Being Empty : Being Filled. An album inspired from inventions, and the people who gave their lives to love them in to existence enough to change our world. **side note: I know none of these inventors (except my parents), and these thoughts are just where my mind went when I read about their lives or the things they made or did. I don’t know everything about them, and am not a scholar. In a lot of spaces I reflected on my own life and parallels to inventing with art and how consuming that can be.
1. Pent Up Genes (Levi Strauss).
As I started reading about Levi Strauss’ life for inspiration I had already made up my mind about a few things I knew about him. Mostly I knew he invented work jeans and that Levis, the company, is a huge clothing manufacturer and I wasn’t sure if it would make a good song or if he would be a good person to write about. Sewing is an interest of mine. I like making things with my hands and I like trying different types of materials to make the ideas I come up with. I have a couple sewing machines and I like using them to repair clothes or to sew new things. In a nutshell the song is about making things, and making them well, and the blind confidence, or open fragility, it takes to make something up to par with your own set of standards. There are some nods to the idea of making clothes in the song “we’ll go on to other places, hold it loose. sewing us together, folded over, feeding the machine.” and “riveted in to place, overlapped. the best days of our lives are the ones we’re alive“. About the idea of doing something well. We live in a really cool time where ideas can be shared quickly and efficiently, but it’s a super disposable time especially with made goods and art, and I like the idea of buying or making things to last and that have a timeless quality, when possible; and aren’t made just to throw away as the next fad comes around. There’s a line in the song that says “We are each others, we are hope, you are. even if the voices carry. still making it like they used to,” meaning, we are in this thing together on the planet, our cities, our houses, and we can do better with the things we make and what we vote on with our dollars. Levi Strauss and his wife didn’t have children, and so they decided to open an orphanage, and that struck me as something really kind. They weren’t from the US and they started making and selling clothes and built an empire and wanted to help their community. They were people that made a difference by seeing what was needed around them and doing something, all the while trying to better themselves. These were some outside observations that I thought were interesting, but also I have no clue really about their lives.
2. Little Folded Fingers (Moms and Dads and the invention of life)
When I made my list of ideas for inspiration on writing the songs and selecting inventions for the record I included “the invention of life”, and to me it was a daunting task. Where do you begin? So, after starting and not finishing a bunch of dumb song ideas about life, I thought, “why not the invention of MY life,” and I wrote about my parents. My mom raised 2 kids, mostly on her own. We had the help of friends and family at times, but my dad was killed in a car accident when I was 6 and so we began the adventure of being a 3 piece unit. I’ve always known it, but my mom is so brave, and the older I get I look back and think about when my mom was my age and think what she had to deal with, and I just don’t know how she did it. She made the whole world possible to us. She has always had a passion for exploring and travel and has a confidence that takes her everywhere she wants to go. On road trips we would always make stops at every large ball of twine, small museum, or collection of antique ovens we could find. I’m sure it was just to take a rest from being the only driver, but we would go and read every sign and try and learn about everything. She is a teacher. I wanted to write a song about her and my dad inventing life. What a cool strange thing. My dad is buried in East Texas, in a city called Longview. I was down there a few years ago to bury my grandma, and my aunt had asked me to sing a song at the graveside service. I declined because I don’t see myself as that kind of singer and I wasn’t sure I could even do that in front of all my family at a funeral service. The night before the funeral I decided it was important, as you don’t always get to celebrate your grandma in that way, and called my aunt and told her I would do it. She said “good, because you are in the printed programs already as singing a song”. It was such a surreal moment for me as I stood there on the graves of my Grandpa and my Dad singing a song I wrote about how grief is a kind of love. I was trying to focus so I watched the ants go about their life without a care in the world and wrote a line in the song “while her husband lays there, still. pushing memories around. in all the corners, in every town across the pines. the ants in east Texas plan their lives in cities below the power lines.”. In a lifetime, we go through these huge things all insulated by our circumstances and families, and they are so completely personal, real and meaningful, but also so very common and simple as everyone lives a life.
