Don’t Walk Away From Art For Good

(This piece was originally published through TeamBackPack.net.  It is republished here in it’s original form. TeamBackPack, the Truest Platform.)

For my whole life, I have been walking away from art.  My parents told me I’d grow up to be a rockstar; somewhere in my adolescent rebellion, I crafted a version of myself that was anything but.  In highschool, I played a mean horn and sang often, but never took my music seriously or thought it could be a “career” or future.  For my whole life, I have been running away from art: towards something more tangible, less terrifying, easier to understand and explain.  I am an artist deep down, or I could have been if I spent less time running in the opposite direction.

Not that my story is unique.  Far from it.  The creative’s dilemma defines my generation: we have the heart and mind and circumstance to create the greatest art, but perhaps lack the initiative; perhaps doubt our purpose or lack the courage.  I know that I do.

Creating Great Art Takes Courage.  

Or perhaps our world is too cruel.  Many of my most talented friends have left art behind when the power and push of the “real world” gets too heavy.  And perhaps they are right to do so.  It can be hard to justify sacrifice, even in the pursuit of true art, if that struggle keeps food out of your children’s mouths or puts you on the street.  Perhaps we were all born sellouts; or perhaps something about our time and place, something about our struggle, breathes a sense of hopelessness in us: perhaps we face too great of odds to pursue great art greatly.  I always thought that I did.

Not that my story is unique: far from it.  Plenty of “artists” quit making “art.”  Plenty of creative spirits with something to say find themselves silent too often.  Plenty of the most talented and creative people I have ever met take long sabbaticals from the pursuit of creating great art, and there isn’t anything wrong with that.  When I need sleep I sleep; when I need money, I work.  Hibernation is a part of living, and stepping away from art for a moment can refresh our eyes and stimulate our imagination.

Many of hip-hop’s greatest artists have feigned retirement, coming back to art in time.  What would the art form look like if Jay-Z really faded to black?

All I beg, from each and every struggling artist that takes that break from creating, is this.  Come back.  Don’t walk away from art for good.  Come back someday.  Creating is part of you; so create.  No matter how far you stray, or how long you rest, you can walk back to art.  Don’t let anyone or anything break you, and don’t let the world shape you when you have the power to shape the world.  Art is a calling; creating is a calling.  So create.  And don’t walk away from art for good, else you walk away from who you are, and stare back some day at two paths in a lonely desert, and trace your footsteps back for years to a moment when you decided who you wanted to be and decided to leave that spark of passion to starve, when it could have roared in a brilliant flame that sparked others and kept you warm, and looking back ask yourself quietly, “what might have happened if I never gave up?”

Don’t walk away from art for good.  As a fan, I beg you.  As an “Artist,” I warn you.  There is something here, in creating, that you can not and will not find again if you leave; something about who you could be that you will never become.  I’ll walk back with you, towards Art, and when I see you there I’ll smile.

Art and Depression in Generation Xany Zombie

This piece was originally published via TeamBackPack. This is an exact re-published copy with updated links.  

(RE: Art and Depression)

I’m sitting in a puddle of sweat on a sofa that Craigslist rejected. I’m in my apartment near the beach, it’s summer, the sun is out, my air conditioning is broken, I’ve just drunken a twelve pack of cans and smoked too much and eaten too much Jack in the Box again, I’m depressed, I’m sweating, I’m listening to Knxwledge and J. Cole mixtapes, I’m Lazy, I’m restless and I’m sweating, I’m hungry and miserable, and everything smells like dirty socks, and these things happen. We are young and alive, and depressive angst is a generational pastime. In those moments of complete and wretched self loathing, I look to escapism just like too many other twenty-something soul-searching artists, running away from an existential crisis with our eyes closed.

One fried brain cell at a time.

And then I sleep it off, I wake up, I get moving, I drink some Orange Juice. I walk to the beach and have feelings. I throw-up maybe, I laugh probably, life goes on, I write something about it, I listen to Bob Marley, I listen to Guru, I make an omelette and lemonade, life goes on. Like every Lost Generation before us, we find art in pain, color in grey, our hands building something beautiful from the fear of nothingness; depression and creation have been at war always, always will be. And we’ve always looked towards escapism while caught in the middle. And we’ve always slept it off; life goes on, nothing new under the sun.

