Musings

My (30) seconds of fame

A couple weeks ago, I was asked to participate in a skit for my job. The punch line of the sketch was me smashing a guitar. I came up with a way to set up that punch line, then did the busy work of tracking down an old unplayable guitar that I wouldn’t feel bad about smashing. I got the kids in the band to play along and keep the secret. The idea for the night was “Random Night”.. A bunch of weird stuff happens for no reason. We were the first part of the night, so the kids did not know what to expect. I told my buddy Phil what we were doing and he decided to film it. I did my best to act like I was actually mad, and sell the sketch, but I don’t think I’ll be getting any calls from the academy. The sketch went off without a hitch, and besides a few laughs with the kids, I didn’t think much of it.

Then Phil uploaded it to youtube.

I knew it would end up online, but had no idea the kind of response it would get. Between the original upload and the pirated copies it got well over 250 thousand views in 2 weeks, and even ended up in a nationally syndicated tv show. My phone blew up for a couple days straight with family, friends, and people I hadn’t heard from in a long time wondering what the deal was. I would graciously explain the situation, have a little laugh, but on the inside, I was, I am, frustrated.

I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life as an aspiring songwriter/musician. I’ve poured my heart and soul into it, and people around me have poured their heart, soul, and wallets into my work. Last year my friends Alex Malcolm, Glen Hanbury, Owen Thomas, Thom Daugherty and myself put together a music video to honor the people who have fought for our country. I’m highly uncomfortable with anyone using things like this to gain recognition for themselves, but it was the best way I felt I could honor people that deserved it, and in my heart I know I have had the best of intentions.

But the best of intentions, time, money, effort, work, heart and soul you put into your art don’t equal web traffic or sales. “Hold On” is currently at 13 thousand views, 18 months after release. And while the feedback from people has been incredibly encouraging, I didn’t make enough money from the single to even pay the small annual fee to keep it on iTunes. Ten years of doing my best to put a little good into the world with music and my top two YouTube videos are of me smashing a guitar and a parody called “Pants on the Ground”.

Let’s be clear. I am not Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Elton John or any of the great songwriters of our time, nor do I pretend to be. What I’ve learned through all this though is much more about the world than myself. In general, humans give their time to controversy, drama, gossip, fear mongering, small mindedness, and bringing one another down than they do the good things in life. We love to watch people crumble. We love confrontation, and we LOVE destruction.

I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that I love those things too. I think there’s something endearing about being able to laugh at ourselves, while still loving one another. What I hope for myself, and for my children though, is that we can give more of our time to the good things. Things like art and creativity, through which we learn about honor, wisdom, faithfulness, loyalty, peace, and even the nature of God Himself. For every video we watch of a guy falling out of a tree or the fad of the week, I hope we watch two that will teach us something or enrich our lives in some way. For every dollar we spend on a cheap, fast meal, I hope we give two to the local restauranteur doing his best to make original, handcrafted food. For every second we spend thinking about our difficulties and problems, I hope we spend two thanking God for the clothes on our back and roofs over our heads. And for every minute we spend taking in mindless entertainment, I hope we spend many, many more on the artistic endeavors that can truly change lives, and I hope we give not only our attention, but our resources as well, for it’s these things that truly have the potential to change the world, one life at a time.

 

 

Every Moment is a Gift

Yesterday I attended the funeral of one of my classmates. It’s quite a bizarre thing attending a funeral of someone your age. Aside from the obvious grief and sadness, the idea that “this could be me” is overwhelming. All of the cliches that fit the occasion are prevalent, as they should be. We hear things like “every moment is a gift” and “live life to the fullest”, but in those moments of grief it’s hard to fully comprehend what that means. Overnight last night there were 2 separate shootings in my hometown. 3 people were killed, including a police officer and 2 more were injured. When something like this happens so close to home it’s really hard to process. It really could be me. 

