Friday, September 09, 2005

Out of the Closet and into the Studio

we leave boston tomorrow for new york state, where we're going to record Album Two. in the woods. it's a far cry from the urban wasteland of brooklyn where we recorded the first record. for weeks the only wildlife i saw were ferrel cats and pigeons and the only green was the poor, abused park (the size of a large postage stamp) a few blocks from martin's....and occasional weeds straining out from under their sidewalk oppressors. typical city shit. this will be the polar opposite...the studio is On A Mountain and there is nothing but woods and deer. i may go into shock.

i've been easing into it, however. i spent the weekend in the country and now is where i have to fully come out of the closet. first of all i must state for the record that i am NOT A HIPPIE. ok i've said it. i do not like the dead, i don't believe in crystals or astrology, i generally hate tie-dye, i DO own a pair of birkenstocks but I find them very UNCOMFORTABLE so I never fucking wear them (they always fall off my feet...what's up with that?), i cannot hackey sack, and I do not smoke weed or play frisbee. i am not a hippie. i'm also not a goth, or a punk, or anything else very categorizable. i'm......a slob? that works. that's just fine. but not a hippie. godammit, the guys on NIN called us hippies and i supposed everything's relative. they never went around barefoot and they spent more time on their hair than we did. and probably collectively shaved more of their bodies than i did. but i am Not A Hippie. OK. enough. i do, however, do lots of yoga (this we know) and I meditate almost every morning. i've had a growing interest in zen buddhism and meditation for many years and every so often I will go to western massachusetts for a retreat. people always wonder and ask what I do there.

so here goes. i am coming out of the zen closet. the retreats last from anywhere from 3 to 8 days and basically you practice sitting meditation, walking meditation, mindfulness, and that's it. you eat. and sleep. the retreats are conducted in complete silence. you don't read, or write, or discuss, or do ANYTHING, you just clear your mind, pay attention to every little breath and detail, and it's incredibly difficult but also wonderful. to explain is hard. the place itself is beautiful...a transformed turn-of-the-century monastery that was bought in the 70's and has been a functioning vipassana (insight) meditation center since then. (you can go to the site: it's buried in the woods near a small town, the grounds are gorgeous and the building itself has tons of character. This was my fourth retreat. i found myself in tears the morning i left, reading about new orleans and the government and the people dying and the general mess. our country is sad. so sad. what to do? go to the woods and sit in a zen center.

So, without going into painful detail (and believe me, i could....Details upon Details about the pattern of the floor in the meditation hall...which i, I spent three days in silence, sitting on a cushion or walking on wooden floorboards staring at my slow-moving socks, watching inside, watching what was most apt to creep into my mind. it's a fascinating experience. to try to know yourself, to watch your mind, to allow quiet to enter a place usually so noisy that even in an empty room the volume of your brian chatters so endlessly with nonsense that you barely even notice that you're alive. especially lately, with all that's been going on, I was interested to see what would come up. We just went through personnel changes in the band and i think i've decided that the most unfun part of this job is hiring and firing crew. It just plain sucks. We're leaving to record the next album and I figured my mind would be filled with ideas, worries, anticipations and changes but actually, i didn't think about it at all. I think I'm Ready. We've been playing the material so much that I could record this album with my eyes glued shut. No, what crept into my head most was relationships, past and present, and occasional movies and songs. going to see avril recently proved a major disaster, as "Sk8r Boi" (which I'm not that fond of) and "Complicated" (definitely better) both bounced around in my brian relentlessly. this was so hilarious to me that I don't know where to begin. buddhism and avril. do they mix? zen would say so. zen would say: "the tree is green. the sky is blue. avril bleaches her hair."

