Bliss To Come
© 2018 Robert Rich.
Bliss to Come is a literary companion to Grace Session, an EP released by Rich People in spring 2018.
This book was edited by Danielle Chelosky and James Cassar.
This book was typeset and designed for print by James Cassar.
Printed by Blurb.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
(All the Real Girls)
Gray’s Ferry (Terrence)
In Loving Memory of Alan Cohen
The final years of your life gave me permission to be all the way and unafraid to be,
and your death told me to stop fucking waiting around.
Thank You For Sharing
1. AUTHOR’S NOTE
So… this entire book is just one long winded author’s note, but I would like to preface this overall piece with some general intentions. My primary purpose as an artist, a recovering addict, and a human is to provoke the type of thought that leads to change for myself and others. I don’t want to be original, and I don’t need to be understood. I’ve spent enough of my life exploring obscure trails that are off the beaten path, and climbing down different rabbit holes that result in self-destruction and suffering for myself and those who love me. I got clean from drugs at the age of twenty one and got involved in a twelve step program that has helped me to navigate the mainstream of society without needing to get high anymore. My recovery process is a continuous movement away from isolation and toward oneness with other human beings, my true self, and the forces in this universe greater than anything I can fully comprehend. I love to wax intellectual and philosophical with my fucking homies for days on end, but in the broad scope the whole thing really comes down to separation and unity for me. I started this band Rich People a couple of years back because I had an intention to build this vehicle where I could create an atmosphere of unity in some corner of the world. If it was just about a band at this point, I have better things to do with my time and there’s way too much service work to be done in the drug community to be spending this much time just rockin’ out and havin’ a good time. To make this a little bit more personal than I usually get in my blog or lyrics, I will say that I worked an eleventh and twelfth step in my recovery program a few years back. Those steps say a lot of things, but some force in this universe grabbed me out of the grip of active addiction and helped me to become a vessel of hope. It caused me to channel some sounds and words alongside the message I received in meetings out into a world that can always use more realistic optimism. Honestly this shit is all pretty dark, depressing, and intense. But, it seems to lighten up the rest of my life to release some morbid energy through this outlet and transform it into something better. I suggest anyone reading this to do whatever the fuck it is you want to do and just do the shit out of it. I love you very much.
Grant me the grace
To float into this fearful space
Foresight to see that bliss can be
And the patience to let it happen
When I was a 13 year old boy, I sat in a church pew for one of the last times. The boys wore white suits and waited to receive the body and blood of a fictional character who ruled the modern world with fear and promises of salvation. On that day of “confirmation,” the only thing that was confirmed for me was that “God” as I currently understood it was not real, didn’t love me, and would never help me. If God were real, I asked it to reveal itself in the form of enlightenment or euphoria. Nothing came. I spent the next decade convincing myself the world was a hostile place, isolating and slowly killing myself.
Quick backstory for anyone who’s just joining us…
I abused substances consistently for six years - from age fifteen to twentyone. I drank drinks, then I sold pills, then I did pills, then I shot dope, then I smoked crack. I only stopped when I was arrested, went to rehab, or took maintenance drugs. I woke up every day and could hardly make it from my couch to the trash can in the kitchen before getting sick. I was living to use and using to live. I write a very long-winded blog that goes into way more detail about this and my life struggles since being clean, but to put it simply, I was a dope fiend and a scumbag. Like my good friend Ray — who saved my life once upon a time — always says “I was the three worst things you can be in this life: a liar, a cheat, and a thief.”
I turned twenty-one and a month later I met Ray and got clean, and the rest is history.
It wasn’t until I was getting clean that the word “God” clicked for me. Somebody told me it could stand for Good Orderly Direction. I once considered myself the kind of guy who always just assumed I was God and in full control. “God” now seemed to sum up all the new things in my life that were keeping me clean. Somebody told me “God” could be the people at the meetings, the books that were helping me to start understanding myself, and just the idea that I wasn’t in control and invincible like I once believed. That was “God.” I could get with that.