Over the past several years I’ve been fascinated with science. The complexity of our universe is mind boggling. From the smallest of quarks to the stars billions of light years away, and the ridiculous intertwining of muscles and tissues that make up the human brain, which produces consciousness, which scientists believe exists but do not know how to identify, it’s has become plain to me that we are on this planet for a reason. It is impossible to not feel small. The magnitude of our universe is overwhelming, and yet there is comfort in the complexity.  I guess realizing this is what it means to “live life to it’s fullest”. I can no longer wake up in the morning without thanking God I’m able to. I can’t listen to my 2 year old recite to me all of the NFL football teams without being amazed at his cognitive ability, and being thankful for whoever had the God given idea for the sport of football. I can’t toss my dirt go kart into a corner without thanking God for the laws of physics, and for creating the greatest racing surface on the planet. I can’t look at the stars without seeing purpose, and I can’t look at a blade of grass without being thankful for it’s ability to turn CO2 into oxygen, and feed the animals that feed me. I can’t go to the zoo and see two baby lemurs swinging in their playpen boxing each other without seeing the personality of a higher being that created the animal, and it’s playful attributes. I can’t hear a beautiful melody, eat a fine meal, watch a great film, admire the craftsmanship of an instrument or great architecture, or marvel at my wife’s beauty, without seeing the fingerprints of a God who loves me. And I can’t go to a funeral of a friend, someone my own age, someone that meant something to me and my wife, without realizing that every moment is indeed, a gift.

A Page is Turned

It was December of 2004, and I was on my way to Nashville, Tennessee. I was 19 years old and in way over my head. We were heading to a studio owned by some country legends to record a few silly songs I had written in my bedroom. I was about to work with a producer I had never met, and honestly I probably wasn’t sure what a producer even did. I went into a soundproof booth wearing a t-shirt that said “Nashville”, and sat down to bang out some chords on a piano that Vince Guaraldi (the Charlie Brown guy) had played the week before. I couldn’t even operate the sustain pedal correctly. I was the poster boy for the term “green”.

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Our first band photo 2006

Shortly thereafter came some interest from record labels. Brennan and I had played probably 2 acoustic sets when we played our first label showcase. I hope no video evidence of that exists. We completed our lineup and began to practice for 3-4 hours a night, 4-5 nights a week. A couple years and a hundred shows later we signed with Warner Brothers/Cause for Alarm records. I’ll never forget going to the bank with our advance checks with the big “WB” printed on them. Over six figures. Most money I’ve ever held in my hand. I remember depositing the check, writing a few to pay for the record, and leaving enough to write myself and my bandmates checks for a few thousand dollars a piece. I did my best to not feel or act like a big shot. There were flights and touring, writing and recording, and practice, practice, practice.

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Signing our deal in 2008

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What there wasn’t though, was money. We made our money last as long as we could but before we knew it we were working jobs. I never actually quit mine. Ultimately, the label decided to pay for but not put out the record. We continued to have tv placement after tv placement, but we had no way to capitalize. We constantly played shows and barely broke even or lost money. We eventually broke the WB record for a tv placements by a new artist. These are cool and all, but the money they made just went to the label to pay back the record. By December 2010, we were finally able to part ways with Warner. The following February, someone from the label called and told us that Warner was keeping the record, and we wouldn’t be allowed to release it. Thanks to a ton of time and effort by our manager Jon, we were able to release the record on our own in September 2011. We borrowed a few thousand dollars from our parents to pay for the artwork and disc production, and had an amazing cd release show in our hometown. Over the last year we have exhausted ourselves trying to figure out how to make this thing work. We toured again, and again we lost money. We’ve had immense help from our friends Phil and Alex, whom helped fund and make a music video and basically kept us afloat.

See what this job takes is an extraordinary commitment and sacrifice. I make no bones about it, our best chance at success is to take out a loan and tirelessly hit the road, leave our families, sleep in our van or at stranger’s houses every night and barely make enough money to buy Wal-Mart brand bologna. We could do all this for a year or two until we are in debt up to our eye balls, and maybe…. maybe have a shot to make it. The problem with all of this, aside from being completely irresponsible, is that we aren’t the ones who really pay for it. It’s our wives, parents, children. They have to foot the bill, and for us the bill has already been too steep to add any more to it.

