An authentic artist mortgages his time, his money, his unique perspective and his privacy to make an offering for the general brotherhood of man. But the tragedy of art is that so often its gifts are consumed without a true showing of gratitude or reciprocation from society. The artist is therefore left marginalized, impoverished and full of doubt as to the value of his creations, while those who have benefited from his exquisite labor trudge clumsily towards their next victim. Even worse still, his work may fail to find any audience at all.
If you’ve ever experienced unrequited love, then you know how the artist feels beneath this most painful brand of heartbreak; it is perhaps what has driven so many of our brightest luminaries to extinguish their own flames prematurely. And yet despite this suffering, most artists march forth in pursuit of the truth, as they must, for without their conviction, it would not exist.
With that being said, here's a song from my friend, the artist, David Ramirez:
Have you ever stood in front of the mirror, and gazed upon yourself as if from an outside perspective? Maybe you had a conversation in your mind; or spent some time looking deep into your own eyes. If you’re like me, it probably left you feeling doubtful… I sometimes wonder how self-aware I could possibly be if when looking into a mirror, I seem to see a stranger.
This is, I think, much like writing an honest song. To write, one must faithfully render the contents of their own soul, and in the course of editing, we have that same opportunity to gaze upon ourselves and wonder.
For a while, I’ve been avoiding mirrors altogether, and for the same duration, I haven’t written any songs. I never liked what I saw in them (disappointment, disillusionment, pain and regret) so I just stopped looking.
The album I wrote over the past five years is full of that sort of sad song. Whenever I start recording them, it takes me back to the feelings associated with those painful memories, so I've mostly avoided that difficult work.
Still, if I’m going to move forward, I have to see this process completed. These songs may not be a true reflection of where I want to be today, but they did get me here. And maybe, if I do my job well, someone else will see something they can relate to reflected back in them.
Last time my mom visited, she left her car and asked me to watch after it. That very same day, I parked under some power lines, and a whole army of crows took turns shitting all over the roof. She had specifically told me not to park it outside. So, when the day came for her return, I drove to one of those coin-operated pressure washers to remove the evidence.
Normally, I’d just put a dollar in the machine, and rush through everything really quickly. But this time, I loaded up plenty of quarters, and made sure her car was a sparkling gem. I’m a good son, I thought to myself.
On the way home, I stopped by Chipotle for a burrito, and that’s when I made my first mistake. I asked for extra salsa—and not the sissy mild salsa, but that devil-red, extra hot one with all the chili seeds floating around in it like burning embers.
“More, please,” I urged the burrito girl, and she obliged.
I was delighted to see a river of lava flow onto my plate. I paid, and then ate, cradling that burrito like a small child. I finished it quickly, and began the long walk back to my mom’s car.
After the first block, my stomach was already churning, and it was clear that I’d need to use a bathroom. I passed plenty of shops, restaurants, and cafes. I could have easily walked up, and asked to use any of their restrooms. But I didn’t, because I could already see how that would play out:
“I’m sorry, but the restroom is for paying customers,” someone would say, with a pained expression on their face.
“Yes, I know, but this is an emergency,” I’d retort, with an even more pained expression.
And then, understanding that I was in danger of shitting my pants, they would grant me access to the bathroom, but this coming at the cost of my dignity. I was too proud for that. I had to make it home.
So, I clinched my butt cheeks tight, and hurried towards the car. But by the time I got there, I couldn’t hold it any longer. Stricken by fear, I got inside and started to drive, anyway. I was in panic mode.
This shit was going to happen at any moment, whether or not I decided to prepare for it. I felt like a dog must, as it circles the lawn before taking a squat. I saw an open spot on the side of the road, and veered towards it.
In one swift motion, my pants were down, the door was open, and I stood squat in the middle of the street, unleashing a torrent of brown liquid.