I’ve read some philosophy books, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with people over the past seven years that really helped me hone in on my beliefs. I aim to treat the world well and eliminate personal separations from it so I can feel and do better. It’s about not being perfect and accepting my humanity while also striving to improve every day.
I recently decided that prayers and affirmations are basically the same thing. I say some things I want. I get focused on them. I incorporate them into my existence. Maybe it’s the law of attraction, maybe it’s astrology, maybe everybody’s sending me all the fucking good vibes — I don’t know. But I’m okay with not knowing now, which is also something that plagued me growing up: the incessant need to understand everything and be understood by everyone. I don’t really care about the whys and hows anymore. I just try to do the right thing for the right reasons, even though sometimes I do the wrong thing in subtle insidious ways.
That’s why life is a process. All of us operate alongside two things: wanting love and fearing its absence. We do the best we can with what we’re currently able to understand and accept. This is not a philosophy book, and this was only supposed to be an introduction, so I’ll end with this.
Religion destroyed the idea of spirituality for me. If it weren’t for a couple of drug addicts in a church basement, I would have died alone before I restored my faith in life, the world, and humanity. We pick up where Jacob’s Ladder left off… This is my recollection of the events that took place from when I moved to Philadelphia on November 24th, 2015 up to February 2017. This is Bliss to Come.
3. FIERCE GRACE
It’s just the way that it always starts
I’m seeking comfort at the end of fall
You make yourself so small
And you point your finger up like
It’s my fault that I’m tall
“Fierce Grace” is the initial survey I conducted to assess my patterns in relationships, whether romantic or platonic. This was the first song we wrote for Grace Session and we only meant for it to be a single. I moved from New Jersey to South Philly a year and a half (now three) ago to achieve a lifelong goal: to be part of the best city on earth. I dove into the city’s recovery community really fast because of how welcoming it is, but there were still a lot of growing pains. Every romantic partner I’d ever been with or attempted to be with was severely incapable of being with just me despite their insistence that we’d be an exclusive item. I focused on their dishonesty and their struggles with self-worth and esteem. But, I only looked at my own issues on a superficial level when examining the relationships’ failures. I’m all about self-examination and philosophizing the intricacies of my personality and defective character traits but I was unable to see a real solution. “Fierce Grace” is not an example of my true beliefs or knowledge about these situations, but more so the gut reaction to them. What I’m saying isn’t necessarily “right,” just fierce.
“It’s just the way that you talk to me.” I complain about the tone that people who have put me on a pedestal use to speak to and of me. I’m angered that people have the audacity to blame me later for their inability to see us on a level playing field when I exclaim “you make yourself so small, and you point your finger up like it’s my fault that I’m tall.” I’m just a person: a very standard person at that. Sure, I cultivate my couple of talents and showcase them, and sure, I made a decision to get clean and accept some help at a young age. Maybe I even have an “old soul,” but none of this really raises me above the line of human. Others’ allocation of assets in different places than mine also doesn’t take them above or below the line of human, but not everyone understands this. I’ve had people get semi-close to me who could never truly accept we were standing at eye level with one another. They often held a timid posture in my presence and suppressed the more colorful extremes of their personalities. I don’t have a problem with this, but I find half-people to be whole boring.
I made myself so small for so long and I won’t play the self-pitying victim any longer. I’m allowed to shine when I’m shining, and I no longer need to put others down when they’re shining either on some toxic self-centered, envious shit. I am unapologetically me. At the end of the day, I wasn’t meant to dance with everyone. I accept and am grateful that I have a lot of close friends that stay level, honest, and themselves when they’re around me, and I do my best to accept those who can’t. ”I could try to separate myself, or I could try to unify. I could try to understand what you need or just be what I like.”
As with most of the songs I write, there are multiple stories being developed. Here the second verse takes an aside for my feelings surrounding my move to Philadelphia and my struggle to make certain friends or fit in in certain places. “I could try to be everything to everyone all at once. I could put myself away and posture my front.” I feel like this brings the struggle with self-esteem and worth full circle. It’s me telling myself that if I just throw enough of myself into enough places and blend in as best as I can, then I’ll find some validation and acceptance. I’m a human being and not a chameleon, though, so of this I grew tired too.
