Red Leigh Cooper

Red Leigh Cooper

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Enigma Wrapped Riddle

     My friend Walter and I were both in bands in our local metal music scene for years.  He would frequently call me an "enigma wrapped riddle," because, honestly, I probably wasn't your what you might term as "normal" metal musician.  The funny thing is that being a metal musician made me not "normal" in other areas of my life.  I actually got a job once by saying. "I'm not your 'normal' kind of accountant."  I guess that's what they were looking for...

     Even though Walter completely lifted the phrase from an episode of "The Simpsons," him using it to describe me is something I think about frequently.  I always think about what the consequences and the opportunities of being an "enigma" have had on my life's journey..  No one can be a musician accountant wedding planner dog trainer Christian without having a somewhat puzzling or contradictory character.

     For me though, it doesn't feel out of the ordinary no matter what it looks like.  The Controller of the accounting department where I am currently employed said, "One day I need to understand how you go form liking The Cure to singing in a metal band."  Allow me to address that very question, because it's not the first time I've received it, right now. Early bands classified as "alternative" were bands like The Pet Shop Boys, Erasure and Depeche Mode.  Add to that bands that weren't completely all about dance music and had guitar in them like The Cure, New Order, The Smiths and R.E.M.. Punk was also considered somewhat among the "alternative" and I loved The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Dead Kennedys and and Black Flag.  However, I blame The Cult for the major musical shift between the late 80's to early 90's for alternative music become more guitar driven.  Now enter bands like The Pixies, The Afghan Whigs, The Posies, The Goo Goo Dolls, Faith No More, and Jane's Addiction, but more importantly the angst-driven alternative rock fueled by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains.  Alice In Chains and Soundgarden often times crossed genres and were excepted by those into the metal genre exclusively.. So, not only was I into those bands, but along comes 1994 and the advent of something we've never heard before and in the beginning, played on alternative radio; Korn.  There's the tipping point.  In the end I can trace Korn, and all the bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park that followed, responsible for my career in metal music back to The Pet Shop Boys.   . 

     Now while this seems very easy for me to understand, when it comes to who I am, and where I need to go to understand my "starfish," its not so easy.  When I started out in music, I honestly wanted to make what I termed "smart dance music."  Music that was danceable but not fluffy in lyrical content. As alternative changed, so did how I wanted to express my self. One minute I would want to embark on a project with dark swirling guitar tones and darker ambiguous lyrics and then the next I wanted to thump you over the head with the crunch of a guitar and the most anger in my voice possible.  I felt like I did alot of "path hopping" over the last 15 years.  However, when examining the "ultimate" path that lead me to my metal music career, perhaps I don't feel as frenetic and better able to center least musically.

     Where did "Christian music" fit into all this?  I mean, I'm a Christian, right?  Where is that influence?  Well, I did just say I wasn't your "normal kind of" anything, and that goes for the general perception of what people believe a Christian should be.

   Music for me is all just "music." I honestly don't like labels when it comes to music.  I feel labels make people feel they have to fit into a certain mold and only hang around a certain kind of people in order to like that particularly labelled music.  Labeling music really stops people from discovering all the wonderful textures, sounds, and lyrical content that comes with feeling free to listen to anything.  Labeling puts a barrier up from communicating with and exchanging ideas with people you may not know you have so much more in common with.

     To me, all music is from God.  Yes...even Slayer...but what I am saying is the gift to make it comes from Him.  So, being how I feel about labeling and my overall view of music, I am not a fan of Christian music.  Christian music feels too inclusive.  Just made for people who are Christians and not meant to actually bring people to Jesus unless they are experiencing what my friend Jeff coined as a "church camp" high.  Nothing like witnessing a bunch of girls at a church outing on Saturday sing Amy Grant's "El Shaddai" at the top of their lungs and then have the same girls bully you in the school hallway on Monday..

   Mark 3: 3-17 make my point ultimately.  Jesus is having dinner with people, who for that time, were unsavory to say the least. The Pharisees see him hanging out with these people and actually pick on his disciples saying, "What kind of example is this, acting cozy with the riffraff?" Jesus hears what's going on and says, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I'm here inviting the sin-sick, not the spiritually-fit."

