On the Three-Part Creative Cycle: A Suggestion

Collage by Mabel. Screenshot from Chaos: The Magazine for Non Believers, Vol. 2

During the first few months of the Covid pandemic in 2020, there was a lot of chatter about how we all can “use this time.” The presumption was that “sheltering in place,” staying at or close to home, our social lives on indefinite pause, our professional lives disrupted, surrounded by temporarily shuttered shops and restaurants, possibly out of work entirely, would give us time to focus on personal priorities. Things we’d neglected for too long, whether they be passion projects or mental health or whatever. Sounds cool on paper, but so many of us started freaking out anew and doubting our capabilities, because we just… never seemed to find the time we were supposed to use. Who doesn’t have a “pandemic project” they dropped entirely? 

The reality is that when your life is upended, and you’re anxious as balls all of the time, you’re not in a good place for mental focus. Most of us didn’t have the disposable income to feel comfortable and secure just sitting around and creating things indefinitely. Daily living through a pandemic is very time-consuming.

So when my friend Oliver Ignatius (the producer/engineer behind the board for the upcoming EP by my band, Shelter Dogs) asked me to write something timely Chaos: The Magazine for Non Believers — the journal he and his wife and collaborator Bernadette Higgins launched in 2020 — I pitched the essay I’m reposting below. In a nutshell, I argued the circumstances of the pandemic presented an opportunity to freedive into the psyche — and that it was more helpful to think of the moment as part of a longer creative process, rather than a space in which we should push ourselves to bring a project fully into fruition. It tied back to my old personal model for the creative process, a cycle of three distinct phases: media input, lived experience, and creative output. That framework is really the evergreen point and purpose of an essay like this. It’s kind of one of my secret recipes for keeping away from creative burnout and never running out of ideas to develop when the chance arises. Read it below the jump.

Also, do check out Chaos. It’s branded as a music journal, but it covers arts and culture far beyond music. Article topics include ketamine therapy, street-level BLM activism, the state of Hong Kong society — a lot of ground covered. And the artwork is diverse and inspired.

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I Was a Teenaged Ska Kid: A Mostly Unapologetic Confession

Tools of the trade.

In 2017, my former colleague Brian Slattery (author, Spaceman Blues, Lost Everything, and more) invited me to contribute a “long personal essay” to the journal the New Haven Review, where he’s a long-time editor. Because it is essentially unthinkable for an obscure writer to be asked explicitly to turn out something both long and personal and to get paid for it, I immediately said yes. I threw Brian some possible topics, and he chose a journey through my brief but intense ska phase around the turn of the millennium. At that time, I had been a teenager, ripe for the Connecticut ska scene while it was at or near its peak regional popularity. Like a lot of teen stories, this one had a rapid-fire narrative arc, where I fell into the ska scene, the life cycle of an entire band of mine played out, and the scene seemed to cave in on itself, all within the span of two and a half years or so. Fifteen years later, those memories remained exceptionally vivid, almost tangible. It was a blast getting it all out on the page, even the head-smackingly embarrassing parts, even the parts where I was obliged to back up and contextualize things for the subset of the audience that had missed that cultural moment entirely. The New Haven Review is primarily a print journal (although back issues are available as downloadable .pdfs — you can find the Winter 2017 edition, where this essay first appeared, way down on this page at Issue 016), and this is the first time it’s been reposted in full on an actual website. It appears in its entirety, in very lightly edited form vs. the original 2017 version, right after the jump. (cw: mansplaining, alt-splaining, detailed descriptions of incredibly simple things, discussion of psychosexual dynamics of local/regional music scenes. All generalizations about various countercultural strains are my own and should not be interpreted as statements of historical fact.)

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ICYMI: The Band I’m In Is Called Shelter Dogs

Photo by Jeanette Moses

I’m the primary singer, guitarist and songwriter in the garage rock/powerpop band Shelter Dogs, and that isn’t new. But in the time since this blog went on hiatus, Shelter Dogs came out of its own hiatus, and we’ve been up to quite a bit since then. Let’s catch up a bit.

I’ve been in Shelter Dogs since before this band was even called Shelter Dogs. One of the main reasons I moved to Brooklyn back in 2010 was to shop around an album an earlier lineup of this band had recorded. (Incidentally, that album to date has never been released, but I have some ideas on how to rectify that. Anyway.) We haven’t always been particularly active. That changed in 2018, when I rebooted Shelter Dogs with an entirely new (except for me) lineup, and we started hitting clubs and DIY spots on the reg. We released an EP called Crashing a Party With Shelter Dogs in the spring of 2019, on the excellent and prolific garage/punk/psych cassette label King Pizza Records. You should hear it.

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It’s Brian LaRue, the Blog: The Relaunch

All right, so I took a six-year break from this blog, but now I’m back. 

Man, a lot can happen in six years. In mid-2015, I was living in a converted warehouse, throwing rock shows. I hadn’t met my partner yet. My previous full-time day job, which has since run its entire course, from its unexpected beginning to its logical end, wasn’t even on the horizon. There’s been a whole global pandemic. We’re in a markedly different social, cultural and political place than we were six years ago. The macro stuff you know perfectly well. Whatever I’ve been up to on the micro level has been folded into my bio, if you’re at all curious.

I’ve had plans for over a year to relaunch this site, but let’s be realistic: The subject matter that interests me hasn’t lined up well with the experiences we’ve been living through.

