The End of Silence

If you’re a regular reader of this infrequently updated blog – or better yet a reader of Mixtape – you’ll know I’m a firm believer in the ability of music to change your world. The right song at the right moment in your life can have repercussions that echo through your entire life. This is the story of one of those songs that still echoes.

So it’s 1992. My birthday to be exact. Note I didn’t say “happy” birthday, because this one wasn’t. Generally I hate celebrating my birthday because who on earth wants to celebrate getting older? Most years I won’t even acknowledge it. But this year in particular sticks out because it was my last birthday “celebrated” at home. This was senior year of High School and I was heading off to college that fall. Of course in the moment I wasn’t sure that was going to happen because I had  something of a problem, namely I thought I was a talentless, worthless, and doomed to failure. My Big Plan was to go to Film School. Everyone thought that was a bad idea. They thought I should be realistic, that I should have a backup, that a career in the movie biz was incredibly difficult and who was I to think I could succeed in it when so many others more talented than me didn’t? they told me I was just not good enough or talented enough or hard working enough to ever make it.

And I believed them.

Plus, this was also at a time when my parents were fighting and arguing, near constantly (the news that hit me later that year – at Christmas, naturally – that they were separating wasn’t really a surprise). On the birth day in question, while opening my presents, something set one or the other off and soon enough they were yelling at each other while I tried to enjoy my birthday. But, I didn’t and rather than confront them, or ask them to keep their B.S. to themselves for just one day, I left. I got my coat and keys, hopped into my car and drove off. I had a dinner invite, and a party to go to later that night but I blew those off and just drove to nearby Kingston by myself, grabbed dinner by myself, drove around by myself, drove home by myself. Naturally I was listening to music – my mixtapes – but the song this is about wasn’t on those.

That was my birthday, February 21, 1992.  The End of Silence by The Rollins Band dropped four days later, on February 25 1992. But it would be a while before I picked it up.

Silence1

I first saw The Rollins Band at the first Lollapalooza festival the summer before, where they had the first slot of the day. The unenviable opening slot; first in the afternoon to a half-empty stadium. Not that they cared; they brought everything they had. And while I liked them, nothing indicated just how important this band and singer were to become in my life.

Low Self Opinion was – I believe – the second single off the album, so it didn’t appear on my radar until later that year, just before I graduated. By then that miserable birthday had been shoved off onto the corner where I keep all my other unhappy memories. I managed to graduate with pretty good grades, and shortly thereafter I found out I had been accepted into the Film Studies Program at Ryerson University. So to set the scene; I was looking forward to college, I was frightened of leaving home, but mostly I was looking forward to moving to Toronto already. But there was still some unfinished business — Lollapalooza 1992 was approaching, and I was trying to cram in as much fun into that summer as I could before college began and shit got “real”.

To me (and frankly, to everyone) college represented a chance to reset the clock and reinvent myself.  Really it’s one of the few chances in life you get to become the person you want to be. But doing that is more difficult than you think. You can maintain the illusion for a while but that old you – the real you – is still there lurking in your shadow. And while I knew who I wanted to be I also knew who I was. That angry, lonely kid who still felt he was destined to fail.

And then one day in June I heard it. More appropriately I saw it. I watched. I listened. I hopped in my car, drove to the local record store, and bought the album. Because the person that song was describing was me to an absolute T.

[Do me a favor, even if you know it, please click and listen/watch this video below before continuing]

It was freaky how accurately it described me at that time. Because I had been alienating myself and everybody else. My self-ridicule, my continued suffering in silence, my brushing off of friends and parties, my generally treating people like shit so they’d feel the way I did, which was miserable. Hearing this song, listening to it over and over again told me that I wasn’t fooling them – I was fooling myself. And slowly but surely I realized that while I had no control over who I was, I could control how I was. And I knew that if I carried the baggage of that person to college I’d end up being the same person I was thru high school.

Was it easy? No. Was I successful? More or less. I still have those moments of feeling inadequate, of feeling like a failure, but they don’t last nearly as long as they used to, and when they do come I usually get over them off and move on. But success is built on the foundations of your failure. Like a pyramid, the base is large and wide, chock full of disappointment. The next level is slightly smaller, and the level above smaller than that. All the way up those failures get less and less and pretty soon you find yourself standing at the summit, gazing out over a whole different looking world.

