Music Is A Drug

No, really, it is. Music can significantly increase the levels of serotonin in a listener’s brain, which, as a result, positively impacts mood, sexual desires and the physical manifestation of those desires, overall cognitive function, regulation of body temperature, sleep and memory. Plug in your headphones and prescribe yourself a song.

music_is_my_drug_by_JesykaWicked_Cropped_1-800x399

The ability of music to impact, and indelibly mark, our lives cannot be underestimated. Melody, and the infinite ways of conveying melody, has a way of bypassing left-brain modes of communication and injecting itself directly into our bloodstreams. Music, for me, is a roadmap to my memories. I often mark moments in my life by the songs I was listening to at the time—for some reason, I can almost always remember the music associated with the happenings in my life, which then helps me place the moment, reconstruct the event, and relive the memory with some semblance of context.

Here are just a few examples:

Nirvana’s “Drain You;” circa 1995: I played over-and-over-again while pumping myself up to call my first girlfriend and ask her out on our first date.

Weezer’s “Only In Dreams;” circa 1995: The first song I crowd-surfed to while listening to it live as Weezer played at Roseland Ballroom.

Cowboy Junkies’ cover of “Blue Moon;” circa 1999: Used as an aid for sense memory (actor lingo) in preparing for my first stage performance in college, where I had to cry in a scene.

Metallica’s “Don’t Tread On Me;” September 11, 2001: In an effort to get my mind off the tragedy that was befalling the country, and the world, just a few blocks away from the skyscraper I was sitting in, I turned on the Opie & Anthony radio show on 102.7 and listened to them play this song. It was an unabashed appeal to those listeners looking for revenge, the immediate and swift kind, as the song preaches “settling the score….and preparing for war.” It’s a song that at that moment, for better or worse, appealed to the salivary glands of a nation scorned. It epitomized the knee-jerk reaction to a tremendously complex situation that no doubt led many to initially justify the unending quagmire we got ourselves into.

Radiohead’s “All I Need;” April 30, 2010: The song that I danced to with my wife, Rachel, at our wedding. It’s difficult to put the importance of this particular merger of song and moment into words. However, what I can say is that beyond sealing our love for each other, the moment proved that you can dance to Radiohead.

Jimmy Eat World’s “Hear You Me” and Weezer’s “Mykel & Carli;” July 1, 2014 and July 5, 2014, respectively. When my sister, Briana, sunk into her coma, my wife rushed home to be with me. This was perhaps the worst twelve hours of my life—my parents had just gone on their first vacation in years; they were overseas, and thus unable to be reached until they woke up in the morning, which due to the time difference, was still a number of hours away. On her car ride home, the first song to play on my wife’s iPod was “Hear You Me,” which, under the circumstances, made her think of Briana. I didn’t know this until several days later. The day Briana died, July 1, 2014, I asked her husband—who was also a musician, like I was—if there were any songs she had been listening to recently, which had been special to her, which meant something. If so, we should learn it and play it at her funeral. He said, without thinking too long about it: “Hear You Me,” by Jimmy Eat World. When I told my wife this, she then told me how this song played in her car the other day, the day it happened, and she’d been thinking of that song ever since.

Perhaps it was Briana requesting the song. That’s certainly how it felt.

The next several days I spent learning the song and writing Briana’s eulogy and reflecting on her life, and my life with her. The minutes leading up to having to leave for her funeral, I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house. I felt like I was stuck. The only thing that could unstick me was Weezer’s “Mykel & Carli.” I played it on repeat, as loud as I possibly could through the miniscule speakers in my laptop, while I tied my tie, over and over again, in search of the perfect knot and proportional length.

The song is a tribute to Mykel and Carli Allan, the co-founders of Weezer’s Fan Club who were killed in a car crash on their way back from a Weezer concert.

Back in Wilson High/
Said I had these two best friends/
Till the school bus came/
And took my friends away/
Now I’m left alone at home/
To sit and think all day.

Hear you me, Mykel/
Hear you me, Carli.

