The Greatest Rebellion

November 8, 2013


Creativity can be a brutal force.

When you talk to the most creative of people, those who consistently produce – they often describe their craft as a compulsion. Something they couldn’t stop even if they wanted to. Something that can even become a hindrance and get in the way of normal life.  But they’ll also tell you – it is when they feel most alive.

Do you remember the last episode of Breaking Bad, when Walt sees Skylar for the last time? Where he admits to her that everything that he did, he did for him. He tells her that he liked it. That he was good at it. That he felt alive. For me, this was the most emotional scene of the entire finale. Because this is what everyone wants to feel. Alive.

And so many people don’t. You look around and can see it in their behaviour, in their words, in their eyes. It’s what drives many of the things we consider morally wrong and unacceptable. The pursuit of this feeling is the root, the revelry and the reward of rebellion.

Rebellion was always the most addictive thing on earth to me. No matter how small the act of defiance, the rush it gave me was drug-like. I realized I could not stop, maybe didn’t even want to. As years went on, I learned how to channel it, but there are times even now where I walk right into certain situations, not able to keep my defiance in check, knowing full well something will happen. It’s the unknown of that something that lures me and that I can’t walk away from.

Everyone feels these things to varying degrees. Most do their best to suppress it, a handful take it to the other extreme. Then there is a group that expresses this core feeling thru the ultimate by-product of rebellion, that which we call art.

Deep down everyone wants to be great at something. Deep down, everyone wants to be able to say ‘Fuck You.’ Deep down, everyone wants to feel some level of danger, mystery and excitement, the intoxicating feeling of being truly alive. Becoming a hardcore career criminal is certainly one option. Creating is the other.



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Set Your Sites…

October 24, 2013

The other day I spent the morning with my musician friend Maxim. As usual we were drinking coffee & chatting about all things music, and the conversation veered to a topic that I realized I had a lot to say about. It’s something vital to musicians’ marketing, yet something that most of them are getting dead wrong.

Their websites.

A well-designed band website is a rare thing. But the #1 problem I see goes beyond the overall design aspects…the main problem is a failure to create a site that delivers what your USER is looking for.

It’s a failure to step outside oneself. We’ve all been guilty of this at some point. We create something WE want, something that WE like and are attached to. There’s nothing wrong with that – but your website isn’t merely for your personal expression. Your website is a marketing tool; in order to make it work best for you, you have to step BEYOND YOU.

It doesn’t mean that you don’t bring your personal aesthetic to the table. But it does mean that you make it easy, quick and pleasant for someone to find out more about you. To find what THEY are looking for.

It’s not that difficult; it just means understanding some basic things about human nature. Like…

* Attention spans are short. Very short. Most impressions are formed in less than 30 seconds. Everything on that home page should convey a general impression of what you’re about – and should make someone want to stay & find out more.

* No one likes clutter. Streamline. Embrace simplicity. You have guests coming over – clean up the house.

* Think about what people really want to see & hear from you. Fans/bookers/clubs/festivals alike most likely want to quickly access music tracks, upcoming gigs, brief bio, maybe a few (quality) images or quotes about you. What they probably don’t want are things like: lengthy text, broken links, confusing navigation, or a rarely updated blog.

It’s funny, even in this complex & frantic world, it’s often the simple things that tip the scales. You don’t have to be a design guru or spend thousands of dollars on this stuff, but you do have to make it EASY for people to listen to you and to hire you. You want to reel more people in? Get outside of your own head for an hour. Get inside theirs.


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Leaving Las Vegas

October 10, 2013

Recently my friend Alex (of Toronto’s Low Hanging Lights) inspired me to revisit one of the most poetic & haunting books I’ve ever read. A book I’ve read multiple times, but will never stop reading. This would be Leaving Las Vegas.

Normally, it’s music that most impacts me emotionally. But every now & then, something comes along and overtakes me in the same way.

It must be said, the film is incredible as well. The book is better. Brutal and layered, I find myself reading certain sentences several times before I can bring myself to leave them.

Yes, it’s a morbid story. Yet the grim realities were never the focus for me. Alcoholism & prostitution may not be uplifting by nature, but darkness comes in many forms. What I love about Vegas is that it is the story of two people who come together as friends. They don’t look to the other to be anything else than which they are. They have no agenda or expectations on the other. When you boil it down, this ‘morbid’ story is a story about unconditional love.

Human nature tends to seek out relationships clouded by a mindset of: I need you to be this for me, to think this way, to do this/that for me. It’s a rare day when someone is there simply because they want to be. When someone accepts and likes you for who you actually are, and not for what you can fulfill for them. That’s about the luckiest thing you could ask for in life.

