In mid August of last year a tension found its way into my mornings. I’d wake at an early set alarm in an attempt to get a head start on the day, my routine consisted of a half-pot of coffee and one of five or six books I was ingesting simultaneously. Having just finished up the recording process to what will be my fifth full length record, I was beating myself up regardless of my good intensions. I couldn’t write. The well went dry in the process of crafting the vision I had for a concept record. Based on an extraordinary experience that turned all beliefs on their head, it forced me to begin looking inward as a man. The process received my best, my most vulnerable – but in hindsight, I didn’t do anything. I was simply a craftsman with sharpened tools being used as a conduit, however, the process was an ass-kicking emotional purge. One that demanded a recovery that I couldn’t quite allow myself to accept. And from there the tension grew.
Books are like a grind-wheel and I was lucky to discover this following my break-up with Anita. I took on the epic, Lonesome Dove, as a way to replace longing. I carried the seven hundred pager with me and quickly turn to it the moment that annoying ache would creep in – quickly finding myself in both of the novel’s protagonists. I had Woodraw Call’s inability to emotionally connect with the opposite sex, making life about work and a sense of pride to ruled all decisions. I had Augustus McCrae’s chill factor and desire for lust, value for humour and inability to suffer fools. It was the first time I got “lost” in a book. I finished it and literally threw it with a laugh, calling the inanimate object a Son of a Bitch. Picked it up, headed to the ranch and put it on the shelf where my mom keeps my handful of industry awards. For whatever reason it felt like it belonged among trophies.
I jumped quickly into All The Pretty Horses at the recommendation of my good buddy, Del. It was a punch above my literary weight and I quit reading about fifty pages in. McCarthy’s style abandoned all rules, and only because you could tell he mastered them. A safe assumption based on his vocabulary. How does one get to this point?
Stephen King gave me the answer in his book On Writing. The book is laden with insight, a condensation of wisdom from one of history’s most prolific. King imparted “If you wanna be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” He backed this up by disclosing he reads 80 books a year. A shocking declaration but sensible considering the mastery of his craft.
I began with westerns, biographies, and narrative science. Hundreds of dollars – I’d allow myself Chapters shopping sprees. Making mounds at a time by their wicker chairs, reading the synopsis and feeling the book out. I’d ask employees to bring me their favourites, as I’d just sit there and indulge, like servants to a master – crossed-legged and pampered. Fiction became my genre of choice – I reproached All The Pretty Horses and followed it up with Blood Meridian, working away in segments only to abandon and start from the beginning every few months, moving further into its content with each attempt. My interests spread to pseudo-science, meta-physics, new age and spiritual. Dr. Rick Strassman and Thomas P. Fusco, Aldous Huxley and don Miguel Ruiz, Joseph Campbell.
The concept of writing a book slowly started to present itself with questions. Possible storylines or commentaries. But zero confidence to begin – coming up short with creative prose, I’d salvage the mindset by picking up my guitar, Wiser’s Deluxe/Bear Flag Red/Craft IPA, a couple joints and settling into a songwriting comfort zone. What would become the beginning stages of my newest record, unknowing that the content would somehow fit into a greater concept.
Then the vices took over and creativity ended. Attempts at creativity ended. Mornings were wake-and-bake, mindless Interneting, minimal emailing and the first beer of the afternoon. Arguably, my desire to become a Writer as the catalyst to the demise. Total complacency.
My experience on December 9, 2015 shocked me straight. Until 2:00 am on December 26, 2015 I was terrorized. Still working up the courage to share, the greater victory was text-book salvation. Was it my pre-disposition to the concept that made me believe as much? A classic “calling out” for help, answered. In that bargaining, a commitment on my end. I gave myself away and will stand by that decision. From there something opened, cosmic and benevolent. The ability to see signs – undeniably. The understanding that through trust and a commitment to the wind, one answers their calling.
I wrote Realms sober and trusted my producer’s decisions. This circles us back to last August, having finished the record, a tension in my mornings and a question of ‘what now?’ It felt like there were many steps to be taken before even considering the release of the material – the usual progression would have artwork designed, album pressed and a release date announced. Thrity or so dates, a couple music videos to accompany the singles and try and sell a few thousand records independently. The tension though, said no.
I didn’t know what I was being told except leave. Jump in the van and drive. Sussing out reasoning, I initially thought I was to fill my well by seeing as many artists as possible and enjoy some time alone. Sitting in a Minneapolis coffee shop, a day after my departure (Buddy Holly’s birthday), I realized what I was about to experience would be better shared and my love for a good story had me type “Nowhere To Be; A Quest for Real Country Music” into the backend of my WordPress website. Just a title in the subject line. I immediately was filled with angst towards the industry, the bastardization of the genre, the manipulation of the listenership, and the complete lack of quality in the mainstream’s representation. Like fuck, enough is enough.
No intention of starting a blog, I felt compelled to empower others fighting the same fight – so I began to type.
My frustrations of song-writer’s block was forgiven instantaneously. I hadn’t written a song in almost six months and somehow felt like this was the outlet to be focused on. I booked some anchor performances that I would make my way to see with ample time off in between to go with the flow, meet people and develop a narrative. Nothing like a little social media traction to commit a guy to the process, regardless of the intimidation of creative prose.
Then the muse stepped in and everything took on a life of its own. The right place at the right time became the norm and I simply couldn’t keep up – to experience and relate in real time was altering the experience in itself. The blog began to dictate the decisions made and the blurring realities began muddling the narrative. So with the greater project in mind, I kept intricate notes and lived in the moment.
As far as the Quest went – I found what I was looking for deep in the Appalachian mountains at a family oriented festival. Nothing short of magic. The artists, the curator, the setting and the support. A cast that I remain in contact with but where my decision to focus on the experience came at the expense of the writing. And a disappointment to my readers. But the story continued –
I got lost in the hills. I made it to Nashville. I sat front row to John Prine at The Ryman thanks to a random stranger giving me a ticket. I was rallied by T-bone Burnett. Margo Price, Jason Isbell, Nathaniel Rateliff – a new circle of encounters. Part two to the story – unwritten.
Upon returning home in October, I settled into writing again, relying heavily on the hundreds of pictures I took on my phone to recall settings and memories. Further supported by my Moleskin full of notes – the momentum felt good and I understood the development – the blog being the first draft to a book. But no real dedication, when time would allow I’d revisit the project –
On the evening of October 31st, I left my van door unlocked as I was dropping off some personal belongings to a storage unit I had rented. Jumping back into the vehicle, the anxiety set in when searching for my phone. It was no where to be found. Assuming it was somewhere in the vehicle or locked in the storage unit I returned home to prove myself correct by activating its location online. Wrong. It appeared in a parkade a couple blocks from home only to quickly go offline. Security video captured a lone thief watching me enter the storage complex, opening my driver-side door and bolting. The loss of content was a lesson and a blow I couldn’t seem to recover from. My entries abruptly ended and I went back to the daily grind of the independent musician – booking shows, emailing about the new record and spending November and December on the road.
I took a residency at the local community radio station in Regina to combat the feeling of defeat. For as fulfilling as it was, it didn’t suffice the constant voice to continue to write. But it just wasn’t there. Not from any setting in Regina. There was something about being on the move, the pursuit of the Muse engaged each of us in a flirtatious courting. I would promise to romance her and she would give me a reason to – she could work through me and I would dedicate to the message. Whatever that may be and trusting it would come.
So I left.