I Don’t Have The Words

One of the worlds I live in is made only of words. Word houses with word people drinking word coffee and eating word toast. The word world does not believe in other worlds. In other worlds the stars trade baseball cards with the moon, the wind drops love notes from the sky, and rocks sing hymns to the sea.

Some days I live in many worlds at once. I think in music and in paintings. Today there is a pink and white and purple tree on my street that has just come into bloom. I don’t know what they call it in the word world, but I do know what they call it in other worlds. In some worlds trees have names and can speak. In other worlds trees breath in sorrow and breath out light.

In the word world this all makes no sense. In other worlds, words make no sense. This is not meant to convince you that these other worlds exist, that they are all around you, in the spaces between your fingers and in the silent sadness, pretzel-knotted in your belly. No. Let me tell you a secret. If you reach into your computer screen and pull these words out onto your desk, you will see that they are not really even words. Run your fingers across the marble letters and they will climb over each other, reposition their curves and angles. Don’t blink or you will miss it. Look again. These words have become a small wooden boat, on lake of deep red wine, in the lamp of the full moon. And in its timbered belly, an invitation to sail away, to places where words scatter like dandelions in the wind of unspeakable beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

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In The Wings

snow-angelsI must have been 8 or 9 years old at the time. I was supposed to sing with a bunch of other kids in my church’s Christmas program. I don’t remember the song. I do remember that I went to the bathroom at the wrong time and missed my cue to get dressed in our little white angel outfits. I walked into the hall and everyone else was taking the stage in their bleach-white frocks. I just stood there, not knowing what to do. Do I jump up, mid song, in my corduroy pants and polo shirt– the only mortal in the choir? Or do I just wait it out and hope no one notices I was missing? I looked around at the adults and at my parents, but everyone was looking at the cherubs. I walked up to the side of the stage, but couldn’t go on. At that moment I realized how badly I wanted to be out in front of everyone, instead of the standing in the shadows.

I still feel that way now. Like I missed the curtain call. Like I just want to be one of the angels — one of the pretty people standing in the light. I don’t feel like one of those people, and I never have. The company is better down here in the shadows though. And I don’t have to wear a ridiculous outfit.

 

-Eliot

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Deeper Well

cponte_brick_well1My grandparents on my father’s side were a tag team, tongue-speaking, Pentecostal preaching duo. I went to church and Sunday school and grew up decidedly Christian. As a teenager I was introduced to Buddhism and it took a deep hold on me. Later I began practicing some types of yoga, and fell in love with the mystical poets of Persia. 

The thing is, this sort of pluralistic approach to religion is frowned upon by the traditionalists in every one of these faiths. A debate on the subject will often be brought to a close by someone invoking the old adage, “It’s better to dig one deep well, than ten shallow ones,” or something similar. Seems like an air tight case.

I’ve got no problem with the proverb, but i’d like to suggest that the metaphor has been applied incorrectly. The suggestion is that the “well” is the spiritual tradition itself. I say that the many forms of spiritual practice (sadhana) are not wells themselves, but what we do the digging with — shovels, spades, backhoes, our bare hands. The point of the metaphor is not the well or the digging though, it’s the water! We’re digging a well to get to the water. We’re practicing in these faiths traditions to get to God, truth, inner-peace, or ultimate reality. There are many different ways of digging, but there’s only one type of water. 

You could make the argument that it’s still better to practice with one tool, to hone your abilities rather than trying different implements all the time. I think there’s something to that, but if you keep using that same shovel in the exact some way, you’re liable to give yourself some nasty blisters.

In pieces,
Eliot

 

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Target Practice

archery_2_lg

Each song I write is a message flung out into the world. Or maybe it’s an arrow, shot into the distance. I hope it leaves a mark somewhere or hits somehow right in the heart. But, how do I know if the song is really good enough to do that? How do I know if it’s worth singing again, or putting on a record? If the song is an arrow, then what is the target? I coach several songwriters these days, and I see this problem manifest in two ways. There are writers who think that everything they do is great, and writers who have no idea what to think about their work at all! These are people shooting arrows into an open field, aiming at nothing and trying to evaluate the results. You cannot grow as an artist if you don’t have any perspective on your work, and you can’t get perspective on your work until you build yourself a target.

For better or worse, an artistic target is not going to look anything like a business or scientific target. You won’t know you hit it by adding up data or counting sales. An artistic target is an emotional and even spiritual one. No one else will ever be able to tell you when you’ve hit or missed the mark. What’s worse, no one can build the target for you. And if you succeed in constructing your own personal bull’s-eye, you will be the only one who can see it.

So the million dollar question: How do you build this elusive artistic target? Well, if you want to produce work that you love, you have to fall in love first. If you want to paint beautiful pictures, you have to see the beauty in great paintings. If you want to write amazing songs, you have to be amazed by songwriting. We build our targets out of the passion that is evoked from experiencing the art that moves us. We have to know what it feels like to be moved in the first place. That very feeling is your target. Can you move yourself in the same way that your favorite songs move you?

