I Could Be Good for You

On the 10-year anniversary of Samsara: The Sketches

[album cover]
Artwork by Karen Campos

When we were young, we would talk about being on the cover of Rolling Stone.

I would hold hands with Sam, trying to ignore that he was straight and that I was in love with him, and together we would practice our poses. Or Joan and I would find a clear patch of grass during recess and sing covers of The Verve and Radiohead for our easily impressed audience of friends. But in a couple months, I would go to University to fulfill my parents dreams of becoming some kind of doctor.

Katherine said fuck that (pretty much a direct quote) and I didn’t know it then, but that was what I needed to hear. It required repetition, but once I tuned into what she was really saying, the underlying belief that a career in music was a valid pursuit, I was able to hear the same kind of encouragement from other friends and lovers. Maria, Kathleen, Jason, Shemeena.

They were all saying: follow your voice.

I retired the covers and began to write the songs I wanted to hear, songs to help carry the weight of my often heavy heart.

pull / to rise / fire and fall / surrender / dry / wine / sad brown eyes

I gave up on needing to play guitar like Jimi, which helped me stop giving up on guitar altogether. I learnt how to play the A, E, C, D chords, their minor variations, and how to bar chord my way through the rest.

A judge from one of the many shopping mall talent competitions I sang in, who would eventually become a friend, stopped me at a MAC cosmetic store.

Elise said: You need to make a record. Your songs. I know who with.

She introduced me to her producer Greg and together we made my first three records.

Samsara: The Sketches / THROAT / A Composite of Straight lines

Lately, I find myself thinking a lot about the years before. The talking, the dreaming. There was something so comforting and comfortable about that space of inaction, of pure imagination.

Because following through, action, has meant rejection from dozens of labels, grants & festival applications. Action has meant hundreds of unanswered emails and follow-up emails to venues/booking/press contacts. Action has meant reviews that talked about throwing your cd out of the car onto the highway. Action has meant playing shows that were predominantly attended by yourself and your three best friends. Action has meant being told that there are thousands of artists who are more deserving than you, more talented than you, more attractive than you, that no one would sign a brown musician, that you need to write songs like U2 or MGMT or to be the next Avril Lavigne.

In truth, nothing has broken my heart as much as music has—or the act of trying to build a career as a musician. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate the two.

But it has also been good for me.

Writing songs has allowed me to create friends, the best of friends, when I had none, out of lyrics and melody. Writing songs has allowed me to work through and work out a spectrum of emotions and desires and in that sense, music has made me a better person, a healthier person. Sharing songs has allowed me to make connections with strangers, who alongside my family and friends, I feel immensely grateful to for all the kindness and support over the years.

Karen talks about how being an artist is a privilege and she is right. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the privilege of making and sharing music. But also, I feel fortunate to have learned so much about love through music.

The act of loving isn’t the talking or the dreaming. Loving is plunging in. Loving is knowing that something could be good for you and could also hurt you to the core, and loving anyways. Loving is never having to look back and wonder what if?

Ten years after Samsara, music remains, forever and always, my true love.

–VS