You Can Feel It All Over-5 Years Of Soundtrack Of A Photograph

“Da da da dah, da-da-da-daddata-dah”

Five years.  Today is five years to the day since I nervously assembled what I hoped was a cogent idea for a blog combining my love for photography and music together in one place. I remember posting it late at night here on WordPress skeptical that anyone would bother to read it. Skeptical that it was any good. Skeptical that the idea would make sense. I shared it on Facebook, sent it out via email to some people and posted it on a music forum based in the UK and promptly went to sleep. A few short hours later I woke up and nervously checked my phone first thing to see what if any reaction there was.

That I am still here now writing this post is the proof  that the reaction was positive. In fact, recollecting that time I was overjoyed. Not just from the comments people were leaving for me, but because of the way it satisfied me personally. I have written about this before but it bears repeating-once I committed and defined this idea of giving a still photograph its own soundtrack I knew that I had created something unique that satisfied me deep down. It touched all the right buttons for me-combining the disparate thoughts and themes of my life into something that made sense. Where urban meets nature, where art meets architecture, where transportation meets history. All with a song to go along with the photo that seemed fitting no matter the genre.

‘You can feel it all over’

And it still  satisfies me to this day. The writing has changed, the understanding of how to promote posts has changed, there have been false starts, one-offs, mistakes, highs, lows and there have been surprises. I have been touched by the response to my words, and I have touched others with my words. I have made deep lasting friendships with people literally around the world.  Most of all there has been a  feeling that no matter how many views or comments I receive, I am on a path that remains meaningful to me five years on with over 200 posts published and being read in 122 countries to date.

It is inevitable during occasions like this to look back. To dig through the archives and see the evolution. I have been doing that for the past few weeks, reading posts I haven’t read in a long time, grimacing at the mistakes I spot easily now and surprising myself at  passages that came out of nowhere. I saw moments where I lost the point and ones where the focus was sharp, focused and completely on point. On the photography side I realized that the earliest posts were typically a ragtag assortment of recent and old photos made to fit the theme whereas with recent posts I quite often took photos with an idea and a song lurking in my head before I had written a single word. As a result In the five years since I started, I think this has made me a better photographer as well.

‘Music is a world within itself

With a language we all understand’

It is a useful thing to look back. Regrets can make you shake your head in amusement at what once was important in your world-the jacket you wore in 1977, that song you swore in 1983,would never get old, a book that became your ‘philosophy’ in 1991. Years later you might be embarrassed to own up to any of them, but you know they were a part of you regardless. Looking back at my old posts I have that same feeling about some of them.  However rife they may be with wordiness or so-so photographs they are still a part of me. I am especially fond of my four previous anniversary posts. For the first I took a walk across the Manhattan Bridge accompanied by the sounds of Red Baraat. For the second I imagined myself in the director’s chair assembling the opening scenes of a movie to the accompaniment of guitarist Dan Ar Braz. For the third I wrote a letter to the young ‘me’ from the old ‘me’ with a fitting song by Jack Lukeman and a series of self-portraits. Last year I wrote a fictionalized account of a concert setup using songs from Bob Seger.

I had two stipulations for the song I wanted for this post. First it had to be an artist I have not written about before, and secondly, I wanted it to be a fun, upbeat and celebratory song. But then I had a third thought- to find a song that was about music itself. About how music makes us feel, about the emotions of music.  The beat, the groove, the hook, the lick, the riff, the pulse, the rhythm, the melody, the harmony. Music is the universal language and all of these elements are contained in practically every song. Thinking about those stipulations I realized the song I wanted was lurking on one of the most perfect albums of all time-Songs In The Key Of Life by Stevie Wonder. And that song (in case you haven’t already been grooving in your seat) is the infectious ‘Sir Duke.’

‘Music knows it is and always will be

one of those things that life just won’t quit.’

Songs In The Key Of Life is one of those special albums that just takes you in right from the start with ‘Loves In Need Of Love Today’ all the way to the end with ‘Another Star’. The reason it still sounds fresh today is because the songs and arrangements were performed with real care and thought. Recently I have been reading about the great music studios such as Stax, Muscle Shoals and Motown. They all had in common a group of musicians who knew how to make great music not just for the hits, though the track record for all three studios speaks for itself in that regard.  Yet they also made music you feel deep down with arrangements more complex than they let on.  Songs In The Key Of Life is nothing but intricate arrangements in fact.  Song after amazing song goes by and does not let up for a second.

