Category Archives: Elton John
A month ago I was preaching about taxes and organization. (Our Qualified Joint Venture blog) Ashley and I have a very complicated tax situation, nobody wants me to drag it out and explain it, but I emphasize that it’s very complicated. Thats why I bought the army file cabinet and promised not to fill it with shoe boxes, but use folders rather, and intermittently affix staples and paper clips.
That’s not all it took. The local bank has been easy enough to let Ashley and I conduct our regular business through our alter-identities: those being the fake names Levon Walker and Ashley Addair. Truth is, there are no such legal persons. Maybe you know my real name, which indicates our relationship predates 2008 when I adopted the name Levon from the 1971 Elton John hit song “Levon” from the Madman Across the Water album.
(note: “Levon” like “Levi’s.” Say it: LEEEEEEE, not leVon. end of note).
As for Ashley, well, she took “Walker” back in the summer of 2004. Addair is maiden. Dawn is the given middle. We go to the local bank I where I used to work, nobody bothers us about it. I’m getting to my point, after this one.
An artist is a small business like any other self employed entity in the great city of Knoxville, the county of Knox, the state of Tennessee, and the U.S. of America where the artist may be regulated and taxed at each level by its respective authority. That being the case, and in the spirit of owning a large, green file cabinet, we finally decided to organize.
We opened a small business entitled “Ashley Dawn Addair and Levon Walker,” obtained the city and county business licenses, applied for the state sales tax I.D. number and finally opened a commercial bank account. Our fake names exist now as a legal entity, although the owners remain the mysterious Mr. and Mrs. R Walker.
All of this babble has not been coffee shop conversation. I thought it worth sharing in part because having just gone through it, I’d be glad to assist the steps of another fellow who needs to get it done.
Also, for the story begun in this blog, it’s important to note the full circle. I’m back to the days of walking away from the desk (actually several of them) and classifying it all as “that stuff.” ”That stuff” doesn’t go away just because you want to be a songwriter. True, if one stays broke they aren’t forced to look at much of it. Unfortunately, ignorance is prohibiting.
Business principles aren’t the first thing I think of when focusing creative energy. I think of Jack Donaghy. No seriously, when I’m squandering I don’t do good work, or at least I can’t get it to stick. It takes an organized effort.
Especially when taking the last, tender step away from part time jobs and trying to stay off them.
I’m going to be a dad soon, and at times I think about going back to what some would call security. What I’ve learned most clearly in the last couple rambling years is that security exists, but it has nothing to do with the external. You can be secure in yourself and that is all. Beyond that you need faith, and when you can’t find faith, look for hope.
When I worry about it, I remember what David Johnson told me recently, “If it’s good for you, it’s good for your kid.”
Ashley and I are going to do this. Life is going to change, oh yes. But it won’t change to anything that doesn’t align with where we are now. And, we have a file cabinet to tell us where that is.
I heard it said that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate effort to develop accomplishment at something. Ashley says running the Elton John catalogue does not constitute as productive practice. Specifically, it takes 10,000 hours of placing oneself at the edge of current ability. If she doesn’t want to hear Elton then it’s going to be diatonic scale exercises, inversions, arpeggios and lots of finger burnouts. Choppy etudes maybe, or “Czerny” The Art of Finger Dexterity. Ben Folds played the drums first. Billy Joel was a boxer.
If Ashley and are both at work, it requires his and her headphones. I run distressing dissonances up and down the keyboard and she listens to our pleasant itunes collection. The dog sleeps in the chair. We pummel in collusion of pigment and resonance. I pause for more coffee, my ears discharging from tension, I bring her tea. She has paint in her hair. It is a silent gesture and I go upstairs back into the fight.
Moments linger like door frames to adjoin difficult harmonies. Deconstructed scales progress along a continuum of mathematical nonsense. Somewhere in the fray is Miles Davis, choosing his notes more carefully than writers of presidential speeches. I want to be able to stand in or out, but hit the right note when I mean to.
