Howdy folks May 17 2017
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so here we go.
The pre-orders for the two new 7” records have mailed out… hooray! It was a lot of fun hand-assembling the records, especially the WORTHWHILE WAY ones, which I added extra hands-on flourishes to. About halfway through putting the records together, it occurred to me that I had essentially come full circle from the 1991-1992 era: making limited pressings of 300 7” records and hoping that anyone cared… and then being a bit overwhelmed when eventually they were all gone. And that these tiny documents, all these 29 cent dreams, actually MEANT something. We were part of a community with tendrils all over the world. Looking back, I’m a wee bit proud that we are essentially back in a little room with humble expectations and, all things considered, a sense of wonder and hope. Later today, a big box is going to start its fantastic journey from the 94 F degree heat of Florida across the ocean to our brothers and sisters in Japan. I literally cannot wait for them to open the box. The songs of WORTHWHILE WAY have meant a lot to me over the last two years; songs that gave me hope and helped me through hard times. Thank you WW and Eager Beaver Records for being our partners in this small, but important 7” record.
Thanks too to Ryan from Black God for his unwavering support, and lending a learned perspective while continuing the series of EPs that we embarked on in 2011!
I am pleased as can be that both of these records have a surprise vinyl color. Months ago, I had put in the request for the plant to run a few on a second color if possible, but that seemed highly unlikely. Opening the boxes and seeing the color, I was so happy thinking about all the pre-order folks getting a bonus “thank you”. So THANK YOU to everyone who chipped in early and made it all possible!! These records could not have happened without you. And thanks again, to the bands for writing the songs that enrich our lives and give our frustrations and joys voice. We can’t all find the words to express the pressures of the world around us, and it means so much that you do. (Check out the lyrics on the BLACK GOD EP.)
I am biting my hand, calling the plant every hour on some days, asking when the DEAD BARS LP is shipping to us. It’s coming any day, every day. John and C.J. have done an incredible job getting the word out about their record. We got together and decided to do things as directly as possible, avoiding many of the trappings of previous pathways. We are so far removed from the days of mailing 500 CD promos to fanzines, radio stations, and fancy glossy periodicals. I’m not a social media person; I’m a bit of a dinosaur, but DEAD BARS have a knack for engaging through that world in a totally sincere way. The support for “Dream Gig” has been overwhelming to say the least. I can’t wait to pack the orders for these, and picture people blasting this record and hollering along.
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A good friend I hadn’t talked to in a while recently me asked how I was doing. I kinda laughed and said, “I’m doing great, and I’m doing crappy.” The last couple of years have been brutal. Labels and distributors have been adjusting to working with less, then adjusting again. And again. It’s the same story all around. So many labels and distros told us they were moving to smaller spaces, downsizing, and that 2016 was their worst year on record. There are a lot of people in their 40’s (and beyond) pondering the value of what they’ve been doing with their lives. It runs deep. I sincerely worry that we are on the verge of seeing an entire generation of doers, stop doing. That is to say, stop doing THIS and moving on with their lives. I count myself as one of them, but like so many: here I am. I don’t know when I will put out another new record, beyond projects already in the works that I committed to a year or more ago. That’s not something I need to think about right now and, indeed, for the first time in maybe 15 years… the thought does not bother me.
In tandem, Jennifer had her own epiphany: after 20 years running the Distribution side of things, she was ready to let go of the stress. As she put it, “I did this for 20 years. That was plenty.” Letting all of this sink in, the hard job of bumming everyone out began. She had to start the process of contacting the exclusive labels she worked with and let them know they needed to find another route for wholesale distribution. The process of palleting and shipping thousands of copies of records and CDs began. As well, we had been storing 30,000+ empty LP jackets, along with a vast amount of overstock. Decisions had be made, things destroyed, things recycled. At one point near the end of that process, I rented a U-Haul moving van, filled it, and drove to the recycling center. It was liberating taking out my frustrations on those damn boxes, but bittersweet. It represented all those dreams… all those unfilled record jackets. The unloved, the bad gambles, the success stories that ran their course… and in the end, liberation from clutter. “How can I throw this away? It’s someone’s art.” And then you throw it away.
After months of physically demanding and mentally draining labor and effort on their part, it hit me like a thunderbolt… that when Chad and Tony said goodbye for Thanksgiving break… they were saying goodbye, goodbye. It was just me and Jennifer again. Just like 1995. Just like when, after a part-time mail-order fellow had moved away, we said to Matt, “I don’t know who we should ask to help?” and he said, “ME!” Nearly 20 years later, that led to one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to do… lay off an employee and friend who had been working side-by-side with us through it all. I’m literally tearing up as I type this, still.
No one would ever start something like this as a venture capital strategy. It’s just gambling; straight up gambling, every single time you press a record. Even though that often led to a black hole, I loved it anyway. As a result, I’ll be paying off debts from all this for years to come.
But this is what it is. We do what we must. I have certainly run myself ragged to make ends meet over the last year, working odd jobs, flipping collectibles and ephemera, trading books, selling old records, looking under couch cushions, and essentially whatever else came to mind. Fantastic clutter indeed… and now it’s someone else’s clutter. Just like art, it’s all down to the beholder’s eye.
I digress. I’m not generally an over-sharer. I am a relatively reclusive person most of the time. You can get me on a roll, of course, and I’ll do a little dance and tell you a story. But more often than not, my mind is elsewhere… bending a sheet of metal or wondering how water slowly corrodes copper in such a lovely way. As well, I am my own worst enemy. I’m a brooder. And I really don’t particularly want to engage with anyone at all when I’m in one of those funks. I’m often deep in my own head and do not consider how my furrowed brow is being interpreted by others. I want the work to be the focus, not the face of me.
It’s hard to believe this all started way back in 1985, when the first issue of our fanzine got folded and stapled by a bunch of high school kids, just coming into things. Along the way, I have seen an enormous amount of people come and go, both geographically, mentally, and also biologically. It’s important to remember that all this effort means a lot. It makes a difference. Together we create an open space where people can learn and grow, eventually spinning their ideas off into their own ventures. That’s amazing!
I sincerely treasure and appreciate all of the support we have received over the years. This a long road we are on, and we have so much more yet to do.
“Keep on dreamin’.”
Thanks and take care! --Var