When I was first forced to participate in “expressive art therapy group” while in inpatient treatment, I thought it was a joke. “I can’t keep a needle out of my arm and I’m fucking dying and you want me to color?? You’ve gotta be kidding me.” But once I started to actually put a little bit of effort into it – and sharing with the group what I had made and the reasons I made the choices that I had – I got my first little taste of self-esteem. People liked my art and they thought my explanations were funny and insightful. It made me feel good about myself. Eventually, art became something I really enjoyed and – later – my primary occupation. Not only did it save my life but it’s my primary tool in maintaining emotional balance and it pays my bills and enables me to spend most of my time doing what I love most: making more art.
A lot of my work looks like a lot of my other work. I have a distinct style and I don’t really stray outside of the box too often. I’ve tried to experiment here and there but – when I do – I’m usually not too happy with the results. It’s only when I get back to doing what I love (drawing/painting funny faces with bright colors) that I start to feel better.
In September of 2014, my friend Paul paid me to draw something for him. He didn’t give me any instructions but I decided to visit a record he’d released when he first started his label, Radius Records, for a bit of inspiration. The lyric that popped out at me was from The Smoking Popes’ “Theme From ‘Cheerleader’”: “Every song sounds like the last one.” It made me think about how my art is all pretty much the same but how I’m okay with that. Just like how almost all of the songs I like (in the fairly rigid genre of pop punk) are all essentially the same. It reminded me of something I’ve often said when talking about music: “I don’t care about innovation or breaking new ground. A band can do the same thing over and over again; what’s important is that they do it well.”
It’s the same with my art. It doesn’t matter if I do the same trick again and again; so long as I do it well.
That’s what was on my mind when I did this. That and the fact that I had come to like my own art enough to stand behind it in spite of any criticism – but that I was still grateful to have fans and friends, like Paul, that liked and supported what I do. I wrote just a little bit about it on the left side of the drawing.
Every time I pick up a pen, a brush, [whatever], I risk failure, risk repeating myself. I’m not afraid. I like what I like, do what I do, and every time I pick up, I’m saying so. I believe in myself. But I didn’t always. Other people had to believe in me first. And if they didn’t continue to… I don’t know that I’d be able to either.
It’s taken me more than a year to write out the statement for this piece. Thanks for your patience, Paul!
On an unrelated note, my second NPR story of 2015 aired a few days ago, this time courtesy of Ryan Benk and the Jacksonville affiliate, WJCT. You can read or listen to it on their website.
For as much as I talk and write about Wallis, I’ve never really shared the full story of how we first came together. I’ll save the cute elements of the story for later and just give you the important part that hasn’t seemed relevant until now.
When I met Wallis, she was actively addicted to heroin. She was trying to not be on heroin but (like most addicts) she was finding that to be a little tougher than she could handle. We hit it off really quickly but I told her on our very first night together that I couldn’t be around that sort of thing. I told her that if she wanted to continue spending time with me, she couldn’t be using drugs. (I’m way too fucking fragile to not relapse if a pretty girl has a needle and a bag of dope to share with me). She told me she didn’t wanna use. I invited her to go with me on a road trip for a week – up to Illinois and back. In the course of that trip, we fell in love. Which was a problem because it meant we needed to figure out what we were gonna do to keep her from going back to heroin once we got back to Jacksonville. We decided that she’d need to quit the strip club and get another job (nobody can stay off drugs in that environment – no addict anyway). I told her I’d cover her ’til she got a new job and then – when it was time for me to leave Jacksonville – she’d quit her new job and come with me. Sound familiar? I did for Wallis the same thing I had done for my best friend, Chris, a year prior. I brought her out on the road with me to keep her off drugs. To show her another kind of life. Like Chris had done, in exchange for “all expenses paid” she’d just help me with my set-up, selling art, whatever. (And like Chris, it pretty much worked. She never used once; not while traveling with me anyway).