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With Michael Brauer at Electric Lady Studios

Let me be clear, we are not breaking up or quitting music. The Undeserving is just changing direction. We have more songs to release, we just need some money to do so. What we won’t be doing any longer is pursuing making the band our primary source of income. This means a whole lot of things but what it really means is we are going to do something different. We are going to change the way we approach things, and probably even change our name. My bandmates have started a project that they are having a great time doing, and they will spend time working on that. Meanwhile, I am concentrating on writing another record. This time I’m not worried about what’s good for radio, the masses, or what a label will think. I’m just writing a record because that’s what I love to do, and it’s what I believe I’m supposed to do. I don’t know how I will pay for it, or who would buy it anyway, but I don’t care. I believe truly great songwriting is a lost art, and I’m gonna tackle it as best I can. I believe no matter what happens that a great song can effect someone’s life, and that’s why we started this whole thing anyway.

I don’t know how to describe the emotion of this. I don’t know what my career will look like in 5 years. I’ve been chasing a dream for a long time, and now the dream has evolved into something different, and to continue to chase it, we have to do different things. I don’t have any regrets about the last 8 years, and I am truly thankful for everyone that blessed us every step of the way. We had some experiences as a band that I will tell my grandchildren about. I am so thankful to my wife for her constant support, all of our parents, our friends, manager, and all the people we had the privilege to work with along the way. You know who you are and we love you. Most of all I am thankful to anyone that ever heard one of our songs, came to a show, bought a t-shirt, and showed support in any way. You have kept us going this long, and you will keep us moving forward. We are truly, undeserving.

Clay

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Dealing with Doubt

We live in an age of information; an age where there is no such thing as “I don’t know”. Information is all around us. It’s at our fingertips. The human race has sent men into space. We’ve figured out how to make cars go on electricity, how to split an atom,  and view galaxies outside of our own. The world is smaller than it ever has been, and yet the one question no one can seem to agree on is “is there a God?”

Before you click back to facebook, let me tell you my story. I was raised in a Christian home from the time I was an infant. God was part of our everyday lives. I often questioned why God would do this or that or why he let good things happen to bad people, and so on, but I never questioned whether or not He existed. Then a few years ago I saw a movie called “Expelled”. It’s a documentary by Ben Stein about the battle teachers and professors have when they teach creationism. At the end of the film, Ben Stein interviews Richard Dawkins, who is one of the worlds leading evolutionary biologists. While he extensively questioned Dawkins about the origins of the universe, I suddenly realized that there where smart people who didn’t believe in God. I felt silly for not realizing this before, but I was overwhelmingly motivated to hear what Dawkins had to say, and I was fascinated as he said it. I went on to watch hours and hours of debate and talk about creation/evolution and the existence of God, which led me to find work by Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Hawking.

My mind struggled to wrap around some of the science and mathematics they talked about, but I never lost my fascination with it. The science channel was on in my house about as much as SPEED and ESPN. I also read books on Christian apologetics, to try and figure out if there was real, tangible evidence for Jesus. Then the light bulb went on in my head. I realized that while my Christianity was no doubt sincere, it was ignorant. I didn’t know the other side. I had never exposed myself to what science had to offer, one way or the other.

It’s now a few years later and it’s still an ongoing process. I’ve figured out that I do deeply and whole heartedly believe that Jesus was here, and is all He says he is. There are still moments though when a thought creeps into my head that I’ve never had, and what I’ve learned is that it’s ok. It’s ok to question. It’s ok to doubt. What it isn’t ok to do though is let it stop there. Doubt is only doubt when it leads to research and study. Doubt left to itself just turns to ignorance. You can be a Christian, an atheist, a buddhist, or an agnostic, but what you can’t be is a doubter. You have to decide.

So what’s the point of this blog? The point is everyone has to go through what I did at some point. You have to realize that these are the big questions for a reason. Eternity hangs in the balance. You can’t ignore them forever. Take it from me, it’s far better to face these questions now then later.

