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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

DIY Politics

So that happened. Last night, this country overwhelmingly handed control of its governing bodies back to the GOP, a political party that, for the last 30 years has come to represent and promote every form of short-sighted bigotry and ignorance this country is globally reviled for.

Well... not the country, exactly. In New Mexico (where I live), about 39% of eligible voters cast a ballot. I've heard the stat for folks under 30 quoted as low as 19%. That's one out of five.

My generation doesn't vote. But not for the same reasons as our older siblings ("I was getting my hair/nails/penis done." "There's an election?" "It's only a midterm, it doesn't count."). The materialistic apathy that stereotypically defined their non-participation throughout the 90s and the last decade is a very different brand of apathy from ours. You see, while they could be accused of being oblivious to what was going on in the political landscape they grew up in, the same cannot be said for Millennials.

We grew up in a world at war. We grew up with schools that used fear as motivation and then moved on to college right when everyone began to realize it's a pyramid scheme. We grew up knowing that anybody you see on a campaign commercial is without exception lying to you.

Maybe all of us didn't realize those things, but I'd say it's safe to assume four out of every five of us did. We grew up with the internet; a tool that showed us every horrible thing about politics before we could vote, and then we did the only thing it could with that information: we made ironic jokes.

I won't say our parents' generation is wrong that our tendency to not vote isn't helping the situation, but I will say that they're wrong to point that out as even a top-5 problem. Since their generation started voting, we've gotten Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, both Bushes, two ineffectual pussies and a guy who liked getting his dick sucked at work. We also got the current platform of the GOP, which is based on their voting tendencies. And they were super proactive.

It's not that we don't want to vote. It's that we don't want to vote for any of the people we have to choose from.

So what's the solution?

A lot of people talk about getting money out of politics, but that's like talking about ending racism - it's a great idea, and I'm sure a vast majority of the world would like to see it happen - but who's got a workable plan? Right. Where do we start?

Well, what if we got the Baby Boomers out of politics? The generally accepted notion since the 60s is that they're such an enormous voting block, nobody will ever be able to overcome their sheer numbers. But when you think about it (looking at current election results and realizing they're about 50-80% of the voting public), they're split pretty much evenly between ignorant, bigoted rednecks, mindless liberal sociopaths, and terrified sheep who will do whatever you tell them as long as they get to keep their televisions and their Krispy Kremes. So why not just say, "Fuck 'em, we don't need 'em."

What if we gave them the boot? What if my generation started our own political party? Could we Kickstart an American Youth Party? How hard would it be, in the next two years, to recruit and train not only volunteers (of which I get the feeling there would be more than enough), but candidates and strategists for every local, state and national election in 2016?

If we got one Independent candidate in every race whose only platform was, "I'm under 40, I don't take money from corporations, and I just want to take a bite out of the current political status quo," I bet you three of those four 18-29 year-old idealistic non-voters would show up.

That might not be enough to win an election, but if such candidates even changed the nature of even one or two races in even half the states across the country, the media would freak the fuck out.

But I'm not a politician. I'm just a sad 30 year-old child trying to explain to his peers why even when I vote I wish I hadn't. I'm not the voice of a generation or an inspirational leader, but Jesus Tapdancing Christ, there have to be at least a few among us.

Because if we don't start trying to fix things inside their system, a lot of us are going to die trying to tear it down when the shit hits the fan.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Dude Abides

As more time goes by and still nobody wants to pay me for these pieces, I post them here for you to enjoy and share with those you care about. Abide, my dudes.


“Sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say hero, ‘cause what’s a hero? Sometimes there’s a man… Well, he’s the man for his time and place.”

I grew up with atheist parents. Not agnostic, mind you; people who straight up believed that there is a rational explanation to every situation one encounters through the course of their life, and a logical, physical cause to everything we see around us. I was told at an early age, in no uncertain terms that there is no God.

There’s a lot of heated debate and good points on either side of that argument, but somehow I’ve just never been interested. In my life, I’ve met many people, both religious and adamantly opposed to the very principle. And in both camps, I’ve met scores of both moral and immoral people, droves of happy and unhappy people, and, all told, a precisely equal number of both the people I admire most and the people that make me most ashamed to be human. So, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve only become more resolute in my apathy as to whether or not there is a Creator, Judge, or Supreme Overseer, because belief clearly has no impact on the quality of one’s life or character.

