Future Folk by Michael Dustin Youree

I danced in the middle of an Upper West Side living room leading a group of toddlers in my acoustic guitar rendition of Rock Around the Clock when I noticed one of the kids drifting off. His interest in the playgroup jam session was short-lived. He’d had enough of this blond clown hammering away at iconic rock tunes. The nanny went to wrangle him. I was losing his attention. Time to pull out the tricks. Oh yes. This was not my first rodeo.

Indeed I’d been doing this for years – playgroups, birthday parties, kids events. I’ve played more high-dollar first birthdays than I can remember and taught half of Uptown’s three-year-olds what it’s all about. That’s the Hokey Pokey, folks. Don’t believe me? Just watch.

Back to my story. I stopped with the 50s jams and sat on the floor. The nanny was off in some other room trying to steer the lost sheep back to the herd without much success. I began a familiar tune. “Twinkle twinkle little star…” Within seconds I saw the little rebel pop out from around the corner. He was caught in my tractor beam, stammering toward me, like in a trance. I wasn’t surprised. It works pretty much every time.

I never saw myself becoming a folk musician. You know, those acoustic guitar playing singer-songwriters who drone on with the same three chords and the same tired melodies to whatever empty venue or street corner will have them. The likes of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan didn’t really float my boat. But that all changed (sort of) when I took a gig at Kidville and my transformation into the Pied Piper commenced. Since that time I’ve had four rotations of a list hundreds of songs long wrap around the side of my 1960s Yamaha acoustic guitar. It’s the one I learned on, but only became skilled at by playing Mary Had a Little Lamb for the thousandth time.

Since those years of entertaining New York’s most privileged boys and girls, I’ve taken that guitar around the world (#SOTW series, anyone?). There’s a running fantasy that my beat-up tank of an instrument will one day represent me in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yes, this choirboy who became a Broadway nerd, who became a rocker did eventually become something of a folk musician.

I was walking through London a few years back, my guitar strapped on my back, when a guy chased me down from his restaurant job. “You Sugar Man,” he said in a thick Asian accent. I didn’t know what he was talking about. “Yeah, yeah. Okay,” I said with a half smile. I kept on walking. Five minutes later he came and found me playing music on Leicester Square. He handed me a flyer. “You Sugar Man.” The flyer was for a new movie coming out – Searching for Sugar Man. Eight months later it won the Oscar for best documentary.

I’m not sure why this apron-wearing stranger felt so compelled. I look nothing like the actual Sugar Man, Rodriquez. But perhaps it wasn’t the man he was referring to, but the swagger of a struggling troubadour passing through a crowd. It transcends individuals. It’s more like folklore.

I’ve come to understand that folk is bigger than a style of music. As I embrace my own folky-ness I’ve discovered that it grasps at where we come from, and is found in what brings us together. Folk defined is “people in general” or, more thoughtfully, groups of people that carry culture or traditions. Music does that!

I’ve spent my life studying and creating music, yet I find myself faced with a similar reality as that which faced Rodriguez decades ago. There’s been no popular success. And like him, I’ve fought with abandoning it all together. But through the frustration, music stays with me. In fact, it penetrates other endeavors like Wanderwest and Hoodies for the Homeless. Even as I curse the business of it, the path has pressed on. And now, a new moment.

Next week I head into the studio to create a solo album. It’s not my first, but it might as well be. The first is a collection of two different EPs done at different times. Interestingly, it sort of represents my Peter Pan-like entry into the world of folk, due in part to the minimalist, hasty, penny-pinching way in which it was made. It had no choice but to be folk. I find myself even scoffing at its traditional sound. This new one will not be that.

I refer to it as “future folk”, a working title that embodies the kind of balance I’m attempting to find. The balance between the expected and the unexpected - those melodies, changes and sounds that feel familiar mixed with some unusual surprises. I will fuse analog sounds and digital sounds. I want to tell stories that speak to our collective human experience while also unleashing my alienation. I stare backward and forward, and attempt to express where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. I open the floodgates of pain and loss, hope and love as I reconcile my reckless childishness with the man in the mirror.

Okay. Okay. Slow down. There’s some humble pie over there. Time to take a bite. I go back and read that and roll my eyes at myself. The reckless child says, “Shut up, idiot, and just play.” Uh huh. High-minded, self-aggrandizing concepts aside, I just want to make a good album and I struggle with creating something honest. I hear devils and angels on my shoulder. “It’s got to sell.” “Consider your audience.” “Don’t be weird.” “Nobody cares, man.” “Stop talking to yourself.”

My finger hovers over the delete button. Doubt creeps in. Confidence wanes. I stare over a ledge that pleads with me to disappear. I think about the artist I want to be. That starts with the courage to be completely vulnerable, baring my truth in all its ugly nakedness. Truth is, I don’t know if this album will ever get heard. There’s no big company or label behind it. Probably a million songs get released every month. How am I going to cut through that? I don’t know. Should I care?

Stop. Beat. Take a breath. Step back from the ledge.

Years ago, before those days playing for children, I sat in a studio with a potential investor. At the time I had grandiose production ideas complete with symphony orchestras. There was another songwriter there, too. I guess we were competing for this investor’s affection. A guitar came out. “Play us a song,” he said. I commenced with this wild composition that lived mostly in my head. “…and then the strings would go like this, and the back-up singers like this…,” followed by change after change. I might as well have been speaking Martian. Then the other guy took the guitar. He played a folk song, the same three-chord, generic monotony I loathed at that time. But the investor loved it. He understood it. That guy got the gig. I was just weird.

I’ve grown up a bit since then. I’ve learned the value in simplicity. I’m cool with sitting around the campfire and singing Kumbaya. Music is a language that’s lost if it isn’t understood. But there’s still that rebellious weirdo who wants to speak Martian! I ask, “What’s my job as an artist?” It is to affect people, to help cope, to inspire consideration and contemplation. I struggle to walk the line between the universal sounds that connect and resonate with other people, and the deeply personal, experimental journey that makes it honest and unique.

My mind goes back to those kids. During summer camps I had my own music room and different groups rotated in. They would light up, some even losing their minds with excitement upon entering. I grew used to the reaction and eventually realized that it wasn’t just about the music. It was the spirit I was able to channel. It was that “you Sugar Man.” In the same way, my notion of future folk is an extension of something greater than me, and yet very much a part of my humanity. It is my story reaching out to connect with yours. It is my inner child crying out for infinity and beyond.

Moreover, there’s something I learned in that Twinkle Twinkle Little Star melody that worked like magic on the attention of young children. Beyond our biases and ideas, there are some songs that vibrate deep inside us. I don’t understand it, but I’ve witnessed it again and again. It’s the baseline of folk (or maybe bass line). Where it goes from there only the future knows. I'm just trying to find my balance.

Side note. If you google “future folk” you will find your way to an indie film based on an off-Broadway play (lemme do the work for you). The premise? An alien is sent to Earth to destroy the human race, but instead discovers music and changes his tune. It's not exactly my take, but I’ll happily take the association. Music saves the planet? I can dig it. You should check it. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and has a whopping 94% on the Tomatometer to boot.

