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February 2010

On loyalty, acceptance, and unconditional love

A quite radical act, but one that is available to all of us in this modern world of supposed freedom, would be to change completely the rules governing our relationships.  For thousands of years, most of us have unthinkingly allowed our relationships to fall into the realm of the public sphere.  But what if we were to take back our power over our own relationships?  What if we were to re-conceive and make personal the very notion of what a relationship is?  How drastically different might our relationships look, and how might that change our lives for the better?

Far too many of us essentially hand over control over one of the most sacred aspects of our lives.  We allow social norms to determine what can and can't be said in a situation, we date people and then discard them as soon as we can find a serious enough flaw, we hand our most sacred romantic love relationship over to the State and Church through the institution of marriage, and we allow conventional parental norms to come between us and our children.

Why do we trust social and institutional norms over our own intuition, or own personal needs and desires?  Why do we feel it is perfectly acceptable, when we are single, to discard a lover completely just because we can't imagine marrying the person?  Why do we run from friendship as soon as we experience any disagreement or conflict?  Why do we so easily and routinely end perfectly wonderful marriages because of infidelity?  Why do we accept flawed notions of possession in love when it is actually something else we desire for ourselves?  If we are doing everything right, following socially-acceptable guidelines, why do we feel so isolated and lonely?  What are we lacking? 

Of course we all have to be aware of social norms so that we can behave in appropriate ways when that is what is required.  When relationships are defined as boss / employee, colleagues, buyer / seller, business partners, teacher / student...when relationships are defined in this way, then obviously the purpose is for two people to come together in order to carry out a function.  It is, in fact, important to respect these dynamics and even to realize that, for the most part, relationships that are formed by these terms will not transcend into other, deeper realms.  In fact, the vast majority of our human relationships are defined purely by need and function.  Most relationships start when two people can identify and address a mutually-beneficial need.

But there is something else within us that begs for something more, something deeper.  We don't want to be seen merely as a function, as a commodity, as a part in some equation.  We want to be accepted for who we are and perceived as unique individuals.  We want to be seen!  We want to be appreciated!  We want to be valued for not just what we do, but for who we are.

While this deep, sometimes unspoken need is probably present within each of us, it is also true that few of us understand exactly what is required from us in order to realize this need.  In fact, as long as we conceive relationships as "conditional" (I accept this person as long as she/he does X or doesn't do Y), we cannot expect to receive this kind of complete and unconditional acceptance.  Likewise, we cannot expect unconditional loyalty from others unless we are first prepared to offer it to others.  We cannot expect to be seen, accepted, and loved unconditionally by a mate unless we are first willing to completely stop judging. 

But when we are able to act on our freedom to toss aside all the trappings of formal relationships, social norms, customs, and conventions...then we can experience the indescribable bliss that can only come with an unconditional love, acceptance, and loyalty that goes both ways.  What one finds, when he has achieved this kind of relationship, is that it is suddenly possible to share all of yourself with that person, without fear and without negative consequence.  It is precisely this which is impossible when we allow our relationships to be conditional (I will date you as long as I don't see any major flaws, I will stay married to you as long as you respect my rules, I will stay friends with you as long as it doesn't get too complicated, etc.).

It would be truly unfortunate to go through life without experiencing all that this kind of relationship has to offer.  But in fact, the state of unconditional love, acceptance, and true loyalty is not something that any of us can expect unless we are first willing to give it.  Even then, we will continue to be rejected by those who are not ready to accept this gift.  But when it works, nothing in life is more worth it. 

The coming Great Depression

On my long flight back from the US, I picked up a new book by Harry S. Dent called "The Great Depression Ahead."  After reading for just a few hours, on the flight from Minneapolis to New York, the book had significantly changed my perspective about this new decade.  I was so influenced by this book that the next morning, while I was stuck in some airport hotel near JFK waiting for my evening flight to Prague, I had completely changed my stock / investment positions in preparation for the very long, cold winter ahead.