3. There’s Money in the Walls (Rudolph Diesel)
I’ve had a love for the diesel engine ever since I learned that you could feed it several different types of fuel and it would still run, and do so efficiently. Who wouldn’t love that, right? What a cool, adaptable, useable design. I don’t really go out for conspiracy theories or think there’s one puppet master controlling everything. I think of a whole planet of people with their own interests at hand, that are constantly colliding against each other with choices like good and bad and indifference and that the tide of life happens out of these decisions. Especially so with the diesel engine. Weird right? There are a lot of conspiracies over the early death of the electric car and “alternative” power in general, and the diesel was the first of the wave of these types of inventions at the start of the 1900s that would define how greed and stupidity and people with more power can decide what will be mass marketed and made readily available or kept hidden. Rudolph Diesel made a compression based engine (the diesel) to run off of vegetable oils, and it will do just that today, any diesel….and efficiently so with only small modifications. When he designed the diesel, combustion engines were more popular and already being used in production and so it was an uphill battle to gain popularity. Germany did use the engine to power their war machines in the world wars, as did the train and shipping industry, and still do today. He couldn’t take the idea that his machine would be used to power a war, and all the concessions he had to make to compete against the gasoline combustion engine to modify the engine to run off of fossil fuels and crude oil. One night on a ship crossing from Germany to England he jumped overboard and ended his life. I wanted to write a song from his perspective that night. The song has a lot of connections to my life on the road “It’s been 30 days, maybe 34 since I left my house, tossed and grown out. the fires burn below. the pistons creak and groan. under my feet, the tension grows, built up like the leaves around my door“. I thought about Rudolph Diesel having to travel around and “sell” his idea. “his is how we live when we live somewhere with quiet nights inside, making plans to make a life. To keep it all safe inside and outside. dear anyone, do you know what that’s like?”, and about friendships gained and lost and wanting to leave something behind “an early morning calls, and I’m not there to start. my watch is on the table, ticking in the dark. there’s money in the walls of my heart, and I left it there for you. even If it all has to end I’m still glad you were my friend”. I wanted it to read more like a suicide note than anything else, or reflections on a life lived.
4. Add Blue (Marie Curie)
There was a day when I was writing that I realized I didn’t know much about women who were inventors, and started to search for these women. Just do a google search, it will bring up tons, but a few stuck out to me. All inventions, all people really, have a ripple effect on everyone else, everything does, and I wanted to write about the biggest ripple makers to me. In comes Marie Curie. A two time Nobel Peace prize winner, an innovator in science and inventor in the use of radiation in therapy and scientific study. She was from Poland, but there were no universities for women so she moved to Paris to study. She was married and had children and would bring her work home with her in her pockets. Literally radioactive tubes in her apron pockets to her garden laboratory to study the effects of radiation. A common thread with inventions and inventors are tragedy around the thing they are loving in to existence, and I had the thought here that loving something can be deadly. Case in point with Marie, she died of complications from radiation poisoning. She didn’t know the long term effects of what she was handling. All the x-rays and experiments without any sort of protection took its toll. I wanted to write the song in the perspective of a love story and about her holding on to the radioactive tubes as her only light “She was standing in the dark, pockets glowing blue green” “so hand in hand we swam across the lake. the water warm against our legs. the only light to find us was the moon. we went all the way from rock to rock we jumped across across the bay half blind we stole each others hearts. we knew we’d be there soon.”. She traveled around during the first world war and gave x-rays in the field to soldiers and I wrote this line after thinking about her doing so in the winter “each road different like the snowflakes in her eyes. driving somewhere that isn’t here sleeping in strange cities our bodies foreign to ourselves. well, what’s inside. all glowing bright behind the teeth. right there, making soft and weak”. Ultimately it’s a love song “as long as we’re alive me and you. we are love together when we’re together. all crazy inside our rib cages behind our teeth and voice. taking stars for forest fires our fingers scattered in our fists. holding on to the films we make while our legs feed the wolf”.