The concept of future folk is not something I made up, but a current I'm flowing along with. And it occurs to me that my buddy, Scott Bradlee, illustrates just how deep and wide that river is with the smashing success of his Postmodern Jukebox.

Driving Miss Trump by Michael Dustin Youree

It’s 4 am. I drag out of bed, pull myself together and start my march down Ditmars toward the last stop on the N-Q-R train. My only companions on those quiet Astoria streets are partiers headed in the opposite direction. I remember feeling jealous of them. But I had a small bounce in my step on this particular day.

Less than an hour later I’m at the transportation headquarters for season seven of the Celebrity Apprentice in midtown Manhattan. I get a cup of coffee in me, chat with the boss, and then I’m off in my SUV. Fifteen minutes later I’m in front of the elegant Park Avenue apartment building ready to pick up my package, Ivanka Trump.

It was my third day on the job, but my first driving her. She’d fired the original driver for what I was told was incompetence. I guess I’d shown my worth enough to earn a glamorous position in this not so glamorous area of production. I was eager to impress and make the most of the opportunity.

The day went smoothly. On the drive home she expressed cravings for a salt bagel. Finding a bagel in New York City at any hour is no difficult task in most any neighborhood. Finding one with salt, well, that changes things. I immediately jumped on the phone in search of one close by. No luck. I delivered her back on Park Avenue that night still craving.

The next day I was up at 3:30 am with something special in mind. When I finally arrived on Park Avenue two and half hours later, there was a fresh, warm salt bagel waiting in her seat. That sealed the deal, and for the next four weeks I drove Miss Trump.

My efforts didn’t stop at salt bagels. Being the ambitious New York transplant with a nose for opportunity, I worked harder. The hit Broadway show at the time was Spring Awakening, of which I was particularly fond. With some serious effort I eventually secured a copy of the soundtrack signed by the entire cast and addressed to her. Things like this encouraged more than just a typical driver-client relationship. She asked me about my music, and even opened up about her life a bit. I regarded us as friends.

Fact is we were not. Though I hoped this relationship would blossom into something beyond our four-week assignment, nothing ever came of it. Surprise, surprise, right? I think I realized this when one day she suddenly she snapped on me. My required driving style was one of top-notch New York aggression. Blowing through red lights was regular, but wrong turns were not. However, on this day I made one bad move. She laid into me, seemingly out of the blue and uncharacteristically. “You are making me late! I will be ten minutes late now! You have ruined my day!!” It was overkill, to say the least.

On my final day, I dropped her with a friend at a chic West Village restaurant. Ivanka quickly popped out of the car without a farewell. I called out to her through the closed window in a mild panic, “goodbye, Ivanka.” But she couldn’t hear me. She was already gone. Her friend lingered a bit and caught this pathetic gasp. I remember seeing something like pity in her eyes as she left the vehicle.

Despite where you think this might be going, I have nothing bad to say about Ivanka.

Actually, she lived up to her classy reputation. I got a small window into her humanity. She, like most of us, seemed a picture of inner conflict. She was a young woman then, as I was a young man. She, however, unlike most, is the daughter of a larger-than-life celebrity billionaire. I saw a struggle for drawing lines between us. In some cases, she was the pretty girl who might have shared laughs over a pint at some Lower East Side dive. In others, she was the billion-heiress far beyond my social status. There was a sweetheart and a hard-ass. I remember relating it to my friends as a “Jekyll and Hyde” experience.

How could we imagine that her family and its patriarch would be thrust onto the grandest of stages nearly a decade later. Like most, I’m still pinching myself to confirm that this strange scenario has come to pass. Yet the bigger nightmare is this political circus surrounding it.

When a new acquaintance and Trump supporter heard this story she jumped to a conclusion before I could even finish. Assuming I must be in the Clinton camp she said, “You probably hated her, huh?”

What!? No. In fact, I wish we had become friends. My point in sharing the story wasn’t to bash the Trump gang, but to make the case that they are just human beings like the rest of us, flaws and all.

And here lies the nightmare. We are so busy buying into the melodrama that we’ve lost cooler heads. We’ve let the Hyde run amuck, so quick to belittle and hasty in our judgements. It’s become so vitriolic that when a back-up quarterback exercises his first amendment rights we flip out without hearing a young man’s reasons. We’re so quick to condemn or align with black lives or blue lives that we fail to see we’re collectively black and blue.

We’ve made monsters of the opposition and we’re blinded to monsters within. It’s a penny dreadful, a pulp magazine minus the fiction. This isn’t something streaming on Netflix. This is our country, our culture, and the whole world is watching. Will we continue to feed flames with opinions and outrage or will we cool it and recognize that all are fallible, even presidential candidates? Do we continue to push everyone and every issue into right and left, conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat, or can we rise to the call of a JFK kind of courage and recognize progress is found in compromise?

When I think about the change I want to see in the world, it’s built on a foundation of peace and compassion. Do I fail at it? Definitely. But in spite of my frustrations I try as hard as I can not to be hater and instead look at those who differ from me as I did Ivanka in that backseat – a person with hopes and dreams, doubts and fears. I don’t agree with most of the politics or behavior of her father, but that doesn’t mean I can’t respect him as fellow human being. Frankly, the alternative plays right into the divisive outcome we currently have. My wish is that everyone would pause to evaluate the core of their passions. Are your actions consistent with the change you want to see in the world?

Toward the end of my run as a driver on the Celebrity Apprentice Donald Jr. jumped in the car with his sister. He didn’t do as she had done the entire time – ride in the back as we all do to preserve the established driver-client relationship. He jumped in the front and immediately starting chatting with me, asking my opinion on whether or not I thought what he’d just done on camera was dumb. He was unsure, even making fun of himself. This candor and transparency is unforgettable. People are rarely what they seem, and, if you let them, they will surprise you.

I’ll wrap it up with a quote from one of my favorite presidents, whatever his flaws…

“The Chinese use two brush strokes for the word ‘crisis’. One stands for danger, the other for opportunity. In a crisis be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity.”

I am presented with an existential crisis. It caused me to avoid the first presidential debate. I turned off the second one after ten minutes and instead scrolled Twitter for reactions. My disappointment doubled down. It seems we have exactly the political climate we deserve. If I’m being honest, my faith in humanity is significantly damaged.

Deep breath.

No matter who becomes the next US president the culture crisis will continue. But I hold to hope and attempt to seize the opportunity. What will you do with yours?

