I contradict myself a lot in this blog. I doubt anyone has noticed or cared about it. I’ve noticed, but I don’t care about it. You see, I’m of the Emersonian mindset. He once wrote that…

Ok, wait—before I quote Emerson, I just have to say that I’m completely distracted right now. I’m journaling a draft of this blog post in Central Park, sitting on the rocks by The Lake, and there are a group of rowdy, shirtless teens across the pond who are cheering loudly every time someone rows a boat by them. All of these poor, pond-ridden tourists are limply rowing by at a snail’s pace while these teenagers cheer them on like its the Olympics. It is incredible. I want to go join them, but that would not be cool. I’m not a teen anymore, even though sometimes I still feel like one…

And I’m going to pretend that was a smooth segue into the topic of teens—the source of my blog’s most recent contradiction. The contradiction occurred when I made this statement a few weeks ago:

“The difference between 19 year old me, and me now, is I’m right and he’s wrong. I’ll go out on a limb and say unless you’ve developed a drug habit, this is true in almost any discrepancy between one’s 19 year old self, and one’s 30 year old self.”

That was a pretty good line. And I suppose I stand by it. But the problem is that literally one week prior I was sincerely arguing that we all need to be acting more like freshmen in college. Lucas, Lucas, Lucas, Lucas…you can’t have it both ways, bro.

Except yes I can. You see, I’m of the Emersonian mindset. He once wrote that…

Wait! Hold the phone—you know what? I don’t have to quote Emerson to justify my contradictions. I can contradict myself because this is a hobby-blog—a hoblogby, if you will—and I can do whatever the hell I want. Proof: click this LINK! See? I can do whatever I want.

Yet, there is something even more important than my inalienable right to hoblogby-freedom that allows me to be so confident in my contradictions and rogue hyperlinks. It is the idea that something doesn’t have to be factual to be true. You can contradict yourself and still be telling the truth both times. Please note that this reasoning will not hold up in a court of law, and my lawyer friends do not appreciate me invoking their profession for clickbait purposes. However, I’m not a lawyer. I’m an artist, and this reasoning will hold up in the court of good art.

May it please the Court (of Good Art) to submit for the record, exhibit A:

“Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.”

-Pablo Picasso

Woooohooooohooooooooh, that’s a strong argument for the defense. I rest my case.

Now before I go on and celebrate my recent court victory, I just want to note that you can use quotes by Picasso in the Court of Good Art, but the same cannot be said about the Court of Good Behavior.

And now for the celebration. Woop woop! We did it! We won! Beauty is truth, and truth is beauty, and that’s all y’all need to know!

Anyway, having freed itself from the need for facts and consistency, art becomes both easier and more difficult than that other great search for truth: Science. It is easier because the initial bar for creating art is very low. Look, here’s some art. That was really easy to make and bad art is still art. However, the bar for creating good art is much harder to find.

Conversely, in science the initial bar is much harder to clear. There is a more vigorous and demanding method to follow. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? However, once you are conducting replicable experiments with accurate measurements, you’ve pretty much hit your mark for doing good science. Interestingly enough, if you are conducting bad science (i.e. not following the scientific method), that’s not actually science! It’s actually closer to bad art. So congratulations! You’re an artist!

I actually used to think I wanted to be a scientist—an astrophysicist, to be precise. But I realize now that I was more interested in the spiritual and aesthetic implications of certain theories of the universe than I was in actually doing a bunch of advanced calculus. Like, the multiverse? Great premise for a science fiction film. Or like, the big bang+big crunch? That’s just the universe breathing in and out. I know—like, far out, man.

It is pretty clear to me now that I was way more interested in being a bad artist than a good scientist. So I’m happy I chose the path I did. Rather than constantly trying to fit a scientific peg into an artsy hole, I’m free to just arrange those pegs into a model of a pterodactyl, string some rubber-bands across that hole, and start strummin’ a pterodactyl tune. Or, like I said earlier, I can do whatever the hell I want!