If you’ve followed since Jacob’s Ladder, you might notice I’ve grown a lot. Grace Session really describes the second layer of self actualization that took place from fall 2015 thru winter 2017. It’s an isolated era of time that I tried to observe and report in broad strokes. To say it all here would take a while. It’s the phase where I stopped just building myself up and started realizing that I also deserved to be with people and in situations that matched the person I’ve been becoming. I can be full me in the places where I want to be, and I don’t have to do everything that everyone’s doing. I’ve grown into a completely new space and this is a time in my life where the size of my lifestyle and perspective shifts constantly make everything feel like starting over from scratch. The result of all my observations is Grace Session and I thank you for being a part of what we’ve done and what we strive to become.
4. BACK STEP
The shedding of our shells that takes place ever so slowly
Through the letting ourselves be alone without lonely
In the time spent toward soul we become better friends
And the shells we call clothes become piles of thread
At this point, following the songwriting process in chronological order doesn’t really matter. We wrote this second to last and rushed through it and passed over the details of this song with a minimum of concern. I was still working at the shipyard and I was working overtime on a Saturday when I started taking notes down for this song. I was the “fire watch” for a coworker because we had limited staff and limited work. In total, I might have “fire watched” eight hours in the entire five years I was at the shipyard and they were the most painfully boring hours of my life. I just stood by a gas manifold and a guy up on a high-reach 60 feet in the air with a torch shot sparks and molten slag all over the place to remove a piece from a ship that wasn’t a permanent fixture or part of the final product.
I’m standing down there, bored to death, and I had this instrumental rhythm stuck in my head all week. I hadn’t gotten a chance to try out guitar chords for it yet at home, so it was just an idea. I was always super judgmental of my coworkers and how fucking lazy they were so I started singing little bars to myself about it.
“I always start to finish just before you start to come up.” On the job I’m usually putting my nose down and finishing jobs while in my peripheral vision coworkers are still bullshitting and drinking coffees. On union jobs everybody gets paid the same, but not everybody hustles the same. “I’m at the top of the staircase as your elevator catches up.” I’ll sling my tools on my back and climb the ladders while other guys just sit at the bottom waiting for high-reaches and scissor lifts to take them up as if they’re physically incapable of just slinging the shit up to the job.
I approach the song with judgement and anger, but like most of our songs that begin with this exact tone, I eventually turn the focus on myself and see that this is really just a me problem. The chorus is written from a place where I recognize my egotism and overly-inflated sense of pride while also playing the tape out to what this kind of attitude typically leads to for myself. I fly too close to the sun and then I burn out.
The song’s frame was built in the shipyard, but humility is a principle that I’ve seen a lack of in myself in all areas of life. I know better, but nine times out of nine I burn myself out with unrealistic expectations and the resulting isolation. From this state, I’m then asking that no one judges me for all the judgmental vibrations I’ve thrown around. By this point in writing, plenty of stuff was swirling around in my life, so naturally the topic started to just grow new heads and run in different directions. I started imagining a romantic situation where I was just running away up the stairs of a building. So “if you’re ever looking up and see that I’m falling down” is me literally plummeting from atop this building. I saw it as either I had enough of myself and was ending it, or my ego had grown too large and I thought I could fly. The staircase and the elevator became literal and of course I was running on foot toward my ending faster than my unmotivated partner could even keep up on an elevator. If I take this scope and widen it at this point, I can see that I’ve always felt like I was in a race for the end. I’ve raced to end my suffering, my youth and its limitations, my drug use, my poverty and lack of comfort, of working mundane jobs as a result of my hustle with music, and my journey to enlightenment. I’ve always felt like life is a race with a clear finish.