Snoozing Suzy and the Stew by Michael Dustin Youree

Suzy was busy dreaming of stews

The morning was calling but again she hit snooze

Sleepyhead Suzy loved lambshank and broth

But every eight minutes her alarm it went off

 

Slowly and lazily she sat up in bed

Into her computer her password typed in

“Hoopsiefloopsie” was her secret code

The alarm stopped its howling and finally she rose

 

Into the kitchen ‘twas coffee she craved

She needed espresso to waken the day

The machine it roared its mechanical growl

Her black and white kitty meowed on the prowl

 

The milk it steamed, the coffee it dripped

Puss was feed as her latte she sipped

Two spoonfuls of sugar to Suzy’s delight

Her eyes now wide open, her spirit bright

 

Still something had slipped Suzy’s mind that day

The window was open while outside it rained

What fell from the sky was no typical pour

It soaked her apartment with something much more

 

A magical storm blew in from the sea

It covered the floor while she brushed her teeth

To the left and the right, above and below

Her world was changing, though she did not know

 

Over her toes the water it washed

When Suzy looked down she was totally shocked

The water it rose with incredible speed

Before she could blink it was up to her knees

 

And so startled Suzy to the window ran

By the time she arrived it was up to her chin

It was then Suzy noticed the strangest thing

The cause of the flood was her house was shrinking

 

Now Suzy swam in an ocean of rain

Her coffee and kitty small just the same

Her table and chairs, her pots and pans too

All tiny like Suzy, bobbing ‘bout the room

 

But what stayed the same size was peculiar for sure

It was all the fresh food from her vegetable drawer

Giant onions, potatoes, spices and herbs

Now spun around Suzy as the water is stirred

 

Then the thought struck as pepper passed by

It all added up to a stew she could try

Indeed she was hungry and this her prime dish

So miniature Suzy let the slurping commence

 

Though the portion was massive to her tiny tummy

Anything’s possible and the taste was quite yummy

Ate and she ate ‘til she felt like exploding

All of the while she was growing and growing

 

And so stuffed Suzy returned to right size

The rain was now over, the sun filled her eyes

Though she was drenched, her whole house a mess

Suzy felt cozy cuddling Puss with a kiss

 

As she started to doze distant sounds she could hear

Louder and louder the song it drew near

Then it hit, a howl so familiar

Eight minutes were up, her slumber now over

Dispatch from the Road (Year 2) by Michael Dustin Youree

I'm a little late in writing this.  In the midst of it all some things just have to be put on the back burner.  Nonetheless, publishing chapter two in my vagabond life lost no importance in my mind.  Even if just for my own OCD compulsion to properly document this life experiment, it is something that I have to do.  

This one starts with a small disclaimer.  Chapter two is not like the first, laced with sunshine and rainbows.  Year two has been a gut-wrenching grind through a very difficult period that has no happy ending.  So, if you're looking for the typical MDY optimism, read no further.  That said, I am still me and hope still shines.  I promise complete openness and an unflinching will to wear my heart on my sleeve... or, in this case, on the page.

I'll start where I left off.  This time last year PushMethod had just finished up playing one of its best shows to date at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn and I was set to embark on a cross-country solo tour with my love and best friend.  The trip was a great experience personally.  Professionally it was disappointing.  That has in part to do with the collapse of my relationship with the guy who produced my solo record.  When the time came to promote the tour and the record we first had to agree upon a contract.  It got nasty, soul-crushing even.  We could not come to terms.  I'm not in a position to place blame, partly because I would rather let this go.  The result was a tour full of mostly empty rooms and no circulation of the record in industry circles.  What a waste.

The upside is that the girl and I had a nice trip otherwise (here's a video overview set to one of the record's songs), ending with a glorious week in LA.  We walked the beaches and boulevards hand in hand, agreeing that we wanted to move here together in early 2015.  When I put her on a plane from LAX back to Holland, I was surely sad our adventure was over and to watch her fade into the security line, but I had a heart full of hope for our future.  Next to me in this farewell was an Indian man waving goodbye to his wife and two kids.  I commiserated with him for a moment.  "It's hard to say goodbye, isn't it?"  "Yes," he said.  "How long will you be apart?" I asked him.  "A year."  What!?  A year?  I remember thinking how terrible that must be for him.  I had plans to return to Holland and be with my girl in six weeks.  It was hard for me to imagine a year.  Little did I know then that I would never see my love again.

After the tour I returned to New York for PushMethod business.  We played a few shows and prepared for the release of our new (at the time) single, Kick the Can.  As usual, we were filled with hope about the potential for this song.  We purposefully tried to make this tune to suit the mainstream, without compromising our artistry.  Tavis, being the perpetual pusher he is, had some good partnership possibilities in the works and the band coalesced behind him.  One of my ideas was to have an Instagram campaign called #KickTheCan.  You know that feet picture some many people like to take?  Well, I thought it would be cool to connect people in this department, make a game out of it and attach it to our new single, which is an anthem to the collective struggle.  I even engineered an instructional video about it.  Nothing happened.  It was just another shot in the dark.

October rolled around and it was time for me to return to Holland.  I was in the professional pits at that time, beaten by the persistent lack of a break.  Let's call it what it is - I was a failure.  Never before had I felt so worthless and defeated, but I was looking forward to seeing the girl.  

"Wait, wait, wait," you say.  "I thought you said you never saw her again."  Well, I did see her again, but the love was no longer there.  When I showed up in Holland she was a different person.  She was annoyed by me.  Full of criticism.  She had no desire to move to LA.  Just a few weeks earlier we had officially decided to do this.  I was blindsided and hurt.  I spent the next three months in the gutter, trying to repair a love that was no longer mutual.  She didn't officially break up with me until December, but it might as well have been when I arrived in October.  Those months were terrible.  I'm embarrassed looking back on it.  But, I promised an open book, so I'll be honest.  There were many days I wandered the streets of Utrecht with my guitar and computer all day, stopping in coffee shops to do some work and playing in the squares.  I've never felt as homeless and alone as I did in those days.  My career was in the dumps, my best friend and love wanted nothing to do with me, and I had no where to go.  I will stop short of blame and anger.  It's a bit like the producer story, I'd rather leave it be.

2014 had begun with such promise.  To have it end in such devastation was beyond humbling.  I entered 2015 on the verge of collapse, emotionally and professionally.  I returned to New York feeling a bit like the New York Knicks - very few victories and a ton of defeats on my record.  I was amateur ball 101.  I wanted to retire, but the reality is that I still hadn't found any success to retire on.  And now I'd jumped off the cliff into the gypsy life.  There was no turning back.  I had to find a way through this pit of self-pity.

The light came in the form of a conversation with my friend and Acoustic Guitar Project founder, Dave Adams.  He told me about a time when he was in the low lows and a friend had suggested he do a ninety-day project.  Meaning chose something totally different and dedicate some time every day, for ninety days, to this new goal.  It was a new place to focus thought.  I liked this idea and it happened to coincide with a conversation I was having with my father at the time.  He wanted me to start getting involved with the family business, which, in a broad sense, is travel.

"Wait wait wait," you might be saying.  "What about PushMethod?  And what about the solo record?  And wasn't there some Oscar guy in France you were working with?  What's with that?"  Yeah.  Fair.  Okay.  Let me digress.  If you don't know what any of this is, well, keep reading and you'll find out.

