Thursday, August 15, 2013

Swapping Addictions: The Eagles for LCD Soundsystem; My Odd Obsession with Music Documentaries

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

Addiction swapping. It's the American way. If you're addicted to something bad like booze, alcohol, sex, or drugs... then you swap out that addiction for a different addiction like religion.

I'm at the crossroads. I was seriously addicted to watch the Eagles documentary (specifically Part One). All summer long. I wrote numerous blog posts about my fascination with the doc (e.g. Such a Lovely Place, Lines On the Mirror and Lines On Her Face, and Joe Fucking Walsh and Free Crack Online) and I even referenced the doc in an article for Bluff Magazine with Donking Off Penny Lane, Eagle Poker, and Life in the Fast Lane.

I must've watched the Eagles doc four or five times a week and although I was never a country-rock fan, I found myself fascinated with the music industry in the early 70s. I drew such a disappointing look from Nicky whenever she caught me watching it. It was like "Really? The fucking Eagles? Again?" I felt like an embarrassed junkie hiding their addiction from their loved ones. I only watched the doc when Nicky was at work, or when she was sleeping.

Turns out only one other person had a similar addiction... and it's Bill Fucking Simmons. I love his brainchild Grantland, but culturally speaking, Billy Boy and I are usually at the opposite end of the (pop culture) spectrum.... except with the Eagles documentary. Simmons wrote about his strange fascination in a recent column -- The Eagles' Greatest Hits. Now, if I ever meet Simmons again (the first meeting is a long story), I will corner him and yap incessantly about the Eagles doc. My biggest fear is that he's not as into the doc it as he projected ("Relax cowboy... I was just filling blank space."). Or worse, he's really really really into it and I feel like a fraudster dilettante for not knowing the documentary well enough.

Back to the crossroads...

I'm swapping addictions. LCD Soundsystem's documentary "Shut Up and Play the Hits" is on Netflix. I was home from Phish tour for about a week when I wandered over to Netflix and discovered this fact... and watched it twice in one sitting. I had seen it before, but was waiting for its online release, so I could watch it again. I assume Netflix added the doc during the month I was on the road. Since its discovery, I'm embarrassed to say how many times I watched it since I found it earlier this week.

Watch the trailer here:

Nicky is thrilled. "Thank God I don't have to see Glenn Fucking Frey ever again."

Good bye Eagles. Hello LCD Soundsystem. Swap out the coke, LA, and groupies. Insert ecstasy, NYC, and hipsters.

I lived in NYC at the turn of the century and during those frenetic days post-9/11 when half the city was paralyzed by fear and the other half was partying like it was 1999 on steroids. My friends and I at the time had a "world is gonna blow up" attitude, so we'd better rage it up while we can. That mentality really drove us and part of the underground culture. What we didn't realize was that terrorists were not going to blow us up, rather, we'd become prisoners of our own fear and paranoia. I left NYC in the middle of the 00s and headed out West to fulfill my destiny. NYC's dynamics drastically changed over the decade, but I left at the right time before it got too weird and completely overrun by the hipsterification of NYC.

LCD Soundsystem's break-out hit Losing My Edge was sort of an inside joke, but a perfect way to sum up the sentiment of what it was like to be living at the turn of the century and trying to figure out what is cool in the digital age, but as soon as you figure out something cool, there's a horde of uncool people circling like vultures who quickly co-opt that shred of coolness you unearthed during your excavations of popular culture. As I got closer to 40 years old, the song became less of an inside joke and more realistic. Cool is what you make it and you should always do your own thing. The older you get, you start doing things that make you happy and get you off, rather than worrying about whether or not other people think what you're doing if cool.

It's kind of weird because many moons ago in a previous life we used to hang out and listen to James Murphy spinning tunes at tiny lounges in the East Village. We had no idea that he'd go onto to front one of the more important bands in the first decade of the 21st Century. Murphy didn't either, which you'll discover when you watch "Shut Up and Play the Hits." Yet, it happened. LCD Soundsystem blew up and when he felt as though his side project consumed all of his life, he realized it was time to pull the plug. The timing was impeccable because he was at the top of his game with LCD Soundsystem's third and final album This Is Happening. Even if he didn't want to have a a life that included an exhausting tour schedule, he still could have went with a parsed down touring life by only playing big payday events at American musical festivals (e.g. Coachella) and hit up a few stops on the summer European circuit. We're looking at a minimal investment of two months of touring and another month of practicing. That left nine months for Murphy to have a free swim and tackle other projects. But Murphy had so much respect for the purity of LCD Soundsystem's music that he walked away from it all.... much to the disappointment of their fan base and even some of his friends in the band. Murphy didn't want to half-ass hang around, even with a few token appearances here and there. So, that's it. LCD Soundsystem played a farewell concert at Madison Square Garden in April 2011, some of which was included in "Shut Up and Play the Hits."

"Better to burn out than to fade away."

That's a quote from The Highlander movie. Neil Young sorta said it too.

