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Well, I live in New York now. So far I’ve spent most of my time lazing in Central Park, exploring the NYU campus in Greenwich Village, or piecing together my tiny bedroom in my Upper West Side apartment (pictured above). All summer I’ve been excited about this move and proud of myself for taking this leap, but I confess I didn’t (and still don’t) know what I was getting myself into. I suppose a naive part of me expected that I would arrive and immediately begin walking down a clearly paved road to musical success. In reality, I’ve just been trying to figure out how to properly feed, clothe, shelter, and transport myself in this enormous city. I’ve been here for just over a week, and every day I oscillate between being a giddy tourist and a homesick child. I walk around stupefied by the iconic streets full of hip beautiful people, I constantly screw up on the subway, and I miss my family and friends to the point of tears.

And still, I’m so happy to be here. I know that eventually I am going to figure out the subway, I’ll learn where/when to go to the grocery store, I’ll make great new friends, and I’ll start to feel like my tiny closet of a bedroom is a cozy home. Many of my now effortful actions will change into natural routines. What will not change is the fact that I am living in one of the most exciting cities in the world, surrounded by rich culture and a talented, driven, diverse population. I have every resource I could hope for to help me fulfill my dream of musical success: world renowned instructors, innumerable venues, plenty of talented collaborators, and a potentially vast audience of music fans. I have a sense that if I am not successful here, it will be my own fault. This city is full opportunities for me and I believe that I’m going to be rewarded if I only work hard and consistently choose to step out of my comfort zone. Frankly, my dream is to write, record, and perform music all over the world, and I think I’m in the best possible place to make that dream a reality.

This is where you come in precious reader. I’m going to document my musical life and thoughts once a week in this blog, and I need you and everyone else to read it. Sure I could try to hold myself accountable to my goals on my own, but I’d likely end up frequently binge watching any of the brilliant shows available in this golden age of television instead. I wish I were entirely self-motivated, but the fact is, if I know I have an audience, I’m going to try a lot harder. In exchange for your readership, I’ll offer you delightfully useless observations (e.g. New Yorkers won’t make eye contact with you until they are slowly rolling out of your life forever on a subway car— and then it’s nothing but blazing eye contact), as well as priceless nuggets of wisdom (sometimes). You’ll also have a candid look at my life as I rise from Lucas Murray levels of obscurity to Kanye West levels of international superstardom and egotistical delusion.

Finally, I’m going to cap off each weekly blog post with a playlist. I’ve adopted the city-wide habit of walking around with my headphones in— I put all of my music on shuffle, and am consistently delighted by the synchronicity of the random song I’m listening to and my outside environment. Thus, the songs that I’ll include in each playlist are the songs that were most significant or enjoyable to me that week as I roamed the city. And like New York itself, this playlist is going to be diverse, including both old and new songs from a variety of styles. You can find each playlist at the bottom of my blog posts, or follow me on Spotify and find the weekly playlists there if you’re interested in hearing the songs but don’t want to read the blog (you lazy so and so), or if you you like, I can even burn it on to a CD and mail it to you because I’m cool like that (just shoot me an email).

So if you believe in me like I believe in me, please follow this blog, share it with your friends, family, and rich patrons, and don’t be afraid to contact me with any questions, comments, or words of encouragement. Also, if you don’t believe in me or just plain dislike me, please follow this blog, diss me often in the comments section, and judge me as I shamelessly try to pursue my foolish dream of musical success. Whether friend or foe, WordPress user or not, if you would, please go push that follow button at the top right of this post, drop me your email, and then tune in each week for a new post. Thank you!

And here is this week’s playlist:

TheLegacyProjectFor the second straight week, I have the honor of contributing to Big Piph’s The Legacy Project. For those who haven’t heard about it, go check out the first paragraph of my blog post last week (I don’t have time to be repeating myself). Piph has already released the album portion (it’s great, go get a copy), yet the truly unprecedented part of this project will be released later this month in app form. Suffice it to say, that there is a whole world of characters in this project, and just like you or me, they each have a rich web of personal history, personality traits, and influences that make them unique. Today I’m giving you a special sneak peak into the world of one such character. Meet Eric Smith.

boom2Eric Smith lead something of a charmed life. He was an orphan before he could even crawl, yet he was quickly adopted by a wealthy, loving couple, who nurtured, guided, and bonded with Eric as much as any biological parent ever could. Growing up, he went to the finest schools, was treated to European vacations in the summer, and was never lacking in emotional or material support from his parents. Athletic, intelligent, light-hearted, and friendly, Eric was well liked and had many friends. By the time he was a teenager, it was apparent that Eric had a world of opportunities before him; he could have been a professional athlete, a doctor, a lawyer, an entrepreneur, or anything else he set his mind to. Yet Eric’s singular flaw was that he did not set his mind to anything. Indeed from Eric’s perspective, he could not set his mind to anything. For despite having all the comfort and security a young man could hope for, he always had a restless sense that there was something missing and a higher path that he needed to discover for himself.

