T.R.I.P.

Ten years ago, all I wanted to do was put out a real album. If you told me I’d be part of a project that put out the first studio album on a beer can, on a beer brewed for us, I would have fallen out of my chair.

There were moments writing the songs on T.R.I.P. that didn’t seem real. There’s a weight that’s deeper than we thought we could go. There’s a lightness that’s as free as we could allow ourselves to be. In 2012, we were at a crossroads of ‘Do we break up, or do we push ourselves outside the vision of the band we’d doggedly pursued for years, and become a whole other act, and risk tarnishing what we’d built?’ We took the risk, wrote, built, allowed these songs to mature for years without playing them for anyone, and recorded them quickly.

When we heard the final mix of one track called, “I Dreamed Of You Again,” our singer, Rish, said, “They can never take this from us.” It wasn’t a specific “they.” When you’re in a band, so many things seem like they’re working against you. There’s an opposition, real or imagined, you’re always fighting. T.R.I.P. is a record from a seasoned group of musicians, who’ve learned a lot, and are still learning. It’s the next step in our evolution as writers and players. There’s intensity. There’s space. It breathes. It screams. It accuses and reflects. We reached the next level. With every album we’re about to release, I play a rough mix for my father. When he heard this one, he said, “This is your grownup album.”

We’re not the same people we were when we started writing it. You never are. It takes years for an independent band to start and finish a project like this. A lot of things happen. People enter and exit your life. People become strangers, and some of them even die. There was a stretch where I couldn’t think of some of these songs without feeling pain from what I considered a brighter time and a better me.

When I walked into the brewery at the end of October for a photo and video shoot, I thought about my first visit there this summer. Releasing the album on a beer was just an idea then, and now it was real. I couldn’t hold the label without shaking. The next morning when I saw the can in my kitchen, part of me still couldn’t believe it. I thought even if nobody cares about this record, this thing happened, and “they can never take this from us.”

Of course, it’s a temporary feeling because you need to make people care. The beer happening just two weeks before the release show felt like getting the silver arrows in the final hour of Zelda: powerful weapons and very little time to use them. Even with a silver arrow story to tell, it was incredibly difficult. Just as things started to happen, world events happened, too. The noise got denser and the road got darker.

We launched it at a crazy aircraft hangar of a space, lit up like the Acropolis, and dropped our singer 50 feet from the air onto the stage. We played it with the synchronized wearable L.E.D. light show our drummer invented from scratch. We watched people interact with the world’s first beer can album, posting photos of it, putting the label on their shirts and tweeting at us about alternate realities. Despite what was happening in the world, people still cared. It wasn’t just us anymore.

When we were writing T.R.I.P., we were trying to create a timeless batch of songs that would be around after the beer ran out, and after we’re gone. Each of us gave everything we had to all the phases of its creative development. Every band wants to poke its head above the clouds, if only for a second. The beer can was the Titan-Centaur booster rocket that launched T.R.I.P. out of a Boston recording studio and into the world. It made a tiny cylinder-shaped dent in the universe. We’re proud of that dent, and now we can start thinking about the next one.

2016.11.12_The Lights Out at Aeronaut, T.R.I.P. Release_photo by Ben Holmes_2016-11-12T18.49.26_IMG_4613_GOOD_FAV

“A new strategy” (MarketWatch)

“Yes, it’s real” (Alternative Press)

“Out of this world” (Men’s Journal)

“Tangible pleasures” (Paste Magazine)

“Unconventional ingenuity” (The A.V. Club)

“A new high in album dropping” (UPROXX)

“We’re actually living in the future” (WIRED)

“This is a very, very cool innovation” (Fortune)

“Takes co-branding to the next level” (ADWEEK)

“Some of the biggest developments for packaging” (Food & Wine)

 

 

Knowing People

You’ve heard someone explain a person they’re close with in terms of, ‘I can be myself around them.’ Like there’s an invisible structure of acceptability in place.

Other people explain closeness as, ‘I feel more like myself around them.’ More of an unconscious amplification than a permissive understanding.

Some people bring the most intense parts of you to the surface, like a sifter being shaken so the shiny bits jitter to the top.