When we left Jacksonville, it was for Minneapolis, where I was to be featured in a gallery exhibit. Halfway through the exhibition’s run, we returned to Jacksonville for a week, so I could bank at One Spark. On the drive down, Wallis started talking about going to see old friends – friends that she had, historically, used drugs with. I told her that this was a terrible idea. She argued that I needed to have faith in her. I responded that I’d heard that same exact sentence and had this same exact conversation many, many times in the past (with another girl) and that I knew perfectly well how this was gonna end. I told her that if she wasn’t willing to forego the reunion (and the inevitable relapse that’d come with it) that I couldn’t be her boyfriend anymore. One Spark was going to be an incredibly important week for me financially and I didn’t wanna fuck it up by spending the whole time worried about whether Wallis was safe. She said okay (as in okay, then you don’t need to be my boyfriend anymore). There was no hostility or drama beyond that but when we got to Jacksonville, we went our separate ways. Wallis relapsed that very first night (thought she wouldn’t tell me until later), but called me the next morning and spent the rest of the week by my side like a lost puppy. On the night before I was to return to Minneapolis, she broke down crying, told me she had fucked up, and that she still wanted to be with me.
I first had the thought years and years ago, upon hearing Rivethead’s “In My Heart a Warehouse Burns For You.” The last lyric in the song is “I love you just as much as I hate the man.” I’m not exactly the biggest fan of cops or authority figures of any kind but when I’m really fired up and full of hate, there’s only one target it’s ever directed at: me. I still listen to that record (The Cheap Wine of Youth) all the time so the idea of captioning a painting with “I love you just as much as I hate myself” had occurred to me on a couple occasions but I didn’t wanna be derivative. Then, when I bought Pretty Boy Thorson’s An Uneasy Peace (the final song of which is called “I Love You Even More Than I Hate Myself”) I had a bit of a god dammit moment. That should’ve been mine! The song’s awesome and it doesn’t matter that the lyric is similar to another. I started thinking about it though – that line – and whether or not it was actually true (for me). I was dating Wallis and I absolutely loved her but did I love her more than I hated myself? I wasn’t really sure. I decided that sometimes I’m afraid that I could never love anyone more than I hate myself. After all, we had weathered the storm of her relapse but I was sabotaging our relationship bit by bit with my low self-esteem. I wrote about some of that anxiety in the bottom-right corner of the painting:
It’s so much harder to travel with a second person. Staying with friends feels like a much bigger imposition and I can’t stay with girls I meet. That’s probably the hardest part. But I love Wallis. (And I really like fucking her). And I think she needs me. I tried to leave her in Jacksonville but it didn’t work out. I hope she’s with me because she really loves me and not just ‘cause she’s scared to go back to “real life.” It if doesn’t work out, it’s probably gonna be because I can’t stop thinking about fucking other girls, which I know hurts her (and is really so selfish and dumb - and even mean - on my part) but really has nothing to do with her. (She’s so fucking hot and sexy and cute and beautiful). It’s just my insecurity and my compulsion to fuck every pretty girl, to prove to the world (and myself) just how fucking wonderful and desirable I am. It’s not helping that girls are throwing themselves at me these days. But I know (or think) that shit won’t make me happy. And in the end, I’m just gonna want someone to love me and I love Wallis.
There’s another, shorter string of text higher up in the painting, similarly inspired by punk rock: “I was listening to that Gateway District song where they sing, ‘I’m always falling way behind and you go on and on and on.’ If only I knew someone like that. Maybe I’d have someone to look to. Everybody I know is struggling. Everyone I know is as hopeless as I am. (Or worse).”