As a senior in high school, his restlessness turned to despair. He became reclusive and uninterested in schoolwork, sports, or friends. Witnessing their son’s stagnation and desperate to help him, his parents decided to tell Eric about his adoption. Far from being shocked, sad, or confused, Eric was inspired by the news of his adoption. He felt he finally had a direction he could follow— he needed to find out who his real parents were. He hoped his past would hold the key to his future, his higher path.

It wasn’t difficult for him to find out the names of his biological parents— just a matter of contacting the orphanage. Unfortunately, once he started looking in the public records, he saw that the most recent appearances of his parents’ names were on death certificates. Yet Eric also discovered that before they died, both of his parents were registered members and proponents of The Class, a now defunct self-help organization that was notorious for pushing it’s members to the peak of intellectual achievement and beyond the limits of psychological and physical pain in an attempt to make them super-human. Eric wanted to take The Class. He knew that it’s practitioners must still be around somewhere and he vowed to find them. After a year long search, Eric finally found what he was looking for… within the walls of L.E.S. headquarters.

That was six years ago, and Eric has since proven the most distinguished member of The Class to date. Yet even an Übermensch has a soul. Eric Smith may have achieved supreme intellectual, physical, and psychological strength, but he still likes to kick back and listen to some tunes. Here’s a candid look into Eric’s musical life.

1. You are at an amazing, lush house party at a Venice Beach mansion. Everyone there seems to be friendly, attractive, intelligent, and having the time of their life drinking, dancing, and socializing. Mos Def and Penelope Cruz are among the guests that are casually enjoying this party. This is the best party you’ve ever been to. You must pick one song that will play every time you walk into a new room at this party. What song do you pick?

Eric: My House— Flo Rida

2. What is the one song you wish you had written? Note: You are not necessarily the performer of this song, but you will receive royalties from it, and everyone who knows and loves this song will know that you were the brilliant person who wrote it.

Eric: Started From The Bottom— Drake

3. What was the last song that played in your car?

Eric: Outro— M83

4. You are an Olympic boxer in Rio this summer about to compete for the gold medal. What song do you play in your headphones beforehand to get you ready to fight?

Eric: BLKKK SKKKN HEAD— Kanye West

5. You are 76 years old telling your teenage grand kids that their music is crap, and how much better your musical taste was during your teenage years. What is the first song you play for them to prove this point?

Eric: The Pursuit of Happiness— Kid Cudi

Finally, you’ll remember from last week’s blog post (or you won’t because you didn’t read it) that another Legacy Project character is a recording artist in her spare time. For your listening pleasure, we have another dark masterpiece from Ellie V. Enjoy.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that in the wake of Prince passing away, many people have begun to refer to 2016 as “the year that music died.” Taken literally, this statement is blatantly untrue— composers and musicians have been dying willy-nilly since the dawn of time, but music has persisted as the eternal flame that it is. However, I’ll clarify that the writers and bloggers who have used this phrase do not mean that music is literally dead, but that because icons such as Prince, David Bowie, Merle Haggard, and others have died this year, music has suffered a massive, perhaps irrecoverable blow. This too is false. Not only are there many present-day musical giants who released music this year (e.g. Beyonce, Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Esperanza Spalding, etc.), but there are numerous legendary musical icons from decades past still alive and performing (e.g. Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, and somehow Kieth Richards). And furthermore, Paul Simon, a national treasure at age 74, is set to release his twelfth solo studio album tomorrow.

I admit I’ve been listening to a lot of Paul Simon this past week because his music has been the perfect soundtrack to a recent heartbreak. I’m not looking for pity from anyone— I appreciate your sympathy if you lend it to me, but unfortunately it is not going to make me feel better. For the only thing that can mend a broken heart is time… and Paul Simon. With music and art, we get to redeem our shortcomings, failures, and struggles by turning them into something beautiful to look at or listen to, and Paul Simon is an undeniable master of this alchemy. From brutal honesty (“oooh spare your heart, sooner or later everything put together falls apart”), to sincere pleading (“You don’t have to lie to me, just give me some tenderness beneath your honesty”), to empowerment (“Just slip out the back Jack, make a new plan Stan, you don’t need to be coy Roy, just get yourself free”), to self-deprecation (“She looked me over and I guess she thought I was alright— alright in a sort of limited way for an off night”), Paul Simon has lyrically diagnosed every angle of romantic struggle.

