McConaughey, Divorce, Musical Soap

Through my budding beard-centric cosmetic biz Stovepipe Soaps, I’ll be releasing a musical bar of hemp soap on June 17th. It’s called “Easy on the Leather.” It smells like leather, with a cover made by designer Michael Glowacki of Exist Designs. Looks like the cover of my favorite movie, Dazed and Confused. This isn’t a mere quinky-dink. No, this bar of soap actually comes with three songs written about and (hopefully) in the spirit of Matthew McConaughey. Here’s the wrapper:
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This little bar of soap has led to a lot of interesting talks with friends and my humble little following of fans/supporters. Usually beginning with, “Uh….so why the hell are you writing about Matthew McConaughey and releasing it on a bar of soap?”

There are a lot of superficial reasons why I did this. The aforementioned Dazed and Confused reason. Also, I really like McConaugHEYYYYYY! There’s something inherently lovable about this dreamboat, doofus celebrity who was proudly arrested for playing bongos too loudly, too stoned, and too naked. As he said, “”What’s wrong with beating on your drums in your birthday suit?”

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Add to that, he’s a legit great actor who left dumb rom-com roles and has made a respectable career in some truly daring, disturbing, artful flicks and shows. He won an Oscar for shit’s sakes. Who ever thought that would happen?

But most of all, I just like his attitude. He is a confident man, that’s for sure. I’d say his best attribute, as an actor and celebrity, is that he always seems to be having fun. There’s something to be said for that. Even in his lights-out dark, disturbing roles, the man seems to truly love what he does for a living. What more could anyone want?

Along with the above, there’s a deeply personal reason why I’m doing this weird little project that has also been the most fun  I’ve  had during my years of writing/recording tunes. Essentially, McConaughey, soap, and music helped me during the most difficult chapter of my 38 year life thus far.

In August of 2017, my partner of just under five years and wife for two of them told me she wanted to separate. Then she told me she wanted a divorce. We made it public last September and legally ended our vows shortly after my birthday.

I hope that little paragraph doesn’t make my former wife-turned-friend sound like a bad person. We had a true love, a true partnership, and some good years. But for reasons I’m not gonna get into and others I  don’t understand, we needed to bring it to an end.

A fellow divorcee who I barely know personally summed up this notion best in a Facebook comment he left me under the first public post I made about the split. The simple, poignant comment made the rest of the story you’re about to read possible. Here’s what he said, directly off the post:

“While love may endure, enduring a relationship you both know hurts one another is not love. Kindness is always a grace to share. Wishing you both peace and love in letting go.”

This is the kind of simple, gut-punching wisdom that can only come out of direct experience. I read this post and let out a good three months of tears that I had been holding back until then. Honestly, I’m not trying to sound cool when I say this. For the first month post-breakup, I covered up the pain by drinking unhealthy amounts, by over eating, and other activities that I’d assume not list in detail. Then I read that person’s comment and something changed inside of me.

There are other things that helped me. Going through something that is truly, truly shitty does make you reevaluate your prior approach to thinking, acting, and choosing. I had suddenly had a lot more time than before. So I was able to read about building good habits, honing creativity, and ways to deal properly with the flaming cloud of shit that was suddenly raining on me.  I started to do deep-breath meditation more consistently.  I’ve even taken up some more esoteric practices like dowsing, chanting, and witchly candle stuff. Sounds weird, but I don’t care: it helps. I reconnected with someone  I’ve loved for a very long time and it brought me light I hadn’t felt in too long. I met new friends and reconnected with old friends. I spent a lot of time alone, and in ways that I think were mostly healthy. I experienced closeness with someone who was a complete stranger a year ago.So there was a lot to this journey.

But something about that wee Facebook comment from a near-stranger  changed my insides. To the point where I started reading a lot of self-improvement books.

I’m not kidding. That post was simple, quick, and helped immediately. I wanted more of that. And there’s something about self-help books and motivational quotes that served as an extension to that little bite from the fellow divorcee. They are collections of short, powerful slogans that, when authentic, are forged out of long times of difficulty. They sound goofy, but McConaughey as my witness, they help.

Some of the books I read were awful. Others worse than awful. But for a genre that I have spent not-a-few hours mocking and avoiding, I can honestly say that, were it not for silly books telling me to “chase my dreams or your life will be a nightmare,” that “when you hit bottom, the only thing you can do is look up,” I guarantee I’d still be quaffing bottles of Early Times in my long johns, watching grainy pornos while eating frozen pizza.

Great as these books were, the “healing process” that had begun after that unnamed gent’s Facebook post, extending into “you don’t suck” books,  took another turn for the good around Thanksgiving. This is where Matthew McConaughey comes in.