    Christian music is made for the spiritually-fit.  Ironic, isn't it?  I'll be honest; I'm not that "happy" all the time.  To me Christian music very, very, very "happy" music almost to the point where it seems a bit, well...non-credible. It may be a factor to why people see Christian's as a whole to be non-credible.  Where is the reality of every day life?  Where is the pain I am dealing with?  When you are in a band, and young girls feel comfortable enough to come to you after a show and express their distress over the fact that they may be pregnant, there is no way that you can ever live in a world where everything is that happy.  You can no longer turn a blind eye to the miseries of our every day worlds. Not enough to not want that to be a factor in your music.

      There are exceptions. Amy Grant's album "Lead me On" is one of the best Christian album ever.  The catch is that she recorded it while pregnant and depressed.  There is some real pain there. Such a yearning for what she knows will save her ultimately from the world's woes; God.  It's why I do listen to bands who are Christians, but don't necessarily believe in the "Christian music" label either like Red, Skillet, Thousand Foot Crutch and Nonetheless. It's not "happy" music either.  There are screams of angst in Red's song "Let It Go" that will curl your hair.  the lead singer is screaming about his need to "let go and let God." That's passion for the Lord.  That's what I want to be a part of.  That's what makes me put my hands in the air.

     For me, it's the difference between worshiping Christ and actually following Christ.  Worshiping of course, is good, don't get me wrong,  Music labelled as Christian has it's place.  For me though, when it comes to music, I have always wanted to witness to others about what I've been through and and what's gotten me through.  I want to follow Christ in that respect.  Subtle distinction.  Not just worship, but follow.  I remember on my band's first CD there was song describing  how I wasn't able to understand Christ's love for people because of the sin humans perpetrate onto each other.  As I grow in maturity in my faith, I get it now, but I also know a lot of people could relate to what I was saying then, and maybe still do.  Ultimately and musically I don't want to alienate a single person trying to grow on their path.  I feel a lot of Christian music does just that.  How can you relate to that almost delirious expression of joy, if you're not there yet? If there is no expression of the doubt and confusion you go through, you'll be less likely to connect.  Any music only expressing one side of anything can make you feel like an outsider.  When it comes to an expression of my faith, I don't want anyone to ever feel like an outsider. I want the same thing when it comes to my music.  That's an important thought...I haven't made music in years...
     I may have temporarily left the music scene, but I admit now that it never fully left me. Something part of the innate being you are never leaves you no matter how you suppress it.   Looking at it here, I now realize I have always in some way been on a "path" whether musically or spiritually.  I am perfectly normal.  I just have been  learning how to express my "gift" this whole time.

   Riddle solved. 

Happy Fishing!


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Emotional "Doggy Bag"-gage

     A few weeks ago I posted on as Facebook status that I was "freeing myself of some emotional baggage today."  Of course comments were good, I mean who wouldn't be happy for that?  However, I think it's time to address, in the grand scheme of catching my elusive "starfish" of just which "shell" I was freeing myself.

     My friend Mike, besides being a pretty cool guy, is also a tremendous talent.  I remember being honored to share to the stage with him.  When my band covered one of his older songs, and he was there to share mic duty with me, well, I definitely won't forget it!  It's because he is such a talent, so well loved by friends and fans, that, years after the demise of his band Rubberhed, and other recent musical endeavors, that people kept asking him, "Are you going to perform on stage again?"  I even asked him that myself about three months ago, so I knew the answer.  I guess the questions kept coming, because he felt it was time to post a Facebook note explanation to put it all to a final rest. Mike now continues to inspire me off of the stage...

    When my band ended, I did my best to stay away from the people that might ask me the same questions Mike was receiving.  I had to escape the pain of it all so badly that I decided on a whole new "career path."  I became a dog trainer.  It started innocently enough as a volunteer at The Austin Humane Society.  Nine years later after studying with the best dog trainers, earning certifications and owning my own business, I literally walked away from it all. So the question I keep getting is "Why don't you dog train anymore."  I guess it's time to put it all to rest. I need to seriously move on, so I'll try an explain best I can.