If I tally up Rollins Band performances and spoken word performances over the years I realize I’ve seen Henry Rollins more than I’ve seen any performer ever, and spanning over two decades.

Rollins1994But the most important show — to me anyway — was on August 26 1992, six months after The End of Silence, six months after that disastrous birthday. Only a few short days before I departed for college, I saw the Rollins Band in Ottawa. And as the band tore through their ferocious set I reflected on how much had changed since the last time – the first time – I saw them only a year before. And it was the first time I really knew that I would be alright.

I now live in New York, and have been writing movies and TV and comic books and now a novel, all full time since early 1999. All those predictions that I wouldn’t make it fell flat. That’s not the first time people have bet against me and lost, but I’m still here, and in its own small way that song was responsible for putting me here. I’m successful, obviously, but not so successful that I forgot what it’s like to think you have nothing to offer to anybody.

I still listen to Henry Rollins too. He’s more or less retired from music, but he still does spoken word tours, hosts a radio show on KCRW in L.A. And he has an excellent podcast along with friend and assistant Heidi May called Henry and Heidi that is my weekly listening ritual (and you can find that on iTunes)

Now I’m not saying that this song or any song is the be all and cure-all for whatever’s ailing you. If you’re really dealing with severe depression, you need to see someone about it. But for me, the right song at the right moment told me that I wasn’t alone. That what I was feeling was felt by countless others at some point in their lives. And Henry probably felt it because he wrote and performed a song that ended up changing this kid’s life. If there is a song that has that effect of saying “things aren’t that bad. I can change. I can make it better” then hang onto that song for dear life and it’ll always be there for you when you need it to.

Don’t suffer in silence.

 

21st Century Digital Boy

I realize I don’t really write much about tech. Probably because I have a love-hate relationship with it, especially with things internet-related. For every positive the internet has given us, there’s like ten awful things. I’ve actually been stepping back from all things online over the last year because it was becoming too much. Too much drama, too much distraction, too much bullshit. So it was under that particular cloud that late last year I said to my wife, “we should get an iPad.”

I’m not sure what brought this idea on, because I prefer my books on paper, my TV on a 42 inch set, my movies in a theater, and my music on – well, on my iPod (but preferably with a nice stereo system on hand). Plus, given that I spend my day staring at computer screens, the last thing I want to do on my downtime is stare at another.

I had also never even really picked up an iPad. Maybe at a friend’s place once or twice, but to me it just seemed like an oversized iPod. I didn’t think I needed one. But after doing a little research (thanks, Internet), we decided rather than having a whole pile of Christmas gifts under the tree, we’d splurge on one big gift we could both get some use out of. So we pooled our Xmas spending money, added in some money from our families back in Canada (in our home Christmas season is “Money From Canada” season), and bought a 128 GB iPad Air 2.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

And five months later it has become indispensable.

First, for work. Having found travel to be part of my writing life as of late, having the iPad with me on those travels has made doing my job a lot easier. Sending and receiving emails, obviously, but with Dropbox on my desktop and the Dropbox App on the iPad I was able to access work docs when I was up in Toronto last month. So that was handy. Also handy; Skype and Face Time. Skype, because my writing partner Kris is based in Halifax, and while email generally gets the job done, sometimes we need to talk face-to-digital-face. Face Time is great because my wife has it on her phone, and it makes calls to her while I’m away a bit nicer, especially on those longer trips. Given when we started dating back in 2003 (her in NY, me in Toronto) we racked up long distance bills equal to the GDP of a Third World Country, making calls for basically what we pay in internet access is a huge deal.

Second, for news. I don’t watch a lot of network or cable news because this is America and news here is crammed with partisan bullshit from which there is no escape. I am, however, a big magazine guy, having had a National Geographic subscription pretty much my entire life, and I’ve been an Economist subscriber since 2009. Both magazines have apps for subscribers, so I can download the new issue of the Economist on Thursdays, when the print edition sometimes doesn’t show up in my mailbox until Monday, by when I’m at least half way thru the latest issue on the iPad. I can download the latest NatGeo a day or so before the print mag arrives, and they have some additional features – video interviews, interactive maps etc. I also get Intelligent Life Quarterly for free, thanks to my Economist Subscription, which is chock full of goodness. I’ve even been considering switching to the Digital Only versions of my magazines when my subscriptions are up for renewal, for the convenience, and to maybe spare a few trees.