He has also prescribed the cure: “Take your burdens to the Mardi Gras, let the music wash your soul.” The music is primary. It is not the words that wash our soul, it is the music. Simon certainly writes beautiful lyrics, but he knows that these would never reach our ears or move our souls were they not supported by amazing music. He even said in an interview with American Songwriter that he always writes the music before the lyrics. Above all Paul Simon is a supreme lover of music and his frequent excursions into diverse musical styles (traditional folk, blues, gospel, zydeco, South African music, synth-pop, etc…) clearly represents this fact.

Because he is an adept guitarist and brilliant singer-songwriter, Paul Simon likely would have had a wonderful musical career even if he had never chosen to collaborate with anyone. Yet a large part of his genius is in surrounding himself with musicians who are as good or better than himself. An incomplete list of his collaborators includes some of the most skilled musicians in the world: The Jessy Dixon Singers, Urubamba, Steve Gadd, Airto Moreira, Dean Parks, Phillip Glass, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and oh yeah Art Garfunkel. To listen to a Paul Simon album is quite simply to listen to good music.

Now I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that some musical artists and fans have a major problem Paul Simon. Simon has been accused of plagiarizing British folk music, not properly crediting the South African musicians he recorded with on the album Graceland, and outright stealing a song from the band Los Lobos. I am not here to argue for or against Paul Simon’s innocence in these matters. I mention these things in order to point out that I am not romanticizing Paul Simon the person— I think he, like all of us, has insecurities and demons and has not always acted in the most equitable way. No, I am here praising Paul Simon the musician. Whatever Simon’s personal flaws or misdeeds may be, they do not take away from the amazing musical gifts he has given the world. The fact is, Paul Simon has impeccable musical taste, painfully clever lyrics, brilliant collaborators, and one of the creamiest voices of all time. I can’t wait to hear what he gives us tomorrow.

For those not yet privy to it, this blog is part of a nine-month long project in which I release a blog-post and a new song every week. So below is this week’s Opus if you care to listen, and even further below are links to posts from past weeks. Enjoy!

Week 1—Nine Months of New Music

Week 2—That’s Masturbation

Week 3—Oblique Strategies

Week 4—A Conversation with the Wolfman

Week 5—Turn Off the Music

Week 6—Thoughts on Prince

Week 7—Grieving for the Afterthought (pt.1)

Week 8—Grieving for the Afterthought (pt. 2)

At the dawn of this blog, you’ll remember (well, I remember) that my mission statement was to pursue the art, craft, and critique of music. Throughout my two year span of being a full-time musician, it feels like I have greatly succeeded in my goal of working at the craft of music; I’ve consistently practiced Classical and Jazz guitar, learned an enormous number of songs, played countless gigs, and continually taught private guitar lessons. I feel I’ve failed in the areas of art and critique; I’ve been terribly inconsistent in keeping this blog, and have virtually no original works or recordings to share.

I see clear reasons for this. There is a direct incentive for me to learn songs for gigs, and to teach guitar lessons— this is what people pay me to do (the craft). Conversely, I’ve yet to be commissioned to write my first Symphony (the art), nor have I been approached by any publications to write music reviews (the critique). Practicing the craft of music is essentially the entirety of my job at this point. After I’ve done my job for the day, like many other people I know, I’d rather watch a TV show, drink a beer, or go on a date than try to write a song or an essay. Furthermore, I have a habitual tendency towards learning songs and practicing guitar— these were consistent parts of my former life as a full-time music student from 2009-2013. During this period, I developed no such habits towards recording original music (the art) or expounding my own opinions on music (the critique). Simply put, money talks and habits are hard to break.

My desire to write music is motivated by something more abstract than money or habit. Although I’ve certainly fantasized about getting rich off of my own original music, there is actually no guarantee that I will make any money writing and recording original music. Yet even faced with this possibility, I know that I still want to make music.

My best evidence for this is the fact that my most prolific recording period occurred when I was in high school— a magical time when I wasn’t worried at all about money (my parents had me covered). Weekends and nights I would spend hours on end recording and re-recording parts on my red Fostex 8-track digital recorder for whatever song of mine I was wrapped up in at the moment. I didn’t do this because I thought it was going to make me rich and famous (I barely let anyone hear my songs). I did it because it allowed me to explore and release thoughts and feelings that were deeply personal to me; my songs were typically concerned with girls I liked, frustrations with high school social life, and my semi-secret spiritual yearnings. I remember writing during this period that I was so thankful to have music as an outlet for these difficult and sometimes dark feelings and wishing that everyone could have something similar— I wondered how anyone could be sane without an art to pursue. In addition to the psychological benefits I reaped from it, recording songs also satisfied my basic need to tinker. My recording process was essentially an extension of my childhood fascination with Legos: I would record the foundation of a song (most often guitar and vocals), then add another piece— perhaps a bass-line, then another— a drum track, then another— maybe a guitar solo, then another— a vinyl sample, all the while listening to the work over and over until I was satisfied with the pieces in place. I’d be so wrapped up in these sound-experiments that I would sometimes forget to eat all day.