During the writing of this EP, it hit me that everywhere I am right now was once a dream. Touring, owning a van, having good friends, being appreciated for who I am, having bandmates who are on the same page, and being loved despite whatever and being welcomed wherever I go. If I only focus on what I don’t yet have then I’ll never appreciate what I do. If what I have currently is reality and everything else is fantasy, fear or resentment, I can choose to accept where I’m at or be angry with it, but at least it’s a choice. More often than not, I choose optimism and to not view the world as a hostile place. This has helped me heal emotionally. I’m far less reactive and slightly less judgmental than I once was. I’ll get to anger, but for right now I can say that some of that volume has lessened as well. “I was wrong… the shell was all misaligned.” The second verse really plays more on my thoughts on my romantic patterns. This is one of the only literal lines about being a ship welder that I’ve ever written, and it refers to when a shell plate on a piece of the ship is not placed correctly which happens all of the time and calls for re-fitting. I’m comparing this exterior shell not lining up with my attitudes and behaviors that show outwardly not lining up with my true desire to love and be loved without reservation.
“…so I backstepped the seam and told myself I’d be fine” refers to me saying fuck it. I’ll leave it fucked up and someone can come repair it later. I’m just going to weld this seam up as-is. A seam is where two shell plates meet and a welder inserts filler metal and melts both steel shell plates’ edges and the filler metal together at a very high temperature in a coalescence process to create a bond that actually results in the three surfaces becoming one. “Backstepping” is the process of welding in long stitches that isn’t just starting at one end and going to the other. It’s picking out a meter at the end and welding it out, then going to the meter just before that and tying the end of the new weld into the starting place of the last weld. This got too technical already but if any welders are reading this at least they’ll know I’m a legit blue collar dirt-boy. My sun sign in astrology is Cancer which is represented by the image of a crab, and now that I’m all shelled up I say the most deeply dismissive line I’ve ever muttered. “Love is cool, love is fine, love is wondering if I have the time.”
I walk away from this song knowing that I’ve been looking at this life all wrong and with the disturbing realization that it always feels like it takes me longer than everyone else to figure out these simple things in life. Just be here, right now, and love.
5. (ALL THE REAL GIRLS)
Song Written By Robert Gaudiosi
I saw you laugh until you couldn’t breathe Lost my bike in a pile of leaves
This is my interpretation of the song “All the Real Girls” that my friend Robby wrote when we played in a band called Tight Lungs together. It was around the time when his mental health began to really deteriorate. When we were recording our final full length in winter 2013, he just went through a lot that led to his current state. Robby is one of only two hometown friends who I still talk to. The song is about all of the places where we hung out in high school and paints a picture of dirt kid life. By the end of the song, Robby’s just begging life and illness to not take away his memories of youth and simple fun. He has struggled a lot in the years since then and one of the most painful things I ever had to do was walk away from playing music with him. He has always inspired me as a musician and passed on a lot of simple wisdom that has dramatically influenced my style. If it weren’t for him I’d still be palm muting dark pop punk and hardcore riffs in songs that don’t fit those vibes.
Crazy story. When we were in the studio and I decided to try and record this, we wanted to do it more organically than most of the production on the record. Our producer John Naclerio had me sit in the drum recording room and just belt out the song while pounding the chords on some random acoustic guitar. I was instructed to sit on one side of the room, and he placed a mic on the opposite side of the room. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor and took about two or three failed passes as I didn’t plan this out or even really remember the chords. Then John told me to roll it again and I decided that whatever came out next would be the finished product. I belted one more out and it was right.
It wasn’t sonically impressive or vocally pristine. It was just what it is. It was my interpretation of my good friend’s broken-down sense of self. I was sitting on my phone the whole time, which was uncomfortable but I was too lazy to take it out of my pocket. I have an iPhone which is always locked, I do not use the iTunes Music app and have never loaded any music into my phone since my first smartphone in 2012. I use Spotify or YouTube or whatever.
Robby has always been a massive fan of Chris Carrabba (the singer of Dashboard Confessional) and especially his early work with a band called Further Seems Forever. Robby was always breaking into singing this one line “working class boys dreaming of girls from faraway points” and dancing around like Chris when we played shows together. I don’t know how it happened, but I finished that final attempt to play Robby’s song “All the Real Girls” and my back pocket started singing. iTunes Music had randomly decided to play “Snowbirds and Townies” by Further Seems Forever. I was an emotional wreck and erupted into the control room where John and the boys were sitting and tried to explain how crazy that was. They understood and from there the experience we had in the studio just deepened more each day.