Anybody who is generally aware of today's political and economic trends likely has a general sense that the economy is unsustainable in its present form.  Consumer spending over the past few decades has been funded, to a significant extent, on credit -- second mortgages on homes and out-of-control credit card spending.  So what happens when this leads to a housing bubble that has already begun to burst?  What happens when banks stop extending credit because of a rational fear that the debt may not be paid back?  What happens, if, at the same time unemployment is rising and income is stagnant or even declining?  The obvious answer is: people will spend far less on everything.

OK, I get that (and have for some time).  I also get that the US government debt is so enormous that nobody quite understands how it could possibly be repaid.  For some time, I have believed this to be the most pressing issue, but the author of this book points out that there are even more significant, more alarming trends which will take us into a 10-year global Great Depression.  In short, he analyzes economic trends in relation to population demographics.  Some generations have more children than others, and the spending of these generations over their life-span (when they buy homes, cars, have children, retire, etc.) also has a great affect on overall economic trends.

Harry S. Dent concludes, based on looking at a number of trends (the bursting real estate bubble, an over-extended credit market, a commodity bubble that is about to burst, and a critical stage in terms of demographic trends in key economies around the world)...he concludes that we are months away from the beginning of the worst Great Depression in history...that sometime in 2010 it will start and we will not really begin to see the end of it until the 2020's.

One of the reasons I find his work credible is that he has written similar books on each of the past two decades and was able to forecast things correctly.  He has been bullish for decades, and long ago has actually been correctly forecasting much of what we are seeing today (what we say in the economic meltdown of 2008, for example).  He gets things right because he looks at factors nobody else is seeing -- highly predictable and significant factors (such as demographics).

I post this only to do my part in warning people.  I recommend that any of my readers with significant savings / investments go read this book.  Get your money out of stocks (or, better yet, get into shorting the DOW and other indexes through many of the bear ETF's on the market), keep your money in savings in a stable bank, sell real estate that isn't essential or sustainable in your life long-term.  Ultimately, if these predictions are true, this decade will not be easy for any of us.  But we have to find ways to protect ourselves or even make money in this environment...for the mere purpose of survival.

If these predictions come true, I think most of us will also become quite creative and frugal...maybe living with family or friends, gardening, walking / biking, etc.  I think we will find that what matters in life are the people around us, the relationships, our individual journeys of self-discovery, our art...all that is non-commercial. 

It is also important to understand that this long winter is necessary and essential for the long-term good of the planet, the economy, and our children.  This is sort of nature's way of clearing out all that is not working, is wrong-headed, corrupt, and destructive.  It is evolution's way of cleaning things up...punishing behaviors that are not working or not sustainable.

I know this post is strange for a music blog, but I am more than just a musician.  I felt it was right for me to warn my friends and audience about what I think to be true (while I certainly hope it isn't). 

A sad and unfortunate ending to Sungod Abscondo

We've all heard the advice...we ought to be very careful about who we surround ourselves with.  If, for whatever reason, two people are not compatible...or if the necessary conditions of a relationship are not established from the beginning and maintained over time, there can be no real future.

Sadly, this turned out to be the case with the band I was a proud member of, Sungod Abscondo.  The band started as an acoustic duo between two Americans living in Slovakia, Kevin and I.  For the first year or so, Kevin would come by my flat with his acoustic guitar and we'd spend hours drinking beer, sharing songs, and writing together.  After some time, we started to recognize that we were creating a unique sound and I committed to move to the next step - to record an album.

Back in late 2006 and early 2007, I bought everything that was needed to record at home on a laptop and the two of us spent week after week around my kitchen table with headphones on.  Of course we made some amateur mistakes, as it was my first time recording in a serious way, but I think that ultimately the album "Imperfect People" turned out pretty well.  I invested a lot of time and money promoting it, and we eventually succeeded in having some of our tracks played on dozens of radio stations in the US.