The members of Jimmy Eat World were also friends with Mykel and Carli, and their song “Hear You Me” was both a tribute to them, and also an homage to the Weezer song, in which the phrase “Hear You Me” is sung to the two sisters, as though it’s trying to reach them beyond the grave. In Jimmy Eat World’s version, it’s less burning, and more mournful, with its chorus ringing:

May angels lead you in/
Hear you me my friends.
On sleepless roads the sleepless go/
May angels lead you in.

Briana’s husband, Anthony, my band, Latterday Saints (aka Guy Smiley), my wife, and Briana’s friends, Jillian and Allison, formed a group. We called ourselves “The Sleepless” and performed this song for my sister beside her coffin before she was lowered into the ground.

Music connects the dots; and we are all just dots on this planet, a wide and caustic spectrum of terra firma that is, more than often, unforgiving.

It’s music that I used as a framework for “No Alternative.” The landscape is the grunge era of the early 90’s, a milieu in which teenagers never felt more alone—this, at the very least, was the standard set by their moniker: Generation X. However, it was through music, which seemed to reflect that loneliness, disaffection and angst that brought an army of teenagers together. This movement in music, in my opinion, has never been matched—it was a cultural phenomenon, in both the worlds of alternative and rap music. It was a time when teenagers felt alienated, whether as a result of their place in the world or the hormones whirling inharmoniously inside their bodies. However, at this moment in 1994, teens were able to harness what is often uncontrollable energy through the music they played and listened to.

Music can do more than just mark one’s life, and through those markings, enhance the quality of it. If music is a drug, then life is, arguably, its active ingredient. While it’s not a cure for our shared disease of death, it gives us solace as we make our inevitable march towards it.

Music is the drug in “No Alternative”: http://bit.ly/1qmwc1A

“No Alternative” – The Crowdfunding Campaign

No Alternative - Indiegogo - Card -4

I launched my first crowdfunding campaign this week.

Crowdfunding is its own art form—an art form I’m no expert at, I’m sure—but indie film is at a point where grassroots funding is becoming more and more critical to sustaining its viability. It’s almost impossible to get Hollywood to fund something that’s not a thriller, or a horror movie, or a comic book movie—and they rarely ever fund coming-of-age films. The filmmaking community, and their audiences, have been left with tent-poles (studio movies made for 150 million and up) and microbudgets (movies made for under a million, often far less than a million).

The middle class space of filmmaking has disappeared. This is something I’ve written a lot about for Indiewire over the past few months. I’m hoping we can rebuild this artistically important space, one movie at a time—and right now I’m attempting to fight the good fight with my new film: “No Alternative.”

The character of “Bri Da B” is inspired by my sister, who for most of her life suffered from mental illness. One of the ways she was able to cope and enjoy her life was through rapping. When the character of Bridget becomes “Bri Da B,” that transformation into someone else helps lessen the pain she is feeling in her life.

I have always thought of “No Alternative” as a love letter to my sister, a plea for her survival. That’s why I originally wrote the novel this film is based on. I wish I could tell you that plea was successful. But, I can’t. The majority of my sister’s life was a battle fought against borderline personality disorder, drug addiction and suicidal behavior. A battle she ultimately succumbed to on July 1, 2014.

While she may have lost her battle, I’m hopeful we can win the war—and we can do it in honor of her, and others who have suffered like she did. The issue of mental illness needs to be destigmatized and “No Alternative” seeks to do just that.

The campaign for “No Alternative” is officially being sponsored by From the Heart Productions, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that supports films that make a contribution to society. By contributing to this film, you are not only helping other socially conscious films get made, but your donation is also tax-deductible.

This campaign encompasses the entire process—from pre-production, to production to finishing the film in post. I encourage you to check it out on Indiegogo: http://igg.me/at/noalternative

There are some amazing perks/rewards for contributors. Here is a list of just some of them: Signed editions of my books, Parental Advisory “Bri Da B” official movie T-Shirts, filmmaking mentorships with both myself and my co-screenwriter, Dwight Moody, opportunities to be a part of the movie as featured extras, as a band, or having supporting characters named after you, and we’re even offering major “hero” props from my previous films like “Detour” and “Don’t Look Back.”

Please check out the campaign page for all the other cool rewards you can redeem when you make a contribution.

