I like to kick! And stretch. And Kick!

Last year I wrote a blog about aging rock musicians. I was turning 49. Today I turn 50! Like good wine, they say, you know… it turns to vinegar if it’s not kept well. I always get depressed on my birthday! Something about the end of summer…

One other note that I have to add to the perspective on last year’s entry was made later in an article about Pandora and the internet-versus-“content creators” problems, and which is inherent to our current cultural climate, which is that the music scene is skewed toward the adulation of youth and bands make their entire careers happen in 5 or so years, before they realize that they can’t afford to continue, so they have to stop and the public focuses on the next upcoming thing. As David Graeber rightly states, this gives rise to a society of bullshit jobs, where we can’t support another poet-musician, but we can support another corporate lawyer.

Frustrating! I don’t even have a bullshit job right now! I’ve been spending the last year either on tour or being a stay-home dad, going to language school in Stockholm. The summer was great, we were out in the country (when I wasn’t on tour, see previous entries!) where my wife’s family has an old farmhouse, (lot of work actually…) but I got to avoid life for a while and actually recorded another dozen or so songs/pieces of music while the little one was taking a nap. I feel most useful as a human being when I am working on music. And I love recording, I love the sculptural process of recorded music. It is so unlike live music. Unfortunately, it has no value anymore, no exchange rate for food or rent.

So what am I going to do with the recorded music? I don’t know exactly. I’ll finish mixing stuff this fall. Maybe put it on Bandcamp, all of my other music is there: jsegel.bandcamp.com. 25 years of music! (my first “solo” release, Storytelling, came out in November of 1988!) I intended to make a compilation/”greatest hits” (or misses) album but apparently I can’t use tracks twice on two different albums, so I would have to upload again. Dumb bandcamp. I may still do this at some point.

As well, I’ve been playing with Camper Van Beethoven for 30 years now. We put out a new record last January, La Costa Perdida, and toured quite a bit in the US and Europe (see previous posts!) Nonetheless, my adopted country of Sweden, despite having loved the band previously and having many reviews in the daily papers even for our greatest hits records, passed on releasing this record. Nobody gave a shit. Not a good way for me to gain a foothold here as a professional musician. The truth of the matter is that, as Phil Ochs said, “outside of a small circle of friends”, nobody really gives a shit. The album sold poorly, apparently. And it’s really good! The label isn’t going to put out the next one, which we are nearly done recording. We recorded a few more tracks last month. It should be done by the end of the year. We’re not sure what to do about it, nor how to pay for it, nor if anybody will put it out. What a life!

So, aside from that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?

Here’s an upswing: after a year and a few month, we finally get to move into our own apartment this month. We get the keys in the middle of the month, though I’ll be in California with Camper Van Beethoven until the 24th or so. Anyway, that will be great, most of my stuff is in storage or closets or out in the farmhouse, it will be good to have all my instruments available and all my books. It’s really hard to get a place to live in Stockholm, 60000 people move here every year, from all over Sweden and the world. Also all these people are looking for work. I’m not thrilled about that part, I’m very afraid of the bullshit job scenario. In our 20s or 30s, those of us that live in San Francisco noted well the idea of having a dumb job so you could afford to continue to live in the city and party it up or whatever. That’s true here also, many, many young people are in the city to be cool. Luckily, they mostly haven’t discovered the west side of the city where we live. We live in Blackeberg, where my wife grew up. This used to be a very fucked up part of town, druggies and alcoholics, etc. But they closed the local state-run booze shop and cleaned shit up, and now lots of families have been moving in (which is one of the reasons why it was hard to get a place also. [*see below]) We have incredible big parks and forests and a short walk to the Mäler Lake. That and about 10 preschools. This is also where John Arvide Lindquist’s books take place, notably “Let the Right One In“.   In fact, our new place is right next to the bridge under which Eli the vampire hides in the leaves to ambush a drunk. Lindquist grew up here in the 80s, as did my wife Sanna, and the environment in his books is very familiar to her, of course. The preschool where our daughter is going is where the pool formerly was, famous for the last horrific scenes in the book and movie.

*Other reasons why it’s so hard to find a place to live here: besides the numbers of people and the quality of the environment, the current Swedish government is what they call “moderate”. This means right wing. One of their big things in the past 6 years has been to privatize the shit outta things. This is wreaking havoc on the postal service and the medical facilities, of course. Yay! People in Sweden are just starting to figure this out. They actually trusted that the government had their best interests at heart and would look out for them, and it’s only recently that people have realized that going to, for example, the emergency ward at a hospital is not going to get you treated right away anymore. What’s really funny about that, to me, is that people in the US always think that socialist medicine would create long lines and lack of service, but in fact the opposite is true: the wards must run according to profit margin, so the jobs of the staff are to turn people away if the ward is full now, not allow any more patients in! They can’t afford to hire more doctors to cover the amount of patients!

Similarly, the postal service has been taken over by private companies, and what do they do? They can’t actually afford to deliver the mail, so they close facilities and consolidate them to a larger local one, and mail takes longer to get there, or gets lost. In our area of Stockholm (the Bromma area) there had been a 3 week delay of mail last year. This is no big deal for most of the are which has a lot of immigrants, but also in Bromma there are a few rich communities, and boy were they mad. I had a discussion with a republican in California that I know, who thought that privatization of services like the post would lead to incentivization of service. Of course, the incentive to have quality service is second for any private company to their bottom line, that’s the reality. The quality of service suffers due to need to profit.

(A side note, there were recently articles in the paper about the discrepancy of wealth between Blackeberg and Södra Ängby, which is across one street from us. The average income here was about 228,000SEK per year, and there it was 680,000SEK. But, when they went to talk to the people about it, they couldn’t find anybody there to talk to, as they were all at work, only the people working on their houses. Here, they talked with people hanging out in the park, who loved Blackeberg. So there!)