The part that finally made me cry wasn’t the parts you would think, devastating as those scenes were. It was the part where Sera tells Ben that she wants him to see a doctor. Because in those few words, what she’s really doing is asking him to stay. And in doing this, she betrays the very foundation of their bond, her love has grown so strong. Ben looks at her with a mix of love and pity. He knows he is leaving soon.

I can’t imagine this story being set anywhere but Las Vegas. This outwardly superficial city surrounded by nothing. Built entirely on the primal forces of money and sex. Sex is everywhere in Las Vegas and in this story, yet very little of it occurs between these two characters. By the time it does, the sex is not even sex – it is merely replacing what there is too little time to say in words. Through this, everything is said.

So the irony of this tale is that these two people, these two friends who come together out of the depths of ugliness, who seem in everyone else’s eyes to be the most unlucky souls imaginable, are in a sense, the luckiest ones of all. In a town where darkness funds the lights, a town where luck is rare – but always possible.


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The Curse of Overthinking

September 26, 2013

I used to know this musician, he would bring me his demo recordings, wanting my feedback on new tracks. I’d listen, give my general thoughts, and then he would go away and re-record. He’d bring me a second, third, sometimes fourth recording. And each time, I’d tell him which one I liked best. The first.

He’d get so frustrated. In his mind, all these new versions were far superior. He added this, added that. Changed this, changed that. And in a sense he was right, the newer recordings were more polished & ordered. What I couldn’t make him understand was that in this process, something had been lost.

These later recordings were all brain. The first was all heart. The first may not have been perfect, but its general essence was spot on. It was how the song was meant to be.

He was overthinking. Which I completely relate to. Anyone who tends to overthink things will know what I’m talking about…it’s like you push the accelerator on your own mind, conjuring up an infinite amount of scenarios, worries, possibilities and improvements. Before you know it, you’ve over-processed and flattened whatever it is you’re pondering or creating. Or even worse, paralyzed yourself into inaction or self-doubt.

When I became a photographer, I went thru exactly what that musician went thru. I always take several shots of a scene; I’ll try to improve the colour or composition or exposure and capture as many versions as time allows. But 9 times out of 10…the first take is the right one. I may make minor adjustments to maximize it, but usually that first take is the one I end up going with.

When it comes to things like creation or art or love or even the making of certain life decisions (if they are to be the right ones), they have to come from a place not easily defined…I guess the best word we have for it would be intuition. Something that can’t be analyzed or articulated, but can only be felt. Which is why so many people don’t listen to it. It’s both too easy and too difficult.

The brain, designed to love minutiae and obstacles, wants nothing more than to get in the way. Yet sometimes, we need the brain to just stay out of it. To come in later, to tweak the details & work out logistics. But until then, its got to be kept in check, because it really has no place in this realm.

In my experience, most of the best things in life come out of nowhere. And many times, at least at first, they don’t look or sound perfect, or even make sense. But at least they’re felt & born out of someplace authentic. Details can be worked out later. Go with first instincts.


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Asking For It

September 19, 2013


Ah, how I love Amanda Palmer and her ability to captivate a crowd.

I love her ability to spark discussions as she riles people up. I love how she carves out a business model on her own terms. I love the way she’s re-framed the question that everyone so desperately wants the answer to: How do we get people to pay for music?

Because despite all the lawsuits, digital locks & threatening tactics from the labels & lawmakers – making people pay for music hasn’t worked. And it’s not going to. It’s a mentality rooted in an era gone by. The distribution of music is no longer in the hands of a few. Nor should it be.

So how do you get people to pay for music?

You ask them. You let them.

Musicians at first don’t want to hear this, because right away they associate this with begging. I don’t want to ask to be paid. I want people to already recognize what I do as valuable and pay me willingly. Buy my music. Come see my show. Pay me.

This is completely understandable. But it’s not the way that life & commerce work.

When something loses its scarcity, by default it loses its economic value. When you’re not offering a scarce resource, you have to add value somewhere else.

So it’s not about begging; it’s about connecting.

When an artist & their music truly connect with an audience; they earn the right to say: This is what I give to you, and this is what I ask you to give to me. They have forged that connection; they have added value. They have earned that right to ask for what they need – and as long as they make it easy for people to give it to them, people do give it.

You can say what you will about Amanda Palmer, but she’s done exactly this. She may not be the best singer around or make the most melodic music in the world – but she’s connected with her audience on a level where she’s been able to ask for what she wants, get it, and continue making the kind of art she wants to make.