Ashley and I fit a 10X8 tent, a couple wooden tables, an easel and a plastic crate full of crafts into the Corolla most Saturday mornings. After that we shove paintings and wood blocks into the crevices before jumping in the car and trying not spill the first mug of coffee or slam a canvas in the door. We’re always the last to arrive at the downtown farmers market and find our spot easily because it is the one without a tent.
I park the car and go home to make more coffee, because that is no way to enjoy the first, then grab my guitar and an accordion in today’s case before making the second trip to the market, in which could no way be consolidated into the Corolla load of the first. Knox Janowick joined me today and we did a repertoire consisting mainly of Josh Ritter and Tom Waits with he on the ukelele.
I borrowed the accordion yesterday and I regard it as an instrument of it’s own, but if you can get used to pumping air and not seeing your hands on the tiny sideways keyboard the black and whites can be considered the same. In a moment of boldness I went into “Rocket Man” and later wished I hadn’t. We made about $8.47 and a box of grapes. Knox bought his kids ice cream with his cut
and I may invest mine this week in white acrylic paint. Gotta keep Ashley happy.
Ashley stayed posted at the tent and I brought her buttered bread samples. The salsa guy across the way was pretty good but next year I think I’m going to go for him. I make mine with squash and it’s harder to get it spicy. When faced with a guy trying to sell you a $5 mason jar of salsa AND a $5 CD what are you going to say? If it were me I’d feel the need to take both as to not insult the other.
By the way, I finished an EP yesterday. Kinda excited to feel finished with something. Click “hear Levon” above and have a listen.
I’ve been quiet on here because I thought we had turned a corner and we try to keep this a story of hope. The hope is there, but the circumstances have left me brimming to push the story of the Flight of the Walker’s forward.
I’ll need to back up a bit. Ashley took a Greyhound to the Virginia mountains to be with a close relative who underwent a major operation. Fortunately the situation is going well. She left 11 days ago and will be back next weekend. In five years we haven’t apart this long, so remember as I tell the story of the last few days that I’m missing her stability greatly.
If there are 8 million people in New York City and our nation’s unemployment rate is 9.1%, then we’ll say roughly 1 million people are looking here. NYU grad students are competing for retail jobs just to get through the times. I see 15 applications placed per day, and there is always a persistent soul in the lobby hoping to see the manager. I was lucky. Everything else is bogus craigslist offers and unpaid internships which undoubtedly were once someone’s job. Who can afford to work for free? We’re not set up like that. Other than the two hours before getting fired, Ashley has had no luck. (By the way, I learned that they pulled a common practice called “baiting” where they “hire” four people and keep the one that will take the least effort, meaning she wasn’t the only one let go that day.) So with the rent scratched together, the metro fares, dog food, and greyhound tickets go on plastic. Might I add that the rent is almost twice my mortgage in Knoxville. Good thing I get gigs. Now here’s this one for you.
Friday night I was refused performing my show at 169 Bar in the Lower East Side because I didn’t bring enough people out. Club policy, even though the place was effortlessly packed. No one told the doorman that they came to see me, so they got to hear the DJ playlist instead. This is rare even in New York, and three people have since told me that they’ve heard of the place’s brutal reputation. I came to play for the tip bucket, hoping to win the crowd and find people to bring back. That’s how it works, right? No, apparently my fan base was supposed to drive to New York to see me there. Where were you people? Don’t worry, believe me. I’m coming to you.
The next day, the club even took the extra time to email me the following: “You can’t even bring out a crowd on a Friday night, you’ve got to be kidding.” They wrote the endearing words in an all caps, size 30, red bold font. Red is a warm color, which is is how I took it.