I have continued to work with Reinhardt, an Oscar-nominated composer in France, but the reality is that after a year and a half of working we have nothing to publicly show for it beyond this #SOTW that I made in February.  Yes, we have a collection of great songs.  And more, my childhood friend and Hollywood screenwriter Ryan Shrime and I wrote a story and film treatment to go with these songs.  At this point, it's collecting dust.  The money, the will, the whatever it takes to move it forward isn't there.  Disappointment?  Sure... I'll take another serving, please.

The solo record is still there.  Go buy it.  Go stream it.  It's a good folk record, if you like that sort of thing.  I tried to keep the fire alive for playing solo shows, but let's face it - nobody gives a damn about your songs until everyone does.  And without a band to make the songs dynamic, you're just another wannabe with an instrument.  Furthermore, instead of writing new songs, which is my favorite part, I was focused on staying practiced on old ones. 

I made an interesting discovery in this process - songs express a specific emotion and feeling that, for the writer, are the most true when they write them.  In the age of the internet that moment can be captured, shared, and replayed over and over.  This brings me to my #SOTW project.  I write a song when it is fresh and pouring out of me and let it live forever there, performance included, venue of my choice.  It is both intimate and available to everyone.  No matter how great a performer is at delivering a song, they can never achieve the purity of emotion that was present when writing the song.  It is just acting, really.  What I love about my #SOTW series is that this purity is right there, that fresh moment caught in the timelessness of video.  The realness even comes through in the covers I do, which are often selected in a cathartic way - like this U2 cover, which was shot last October, only about a week after the girl and I fell apart.  You can see the pain.  Some of these songs exist only as #SOTW, potentially never to be played again.  When I release my next set of #SOTW in the fall, it will include the songs I wrote during the dark days; captured moments and expressions that are already long gone... and yet live forever in the form of #SOTW.

PushMethod.  This is a very different beast from the solo stuff and thus reminds me that having a band is so so so much better.  The choice I made to leave New York hasn't been easy on my bandmates.  Yes, I've regularly come back for chunks for time to do shows and create music and am always thinking about ways to work the band in everything I do (like I noted in my year one dispatch, PushMethod is not just a band... it's a lifestyle), but my time away has not allowed us to operate like a traditional band, doing shows and playing together on a weekly basis.  A band plays music together and when I'm away we don't do that.  My view on it, beyond the fact that PushMethod is more than just music to me, is that this band is, and always has been, an experiment.  When Tavis and I started this band we wanted to chart a new course in the music business.  That was over six years ago.  This is evident in our current effort, Hoodies for the Homeless.  Started in January of this year by Tavis, it's a concert series that is about donating hoodies for distribution to homeless shelters.  Tavis' goal is to put a fresh, clean hoodie on every pillow in the NYC homeless shelters.  The first event happened in January and received a decent amount of buzz.  The second one happened last Tuesday at Brooklyn Bowl and was the biggest thing that PushMethod has ever done live.  It felt good on so many levels and is a great example of what I mean when I write and say that PushMethod is more than just music.  The house was packed and we collected a huge pile of hoodies (actual figures to be released soon).  Opportunities and hopes are high right now.  In spite of all the past let-downs and setbacks we keep the fire burning.  Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more.

For the sake of this post, let's bring it back down to Earth.  I've had lot of hope.  I've had some big opportunities.  I'm still a homeless, nobody musician.  That's not me being self-deprecating.  That's fact.  Yes, that "homeless" tag comes with a grain of salt, or perhaps sugar, in this case.  I'm couture homeless and do not to take for granted the many friends and family who give me support.  I am lucky.  I am also tired.  It seems I question my life decisions on a daily basis.  People around me question it too.  Most my age have houses, families, steady jobs and savings accounts.  I have none of those things.  The longer this couture homelessness continues the less I understand where home is, and yet the more I crave it.  It's hard to explain.  It's like skydiving without knowing where the parachute is - thrilling and horrifying.  I value my travel experiences, but the road is a pretty lonely place.

And so in February I started my ninety-day project.  What started as a healing mental refocus has turned into Wanderwest.  Professionally, it is a travel guide and documentary series built on the foundation of glocalism, a 21st century word that combines globalism and local.  I could go on about what it is, but I think I would rather let it speak for itself.  Season one is scheduled for release this fall.

It seems I can't help but tend toward hope.  Even when I set out to articulate the hardship and pain of the past year; the doubt about my life choices and the future, I end up optimistic.  Is that a curse or a blessing?  In the end, I just want to live a life worthy of a good story.  Of all the art forms I dabble in... music, film, drawing, writing... there is one that triumphs - the art of life.  We are all canvases, blank pages, instruments.  I embrace the colors of courage and fear, happiness and despair, loss and discovery, camaraderie and loneliness in a fantastic vision that I might be part of the gallery of humans who inspire what is best in us.  I wish to use my local experience to contribute to the global evolutionary tide.  Ah... maybe that just a bunch of ego-driven nonsense.  Maybe someone should slap me and say "get a job, hippy."  I dunno.  I hope it's at least a good story.

In conclusion, I will admit my nervousness in publishing this.  No doubt my bourgeois, first-world problems may occur to some as inspiration for an eye-roll, if not ire.  There is a French colloquialism, "bo bo", which means "bourgeois bohemian" and is used in a pejorative way.  Like hipster is used in most cases.  I am a bo bo hobo.  Haha.  That's just fun to say.  But seriously, I recognize my privilege and I'm not looking for sympathy.  My goal is openness and honesty; to candidly share the first person experience of someone with the good fortune to recklessly follow his heart.

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At the end of last year's post I made a promise to document all the different places I laid my head in the following year.  Yeah, um, that was an impossible task.  I just couldn't keep up.  I do send earnest gratitude to many in many places - New York, Boston, Taunton, Washington DC, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Hilversum, Den Haag, Neunen, Paris, Berlin, London, Surrey, Essex, Barcelona, Toledo, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Loveland, Silverlake, Gainesville, and Dallas.

 

Hoodies for the Homeless by Michael Dustin Youree

I returned to New York last week.  When I stepped out of the airport I was blasted by a bitter 11º chill.  That's -11º for my Celsius friends.  Cold.  Real cold.  This is not a pleasure trip.  I'm here for PushMethod.  We're recording new music.  We're playing a few shows.  And, we're orchestrating something called "Hoodies for the Homeless."

As I popped into a toasty Uber car for a quick and comfortable ride into the city, I felt relief.  And, I felt grateful.  More than my temporary escape from the cold, I had a comfortable place to go.  No, it wasn't home.  No, it wasn't even a bed.  It was a small layer of foam in my bandmates bedroom, but there were blankets and pillows and the warmth of a luxury apartment in Manhattan.

"Well, of course you have a place to go." you might say.  A lot of us take that for granted.  Even considering my current situation, which doesn't allow for much security, I do.  When talking to a ten-year-old friend about this, she said "You're kind of homeless, right?".  Technically, I am.  But it seems completely ludicrous when compared to a person faced with literally freezing to death.  I may be without a home, but I'm not homeless.