Now, I recognize that I still haven’t really talked about what it takes to make good art. And I don’t necessarily think that doing whatever the hell you want is always the right path to get you there. Frankly, there is no one right path. However, I do believe that in art (and in life), ridding yourself of useless hang-ups is vitally important if you are going to find a path that is right for you. So if fear of contradiction happens to be your personal impediment, congratulations my child—you are free. Please imagine me making some vaguely religious gesture with my hands as you read that last sentence.

Postscript:

Did I really have an Emerson quote to share? Well I had one in mind, but I actually could’t find it. But here’s one by Walt Whitman that basically says the same thing:

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large. I contain multitudes.)”

Hey gang. So I didn’t post my songs last week for no other reason than last Sunday I was like “nah, I don’t want to.” I was thinking I’d do it mid-week, like on Thursday or something because that seems like a better time to post things on the internet based on a vague memory I have of an article I once read about peak social media posting times. But then Thursday rolled around and I was like “nah, I don’t want to.” So here I am again posting on a Sunday. Only this time around, I’ve got two whole weeks of songs tailor made for your ears to enjoy! See you next week.

March 12 — They Grow Up So Fast

March 13 — Glyter Musik

March 14 — Elephants Rolling Deep

March 15 — Cupcaking in Los Feliz

March 16 — No Sleep (Don’t Listen)

March 17 — You Can Change the Words

March 19 — Accidental Compliment

March 20 — Night Driving

March 21 — Neptune’s Ferry Ride

March 22 — Nerdquest 2000

March 23 — Pleased to Meet You

March 24 — Saturday Slipping

 

We had a little taste of spring this week in NYC—two straight days of sunny, sixty degree weather. Yep, after a long cold lonely winter, the ice was slowly melting. That is, little darling, until a vile, frigid, umbrella-crushing wind blew in some thick sloppy snow sludge just in time for the weekend. Still the dream of spring was planted firmly in my brain. I feel the warmth at the end of this icy tunnel. Plus, the terrible weather gave me a great excuse to just hole up in my room and record music. Life is good. Enjoy this week’s songs.

February 26 — When I was but a Babe

February 27 — Sunday on Mars

February 28 — Exiting the Void

March 1 — Ice Cream Social

March 2 — Raindrop 

March 3 — Ancestral Temple

Tuesday was a real doozy. My first day of the school year (perhaps my last first day of the school year ever) included the submission of my thesis, a four hour practice session, lunch with an ex-girlfriend, a composition lesson with Ariel Marx, and two classes— Colloquy in Music (in which we talk about and prepare for our final recording projects), and Jazz Arranging (in which we learn how to arrange music for a big band). In fact this whole week was a doozy. In addition to fulfilling my school requirements, I played two shows with the new band Kangaroo (which I joined this summer), auditioned for and made it into NYU’s contemporary vocal ensemble (I’ll be playing guitar as part of the backing band for various singers—I won’t be doing any singing myself), went to see a stellar R&B cover band at Groove, and capped the week off by getting good and drunk at a party at my apartment last night.

Despite having a week full of music, school, and socializing, I still feel like I should be doing more. I’m not even sure that I could be doing more, but I know that New York has a way of making me feel like I should be doing more. I think that no matter what field you are in, the talent level, the potential work opportunities, the endless list of things to do and places to see, the high cost of living, and the rapid pace of this city makes one feel like they should constantly be working and playing harder.

This attitude does not make for a comfortable existence. As I was discussing today with my roommate Delta (yes her name is Delta), I’ve felt more insecure this past year of living here than at probably any other point in my adult life. Yet this is not a negative. The things that are making me feel insecure— namely the high level of musical talent surrounding me and the uncertainty of my future after school— are the same things that are motivating me to work harder and get better. I didn’t move here because I thought it would be easy; I came here to learn and grow, and the discomfort of this place has in large part been my greatest teacher.

