NO ALTERNATIVE: “…And That’s A Wrap!”

The last time I updated my blog, we had yet to begin production on “No Alternative.” Perhaps it’s a testament to the all-consuming nature of production that you have not heard from me since! I am therefore extremely pleased to write that we’ve finished principal photography and the film is in the proverbial “can.”

On the set of “No Alternative.” Photograph by Joshua Sarner.

It want to reiterate that I would not have been able to get this far without the help and support of everyone who contributed to our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Because of the strength of the Indiegogo campaign and your stalwart support of the cause, this project has gained the attention of magazine, newspaper and television outlets around the country. It also attracted the interest of investors who also believed in the film — both in its message, and in its commercial viability.

I can honestly say that everyone involved in the filming, from the actors to each and every crew member, was emotionally connected to the material and brought their A-Games to the set:

It was an absolute pleasure to work amidst such a passionate and talented group of people. The leads, Michaela Cavazos and Conor Proft, impressed me more and more each passing day. They were outstanding as Bridget and Thomas Harrison and I can’t wait for viewers to see just how outstanding their performances are on screen. I was also thrilled to work with veteran actors, Kathryn Erbe (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”) and Harry Hamlin (“Mad Men”), who played the Harrison parents. I can’t thank them enough for their passion, generosity and faith in me as their director. Coming-of-age movies about families are hard to make in Hollywood, but I truly feel this movie was meant to be made — it was a near-impossible task, but everyone’s contributions made it possible. And it was not only monetary contributions: people donated their time, their 90’s era vehicles, their wardrobe, their food, their houses (as locations and for lodging), their instruments, their band logos and music, among many, many other valuable goods and services. My hometown, the City of Yonkers, could not have been more accommodating throughout the process — it has always bee a dream of mine to shoot this film there. This project was about as grassroots as it gets; and you know what, each and every step of it was invigorating!

Left to right: Conor Proft, Kathryn Erbe, William Dickerson, Harry Hamlin, Michaela Cavazos.

I’m extremely excited to be heading into the next phase of the film: the editing phase. We have a wonderful editor, Natasha Bedu, who has spent a lot of her time recently cutting the Emmy Award-winning series “Intervention” on A&E. Natasha couldn’t be more excited to be part of the team, and I’m thrilled to have her on board!

As we venture into post-production, our fiscal sponsor, From the Heart Productions, has encouraged us to continue raising money for this final, and crucial, part of the process. Those looking for end-of-the-year tax deductions, all contributions remain fully tax-deductible. Please share the project, if you haven’t done so already, and consider adding to your contribution if you feel compelled to do so — we’ve already done so much with a relatively small amount of money (by Hollywood’s standards), a little bit more will assure we get the best post-production sound and color correction we can swing. Here is a link to our current campaign:

https://bitly.com/noalternativefilm

Thank you so much for your support! I wish you all the best this holiday season!!

 

Suicide: The End, and the Beginning

I think a lot of people who say they don’t think about suicide, think about suicide.

I’m not saying they think about committing suicide, but the idea, the notion, the concept, is pervasive in our culture, and frankly, our DNA. It’s there, bubbling underneath the surface. As I write in the opening lines of my book, “No Alternative”:

Suicide is a universally human phenomenon. It’s what separates us from the animals, despite the fact that people shun it and cloak it in taboo. Animals do not commit suicide, at least that’s the common wisdom. It is this received wisdom that reveals something about our attitudes on the subject, as suicide is most always painted in the light of shame and pity, something we reserve for lesser beings than ourselves. In actuality, suicide is a refined and selfless act, usually a result of many thoughtful hours, days, months, or years of meticulous and steadfast preparation. Suicide is not thoughtless; it’s precisely the opposite.

Perhaps I think about suicide more than others—I wrote an entire novel on the theme, in an attempt to prevent others from succumbing to self-harm. My idol killed himself when I was 15 years old. His death was the reason I picked up a guitar, because I wanted to learn all of his songs, perhaps in an attempt to somehow keep his spirit alive. His suicide not only united many alienated teens in 1994, but it also led tragically to a number of copycat suicides. In retrospect, every song on his band’s album, “In Utero,” reads like a suicide note. We didn’t realize it before—we rarely do realize it before—it’s only after one commits suicide that everything that came before, that led up to it, seems so patently obvious.

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While my parents and I believe the overdose that led to my sister’s death was accidental in nature, she had attempted suicide several times in the past. Two of those times were, seemingly, in direct response to me.

