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The War of Technicality vs Creativity: Art As Battle Wounds – Part II

Yesterday, I talked about the balance and battle between technical prowess and creative rebellion in art, music, technology, and society.

I ended by making the claim that our culture has become technical-heavy and has lost it’s ability to judge works by their intrinsic value.  We’ve lost cultural context, and the evidence for this is our obsession with the visual, the organized, the computational, the nostalgic, the over-produced, the safe, the socially relevant.  We’ve reverted to this state because we have no cultural context that allows us to judge works based on individual expression or depth.

It could be my imagination, but it seems more than ever that a technically-stunning photograph, for example, is praised on the internet more than something unique and expressive. In our new internet-trumps-all confusion, we’ve lost our context for judging worthwhile art for human beings – our culture has become one of nostalgia, and judging things on a technical level, because we have no other culturally relevant tools with which to process things. How much honesty is in this song? How much personal expression went into this film? Does this work speak to me on a human level, and give me something new to ponder and apply to life? Is it challenging me? Is it interesting, besides as an impressive technical achievement?

We’ve become something of an autistic-savant culture. In our worship of all things binary, we respond to things well produced. As we flutter through our troves of data, looking and listening to things for mere seconds, and we respond to things with no depth – we don’t have the time. We respond to things which are overtly well-made, solidly produced, and things which fit well into our accepted memes and ideas of tradition, and social fads. That’s all we have to go off of – god forbid, we love something because it’s unique but flawed, it actually interests us, speaks to us, we keep coming back, it keeps giving us something new every time.

Modern music is a great example. As we’ve “improved” production technology, we’ve become over sensitive to vocals being slightly off pitch, beats being anything but exactly on the beat, production being anything other than compressed, electronic, loud, bright, and predictable. It’s sad, really – we end up with boring 4/4, computerized midi beats, robotic, inhuman, less expressive vocals, and conformity and lack of dynamics in production.

I’m not conservative. I despise people who say things like, ‘classic rock is the only real music’, or classical music snobs, or, as I’ve alluded to, jazz purists. I hate that stuff. I want to progress, don’t get me wrong here. I’m anti-conservative. I want something new.

I have friends who assume my criticism of current musical and artistic trends means I don’t want to move on – they say, we’re just not culturally relevant anymore (a topic I want to criticize in a coming post – I think its time to bring cultural relevance to adults).

If I felt offended by today’s music, I would tend to agree. But I don’t feel offended. I just feel bad for artists and young people who have forgotten how to make interesting music. They’ve cornered themselves. There is nothing but dead ends everywhere. How far can you push dubstep? Over-produced pop? With a focus on the technical, everything becomes conformist, inhuman, inexpressive, and boring.  It works as an initial buzz.  It’s impressive – but that’s only valuable to human beings in one dimension.  It gives us a buzz – it’s ear candy.  That’s great, but there’s more we can do.  We’re limiting ourselves accidentally.

Great music is about rebellion. Progression. New modes of thought and feeling.  Unique human expression.

Current music sits well with mom and dad. That CAN’T be a good sign.

Current popular music works well in advertising – in fact, turn on the TV and wait for the commercials – it’s indistinguishable from that cool new song on the radio. That CAN’T be a good sign.

In movies, the technical has taken over. Great frame rates, great resolution, 3-D, blu-ray, bla bla. Video games have become all about graphics, but already, the gaming world is starting to see the dead end of that progression with next generation consoles failing to create much interest.  Graphics?  So what?  Give me a valuable experience, from the heart, from the deepest part of the human mind.

Good technical skills are not useless. I don’t think that at all.  I too get a buzz from incredible CGI. But I think it’s about a balance.

We’re conceptual creatures. We don’t need insane resolution or production or technical mastery to enjoy something. In fact, as conceptual creatures, we love to fill in the gaps with our imaginations. For example, I just downloaded the classic old PC game System Shock II which was on sale on Steam. I’d never played it, so I’m giving it a whirl as I’m sick in bed mostly. Even with atrociously outdated graphics, the game stands the test of time and is being talked about quite a bit lately. Great graphics, in fact, can even detract from a gaming experience… again, it’s about filling in the gaps with our imagination, our abstract thinking abilities. Need further proof? How about literature? That has absolutely no graphical resolution – it exists as a purely conceptual medium. In fact, we owe our conceptual superpowers to language, and the evolution of language, and probably vice versa as well.  And a great novel is….well, timeless, beautiful, life changing.