There’s a brighter, happier pair of sentences in the top-left corner – the product of a moment when everything was right in the world. Amazing sex with Wallis and I’m driving to the gallery showcasing my art while listening to “Another Way Out of Here” by The Murderburgers. The thought occurred to me that “nothing in this world makes me happier than an energetic, upbeat song about suicide.” I gave it a second thought. Is that true?I concluded, “Except (maybe) hitting girls in the face during sex.” I smiled. That’s pretty funny. I’m pretty fucked up. The things that I enjoy are – well – a little odd. This was all well and good at the time. I posted a close-up of that part of the painting online and it was met with positive feedback and just a little bit of “Oh, Sam…” But before I even got the chance to write the statement for this painting (as I am now), that photograph – that caption – would make the rounds on the internet elsewhere and garner a very different kind of response. You see, when I wrote that, it was about sex with Wallis. Sex which includes light consensual fake-violence (or whatever the fuck you wanna call it). Wallis likes getting slapped in the face during sex. And I like doing it. Win-win, right? Well, yeah – until you get accused of a violent rape and the media picks up on the story and uses your art to support the idea that you’re the kind of person capable of violently raping a nineteen year-old girl you just met. Sitting in jail, I wondered how I was going to break the news to my friends and fans that I had been accused of this horrible fucking crime. I bailed out, Chris Spillane picked me up, and after ten minutes of discussion he tells me, “There’s one more thing we’ve gotta talk about, Sam. The publicity on this story is not good right now.” Publicity? This story? “What the fuck are you talking about?” I googled my name and discovered that I didn’t need to worry about breaking this news to anyone. Some reporter knew or figured out who I was, wrote an article about me complete with images of my art (like the “hitting girls in the face” one) and everyone else picked it up and ran with it. Suddenly, strangers on the internet were talking about how I was the kind of person who PUNCHES girls in the face. I was a scumbag and I was definitely guilty. What the fuck? I’ve never punched a girl in the face! I slap! Playfully! And only with girls that WANT me to! But none of that mattered. What mattered was that it was incredibly easy to paint me as some kind of violent sexual deviant who had finally gone off the rails and just started violently raping people. Freedom of expression has its fucking consequences apparently. The charges against me have since been dismissed by a judge who (after hearing all of the prosecution’s evidence and the girl’s testimony) ruled that there was no probable cause to believe that any crime had been committed but the evidence in the case isn’t all public yet and I’m still having to deal with (well-meaning) assholes who think I deserve to be castrated for something I never did. At the time of this writing, this is all still incredibly recent so I’m still working out exactly how a person does deal with something like that. (I’ll let you know when I figure it out).
Flashback to five months before that nightmare though – back to when I was still working on this painting (that’d later incriminate me in the court of public opinion). I wrote that I was feeling “stuck in a rut. This spot [on the street] isn’t super profitable [for selling prints]. I don’t even wanna write about what else is going on. I don’t want to muddle up this painting that I’m not even happy with. My little sister is killing herself and today I blocked her phone number because I’m tired of her asking for help, not taking my advice, and then texting me updates on her self-destruction that she knows will just upset me. I really need the validation of some sales to cheer me up today. If I make less than $100 today, I’m gonna feel super depressed.” And then – to remind myself what a dipshit I am for worrying about how much I make in one particular day, I added: “I’ve made $7,000 this month.” True as it was, it didn’t really help me feel any better in that moment. I continued writing – about an interaction I had with a guy who stopped to watch me paint: “Someone asked me yesterday if I really hate myself and why. I had a hard time articulating it [the way that I feel sometimes]. He said he thinks I’m not as unhappy as I let on. I’d do a much better job explaining it to him today: I’M UGLY, PALE, OUTTA SHAPE, MEAN, SHITTY, POOR, FEARFUL, AND IN A CONSTANT STATE OF STARVATION FOR VALIDATION.”
Reading that now, remembering that day – it’s kinda scary. Everything in my life was going so well and I still had this monster inside me, gnawing at my insides, telling me that everything was awful. That I was awful. I’m really grateful that I don’t feel that way about myself all the time. Arguably, my life is way more fucked up now (on account of the VIOLENT RAPE ACCUSATION) but – I don’t know – I feel better today. Maybe it’s because I’ve had to fight this awful thing. Maybe it’s because I’ve had to become stronger. Maybe it’s because enough other people hate me now that I can take a break on the self-loathing. I don’t know. I’m not sure. But after separating in late-June and spending two months mostly apart, Wallis and I are back together full-time. We’re living together in an apartment in Chicago and it’s been really great. And you know what? I love her WAY more than I hate myself. Not just ‘cause I’m not hating myself so much right now but… This girl… After all we’ve been through. After all I’ve done for her and all she’s done for me… Words are insufficient to express my gratitude, affection, and love for her. I’m probably gonna marry her.