Appreciating art, target-building, is as much a skill as making art itself. We get better at it the only way we get better at anything, by doing it again and again. So my advice to songwriters: listen, listen, listen and listen some more. You’ve got to get past the fads of the moment and the bullshit targets that pop up all around. The American Idol and X Factor world present fake targets that will do nothing more than teach you how to stop listening. If you are taking your inspiration only from what is popular or successful, the best you can hope for is to be a good imitator, but that’s not really art. Worst of all, if you don’t have a real target of your own, you’re cheapening your experience and you’re missing out on what great art can do.

Happy Hunting,
Eliot

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Does This Blog Make Me Look Fat?

                                        photo by Josh Lamkin

So I get an email from a local magazine a few weeks ago. Apparently they’re doing an article called, “Atlanta’s 50 most beautiful people,” or something horrific like that. And, they wanted me to “submit” for it.

Ok sure it’s flattering that someone thinks I might be an appropriate candidate for this probing piece of investigative journalism, but seriously?

They wanted pictures or course (i sent them the one above) but also, they wanted answers! Answers to some of the burning questions people might have for these 50 biological outliers. Questions like: “Are you high, medium, or low maintenance?” And, “What beauty product do you swear by?” To the latter I wrote: “Bulleit bourbon, it makes everyone look beautiful” That’s what I actually wrote. I only stress that point because after I submitted my questionnaire, I got an email saying I’d “made it to the next round!” woohoo! Really? And wait a minute, there are rounds?

The next “round” was a group interview with one of the magazine’s editors. After navigating Buckhead traffic and the corporate maze above which the high priestesses of fashion hold sway over the unfortunate masses of average beauty, I found myself in a small conference room with another candidate for enshrinement and a magazine editor freshly transplanted from The Emerald City itself, LA.

The gentleman sat to my left, the editor to my right. The guy was in his forties, well groomed, and in shape. Turns out he is a cop and a professional photographer. His wife was once Miss Georgia. He also volunteers at nursing homes once a week, and even reads the magazine religiously. Here’s how some some of my interview went.

“Why do you think you’re one of the 50 most beautiful people in Atlanta?”

“I don’t think that I am. You guys emailed me.”

“Why should we pick you for this article?”

“You should probably pick that guy, he’s perfect, I just play guitar.”

I have not heard back from them.  Let’s go get some bourbon.

Eliot

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Milwaukee

Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’m still doing this. Whatever this is. I guess I mean writing songs and singing them. The music keeps changing, like I do. Even my reasons for doing it (the one’s I admit to myself) seem to change. But here I am, still plucking away at my guitar, looking for something.  Maybe just looking.

I really like the idea of an album. It’s sad to me that the art form seems to be dying. When I listen to a batch of songs written by the same person, in a relatively short period of time, they almost always tell me a story. If it’s a good record, the album can be more than the sum of it’s parts. I love that. It’s a kind of magic, like songs themselves.

As I started listening to the rough mixes of what will be my new album, the story these songs tell became more obvious to me.  It’s odd that I could be telling a story and not even know it. But that sort of thing doesn’t surprise me the way it used to.

This album’s story seems to be a dark one. Just look at some of the song titles: It Don’t Get Easier, Longshot, Sad Town, Down On Me, Ain’t No Way To Get Home Now. There are plenty of up-tempo songs here, but not one that I’d call happy. These are songs about frustration, desperation, lust, and death. I had no idea that was where my head has been, but there it is. You’re welcome.

Still, I’ve never been more proud of a set of lyrics than these. If there’s any light in these songs, it’s in the craft. These songs aren’t whistling in the dark, or even wallowing in the dark; they’re hanging out in the dark with some good whiskey, making friends with the shadows.

And it’s a story of place, and places. One of those places is Milwaukee — somewhere I’ve actually never been. On the album, it’s possibly somewhere I’ve imagined. It exists in the blurry line between hope and self deception, between denial and disbelief. This is a story about going on, in a world of disappointment and heartbreak. It’s a story about going on without the promise of a happy ending. About going on without knowing the reasons why anymore.

I’m calling the record Milwaukee.

Eliot

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Yoshimi, They Don’t Believe Me

As some of you have no doubt already surmised, this Kickstarter campaign of mine is simply a ruse. Not the collecting donations part, that’s real. But come on, do you really think I’m going to record another album? Seriously folks, what’s the point? Music is dead. Well, humans making using is dead. The robots have taken music over. We all knew it was coming.

So, if I do reach my $8,000 goal, I have no intention of making more art that will simply be overshadowed by the robot art. Duh.

So what do I intend to do? Build a robot unicorn to help lead the resistance fighters in the robot apocalypse! He’ll be built entirely of used iPods and Swatch watches. His horn will be a rallying beacon — a giant hollow candy corn, illuminate by fire flies. And most importantly, he will be impervious to the hypnotic trance-like robot music, which is their best weapon.

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve already lost the battle for music, but with this powerful unicorn I intend to build, we can stop to the robots before they take everything! Oh yeah, they are not content to simply control our audio worlds! The robots will stop at nothing, until they have replaced all the things we love with robot-things. Ultimately, they’d like to build an entire robot world, where all of our interactions are done with robot parts. All of our interests, friends, events, and images will be safely contained and monitored in this new robot controlled world. And in this world, no one will be able to tell who is or isn’t a robot!

 

 

 

 

 

Sounds crazy I know. Can’t happen. But that’s why I need the robot unicorn. And that’s the real reason I need your help.

HELP STOP THE ROBOTS!

Eliot

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