We had been on the road for over a year without pause. I never complained, though. It’s what I wanted to be doing, and I had my brother along with me, so we made the most of it.
We camped along the roadside and showered with water bottles, even after I had hired a backing band. The whole lot of us would settle down somewhere, one person asleep on the back seat, another on the floor, and another somewhere in the trailer. I had a hammock that I’d hang between our van and whatever we were parked next to. It was ridiculous, but I felt really connected to something living like that, as if the dirt and the grime were a sort of soil to my wandering roots.
The record label had allocated three-hundred-thousand dollars to tour support, which means that I could have flown first class between shows, stayed in five-star hotels, and hired a personal assistant to pick my nose if I’d wanted to. It would’ve all been reimbursed, but I never spent a cent... Instead, I felt like “paying my dues” in retrograde, so we all slept in the van.
It was a bit like camping, and a lot like being homeless, but I loved every moment.
We lived in that van for over a year, playing shows all across the U.S., and the miles really started to add up. It had been months since I’d seen my girlfriend or slept in my own bed, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, my drinking and drug use had become a real problem. So, when we got a call from management about a string of shows in California, everyone was excited to go home.
It would be a chance for us to visit our families, and the shows they had booked were with some really popular acts. Everything was sold out in advance and the venues were huge.
We made that cross-country drive in haste with the windows down, happy to let the wind blow away our months of isolation.
When we got to Los Angeles, my manager had a special pre-show dinner planned, and all of the musicians booked to play that night were there. I was sitting at a table next to a famous singer, and I remember thinking that he didn’t have much charisma for a front man… I can also remember thinking that his nose was far too large for fame… But I guess I was wrong, because they went on to sell another couple million records, and I went on to being dropped by my label.
That’s what happened next: my label dropped me...
Chris, my manager, pulled me aside and told me that he wanted to talk. He said that Sony Music wasn’t going to move forward with the project anymore.
“What project?” I asked him.
“Well… Your project…”
“Right…” I repeated, “What project?”
And then suddenly, I understood what he meant. The "project" was my career, like it had been something I threw together with glue and paper. Not my soul or my identity or my place in the world, but just my “project”.
I must have been hurt and I must have felt betrayed, but really, I can’t remember feeling much of anything.
“Oh. Okay,” I said, “Yeah… That’s okay… We’ll just keep going forward without them”.
He didn’t reply. He just smiled back at me in this sort of half-assed way, with his lips forced into a bow-shape, but his eyes distant and cold.
“They need you for sound check,” he said, and so I went.
The next couple of shows were great. I had the band and my brother by my side, huge crowds and lots of familiar faces to keep me grounded. It was a short run, but I’ll never forget those gigs. We played five nights as a band, and then I was scheduled to fly back to the east coast for a month of solo acoustic dates.
That’s when everything started going downhill.
I rented a small car in New York City, and filled the trunk with bottles of whiskey. For some reason, I got in the habit of burning incense while I drove, and I would hold them in my mouth like a long, flimsy cigarette. They kept falling out, and so I had a growing collection of circular burns in my clothes and on my skin. Everything in that car, myself included, smelled of smoke and booze.
I don’t remember much of what I thought about on those drives, but I was alone all day, every day, and all night, every night. I wouldn’t go into the venues until my name had been called on stage, and then I’d rush right back out after my set was done. I hadn’t even been collecting my pay, because I didn’t want to talk with any of the promoters.
I wasn’t sleeping much, either, and whenever I did sleep, it was just a nap in the driver’s seat. The rental car didn’t have anywhere comfortable or spacious like the van did, and I was still too stubborn to rent a hotel room.
A week into the solo tour, I started talking to myself aloud, and when my agent called to ask why I wasn’t collecting our pay, I just threw my phone out the window and watched it skip along the highway like a stone.
I missed my girlfriend, but more than that, I regretted the years I’d left her waiting at home while I ran around chasing dreams. Also, I missed my family, my brother and my dogs. More than anything, though, I missed having the sense that I was going somewhere... I missed my drive and my passion… I was beginning to feel lost, and I didn’t know what to do about it.