5. Bloodshot/New Love (Buckminster Fuller)
A friend of mine challenged me to write about an architect named Buckminster Fuller, and I didn’t want to mostly because I didn’t know who he was. But this guy is fascinating. I did some reading about him and decided I had to try and write a song about him and his ideas. Buckminster (which is a rad first name) was an architect and thinker ahead of his time in the field of sustainable living based on housing design and the climate where a house would be built. He invented a map called a Dymaxion Map (dynamic maximum tension) that categorizes the worlds major climate zones to adapt how buildings are made and their type. He invented a type of car, also called the Dymaxion car. He was big into tension and how things are held together, and is mostly known for the design of dome buildings made out of triangles (The geodesic dome). There was a time in his life before the epiphany of designing for the earth came to him. He had dropped out of an ivy league university and was in Chicago drunk in the city and he said a vision came to him about what he was to do with his life and that the highest thing he could do was to put others before himself for the rest of his life, and so he tried. With design. I wrote this song from the perspective of that day being drunk on the steps of a church and having these thoughts of wanting to make the world a better place for everyone with ideas and then actions. “drunk again, that’s no way to begin. I keep trying to hold on with open hands. unhooking my thoughts from whats been dragging it around.” “ drunk near these new graves I bet, dug to make it easy for us all to get in. when you get this I’ll be gone. I’ll be out living forever in my wrongs // if I can remember the tension, and all the ways to safety, I think we’ll fit together in time. you’re all I ever wanted was your life"
6. Shock And Value (Nikola Tesla)
Nikola Tesla, to me, was the epitome of an inventor that had enough ideas (the right ones, and doable) to change the world, but not the power, influence, or ability to sell his soul enough to make his creations a lasting reality. The big picture is that no matter what, every invention that is made stands on a mountain of ideas that have gone before it to either make it a reality or make it possible. Tesla was one of the first inventors I wanted to write about for this record, and he was a tough one to capture. His story is really interesting but I didn’t know where to begin. So, I started at the end. I had a think about writing a song from his perspective alone in the hotel room he lived in, in Manhattan. As a reflection on his own life “it adds up spending a lifetime chasing shadows around. trying to change where the sun comes from” “one too many times taken away without anybody caring. It was all too early alone in your hotel room. letting that broken heart guide you, it’s only showing you more of what you’ve been having.” If you want to know more about Tesla just look him up and read about him, he was brilliant in a time when the modern world was being made. “Is this what you thought it would be? cruel world, in the hands of so few. where everyone can be of use. you want gold you can have it, dig in the ground. and question, ask questions. you’re made of the same things. you’re going into that same ground.“
7. Window To The World (Philo Farnsworth)
I don’t remember where I first heard the television called “the window to the world”, but it was in my mind when I was thinking of names for this song. This is quite simply a love song about the first broadcasted image from a television camera to the first television. The image was of Elma Farnsworth, which is Philo’s wife. “in the window to the world, mirrors moving all around her. tubes breaking up the girl, there was no way but your light found her.“ He invented the TV although he didn’t like watching it, and he didn’t get paid much for the invention. The first camera/TV setups had to use really bright lights to get an image to show up on the screen. I thought about that and Philo filming his wife for the first broadcast and the idea that sound and electric waves ripple out into the galaxy infinitely and that her picture is out there somewhere floating. “but home is not a place, It’s where you fill in the blanks. it’s not a hologram, it’s not for you to break. hey buddy she was beautiful, she’ll always be your first. right there how you remember, past where we ever will go. And the lights have to be bright! to see anything at all.”