    In 1999, Eric and I adopted an aggressive dog, Dali.  I wanted to do everything I could to help her, but it wasn't until we adopted Kobi, another aggressive dog, that I started to look at dog training more seriously. So when the band ended, that's who I decided I was now.  I was no longer a singer, I was a dog trainer.  I mean, what cause could be more noble, right?  Helping animals lead more well-adjusted lives?  Except I could never be sure if I was really doing it help other people and other dogs.  I mean, it sure did end up that way, but in the grand scheme of things, every dog, for the most part, that I saw was more well-behaved than my own.  I adopted a "do the best you can with your assignments, because trust me, you really don't need me," attitude. I'm not a strict dog trainer.  I couldn't ever be after dealing with what I had at home.  I also very much understood the plight of the "working" person. I still was an accountant through all this!  People just didn't have, and many of us just don't have, time for their dogs in today's society.  So, once again, do the best you can.  At least you did something.  I'm not saying this attitude is all bad, but what I am saying is I would never be what other trainers are.  So, when people really needed a kick in the pants because their dogs were as bad as mine, well, I couldn't deliver that either.  I was possibly too understanding.

     That would break my heart, actually.  Knowing a person wasn't doing what they really needed to change their dog's life for the better.  I would worry about the dog and the family.  Many trainers, well, they care, but they don't.  Doing the homework of training is on you.  They don't worry about the money you spent or the ultimate end result of your lack of compliance.  Honestly they shouldn't.  It is on you to work with your dog.  The problem is I did worry about those things, and I couldn't take much more of that. Maybe it started out about helping my dogs, but it ended up in anguish over yours.

     I also found that some dog trainers have some pretty hefty "God" complexes.  "Look what I can do with a dog..."  Once again, that just wasn't me. A dog is living, emotional being just like you and me and I'm not going to exhaust them mentally or physically just so I can look good.  As long as they behave in your house and in public relatively well, I don't really care what they can do or how precisely they can do it. Which I also guess made me a target for any trainer trying to get ahead and squeeze me out of the pretty "sweet" training gigs I had. I don't have the "fight" in me.  Not for this.  It should only be about helping dogs.  Seriously, folks, I expected that from the music business, not the dog training business.

     What hurt was that I had considered one trainer in particular that did this to be a friend.  I actually saw this person at the grocery store the Friday before I wrote that Facebook post.  If it wasn't for my friend Kristen, I may have lobbed a can of beans at this person's head.  This brought up a whole range of emotions I didn't realize I hadn't dealt with.  The interesting thing about this situation presenting itself at this moment in time is that I had been unexpectedly thrust back into the dog training world. I had always continues to be someone who would help with a friend's or former colleague's needs and I found myself with an extended "weekend" of dog training ahead of me.  Seeing this person made everything I felt went wrong come rushing back to me.  The uncertainty of being good enough because I wasn't hard nosed and the pain of having a friend try to take what I had worked for.  While I got through the initial weekend alright, I had a breakdown that Monday hours before I was to perform the last training task with which I had promised to help someone.  That breakdown was also just hours before that Facebook post.

     Calling my husband in tears and reliving everything with every word from my lips, he said one simple thing. "Dana; it wasn't that you weren't good.  It's that you aren't ruthless. And that's not necessarily a bad thing..."  The tears stopped.  I'm not ruthless.  I don't want to be ruthless.  Too much about that world, for me, is.

     I have officially quit dog training for good.  No more tips.  No more talking about it to my friends or when I meet someone new. No helping former colleagues. I am done. I am thankful for all I have learned.  I have two of the most awesomely well behaved dogs both inside and outside the home...well...there are still a few issues, but they are so much farther than I even I imagined. I am thankful for the clients who still call, because I was good enough, and tell me how good their dogs are because of me.  I am most thankful because the time I spent dog training has set me up to be able to talk to large groups of people all while being knowledgeable, graceful, and a great story teller.  I just may need that for my "starfish..."  There is a much bigger ocean I need to focus on. I leave this path on my journey with something for all the truly humble and wonderful dog trainers I still know.  It is a thankless job often times, but your dedication to cultivating dog-friendly training methods does not go unnoticed. You all kept me going as long as I did.  To all dog owners I say your dog is not as bent on world domination as much as you've been told they are.  They really just want to spend quality time with you and I can recommend some great trainers who can show you how that harmony can be achieved.

     As Mike said in his note, "...those moments in time are always best kept in the past. If you keep looking backwards, you'll never see what's coming up ahead in front of you. I hope this explains it all."

     It does, Mike.  Thank you for your inspiration and much love and happiness to you always...

     By the way, Mike; I still have Rubberhed songs in my Ipod.

    Happy Fishing!