Category Archives: Songwriting
My brother gave me a 55 gallon drum last summer. He made an excellent compost bin with one, it hangs sideways between two posts and spins so you don’t have to stir, then dumps right into a wheel barrel. I’m making a rain barrel out of mine. To do that, it took me a year to break down and install gutters. That’s what I did this past weekend. Today I’m building an outdoor kitchen sink to run from the back side of the barrel. It’s similar to what some friends have in Mexico.
So far this spring, my house projects have mostly involved twisting the monkey off my back: the utility company. We’ve put up a laundry line, built window screens, hung screen doors, and now we’ve got this waterworks system. The utility meter reader guy came by Friday while I was on the ladder. I said, “Suck it, man.”
No, of course I didn’t.
We’ve spent $551 since June of last year on utilities. It’s depressing how many CDs one has to sell to come up with that number (I don’t think I ever have). Cutting wastewater will help the cost. It’s really the ugliest one, tucked in there on top of the water bill. They charge you to bring it, charge you to take it. No matter if you drank some or poured it on a flower.
Last winter we were very cold, and in the summer we lit the house with lightning bugs. We’re working on improvements. On Grace Acres Farm in Virginia, transitioning from Harlem, every morning we opened the chicken coup, fed the goats, watered the cows, and tended the large garden. My in-laws were on a motorcycle trip cross-country and knew Ashley and I could use a farmhouse in our life. After the inner city lollypop adventure.
I found Rebekah’s copy of Thoreau’s Walden and came to his illustration of the Indian basket maker. It resonated. Thoreau says, and I paraphrase:
“the Indian basket maker, who believed that crafting beautiful baskets was his greatest life ambition, decided that if he could not sell enough baskets to make a living, he would busy himself by creating a different style of living that did not require he sell as many of them.”
In the basement of the house at Grace Acres I recorded “New York City Spanks Levon Walker.” It was very fresh on my mind. Maybe I’ve sold 100. It was on iTunes for a year and actually lost money. I was very disappointed with that.
There is always the problem of sustenance when you busy yourself with making something, and less with the selling. Songwriting is my craft, and I get a little sad when I have a new one and think forward to the people in a bar who I’m going to scream it into their collars.
If it made any sense, I’d live on this little piece of land and work the ground. In the evenings, I’d sing to it. In the mornings I’d write my blogs, or maybe a novel. Ashley could paint what she wants. Our kid could run around the yard and I’d have a camera nearby for when he/she did something astonishing.
To complete this utopia, I’d likely go away to work as a longshoreman in the South or on journalistic assignment to the U.S. border of Mexico. Then we’d have the cash on hand to pay for government deficit spending, student debt, insurance, and other pretty little baskets like Netflix.
I was finished there for the day, but now I’m not. My trouble with sales needs working out.
Trade can be a genuine exchange like buying tomatoes and eggs at the farmers market. Or it is like buying a product in its devised cycle from a manufacturer who has already planned a replacement, and buying it with a credit card to get the bonus points, and maybe tacking on a few more large ticket items to jump into a higher rebate category. I get the sweats about discussing my AT&T contract. The bank wants to start a “relationship.” They used to call consumption the “con” and it would kill you.
At one time I listened to Zig Ziglar incessantly. I was in financial services sales then and I needed a motivational talk for every appointment. Ziglar says, in so many words, that the salesman is the catalyst for the american way. He said this a long time ago, way before credit crisis was the american way, and he also talked as much about integrity as he did sales. I’m a Zig Ziglar fan, but somewhere I became extremely bitter towards selling. Probably all the stood up appointments, cancelled contracts, and pressure during the banking crisis to sell our way out of ruin (due to previous overselling). I starved in my suit and tie, it didn’t seem so scary to hang it up. I have tomatoes now, too.
I sold less than 100 CDs in a year because I feel so dumb asking for money for them. People have to insist, and insist at least twice. Am I fast talking someone’s inheritance into my IRA plan? No. Those CDs carry lifeblood. To say that they go for 5 bucks feels a little ridiculous, it’s more than a money issue. I’ve given away well over 1000. They are the manifestation of my gift, and a gift is not for sale. Well maybe it has to be, but I’m very bashful about it. It’s my paradox, and I’m going to start writing pop songs. Those can be for sale, but not very good at sales and that’s why I grow tomatoes.