“No Alternative” probes the lives of rebellious kids who transition into adulthood via the distortion pedals of their lives in an era when the “Sex, Drugs & Rock’n’Roll” ethos was amended to include “Suicide” in its phrase. Help destigmatize mental illness, addiction and suicide: there is no alternative.

Thank you so much for your support.

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

Behind-The-Scenes: The Release of “Don’t Look Back”

Over the past few months, I’ve experienced the incredible rollout of my latest film, “Don’t Look Back.”

The movie was initially released on Video On Demand and then had its domestic television debut in October on Lifetime Movie Network. On the night of its debut, it drew over 1.1 million viewers. It was an amazing experience. I even dabbled in a live tweeting session with two of the film’s cast members, Lucy Griffiths and Tyler Jacob Moore, during the broadcast.

DLB-Tweeting

I didn’t get nearly as many questions from fans as the two stars sitting next to me…but I did get some!

What was really cool about the experience was tweeting behind-the-scenes pics and info while those very scenes played out on the television in front of me. I’ve gotten some great feedback on the site, specifically, how I talk behind-the-scenes details and provide a glimpse into my directing process. Here’s a portion of a recent comment: “As an audience member, you do wonder what the director, writer and actors went through during the creative process and this is a wonderful resource for that. It is always interesting to know when shots and frames don’t just ‘happen’ but were planned to add more to the story than the action and dialogue.” I’m really glad to hear it.

MovieMaker-DLB-Eddie-WithViewfinder

The craft of directing can often seem intangible, or at times mysterious, and I take every element of the process extremely seriously. A recent article I wrote on directing a scene in “Don’t Look Back” was published in MovieMaker Magazine. Here’s a link where you can check it out:

http://www.moviemaker.com/archives/series/how_they_did_it/inserting-cuts-oner-dont-look-back/

In these days of microbudget films, with limited time and resources, you have to be as prepared as possible before you begin production in order to call audibles and change things up later on down the line. In fact, I’ve written a book all about the process of directing my first feature film, “Detour,” which is slated to be published early next year. So…keep an eye out for it!

In the case of “Don’t Look Back,” I was fortunate to have wonderful producers, and terrific cast and crew members, who supported my vision and helped me finish the film in the best possible manner!

 

Poster Exclusive: “DON’T LOOK BACK!”

As the end of summer approaches, so does the release of my next film: DON’T LOOK BACK.

Here’s an exclusive first look at the poster below:

DONTLOOKBACK-Cabin-Poster-8-22-14-Web

The film is a psychological thriller about Nora Clark (Lucy Griffiths), a prominent children’s book writer, whose life is at a crossroads. After moving back into the house she inherited from her grandmother, Nora comes to grips with the traumatic memories from her childhood, and takes in an inquisitive, seductive new roommate, Peyton (Cassidy Freeman), who is not entirely whom she appears to be…

I was extremely fortunate to work with an amazing cast and crew who are all at the top of their game. Lucy Griffiths (TRUE BLOOD) and Cassidy Freeman (LONGMIRE) star in the film along with Tyler Jacob Moore, Roddy Piper and Kate Burton. Tyler was recently cast in ABC’s ONCE UPON A TIME as Prince Hans, a character you may know from Disney’s blockbuster hit FROZEN:

http://www.cinemablend.com/television/Once-Time-Finds-Its-Prince-Hans-Pabbie-Rock-Troll-66492.html

Kate Burton was just nominated for an Emmy Award for her role as Vice President Sally Langston on the show SCANDAL (Good luck, Kate!). And Roddy Piper – a childhood hero of mine, when I knew him as the infamous “Rowdy” – is perhaps best known in the world of cinema for his iconic role in John Carpenter’s cult classic THEY LIVE.

DON’T LOOK BACK is set to hit iTunes, VUDU and other VOD platforms in the beginning of September.

I will have more info soon, but in the meantime…keep a “lookout” for it!

Eulogy For My Sister

Last week, my little sister, Briana, passed away. While this site is primarily a vehicle for my professional pursuits, I felt it was an appropriate canvas upon which to pay tribute to not only my blood, but also a fallen artist.