So, to get to the point, in many parts of the city, the state owned and rented dwellings were all put up for sale… ostensibly to their occupants. Many people did in fact buy out their rental agreement. Most couldn’t, of course, so what happened? Private companies bought the real estate. And now they have control over rent, over rental units. And for the most part, they aren’t renting, they are selling. So the number of rental apartments dropped precipitously. When you want to live in Stockholm, you join a list made by the city, and you get in line. As the years pass, you go upwards in the line. Sanna was on it for 8 years I think, and we were in fact 11th in line for this apartment, but the people ahead of us dropped out, didn’t respond or couldn’t afford it, or didn’t qualify. I have no idea how we qualified. Nor how we are going to afford it, actually, it’s like 8200SEK per month (which isn’t that much by global urban area standards, like $1300.) I sent them some royalty statements and got a letter from Camper’s accountant about how much money I’ve made on tour this year, which is a few thousand dollars. Maybe they converted wrong. Sanna is a full time student right now, she started her semester today in fact. She gets money from the state for that at least.

Anyway, the new place is super modern and clean. It’s a passive building, it takes almost no energy to heat it. This makes it a bit cooler in the winter, which is fine by me, I’m used to Bay Area winter houses, where it’s fucking cold indoors. I think the overheating of indoors here when it’s super cold outside is weird. And it’s apparently very sound proof! On the other hand, it’s only 65m2, one bedroom, a big living room and a kitchen and bathroom. We’ll see. I hope to adapt. I never have liked living in apartments much, I can’t stand the other people around me. I feel very self conscious about practicing violin, for example. I loved having a house in Oakland, with a back yard and a garage. And all the stuff that we had, that somehow we have to acquire again, like furniture and a TV and stereo. And studio gear. So much money… I gave so much away when we left…

OK, OK, so I’m old. And a bit lost in the midlife crisis with no Ferrari to play with. It’s a nice day, and I’m going to go pick up my daughter from Pre-School and we’re going to play in the park for a couple hours. Then we go inside and Sanna claims she is going to make a slow cooked chicken for tacos. And I have a few bottles of PangPang Hökarängen IPA, which is possibly the best local beer around here.

Marlowe and I in the park. Sweden ain’t all snow and ice. At least not for a few months.

musician. real person. that's my real name, go ahead, look me up.

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Music, Sweden
6 comments on “I like to kick! And stretch. And Kick!
  1. paxman says:

    Birthdays are depressing indeed. Here’s wishing you and your lovely family all the best!–Mark

  2. Steve Cammack says:

    What a story. I can only imagine the frustration on the music front. Your last Camper CD was excellent. The kind of music that has staying power – i.e. something you want to listen to again and again. Anyway – you’re hoeing a tough road between here and the future and not sure you’ve fully identified the path yet. Once that occurs, and it will, it’ll get better I would think. Having a kid is a motivator like no other. I know it shaped my whole world knowing Dov was on her way – then almost 30 years of raising kids, sorta never looked back. It would be nice if you were able to use your school and some combo of the music tech, music lessons, music writing, music recording experience and do some consulting. Seems you have the website, paypal stuff set up to roll. Joe took his wireless toy to the big show NAMM in LA this year and there are a zillion folks making, marketing, or buying equipment gear – so that market is still there. It seems like the market is also highly virtual. I don’t know the vertical well enough to be saying anything. I can tell you that getting to put together a CD for me is really attractive and nearly impossible without someone like you. There are probably a million folks like me that never got to do it, but have the bucks…then on the CD creation, CD Cover side, if it ran through you and doing 12 to 20 projects a year use the through put to get stuff volume discounted on back end, make a little there. Probably could coordinate the local musician to help on pieces that you can’t for an add on fee. The other thought I had was virtual music lessons – I was thinking on the higher end – for decent musicians that want to learn complex songs. Thinking out loud. Cheers Joe showed Diablo toy at NAMM. Folks wanted to place orders then and there. They realized the product still has a few glitches – so it’s going through another version. So we’ll see what happens there. http://www.synthtopia.com/content/2013/01/19/diablo-debuts-sound-control-6-wireless-pedal-system-at-2013-namm-show/

    Date: Tue, 3 Sep 2013 10:49:08 +0000 To: cammack_s@msn.com

  3. Happy Birthday Jonathan, and many more. Here’s to you and yours!!!!

  4. Steve Cammack says:

    Hey – was thinking. I always try to fix things even when I can’t. Wanted you to know is mostly I’m anxious and really hopeful to see you and just spent a few moments on music, catching up…. Cheers Date: Tue, 3 Sep 2013 10:49:08 +0000 To: cammack_s@msn.com

  5. SSteve says:

    It’s so frustrating to me (obviously not as much as it is to you, of course) that you aren’t making a healthy living through your music. To me, Camper is huge. You are as important and enjoyable a band as there is. Maybe there’s a way to take advantage of the fact that what your audience lacks in size it makes up for in dedication.

    As an example, They Might Be Giants has the Instant Fan Club where people can give the band some money in return for a couple pieces of swag and some exclusive downloads. They have a higher-cost version (the Super Presidents) where people get their name in the liner notes and more swag. There were quite a few names in the liner notes of Nanobots. I’m sure there are plenty of us who would be happy to help directly support Camper. No doubt it would be a logistical nightmare but hopefully would be worth it.

    Anyway, I’m sorry you’re frustrated and depressed on your birthday. I hope things turn around. My best friend, who is also 50, has been a stay-home dad for his 18-month-old daughter and it has done wonders for his mental state.

    My wife and I will listen to La Costa Perdida again this weekend and drink a toast to you and your future. Best wishes.

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