My two favorite things

I love music. I also love motorsports. A weird combination, I know. In fact, the two worlds are so different that someone from one world would stick out like a sore thumb in the other. Trust me, I know. Fans of (good) music tend to be somewhat well rounded, intelligent, and have a good appreciation for the world around them. They also can be overly emotional, lazy, and a touch self absorbed. People in the racing world are blue collar hard working people. They’re incredibly resourceful. They love their families and have a rich appreciation for what the sport has provided for them, and what it means to their relationships with people. There’s also more than a few drunk rednecks..err Appalachian Americans. That said, walking into a theater to catch a great band and walking into the pits of a dirt track can seem so radically different, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

For starters there’s the travel. Whether you’re rocking or rolling, there’s always a long drive in an oversize vehicle and a bunch of expensive stuff to unload when you get there. Then there’s the noise. Bone rattling noise. Whether it’s a bass guitar or a V8, bring your earplugs. I’ll likely be deaf by 40. Then there’s the biggest similarity of them all: the commitment. It takes a lot of resolve to head out on the road, leave your family for long periods of time, live on Taco Bell and McDonald’s, and follow your dreams. The struggle is the only constant. Every day is different, yet somehow the same. Whether you’re in California or Louisiana, Ohio or Florida, it’s truly an adventure. Usually you’re broke, hoping that the instruments that need repair or the tie rods that need replaced can just last one more night. You are always thankful for that night, and hopeful that the next one is better.

This is what makes it so rewarding. There is nothing like playing a great show to a full, responsive crowd. There is nothing like out running someone who has better equipment than you do. It’s the glory of it. The adrenaline rush. It’s a drug you can’t get over any counter, a drug I don’t want to shake. Musicians and racers do the same thing every night. They put themselves out there, for everyone else to judge. When you succeed everyone sees it, and when you fail everyone sees it.

What I love most about both paths is the journey. The unknown. That’s what makes it so sweet. No matter how driven you are to succeed, the path is fragile. I cherish every moment that I get to do what I do. Whether you’re a racer or a musician, you’re pushing the limits. Musicians explore the boundaries of art, melody, and the human soul. Racers push the limits of the human body, science, and bravery. All of these things are as noble as any cause since the beginning of humankind. Hopefully both will evolve with the times, but never lose the purity that makes them so enjoyable, and so important.

The Dash

                                                                                

Death. We all know it’s coming. We all are aware of it’s presence. It could touch us at any moment, whether it be an automobile accident or a heart attack, none of us are out of it’s reach. Most of us though, have found a way to keep it from our thoughts, so we can sanely go about our everyday lives.

I work for a lawn care business part time right now, and earlier this week we did some mowing at a cemetery near Republic, Ohio. Republic is a small town out in the farmlands and cornfields of rural Ohio, and the cemetery sat right in the middle of it. It was half the size of a football field, and it sat next to an old church, probably built in the early 1940’s. As I carefully took my weed eater and cleaned up the bases of the headstones, I began to read their inscriptions. There were many who lived long ago, and a few who lived recently. Many who lived long lives, some not so. There were some waiting on their lots to be filled. There were war veterans, children, farmers, and one mother with her two infant twins. Every stone seemed to have a story. Every stone seemed to make death feel a little more real.

A little over a year ago I went with my parents on a hospital visit. We were going to see a friend of mine who had been diagnosed with colon cancer. He was in his mid 30’s and had only been married a few years. As we walked in the mood was fairly positive, and we were warmly welcomed. My dad is an assistant pastor at our church, so he does this type of thing fairly often. What I did not know at the time is just how serious the situation had become. The cancer had spread and the outlook was not very positive. I sat and watched quietly as my dad knelt by the hospital bed and told him the news. Never in my life have I witnessed that kind of emotion. I watched as my friend literally came to grips with the fact that he didn’t have long to live. Death had found him. I did all I could to hold it together. I told him I loved him and got to my car as soon as I could so I could break down. The weight of that moment was overwhelming, stifling, completely crippling.

A year or so later, I find myself having small versions of this same moment often. Not out of worry or panic, but a sense of urgency. That could be me in that hospital bed. I really don’t know how much time I have. None of us do. I don’t want to waste a single day that I have been blessed with here on this earth.

In the end our story is told by a dash between two sets of numbers. That dash is how we are remembered, what people think of us, and the mark we leave on this earth. We all have the power to make that dash say whatever we want it to say. Maybe if death were on our mind a little more,  we would make life a lot more worth while.

