A chronicle of the meanderings, false starts (which in retrospect, while sort of embarrassing turned out to be highly instructive), epiphanies, selective apathy (still evolving), wild mood swings, opinions (subject to frequent change), and life lessons of an inveterate dabbler (and her latest dabblings).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Studio Milieu

Thought I would share a little with you about my creative milieu, i.e., my neighborhood. I firmly believe an artist's physical context informs his or her art, and provides both inspiration and flavor. My home studio is tucked away in a little corner of figurative Appalachia (no offense intended to literal Appalachians) in the middle of a semi-upscale northwest Montana ski town. Somehow our little block has managed to retain a goodly measure of eccentricity, bohemian slovenliness, and joyful self-absorption.

Our block has the perpetual, carefree, dissolute ambience of a frat party the morning after. The neighbors directly across the alley still have booze bottles sitting outside their garage door from their annual cocktail party one YEAR ago (you read that right). There used to be three crates of booze bottles and a couple pieces of furniture that apparently didn't survive the party, and a pair of skis. Over the last few months, they have somehow managed to summon the energy to throw out two of the crates, then the busted furniture and eventually the skis, but I guess they ran out of steam when it came to that last lonely crate of bottles. It still sits outside their garage door, about 30 feet from the dumpster. (This home belongs to an engineer and a published novelist--I've also been inside the home many times, which looks like another house and a bar and a restaurant and a book store exploded inside a crack den and no one had the heart to clean it up. It is a future Superfund site.)

A white Fred Sanford lives down the street, surrounded by his salvage yard. Lovely man, generous, friendly and helpful, but a bit of a packrat. I saw a toilet in his backyard once. A mentally handicapped woman used to live next door, but she moved away. She was a Shouter. I think her brother was a meth dealer.

But best of all is that the neighbors with the booze bottles have recently developed what I can only assume is intended to be a "garage band", i.e., they strike musical instruments and vocalize in their garage. I was listening over the weekend, trying to figure out what genre it is they're going for. Can't put my finger on it. I think it's a new genre.

There is usually a drum, a guitar and vocalizations. They've been at it for several weeks now. On Sunday I detected three distinctly different "songs" being played concurrently (one on the drum, another on the guitar, and the vocalizer seemed to be pursuing yet another composition), in three different keys at once (the keys in each "song" change every measure or so). Very, very avant garde. In fact, the arrangements they do are really complex. The person banging the drum (one-handed from the sound of it--I think his name is ZOG) cleverly changes the tempo every couple seconds--fast, faster, REALLY FAST, not so fast, sort of fast, little slower, faster, faster, STUPID fast--getting crazy now--Oh, I guess we're taking a break now. Oh wait, no we're not. Just changing hands. The guitar is freakishly out of tune (so daring!), and played apparently while wearing mittens. The "vocalist" (the one producing the vocal noises) is doing an intriguing, completely atonal impression of Bob Dylan with the occasional foray into Sid Vicious when she's feeling sassy. Like a true artiste, she is not married to conventional ideas such as pitch, key signature or tempo. From time to time she might yell.

Their repertoire is very, very minimalist. One song, apparently. Something about needing a man. I know all the words by heart now. "I need a man, I need a man...[instrumental]...I need a man." At one time there was what sounded like a two-handed drummer who seemed to be making progress but I think Zog has replaced him/her. I am intrigued to know what their plans are--is this goal-oriented activity (like they have a gig at the deaf school?), or just noodling? And of course, more than once they have postponed their sessions until quite late in the evening, or have resumed an earlier session at bedtime, sometimes serenading the darkened neighbor houses with their thoughtfully amplified vocalizations until well after 11:00 p.m., weeknights. The gentleman who lives in the house ran for City Council last year (or maybe it was the year before). He clearly rejects passe and bourgeois notions of neighborliness and common courtesy, and has freed himself from shame. This would have made for interesting City policy (he was not elected).

So, I am eagerly awaiting the next piece of jewelry I will produce in this irritating stimulating context. I sort of have some half-formed ideas, and as I listen to Zog, Mitten Man and Deaf Bob/Sid, I am drawn to using new, little-used materials--I'm thinking of making a collar out of barbed wire, broken glass and cockleburrs, chokers made from recycled hair shirts, and a series of bracelets made from duct tape with the sticky side out. I was also thinking of making earrings out of living insects, like real live dragonflies or bumblebees, that would buzz about your head as you go about your day, and notebook-sized pendants made from reclaimed chalkboard slate for you to scratch with your fingernail anytime you crave some unusual aural texture. This would probably be a better response to my neighbors' self-expression than putting feta cheese on their microphone, pepper spray on their guitar strings and hiding a fish sandwich in their drum set, which is what I was going to do before.


  1. OMG! I'm so sorry for your situation, but dang that made me laugh. It also makes me embarrassed that I'm so irritated by the dogs belonging to the neighbor who lives behind me. The fact that they bark 24-7 without apparently ever getting tired, or thirsty, or hoarse seems minimal compared to what you're going through. My favorite part, though, is where the neighbor denied the noise was coming from HER dogs (even though they were bouncing up and down and barking in plain view while I was conversing with her). Apparently, I see and hear IMAGINARY dogs. Hang in there!

  2. Looks like Sunday in the Park With Trailer Trash, sans George Serault...

  3. COLLEGE-EDUCATED trailer trash even. (When you're educated, you can be "bohemian" instead of trailer trash.) Oh, BTW, those are stock photos from Google images. My neighborhood actually looks a little worse than that.

  4. Oh, you're making me feel so much better about my rapping pot smoker neighbor with the loud talking shrieker for a wife (did I mention he doesn't have a muffler on his car so we get to rest easily knowing that he's home safe at 2am?). They're renters so I had some hope that the HOA would deal with them but apparently instead of realizing that they're sharing their love of wall vibrating music with 4+ other condos, they take the opportunity to go knocking door to door to see who dared express an opposing view!

    At least they don't keep a toilet on their patio- thank goodness for small blessings :)

  5. Holy crap. I'll have to tell you about our experience with off-the-grid dog breeders who live in a "container" in the middle of the desert. Little did we know what we were in for. I had to bathe poor pup three times before the stench was barely noticeable. Where do these people come from? I smell a novella...

  6. OMG! I wish you could tape a concert for us! That's hilarious. I grew up in a small town in Tennessee where people have couches on their front porch, cars up on bricks in the front yard, and wear their favorite "wife-beater" tank top everyday with mouth full of Skoal. I feel your pain!

  7. I tried to tape them but I need better equipment. "I Need a Man" and the "Lordy Lordy Lordy" song (they learned another one) are really mind-blowing. Anybody know of any cheap, sensitive recording equipment? I think this is You Tube-worthy stuff.

    Before the Shouter there were Shriekers. Their house is 35 feet away and they would wake me up fighting INSIDE their house with the windows closed.

    Ah, Desert Container Living. Nothing like it.

  8. I just have to say one thing. ok two things.
    1. thanks for the hilarious laugh this morning, I needed it.
    2. heads would roll if they were my neighbors. I have a 7th grade boy practicing on his drum set across the street and I'm definitely going to use the fish idea.. :I

  9. Wow...this was so much fun to read - sorry it's at your expense! I admire someone who can create art with all of those lovely distractions. Sounds like a book waiting to be written...you've certainly got some interesting characters!