I saw a woman nearby, smoking a cigarette on her balcony, and she saw me, too. Our eyes locked. We shared a very intimate moment. Cars were passing by and a kid on his skateboard swerved to avoid the open door and mounting puddle. I ripped my shirt off, bunched it up under my ass, jumped back into the car and sped off. The whole dump was over in seconds. And then I was gone, vanished into the night like a vision of Chaos.
On the way home, I wondered how that woman with the cigarette would use what she had seen. Would she tell her friends and family? Did she call the police? And I wondered if anyone else would pull over to park in that spot, only to step out into a puddle of human shit.
Then, I was home. My mom had already arrived and was waiting inside. My pants were still down around my ankles, and my shirt was ruined. I wiped off as best I could with the rest of that shirt, pulled my pants up, and stepped out from the driver’s seat.
That’s when I realized the full extent of what I had done.
The puddle of Chipotle mud had gotten kicked up by the tires, and was splattered all along the side of my mom’s car. It looked almost as bad as it smelled.
I went inside, slipping past her, showered, changed my clothes, and drove right back to the coin-operated car wash… Again.
I’m sure there’s a lesson I could pretend to have learned. But to be honest, this wasn’t the first time I’ve shamed myself like this, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. If I had a dollar for every story of mine that starts with Chipotle, and ends with me shitting my pants, I could definitely afford some new pants, and maybe a new shirt, too. I’d be a very rich, very humble man.
In the year 2000, Daniel Suelo decided to cut ties with modern life. He left the last of his money in a phone booth, walked into the desert, and began living off the land. He is not mentally ill or drug addicted, and may even be described as a sort of philosopher genius.
For the last twelve years, Suelo has been sleeping in caves, trees, and the occasional house of a friend. He eats only what he can find, foraging for edible plants, discarded scraps and even fresh road kill on occasion. And most importantly, he has no financial ties whatsoever. “I don’t use or accept money or conscious barter—don’t take food stamps or other government dole. My philosophy,” he says, “is to use only what is freely given or discarded.”
Daniel was raised in a traditional Christian household, graduated with a master's degree from the University of Colorado, and even considered becoming a doctor for a while. In 1987, after working as a lab technician, he joined the Peace Corps and was stationed at a medical clinic in the Andes Mountains. There, he watched a village enter the modern age, and as his patients transitioned from a life of subsistence farming to our modern form of consumerism, he says, “It looked like money was impoverishing them". This was the seed of an idea that would eventually grow into an entire spiritual doctrine.
By the year 1999, Suelo had moved into a Buddhist monastery in Thailand. And from there, he traveled to India, where he encountered the Sadhus. Having renounced all of their property and possessions, these Hindu holy men live through the charity of others. Meeting them inspired Daniel to make a radical change in his own life. “I wanted to be a Sadhu,” he says, “but what good would it do me to be a Sadhu in India? A true test of faith would be to return to one of the most materialistic, money-worshipping nations on earth and be a Sadhu there. To be a vagabond in America, a bum, and make an art of it--the idea enchanted me”.
So, in the autumn of 2000, Suelo vowed to leave behind the world of money, and all of the baggage associated with it. In his own words, “our true selves posses absolutely nothing, and when we realize this, we are completely free”. To this day, he has remained liberated of any and all financial burdens, with one very notable exception.
A year into his quest, the IRS sent a tax return to a commune where he was staying, and instead of throwing it away, he leased a Mercedes Benz and drove across the country, offering rides to bums and vagrants. Still, that one excursion aside, Suelo has taken very little from society, and gives back bountifully. Whenever he’s out foraging, he leaves a note for anyone who may happen upon his cave, inviting them to share any of the nuts, berries, books or treasures he has stashed within. He also volunteers at a women’s shelter and runs a free website from a public library.
As he says on his website, “lungs that possess air cannot breath”, and so he continually gives, and then gives even more. Reading his words, and knowing that he exists somewhere has inspired me, and it brings sincere joy into my heart. I hope that you'll feel the same and that we can all find a healthier balance in our own lives.