Opinions on homelessness vary widely... it's principally funding alcoholism and drug addiction... it's not where the money goes, but where it comes from... they're fakers who make $40K panhandling... on and on.  I understand people's cynicism.  I can't deny that I've given into machiavellian ideas when time and time again I'm faced with a shell of man clearing out a subway car due to his intolerable stink.  In comfortable suburban communities all across the Western World where we are typically free from the "bums," it's easy to give little thought.  Even in the cities where homelessness is rampant we are faced with indifference.  It seems an endless problem, one that no amount of money or compassion can solve.  It's just the way it is.

Facts can be misleading and contradictory, slanted by an agenda or inconclusive research.  Because of PushMethod’s Hoodies for the Homeless project, I dug into the research a bit.  I wanted to grasp the problem, and found some things worth sharing.  NYC organization Coalition for the Homeless asserts the level of homelessness in the city is the highest since the Great Depression.  Take a look at these facts.  Nationally speaking, HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development) compiles a locally conducted census on the homeless population every other January.  In 2014 the number was 578,424.  This total represents the amount of shelter space, transitional housing and safe havens available.  For a more specific breakdown, go here.  This number does not account for the street, which any urbanite sees is leaving out thousands.  Internationally, the United Nations reported over 100 million homeless people in the world; a number that balloons to 1.6 billion when considering those with transient or inadequate housing (HUD’s definition per its number above).  That's over 20% of the earth's population.  This collection of photos from around the world is worth a look.

Hoodies for the Homeless is a simple idea.  Lead by my bandmate, Tavis, PushMethod has partnered with the Hoodie Shop in Manhattan to produce a live music event aimed at collecting as many hoodies as possible to be distributed to NYC homeless.  Support for the concept is tremendous.  Brands like Alternative have pledged gear, organizations like New York City Rescue Mission are joining in, and Celebs like Questlove will lend voice.  We imagine support will grow as we near the event, on February 5, at the Hoodie Shop (181 Orchard St).  Our hope is that people will donate new and lightly-used gear so that Hoodies for the Homeless transcends a single evening and brings a bits of warmth across the city.

Will you please join us?  Show your support at the event.  If you are not in New York, mail your new or lightly used hoodies to this address:  Havas Worldwide, attn: Tavis Eaton, 200 Hudson St, NY, NY, 10013.  

Personally, this event has lead me to do some introspection.  My ideas fluctuate.  What I find clear is this: neither my opinions nor how I interpret the "facts" matter.  I'm just one man and not wise enough to solve a challenge of this magnitude.  What matters is remembering that I feel the cold and am fortunate enough to have a place inside... the same cold that many are unable to escape.  Opinions and facts aside, I'm just trying to make a few more people's lives suck a little bit less.  It's as simple as that.


Dispatch from the Road (Year 1) by Michael Dustin Youree

I have been home-free for a year now.  On July 1 of 2013 I gave up my East Village apartment and my steady job as a private music teacher so I could make a full force effort at living my life as an artist.  "Now or never," I thought.  Beyond that, my life in New York City had become stale and uninspired, murder for an artist.  So, with the risk-taking and sometimes reckless, yet calculated state of mind necessary in the modern entrepreneur, I packed all my possessions into storage in Queens and jumped off.

Initial hope was with my band, PushMethod.  I had taken on the task of booking a fall tour, as this might be the final piece in getting the deal that could support us full time.  Lack of tour experience was our weakest link.  I hustled hard over the summer to land decent gigs.  Yes, I wanted desperately to do this, but I also wanted it to be a solid business move.  I knew it had to be.  While visiting my dad in Colorado, I discovered that he had an old RV going unused.  Two weeks later we drove it from Loveland to New York City so PushMethod could avoid the cost of hotels on tour.  It's called The Honey.  We had some good times in this beast.  Below is a gallery of its journey... so far...

Bottom line, things didn't work out as I had idealized.  In truth, the other guys in the band could only be away from their 9-5s for two weeks.  Our tour became a two week stint down the East Coast with a series of weekend trips around it.  I realized I would be spending much more of the fall in New York than I anticipated.  I didn't have an apartment to go back to and couldn't afford to get into one.  I set to making a couch surfing schedule.  A week here... a few days there... bouncing around among friends as I tried to figure it out.  

This lifestyle is filled with surprises of all shapes and sizes, hard and happy.  The happiest surprise came on a fateful night on E 14th Street.  I met the girl who has shaped everything since then.  We were together five days before she returned to her home in Holland, but the bond was made and I promised to visit her after Thanksgiving.  It was a signal that I had made the right choice to jump.

The surprises kept coming, up and down, all the way to this one year anniversary.  No major breakthrough came of the touring we did.  And though for a brief period I tried to keep the tour momentum going, I realized that PushMethod is a band not meant for small stage, half-empty room, self-booked touring.  I did make it to Holland after spending Thanksgiving in the the White Mountains of New Hampshire with my adopted family.

While in Europe prior, I spent a week in Paris where I was introduced to Oscar Nominated film composer Reinhardt Wagner (ironically through Jean-Pol Franqueuil the father at the beginning of this PushMethod video).  In the last six months we have composed eleven songs, recorded basic tracks for these, and premiered them at a private party... all in Paris.  Suus, my new girlfriend, returned with me to the US for a Texas Christmas and a Colorado New Year.  She has become the closest thing to home I can figure in this wild adventure.  It was her glowing personality that first attracted the founder of The Acoustic Guitar Project on New Year's Eve in Denver.  I have since recorded a song for the NYC project and have become the curator of the Amsterdam version.  I have big hopes for both of these musical developments.  

Still, there is one more thing to report from this year on the road.  Inspired by the Acoustic Guitar Project, I began exploring the possibility of a solo tour across the US in August.  As a solo artist, my options are much more open on the touring front.  More paying gigs.  Less financial liability.  The only hitch: I didn't have any quality recorded solo material to distribute or support my tour.  That changed while in Denver last April.  I brought up my situation to old friend and veteran music man, Lance Bendiksen.  Without hesitation he said "I'll do an indie deal with you."  We rushed into record two days later and banged it out in 8 hours.  Now, I have a solo EP due out in July that cost me nothing but a share in the potential profit.   

The band is still going strong.  We continue to elevate, slowly but surely, and have upcoming summer releases of which I'm very proud.  Understandably, my choice to jump off came as a shock (though not a surprise) to my bandmates.  Traditionally thinking, we should be in the same place all the time, rehearsing and gigging around the city.  I'm not buying that anymore.  Part of why is detailed in an earlier editorial of mine.  We have a saying in the band: "What's your PushMethod?"  It has a different meaning for all of us, but there is a common thread.  It's about facing fear, embracing risk, experimenting and going full force after your dreams, aspirations, and fulfillment.  It is a way of life, not just a music group.  It is in that spirit that I chose to jump, and I am living my PushMethod, in all of its pleasure and pain.  

