2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Fred Thomas)
by Steven Spoerl
No song in 2015 hit me as hard as All Are Saved‘s lead-off track, “Every Song Sung To A Dog“, a devastating eulogy from Fred Thomas that was addressed to the dog that inspired his preceding record, Kuma. That song, a startling highlight from a brilliant record (and a personal pick for one of 2015’s best songs), cuts deeply in a way that feels bravely unapologetic. It’s told with the acute attention to detail that drew me to Thomas in the first place back when he was still making music with Saturday Looks Good To Me, a band that remains fiercely beloved by a small (but thankfully growing) group of people. So much of what Thomas is able to convey in prose is so firmly grounded in (frequently mundane) reality that the angle he takes for his piece here probably shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Below, Thomas takes on the decision to leave his job to open up creative doors and the ways that decision has been paying dividends on a personal and professional level. Read it all below and remember to never give up on the things you love.
At the end of 2011, I got my first “real job”, the kind with a desk and insurance and a water cooler with beleaguered co-workers standing around it waiting for the weekend. This came well into adulthood and after years of opting for part-time employment at record shops, DJ gigs, service jobs or anything else that could be left with almost no notice when it was time to go on tour for six weeks or skip town to work on a record.
It was an almost by-the-numbers cliché of the struggling musician lifestyle, but I’d been noticing less and less of the people I’d started down that road with sticking it out like I was. The line between chasing the dream and spinning the wheels was always blurry, and this job– as cool of a straight job as one could get, writing record reviews for the longest running internet music database– represented a manageable way out of the uncertainty I’d been living with forever.
At the bar a few nights before I was to start this new 40 hours a week regular gig, I got some skeptical feedback from a friend who was always good for contrary perspectives, but sometimes not far off the mark with his snark. “I don’t know, man. Seems like you’ll be fine sitting around writing about music but after a while you’re just gonna want to be out there making it.”
The next three and a half years were basically a protracted pause in that conversation, ultimately ending with me sighing loudly and replying “Yeah, you’re right.” By the start of 2015 I’d made my place at this corporately-owned little music site, growing accustomed to rush hour, performance reviews and all the other Office Space shit I’d never given a thought to before. I’d also managed to stay remarkably active in the punk world I thought I was leaving behind, playing upwards of 80 shows a year, even if they were mostly local jams and doing more with my tape label and zines than ever.
When I started the job I was excited about slowly disappearing from the culture I’d grown up in, romantically imagining the handful of people who were interested in my music wondering where I’d gone. For a time, I worked on making that self-centered fantasy true, putting out a vibe that playing shows and being part of the music community wasn’t really where I was at anymore. I talked with wide-eyed longing about starting a small welding business and putting all my energy into that.
Regardless, however, of everything I tried to talk myself into, there was always more creative work to do and it was always more important than clocking in on time on Monday morning. Quitting my first “real job” in April of 2015 was as much of an afterthought for me as walking out on numerous dishwashing jobs had been a decade beforehand. I put in my notice after coming home from a tour of the south with Deerhoof that ate up my vacation days and required six different documents approved by a chain of management.
I woke up on my last day sick as hell, having stayed up all night recording a sludge metal band at the studio I’d been moonlighting at. It would have been hilarious to call in sick, but I went in anyway. I was leaving for a month of shows again in a week and needed to use the office copier one last time to make free color copies for the tapes I was bringing on tour.
2015 ended up being one of the most important and intense years of my life, with more changes and personal growth than any time before it. More things in my life moved forward than I could even get into in this space, and almost all of it was helped along by quitting my job to focus once again on making music, art, and the art that is being out in the world talking to other people who are also trying to find a way that feels like their own.