And you know what? When it comes to “falling way behind” versus “going on and on and on,” maybe I do a little more of the latter than I allow myself to recognize sometimes. Maybe I do a lot more of it.
“I Love You Even More” by Pretty Boy Thorson & The Falling Angels
“Another Way Out of Here” by The Murderburgers
“Waves and Cars” by The Gateway District
“In My Heart a Warehouse Burns For You” by Rivethead
The obvious: a “guest vocal” is when a band has someone who isn’t in the band come in to record vocals for part of a song. The premise of this list: when band members (who don’t usually sing leads) step up front and take the mic for a moment.
Like Iron Chic in Fall 2008, Vacation in Summer 2010, or Tenement for (what seems like fuckin’) years, Potboiler were one of those bands that most kids didn’t give a fuck (or hadn’t even heard) about but that a small handful of weirdos were losing their fucking shit over. The difference between Potboiler and those other bands is that Potboiler broke up before everyone caught on. Get Bent was a different story. Comprised of Potboiler’s lead vocalist/guitarist and drummer, Jared Santiago and Mike Vlad, plus Andy Dennison (guitarist of Red & Blue and The State Lottery) and Mike Dumps (bassist/vocalist of Down in the Dumps and Jonesin’), Get Bent’s debut 7-inch, split released by Dead Broke and Dirt Cult, caught on fast. They followed that up with a split 7-inch on Kiss of Death with JCJB. Each band only contributed a single song to the record but Get Bent’s was even better than anything on their EP. Up to this point, guitarists Jared and Andy were the only voices we had heard up front and center, and in the first half of “Face Mush,” that’s still true. But when Mike Dumps pops out in the lead midway through the second verse, with his cement-mixer-gravel-fuck of a voice… it’s fucking glorious. The raw power and menace of Mike’s voice contrasted with the (relatively) softer, smoother voices of the other members makes for one of the most beautiful contrasts in the history of recorded music. And I fucking mean that. It’s awesome.
In the years that I was fucked up worst on heroin (2010-2012) and in/out of treatment (2012-2013), I fell a little behind on new bands and records. I knew that P.S. Eliot had broken up and I knew that its members had disbursed and formed Waxahatchee and Swearin’ but it wasn’t until a few months ago that I got around to listening to either band. I wasn’t excited enough to sit down and really listen to the Swearin’ record (which is awesome by the way) but I put it on my iPhone and the songs would come up on shuffle. On day, I’m driving around somewhere, “Just” is playing, and – out of nowhere – a familiar voice comes through… “What the fuck? This is great… Why does this sound so familiar? Oh shit – it’s the kid from Big Soda! They got the kid from Big Soda to come in and sing a part! Whatever happened to that band?” Well, as I figured out after hearing a few more Swearin’ songs, what happened is that Swearin’ didn’t get him to come in and do one vocal part – he’s in the band. Like Mike Dumps in Get Bent though, Kyle Gilbride’s voice in Swearin’ is mostly relegated to back-ups. Which is – you know – fine. Singer/guitarist Allison Crutchfield takes the lead 95% of the time and she’s fucking phenomenal. (For especially compelling evidence of this, check out her vocal performance in “Kenosha;” it’s lazy, spiteful, and cooler than Miles fucking Davis). So that’s pretty decent consolation for only getting to hear Gilbride pipe up occasionally. And it makes it all that much more profound when he does and especially on “Just.” The chorus of “I just wanted you to love me” (sung by Crutchfield) is made exponentially more powerful by Gilbride’s delivery late in the second verse. He sounds so fucking whiny and bratty in the most wonderful way possible. When I sing along, “Overslept and I’m alone a lot… no one’s asking,” with him, I feel like I’m simultaneously crying, laughing, in love with everything, and ready to fall apart. It’s that emotive.