But on an album of such stellar material, Sir Duke is my favorite, and one of my  favorite songs by Stevie Wonder period. Beyond that killer horn intro and singalong chorus is a song about what actually makes music so compelling. Think about that for a second…when you are in the business of making music, you write about the things and people in your life. Social injustice, religion, love. Songs In The Key Of Life has songs about all of those things. Then along comes Sir Duke. Partly an homage to some of Stevie’s own musical hero’s-Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller, Count Basie, and the ‘king’ Duke Ellington,  Then it informs you what the key to a great song really is-

‘But just because a record has a groove

Don’t make it in the groove

But you can tell right away at letter A

When the people start to move.’

I wanted to use a song that was about music for a reason.  In  five years of writing I have attempted to  make a case for how special music truly is for me. How much I think about it daily in good times and bad. How much I feel the music be it from the Scottish Highlands or the Sahara, Donegal or Detroit. In five years of writing and pairing my own photographs what songs like Sir Duke reinforce for me is that –

Music is life

Music is love

Music is challenging

Music is bewildering

Music is happy

Music is sad

Music makes you groove

Music makes you dance

Music takes you in

Music makes you question

Music lies deep in your soul

Music is for sharing

Music is personal

Music is of course ultimately personal in how we respond and feel about it. Everyone is right and no one is wrong-the woman on the subway bopping along to the music on her headphones, the oboe player in the orchestra, the bass player thumping out a funky beat, the singer in a metal band all feel music differently. But on the really special albums like Songs In The Key Of Life these forces unite into something special and satisfying. You really feel it all-challenged, happy, sad, questioning life. You feel the love. You want to dance and sing along to every song.

The reason I wanted to use a song about music itself in this post was to make a point.  All I have ever wanted to do here is make my own contribution to the music I love so much. When combined with my photographs it made me feel like I was doing precisely that. I realized that music has broad enough shoulders to hear my contributions to it without me actually singing a note or playing an instrument. Stevie sings in Sir Duke that music is something you just don’t quit. And despite occasional frustrations, Soundtrack Of A Photograph is not something I will be quitting. I can share my feelings about music because I really do feel it all over. And that will never go away.

The video of Sir Duke posted below is something I made as a celebration.  It runs through the main photo I have used in every music post from the past five years to the present in the order published.  Short of reading all those posts it shows you where I have been the past five years. Seeing that past I now have a glimpse of where I want to go in the future. I plan to take this blog to some new and challenging new places in the very near future with even more evocative photographs than ever before, so please stick around!

Thank you to EVERYONE who has read, liked, or commented on any one of my posts in the past 5 years. I am truly humbled by your support.

Extra special thanks must go to all of the following-

I have been blessed that many of the musicians I have written about have liked and shared my posts on their social media. Several of them have gone further and became friends. In no particular order, I would like to thank some artists that have gone above and beyond- Ralph McTell, Jimmy Castor, Chris Trapper, everyone at Daptone Records, Saundra Williams, Christa Nia, The Coral, Red Baraat, Dan Ar Braz, Carrie Newcomer, Fairport Convention, Orphan Colours, Ahab, Julissa Lopez,  Jules & The Jinks, Oysterband, Runrig, Jake Shears, The Mint Juleps, Thea Gilmore, Jackie Venson, Horslips, Danny Thompson, Alan Doyle, Toli Nameless, Rosanne Cash, Jack Lukeman, Altan, The Travelling Band, Angelique Kidjo, Ray Cooper, Joanne Shenandoah, Sarah Cahill, Leyla McCalla, and Ginny Mac.

To my parents Bob & Mary, my sisters Noreen and Eileen and their husbands Mike & Jose and my niece Kenna. To all of my dear cousins in Ireland and England-Brian, Niamh, Kellyann, Nora, Sarah, Laila, Mona & Hannah and all 3,743 spouses, kids and everyone else too numerous to mention!

