*NOTE: The lyrics contained in this post are as I hear them / remember / believe them. Apologies to the artists for any fudging (hopefully minor).
Always this noisiness has been rambling in my head--various voices, a cacophony of images, a push-pull between extreme feelings. My therapy before my DID diagnosis centered around “thinking errors,” instead choosing rationality & thoughtfulness over reactionary paranoia or cyclical mania; as I’ve learned more about my delusions, the main focus has been on integration, sorting through these parts, attempting to understand them, & satisfying the full self through decision-making, both preventative & reactive. Often, all four parts speak in a given heightened situation, a chorus of competing (re)actions to take in & choose from, even in the simpler situations, say, someone cutting me off in traffic. Day upon day ticking off & accumulating, that racket can be quite overwhelming & exhausting, to say the least.
In times of quiet aloneness, like lonelier days when D is away or when I am working on the farm for instance, it has been helpful to rejuvenate myself with necessary distractions & substitutions, input that can influence positive output in the future, especially in terms of perspective & language; this is also true in times where a dissociative cycle, manic moment, or paranoid thought might otherwise consume me. The accumulation these days includes conversation-based podcasts, logic-oriented nonfiction, most poetry, & deep talks with the trusted folks, be it therapists, my parents, or my wife. From the earliest age though, listening to music has been the most reliable, influential medium for grounding me, providing the emotional (re)charge to cut through / beyond the noise.
I love how-to videos on YouTube. Some ding-bat in Ohio videotapes himself changing his fuel pump on his ‘99 S10 & can’t help but do the play-by-play. That language among the doing, even if unrelated, is what the inside of this head hums, the logical steps & the personal bumps rubbing against one another to accomplish a / any thing. It is probably why I’ve always collected quotes, obsessing over lyric sheets in the CDs of yesteryear, able to learn lyrics of the screams I loved as a teenager, or using song quotes how others use cliches or metaphors in normal conversation.
For this month’s blog post, I hoped to explore how three significant periods of young adulthood music-loving shaped my identity, my worldview, & my morals, examining the songs that hold together the fractured oddity of me. Sure, my alters have their own music; The Kid insists on listening to “MMMBop” over & over when he’s restless, & Crazy Vinny keeps a playlist of the loudest, most boneheaded stuff when he’s lifting weights or blowing off steam. Here though, I want to focus on Container Store Tyler™, the affectionate nickname for primary me, & how my journey understanding my identity--as someone with DID, as a hick, as a poet, as a two-sided angry/friendly dude--has been positively propped by my favorite Hoosier bands, the contemporary country musicians that don’t suck, & the band I’d now declare my favorite..
Hauling ass into my teen years, I met up with buds on weekend nights at the bowling alley in town; around 8th grade, I noticed the place getting emptier, friends opting instead to hop an old ledge (just remembered: a pet store there burnt down when I was a whippersnapper) & head into The Cove, an all-ages pool hall complete with punk shows in the back room, first shitty bands from our little town & eventually some cool groups from the surrounding areas. A classmate named Kevin told my mom he saw me smoking cigarettes (not true) & fighting (possibly true) one Saturday night (question: wouldn’t it be mighty hard to do both at the same time?) while him & his mom got Blizzards at the adjacent Dairy Queen, but despite what Kevin & his mom think of me, I dare claim that those shows at the Cove & the community I fell in love with there was the most positive influence I had in my first two decades on this earth.
It was there I learned what Straight Edge was, seeing these folks come in & out with Sprite cans & X’ed up hands. Sure, the Straight Edge lifestyle can be corny, can be toxic & masculine, but that choice, to abstain from all drugs, including caffeine, from age 13 to 22 might have literally saved my life. As I bumbled through balancing my sexuality, coming to terms with my anger, & other bullshit bullet points of Midwestern teen dude life, I now am so thankful I had a clear(ish) head to think through my mistakes & my meanings.
The influence of those folks in that scene went far beyond keeping this numbskull off the sauce, though. I made friends with an older group of female punks, often the only boy in the van going to out-of-town shows; they taught me how to be platonic friends with gals, as well as being the first folks I knew who chatted through big subjects like the existence of god & gender equality. Also, as I tagged along with bands in the scene, it was the first time I befriended folks who identified as artists, an impulse I had but knew not what to do with. They were the first people I knew who went to college, who read books for fun, who shared albums & poems & thoughts they were stoked about. While plenty of music could be the soundtrack for my expanding life, the tunes the central Indiana bands I loved made were the only art I knew made from the actual life I was living.