I was in the living room trying to find Dazed and Confused for free on YouTube. I didn’t. But I did come across McConaughey’s Oscar speech. Here it is:

It’s that last part with the “my hero is always ten years away” bullshit at the end that again delivered the kind of necessary life-punch that wounds, then heals. He probably came up with it while stoned out of his gourd, probably playing bongos and maybe even in his birthday suit. But there is something quick and profound about it that stopped my breath, and still does. This notion that we are always chasing but never catching our best self. Always voyaging but never totally arriving at a better place. Even that goofy stuff about “respect yourself, and you’ll respect others” relates well to the more profound ending of the speech. Who else should your hero be but a better you? How can you respect others if you don’t respect yourself? And how can you even begin to love another person if you don’t love yourself?

I watched this speech and my entire life improved instantly.

Just kidding. As McCon says in the speech, “Not even close!!!!!”

Even recently, I’ve still gotten hammered during sad times. Still have woken up too late to accomplish what I wanted to. Still fallen asleep too early when I should have been burning the midnight oil on songwriting, soapmaking, or perusing YouTube for free.

But I do feel and act better than I have in years.  I feel progress and deep, realistic positivity.  I’ve learned how to make soap, beard balms, and other self-cleansing stuff that I’ve always had some weird interest in. I have spent more time over the past post-marriage months practicing my instruments than I have in entire years. Each day I set aside time to work on writing songs and have seen them improve as a result.  My own music career feels more organized, more together and inspiring than ever before.

I also feel more spiritually vibrant than I did during the years when I was a dyed-in-the-wool Christian. Prayers answered when they should be. For the first time in a long time, I know that next year will be better than this one. That I’ll struggle and chase and not totally get there, but I’ll be somewhere good if I give it an honest shot, a clear mind. I’ve learned that when you put focused effort into yourself, into your talents, and develop good habits that even better opportunities come.

I do not mean to come across as cocky or sound like some second-rate inspirational meme. Those who know me know what a self-loathing, depressed, horrified creature I can be. But a year ago I was physically unhealthy, drinking heavily, and not putting time into the things I’m best at. Today I feel better, I think I look better, I’ve written the songs that I’m most proud of, and have already seen some early success with Stovepipe Soaps. I like the person I see in the mirror when I shave my head.

I don’t feel perfect. But I feel cleansed and cleansing.

Yes, like soap.

Yes, I feel alright-alright-alright.

In conclusion, let me know write something that’s inevitably gonna be quite long and not concluding.

In the days and months to follow the split, a lot of well-meaning but tactless folks asked a question that I still don’t like:

“Why did it happen?”

Or as one even more tactless, well-meaning person asked:

“How did you get from point A (married) to point B (divorced)?????”

I still don’t have a lot of patience for these types of questions, and a lot of empathy for the other divorcees who I can’t imagine do either. If I knew the answer then I’d probably still be married to my former wife. I know that I fell in love with a smart, fiery, beautiful Italian gal shortly before my 33 birthday. We started dating seriously almost immediately, met each other’s families shortly after, moved in together, hiked-read-listened to records-traveled-fought-made up-barely made it-started making it-raised a foster kid-got married-moved-built another home together-fought-fought more-barely talked-loved each other-hated each other-tolerated each other-made up-separated then separated more then split then were horrible to each other then were, I think, pretty damn good to each other. Now we are two people who are friends that wish each other well.

So what happened? I don’t have a fuckin’ clue. Love happened, then it didn’t happen anymore and that’s the very best way I can describe it.

After this season of divorce, I never in a million years thought I’d have anything valuable to say about love, marriage, or even divorce. But during this time a number of people going through something similar have reached out to me and said they felt heard and helped. I hope so.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from this whole beautiful shitstorm.

There are a million different ways to express and experience love. Strike that. There are infinite ways. And I think there are infinite people we could share it with. Some of those expressions and experiences are supposed to be permanent, some are not.

Be grateful for every day you get to spend with someone that you love and who loves you back. If you learn that this love is gonna be experienced as temporary then, I’m sorry, let it be temporary.  Sure, get help. Seek advice. Go to marriage counseling. Have good couples around you. But with some exceptions, I think most of those who see their marriage or  partnership fall apart know in their hearts when it’s over. Let it be over, I say. It’s not giving up. It’s not cowardice. It’s called self-honesty. I don’t mean to sound pompous, but I think there’s a lot of true, hard love expressed by the act of letting your partner go. Or by entering the horrible, necessary struggle of respecting their right to let you go.

After the divorce? Take a lot of time to be alone. But if you’re alone too much then please reach out to friends and family. My friends showed me acts of kindness during this time that  were selfless and transcendent. I made it through because of them. My family ran immediately to my side without judgment. A few people took the time to tell me I was wrong, lazy, sinful, etc. You’ll meet them if you go through a split, I guarantee it. Give these types no entryway into your life. If they are already in it, show them the exit. Move on.