That was my explanation behind the 2010 EP “Not sure how I’ll eat but I’m not picking peaches.” My new one is underway, “Hope for the things seen and unseen.” It has my best songs ever written and I’ll slip you one soon.
Tags: 55 gallon drum, american way, banking crisis, compost bin, con, consumption, credit crisis, hope for the seen and unseen, indian basket maker, installing rain gutters, kub, longshoreman, netflix, new york city spanks levon walker, not sure how Ill eat but im not picking peaches, rain barrel, thoreau, us border of mexico, utility meter reader, zig ziglar
The next Mason Jar house show will be next wednesday, June 8. Our musical guest is Arthur Alligood, a singer/songwriter out of Nashville. Check out his new album at http://www.arthuralligood.com/ and be and hit the discography, there is a free download of his last EP.
Doors open at 7. Levon Walker opening. We’ll pass a hat.
“Now, mister, the day my numbers comes in I ain’t
ever gonna ride in no used car again”
Used Cars, the Nebraska Album, Bruce Springsteen
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.
Ashley and I teamed up this last weekend and over the last couple months to help with a fanciful wedding in the new garden of David and Travetta Johnson, over in the nearby Park Ridge historic neighborhood. Their daughter, Amelia was wed to Joshua and they have now run away like newlyweds will do. I’d like to tell you about the event. As far as weddings go, I’d say it was a dandy.
The framework, the garden that is, was installed by chief landscape architect Mitch Stewart, owner of Terra Landscapes. Mitch is one the best there is, I worked for him last year and witnessed his repeated excellence. Lindsay Winters was the wedding director, and she went as far to learn music theory to cue bridesmaids on a C#m. My darling Ashley was the wedding designer, making hand sewn programs, banners, lights, and a painting to match.
I was asked to assemble a band, and we’re now booked up for the rest of the summer. No, but they are great musicians and were willing to meet several times to pull it off fantastically.
Neighborhood wildflowers and a special portrait of Amelia and Josh were done by Knoxville Artist, Leann Cooper.
All Souls Church Pastor Doug Banister married the pair under two plum trees. Each tree was dressed up in mason jar tea lights and fabrics, with framed family portraits held in the branches. Two family trees.
I get nervous playing at weddings. Anytime I think I’m going to be nervous, I wear my special socks that Dustin got me.
And that was irrelevant.
I know I’ve left out names of people who worked hard on this wedding. Actually, most of our friends spent long workdays to get it together. What better way than a wedding celebration to begin the dream of Park Ridge’s new home for the arts, the barn behind David and Travetta’s house.
The rest of the night went like this: a jazz band in the barn with Joshua and Amelia swing dancing like pros. A tail gate full of sweets (cake + 14 pie baking friends). Lots of food. I’d like to thank photographer Adam Brimer for his patience in telling me what camera settings to pick. Like for these golden highlights:
And how to “ghost” things. This is Lindsay, who was in charge:
Adam and I eventually found ourselves in a duel. I said, “Let me see where you shot me.” He won, hands down. You’ll have to go check out his work to see how bad of a draw he is.
If you want dancing at your party, invite Sandy Greek. Even if you don’t know her.
Sister of the bride, Betsy is another photographer that I bother. I tried to be considerate that her sister was getting married. Betsy shot some photos for our winter Good Packaging issue.
And then Amelia and Josh were off.
To happily ever after.
Tags: adam brimer photography, all souls knoxville, c#m, doug banister, family plum trees, knoxville park ridge, leann cooper, lindsay winters, mitch stewart, piano socks, Sandy Greek, tara kneiser and dixie pixel photography, terra landscapes, the barking dogs, united pursuit band, wedding band, wedding design
People, I got in trouble for making this video. The inclination came to make it and I just did, but didn’t clean the house or anything. Man, you got a warn a lady before you just walk through the place with a camera, especially if she’s in the state that Ashley is (and by that I mean nothing, dear). When she came home she said,
“Well…. it’s a little long, entertaining, but I can’t believe you’re going to show that.”
That means she doesn’t like it. But I think when you videoblog you’re only allowed one take. This ain’t cable.
Shoulder of the Road Revisited
I chased you down the road for an interstate goodbye
standing there on the shoulder with your head on mind
said, “Honey it won’t be long, don’t you worry, don’t you cry,”
then waved you down the road for another try
How could we wait for love, knowing right where it went?