Then one night, about 6 years ago, as I gawked gracelessly at the internet, I came across the website for the Church of the Latter-Day Dude. Steeped in about as much traditional dogma and pretention as a Grateful Dead concert, the site was obviously a joke, offering comedic renditions of old Taoist texts reimagined through Lebowski-tinted glasses, and a printable Certificate of Ordination. A lover of the Coens’ work, I was amused and decided to “ordain” myself for a laugh. And then, for whatever reason, I read the website’s few pages of “literature,” as asked, before printing out my certificate.

To this day I doubt it was their intent, but somewhere in those few paragraphs, my life changed. Somewhere in the poorly parsed, film-quote-heavy ramblings of a stoner that make up the Faith’s literary cannon was a reference to Lao-Tzu’s fundamental proverb that “The Way is The Way.”

Whatever we call it, the path we walk in life is the path we walk, and our only real choice regards the principles by which we define that path. The Tao is the Tao, whatever you call it, or however you interpret it, and whatever your relation to it. Your only choice is how you define and therefor relate to that path. This hokey novelty religion had opened my eyes to that notion.

The fundamental principle of the Tao of Dude is that “The Dude abides.” Regardless of circumstance, resistance, and outside influence, through “Strikes and Gutters,” The Dude continues, endures and does not allow the hostile forces in our entropic universe to affect him. He is mellow, nonviolent, and largely stoic. He just wants his rug back. He Abides.

As a Dude of the Cloth, it has since been my life’s work to spread this gospel, and remind people – even in the face of ever-growing global horror – to Abide. I understand that for many of us, taking it as easy as The Dude isn’t in the cards. But that’s when I finally figured out what it is that religion does for so many people; it offers them comfort.

As a “much wiser fella than myself” once said, “‘The Dude Abides;’ I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowing he’s out there; The Dude, takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.”

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Why I Don't Vote

This is one of several columns I wrote in an attempt to get hired by some papers and/or press syndicates over the last few months. There hasn't been much of a response, so I feel like I should post this one before it's no longer relevant. Hopefully it doesn't hurt my chances with some editor that just hasn't gotten to my email yet.

Go vote, children.


Every so often, I have these political arguments with my buddy, Chris. The problem is not that we don’t agree on policies or issues or even usually the character of the people running and commentating. In fact, we’re usually in solid agreement as far as what the facts of all of these situations are.

Our point of contention boils down to the following quote from Uncle Hunter, and the fact that it completely and exclusively encapsulates my opinion of our political landscape:

“The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage and whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy – then go back to the office and sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece.”

See, I’ve never voted in a major election. I’ve been a registered Independent voter since 2006, and I have yet to perform what I’m told is my foremost civic duty. And the reason is that I haven’t yet seen a politician run for office that I thought truly had any of my interests at heart.

Regardless of supposed party affiliation, the majority of these people have no interest in the well-being of their constituencies or any true belief in their platforms. With the emergence of modern polling practices and the advents in communication technology that took place in the latter half of the 20th century, the game changed. Since the mid-1960s, politics in this country has been a numbers game. Our governmental representation is now largely determined by the “fixers” running the two major parties and working behind the scenes in election campaigns.

The lobbyists, the special interest groups, the corporations and billionaires we all rage against for hijacking our country really have those guys more in their pocket than the politicians themselves. But the politicians will do whatever it takes to get elected, and the people telling them how to do that have figured out who among us are statistically likely to vote. They’ve figured out who they need to listen to in order to win the numbers game.

“That’s why you have to start voting now,” insists Chris, “When I was in my twenties, I thought it was pointless because I only viewed it as a ‘short game,’ too. Why should I elect these fuckers who are barely any better than the other guys? Who cares? Thing is, it’s a ‘long game.’ Voting shows them that you’re paying attention, and little by little nudges their policy in the direction of your interests. Right now the only people expressing what they want are over 50; and a lot of them are rich people and old racists.”

