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no room for hipsters

the occupation of Ashley and Levon

Category Archives: Economy

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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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.

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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:

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  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  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  and see why this behavior has occurred.

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[ from a. addair who is listening to Keb’ Mo’ (Keb’ Mo’) ]

Some things I’ve been reading about :

“Many animals appear to have an instinctive aversion to genetically modified organisms (GMOs)…a farmer named Bill Lashmet performed a feeding experiment with his cows.  He filled one trough with fifty pounds of genetically modified Bt corn (a corn that has been altered to make its own bacterial toxin)  and the other trough with natural shelled corn.  He watched as every single one of his cows sniffed the Bt corn, withdrew, and then moved on to the natural corn, which they devoured.”

“It is because of the known risks and all the uncertainty that some countries have banned the growing and selling of genetically engineered foods.  Many residents of these countries are highly suspicious of GMOs and are especially watching American children to see if there are any long-term effects.  The children of North America have now become the world’s lab animals on whom to study the long-term effects of eating GM products.”

“[Professor Michael Pollan] likens consumer choices to pulling single threads out of a garment.  We pull a thread from the garment when we refuse to purchase eggs or meat from birds who were raised in confinement, whose beaks were clipped so they could never once taste their natural diet of worms and insects.  We pull out a thread when we refuse to bring home a hormone-fattened turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.  We pull a thread when we refuse to buy meat or dairy products from  cows who were never allowed to chew grass, or breathe fresh air, or feel the sun warm their backs.”

“What you can do:  Demand Labeling…The United States is one of the only industrial nations in the world that doesn’t demand that genetically altered foods be labeled.”

“What you can do:  Focus on Grocers…Even if the government isn’t responsive to consumers’ demands, grocery stores have to be, since we can now take our business elsewhere.”

excerpts taken from Harvest for Hope by Jane Goodall

I hesitate to share what I’ve been reading because 1. this is old news to many 2. its offensive to others.  But I decided to click “publish” because 1. reminders are helpful and 2. I’m interested in exploring why concepts in ecology are perceived as combative.


from Harvest for Hope. caption reads: "Topo, an adult male chimpanzee living at a sanctuary in Bend, Oregon, invariably selects organic vegetables and fruits when allowed to choose. Here he eats the organic lettuce and ignores the other.



I think this is a matter of political marketing.  We’re trained to camp at one of two ends of a spectrum, effectively making us inept problem-solvers.

The way I see it, eating should have nothing to do with whether you’re a democrat or republican.  Food is such a basic need that it seems we should at least agree to put our power plays away while we make certain we can feed our bodies with whole, healthy, toxin-free food, if only to be able to fight another day.

Controversy is okay, but we should talk about it with an understanding of where our human institutions fit into a much larger picture.  We made them up, they will not be around forever, and they aren’t worth defending to the point of cruelty and exploitation.

When it comes to the health of our environment (and consequently our health) the issues are just too basic to subject to our silly little games.

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I’m about to go off script.

Up to this point, I’ve managed my seasons and hours by periodically getting quiet to evaluate my values and priorities.  I made outlines of how my days would look.  Early on, it was detailed to the point of half hour intervals; more recently it has evolved toward general designated time blocks.  Being a self-employed, new adult is a lot to manage and this systematic approach has helped me to learn dedication, responsibility, and focus.  I made schedules because I didn’t trust myself to daily align with my priorities.  For years this structure has worked for me.  But lately I’m feeling a creeping sense of dissatisfaction; it slips through the cracks of my schedule as fatigue and anxiety.


weary and anxious



And so, it is time to get quiet again and reevaluate.  But, this time has to be different.  My former methods of micro-scheduling and planning are no longer useful tools because I’ve given them too much power.  Like wayward robots in a sci-fi, they dominate rather than assist.

I am guilty of getting too far ahead, of taking on the burden of the unknown and attempting to carry it as if it can fit on my back.  And, not surprisingly, I feel weary.  I’ve got a rather petite, human-sized frame for trying to haul an almighty-sized mystery.