So I’ve been sitting around the apartment practicing cover songs for paying gigs somewhere I don’t know yet far away that appreciates hearing good music, if only good familiar music. By this, I mean I’m emotionally going through my Elton John charts and any song about the South. Haven’t eaten anything but day old mark-outs from work or my roommate’s extras. Thanks, Lyndsey. My writing has been furtive and I’ve gotten two songs written in the last week that I’m really proud of, or at least feel I’ve truly earned. I’m laughing at myself and having a good time, deliriously lonely, cracked from stress, and sustaining by caffeine and stale marble cake. The two southern kids who tackled the big apple without much and got further busted. It was bound to happen, but it needed a fair shot to see. Baby we were born to run.
We needed two crap jobs and got one,
We see the lights but we have no fun,
A little break never hurt anyone,
A marble cake and the day is done.
Okay, three songs. May throw that one back, though. Today was my last day at Starbucks and now I find myself another notch deeper in my post college career research. This time I call it a follow up study; I was actually a barista while in college, but who’s really counting anymore. I sometimes find myself walking slowly past financial institutions. Not because I want to rob them, but because I may compulsively put in a resume. One in the same. One musician stereotype it seems I cannot break without a longwinded explanation is flightiness. One that I can break is personal financial responsibility.
It didn’t really make a difference if I made 8.75 in my green apron or not. I picked up extra shifts, left my store late to close at other stores for an extra $20 cab fare home. I kept the money and found a bus. I’m not even complaining, my financial experience has given me formulas to utilize which predicted it would not be enough. I did hope, however, that I could hang in there while Ashley found something similar and we got our artistic footing a little better. There were no stars in my eyes, just curiosity.
But hey, what an experience. I’ve cleaned up what a crack head will do to a public bathroom, dumped a puddle of mocha all over myself, and met Renee Zellweger twice. Even today, I was frantically changing the garbage by the door when a man opened it and reached inside handing me a waded up piece of plastic without breaking his stride. It was full of dog poop. I’m not complaining. Late nights I talked working-man to working-man with hotel doormen and cab drivers that came in to get their regular coffees three or four times over. I can remember the last seven things people have said to me and say them back faster. Some of the world’s largest Louis Vuitton bags have sat on my counter. I beam with pride when asked to give subway directions, or answer questions like “how do I get to the Met from here?” So maybe I don’t recommend mutual funds anymore, but do you feel like something chocolaty today or something more fruity?
Let me say one more thing. This may be the most over-said, cliche, even turn-offedly lame realization but I’m saying it. I found a lot of myself in this city. I’ve been to 48 states and 9 countries so it wasn’t just a matter of going somewhere. It was a matter of a life turned upside down, up against the odds, up against the mire, see what you’re made of, because you’ve got to try, situation. When there is something you know that you need to do, then you need to do it. How can you fail if trying was the whole idea? Yes, I lost this one. I respect myself, and I don’t want to lose that one.
I’d be amiss not to mention that I began and rekindled great friendships, played a lot of good shows, and still have a few left. Over the next week I’ll make my goodbye’s so that’s not for tonight. I’m well over my word count so goodnight.
Finished the gig last night and decided I might as well take advantage of being in the Lower East Side, since I was there, and I had no where in particular else to go. I’m pretty sure anybody can play out in New York. The trick is, did you play for anyone? Last night the lounge was not packed and the act before me took his friends. You never know how things will turn out. Those who stayed liked the show, at least they told me they did. In a similar fashion, I plan on satisfying the curious all over the world.
People like familiar music, myself included, so doing covers is a new guy’s way to get listeners to stop for two seconds from the rest of the lures of nightlife. My book includes the Billy Joel and Elton John catalogue, plus a bunch of the good stuff by John Prine, Dylan, and Jerry Jeff Walker. I bite my nails at the thought of doing the pure piano bar “taking requests for tips” thing. It always hurts to ask even, because people like material I refuse to learn; Journey or Barry Manilow. Not gonna do it. Okay, for twenty bucks I’ll fake it.