To be honest, most of the songs I created in high school are not very good (I have the recordings to prove it), yet over the years I’ve also produced enough music that I actually thought was good (and enough is a relatively small amount in this case) to be encouraged to continue writing and recording. Most importantly I still have the burning desire to create and tinker with music that is emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and bodily meaningful to me. If it were not my job to play and teach music, I would still wish to write and record songs. I can sometimes get complacent, thinking that because I am getting paid for musical activities that I am following my adolescent dream of being a musician. Yet the truth is that my deepest aspiration all along has been to write, record, and perform my original music. I am lucky that both my college major and my current job have made me more capable of creating higher quality music, but I won’t at all be satisfied with this fact unless I actually make the music! I don’t need to make money doing it (even though yes I would like to); I simply need to do it.

And last week I did it; I completed a song for the first time in over four months. Furthermore, I’m going to share it with the internet world— something I truly haven’t done since I had a myspace page in high school. I’m not putting this work in the public space because I think it is particularly special (it’s not bad, but it’s not great); I’m putting it out there to hold myself accountable to my goal of writing, recording, and sharing my music. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the school of thought that would have aspiring artists only share their best work. My strategy is to share music as it comes and as I create it, despite it being less than perfect. With the knowledge that my music is available to the public,I hope to be pushed by a constant sense of “I can do better than that last song” to continue to write and refine my work. Furthermore, as an artist you never fully know what your audience will respond to— a track of mine that I think isn’t particularly good may end up being meaningful to someone else listening to it (or vice-versa). I certainly have my tastes and opinions about music, but I can’t pretend to be the ultimate judge of what is good (even regarding my own work); musical taste is about as subjective and personal as it gets. So right now I think I just want to try to throw a bunch of darts at the board and see what sticks.

So perhaps you’ve picked up on the fact that I am killing two birds with one stone with this blog post. My two failed musical missions (the art and critique of music) are now being resumed. I’ve shared a song (the art), and I’ve written about it (the critique). I should note that I am using critique in a very loose way for my purposes. I am not talking about a formal academic critique or music reviews. I reserve the right to do those things if I wish, but when I say the word critique in the context of this blog, I am really talking about simply writing about anything pertaining to music, and most often pertaining to my own musical life. I wish to use writing as a tool to explore and expand my musical life; perpetual writing prompts for myself are “what am I doing with music?” and “why am I doing it?”. Similar to my logic for sharing my recorded songs, I believe that sharing my musical life via writing will hold me publicly accountable to doing meaningful musical work.

I’ve recently picked up a small collection of Henry David Thoreau’s writings entitled “On Nature and Man.” In the section on aspiration, I read the following:

“Do a little more of that work which you have sometime confessed to be good, which you feel that society and your justest judge rightly demands of you. Do what you reprove yourself for not doing. Know that you are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with yourself without reason. Let me say to you and to myself in one breath, cultivate the tree which you have found to bear fruit in your soil.”

Writing words and music are truly what I reprove myself for not doing. When I am doing it, I am happier, and my whole world feels more complete; when I am not doing it, I feel I am missing something, and almost everything else feels either subtly or overtly like a distraction. Given my long history of not doing these things, I am honestly a bit skeptical that I will indeed continue to write music and keep a blog. Yet I know that I desire it more than anything right now and I know that I have the ability to do it. I pray that acknowledging these facts will push me towards doing what I know that I need to do— and if you see me in the street, feel free to give me a little push in that direction as well.

So everybody, this is my blog and so I can present myself however I want. The temptation is to conveniently omit all my warts and ulterior motives. But I don’t think doing this will ultimately help either myself or my readers as much as if I am being completely honest. Throughout this blog-post I’ve naturally been showing myself to be pretty noble in my pursuit of music, and indeed everything I’ve written above is true— part of me loves music in an utterly pure way. Yet I’d be lying if I said there weren’t vain and superficial reasons that I do what I do. Part of the reason I want to write music is that I think it is a cool thing to do, and I want to be a cool guy. My ego loves the identity of musical artist and I want you to love me for it too. The same is true for writing about music. I certainly care about what I write, but I also think it is cool that I write and love getting complimented by people who have enjoyed my writing. Being a musician, an artist, or a writer all fit perfectly with what I consider to be an attractive image, and perhaps even more dangerously, they seem to fit many other people’s idea of what is cool and attractive. If I am not careful and self-aware, I know that I can begin to love the image more than the substance (we’ve seen it happen before). The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. So again, if you see me in the street, and catch an all-too-princely pep in my step, feel free to tear me down a few notches with a swift verbal jab— not out of hate, but out of love for what I really am: just some dude.