Don't let that fool you -- those are just the recent issues.

Don’t let that fool you — those are just the recent issues.

Third is entertainment. Spotify, iTunes, iBooks, but also (takes a deep breath) HBO GO, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, PBS, Hulu Plus, and the NFB.

Pictured: All The Entertainments

Pictured: All The Entertainments

A bit about those last two; I went all in for the Hulu Plus subscription ($7.99/month) for one big reason – this:

Drool

Drool

Yeah, that’s pretty much the entire Janus Films/Criterion Collection library at my fingertips. Were I to buy each title seperately I’d be broke. But having Bergman, Herzog, Kurosawa, Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton, Lang et al just sitting there anytime I want them? Well worth the monthly rental.

But I have to say the real treasure is this NFB app. That’s The National Film Board of Canada’s library (they’re constantly adding titles). I found out about it when I was up in Toronto, downloaded it later that day, and found to my delight it’s accessible in the US.

O Canada ...

O Canada …

It’s also totally free. No charge for the app, no charge to watch. And they have a great function that Netflix, Hulu et al do not– the ability to download films to watch offline. They stay there for 48 hours, but when you’re travelling or just offline, you can watch Neighbors, Paddle to the Sea, the Log Driver’s Waltz, The Burning Times, The Cat Came Back, Ryan – everything.

If there is a downside to all this, it’s that it feels like I have too much entertainment at my fingertips. Funny to think though that five, ten years ago if I wanted all this content I had to go look for it. Like, in a store. So the ease of delivery and access is great.

But there’s 125 titles in my Netflix queue – titles, not individual things and much is TV. There’s well over a hundred Criterion titles in my Hulu Queue, plus there’s all the HBO stuff, the NFB stuff, lots of great public domain content on YouTube, and that doesn’t even cover my Spotify playlists. I’m never going to have time to enjoy all of it.

Now, for the point of this tech talk; How Much Has This Changed How I Spend My Money? Not as much as you’d think.

Granted, with so many streaming options for film and TV, I don’t buy nearly as many DVDs or Blu-Rays as I used to. Really, it’s mostly July and November, when Barnes & Noble have their excellent 50 % off Criterion titles that I go nuts, and even then usually to the tune of $100 for the entire sale period. The Criterion titles I can access on Hulu fill the rest of that void so I only buy the titles I really want copies of.

In addition I will admit my movie going has dropped off in the last year or so(that means “go to the theater to see a movie”). I used to go almost once a week. Now if I go once a month it’s usually for a good reason. Frankly there hasn’t been a lot to really entice me to the movies as of late. What I do try and do is seek out the smaller indie films than the big blockbusters. Age of Ultron doesn’t need my money, but The Babadook, It Follows, and The Guest do.

With one exception ...

With one exception …

With TV, we’ve cut our bill down to just basic service and HBO. We’re buying a new modem so we can return the one TWC charges a monthly rental fee. We could cut the cord entirely, but paying for the basic package gets us a good deal on our high-speed.

As far as music, I’m actually buying more even with Spotify giving me my music for the price of listening to their ads. I know Spotify gets a bum rap for the tiny royalties they pay out to the artists, but I’ve actually been prompted to buy songs and albums from a lot of the artists I discover on Spotify. I still like owning my music, and I like the artists to get a piece of my money because I want them to keep making music. In fact, if Spotify were to give you an option to buy digital files of the songs you stream, a lot of those criticisms might be muted.

Pictured: My shopping list

Pictured: My shopping list

I also find that with the iPad I am spending less time at my desk, which could be a lifesaver. A sedentary lifestyle is not a good one, and when my internet browsing was limited to that chair, it wasn’t doing me any favors. With my work desk focused on actual work it’s not uncommon for me to finish writing a couple hours earlier and switching it off for the day, keeping the iPad on hand to answer any emails that trickle in after the fact.

While it’s weird to think that 5-10 years from now iPads and tablets may look as anachronistic as flip-phones and Walkmans, ours has actually been a pretty good investment, especially when you realize this entire post was written on an iPad, and pictures were taken on it and uploaded on it.

Now all I need to do is know when to turn it off for the day.