DK here. These pages are supposed to be devoted to Louder Than Dirt, but in typical DK fashion I have made them about me. Hopefully I won’t neglect my dear co-workers in the sonic vineyard.
What do I want to say about Madness and Morals? First I want to say that what I’ve been saying in these pages is an attempt to tell the truth, not to promote. So there is a complication and indeed a conflict within me: the conflict of artistic and commercial motives. Well, my commercial motives are virtually nil; I’m long past the desire to be rich and famous. Now cynics in the world will remain unpersuaded, but I’ve never really had any commercial motives. Honestly, I think if had, I would be rich and famous by now. Admittedly, in my youth I had vague notions of being a “rock star,” but I insist that those ideas were subordinate to an aspiration for artistic achievement from my youngest days. But this situation is typical of artists generally: every artist seeks artistic achievement but also desires recognition for that achievement. So the achievement comes first.
But even here is conflict, or rather, many conflicts. Artistic achievement does not come first, it turns out. I’m not lying; it’s just that sequence is not a strong area for me. Long before I concerned myself with doing “something worth a damn” (that was the exact formulation I hit upon—but not until I was 13 or 14), I instinctively made music. Now, all little kids make music in one way or another, so I can’t say that I was anything special. However, I have lots of testimony from my parents and from my early-childhood teachers that I was musically talented. At six I played one of the Siamese children, blond curls dyed black, in a Broadway-style production of The King and I (pit orchestra etc.) at the Town and Gown Theatre in Birmingham, Alabama. And somehow for me in ways that I can’t explain, music and language have always been linked in my brain. The point is that long before I was concerned with “achievement,” I did what came naturally to me: sing, play piano, and talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk talk.
When I was 11, my Dad came up with the brilliant stroke of buying a guitar for him and me to share at weekly lessons at the YMCA. We went to two: no way was I going to work through Nick Maniloff’s ancient book of reading guitar music in the treble clef. I had already wasted my parent’s money on a year (or two?) of piano lessons during which I did not learn to read a note. I could play by ear anything I wanted. Well, when I was, I think 13, I heard the artist’s calling, though it was faint at the time. “I want to do something worth a damn.” Now conflict begins to emerge in several directions. Now I want not merely to do what comes naturally but to do it well. And with the desire for achievement comes the desire for recognition. These desires together make the great tragic flaw, ambition. Not that I was capable at 13 of recognizing ambition as such, nor did I possess anything like the focus necessary of pursuing ambition. When I saw Led Zeppelin when I was, like, 14, I thought to myself, that should be me. And that was my thought at each of the many rock concerts I attended as a teenager: “That should be me. That is me.”
So now a new conflict. You see, show biz was not on my family’s radar. My father was a chemistry professor, my mother a medical technologist. Science and higher education were normal, so other paths, even academic history or writing were not so much frowned-upon as inexistent, non-options. At the same time, however, youth culture was ruling the world: The Beatles were bigger than Jesus, Eric Clapton was God, the Rolling Stones were Satan incarnate, and Jimi Hendrix was oh my God Jimi Hendrix. My parents did not forbid my music making, far from it. They helped me buy a Wurlitzer electric piano and a rolled-and-pleated Kustom amp, thereby making me the hippest teenager in Jacksonville, Florida. I played gigs at fish camps and sorority parties and enlisted men’s clubs with go-go dancers in cages. I also was King Arthur and Pseudolus in the high school musicals. But thoughts of making a career in “entertainment” were explicitly a “delusion.”
So I went off to college and fell off the edge of the earth. Turns out I didn’t want to go to chemistry class in a big lecture hall at 8:00 AM every MWF. So I dropped out of college and devoted myself to rock and roll. New conflict: now I had to make a living playing music. Which I did, but I had to go back to playing copy tunes including for the first time songs that I didn’t even care for. Eventually I had to get a day job, and the conflict between art and finance persisted, virtually to this day.
Now, I love my day job (the identity of which I don’t care to divulge in these pages), and I love the family that my day job enabled, but music is “a feeling, an appetite, and a love.” And if I limit my thought just to the music compartment of my life, conflict still comes into view. Musical ensembles are subject to the same pressures and fissures that afflict other social units. Indeed, clubs have by-laws and companies have charters, but there’s no pattern or rule for a musical group to follow. Moreover, and this is the real point, in an artistic collaboration artistic differences are personal and personal differences are artistic. I can honestly say that in all my years of working closely with other musicians, Louder Than Dirt is the first time that I feel a virtual absence of personal conflict. Not that utopia has appeared on earth. We certainly have problems and disagreements, but I believe—unless the others have something to tell me!—that in the main we have a general artistic and personal accord.
What conflicts we do have originate from the outside, and Adam, Joseph, Julian, and I cope with them as best we can. And I don’t mind divulging these publicly. First, we all must have day jobs to support ourselves, and schedules get bollixed up. We don’t have enough time to rehearse. However, and this is huge, Dear Reader, we have a great work ethic, and we rehearse with great efficiency. We have a ton of fun when we rehearse, and not unexpectedly, the results when one is enjoying himself while applying himself to a task are pretty good. Our second conflict-of-external-origin is that we don’t play shows as often as we would like. I confess to some guilty feelings on this score, since I don’t do nearly enough to promote the band. The usual excuses: no time; no talent in the promotional direction; artsy snobbery. The fact is, I’m lazy about things that don’t promise an immediate jazzing of my ass. I love hanging out, I love chat, but I can’t really bring myself to chat up movers and shakers in the music biz. So, movers and shakers, read this blog, find a copy of Madness and Morals (hell, Oily Little Rainbows ain’t bad), and book LTD. We will do the fricking job beyond your expectations. We are totally pro, we are versatile as hell, and we sound really, really good. Our original material is totally advanced and our show biz instincts, stage presence and whatnot, is terrific. We have great energy and a great rapport with the audience. Come to think of it, I really don’t know why we’re not a helluva lot more famous than we are.
Whatever. I don’t covet fame and fortune, but I do love playing shows, and their sparseness is a burden of sorrow in my life. I’ll get over it. For one thing, or three things, we do play occasionally shows, we do have our jolly good rehearsals, and do we make really great records. Uh gee, I seem to have forgotten to talk about our really great record, Madness and Morals. So I promise to get to it next time. It’s something that I really want to do, kind of track back to the big picture, the general overoveroverview.