One Opens Up is a pop/rock album I wrote and recorded between 2002 and 2006. To some degree, the project did double duty, allowing me to pursue two long term goals, one musical and the other philosophical. Bet you didn’t see that philosophical thing coming, huh?
From a musical standpoint, I’d been involved in a number of different projects, both independent and as a major label artist, but never managed to make a set of recordings that really hit the mark for me. My favorite production and performances had always been trapped in demos done on limited formats that sounded just ratty enough to disqualify them for serious release. I wanted to make an album with a sound that matched my intentions, and arrangements that weren’t the product of unsatisfying compromises. So in 2001 I started building a home studio that would make reaching those goals as likely as possible.
I didn’t set out to record a “concept album,” but that’s what One Opens Up turned out to be. The writing process was a vehicle for assimilating ideas I was exploring at the time regarding identity and the nature of experience- what we are, what we are not, and how growth, development and meaning manifest in us as human beings, so those themes appear throughout the material. After releasing the CD, I realized that the tracks were arranged like a roadmap of psychological growth detailing a variety of experiences and changes that generally constitute a transition from a personal/conventional worldview to one that’s more transpersonal/post-conventional. All the best stuff happens by accident.
As a chronicle of my moving interests and self-study, the album satisfied a significant part of an artistic yearning that had driven my desire to create for a very long time. This is the main reason I still haven’t released more material of this type. Pop and rock music with lyrics has always been a vehicle for me, a kind of modeling where I could assemble concepts and questions, then look for insight, and find answers where they were available, or understanding where they weren’t. Since releasing One Opens Up, I so far haven’t felt the need or desire to explore topics lyrically, so my musical attention has shifted to ambient work, a pursuit that serves a different purpose for me.
I’d like to write more about the conceptual arc of One Opens Up in upcoming posts, but for now, a good starting place may be the cover. Whether or not it was a good idea for a 43 year old guy to pose shirtless on the front of his first (and possibly only) solo CD is a fair question, but the point of the photo is the hand drawn hole (which incidentally spares people at least a few square inches of visual discomfort, you’re welcome). I’ve been offered a few different interpretations of it over the years, ranging from a symbolic representation of how heartless men can be, to a uniquely installed hamster wheel, but a surprising number of serious impressions have leaned toward the negative.
I think such darker interpretations reveal our innate fear of emptiness. Nature may abhor a vacuum, but people typically dread it, especially when its implications collide with the anchor of our identity, our body. But the hole motif in this case isn’t intended to represent loss or absence, but rather a window, a route to expanded consideration beyond conventional assumptions. It’s ironic that the biggest impediment to understanding things as they are is that which we think we understand by default, the self. But conventional identities tend to be loaded with unexamined and invisible assumptions, vague, circular definitions and outright falsehoods, and it’s from this launching pad that we then attempt to make sense of experience and the world around us. No wonder so many people are confused and depressed. I contend that far and away the biggest issue facing the planet is a “wisdom crisis”, and that very good, unambiguous, direct advice about human nature, advice that isn’t blunted in poetry, platitudes or cultural camouflage, is in increasingly critical short supply. That being the case, embarking on a serious, effective investigation of the self becomes ever more unlikely for young people today, and increasingly more important.
The process of examining experience, and dismissing ideas and assumptions that inadequately represent what is verifiably true is the only path of growth available to us. When your desire for firsthand knowledge surpasses your fear of losing the security of conventional validation, you’ll be on that path. This is how one opens up.
This is the only track I wrote and recorded for One Opens Up that didn’t appear on the CD. The main reason it went that way is that I didn’t think it was finished. Maybe I was right in some respect. If I had put it on the album, it would have been the only song in the bunch about whose production I had any reservations at all. The lyrics, the melody, I was happy with those, but I couldn’t quite get my head around where the arrangement needed to land, and I wasn’t prepared to bake in anything that held the potential for second guessing.
As a song about the necessarily invisible parts of self and experience, it makes sense that some aspect of the recording might be invisible too, so maybe What You Don’t Know is a bullseye on a target I was simply unable to see. Or maybe it just threw me a curve I couldn’t work out, but finished or not, over time, things have a way of concluding themselves. Past that point, they are what they are, and the rest is a matter of understanding and interpretation.
In early discs of rough mixes for the album, this song was #2, after Leaving Day. I think that’s still where it fits best in the story.