Identity Crisis

A while back I ran into somewhat of a life crisis. I didn’t want to go out and buy a new red convertible..ok maybe I did, but not because of a crisis. This was something deeper, more important. I was starting to figure out that I wasn’t who I thought I was, and I wasn’t sure if I was ok with that. You see, for the past 10 years or so, I’ve pursued a career in music. Let me be the first to tell you that it’s not as glamorous as it looks. Ok, maybe it doesn’t look that glamorous.

If you’re reading this you probably know I’m in a band called The Undeserving. We signed a record deal in 2008, and although I did my best to stay level headed, it was hard not to dream of fame and fortune, or at least making a living. How many people can say they made a living playing music? Not too many, and I was, and still am, determined to be one of those few.

We worked our butts off to get that record deal, and we’ve worked our butts off since. We’ve done everything we know how to do. We’ve surrounded ourselves with great people who truly care about us and our families, and we’ve put every penny we’ve made back into the band. All of that effort, and things were still a struggle. All of the sudden I had started to question if everything I had worked for the past ten years was going to work out.

I had to come to grips with some things, and it wasn’t easy. The first was this: all this time I had been trying to be someone I wasn’t. I was trying to be “Clay the lead singer”. I had placed my identity in my occupation. That had a bigtime effect on me. I worried about what people would think of me if I failed. What would my wife think? Or my family? I skipped college to take a chance on this. What am I gonna do now? What would the hundreds of people who had given us their time and money think if we let them down? I had to throw all of these feelings out the window and realize this: that you absolutely cannot judge success in your life by the success in your career. While this may sound like a cop out, I assure you it is not. What I learned is that being a better husband, or friend, and just loving people is what is really important. I had to stop being Clay the lead singer and start being Clay the human being. That’s a title without limits, restrictions or predispositions, but it’s also a title with much higher stakes.

All of this doesn’t mean I don’t care about being that lead singer. It just means that my being a lead singer is now enhanced because my mood, self esteem, and overall happiness doesn’t ride on it’s so called success. In fact, things have never looked more promising for the band and I, and I am thrilled to see what the future holds. Maybe I had to get a few things in my head before we could get moving. Who knows. I do know this: when you base your life’s success on your job’s success, you’re destined for disappointment. When you do absolutely all you can do to be the best person you can be, you will find success, whether your career does or not.

Stuck in a Rut

Ever been in a rut? You know what I’m talking about. Sometimes it’s serious, like the loss of a job or a death in the family. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s like having all the little things, the unimportant things go wrong, for days at a time. Things like your football team losing the big game (I’ve been there too many times)…or for me having a terrible case of writers block..or sitting on the couch to eat dinner by yourself, and realizing the remote is stuffed under the cushion…..of the recliner across the room. Looks like you’re stuck with Entertainment Tonight. Little things like this can sure add up.

It seems so ridiculous to complain about days like this, even on the worst of them.  I always say “it could be worse”..and it could. Most of us have been blessed with so much. I know I have. My wife, family, career, friends, house, dogs, toys etc. All good things. It’s not a matter of ungratefulness at all. It’s quite the opposite. It’s because I know how much better life could be that I tend to I get frustrated. Usually though, I just need to be frustrated with myself.

I understand that a lot of things that put us in ruts like this are things we can’t control, but what about the things we can? Most of these are obvious, like doing the best we can in our careers, marriages or parenthood. But how about just loving people? That is a potential that we all have, no matter what our circumstances are.

People can be abrasive, untrustworthy, lazy, and unloyal.  People can treat you like gold then stab you in the back. They can completely ignore you when you’ve tried your best to show them kindness. Even when that happens, showing someone love and kindness like that will never lose it’s fulfilling nature. It will never be not worth it, even when it seems so.  It’s something no one can take away from you. So maybe next time you’re in a rut; whether it’s  insignificant or the worst fight of your life; try showing some kindness, and don’t expect any back. It may not help you write the next hit song, but I guarantee it will make the bad days a little easier, the mediocre ones seem relevant, and it may just get you out of that rut.