My recent fascination with "Shut Up and Play the Hits" stems from the fact that I can identify with James Murphy much more so than anyone in the Eagles (although I most feel like Joe Walsh -- the cocaine-crazed, destruction-obsessed outsider who could play a mean slide guitar -- more so than anyone else in the band).

I wrote a little bit about having a deeper understanding of LCD Soundsystem's break-up (check out How I Killed a Purple Cow) because I pulled the plug on a popular poker blog. I reached a rough spot with Tao of Poker because I was super burned out, artistically bankrupt, and conflicted. Do I half-ass it until the government finally legalized online poker? Or do I take a much-needed break and return when I don't have to worry about trying to earn a living in a matter that the federales deem "illegal"? Or do I say "this has all been wonderful, and now I'm on my way"?

Tough spot. I pretty much devoted eight exhausting years of my life to the poker biz and helped make a few people/corporations/juntas a lot of dough. I threw every ounce of energy into Tao of Poker during my 30s, while carving out a successful freelance career and eventually writing a book about the height of the poker boom and the darkside of living in Las Vegas.

But then one day you wake up and realize the government has their own hypocritical agenda and they changed the rules of the game without a debate in a public forum. In the early part of the 21st Century, online poker broke through into the mainstream ether, but the government beat it back to the "immoral" fringes of society. Once again, poker went underground at a critical time in which the biggest banks in the world were rewarded billions in corporate welfare handouts, because their broke-dick execs got caught with their pants down recklessly gambling on derivatives. It was an ugly time; I was drowning in volcanic anger and vitriol (directed at the faceless government and deceptive puppets in DC) and utterly exhausted from running the rat race. Then to complicate matters, I got into a car wreck and for a few months I was psychically unable to do my job. During post-crash recovery, I got caught up in the existentialist mind-fuck of why do some of us live and some of us die. Perspective is a funny thing. As soon as you take a step outside yourself, everything becomes so fucking crystal clear. I realized I didn't need a vacation, but I need a clean break. I caught myself before I took another step forward and fell into a black hole.

I made a difficult choice and walked away from Tao of Poker and a poker industry in turmoil. I was flooded with instant regret, but as each day passed, most of those conflicted emotions subsided. My closest friends understood and respected my decision, although I got a ton of shit from so-called friends and colleagues because they saw my decision to leave as a judgement on their lives, when it had zero to do with it. Sure, some of them stuck it out during the aftermath of Black Friday because they were much stronger mentally than me and could weather the storm, but some of them were in much worse shape than me and unable to leave the circus.

When I started watching the Eagles documentary regularly, one line stood out by Don Henley about the breakup of the band in 1980. "It was a horrible relief." Henley summed up what I felt the moment I pushed the Letter to Ndugu post. But even a year after that post, I agonized over my decision until I saw the Eagles documentary the first time and knew I made a healthy and wise decision to leave a toxic situation. When the credits rolled, I was overcome by a wave of serenity and started thinking, "Stop beating yourself up. You did the right thing. If you want to get down on yourself, you really should have pulled the plug on Tao of Poker a year earlier."

You never want to be that guy who stays at the party too long, but I didn't walk away when the passion dissipated and I mentally checked out. Before Black Friday, the poker scene devolved into a shitshow and I was too chicken-shit to leave the party and walk away from the gravy train. After I finished Lost Vegas, I knew I needed a break, but I talked myself into staying, or let others talk me into staying (coincidentally those were some of the people with the most to lose financially if I took any time off).

I had my foot out the (poker) door once Phish got back together in 2009, but while I was still hanging around, I relied more and more on self-medication techniques just to get me through the day and help survive the grind of the WSOP (a seven-week long festival of poker that was so physically draining and sucked my soul and creative juices dry every summer so much so it took me a month to recover). Every summer, I found myself utterly lonely while wandering through Hades, trying to ward off temptations at every corner, and constantly surrounded by assholes and malcontents. Vegas is hell on Earth and the only way I could get through the day was to self-medicate by creating a protective bubble around me.

Cocaine and self-doubt destroyed the Eagles, so I was glad I left the Vegas scene before I became a full-blown junkie. I saw numerous Vegas friends get sucked into the abyss of addiction(s). Now they're a sorry bunch of schwasted zombies that I stay far away from because they're emotional vampires who only call me up for drugs or to borrow money for drugs/gambling with no intentions of paying me back.

The Eagles doc confirmed I made a good decision to walk away. Like Glenn Frey said, "90% of being in the Eagles was a fucking blast. I was living the dream."

That's exactly how I feel about Tao of Poker and my foray into the industry. It was fun. It was a dream. A sincere fucking blast at that time in space. But let's leave it at that and celebrate the fact that I caught "lightning in a bottle" or I created what marketing guru Seth Godin would call a "purple cow." I was working so hard when all this happened, that I never stopped to smell the roses and fully appreciate everything. Now that it's all in the past, those 7-8 years feel like a dream.

If you're a rabid Tao of Poker fan, you should get a little freaked out because every time I watch the LCD Soundsystem documentary, I'm overwhelmed by this unshakable feeling... I pulled the plug on Tao of Poker one year too late, but it would be foolish to return.

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