I live in Los Angeles, California, though my family still resides in Yonkers, New York—as did my sister while she was alive. One of the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder is a constant need, and consequent demand, for attention. Pay attention to me! in its most severe incarnation. If the sufferer of BPD perceives a lack of attention, it often leads to a concentrated feeling of abandonment, which can then metastasize into rage and recklessness, or worse, self-hate and self-harm. I only get to visit New York about twice a year; so understandably, my parents spend a lot of time with me while I’m there. Two of those times, in attempts to redirect their attention back to her, my sister tried to kill herself.

When she did try to kill herself, she always managed to do a pretty good job. She put herself into a coma on more than one occasion. I was by her side one of those times. When she awoke, the drugs having been eliminated from her system, I asked her, “Why are you doing this?” In one of her most sober of moments, she looked up at me and said: “I don’t want to live anymore.”

Suicide is the thing; the goal; the beginning and the end; the next big thing; the be all, end all; the eye in the sky – it’s the Tylenol bottle with the 20 bonus pills, because swallowing an entire bottle of Tylenol can kill you.

Suicide is an option; it’s an alternative; it’s aqua seafoam shame; it’s dead of a shotgun blast to the head.

Suicide is the lyric of a song; packaged inside a gold record.
Spinning.
Spinning.
Spinning.
Spin the black circle.

While I might be able to rationalize that my sister is in a better place—that she is finally free from the terrible yoke of mental illness and addiction around her neck—it is still impossible to accept. I alluded to this in a letter I wrote to her while she was in one of her comas, and within inches of her death, a letter that I also included in my novel. Here is an excerpt:

Dear Briana,

The moment I’m writing this, you’re unconscious in the hospital, a stomach full of charcoal, and you’re on a ventilator because you cannot breathe. They say you might not make it. I don’t know what I’d do if you don’t, because I can’t bear to think about living in this world without you in it.

You’re my little sister, and big brothers are supposed to protect their little sisters. And I’m weeping right now because of how incredibly helpless I feel—I’m right next to you, but still a thousand miles away. It tears me apart to think that I somehow failed you as a brother. Out of anyone else on this planet, you’re the person that most resembles me; genetically, we have the same make-up. By killing yourself, you would be, literally, killing a part of me. For you to leave this Earth is an abstraction my mind simply cannot accept.

Right now, I’m hoping for one thing, that you will be able to read this letter. I can’t bear the thought that you might not be able to—that you might not make it. That can’t happen. I love you so much, Bri, more than anything, much more than myself. I might not have ever said those words, but I’m writing them right now.

If you need a reason to live, and all you need is one, here it is: I want you to live.

I’ll be with you forever, whether you know it or not.

Love,
William

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One thing that I am grateful for is that my sister did awaken from that coma, and she did get to read that letter. In fact, she apparently read it often at times when feeling the siren call of suicide reach out to her.

It did give me some consolation, in my grieving—a grieving that will continue until I, myself, am in the ground—to know that Briana read how much I loved her. There are many people who, for one reason or another, never get to convey their personal feelings to those who they love most. Then it’s often too late. At least it wasn’t too late for me. Not that time.

However, regret looms, and it looms large and it looms heavy.

Regret is a theme that weaves its way into all of my work, and that’s because it’s a theme that weaves its way through my life. I would often avoid communicating with my sister—when she called, I wouldn’t answer; when she texted or messaged me, my responses would be terse and included the phrase, “I’m really busy.” My dime store psychoanalysis of my behavior might be that I wanted to keep my interactions with her brief and dispassionate, for fear of saying the wrong thing and potentially setting her off, something siblings are experts at doing.

What I wouldn’t give to go back in time and pick up that phone, or write an overly verbose and emotional response, but I can’t go back in time. I ignored my sister; I ignored her while pursuing my often quixotic attempts of getting my movies made out here in Hollywood. Putting my work ahead of my family is something that concerns me greatly; it concerns me, because I’m sure I’m guilty of it. If I regret anything, I want to use that regret for the good. I don’t want to ignore it, I want to reroute its impact on me. The truth is the regrets will never go away. I can use it in my writing, and my filmmaking—that I can do. Does this make me feel better? I think in a lot of ways it does; even though I know it won’t erase them. It exposes me to the pain of these regrets; it forces me to relive them, since ignoring things doesn’t make those things go away. Those things must be dealt with.