How many others can say this?


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Music City

September 10, 2013

September, a couple years ago, Isavella & I decided on a whim to fly to Nashville.

People were confused by the choice in destination. I rarely if ever listen to country music, I don’t handle fried food all that well, and I don’t have any ties to the southern US at all.

This was the point.

This was the draw.

It was a world that had absolutely nothing to do with us. So I got it into my head – we must go.

We stood out. For one thing, no one wears all black in Nashville (not since Johnny Cash, RIP). No one walks anywhere either. We wore only a moderate level of eye make-up, and no rhinestones. We were brazenly & undoubtedly northern.

But we didn’t let it get in our way. Our first night, we go to Layla’s Bluegrass club. Of course I get double carded at the bar. The bartender looks at my NY license and – low & behold! He’s from Schenectady. So he takes a liking to us, tells us he’ll kick out that frog-eyed weasel from Florida that keeps pestering us, just say the word. Then he writes us out a list of the places we should go, the places outside the tourist trap that is Broadway. So the next night, we head for East Nashville.

Right away we know we found the part of town we want. We go into a music club and within literally 5 mins (as usual), Isavella makes a new friend – a strange but adorable little thing named…wait for it…Franz.

Franz takes us to another bar & we spend the evening out on the patio, drinking & conversing into the wee hours of the night with locals our age. Franz seems to know every single person in town. Izzy keeps ordering me vodka, and the night glows with life. Somewhere in the distance someone is playing a guitar; it’s not country music. But everywhere in the distance, there is music.

It is difficult to put words to evenings like this, because nothing major happens…there are no dramatic revelations or profound insights, nothing to point to and say – THAT happened. But someday when we’re 90, me & Izz will say ‘Remember that night in Nashville hahaha!’ – and that’s worth it all. Those kind of nights – where wanderlust, vodka, music & youth all meet under the same outdoor roof – those are the nights that make up life.



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August 23, 2013

My best photographs have always been shot when I’m off on my own. Studying the light, searching the landscape – but not knowing quite what will happen.

That’s what I love best about it. The unpredictability. You never know what will come off that camera – you do your best to get the shot; you wait for the light, the moment, the glance. You perfect the art of patience. You contort your body into strange shapes to get the angle – but then it’s up to fate.

You never know what will happen.

I’m at the fair, changing lenses & eating a spinach pie on the bleachers when the sun begins to set & all of a sudden there is a blaze of pink orange sky over me. It arrives out of nowhere. I leave the spinach pie and run – I know I have only maybe 12 minutes of this light, and then it will be over. I have to hurry.

So I shoot – from the east, west, south. From the edge of the midway, from the centre. Then I stop. I should keep shooting, but I don’t. I leave it to the fates that I have what I need – and I pack my camera away.

I put on SHINY. And there I am under a candyland sky, next to the ferris wheel. All else disappears. And there I am – just me, my fair and the sky. Set to the only song that could ever encompass the transcendecnce & power of this atmosphere and this moment.

There are rare moments in life – they are usually simple ones, but you know as you are living them that they are set apart…that you will remember them as long as you live. This was one.

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August 15, 2013

The internet was the best & worst thing to ever happen to music.

When I say it was the worst, it’s often assumed I’m referring to Napster, downloading, etc. I’m not. The internet wasn’t responsible for ruining musicians ability to be paid. The internet took away something else, something vital & necessary to the experience of music (and coincidentally, to getting paid for that music…)

It took away any sense of excitement.

There’s too much floating around now. Too much information, too much promotion, and yes – even too much music. Choices are endless and winding. Everyone, everyday – promoting, chattering, selling, sharing – it’s too much. So much that, just like with violence & sex, you become desensitized. You become immune to the very feelings you want to feel.

And it’s not just a problem for the consumers – it affects the creators as well. Everywhere you look, there seems to be someone who’s done it, or is already doing it, or is doing it better, faster, cooler, sexier. It cuts off one’s motivation & enthusiasm, one’s belief that what they are doing will connect or resonate or matter to anyone. Both consumers & creators are drowning in a digital sea of noise.

As I write this, I’m drinking tea while watching Downton Abbey. The beauty of this show is that it immerses you in a very simple time, where there were limited choices and clear paths.  A time when new inventions & information were rare & sporadic, and so there was a revelry & excitement to even the most simple of things.

I don’t imply that we should ever attempt to resurrect the past. But the future of this industry depends on our ability to resurrect the excitement and wonder of the past – to recreate it in the midst of this boundless, digital age. With the internet, we have the best and worst thing available to accomplish that.


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