Episode 5: Nail

Episode 5: Nail
The Bionic Cowboy

Where does it come from? The inspiration to create something. The glint of gold on the higher shelf and the self-propulsion to explode towards it. The mad idea in the middle of the night that winds around you until you are lassoed and pulled taught. The vision that interrupts and isolates; subverts and then subdues. The melody that demands expression and the words to back it that demand the attention of a sculpting mind. The universal yearning we all feel to make something wicked cool and friggin' sick. The seemingly random magic mental seeds that grow into beanstalk ladders in our minds, ladders that lead to confrontations with giants and then, finally, golden insight and catharsis.

Where does it come from?

Does it come from rows and rows of books filled with ideas that become mixed powder for our percolator brains? Does it beam into the minds eye from the films we love; films that superimpose ideas onto ideas onto ideas, only to shine back out as new interpretations of the same epic story? Does it spill coded fractal shapes of memories onto the coffee table in the afternoon? Shapes made of the love, hate, fear, shame, joy and hope of our total human experience so far? Are the shapes only puzzle pieces to assemble, turning disparate moments into a larger coherent picture? 

Does it come from the cat that lives in your home? Does it emanate from her impenetrable self possession? 

Can you find it in the dumpster amongst the discarded pizza boxes? Is one man's trash the impetus of another’s creative treasure?

Does it come from the forest? Is it in the bark? The water? The naked thorns of winter, red and vicious with danger? Does it grow in the hollow bodies of dead trees?

Do they sell it at Stewarts? The one by your house where you once heard an old man ask the cashier “How you doin' today?” and she said, “Oh I don’t know how to answer that anymore,” and he said “Well, let me ask you somethin’. Did you put your pants on all by yourself this morning?” “Yes” she said, “Then, you doin just fine,” he said, and they laughed together like old friends.

Does it come from baring witness to these smaller human moments?

The answer is YES to all of the above. The inspiration, the idea we chase, comes from everywhere and everything. The depth of your art reflects the depth of your imagination, and the depth of your imagination is determined by how closely you are paying attention.

Are you paying attention? Good. Keep paying attention. Yup, there it is. There’s the vision. You see it, don’t you? That’s yours, you know. No one else is gonna see that through. Will you see it through?

My song Nail is an instrumental. It’s an incredibly moody piece with some seriously macho sound design towards the end. It’s a tune that I wrote and arranged towards the end of the last batch of songs I completed. I was anticipating pivoting back into the more acoustic and folky sound of my debut album when I wrote Nail. I remember following through on the raw instincts that Nail aroused in me and being shocked that it turned out so heavy and angsty.

That’s just how it is sometimes. It’s best to follow through on your instinct and not trap yourself in ideas that try to tell you what you should be writing and how you should be sounding at any given time. I try my best to ignore those pesky 'shoulds' and you....should too. 

I had no idea what this video would be about or how I would visually bring the song to life until about 5 days ago. I kept having this idea about a bionic cowboy walking through a post apocalyptic desert plain: a wanderer with no home, forever moving across the red dunes of some sorrowful wasteland. This idea is an amalgam of so many movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read. I pictured Jean Luc Picard when he became Locutus the Borg and I just put a cowboy hat on him. I envisioned this character looking up into the glowing sky just as the finale of the song breaks into chaos. In the sky, he would see an angry god who would open his mouth and eyes and unleash a rain of nails onto the bionic cowboy. After this deluge of carpentry hardware, the cowboy’s head would melt and explode and it would look freaking siiiick. 

So I had my idea. My mind had produced a vision that called upon my body to act. It’s important to note that I really had no plan for how I would make this happen. I had to draw upon technical skills I’d picked up over years of making videos; years of bringing to life visions just like this one that had no clear roadmap except in hindsight. During these creative experiments I almost always hit a point where I realize that I’ve gotten myself in way over my head and have no idea what I’m doing. This is the point where it would be totally reasonable to let go of the vision or scale it back into something more “reasonable.” But I am not a reasonable man, and I have discovered that creating art is not a reasonable process. You have to get down on your hands and knees and dig in the dirt a little bit. You have to reach that point where you go a bit nuts. You have to push harder. You have to make your wife dump a bucket of screws on your face. That’s art baby. 

“I’m not making any money off of this.” 

“No one is even gonna watch this." 

“I should really grow up.” 

“Oh my God, what’s wrong with me?”

Those are all thoughts that try to halt the artistic process; try to take your mind away from your vision and lock you into an anxious loop of why this and why that and what’s the point anyway. I get all of that crap in spades, but damn if I’m not entertained by the process of creating stuff in spite of it. It makes me happy. It draws a direct line from my heart back to the heart of my 10 year old self. A kid who would be in awe of what I’m capable of now. A kid who had just seen 'The Matrix' and was writing his own sci-fi epic and planning to shoot it on glorious Hi-8 digital tape. I really feel that connection whenever I get a kick out of what I’m making, and I learn so much every time. 

So, where does it come from? The inspiration to create something. To bring something new into the world. It comes from paying close attention to the richness of your community; the art you love; the minutiae of life’s smaller moments. That is where art is born.

When paying attention becomes a way of life, it pays you, the artist, back with visions.

Visions that demand action even when the path to realizing them is not clear. The voice that tells you “this isn’t possible, I’m not skilled enough” points to a paradox. It’s only impossible if you stop, and you can only be skilled enough by following through and becoming skilled enough. Your heart's visions are calling you and come pre-loaded with exactly the lessons you need to move forward. There is so much to learn. I have so much to learn. And if I have to pull bionic cowboys out of the ether and into reality with my bare hands to learn these lessons, so be it. If I have to turn my face into a sky god that rains construction hardware from it’s eyes and mouth, annihilating everything in its path, so be it. I’m 100% game – that’s a slow Monday for me. After all, what a fun and challenging way to pass the time; what an interesting experiment to live one’s life in this way. And the best part is that at the end of the week, I get to watch my dream. I get to show it to my wife and see her reaction. I get to connect with that kid inside of myself who would watch my little movie with glee. What better reward than that. I mean I think it came out pretty f*cking cool.    

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