Thursday, February 19, 2015

Red Light Radio and the Peaceful Imperfection

Every Tuesday for 2 years, a group of guys and I got together in a practice space to play our songs at loud volumes. I sang, Brian played his keyboard, Keith played his guitar, and Kees played his drums. For a while, James played his bass, but when we parted ways with James, we struggled to replace him. We auditioned a few players, none who fit, and we ultimately decided to take a break from the bass-player search, and from practicing our songs altogether. I knew I needed to focus on my house sale, my move, my continuing education, and my career. Singing, although a compulsive habit and beloved hobby, didn't seem to fit into my larger life plan, and I knew I needed to put more energy into things that did. Nonetheless, I had wholeheartedly appreciated the creativity, and the friendly, lighthearted atmosphere of our practices. I got friends out of former strangers and complete songs out of song concepts, and that was enough for me.

Red Light Radio, left to right: James, Keith, Angela, Kees, and Brian
In the time we were together, we had four fun shows: the first at PA's Lounge in Somerville, a benefit for the One Fund to help victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, for which we were able to raise $600. Next, we played at All Asia in Cambridge for a delightful, dancing crowd who seemed to enjoy us. Our third show was a private concert at America's oldest community theater, in Elliot Hall of The Footlight Club, JP, where I had once performed a cabaret show. There we played for another crowd of enthusiastic dancers, our music echoing out of the old doors and windows into the August night. Our fourth show was in October of 2014, on an outdoor stage in Salem, MA. Red Light Radio was eight feet above the crowd of All Hallows' Day celebrators, freezing our butts off but having fun. It was the last time we played for an audience, and our final endeavor before we started the project of recording our songs.

Red Light Radio, Salem, MA, October '14
My good friend, Scott, who has recorded several of his own metal bands, agreed to record us for free as part of his learning process. The "recording studio" was just our practice space, with all of Scott's microphones around the room, and his laptop on his lap. When all of the instrument recording was complete, we changed venues to my living room, where we spent a couple Saturdays trying to get all the tracks sung and recorded with the best spatial configuration and recording effects. In the end, we have a demo that is hardly perfect, but fun anyway. I know that the imperfections that I hear will become less glaring to me over time, when my memory of the details fade, and yet I still have something to listen to and look back on, to remind me of all the cumulative energy and effort that went into creating this music together.

Imperfection and creativity is the subject of this post, because now that the songs are out there, I've had some unexpected emotions. Since the band isn't looking to make future gigs or progress from the recordings, I didn't suspect that I would care too much about what anyone else would think. Of course today, now that they're live, I do find myself wondering how they will be received by others. When you create any type of art, it captures a raw piece of you. There's something personal about these recordings of my voice, especially in places where the emotion I felt (or just plain mistakes) led to "imperfect" singing. Imperfection can be the most beautiful and authentic thing in music sometimes -- the way Ray Charles calls out for Georgia in Georgia On My Mind. But I'm not Ray Charles, and my living room was certainly not his professional studio. There are certainly also times when imperfection simply degrades what could have been.

Those are the times when it's best not to over-analyze -- instead, to put out what you have into the universe and just move forward. The alternative to accepting imperfection is refusing to be creative and take chances. Sometimes I would rather free myself from ever striving for any kind of progress or greatness, because striving for anything at all feels like having my heart in the wrong place -- focusing on the end result instead of the present experience. What matters most is the authenticity of the moment, even if a photo, or a recording, or someone else's memory of the output isn't as pure or as favorable as your own. I know I had the best possible intention when I created vocal parts for these songs; I know each of the band members brought a piece of themselves to the songs through their instruments; I know I loved the energy that we brought to our little handful of live performances; I know we attempted to capture all of that within the confines of a homemade recording -- and I know that's an impossible feat. So, I won't analyze the output and be wary of sharing, but rather, I'll fully accept all the good things that this recording represents -- accept it alongside its flaws, and smile, be content, move on.

I document these thoughts here because the same rules apply to the goals and perceptions we have for our minds, bodies, and lives. When we "begin with the end in mind" as Steven Covey famously suggests, we enable ourselves to create a path that does not deviate from our ultimate goal. But, we must be careful not to put too much of our attention into the future when doing so. We must keep our ultimate goal "in mind" rather than focus on specific expectations, which can sully our satisfaction with the present. We must be intentional when choosing the words we use when we define our ultimate goals. We can't confuse specific, particular outcomes with our overall goal to be happy. While perfection (an unattainable thing) rarely generates happiness due to it's impossible and illusive nature, acceptance of imperfection, on the other hand, can be bliss.

Where is the line between craving and complacency? Where would we end up if we resigned ourselves to being mediocre, or accepting the likelihood that we may never be exceptional by other people's standards -- or more painfully, our own? It helps me to consistently remind myself of how I feel, how I want to feel, and what my thoughts and behavior in each moment bring into my life. That is mindfulness. We create goals and expectations because we want to be happy: (n.) a sense of positivity, a peaceful energy within our being, the capacity to share that positive energy with those around us. We deserve to be our authentic selves; it is our birth right, whether or not who we are, and what we produce, is praised, accepted, or even acknowledged by others. 

Acceptance of self and attention to the present is the true spirit from which beautiful things are created. Perhaps not over-produced, over-polished things, which may seem flawless. But real things, beautiful things, things made with heart, words said with truth... these things are inevitably flawed, but we must love them anyway, because this is real life, and for all we know, you only get one. Imperfection is inherent to the spirit of creation within which our lives unfold. It creates variation and a world full of different defiant details. Daring to risk creating something imperfect is the only way to create anything at all, and creating anything at all, with love in your heart, is beautiful no matter how "flawed." You are you, and that is perfect. Comparison to perfection on the other hand... 

"Comparison is the thief of joy." -- Theodore Roosevelt.
Thank you for the image.
Do you believe there is beauty in imperfection? Have you ever hesitated to take a risk for fear of not being ready, or good enough? Have you ever second-guessed your own creativity or authenticity for fear of judgement? I know these things are human traits that anyone who has ever taken a chance can relate to. I'd love to hear your story; please share in a comment!

'Til next time: be you, boldly! And here's a link to Red Light Radio's demo release. <3

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