I went to Karma Road, the small vegan restaurant in New Paltz, to pick up an advance copy of Seth Davis’ new CD for preview. The place was hopping at 3 p.m. on a weekday. I tried the soup. (Always try the soup.) The sample comes in an expensive-looking contoured metal cup that might once have had surgical applications. Buys ‘em in bulk now from an old friend in Long Island City who manages hospital inventory (in my mind).
Davis, Karma Road’s proprietor, spied me at the counter and disentangled from the quinoa croquettes and seasonal vegan whatnots long enough to come out front and share a poignant music-guy moment with me. To the rest of the world, it looked like one 40-something dude handing an envelope to another: a check for services rendered? A signed form or contract? Instructions on the care and feeding of a dog? Coupons. Coupons?
But, having “been there,” I received the square white sleeve and the Sharpied CD-R within for what it was: a fragile, endangered, speckled egg that I would be among the first to see and handle. In there was a completed record by a guy who has done a few: written, tracked, mixed, sequenced, mastered and awaiting its cover art and packaging, its credit list and acknowledgments, its shrink-wrap itching to be shed, its bar codes screaming to be scanned, its wheel crying out to be spun in the way that a ball begs to be thrown and caught. For, while this egg is complete within itself and beautiful, its potential goes kinetic only by the engagement of others.
Well, that’s an overwrought way to put it; but in the three or five minutes that Davis found to chat with me, his life business was the generic white sleeve in his hand and then in mine, not the bustling culinary concern at his back. Our talk was all weight and light. The weight: how insanely difficult it is to make anything move in music, how grueling it is to marshal all the social media and modes of promotion that seem to come so naturally to younger bands. There’s a pre-fatigue that you can hear in the words of someone who feels that he has already done the hard part, but who knows better, too.
The weight is not just the business end – it’s also the hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars that went into the making of the thing, the agonized micro-decisions that no one will ever attend, the disrepair and chaos that any long creative project wreaks upon home life, the daily pendulum swings of esteem and emotion that the mature artist, like Davis, is hardly spared; he just knows to ride them out by now.
But then the lightness: For all that work and weight, these are just songs, little flights of feeling and fancy, tunes from the head that flap your speaker cones and are gone to the air. And then the greatest lightness of all: Hey man, look, I made another CD. Can you believe it? It almost killed me. It wanted to kill me, but I wrestled it down and domesticated it. It’s yours now. I’m through here. Time to make the croquettes.