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no room for hipsters

the occupation of Ashley and Levon

Category Archives: new york city

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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NYC Spanks Liner Notes and Lyrics

smaller file: NYC Spanks Liner Notes and Lyrics

Maybe you’ve heard this old album, but I wanted to share the lyrics.

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We sold the dryer a while back to raise capital, before the NYC spanking debacle.  And since then we only do laundry on sunny days.  The free standing rack we got at IKEA can’t always hold the weight when a sunny day coincides with the initiative to tackle the laundry heap.  Usually we have to peel it like an onion for three sunny days.  The answer: a laundry line.

Today’s blog will be a “how-to” on building your own laundry line.  Why would you want one? (According to Project Laundry List) 10. Save money, 9. Clothes last longer (where do you think lint comes from?), 8. Pleasant scent, 7. Saves Energy, Preserves Environment, Reduces pollution, 6. Healthy work, 5. Sunshine treatment (sunlight bleaches and disenfects), 4. Replace another appliance, 3. Avoid a fire, 2. It is fun! 1. It is truly patriotic (demonstrates that small steps make a difference, you don’t have to wait for government action)

So here we go.   Two 12′ 4×4″s will give you a 6′ high line if you cut 3′ for your cross piece and leave enough to sink.  In the tennessee red clay, I gave myself two feet and cut off the rest.

Screw the two pieces together and dig some holes.  Mix your concrete according to instructions.

This big iron noodle is for feeding coal into the old fashioned furnaces from around here.  I’ve never figured out to do with one now, but it busts up the limestone in the clay, very neatly.

Wait for the posts to set.  Maybe you have time to watch this music video, it’s about a girl who makes it rain every time she puts out her clothes to dry:

Then you hang your lines.  Use i-hooks for the best look.  To save a few bucks, drill holes and tie off (tape the rope to a screwdriver and pull it through).  There are pulleys too, if you want to pretend you’re hanging your drawers between buildings.

You can tell I’ve got some sag on the first time.  That denim is heavy.

I’m working on a song called “Laundry Line.”   It talks about when we should and shouldn’t bring up difficult matters in situations.  If you want to be transparent, there are places to hang a laundry line and others that you shouldn’t.  But on this particular corner, my shorts are blowing in the wind.

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Around 4 o’clock today, we are going on parade.  The route will be Armstrong to Glenwood, Glenwood to Broadway, and Broadway to The Black Market in Knoxville Market Square.  Honk if you see us.  Throw candy.

We haven’t notified the city, but Ashley, as the member of the force (a crossing guard for Bel Morris Elementary) will be ensuring safety.   I am parade commander.

We are marching with paintings, like leafcutter ants, to this month’s exhibit at The Black Market.  I’ll be carrying this one:

if your grandma had balls she'd be your grandad

 

It’s five feet tall and four feet wide.  So is this one:

 

you are what you eat. so be nice to plants and bees and (therefore) your own self

 

And Ashley will carry it.

Then we’ll come back for smaller works and a guitar.  The parade commander will be providing live entertainment for tonight’s opening.

 

I know there are people who would love to lend us a van or a truck.  However, we insist on an art parade, in the spirit of April, sunshine, and pomp.

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First, read this morning’s post.  It was a pep talk to myself and all of us.  Get out there and be brave, this sunny friday in March, a day open to anything for those with courage in their fist and breath in their chest.  But if you go to the coffee shop I spoke of, I won’t be there.

I had to go out and check the sound equipment and learned that a band I’d never heard of was coming on at 8.  Interesting.  My name was nowhere, not even for the month.  I came home and checked my email to make sure I wasn’t crazy.  I am crazy, but I found the email which said March 11.  My advice is to disregard the positivity I exuded earlier and double check your dates with people, even at risk of redundancy.

 

The Boot, in Norfolk VA

 

Just kidding, I’m not mad.  More relaxed than I was an hour ago.  And given that I now have the night off, I have time for a story if you do.

It happened in New York’s Lower East Side, the 169 Bar, or vaguely Chinatown I now remember.  With heroism and diligence I had been battling the NYC circuit of open mics, and when I was approached online by the 169 Bar to play a 30 minute set, I felt slightly affirmed.  The 169 Bar boasted they had been the set for an episode of HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords,” and that they were a music venue of recognition.

I booked the show.  In an email they asked if I could realistically expect 25 people.  The show was in three weeks and I figured by then I might.  So far I knew about 15 folks, meaning I would need 100% attendance, plus dates.  I met an excellent musician to accompany me and we rehearsed at the Manhattan School of Music where he was finishing a masters in jazz trumpet.