This is after all, a special, attractive kind of discomfort. It is not the discomfort of say being stuck at a tiresome party when you really just want to go home. It is more like the discomfort of finding someone at that party who engages you in a deep, honest conversation that challenges your core beliefs and assumptions about yourself (does that ever happen at parties?). It is a discomfort that is the opposite of complacency. Whereas complacency leads to stagnation, the discomfort of being in this pressure cooker of a city inspires me to action and offers me the feeling of being fully alive.

I’m not sure how long I will live here. I do know that after I finish school, I want to stay for at least as long as it takes for me to feel like I gave “making it here” (in that Frank Sinatra sense) my best shot. I might stay for one year or I might stay for fifty. I do believe that the longer I am living here, working hard, and being propelled forward by my ambition as well as my sense of insecurity and discomfort, the more likely it is that I will have a big break. For this is a special place, and I think it is realistic to believe that something unrealistic will happen here.

Two weeks ago today, we had a beautiful sunny Sunday in Manhattan. It would have been a perfect day to go for a stroll in Central Park, or go to the Union Square greenmarket, or take a trip on the Staten Island Ferry, or walk the High Line… And instead, I sat in my living room eating bagel bites and binge watching Game of Thrones. It was, after all, an international holiday:

I really wanted to catch up with the show in time for the season seven premiere so I could watch it with my roommates that night, but unfortunately as of noon that day, I still had eight episodes of season six to watch. I thought briefly that any dignified, self-respecting person surely would not even consider attempting to watch nine episodes (that’s 8 episodes of season six + the new episode) of any TV show in one day, yet I was unswayed by this conventional wisdom. Instead, I decided to conduct a social experiment asking the important question: what happens when a person watches 9 hours of Game of Thrones in one day.

I spent many years of my life in public school being forced to do science fair experiments so I have at least a vague recollection of the scientific method. I understand that a good experiment must be reproducible. So just in case you’re looking to replicate my experiment, here are the materials you’ll need:

  1. A TV or Computer.
  2. An HBO Go subscription. Doesn’t have to be your own—mine’s not.
  3. A cozy couch or bed. I chose couch.
  4. Plenty of snacks. This is crucial.

The next steps are pretty straightforward. Sit (or lie) on your couch (or bed), watch your show, eat your snacks, and record the rich tapestry of psycho-spiritual fluctuations that you will surely experience.

It didn’t take long for some of the results of this experiment to come in. In fact, before I had even begun the marathon I discovered an important principle: If you want to engage in guilt free reprehensible behavior, just call it a “social experiment!” Heck, sometimes you may even be rewarded for your sins. If you don’t believe me, just ask Morgan Spurlock— he was nominated for an academy award for eating McDonald’s for a month.

Armed with this liberating sense of shamelessness, I assembled the snacks and assumed my position on the couch. The first three or four episodes were easy enough. Game of Thrones is obviously a very watchable show, packed with with complex characters, compelling power struggles, gratuitous violence and nudity, and at least one moment per episode designed to make you say “oh shit” out loud. However, around episode five I began to get a little stir crazy. For my own entertainment, I compulsively started singing the plot of the show along with the musical score.

What can I say, I’ve got the creative itch y’all. Many (if not most) people do. I can’t sit and relentlessly consume so much media without having the strong desire to create something of myself. That’s why I was singing those stupid little ditties and also why I’m writing this blog right now. If you haven’t yet discerned this from virtually every single sentence of this blog post, I’m not a scientist. I’m an artist.

I’m well aware that that last statement may have sounded very pretentious, but I’m not claiming to be a great artist or even a good artist, I’m just affirming to myself and you readers that my approach is that of an artist and not of a scientist. I think the distinction is interesting. I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for anyone with the discipline, patience, and intelligence that it takes to be a scientist— personally, I don’t think that I have the fortitude for it. The scientist is concerned with discovering truth through a process of objective quantifiable observation of the natural world. She may spend many thankless hours measuring butterfly wingspan or orangutan bone density, but she does so in the name of contributing to the scientific community’s ongoing process of discovering the natural laws of the universe.

