Masonic Boom

"Crazy" "Oversensitive" "Feminazi" "Bitch" bloggin' bout pop music, linguistics and mental health issues

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cow House

n.b. this is not Cow House, it is an abandonned barn nearby, at the top of Krumkill Road, photo by Eduardo Olivera

It was one of those Urban Legends that, when you think about it, you can't even remember where you heard it first. Maybe it was on the school bus, maybe it was your parents whispering to each other in the front seat of the car, maybe it was a real estate agent trying to explain away an eyesore on the neighbourhood.

As you drove down New Scotland Avenue towards Voorheesville, perhaps to pick up some groceries at Stonewells (the last of the independent supermarkets that hadn't been bought out by Grand Union or Price Chopper just yet) or taking the shortcut down the back way, past the abandonned country club, you'd pass Cow House.

It had clearly once been a beautiful house, one of those huge, sprawling farmhouses you only really get in New England and Upstate New York, dating back to the early 19th Century, when white clapboard Colonial started to give way to the gingerbread fancies of American Victorian. Two or three stories with bay windows and a porch wrapped all the way around the outside, of the sort you could see old grandmothers sitting on in rocking chairs in the summer heat, knitting and telling stories.

Except the paint had long since peeled to a weathered grey and the only occupants that dared shelter on the porch were black and white Friesian cows, chewing their cud complacently out of the heat. There was an orchard by the house, with ancient, grizzled apple trees that had long gone to seed, but no one dared pick the apples, and they fell and rotted among the unmowed grass.

It was such a sad story, the gossip went. 50 years earlier, a farmer had lived there, the last of his line. When his wife died, he shut himself up in the house and became a recluse. Here the story gets muddied - or maybe it's my memory. Some kids tried to break into the house, and he chased them with a shotgun, and shot one of them in the leg. Or perhaps it was someone from Social Services who came to check up on him, on account of the state of the house and land, and he chased them off with a shotgun. (I wonder, these days, why he wasn't sent to jail for doing such things - but then again, this was America with its right to bear arms, and, unlike the UK, if you find an intruder in your house, you're within your rights to blast them to Kingdom Come. Don't quote me on that, I'm a storyteller, not a lawyer.)

Whatever, the story, it was somehow both terrifying and sad. There were actually quite a few abandonned houses in the area (and even an abandonned schoolhouse where I used to hide out when I ran away from home) but only this one had rumours about it. When we first moved in, in the early 80s, it looked conceivably still inhabited. But as the porch crumbled and the roofs fell in, I wondered if the shotgun-toting, lonely old man had died, or if he ever existed.

When I was a teenager, I didn't understand the impetus that would lead someone to such a life. Lock yourself away from the world, bar the windows, let everything go to rack and ruin around you. But lately, it's begun to look more and more appealing. Why bother to interact with a world that has abandonned or disappointed you on every level? As you feel yourself slip away, social ties growing ever looser, you wonder what it is to stop you. That revulsion that people feel towards old cat ladies and old crazy guys who shout at traffic - it's that shuddering sense of "There but for the grace of god..." How easy it is to fall between the cracks. How many missed calls and unanswered emails before you slip away for good. And as you get older, those connections get harder to replace. Until one day there are none.

I used a slow afternoon at work to look for the house on Google StreetView, up and down New Scotland Road, trying to remember how the back roads all connected up. The house was gone, not a trace that it had ever stood there - obliterated so completely that at first I wasn't even sure I had the right corner. The house had been bulldozed, the orchard had either been chopped down or simply fallen down through old age. Cow House was utterly vanished.

I deleted my MySpace today. I'd been threatening to do it for weeks and not quite had the nerve, as there were still friends for whom that was my only way of contacting them. But then again, if a social networking site is the only way you have of contacting someone, how close a friend are they, really? A few years' worth of blogging gone in an instant. Is it a loss? I don't know. Perhaps those years are better off buried and forgotten.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

So What Happened To The Shimura Curves Album?

This is one of those questions I should really be paying more attention to, instead of getting in pointless fights on the internet. It's been nearly a year since we decided to put it out, and almost nothing has happened. There was a kind of brief flurry of activity last year, and then nothing.

I've honestly got to the point where I don't think it will ever come out. And indeed am wondering *why* people even put out records in the first place, trying to find some motivation to do it. So many of the reasons I can come up with seem either illegitimate or things I absolutely do not want to do.

People put out records because they want to make money off their music. In the current economic climate, with the business model for music and the internet changing so drastically, I'm fairly certain that I won't make any money off it, indeed, it's extremely unlikely that it will even break even, and will most likely end up costing me money.

People put out records because they want to be famous. The last thing I want is to be famous. That's the single most important lesson I've learned off the small amount of indie "fame" I had, and the rather more substantial amount of internet infamy. You think that Fame means everyone will love you. It doesn't. It means that everyone thinks that they are somehow entitled to a piece of you. No thank you.

People put out records because they want the respect of their peers. Yes, I admit. This one still appeals. Yeah, I'd like some critical acclaim. I'd like fellow musicians and DJs to go "That Kate St.Claire, she's a good musician and a good songwriter." I'd like to see my name in some in end of year lists and DJ sets. Except this is the one that's least likely to happen. I know that I'm handicapped before I even start by the mere fact of my gender. I'll be shunted off into a little box labelled "female musicians" and left out when the accolades of genius are distributed. This hurts. This makes me think that if I have to work twice as hard to be taken half as seriously, I might as well not even try.

So really, what does that leave? The desire to have other people listen to my music, and maybe even get something out of it? I can do that with a blog and a MySpace. Why invest so much time, effort and yes, money, into putting out a *record*?

I don't remember where it stalled. The album is finished, it's sitting on my hard drive (and backed up, this time.) I listen to it at work, and I'm *proud* of it. I like the way it sounds. And though I can hear the obvious influences and reference points (Stereolab, School of Seven Bells, St.Etienne) I don't really hear anything else out there at the moment that *sounds* like it. It's unique. It's a bit weird, not easily pigeonhole-able. This is both a problem and a strength.

So why not just fucking put the thing out? The last time I spoke to Chris, we were a bit stuck on the Mastering process. A minor hitch, and certainly not any kind of iceberg to stop this album. The truth is, it's me. I don't want to do it.

Pardon me for doing this in public. Pardon me if I bruise any feelings. This isn't about you; this is about me.

1) I feel like I'm alone in this. My former bandmates have all kind of wandered off and lost interest. When we first discussed this, everyone was keen, they all volunteered - but when it comes to doing any work, where are they? Yeah, I recognise that people have lives. Since we first started work on this album, a couple of years ago, there have been a wedding, two babies, a successful club night and a crafting group, countless jobs, countless breakups and countless moves. Life happens. But I am so tired of doing this by myself, and I'm so tired of feeling like the only one that cares.

2) All of this dredges up painful memories from years ago, that should have been long buried. Music is about emotion, of course some of those grudges get written into the very emotional fabric that makes up that music. I don't want to re-engage with so much of this negativity.

3) It's not just the record, it's everything that goes with it, the album artwork, the liner notes, photographs - not to mention the promotion when it comes out. Of course I'm going to have to do all this now, since no one else has. There's only one of me, and only so much time. By the time I get to the end of a long day at work, I'd rather draw paisley or pretty boys than album artwork.

4) The promotion. I just don't want to fucking do it. I actually start to feel sick to the stomach when I think about it. Everything I went through putting out that last album, Taste The Lollies. Interviews. Photo shoots. Press. Radio. Tours. I am an introvert. I find this stuff exhausting, invasive, and, when you do it day in, day out with the intensive kind of effort that went into the Taste launch, incredibly tedious and boring.

This has all changed now, and it's all about getting out on the web and making your presence known, which is somehow even worse. The internet is a total fucking sewer of attention-seeking idiots escaped from Daily Mail Island. I don't *want* to make myself available to these people. I know from experience, the kind of personality I have, if I spend more than 10 minutes on an internet forum, there's a flamewar up around my ears. This is *not* good promotion. This means that the collective work of half a dozen people will be flame fodder for assholes because I don't conform to their narrow, conservative idea of what a woman should be. Yeah, I know there's a school of thought that says there's no such thing as bad press, but when it's *me* out there getting the flak for it? It hurts. Don't pretend it doesn't hurt because it's some random internet troll having a go. It makes me very depressed, and I don't mean "ooh, a little sad" - I mean, it triggers and aggravates the serious, can't get out of bed clinical depression that brings my life to a halt. I don't want that in my life.

5) Did I mention I have to do this alone? If I can't get my former bandmates to care, how on earth can I get strangers to care? If I'm having trouble coming up with a reason to release a record, how on earth am I suppose to sell it to other people?

6) What if it bombs? Or worse, what if no one listens and no one cares? These songs are my babies, my precious little jewels for me to listen to in my home. What if no one wants them?

I guess I want someone to encourage me. Someone to turn me around, to tell me that it's worth it, to tell me to go for it. And that is the least likeliest thing of all.