Despite the fact that we don’t play together anymore, I love Robert Gaudiosi, Dave Hurban, and Mike Corrao with all my heart and always want to see the best happen for them. More on this to come, but “Back Step” has “All the Real Girls” in parentheses as a tribute to Robby and that band.
6. COMMON SOUND
You made me laugh until I couldn’t breathe
I’m just sorry I had to leave
Robby’s been going through a lot for a long time at this point and a lot of his problems revolve around paranoia and his schizophrenia diagnosis. I could tell him that I love him and his music until I’m blue in the face, but he often just couldn’t believe that. He just talked a lot about about his abilities to entertain people slipping away. I set out to write a song about how much I appreciate him so there would be no room for denial anymore. If I’m willing to literally write a song, record it, and put it out as a public statement of my love for this guy, I hoped he would always be able to see it while in a funk as a definite reminder of his value to at least me.
I started it off with a witty line reminiscent of conversations we’ve always had about not writing music cool enough for the interesting underground “hipster” college kids to back. We were always playing extremely emotive and punkish post-hardcore music, and the people we once perceived as the enemy or the “cool kids” always kind of shunned us. It was if our expression was low-brow and not fine art enough for our time. We’ve always looked like uneducated dirt kids and played music about the same way. The song quickly just progressed into a letter that basically says “I miss you and you’re still great if you wanna be.”
I mention our bandmates from Tight Lungs in the second verse which starts off with a twist on a line that he once wrote that I so tastefully reinterpreted and gently placed on “All the Real Girls.” While he said “I saw you laugh until you couldn’t breathe, lost my bike in a pile of leaves,” we pick up with the exact beat from that Tight Lungs song just after I exclaim in a sullen, defeated voice: “you made me laugh until I couldn’t breathe, I’m just sorry I had to leave.” I didn’t want to say anything that wasn’t caring and encouraging, but by the end of the song I’m expressing pure anger: anger with our departure and his illness. My voice breaks like it always broke when we played together. “I can’t be your crutch anymore, and I just can’t get why I just can’t catch you.” I scream it every time we play it, almost as if I scream it loud enough it’ll reach him in his room and he’ll know I love him. I step away from anger to repeat “I just can’t get why I just can’t catch you” in a delicate sensitive saddened tone that brings it back to the exact nature of my love for him and the pain it brings me to watch him suffer with schizophrenia. I wish I had more experience and knew how to be a better friend to him.
At this point, a lot of things have really separated us. I’m a recovering addict and can’t put myself in certain situations as often as I’d like to be with certain people. I have to keep myself safe and sane for those who rely on me now too. I’ve watched a lot of friends die because of my exposure to a day-in, day-out addiction program and while it’s painful and numbing I’m working to be more vulnerable and continuing to push myself to let people in despite the risk that they could die or lose their minds at any time. I have a few close friends who are schizophrenic and a million who are recovering addicts and while we keep it light and humorous a lot of the time, it’s a very grave and serious situation on any given day. This EP is the sign of yet another layer being pulled away from my shell and an affirmation that my actions are truly beginning to align with my new found perspectives. I’m no better than anyone, but I can say that what little peace I’ve gained in this life is the direct result of me wanting to get better and accepting that I can’t do it alone.
7. (NOT STRONG)
I know now you’re just weak
But I guess writing this kind of makes me less
There was a time when I tried too hard
And I came to low places where you choose to stay
There came a time to change
When the ends of my days all felt the same
But I’ll just shut my mouth and forget this
I wanted to include a closing parenthesis for the founding member of my previous band, so we changed the tone and shifted gears into a spacey version of an old Tight Lungs interlude titled “Not Strong” to close out “Common Sound.” I originally wrote this piece as a reactionary verse to a naysayer at one of our shows. We played a hardcore show with Expire right when they signed to Bridge Nine alongside Wrong Answer and The Mongoloids. A singer of one of the bands was notorious for finding something at the show that he disagreed with and then bashing it on the mic for attention.