When will the focus again fall on individuality and expression? Progressive thought, rather than social massage? We’re oiling each other up, rubbing each other’s bums. We’re all trying to fit in. We’re all confused and have no cultural context. We’re settling down, we’re giving up, we’re becoming critical of skepticism.

Art is this interesting battle between creativity and technical skill.  So is technology, science, and society.

And it all starts with philosophy.  Our bad philosophy of Digital Maoism (as Jaron Lanier calls it) is subverting our ability to be critical of our horrendously boring media culture.  The time is now!  We have the technology!  Let’s make big, great, weird stuff!  Let’s allow CHALLENGE back into the domain of film, art, gaming, politics!  Let’s bring back individuality!  Let’s love and celebrate our differences – that’s what the universe is all about, after all.

The War of Technicality vs Creativity: Art As Battle Wounds

Sometimes it seems to me that there are two distinct phases or categories of artistic achievement – the technical and the creative. There’s technical prowess, which consists of learning and refining certain fundamentals and skills, and there is true creativity, which consists of truly unique innovation from the artist.

The two are naturally in conflict. Technical ability, such as learning the traditional methods of jazz improvisation, for example, consists of hours of learning scales, getting complex harmonies and modes under your fingers, and learning the established lessons of the respected masters. Creativity in jazz is more about a unique and personal take, or a reinvention in a certain sphere of the music, or even a rebellion against accepted traditions – the amazing Brad Mehldau comes to mind as a rare recent example.

I used jazz music as a random example, but it fits the point of technical vs creative conflict – jazz became “institutionalized” over the course of the 20th century – the focus became on the technical aspects as time went by, as opposed to the individual, emotional, and expressive aspects. Few relevant voices have emerged in jazz of late, outside of circles who appreciate and love the mastery of jazz technicality. Even when artistic voices do emerge, such as the superhuman jazz drummer and composer Dave King, it isn’t rare to hear criticisms from within the very jazz circles who should be holding them up as their new king (um… no pun intended).  Teaching songwriting at a music camp one summer, I talked to a famous jazz drummer who was there, also doing clinics (I won’t say his name here).  We discussed Dave King, and he dismissed his playing as “too comical”. Um… because jazz has to be super serious, right?

But his focus is on the technical. Not that he isn’t expressive – but he is mostly within the confines of accepted traditions, and his playing revolves around the pursuit of technical perfection.  He’s famous among musicians, but it’s doubtful that his profile will go beyond being a sought out “pro”.  (I’m not judging – I love me a good pro – I’m just pointing out the differences between a tech and an artist).

Creativity is going against traditions sometimes.  It’s finding your own, new, novel solutions to things.  Why does an arrangement have to be like examples A B and C?  Is it consistent with what you’re trying to express, or are you just falling into established patterns?

These two modes are in conflict, in art, and also in technology and society (Steve Jobs was a rebel and an artist of design – but his teams of hundreds of programmers and technicians implemented his design and made it viable…but, look at what happens when they take over….). But also I think, the two modes or “left brain, right brain” amplify each other, and the battle between disciplined skill and rebellious expression is what makes great stuff. The creative mind wants to subvert tradition – the technical mind wants to uphold it. If someone learns the “proper” way to play jazz voicings and spends years becoming a technical master, to a degree it actually becomes more difficult to apply their own artistic creativity to novel solutions for voicings; they have become so refined by the “correct” way to do things, that they always play solid, respectable voicings, but they’re always predictable, traditional, and on the worn path.

I find that most men and women in the arts, or in anything, really, find greatest pleasure in the technical aspects of things. True innovation comes from those who have the stubbornness to defy these instincts.

Also, however, mastering your skills can advance your creative art as well. When new modes of rote skill or production or knowledge are learned, this can allow the artist to do things he couldn’t do before. But it’s a strange sort of back-and-forth, not even a balance, but a war. I can’t quite pin down in my own artistic journey how these two things work exactly, but they need each other, they hate each other, and they amplify each other.  Creative drive motivates technical learning – I want to practice scales in order to reach new heights in composition and performance.  Technical skill inspires creativity (in me anyway)- I want to rebel against it.