Rational Anthem used to be a four-piece and in their first year, it wasn’t Noelle Stolp or Chris Hembrough at the wheel. Lead vocals, as well as songwriting, were primarily the domain of (now) ex-member Alex Heil. So when Alex quit the band in late 2008, the other kids had a little bit of a logistical problem. For their first performance following their demo and the departure of their frontman, Rational Anthem recorded a single song for the first installment in the Dangerous Intersections 7-inch series. Noelle wrote the song but it was Chris who took on the role of lead vocalist. Chris sings leads on a lot of Rational’s songs these days but back when the band recorded “Of Kids in Cars With Windows Up,” he didn’t have much of a clue what he was doing and he sounds like a totally different person than the guy you’ve heard on any of their LPs. (Fun fact: Chris was so unconfident in his vocal abilities that Noelle took over on leads for the next few years and in their first recording session after “Of Kids in Cars,” Chris asked me to sing all the back-ups so he wouldn’t have to, despite the fact that I’m not (and have never been) a member of the band). I don’t know how Chris feels about that recording these days but I loved it then and I love it now. He’s so scratchy and strained and rough and fragile and it’s so much higher than he sings now – almost squeaky at times. It’s a little bit John Brown Battery and a little bit A Radio With Guts and it’s totally unlike any performance Chris would ever give after he finally stepped back up to the mic on 2012’s Sensitivity Training. The song is a wonderful little time capsule of the band in flux, trying to figure themselves out at a time when most others would have just thrown in the towel and started from scratch.
These aren’t ranked / listed in any particular order and I’ve got a few more I could have written about but these three are definitely some of my absolute favorites. Whether you knew ’em before or not, I hope you enjoy ’em.
I just read another article (this one from The Guardian, penned by a member of Ramshackle Glory) condemning punk rock as being some club for straight white boys. The author, a white trans woman, laments that white males ” get to be their whole authentic selves on stage and off” while other punks like her are stuck feeling like they’re “being given permission to play along.”
I’m not gonna laundry list women who play a major role in this scene in order to counter the author’s argument that “men run the scene, men are the scene, and men always have been and probably always will be at the center of the scene.” What I am gonna do is explain why I find these articles so frustrating.
I am white, straight, and (for all intents and purposes) male. I qualify that last one ’cause I was the kind of kid who grew up getting called a “pussy” and a “faggot.” I wear tight low-waisted jeans and crop tops. In other words, I’m not the most masculine guy around. I still refer to myself as a “kid” not because I have delusions about my age (29) but because the word “man” makes me uncomfortable.
Anyway, I’ve played in punk bands, written for punk zines, and I used to run a punk record label. I have more friends in punk rock than I can count and – by any outsider’s estimation – it’s almost certainly inarguable that I have been accepted by (and my contributions have been valued by) the punk community. And you know what? I still don’t feel like I belong. I still feel anxious at shows, I still don’t ever feel secure, I still feel like I exist on the fringe of the community and like I’ve somehow snuck past the guard and tricked the others into thinking that I belong here. Do you know why? Because I’m a weirdo, an emotional fucking basketcase, and a perpetual outsider. In other words, I’m a punk.
My problem with these articles has nothing to do with race, gender, or anything like that. My problem is that the authors always assume that these feelings of alienation and discomfort are something that they have a monopoly on. They don’t. We’re all fucked up and we’re all broken; that’s why we came to punk rock in the first place. That’s why we were fucking born into punk rock. Because there’s something that’s not quite right about all of us. And that sensation of not belonging has a lot more to do with our own fractured psyches than gender, orientation, or anything that we can blame punk for. This scene bends over backward to make sure that we all feel like we’re welcome. I know because I’ve seen it and because – despite my own sense that I’m some kind of outsider or intruder – I still fake the role of ambassador and make those efforts to try and help others feel comfortable, welcome, and wanted in this scene.
If you feel like you can’t be your “whole authentic self” in this community, I’ve got some advice for you: DO IT ANYWAY. Instead of writing editorials bad mouthing this scene (that, for all its flaws, has given us all more than we could ever hope to give back to it) why don’t you brave up and fucking be yourself? I can’t promise you that you won’t still feel like a fucking weirdo. In fact, you’re probably still gonna feel like you don’t quite belong. Just like the rest of us.
I painted this immediately after “Something to Cry About” so a lot of the sentiment is pretty similar. Unlike that painting, the journals on this canvas are clearly visible. Three in particular.
