By last year 2021 I was pretty much exhausted. I couldn't tell what I felt anymore. I've been through a lot. A coherent life story implies an authentic identity and my life was in pieces. What happened? My eyes started to water. With hard work my musical career had a good following that was organic. The audience followed me from album to album and came out to my shows, still I bounced around from label to label over the years. It was maddening but I loved every minute of it. I loved the struggle. Then the pandemic hit.
Along the way I found the success I always wanted, overcame tragedy, and fell in love with a partner of my dreams. But now after rehab and a divorce I didn’t know anymore. My daughter Sofia was away at college doing her thing and my son Ben was in Canada skiing. Our last fight felt like the last time I would see him. I was alone.
I guess I had fucked up my personal life pretty good and maybe my career as an outlet of who I am or what seemed paramount to me. Despite having more freedom than ever to express myself I wondered why do I still feel so alienated? Why do I still struggle to figure out who I am at this point in my life? Shouldn’t I know? My search as an artist had led me off in multiple directions. I had covered a lot of territory in recent times, and now I was searching.
Yesterday, by midday tired of being alone in my room at the Wyndham Hotel, I decided to go up the street to a church. Looking around the congregation, I had a good look at the faces around me and I thought to myself what’s their story, and come to think of it, what's mine? What do they do for a living, what brought them here, where do they want to go, what are their passions their values, their dreams, what the fuck defines them as a person and for that matter what the fuck was mine any more. We all bowed our heads to pray…To be someone is to have a story, to have past experiences, character traits, to have goals and aspirations. They had community and that was something to hold onto.
Back in the day I’m not saying I had it all figured out, but just that I knew myself well enough for others to get to know me and to feel comfortable with myself in their presence. I got up and slipped out. And now standing on the steps of the church I looked down and my sight got blurry. I was struggling.
In short I walked out of the church building and onto the parking lot, my head was spinning and I tried to focus on the edge of the blacktop where there was a stand of trees on either side of a creek. They were wonderful, mysterious, dark and deep. A leaf floated in slow motion onto the edge of the pavement. And I imagined putting all of my concerns on to that leaf and placing it on a gentle stream and letting it float away. A sense of peace came over me momentarily and just that quickly the maelstrom of anxieties rolled back in.
Among other things I had lost connection with the natural world led astray by ambition and a sense of living life at a thousand miles an hour. Just then I felt my phone ring in my pocket. I fished my I-phone out and put the device to my ear. It was the voice of my friend and producer Billy Joe. My latest songs had been about dystopian futures as surely as I was feeling disconnected leading me and my audience further and further until we were alienated seemingly beyond repair. I had sung about ashen cityscapes… sterile rooms, vacuous- and half empty restaurants…In an english accent Billy Joe said, Hey I just got your message, send me what you have… you do have lyrics?
I interrupted “The thing is, Billy, There's two of me now. the real me that’s not sure who I am standing on an avenue in Austin, Texas and the one I used to be, the one the audience knows… and I feel like I owe them the old me”. Billy Joe responded “ never let someone tell you you can’t keep going forward and looking back and folding and reworking your experience, not even me….no rush you’ll figure it out, you always do”
It was all so easy for a time at least once I had had a real passion for life that fueled my production of real things that could be practiced with pride and dignity, yet that had now been reduced to purposelessness. Austin was supposed to be a kind of respite from everything all the time. By leaving L.A. I had run head first into an identity crisis. Brought on by displacement and the sense of overwhelming freedom one gets from being displaced.
Back at the hotel I saw a beautiful brown leather sofa in the hallway leading to the elevator and it reminded me of my home in Los Feliz. I sat down. It felt familiar and I wanted to go home. Unlike this immediate crisis that was about to unfold, the crisis of identity is not a problem that could ever be fully resolved, but is a fundamental aspect of the human condition. Just look at the way every generation experiences feelings of displacement in some form or another, how we always seem to romanticize a time just before the hours, just before minutes everything went wrong.
That afternoon, forecasts of snowfall sent people rushing out to the stores to stock up for what the news was calling the biggest snowfall this town had seen in a long time. I talked to the guy at the front desk and they told me typically the snow comes, melts by mid-afternoon, and we go on with our lives.
I wasn’t too worried about the snow forecast on Valentine’s Day. I’m sure we had plenty of food at the hotel and there was a cafe slash bakery and deli called fancy’s staples a block away. And so, as the snow fell and I confidently fell fast asleep.
I woke up in the middle of the night to a different world. The town was eerily quiet, Soon we would realize that the rolling blackouts weren’t rolling and the snow that was supposed to melt by mid afternoon never melted.
At first, that Monday felt like a “snow day.” On the ground were six inches of snow, an unheard-of amount here in Texas. But everyone was outside playing in it. Kids were sledding. People were building snowmen. I walked around the lobby. This was more of vacation condos and the building was mostly empty except for the maintenance crew in gray shirts that was carrying a ladder through the building.
The guys behind the front desk were on the phones staring out the glass walls and reassured me everything was going to be fine.
I spent the day intermittently walking around and reading the philosopher Kirkiguard and finally playing guitar by the soft light of the balcony.
Although we did not have power, parts of the city still did. And almost everyone had running water. Having been advised that we would get our electricity back by Tuesday, no one I talked to in my area seemed too concerned.
I went to bed that night only to wake up to an even worse situation. More of the city was losing power, pipes were starting to freeze, and the water system began to shut down. The cold continued, and there was no relief in sight. Officials stopped giving estimates of when power and water would be restored.
From my balcony the following evening I could see the once busy streets of downtown were now empty and dark except for the area around the hospital some distance away. The sound of nothing accentuated with the burst of what sounded like a giant metal plate being dropped echoed through the air. The world had suddenly become unrecognizable, chaotic, and frightening.
By Wednesday, the entire city was under a boil notice, as the treatment plant had also shut down. I looked up the city councilman's office and called. A member of Greg Serano’s staff told me I could go to the nearby community center that was doubling as a warming center. There would be other people around.
When I arrived I quickly got to work serving dinners. I wanted to get out and do something important so maybe I could help. I feel that in a small way by being around others we are doing something important, satisfying a fundamental need. I took my guitar and walked to the park across from the center, found a bench and sat down.