Dispatch from the Road (Year 2) / by Michael Dustin Youree

I'm a little late in writing this.  In the midst of it all some things just have to be put on the back burner.  Nonetheless, publishing chapter two in my vagabond life lost no importance in my mind.  Even if just for my own OCD compulsion to properly document this life experiment, it is something that I have to do.  

This one starts with a small disclaimer.  Chapter two is not like the first, laced with sunshine and rainbows.  Year two has been a gut-wrenching grind through a very difficult period that has no happy ending.  So, if you're looking for the typical MDY optimism, read no further.  That said, I am still me and hope still shines.  I promise complete openness and an unflinching will to wear my heart on my sleeve... or, in this case, on the page.

I'll start where I left off.  This time last year PushMethod had just finished up playing one of its best shows to date at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn and I was set to embark on a cross-country solo tour with my love and best friend.  The trip was a great experience personally.  Professionally it was disappointing.  That has in part to do with the collapse of my relationship with the guy who produced my solo record.  When the time came to promote the tour and the record we first had to agree upon a contract.  It got nasty, soul-crushing even.  We could not come to terms.  I'm not in a position to place blame, partly because I would rather let this go.  The result was a tour full of mostly empty rooms and no circulation of the record in industry circles.  What a waste.

The upside is that the girl and I had a nice trip otherwise (here's a video overview set to one of the record's songs), ending with a glorious week in LA.  We walked the beaches and boulevards hand in hand, agreeing that we wanted to move here together in early 2015.  When I put her on a plane from LAX back to Holland, I was surely sad our adventure was over and to watch her fade into the security line, but I had a heart full of hope for our future.  Next to me in this farewell was an Indian man waving goodbye to his wife and two kids.  I commiserated with him for a moment.  "It's hard to say goodbye, isn't it?"  "Yes," he said.  "How long will you be apart?" I asked him.  "A year."  What!?  A year?  I remember thinking how terrible that must be for him.  I had plans to return to Holland and be with my girl in six weeks.  It was hard for me to imagine a year.  Little did I know then that I would never see my love again.

After the tour I returned to New York for PushMethod business.  We played a few shows and prepared for the release of our new (at the time) single, Kick the Can.  As usual, we were filled with hope about the potential for this song.  We purposefully tried to make this tune to suit the mainstream, without compromising our artistry.  Tavis, being the perpetual pusher he is, had some good partnership possibilities in the works and the band coalesced behind him.  One of my ideas was to have an Instagram campaign called #KickTheCan.  You know that feet picture some many people like to take?  Well, I thought it would be cool to connect people in this department, make a game out of it and attach it to our new single, which is an anthem to the collective struggle.  I even engineered an instructional video about it.  Nothing happened.  It was just another shot in the dark.

October rolled around and it was time for me to return to Holland.  I was in the professional pits at that time, beaten by the persistent lack of a break.  Let's call it what it is - I was a failure.  Never before had I felt so worthless and defeated, but I was looking forward to seeing the girl.  

"Wait, wait, wait," you say.  "I thought you said you never saw her again."  Well, I did see her again, but the love was no longer there.  When I showed up in Holland she was a different person.  She was annoyed by me.  Full of criticism.  She had no desire to move to LA.  Just a few weeks earlier we had officially decided to do this.  I was blindsided and hurt.  I spent the next three months in the gutter, trying to repair a love that was no longer mutual.  She didn't officially break up with me until December, but it might as well have been when I arrived in October.  Those months were terrible.  I'm embarrassed looking back on it.  But, I promised an open book, so I'll be honest.  There were many days I wandered the streets of Utrecht with my guitar and computer all day, stopping in coffee shops to do some work and playing in the squares.  I've never felt as homeless and alone as I did in those days.  My career was in the dumps, my best friend and love wanted nothing to do with me, and I had no where to go.  I will stop short of blame and anger.  It's a bit like the producer story, I'd rather leave it be.

2014 had begun with such promise.  To have it end in such devastation was beyond humbling.  I entered 2015 on the verge of collapse, emotionally and professionally.  I returned to New York feeling a bit like the New York Knicks - very few victories and a ton of defeats on my record.  I was amateur ball 101.  I wanted to retire, but the reality is that I still hadn't found any success to retire on.  And now I'd jumped off the cliff into the gypsy life.  There was no turning back.  I had to find a way through this pit of self-pity.

The light came in the form of a conversation with my friend and Acoustic Guitar Project founder, Dave Adams.  He told me about a time when he was in the low lows and a friend had suggested he do a ninety-day project.  Meaning chose something totally different and dedicate some time every day, for ninety days, to this new goal.  It was a new place to focus thought.  I liked this idea and it happened to coincide with a conversation I was having with my father at the time.  He wanted me to start getting involved with the family business, which, in a broad sense, is travel.

"Wait wait wait," you might be saying.  "What about PushMethod?  And what about the solo record?  And wasn't there some Oscar guy in France you were working with?  What's with that?"  Yeah.  Fair.  Okay.  Let me digress.  If you don't know what any of this is, well, keep reading and you'll find out.

I have continued to work with Reinhardt, an Oscar-nominated composer in France, but the reality is that after a year and a half of working we have nothing to publicly show for it beyond this #SOTW that I made in February.  Yes, we have a collection of great songs.  And more, my childhood friend and Hollywood screenwriter Ryan Shrime and I wrote a story and film treatment to go with these songs.  At this point, it's collecting dust.  The money, the will, the whatever it takes to move it forward isn't there.  Disappointment?  Sure... I'll take another serving, please.