I find that on the technical side, I really have to force myself to work. But I also find that whenever I do, I’m usually rewarded down the road. However, I’m always looking for a chance to jump off the path – I’ll work on a Bach piece as long as possible, but I’m constantly distracted by interesting ways I could defy his chord structures. I force myself to stay on the path as long as possible. After being in professional advertising and production, I’ve been forced to learn good mixing and production technique, which allows me to push my music further, for example.

I notice that our culture has turned its emphasis of late towards the technical.  It has become unbalanced!  We’re obsessed with technical skill, because we forgot how to appreciate individual expression.  Technicality is socialist – creativity is anarchy.  Both are needed for great things, but it’s time for things to swing back to unhindered, beautiful, bold, crazy artistic expression.

But I digress – I will write more about this tomorrow! Stay tuned for Part II

(And if you’re thinking, but Chris, there has never been so much creativity in culture ever!  Look at this link and this link and look someone made computers that look like different animals!   …. no, no, you’re already lost.  Stay tuned and I’ll try to save your soul….)

SICK OF IT

Waking up today was especially hellish. The Lyme has become worse, apparently, and waking up feels like death. Words fail me in describing this illness to people. Basically, doing anything besides staying in bed staring at the ceiling has become painful on some level. My left eye has become inflamed, red and angry. My face seems to be swelling, and the random muscle twitches are more intense. My head is always throbbing, ears always ringing, but both of these things have become such permanent fixtures that I don’t notice them unless I try to move. My left ear seems to be losing hearing and I often get these scary tickles in my ears, like bugs are running around inside them. But mainly, it’s this horrible loss of energy. Thinking is hard. Reading is like doing situps, but gets hard after 30 minutes. Writing can be done in small bursts. It hurts to try and do …anything. My life is on hold. I wake up and try to meditate and motivate myself – no matter what, I say, today I will get something done. And then I attempt, and try, and immediately fall to the illness – whether that means throwing up, passing out, or seeing spots and laying back down.

And yet, I will get through this.

Why have I been given this struggle? Didn’t I have enough problems to deal with? This must go through the minds of others who get chronic illnesses, or worse. I wanted to help others, I just wanted to do great things and make great things. I’m an idiotic fuck, sure. I hurt people by accident, and I can be an asshole… but I have enough passion and intellect for ten people. And I did all that could reasonably expected of me by mother nature, who gave me no explanations and a strange, maze-like environment. I tried to maintain faith in art and music, and reason and love, and learn from my mistakes. But it wasn’t enough. I can’t do this. I can’t go on like this.

No.

I WILL get through this. And I’ll be a better artist for it. And I’ll be a little bit less of an asshole in the end. And after this crap is over, every day that I wake up, hearing the birds singing without ringing in my ears, feeling my brain boot up and feel actually rested and happy will be a glorious gift. I’ll never take life for granted again.

But I fear that my distaste for humanity may increase somewhat. I’m pretty surprised at the lack of empathy and support. The lack of depth and interesting thinking from my fellow man-chimps. I’ve learned that my family doesn’t really understand me for who I am… my music is seen as frivolous nonsense to them, my deep thinking merely an offense to their shallow, religious, tribal ways. I always assumed I just misunderstood them, but more than ever, I’m learning I’m on my own.

But that’s ok. That’s good. I’ll be stronger, more resilient, more victorious.

I will get better. I will finish this half-done masterpiece that I so desperately want to share with the world. I will create the music in my head, I will encourage the culture I want to see, I will make a dent on the metallic shell of idiocy that is human conceit.

I will bring my message to the people in bigger ways. No more laziness. No more excuses. I’m on my own – we’re all on our own. In fact, I’m lucky enough to have a handful of incredible friends (and one extra special, beautiful girl-soul) in my life who believe in me. You can’t trust almost anyone, I’ve learned – but when you CAN trust someone, you realize all the more how lucky you are. I also have fans of my work and musicians I’ve played with who all support me on levels I can’t even believe. I’ve gotten some awesome notes of support from people.

I need to persevere. We get one chance at life. One, measly play-through. No guarantees, no fairness. No restarts. And if the wizards in the cave level curse you, you have half HP and lose your magic sword.