From June 21st, in Minneapolis for the CBDS show:
Some days (today, for example) I feel like I’m slipping. Regressing. Losing it. Getting less brave. More anxious. If I’ve already peaked, then you can bet I’m gonna bottom out like never before. I won’t live in the middle. My inadequacy and self-pity are really showing here. I know it. It doesn’t elude me.
June 22nd, still in Minneapolis:
I was driving so I had time to steep in my anxiety. And to find the perfect phrasing to express it with maximum, wit, precision, and insight toward achievement of my twin goals, as ever, of course: HAVE SEX WITH AND/OR BUY ART FROM ME. ‘Cause that’s gonna fix me. That’s the validation I need to know that I’m okay. Why have I been getting so down on myself lately? I’m scared that I’m in a rut – not creatively – but these last two months there’ve been no developments, big breaks, or major sales / floods of income. And it hasn’t lit a fire under me. I’ve grown weaker, timid. I hit galleries but I don’t storm them with a painting and my confidence. I meekly hand over a card – and only if they engage with me. I set up to sell prints but I don’t draw people to me. I wait for them. It’s the same lately with girls. I do the bare minimum to spark interest and then nothing. I let it go nowhere. Because I know that’s where it’ll end anyway. Because I have no interest in anyone but myself. I just want to be loved. I want someone to make me feel okay. (Until I get that and dismiss it). And the girls I talk to might love my art but that doesn’t necessarily translate to any interest in or affinity for me personally. I CAN RELATE.
Finally, July 1st, in Cincinnati:
I withdrew a thousand dollars from my bank account this morning to buy heroin and a gun. So you’ll have to forgive me for not giving a shit about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling.
Between their content and my statement for “Something to Cry About,” there’s not much to add regarding the first two journals . The details of the third probably warrant some explanation, even though I feel it’s so trivial and boring that I’d really rather not (but, consequently, feel like I should).
I was all set to join up with Rational Anthem as they toured out to California. I’d set up at their shows each night to sell prints, as a means to finance my own trip out west. It made more sense than just driving straight out and I’d get to spend some time with my friends. I met up with them in Lexington on the 30th though and – before the night was over – Hembrough told me we’d need to sit down and talk at some point about the logistics of our tour together out west. What was there to discuss, I thought. Rational would drive in their van, Spillane and I would drive in mine, and that was that. If they had room for us to stay the night wherever they were staying, we’d take them up on it. If not, we’d find our own place to sleep. I know I overreacted but the way Hembrough had put it (“we need to talk”) made me feel like maybe I wasn’t welcome after all – like I was some kind of a burden. It hurt my feelings at a time when my feelings weren’t doing too great anyway. He and Spillane are my two best friends in the world but it sounded like he was less excited to have me along than he was concerned. I suddenly felt like there was no place for me in the world. I went to bed, hoping to feel better in the morning. I didn’t. I asked Spillane what city he wanted me to drop him off in, told him I’d give him some money to get set up, and that I needed to “do my own thing” for a while. And that’s when I went to the bank for step one of my plan. Fortunately, it didn’t take me too long to snap out of it. As soon as it was time to actually make a serious move toward execution, I started to come to my senses. “Never mind,” I told Chris. “We’re not gonna go with Rational Anthem anymore but if you still want to travel with me for this art thing, you’re welcome to stay.” He said he did and asked where we were gonna go. “I don’t know. Let’s go buy some fucking cigarettes, get some coffee, and just see what happens.”
Nine hours later, we were getting ready to go into the Masked Intruder / Dopamines / Direct Hit! show in Cincinnati, to sell prints. I scrolled through Facebook and read my friends’ outrage over that morning’s Hobby Lobby ruling. It struck me as so tremendously trivial and absurd, especially against what felt like the now darkly comic backdrop of my morning. I told Spillane for the first time what my real plan for the day had been and then confessed to the rest of the world by means of a marker taken to my t-shirt and an Instagram shot. I started to feel a little better with my secret off my chest when who should walk up but Hembrough and Rational Anthem. (They had a show in Cincinnati that night too). We talked it all out, he assured me that I was welcome and wanted, and I went into the Masked Intruder show feeling pretty at peace with it all. The show was fun, I sold a few prints, and – after both shows were over – Spillane and I met up with the Rational and Dead North crews at some diner. As soon as we walked in, everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to me. It wasn’t my birthday; I guess they just suspected that I needed it. And I guess I did. It was silly but it made me feel really loved.