Except I see a new look in your eyes like you haven’t woken up, like you can’t sleep it off. I see a monkey on your back singing old Weeknd songs and forgetting all the words; I see him reach into his purse and pull out another pill, a different color than the last one maybe, an old classic back in rotation that tastes familiar when it deadens your fingertips. I watch lily-white all encompassing nothingness leave his monkey hands, dance over your lips and into a heart that is getting too accustomed to not feeling and not walking to the beach. I see the Zombie taking over.

I want to hold you. I want to scream in your ear until you can’t avoid the ringing. I want to tell you in words that will matter to you: “If we can’t sleep it off and feel again in the morning, art and life don’t stand a chance.”

I know the struggles of a depressive addictive creative with no back-up plan. I know it’s easier sometimes to reach for that bottle again, or whatever you prescribe yourself to blunt the everything. And I know that, eventually, you have to snap out of it; you have to write about it, or dance about it or sing about it, or make in whatever way lets your heart breathe deep from the gorgeous shit that keeps you alive about it. You have to swim in it. You have to process something, you have to feel something; you have to be something that answers your questions, you have to feel something, anything.

I’m afraid of my own worst destiny when I see those dead eyes that haven’t slept it off, and I’m afraid of yours. I’m afraid you won’t make it back up for breath. I’m afraid that everything you could have created, everything you could have been and brought into the world and every fingerprint you could have left on someone else’s heart who needed it, every piece of art you finished in a dream is being stolen from you one pill at a time, one escape at a time, one bender that never ends at a time.

Until there’s nothing left to feel but nothing.

I’m afraid for my generation’s soul when I see another artist I love diving deeper into something they can’t wake up from, and I’m afraid for what’s next if we can’t feel in the morning. If we never stop chasing the deeper grey one chemical reaction at a time, one nihilistic creation-suicide at a time, one denial of anything and everything at a time. “Generation Zany Zombie” isn’t held down by a pill or boxed in by a world too grey; there have always been pills, there have always been clouds that make you forget that the sun’s still warm. Our problems aren’t new, our escapes aren’t novel. But the total acceptance of total numb by so many of us, and the way the rest of us look on totally accepting that numbness, is scary.

I’m afraid we’ll all start believing the statements we make in this forfeit to nothing-grey: that depression wins always and forever, and that art can’t save us anymore. That we need to reach for a pill to survive, when the only way we can truly thrive is by feeling the anything that that pill defeats and bringing that anything to life. I’m afraid of what the world will look like when we lose the will to speak because it all sounds the same anyway, lose the power to express what’s in our hearts because we’ve forgotten how to listen to the beauty they whisper in each beat.

I know we’ll make it through; I’m not sure what that “through” will look like.

Maybe we will chase the nothing-grey too deep. Maybe we’ll never wake up. Maybe Generation Zany Zombie is here to stay, and maybe art lost to depression in all of us, and maybe we’ll all die lukewarm too-grey deaths with empty note-books in our backpacks and songs whispering softly still in our hearts that won’t leave our lips and works of magic only finished in our dreams.

Or, maybe, we’ll sleep it off and wake up and feel. More Chance the Rappers defeating the numbness with sunshine, more Marshall Mathers pulling something powerful from the wreckage of stories that won’t let you escape forever. I know we’ll make it through; I hope that on the other side is a poem that says

“It’s ok to feel sad, just feel something. Set down that escape and make something about it. Your art/life depends on it.”

Summer is gone. I’m getting on a train again, and letting a friend escape a hug that I miss before it’s over.  She looks at me, really looks at me, and begs me, really begs me: “don’t smoke too much up there, ok?  Don’t numb everything, I just saw Andy and he looks like he’s been through hell. Don’t do that, ok?” I smile a bit, not with my eyes, and mean it when I look back, really look back, and tell her “ok, I’m gonna be ok, it’s ok.” I get on the train, sleep it off, wake up, and feel; our art/life depends on it.

 

“TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY” ALBUM REVIEW: THIS TIME, FOR REAL, NOTHING WILL BE THE SAME

150316-kendrick-lamar-730x486It’s easy as a fan of independent hip-hop to write off anything that drops in the dreaded world of “mainstream rap” as not worth your time.  Don’t do this to Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly.”  If you skip this album, you cheat yourself the chance of experiencing one of the most important releases for hip-hop culture to ever get pressed in wax.  Click here to read more…