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Music Blogger and Memoirist at CHILLFILTR.com
Ashland, United States
Writer and Content Creator at CHILLFILTR, with a degree in Poetry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Krister Axel is a published lyricist, memoirist, songwriter, blogger, and web technologist. Krister spent 20 years as a Ruby on Rails developer before becoming an entrepreneur in the music blogging space. His site at CHILLFILTR.com is visited by music lovers from all over the world, and combined with his Apple New channel, generates more than 12,000 visits per month. Recent clients include Atlantic Records, Republic Records, Gold Atlas, Lekker Collective, Universal Music Group, and Danger Village.
I suspect that all writers are impulsive, and now that I am a writer, I have license to be what I always was: impulsive. It's not that I am not full of shame, because I certainly have regret and sorrow in full repair, but I decided long ago that inspiration was the thing. I would follow it anywhere. To give away my childhood piano, sell most of my guitars, and pack my entire life into a valise and a manila envelope, for a chance at la vie Parisienne; yes, a thousand times yes. I spent years shuttling my fiancée across the Atlantic to L'Opera, to the Christmas markets in Brussels, and Besançon, and Annecy - for what? A simple life in the syrupy hills of the Pacific Northwest, caught between the corridors of an interstate highway and the modest Siskiyou mountains, with brittle art and bad conversation as a prelude to nothing. I should have risked more. Yet, for many, this is heaven. Bah. I am recently inspired by the writings of Dawn Powell, via my new membership with the New Yorker, which I will probably keep forever. Malcolm Gladwell brought me to you, and you brought me to Peter Schjeldahl, and John Jeremiah Sullivan. Even trade? For once, as a prosaist, I feel infinitely small. That's new for me; I benefit from a large ego, one that has made sense of chaos and walked the tightrope between selective memory and unrealistic hope. Dreamers win, I say, or at least they die dreaming. And my life is deliciously normal: morning coffee, scant breakfast, the howls of children, surprise kisses. The monotony of daily writing has finally found me sober, and together we keep up appearances, all the while waddling towards greatness in a way that will either be remembered as gritty, or not remembered at all. I can make peace with that. Because life comes in large doses, and then nothing; and it is our job, as artists, to peer through the muck. To find out: not just why we cry, but to what end is suffering? Do we recoil, or push against the fire? Do we run, laughing, from conflict like Sullivan's glorious King Parker, or do we climb a tree, veiled in darkness, with the vague hope of being forgotten? If justice is blind, then so, too, is beauty, because true beauty is not a vision, but a state - of improvisational recklessness, of tentative caution, of tender caress. We don't see it with our eyes - we yearn, and we find, with tendrils of the soul. Impulsiveness. For a hundred strikes at the trunk of the tree of life, the integer of success is always misleading: it is said that we learn more from failing, than we do from accomplishment, but I think that still misses the point. Success will teach you something, too - that it is a drug of violent compromise, such that per your minute successes you will be tempted to rearrange the great vistas of your own life in accordance with last-minute detours; the ego, temporarily nourished, pushes aside the intellect with a plan for everything. You will never be so free as you are in the unanticipated rebuke of failure, because from the wake of distress and self-deprecation emerges a peculiar treasure: spiritual nudity. The ability to be nothing. And, to begin from nothing is a gift - because in that moment, anything is possible. Today was Christmas: the town was quiet, the air was cold. It was not a day for impulsiveness, but rather, a moment of appreciation for the burning of wood in the fireplace, a new recipe for mulled wine, and the stillness of a road with no traffic. One of my enduring lucidities of early adulthood was that time is a mysterious force, like water. It does not see detail, but completeness, and is bound by complexities that the mind cannot fathom. So, we respond with the blunt tool of faith, in the hopes that the light of personality is enough to illumine another footstep. Tomorrow will not remember today, except that we command it to do so. Yet, I have never been one to deify the past: better to forge another blade, aimed at the swollen fruit of circumstance. Every day is an apple.
