Photo Finish Friday – Willy Vlautin

This is writer/musician Willy Vlautin at Shakespeare and Co. in Missoula on 11/16/2016. He read passages from his most recent novel, 2014’s The Free, and then performed the songs that inspired the characters who populate the book. He is also in the band Richmond Fontaine, who just called it quits after their 11th album, You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing to Go Back To, which I reviewed for the Indy here. I also recently interviewed Willy via email, here.

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Willy is my favorite novelist. He writes the kinds of books I try to, the songs and music I struggle to find an outlet for, and seems to battle many of the same issues I do when it comes to presenting work to the world. Feeling like an outsider. Loving and relating to that class of folks so many in the world consider “losers,” because they feel more like our people than anyone else does, and that sooner or later it will be revealed it’s because we are secretly “losers” too. All that stuff we don’t often talk about.

It’s been difficult for me to come back to these photos and watch the videos from the event. Or to even think about it that much. It was one of the best ones I’ve ever attended, easily. I had met Willy once before, in the saddest of circumstances, and we chatted quite a bit the other night. However, I totally missed an opportunity to hang out with the guy for a couple hours in a bar later that night, largely my own doing, and I really haven’t gotten over it. It’s complicated, and sounds like hero worship but it isn’t. When I heard later of what I’d missed, the opportunity that had passed, I was bereft. I’m not proud to admit it. It was like getting a phone call that someone had died. I couldn’t believe I’d missed out, that I’d failed to hang around (something I almost always do) after the event, that I’d not been more available.

When I left my job last year, I got this tattoo as kind of a statement of purpose. That by leaving the safe and secure behind I was embarking on some heroic undertaking by truly dedicating myself to being an artist. It’s been helpful (and yeah, it sounds melodramatic too). More than once, driving and reflecting on what I’ve done, what I’m doing, looking down at my forearm has reminded me that being all in means being all the fucking way in, no turning back. I couldn’t live with myself if I gave up. I gave up on trying to make a go of it as a musician a couple decades ago and feel I’ve paid the price every drab, mono-toned fucking day since. I’m determined not to make that same mistake again, now that writing, and photography, have given me a glimmer of a second chance.

Lately I’ve been struggling with a lot of depression; definitely the “months of complete darkness” phase of this particular part of the adventure. Plagued with doubt, utterly lacking in confidence, the whole bit. Vlautin talked about that, wrestling with one’s own demons and self esteem the moment you even consider getting out of bed. But we get up and push on. Spending time with folks like Vlautin — people sharing our journeys, but maybe a good distance farther along — can be like a break in the storm, if I may continue the Shackleton tattoo metaphor, where the sun or moon comes out and allows us a moment to get our bearings and will to continue.

I missed this one. And it’s taken me down for a couple days now. I’m sure it’s been made worse by where my head already was, by the stuff I try and keep a lid on, but that doesn’t really matter. I haven’t been this filled with regret in a long, long time. But you know, shit happens. We continue on. And hope that sometimes lightning does strike twice.

Next time I’ll be ready. Until then, HTFU, La Tray….

 

Photo Finish Friday

Some street photography. I love taking pictures of my friends. And when Mara, friend and occasional co-worker, texts me, even on a day off, and says, “Want to split some nachos with me?” the only possible answer is, “I’ll meet you on the corner.”

Photo via iPhone, processed with VSCO with 8 preset
Photo via iPhone, processed with VSCO with 8 preset

 

Photo Finish Friday: The God Hates Us All Edition

There’s been a ton of talk lately over Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. I greet the news with a shrug. As I’ve grown older and wiser, I’ve gained some appreciation for the man’s art. I still find him generally unlistenable, but as someone who appreciates the written word, I can understand why he’s such a big deal to so many people.

In my youth, though, I despised him. It is an aversion I have to overcome every time I think of him. He was one of those artists held up by a previous generation as an example of what was so much better, and more pure, about the artists of their time than those me and mine were drawn to. He was beloved (and still is) by all those ex-hippies who sold out, went to Wall Street, and proceeded to screw up the world.

Which brings me to . . . fuckin’ SLAYER.

This band headlined a near perfect triple bill of thrash metal awesomeness at the Wilma in Missoula last night, and I am still feeling ecstatic. I don’t care what anyone says. SLAYER is as iconic and important as any band America has ever produced. They’ve been sticking to their guns for 30+ years (their first record, Show No Mercy, was released in 1983). One of the original “Big Four” thrash metal bands — the name given to the pioneers of the genre, where they are joined by Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax (who also delivered the goods last night) — they’ve never had gigantic commercial success, yet everyone has heard of them. You either get what they do or you don’t. And if you don’t, they are probably terrifying to you. Which meant everything to a bunch of dorks who grew up in 80s Montana hating the world we were being presented. Metal was my tribe well into my twenties, until the 90s made it something else and I fell away. Watching the love that people expressed last night, for one of my era’s bands, made me miss loving anything so much as I loved music back before I got bitter and hateful. SLAYER, and Death Angel and Anthrax for that matter, washed all that away for several gleeful hours last night.

A few points I’ll close with:

  • There was quite a bit of security last night, but I suspect the Wilma is populated by more fight-starting meatheads at any given Fly Fishing Film Festival event than at the show last night.
  • I shared more smiles and grins with random, unknown people last night than at any event I’ve attended in recent memory. The kindred spirit among metalheads was alive and well in Missoula, and it made me proud.
  • There was one guy in the next aisle, his entire body just full of energy, on the front of his toes, a big smile on his face, his eyes lit up . . . he was in a state of joyous ecstasy that can’t be faked. I wish I’d photographed him.
  • Nothing in the limp world of “peaceful” music approaches the catharsis found in the raging environs of a metal show. I gleefully screamed, “I reject this fuckin’ race, I despise this fuckin’ place!” over and over with Tom Araya and a couple thousand other people and I smiled all the way and feel happy today because of it. Go figure.
  • Even the music played over the PA before and between bands was everything that made me love music in the first place. Maiden. Priest. Dio. AC/DC. Pure magic.

I could go on, but if you’ve stuck around you get the point. I loved it. Here’s a shitty cell phone picture taken from my seat front and center of the balcony. The Wilma posted some fantastic ones of their own. Dig those HERE.

I feel good today.

But I’m pretty sure it won’t last.

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Photo Finish Friday

The Ansel Adams Meets Easy Rider Edition.

 

This is a self portrait of yours truly from August of 2007 (damn, that’s almost five years ago!). It’s from Yosemite National Park. I was on a work trip in the Sierras and wrapped up early. Since I was so close to Yosemite and I had never been before, I took a vacation day to go check it out. It is as magnificent as it seems — impossible to describe, really. It’s good to be reminded that, for all my longing to see other places around the world, there is a lot of stuff right here in the USA that can put me on my knees.

I was reminded of it because the following video came across my Google reader today, courtesy of one of one of my favorite feeds, Vagabondish. Fire this sucker up and watch it in full screen. I literally found myself brought nearly to tears watching it, especially the night scenes with the stars and galaxies passing overhead.