In The Face Of War
Lead singer Ben Sutton shouted it best: “Let’s get one thing straight / It’s not about the songs, the music, or the words / All that matters is what we do for each other.” That’s the hum at the core of every ITFOW record, the ethos of community, friendship, & making powerful, good choices. In their ten-year run, they went from Christian metalcore to positive punk-hardcore; during that same run I went from pasty barely-teen / barely-person to recently-divorced / recently college graduate bumble brain. Going to ITFOW’s shows, I was in a place that both encouraged reflection & camaraderie, but also provided an environment to jump around & sing along, a reminder you can have fun, you can be rowdy, & still be thoughtful & caring.
“August Is Good For Goodbyes” from Self-Reliance Is Self-Destruction
“You’ve been with me / for my whole life / We’ll be much stronger / when we say goodbye.”
“If You Knew My Friends” from Live Forever or Die Trying
“The best way to take care of yourself / is to take care of someone else.”
“Who Will Be There” from We Make Our Own Luck
“But I’m hardly growing older / definitely not growing up / so what am I / who am I / and who will I become?”
Away With Vega
After pushing down the Away With Vega impulses for a couple years, I dusted off their tunes during my last breakdown & discovered something truly rejuvenating: wherever that confused, sensitive, & intense teen Tyler lives inside me, he’s still wearing his AWV t-shirt, the one with the sock on it. For a glob of years, I called Away With Vega my favorite band, & while their dissolution & my aging might have slipped them from the rankings (more on that in a second), these tunes still connect me to that side of myself that still firmly believes, “What a miracle it is to be loved at all!”
“Oh Heaven, Ain’t Ya Heard?” from A Baby Boy Sleeps
“Our hair is bound together / mystery in the back of our minds / oh heaven ain’t ya heard / that I’m alive”
“Catastrophe Bag” from Recovery
“Why are you still sleeping / Wake up / you’re missing everything”
“Race Street” from A Year At Home
“We pray with our crooked hearts / that someday we’ll find a way / to make straighter paths ahead / and still acknowledge our mistakes”
Upon seeing Mike Adams At His Honest Weight perform here in Austin, my wife declared Mike Adams to be Indiana’s best export; looking back on the last fifteen-plus years of his music-making in my home state, yup, she’s right. From clangy, Jesus-wrestling pop-punk to iconic Hoosier superband to whatever this is, Mike Adams captured the moments, his moments, growing up in Indiana. His two hallmark bands, husband&wife & the aforementioned MAAHHW, bring together what I think make all the musicians on this list so influential to me: they’re not just one thing--loud or sensitive or funny or whatever--they’re all of it at once, sincerely.
“Cross-Fingered Handshake” by Husband&Wife from the self-titled debut
“If you ever need rest / please don’t forget me / I’m always here when you’re running / and I’m waiting here / when you’re tired for love”
“Market Fresh” by Husband&Wife from Proud Flesh
“I’m completely unaware / of the market for grumpy old men / trapped inside the bodies / of twenty-five year-old kids.”
“Good Thing Going” by Mike Adams At His Honest Weight from Best of Boiler Room Classics
“We’ve got a good thing going / so we better get going / before the good thing goes.”
There is this misperception about rural &/or country folks: our parents only listen to country music & good country music at that. Yes, I was around good country music a lot as a kid, be it listening to Hank with my dad, the Dixie Chicks with my mom, or hearing “Take this Job & Shove It” blare out of Uncle Jimmy’s shed during a trip to North Carolina. But it’s important to note that my dad also loves Al Green (awesome), my mom loves Barry Manilow’s Christmas album (not awesome), & my favorite country band for the first half of my life was Sawyer Brown (still kinda awesome).
Just for fun, here are two playlists I’ve been working on: 90’s Country & Classic Country.
Yes, I did what a lot of kids do: I latched onto new challenges & viewpoints (for me, via college, books, & young adulthood world-widening) as modes & means to stretch away from my small town, my roots, & my parents’ influence. Then, my early 20’s figured out what parts of that culture was me, needed keeping. When I moved to Austin, I discovered there was a great gob of good contemporary country music, actually sharing many of my experiences & values. It reminded me of when I discovered the pulsing contemporary poetry scene--”THEY’RE NOT ALL DEAD? THANK GOODNESS!”
11 Contemporary Country Singers I Love
Sarah Shook & the Disarmers -- Frontperson Sarah Shook leads with the multiplicity of the modern artist -- atheist, queer, & vegan country artist, kind & intellectual punk, rowdy & progressive at the same damn time.
“God never makes mistakes, he just makes fuck-ups.” - “Fuck Up” on Sidelong
Tyler Childers - I am glad I gave this feller another chance. Like Sturgill (produced this record; more on him below), Childers never falls into the honky tonk rut, ranging from the spacy & bold (“Universal Sound”) to the quiet & personal (“Lady May”).