If you’d like to read some of his words, Daniel Suelo’s website can be found here: http://sites.google.com/site/livingwithoutmoney/.
I once took a drug that changed my life, and not in a good way… Some people learn not to touch the stove by burning their own hand, but other people, smarter people, learn by watching their stupid brother burn himself. Please, let me be your stupid brother and learn from my mistakes. I experimented heavily with Salvia Divinorum, and I fear that I’ll never enjoy another peaceful night in my own mind because of it.
I had been smoking weed for a few years, and enjoyed an occasional magic mushroom experience, but never found myself beyond repair (and believe me, we took the whole mushroom thing pretty far). I had been reading books by all of the psychedelic pioneers, and many of my heroes had taken acid, mescaline, peyote, DMT, and even my own father often boasts of his own hallucinogenic glory days. So, being an artist, I thought of drug use as an investment in my future. I thought I’d take a fast track to wisdom… “Turn on, tune in, and drop out”, right?
In my head, I was going to glide up to heaven, shake hands with God, dance in the cosmic energy, and then come back down with sexy long hair, a beard, and a couple of platinum records on the wall. In reality, I got fucked up in a van, rolled around on the floor drooling and moaning incoherently, and have spent the last four years of my life trying to recover from it. I’m unemployed, considerably confused, and perpetually frightened by the noise in my head.
Salvia is a quick trip, the main effects lasting only several minutes, but in that short span, you are transported to a dimension beyond normal experience. Sometimes, while tripping, my body would divide down the middle, like something you’d see a cell do in biology class. It would divide until I became the whole universe (a somewhat uncomfortable sensation). Or other times, the music I was listening to would take the form of a young tree or vine, and it would grow in accord with the melodies as they progressed. These experiences, though short lived, always felt timeless and vast, and I'd come down feeling very tired and aged. Still, something in that madness kept calling me back, and I took Salvia several hundred times before I finally broke down and quit.
Whenever I entered a salvia dream, I’d have this sense that my whole life as I’d known it was just a joke. A voice would mock me (this me) for having identified thusly. “Haha,” it would laugh, “Back again, are we?” and I’d have the sense that Salvia’s dimension was the true reality, eternally beyond our earthly lives. It felt like the place where all souls exist.
One night, I ended up taking a massive dose, hundreds of times what I'd been using until then… I was drunk, and the part of me that hates myself took control... I loaded a bowl to the brim, and before I could turn back, my whole life began to collapse.
Everything I’d ever seen, every word I knew, and even words that I didn’t know, words in other languages, all came rushing to the surface. It was like a grand, cosmic parade in which I saw, heard, felt and knew everything that ever was. The entire history of man, every detail of my childhood, the great symphonies, and every star in the sky, it was all there, floating around like debris in a vast deluge. And all at once, it began to collapse inward on itself as if a black hole had formed.
While I watched everything disappear into darkness, I had two great regrets. I wished that I had known sooner about how it had all been a dream, and I wished that I had shown more of my heart to those who I truly loved. I felt sorry for my mom. And then it was dark.
I experienced darkness for an eternity, a lifetime spent in solitary confinement, and then a million million million more.
Eventually, I perceived blueness, and I’d later come to know it as the color of a nearby wall. Then, brownness came back into existence, and that was the table I had collapsed onto. After several eons in the blue-and-brown reality, I got the sense that there was something more to be remembered… Something I had once known, but had forgotten about... And then my arms began to separate from the brown table and became their own entity. In this manner, my world was slowly rebuilt, although many things took months and years to be remembered.
Still today, years later, I have the sense that there are words I once knew, people I’d met, and abilities I had possessed that I’ll never recover. I suffer regular panic attacks over these missing pieces.
Any time my body feels slightly off kilter, a little too cold, hungry, sick or just itchy, my heart begins to race and I worry that I’ll be thrown back into Salvia’s domain. I went completely sober for years, sought the advice of psychiatrists, and traveled the world looking for resolution, but I have yet to find it.