Friends far and wide. Some from the blogging community, new friends & old alike. But all people whose kindness, generosity and friendship I truly value- Jennifer Andrus, LaTasha Robinson, Scott Swenson, Patty Hillingdon, Trudy Louis, David Kenney, Ben, Alex & Mickey! Amrita Sarkar, Erica Weir, Adam Robey & Maritte Rahav, Lynn Aley Howe and all of the Aley family, Celina Wigle, Marquessa Matthews, Sandra Bretnall,  Sasha Berry, Liza Fernandez Zapata, Joe Blackburn, James Maxstadt,  Pratyusha Jain, Neece McCoy, Soranny Mejia, Aakansha Srivastava. Kristin Summers Overstreet, Linda Weal,  A Jeanne-Francois Marie Poitiers, Brendan Byrne, Wendy Westphalen, Carol Amezquita, Anna Koppenhofer, Armando Garcia, Janani Viswanathan, Sandra & Ron Schoeffler, Shelley Langaine, Dan Braz & Shelley Olsen, Danielle Des, Tony Lorenzen, Paula Couture Palmerino, Jhaneel Lockhart Veronica Dominguez, Shalini Mandhyan, Amy Sivco Kierce,  Daiana Bispo, Laura Macaddino, all at Talkawhile Forum-especially Alan Standing, Jenny Parsons, Andy Leslie, Bill Wallace, Jules Gray, Zoe Buck, Michael Caddick, Jim Campbell, Dan Ogus, Trevor Rickards, Addie Burns. To all of my Instagram family too numerous to mention I thank you all for being part of my community. Anyone else I may have left out forgive me!

Sir Duke-Written By Stevie Wonder

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

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‘Live’ Elements

I honestly cannot believe I am typing this, but it has been four years now almost to the day since I nervously sat and wrote my very first blog post. Once again I am humbled by the fact that this idea of mine continues to be enjoyed by so many people literally around the world. Even when I have my quiet moments and am not able to post with the frequency I hope for, I still enjoy it so much. As I have done each of the past ‘blogoversaries’ I wanted to do something special once again. For my first one I took a walk across the Manhattan Bridge accompanied by the drums and brass sounds of Red Baraat. For the second I imagined being in the editing room of a movie working on my own soundtrack with music by guitarist Dan Ar Braz. Last year for the third, I wrote a letter to the young ‘me’ from the old ‘me’ with a song by Jack Lukeman. So here we are again.

This time, I wanted to capture the feel and energy of a live concert. Be it a tiny club stage, a festival or a huge concert arena, music truly comes alive at a live show. My account is purely fictional, but gleaned from watching and listening to some of the crucial elements in a lifetime of  attending concerts. I imagine a band that has made a name for itself with a dedicated bunch of fans who will attend any show within a certain radius of where they live. A band that some may know by name, but don’t know much about. A band with some airplay, but nothing close to a number 1 hit and a video with 2 million hits on YouTube. On the technical side, I imagine this fictional band being solvent enough to be able to comfortably go on tour with their own equipment and a road crew. Finally, I imagine that this particular show is in a ballroom-those somewhat dingy, but always enjoyable venues with a bar at the back of the room, questionable bathrooms, and a large open space in front of the stage for a standing room only crowd. The show I write about takes place on the East Coast of the United States, where bands can really capitalize on the short distances between cities and pack in a bunch of shows to good size crowds. So sit back and pretend you are there observing it all with me…

 

It is late morning when the truck pulls down a dark and dirty city alleyway. A couple of guys stumble out, clutching coffee cups and the remnants of breakfast sandwiches and donuts. One proceeds to give a couple of loud thumps on the metal shutter covering the loading bay. After a few minutes an equally tired and grumpy face looks out the side door. ‘Yeah?’ he says. ‘Setting up for tonight’ says the most alert member of the truck crew. ‘Give me a minute’ says the grumpy guy at the door. From somewhere inside the building a button is pushed which automatically lifts the metal gate, and grumpy is waiting on the other side, squinting in the late morning sun. The guys in the truck know the drill. One of them backs the truck up into position, and once in place the other unlocks the back of the truck and starts removing the maze of straps that keep the delicate contents of the truck from shifting around. Before long all manner of shapes and sizes of cases start rumbling down the ramp and into the building. Grumpy ‘helps’ by lighting a cigarette and motioning the general direction for them to place the gear in a series of monosyllabic grunts.

