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no room for hipsters

the occupation of Ashley and Levon

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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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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 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.

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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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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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Goodbye, honey.  I’m going camping.

  At Max Patch in North Carolina, the Appalachian trail crosses the gravel access road at about .8 mile from the top.  We didn’t mean to be, but we became the Max Patch Waffle House for thru hikers.  With our pop up tents, cast iron skillet, and water from a five gallon thermos, we supplied luxuries like bacon, cobbler, and even salad with strawberry shortcake.

Eventually we reached the .8 mile summit.  There was a shortcut but we didn’t take it.

Then Knox did a rain dance.

For two days it rained.  It’s still raining today.

 I’m home.  Honey?

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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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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  (note: please do not add 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.

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 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 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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