We were the band that drew people for the show and humbly sat and laughed as he tore us apart and tried to make us feel small for having been so influenced by Title Fight. Title Fight changed the game and everybody was influenced by them. At the same time, Title Fight would never claim to be the originators of most of what they’re about. They’re a group of dudes who have a long list of influences all over the musical spectrum and they distilled it into an algorithm for songwriting that really brought multiple scenes together. I’ve been playing in bands since I was about 13 (2003) and they all pretty much had the same basic structure, just within different genres. The Title Fight format definitely had an influence and gave bands like us more permission and encouragement to join certain genres together, but this dude just really tried to lay into us.
Like I said, we were the draw band. Most of our homies who filled out the show attendance just watched, listened, and laughed. It wasn’t really about us; it was just this dude’s schtick. Even one of his band’s music videos has him taking a mic while his band took the instruments from a band that they deemed corny at a local show, just because they sold merch and spoke positively (in a satirically corny way) to their audience. He would go on rants 13 all over the internet about how cool he was and how not cool the rest of the world was. He wasn’t just this one person to me though. He was a symbol of every divisive asshole I had ever met.
Long before I got to this point where I have defined who I want to be, I always looked at people like this and said I don’t want to be that. Now that I’ve learned about empathy I realize that I actually feel for this guy. He separates himself just like I do and because of it, I’m sure that he lives with a degree of pain. I don’t “hate” him anymore, I just feel for him. That’s growth for me. This week he was called out for some sort of sexual abuse and instead of hopping on the internet to kick him while he’s down, I’ve just left it to the people who were affected and the people who are qualified to talk about this to do so. There was no need for me to spew hate rhetoric out of personal spite. I think the real solution here was to allow victims to be heard and then allow people to help them and society heal, while also becoming educated confidants for victims who may be too scared to speak up.
Bliss to come
Come to me
After this brief intermission from my primary focus, I feel like we’ve traveled away from a specific organic place and floated off into space inside of a glassy bubble like a scene from The Fountain or something. “Safehull” starts to pull me back down to earth with an abrupt, unsettling cough: the sounds are but light hums and harmonics. It is here, in the middle of Grace Session, that I am reintroduced to my underlying fear of love, stripped of all rationalization and justification for my avoidance of romantic and platonic intimacy. “It’s been so long since I tried love, running scared so long that I’ve misplaced what from.” Most of the lines in this song are so cut and dry they demand no explanation. The verses are pleading for some bliss to come to me, but I completely ignore the possibility that this might be it, that I might be fine. Over the past six years, I’ve slowly allowed a lot of love into my life without even realizing it or giving myself credit for having maintained it.
But forget that. I’ve never felt any other way so long as I’ve lived. There has been no joy and there has been this gloomy fog of depression lingering over my every thought for 27 years. You can see I have this very extremely dramatic sense of the world that skews my memory, foresight, and even my sensory perception. When I’m in a high place, I feel like the world is in a high place and has always been and always will be that way, and when I’m in a low place the opposite seems true. I can pass over big things that typically shake people to the core, but the little agitating things are magnified and blown way out of proportion. It’s weird being me, but in no way shape or form am I unique.
I’ve listened to people share themselves enough times to realize that this thought process is common and I’m not alone. Because of this, I accept my flow of feelings around this topic, write them out, share them with close friends, then move on from them. The chorus of this song is the acceptance of my dilemma, the rest is me asking for change. I have too much painful awareness of myself in these situations to not try to be different moving forward.
Once I met a beautiful woman who took me into her life and brought me back to life in many ways. We dated for some time and after a few months we broke up, but she remains one of my closest and dearest friends. I hold my opinion of her up high and I accept her appreciation and love for me. I go to her with everything and she literally just took me out to dinner the night before last so we could continue to talk each other through some similar struggles that we’re going through. I don’t really say it lately because we broke up and I don’t ever want to be confusing, but I love her very much, and the reasons that we aren’t together have nothing to do with her. I’ve taken a step towards growth in intimacy, especially in friendships, and despite the way I’m describing my recent romance I’ve been told by close friends that that was a huge step for me. It’s all a bunch of lessons in disguise. I’m allowing myself to look for others like these.
