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no room for hipsters

the occupation of Ashley and Levon

Category Archives: audacity

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.

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They just left my house after doing a home appraisal.  We got up early and scrubbed for hours.  It was one year ago tomorrow that we moved back home.

I just sat here a very long time.  It feels like I should recap or talk a lot.  Nope, the insight is a short one:  Explore deliberately and stick.  Stick just as deliberately.

It’s a gritty place, on a 93 degree day last day of May, and my sweaty jeans lay heavy over the arm of a chair.  New screens keep the bugs out.

Ashley is cleaning brushes and eating string cheese, about to go to sleep.  There are onesies laying on my studio chair and a book, “Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What do you See?”

This is the most reckless, life out of the trunk, yellow stripe smash the dashboard adventure I need at the moment.

Don’t just stick deliberately, have the same expectancy to be amazed.

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The Fellini Kroger in Knoxville is commonly considered to be an exhibit of surrealism, hence its nickname after a famous filmmaker.  I like that a particular grocery can have a well known reputation, even if the grocer is Kroger, and even if that reputation is ambiguous.

Fellini’s is a 24 hour shopping-center-supermarket in it’s original 1974 condition.  The shopping carts fill the nearby creeks and are parked on sidewalks leading to the epicenter.  Its gumball machines are yellowed glass.  The entrance is a canopy of charcoal grills and seasonal ferns.  A Manager Special will likely be tofu or pickling salts. After 10pm there are no lanes open except for the computers, and the lights are turned down low over the produce section.  The living sleeps, the artificial endures, and you have come here for your sustenance.

I have dreamed of these late night Fellini runs, the stale fluorescence and drone of refrigerator isles.  The fronts of my shins freeze and the wet, spongy slam of a glass door entraps climbing fog upon frozen broccoli.  It makes me shudder.  I can see the glow of the parking lot from my house on a black, summer night.  More than the building, it’s the patrons of Fellini that make it Fellini.

Naturally, I began scouting out how to document the surreality of this locale, in order that you might believe me should you not live nearby.  No doubt you have experienced a similar Fellini grocery scene yourself.  My investigation began yesterday, and I think that it may be over already (I am afraid).

It was a Monday afternoon and Ashley was with me.  She went to the thrift store next door and I entered Fellini to get her regular pregnancy cravings, which consist of wheat saltines, plain cheerios, and carbonated water.  Yes, I had more exotic expectations of these days.  Even at midday Monday, and shooting from the hip, I was able to get a sense of what I wanted to do later.  A lot later, like when they turn down the lights and the people arise from the bed of 3rd Creek. The phantasmagoricality is low in these shots, but remember it was midday Monday.

Then I took this one.  Harmless, but it must have stirred attention behind me.

So then I shot this one.  You’d think I would have known better than that.

A Fellini guard accosted me.  I was escorted to the door, which was at that moment where I wanted to go.

“You can’t take pictures around here like that.”

“Thank you sir, and it won’t happen again.”

“It had better not.”

I escaped into the ferns.

I think I’m going to stick with what I told him.  Not to say I won’t post up in the parking lot some night, behind the Taco Bell drive through, with a telephoto lens.  But when Fellini confronts you like this it is an unsettling warning.  Like an imbalance you witness in nature.  Things are not right with me now.  I have this soda water and some saltines which helps, but I feel like I really wanted pickles and chocolate.

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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/

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Everything came to a head as I was looking through the Monday morning Craigslist ads.  Browsing for old cars around $1,500: a downsize, a vessel, a hood I could raise and never be reminded of the computer in my cubicle, or my six year old Corolla.

There was a 1976 Datsun 610 station wagon, Tennessee Volunteer orange.  Pure metal on the outside, hot cracked vinyl on the in.  4 speed with a new clutch.  A dashboard of dusty electrical tape.  I called.  It was a man I could trust, a man I wanted to meet.

from the actual craigslist ad

I biked from my office at the University of Tennessee to the library, where Ashley would be between her classes.  Many a sales pitch have I prepared in a similar stance of passion: pedaling furiously and piecing my route.  She would be excited and our lives forever changed.  I wanted grease on my hands.  We would make new fleeting memories, endured by great cost:  of a 1976 Datsun station wagon.  An orange so fluorescent.  Panache of the days unseen since my father was a younger man than I.

Ashley was midway through a masters program in Education.  Her unconventional idealism soared and stunk.  A polarizing pupil, the academics of the university loved her zeal; the public school needed her to manage the classroom.  With her physical stature like an eighth grader, it was difficult.  She was a flower of naivete being ground in the bureaucratic system.  I was waiting and hoping for a compromise that might work for her.  I rested gently, having long ago made mine.

And so we had lived these last three years.  Once before, we had been risky and a little premature.  And still before that, five years before now, young newlyweds drowning in archetypes more similar to the present, although located somewhere in Western Kentucky.

With a new number in my phone and an address in Maryville, I made haste.  Ashley wouldn’t understand what anything had to do with an old Datsun.  I’ll explain it to you like I had to for her.

summer 2008, my 1976 610 Datsun station wagon

 to be continued…

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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:

http://levonwalker.bandcamp.com/

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

http://levonwalker.bandcamp.com/

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.

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I was just making fresh pesto for tonight’s Food For All.  Pesto for twenty and it can’t be eaten yet, basil is precious right now.

Then I was staring at two extra garlic cloves, peeled and sitting in a bowl.  My friend Edwin in Mexico taught me a trick.  It’s too early to call a habit.

Bite the garlic and chase it with hot, black coffee.

It burned a lot less today than I remembered.  I grabbed some fiery mustard and a jar of banana peppers (the fridge is rather well stocked with condiments right now).  I ate a couple peppers and swigged coffee, reminiscing.  Ashley can’t or won’t talk to me the rest of the day when I do this.

For the second clove, I buried it in mustard and threw it back like a grape.  I reached for the coffee and chased.  Slamming the fiesta ware on the formica,  I exhaled fire.  It stung my eyes.  Then came tightness of the chest and the back of my neck began to sweat.  Gosh I miss Edwin.

Then in a few seconds it passed.  I am getting stronger.

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