 

the rehearsal piano

 

The night of the gig was exhilarating.  We were the third of six openers for the headlining 70’s acapella group, “The Persuasions.”  The doorman asked who I was there to see and wrote down my name on a clean page. By the time Ashley came and the trumpet player’s friend arrived, we had two marks on the pad.

During the set before mine, the doorman came to me and said that unfortunately they were going to play house music through my set.

“Why?

“Because you’ve only got two people here to see you.”  He rolled if off like it wasn’t supposed to hurt.  It was as matter of fact as if I’d asked the drinking age.

“Okay, thanks.”  I stared at my glass of water for a little while.  Then I went to tell my band.  Outraged, we were outside talking to the doorman in seconds, with my friends pointing out that the club was entirely packed, no room to sit, and we were prepared to play.

“Look here.  You said you’d bring a crowd.  There ain’t a crowd that came to see you.  When you fail, we fail.  The bartenders fail.  For 30 minutes we don’t make that money.”

I was stunned.  We were doing this for free.  Here I had a gig, and this guy said I could play only if I had 25 friends to pay.  I left, rubbing my hand on my neck.

The next day the manager wrote in an email,”If you can’t bring out more than two people on a Friday night, you’ve got to be kidding yourself.”  That was the entire email.  He had taken the time to change the font to green and make the size 18.  As if I’d been dishonest to hope.

the original homemade EP

 

The story came to mind in the song, “Take Two” from NYC Spanks Levon Walker:

 

I stand on these stages, to see if I can win the crowd,

But the manager’s game is already played by the number of the folks come out.

So if you think you like what you hear let me tell you how to ease my mind,

Find the man with the clip of money, say you’ll bring a friend next time.

Say you’ll bring two, or three or four

Down the highway, come back for more

And I’ll play for you.”

 

Take Two

 

music video 

 

 

It’s 7:57 and time to publish.

 


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(by Levon who is listening to The Black Lillies, “100 Miles of Wreckage”)

Cruz Contreras has another record, if you live in Knoxville you know that.  The Black Lillies released “100 Miles of Wreckage” a couple of weeks ago in the sold out historic Bijou Theatre.

The Black Lillies remind me of why I couldn’t stay away from Knoxville.  We moved here from Nashville after all, music city. Every town is a music town.

It’s my second day with the record, and it’s good to have something new.  Cruz gave us a copy of his first album the day we moved to Manhattan.  The art capitol of the world.  I’m listening to this one at home.  It sounds like Knoxville and makes me desperately want to be there.

“Home the one you love, easy on your mind, maybe it’s for real this time.”

Cruz Contreras, from Soul of Man

 

peace and quiet with dignity

 

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I started out listening to Jay Z, the Blueprint III album.  Maintaining a tough attitude is required to get this paint job accomplished and over with. For years we stumbled around ladders in the house and I refuse to relive that.

Jay Z reached its end at some point and I can’t recall exactly when.  An Itunes shuffle can hold the fate of our human will in these unassuming moments.  So what came next?

Ryan Adams, Gold.  It was three songs in before I realized it.  Songs from “Gold” could likely connect the dots of my twenties, if I tried.  The music is in me and I don’t hear it anymore, adding to what it has played through already.  Standing here, rolling my walls, I dazed back.  Early drives to Ashley’s apartment, stretches of highway, cigarettes in my front pocket, the twin towers in a music video before they fell.  I am 19 and 29.

One example.  New York City, Ashley had gone back to Virginia for a couple weeks and I’d hit bottom.  We were broke, in debt, and in trouble.  I was bumming cigarettes or buying singles on Lenox Ave.  With “La Cienega Just Smiled” on repeat, I took the subway from 135th in Harlem to Ludlow Guitars and then walked back home.  Never stopped the song.

My feelings about those days and a lot more of them are spoken for by the higher acoustic guitar on the recording.  It doesn’t get off the same chord for the entire song.  And never once have I comprehended the words.  I fight to stay in place with my mind, like I’m trying to pray.  It’s an open F chord, capo 3, with the pinky adding the 9th, and it has the power to stop an afternoon in Manhattan.  That pinky never moves for 4:43.

Funny today, it was around two years ago that we gave it a shot.

Ryan Adams, “I’ll always love you though, New York”

Jay Z, “Let’s hear it for New York”

Billy Joel, “I’m in a New York state of mind”

Elton John, “This Broadway’s got a lot of songs to sing and if I knew the word I might join in”

Jim Croce, “New York’s not my home”

Levon Walker, “The little man in the box says we can”

 

 

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