And the next few times are starting to seem like they might actually matter. This midterm election is poised, according to many, to determine the future of at least one of our major political parties. The next presidential election will probably determine the political leanings of our highest court for possibly up to the next twenty years. That’s ten election cycles; the set up for a long game.

The best way to begin to shape our government into one that more accurately represents its people and their hopes for the future is to take the campaign advisors and career political analysts out of the game. If there was a single election where third-party candidates who weren’t under the thumb of bipartisan political agendas won even an uncomfortable minority of congressional seats (or possibly even if they just created a Tea-Party-like media sensation, but without the nationalist lunacy), everything “experts” think they know about how politics works in this country would be out the window.

But that can only happen if we all choose for it to.

For more of Miljen's rants about the socio/political/economic status quo (in a less direct format), buy his book, Passerby, for the extremely reasonable price of $2.99

Saturday, October 4, 2014


The only real way to beat internet trolls is with large numbers of people telling them together that they are internet trolls and that we don't like them because of that.


It's not really much of a statement to say that the internet is the single most important thing we've come up with as a species.

Or maybe it is, now that I read it out loud.  But I'll stand by it.

My point is that, as has been oft pointed out, the way in which we communicate and pool information has been permanently altered by the internet, in a way that can't be compared to any other advancement we've made except maybe the printing press. But more so than the printing press, the internet has in a single human generation created entire new languages and cultures of its own that span the globe and have fundamentally altered much older existing cultures across international boundaries.

When the generations that have never known a world without it become a significant part of our voting public in this country, everything is going to change. People who grew up on meta-humor are a little different. Kids these days by a vast majority don't give a fuck what your sexual orientation or religion are. The fact that we can communicate with people our own age around the world, and see the accomplishments of our generation in real time, and then compare that with the atrocities still being committed globally daily by our parents and leaders - IN REAL TIME - takes a lot of power away from the ignorance farmers that have kept most of the world's populations under their thumb since the last paradigm shift that was the industrial revolution.

We also now have an option to solving the world's problems that didn't exist even 30 years ago.

In the 20th Century, the conventional wisdom was that anything could be fixed if you threw enough money at it. Corporations were touted as the bright pillars of our civilized future, because they allowed groups of people to wield enormous sums of money and get shit done - the kind of money that was previously only available to nations. For the better part of a century, we built cities of skyscrapers, fleets of cars, and entire galaxies of widgets, thingies, doodads and sex toys. And then, after the golden age ended and people's thirst only grew greater, capitalism began to turn on us. The money folks started focusing on getting more money, and the Game became about the money, and while our problems in many aspects started becoming more and more symptoms of how much money was being thrown around and hoarded, the solution to these problems in many peoples eyes remained (and in many cases remains to this day) throwing more money at them.

But that doesn't have to be the future. Now we can throw people at problems. Crowdsourcing has gotten more and more attention ever since people started using it to make money (See a pattern here? We're still following the money.), but crowdsourcing is a practice that has been around literally as long as the internet. In fact, crowdsourcing created the internet. In fact, in many ways, crowdsourcing IS what the internet IS.

It's a place for people to pool ideas, and while we're still trying to find a way to work money into the equation, the internet has long run on the notion that it should be a free and universally available place to pool said ideas. The point of the internet is to take the best things we're all doing and allow everyone else in the world to contribute to one another's ideas. It lets our ideas grow beyond the limits of our individual humanity and allows us to create things as a truly seamless unit of living things.

Don't you fuckers see? The internet IS the means by which we reach our next plateau of evolution. It is the physical device by which we will transcend our individual selves and become the unified Gods so many of us are sure we can be. So where are we stuck?

Trolls. They're the reason I started writing this whole thing. I ranted at you all this time about how great the internet is because of the worst part of it. While it allows us to share all our great ideas, it also allows us to share that about ourselves that is most base, vile, and putrid.

As we've moved away more and more from face to face interactions, our sense of interpersonal decency has been one of the first and most obvious casualties. 30 years ago, if you callously walked into a bar and called everyone in it a pack of wankers, you'd get the living shit beaten out of you and the world would move on with one less asshole. These days you can find every one of those people and individually contact them through Facebook, letting them know you think they are wankers, and suffer no physical consequences.

