Alex Mathews

Alex Mathews – writer, bared naked dude blah blah blah

Load-In/Tuning

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The following series is a book called Listening For The Secret, and it will be featured here in installments.

The equipment is brought in and assembled amidst what is no doubt lively discussion, as roadies, audio technicians and band members attempt to meet some form of accord. The scents linger from musicians who have been there before. The place is a studio, where musicians will try to commit to permanent record the fruits of their creativity and their romance with the muse. No doubt there is a plan, or a broad sketch of one, perhaps managed by some guy whose unfortunate job it is to organize these musicians and steward them through the act of making a record. It is a cooperative effort, likely often too full of conflict and tension. It is the clash of too many visions, too many heads, too many directions, and too many ideas. There must be added pressure, as well. The label needs a product that will sell, and they need it now. Studio time is expensive. How many days does it take for you music people to play your instruments and sing your songs, they inquire? Three? Four?

And when the band shows up at the same time, finally, and they go into the room and start playing, perhaps some of the stress is relieved. Perhaps someone breathes a bit easier, because a direction is beginning to become apparent. The basic foundation is getting laid.

Whether this is an accurate picture of what goes on in a recording studio, I can really only imagine. And I can certainly only imagine what it was like for the Grateful Dead, really. I do know that as a writer, who has neither the luxury nor the bane of having to work with a group of people, the process is difficult enough. The doubt and the second-guessing of myself, the working and re-working of ideas, the erosion of confidence, the isolation of the whole thing, the too frequent frustration and the near constant mental acrobatics that goes with me while I am writing is an incredibly difficult thing to endure. I can only imagine what a group of musicians experience as they attempt to commit to some permanent record their music.

The Grateful Dead released 23 albums in the span of their 30-plus year career. These albums are given much less attention by fans because the band was essentially a touring band, a live act. While so much has been written about the band, attention has generally not been given to the studio efforts. There are so many facets to the Grateful Dead phenomenon, and have been covered in many writings from mainstream to scholarly. This band has its own legend, its own mythology.

My goal is to tell the story, from the plotline of the studio albums. I want to offer a seminal work on the Grateful Dead. As I dug into the effort, I was inspired in more troubling times to keep going because of all of the aspects of the Grateful Dead that have always kept the fire inside me glowing—this inimitable music, the psychedelic art that is inextricably linked to the music and the phenomenon, the mythology, the quest for meaning, and the simple joy about life that is transmitted through these songs.

Few musical groups ever earn a place in history as an enduring phenomenon. As almost fifty years of living history will attest, the Grateful Dead is one of those rare treasures. Their music has transported multiple generations and their legacy will undoubtedly touch many more to come. Arguably, no musical entity in history has ever essentially been so tied to cultural phenomenon, and the devotion of Deadheads knows no comparison. In viewing such an occurrence it is a valuable point of inquiry to examine the legend, to discover the mythology, and attempt to unveil the mystery and meaning. The story of the Grateful Dead is in some respects the story of life itself, where in sublime moments the curtain is peeled away and the secrets are gracefully offered to those that will receive it in kind. Listening for the Secret is an effort to tell that story through the lens of the Dead’s twenty-three studio albums. To do so will require a style of writing that is part historical document, part lyrical analysis, part essay, part narrative, but foremost it is a story told from the deepest recesses of the human heart.

I think what is so potent to me is the spirit or essence, or vibe, that floats around—and in brief moments that show up from time to time during the course of a day—and you just feel it and you say to yourself, “Oh yeah, I remember now.” It’s like you get pulled back home, and you just breath easy because you are reminded that this is where it’s at. It’s purpose and it’s meaningful and there is no equivocation.

Whether I attribute that to the Grateful Dead or whether the Grateful Dead is just a part of that, I can’t really say. It would never occur to me that it wasn’t the Grateful Dead.

