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no room for hipsters

the occupation of Ashley and Levon

Category Archives: consumerism

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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I waited until I heard the birds to get up.  This is the part where I write out everything wrestling in my mind and then either hit publish or delete.  On the file cabinet across the room is a completed packet to give DHS and sign up for Tenn Care.  We’ve already met and are finely qualified.  I wish we weren’t.

So before taking the family’s next step on welfare, I’m asking a good question:  “If I turn this in, what am I doing?”

It’s a complicated argument and a morning’s blog entry won’t get everything right.  The DHS packet is already completed for a few reasons.  For one, my child has never decided that struggling for an ideal is something they’re interested in.  Secondly, health care is messed up and anyone trying to pay on their own can’t do it.  Society’s problem, and mine too.

Two weeks ago we sold our car for principled reasons.  If we didn’t do that “pre parent,” we never would try.  Now there is some cash in the asset column and we could use it.

The DHS question becomes one of ethics and strategy.  Options:

a. Take the welfare, invest the car money in business and work hard to get off the welfare.  One day pay it back.

b. Pay some medical expenses in cash and borrow the rest.  Remain independent from assistance.  Cover future health care with our continued artist incomes as they are.

c. Seek an employer that provides benefits.  Probably buy another car.

The options have complications, but lets not blog too far.  Instead, I give you possible responses to my  future child:

a. Honey, when we started out we needed some help.  But one day Daddy made a hit record and Mommy sold a painting to MoMA.  We started a trust fund for other starving artists who wanted families.

b. Well son, just as you came into this world, your mother and I decided to reduce our dependance on foreign oil with its dire toll on the environment, while at the same moment we proved that expensive social programs are unnecessary if everyone would take responsibility for themselves.    And health care, don’t get me started on health care.

c.

We pause here because it started to rain. I looked up to see the umbrella and Ashley’s rain jacket lying by the door.  Hopping on my bike and sprinting for Belle Morris Elementary on this foggy, rainy morning, I was reminded that some choices, like being intentionally car-less, require a fresh assertion of values.

And suddenly I was hit by a Honda Civic.  It pulled out and didn’t see me.  My handlebars wadded up and the chain was knocked loose.  Otherwise, the front side panel is a bruise of a landing and not a bloody one.  The umbrella was in the right lane of N. Broadway and I was sure it would be my only casualty.  But I saved it.  The guy felt awful.  I told him I was trying to take my wife her umbrella where she was a crossing guard.  He was near tears.  I offered that he could drive me to the school and he’d be doing me a favor, we’d call it even.

“Are you sure?  What about your bike?”

I inspected my bike and chained it to the stop sign (just before the antique shop by Fellini Kroger).  I could fix it.  My knee was sore but not bleeding.  There was no need to play any cards this morning, I just needed the ride.

He had a car seat in the back and a Bible in the passenger seat.  We sat there until he could dart the car back onto Broadway.

He said, “You know I always try to be careful and considerate.  That’s what I get for being late… I just dropped off my kid and was rushing to work.  I didn’t even see you.”

The irony of everything I’ve just been thinking about: children, work, not having a car, Ashley’s part time job, people needing to catch a break.  An unfinished blog at home which I was supposed to finish so that I’d discover what to do.

I don’t know.

Another story about how dangerous it is for me that Ashley is a crossing guard…

Last Thursday I was walking with her to school in the afternoon when an elderly man was sitting on a porch and murmured to us about something. There are crazies around here and we didn’t understand a word he said. After walking on I asked myself, what was the hurry; he’d seemingly been on his own porch.  I told Ashley I’d meet her later, we both thought I should go back and check on him.  He mumbled that he couldn’t walk and that he needed his dog to be brought in.

A chihuahua was leashed to a chair in the lawn beside the house and I guessed it looked harmless.  As I reached for the leash, it bit me twice on the wrist.  Still, I brought the dog to the man and realized that my initial instinct had been correct.  He was probably 80, but he was pissed drunk.  Urine all over his jeans.  He said he’d broken a rib and had been lying on the porch all morning.  I breathed sadly, but knew I had to lift him, no matter how disgusting.  By the time I’d helped him into his dark, vomitous house and moved enough greasy paper plates with stale chicken so that he could fall on the couch, I headed for the door.  The chihuahua was still on the leash and I hung it from a pile of unmemorable junk sitting in my guess of what was a chair.

“He’s a mean little sucker.”

“Have a nice day.”

I’d forgotten about the biting until I walked out into the bright sun and it had already began to swell.  Instead of walking to the school, I went to the CVS Pharmacy on the provincial nearby corner.  I asked the pharmacist,

“What do you recommend for a dog bite?”

“Did you know the dog?”

“No, it was just over there.”

“Go to the doctor.  Now.”

“I don’t have health insurance.”

“I’m sorry, but dog mouths are filthy and he could have rabies.  Seriously, go to the doctor.”

I looked at the swelling and remembered the soiled house.  I thought about our upcoming medical bills.  Then I walked over to the antiseptic cream and she yelled after me that it wouldn’t do it any good.  It would make me feel better, like I’d done something.  Like give a guy a freakin’ break.

I was furious for the rest of the day.  I kept the bite clean and maybe it’s fine, that was last week.  Everybody gets a little jittery when they’re going to be parents.  Right now, I feel like I must have got hit by a car this morning.

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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.

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I’m going to send a newsletter out tomorrow and I need to make sure I have everyone’s address.  We like to send about seven a week and we sell all the names.  If you’d like to sign up, send an email to noroomforhipsters@gmail.com  (note: please do not add noroomforhipsters@gmail.com to any unsolicited email lists)

This won’t be everything on the newsletter, but here’s sneak peek:

This Friday: An art opening at Bliss Home at Market Square, 5-9 pm

Tonight: the 2011 Arts in the Airport Exhibition, awards ceremony at 6 pm.  Will our beloved Ashley take home the “Best in Show” for the second year?  We don’t know, sign up for the newsletter.  noroomforhipsters@gmail.com

Sunday March 8th: Mother’s Day.  We will call our moms.

Also in the news: Levon’s (my) 3rd CD is available for digital release at http://levonwalker.bandcamp.com/ for $5.  For that matter, all of my CDs are there for download.  I’m rapidly scrapping together gear to record my 4th album this summer before my studio gets converted into the baby room.

In summary, please send an email to noroomforhipsters@gmail.com to sign up for the newsletter.  Secondly, have you considered the gift of Levon’s music for you mother?  I give them all to my mom and she thinks they’re great.

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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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Lets all be pluralists and turn off the TV

we’ll seek the common good, embrace diversity

there’s more than one way to see, there’s mine and yours

through the eyes of me

Lets all be moderate and make a bubble bath

we’ll keep it cool enough that nobody gets mad

and keep your hands where I can see em

don’t touch my freedom

Let’s be conservative and have a casserol

by default it is a dish we all should know

I didn’t change it and you can’t blame me

it was always the recipe

Lets all be liberal and hope it goes away

we’re all intelligent enough to work and play

use your mental faculties

and make the check out to me

Lets be libertarian and get out of the way

your dog pooped in my yard but thats for you to say

I’d like for you to come and clean it

or say you’re sorry and mean it

Lets all stand in the middle and try to find the center

we’ll call it middleism and anyone can enter

look to the right and left twice and cross the street

you’re on the other side and that’s all that it means

did you go somewhere?

words and music by Levon Walker

written: Dec 2009 VA Beach, VA

recorded: June 2010 Grandmother’s Hill Tazewell, VA

filmed: April 2011 Knoxville, TN

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