My goals as an artist (and P.S bucket lists are stupid.)

I always have goals. Short term, long term, and the steps I need to take to get there. I am a man of many calenders and a maker of To-Do list. Also budgets, when you have a $40 an hour addiction like studio time, budgets are important. But I’m first and foremost an artist and artistic goals are a much harder thing to nail down. I’ll also do a stupid bucket list type thing after but first near as I can figure ’em these are the artistic goals I’m working toward achieving:

  • Write a song as amazing as And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda I heard it a long time ago in a thread about the saddest music in the world. Rather than a cello piece loaded with minor chords which would be obvious this song resonated with me for it’s simple, methodical structure and it’s literal narrative lyrics. I think I’m getting close with songs like Pride Of My Home Town & That Day In September 1974.  I worry about becoming formulaic with working class tragedy songs and about biting off more than I can chew with songs like The Senator’s Daughter. I don’t know how I’ll know if I accomplish this, maybe if I write a song that get’s covered so much most people don’t know I wrote it. I’d be okay with that.
  • Make an album that people listen to start to finish. This was the only common denominator I feel I could explain about all the great albums in my life. Born to Run, Melon Collie, The Wall, The Downward Spiral, Dookie, etc., not a lot in common there except the sequence of songs sometimes flows one to the next, sometimes juxtaposes but it always feels perfect. I suppose I’ll know I’ve accomplished this when people are telling me they don’t skip any songs and thinks no songs stand above the rest.
  • Write a children’s book. Yep, you read that right. A long time ago, maybe six years, I learned a life lesson and had a moment of inspiration much the same as I would for a song except the way the story wanted to be told and the pure sappy simplicity of it made it more along the lines of a doctor suess type thing. So the idea floated around constantly. I write things down obsessively but ideas tend to stay with me regardless and I had never told anyone about it or made a note. But I have a life philosophy that Today Is Someday so the other night I wrote the first few lines on a notepad next to my bed and the next night I sketched out the last lines so it’s a matter of starting the work portion that comes after the inspiration portion. I’ll let you read it when it’s done.
  • Write music like Sigur Ros. Like I said about worrying I’d become formulaic, I always want to be breaking new ground, taking risks. At the end of the writing process for Nine Chains To The Moon, when I wrote The Senator’s Daughter, I was listening to a lot of Portishead, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and a lot of difficult music. TSD was very different from the folk-based songs on Nine Chains that’s why I left it off but I think it hints at the direction I’m going to be heading. Songs that don’t have typical structures and aren’t afraid to be inaccessible.

So those are the goals I’m working on daily along with becoming a moderate drummer (been playing about an hour a day) and singing harmonies (which I’m still not getting though I am getting better as a vocalist overall). Like anyone though, any other creative at least, I hope and dream and wish for particular things. But first…

I’ll get this out of the way; your bucket list makes you a selfish dickbag. Bucket items I hear a lot are things like See Rio, See The Who Live, Bungee Jump, have sex with someone of a specific ethnic background, that sort of thing. It’s fine to want those things it’s the self back patting I hear when someone talks about having a BL and there’s always a bit of image-crafting to those conversations. But the problem with anyone sort of image-crafting is 1) it doesn’t work when the listener knows it’s happening and b) the listener won’t infer what the speaker is implying because of their own set of principles and prejudices. for example I think you’re a selfish dink. Thanks for a list of experiences you’d like to have while not giving back or enriching the world in anyway. It’s a symptom of collector-life-mentality (I’m making up terms again) i.e, those who view life as a mission to collect and store. The standard set of spouse, house, and sprouts plus the little extras like wanting to see Venice that make you a special little snowflake just like everyone else. You came to this planet to take up space then sweetheart. And when you die -remember the origin of the term Bucket List?- none of that is going to matter. To you or to anyone. “She always wanted to drive a race car, then she did, then thirty more aimless, presumably miserable years later she died.” Quite the eulogy to rack up. I’ve been careful not to use words like Goal or Accomplishment in this bit because I just don’t think Have-fun-in-a-different-way-than-I-normally-have-fun is either of those things. It’s just selfish pipe dreams and mental masturbation to get losers through their work day.

…and with that said here’s my bucket list:

  • Get played on The Vinyl Cafe. Stuart McLean is my greatest Canadian. He’s a hero of story-telling, more a spoken word poet than anything, and he loves music. One show, years ago, he was talking about how the new Hayden CD doesn’t go on his shelf but in the stack of albums that sits next to the stereo. I was moved by that and wrote a note to myself that said “Make someone’s favourite record.”
  • Be interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi. You may have guessed I listen to a lot of CBC radio. His interview style is never fluffy or pedantic always insightful and nuanced. I want to argue David Bowie vs. Bruce Springsteen with him.
  • Do and acoustic tour with poet Sarah Kay as my opening act. Jeff Tweedy did a solo tour with a comedian Fred Armistan as his opener and it was a revelation. Musically speaking if you’re a solo acoustic act your only choice for an opener is another act that simply isn’t as good as you but if you break out of the music box mindset you can do amazing things.

Those are the two branches of thought I go down when I think about the future. And both branches are important, only being practical or exclusively being a daydreamer will lead to misery because they’re both addictive. You’ve heard the saying ‘If you want to know what’s the right thing to do, think which one’s harder.’ I took that too far for a while and did everything the hard way, made everything harder than it needed to be, and felt guilty and ashamed about relaxing ever. What’s weird about that is I work at music and I play at music. That’s why I started playing drums each day because it’s fun musical learning and it isn’t song writing which feels like a trade now, like wood working, it is my craft. Singing is work. I use to think of singing as something you have or you don’t, then as riding-a-bicycle-thing once you learned it you were good to go, but now I think of it like a diet or exercise plan and I work at it everyday.

So if you hear me on the CBC or see me hanging out with Sarah Kay you’ll know it’s a dream come true but if you hear me sing a harmony you should be just as happy for me because it’s an accomplishment that resulted from a lot of hard work.


Singer/songwriter, jerk.

Posted in Pragmatism, Songwriting

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