I can remember pulling into Boston, and feeling like I had nothing left to give. I hadn’t slept in weeks, and I was losing my grip on reality. When I took the stage that night, and those hot lights hit me, I remember feeling as if my flesh was cooking. I thought I could smell it even, like meat in an oven.
I pulled the shirt away from my shoulder and discovered for the first time all of those circular burns that my incense smoking had left. I looked at my hands, turning them over, and noticed anew the bloody pit where I’d ripped an entire fingernail out from the root. “How have I been playing with this?” I wondered. And suddenly, it started to hurt for the first time.
“I am on the outside of truth!”
Someone was singing…
I heard it like an echo in my mind, and I wondered for a moment if I’d started my set without knowing it. I reached up to check my mouth, but it was still closed. I strained to look out past the lights, but my eyes were blurry with sweat.
“I’m looking in on you!”
The singing continued.
I then realized it was a girl, somewhere in the crowd, and that she was singing my songs for me, almost angrily. She had horrible pitch, too. “Woo! Ronnie Day!”
“H… hello,” I tried to respond, but my words fell silent. I still hadn’t found the microphone, and I felt dizzy. My bitten fingernails were throbbing with the pain that, until then, I’d become so good at ignoring.
“Sing me a song, Ronnie Daaaaaaaaaaaaay!” The girl in the front row wouldn’t leave me alone, and her voice was shrill like someone’s mother.
“Th… That’s not my real name,” I tried to tell her, but I still couldn’t find the microphone.
“Woo! Woo! Ronnie Day!” she screamed back.
I turned to find the microphone, and in doing so, I saw the back door swung wide open. Without a second thought, I unplugged my guitar and walked out through it. I heard nothing but my own heart beating, and as I got into the car, I knew there was no turning back. A light drizzle had begun falling from the sky, and I pulled out onto the highway once again.
Massachusetts has a hook that reaches off the Eastern coast like a finger, and on my map, I could see a road running down the middle of it, out to the very tip. I decided that this was where I would go: to the tip of the hook, to the end of the road.
I had lost my home years before. I had just lost my record contract, and in that moment I was losing my mind. The tip of that hook seemed to me like it must be the final stop, and so that’s where I wanted to be. I imagined meeting an old seer atop a lighthouse, or a lone fisherman out on a rock. I imagined a threshold passing into the underworld, and an answer to the question of my suffering.
But as I would soon discover, there’s a place called P-Town on the end of that hook, and it’s not a dark portal to the underworld. Rather, it’s one of the happiest, gayest places on Earth. And I mean really gay, like they have penis-shaped beer mugs at the bar and purple napkins.
I arrived near midnight to a quaint little town painted in pastels. Pairs of men walked the streets hand-in-hand, and as I idled slowly past the town square, a transsexual dancer in a hot-pink thong said I looked lonely, with a drawn-out, exaggerated wink… Not knowing what else to do, I parked the car and went to a restaurant for dinner.
Every table was set for two, and pairs of happy gay men gazed dreamily into one another’s eyes. The wait staff wore tight shorts and low-cut V-neck shirts. They spoke to me like I was some contestant on a game show, with exaggerated pep and enthusiasm. This was not what I expected, and I felt completely out of place.
I paid my tab, got back into the car, and drove to a beach just outside of town. I parked, and fumbling through the glove box, I found a small bottle of sleep-aid. I took a dozen of those little pills in one hand, a bottle of whiskey in the other, and I walked across the wet sand towards the water. Along the way, I came upon a frog, and so I stopped to visit with him for a moment.
“Hello, Frog,” I said, “It’s cold and wet out here… But I’ll bet you like that, huh?” The frog gazed back at me, it’s chin swelling and sinking. “Well… I won’t keep you, then,” I said. “Have a good night.”
I let the frog go, and I swallowed the handful of sleeping pills with a good drag of whiskey. I laid myself down into the wet sand, and found sleep at last.