I have had the chance to peer into the reality of human existence on a level I’ve only theorized, not viscerally experienced. I’ve been given a small glimpse of the struggle of many millions of people – life-changing illness. And I have it easy compared to some (although Lyme is pretty insidious for certain reasons, like being relatively unknown). But people get cancer. “Rare” diseases, of which there are so many, are actually pretty common it turns out. People get sick, and are denied by their friends, their families, and modern medicine, in denial of the atrocities of life. We turn away, we don’t want to look. We can’t handle it, because most of us aren’t very deep, aren’t very aware of the true reality in front of us – life is short, and often, nature is brutish. I’ll give away the ending to this comedy – we learn that we’re not special, we get sick, we watch our loved ones suffer and die, and then we die. All of us. Do you get 80 years? 50? 39?

Our lack of depth is killing us. We invent religions in order to deny the hard truth. We hide within the warm blankets of social games.

We need to start looking nature in the face, and solving the hard problems. I’m convinced that a change in philosophy is our only chance to alleviate suffering on a huge scale.

I don’t think we really understand biology.

Our new internet-obsessed, Kurzweil culture wants to believe we’re on the verge of discovering all these easy fixes to disease. It’s nothing but hiding – we’re just shying away again. Nature is weird and hostile, and there are oh-so-many unknowns out there, just waiting for answers. I’m crawling my way through a medical book on immune-pathogen response and the evolution of these systems – and on every page are incredible discoveries and a handful of unanswered mysteries. Why this connection between genes for depression, stressful environment, and disease? Why a connection between pathogenic disease in mothers and autism in children? What IS autism? What ARE bacteria really doing? Did you know they work with enzymes which encode new genes and can “update” each other with new genes for defense? Could we program our own to destroy them? Well why not? We need to get serious about solving some of these – Lyme disease is being swept under the rug by our society, for example (on both sides of the controversy, by the way) but in reality, its an opportunity to learn. We should be funding Lyme research for the sheer fun of learning and discovery.

The blood test for Lyme has huge controversy surrounding it. It turns out, the bacteria for Lyme is impossible to culture in traditional testing methods. So the tests look for certain antibodies created by the body in response to the disease. But these are only 30-60% accurate, according to who you ask. There are multiple tests, all with varying reliability, which are hotly contested in the medical community and within Lyme advocacy groups.

How is this ok on any level, in 2014? Why isn’t this a giant opportunity to develop new, novel ways to detect pathogens? Where’s all this awesome nanotechnology I keep hearing about? Let’s develop real-time testing with 99% accuracy. Let’s develop methods to immediately see what’s going on inside a human body. I know it sounds overly-simple to say it – but we need to have this philosophy change first. We need to start asking WHY can’t we do better? What are the problems? What’s really going on inside the body’s many systems with these diseases? Where’s the medical tricoder from star trek? So easily we guffah at this kind of suggestion, but why? We’re all living in darkness with disease around every corner – why not pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and start getting the bottom of it? Difficult? Hell yes. Mother nature has been developing these special tortures for millions of years, so they’re obtuse and complex. Impossible? No way! We have a gift – creativity. Intelligence. Technology. Our philosophy is so screwed lately, and its our philosophy which informs our motivations – we need to be solving these problems, or at least WANTING to. At least ACKNOWLEDGING that we HAVEN’T solved many things. At least WANTING to discover and solve things. Disease has no sentience or intellect, no language or process of scientific advancement. We have the upper hand!! Let’s get deeper. Let’s question our current models. Biology is completely lost on us – there’s so much left to discover. It’s there, the answers are there. THE CURES ARE THERE, one or two creative discoveries away. There is a physically possible way to disrupt and reverse the progression of many of these illnesses… and even if it turns out to be completely impossible to cure something, even that knowledge itself would inform science, medicine, and humanity beyond words.

The enemies of progress have been rearing their ugly heads. Denialism, this need to look the other way of ugly truths. Stoicism, this social construct imbedded in our genes to deny our struggles in order to AVOID people looking away form us. Superstition, this mode of thought which embraces social and reproductive concerns over all others. Bias, our extreme instinct to believe we’re right, to believe our tribe is right, to never be self critical, to have innate self-confidence no matter what.

Start reading. Start asking, “why’s that?” Start questioning the things you hold most dear.

If we start to do this, anything is possible.

I promise. And I also make you this promise: You are about to witness, in me, a courageous victory as I claw my way out of the depths of hell into a glorious life and career that will make this fucking planet a little better – the most stubborn comeback ever. I shall prevail. Fight with me. Let’s inspire and encourage each other – what is your fight? What seems insurmountable? Believe in yourself – be yourself – we can do this!

Pass it around!

Here’s a clip from Anthem For Evolution from the new Cruise Elroy record.