For all the good things it has made possible, and for all the potential it has, the one unforgivable sin of the internet is that it gave everyone the impression that not only was their opinion valid, but important enough to be shared. While in some sense, all our opinions have their own inherent validity, they are not all valid in every conversation and when presented in just any context. Many people don't seem to get that.

Whereas, 30 years ago, shitty people who got off on spouting half-baked criticisms of everything around them usually found themselves lonely outcasts with no friends, now they congregate on the internet. There, not only are they free to express their awful, unhelpful, usually ignorant opinions, they can cheer one another on while masturbating furiously and weeping alone in the dark.

And whereas, in the past we could complain vaguely about the mouth-breathers that were holding society back, I think I pretty effectively just outlined how these wastes of life we know as Internet Trolls are quite literally holding our entire species back from genuinely magical achievements.

Just remember, every time you read something online, be it a piece of news, or a discussion, or a joke, that by being on the internet it originated in someone's mind, and is therefor a product of our collective mind. Whatever your disagreement with it, it is there, on the internet, for the sole purpose of being made better by crowdsourcing. So if you can make it better, either by directly acting to improve it, or (sometimes this is necessary) by pointing out its flaws IN A CONSTRUCTIVE WAY (that's the key to not being a troll), you are helping the internet help us become better as a group.

If you can't do that, realize that THERE IS AN ENTIRE INTERNET WORTH OF INFORMATION ALL AROUND THE PART THAT YOU DISAGREE WITH, some of which is bound to be saying the exact opposite, and some of which you're bound to agree with. Go find one of these places, or if you're like me, and nobody is quite saying what you want to hear said, you can go make a place for yourself to talk to whoever agrees with you about whatever you want to talk about.

But there's absolutely no excuse for seeking out information you disagree with online and then posting merely the fact that you disagree with it in an attempt to derail the conversation. If you can legitimately persuade the people having the discussion of your stance and why you disagree, that's a whole other story, and, like I said, have at it, that's what the internet's there for.

But if all you have to contribute is "This sucks, and you're all a bunch of fags," then I have only one important thing to say to you, and I want you to listen to me very carefully, because I will give you the words of a man I respect more than most of the people I've physically met in my life, and I only know about him because of the internet. He gave this message to another group like you in the late 1980s, and whether or not you agree that it still applies to that group, I want you to know that if Bill Hicks was still alive, he'd very likely want to say this to you himself:

"Kill yourself.
You are fucked and you are fucking us.
There is no way to save your soul; Kill yourself.
Leave, go home, and do it now.
Kill yourself."

But no, really, do it.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Kids Are (Probably) Alright

The following was originally written as a prototype column for "Born Here All My Life", but ultimately, it wasn't right for the overall tone of where I'm going with that.  Of course, that doesn't mean you shouldn't read it on its own.


So you’re a college kid who decided to stay in Santa Fe for the summer.  Then all your friends left the first week, you suddenly realized you don’t know anyone in town, and all the time you spent “studying” and “going to class” over the school year has become lonely time now.  

What happened to the dorm parties?  The shenanigans?  Where is everybody?

Your favorite band just announced tour dates and if you’re lucky, they might be coming as close as Red Rocks or the Launchpad or a casino somewhere and you can pay through the nose to go stand around with strangers in a giant amphitheater… alone.  Or you can sit around one of the sticky downtown bars with a 50-year-old drunk guy and sigh over the bumping bass on the empty dance floor.

Remember how you spent the last few nights watching Netflix and  playing video games stoned in your bedroom?  Didn’t you wish there was a some place you could go on a Wednesday night where people your age were just hanging out and drinking and being stupid and passing around joints like it was the 70’s and listening to music made by people who are just like them, traveling the country on barely enough gas money to putter into the next town and set up their amps?

Have I been watching Dazed and Confused too often?  Is this only a delusional dream I have of a relaxed, safe environment where young people of all genders, sexual orientations, and social classes can come together and enjoy good music without the hassles of The Man’s involvement? 