Ask yourself questions that hurt. Expect answers that hurt more Treat yourself to some healthy hedonism. Do a little dance, make a little love. Basically…get down tonight. But most importantly, take the time to give yourself the focus you deserve. You have a wonderful newfound freedom to learn new skills and pick up old ones. If you pray or mediate, pray or mediate longer. Take a lot of walks without headphones on. Find occasional, careful ways to show your former spouse that you care for them, even if it has to be from afar. If they date someone else then embrace the pain of it, but wish them both well. I did a lot wrong during this process. But I saw a picture of her and her new partner looking like we used to. Giddy, in-love, and happy. Once you get past the initial difficulty of seeing this face-to-face, keep looking. Try to wish them well. Celebrate a new love coming into the world for someone you care about. You’ll be filled with a warmth   for them that feels like drinking the best tasting water you’ve ever had, the best air you’ve breathed, and you feel a love for everything and everyone that ever was.

Better put, it feels ‘alright-alright-alright.’

I hope that even in during the hardest chapters of your life, you’ll find a way to feel the same. That you’ll respect yourself and in turn others. That you’ll keep chasing the hero that is your better self. That you’ll never fully catch them but that you’ll always be closer.

Also: buy my musical soap. Here are the songs.

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Make ‘Em Famous: Mat Churchill

a3787460181_10Jesus, whose buns do I have to smooch to get everyone to listen to this guy? If you live in West Michigan and have at least a modicum of interest in local music then you’ve probably  heard of Mat Churchill. He’s been writing drop-dead gorgeous music for at least a decade. He’s also lent his bass skills to a number of other artists, most notably Kari Lynch.  His sound has the somber folk vibe like Damien Jurado’s earlier work, with occasional, slow-burn explosions of flat-out, fuzzed-up noise that has a Godspeed You Black Emperor! flavor. But his latest God Bless These Shorter Days, is at its heart a country album.

The production is notably fantastic. A music and audiobook engineer by trade, there’s not a bad sound on the entire album. The instruments fall into their perfect places, yet there’s not a false note anywhere to be heard. Mat’s smoky baritone vocals sound clearer, more confident. As far as production goes, this album is not just an improvement over his prior releases. It’s simply remarkable.

I’ve kept up with Mat’s humble music career for a while now. While I love his slower stuff and the country roads this newest album has taken, I’ve also heard him during live shows hone in on his punk influences from younger days. While I can’t imagine he’ll be singing in a fake British accent or playing only power-chords anytime soon, there’s a raggedness  raucousness that, for what it’s worth, I think Mat could pull off well. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s impeccable release The Nashville Sound had plenty of this. We’ll see what happens. But for now, dig in deeply to this top-shelf album.

Buy his records. Go see him play. Request his music. Seriously, make him famous.
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Favorite Track: Call me a predictable, lazy sack of turd but the title track is my favorite. It’s Mat at his best, starting the album out on an oddly positive note that you won’t find a ton of on his prior work. It’s a refreshing change of chorus, reflecting a gratitude we’d all do well to follow during these darker times.

Find out more by click on the word here.

 

Five for Friday #1: Chain of Lakes

Alright, I’m back again. Here’s this really amazing thing where I talk about music on the internet. Afterwards I’m going to eat food with my mouth, add money to my abysmal savings account with a deposit slip, and adhere to Druidism by praying to a tree. Unreal. Speaking of nature…

1. Chain of Lakes: In&In

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Today’s first album comes from Michigan’s own Chain of Lakes. Named after several I guess alright lakes you may have heard about, Chain of Lakes is the musical brainchild of Kyle Rasche. Speaking of children, Kyle and his wonderful wife have three of them. For a lapsed Catholic, that’s just about the right amount of children.

But all religion and procreation aside, In&Out is the perfect album to welcome in the coming summer’s badly needed lush sunshine and positive vibes. Kyle and his musical colleagues have crafted an album that has all the beauty and detail you’d expect from this band, honed carefully with a craftsman’s touch. It offers a rich, nuanced musical experience that stands up incredibly well to repeated listens. Yet, there’s a pop sensibility here making each song immediately likable. Though Kyle Rasche has to his credit built a reputation for being picky about his songwriting and compositions, he’s built an equally strong reputation for self-deprecation. I have heard Kyle play demos for me that sounded damn near Grammy-winning, interrupted only by his commentary about how much he hated everything about what we were listening to. It’s a dynamic that, while possibly reflective of a need for weekly personal counseling for Kyle, is the most important factor of his particular musical modus operandi.  Kyle’s music has always existed inside a push and pull between ease and struggle. Joy and the complete lack of it. Confidence and crippling self-doubt that, taken together, sounds unsettling and lovely. It’s what keeps us interested, wanting more. It’s an odd balance that we ourselves live within every day and, as a result, is what makes these songs so human, so able to connect immediately with listeners.