I think I was out for three days, but it may have been more, or it may have been less. My ears and nose were filled with sand and my head felt like a block of ice when I finally awoke…
I got back in the car, and drove it straight to the airport. My nose wouldn’t stop bleeding, my fingernails were mutilated, and the burns on my shoulder kept sticking to my shirt, but I was home in San Francisco by nightfall.
I didn’t stay very long, though.
My manager had been calling my brother, and when I got home, he finally got me on the line. He was setting up a big showcase in L.A. at The Roxy, and said that it would be a chance for me to get myself into a new contract with a different label. “Everyone who’s anyone will be there, Ronnie.”
“Okay, yeah,” I said in agreement. I shouldn’t have. If I had any sense, I would have told him to wait a while, but I didn’t. I just agreed.
That night, I went to see my girlfriend for the first time in almost a year, and when we looked into each other’s eyes, we knew that it was over. Everything had changed, and it didn’t take very many words for us to agree that we were no longer in a relationship.
It’s not that I didn’t love her anymore—I did, and I do and I always will. But I didn’t have anything left to give, and I think that maybe she felt the same way.
So, that night I drove down to L.A. and started taking meetings with everyone I knew. “Big showcase at the Roxy this weekend,” I’d tell them. “Invite your boss… And have him invite his boss, too!”
Unfortunately, it worked. Everyone showed up...
Maybe they saw the lunacy in my eyes and were just curious to see how badly I’d fuck up, or maybe they genuinely had an interest in signing me to their labels. Either way, I had a full house for that final, fateful showcase...
I also had my band on hand for the gig, and as we were waiting on stage for the curtain to rise, they were all giving me nervous glances… They must have known I was in bad shape… I just wish I had known it, myself.
As the curtain rose, I decided to try and ride it up into the rafters like a pirate. It just ripped from its hooks and fell onto the crowd. I jumped to my feet and grabbed the microphone, “Ta da,” I exclaimed, “And for my next trick, I’ll make the band disappear!”
Then, I turned and shooed them all off stage, “Go on. You’re fired.”
As the crowd was finding it’s way out from under the fallen curtain and the venue staff was scrambling to make sense of the situation, I started improvising a 30-minute song about the music industry on my piano. Bare in mind, many of the most influential figures in music business were seated above in the VIP section.
I’m not sure exactly what I sang in that improvisation, but it was probably something about exploitation and indifference in a corporate world… Needless to say, I wasn’t offered any record contracts that night.
Afterwards, while my manager was apologizing frantically to everyone he could reach, I went out to pack my stuff and drive off. Just before I could make my escape, though, a young fan stopped me on the sidewalk.
She was a little girl, maybe twelve years old, and she had been crying. She asked if I was okay, and I told her “yes” with a fake smile.
“I’ve never seen somebody so messed up, Ronnie,” she said. “Please, go and get better.”
I didn’t know what to say to her, because at that time, I didn’t know I was messed up, yet. I didn’t know what she meant by “better”. So, I just got into the van, and drove off.
It would be four years before I ever played another show.
I’ve only ever had room in my heart for one… It could be likened to a throne or a pedestal, but both are much too cold and do not suffer from a lack of occupancy. No, my heart is maybe something more like a small home, built for one.
The One may decorate as she pleases. She may keep things tidy and neat, or let the dust build up, and I won’t mind either way, so long as she’s happy in there. And much unlike a throne or a cold pedestal, the home in my heart begins to crumble when unoccupied.
Weather finds its way between small cracks, and pests move into the walls. After a while, anyone who sets foot inside will find herself feeling very uneasy and unwelcomed, as if trespassing on some sacred estate. The floorboards will creak and moan underfoot, and hung, there remain faded photos of the same faceless woman caught in the same angry moments.
I need to do some housekeeping in my heart… To take down those old photos and wipe away the dust, shoo the rats and cockroaches from the walls and patch up the cracks. I want the next person I let inside to feel warm and welcomed...
A throne or a pedestal just wouldn’t do for the one I’m waiting on... She’ll find a home in my heart, and it’ll be filled with music and soft light.
At the risk of boring somebody into a coma, I’m going to explain some of my visions for the coming months...