This is, in the least, my admittedly limited understanding and impression of the scientific endeavor. Like I said before, I am an artist, and as such I may not always (or even often) report the facts of life in their most objectively true form. Instead, my purpose and driving motivation is to create things that ring out as emotionally or even physically true. Essentially, as a musical artist, I’m doing my job if I have created something that you can feel in your heart or in your butt. And to prove that I at least attempt to accomplish this from time to time, and don’t just sit around watching popular TV shows all day, I’m going to share a couple more tracks from my ongoing Subway music project (see this post for an explanation). Thanks for reading my ramblings and I hope you enjoy the songs.

I spend a lot of time on the subway. Nearly everyone here does. It’s a strange fact of New York City life that so many of us are willing to endure hour long commutes everyday packed shoulder to shoulder, or butt to butt, or shoulder to butt with sweaty strangers in rickety old train cars. Then again, there are a whole bunch of strange behaviors New Yorkers engage in all the time, from paying twelve hundred dollars a month to live in a closet (guilty), to ordering Chinese delivery at 4am (just because you can doesn’t mean you should), to using a razor scooter as your main mode of transportation (I’m talking business men, wearing suits, on their way to work, riding this). Yet among all the idiosyncrasies of New York life, the most difficult one for me has been the enormous amount of time spent on the subway. As someone who likes to maximize his time, I often feel like the hours I spend every week on the subway are lost hours.

However, I’ve recently delighted in finding a simple solution: I’ll just make music on the subway. Now I know what you’re thinking, and don’t worry. I have not become a subway performer, tyrannically forcing my fellow passengers to endure my music while they’re packed shoulder to butt in a stuffy train and just trying to make it home.

Quick aside: I have nothing against people busking or performing in public— I’ve done it before, and will do it again. The street is the oldest stage in the world, and it takes guts to get out there and play for a public who have nothing invested in your art. However, there’s a huge difference between performing on the street or at a park and performing in a subway car. At a park for instance, you set up shop and let people come and enjoy your music, or art, or acrobatics if they want to; but if you’re in a subway car with your guitar and start ripping-roaring through your best version of the song Summer of ’69, well now all of a sudden you’re infringing on my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, because I really hate that song and I’m stuck on this subway for like at least another four stops… man I wish this train would take a quick turn sending you guitar first into that pole right there. Maybe I should just pull a John Belushi on this clown…

Anyway, I digress. No, I’m not a subway performer. Instead, I’ve decided to make short, sugary instrumental hip-hop tracks on my computer while I travel from point A to B. The process is simple: I hop on the train, find a seat (note: I’m thwarted in my process when traveling at rush hour), pull out my laptop, plug in my headphones, fire up Logic Pro X, and work on creating some combination of melody, harmony, and rhythm until I’m about a stop away from my destination. Then I pack up my computer an go along my merry way.

This is a delightful process for a number of reasons. Obviously it does give me something somewhat musically constructive to do during my commute. It also forces me into a rapid process of songwriting in which I allow myself to just follow my first instincts. So often when writing music, I give myself too much time to experiment and second guess my decisions, meaning that songs may never get finished. I don’t make myself finish the songs in one trip, but still, if I want to get anything done during the short subway-ride intervals, I just have to go with what pops into my head. Another fun limitation about this work is that I’m simply using the sounds that I have on my computer. This point might be more relevant to all the computer music nerds out there, but essentially there are a massive number of digital instruments one could own, and I own a pretty large amount on an external hard drive which I often use for film scoring and songwriting. Instead of using my hard drive and having access to all of these sounds (which can sometimes prove overwhelming), I’m using a much more limited sonic palette made up of the sounds that are built into my software. Finally, I’m only intending these songs to be about one minute each (although I admit I’ve gotten carried away and made some of them longer). These are meant to be teasers, mere tastes of what could be. I could expand them later if I wanted or needed to, but for now they work well as brief musical moments. I’m reminded in this project of the power of having limitations. These songs are so satisfying and relatively easy to create, because, as you see above, there is so much I’ve already decided about the song before I’ve even started.