Beyond my personal interpretation and choice, PushMethod is a brotherhood, and, more callously, a business partnership.  I seek to make my jump service that, as well.  I am the reconnaissance soldier, making waves in all ways possible and pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a band.  Everywhere I go I take PushMethod with me.

You might say that I reason my way into the situation that suits me best, and perhaps that's fair.  Yet over the last year I have become more aware that all dots connect.  If I had never worked at the French school (where I was a music teacher) I would have never met Jean-Pol and his wife Colleen who introduced me to Reinhardt.  If I had not been free to see Suus in Europe, I would not have gone to Paris to meet Reinhardt.  I have been back to Europe twice this year and formed a powerful collaboration.  The matchmaker for Suus and I is a friend from my teen years with whom I had lost touch.  He is a writer and actor in LA.  Now that we are reunited, I have recruited him to come on as screenwriter for my musical film project with Reinhardt.  Through one conversation I reconnected with the producer of my new EP, and throughout my solo tour across The States I will be tagging "Free Hawaii" (a new PushMethod single) and "What's Your PushMethod?", as well as meeting up with other Acoustic Guitar Project curators.  Were it not for this freedom I've embraced I would have never been seeking solitude in Central Park that fateful day in May and inspired the biggest piece of exposure PushMethod has ever received.  You see, all these seemingly different paths aren't independent dots, but pieces of a bigger picture that feed one another.  Even if you still think I'm reasoning my way, what would any of this be if I weren't living the dream I preach... the PushMethod philosophy?  I'd be little more than a phony bible salesman.

I am practicing what I preach, and would be remiss if I didn't highlight some of the low points.  First off, I have to live very modestly.  My only big expense is transit.  It has to stay that way.  No new things or lavish entertainment.  I've worn the same pair of shoes everyday since I jumped.  I do own nice things, but only so much will fit in the bag on my back.  The money issue haunts me.  Truth is, I don't know where I'll be only a few months down the road.  I could be completely broke without a way to keep this candle burning.  Doubt is my perennial companion.  

Some days I'm overwhelmed with the impossibilities that deter so many from this path.  I get caught in the downward spiral of second guessing.  I question my own ability.  I damn my own luck.  All the while, I try to keep a smile on my face and embrace the relentless optimist in me.  Who wants to hang out with a frowny pessimist, much less have them crash your couch for a week?  I work hard at being a good house guest and giving the people generous enough to host me the best version of myself.  No room for the mopey me.  

Just the sheer fact of living out of a backpack and not having a place to call home takes its toll.  Sure, I love this adventure that I'm on, but I appreciate sanctuary and long for it now more than ever.  And then there's the rejection.  It is constant, with failure just a few steps behind.  Much of the time I don't even get the courtesy of rejection, I just get ignored all together.

I'm at this interesting place where I'm producing at a very high level, and yet I'm so unsure and insecure.  I've taken the leap knowing that I have to make a career out of this now if I have any hope of having a home of my own with a family that can rely on me financially.  I have worked hard to hone my talent and build a vast network.  Is it enough?  Will I sprout wings or go splat?  There's a line in one of my new songs with Reinhardt that says, "It may be I fall flat on my face, but at least I could say it was a damn good story."  I guess that's my consolation prize and perhaps the heart of my PushMethod: to make my life a story worth telling.  Those are the ones filled with inspiration.  Not all of them have happy endings, yet all are fraught with peril.  No matter what, I will be able to say to those kids I have someday and the ones who watch me now -- I did everything in my power to make a life out of what fulfills me.  I pursued happiness.

As I step into the haze of another year on the road, I have hope that this is bigger than me.  Sure, there is a healthy helping of personal ambition and desire, but it's also for those kids in my life, now and in the future.  It's for the woman I love.  It's for my brothers in PushMethod and all the other struggling artists I have come to know.  If I can succeed, maybe they can too.  It's for my friends.  It's for my family.  It's for anyone who dares to dream.

The kicker is I'm not exactly sure what success looks like.  If life has taught me anything, it is that this may not turn out as I have it drawn up in my head... it can actually be more beautiful.  And so this troubadour heads on into the mist, hoping that the beauty I find will turn into a song that the whole world can sing.

 

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Below is a vastly incomplete gallery of the places I slept in over the year.  There's a couple ringers.  Can you guess which?  I swear I took more pictures than this, as I had the notion of documenting everywhere I laid my head has been spiraling through my brain for a while.  This year, I'm making a point of getting a shot of every location.  See you back here for Year 2.

Special thanks to those who have opened their homes to me over the last year: Zvi Ben-Dor, Katherine Fleming, Michael Finnegan, Erika Baracaldo, Jenna and Shelby Francis, Larry and Wendee Blum, Tiffany Lowery, Megan Bolado, Amanda Dean, Allyson Spencer, Tavis Eaton, Dan Hymson, Samuel and Marie-Sophie Schwalm, Andrew and Claudia Hersh, Allen Hulsey, Scott Boswell, Derek Holt, Todd and Amy Zipper, Adam and Michele Zipper, Justin Vaughan, Suus Groenleer, Judith Groenleer, Dirk Van Tellingen, and my dear parents.

I Went to the Edge... and It Was Good by Michael Dustin Youree

I've had many friends tell me that Istanbul is one of the greatest cities in the world.  Now, I can see why they say that.  From the start, the international flair was there.  On my bus from the airport to Taksim, the city center, I eavesdropped on two perfect strangers sitting in front of me.  One a Russian, and the other a Turk.  They spoke in English about all things from soccer to the current political turmoil in the Ukraine to the young Russian's schooling in nearby Cyprus.  The stage was set.  My eyes and ears were open.

When I arrived in Taksim, I jumped in a cab to meet my friend, Allen Hulsey, at an event he was playing nearby.  I ended up at this private gathering of local bartenders who had recently decided to have a community night where they ate and drank together.  Allen was the entertainment, sponsored by Jameson Whiskey.  The only English speakers were Allen and the Jameson rep, Memet, a Turk who studied at Miami.  This didn't matter.  I was warmly welcomed with smiles, handshakes, delicious food and Jameson.  And, of course, music has a language all its own... one that everyone speaks.  It was a great first night and it ended on the couch of Allen's friend, who was hosting us both, talking about philosophy, music, and our crazy vagabond lives into the wee hours.

One of my goals for this trip was to experience the Muslim culture of the city, which was new to me.  Of course, I have many indoctrinated ideas about Islam that I know to be highly speculative.  So, the next day I traveled to the Blue Mosque and, for the first time, set foot inside a mosque.  As is the case for many old Christian houses of worship, the art and architecture are beautiful.  I carried my Dr. Martin boots, the ones I've worn everyday for the last nine months, in plastic bags given at the entrance where I was prompted to remove them.  Head wraps were given to the women who did not have them as were body wraps for the women who had exposed legs.  The experience was mild, warm even, not much different from walking into a classic cathedral further west.  I left with little more feeling than the fulfillment that I'd scratched something off my bucket list.  The next step, the real cultural experience, would have to wait.  The communal days of worship were on Fridays.  I wouldn't be in Istanbul then.