This vain approach to planning has produced habits of working long hours and soldiering through no matter how I’m feeling.  Admittedly, I admire this tenacity in myself and I’m proud to be a working artist.  I’m afraid of letting these things go, but I must.  This perspective and my habits are not sustainable.


tenacious face



I think a large part of my ambition to work as long and hard and structured as I do is about money.  I want to be certain that I can pay the bills and I assume a reasonable response to this desire is hard work capped with a helmet of anxiety.

I’m reminded of an Andrew Bird song about the way we educate our children: “put your backpack on your shoulder, be the good little soldier it’s no different when you’re older”

I think much of my angst stems from an expectation that our culture lashes  to us: boot straps and hard work and so on.  I didn’t mean to accept this ideology and subsequent identity, but I have.  And it isn’t a good fit. I’m waking up this morning and surrendering.  I don’t want to soldier up and trudge through.

{ this is a tangent:  War imagery sucks anyway.  I’ve been noticing lately that much of our language about lifestyle and religion is combative.  I think that’s unfortunately suitable for our society but inappropriate to the existence I hope to live.}

I’m beginning to understand that provision does not equal business skills and long hours do not equal goodness or value.  I’m realizing that, unless I change my approach, I will never feel like I accomplished all that I need to in a day.  I will always pack fear about financial needs, no matter how much money flows; I will be forever tired.

I am thirsty for liberation; I want to be receptive and giving and greet each day with open arms, but I’m afraid.

I’m fearful of wasting, grumbling , and grinding my time into an apathetic powder that will float away into meaninglessness.  But even as I type this, I am pricked by the irony.  As if I can avoid any of it by using the powers of my finite reasoning and banal scheduling skills.


peace be with you (and me)



I know something needs to change but I don’t know what.  I am painfully aware that I do not know what is best for me.  That I don’t know how to effectively manage this gift of life.  This place that I’m in is scary because I’m being asked to swim in a jumbo ocean of uncertainty.

I’m asking for something bigger and so I have to rely on something big.  I yearn to rely on and get in alignment with the mystery that operates outside of time.  I am unclenching my fists and recognizing that I do not control the universe.

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(by Levon who is listening to silence)

Here at the No Room for Hipsters headquarters in our very own Mason Jar, Ashley and I are deep in the financial records and trying to make some sense out of what has happened.  Multiple states, several addresses, nine accounts at five banks, earned income in other countries, working from home, a house that was rented half of the year; it’s not simple and we won’t be filling out an EZ form.  It has required a week of unmentionable scrutiny to unsort the scramble.

The lesson: get organized and get serious.  Journal entries, reports, and schedules that I didn’t start or didn’t maintain; why didn’t I? I was a finance guy, I knew this would happen.  Here’s some truth: I wasn’t setting myself up to be in business, I was just wishing.

We are getting organized here at the headquarters today.  There will be goal setting and conferencing.  Songwriting by the spreadsheet.  Let the winds of inspiration blow and ye shall catch them; and ye better know something about skippering.

I found a military file cabinet that we could both fit in and can’t lift.  It’s sitting in the middle of the room like a monument to the future.  The future of no more scrambling or wishing.  We are aging hipsters and we have learned some things.



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passing-down and looping back


“Passing down and looping back” is about family lineage.

“People are interconnected, by genes and traits, and we form holes with our individual parts.. that process is interesting because we are often made in one place and given context in another.”




We went to a baby shower last weekend and you know what that means, a very serious conversation for the car ride home.  I wrote a song about home and shelter; Ashley is painting in baby blue; oh my gosh.




We don’t have any news, don’t worry.





But in other news, our neighborhood Food For All got a spot in the paper.  Food For All is when a few families cook for each other, two couples per night which means you only cook once a week and eat good every night. Best, you get to see your community everyday and be welcome to hang, or rightfully grab your grub and get out.  It makes, in the words of my friend Greg, “way too much freakin sense”


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