It was the first summer that I was here in Ashland when I still enjoyed an innocent and unbounded hope about the future, which since then has given way to a far more pragmatic sense of qualified optimism. I was taking math classes at SOU, my son was not yet born, and I took a certain joy in doing my calculus homework in the evening, after my wife and infant daughter were already sleeping, at the few late-night haunts in town with a decent kitchen staff and after-hours menu. That night, I was at Harvey's with a cheeseburger and fries, nursing a cider, and working out integrals per a worksheet of common transformations, in longhand on graph paper. I happened to overhear an exchange between the bartender and a slightly-drunk, eager beer-drinker who had just arrived from a show that had just finished down the street at Standing Stone Brewery. Bartender: What can I get you? Customer: I'll have a tap beer, whatever you got in an IPA. Bartender: Sure thing. Where ya comin' from? Customer: I just saw the Brothers Reed over at Standing Stone. They just finished up. Bartender: Cool, you know, I've heard about those guys but I've never seen them play. How was the show? Customer: [Blank stare]. They're very popular. I met a retired professor from Berkley at a holiday party earlier this month. It came up in our conversation that he hastened his retirement (only slightly, he was quick to clarify) in part because his students would no longer visit him during his office hours; instead, they sent him text messages, wondering how soon he would be able to post a PDF of the minutes from his latest lecture to the class forum on the university intranet. Human interaction has quickly become a side-product, a hassle, a sort of if-I-must technicality of last resort. He felt less connected to his students quite generally, and also felt the pressure to make way for faculty that had more facility with that stuff: presumably email, and text messages, and online form-filling. He mentioned as well that working out grades at the end of the semester seemed to be decidedly more error-prone, now that he was forced to fill out a spreadsheet online, instead of using the now-archaic combination of ink and paper. That yearning for a curated experience has spilled over into music for the younger generations, it would seem - as if the music fans of today are only interested in perusing the top 10 list for their genre of choice, with little regard for how it is assembled, or what the criteria are for excellence. Perhaps, a kitschy twist on the line from Arnaud Amalric, and the disastrous Albigensian Crusade: "...the Lord knows who are His." As long as someone is sorting something out, little matter the details. Just tell me what is popular, so I don't have to waste time figuring it out for myself. Where's the fun in that? There was once a time, that I remember fondly - if, to be fair, with some embellishment - that personal tastemakers ran amuck in society, doing very tedious things to make their preferences known. Things like designing their own band t-shirts with markers and ball-point pen, making garish tie-dyes in plastic buckets, and spending hours making cassette tapes from radio broadcasts for sharing with friends, or prospective lovers. The mix-tape has resurfaced of late, but it no longer represents what it once did - the mark of a tireless commitment to personal branding is now gone, such that we can simply enter a phrase into a search box, click a bunch of '+' symbols, and share to socials without so much as having to press play and record at the same time on a cassette deck somewhere. At the risk of sounding like an old man waving his fist at a windmill, I would just like to make the point that in those days it seemed both plausible and logical, perhaps even inevitable, to have differences of opinion - and by extension, many if not all of us were forced to contend with the ambiguous details of our own taste. Today, not so much. Even with a few beers in his system, even when speaking to a friendly and attractive bartender with genuine curiosity about the music he just saw, the average concert-goer can only muster up a fuzzy reference to collective opinion, and a slight sense of horror at being asked to form an opinion on the fly. It is possible that from the quaint confines of our Rogue Valley, the great patterns of humanity are too far in focus to yield any empirical verity. Yet, it is also possible that we have lost sight of a simple truth: that personal conviction is sexy, and blind allegiance to the perceived zeitgeist is not; and that unless we make time and space in our society for the individual's need to turn inwards and explore, only vague intimations about collective opinion will remain in place of the once-passionate embrace of unique preference. With that, I yield the remainder of my time to the youngster who speaks, without irony, for an entire generation.
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