Could be.  Could be repeated applications of Rock and also the occasional Roll have caused my brain to go soft and present my fever dreams as a tangible reality, completely replacing whatever dangerous situation I was likely involved in last night with visions of a post-adolescent Eutopia called “Pink Haus”.

Because what I remember is meeting a band from New Jersey.  Two bands, in fact, though they played on the same equipment, knew all of one another’s songs and had, allegedly, seen one another’s dicks.  They were touring the country together.  One of the bands was breaking up at the end of this tour, and the other was to carry on the torch for them.  I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I would probably have been friends with these kids, had they not claimed to be from the other side of the country, and had they not been obvious figments of my broken, entertainment-starved imagination.

You see there’s no way I was at a thriving, yet mellow, joyous celebration in a residential neighborhood in Santa Fe on a Wednesday Night in June.  They don’t have those here.  I’ve heard it from many a reliable authority that Santa Fe doesn’t have the youth population to attract a touring band from across the country every week throughout the entire summer.  House parties are a thing of decades gone by.  Nobody has the time to put that shit together!  We’re serious people who do serious things with our social media!  Big brother is watching, and the kids have nowhere left to misbehave!

I’m sorry, stranded college kid.  I just don’t see any hope.  There’s no point in trying to ask your friends and see if their friends know my friends and if my friends will be your friends.  Facebook doesn’t know these things.  It’s a tool with which to sell you things, not one you can turn to your advantage. 

There was totally not the sweetest party I’ve been to in years just down the block from your house the other night, because I’m a sick person, and whatever that Jersey kid slipped into my drink before making out with his drummer clearly sent me right over the narrow edge of reason.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Dust in the Wind

There is an adaptability in live music.  It's not even an ability, it's a necessity.  Live music adapts to its surroundings by necessity, like water filling a differently shaped container.  On the road for long stretches of time, playing music more regularly than you do anything else, including eat and sleep... Your life starts to take on that adaptive tendency, and the points of reference you once used to demarkate by - Night, Day, Lunchtime, Bedtime, Thursday - start to mean less, whereas things that seemed before (and sometimes still) like arbitrary markers - Soundcheck, Load-In, Piss Break, State Line - become the chapter headings of your memory.

I'm talking to the band Dust From 1000 Years as they tear down their few pieces of gear on the patio outside O'Shaughnessy Performance Space at Santa Fe University of Art and Design.  The sun went down about an hour ago, and a warm breeze is blowing so perfectly through the weird little back lot that this duo realized it was better to set up their two amps and keyboard outside, where most of the smoking, gradually gathering crowd of youths seemed intent on staying.  It was a good call.  I've seen a lot of shows at O'Shaw, but this was one of the most intimate and beautifully pacific I've been to since I was a student at the College.

The duo has been on the road for 2 months, starting in Bloomington, Indiana, soon joining their Boston friend who performs under the moniker Bad History Month.  As he sets up his drum kit, we share a chuff and they tell me about the road that brought them.

"I don't wanna sound too artsy-fartsy about it, or sound full of myself... I feel like I'm not good enough to write a compelling happy song... Y'know?"  Ben Rector, the guitar player and singer, explains.  The candid comment elicits a simultaneous guffaw from me and the few other young freaks hanging about as the band clears the "stage".  "I've written happy songs, and they're not deep or anything.  I think I've heard happy songs that are deep, and I don't do that.  I really think it's just easier to be serious when you're talking about horrible shit."

Rector is the only remaining founding member of the band, which has seen 15 people come and go over its decade-long existence.  He and keyboardists, Jimmy Brown, quit their jobs to embark on yet another of the band's yearly tours.  "[The music] evolves based on how I'm feeling, how everyone else is feeling, what instruments people have when they join the band,"  Rector explains.  I comment on their sparse set up, and he points out, "It's kind of our 'easy' setup.  Really, it's just because we played like 10 electric shows in a row.  I guess we're kinda like two different bands on this tour.  It makes it really convenient, because if somebody's like, 'Hey you gotta be really quiet because my neighbors suck,' we can totally do it, and naturally do it, and try to gear the songs toward whatever sounds best."