Show your support and pass this baby around!  We’re proud of this song.  And don’t forget to buy the new full-length album – you can get it at iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, to name a few!

Lyme denial – what gives??

This was taken from the Wikipedia entry for Lyme disease:

The term “chronic Lyme disease” is controversial and not recognized in the medical literature,and most medical authorities advise against long-term antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease.  Studies have shown that most patients diagnosed with “chronic Lyme disease” either have no objective evidence of previous or current infection with B. burgdorferi or are patients who should be classified as having post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome(PTLDS), which is defined as continuing or relapsing non-specific symptoms (such as fatigue, musculoskeletal pain, and cognitive complaints) in a patient previously treated for Lyme disease.

Since being diagnosed with Lyme a little over a year ago, I’ve seen nothing but strange controversy and inhumane treatment for victims of a horrible, and very real disease.  It’s a bacterial infection that can make it’s way into a person’s neurological system and live there, munching away.  The truth is, Lyme becomes chronic in a significant number of people – and despite the “medically accepted” evidence, in my own research (in valid, published, reviewed scientific literature), I’ve seen a plethora of findings that say the complete opposite.

I’m no hypochondriac.  I’m the kind of guy who gets a flu and is in denial for a couple days.  I’m not superstitious, either.  I’m a naturalist.  I believe in what has evidence.  I’m obsessed with science, and I read physics and biology – for fun.  I tend to be the last to fall prey to pseudo-science, although I’m skeptical even about my own powers of skepticism.  I’m a self-questioning person who can admit they’ve been wrong about four billion times.  I’m always ready to have my paradigms turned on their heads.

Noises in my ears.  Muscle spasms in my legs and arms every ten minutes.  Pervasive drowsiness at all times of day, despite ten hours of sleep.  Trouble focusing and thinking – imagining being drunk or stoned without the euphoria.  Painful headaches come with neck soreness and sexual symptoms.  A change in personality….. are these things normal?  Are people expected to function with these symptoms?  (of course not) Why am I being denied, by my own doctors, and even some immediate family?

I’m not the only one – upon meeting a fellow Lyme sufferer, I’ve more than once seen someone burst into tears upon hearing my version of the Lyme story – it’s emotionally overwhelming for them to have one single human being who affirms and shares their bullshit plight.  One single human being who doesn’t think they deserve to have their life taken away in a slow, subtle, invisible way.

I can sympathize with doctors:  they’ve been taught that chronic Lyme disease isn’t real.  The issue has become so politicized and stigmatized that it just isn’t financially or socially worth taking people seriously who have the disease.  And people are often hypochondriac weirdos, and medicine is hard, and illness is everywhere.

But how is our system possibly denying so many individuals and their life-changing plight?  Especially when the evidence keeps rolling in?  How are so many people saying, “I have these terrible neurological symptoms” and not getting any answers?  Why is all the research being done by victims on online forums and renegade researchers?  I’m confused and horrified.  I’ve been misinformed, ignored, misdiagnosed, and downright been called a liar, along with literally thousands, in my quest to do one simple thing:  feel better and get on with my life.

That’s all I want.  I hate being sick.  I’ve always been a low maintenance person – I’m an artist.  I don’t like relying on anyone.  I hate taking medicine.  I was bedridden yesterday – even reading a book was difficult.  Today I can get up and write.  It’s always a surprise, and it’s always worse than anyone seems to know.  People still expect the same out of me, even when I try to explain.

I hate excuses.  I’m driven.  I have music to finish, things to do, a life to live.  Lyme is not an excuse – it’s a goddamn brick wall.

And I’m not the only one.  The heartbreaking cases that I see in waiting rooms can’t be exaggerated – people who can barely walk.  Young people who can’t get their life started, or middle aged people who have had it taken away.

A friend recently showed me a documentary featuring Le Tigre singer Kathleen Hanna called The Punk Singer – Watch this clip to understand what I’m talking about…
A small quote from that clip;

Lyme disease is a silent epidemic in the U.S. inflicting more people than AIDS, West Nile Virus and Avian Flu combined.

– Center for Disease Control

Um….terrifying? Another quote from Hanna’s doctor in the film;

“It’s like…. if you were Superman, and you met Kryptonite…. that’s what Lyme disease is like.”