This fall, I will be releasing Night Owl, a collection of my own home recordings. It will be the first release for my label Simplify Music, a company that I’ve been talking about launching for almost five years. But this time, I really mean it—we’re going to move forward and create something exceptional. I have several artists lined up for releases, a clothing line planned, and some great collaborations in the works.
In the meantime, I’ll do my best to keep uploading video demos of the tracks as they come along. I really appreciate your patience and support, and hope to keep our dialogue flowing throughout this whole process.
Tentative track listing:
- Suddenly Clear
- I Belong Somewhere Else
- Don't Lie Awake
- Perfect Harmony
- Still Looking
- I Don't Believe in Anything
- When Life Was Good
- Better Days
- Sweet Melodies
- Side of Love
- I'll Wait
- Moon Child (Sunless Seed)
- Birds In a Storm
I can get myself in a low mood sometimes, wishing that I had a lover… Some nights, I dream of a friend to share my bed with. Or in the morning, while I’m eating breakfast alone, I’ll think, “this could be so much better”. But really, I know full-well how blessed I am to have such petty desires, when somewhere in the world someone is thinking only of hunger and death...
Somewhere, someone can feel gunfire rattle through their walls, and others have lost sons and daughters…
Still, I sit here in the sunshine, on a beautiful beach surrounded by gorgeous women, typing into a phone that would cost a year's wages in other parts of the world, and I complain...
Well, fuck that...
Fuck ex-girlfriends and past sorrows and heartbreak...
Fuck me, too, if I can’t appreciate what I have…
I'm not so ungrateful as to let such small discomforts blind me to the many blessings I've fallen into. So, let me turn this around and say “thank you”.
Thank you friends, listeners, readers, and strangers alike, for hearing me out and for fulfilling my companionship needs. Thanks for your kind words and encouraging comments, and for your loyalty over the years. Without you, I wouldn’t have my studio, and I wouldn’t have a reason to use it. So, I owe you big time...
Now, I’ll stop complaining and I’ll get back to work. Thanks, again. I love you guys.
In my earliest memories, I was always making music, and I have always aspired to become better at it. As a toddler, I can remember building drum kits out of buckets and dreaming of the day when I'd be worthy of a real set. I took first prize in a songwriting contest when I was five, but I always doubted whether anyone else entered, so I hid the trophy away in a closet. And as a young violinist, nothing short of first chair would ever do, but I didn’t always get it.
As a freshman in high school, I auditioned into a band with older, more experienced players, and they took me into my first professional recording studio. I even met my first real record producer… He turned out to be a scumbag, and none of those tracks really became anything… Eventually, the band broke up, but I didn’t stop playing.
I ran around town teaching guitar lessons, and I invested all of my money into some crappy, cheap equipment. Then, I made an entire album in a week and I called it Nine Sleepless Nights. Having read all about the music industry, I sent fancy press kits to every major label, indie label, manager, agent and venue that I could find contact information for. I spent a lot of time and money on those mailings, and in response I got a few rejection letters and nothing more.
Here’s an old rejection letter that I saved from Sony Music (+):
Well, I didn’t let that discourage me. I kept practicing, recording, and even went on a little tour. I use the word "tour" hesitantly, because I couldn’t actually book any venues (although I did try). I ended up playing on street corners and in parks, but it was still a lot of fun, and I was getting better all the while.
Around the same time, I started promoting my music on the Internet, and at first nobody was listening. I can even remember logging onto Myspace.com for a while, and I didn’t have enough “friends” to fill my “Top 8”… It was embarrassing...
So, I read all about web design, taught myself some basic programming languages, and built several systems to promote my music online. I quickly became one of the most viewed musicians on the Internet, and I had the pleasure of helping some friends of mine do the same. We all made a good amount of money selling CDs and downloads, and it was a very exciting time in our lives.
I used the buzz and some of that money to record another album in L.A. Then, I started flying all around, talking to those same record companies who'd sent me rejection letters before. I was sixteen when I left home, and I haven’t really been back since…
Generous contract offers began coming in, and I had the wonderful experience of being wined and dined by some of the most powerful executives in the entertainment industry. Eventually, Sony Music (see above) paid over one million dollars for the rights to release my second album. To me, the son of a plumber and a schoolteacher, that was and still is a lot of money...