The older I get and the smaller my world becomes, I find myself pushing against the walls of a shrinking room and looking for more of the right kind of company. People who may have been at a different section of the river during the social Gold Rush of your 20s and early-30s, but are on the same sandbar today.

Sometimes I think of my friend, Bob, who I met when he was 77 years old. For the eight years I knew him, he never stopped making new connections. If you were in the same physical space, Bob would get to know you. He had a natural comfort around everyone. Maybe when you live that long, fearlessness is one of your rewards. But that wasn’t it with him. He genuinely loved all company, and all people.

I wish I loved people as much as Bob did. Most of them kind of annoy me. Bob was a better and more open person than I am. But one thing I can learn from him is the importance of extending yourself to people who might be interesting, even if it’s frightening or against your nature. Or when the vulnerability that comes with it sometimes rattles you.

A book I’m reading mentions a greeting in one culture, where they say the spirit in one person recognizes the spirit in the other. This came at a time when I’ve been working on picturing people as fully-autonomous, independent beings, outside of constructs. Imagining a willful light inside of everyone. (Even the annoying ones.) It’s helping me understand the power we have as individuals a little better.

Most recently, I’ve been thinking about the way those lights interact. Observing people like fireflies, generating their own light, and glowing brighter for a period of time when the right ones drift closer together. Being themselves or feeling more like themselves. Shaking the sifter. Amplifying or permitting.

Fireflies

Your Wallpaper

You can infer interesting things about someone by what they’ve chosen as their phone wallpaper.

It’s not like a room in your home where you can hang all the pictures you want, or an old wallet with a place for photos. Your phone’s lock screen is a 140-character Tweet of your personal space. It offers one choice to display something that inspires you, comforts you, makes you laugh, or connects with you on some level. If we’re exposed to thousands of commercial images every day, the one image you’re confronted with more than any other can be a subconscious anchor, or reset button for the eyes.

I recently asked my friends about their wallpaper. Their answers told me something about each of them. Some of the themes were:

  • Preservation of a place, moment, memory or dream
  • Personal creations
  • Borrowed creations
  • Living things that are or were important
  • Challenges and reminders
  • Meaningful symbols
  • Fantasies and ideals

How often people changed them said something else. A lot of them maintained the same wallpaper for years. Some were even carried across to new phones. It doesn’t mean these people are resistant to change. It might say something about the comforting presence of a constant. This particular constant happens to be nailed to the front door of a device that serves as a portal to a changing world.

2016.06.05_Blog post collage_friends' wallpaper

This Time of Year

Today marks a certain number of years since I graduated from college. I know this because on my graduation day, I made a recurring calendar event on my Palm Pilot and set it to repeat annually. I do that with milestones I want to make sure to remember. I like keeping score, and it has a way of giving an otherwise normal day an unexpected significance when it sneaks up on you again.

This afternoon, I texted my friend, Chris, who graduated with me. Chris works in PR, too, and we’ve been sounding boards for each other for a long time. We feel each other’s pain, and enjoy each other’s wins. Chris sent me back a quote from our famous commencement speaker’s address. It was the same line I entered into my Quotes file on graduation day:

 

“Fear is not a stupid emotion, and people who live without any fear are often stupid. But people who are paralyzed by fear are unfailingly miserable and unsuccessful.”

 

It was like seeing a ghost. Chris said, “Says a lot about a speech when a line sticks with you that long.”

I thought about that quote a lot in the months after gradating and moving back home. It was a not-so-great stretch of my life, when despite the sound advice, I allowed myself to become paralyzed with fear.

Sometime around then, I spoke with Jill. I called her from the desk in my childhood bedroom, using a number printed from an alumni database. It was hard picking up a phone and convincing a stranger to give you their time and advice. But you didn’t have much choice. There was no networking over social media. That phone was the only way out of that room.

Jill was the kind of professional I wanted to be. She was successful, independent and cool. She told me her story, gave me a book to read and said something I’ll never forget:

 

“My advice to you is to be unstoppable.”