At first it looks like chaos inside the building, but it is actually a well oiled machine. With no instruction from anyone, the guys from the truck instinctively start spreading the cases around. To an outside observer, the shape and size of this gear would be cause for confusion, but these guys know exactly where everything has to go by the feel or weight of the case or a label slapped across the front of it. Of course it also helps that it was only a few hours before that these same guys loaded up the truck and know what is what. PA cabinets over there, Mixing Desk there. After an hour or so, a van pulls into the alley and a few other people step out. They too are clutching coffee cups, but seem a little less groggy than the guys still chugging along and unloading the truck. They say hello and commiserate about  the traffic on I-95 before this second group heads inside and takes in the scene before them. Just like the night before, they have been to this venue before, but it takes a few minutes to dig back in the memory to what makes this place different. In this business, each building presents different challenges. Hell, each person they work for presents challenges with different equipment and their own ideas about how things should work. Its not easy, but life is good living on shitty fast food, shittier motels and the shittiest of pay doing this for a living.

More specific actions start to gradually happen once the ‘boss’ gets there. When he first shows up he surveys the scene in front of him, instinctively looking for the problems he know will be an issue. All this stuff is supposed to be worked out with the promoter before the show, but its always like this. Always some unexpected headache that pops up and makes his job just a little more challenging. Today it is the in-house lighting rig. He’s not an electrician, but he knows that everybody better get their stuff together soon. He gets together with the various technicians and goes over the plan of attack. Standard setup- house lighting rig, drum and keyboard risers. Opening act is a singer-songwriter doing a solo set so they can set up everything now instead of doing a quick turnaround between acts. Soundcheck at 4 P.M. so we have a few hours to get it right. As if on cue the band’s manager calls-how’s it going there? The show is close to being a sell-out but there are some tickets left. Being a Friday night he’s not worried. Album sales have been a little sluggish but the shows are selling well and the merch table has been crowded every night. Always good signs for the rest of the tour.

On stage among the maze of cables, monitors, pedals, stands and other paraphernalia the instruments start coming out of cases. Once the drum riser is in place the drums come first. Bass drum, floor tom, snare, hi-hat, cymbals all start coming together in the familiar pattern, A case containing other bits of percussion like tambourines, dumbek, cajon and shakers sits nearby for the drummer to sort out the way he wants them. Close by on the keyboard riser the technicians work on getting the Leslie cabinet in place for the Hammond organ. On stage the guitars start delicately coming out of their respective cases and placed on stands. Lot of money in these beauties-the Rickenbacker bass, a shimmering red Gretsch hollow body electric, a Fender Telecaster. For acoustic there is a Martin 0018 (of course), a Takamine and a Yamaha. A mandolin and ukulele lurk nearby as well. Each time one is removed from the case, a technician gives it a quick wipe down before gently putting it on its stand and ensuring that the strap gets placed in just the right way. He’s been known to get death glares for not getting that part right from the musicians before.

As the day goes on, more people come and go but there is a constant stream of activity around the stage. Cables of all sorts are everywhere as is the ubiquitous  gaffers tape. Occasional electrical pops and feedback happen regularly. Since this is a ballroom show, the mixing desk which at a larger show one might see in the middle of the arena, is instead out of sight in a control room above the floor at the back. Which means that for setting up walkie talkies and headsets are in use among some of the crew. Backstage a small team that work for the promoter start laying out the spread specified in the bands rider.  Shortly before 4 PM the band shows up, escorted in from their bus. They too know the drill and they begin milling about the stage, checking everything out, lazily picking up instruments and making adjustments…to everything. After awhile, when all members of the band are on stage together, someone calls for a ‘song’ the band sometimes uses for sound checks, which isn’t really a song, but more of a jam, chosen so instruments can be checked against the natural acoustics of the room. When the band is satisfied enough, they begin drifting off. Some mill about chatting and making subtle changes and suggestions, others head down the maze of corridors behind the stage. Individually they will spend the next few hours working on the set list, doing some social media interaction, having a quick snooze and sorting out other sundry band related business.

