Thursday, August 23, 2007

Embracing (or Erasing) The Past

My friend Emily was in town for a few days. She hitched a ride from New York on The Matches' tour bus, which was stopped at a hotel on the edge of the bay for Monday and Tuesday. I promised to take her to my favorite coffee shop in Oakland, since she’s shown me her favorites in New York, and I also promised to show her a handful of new songs.

It was interesting to give someone a tour of my hometown – especially someone who knew me first through the eleven songs on Charmingly Awkward, and is close with The Matches guys who I played my first shows opening for, who continue to help me find my way through the bustle of bands and industry, who I spent my second (and final) summer of college with on Warped Tour as a sad excuse for a guitar tech.

From her hotel to the coffee shop, I managed to pass close enough by three out of the ten places we recorded our album - two studios and a house. We passed what was once iMusicast, a sight that evokes an odd nostalgia. That place went under at just the right time for me, I needed to move on, but there will never be another venue where I feel so at home. Now it’s a bakery or something (has anyone inspected that place?).

We first stood on the sidewalk where James and I have spent hour upon hour for the last two and a half years, trading laments while he smokes and I drink cup after cup. I thought for a second about all the things that have passed since I quit school and had nothing, and found him with the same nothing. We were both working on albums that were taking more than a year to complete. The change has been so monstrous, but I never felt it occur. Last time we met there, we complained about the record companies we signed to – we need to recognize how special a thing it is to be complaining about a goal you’ve achieved – even if it isn’t exactly how you expected it to be.

Eventually we grabbed a table and Matt and Ben and Monaca joined us for coffee. I found myself getting up to take a call from Matt R about some ideas for the next record, discussing the sorts of things that we haven’t discussed for two years. After finishing Charmingly Awkward, I felt like I’d never make an album again. The future was so hazy. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I couldn’t picture it.

I showed Emily Telegraph Avenue and after rehearsal I saw her and the others at a bar I didn’t care to go to, where kids from my high school kept walking in the door. I was pleased to see them, but not pleased at the feeling of seeing them.

As much as you try, you can’t shake the things that make up who you are. If you don’t embrace them and keep them in good condition (however annoying or painful they may be to tend to), then they will rust and corrode and fall apart under the new weight of people and places and experiences that are constantly being added on. Maybe I’m not fond of these relics from earlier chapters of my life because in their eyes I see the reflection of a person I no longer am. It’s not a person I’m ashamed of (mostly…), but someone whose skin I have shed. I don’t want to be mistaken for that kid they knew and I don’t want to go through the trouble of correcting their misunderstanding.

The next night, to make good on my promise, I drove down to the hotel with my acoustic. I held up in a clumsily mood-lit hotel room with Emily and Monaca and Shawn and showed them a handful of the songs I’ve been working on in the last few months/years, and Shawn shared a few of his. I think they were pleased, and I was pleased with the responses they gave.

For better or worse, I always seem to find myself back to where I started, trading thoughts with Shawn on directions songs could go in, production ideas, lyrics and melodies and performances that stand out, comparing to favorable or unfavorable artists or songs ( “sounds like __ meets __” ). I’ve even found myself back in my folk’s house the last few nights, as it’s more convenient to sleep in Oakland when we are practicing on this side of the bay all day. I’m writing this from their kitchen table on a laptop that has been set on tables and carpets and fence posts in most every state in this country.

I’m thinking of a line I wrote a while back and have yet to find a place for in a song. Its something like, “every time I leave here, I leave for good.” Whenever I step onto a plane to New York, climb into the van before tour, or write a check for rent, I expect that it will somehow make the past into something I can never return to. I don’t know where this notion came from. I never go in with long-term intentions and I always seem to be running from something, but here I am under the same lamp that lit the table when I was having my first birthday and my last dinner before leaving for college. When I picture my favorite musicians, I don’t see them opening up presents from their grandma beside a Christmas tree, I see them manifesting in the alleyway behind the club, wearing that same jacket and haircut and expression – I wonder if that’s really the case…