 

I wrote it down, and kept thinking about it. It was like a call-to-arms and a mantra wrapped into one. It resonated with something inside me. It helped me quietly evaluate the obstacles preventing me from moving forward into the next stage of my life and come up with ways to beat them. (It also made me a little insufferable, until I learned how to dial it back externally, for the sake of other people.)

Today, Jill is my friend on social media. A few times recently, I’ve said something she likes, and she’ll quote it. She’ll even call it wise. I take a screen-capture when she does that, and file it away. Those screen-captures mean more to me than the diploma I walked offstage with on this day, years ago. They were harder to earn, and more real.

This time of year always tries to pull me back to the state of mind I was in, during a bad time. It’s like a shadow version of yourself, out of the corner of your eye, that you need to keep in check.

Keeping track of the miles between then and now always helps.

A Year of Opting Out

How many times have you come home from work, turned the key in your mailbox and frowned at the waste of all that junk mail? All you wanted was that $2 audio adapter delivery packet from China you’d been eagerly awaiting for weeks. Now you’ve got to wade through all this other stuff.

Maybe your junk mail gets dutifully filed in the recycling box. Maybe it gets thrown in the entryway trash bin. But every day, the cycle repeats. It’s a pain, but not as much of a pain as making it stop.

One time the city fined me for putting out my recycling on the wrong day. They found me because they dug through the trash and found a piece of junk mail with my name and address. Those bastards. Rather than try to remember what day things are supposed to go out, like a reasonable man, I bought a paper shredder and destroyed any page with my information on it. I knew this was the right move, when one day, the building’s handyman accused me of running from my past.

“You hidin somethin,” he said.
“Huh?”
“How come you never throw out anything with your name on it? You hidin from somebody,” he said with a disapproving shake of his head, reinforcing why it’s a good idea to shred anything with your name on it.

This went on for the better part of a decade. Eventually, my shredder wore out. When I went looking for a replacement that could handle entire envelopes, I knew this was only a Band-Aid on the bigger problem. I should have been stopping the junk mail from arriving on my doorstep in the first place.

So I did.

Now, bear with me for a minute, because things are about to get a little weird…

For an entire year, every time a piece of junk mail arrived, I tracked down who was sending it. The mailings themselves weren’t helpful, and rarely provided information on how to stop them, even in the fine print. Very few of the senders’ websites had information about getting off their snail mail lists. So I had to email or call each company and speak to a human who could remove me. (I’d tried the national ‘do not mail’ registry, but it doesn’t always work.)

I’ll never forget the time I called a company called Get In Shape For Women, which I think was some kind of women’s-only gym. After about a year of receiving their mailings and asking whoever would pick up the phone to remove me, I left a voicemail for their head of marketing, enthusiastically telling her I had been on the fence about joining, but their constant mailings wore me down and I couldn’t wait to come by their Newbury Street location and start working out alongside their women! Wouldn’t you know, they called me right back and took me off their list.

It took a little time to contact and request removal from the 60+ organizations sending me direct mail – none of which I had opted into. For the first six months, it took about 10 minutes a day – around an hour a week. For the last six months, it was about 5 minutes a day.

It did pay off.

I ran this experiment from 2010 to 2011, and to this day, I don’t receive any junk mail. Instead of emptying my paper shredder every week, I don’t even remember the last time I had to empty it. Who knows how many pounds of paper it’s saved in that time, or will save until they drag my lifeless body out of this apartment I’ve lived in for way too long.

As the owner of a marketing business, I work hard to make sure my clients’ marketing efforts are targeted and efficient. Companies would prefer not to waste marketing dollars reaching an audience that isn’t interested. If it’s standard practice for marketing emails to include an opt-out link, why isn’t it the norm for more resource-intensive snail mail to include opt-out information, too? It should be considered littering when a company sends you a piece of mail and doesn’t give you a way to make it stop.

To wrap up, here is my list of the worst offenders, and the best-behaved companies who sent me things without my permission.

 

WORST OFFENDERS

  • Comcast
    • Submitting an email on their online feedback form resulted in a form-email telling me to pay a one-time list removal charge of $1.99.
  • Crate&Barrel
    • Submitting a question on their website got me signed up for their marketing emails.
  • Sprint
    • Same as Crate&Barrel.
  • Capital One
    • Same as above. When I asked them about it, I was told that they “cannot suppress” offers related to my account.
  • Verizon
    • You need an active account to fill out an unsubscribe request. If you’re a former customer, this leaves you without way of unsubscribing.