BrianaAndWilliam-NoFilter-Web

Briana has long been an artistic inspiration to me—she has inspired both my writing and filmmaking. My novel, “No Alternative,” would not have been possible without Briana—she is the genius behind the lyrics of Bri Da B and her personage was a springboard from which the life of the fictional character Bridget Harrison sprung. Bridget is the character I admire the most. When my parents asked me to deliver the eulogy at her funeral, I embraced the task—as best as I could under the circumstances—because I knew my sister would want me to write it as though it was, itself, a piece of art. It’s a tall order, and I’m not sure I succeeded, but I know she would have liked me to try. I consider this the most important writing assignment I’ve ever had, and I can only hope she’s happy with the finished product.

I delivered the following eulogy at St. Joseph’s Church in Bronxville, New York, on the morning of July 5th, 2014:

BRIANA DICKERSON CARDONE – September 24th, 1983 to July 1st, 2014

First and foremost, thank you all for coming today and being here for my sister, Briana. It means so much to me and to our family. I’ll ask you to forgive the somewhat scattered nature of this address, but such is the nature of life, of memory, of the bits and pieces of the everyday that both distinguish ourselves as individuals, and tie us all together as one.

These words I’m reading were written in Briana’s room—the room where she grew up when we were kids. It has since become the room I occupy when I visit the East Coast, and that’s because the moment I moved out, my father turned my old room into his office. I’m not sure I’m even allowed in it anymore. Her drafting table, where she created a lot of her artwork, has become my desk away from home. I wrote my novel there. And there was a reason for that: she had left her artistic mark upon the surface of that table, her residue of creativity, and I had always hoped I’d be able to harness just a little bit of her talent and funnel it into my own artistic pursuits.

Briana-Self-Portrait

There’s a beginning to every story and this story begins something like this: when my mother was pregnant for the second time, she was lounging by the pool at my grandparents’ house, dipping her feet in the water, and my dad was videotaping it. He zoomed in on my mom’s belly and asked what was in it. I was five years old, scampering around the yard, and chimed in: “That’s Bri!” “Bri!” My dad responded: “Yes…after the cheese!” Until just last week, I would have sworn my sister was named after a hunk of coagulated milk curd, a cheese that was perhaps the object of my mother’s prenatal cravings.

In truth, Briana was named “Briana” because it’s Gaelic for “The Strong One.” And strong she was. Strongheaded. What can I say? She was Irish.

Briana was one of a kind; she not only loved art, but was also an extremely talented artist herself. I’m not just saying this because she dabbled here and there; I’m saying it because she was a true artist. She put her heart and soul into her art—her entire life was a canvas on which she asserted a style, a personality, and a truly unique way of looking at the world that not only affected me, but I’m sure affected a lot of the people sitting in this room.

She loved paintings, and she herself was a painter; she loved photography, and she herself was a photographer; she loved music, and she herself was a musician. She loved movies, too, but perhaps that was the one art form she’d let her brother have all to himself. Briana had been drawing for as long as she could remember, and as a child when she was asked the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Her answer was always, “an artist.”

Her paintings remind me of Edward Hopper’s: a distinct rendering of lighting, cropped compositions, and a stillness that was both unsettling and calming. She was a huge fan of Hopper’s, but I imagine her saying something like, “Oh, don’t compare me to him, I’m no way near as good as him.” To that, I would respond, “You’re wrong.”

Anything Briana put her mind to and decided to learn, she did, and did herself…except for the guitar; I’ll take some credit there. I taught her the power chord. For those who don’t play guitar, if you know one power chord, you know them all. We would both practice together—when I’d play Nirvana songs, she’d play Hole songs.

But ultimately, the guitar wasn’t for her. It was too conventional. While my band pursued the spoils of alternative rock, Briana decided to rebel against the mainstream and become a gangsta’ rapper.

BriDaB

Briana recorded as Bri Da B and made two albums, “Around The Motherf***ing World” and “Hittin’ The Streets With My New LP.” She toured locally, performing at venues in Westchester and New York City. Her songs, “Gravy On Top,” “Print It” and “Pimptooth” were bonafide underground hits; at Fordham University, bootleg tapes and CD’s of her music circulated around campus and the buzz caught on. I can’t quote the majority of her lyrics here, unfortunately, for fear of being struck by lightning.

When I said Briana was one of a kind, it wasn’t just a platitude.

Several years later, a version of “Pimptooth” was covered by the cyberpunk collective ORDER44 and produced by the producer of the bands Interpol and The National.

While Bri Da B was a form of musical expression for my sister, it was also performance art. She was inspired by Surrealism at a young age. To quote my sister, “I was never one to run with the crowd, and the oddness and curiosity of the genre just really hit me hard and gave me the idea that I could express my feelings into my art, no matter how odd or abstract they were, and people could make whatever they wanted out of it.”

At the age of eleven, Briana started painting with oils, and later mastered several mediums. Ultimately, pastels became her favorite means of artistic expression. She painted landscapes, still-lifes and portraits. As a student at the Ursuline School in New Rochelle, she was awarded First Prize at her senior year Art Show. She created many works, both for her pleasure and professionally on commission. She admired the work of Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Hopper and the images of Alfred Hitchcock, Tim Burton and David Lynch. She was able to harness her emotions, which were at times unstable, and channel them into her art.

The way Briana saw the world wasn’t like the way others see the world, which is the gift and the burden, of a great artist.

Her favorite painting was Claude Monet’s “The Four Trees.” He painted the poplars from the limited perspective of a boat in the middle of a river. If he had painted them on the land from the opposite bank, the perspective would have been much greater. This has the effect of denying us the view of the tops of the four trees. Furthermore, were it not for his depiction of the riverbank, the tree trunks would be indistinguishable from their reflections in the water.

TheFourTrees-Web

In college, Briana wrote a fifteen-page paper on this one painting; I’ve never read the paper, nor do I know where it is today. But she certainly thought the painting merited such an analysis and it was clear that she loved it. When I look at the painting, and try to imagine how my sister saw it, I’m struck by the fact that it isn’t a complete picture. Perhaps it’s a suitable analogy of life, and in this case, her life: we will never have a complete understanding of it. However, we must embrace the parts we don’t see, because those are the parts we will miss, the parts that matter, the parts that, through faith and love, we know are true and pure and real. We cannot see below the trees—the roots, the dirt, the elements that give life to the trees. We cannot see the treetops, nor do we know where they end—they may end shortly beyond the edge of the painting, or they may extend further than we think. And what’s above the end of the trees; well, that’s a question as old as time.

The importance of the painting lies in its focus on the middle. There is comfort in the middle—there are no highs, but there are no lows—there is stability, there is symmetry, there is equality.

Our lives are limited, in length and in perspective—we can only see so much—but our lives extend beyond the scope of our limited resources. Briana’s life extends beyond her own into each and every one of you. Her life extends beyond her own and into her family, into her beloved husband, Anthony. When asked about Anthony, Briana would often respond quite simply: “He is not only the love of my life; he is my life.” Anthony, you meant the world to my sister; and my family and I couldn’t be happier you both found each other—I have no doubt you will find each other again.

Perhaps the four trees in Monet’s painting are Anthony, my mother, my father and myself—the past below us and the future above us—and this is the perspective through which my sister can see us now: she is with us in the present, and her presence extends to us boundlessly into the past and boundlessly into the future. We have become the impression that is perceived by my sister wherever she is now—or that’s how I’d like to think of it. I’d like to think of myself as the way she would paint me on the canvas of her perpetual imagination.

This Monet painting never meant a lot to me, but now it has become a symbol of Briana, and it means so much more.

Briana often had trouble realizing that people loved her as much as they did. Today is a testament of how much people really do love her. She had a hard time seeing and accepting what was so obvious to me and everyone else. But my family and I take great solace in the fact that there is so much love around her, and it’s this love that will keep her memory alive on this earth.

As a writer, I contemplate death a lot. My death, the deaths of my family members, including the death of my sister. It has fueled my art. My novel, while a work of fiction, was born from what I imagined my worst nightmare to be; I wanted to write about what scared me the most. And what scared me the most was losing my sister. Now, tragically, my worst nightmare has come true. However, in writing about it while my sister was alive, she had the opportunity to understand how very much I loved and cared for her—she said she looked up to me as an artist, but the truth is: it was actually me who looked up to her. She was, and will continue to be, my artistic inspiration. And I got to tell her that. For that opportunity, I am supremely grateful.

I wish I had another chance to say to my sister how much she means to me and to our family. But now this is my last chance, my one remaining opportunity, to say to all of you what I would like to say to her:

I love you so very much, Bri, and like I said to you in the hospital: “Goodbye, but just for now.”

***

As a tribute to my sister, I, along with her husband, Anthony, my wife, Rachel, and our brothers-and-sister-in-song, Jay, Alli, Liam and Andreas, recorded one of her favorite songs—the song we performed at her funeral—“Hear You Me,” by Jimmy Eat World.

Here is a link to it on SoundCloud:

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/157805700″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

Please feel free to listen and share and celebrate the life of Briana Dickerson Cardone.

“May angels lead you in…”

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.

COBAINJaguar-1

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

NO ALTERNATIVE: “The Clarity of Regret”

NoAlternative-TitleI just completed my book tour.  It was a great success, and also a heck of a lot of fun.  I’m grateful to those bloggers who hosted my book and to Kriss and Kai of The Finishing Fairies for organizing the endeavor.

NoAlternative-FrontCover-Web

On the tour, I released an exclusive clip from a reading I did at Stories Books and Cafe in Echo Park.  Here it is:

The promotional campaign for this book has been grassroots.  Perhaps in line with the spirit of the characters in the novel, the concept behind writing this book, and consequently marketing it, is the “DIY” mindset.  If there is a core ingredient to punk rock, if there is an ideal to aspire to in said art form, it is the collective embrace of the do-it-yourself spirit, culture and lifestyle.  Just like the indie bands of the early 90’s, before there were social networks and paid advertisements on facebook and twitter, it was all about word-of-mouth.  So, if you’ve heard of “No Alternative,” and you dig what it’s about, please spread the word.

Here is the excerpt from the novel that I read in the above clip:

This break-up was the bittersweet kind, as if there is any other kind, but a kind nonetheless, and this kind fell into a specific subset of the bittersweet break-up, one that is typical among teenagers who have professed their love for one another, exchanged sterling silver rings, broken heart pendants, leather jackets, punk rock mix tapes. It’s falling head-over-Converses in love at an age when we’re still growing, physically, mentally, and emotionally, but more than just growing, expanding at breakneck speed, finding ourselves at a pace that is downright alarming and which will never be duplicated for the rest of our lives. It’s guaranteed that no love will last, but this teenaged love feels like heroin in the brutal rush of its power, its ability to commandeer the body and the mind and its ability to make you feel like a steaming pile of shit when it comes to its crashing end. It’s not that teenaged love is more powerful than any of the other types of love we experience throughout our lives, it’s just that we will never feel that way again, never feel that rush of addiction, the certainty that we have found our proper place in the universe and we feel that way precisely because we haven’t completed our physical and mental maturation. That’s what makes it unique. That’s what makes it addicting. That’s what makes it so enervating when it starts and so heartbreaking when it ends. And it always ends. And when it does, what was once there, what was once perfect, becomes irretrievable –

It’s lost forever.

Jeremy and Leslie were on the beach, kissing tenderly and gently, the way a couple that is not brand new starts to do at some point before they stop kissing altogether, kissing for what was soon to be the last time. It was the fact that they knew it was going to be the last time that made the kissing even more tender, as though there were memories tied up in it, as though there were regrets, not of times gone by but of times that would never be. He could feel her face, their cheeks grazing against each other’s, their tears mixing together, and he remembered how he licked them off his lips, tasting them. He tasted the salt; it was like he dipped his tongue into the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. As Jeremy sat in his dank little holding cell in Bronxville, it was like the break-up was happening to him all over again, like he was replaying the events in his mind with Technicolor clarity, not the cheap rewinding and replaying of a VHS tape, but the hyper-clarity of a laserdisc, right down to the depiction of the blood dripping into the sand after she left. It was as High Definition as hi-def could get back then. Before there was Blu-ray and plasma televisions, there was the clarity of regret.

Thanks for reading.

You can find the book on Amazon, in Paperback and in Kindle: www.amazon.com/noalternative

William Dickerson is Stephen Fry proof thanks to caching by WP Super Cache