Does this surprise you?  Does this scare you?  It scares the hell out of me.  I thought we lived in a humane society – I thought the US had state of the art medical technology.  I thought we lived in a culture which gave patients the benefit of the doubt.  I knew politics affected medicine to some extent, and people had biases – but I thought in cut and dry medical emergencies, help, science, and above all, empathy would shine through.

And I certainly thought that if I was infected by a crippling brain disease, someone, somewhere, would care.

Welcome to the idiotic world of Lyme disease.

Overpriced CDs?

The fact that the music industry was much healthier in the preceding decades does not sit well with folks who have adopted the worldview that free music, detatched from the shackles of cold capitalism, sounds better and survives better.

I have recently read a few articles which claim that “the price of CDs was inflated in the 90s.”  Prices may have increased slightly during the 80s and 90s, but at most should be small complaints.  Paying for music is noble; it’s fun, it creates value, and all things considered, it’s always worth it.

Our new culture continues on thin ice.  As we tiptoe into the 21st century stubbornly defending our newfound internet-trumps-all philosophy, we’re forced to  deny the evidence as it yells to us from the shore, desperately waving.  We’re forced to justify certain inconvenient realities.  How exactly did those primitive, apelike beings in the 80s and 90s luck out with such an “overly-healthy” music industry?  The most fantastic and apalling explanation I’ve run across is that CDs were “overpiced” in the 80s and 90s.

I’m confused by this worldview.  Let’s compare even “inflated” album prices to other examples of cultural brain-food: films and video games.

A movie costs twelve to twenty bucks.  It’s hit or miss, and yet we gladly pay it.  Of course we do – films are something of great value to us and our complicated, content-hungry, imaginative brains.  There’s no replay value when you see a film in the theater – show’s over.  Movies on other mediums such as streaming or DVD have varying replay value (I’ve seen The original Tron and Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life uncountable times) but generally once you’ve seen a movie, you’ve seen a movie.

Mainstream video game prices have started to approach sixty bucks or even more.  The experience is also quite a risk, with the quality of games ranging on an enormous spectrum from doo-doo to life-changing.  The replay value is generally much higher than film, but with notable exceptions (Dark Souls, anyone?) I find myself petering out with a new game after a couple days to a few weeks.

When buying CDs was a common activity one would expect to pay around twelve to fifteen bucks (maybe close to twenty in some cases) for an album.  But a great album, as we’ve all experienced, is a gift that keeps on giving.  I have records I can pick up and put on now, even after years and years, and still enjoy like sex and drugs had a baby.  Afer hours and hours with Cake’s Fashion Nugget, miles and miles in the car with Radiohead’s The Bends, years and years with The Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds, I still can’t get enough.  I’ve spent more time listening to Frank Black’s Teenager Of The Year than the guy probably spent writing the damn thing.  Sometimes the water gets deeper and deeper.  With each new friend I get to experience the album again through new ears.  It’s a magical, spiritual, empowering, theraputic, and social experience unlike any other and it cost me a measly 20 bucks.

The risk with buying an album was lower, too – you generally had sampled a song or two, whether on the radio or elsewhere, or you knew the artist already.  That’s not to say I haven’t bought plenty of stinkers – but again, that’s not some kind of justification for not paying for something.  That’s how art works.  It’s a risk, and you’re paying for the experience. You’re paying for the love of music.  You’re paying to involve yourself in something creative, mysterious, and maybe even challenging.

I don’t want to over-emphasize the specifics of pricing vs. risk and reward though.  With art, those arguments tend to be nebulous.  The point is this:  it confuses me to see people arguing against paying for music when we gladly fork over the cash for any other form of cultural exchange.

I’ve been open to the new methodology of digital music – in fact, I recently read an interview from 2010 where I seemed much more positive and hopeful about this new internet world.

But I am more and more skeptical as the evidence rolls in.  The value of the music industry has been cut in half since 2000, despite more avenues for music than ever.  I see a stronger 1%, taking up more of the airways, not less.  I see a weak, struggling, and dying “middle class” of musicians, not a stronger and more varied one.  Remember genres?  Metal?  Ska?  Everything has conformed into a strange social anthem – a mix of electronic, dance, pop, and commercial rock that sounds repulsive to anyone still awake.

But no one seems to be awake.

The only “controversial” voices in music are people like Dave Grohl – as much as I dig the man, I think that points to the problem – why are the only relevant musical voices left over 40?  Why are the only movers and shakers bands I was listening to when I was 12 years old?  That shouldn’t be the case, folks.

