It's Just a Ride

Let me introduce this post by saying: find some place to be alone for 10 minutes. 10 minutes 14 seconds to be exact. This song, The Ride by Amanda Palmer is bound to bring some pretty powerful emotions to the surface. So go find a corner, maybe bring a box of tissues, and hit play: (a quick word of warning: She drops the F-bomb at 6:20, so hit mute for a second if you're averse to such language)

This song was featured on NPR's All Songs Considered podcast on February 12. When I heard it that day, I had the thought "That was a good song, and I'm glad I heard it and had that experience, but it's not a song I need in my library, but I'm glad I heard it." But the song just wouldn’t leave me alone. It's become an ear worm in the last 10 days, but in such a good way, and I had to write something about it.

The song is all about fear, and the ups and downs in life we all experience using a roller coaster ride as a metaphor to express the idea. The music perfectly reflects this in a waltz with an ascending and descending scale. Before she wrote the song, Amanda asked her fans on her Patreon website to tell her something they were afraid of in 50 words or less. They responded with 1,183 comments. On the list are things like the fear of dying, parents dying, inability to have children, losing a child, breaking up, finding new love. She wrote the song in 36 hours after reading those comments (which itself took her 3 hours) posted in response to her request. She told the NPR hosts in an interview about the experience:

There was a guy who commented ‘I’m not afraid of anything anymore really.’ I just remember what Bill Hicks said, and I knew exactly what this guy was talking about, I’m a huge Bill Hicks fan, I’ve referenced him in my songs, he’s a hero to me. And I knew he was talking about this monologue that Bill Hicks ended one of his shows with about how life is like a ride at an amusement park, and it has thrills and chills and you go up and down and around and around and it’s very brightly colored and then there are people who remember it’s a ride and they come back and they tell you don’t be afraid of anything ever. It’s just a ride. And I found myself thinking, like, ‘oh am I allowed to steal that for a song? I can write anything I want, I can steal that.’

What she came up with is something so mind-blowingly powerful. And ultimately, I feel, so full of hope and comfort. One of my favorite lines, which consistently puts a lump in my throat, goes "I wish you could think of me sitting and singing beside you." I just love how badly she wants to sit next to these fans of hers that told her so many heartbreaking stories and put her arm around them to comfort them. Another favorite line goes "Isn't it nice when we're all afraid at the same time?" and later a variation of the same: "Isn't it nice when we all can cry at the same time?" We've all gone through tough times in our lives, so we should all be able to sympathize and empathize with each other, and be afraid or cry with each other.

So if you're struggling, remember "it's just a ride." And I join Amanda in her wish that you "could think of me sitting and singing [or] riding beside you."

Music and Me

I love music.

I know I’m not unique in this aspect, so why bring it up? Why devote a post on my photography blog about my love of music?

There was a recent period in my life when I wasn’t the voracious music listener I was before and after. The only time I listened to music in any degree was while I was driving. But last year I gradually paying more attention to my iTunes library, and one of my resolutions for 2019 is to really get back into music.

I’m going to make perhaps a long-winded correlation, but hear me out: In the past 12 to maybe 18 months I’ve felt a resurgence in my confidence as a photographer (this whole topic of confidence deserves its own blog post, which I may or may not write), and I feel like my return to searching for new music and listening more often has been a big contributor to that change I’ve seen in my creatively, especially over the last month and a half. It was in early- to mid-2014 that I stopped searching out new music and listening so much, and it was around that same time that I felt a decline in my confidence level.

Music has always been one of my favorite things. I love the memories that certain songs can bring to the surface; I love the excitement of hearing an old favorite I may have neglected or ignored for a long time; I love the thrill of hearing a brand new song that stirs up emotion in whatever way, be it happiness, or sadness, or rowdy, or hopeful.

And while I’m on this topic of music, and its impact on my creativity, music has been a part of my photography. I’ve often thought of what a soundtrack for projects or individual photographs would sound like: what style of music would it be? would it be a score? who would compose it? what artists and songs would be on it? During the years of 2015-2017 and part of 2018, whenever I went out photographing I played music in the car that had an impact on me when I was in college or during my time in grad school. Artists like Interpol, Death Cab for Cutie, Wilco, The New Pornographers, and Elliott Smith. My thinking was that that music inspired me and helped channel my creativity back then, so it should inspire me now. I felt my work was strong then, so listening to that same music should help me make strong work now. Right? I even made a playlist with all of those old favorite songs and albums.

Looking back on that period, I feel like I was making work that was trying to by like the work I was making during college. I feel like I was trying to make that old music inform my present-day creativity. In mid-2018 I realized this, and thought “it’s 2018. I’m not in my early or late twenties. I need to be making work that is more authentic to my 2018 self. Why not update my music?” And once I did that, once I started playing the music that was inspiring me currently, today, I think that was when my confidence began to really return. I had, without stating specifically, decided to live in the present and look to the future as an artist, and turn to those things that are currently inspiring, informing, and influencing me. I’m not trying to make the music I listen to be responsible for my success or failures, or ups or downs as an artist. I just mention all this to illustrate the music’s power to influence me.

The lesson I’ve learned (and maybe it’s still sinking in) is that I’m not the same person I was when I was in college. I’m not the same artist I was then, or in 2008. I’m not the same artist I was a month ago, nor am I, I think it would be safe to say, even the same artist I was yesterday. We’re all progressing—or, god forbid, digressing—and we need to embrace that progression, grow with it, and learn from it. It might do us good to take a minute periodically and identify (if it’s not obvious) what is causing that growth.