So during the roughly three weeks since beginning this project, I’ve created four tracks and am working on a fifth. I certainly don’t see myself slowing down anytime soon— this has been fun! Ultimately I’d like to come up with a better name for this project than my working title of Commuter Chords. The phrase “commuter chords” is certainly descriptive of what the project is, but it’s also just a little bit lame in my opinion— I need something that pops, or at least something that is fun to say out loud. “Commuter chords” is not fun to say out loud. Don’t believe me? Say it out loud then. See.

So whenever I fully flesh out the persona of this project, you’ll likely see a new webpage for it with all the songs up, but in the meantime I’d like to go ahead and share with you a couple of Commuter Chords tracks. Hope you enjoy!

Last week my roommate Anna came home and alerted me to a recent article in the New York Times column Modern Love. For despite my being a perpetual bachelor, Anna knows that I love to talk and gossip about relationships. In the article Mandy Len Catron (author of the 2015 viral article To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This) talks about her practice of drafting a yearly relationship contract with her long term boyfriend Mark. She writes that the contract covers everything from “sex to chores to finances to expectations for the future.” The contract even has an overarching mission statement for the relationship, which for her and Mark is to “aspire to help each other be more ethically-minded and generous friends, community members and global citizens.” While a relationship contract might sound like the antithesis of that spontaneous kind of love and romance that Hollywood likes to glorify, the author found it to be an incredibly helpful practice in her relationship, and one that helped her and her partner grow ever closer while protecting what was personally important to each as an individual.

Lacking a romantic relationship, I currently have no way of testing out this exact practice, yet even in my bachelordom this idea resonated with me. For a contract or mission statement is not only useful in our relationships with romantic partners, but potentially extremely powerful in helping us navigate our relationship with life at large. Without exactly knowing why, I have at times adopted a mission statement for my own life. Just look at my outdated About Me page on this blog site where I talk about practicing the Art, Craft, and Critique of music. For about three years, I have operated under the assumption that if I consistently pour my effort into these three endeavors, my musicianship would grow and my musical career would benefit. Luckily this has mostly been the case. Yet since starting this new chapter of my life in New York, I’ve become aware that my personal contract needs updating.

I confess that this move to New York City was not the byproduct of a crystal clear vision for my life. Instead, I moved here in large part because I felt like many elements of my musical and personal life in Arkansas were either stagnating or diminishing, and thus I needed a change. It has been somewhat uncomfortable to find that an obvious path to career success and personal contentment has not magically unfolded before my eyes since moving here. Overall I am happy to be here, yet I’ve often found myself drifting into self-doubt and confusion. Many a morning I wake up and wonder what the hell I’m supposed to be doing.

It would be great if someone would just tell me what I’m supposed to be doing, but one of the most beautiful and simultaneously uncomfortable things about my life is that I’ve largely been afforded the freedom to choose for myself what is right for my life. I’m aware that not everyone has this privilege— ultimately it is something I am extremely grateful for, and something I certainly do not want to take for granted. Lacking a magical spirit guide to tell me what I should be doing and also wanting to take full advantage of this freedom of choice, I’ve recently been interrogating myself about what it is that I truly want for my life. As a result of this process, I’ve come up with a three year plan for myself incorporating short and long-term goals I have.

Now I’m not going to tell you what my plan is. I’m a little self conscious about how lofty the plan might sound, and I don’t want to give my haters (do I have haters?) a chance to cast doubt on my goals. I’m not Tom Brady— I do not thrive on proving people wrong. I’m Lucas Murray— I thrive on encouragement from others.

I would also like to encourage you, whoever you are, wherever you are, to set goals for yourself and really go for them. I don’t think there’s any surefire, scientific, foolproof way for you to achieve your goals. This isn’t The Secret! And I’m not Tony Robbins (it’d be cool if I was though; I’d probably have a few more blog followers). The truth is, you might not achieve your goals. Yet the benefit of having a goal is immediate— it gives your life order and direction, and it gives you the personal peace of mind that comes from knowing that you are working towards something. Plus, hey, you might achieve your goals— and wouldn’t that be great.