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I honestly don’t know if my grief is changing. And I shouldn’t use the word honestly because that implies that other things I’ve written aren’t honest. I’m trying to be honest. Somehow, though, this inevitably leads to me beating up on myself. It’s easy to blame, and feels good to blame, because it makes things black and white, and it’s easiest to blame myself. Because I’m still here, I can hold myself accountable—there’s no need to issue a warrant for my arrest, I can lock myself up whenever I see fit.

My sister is gone, and in many ways I grieved for her before she died. I was told on two occasions that she wouldn’t make it through the comas she put herself in, when she tried to take her own life. I was told to be prepared for the worst. I grieved then, even though she ended up surviving; I also knew that as each day passed, there was a distinct possibility that she would not be there. Every call I received from my parents, just seeing their names on my phone, filled me with dread. Were they calling to tell me something had happened to Briana? This was always the first thought in my mind.

When my parents call now, that thought is no longer there. While that knee-jerk dread is gone, I wish it were still there, because that would mean that Briana was still there.

Perhaps this film is my way of giving her the attention I should have given her before; the attention she deserved as my sister. Perhaps it will do some good for those thinking about committing suicide, to see how suicide affects a family in this story. That is certainly my hope. Perhaps this will help alleviate some of the regret that weighs me down, that shames me on almost a daily basis.

One thing goes without question: I will regret not making this film. There is “No Alternative” but to make it.

And I need your help to make this film a reality: http://bit.ly/1qmwc1A

The Beginning of a Movement: THE FIFTH WALL

TheFifthWall-InternetPic

“The Fifth Wall” is a response to the modality of contemporary Hollywood. The origins of its manifesto are attributed to my time at the AFI and its message developed along with some of my fellow filmmaking classmates:

While we were at the AFI a few of us conceived of a movement we called “The Fifth Wall.” Whether through the use of surrealism or through meta-fictional truth, we conspired to tell a story that would not only leave the audience resonating with some sort of transcendent beauty, but also, because each of us in “The Fifth Wall” has experienced severe trauma and loss first hand, we endeavor to subconsciously imbue them with a feeling of solace. To send the viewer a message in a bottle, from one empathetic being to another, a communiqué of hope: you’re not alone in your pain. It will get better and you will derive much beauty from the world in the future…

While this movement has been largely theoretical until now, the time is now to put this theory into practice. Hollywood is a business that continues to eclipse the art, originality and storytelling that used to be—and should be—the core of what movies are. The most common justification movie executives give for the broad and banal blockbusters that dominate the box office week after week is: audiences want to escape the troubles of their lives; they don’t want to see something that “hits too close to home.”

This escapist ideology is shortsighted and, in many respects, erroneous.

The idea that human beings turn to art and entertainment as a way to alleviate life’s strain and pressures is accurate. But what is it about art and entertainment that actually provides relief, beyond the temporary escapism? While being transported to cinematic worlds in galaxies far, far away may seem like departures from reality, it doesn’t necessarily benefit your life outside of those two hours; in fact, it might do more harm than good. The science seems to indicate that confronting our emotions, rather than ignoring them, however troubling these emotions might be, is a more effective means through which to purge the pain, anxiety and trauma we encounter day to day. Let’s take a result of such a purge for example: the physical act of crying. The biochemist William H. Frey II purports that the reason people feel better after crying is that it decreases the level of adrenocorticotropic hormones in the blood, hormones associated with the detection of, and response to, threat or other stress-inducing stimuli. It also promotes the production of cortisol, which lowers stress in these types of situations. Putting the science aside, experiencing emotion as a way to cleanse oneself of it is nothing new. Aristotle posited the notion of catharsis in ancient Greece. He believed tragedy, with respect to drama, is the imitation of action arousing pity and fear, the purpose of which is to achieve the purgation of those emotions. The act of being a spectator of dramatic tragedy has a tangible, and ultimately positive, effect on the mind and body.

Comedy-Tragedy-1

Catharsis is the basis of psychoanalysis. The expression of the original emotion, one that has been repressed or ignored, is the method through which the healing of trauma can only begin to take place. While movies are not psychoanalysis sessions, the idea that people go to the movies to “escape” means they must be escaping from something. Furthermore—and this is the problem—this same something that is being ignored for a couple hours will only return later and will have become greater and more overwhelming than before. The very origin of dramatic storytelling, predating Greek tragedy, goes back to Egypt around 2800 BC in the form of pyramid texts that depict the dramatic journeys of dead pharaohs entering the underworld.

