Today I got thinking hard about Fugazi “Repeater“. I have never really associated with punk rock music much. When I was young, impressionable, and full of anger it was Industrial that filled that void for me. Generally if I found myself drawn to punk it was the style with glib humor (Dead Milkmen, Dead Kennedy’s, The Clash, The Dammed). Surely never the post hardcore scene. This was the exception though. I bought a cassette of Fugazi Repeater when I was 15 and I played it until the tape wouldn’t play any more. Sometimes we find a record that transcends genre. Those that read this page (I’m making a big assumption that many people do) know the real focus is on new albums specifically in the dark genre. Today I want to step outside of both constraints and pose this question.
When thinking on this question, what checks the boxes for me? Because it is a big question. I hope one worth thinking about.
What was my criteria?
Is it real? When I, a white boy from Velveeta Valley Clarkston hear gangsta rap can I comprehend or relate? Not really. However when I hear Biggie Smalls, do I know real from an image when i hear it? Maybe. That is what Iam MacKaye and Fugazi was to me. They truly embodied the concept of anti consumption punk rock. They didn’t just say Anarchy in the UK. They lived it. They would only do shows for $5 and lived the ideals they preached.
Did it stand up? So I spun this album 3 times today after not thinking about it for a decade. It still stands up. The music embraces the spit and vinegar of The Stooges, while showing the complexity and expertise not associated with peers in this style. The lyrics were thought provoking and hit you on a different level today then they did the last time you listened. Like a great book. I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy 7 times in my life. 14/17/24/29/32/36/41. Every single time it has held a new meaning and an new weight. That’s how i felt while spinning Repeater today.
Did it change me? This aspect goes to impact. I have a lot of records in my top 30 albums in any genre. They all had a big influence on what music means to me. I do think with a good portion of them you could group together these 7, these 5, these three. Repeater is really outside the box for me. Yet it still told a story about who I was. About who I would become. About how I saw the world differently because I had opened my eyes to something I didn’t associate with my self concept. People are not just one thing. We are complex creatures made of a lot of parts. Sometimes the smallest parts have a lot to say about shaping the core of who we are.
So I am very curious as to what is the album that changed you, but is totally outside of the genres you usually listen to? Tell us in the comments below. I will choose the entry I like the best and send you a special prize and publish your answer in Sounds and Shadows.
I’m a full time artist. I have been for the last 10 years.
But I’ve been doing it my whole life.
My wife is a horror author (look up Donna Lynch on amazon if you’re curious).
We have multiple music projects that have run the last 20 years. Touring, releasing records etc.
I have a children’s book and a few others books out there, I do cover art for our publisher and used to do illustration for weird tales.
I make the majority of our money by selling art to customers directly through Facebook. And do commission work that runs from 300-17,000.
If you’re looking for advice it’s this.
1. If you really want to do the thing you have to build your life around that idea. You have to be willing to sacrifice your comfort and sometimes relationships in order to get there.
By which I mean, you have to want to do it enough to be willing to stick with your hopes and dreams and not become part of someone else’s.
And by build your life around it, I mean exactly that. We live in the middle of nowhere to keep costs down. We don’t and won’t have children for the same (among many other reasons.)
2. It will take infinitely longer than you feel like it should.
I’m pushing 50, we have managed to stay above the poverty line for the last 6-7 years or so.
3. And I can’t stress this one enough.
You have to put in the work.
I mean all the fuckin time.
I’ve done thousands of paintings, even more sketches, dozens of sculptures, released 50+ records, written hundreds of songs, played shows without number, curated art shows, owned a gallery, written music for NASA. And on and on.
Even now, I get up every day and I go into whatever studio makes the most sense and I work. I take a break to eat at some point, and then I work until I pass out.
It took a long time for my wife to really get that what I do is more important than everything, including her. I love her very much and I am always there for her when she needs me, but I am not always going to be around.
After 20+ years of this, touring together etc we have a pretty good system.
4. Make as much work as possible and give it away. Just get rid of it and move on to the next.
Learn to work fast and fluid. Don’t make your work precious.
Make it, get rid of it, forget about it.
When I put an album out, I do the standard promotional stuff, videos, whatever, but I’m already working on the next one, and probably thinking about the one after that.
5. We live in the future, take advantage of that.
A few years back I did a tarot deck, each card hand drawn. It took two and a half months to do all 78 cards.
It was worth it, they look great and it’s sold well.
A year or so later I got an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil. I did an 60 something page illustrated book on it in two weeks.
Or, I blocked out the majority of a record for one of my projects while on tour for another by writing it on my iPad in the van. When I got home I dropped all the pieces into the studio and finished the rest in a week.