Out front this is now the critical time. Doors will open at 7:30. The opener will go on at 8:30. That’s if she shows up on time thinks the Tour Manager. We better not have a repeat of the New Haven incident where she left too late and got stuck in traffic and delayed the entire evening by half an hour again. He knows she is travelling alone but still… He shakes himself out of that thought and starts going through his list. He expects to see everything looking ready by now. Instruments all lined up-Check. Stage cleared of unnecessary cases and cables all connected-Check. Front of house, back of house-Check. Control room communication-Check. But he cannot relax just yet. He walks out to the front of the ballroom with a member of staff and confirms where the merch table will go. He goes over names on a list who are allowed in without a ticket-a few from the local press, a few friends of the band before making his way back to the band behind the stage. They are scattered about, but he makes sure they are all satisfied in general, especially with what was promised by the promoter. Did you grab a bite? Are the beers cold enough?

As it gets closer to Doors Open, staff of the ballroom start getting ready. Bartenders and wait staff making sure everything is in place. Security ensuring things look safe. Ticket people ready with the scanners and will call lists. On stage the singer-songwriter opening the show does a very quick soundcheck of her own. The tour manager nods in appreciation, both for her getting here on time, and for the song she is doing. Deep down, he knows she is good, and that the band chose well for her to open this leg of the tour. He looks at his watch and heads up to the sound booth, conferring with the technicians to make sure they are all happy. ‘Looking good boss’ they report. ‘Nothing we can’t handle.’ Which is the answer he expects on a nightly basis. When its not their answer then he knows there will be problems. Once again he makes his way behind the stage and finds a quiet place to make a few phone calls and answer some emails about the rest of the tour where it will be Hello Boston. Hello Worcester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Cleveland.

Outside the early birds start lining up, nervously shuffling about in anticipation. Months before when the tour was announced they had gone online for tickets, printed them out, and stuck them on the refrigerator door for safe keeping until tonight. Now they were just moments away from showtime. Not before hitting the merch table and getting a new T-shirt, that is. At 7:40 the burly guy standing outside the door unhooks the velvet rope in front of the door and motions for people to head in. Hey, its rock & roll, nothing is ever on time! By now the line has grown rather large, so a steady stream of people almost immediately fill the ballroom up about half way. The others are stocking up on CD’s and T-shirts at the merchandise table or standing in line at the bar before jockeying themselves into position and praying no one tall stands in front of them.

The stage is quiet in anticipation of the opener. At 8:33 she comes out to a polite, but somewhat restrained reaction following an announcement by an unseen voice backstage somewhere. Its hard to clap when you have a bottle of beer in your hand actually, but she hopes by the end of her set she will win over some new fans. That damned singer-songwriter label she gets hit with, just because she writes songs and um…sings. Her music is actually quite loud and aggressive and before long the crowd is right there with her. She knows she only has a half hour set so keeps the talking to a minimum but makes sure to thank the headliner for the opportunity to be the opener, which she knows people appreciate hearing. They are running a tight set tonight, so instead of doing the walking to the side of the stage and waiting for applause routine, she instead announces that she will be doing two more songs before the band comes out. The first is an upbeat number of her own, the final song is a well chosen cover, well suited to her voice and guitar attack. She finishes to  loud applause and knows she will be selling some CD’s later as a result of her performance. Gigs like tonight carry her through the touring slog and money problems.

This is now the moment of truth. Backstage the band starts making final preparations-checking out their appearance in the mirror, using the bathroom, having a cigarette, drinking some water. One member likes to have a few moments of quiet calm, while another is pumping himself up like a prize fighter about to hit the ring. On stage two roadies make final checks of everything. Guitars are gently picked up and one or two faint notes are played while simultaneously looking at the sound booth for an approving nod. Microphones are tapped and clicked and popped one final time-Test, test, test.  Drums are struck with a methodical chunka-chunka approach. At the organ, the horn inside the Leslie Cabinet which gives it that unique sound is rotating as it should like some sort of musical radar detector. Ground Control To Major Tom- funky organ grooves have been detected on stage. Copies of the set list are taped to monitors. Guitar picks are threaded onto the microphone stands. Towels and water bottles are placed strategically for each band member. The roadies drift away.

The crowd senses the show is about to start.

Energy in the ballroom is electric.

Slowly the lights dim.

Applause, whistles and shouts grow.

Familiar silhouettes of figures appear on stage.

Guitars come off stands and slide on to shoulders.

A few deliberate, fumbling notes to make sure the ‘tools’ are in working order.