The earliest dramas all have one thing in common: death. The whole purpose of the invention of drama was realizing a type of catharsis or emotional resolution through confrontation, not some desire for vapid escapism.

Co-founder of “The Fifth Wall,” Paul Sanchez Yates, explains: “I find it difficult to separate my personal life from my art. In fact, I refuse to separate them. These films, these emotion-pictures reveal my inner affections, passions, humors, beliefs and traumas and scars. Unlike the usual Hollywood escapism, these films are extremely personal, sometimes horrible, but always exquisitely real.” Yates continues, “’The Fifth Wall’ is the state I find myself in when I have revealed so much personal truth that I no longer know where I end and the canvas/film begins. In this work I reveal so much about my inner-self that my perspective is lost.”

movie projector2

Most people tend to look toward the past with regret or to the future with dread. Hollywood provides entertainment that sacrifices emotion for spectacle, spectacle it thinks will allow viewers a respite from the regret and dread behind and in front of them. “The Fifth Wall” provides the regret and the dread, which allows for exactly the kind of respite the audience desires—one that extends beyond those two hours and into their lives after the film.

Middle Class Filmmakers: Do you want to make Hollywood films or Fifth Wall films? Your answer may very well impact the future sustainability of an art form that matters to us a great deal.

#Hollywood99 #MiddleClassFilm #TheFifthWall

What Does The Sundance Film Festival Mean To Middle Class Filmmakers?

Sundance_Film_FestivalWhat does this year’s Sundance Film Festival mean to Middle Class Filmmakers?

Let’s first compare last year’s sales with this year’s sales. In 2015, the big Hollywood distributors bought the majority of the films showcased at the festival—Fox Searchlight bought “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”; Open Road bought “Dope”; Sony Pictures Classic bought “Diary of a Teenage Girl.” Just around one year ago, various entertainment news outlets reported that the Sundance Market was “starting to look like the old days.” However, the three films mentioned above ultimately underperformed at the box office. These relatively small films seemed to have gotten lost among the much bigger budget and glitzier blockbusters that the studios released over this past year.

Sundance-2015

Hollywood’s one percent is betting all their money on blockbusters; therefore, to ensure those bets pay off, they focus all of their marketing efforts on these films. They need these films to appeal to as many different demographics as possible, and to as many demographics in as many regions around the world as possible. Smaller, niche material, like the movies bought at Sundance in 2015, are simply not a priority for Hollywood’s bottom line. If one or two of their gigantic tentpoles bomb, it would potentially be enough of a financial disaster to collapse a studio. That type of risk is something that sends shivers down the spine of tinseltown.

As this year’s Sundance concludes, let’s take a look at what happened: streaming sites Netflix and Amazon eclipsed the traditional Hollywood distributors. While this year’s Sundance did see the largest sale in its history, and a studio made the sale—Fox Searchlight bought “Birth of a Nation”—most of the movies were bought by these internet tech giants. The welcome side effect of these alternative buyers opening their big wallets was that they drove up the bidding for the movies in general. If the erstwhile generation of Hollywood distributors wanted a piece of this year’s pie, they had to push their way to the front of the line at the bakery.

Sundance-2016

Each year, I’m somewhat baffled as to why Hollywood becomes, more or less, a ghost town during Sundance. I’m constantly cautioned by colleagues to not pitch anything, take any projects out, etc., throughout the duration of Sundance, presumably because everyone’s there—in body, or at least in mind. If Hollywood cares so much about the indie films at Sundance, why do they care so little about releasing and marketing them? Perhaps it’s just a chance to party and pretend like they care. Harvey Weinstein criticized the establishment’s release model in his recent Op-Ed in The Hollywood Reporter: “We need to support independent film distribution (and, in turn, independent film culture) 12 months a year, not just the last four.” What is so clearly different this year is that it seems like the new kids in town do care about releasing and marketing these films. This leads us to pose the question: If the studios, and traditional models of distribution, are the establishment, are Netflix and Amazon the anti-establishment? As opposed to the current studio mindset of making essentially one type of movie, for a gigantic demographic, it’s in the best interest of Netflix and Amazon to provide their subscribers with an array of material on their menu. Subscribers are in control of their content, that’s why they subscribe, and the more options, the more control they have to dial in a movie that matches their specific taste. The studios operate in the world of the indistinguishable; Netflix and Amazon operate in the world of the specific—and this is good news for indie film and its middle class filmmakers.