8. A Love Letter To Detroit (Robert Ettinger)
Writing about cryonics was a long shot, because I wanted to write about people and things that caused the most change in our society. This one is not really that case, but instead about a man who wasn’t a scientist dreaming up a way to cryonically freeze someone after death in hopes they can be thawed again in the future and saved, when technology has advanced. It would be cool if it actually worked, but from what I could read, it doesn’t really work. His ideas were taken literally out of the pages of sci fi comic books. Robert Ettinger and cryonic study, to me, was really the embodiment of an inventor/invention consuming someone’s entire life. It was his life’s work, and he is even frozen, right now, up near Detroit. “ another hard winter went and came. In the suburbs in a box with no name. sleeping still with your choices and your wives. in an office building insulated from the outside. next to your mother you lay a perfect stranger beside. wake up your dreaming again” I love Detroit, and how it’s frozen in time, sometimes literally in the winter. A place holder of what the city used to be and what it could become in the future when it thaws out and better technology and practices are employed. “and here’s to rebuilding, cheers to a certain tougher skin. you keep getting up from where you’re at, and starting over and over and over again.”. This is one of my top favs on the record.
9. Manhattan Projects (Robert Oppenheimer)
I didn’t want to write about bombs, and this song isn’t about a bomb. What changed my mind about the topic altogether was when I heard that the man that invented the atomic bomb was horrified and knew he created a monster immediately after the first test. A perfect example of wanting to turn back the hands of time after you realize you’ve hurt someone or done something wrong. Robert Oppenheimer said after that first test that he had become death, the destroyer of worlds, and I wanted to write a song from that perspective. About a man that has committed the unthinkable and is dealing with his mistake. “like a thousand suns bursting at once are only a spark of the mightiest one, but that doesn’t stop the planets from spinning. month after heavy month. into years that I forget memories and friends. years I get to live lucky and try to mend. crossing over back again, over and back again with every line, trying to dig in. crossing over and back again. I am become the destroyer of worlds, and when the bomb drops, my heart drops too”.
10. Plague Doctor (Stefanie Kwolek, and Garrett Morgan)
This song is about two different people, and is split into two parts. It features one of our heaviest/fastest and also most epic sounding songs to date. In my opinion, the perfect ender to the record. I think this was also the last song to get written and made. Part 1 is about the inventor Stefanie Kwolek. She was a scientist that worked for Dupont chemicals and invented Kevlar, a material that was supposed to be a fix for side walls on tires, but was eventually sold as body and vehicle armor. I didn’t just want to write a song about body armor and it eventually turned out to be the most politically/socially charged Listener song yet “spending more on killing than anything else, propped up. walls on the backs of our neighbors. giving half your life for land no one can ever really own. asking yourself how did I get here again? bow down or you’ll be singled out. face and palms up where we can see ‘em. on your backs until the tires give out. the hole we build inside is a gift.” We were going through a new election, and I was reading about how Stefanie was a salaried employee and had to forfeit her rights to the invention of kevlar while the company she worked for made billions of dollars on her idea. I was upset about a few things the day I wrote this. The 2nd part of the song is about the invention of the gas mask, hence the song name “Plague Doctor”. This is also the part of the song that the entire album gets its name from “Being Empty : Being Filled“. Garrett Morgan was an African American inventor from Ohio that first built a breathing device for mine workers and eventually fire departments, and when the first World War happened the military used his designs. Like Kwolek, Garrett didn’t get rich either. His invention got lost in advancement and paperwork and patents, like so many others who didn’t have a staff of lawyers protecting them. Early on Garrett traveled from city to city selling his device and had to hire a white person to act as the inventor/salesman while he would don the mask and go inside a smoke filled room to show its effectiveness. He was a smart salesman through this time in our nations history and made something that has saved countless lives. “Breathing, filling it with medicine. being empty, it’s just as big as being filled. I think this is a stop sign, it’s hard to tell. the heart in my head is aching from colliding head on, and I have a smokey mind. selling myself on caution. first with the color, then the good feeling. I had a daydream. I have them every day. and in most every way my future lives inside. so I try and pay attention because I know it comes from somewhere. even if I can’t remember. even it it goes to nowhere.“