I have trouble believing whether this world is real or not, and it’s cost me the joy of living here. I have a very short attention span, and cannot enjoy certain things I once loved. Reading, for example, is very difficult, as I frequently find myself repeating sentences again and again, understanding each word individually, but failing to see the meaning of them combined. Beyond that, I have developed a lazy eye, occasional muscle spasms, recurring hallucinations, irregular heartbeats, and insomnia. I end up in the emergency room several times a year because I’m constantly convinced that I’m dying...
In short, I have suffered immensely. More than I ever knew possible.
When I opened by saying that some people learn by burning themselves on a stove, I was making light of the situation. What would be closer to the truth is to say that some people hang themselves by a rope and die, but that you needn’t try it, because your stupid brother already did. Please, learn from my experience and never chose this path for yourself. If nothing else, I hope to gain your betterment from my pain.
When I search for “Salvia Divinorum and Brain Damage” on the Internet (and I do so often), the only articles I find are posted by the same assholes who sell this drug to kids, and obviously, they think that it's perfectly safe. So, my purpose in writing tonight was to add a new voice to the discussion, and to possibly prevent somebody else from hurting themselves as I have.
Please, live boldly, take risks, and explore the world in which you are so blessed to be living. But don’t waste your time on worn-out paths that have been shown to lead nowhere. The drug path has been walked a thousand times, and we’re all locked up in hospital wards wishing we could take it back. So, don’t waste your time. Follow health, knowledge, spirit and truth. I hope you’ll find something worth leading others to, and that you’ll share it with the world.
I say this to you with love, as only your stupid brother can: do better than I have.
One cannot convey more than has already been attained.
If it be his aim to write a tragedy, he must first know of suffering.
And if that plot calls for a hero, he must become one.
For there are no shortcuts in the pursuit of greatness.
We cannot simply jump to the absolute...
So, become disciplined in your chosen art
and write the story of your life with mindfulness and purpose.
Only then, when reflecting back on a life well lived,
may you find peace in knowing that you did your best.
My brother and I were shooting videos for the Night Owl EP, and we wanted me to appear successful in them. I mean, not like Puff Daddy successful or anything, but not homeless or drug addicted, either.
So, we got this idea that we could go shopping at a fancy boutique in Hollywood. Only then, after the shoot, we would return the outfit for a full refund. It was a perfect plan, like having our own free-clothing shop.
So, that afternoon, we drove to an upscale neighborhood and parked outside of a fancy store. I picked out some clothes that would have set me back almost a thousand dollars, and immediately, I began to regret my decision.
The man working gave me a certain look, as if he already suspected our plan. Out of fear, I put on an act to convince him otherwise. I did my best to seem rich and successful (again, not like Puff Daddy successful or anything-- but wealthy)...
Suddenly, his whole attitude shifted. “Oh good sir, you MUST feel this fabric!"
“Um. No thanks,” I muttered.
“Really, I insist,” he said, pulling me by the hand towards a pair of expensive jeans. “They’re soooooo soft," he moaned.
“Um no. No thanks,” I replied. “I think I’m ready to check out”.
And then, with a tart frown, he shuffled back to the register, and I handed my card over for payment.
“Ronnie... Day... Music,” he recited, “Is that a... Music company?”
“Yes,” I said, ashamed to think that he knew my full name, and would soon associate it with a suspicious return. He flipped the card around in his hand like a stone, scanning its surface for further questions.
“What kind of music do you make?”
“I don't, really” I said out of shyness.
“Is there anything online that I could hear?"
“Hmm, that's too bad” he said, handing me the bag. I issued a quick "thanks" before turning and walking out the door.
My brother, Tony, was waiting for me in the car with a smirk. I told him about how uncomfortable the whole thing felt, and how greasy the salesman was with his red and black goatee. We drove home laughing, and started filming our video that same night.