“I recall when I was a baby / I didn’t need nothing around / But a little bitty rattler and the universal sound” - “Universal Sound” on Purgatory
John Prine - As an aspiring old man, I appreciate the example John Prine is lending--witty, funny, & caring. I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again: Prine’s latest record Tree of Forgiveness is the best album by someone over the age of 70 ever.
“I can see your back porch / If I close my eyes now / I can hear the train tracks / Through the laundry on the line” - “Knockin’ On Your Screen Door” on Tree of Forgiveness
Margo Price - In her interview on Marc Maron’s WTF, she praises what pulled her out of her small Midwestern town, like a cheerleading scholarship & years in a van touring dive bars, yet in her music, we see her not moving away from those roots, but moving beyond them by tackling the misogyny, addiction problems, & family relations that haunts those places.
“Sometimes my weakness is stronger than me.” - “Weakness” on All-American Made
Kacey Musgraves - Let me get this out of the way: I think Golden Hour is a boring not-really-country album. Her first two albums, though, are pop-country gold, bringing her liberal, uniting worldview to the forefront; also there is no denying she is the Queen of Couplets.
“So hoe your own row and raise your own babies / Smoke your own smoke and grow your own daisies” - “Biscuits” on Pageant Material
The Deslondes - This five-piece band is probably my second favorite band right now. All five members write songs, all five members sing, & all five members completely rule. I had never heard of them when I saw them open for Spirit Family Reunion right after I moved to Austintown, but I’ve never missed them since.
“Don’t you wanna be a beautiful friend / Don’t you wanna be a beautiful to me / I wanna be a beautiful friend / I just wanna be a beautiful friend to you” - “Beautiful Friend” on Hurry Home
Possessed by Paul James - Some folks might argue with PBPJ’s inclusion on a list of country musicians, but I’d argue right back that his multi-instrumental string-instrument + stomp box one-man band vibe, his teacher-honed passion & advocacy, & his barn-burning energy make him just the kinda country artist we need right now.
“Yes oh yes / There will be nights when I’m lonely / As we cry ourselves to sleep” - “There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely” on There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely
Luke Bell - I clearly take my trucker hat off for folks pushing contemporary country music forward, but some folks like this Luke Bell are made for that old-school working-boy honky-tonk sound. Listen to the bouncing sadness of this track I’m quoting down yonder or the stretched-out syllables in “Loretta” & tell me I’m wrong.
“Sometimes I’m alright / Sometimes I get you on my mind / And other times / All I do is cry” - “Sometimes” on the self-titled album
Sturgill Simpson - This post avoids much DID talk, but Sturgill’s track “Voices,” while not intentionally about such issues, has been a big comfort to me in my journey. Sturgill’s sound has evolved (straight honky-tonk into the psychedelic country & further to a conceptual, orchestral sound). It proves that country artists--not only musicians, but also poets & storytellers & comedians, etc.--can stay rooted while also nodding to & incorporating their other influences in a sincere way.
“How I wish somebody make them voices go away” - “Voices” on Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Colter Wall - His big voice & thoughtful lyrics loom much larger than his 23 years. I respect Colter’s adherence to being a singer-songwriter, many of his tracks, both live & recorded, existing with only him on the mic & strings. Yes, it fits the desolate (Canadian) prairie sound he’s chasing, but it also headbutts this sucky stadium-country megaphone thing that’s happening.
“The grave & the garden won’t be satisfied till your name is next to mine.” - “Caroline” on Imaginary Appalachia
In college, I bounced through six majors, roughly a billion clubs / intramural teams, & several social circles, but through it all, I did know two things: I loved my girlfriend / soon-to-be wife / sooner-to-be ex-wife SH & I loved going to shows at Village Green Records, Muncie’s finest DIY record store. Usually the shows were on the lawn, but this one particular day it was raining so they pushed aside the shelves of records in the record-shop & that was when I saw State Champion play for the first time (I believe, 2010), crammed in with friends & strangers, including some friends who would later be strangers & a few strangers who might later become friends.
I’ve been a fan every day since, feeling a certain pull through time with their music, as if their particular brand of rock n’ roll (I like to call it emo-country) let loose a thread that I’m always pinching right behind in my own journey. When that first divorce happened, I bought my first record player because I had just bought my first record, SC’s Stale Champagne, & it was the only one I needed for a long while, a consoling listening experience that blew on the embers that became the fire of my first chapbook. Silver Jews leader & best-poet-to-only-put-out-one-book David Berman summed it up best, speaking to SC’s own leader Ryan Davis’s songwriting: "If Bob Dylan was funny, if Tom Waits was relevant, Ryan might not be peerless at what he does best, which is writing large gregarious circles around his pitiful colleagues in the field. He's the best lyricist who's not a rapper going."