I watched you drive away and said I wouldn’t again
We got married in the flood, we were then so young
had an early start just to mess it up
Those early days we won’t forget, fighting for our lives
coming home to walls we didn’t recognize
I learned that fighting you was something I could stand to lose
drag enough cold inside, what you gonna do?
So I learned to make a few men of myself, brought em all home to you
said, “Honey here’s the new me, and what I’m gonna do”
she said, “If you see my husband tell him I could use a hand,
these men keep coming over eating off his land.”
You took me once on a promise to be true
I been making good on that to you
One thing I didn’t know was who I was those years ago
All I knew is I was holding on to you
and the shoulder of the road
music available at http://levonwalker.bandcamp.com/
Documenting some more. It was Thursday midday, Knoxville Tennessee. One of the first real scorchers. Men were setting up the stage for a Better Than Ezra concert tonight (woa oh). Ice cream and hot dogs were everywhere. Alexander was busking on his alto sax by Cafe Four. I stopped in Bliss Home to reshoot Ashley’s work.
I’ve been taking Ashley to work on my bike (she frowns at the word “haul”). In the cool morning she walks, but at 1:30 she hops on the rack of my ox cart. A pregnant lady shouldn’t be walking these East TN hills in the heat of the day. She should be on a bicycle rack, clasping her responsible partner. The car is sold now, and that has been interesting. One more week of school and no more bike rides for the three of us. She already exceeds 50 lbs and we expect it to continue. And let me tell you, the hills are a bitch.
The last two weeks I’ve been editing and remixing some of my home recorded EPs. I decided to rework a lot of my last EP and all three are available now at:
This is replacing iTunes for me, it’s far more friendly to the small guy. ”Not Sure how I’ll Eat but I’m not Picking Peaches” is the last, I repeat last, time I will do a home recording this rough in nature. It is preposterous to spend weeks trying to fix projects that were recorded in Garageband (don’t smirk). It’s the best I could do with what I have (useful for forcing inventiveness amidst limited resources, teaching not to wait until everything is perfect, exercising initiative).
With such a wonderful disclaimer of blundering recording quality, I move on to the subject of promotion. Follow me. Self promotion: the marketing wheel of social networking obtrusiveness. Until now, that is, for an idea was born yesterday.
I call it “Promotional Acts of Kindness.” When walking home yesterday, along the sidewalk beside a locksmith company, the hedges were being invaded by a vine. There was trash in the beds. I said to myself that if I were still a landscaper, I would knock on the door and tell them that for $20 I would clean up the mess. Or I could just do it, randomly… or, promotionally. ”Promotional Acts of Kindness” was being born. I could leave a sign in the lawn:
This Act of Kindness brought to you by Levon Walker, who invites you to visit http://levonwalker.bandcamp.com/ and see why this behavior has occurred.
I thought maybe I’d make a T shirt and get myself caught in public, “tagging” things with a broom and loppers. Written on my back:
This Act of Kindness brought to you by Levon Walker, who invites you to visit http://levonwalker.bandcamp.com/ and see why this behavior has occurred.
It would target a new demographic, I would hand out pamphlets explaining how an impractical, indulgent artist decided to get out and make themselves useful in attempt to redeem a vain existence of indy basement recordings. If art is for the good of all, then invest in its promotion by civic do-gooding. Make it a splash.
The more that I turn the idea over in my head, the more I am convinced I am going to do it. I have a difficult time promoting myself, worsened by years of being bad at sales when I was in them. ”We are all in sales in some way or another, or we work for someone else who is,” said my friend Knox.
I don’t like sales because I feel grasping, self interested, angled, and one sided. I realize that this is personal problem, for I’ve worked with plenty of people who are good salesman and demonstrate the positive attributes of the trade. But plenty of people feel like me, and I think all salesmen go through it. Someone who wants to be a massage therapist finds themselves learning to hustle. The same with a personal trainer or a hair stylist. Competition favors the competitive nature, some of us only wanted to be yoga instructors.
Sorry, I need to bring it all back home. My original purpose in writing was to tell you about
to plug it here, plug it firmly, and then mention:
Promotional Acts of Kindness, brought to you by Levon Walker, who invites you to visit http://levonwalker.bandcamp.com/ and see why this behavior has occurred.