Despite his insistence that it's all very sad music, and despite the fact that their often drone-like songs do have a very ominous, dark, blanket-like quality, there is a certain personal positivity that surrounds the duo that betrays their foreboding subject matter.  It's something about the dismissive tone with which Rector shrugs off my question regarding what happens after the tour: "Uuuhhm... Try to put my life back together again," he chuckles, trailing off, "Back to responsibility, rebuilding..."

The life of a traveling musician seems to a lot of folks like one step from homelessness, but the actual, experiential truth lies somewhere closer to a really awesome extended vacation.  A tour is primarily a road trip.  You just finance it by performing your art for other weird people in strange little places.  "It's the people you meet, the things you do, like... Hanging out on the beach for 6 hours...  If you don't have any kind of sensory input, then everything is fucking dull and you become depressed and you don't think..."

See the world.  One back lot stage at a time.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

We're In A Band

The following is the second installment of the DIY Trilogy I'm working on, regarding all the bands I know who are trying to build something big for themselves and each other across the US.  The first part is here.

Also, if you're reading this within a month or two of its posting, the band I talk to throughout the article is probably playing somewhere near you, unless you live in the deep, racist South.


The old lady next door has never really liked me. I’ve known her since I was fourteen, and while she’s now senile enough that she doesn’t always remember disliking me, she’s still pretty consistently scared of me. And maybe that fear is well founded.

On this particular Friday morning, there’s what appears to be half a diesel school bus on monster truck tires parked in my driveway, dwarfing my rickety little mid-90s Honda. Behind it are gathered three tall, tattooed, shirtless men with varying lengths of unkempt hair and beards. She’d be glaring at them through parted blinds regardless, but on this occasion, a sparse dusting of confusion taints her superficial xenophobic terror.

It’s hard to look intimidating when you’re doing yoga.

The three members of Albuquerque’s party staple, YOU, need the stretch. They just slept on my couch and floor and are about to spend a week or so in their massive yellow music tank. Their drummer and I look on, leaning on my car and passing back and forth what my neighbor can only assume is a cigarette. She notices me noticing her and darts away from the window as I chuckle and examine the Instrumental Battlecruiser next to me.

“You know, what you guys really need here,” I start, waving in the general direction of their huge spare tire, “Is a little bumper sticker that says, ‘We’re in a band’.”

Grinning and rising and stretching and breathing out, bass player Alec Wilkes repeats, “‘We’re in a band…’ Yeah, it’s amazing how many sketchy situations that phrase has completely defused.” He waves his hand in the air, using the force on nobody in particular, “Oh, yeah… It’s ok… We’re in a band.”

As anyone in a band will tell you, it’s a dubious badge of honor; a distinction that elicits immediate assumptions in anyone you talk to. The fact that you’re in a band will often become your defining descriptor for people who don’t know you very well. Often the people who know you only through your music will allow their relationship with those songs to completely overshadow and define any other form of relationship you could otherwise have had, had you met under different circumstances.

There are also, of course, the many rumors, myths and wives tales of the nefarious deeds and exploits rock and roll musicians engage in when the amplifiers stop blaring and the feedback fades away.

Only most of those are true. And while the most famous thing about Led Zeppelin will probably forever be what they may or may not have done to a drugged-out groupie (and a rapidly asphyxiating fish), the fact of the matter is that the actual, firsthand experience of being in a band is far weirder and infinitely more personal.

School Daze

I was once a music student.

More specifically, I was once a college student, enrolled in a contemporary music program, who had a great amount of interest in things like tone, microphone placement, music theory, acoustics, and instrumentation, but couldn’t be bothered to practice playing his instrument due to his equal interest in college’s many distractions. In the years that followed my inevitable exodus from the academic pursuit of art, I played with a number of musicians who were entirely self-taught – some more effectively than others – and often marveled at the ways some of them had just somehow figured out many of the things I had learned from lectures and books. These concepts, ideas and theories that I had been aware of for years were only then becoming available to me as practical tools, as I had only then begun connecting them in practical ways to my playing. In some ways, I was finally being born as an “adult” musician. Had that happened a few years earlier, I may have been able to take better advantage of the unique type of pupation music school – particularly the program built and until recently run by Steve Paxton at Santa Fe University of Art and Design – offers.