Several days later, after the video was shot and posted online, I folded the clothes, made sure all of the tags were pinned on, and drove back to the boutique. The same creepy man was working, again.
“Back for more?” he chirped from behind a rack of ugly, expensive shirts.
“No,” I said, “I just have a quick return to make”.
With a sigh, he dropped the pants he was folding into a lumpy pile and walked towards me.
“A return?” he asked.
“Yes, I got some clothes the other day and...”
“I remember you," he said, "Why are you returning them, Ronnie?”
Ut oh, he knows my name...
Suddenly, I felt that this had all been a mistake, and I wanted to leave. He remembered my face and my name. He sounded angry and I wanted to go, but I couldn’t afford to keep the items, so I stayed on and insisted.
“They didn’t feel quite right when I tried them on at home,” I said.
“They're not any good for playing music in?” he asked, sarcastically.
“Um... No. Not that. It's just a weird fit, that’s all.”
“Good, then we’ll get you another size?”
“No thanks, I'd rather just make the return,” I told him, and that’s when his face shifted. He let his arms down in an angry surrender and exhaled loudly.
“I saw the video, Ronnie. On the internet, I watched it all".
I couldn’t respond. My face flushed red and I stood there shocked and ashamed. He continued, “You're all over the Internet, Ronnie, and I saw the video, with the pants, and the shirt and they seemed to fit fine”.
"Well shit," I said... Just that, and nothing else.
I thought he’d make me walk out of the store. I thought he’d deny my return and ban me from ever shopping there again, but he didn’t. He just asked if "Jon on Melrose" could get a mention somewhere on my website. So, that's exactly what I'm doing.
The longer you live, the better you become at letting go. We let go of loved ones, homes, jobs and ideals. I’ve even heard it said that the human body lets go of some 50-trillon cells every day. And of course, we all know that in the end we must relinquish our lives. But still, the very fiber of our being beckons for us to hang on. And so we must.
When I gaze out into the night sky, I don’t see any answers. And when I've looked inward with drugs, I haven't found any truth. But over the course of time and out of pure necessity, I have found faith; faith that our lives matter, and that the sum of all things is good; faith that love will guide me and that my virtues will be rewarded in time.
I’m not religious, and I don’t often publish my spiritual views, but tonight I was thinking a lot about loss, and I wanted to issue a public reminder to myself...
Life is a process of renewal, and even death serves it’s purpose. So, we mustn’t despair over the empty spaces, for those are the holes in which we’ll plant the seeds of tomorrow.
There’s something about writing that gets me hung up… Ask anyone who's suffered through knowing me and they’ll tell you that I can talk endlessly (and I do). However, sit me in front of a computer and I’ll only manage a few words before reaching for the “delete” key. If there were a similar button between my brain and my mouth, I’d be using it all day, but there’s nothing between my brain and my mouth— it’s an open tube, and all of my shitty thoughts just flow right through like turds in a sewage line.
On the contrary, when I sit down to write, everything lays out there naked in black and white and it makes me nervous. Each fleeting phrase is immediately read back and then re-read, torn apart, psychoanalyzed and eventually deleted. Then, the arguments in my head start to distract me from carrying on…
“That sounds pretentious,”
“Well, you are a bit pretentious," I say.
“Am I really?”
“Pretentious? Yes, at times... You’re also a bit self absorbed and your skin is oily.”
There’s no opportunity for this kind of reflection when we’re speaking. We just carry on, oblivious to the tone of our voices or the implications of our diction. It’s like, we could just like, use the word “like” like a thousand times and it would sound absolutely fine to us, but write all of that down and it’s impossible to deny how foolish it looks.
So, this is where I always end up: at the realization that to be a great writer, there’s no getting around the fundamental need to be genuinely well spoken and intelligent. Because once the writer’s block has been broken, and the words flow freely from our minds out onto the page, if they smell like turds in a sewage line, no amount of editing can make them into fragrant wisps of wisdom. And that is why I don't blog often...