From that first show to their fourth & most recent album, Send Flowers, I have found miles & miles of comfort & laughter & surprising insight in Davis’ sweeping (often well over five minutes long) songs full of the big questions (religion, mortality, sexuality) rubbing against the stupid objects / moments of Midwestern life (Big Gulps, Jeff Foxworthy, a transformed bucket of water, mopeds & vans driven by friends to the edge of town). This past November, home for Thanksgiving, I saw State Champion play again for the first time, nearly nine years in the waiting, the latest notch in a relationship, an attachment, & a loyalty to State Champion’s music over these four albums, one built on a mutual respect for language, in how it opens up boundaries & solidifies worries.
I’ve tried for years to make an “Intro To State Champion” playlist, but lordy, I can’t do it. I can’t name a favorite track, I can’t pick a favorite album, & I’m damn sure I wouldn’t wanna. In this world of singles & playlists, I’m so fucking thankful for these albums, all four of them as lids for the time capsules of some pretty grueling growing pains this last decade--Stale Champagne (divorce), Deep Shit (moving back home), Fantasy Error (moving to Austin), & Send Flowers (DID diagnosis).
9 State Champion Lyrics I Often Mutter To Myself For Comfort
“Some lay flowers on the side of the highway / to note the death of the ones they loved / while other flowers spend their whole lives out on the highway / standing for nothing / it’s just where they’re from” - “Help Me Sing” from Stale Champagne
“It’s always shining on Kentucky when you’re sad / but I ain’t mad about the weather / I just ain’t trying to feel much better about my past” - “Bite the Dust” from Stale Champagne
“I guess it gets harder and harder / changing colors everyday / oh and I think I’ve been feeling blue / I’ve been feeling pink and yellow / green and golden too” - “Old Green Room” from Deep Shit
“I still smell her hair on the horizon sometimes / you know I can’t get past it” - “The Basement” from Deep Shit
“When the hourglass shatters on your shithead friend / the montage upon us is easy / even a broken clock is right two times a day / and even a thug gets sleepy / even the darkest and deepest of this apartment’s secrets can be seen by the light of the TV” - “Wake Me Up” from Fantasy Error
“You left a note that said our love it would prevail / I left a prank call on the county coroner’s answering machine” - “There is a Highlight Reel” from Fantasy Error
“Some people love playing the bad guy / some people love playing his friend / some people love playing the pass line / odds are it’s all the same in the end / if you know what I mean” - “My Over, My Under” from Send Flowers
“How’s a wound gonna heal / without a room and a meal / How am I to live up to my end of the deal / if you don’t show me / if you don’t show me / if you don’t show me how alone to feel” - “If You Don’t Show Me” from Send Flowers
“There’s a styrofoam Big Gulp waiting on our grave / you can see it when the light shines through” - “Lifetime Sentence” from Send Flowers
There are some glaring marks in this sort of reflection. In time with the time is the obviousness of the whiteness & dudeness of this list. It is not only in what I find / search out, but it is also an example of what is being held up. I certainly can’t or wouldn’t deny it, but as a white dude, it is an important observation as I work to integrate my dissociative parts, along with my roots, my upbringing, & my past, in my next incarnation, hopefully in producing the better version of myself. Despite these perhaps narrow frames, as a white kid who grew up without siblings & in a town with no music culture & a thick racist past, I’m thankful for the positive artistic & life models provided here; I very easily could’ve ended up loving Nickelback or Kid Rock or ICP.
This is also a good place to nod at the phases that didn’t stick, that didn’t make a lifelong impact. There was the pop punk phase that bled into the local Indiana punk / hardcore / rock scene, complete with DORK beanie & black rubber bracelets from Hot Topic (see, I didn’t even include a band name in the first draft of this). There was the two years I was obsessed with Ludacris & T.I. in high school. There were the other local bands that, for whatever reason, probably social as much as music-oriented, haven’t had the longevity in my life, including a purposefully offensive punk band whose drummer married my ex-wife, Indiana's best band name, & a post-AWV project. There are also the barrels of other music-makers that might still need time to dig down into my cells (possible nominees: Courtney Barnett, my favorite Austin bands, & Gillian Welch / Dave Rawlings / Willie Watson).
The posts on this blog illuminate how my artistic self has become so entangled with my personal self, specifically the questions & the journeys continuing to spring from me. The three categories of music scratched at above represent both the most influential artistic examples coming out of my culture(s) & my biggest comforts in the ups-&-downs of this crooked living. As I look ahead to the hopes I have for my own artistic work, I see the vulnerability, the allegiance to place, & the necessity of difficult-but-necessary loving relationships reflected, be it in my hopes to record an audiobook of long poems about hick identity in my grandpa’s barn, the AN NEWSLETTER podcast keeping a running document of the important things I intersect / learn, or the burn to write my own songs. These heroes have taught me that it is about taking the artifacts of the life you’re living & turning them into the artifacts of the life you’ve lived, thank you.