School in Bozeman, a thirty minute drive. Every day we would have a snack, then rush down to the basement. We spent the next hour or so tackling each other up and down the length of the narrow, carpeted space, pretending to be our favorite football players.
As we grew up I fell into the role of an older brother. Seamus started dating one of my best friends. He was always asking for advice: how to kiss, when it was appropriate to take off clothes, what to do if and when those clothes were off. We talked about music and life and what we were going to do once we finished up at Spark High.
I survived the rest of Senior year. I was in Romeo and Juliet, playing the part of Benvolio. My final monologue every night was relaying the story of how Mercutio, who lay dead at my feet, had been killed. Every night I went backstage after the monologue shaking and crying. I could always see Seamus’ blank stare, and hear my last desperate shout to see if he would get up and run.
This is what Fall looks like in the ‘Zoo.
My life is finding the balance between “I hate everyone,” and “I hate myself.”
Hello, fellow musician! How have you been lately? Oh, not so great? Some beautiful woman took your still-beating heart out of your chest and stomped on it? Imagine that. Although you are currently feeling pain far worse than you thought could exist, I am here to help you. That’s right. Together, we are going to write a shitty love song.
Now, some might say that shitty love songs are easy to write and that you should focus on creating something more profound. To them I say: fuck off. Love songs are not only incredibly relatable, they can be a useful tool in the recovery process.
There are several ways to go about writing your song. The first choice you have to make is whether or not to begin with the lyrics or the riff. Personally, I like to collect a veritable fuck-ton of emotional, bullshit phrases pertaining to my recent heartbreak, and string them together into the pattern of verse, verse, chorus, verse, verse, chorus. This collection of poetic lines can be done over a period of several weeks while you are still simmering in your recently bruised heart, or it can be done all at once, think volcano of emotion. For the latter method, I would highly recommend the use of alcohol to fuel the process. A middle of the road red wine or a bottom shelf bottle of whiskey will put you in just the mood to pour your feelings onto a page. Having some words down will give you something to build on or viciously cut later on. I often find that my first draft of lyrics is very different than the song I end up with.
Once you feel like you have enough phrases like: “I clung to our last kiss/like your lips could save me from this madness,” you should begin to feel out the chord progression. Here I will recommend you find the four chords: E, B, C# minor and A, and either use those chords or bump them up or down several steps. For any of you with some music theory knowledge, those chords follow the basic I, V, VI, IV pattern that nearly every popular song uses. You can stick with those chords for just the verses and switch it up to something powerful (preferably in a minor key) for the chorus.
When you have decided on the key you wish to place your four chord song within, try playing and singing the first verse or chorus with the chords. Discover the melody. Michelangelo purportedly said of his famous sculpture David: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Similarly, you have music inside of you waiting to come out, and your tear-stained lyrics are just waiting to show you the song they are meant to be.
If the straightforward four chord sound isn’t working for you, you can go for a more “alt” sound by trying some less traditional chord shapes. Minor 7th chords or split chords will show everyone that you are more far more original and creative than a simple four chord song could express.
Something I haven’t brought up is which instrument to use to create your passionate, heart-stirring, loin trembling masterpiece. If you have been paying attention to music for the last few decades, you will note that acoustic guitars are to love songs as PBR and American Spirits are to your fellow hipster musician. Acoustic guitars are easily transported to your nearest open mic or grassy college campus, and, when played correctly, can do anything from punk-rock to Mumford style folk or Bright Eyes. With your love song, I would recommend you find a tempo and picking or strumming pattern that evokes the forlorn cry of a loon in a high mountain lake. How you do this is up to you. This is one of your many moments to be an artist. Seize it.
While acoustic guitars are the instruments of choice for many musicians, some may prefer the clean tones of a semi-hollow body guitar, or even some slight distortion. While these can be very effective tools (see: The Gaslight Anthem, Wilco and Neutral Milk Hotel) I would recommend you stay away from anything too over-driven.
Now that you have figured out the melody, it may be time to cut down on some of the less necessary words. The twelfth use of the word love, for example, could probably be eliminated. The song that emerges after this editing will be a sleek love vessel, carrying your words into the ears and heart of that girl you are singing for.
Following in the footsteps of Bon Iver, you might want to spend some time deep in the wilderness with only your guitar and a Macbook to keep you company for the final stage: the recording. Keep in mind, the recording should only happen once you have played your new song at least twenty times through. Try recording your song a handful of times. Garage Band will work just fine, unless you have some friend studying sound engineering, in which case go to him.
