Sunday, November 25, 2012


"The Load Out"

     Art, music & books: the creative triumvirate, and also the bane of anybody seeking to reduce clutter. Operating on the assumption that, if after almost two years of travel, what’s been squirreled away in storage should in theory by now be useless appendages, dead weight - literally, when it comes to the piles of memorial ephemera. And so upon settling in to the new digs and after many, many pickup loads of heavy boxes, the first to go were books. Lots of ‘em.
     Now approximately 3/4's of my books are gone, twenty-odd - and I do mean odd - cases schlepped off to the local used bookstore (see image above). There was some irony in how a new credit slip for many hundreds of dollars for even more books kinda defeated the purpose of the endeavor. But fortunately one attractive option is for folks to simply donate their extra credit to any one of the non-profit community agencies (ex: Fairbanks Youth Facility, the Resource Center for Parents and Children, and Big Brothers, Big Sisters) that conveniently have slips on file right there at the store. Seeing as how many of my books were deemed quote “dated” and “in compromised condition” (which sounded slightly familiar, but I didn’t take it too personally) approximately half of the heap wound up forwarded down the bibliographic food-chain to the Literacy Council of Alaska, which is simply just an awesome service that Guliver’s Books provides.

Unfortunately only slightly better at constructing ideas out of wood than at sketching them.

      After building a new master bookshelf for the living room, one for the studio nook, plus putting up a couple other held-over units - that I thankfully hadn’t yet taken to the transfer site during one of our runs up from Palmer to clear out the storage unit - the stage was set for moving in. Which presumably entails leaving behind, and that’s what one of the main, underlying missions was. So the former shelves of cookbooks, children’s books, nature books, volumes of fiction and poetry, etc. etc. were all respectively whittled down to only half a shelf each. Even paired the sequential art section down to just a few hundred crucial volumes (gotta maintain standards), excluding the thousands of my own titles. I suppose in theory this is taking the first few steps along the Path of True Enlightenment®™ unencumbered by the baggage of all those old philosophy books... perhaps finally learning one of the most important lessons of all. Or at the least, sparing my back from any further abuse.

      As an only child with a librarian for a mom and a dad who either managed or owned a bookstore, I grew up ensconced inside of books, they lined my adolescent cave, giving sustenance, safety and succor. In fact I was more proud of crossing the threshold of geekery at owning my first thousand sci-fi titles than I was at losing my virginity. But how much of my personal identity has been for all those years cocooned within a barrier of books, layer into so many pages like a pressed flower, brittle and dead, shut away and closed up on some dusty shelf. All that artsy-fartsy: criticism, theory and practice, from whichever side of the damn brain... OUT. GONE. How much were they keeping me insulated from making my own art, the philosophy books crippling my thinking, all the the poetry preventing me from really finding my own words? A couple applicable quotes from Thoreau say it best: “It's easier to get a house than to get rid of it... It's never clear if the man owns the house, or the house owns the man.” and “Indeed, the more you have of such things the poorer you are.”

It's like kinetic art, but funnier.

     The purge has necessitated confronting the "oh no - but I can't throw THAT away!" nostalgia factor head-on, which, when coupled with existential guilt (see a related, previous post), has always proved to be an emotional speed-bump while divesting oneself of accumulated detritus. Culling through the compost: old photos, burning artwork that isn’t archival - besides which in my humble opinion sucks anyways - digging out the shrapnel from old battles on paper, since what once served as a shield had become instead a crusty, useless bandage. Taking a brutal, uncompromising stance on it all, and moving pretty quickly through the piles of stuff - the longer you wait and agonize over it, the greater the chance it'll get reshelved to deal with "later." Mind you, it isn't done recklessly, just detached enough to make the call on what's worth it to keep, and what's just reflexive possession. Maybe having the bulk of my artistic accomplishments appear in temporal media has a subconscious effect on judging the relative value of the originals. Well, within reason, as newsprint makes for much better birdcage liner or fishwrapping material than Bristol Board. Besides - everything now lives forever on the internet, right?

"Arches Mist" by Roger Dean, 1996

On to the next arena of "collectables"... music.
      What was initially another back-burner winter project, I tackled the conversion of what remained from my CD archives to mp3 format, so as to get rid of the physical boxes. Previously the other half of the collection had funded gas across America while headed to the MFA at SCAD a decade ago. After all was said and done, seven last cases ( approx. 444 artists/bands on 580 discs) are now sitting in the arctic entryway, awaiting a new home. These are just the store-bought discs by big brand-name corporate labels, so not counting the hundreds of miscellaneous mix cd’s + rips, copies of which were also absorbed into the digital archive, and the discs themselves farmed out amongst friends.
      An interesting side-note during this entire process was the notable loss of contemporary album cover art. In fact, the ONLY disc that caught my eye purely for aesthetic reasons was the 1996 double-live disc "Keys to Ascension" by Yes from 1996: pictured above is a sample from the inner sleeve booklet. This work is from perhaps one of the most stylistically recognizable artists to ever be indelibly linked with a musical group: Roger Dean created not only the distinctive and unique logos and album artwork for Yes (among many other bands), he also designed their stage shows. And this was only one facet of an incredibly diverse body of work that spanned not only concept art but product, industrial and architectural design. His vision and technique for landscape painting was published in three career-spanning collections: Views (1975), Magnetic Storm (1984) and Dragon's Dream (2008). One composition in particular, used for the cover of Yes' 1980 release "Drama," reflected a stylistic shift in the band's sound, and was mirrored in the visual art as well - a more graphic, harder-edged aesthetic infusing both music and accompanying image.