I talked to Matt Ruder, a student in this reincarnation of the Contemporary Music Program I left at the College of Santa Fe, shortly before its implosion. He plays guitar in two of the more notable acts to come out of the school since its reopening: the gypsy jazz quintet, The Laser Cats, and his progressive jazz fusion project, Ruder and The Shockwaves (who just released their debut EP). He feels, as I did, that the CMP’s small, intimate, densely concentrated pool of talent fosters a camaraderie that isn’t so common at more well known, rigidly structured schools.

“We know each other [and each other’s styles], and everybody has really, really different musical backgrounds. So you can actually spend time and hang out with a person who grew up only playing bluegrass, or jazz, or metal.”

Being surrounded by so many exemplary musicians who are at the same time close friends provides a unique sort of motivation, “Maybe it’s just because I’m from Texas, but I have a really competitive spirit, so if I see our friends doing really good, it’s kind of like, ‘Better step up our game’. But that friendly competition is nice, and [the instruments are] different enough that I don’t feel like shit when Sam (Armstrong Zickerfoose, banjo player in Laser Cats) takes an amazing solo. We’ve grown a lot from playing together so much; we know each other’s tendencies and feed off one another. We’ll trade solos or do a thing for like a bar or two that only we in the band can notice, and then we’ll all laugh.”

It’s the isolated, focused practice – “woodshedding”, in our slang – that makes musicians a bit crazy. The music is very much a language. The conversations begin to develop and build on one another into a rapport – a sort of telepathy, even – that can’t really be compared to any other connection available on the spectrum of human interactions. Ruder recounts a road trip to Arizona, “Everyone was asleep but me and Sam, and we saw this shooting star, and we looked at each other and we both just said, ‘STAAAAAR BROTHERS…’ and started laughing.”

Music school is a big group woodshed, where, much like a group shower, you’re all forced to mingle and socialize during what would otherwise be a private (out back in the woodshed by yourself) experience, infecting each other with all manner of stylistic and conceptual ideas until you each find your own voice in the din. “It’s monastic, almost. There’s so little to do [in Santa Fe] besides just go up in the mountains and practice.”

Sex, Drugs, and Facebook

More often than not the voice you end up finding as your own turns out to be a sort of collage of the voices around you. What you find out – years after the drama in your little college bubble culture has dissipated and you’ve spent years working on different projects with different bands and different levels of commitment – is that the biggest fans your band has are the bands around it. Nobody takes your music as seriously as you do and nobody ever will. The only people who come close are the ones that are influenced by your music, and, before anyone else, that’s always the bands your friends are in.

It’s a month after the scene in my driveway, and the boys in YOU are back from their biggest tour to date. “We were just hitting our stride,” drummer Eric Lisausky recounts, laughing, “Like, we were all shitting at the same time… And we were driving home.”

I’m sitting in the living room of the Albuquerque house he shares with guitarist Austin Morrell, and the three of us are talking about the future of music, Yes blaring on the turntable in the background, lest we forget our roots.

Morrell looks back, “My first tour was with [my old band], Gusher. It was definitely an exciting, fun experience, but it was also a bit disappointing. We had been playing in Albuquerque for about a year by that time, and it finally got to the point where we had a lot of people coming out and we had a reputation for playing these crazy shows… And then we’d go to these towns where nobody’s ever heard of us, and we’re playing these spots where there’s nobody there… It was humbling.”

It’s the wall every band faces when they leave their “home turf”. You put in all the time and effort it took to get your friends, neighbors, and relatives to support you, and now you’re faced with the Cliffs of Insanity that are represented by an entire planet worth of strangers with no reason to like you. This is the point at which most garage bands reach the limit of their determination. The necessary self-promotion involved in just booking a multi-state tour is anathema to many a sensitive artist, and combined with the tension of a road trip punctuated by unsuccessful, poorly attended shows, it can be more than enough to make a group question their resolve.

