I wrote this song while living in Nashville, where- just as in L.A.– it was a great struggle to go out and perform every night while living in the grips of extreme shyness and stage fright.
In my Nashville apartment I had two bathrooms, so one of my anti-shyness therapies involved filling one bathtub with scalding hot water and one bathtub with ice cold water and then running back and forth between the two to submerge myself. It was not fun, but as usual I was hoping that causing myself physical pain would make performing less painful by comparison.
The one “therapy” that actually worked- at least in the short term- was putting sage oil on a handkerchief and breathing through it while driving to the venue. By the time I had reached my destination, inhibitions seemed to have magically vanished, and I could walk onto the stage with only a healthy handful of butterflies..But then I read that sage oil is toxic, and that was the end of that.
I feel like I should apologize to the whole world for posting up so many paintings of people who aren’t wearing clothes. I can understand why people don’t like pictures of naked people, because generally I don’t like them myself.
Astrology believes that, on average, half of a person’s life is what they make of it, and the other half is in the control of outside forces. The exact ratio, however, varies from person to person. For some people, the majority of their life is a reflection of the choices they have made. For others, the majority of their life was completely outside of their control. Sometimes I feel that I fall slightly into the latter group.
So, although I don’t wish to tell the story of WHY I ended up painting naked people, I will say this- that I don’t generally enjoy being surrounded by nakedness, BUT once you have begun to paint naked people, it is only a matter of time before they no longer seem naked to you, and they just start to seem like people. Their bodies become a symbolic extension of their inner life and the workings of their minds. And once you reach this point, you have to be CAREFUL- because the figures that have become so harmless and normal in your own mind, still have the power to trip off ideas of perversity and lewdness in other people.
So, in closing, I would like to say that although nakedness is frequently interpreted as a symbol of moral slackness and crudity, sometimes people are naked just because there are no more clothes to wear.
When I first moved to Portsmouth NH, it was summer, the season when Portsmouth is at its most dreamy and picturesque, and I was enthralled by the ocean, the seafood, and the whole nautical theme that takes over the town during peak tourist season. All I wanted to do was go to the beach, eat fried seafood, and most of all SHOP- for oceany trinkets and this and thats in every shade of blue.
I also read books- anything related to the ocean and this part of the country. I wrote this song, Starfishy, while reading “Among the Isles of Shoals” by Celia Thaxter, in which she describes the crazy hooligans who lived on the islands. She wrote about how they loved to sing long songs, with lots and lots of words, in high squeaky voices, and how one of them would always begin the song on a ridiculously high note until another one would say “Too high, too high, Jim… how about this?” and then suggest a note even higher… That is how it is with me, whenever I hear a song in my head and write it down, it is always ridiculously high, and then when it comes time to sing it I don’t know what I am supposed to do.
This song was inspired by the flags in Portsmouth NH, which seem to be kept at half-mast about 200 days a year. It seems strange to me- how do we decide which people and tragedies are worth lowering the flag for? I would probably never lower the flag, because it feels disrespectful to those who passed away on all the other days.
This is another song that was inspired by the Odyssey and also the color black. At the time, I thought rap music was especially inspiring, so I borrowed a few things from it: 1) Sampling phrases from famous songs. 2) Including references to how tough and awesome I am (although it isn’t a song about me), and 3) Including my name in the song (although it isn’t a song about me).
One of the worst things about writing songs is that people tend to assume all the songs are about you, which can sometimes be embarrassing. Although it is even worse when people assume you have written a song about them. That is truly a nightmare.
This is from a series of songs I wrote inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, but even more so, I think, inspired by the color black, which was, at the time, my least favorite color. There may be some truth to the idea that what you lack in yourself you attract in others, because the more I tried to avoid wearing black, the more I attracted friends who wore black exclusively. That’s why it is dangerous to be too nice, too good, or too positive- you will end up attracting serial killers as friends. But if you REALLY love being nice, maybe it’s worth the risk.
I wrote this after going to the library to check out some children’s book. Frequently, I think children’s books are the best books. They are simple and clear- pure content and vision, stripped of all complexity and intellectualism.
Great Works for Adults tend to be complicated and fibrous, and when you do go through the trouble of digesting them, they rarely have the calorie content of books written for children.
The Wind in the Willows vs. Crime and Punishment…
Mark Twain vs. Hemingway…
To me, there is no contest as to which books speak to us most deeply and directly.
At the time I wrote this song, I was very into soldiers. I had recently read Gandhi’s biography, and he talked about how he thought of himself as a soldier and tried to live accordingly.
I also tried to be a soldier, and pushed myself to be brave as much as possible, which caused me to have no respect for men whose primary goal in life was to pleasure themselves.
But, being by nature shy and cowardly, it took A LOT of work to be brave, and in the end wasn’t worth it… just like a naturally plump person trying to be super thin, or a skeletal person trying to be obese, it is bound to cause some strain when you try to diverge too much from your nature.
So, I had to come up with many crutches to help me push beyond my emotional comfort zone, such as taking ice cold baths (covering my whole body, including head dunks), and eating insane amounts of ginger. I disliked ginger, but found that if I ate enough (and it took a LOT) I was no longer able to feel butterflies in my stomach, just a warm gingery sensation.
I guess the Shanghai Trio were the embodiment of who I was trying to be- three beings dressed in red, made of fire, and afraid of nothing.
This isn’t a song about ghosts, per se, but rather the ideas and illusions that we sometimes mistake for reality. I wrote it about someone who lived in New York City. On the one hand, I admire people who live in big cities for their toughness, confidence, and energy, but their heads do seem to get filled with very strange ideas as to what life is all about.
Sometimes I think that we get our ideas about the nature of life from the tallest structures in our environment, whether they be mountains, churches, skyscrapers, or a big mansion set up on a hill. If this is true, it could explain the brains of city people, since they would be getting their ideas more from human sources than from natural ones. Not that this would necessarily make their ideas less valuable, but just more transient, since the thoughts and ideals of humans change much faster than the minds of mountains.