I toured the country, and got to play shows in all of those venues that had ignored my fancy press kits. I lived a very carefree life, and practiced music every day. I was truly happy for a while.
However, the record didn't sell very well, and eventually my label dropped me. I started doing a lot of drugs. I started to forget what I’d ever wanted in the first place… Rejection had never stopped me before, so why should it have mattered so much this time? I had to take some time off to reflect...
When everyone started kissing my ass and singing my praises, and when suddenly everything was being handed to me easily, I think that’s when I really lost my way. Not the day I was dropped, and not when I started taking drugs, but back in those five star hotels and fancy restaurants. Back in every groupie’s bed and behind every fake smile, there was something poisonous that I let in…
I had become pacified, complacent even. I lost my hunger and I let all of that hot air fill me up. So, when the flattery stopped flowing and I was left alone with my music again, I had to remember all over what I had wanted in the first place. I had wanted to become better—that’s all.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is simple: stay hungry. Don’t ever let yourself settle for mediocrity. And don’t ever allow yourself to become dulled by a sense of entitlement. Learn to embrace your setbacks and overcome adversity. It is principally through our failures that we find opportunity to grow. In the gym, your muscles get stronger by tearing just a little bit, and then they heal harder. The same is true for our minds and our spirits. Stay driven, stay inspired, reach higher and don’t be discouraged by your setbacks. If you’re not challenging yourself, you’re not going anywhere.
Oh... And when a record executive tells you something… Anything at all… Don’t believe it. Cause yeah, “you’re great, kid”, and really you are... But not because some asshole in a $200 shirt says so. You’re great all on your own. ☺
Many thanks to my brother, Tony, for filming with me last week.
He did an incredible job.
Here's one of several videos that we put together.
It's a cover of Bob Dylan's Don't Think Twice, It's Alright.
You know those tiny little worm guys
You sometimes see in your eyes?
Out in the peripheries
Against a blue sky?
You probably noticed them more
When you were four or five
But I'm sure you can still see them in there
If you give it time...
Maybe that's what
Truth or Love is like
The way they jump from sight
The harder you try to see them...
When you just let it be
They drift right in
Slowly and gently
Like falling snow or drying leaves.
I've been wondering...
If I hadn't blinked so soon...
Or if I hadn't cried so many nights...
And I've been wishing, too
That I saw them more often
But I guess that's life...
The way all things,
Even little worm guys
And The Truth and Love's rise
I had been working on a few things these past couple of weeks, and by “things” I mean recordings. However, as is often the case, I wasn’t happy with the end result, so I threw it all away.
I feel a bit guilty for my failure to deliver music consistently, but I know that this is all part of a process. Every misadventure and shortcoming brings me one step closer to the ultimate record that I know myself to be capable of releasing.
If you want mediocre music, there’s no shortage of it out there, so I won’t feel bad for withholding my share. And yet, there’s a lot of really great music, too. Ultimately, that’s the side of the fence I’d like to see myself on. So, until I get there, I’ll have to ask kindly for your patience and understanding.
Your encouragement and genuine interest has meant a lot to me—it really helps to know that there will be a sympathetic audience for all of these songs. I hope that this rant finds you well, and that you’re actively involved in your own creative process, too.
Thanks for checking in.
You've seen someone somewhere... A stranger… And you'd like to introduce yourself. You’ve even thought of what you'll say... But you don’t walk over, and you don’t say a word.
It wasn’t fear of being slapped or bludgeoned that stopped you, but a deeper fear, yet. You were scared that they wouldn't like you--that you’d expose your whole heart and soul and they’d pass on it.
“No thanks,” they'd say.
Well... That's what I'm feeling right now, sitting here and thinking of my next album... I'm scared... I doubt my own worth... And I know that if I don't speak soon, she'll walk away.
So, I say this to both of us: don't leave yourself wondering. Take chances and risk your heart. We're all lonely and we're all scared, but despite your doubts, you should go after your dreams and hope for the best. You're worth it.