Making an Album

The march from inkling to birthing. The multiple birthing. RE-birthing. The players coming in and out—some old friends, some new. Certain tunes sitting in you forever, knowing they’re gonna make it—you can’t abandon them now. But it’s so long, sometimes you wanna just go all new new new! Latest is the best. But you know better than that. You know that’s not necessarily true. Old tricks delight as well as haunt.

Chris & I went to RI last summer and had a blast, scouting out places to shoot footage for a video and visiting her old neighborhood. Someone in local government really liked our song and we scouted out places for shoots. Still haven’t shot. DIY is a bitch sometimes, juggling so much, robbing Peter to pay that other guy… Then there’s the tending to the people you love. Ain’t gonna be some indifferent part-timer placing adulation over duty. Nope. Gotta do it all. Be the good parent, lover, friend, while also living, breathing and dreaming your art.

Numerous writers I like have said over the years how they never realized exactly what it meant to be a writer, the toll it would take; how all-consuming and even dangerous it would be. Making a record is the same, you do it right. You do it right and you’re trusting yourself to forces you only partly understand. Forces that ask everything of you. God though, it’s fucking good when it goes right.

Ezra moved to Baltimore, but he made the album. Jeff filled the vacuum wonderfully. And Aaron, well Aaron is a mensch. Chris M., Tim, and Eric S. too. And then there’s the return of Eric B! Blessed with some of the best people on the planet. And D., well, if I could play guitar like D… And here comes TJ! Like a morning spring breath comes he, quite timely. And Pat @ Q… I’m old enough to have fathered some of these wonderfuls, but you know music: it evens-over all things: age, race, religion, politics.

Kidney stones, fights, sex, alcohol, more kidney stones (the other one of us this time), more sex, more fights, losing our studio, making a new one, Dave leaving for the other coast; church work, university work, gigs gigs gigs, mini-tour (Chris M. did a ton of driving); $$$$$$$$$$$$ (out not in), slip-and-fall resulting in post-concussive delay pedal (turn down the decay!!), and now, 50! You wonder (surprised that the Talking Heads are not in your ear), “How did I get here?”

My son’s nearly taller than me. Maybe he will be by the time I finish writing this.

I remember the first time I went into a studio to record my own stuff. I was a teenager and I did two complete songs in two hours for $100, leaving with rough mixes on cassette. How have I become so slow and costly? Maybe I could own a house by now. Did once. Lost it. Music stays though, these things CT & I have built together have our DNA in them and will forever. That house I owned, the new owners took down every tree I planted and paved over the lawn. (This time I do hear something: Joni Mitchell.) My mother helped me take down the birdfeeder hanging in the back, that was the last thing to go. I’d throw rocks at the squirrels who tried to steel the food. Out there with a book or my guitar in the summers, never suspecting I’d start this wonderful band with Chris Toppin and fall in love with her and she with me and be delighted up to this very moment, birthing our second record.

So many friends and loves and fellow spirit-travelers. Dave, Dicky, Eric, Ed, Matt, Anna, Charlie, Tony, Nicole, Brian, The Michaels, Tanya, Joan, Dan, Phil… If you take long enough to make a record what you end up with is something that represents a stage of your life; a stage of your development with those who made it with you. Chris and I made the first record madly in love and struggling to figure shit out, find our way through. We’re still madly in love, but this record represents us building a life together. The themes are generally the same: love, loss, near-loss, celebration, murder (more murder this time, admittedly). To those who don’t like exploring darkness, I say this: There’s nothing wrong with it, as long as you come out in light. I’ve always come out in light. God willing, I always will.

But then there’s the postpartum depression; or if not quite that, that lost feeling, the feeling that you’ve brought something about and now what? It’s in the world living and breathing but is it going to delight anyone other than its parents? I already know it does, but... You have to shift into marketing & promotion mode, and I’ve never been very good at that. With this great band that I have though, it makes it easier to be a braggart.

I want to start using less comas. I want to make more money and make more music for more people. Want to be that other kind of famous—you know, the one you start thinking about after you get over your youthful self. The vacuity of our time—(vacuity in politics, and in much that calls itself art)—makes surface desires and cheap accomplishments seem more valuable than ever; makes insight and kindness seem trite. But I think we are being presented a choice: either go the way of fear, anger & amoral envy, or go the opposite way: toward reflection, empathy, openness. Maybe we have been given a leader who is in fact a hapless messenger from God, who will be disposed of when his mission is complete.

The morning after our record release show, Chris and I went down to one of our favorite places in the Square and had some Bloody Marys. Chris said, “We’re just getting started baby.” I looked at her tired beautiful face and felt a hope wave buoy me. If you ain’t got hope you ain’t got nothing.

Jefferson Riordan May 2018

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