I remember the drugs
I always wanted to feel love
Now it’s all that I’m scared of
And I just want to forget
I always wanted to record the introduction that we used to play before playing our song “Post-Virgin” live. Since it really ties in with the subject matter on this EP, I threw it in as a transitional piece between two moods.
I made a choice six and a half years ago to put down the drugs and was left to deal with myself and everything that made me feel depressed, angry, and anxious from my tween years that I started avoiding with substance.
There’s no fluff here, just honesty
10. GRAY’S FERRY (TERRENCE)
And I just move my feet
I don’t want to keep coming back
I just want to stay
I just want to stay
I just want to stay
Two days before we left for the studio to start recording, we jokingly played a funk beat with a big bass line over a loop of the melodies in “119.” The melody was reversed and played on repeat in half-time causing a neat dissonance and we all simultaneously agreed that we could make it sound like us. We went to the studio Wednesday and over the course of three days we completed all drums, bass, and guitars for everything. The track sounded really cool and was just going to be a really quick interlude between songs. I started writing lyrics for it in the car before work the following week and wrote a bunch of really complex things comparing my moves between four apartments this past year. I moved to South Philly in November 2015 and then lived in Fishtown and Gray’s Ferry. I finally ended up in West Philly about 7 months ago where I finally found the peaceful balance I’ve been looking for since I came here. It gets a lot deeper than that, but I basically saw Gray’s Ferry as the in-between spot that bridged my life in the city.
I had these complex lyrics written that would tie this whole story together and fulfill my desperate need to always be fully understood. A couple days before recording vocals, I went up to New York. My good friend Terrence decided it was in his best interest to go out and use again. He’s a heroin user like I once was. Because of the use of fentanyl and other things when “cutting” it now, people die very quickly and rarely get away with long term runs without many ODs like we used to. I know better than to try to control addicts, so when he stumbled back in for his white key tag I made it a point to go out after the meeting and eat burritos with him.
Some love to bombard people who return with all of their own opinions and pressure. Some recovering addicts love to just baby and pamper our wounded. All are necessary to a recovery fellowship, but I’m one of those that keeps it simple: using is a choice and you made a shitty one that’s not acceptable, but I love you and you’re still a great person so let’s keep it moving. What are we going to change about our approach? I’m nobody’s fucking parent, social worker, or god, so I can mostly only lead by example anyway
So we ate and laughed and left, and as Terrence walked me to my car we had a great discussion about writing music. We talked about that idea that songs aren’t written by musicians. Songs must be channeled from somewhere else. We noted some great artists explaining their true masterpieces came from out of nowhere and that they were just the vessel that manifested those songs into physical existence. We agreed and I told him about the last lyric I finished for the EP which was the line “there must be something about my ways that says go love someone else” from “White Mark” and how when I wrote it after work that day I actually wrote “there must be something about my face that says go fuck someone else.” He knew who and what I was talking about and we laughed. It was okay. Terrence was okay. And I’m okay.
I only wanted to convey one thing to him. Feelings are feelings. While we’re in them, they can feel like they’ve always been the truth and it’s easy to forget that we ever felt any other way. But, to stay clean, we need to just act as if everything is always okay. I just have to not allow my attitudes and behaviors to reflect the subjective nature of my thoughts and feelings. I can’t throw away this life I’ve gained just because sometimes I feel like a piece of shit who’s going to die alone and always be alone.
I don’t want to ever reset my clean-time. It’s painful and most people struggle to ever get that glow back and even more people just go in and out of the “revolving door” until they die out there. I’ve watched it a hundred times. I prefer to stay here, just for today.
As I write this right now, Terrence celebrated 1 year clean yesterday on the exact day that I hit six and a half years. I have chills writing this because I couldn’t have planned this any better. It just happened. I love him to death and he has truly grown into a person who I admire. I didn’t want to care about an addict again when I wrote this song because I have had too many leave and die on me, but I’m glad today that I allowed myself to love and be vulnerable again.