 

BEST-BEHAVED

  • Ikea
  • Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Microcenter
    • All have a direct mail unsubscribe page that works.

Walking Across the Country

walkingpulp

If you’re going to spend your days in an office, it’s better to walk than sit. And if you’re going to walk all day, you might as well set a goal that’s easy to picture. It makes you feel nice. Like earning a merit badge that doesn’t exist.

 

Boston Globe: “This man walked from Boston to San Francisco without leaving the office”

Bulldog Reporter: “Walking the Talk: PR Exec Takes Client’s Product on Marathon Road to Mind and Body Regeneration”

PRNews: “6 Ways to Sustain a Multi-Year PR Campaign”

Syracuse University Alumni News: “Walking Through the Work Day”

Daily Orange: “SU alumnus walks Boston to San Francisco on treadmill desk”

Summer Reading

This summer, I cancelled my cable. Now stop right there. I’m not one of those people who gets all high and mighty about television rotting your brain. I love TV. It can be like syrupy heroin going straight into your faceglobes, to borrow half a phrase from Louis C.K. There are some shows I can’t get enough of. But “just DVR it” doesn’t take into account the addictive lure of flipping on the tube when you walk in the door, and realizing, too late, you’ve lost another night to whatever’s on. At some point, I realized I’d stopped reading. Books had become more of a bedtime ritual than a form of entertainment. (Read one page, pass out, read the same page the next night, pass out.) Plus, I was also out of shelf space, which meant: get a bigger place (pain), sell some of my books (ugh, MINE!) or stop reading forever (not likely).

So I bought a Nook. I started buying eBooks from Words, an independent bookstore in New Jersey (of course) that donates a portion of proceeds to kids with autism, and started using my library card to take advantage of the Boston Public Library’s formidable e-catalog. I even built a flexible stand for my reader, so I could read a book over dinner, hands-free, like I used to do with TV. I call it my “Nook Hook.” *pushes glasses up over bridge of nose*

I collected recommendations from friends, and finally tackled some of the classics my high school English program missed. I’m not a fast reader, but I’ll be damned if you don’t get through a lot of books once TV is out of the equation.

Here’s what I read this summer, on front stoops, parks, beaches, couches, beds, bars, planes, band vans and deserts:

  1. World War Z (Max Brooks)
    1. Something to hold me over between seasons of The Walking Dead. Combines zombies and history, so I was predisposed to like it.
    2. Recommended to Gina
  2. Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson)
    1. Second Life before Second Life sparked and faded. Features a badass heroine obviously sprung from the brain of a very horny man.
    2. Recommended by Brian
  3. The Sirens Of Titan (Kurt Vonnegut)
    1. The first Vonnegut I read, and still my favorite so far. Knowing the ending at the beginning creates more suspense than you’d imagine. The only one of his (so far) I’m compelled to read again.
    2. Recommended by Rish
  4. Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut)
    1. There’s a very good reason this is “the one.”
    2. Recommended by Matty
  5. Galapagos (Kurt Vonnegut)
    1. The islands hardly make an appearance in this book. Redeems itself with the awesome device of putting an asterisk in front of each person’s name when they’re about to die.
    2. Recommended by Jes
  6. Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut)
    1. Read this on a plane to China and looking around me, got paranoid whenever it knocked communism, which was every other page.
    2. Recommended by Sophia
  7. Snuff (Chuck Palahniuk)
    1. The most unappealing account of a gangbang you can possibly imagine.
    2. Recommended by Rish
  8. The Tawny Man Trilogy #1: Fool’s Errand (Robin Hobb)
    1. One of my favorite writers growing up, who I reconnected with personally after finishing this trilogy, and picked our conversation right back up from where we left off, half a lifetime ago. The end of this book also inspired a new Lights Out song.
  9. The Tawny Man Trilogy #2: Golden Fool (Robin Hobb)
  10. The Tawny Man Trilogy #3: Fool’s Fate (Robin Hobb)
  11. A Walk in the Woods (Bill Bryson)
    1. Environmental soapboxing prevents it from being as captivating as “The Lost Continent,” but his out-of-shape buddy, Katz, makes up for it.
  12. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
    1. One of the best books I read all summer. Brings you to a time when the skin of an apple was a treat that kids fought over in the schoolyard.
    2. Recommended by Mandy L.
  13. Lady Chatterly’s Lover (D.H. Lawrence)
    1. It’s like Less Than Zero, set in the 1930s English countryside, before it was socially acceptable to “let the wolf loose” (Marc). Class/money and getting your rocks off know no place and time. One thing that will always stick with me is the main character’s euphemism for “orgasm”: “crisis.”
    2. Recommended by Mandy H.
  14. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint Exupery)
    1. Understand different people express love in different ways, take responsibility for what you’ve tamed, keep what matters in perspective and take the hard road to it if you have to.
    2. Recommended by Mandy H.
  15. The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)
    1. Another enjoyable Children’s book. He has a tendency to use shadowy, cloaked figures in twos and threes as his villains.
  16. Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)
    1. A romp through London fantasy world, which I timed for the Olympics. He also has a tendency to write quirky, tough-but-vulnerable pixie women who whimsically turn hapless dudes’ lives around. But the shadowy villains in this one did inspire a song.
    2. Recommended by Marc
  17. Siddhartha (Hermann Hesse)
    1. Like a great song that gets in, makes you think and gets out. And I was pleasantly surprised to learn one of my favorite Yes songs, “Close To The Edge,” was inspired by it. Naturally, the song is longer than the book.
  18. 1984 (George Orwell)
    1. Nothing happens, then something happens. The future sucks, and this book spends most of its time painting a picture of it, pushing the actual story to the back seat. Wasn’t a huge fan. Did not love Big Brother.
  19. Brave New World (Aldus Huxley)
    1. Now I understand why those futuristic South Park characters said “Science damn you!” Not as oppressive and dark as 1984 – maybe because they were all taking a soma holiday. More plot-driven, and I enjoyed it more. But maybe I’m just a savage.
  20. My Cross To Bear (Gregg Allman)
    1. Even better than Keith Richards’ “Life.” The story about Jim Morrison and “just a little puppy juice” is worth it alone, not to mention his stories about early days playing clubs (and the Common!) and squatting in abandoned row houses in Boston.
  21. Lord Of The Flies (William Goldring)
    1. Made me think about summer camp. Poor Piggy.
  22. Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)
    1. Possibly the most beautifully-worded book I’ve ever read. This guy’s command of the English language and the way he describes things is just amazing. When I learned English wasn’t even his native language, and he was that good, I felt like a tongue-tied retard.
    2. Recommended by Katie
  23. Who Goes There? (John W. Campbell)
    1. This was the story that inspired The Thing, and it holds up. Would recommend the movie, too. Just don’t expect roller skating and bee bopping to Stevie Wonder if you see the movie first. And the book’s ending doesn’t leave you guessing.
  24. Less Than Zero (Bret Easton Ellis)
    1. Read this on the plane to L.A., to get in the mood. Takes place in 1985. Loved the references to Elvis Costello, Tom Petty and Duran Duran as cool, modern bands all the kids were into. Like a 1980s “On The Road.”
  25. Imperial Bedrooms (Bret Easton Ellis)
    1. Guess what; the kid from Less Than Zero became a messed-up soulless monster of a Facebooking adult. Surprise!
    2. Recommended by a nice random guy at Bukowski’s

In process:

  1. Welcome To The Monkey House (Kurt Vonnegut)
    1. Short stories are a nice palate cleanser between other books!
    2. Recommended by Melinda
  2. Good Omens (Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett)
    1. Bruce Springsteen reference in the first chapter. An Antichrist named Adam. I’d say we’re off to a good start 🙂
    2. Recommended by Kate

On deck for the fall:

  1. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (Kurt Vonnegut)
    1. Recommended by dad
  2. Palm Sunday (Kurt Vonnegut)
    1. Recommended by Brian
  3. 1221 (Dustin Thomason)