If I sound vague it’s because I just can’t quite articulate the full impact of “IT.” But inside me, in my heart or whatever you want to call it, I yearn to tell people, maybe so I can find a friend or a kindred spirit; or maybe I need to express these ideas and emotions. But it is not easy.

I wanted to write a book about my own personal Grateful Dead trip many years ago, because the experiences and the feelings were so big. I just didn’t know how, or perhaps I didn’t know who would care. And that would be the most heartbreaking, because I think I was initiated into something special. So for whatever it’s worth, if you are so willing and prepared, the invitation is always open to join the party.

Click here to read the next installment of ‘Listening for the Secret.’

10 Last Laughs: Weird Wills and Strange Legacies

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For some reason, the other night I was thinking about death. Of course I always do that. Sometimes it’s just because I’m afraid of dying, sometimes it’s because I’m fantasizing about someone close to me dying. I think maybe this time it’s because my Rich Uncle keeps reminding me that I will need to care for his cats in the event of his demise. And also, the internet likes lists, and I am always looking for ideas that can be synthesized into a handy list. I don’t have much regard for lists in this particular iteration, and I really hate being a slave to the mechanisms of SEO, but I have to improve my rankings for the whole making money, platform-building thing.

“Stop being so self-conscious about the modality and write about your subject matter. Get to the point. The internet people can’t parse all those trains of thought.”

“Yes, you are right, but that hurts my feelings.”

“Your sensitivity is what attracts readers to you.”

“Fuck you.”

Death is always looming. When people die, especially when they have a lot of shit to give away, they can call from the grave to their loved ones because they know their loved ones want their stuff. Almost like they still have a hand in the world of the living. I will certainly want to control these people after I go, so I totally get why writing a will is critical. I’ve decided to compile a list of some of the weird and funny things people have done from the grave. Unfortunately, the title of this post has to have the appeal for the internet people, so all the good titles can’t really be used. Anyway, here’s the list:

  1. I have great admiration for people who have a great sense of humor, but when you’re breathing and getting boozed up it’s fairly easy to do. When you’re dead it’s much more admirable. Charles Vance Millar, a wealthy Canadian lawyer, gave a Jamaican vacation home to three people he knew hated each other. He was better known for offering half a million dollars to the woman who could birth the most children. The frenzy to breed for money was known as the “Great Stork Derby,” and four women split the money, each with nine children to feed.

  2. Dead people are not immune from being sad and pathetic, either. A woman named Audrey Knauer left her $300,000 estate to actor Charles Bronson, leaving her family nothing. Perhaps even more astounding is the fact that Bronson accepted half of the bequest despite the stipulation in her will that what he did not take would go to charity. He must have felt like it was his due, because of all that testosterone and celebrity and whatnot.

  3. Death can also offer an opportunity to stand for principles you hold dear, even if they are morally unconscionable. T.M. Zink left his daughter the sum of $5, zero to his wife, and established a trust to build The Womanless Library, where no books by women could be shelved, no references to women were permitted, and no artwork or furniture designed by women could reside. Clearly he had a bad time of things with the ladies in his life.

  4. Solomon Sandborn demanded that the skin from his body be stripped from his corpse to fashion two drums, and these were to be given to his friend Warren Simpson, who would somehow play “Yankee Doodle” on his flesh drums at Bunker Hill every 17th of June to commemorate the Revolutionary war battle fought there. I can only imagine the sort of friendship these two guys had.

  5. Samuel Bratt left this world with a grievance with his wife, who clearly nagged him about his smoking, for he left her £333,000 under the condition that she smoked five cigars a day. I hope he got his point across.

  6. Jeremy Bentham left his entire estate to the London Hospital under the condition that his corpse be preserved and allowed to attend the hospital’s board meetings. His body sits in a glass-enclosed cabinet in the Committee Room, where the minutes always reflect that he is ‘present but not voting.’