Muslim culture and influence are a major part of the city.  That is apparent in the mosques that densely populate it, their beautiful spires shooting into the sky everywhere.  This isn't too dissimilar from where I grew up in Dallas, TX, albeit crosses are mounted on the towers instead of crescent moons.  At certain hours of the day I was intreagued by the calls to prayer over loud speakers.  These are not in Turkish, but Arabic.  If you remove your ideas and indoctrination about it, it is a kind of appealing a cappella song.  

Music is a big part of the city too.  This is especially revealing through the life of Allen, who had another gig that night at a rock and blues club.  I arrived to find a thoroughly American scene.  Pictures of rock legends like Hendrix and Joplin graced the walls.  A giant Hwy 66 sign hung from the middle of the venue.  It was here that I met Esin Iris, charming, hot as hell, born and raised in Istanbul.  A singer and writer, she spoke perfect English, and we had a nice conversation over Allen's Americana set.  At one point, she snatched my phone away and entered herself as a contact.  "If you can't reach Allen, don't hesitate to contact me," she said.

The next day started abruptly.  I was too much on the outside to comment on the details, but the reality became that Allen and I needed to leave the apartment we were staying in.  I had two more nights in Istanbul and was now unsure of where I would go.  Allen assured me that all was fine and he was alright.  In a matter of hours, we met with a friend of his who, with one email via his iPhone, got me a room at a fancy hotel just off of Taksim Square.  We spent the rest of the day and well into the morning with this friend of Allen's.  I would come to find that this day was the eve of his 19th birthday, and that his father was a Turkish business mogul, but he a German national.  A computer wiz far beyond my understanding, he already had a thriving e-security business out of Berlin.  Wow.

We spent most of our evening at a hidden gem of a bar molded after the Prohibition Era.  The bar tender, Alex, was an ex-pat from San Diego who stirred up killer cocktails.  As if this day needed any more amazement, we made friends with a particularly interesting stranger.  We welcomed him to join our party and, as it turned out, he is British photojournalist Ayman Oghanna.  This is a man who has spent his young career in the war zones of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.  I was immediately engrossed.  Several hours and many cocktails later, I asked him about the beaded bracelet around his wrist.  Without hesitation, he pulled off the beads and gave them to me.  He explained that he got them in Eastern Turkey.  They are prayer beads (pictured below).  He told me each time things got rough (which I could tell by his portfolio is a regular thing) he would think of something he is grateful for with each bead.  Now, it belongs to me.  I then took the bone bracelet off my wrist from Estes Park, CO, and fastened it to his.  The exchange was complete.  Eventually, we all went our separate ways.  Our youngest compatriot, now officially 19, paid the substantial tab.  But the night wasn't over for this teenager and I.  He invited me over to his home for a nightcap.  There, overlooking the Bosphorous and the bridge linking Europe to Asia, we listened to music and discussed political theories like Liquid Democracy.  The sun was coming up by the time I returned to the hotel to call it a day.

My final day in Istanbul was a fairly uneventful one.  Some good Turkish food, a visit to Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bizarre, and, of course, a little music.  I got to see Esin do her thing and, via Allen, had the pleasure of discovering Turkish songwriter Selim Saracoglu live.  I didn't make it a late night.  I had a 7am wake-up call to catch a flight.

When I say that I went to the edge, I am being a bit figurative, but quite literally I mean the edge of The West.  For centuries, Istanbul, once Constantinople, has been a gateway.  It's borders encompass both Europe and Asia.  It's geographic location makes it the city it is, a crossroads of culture that is thriving today.  It is a hot bed of politics and ideology.  Its Prime Minister is currently embroiled in a corruption scandal and is infamous for the crackdown during the Diren Gezi protests last summer.  It is a city (and perhaps a country) that struggles with its identity.  Many of the young, liberal people I encountered expressed discontent over the Muslim population, a couple even out right saying it's the city's biggest problem.  I can understand that.  In my home country I am often frustrated by the political sway and presence of the ultra-conservative Christian right.  But I must take a step back.

As I was riding to the airport via public transit, a Muslim couple sat next to me.  The woman was fully covered in a black burka.  As we came to one of the more picturesque parts of our bus journey, she whipped out her iPhone and commenced with snapping photos.  I couldn't help but smile.  Are we really that different?

Allen and I had a lot of great conversations over our four days together, but one stands out in this case.  For a long time I have been thinking about my own self-righteousness, the trait that makes me (or anyone) think they are an authority on right and wrong.  Fact is, I'm not... how could anyone be, in a world as diverse as ours, in a universe as vast as ours?  So, as hard as it is, I try to let go of that self-righteous inclination and instead move in the a direction of the one value I hold most dear: love.

Istanbul is a city full of love.  As I ponder the gifts it gave me, I feel it, pure and simple.  I grasp the beads around my wrist and I am thankful.  As I appreciate the tradition handed over to me, I remember to respect the Muslim I know little of and the Christian I know much of.  Though I am in a category like my artist brothers and sisters who push boundaries and challenge traditions, I am well aware that I do not have all the answers and there is so much I share even with the most conservative human.  We all want to feel love, to be in love, however it is individually defined.  Do I get angry?  Of course.  Am I capable of hatred?  Unfortunately, yes.  But I try not to give in to these emotions as they are contrary to love and move me away from that universal, ultimate pursuit... the one for happiness.

I was half dead when rose from my wake up call at 7am.  There was a text from Allen.  "Make sure you get the poster I left for you at the front desk."  Turns out, Allen had gone back to the venue where Selim had his show, took down one of the posters and had him sign it for me with a personal note (you can see it below, though smashed a bit from my travels).  It was a classy gesture from an old friend and one I've yet to officially meet, one that suggests the spirit of Istanbul, in my experience... a city of the world that meets you with open arms.

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Funny memory of Istanbul: I got called Brad Pitt at least five times.  I guess all us blond, square-jawed white-boys look the same.  Kinda racist.  Kinda awesome.  I mean, if these attributes alone make me the mirror image of Hollywood's leading man, I'll take it.  In passing, I said to a group gawking at me, "I'm here to invade Troy".  It took a minute, but they burst into laughter once they got it.  Question is: do you?  Maybe I should move to Istanbul.  I'd be a bigger hit than the Trojan horse.  Of course, an inflated ego is a bit of an Achilles heel.

The State of New York by Michael Dustin Youree

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A few weeks ago, I sold the first guitar I ever owned, an acoustic / electric Ovation.  I haven't played it in years and, at this point in my life, it was just taking up space in my tiny storage compartment.  I figured I could just flip it for some quick cash, so I put it up on Craigslist for $150, a good deal for this guitar.  I had several people offering to buy the guitar, but one stood out, a high school music teacher.  He could only pay $75, but promised the guitar would go to support a music program at his public school in Brooklyn.  I was sold.  We made plans to meet up a few days later.