Lights come up ever so slightly.

Figures on stage look at each other, nodding.

‘HELLO! ARE YOU READY?’

1, 2….1234……

Now we need some appropriate music for this post. I know some people dislike live albums typically, but I really enjoy them. The best ones capture some of that excitement and energy for those that were not there. Others are interesting for the ability to bring the studio versions of songs to life despite not having the same sort of instruments or studio trickery available to use on stage. Others pinpoint a specific time or moment in an artists career. Rare is a live album that manages to do all three but my own personal favorite live album does-Live Bullet by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band.  Released in 1976,  and recorded on his home turf at Cobo Hall in Detroit a year before it marks the turning point of his career. Prior to its release, Bob was known for years throughout the Midwest for his hard driving songs but barring a few songs that touched the national charts, not much further than that. Six months after Live Bullet came out though, the Night Moves album was released, and with the title cut leading the way, Bob Seger has never looked back since.

It opens with a barnstorming version of Ike & Tina Turner’s Nutbush City Limits.  Later is that killer drum beat to Ramblin’Gamblin’ Man and the rocking Get Out Of Denver. The band could lay down some serious funk on songs such as Bo Diddley and Heavy Music, then switch gears to the war-weary tale of living on the road in Turn The Page, with the shimmering saxophone work of Tommy Cartmell (aka Alto Reed). The classic version of his Silver Bullet Band shines throughout. Together with Cartmell there was Drew Abbott on guitar, Robyn Robbins on keyboards, Charlie Allen Martin on drums, and Chris Campbell on bass. You can hear in the course of the album how Seger had clearly mastered the art of getting the crowd into it. “I was reading in Rolling Stone where they said Detroit audiences are the greatest rock & roll audiences in the world.” On Heavy Music- “If you’ll sing with me I won’t guarantee it, but you juuuuust might wind up on an album” in a sly manner, before it gets quiet and Seger belts “I got to go somewhere….somewhere where nooobody knows my name……1,2,3,4- I THINK I’M GOING TO KATHMANDU, launching into another well known song.

The second and third songs on the album though are what really made me love this album from the first time I heard it, well over 30 years ago now. At the time Bob and the band were touring around their current studio album-Beautiful Loser. On Live Bullet the songs Travelin’ Man and Beautiful Loser were joined together, but are dramatically different then their studio counterparts. I could write another 1000 words about these 9 minutes of music. Instead I will just say that the moment Travelin’ Man shoots out to the stratosphere in a transcendent churning of sound from musicians working hard and working together, led by the distinctive, gravelly voice of Bob Seger is one of my favorite moments of music of all time. And that is no lie.

It isn’t just that it realizes the criteria I mentioned above, Live Bullet goes well past that. It captures the essence of a live show without actually having been there. In my head I can see Bob leaning on that microphone stand and getting into it. I can see the rhythm section nailing it all down, I can hear that organ moving around the arrangement, the sax punctuating the beat, and the guitar leading the charge.It feeds from the crowd, and feeds the crowd, then back again. The best live recordings such as ‘Live Bullet’ capture moments like that.  Whether you were actually at the show or not. Whether you were even alive at the time a live album was released.  There is nothing more glorious and satisfying than moments where it all comes together. And though my little imaginative story may have sounded a little romantic, I know that those moments are what make it worthwhile for all involved in making music for a living.

Cheers to the roadies and technicians and crews that make live concerts sound so great! Thank you to all of you who read, like and share my posts. It means a great deal to me. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again-As long as there are songs to hear and photographs to take, this project will continue.  Extra huge cheers to my friend Dan Ogus for some terrific behind the scenes info used in this piece. Be sure to check out Dan’s excellent radio show Scattering The Roots right here.

Travelin’ Man and Beautiful Loser-Written By Bob Seger

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Self-Portrait-The Third Anniversary Post

It is hard to believe that it has been just about three years since I started this blog. It has given me so much at this point. Engaging conversations and lasting friendships from people all over the world. For me, the blogosphere continues to be the place for the sort of rational discourse we used to engage in with one another and a place still open to ideas. You can make people laugh or cry on these pages. Educate and inform. The other side of that is that I continue to learn so much from so many talented people writing their own blogs.