Rational Anthem are trying to raise money to buy a new tour van and are offering some really great rewards in exchange for your financial contributions. And if you donate $50 and choose “no reward,” I’ll send you a signed and numbered print of the Sammy thrashLife piece of your choice. At the very least check out the video they made, which I “storyboarded” / sort-of-directed via text message.
Check out their campaign and see if you can spot my voice anywhere else.
I wrote two journals on this canvas that I later painted over.
Saturday, July 19th:
I don’t know where to start so I’m just gonna let my pen not stop. Chris was being an asshole and maybe I played a part but I don’t think so. So I went into emotional shut down mode and locked everyone out and dropped all my plans for the night. I hid from my friends and slept in the van and wrote a letter to a stranger and now I’m on the street, painting and journaling about some shit that no one will find interesting. When I got up this morning, I went inside, woke him up, drove us downtown, got out with my canvas, and sent him off with the van. He probably went back to Kendra’s, where the two of them can talk about how unbalanced I am. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m not the center of the universe. (Yeah, right).
Sunday, July 20th: Chris has been traveling with me for almost three months now. He’s got three months clean that he wouldn’t have without me. We got into an argument the other night. He thinks I boss him around. I think he takes all that I do for him for granted and that he doesn’t pitch in enough. We’ve basically not spoken for two days now. He’s off doing his own thing for once. Didn’t call or “come home” last night, which is more than okay with me. It’s what I was hoping for. I think his stint traveling with me is over. Actually, no. He’ll come back around as soon as he needs something. Money. Cigarettes. A place to sleep. Nevermind that I could use his help in the meantime. But I don’t need it. I get by fine without him. Maybe better. I’m more productive. Don’t need to spend as much money. Maybe I take him for granted but I’m ready to cut him loose. He likes the lifestyle my art’s provided, traveling, but he hasn’t taken to being an assistant or manager of any kind. I can’t protect him from needles and drug-addled girls forever. It’s time for him to find his own thing or fuck up trying. The only person I’m responsible for is me. Anyone that’d fault me for whatever might happen to him can fuck off. It’s no stretch to say that I saved his life and I absolutely gave him the reprieve he needed to start fresh and make another kind of life for himself. And – fuck it – I’ll say it: he has a good heart and all that shit but he’s selfish and lazy. And maybe that’s ’cause he doesn’t care about *this* like I do but all the more reason for him to find his own thing and make his own way.
Kendra had gone downtown with me that afternoon and when we got back to her apartment that night, Chris was sitting outside waiting for us. I went out to get dinner and bought food for him too but still chose not to speak to him anymore than was totally necessary. I was being a shitty child and was totally okay with it for the time being. I was still mad. Because he was being a shitty child too. It didn’t matter in that moment that he was my best friend. For all I cared, he could fuck right the fuck off. I didn’t pull it together until the next afternoon. I didn’t want to be an asshole but I also didn’t really care whether or not he stuck around and didn’t feel that I should be making any concessions. The work that I ask Chris to do (mostly errands and driving) isn’t as fun as a lot of the “work” that I do (painting, drawing, writing) but I also spend a lot of time on more tedious chores like color-correcting photographs and formatting images for prints. And my work is the stuff that pays for all the pizzas we eat, cigarettes we smoke, and the cool shit we get to do traveling around the U.S. If there’s stuff he can do to help, he should do it. It’ll still leave him with at least 22 hours each day to do whatever the fuck he wants. I have a hard enough time having to ask Chris, my friend, to do things, like he’s an employee, and it only makes it that much worse when we have to argue about it. When Chris pitches in without having to be asked, everything runs really smoothly. When he doesn’t, I feel like I can’t ask him unless I’m using 100% of my time super productively. I feel guilty if I watch The Simpsons or spend time with whatever girl I’m seeing.
“If you want to keep traveling with me,” I told him, “you’ve got to pitch in more and, if I ask you to help with something, just do it.” He agreed that it was fair, acknowledged that he had been slacking a little bit, and everything’s been cool since then.