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The trouble, of course, is that we are assessing this change in real time. We don’t know if Netflix and Amazon will see their bets on these Sundance films pay off. Are they looking to gain more subscribers, or simply keep the ones they have? How will they judge the success of these films, and furthermore, how will the industry judge the success of these films with respect to the filmmakers?

Netflix reportedly offered 20 million for the slave rebellion drama, “Birth of a Nation;” however, the filmmakers opted for a studio’s $17.5 million dollar offer. Why did a film that’s content is anti-establishment ultimately go with the establishment? Especially an establishment that is currently marred by accusations of racial bias? The reason seems pretty clear: Fox Searchlight can offer a guaranteed, and perhaps stronger, theatrical release timed during awards season. Netflix’s current model for these types of acquisitions is a day-and-date limited theatrical and streaming release (the movie hits big screens and streaming platforms on the same day).

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While the sales of these films to Netflix and Amazon reflect well on the filmmakers, history has taught us that the ultimate litmus test of their viability as working professionals is how their films perform at the box office. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” sold big at Sundance, but it didn’t do well at the box office. When the industry discusses that film, they don’t discuss it in light of its sale, but rather in light of its numbers. It’s all about the bottom line. How will Netflix and Amazon keep track of its numbers? Netflix has stated, quite adamantly, that it does not release its internal numbers to its filmmakers. This lack of transparency will no doubt prove detrimental to its filmmakers who are vying for their next gig—unless these tech giants are offering multi-picture deals to its talent (it wouldn’t be a bad idea, guys). Filmmakers are typically offered their next job based on how many people watched their last film—if that data is unavailable, it could potentially leave the filmmaker in a bit of a lurch.

I’ve always been of the opinion: I want as many people to see my films as possible. The making money part has always been second to that. The good news is that Netflix and Amazon can make that first part a reality—introducing middle class films to their millions of subscribers. The not so good news is, the growth of the filmmakers they showcase, and the route to a sustainable living post-sale, is an unknown.

I SOLD MY JAG-STANG TO BUY A JAGUAR

But not any Jaguar, a scratch-specific replica of Kurt Cobain’s one-of-a-kind Fender Jaguar electric guitar he bought in a pawnshop in Los Angeles in 1991.

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Fender recently set about recreating Kurt’s guitar to the ding in their custom shop and rolling the product out on the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s seminal and billboard-busting album, “Nevermind.”  I admit, at first, I thought this idea was pretty lame and the antithesis of what Punk Rock preaches (if it indeed, as a movement, preaches anything at all).  Why would anyone pay a cool grand and a few hundred dollars in change for a guitar that looks like it’s been beat to hell and back?   Punk Rockers are supposed to beat their own guitars to hell and back; that’s the whole idea of DIY.  This manufactured good, this product, this exploitation – as some might view it – lead me to the subject of creativity.

I remember how much I fetishized this instrument when I was a teenager, around the time I first picked up a guitar, the catalyst for which was the music that was created on this specific instrument by the late Kurt Cobain.  It was such an unusual guitar that we couldn’t just buy the damn thing, so back then we had to figure out other ways to replicate it.  I bought a limited edition Fender Jazzmaster in 1995, which looks similar to the Jaguar, with its enormous floating tremelo and bizarre switches, and shared indie cred with bands like Sonic Youth and Hole.  My friend and lead guitarist in the grunge band I was in at the time bought a reissue Fender Jaguar and had it professionally altered to come as close to Cobain’s original as possible.

I dramatize this teenaged obsession of ours in my novel and upcoming film, “No Alternative,” as two of the characters scrutinize a Japanese reissue of the Fender Jaguar in their local Sam Ash Music store:

“Kurt had a ’65,” Connor says.  He then proceeds to describe the instrument in fetishistic detail and recite the history of Kurt Cobain’s relationship to it:

‘Same sunburst color and bowling-ball pickguard, but Kurt gutted the shit out of his.  Got rid of that bridge ‘cuz the strings popped out – it was supposed to be for surf music, like the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, and Dick Dale and The Deltones, designed to sound like waves crashing.  It couldn’t handle the thrashing he was giving it, so he replaced it with a Tune-O-Matic.  The strings stay put better, much better.  He disconnected the on/off and phase switches.  Biggest change was ripping out the single-coil pick-ups and replacing them with humbuckers: a DiMarzio PAF in the neck and a Super Distortion in the bridge, until the In Utero tour when he replaced it with a black Duncan JB.’”