On each of my anniversaries, or blogoversaries as us bloggers call them, I have tried to do something a little special to mark the occasion. For my first one, I took a trip over the Manhattan Bridge on foot, focusing on the actual sounds of the bridge. For the second, I imagined sitting in the editing room of a film, directing the way the opening shots for a movie in my mind would look. So for this blogoversary, I knew I had to come up with something new yet again. Like many artists, the basis of an idea can be one that lingers around for awhile. The mere wisp of a thought jotted down but not fully realized. Months ago I had such a thought, recorded in my notebook in the hopes that it might see the light of day sometime. Well that time is now, and the idea quite simply is that of a Self-Portrait.

Artists have used this concept for a long time of course. Partly as an exploration of new ideas, and partly as an expression of their state of mind at a given time. My hesitation in using this idea is because from my very first post, I have struggled with this concept of calling myself any sort of artist in comparison with so many other talented individuals. Yes I know people respond to my photographs, as they have over time for my writing. But I never have been able to comfortably sell myself on the idea. Part of the dilemma is because this venture is not just one thing. It is not just a writing blog, or a photography blog. In my mind it is something else entirely and undefinable in some ways, and it is up to me to make it work. But rather than making a case for this by citing examples, I imagined instead a letter, written to the younger ‘me’ by the older ‘me’. Guiding me towards this path I am on now, which feels so right to me. Which makes me feel like I have a valid contribution. That makes me feel like an artist.

At the bottom of the letter are a few self-portraits taken with my camera on a timer setting. By way of the selfie, the one thing not lacking in our society today are self-portraits of course. But instead of the smiling, ‘Hey look at me in front of (insert place of interest)’ type, with arm stretched out,  I played around with some different expressions while the camera snapped away and I thought about the words I have written.

Dear Robert,

I am writing this letter to you from the future to tell you about…well, you! See, although much will change in this crazy old world of ours as you will soon find out, there are many more things that stay the same. Sure, things may go by a different name, or be smaller and faster than they once were, but we still need and thrive on them in my time. So I want to be sure you understand that the things that make you who you are, despite what others may say about them, is important. In fact, it is probably the most important thing to realize as you get older. In other words, do not ever give in to self-doubt or embarrassment about the things you have enjoyed at any time in your life. I know you feel a little aimless now that you are a young man. Feeling lost because you don’t know what you want to do while around you others may be telling you what you should be doing or have it figured out for themselves. Those people truly are doing it with the best of intentions and concern for you, but they probably do not really know what is going on in your head. I’m going to warn you…there may be a few lean years. You may feel like you are happy and content, but looking back you will regret things. But that’s okay. Don’t let those feelings get to you because I promise you, your time will come.

I’m here to tell you that every experience, every childhood memory, every discussion, every argument, every baseball game you ever watch, every TV show you sit staring at,  every concert you ever go to, every book you will ever read, every job you will ever have, every country you ever travel in, every mile that passes by in every car you ever sit in matters. You see young Robert, these are the experiences and memories you will use in the future to do some unique and special things. To use a phrase from poker (which I am sorry to say you will never master), they will allow you to go ‘all in’. It may feel like a meandering and circuitous path now, but all those things have a connection for you. Why? Because YOU chose them!

When you were growing up do you remember how you relished in the fantasy world you built in your mind, playing with toy cars and building little toy buildings? You would beam with pride as you imagined your designs to be unique and creative. I’m here to tell you that its okay if you kept those toys out later than most other kids did. Do you remember when you would pore over maps, tracing the world with your finger-East to West, North to South? You dreamed about the people that lived in those far away places-what they looked like, what  they ate, what the culture was like. Despite the usual schoolyard scoffing at such pursuits, I will tell you that you will remain fascinated by such things and your unique understanding and perspective will be shared in time. What’s more is that people will respond to your thoughts in a positive way. So those feelings you have now of no one listening to you will disappear.

Do you remember when you would drive for hours on a day off, staving off  loneliness because you had few friends? You would roll the windows down and crank the stereo, singing badly (which I’m sorry to say never got better) along with every word, listening to the nuances of every instrument. The music became your friends, but don’t worry, you will make some great ones in the future. I promise you. Do you remember spending hours in record stores, exploring every bit of music you could get your hands on? Switching between styles from Dublin to Delhi to the Delta and excitedly clutching a rare treasure from the racks as if it were an ancient artifact? All of that will be time well spent, believe me.  Do you remember your first trip to Ireland in 1983, when you snapped your own photos on the families trusty old Kodak Ektralite camera? How about two years later when you were in Switzerland, Germany and France? The truth is, you had a pretty good eye for photography way back then. You just did not realize it yet. But again, that’s okay…you will realize it one day.