So out of loyalty to my fellow musician, I’m saying to be a curious listener. With all the social networking out there I guarantee that you can find two favorite acts in your hometown that you should know, love, and that need you. Go see three of them for every major act you pay through the nose to go see. But make sure you pay through the nose when I come to town.
Ashley got the job at the Grey Dog’s Coffee. She’s 1 for 1 as far walk-ins go. I won’t tell my ratio, but nevertheless we are both gainfully employed in our “bridge” jobs.
My Starbucks manager and everyone he has hired is obsessed with Broadway. It is all that is talked about: what show they watched and when they started crying, what tickets they have coming up, predictions for the Tony’s, etc. The manager introduces me to everyone as “Levon, who just wrote a musical.” The truth is, I’m working on a musical that is about the first few years of Ashley’s and my life together while being conforming, silly people. My musical theatre knowledge is lacking, so I keep quiet and take notes around these people. I know what I know from the shelves of the Knoxville Public Library, but I think I’m in the right city now.
I walked Ashley to the subway stop at dawn in Harlem to make it down by Union Square for work at 6:30AM. It will hopefully be a great job for her. In her interview, they told her that they want everyone there to be really good at whatever else they are actually trying to do. That is the key to the Grey Dog being cool, and priority goes to people’s artistic commitments. I want to run a business where the strategy for making my environment authentic is telling everyone “do a good job for me for me when you’re here, and we’ll take the second seat to what makes you you.
Starbucks, which is cool kind of like underwear is cool (because you need it sometimes), has its own philosophies. Amidst some of the deepest corporate BS I’ve ever treaded in, my favorite is their claim to be the “3rd place;” the place between home and work where people interact (and buy caffiene, fat, and sugar in pretty packaging). This term’s insertion into the Starbucks manual, or should I say “green apron book,” is like Walmart bragging because their cashiers are locally employed.
A brief tutorial from Wikipedia because third place is worth staying on the subject:
The third place is a term used in the concept of community building to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. In his influential book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of asense of place.
Third places are “anchors” of community life and facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction.
In other words, your neighborhood Starbucks. Be sure and go green with a double lined, non sweat, reusable see-through mug for your iced double mochas this summer. $12.95 at what we call the “impulse counter,” where, well, I’m sure you know…
I may need to shut up.
My second piece of the day was a meeting in central park with a guy who’s assembling a band for his upcoming tour. I’m rehearsing with them on Thursday and playing Friday and Saturday at the Living Room as their keyboardist. He found me on Craigslist, which we both swore we never check, and the weekend is sort of my audition before we start going all over the country. I don’t really want to get into all of it here until something materializes, but I’m ready to do my duty for rock and roll if I am called to do so.
When I was 20, an adventurous Kentucky youngster, and a sophomore in the capitol of the big blue, I got in a car with four guys for a weekend in New York City and brought the last $35 to my name. Five of us slept in the car (an early 90′s Honda Accord), sitting up straight in a motel parking lot in New Jersey. Next, in a Manhattan parking garage, and then finally back in New Jersey at the same motel. I can tell you how I spent my $35: a slice of pizza, a box of poptarts, a $7 pack of cigarettes (extraordinarily expensive for 2002), and then shamefully got hustled out of $15 in the back of an East Village gift shop trying to beat the con artists at their game. Street smarts? I didn’t have any.
In those glorious and glamorous hours I decided that one day I would return to live in the city who had worked her claws into me so endearingly. As our love affair matured, so did my dream of a mix tape I would make for my voyage home to her:
New York New York, Ryan Adams
New York State of Mind, Billy Joel
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Doin’ It, LL Cool J ”…I represent Queens, she was raised out in Brooklyn” (you may have forgotten that one)
Englishman in New York, Sting
New York’s Not my Home, Jim Croce
New York, Cat Power
Either because I never actually made the tape, or returned instead with another woman, the city has not been altogether kind. She continues her cold, playful way with me. A jealous lover, she has done this before- envious even of my fun in upstate New York in following years. Scott Jones and I were hassled by state troopers, then ravaged by a bear and nearly killed in a white-out while high in the Adirondacks as we scampered hypothermically for two days back to the car, having lost nearly everything to the bears and then the storm.