If you are doing the recording yourself it is imperative that you be slightly intoxicated at this point. Find the feelings. Have them burst through in the beautiful chorus you have written. Sing for her. Sing like she is right in front of you. Listen to this recording. Cringing a bit at this point is both acceptable and normal. Have no fear though (remember, slight intoxication is a good thing) if you have written something even halfway decent, which you have, then remember that everyone loves to love a love song.
Once you have a recording, it is your responsibility as an artist to share your song with the world, and especially with the one who it is written for or about. Everyone will reaffirm what you already know in comments on your various social media sites, making you feel better. You will get the girl back (or if your song was more on the hate-side of love, then she will hear it and weep over her mistakes) and all will be right with world again.
So, congratulations, you have written a song. From now on you must wield this creative ability carefully. You can bruise hearts or sew them up with your words and melodies. That is the power of your love song.
a new song. soberly written, not so soberly recorded.
After my mom left my dad I went over to his house. He was sitting alone in the basement, drinking whiskey and blasting the Replacements out of his excellent Bose sound system. “Look me in the eye/ and tell me that I’m satisfied,” an anthem from his youth, that he had shared with me was comforting him again.
My dad inspired my love of music. In the fifth grade, he drove me half an hour to school every day, playing mix tapes from his college days. I was exposed to everything from The Ramones to Neil Young, and every day some new song lyric or band would excite me. I loved the song “Beat on the Brat,” it was simple and punchy. Little did I know that I would be seen as the brat in most groups of punker kids listening to The Ramones.
My mother’s music taste overlapped quite a bit with my dad’s. She has always claimed that many of the records in the basement of my dad’s house were, in fact, hers. The Meat Puppets were her favorite band in college, and The Replacements were my dad’s.
They both had engraved glasses at their favorite bar, like something out of Friends. My mom’s said Binky and my dad’s said ‘Mats (for The Replacements). I found out recently that they were at many of the same rock ‘n’ roll and punk shows before they met. They must have stood near each other while Fugazi played, without a clue that they would soon fall in love.
In college my dad grew out a scruffy beard and mullet after years of being forced to keep a certain haircut by his grandparents while he attended the Landon School for Boys.
He was a rebel driving a mustang convertible and listening to punk rock. My mom worked in a candy shop. They got married at 22 in the University of Virginia Chapel next to the serpentine walls that are covered in a thick blanket of ancient vines.
I’ve often tried to picture them as a young married couple, setting out across the country for Montana. They must have been in love. The foolish, reckless kind of love. Their crinkled, happy eyes smile up at me in all of the old photos.
They had me at 29. I was the first of four children, and the only one born in a hospital. Being the only blonde hair, blue-eyed family member led me to question whether I was adopted. They have always assured me that I was not.
My three siblings came every three years after me. We moved frequently when I was young. Dad tried to find a place to teach and my mom kept vetoing the middle-of-nowhere conservative-dense towns we found ourselves in. Although that was a time of tension in the middle of our happy little family, I was too young to realize that anything was wrong.
My mom took us, the kids, back to Livingston and waited for my dad to finish the semester teaching high school in Broadus, MT. I think those few months were especially hard for my dad. His family hours away, and nothing but his job, ramen, and PBR to sustain him.
We were a family again once he returned. I was going through a phase in which I did nothing but sit around and read. My parents were worried I wouldn’t make any friends in first grade.
I have always felt extraordinarily loved by my parents, and I always felt that they loved each other very much. It came as quite a surprise to me when, in middle school, they talked about separating. My mother wanted to leave. They had been fighting, squabbling constantly over the smallest things. The dishes weren’t done on time, or the house was a mess.
It seemed as though my life was about to change drastically. My dad took me on a walk and told me that my mom would leave and he would keep the house. They didn’t tell anyone else and I heard nothing more about it. Several years passed and I was sure that everything had been worked out. In the midst of my senior year of high school my mother moved out and immediately another man joined her. One of my best friends had just died. Love wasn’t what I thought it was. My life was in a tailspin.
My dad got through it. He now has a fiancee. My mom is now married. I went to her wedding two weeks ago. It was a truly joyous celebration of everlasting love. I played music in between the three band’s sets and got gloriously drunk as an act of defiance (and what is a wedding if not an excuse get drunk with your closest 200 friends?)
As I sit here typing this, I’m listening to the Replacements through my dad’s wooden Bose speakers from the ‘80’s. They were gifted to me when I left for college. These speakers were the first thing I moved into my room. They are the same speakers he listened to the words: “We are the sons of no one/Bastards of young,” on throughout college . When he and my mom first met I’m sure they were set up in his room just as they are in mine now.
Marriage, love, life, purpose, all of the concepts that as a 17 year old I thought I had figured out have been shaken if not completely dismantled
I am jaded and naive and still trying figure out what this life thing is all about, but the music is still playing.