Buying albums is fun.  It’s our vote.  It’s the most fun act of goodwill you can participate in.  It’s rewarding.  And in my opinion, it’s the only way we can sustain a music culture that creates these beautiful collections of songs, from unique, creative artists.  It’s the best way to support teams of musicians, producers and engineers who make truly great albums possible.

Enough!  Enough of this entitled justification of getting what we want for free.  Enough of this idea that albums have become super cheap to make.  It isn’t as true as you think – trust me, if you value my own experience at all.  Also, more important than the costs of production are the costs of sustaining human beings through production, sometimes for a year or more. Buying records needs to become culturally relevant again – how?  I’m not sure.  But it’s the only way to bring back a vibrant universe of varied musicians, a “middle class” if you will – where the focus is a little more on innovation, poetic honestly, artistic integrity.  Not a huge pop star, or a lousy wannabe, but a skilled, committed artist, facilitated by a team of technical experts, creating a sonic world for you to take with you as you go through life – always loving you, always bringing out the hidden magic from the seams.

Lyme – my recent health nightmare.

I’m not sure how many people come by here lately.  I just wanted to inform any fans what I’ve been up to, as I haven’t been keeping everything updated nearly as much as I’ve been wanting to.  In fact, many a musical goal and dream,  and my life in general, has been cut short this year due to one unfortunate factor:  Chronic Lyme disease.  I was diagnosed in February of this year, after seeing about six doctors who shrugged me off.

If you’re anything like me before I caught it myself, you don’t know much about Lyme disease.  You probably know that it’s a tick-borne disease, and can be mild to semi-serious.  What you didn’t probably know, as I didn’t, is that in some individuals Lyme can be completely debilitating.  It can become chronic, recruit co-infections, latch on to the brain and other susceptible tissues, and incapacitate people.  Since starting to notice symptoms a year ago, my world has become quite an uncomfortable place.  I’ve learned more about this insidious disease than I ever wanted to.  I’ve been forced to leave jobs, time spent working on music has been cut in half, I lost my studio and life in New York this month to be under the wing of family, and most of my time has become managing insurance, trying a to find a doctor with some answers, and reaching out to the thousands of sufferers worldwide who share my confusing plight.  So far, the emerging problems have outnumbered the solutions.

Many think ‘aches and pains’ when it comes to Lyme symptoms.  I actually had very few of those symptoms.  For a quick rundown, let me just explain what my symptoms entail day to day at this point.  I often get responses like “well, we’re getting older” or “it might be allergies” when I mention my Lyme infection to folks, even family members, so let me just paint a more detailed picture.  I wake up with the hangover from hell every morning.  It feels like my brain has been out partying without me.  The first thing I notice is strange sounds in my ears.  I have ever-present tinnitus since I got Lyme, extremely scary being a musician.  Frequently one ear or the other will go completely deaf temporarily, even scarier.  Sometimes the noises become louder and sound like a fire burning at close range – imagine having a washing machine strapped to your head.  At times I get strange tickles and pressure in my ears as well.  Headache and meningitis-like neck soreness is an ever-present reality – the headaches range from mild to incapacitating.  My mind takes a couple hours to start working at all in the morning.  I experience dizziness and vision problems as I wake up and walk around, trying to feel semi-normal.  The fatigue is overwhelming and constant.  Many brain processes that I used to take for granted have started to require extreme focus, as neurological Lyme affects the brain’s higher functioning processes.  Reading, for example, has become a difficult chore.  My memory has become all but useless.  Last week, for example, I bought some tea at the grocer, paid for it, and two hours later realized I had left it on the counter at the store.  I experience frequent muscle spasms.  Every fifteen minutes or so, a part of an arm or leg just starts twitching wildly, which gets quite annoying.  My perception of reality has become very weird – with the vision, hearing, and balance problems, I feel like a 90-year old man.  My voice control and vocal tone has changed.  There are other digestive, lymphatic, and sexual symptoms which I will spare you the details of.  At night, I get some relief from the persistent brain fog.  It lifts for a few hours, but then comes the insomnia.  A common symptom for neuro Lyme is difficulty sleeping – and I was already an insomniac.  Now it takes me hours to fall asleep, to a world of vivid nightmares.