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That Summer When Jeff Lynne Really Understood My Pain

ELO_A_New_World_RecordHere’s something I haven’t done in a while: A long-form music feature published somewhere other than this blog. My buds Jon Mann and Derek Hawkins — two men of many talents, whom New Yorkers of a certain persuasion might recognize as the dual frontmen of the Brooklyn punk/powerpop band Sunset Guns [RIP]– edit[ed] and contribute[d] to a really fun blog called Square Zeros [RIP — 2021 edits], which has a couple different functions. One is the online home of the Square Zeros podcast, in which Jon and Derek talk to active musicians about their very first bands, revisiting recordings their guests had made as teenagers. The other is the “In Defense Of…” series, in which musicians, writers and aficionados write about records or musical acts they love, but that are somehow underappreciated. That doesn’t mean those acts are unpopular. In fact, in most cases in this series, the act at the center of the story is extremely popular, or at least was for a brief moment. But in most cases, the writer thinks the act isn’t taken seriously enough by people of “discerning taste,” and sets about explaining what they hear in this record that makes it special to them. The best “In Defense Of…” posts get into some really interesting questions about art and fanship and subjective experience: Do I like this record because it’s good, or because I first heard it at a pivotal time in my life? What do my perceived tastes say about my hang-ups and prejudices? What do the things I like say about the person I think I am?

Turns out I’ve been writing an “In Defense Of…” column in my head about one of my 25 or so favorite albums for the past, I don’t know, seven years. Continue reading

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Three Alt-Weeklies, My Own Salad Days and One Long Goodbye to Them All

So much fun, we turned it into a lunchbox: Jeff Glagowski's 2004 illustration of a giant mayor's fictitious rampage.

So much fun, we turned it into a lunchbox: Jeff Glagowski’s 2004 illustration of a giant mayor’s fictitious rampage.

This morning, the final editions of the three alt-weekly newspapers that serve Connecticut — the New Haven Advocate, Hartford Advocate and Fairfield County Weekly — all hit newsstands. The Hartford Advocate, which I discovered on the floor of my high school’s chorus room, was the first alt-weekly I ever read and inspired me to pursue journalism seriously. The New Haven Advocate, which I read religiously through college, opened my eyes to the premise that whatever I wanted to get out of doing journalism, I wasn’t getting it from being a journalism major. (I switched to English pretty quickly.) At some point in my 20s, I wrote for each of those three papers. It’s often sad to acknowledge a significant part of your past is gone (and almost always a bum-out to realize you’ve reached an age when you can look back and notice how entities that at one point defined your life are totally gone), but my own sense of loss is a mere detail. The tragedy is that every region deserves an alt-weekly, and to imagine every Connecticut college campus and artists’ colony and band rehearsal complex to not have one that serves its own denizens… well, the image just doesn’t feel like Connecticut to me. The Connecticut I know is home to a culture where mild crankiness and dry wit ride high, where homegrown music and art are championed by very vocal local boosters, where the landscape is dotted with a few of the more prestigious colleges and universities in the U.S., where the political conversation tends to pan leftward, and where an extremely diverse (economically and ethnically) group of people try to understand each other and get along. Connecticut is alt-weekly country, man.

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I FIGURED OUT THE FORMULA FOR SUCCESS

FormulaforsuccessI GOT it. FINALLY. It’s so SIMPLE.

All of my problems are solved.

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Just Like Sister Ray Said

That's Lou Reed, jerks.

That’s Lou Reed, jerks.

As news of Lou Reed’s death made the rounds today, I saw countless appreciations of Reed’s work, of the impact his music had had on people’s lives, on his regal position as an artist and innovator. It’s difficult to summarize Lou Reed and what his work meant in social media, because his work defies summarization. He was a fantastic songwriter when he felt like it, but sometimes it didn’t really sound like he felt like it. He was an exemplar of two-chord bashing, and of (seemingly) zero-chord white noise. He was one of the guiding creative forces in a scattered non-movement that articulated how rock’n’roll could be considered high art, and he was prone to confounding aesthetic decisions. As he aged, he settled into a position of being an almost lovable (if still prickly) elder statesman in rock, though, by many accounts, he spent years and years behaving in a perfectly awful fashion to almost everyone who tried to come close to him.

But for me, when I think about Lou Reed, it always comes down to “Sister Ray.” Continue reading

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Journalists, Not Bloggers: Journalism Is Not a Solitary Act

imagesFrom time to time, usually while hamfistedly trying to finish off one home repair or another, I think, Look at me, a writer. I shoulda learned a trade. But recently, I realized… I actually did. There’s this idea that journalism is just a job, but in reality, it’s a trade, even though journalists think of it only too rarely as such, and it’s less common for The Management to share that viewpoint. Unfortunately, when The Management thinks of journalism as just a job, rather than a trade, it risks producing a weaker and more amateurish finished product, and heading up a staff that never reaches its full potential.

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This Summer’s Contest of Hipness: The 2013 Bushwick Games

VDtall

The Bushwick area of Brooklyn, NY, has been producing quality VD since at least 18_8.

Who says Brooklyn hipsters are lazy? Why, they engage in feats of strength and endurance as a matter of course. Finally the hardiest, quickest and most adroit among them will be recognized for their years of training this summer, competing in the contests of their lives at the inaugural 2013 Bushwick Games.

Participants will engage in competitive events including but not limited to:

The Amp-Roll. Each contestant rolls an amp, mounted on casters or a dolly, along a four-block route. Winners will be determined by a combination of speed and their ability to avoid damaging their equipment (demerits will be issued for nicks, lost wheels, etc.). Categories include: the 1×12, the 4×10, the half stack, and the refrigerator-sized bass rig.

The Gear Climb. Contestants ascend four flights of stairs in a warehouse, laden with amps, guitars, keyboards, drums, and drum hardware. In a word, it’s basically a pack mule-style competition. Whoever makes it all the way to the top with the heaviest load, without stopping, wins. Continue reading

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