But as Morrell explains, there is a light beyond the horror storm, but you have to be prepared to look outside the lines. “From there on out it was about trying to attack that problem from different perspectives: ‘How do we get people to hear about us?’, ‘How do we get in the right places so the shows are good even if they haven’t heard us?’ It takes different strategies because the end goal through all this is to play a bunch of music for a bunch of happy people.” He laughs, hitting the center of the issue on the head, “Building relationships with people is actually the most important thing. No matter what all your pictures look like and what your music sounds like – Fuck what your music sounds like!”

Referring to the booking of their upcoming tour, a gargantuan jaunt around the United States, Lisausky goes into further detail. “People we kinda knew… we played there and they played here… or maybe they slept over at someone’s house [on tour]. And now the drummer of one [of those bands] is setting our San Francisco show up. I met a dude on Facebook who’s now a close friend, even though we’ve only physically hung out for like… a day.”

They regale me with anecdote after anecdote about people they’ve met only a handful of times, with whom they are now close enough for them to be instrumental (no pun intended) in booking this nationwide tour. The old joke, ten years ago when social media was still just “for kids”, was that “I’ve got 600 friends on Myspace, but I don’t actually know any of those people.” A decade later, the reality for an aspiring musician with the right kind of eyes is, “I’ve got 600 FRIENDS… They’re on Facebook, and we’re friends enough that they’ll help me book and promote shows in cities I’ve never been to.”

“Even with booking agents,” Lisausky reasserts, “Trying to get on these opening slots with bigger bands. You end up on the phone with, say, Neutral Milk Hotel’s booking agent… Legitimately… all you’ve gotta do is email people.”

Caveat Emptor: Carpe Diem

There are humor websites where it’s considered trite and outdated to mention how fucked the major label music industry is as the main punch line in a joke. To anyone in touch with the current pulse of music, the only thing left that’s clear is that “the heart of rock and roll”, if it’s still beating, is doing so in about a thousand different places, at a million different tempos. And the trend is only a further decentralization.

At the last Record Store Day, April 20, 2014, Jack White set a world record (Ha! More puns, I kill me!), delivering a vinyl record from the recording to the final printed, packaged product (the inserts and liner notes were all photos from the live show at which it was recorded) in under 4 hours. He pulled the whole thing off with his record label, Third Man Records, which, while it probably got jump-started with some of those fat Warner Bros royalty checks, is operated entirely by White and (drum roll) his friends.

That’s the point, you see. We may not all have that White Stripes money, but if you’re an aspiring musician, the means to a grassroots groundswell are more and more within your grasp, regardless of your current pay grade.

There is, as always, a catch. During our conversation, Matt Ruder coined a phrase, summing it up, “If you’re not gonna work, it’s not gonna work for you.”

The difference between Jack White and every other Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, hackjob rockstar that spirals into a drug oblivion when the major label stops baby-sitting their investment, is that that motherfucker never stopped looking for the edge as far as what is going to get his art into the biggest number of interested hands at any given moment. And whether you’re a garage band with an unlistenable 4-song EP or a multi-platinum recording artist with Grammies on the mantle, that will never stop being the name of the game.

The game itself, on the other hand, will not stop changing. While this is bad news for executives of the multinational corporations whose market share in rock and roll has all but vanished, it’s great news for music fans, who have more and more chances to give their money straight to the bands. And as more and more music fans realize this, a whole new music industry is being born right before our eyes.

And the biggest element of this new independent business model is ironically (or maybe logically) still the tried and true live show. “I’ve listened to live recordings as long as I’ve listened to recorded music,” Austin Morrell points out, “It’s way more important to be good live than to have impressive recordings or whatever… Nobody ever listens to your album, y’know? And the people who really get to like you are seeing you live. And you have to focus on that.”

Being in a band is a strange thing that can never be understood unless you’ve done it. It’s like being married, but the sex is replaced with a daily musical communion that can be far more personal in many ways. You’ll never have a soulmate quite like the other guy in your rhythm section.

So call over your friends, clear out the garage, dust off that broken drum kit, warm up the decades old tubes in your dad’s Marshall, and piss off your neighbors for a few months. Because the era of the shitty neighborhood band nobody’s ever heard of is nigh.

It could be your band. It could be my band. But it’s more likely to be both our bands together. Hit me up on Facebook. We’ll book a show.