Do you remember all the tales of adventure you read, wishing it was you on Tintin’s escapades, crossing Antarctica with Shackleton, or climbing Everest with Sir Edmund Hilary? Do you recall sailing with Captain Aubrey around Cape Horn, riding the rails with Woody Guthrie, or rocketing into space with the astronauts in the pages of a book? Do you remember having cocktails at the Drones Club with Bertie Wooster, or solving a mystery with Hercule Poirot? Can you remember crushing a 3/2 fastball with Joe DiMaggio or striking out Ted Williams? Or standing on a battlefield directing the action while all around you was chaos? How about that phase when you were fascinated with how things were built and you read about skyscrapers and cathedrals, bridges and infastructure? See kiddo, just like with the music you explored you found a lot of things to interest you. Some people might become so engrossed with one particular topic that they spend their entire lives studying it. Yours is a different approach, so don’t feel bad about exploring anything you can get your hands on, be it technical manual or a comic book. It will all come together.

I also want to tell you to not let other people bring you down with the labels they will put on you for your pursuits. Shy, loner, introvert, anti-social, whatever it is.  Quite frankly, those who put those labels on you have their own problems, so don’t think for a second that all is so rosy in their worlds. I don’t want to reveal too much, but you will find your way around most of these issues from someone very special. Oh damn, I said too much! Well, you’ll just have to take my word for it that it will happen one day and you will be very happy.  But more importantly, here is the thing. You will find a way to get all these seemingly disparate elements out in a way that is uniquely Robert. A way that has never quite been done before. It will happen when you decide that after many years, you are not content to keep all those elements trapped inside your head. It will happen when you realize that you have had inside you for a long time, a gift to share with people. It will reveal itself to you gradually, and it will not always be easy. But it will be worth it, I promise you.

I can say this, all these years later, because I know what you always wanted to be. I know the thoughts you had-the outside looking in feel you had when it came to anything creative. You yearned for it for years. You wanted to write, to make art, to be a photographer, to be a musician. It may not all happen, or it may still come in stages, but that secret you kept hidden inside you for years will be revealed one day. And when it happens Robert, I want you to hold your head high and say proudly-‘I’m an artist’. You will no longer say my stuff is not good enough. Or its only a hobby. Or I have no formal training. None of that matters. You have thoughts and ideas. You will find ways to share those things with the world in YOUR own way. You will find a way to join those fractured thoughts into something your own. You have a talent, believe me! Will it make you rich? Will it make you famous? You will have to experience that on your own. What I can tell you is that once you hold your head up high and say those words, you will truly feel like you are an artist because what you do IS art.

 Just remember-stay who you are. You will make mistakes, but you will also do a lot of good things. Keep going.

Yours Truly From The Future, Robert Patrick Doyle-Artist

P.S. I know you have watched a lot of sci-fi in your day, and no doubt remember those story lines  where a character goes into the future or the past, and is warned to beware of their actions so as not to upset the space-time continuum. Well all I can say is, it is true, but I checked with my buddy Neil DeGrasse Tyson about this just now and he said that I can at least tell you this with no fear of harming humanity. Once you get to that realization about yourself, then it is time to get cracking on that book Robert!

 

Now I’m sure you have been wondering where the song has been in this post.  Despite having this idea I struggled until the eleventh hour to find the right sort of song. I was beginning to worry but then the other day while coming home from work I put an album on by Irish singer Jack Lukeman (aka Jack L) called Broken Songs. When the song You Can’t Get Bitter came on I knew it was the right fit for this post. But rather than spend another 2000 words going on about yet another one of my favorite singers, I will let you figure out for yourselves why I chose it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cX5U8dnRLH8

Thank you to all of you who continue to read and comment on my posts.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again-as long as there are photographs to take, and new songs to hear, this project will continue!

You Can’t Get Bitter-Written By Jack Lukeman

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

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