As I watched the news of Gaddafi’s death yesterday morning (and heard the news about the Occupy Cincinnati protesters last night), I couldn’t help thinking about how humans have had a pretty good year so far. To be clear, I don’t think the answer to murder is more killing — I didn’t rejoice in the death of another human. What I was so optimistic about was the sheer power behind the human voice. I’m excited to witness millions of people all over the world using their voices to stand up for what they want.
I was a few months shy of 16
when I first heard the lucidly stark voice of Lou Reed stream over the
airwaves. I was just another suburban weirdo, looking for a justified rebellion
to call his own. I had spent those “formative years” sleeping around with any
album loud enough to drown out my inner white noise, moving through a steady
stream of Hardcore, Punk, Metal — if
they were screaming it, I was buying it. As it turns out, though, what I was
really looking for was a quieter sort of revolution, and at the helm was Mr.
Lou Reed, telling me with a frank honesty that there was freedom in the
composition. It was, like any great lesson, one I’d come to learn in time.
To say I enjoyed those first striking chords of “Heroin” would be an
understatement. It was on a snowy night in 2007, crammed in the back of a
friend's Yaris Liftback, when I first heard it. I can’t remember exactly where
we were previous to that moment, when that raw melody first came in. All I can
remember is how I suddenly became more aware of myself than ever before.
Everything I knew about music, about artistry, about writing — all of it would
change with that first overlap of beautiful melody. I was mesmerized, shaken
from a stupor of conditioned knowledge and thrown into a concoction of John
Cale’s haunting strings with Lou Reed’s candid crooning. By the time Maureen
Tucker’s drumming kicked in, sparse in its reverberation, my resolve would be
just as stripped, replaced by a wily knot that would take years to untie.
Though, right then, the song was just “fucking awesome.”
It would only be years later, waking up to a chilled October morning in 2013,
that this memory would even begin to matter. As the headlines would come to
read, “Lou Reed Dead at 71,” so, too, would the horizon appear most clearly.
I’ve always been a firm believer in the crossover of influences, the
collaboration of mediums in shaping any sort of artistry. As a writer, I can
proudly say that the recorded sound has had just as much influence on me as the
written word. And when I heard the Velvet Underground for the first time, it
became clear that they believed in a similar marriage, affirmed on the morning
of Oct. 27. With the news of the passing of a legend came an onslaught of
anecdotes from around the arts world, plastered against my computer screen. Amidst
the mass of legends, one story stood out in particular.
As according to
Rolling Stone, it was
1965, and the first few months of the Velvet Underground playing under their
iconic moniker. They had began a residency playing in New York’s Café Bizarre
and in the beginning stages of developing their distorted and chaotically
composed sound. Management was set on having performers play more contemporary
numbers, and warned the band not to play their original composition “Black
Angel Death Song.” They went on to perform the number anyway, fit with all the
chilling accidentals in its string arrangements, and were fired immediately.
Though they would emerge from that loss victorious (it led to their
introduction to Andy Warhol, the man who would come to produce their record and
put them on the map of the underground art scene of ‘60s New York), there was
something bigger about that moment, something more pressing in my association
Incidentally, “Black Angel Death Song” was the first thing I clicked on Sunday
morning when I heard the news of its writer’s passing. The strings were
suddenly more haunting, and the story seemed all the more important. It was yet
another quintessential moment in the life of Lou Reed, a man who sang with
unbridled frankness, who played with unencumbered passion, and who inspired me
with the tirelessness of his dedication to honest expression. It transported me
back, seven years and a lifetime ago, to that night in December 2007, when I
first pricked my ears with another of his songs, that found, all at once, both
comfort and chaos within itself. Though I’d spend the lapsed time between 2007
and 2013 finding appreciation for the 40-plus years of Reed’s prolific career —
from “Black Angel Death Song” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” through “Satellite
of Love” and “Pale Blue Eyes” and even up until his
Hudson River Wind Meditations — it would always be that
compositions that would stay, forever imprinted in my mind.
“Heroin” became, for me, a love song to the in between — it was everything I’d
been listening to up until that point and nothing I’d ever heard before; it was
the sentimentality of Indie Rock, the calm before the double bass in hardcore,
the simplistic, chord interplay of Punk and its cleaner cut cousin Pop. And, at
the same time, it was also the recklessness of avant-garde, the soundtrack to
the colors of an underground New York I’d only experience in preserved murals
and snapshots. It was everything I’d known, and everything I would come to know
about music, about art, about sound and about writing.