11. WHITE MARK
I Will be all the way
And unafraid to be
I’ve identified my problem: the discomfort of staying the same now outgrows the discomfort of making actions to change. I was going through a process of looking at my defective character traits for the second time in my life. I did this same thing a few years ago and I got a lot out of it but this time around I really started to see something about me. “White mark” is a term used in production welding at the shipyard for a mark made with white chalk by a team leader to signify a defect in a weld or plate. In shipwelding there can’t be as much as a tiny little pin-hole or any tiny beebee’s of weld spatter because it will make the paint in that spot weak and prone to eventual corrosion with time. In the process that this song is based around I’m seeking to have defective character traits removed so the term felt relevant as this was the last song I would write before leaving the shipyard.
“So let’s stick to the truth, it’s just me and you” is a line that I wrote to myself as if I had a clone or a mirror sitting across from me. When there’s no audience I don’t see the point in lying, but I’ve lied to myself about so many things for such a long time. Some of the layers of denial are very subtle and insidious.
I’m a firm believer in the idea people are inherently good and that we all do the best we can with the information that we currently accept. Some people’s truths are different and even my truth has changed many times so who knows how I’ll feel reading this piece five years from now. I insist in the first line that I tell myself the truth and in the second line try to comfort myself and reassure myself I’m safe to say what I need to say. There are always two me’s or maybe more. I believe there’s a loving, wise me, an ego-driven, fearbased me, and then a mediator that listens for the most plausible action to take and does or says that. This is probably far fetched to some people, but the visual it creates definitely keeps it simple for me and allows me to accept these things about myself.
It’s often thought that if we try to control, imprison, beat, bomb, or shoot the defects out of people that things will somehow get better. It’s really easy for a recovering addict to see through this rationale but most of our society just sees the surface-level solution. Society offers some dialogues like the following:
“This person is using drugs, let’s lock ’em up or throw them into a corrupted rehabilitation/pharmaceutical system. Fixed!”
“This person is acting erratic, or depressed or suicidal, let’s drug em’ up. Fixed!”
I wrote out more examples but it just turned into an Ice-T/John Mulaney thing so I stopped. Hopefully what I’m saying is understood. When the bridge drops in with “I could try to suppress or control, but I just won’t let you go,” I’m referring to my failed attempts to control defective things about myself.
For example, I’ve suppressed my anger for years. Anger is a real thing. I can’t talk with a soft voice and avoid it. Nine times out of nine I will implode. I will make passive aggressive jabs in my “soft voice” and eventually I will explode on some truly crazy shit when the opportunity presents itself. Trust me, I’m a legitimately scary person when I explode because it’s usually from two years of pent-up aggression. Around the time I wrote this song I had a blowout. I talked about it afterwards for about a week. I freaked out on my boss at the shipyard and just started breaking shit. I was just breaking shit and punched a sixty-pound welding box that went way further than I could have ever punched it on a normal day. I punched the steel bulkheads of a ship then stomped down three sets of ladders and continued to punch the fuck out of a hundred something-pound metal welding power source. I lost my fucking mind.
When I use my hands, I truly do get scared of what my body can do. I’m double scared that I will put my hands on another human being and end up in jail and/or regret, guilt, and shame for the rest of my life. I had to come back to the realization that I would be unable to control and suppress this shit, that it’s okay to be angry. I needed to play more shows, get back into the gym, and get the fuck out of a job that was suffocating my will to exist. I gotta fucking talk about this shit. I gotta write in the fucking blog. I gotta write songs. And most of all I gotta laugh with my homies. I had a lot of weight holding me down and wrote this song to remind myself that I’m not responsible for the way I was wired, but I need to do my best to accept that so I can be less of a piece of shit every day. I trust the forces of the universe to remove these traits in their own time and, in the meantime, depend on reaching out for help instead of white-knuckling it all the time.
Grace Session was one big way for me to tell myself I was once one way but I’ve changed. I deserve better things and I gained my foundation, so it’s time to pursue my passions. Some of the comforts of blue-collar life will go away for a time, but it’s now or never. I wanna be all the way, and unafraid to be. I left the shipyard, started touring, and became even more unapologetically myself. This EP is a reminder to just keep it moving.
So I will now.