I’m uncomfortable writing about any of this and would have much rather just told the story of how our band, Shitty Children, came to fruition but that story’s already been told and this is what was on my mind at the “emotional peak” of the time I spent on this painting so…
Chris, Mike, and I are leaving for California tonight – for Awesome Fest in San Diego and for Shitty Children’s second (ever) show, in Pomona. Dave can’t come so Andy from Turkish Techno will be filling in on guitar. We’ll get to practice with him on Thursday, a few hours before the show but – in order to do so – we’ve got to drive all thirty hours, straight through in one shot without stopping to sleep. If you see me on Thursday, I might be just a little sleepy. I’m really excited and if you live anywhere near Pomona, you should definitely come out to the show.
Here’s a video of us playing “Rumbleseats and Running Boards” by Cleveland Bound Death Sentence. We played it worse than any of our own songs but – for that reason – it’s one of my favorite videos from that first set. I like watching Chris and me laugh it off each time one of us makes a mistake.
Usually, I only stay in a city for a week or so before moving on to the next one. Chris and I decided to post up in Chicago for a good chunk of the summer though so – as long as we were gonna be around – Mike asked if we’d like to start a band with him and Dave.
Chris and Dave had played together before, on Rational Anthem’s 2009 summer tour, back when I was still doing all of the band’s booking. Rational was down two members and I recruited both of them to fill in. Mike sings and plays guitar in Like Bats, whose records I used to release on Traffic Street. Dave also plays in Like Bats these days (bass) and played guitar in my band, Troublemake, on a couple records. Anyway, in Shitty Children, the line-up is Mike on drums, Dave on guitar, and Chris on bass; I sing.
Last night was our first show and we played five songs. One was a Cleveland Bound Death Sentence cover and the other four were things Mike’s been working on for a while that didn’t make sense as Like Bats songs. He wrote the lyrics for one and I wrote the lyrics for the other three. We only practiced the set altogether twice – once the night before the show and then again just a few hours before the show started. I was really nervous going into it. It’s been four years since Noelle got sick and I subbed in as Rational Anthem’s singer one night in Manhattan. It’s been six years since Troublemake played and I sang my own lyrics in front of an audience. But this wasn’t just my first time singing in a really long time, it was my first time singing sober ever. I had never gotten up on a stage before without being some kind of fucked up. I was so nervous last night that I shook throughout the whole set and so out of my element that I was unable to articulate anything that I had wanted to say in between the songs. When one song would end, I’d just anxiously wait for the next to start. Now that I’ve seen the videos of our set though, I feel a lot better about it. I think we actually did pretty well.
Here’s the first of those five videos. We play a short intro before transitioning into our first song, which I haven’t titled yet. (Scroll down for the lyrics though).
The dumb smirk plastered on my face, like the crooked smiles that I paint and all of my clever, contrived slogans, quips, and tag-lines… All the things I do and say are just designs to garner sex and praise. But – sometimes – I really despise the way that I don’t even try at all to hide my stupid pride. My vanity’s embarrassing.
Unpredictable mood swings. No self-esteem.
I’m so in love with myself; I’m so disgusted with myself. I’m a shame and I’m ashamed. I’m a joke; I’m okay. I say I’m living out my dreams, like I have any clue what that even means. I laugh and smile all the time. Except when I’m preoccupied with anxiety. I find relief in suicidal fantasies.
Went back home, sat alone in a park with my phone. I’m too insecure to just pick up and call you. I wouldn’t want you to think that I might need you. I’d rather sit stuck in my rut between unpredictable mood swings. I have no self-esteem.
We’re gonna record a demo before Chris and I leave town and we’ll probably play at least one more show too. Whether or not the band continues to exist beyond that, I’m not really sure, but there’s no reason we couldn’t get back together every so often to write/record more songs or even go on tour. We’ll see what happens.
has borderline personality disorder and a heroin problem. In 2012, he got clean, discovered art, and traveled the country, painting and writing. Three years later, he went back to heroin and quit painting. He's currently hard at work trying to get clean or kill himself (depending on the day).