While using Google Earth to find the right place for us to meet near my storage facility, I was struck with nostalgia when I saw this...

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The yellowish building on the left is what used to be know as 5 Pointz, arguably the greatest salute to the origins of graffiti and the art form it has become.  It was a rich piece of the New York story that provided thousands with inspiration and drew flocks of street art tourists and NYC connoisseurs.  It helped that it was perfectly situated across the street from PS1, the super trendy modern art museum.  I have a particular connection to this place.  My girlfriend and I met at one of their summer dance parties.  As for 5 Pointz, it was a culture defined, a wonder to behold, and a testament to the soul of graffiti, that the city streets belong to the people who live on them.  Here is a few shots of 5 Pointz before it was destroyed...

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And here's what it looks like now...

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The loss of 5 Pointz bums me out.  The world lost an invaluable treasure to make way for high-rise, high-priced apartments that most New Yorkers can't afford.  I understand.  That's capitalism.  There are millions to make with 5 Pointz out of the way.  I don't blame the owners or developers for destroying it.  To give them some credit, 5 Pointz wouldn't even exist if the owners hadn't granted the permission in the first place.  The white washing of the walls was pretty dickish, but it worked in killing the resolve of the rag-tag band of supporters standing in their way.

It was time to go meet the teacher.  I had a bad taste in my mouth thinking about the destruction of 5 Pointz and how that relates to the current state of New York City.  It didn't help much when I stepped onto the crowded subway platform to find that the L train was still six minutes away.  Figures.  Throughout my 9.5 years in NYC I have seen the subway system decline in service, yet dramatically elevate in price.  Without going into a rant, lets just say it adds to my criticism of the direction NYC is headed.  Quickly, I decided I would try to beat the six minute train to Union Square on foot.  From 1st Avenue I cruised down 14th Street, adjusting the pace of my speed walking to the rhythm of the street lights.  I won.  Making it to the uptown 4 train just as it was rolling into the station.  It was an odd feeling it gave me, somewhat contradictory.  I had outsmarted the NYC system with the street savvy I gained from being a part of the NYC system.

As I pulled into Grand Central Station for my last subway transfer, my mind was reeling, lost in the frustrations I have with New York City, which is fueled by the love I have for New York City.  I walked down the deep tunnel that leads to the 7 train.  There I found a small reminder of what makes this place special.  At the base of the tunnel was two men playing sublime lullaby-like music on the harp and guitar.  In front of them danced a little boy joyfully.  The boy's parents and the musicians beamed with amusement as they watched him move to the music.  I couldn't help but smile myself.  Then, after descending the final flight of stairs to the 7 train platform, I heard another musician on the classical guitar beautifully playing Yesterday by the Beatles.  Again, I was pleasantly amused.  There is still so much talent and culture and warmth here, even in the blistering chill this winter has brought, even amongst the cold and calloused calculations of this money hungry city.

I finally met my buyer at the Court Square Dinner in Long Island City, the Queens neighborhood of 5 Pointz and PS1.  He was a nice guy, not too different than me, an aspiring musician who fell into the world of teaching as a way to afford the ever-skyrocketing cost of living in NYC.  We chatted for a bit, at the end of which he handed me $80 and promised to send me pictures of the guitar in the classroom.  I was recently inspired by my participation in The Acoustic Guitar Project and wanted to do something similar with this guitar... tell it's story.  I left the deal feeling pretty good.  I had made a little much needed cash and helped out a music program at the same time.  I was both a businessman and humanitarian, a capitalist and a socialist.

I can't help but be concerned about the state of New York City.  It seems as though it is falling out of balance, that its finance driven ambition is crushing the creative spirit of entrepreneurial pursuits.  As a freelancer, you take great risk.  Health insurance is virtually impossible to afford on your own.  The steady growth of corporate housing makes finding a legitimate apartment lease ever harder because they require you to prove an annual income far beyond the annual rent.  This is only possible with a corporate job.  The list goes on.  Those of us who wish to be explorers and go our own way are pushed into the system, like some kind of modern feudal cast chaining us to a social class.  Eventually, the rebellious spirit of the entrepreneur is crushed under corporate demands.  

As an artist, I don't feel a part of collective community, but instead twisted into the mindset of capitalist competition.  My fellow musician is one I am in a race against, someone who I should be threatened by because there is only so much pie and I want mine.  We are like dogs fighting for scraps.  It doesn't help that the infrastructure of venues and promoters seem not to care about quality, only quantity.  You could have the greatest show in the city, but if you don't bring X amount of people you will never be booked again.  This sabotages the scene.  Where once you could count on a venue to play good music, now there's no guarantee.  People have lost interest.  Of course, I don't blame the venues and promoters, they too are just trying to survive the rising rents and indoctrinated sense that money is what matters most.  When you're just trying to survive, its hard to care about anything else.

This is how it's always been in New York, some may say.  And maybe they are right.  But we live in a different age.  The time where one has to go to certain cities to be connected with the movers and shakers in a given industry is coming to a close.  The world is globalizing.  How can New York keep up with cities like Austin and Berlin, which offer cheap housing, lower costs, higher quality of life, cultural richness and the communal spirit.  Counter to the notions of big finance, you can't buy everything.  Trickle down economics doesn't translate to the aforementioned qualities.

There is a bigger debate at play here, one for the soul of America as a whole.  Are we a country where we all fall in line under the multi-national corporate feudalism, where coloring outside the lines is frowned upon or are we a country that prides itself in innovation and empowers those who think outside the box?  I'm not here to say that it has to be one or the other.  Nor do I write in an effort to damn corporations.  There is a balance.  I don't see social ideas and capital ideas as opposed to each other, but rather complementary.  That is what made NYC the great city of the world.  My honest concern is that the more it becomes difficult to live outside the cast, the less people are willing to be entrepreneurs, the fewer Edisons we breed and Einstiens we welcome.  Instead we have a country, a New York, where people just fall in line or go elsewhere.

5 Pointz is gone.  Will the spirit that built it go too?  Will we continue to destroy culture and beauty for the sake of a few more million dollars?  I have witnessed artists flee New York to find better, more pleasurable lives elsewhere.  Success too.  I am in the process of being one of them, trying to decide if New York is a place for a person like me... a rebel, a creator, an entrepreneur, a capitalist and a socialist.

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Often times, during rush hour or in the wake of delayed trains, the subway platform becomes crowded.  When the trains roll in they are already full.  As the doors open, people on the platform jockey for position in a dance against one another to grab what little space there is in on the train.  Tempers rise.  Scowls are exchanged.  It's a dog eat dog world.  I've learned to step back.  Other trains are coming.  And chances are there will actually be room to stand comfortably.  In the meantime, I can learn to smile again with the music coming from yet another talented subway musician.  Maybe I'll even say hello to my fellow New Yorker who had patience, sharing a laugh about life here.  It's a dog run with dog world.  New York is the dogs that inhabit it.