There are moments that comprise your past, songs that take you to a memory you
thought you’d left. And then there are moments that define your future, songs
that propel you forward into infinity.
Lou Reed, and what he accomplished before, with and after the Velvet
Underground, stood as a symbol for finding freedom in ones composition, and
pushing the statements made to work in a fashion of success.
It was a lesson I would learn time and time again in my own work, as I moved
through the progression of my writing and my own performance techniques. I
would come to face my own obstacles, fight my own battles against normative
expectations. And it would be in those times I fell the deepest, my resolve
threatening to falter, that this education would come back to me, mysterious in
its origins, all the while growing, like a backbone that stood rigid for honest
experimentation and freedom in the composition.
Even now, as this mystery’s been unearthed, its inductor put to rest, ahead of
me remains miles and miles of still shrouded possibility. But against that wall
of lessons I’ll stand, riveted, staring towards the looming unknown. And I’ll
try for a different kind of kingdom, if I can.
Editor's Note: Brian Penick of local music promotions company The Counter Rhythm Group is guest blogging for CityBeat monthly to provide a behind-the-scenes look at his journey to release his interactive industry guidebook, Musicians’ Desk Reference.
It has been killing me to remain so broad and vague this entire time about what exactly me and my staff have been working on, and while I will attempt to be slightly more specific this time around, I am afraid that you will inevitably be strung along for yet another 30-day span, inching closer to the release this Fall.
If you have been reading these entries (or know me personally), you know I am a musician, and that I have experience touring and working in the music industry for about half of my life. While I do not necessarily claim to be an expert (I believe it requires an extreme longevity with multiple facets of success and even some failure to be given that label), I can tell you that I have an understanding of how the working elements of this business function, and that I have been able to make a career as both a performer and a servicing agent. That being said, my passion (and I do consider myself a passionate person), has become helping others to succeed in this industry through sharing my experiences and knowledge. While competition certainly has its place and can keep you sharp, ultimately we are all in this together, trying to reach a common goal of finding success. The more we work together the better the potential is for any one of us to achieve these goals.
I truly believe Musicians’ Desk Reference is the next step in the evolutionary process to bind us together as a musical community. My overall intention with this project is to level the playing field as much as possible, everywhere from general theories of advancement to the specified documentation that an artist will actually work with. At the end of the day, we hope to unveil the unknown variables that musicians will face and provide the tools and the understanding and put the focus on what matters most: your music.
How do you know if Musisicans’ Desk Reference is something for you? The eBook encompasses several distinct areas of the music business, ranging from the inner workings of just starting out as a musician, down the necessary paths of recording, promoting, touring and eventually building a team of industry professionals to work for you. These topics are based on my own personal experiences as a musician and with operating The Counter Rhythm Group (my music industry promotions company), in addition to many conversations with musicians over time about what topics they are most curious about. Not surprisingly, many of the requests were in the same categories, so in the end the subject matter was not too difficult to choose from.
It is an exciting time for sure, as we are literally in the last two weeks of content creation, working right along schedule with our team of professionals we have amassed to help make the dream a become a reality.
Looking ahead into the near future, I am excited to announce that we will be conducting some closed focus groups for the content, eventually leading into beta testing a full working version. All preparation is leading up to the release of the final product this Fall, and while I cannot give out too many specifics (sorry!), I can say that it will be a series of events not to be missed.
I apologize if the bulk of these blogs seem to relate more to the backstory and the generalities of the book rather than the specific content and the process behind the final product, but that is unfortunately the direction that it must take for now. While I have been hit with a wave of positivity from musicians familiar with the project, it is very clear that more explanation is required as to offer insight as to what we are actually doing over here. The process, as that of many servicing professionals, can often feel like a variety of desk jobs that exist in the world, with the obvious exception of working with fantastic clients and the ability to go to shows, travel and be among others with similar interests that are typically awesome. In all honesty, I sit at a desk and work on several computers, monitors and devices, working with my team to create, verify and edit content, hour after hour. It is nothing but work, work, work around here (especially lately), and I would not have it any other way.