      This album - artwork and songs - impressed me so much that elements were airbrushed onto the side of my very first vehicle: a 1975 Volkswagen Super Beetle. The flat black and white graphics contrasted just perfectly with the bright orange paint job. The only thing missing from this sole remaining photograph is the purple beanbag that used to sit partially wedged inside the sunroof so as to provide additional seating while tooling around Oakwood-Morningside Cemetery when skipping school. Far as I know the vehicle is still sitting rusted out in a pasture somewhere in upstate New York where it finally came to rest (the aerodynamically rounded shape of these cars really lent themselves well to extended distances of rolling).

Herbie the Love Bug's weirdo cousin that nobody else in the family ever talked about.

     Anyways, back to the tunage: now down to maybe just over 50 discs: mostly musician friends & local bands, and a handful of some signed cd’s. One thing that's been illuminating, if not disconcerting, has been the technological immediacy of having all this music at one's fingertips/on the desktop. iTunes translates and compiles what's always been a vague, nebulous listening experience into hard numbers: now I know exactly how much time will be devoted to, say, a Cowboy Junkie fix (14.9 hours), or Peter Gabriel (13.9), Genesis (15.1) or the entire Yes catalog (15.5 hours). But who's counting. Almost as daunting when contemplating how much time is spent drawing... or for that matter, on-line. A silver lining along the way has been an opportunity to rediscover the awesomeness of some artists and groups that have been somewhat somnolent over the years - one benefit to instant accessibility - and can enjoy some time back in heavy rotation. For example: Joan Armatrading, Pearl Jam, Tracy Chapman, The Finn Brothers (both Tim & Neil) + Schnell Fenster, The Dixie Dregs, Fugazi, Santana (Filmore West ’68), Stevie Ray Vaughan, early REM, Treat Her Right (> Morphine), Spyro Gyra, and so on. All of which and so much more should make for a great soundtrack to the new studio, which is slowly taking shape amidst the clutter of boxes.

     Soon as the embers die down.

A critique that warms the heart.


  1. The truly enlightened have nothing at all. But where does that leave us as creators of things? When in the future will someone donate the philosophy book you wrote so they will be free to derive their own philosophy?

    Personally I felt it was more honest to experience the world and derive a philosophy than to read a philosophy and use it to interpret the world. If my ideas turned out to have anything in common with existing ideas it would validate the preexisting ideas, but at least I would have proven them without any hint that my conclusions were tainted by exposure to an embedded intellectual concept.

    Nothing is perfect, of course. I was raised in a conventional WASP (Episcopalian) household and exposed to many of the usual influences in my mashed-up education. In spite of that I tried to keep outside stylistic influences to a minimum. If anything I overdid it, since every art world is a community and I had a tendency to live on the fringes or completely outside of every community, but intellectual independence was that important. I would go back and read voraciously but with purposeful skepticism if I was doing it over, but you can't go back.

    1. I think the "having nothing" is perhaps even more poignant and maybe meaningful when one has gone through the process of first having had, THEN letting go. Reminds me of an Allman Brothers tune "Can't Lose What You Never Had" (yeah - case in point: I listened to it before unloading that particular disc, and I'm glad I had it in my collection to reference here and now).
      You hit on an underlying theme I've been experiencing too re: deliberate moderation of influences. It's been driving me nuts as of late how the internet is too much, and I have been getting tired of seeing ideas repeated ad infinitum, including the whole "hey that's MY idea"/loss of originality. As I mentioned in a reply to the comment below, sometimes it's better for creative health to retreat and incubate to a degree.
      That said I get mighty suspicious if and when hearing of anything that too closely mirrors my own thinking, even if it reaffirms an already held position. Having my assumptions challenged is a pain in the ass but more rewarding in the long run. Balance is crucial for both that and the prior point as well.
      Not that I have all that much of a balanced perspective on anything... back to the bonfire!

    2. I don't mean to avoid having my assumptions challenged. I hear things every day that cause me to adapt. There's just a massive amount of other people's thinking already in circulation and usually the new perspectives owe more than they may admit to advances in technology that increase opportunities and lifespans. They may not even be aware of how the spread of technology and potential for more comfortable lifestyle colors thinking on a very deep level. Ask a feral cat and a well-loved domestic cat for their points of view. Compare and contrast.

      I nibble at the Internet. It allows me to stay in touch with people easily and look for information quickly but I'm too restless to spend a lot of time on it. That same restlessness probably keeps me form accomplishing more at the drawing table as well. Unfortunately it seldom propels me to income-producing activities. C'est la vie.

    3. Gotcha - thanks for clarifying. Though I never have had much luck asking either a feral cat OR a domesticated one anything, as neither really cares much about what I want (there's an extended metaphor if you like). Chow!

  2. Oh now the fun begins. You won't be able to remember which ones you got rid of, waste hours in stunned disbelief hunting through the remaining collection for That Particular Book and end up ordering another one from some obscure, cranky book dealer for a surreal price and while waiting for L48 Media Mail to AK (tick tock, tick tock) you'll find your copy. Or you'll see exactly the same special edition hard copy you just gave away sell for an astronomical, as in not worrying about heating bills for several years, amount of money on Ebay. Or you'll think you hit the jackpot in reading material one day in Gullivers and get home only to realize you just bought your own books back. Cheers from a fellow biblophile!

    1. Ha - sad truth is I already do that with an awful lot of things.
      Also I fortunately caught a couple rarities before they slipped through my fingers.
      AND I remembered to at least take the Gulliver's price sticker off most of the books too... but it'll be a challenge to stick to my vow to finish reading some titles on my own shelf before wading into anything new.
      Not to mention the rule of thumb that one should finish the work in front of you first - comes a time when one should haul up the mental drawbridge and focus inward on one's own creative output as opposed to trolling for exterior inspiration.