About one to two years after Kurt Cobain’s death, Fender put the Jag-Stang on the market, which is a guitar based on a Jaguar/Mustang hybrid that Kurt Cobain himself designed.  He did not get a chance to perfect his design before he died, but Fender went ahead and put out the version they had work-shopped.  I, naturally, went ahead and bought it.  It was fine, but seemed cookie-cutter, and lacking the perceived soul that I was hoping would come along with guitar.  I removed the stock pickups and bridge and replaced them with what Kurt had initially intended to be featured in the guitar.  It sounded good, but still…something was missing.

Jag-Stang

I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, perhaps I would never find it – perhaps no guitar could live up to a myth.  I ended up putting the guitar aside for a number of years and took up the drums (I was, frankly, sick of the lack of discipline and general mediocrity of the succession of drummers we employed in my band, so I decided to learn how to play the drums myself).  It was a great decision; I was a much better drummer than guitarist.  Kurt Cobain was known to say he was a frustrated drummer – he pined for the adoration of John Lennon, but wished for the anonymity of Ringo Starr.  However, the love of the guitar still had its hold on me.  As it turns out, once this instrument gets you in its grasp, it never lets go.   So, when the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s breakthrough album passed by, and the sounds of Nirvana and their distorted instrumentations came whooshing back into my brain, so did the image of this guitar: the image presented by Fender’s replication of it.

Why did it take them this long to catch on?  Or perhaps I was just stuck in the past and I hadn’t moved on.  Or, the converse, the world hadn’t quite caught up to me and my predilections.  Until now.  The beautiful thing about Kurt’s guitar is its timelessness.  First of all, it was a 60’s guitar that he used in the 90’s, and now it was being sold again, the way Kurt’s looked and sounded, in 2012.  This guitar was “steampunk” before the term became recognizable by the mainstream of pop culture (incidentally, the term was originated around the very same time Nirvana originated as a band – it just didn’t become fashionable until recent years).  It’s classic in its sunburst, surf-guitar sense, but sci-fi in its overwhelming use of shiny metal, moving parts and knurled knobs.  It even has a 50’s Fender “spaghetti” logo that Fender claims was never used on a Jaguar, that its use on this specific guitar is a complete mystery.  How did it get there?  And it was apparently there when Cobain bought it.  It had mods that seemed to incorporate genuine Fender hardware, but again, there’s no record of a guitar like this ever being officially produced.  Cobain’s guitar tech, Earnie Bailey, seems to imply that Kurt liked to use cheap pawnshop guitars to protest against the obsession with gear that the guitarists of 80’s hairbands preoccupied themselves with.  If they had an obsession with effects pedals, Floyd Rose Tremelos and glittering guitar straps, Kurt had obsession with breaking that obsession to pieces (literally by breaking his guitar, and sometimes his amplifiers, to pieces at the conclusion of his shows).  But, the exception was this particular Jaguar.  Perhaps when Kurt bought it for $300 at some podunk shop in LA, he had intended to destroy it right along with his other guitars.  But something happened – something must have indeed happened, because he never did break it.  He babied it, in fact.  Some kind of biological fail-safe had kicked in.  There was something special about this guitar.  He couldn’t kill it; it wouldn’t let him.  It no doubt had its hold on him.

Still, the first thing that popped in my head when I heard about Fender’s recent venture (particularly after I heard the price tag) was: lame.

It had the stink of buying a jacket in the department store that has safety pins integrated into the garment as a means of conveying a “punk rock” aesthetic; when, in all likelihood, the origins of safety pins in one’s clothes arose from the need to keep an article of clothing together while it was falling apart and the owner could not afford to replace it.  It had the stink of punk rock by JC Penney.  Same goes for brand new clothes with patches already affixed to the pre-ripped knees of jeans – the gall of some brands charging over $100 for such thing (and don’t get me started on paint-splattered dungarees).