Ah, New York. When will you give in to me?
I walked 81 blocks today in the rain, trying to find places taking applications. Today I did coffee shops and cafes. Tomorrow I’ll do retail establishments. If by chance you are reading today because you Googled my name after receiving my application, you have the wrong Levon Walker. Please read no further.
I was thinking about a favorite Elton song the whole time:
“And now I know, Spanish Harlem are not just pretty words to say, I thought I knew, But now I know that rose trees never grow in New York City….This Broadway’s got, it’s got a lot of songs to sing, if I knew the words I might join in. I’ll go my way alone, grow my own, my own seeds shall be sown in New York City… Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true, you stand at the edge while people run you through, and I thank the Lord that there’s people out there like you, I thank the Lord that there’s people out there like you.”
from Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Tags: adirondacks, bear attack, Bernie Taupin, big blue, Billy Joel, cat power, con artist, doin it, east village, Elton John, englishman in new york, honda accord, jim croce, ll cool j, mona lisas and mad hatters, new york state of mind, new york's not my home, ryan adams, scott jones, spanish harlem, sting, street smarts, white out
Ben Folds has a song entitled Steven’s Last Night in Town from 1997′s Whatever and Ever Amen. Steven tells everyone he’s moving away and they throw him a big bash. Only everyday he’s still around and hangs out with someone different to keep his ”going away” party going. Eventually they realize he is never leaving and Ben immortalized him in a song (on a Baldwin Piano).
Last night our friends took us out to dinner, again. I’m glad they did, I just couldn’t help but think about the song the whole night. There are no good byes, right? Thats true in our case. We’ve been hiding long enough that people are surprised when they see us. ”Oh, how long are you in town?” Stop it. That’s why we’re in hiding.
Today was my second day on my self enforced 9-5 schedule. It didn’t work. I had the spring allergy thing going to bed last night and sure enough it knocked me out this morning. I missed the whole A.M. shift. Called in sick. I even gargled salt water in front of the mirror so the boss would know I wasn’t lying.
Aside: Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind is playing as I’m typing. “I’m just taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River line….”
I’m trying to dress up this day as much as possible. It is my last Thursday in Knoxville but I’m in a New York state of mind and that pretty much sums it up. Ashley, who has an absolute loathing for Billy Joel (and Elton John) due to overexposure (because of me) was singing the song just now. I saw her. That means its serious. We must go.
Tuesday was my first day of self employment. Instead of moving to New York we went on a little road trip. Before we left we showed the house seven times so we knew, just knew, that someone would sign a lease when we got back. So we went to Nashville.
We lived in the back apartment here that was the original utility room, I think.
We took Let somewhere exotic,
From here we shot up into Kentucky to see my parents in Madisonville, KY. Then to Salem, KY which is in Livingston County to see my Memaw and Papaw. Then Paducah, KY for dinner with some more family. Then down to Dukedom, TN to see my grandmother and a quick trip to Dresden, TN and back to see my great aunt who is 96. We stopped again in Nashville on the way home and got back to Knoxville last night.
I’m glad I went and spent time with family and the places where I am from. Let me say something about them. Everyone farmed in my family, including us until I was about 4. We had small family farms, where you’d still have to do something else to make it. My grandfather welded and my papaw core drilled. My dad farmed and sold insurance. Finally it got too hard to have a small farm anymore and we went to Madisonville to live in town. My grandmother still lives on hers and rents the land out. My papaw sold his when the core drilling became a larger operation. My dad built one of the largest State Farm Insurance Agencies in the region and my brother will soon be doing the same.
Elton John’s song “Levon”, although the lyrical credit must go to Bernie Taupin, is about the passing on of heritage.