I know these are gross and weird to hear about.  Let me just remind you:  I’m 31 years old.  I’m not a health nut by any means, but I did take my health seriously.  I exercised on the regular, I was at least aware of what I ate, and I was never a heavy binge drinker or anything.  From one lousy tick bite, my life has changed, and my dreams of making great music have all seemed to be called into question.  I’m at the peak of my game, with 33 new solo tracks half-recorded, for example (which I think may be my best songs yet!).  I was just starting my professional career, I had just “made it” in life and music, and I was finally feeling like things would be achievable.  I desperately wish I had my energy and mind back again – I hunger and ache to be marketing my bands’ new releases and finishing some of the best work of my life.  It is extremely, overwhelmingly frustrating.

But something is even more disconcerting than the Lyme itself: the surprising lack of awareness or sympathy in our society, the bizarre lack of answers from our modern medical system, the hundreds of sufferers I’ve met from all walks of life, and the unusual conspiracy involving Lyme denialism within the US insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

It’s easy to pass off uncomfortable health issues in our minds when we run across them.  Life is hard enough, and I’ve been there too – we think, ‘oh, this person was unhealthy’, or ‘this person is exaggerating’, or, ‘if I was bitten by a tick I would remove it before there was any issue’, etc.  We tend to justify things in our minds.

But this disease affects an incredible amount of young people.  Healthy, physically active people with few prior health issues.  This year alone, 300,000 – 400,000 cases – that’s right – have been reported, and seeing what I’ve seen of the stigmatization of this disease, it’s certainly an underestimate.  And it turns out that many of the signs for Lyme, such as the ring around the tick bite, are exaggerated (for example, I didn’t have the ring; in as many as 50% of Lyme cases there is no ring present).

I’ve seen teen girls in wheelchairs, denied any immediate hope.  I’ve seen families of suffers, losing jobs, losing marriages.  I’ve seen creative musicians, heard heartbreaking accounts from professional writers, so many people just falling down without any support.  My own family seems a bit confused by the whole thing, and hasn’t yet realized that life has changed drastically for me.  Talking to many victims of the disease, that seems to be the hardest part for everyone:  this strange denial of help and empathy from people we love when we need it the most.

In a world obsessed with Ebola, and ALS, and H1N1, it’s even more strange to see this insidious disease go mostly ignored in the public eye.  Lyme represents a very real epidemic happening right under our noses, at this very moment.  This is exactly why I’ve always been an advocate for science:  these are the kinds of problems that should be learning opportunities for our species, but instead we choose to look the other way.  The stigmatization of Lyme represents a humanitarian blemish on the history of American medicine.

I’ve tried to be as positive as I can.  I start each day with meditation, trying to envision health and get myself in a positive state.  I’ve tried to continue as normal where I can.  But…. so many little issues branch out from this thing.  Its rough as hell, I’m not kidding.  It may have become a little more awkward in our internet culture to speak honestly about the negative things in life:  but this is where I’m at right now.

Ok.  This blog post isn’t exactly well-edited or put together – I just kind of did a stream-of-consciousness. There are so many points I wish I could write about in depth a little more.  But writing is tiring.  Let me just throw a few links your way if you’re interested in having your mind blown – an epidemic exists right below the surface of our society, and isn’t being handled at all.  And if you have any advice or experience with Lyme, please, I’m looking for all the help I can get.  I want to get back on my feet and start making music again!

Great writer Amy Tan paints a picture of her struggle with Lyme

Shadowland of the Mind – some of the strange stigmatization of this infectious disease

Under Our Skin:  A recent must-see documentary on Lyme…watch here online

 

Blinddog

Here’s one of my favorites from the new Cruise Elroy record – Blinddog, in its entirety:

Don’t forget to grab the new full-length album (as well as the two EPs) from iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/cruise-elroy/id896523711

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These are what the covers look like.  I designed the synthesizer for the album cover, with some shading, graphic design, and finishing touches from Jarrett Hirtz.  The two EP covers were done by me.

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Cruise Elroy EP2 (front)

 

Bipolar

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Here’s a clip from Bipolar, one of the new tracks from the Cruise Elroy album:

Don’t forget to pick up your copy today!  https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/cruise-elroy/id936934402

The new Cruise Elroy full-length album is out now!

After three years of hard work, the Cruise Elroy album is finally done!  It’s available now on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/cruise-elroy/id936934402

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Here’s a clip of the last track – Anthem For Evolution.

Stay tuned for more album news and clips from the record!