So this is the new year. The auto-da-fé of retrospectives on wins (and, sometimes, admitted losses), resolutions, sunny projections, and choosing themes of the year in single words. I don't begrudge you the rituals: they can be useful and focusing activities. I just don't find them particularly useful, myself – and let's be honest, it's not uncommon for this whole ritualistic New Year, New Me stuff to turn nakedly performative.
Paul Watkins – and if you don't know Paul, I highly recommend you find him on LinkedIn and read his book, Lost & Found – recently featured a quotation from Morgan Housel in Paul's wonderful Daily Dose series. That quotation?
Social media makes more sense when you view it as a place where people go to perform rather than communicate.
Now, Housel's an interesting guy with some interesting books, so I wasn't surprised that I found myself not only nodding but breaking into a smile when I heard the quotation.
Think about it: how much do we hear about personal branding and its importance? My good friends Tony Albrecht and Viveca Hess talk about this frequently, and Seth Godin is famous for saying if you don't have a personal brand, you're invisible. (Godin's famous for lots of things, to be fair.) There's an emphasis placed on authentic posting and hitting just the right notes to convey message. If you ask most of the folks on LinkedIn, and, I suspect, other platforms, who have some type of audience, they'll tell you they're there simply to interact and build relationships.
Folks, I will be the first to tell you: I'm performing. Mostly for myself, but also for all of you. I'm not in it for the green claps, red hearts, or blue (blue?!) laughing faces – but I am there to delight, entertain, and educate both myself and you.
And we all know this, even if we don't openly admit it. For all the talk of being authentic, we also focus on the craft of it. Hooks! Dismounts! Mic drop moments! This is storytelling, and storytelling is performative: it is designed to grab and hold your attention. Stories are our natural operating system, the most powerful tool and most devastating weapon ever conceived by man.
So is it all performative? Are we all getting on stage in an open mic night and doing our best to play the best song of the night? I mean, no: it's not competitive like that. (If it is, man, you're doing it wrong and you're gonna get burned out real quick.) Game recognizes game and most of us admire the writing of other folks around. There are some stupidly great writers on [in], just giving away stories and bombshells like it was nothing. Lenor breaks my heart and leaves me in fits of laughter nearly every day. There are so many doing something distinct and distinctly not the "Three Secrets to a Perfect Life!" masturbation you see flooding the platform.
But we're all performing – and, given a truth serum, I think we'd all admit it.
But there are also opportunities for actual communication and connection. I have made real-life friends on LinkedIn, whom I've met in person, jumped on purely social zoom calls with...people who have become texting buddies no different from folks I know from high school and college. And this gets to the power of the performance: if you perform in your own voice and in such a manner that consistently projects a genuine piece of who you are, your people tend to show up in your comments and, eventually, in your DMs.
And that is magic. We perform in our posts, but we connect if we're generous enough to let down our guard in the comments and, more often, in the DMs.
One of the amazing folks who appeared in my DMs is Hor Druma. Hor is an attorney, I guess, but he's far more interesting than that. He works in legal tech, is generously documenting his journey with ADHD after getting his Dx last year, putting out really interesting music, and is, like my favorite people, protean in his interests.
A few months back, he read the OTR I wrote about Slayer's Reign in Blood. One of my best friends sent me the record to troll me into having to review a record I hated. (I trolled him right back by finding ways to praise the record.) Anyway, Hor messaged me and asked if I was serious when I said I would write about any record someone sent to me. Of course, I said. Just before Christmas, a record-shaped box appeared on my doorstep. This isn't an unusual occurrence, but I wasn't expecting a record.
Well, boys and girls, let this OTR be proof: send me a record, and I will listen to and talk about it.
Hor was incredibly kind and sent me a record. So let's do this!
There's a longstanding trope that weather helps color one's personality, and you don't need to be a student of Weber to understand this. Even if you haven't thought about it in such terms, we all have perceptions about music that comes from LA vs NYC, the South vs Detroit or Chicago. Some of this is cultural, of course, but how often have you heard LA music referred to in shorthand as "sunny"? How many of you think of bands in jackets (leather or otherwise) coming from New York?
You may have noticed that I often begin OTR and my posts on [in] with an account of the weather – despite the general advice to never talk about the weather. In Pittsburgh, the weather permeates everything. It changes frequently, often presents a leaden gray sky, and – every once in a while – is more beautiful than any other place on earth. I walk every day, no matter the weather, so perhaps that's why I'm so attuned to it? Either way, it informs my attitude.
When I placed the needle down on today's record, Arca's self-titled 2017 album, I was struck by the darkness of the mood. It's a mixture of pristine, sad-but-pretty, almost choir-like vocals, and electronic percussion that creates an instant mood. It encompasses you, throws its arms around you and holds you.
One of the first things I noticed about the packaging of the record is the very prominent "Recorded in Czech Republic" on the back cover. That checks out! I thought as I listened to the first few tracks. But I did some diligence. I know of Arca (she just released a four- or five-album cycle last year that I've listened through once or twice) but I cannot say I know anything about her other than a very passing awareness that she exists.
I was quite surprised to learn that Arca (Alejandra Ghersi Rodríguez) grew up and lives in the sun-drenched locales of Venezuela and Spain, respectively. Arca does not sound like sunny music. There's something exceptionally composed about the songs and the arc of the songs (sorry), even as each song seems to be falling prey to entropy, as though everything could splinter apart at any time.
I've been thinking a good bit lately about orchestration, the way we build things, and how we attempt to cover the built nature of things with the facade of the organic. In my particular case, I'm finally getting around to putting in the time to get Purely Estates up off the ground. I've been asking a lot of questions and building in earnest around those questions for the first time since last summer. How can I build a "law firm" that isn't anything like a law firm? How can I invite people in so that they are empowered and aren't overwhelmed by the oh god, I'm dealing with a lawyer feeling? How can I simplify things so much that the steps aren't just easy, but obvious?
Perhaps it's because I'm arrogant and pretentious, but I can't help but think of how to make the businesses I'm building into art projects. How to instill beauty in them. How to draw out a sense of wonder and care when interacting with them.
One of the things that I love about music without words or music with words in a language I don't speak is that it must rely on tone, mood, timing, and pitch to speak to me. The words aren't going to hit me on a logical or emotional level, so the music, the composition, the delivery of notes – that's going to have to do the job.
Arca is a Spanish-language album, so I don't know the emotional or symbolic impact of the lyrics. But I don't have to in order to get a sense of the music, to have a sense of what she's trying to get across. Language does not mediate my experience with or understanding of Arca in a way that opens it for me: in some ways, being free of the specific meaning of the words (to the extent we can discern meaning) gives me the freedom to simply feel the impact.
I want the experience of working with my businesses to be like that.
Finally, a little housekeeping. After the holiday break, we'll be back on our normal schedule for OTR and Sonder Union releases. You can expect the next episode of Sonder Union in a week, with OTR trading weekends with it for the rest of the year.
I'd like to ask a favor: if you like OTR, could you share it with someone else who might enjoy it/hate it/get something from it, as well? I've been derelict in trying to grow this thing, under the pretense that I'm doing this for me. I am, but I'm doing it for you too.
It's a performance, after all, right?