Regardless of what Kyle thinks, this is the album of his that’s gonna be best received and will also hold up the best. An album this solid by an artist this talented deserves nothing less.

Favorite Track: The track “Blood & Alcohol” is almost like a musical yin & yang, with  music that smells like bubblegum and lyrics that smell like the breathe of a depressed drunk on his last, fatal bender.  It’s a hell of a song. His vocals have never sounded better, and his bandmates never sharper.

Trivia: Kyle was once the star of a show that aired on MTV. I used to feel bad about bringing this up. Now I don’t give a shit. Who wouldn’t want a show about them on frickin’ MTV?!?!?!? Ya’ll looking for a subject?

Find out more at:  chainoflakesband.bandcamp.com


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Make ‘Em Famous: Nathan Kalish

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Yeah, fame doesn’t really exist anymore. Especially in the music industry, which probably doesn’t exist as a giant whole anymore either. What separates the pros from the amateurs, the successful and the unsuccessful, is essentially the same thing that separates hard workers from lazy  pieces of shit. Regardless, certain singer-songwriters who started with cult followings have risen to a level where most music fans have at least heard of them. Conor Oberst, Ingrid Michaelson, Ryan Adams, and Jason Isbell come to mind, though I’m sure you’ve already thought of others. For shit’s sake, I think it’s about time that Nathan Kalish was added to this list.

I’ve known Nathan for about a decade, as a fellow songwriter, a friend, and as someone who legitimately loves his music. Add to it the fact that he’s been a dead-shot serous musician since he was a kid. Based on my many sober and completely shit-faced conversations with him, I reckon he has never had any other career goal than to be a musician.

His early work with The Wildfire was Americana set ablaze by Replacements-style punk, graced with songwriting chops clearly sharpened by greats such as Neil Young, Sprinsteen, John Prine, and others. After The Wildfire broke up and a couple self-released solo albums, Nathan reinvented his act under the monike Nathan Kalish & the Lastcallers. The punk flair and DIY can-do existed more as an ethos at this point, while the music itself veered into flat-out honky-tonk country. And while few sounds will ever feel as good to me as the early primal rumbles of The Wildfire, the two Lastcaller albums found Nathan fashioning a sound and  image that are truly his own, wisely rooted in Americana’s rich soil. So it’s no surprise that his latest release I Want to Believe is his best album yet.

With a non-Confederate country flag in one hand and a freak flag in the other, Kalish covers everything from the Kingdom of Heaven to the hellish Kingdom of post-Trump America, and alien-helmed flying saucers maneuvering space in between. With standouts like the Tom Pettyish “Winter Phase Revisited” and the catchy, flat-out-bizarre “Roswell,” to the youthful pessimism of “Bullies Win Again,” this effort finds Nathan doing what he was born to do: write damn good songs and put them to work.

Buy his records. Go see him play. Request his music. Seriously, make him famous.

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Favorite Track: “Do You Ever.” The song starts off sounding like a Waylon Jennings throwback, and careens into as infectious of a chorus as you are about to hear, with strange vibes and traditional rhythms continuing the weirdo balance of earth and space that holds this album together.

Find out more at:   www.nathankalish.us

 

Five for Friday #5: Arctic Monkeys

5. Arctic Monkeys: Four out of Five (single)

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It just now hit me that I should have gone full blown apropos and made this song #4 instead of Selena Gomez. Oh well. No turning back now! Actually, it would be very easy to do so, given the excellent editing features afforded by WordPress. I’m simply too lazy.

Arctic Monkey’s frontman Alex Turner sort of sings like he’s swallowing a loaf of butter. But it has always worked for him. I personally really like their fast tunes best. This one’s more slow, but a little herky jerky. Solid stuff. Enjoy. I’m going to bed.

 

Five for Friday #4: Selena Gomez

4. Selena Gomez: “Back to You” (single)

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Shut. UP!

You’re just jealous because she signed this photo that she took exclusively for me. No, you’re right, she did not.

Even though many of you who have told me how much you’ve enjoyed this new “Five for Friday” thing will now never read it again, I seriously hope you at least give the song a chance. If you like good, sad, entrancing pop bullshit about getting your heart ripped out of your asshole then look no further than this song. I’ve listened to it about 47 times today. I like Selena Gomez. She can write phenomenal fuckin’ choruses, melodically and lyrically. I LOVE the first line of this song’s chorus:

“I wanna hold you, when I’m not supposed to.”

Well geez, how can you go wrong with that? We’ve all felt that EXACT sentiment, and she SINGS how it feels with simplicity and punch. God, why do I feel like I even have to defend myself for Selena’s sakes. Now I’m mad. Alright, just listen to this new track of hers, from Season 2 of “13 Reasons Why I Drank Four Pounds of Drano and Took a Dump in a Loaded Cannon” or whatever it’s called.