Alvin Tostig had a son today. And he shall be Levon, and he shall be a good man, and he shall be Levon, in tradition with the family plan.
Listen to the song on Elton’s 1971 “Madman Across the Water”. Tiny Dancer is on that one, too.
Levon came up from humble roots in hard times and is trying to teach his son to understand the importance of where has come from. I’m not using the song as a metaphor for myself and my family but it does hit enough points to inspire me. My grandfathers worked the land and worked for themselves. My father made a new way and helped us get on our feet. He even sent us around the world. Now I’m going to Brooklyn as an artist and it doesn’t look that much different to me. There is an art to welding, there is an art to drilling, and there is an art to building a good business in a community. Our world is smaller now and if my fathers were standing in my shoes today, I believe they would go for it. They came home from war in hard times and got started. Dad sold the farm in the recession of the 80′s and hung a shingle downtown. I guess I’m a traditional guy in my own way.
This has been fun, or at least therapeutic, the last few weeks to be making my contribution to the web. Most music artists bombard you with unsolicited myspace friend requests. I decided to bombard you by the power of blog.
I also told you awhile back that this would be my side of the story. Ashley has her side as well, and if she wanted to start a blog for retaliation she has always been free to do so. However, after seeing the vast popularity of the Flight of the Walkers she has been leading me to believe that she might have some blogging abilities. Party because I was here first, and partly because her blog would inevitably be better than mine, I have tiptoed around her joining forces with me.
Her resume is strong. She majored in English, creative writing to be exact. She is well read and has excellent insights on important topics such as social justice and education. I have begun to consider allowing her to share my readership. I have not yet decided. She does not share my enthusiasm for Elton John or Billy Joel but she does enjoy the music of Ben Folds. I can live with that if you can.
Truth be told, I have gone to her in the past to revise my posts before I published them. I don’t know if this is cheating, but I majored in Finance where you could get an assignment measured in chart requirements, not words or pages. I tell you this to inform you that at times you have been exposed to her writing abilities without your knowing. (This doesn’t mean that anything I have said which you regarded as brilliant you can attribute to her.)
In addition, she is heavily invested in this story. She has insights that are good, and I listen to them, really I do, but I think that we need a written “record” of who got who into what. I told her that we should only buy the Datsun if we committed to selling the Corolla to have money to fix it up. She agreed, but then backed out on the idea and never followed through, leaving us with a dumb car that would barely run in the driveway. I wish we were blogging back then, let me tell you, because I’d have all of you as my witness that it wasn’t my fault. The whole idea was my fault, but not the lack of follow through.
Another positive thing about Ashley is that she is for the most part carbon neutral. She never drives and will only take a ride if its on the way. We buy things at places that plant a lot of trees. She can’t remember the last time she used styrofoam. Thumbs up to her for being green. Get ready for a lot of green posts, probably a green category, and welcome to my world. Do we really want her? Yes. It will be good for us.
I have nearly talked myself into letting her on board. If I don’t hear an overwhelming response from you otherwise, she may post something later today. I will be reading her carefully for a while to ensure that the essence of this blog remains intact. A little self promotion is okay but we don’t get shameless here at noroomforhipsters.
And you don’t have to worry, it doesn’t mean you will be hearing less from me. We are not going to tag team. We are going to doubly bombard you from a single source rather than hitting you from two sides. Levon and Ashley, the one-two punch. Her paintings are for sale and you, yes you, can buy one. Never thought of buying a painting before? Its easy. Give us some money and we’ll show you how easy.
You can’t buy my work just yet. Its not finished. I’ll tell you what though, I’ll give you a demo if you ask. Its the best I can do. I can’t play for you anywhere either because I have a broken hand. Send me your address and I’ll send you a demo if you promise to buy a CD when I have one. Deal?
We are also taking suggestions for her blog name.
I think that’s all I’ve got today. Please hope with me that my hand heals and that we don’t have to go to small claims court over the lease agreement.