Take advantage of other shit too.
I block my paintings out in my iPad. Set up my projector and spend a few hours laying out a dozen pieces with graphite directly on the canvas to paint later.
I could do it the old fashioned way, but why bother? It ends up the same and this saves me time.
6. Read. All the time. Working in a painting? Listen to an audio book.
The more information and ideas you have in your head, the larger variety of ideas you will have to put into your work.
Human brains are connection machines. Learn to use yours.
7. See a therapist, if you need to get on meds, get on meds. The idea that artists need mental illnesses to be creative is ridiculous.
And the idea that meds make you less creative is also ridiculous.
If you go on meds and that happens you’re on the wrong ones. Talk to your doctor and find the right ones. It may take time and multiple tries. But it will be worth it in the long run.
My wife and I are both mentally Ill, and we have worked our asses off to get well enough that we are able to do what we do without year long gaps caused by depression or worse.
As she says “I am not creative because of my mental illness I am creative in spite of it.”
8. Don’t fall into the idea that drugs make you creative.
By all means, experiment, do the thing. I’ve done plenty and I don’t regret it.
But drugs aren’t bringing anything new to the table. All they are doing is scrambling your brain chemestry. You can get there on your own.
Though you may learn a thing or two from your explorations.
9. I said reading, but I also mean keep working on your education. Learn constantly. Be curious. I am forever fascinated by how things work. And I spent a lot of time learning about that kind of thing, because it’s interesting and you never know when it might be useful.
And finally 10. Know thyself.
Spend a lot of time thinking about your motivations. What gets you off? What do you love about art? Why do you want to do it? Why do you do it? Why do you love your life? How can you contribute to the world? What makes your voice special? (And believe me, you better find something or you’re not going to work hard enough to get your work out there.)
You have to deeply love being you, or at least believe on a fundamental level that what you are bringing to the table matters.
Otherwise, why bother doing it?
If you need my bonafides, here’s a link to a bunch of prints so you can see my painting chops.
A while back a friend of mine said to me “you got all the lucky breaks.”
And I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Because my immediate thought was ,”no I haven’t.”
But I wanted to do my due diligence and really think it through.
So I went way back in time… In high school my Junior and Senior years I was good enough at art to enter a program where they shipped me across town three days a week for three or four periods a day to take art at a vocational school. The year between my Junior and Senior year I took a “portfolio development,” class at Corcoran in DC. Where I would eventually return and get my Bachelors if Fine art (painting).
During that time I started showing and selling my work a Sci-Fy conventions, and later bars, clubs, bookstores, galleries and anywhere else that would let me toss my shit on their walls.
Eventually I got married, we started the bands, and I came under people’s radar that way.
We got our first record deal because we played out enough that the record label came to us.
Donna, my wife, and I both got our publishing deals because the publisher happened to once have been in a band that opened for us early on, and we knew them casually. And it all come together because of that.
Both D and myself have a STACK of rejection letters (back when you got physical letters for such things.)
I started working with Weird tales magazine, because I had made plans to do a 365 days of Blasphemous horror, as a way of hopefully driving traffic to my various pages. We were at a convention pimping our books and they were right across the aisle from us. So I literally just walked over there, told them my idea, showed them my work as a way of making sure they knew I had my chops, and we started the next week.
All of this happened because I stuck myself out there and I practiced making the things I need to make, and put them out into the world in any way I could. I wrote people I made them aware of what I do, and I followed through with all of it.
The only break I can really think of, is my amazing mother who never said ,”this art thing is a bad idea,” and put me through school. At no point had a hand reached down from heaven and said ,”because you are you, I’m going to elevate you to the exclusion of others.”
Every other “break,” has been the result of my ridiculous work ethic and not being scared to put myself out there and say “hey! Let’s do this thing!”
Eventually enough people thought I was good enough that now sometimes people come to me and say “hey! Let’s do this thing!” And we do the thing.
Of everyone I know in the industry… I cannot think of one person who got “the big break.”
Occasionally you may end up under the right persons eye at the right time. But if you don’t have the chops that eye will pass right over you and move along never to return.
So even if you end up in that situation. You have to have done the work or it just won’t matter. Full stop.
There are no big breaks, there is just work. And if you are putting all your eggs in this basket your work ethic, is the Only thing you can count on.
And while I’m at it…
Being good doesn’t mean people will care about what you make. You can do all this work, and nothing may come of it. So if you’re doing it because you want recognition then you are in for a long slow painful rude awakening.
The only reason to do this, is because it is what you do. It is more important than anything. Including your own comfort and happiness.
So, there you go. No breaks, no comfort, no Easter bunny, and no uncle Mikey…