We continued on as an acoustic duo, trying to do something very ambitious and against-the-odds: to make things work between two singers / songwriters / guitarists.  Essentially, we needed to learn to control our own egos and take turns in the spotlight. 

For some time, it worked.  We started playing acoustic shows as a duo and, while the sound may have been simple and incomplete, we started attracting local attention based on what I believe is our quality songwriting. I felt proud at Kevin's side, as I respect him greatly as a musician and songwriter.

Just last year, David, our bassist, was at one of our shows and convinced us that he'd like to join.  We soon realized that we sounded much better with him than without him, so we welcomed him with open arms and I grew to like him very much.  However, in just a few months, it became clear that we needed a drummer to take us to the next level.

In September of 2009, I reached out to Martin, a very talented drummer who immediately agreed to join the band after he had heard our music.  For the first month or two, we went through a very healthy growth process, practiced several times a week until late into the night, and after just 5 weeks we came up with the complete, Sungod Abscondo sound that local fans would begin to notice...playing 4 shows in just a few months. I was making plans to fund a proper, profession album which was to be recorded this May.  I was starting the process of booking some big, festival shows this summer, all was going well.

Then last weekend, I received the call that our drummer has "creative differences", wants out of the band, and that Kevin was just fine with this.  In fact, Kevin had already moved on and is making plans to "start another project" with Martin and even David if he agrees.  So, in essence, I was thrown out of the band that I started...when things were going very well musically.  I have absolutely no doubt that I held my own musically, that I belonged on that stage next to those three excellent musicians.  I also know that I more than held my own when it came to buying equipment, promoting us, booking shows, and driving the equipment around.  So what happened?

The excuse is that they wanted to perform more "heavier" music...but what confuses me is that I would have been perfectly fine with them adding more heavy songs, even with them doing that as a side project.  Why couldn't we have continued as a band regardless?  Why did our drummer decide to quit less than two weeks before a scheduled concert?  Whatever for?

So I'm left asking myself, what didn't happen?  Was there anything I could have done?  I know that our fans are left scratching their heads, as I am.  Not to brag, but anybody in the room when Sungod Abscondo would play would know that we had something original, something interesting, something great. 

What never happened is that we never actually learned to communicate.  We never were able to really sit down and talk, in a mature way, about goals, about our needs, etc.  Too often, decisions were made at some pub, without everyone there, as 3 vs. 1 instead of as a whole band.  I tried...I fucking tried over and over again.  This post is starting to feel like nothing but a bunch of finger-pointing, but the truth is that at this point nothing I say will make any difference.  In fairness, Kevin and David did half-heatedly offer to go back to our acoustic thing, without a drummer, while they built up another project without me in it.   But even if I could manage to look them in the eyes ever again, what would be the point?  We would be lesser than we were.  Sungod Abscondo needed a drummer.  And how could I build a future with people who could so easily toss me aside anyway?  If any of them had shown any loyalty at any point, this wouldn't have happened to begin with.

So, as of now, things are on hold indefinitely and most likely finished with Sungod Abscondo.  I am extremely disappointed and let down by people who I was committed to.  I'm also very sad and embarrassed that our fans have been let down.  I fucking loved performing for you and I was looking forward to doing the same for your friends and your friends' friends as things continued to get bigger and bigger.

Life is such that all of this happens in a second (though it may have built up for months or years) and you have no other choice but to move on.  But, I am a musician with many more songs in me.  Almost immediately, I have thrown myself back into my Abscondo project (which has been neglected for the past 4-5 months, though I do have a number of new songs begging for my attention).  I'm already making progress and meeting with at least one talented musician next week who may be interested in working with me.

I know that, in the end, this is for the best.  When something is as messed up as this apparently was, it is better for it to end sooner rather than later.  So, with a heavy heart, I return to this my more personal style...and rebuild my musical world into something ultimately far greater than anything I've done before.  That's something I have no doubt about.