The solo record is still there.  Go buy it.  Go stream it.  It's a good folk record, if you like that sort of thing.  I tried to keep the fire alive for playing solo shows, but let's face it - nobody gives a damn about your songs until everyone does.  And without a band to make the songs dynamic, you're just another wannabe with an instrument.  Furthermore, instead of writing new songs, which is my favorite part, I was focused on staying practiced on old ones. 

I made an interesting discovery in this process - songs express a specific emotion and feeling that, for the writer, are the most true when they write them.  In the age of the internet that moment can be captured, shared, and replayed over and over.  This brings me to my #SOTW project.  I write a song when it is fresh and pouring out of me and let it live forever there, performance included, venue of my choice.  It is both intimate and available to everyone.  No matter how great a performer is at delivering a song, they can never achieve the purity of emotion that was present when writing the song.  It is just acting, really.  What I love about my #SOTW series is that this purity is right there, that fresh moment caught in the timelessness of video.  The realness even comes through in the covers I do, which are often selected in a cathartic way - like this U2 cover, which was shot last October, only about a week after the girl and I fell apart.  You can see the pain.  Some of these songs exist only as #SOTW, potentially never to be played again.  When I release my next set of #SOTW in the fall, it will include the songs I wrote during the dark days; captured moments and expressions that are already long gone... and yet live forever in the form of #SOTW.

PushMethod.  This is a very different beast from the solo stuff and thus reminds me that having a band is so so so much better.  The choice I made to leave New York hasn't been easy on my bandmates.  Yes, I've regularly come back for chunks for time to do shows and create music and am always thinking about ways to work the band in everything I do (like I noted in my year one dispatch, PushMethod is not just a band... it's a lifestyle), but my time away has not allowed us to operate like a traditional band, doing shows and playing together on a weekly basis.  A band plays music together and when I'm away we don't do that.  My view on it, beyond the fact that PushMethod is more than just music to me, is that this band is, and always has been, an experiment.  When Tavis and I started this band we wanted to chart a new course in the music business.  That was over six years ago.  This is evident in our current effort, Hoodies for the Homeless.  Started in January of this year by Tavis, it's a concert series that is about donating hoodies for distribution to homeless shelters.  Tavis' goal is to put a fresh, clean hoodie on every pillow in the NYC homeless shelters.  The first event happened in January and received a decent amount of buzz.  The second one happened last Tuesday at Brooklyn Bowl and was the biggest thing that PushMethod has ever done live.  It felt good on so many levels and is a great example of what I mean when I write and say that PushMethod is more than just music.  The house was packed and we collected a huge pile of hoodies (actual figures to be released soon).  Opportunities and hopes are high right now.  In spite of all the past let-downs and setbacks we keep the fire burning.  Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more.

For the sake of this post, let's bring it back down to Earth.  I've had lot of hope.  I've had some big opportunities.  I'm still a homeless, nobody musician.  That's not me being self-deprecating.  That's fact.  Yes, that "homeless" tag comes with a grain of salt, or perhaps sugar, in this case.  I'm couture homeless and do not to take for granted the many friends and family who give me support.  I am lucky.  I am also tired.  It seems I question my life decisions on a daily basis.  People around me question it too.  Most my age have houses, families, steady jobs and savings accounts.  I have none of those things.  The longer this couture homelessness continues the less I understand where home is, and yet the more I crave it.  It's hard to explain.  It's like skydiving without knowing where the parachute is - thrilling and horrifying.  I value my travel experiences, but the road is a pretty lonely place.

And so in February I started my ninety-day project.  What started as a healing mental refocus has turned into Wanderwest.  Professionally, it is a travel guide and documentary series built on the foundation of glocalism, a 21st century word that combines globalism and local.  I could go on about what it is, but I think I would rather let it speak for itself.  Season one is scheduled for release this fall.

It seems I can't help but tend toward hope.  Even when I set out to articulate the hardship and pain of the past year; the doubt about my life choices and the future, I end up optimistic.  Is that a curse or a blessing?  In the end, I just want to live a life worthy of a good story.  Of all the art forms I dabble in... music, film, drawing, writing... there is one that triumphs - the art of life.  We are all canvases, blank pages, instruments.  I embrace the colors of courage and fear, happiness and despair, loss and discovery, camaraderie and loneliness in a fantastic vision that I might be part of the gallery of humans who inspire what is best in us.  I wish to use my local experience to contribute to the global evolutionary tide.  Ah... maybe that just a bunch of ego-driven nonsense.  Maybe someone should slap me and say "get a job, hippy."  I dunno.  I hope it's at least a good story.

In conclusion, I will admit my nervousness in publishing this.  No doubt my bourgeois, first-world problems may occur to some as inspiration for an eye-roll, if not ire.  There is a French colloquialism, "bo bo", which means "bourgeois bohemian" and is used in a pejorative way.  Like hipster is used in most cases.  I am a bo bo hobo.  Haha.  That's just fun to say.  But seriously, I recognize my privilege and I'm not looking for sympathy.  My goal is openness and honesty; to candidly share the first person experience of someone with the good fortune to recklessly follow his heart.

------------

At the end of last year's post I made a promise to document all the different places I laid my head in the following year.  Yeah, um, that was an impossible task.  I just couldn't keep up.  I do send earnest gratitude to many in many places - New York, Boston, Taunton, Washington DC, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Hilversum, Den Haag, Neunen, Paris, Berlin, London, Surrey, Essex, Barcelona, Toledo, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Loveland, Silverlake, Gainesville, and Dallas.