There seemed no way around it: this guitar was lame.  But then I happened upon Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, walked inside and decided to take a look around.  And there it was.  And it was in my reach.  I knew it was in my reach because I could reach out and pick it up and place it on my lap and strum it.  The pictures I saw online did not do it justice: this thing looks amazing in person.  It had it.  It had what I had been looking for.  It had soul.  Every little crack Cobain had in the lacquer of his guitar was recreated on this guitar.  There were even holes in the headstock leftover from were Cobain removed his original tuners and replaced them with Gotoh versions.  They left the holes!  They’re selling a guitar with holes and cracks in it!  WTF?!  There was a ridiculous attention to detail.  The beauty of it is that it’s an exact replica; what Kurt’s guitar looked like the last time he played it, looked just like this.  And in addition to the aesthetics, you can play it, and not just ogle at it as though it’s some museum piece.  It’s functional, and pretty damn close to being art.  The aging on the instrument appears to be completely organic and not machine manufactured.  Each piece of metal has been oxidized and left in various stages of rust.  There even appears to be what looks like earwax in the crevices of the Super Distortion pickup in the bridge.  A whole lot of love, and apparently someone’s earwax, went into making this guitar, and honoring Cobain’s go-to musical apparatus.

kurt-reading-jaguar

But, as I was being seduced, I still had to remind myself: this was a fake.

This was, and still is, the guitar of my dreams.  It is arguably the reason I picked up a guitar in the first place.  I had a Jag-Stang, which was also a knockoff of a presumed original, so the way I looked at it was that I might as well sell this one and procure the better knockoff.  There was something in me that still had to have this guitar.  Even after selling the Jag-Stang, which itself has become a rare piece of equipment, the Jaguar was unfortunately still a bit out of my price range.  However, it occurred to me, what better guitar to buy used?  No one in his or her right mind can tell if it’s been used or not: it was made to look like it’s been used since 1960.  So I bought a used one, which was apparently in “mint” condition, whatever that means with respect to this instrument.  What normally would turn off a guitar buyer, namely cracks, blemishes and earwax in its electronics, turned me on immensely.  There was part of me that wanted to pick up where Kurt left off back in 1994, when I held a guitar in my hands for the first time.  I had begun my music-playing career by learning Nirvana songs (technically, they’re some of the easiest songs to learn and make for great material for the beginner guitarist) and my musicianship evolved from there.  I had put the guitar down for a long time, replaced it with drums, and as I hold this guitar now I am back to square one, back to the place that got me interested in the limitless sky of the sonic world.  It is already marked, marked by the man who so indelibly marked me.  And just as I had once thought, delusionally so, that I might assume the mantle and run with the torch of grunge to the top of the charts, I’m now left with the guitar that started it all, alone in my living room, hooked up to my Orange practice amp and RAT distortion pedal, strumming the opening chords to “Lithium,” the first song I ever learned to play on guitar.  But this time I’m not concerned with form, with style, with copying others before me – I’m letting the pick scrape against the pickguard, I’m nicking the headstock against the wall, I’m making the established buckle rash worse with my own belt.  I’ve bought a used guitar, a guitar that was used by my idol, which I plan to use and play just as hard, so that I may at some point later in life pass it down to someone else who will then be able to subtract the wear and tear he receives it with from Kurt Cobain’s wear, and be able to see the face of me marked into it.

As one of the characters, Megan, says in my book, “Nothing’s ‘original’ anymore.  I mean, think about it.  Everything gets recycled.  But, I guess, really, it’s what you recycle it into that matters.”  It’s not about creating something new; it’s about using what resources are available to you and putting your stamp on it.  The idea, the lyric, the melody is always the same, but it’s the way you present it, write it, and sing or play it, that is what makes it unique.  We are all influenced by others, whether we admit to it or not, that’s human nature.  However, it’s only when you are able to acknowledge that influence as a tool, and not an end in itself, that you are able to climb to the next level of creativity.  Don’t ever forget your influences, because they are what we need to recognize our ability and take the next step – they are the ground upon which our creativity walks.  Just be sure not to stand too long in one place, because the ground is always changing, and we got to keep on moving.


The “idea” is always the same, but what is 100% unique is the way your eyes, and ears, see, and hear, it.  It’s your personal perspective, your angle, of the idea that you must strive to share with the world.  It doesn’t matter if you’re generating that idea via the replica of Kurt Cobain’s guitar, or via a guitar that you built yourself, it’s the sound waves you generate from it that matters.  If it’s the former, there will likely be some punk with safety pins in his jacket criticizing you for the lameness of your tool.  But the kind of person to make that the primary source of his criticism, and not the execution of the idea – in this case the music its producing – is probably the kind of person who stuck those safety pins in his jacket not because it was falling part.  The nature of creativity lies in the making of something old into something new by making it your own.

For more info on “No Alternative” click here: http://igg.me/at/noalternative

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