I also found my brain wandering to the scenes from the DVD footage, which was sealed and delivered the night before i left. I feel strange about it. It is certainly not at all what I expected it to be, yet it's not bad. It's just very different than what I'd planned, and the day and the footage seems foreign. I was in a serious mood that day, so I look serious. That's the way it works. Is that who I've become? Some serious person? Maybe I have. On days of shows I tend to talk less, play less and take everything a bit more seriously. it was a stressful day...brian's drums were MIA on a plane somewhere, the power on the block went out, the problems piled up higher and higher....but unlike hollywood or reality TV, there was little drama. Just shrugs and "whatever. shit like this happens all the time. we'll figure it out." certainly the best life approach, but not such gripping cinema. my mind wandered over the scenes I had seen, replaying them in my head...wondering how it will look to other people. to make myself feel better I think of it as a snapshot rather than a portrait. a snapshot taken with a disposable camera in a drunken stupor...when you capture the spirit even though the lighting ain't quite right. the DVD tugged at my brain. think about me. think about me. fucking. i would often get caught up and then snap back to reality ten minutes later. back on the cushion. back with the sound of my own breath and 80 other people all quietly watching their own little dramas, their own mind-movies, gently pulling themselves back. practicing together. important.

There were about 80 folks on this retreat; the average age maybe 40 or so. there were a few incredibly old people and it was so inspiring to watch them moving through this rigorous schedule...with the pain in their bodies and the natural slowness in their step. in total silence everyone ate together in a large dining hall, wonderful vegetarian food prepared lovingly by the cooks, in total silence everyone sat and meditated in the hall. everyone stays in small dorm-type rooms with a bed, a chair, a sink and a mirror. the schedule is the same every day. every time period is announced by a bell-ringer (volunteers from the retreat, I rang for work period at 7:50 am) and it's a gorgeous sound, a thai bell struck with a rubber mallet. i would walk through the halls and grounds feeling like paul revere not in a rush. hey. you. wake up. the british aren't coming. i love ringing the bell. listening to it reverberate for bill hicks would say, it squeegeed my third eye. without mushrooms! back to the schedule....wake at 5:30, in the dark, and sit from 6 to 7. breakfast from 7-8. then work period, in which everyone had a different job to help the upkeep of the center, mostly cleaning and cooking (i scrubbed pots...mindfully and slowly). another sit from 9-10, then walking meditation (basically just walking in a ten foot space back and forth as slowly as possible while focusing on one point and keeping your mind's very funny to watch people doing this en masse's looks sort of like Night of the Living Dead, except pretty). then back to the meditation hall for a talk from the teacher (who was a wise and wonderful 83-year old german woman...just amazing, though somewhat senile), then lunch, then a brief break (I usually grabbed a nap or went for a walk in the woods). 2:30 more walking meditation, 3-4 sitting, 4-5 walking, then more sitting, 6-7 dinner, another talk, then more walking, then a late sitting and then bed. then wake up and do it all again. It's fantastic. It's monastic. It's....a meditation retreat, what the fuck? I don't know, this is really hard to explain. before I dig myself into a hole i will leave it be.

i've spent the last few days just taking time to myself, drinking tea, catching up, going to lots of voice lessons and rehearsing with brian and sean (our Esteemed Producer). we've narrowed it down the 16 tracks and we'll probably end up ditching two so that the record ends up with a total of 14. in the morning i'll pack my bags and drive to the woods, where we will make a record. wish me luck. i will be pretty much offline for the few weeks there, but i'll check in occasionally to make sure nobody's dying and that new orleans hasn't been secretly transformed overnight into a giant army base.



p.s. a final note for some reading: all i will say is that i would recommend meditation to anyone even remotely interested. i've never seen meditation NOT help anyone with anything in their life be it stress, scatterbrained-ness, depression, existential crisis, whatever. know thyself. it all starts there and then everything else slowly changes for the better. it's important to point out (since some people know Nothing about meditation or buddhism) that meditation is not religious, or even spiritual. it's practical. it's literally just the practice of sitting and sharpening your awareness. that's it. there are no rules, no rituals. you do not need to believe in anything. all of the trappings of religion and chanting and mantras are secondary and useless. it's pretty foolproof. one of the early books that hooked me was "Dropping ashes on the buddha"by seung sahn. he is a korean teacher with an amazing no-bullshit writing style....i read that back in 2000 and it cemented my desire to practice regularly:
another great book for the curious is "Buddhism Plain and Simple" by Steve Hagen. awesome writer, direct and a good quick read: