I’m sitting over the wing on the starboard side of a Southwest 737 as I write this. No gremlin on the wing; no “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Just a conventional commercial airline flight. Thank heavens.
Today is December 22nd (happy birthday, Kate!), and I’m flying to San Francisco, where I will spend the holidays. Well, actually I’m flying into Oakland, technically, but you know…
Yeah, I Should Have Gone to the Locally Owned Music Store, But...
Yesterday I tied up loose ends related to my holiday preparations and Christmas shopping. That meant entering the usually unpleasant maw of GUITAR CENTER. Annie’s sister asked me to change her guitar strings during our visit, so I thought I’d run in and grab a set rather than find them in the Bay Area.
Of course, Guitar Center typically presents a cacophony of Every Song You Hate performed by individuals with questionable musicianship all at once on every instrument in the store. This time wasn’t so bad, though.
It was relatively quiet in there, but I noticed a young fella, probably about 15 or 16, rocking a cover of “Territorial Pissings,” one of my favorite Nirvana Nevermind deep cuts. And he was killing it. Like, totally nailing it on guitar and vocals, and I was absolutely into it. Before I made my way to the checkout I made sure to give him a thumbs up. He smiled back.
Then I was visited by the Ghost of Guitar-Store Visits Past, and I flashed back to my mullet-headed teen years. Jim Laabs Music in Stevens Point, WI. Rocking the Hendrix licks. An older fella gives me the thumbs up.
And this is the circle of life.
I bought the strings and continued on with my chores and errands.
Now I’m on this plane. I’ve been thinking a lot about this past year. Personally, It’s been a good one. I wrote about two dozen new songs in 2018. I got back into performing music again. I enhanced my craft as a musician and writer. And I have a lot to look forward to in 2019.
For the last several years, I haven’t really done resolutions. But I’ve set a theme for the year. And from about 2014 on, that theme has been “Output over Input.” This was the year I finally lived up to the promise of the theme. The existential constipation has been relieved.
Basically, I’ve been wanting to stop spending so much time consuming. I love reading, watching, listening and absorbing, but my tank has been full for quite some time. For many years, I’ve realized that I need to let the stuff flow, and balance all the input with output. I feel like I’m finally in that sweet output groove. And it feels good.
I didn’t stop reading books and perusing internet garbage in 2018. I didn’t stop watching movies and TV shows in 2018. But I sure did a lot less of that stuff, and I feel like I achieved a nice balance. A balanced flow.
This feels good.
I Think About the People Who Are Here
I’m thinking a lot about my friend Erin, who is in the hospital right now recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumor. Erin is in her 30s and is one of the most vital, vibrant and powerful people I’ve ever known. And she lives with cancer.
They say Erin will be back home with her family for Christmas. I’m happy about that. I have no doubt that she will be fine and back to living her righteous truth before too long. And she will probably outlive all the people who are thinking of her right now. But geez, this stuff is scary and strange and brutally indifferent to the individuals it affects.
I think about people in my family. Tomorrow is my mom’s birthday. She is experiencing her second Christmas without my dad. I’m glad other beloved members of my family will be with her. I’m glad my mom has a smartphone and is texting now. That reminds me: I need to reach out and have her text me the recipe for her holiday meatballs. I want to bring those balls to the bay.
I think about Annie, my partner, who is sitting two seats over from me. We’re using the middle seat for burrito storage and extra legroom. She is happy to give me the window seat (oh look — it’s the Grand Canyon!). I am happy to let her have the aisle. She supports me and encourages my best self to shine. I do my best to do the same for her. We’re not stingy about telling each other we love each other. This will be our third Christmas together. Here we are.
I Think About the People Who Are Elsewhere
I think about my brother John. I miss him a lot, especially around this time of year. In my visits to the spirit realm I see him as more than a brother; he and I are two halves of the same spiritual entity in many ways.
Anyway, many of my favorite memories of John are based on his holiday behavior. The overeating and the napping, sure. But also the conversations that were always loaded with delightful non sequiturs.
I remember watching NBA playoff games in the 90s with John when Jordan’s Bulls dominated the league. John would always claim that Chicago guard B.J. Armstrong was the son of Chicago center Bill Cartwright (who played college ball at the University of San Francisco, which is just around the corner from where Annie and I are staying). It seemed so, so plausible! To this day I’m not 100% sure if he really thought they were father and son or if he was just having a goof (they are not related, as it turns out). I like to do stuff like that sometimes, too.
To me, one of the highest compliments I can receive is when a person says, “I can’t tell if you’re being serious.” That’s when I’m in the Brother John zone. It’s a pretty cool zone.
When I need to shake things up in a song while I’m working on the lyrics, I can always break myself out of a slump by imagining the choice John might make.
I think about Liza, too. She’s been gone now for about as long as she was here. The last time we really hung out was on Christmas Day, 1997. My roommates were out of town celebrating with their families. I wasn’t doing anything with mine. She wasn’t doing anything with hers. So she came over and we drank beer and listened to cool music with MTV muted in the background. I remember her mentioning that she was experiencing a weird health thing and that she was planning to get it checked out. Liza died of leukemia exactly six months later.
I think about my dad and how grateful I am to have inherited some of his better tendencies and dispositions. I also think about all the brandy that’s not being consumed this holiday season due to his absence here in the realm where people do things like drink brandy. I think about his generosity, too. I want to be more generous. That’s a thing I’ll work on in 2019.
My dad bought me my first guitar, paid for lessons and always encouraged my passion for music. Our tastes did not match. At all — Bill Kollock was a different kind of funky. But he was someone who truly appreciated music for the music. Not for the aesthetics surrounding the music. Not as a lifestyle accessory. Just the music.
My dad always made sure my musical life had a pulse, especially during those times when I was kind of out of it and ready to give it up. The guitar I play today is one he bought for me during one of those times. He wouldn’t have liked that I put cheap-ass stickers all over the headstock. Sorry, Dad! But he would love that I’m playing the shit out of it all the time.
I think about Morris, too. Sweet, wild Morris Chestnut The Cat. We lost him on Thanksgiving day last year. I remember two Christmases ago when his long hair was freshly shaved. He was so little and vulnerable. But also extra snuggly and loving. Morris was a dear friend and a true feline champion. Although he was not human, he possessed many traits that inform the way I express my humanity today.
And here I am. In relatively good health with promising prospects. Why? Why me? It’s kind of crazy. And most certainly not fair. But here I am. And I think the best thing I can do is be the most authentic, Matt-like version of Matt possible. So that’s what I’m going to focus on in the coming year.
2019 is going to be a pivotal year for me as a musician. I’ve been creating. Now I’m ready for unveiling. Yeah, unveiling. I think that wilI be the theme for 2019.
I am going to play more shows. Many of those shows will even be outside of Albuquerque. I am going to form a tight, grooving band with top-notch musicians. I am going to record the shit out of the songs I’ve been working on. I am going to build my audience. I am going to travel deeper within myself in my mindfulness practice so I can reveal more outside myself. Stuff like that. Unveiling from the inside out.
What are your goals for 2019? Do you have a theme you’re working with? Who is on your mind at this time of year?
Thank you, friends, for being here with me. I will keep you posted on developments. Watch this space!