  7. Most people are aware of the estate valued at 139 million Deutschmarks that Countess Karlotta Liebenstein left to her German Shepherds, who would enjoy a higher standard of living than basically anyone in East Germany. There are many well known wills and testaments that leave assets to animals, which leads me to believe the deceased in these cases had very little grasp on life while they were here.

  8. Leona Helmsley seemed to recover from her failed fortune and imprisonment for tax evasion, because she was able to leave $12 million dollars to her Maltese. Incidentally, she left nothing to two of her grandchildren, and two others were given a few million dollars only if they visited their father’s grave once a year. This opens up the idea of morbid reflection in so many ways. Her estate was valued in the billions of dollars, and after the dog and grandchildren were taken care of, the rest was to go to the cause of canine welfare. I would like to know why, after that infusion of cash, there are any dogs on the entire planet who suffer at all. I am fairly confident that problem should be taken care of by now.

  9. German poet Heinrich Heine left his estate to his wife, but the condition was that she remarry to ensure that “there would be at least one man to regret my death.”

  10. An Irishman, in his will, stated “To my wife, I leave her lover, and the knowledge that I was not the fool she thought me; to my son I leave the pleasure of earning a living. For 20 years he thought the pleasure was mine; he was mistaken.”

It may be true you can’t take it with you, but you can certainly try to screw with people when you go. If I were practicing family law, my call to action would be right here.

 

Tucker Max School Of Entrepreneurism

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I discovered Tucker Max a few years ago when I read I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. Later I found it had been made into a movie, which didn’t make any sense to me because it wasn’t exactly a plotted sort of novel. Most of the time when I watch a movie I basically get pissed off that such drivel comes to the screen and it makes me feel the agitation that whatever I am working on is not going to hit the screen or the bookstores, while this mindless, uneducated trash is going to hit the NYT bestseller list and then get made into a movie. That is like my dream. I can come up with mindless, uneducated trash. No problem. Aim high, Nana always said. In fact, my internal dialog is mainly just a pitch meeting. Always. Ok, so a virgin guy with awkward social skills visits his aunt in Des Moines, where her car wash is under threat of foreclosure, and these horrible developers want the land, and these smokin’ hot neighbor chicks volunteer to help raise the money to save the car wash by getting really soapy and wet. And the nerdy guy gets laid. I must confess that this is usually the extent of my ability to conceive of a plot. If I haven’t seen it in a B-movie already, it’s likely I can’t conceive of anything original. But you know, human drama is always the same story told over and over. Sometimes you cook meth to reclaim your life, and sometimes you hold a bikini car wash. Sometimes you need to dispose of a body.

I won’t say Tucker Max is uneducated or necessarily mindless, because he is intelligent and hilarious. And his writing is comfortable. He is a misogynist with a heart of gold, and who doesn’t love that? I personally like midget sex, and Tucker is unashamed about it. I was nearly moved to tears to see the photo of him holding the hand of the midget he bedded in his second book, Assholes Finish First. So cute. But perhaps you aren’t turned on by a guy who gets drunk and uses poor young girls to feed what you might call his low sense of self-esteem masquerading as sexual prowess. That’s ok, because this guy is also a case study in success, and perhaps in the relative merits of being brutally honest and unashamed. He was turned down by every major publisher he queried. Not 499 out of 500, but like 1,000 out of 1,000. So he did what any self-respecting failure does. He took matters into his own hands. He started a blog back when it was still a novel idea—and not every mommy and internet marketer had taken to the web like cockroaches to pour out their impoverished souls—and he built a following by giving away his work for free, and then the publishers came knocking. Sure, it’s not Walter White kind of empowerment, but it’s something. And of course, that is why all these words here on my blog are totally free.

Which brings me to today’s idea (borrowed from Seth Grodin), which is that if you don’t start, you can’t fail. If you don’t actually rent the Winnebago and buy all the precursor, there will be no blue meth. I am mostly doing this to remind myself of this fact, and that failure isn’t as bad as never trying in the first place. Carpe Diem. I personally have the photos of the midget to prove it.

 

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