bITS 'N CHUNKS
I am very excited about Alice in Chains's new album Rainier Fog, their first in over 5 (!) years released last month. But before we get to that, walk with me a second here.
As writers and maybe creatives in general, we are bad at externalizing things and great at internalizing. We have all felt the weight of frustration that we are not making a living doing the Thing That We Do full time; meanwhile we project the image that it's okay. It's fine. You work your way up the ladder. We give each other pep talks and advice while internalizing the comments of others not within the industry.
The thing is, though, we are bad at normalizing that very thing. I'm willing to bet a lot of us have day jobs that have nothing to do with creative endeavors; and if you're one of the lucky ones that was able to parlay your passion into a career. That's great. Both sides of this are fine but we need to normalize one of these things.
I'll start. Hi, I'm not the mythical hellbeast I wish I was. I'm actually currently working in the financial sector while I'm still staying afloat with freelance writing. That's fine but sometimes I admit it's not. It's very hard knowing that the thing I want to do most doesn't always pay consistently, whereas my day job is just a day job. And as my city goes through the growing pains with costs of living outpacing wage increase and bills keep stacking up higher, it gets really hard to fathom going back to a time where I could work on fiction undisturbed and swing high profile rejections like, "that's okay, I'll get em next time". In fact, no. It's really discouraging, fam.
The job affords me benefits and the ability to take care of myself, my family, and a herd of cats. Writing brings me joy. I have the ability to increase my profile when things are going well and I'm steady. But I can't act like things don't get a little funky sometimes. I can't act like I don't wish it was more. I can't act like sometimes I just don't have the strength to keep trying and I wonder what it would be look like if I didn't.
I'm not always steady. As a human being, I'm not immune to taking serious Ls from life as I've alluded to previously. Those Ls have slowed down my contributions to my own site and the others I write for. That's all okay, except when it's not. The truth is, as much as I'd like to have a complete breakdown and get past the Anger stage of grief over my turbulent situation this year (and believe you me whether I want them to happen or not, those meltdowns came), my bills don't stop because I'm depressed. My obligations do not slow down because shit is tough. Those things are... not okay but to put it best it kind of is what it is right now.
That's the part I'm trying to get to. Normalizing real ass experiences that color our world. Things aren't fair and they suck and then sometimes they suck a lot. A lot of the success stories you see are just that... success. And stories. Theirs, not ours all the time.
Alice in Chains was the biggest band in the world to me when I was little, right up there in my metal pantheon with Megadeth, Metallica (I know), Judas Priest, etc etc... and Pearl Jam! Even into teenagerdom I couldn't imagine them struggling, even after Layne tragically died I didn't really comprehend what all went into keeping an artistic dream alive. There's a lot to be said about de-mystifying things. Some people need the drama and allure, and some people need to hear the truth but maybe slant. It was okay that I was living a mild delusion about one of my favorite bands and I had no concept of how tough the music business is because, well, I wasn't in the biz nor was I trying to be.
Jerry Cantrell's solo album Degradation Trip came out in June 2002 and in my young life I had seldom been readier for an album release. One of my favorite singers had died, the band was over, Boggy Depot was pretty dope but I was interested to see what Jerry was going to do on his own, so to speak. Back in those days (and still now) I read a lot of music journalism and I love artistic insight interviews. What do these songs mean? What are the lyrics? Where and why did you write them?
You know how things, sometimes, get lodged in your brain and you think about them for days or years? To this day, I still think of an interview from around that time that I glimpsed, off hand. It wasn't in a big magazine. I actually had to hunt it down with the help of Wikipedia and the Way Back Machine because I know I saw the damn thing. Jerry is a pretty open guy and this humble but brutal interview with NY Daily News contains several takeaways about how difficult making this album was, emotionally and financially. Nestled almost like an accident amongst the information in the short article -- so scant I had to Ctrl+F the damn thing -- is this line:
In fact, it cut off his funding while the album was being recorded and Cantrell mortgaged his house to keep it going.
I thought: wait a second. That can't be true. Mortgaged his fucking house? At that age, I couldn't really grapple with the severity of that statement but I felt it. So that's what it takes? From then on, I really started reading behind the scenes interviews with my favorite authors and musicians. I mean, really started paying attention. I listened. Rather than the de-mystification breaking any illusions of an easy life I had, I actually respected and appreciated the honesty. I started turning away from anything fake and superficial and that represented my break from a few ideals.
So here we are, all these years later and I'm asking myself to do the same. Can I still respect myself and preserver through perceived failures? I listen to Rainier Fog and I hear the weariness. It's a kind of weary that only gets more intense with age, tempered by hope and optimism but always with skepticism and self-deprecation hiding behind it with a garrote. There's a bit of passive anger as well as we scream in shock and shake our fists at world events that keep blossoming to horror.
There's a lot of things we don't understand until we hit a certain high, a certain bottom, or a certain age. Pre-teen me didn't understand the concept of home ownership let alone borrowing money off the house (way, way pre-recession) to fund a studio album that may not even show returns. Who could care that much? I do. Someone does. It's in you and you care. But we've got to stop beating ourselves up and consistently not do it.
The album? I love it. Not quite as hooky Black Gives Way to Blue and not as loud as The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, but it sure is a record for when you're going through some serious shit or walk your way out of it. And I wish you well.
Ia! If you've come this far, you're either looking for weird or you know you've found it...