The Frequency

Earlier this month, Norman Brannon — one of hardcore punk’s notable guitarists and record keepers — relaunched his zine, Anti-Matter. It was a zine — and, after that, it was a column in another magazine called Punk Planet — but now it’s an email newsletter on Substack. Everything old is new again, with a few added layers of web metadata.

July 2023: The Frequency

  • “The Frequency” — Jets to Brazil
  • “Piano Fire” — Sparklehorse (w/ PJ Harvey)
  • “Oodles of O’s” — De La Soul
  • ”You Want It Back (Edit)” — Propellerheads (w/ Jungle Brothers)
  • “Strut Hear” — Kid Koala
  • “South Carolina” — The Poets of Rhythm
  • “I Think I Like it When it Rains” — WILLIS
  • “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris” — Hayley Williams
  • “Glendale Train” — New Riders of the Purple Sage
  • “St. Charles Square” — Blur
  • “Angeles” — Waxahatchee
  • “Fazon” — Sopwith Camel
  • “Very Much Money (Ice King Dream)” — Open Mike Eagle
  • “Doomsday” — MF DOOM (w/ Pebbles the Invisible Girl)
  • “Ones Who Love You” — Alvvays
  • “Brave Captain” — fIREHOSE
  • “Lukewarm” — New End Original

Listen on Spotify. Listen on Apple Music.

In the mid–90s, my local record store sold Anti-Matter, which means in the mid–90s, I bought every issue of Anti-Matter. More than any book or magazine, Anti-Matter was my bible. It was how I learned the ethos of hardcore punk culture — the community, the togetherness, the DIY nature. It was beautifully written, and was, without a doubt, the first time I ever looked at something and thought, “Damn.”

“I think I could do this.”

Now, it’s back! It’s still beautiful, and it’s a must-read every week. I am excited when it hits my inbox — I’m excited to read Brannon’s take on the lessons we’ve learned since those zine days, and how the ethos of hardcore punk culture continues on as the scene evolves.

But, I’m also jealous when it hits my inbox. Beneath the history and the beauty, and beneath the stories and the emotion, is the seed of something I hoped I would also do. Behind the Substack login is both the reminder of why I started writing and a reminder of what I hadn’t yet done. Instead of seeing the inspiration, I see something different. I think, “Damn.”

“Someone else did it.”

“When the measure of your work is the measure of your worth, you’d better make it work.”
– “The Frequency,” Jets to Brazil

For the last two days, I’ve been watching a live feed of bears catching salmon. It’s been on in the background — just over there, in the corner. It’s been a calming distraction.

Meanwhile, I’m supposed to create something in the foreground over here. I’m supposed to be telling everyone my thoughts on web strategy and how to demystify the complicated process of building a website. I’m supposed to be growing my reach on LinkedIn and fighting for space among the experts. I’m also supposed to be writing a book.

But when I open LinkedIn, I blank out. I already feel behind.

I feel behind because there are thousands of people, already in there. There are thousands of ideas and thousands of posts. Every thought I have has been written somewhere; I’m almost sure of it. The curse of being self-aware is that we misattribute success with original thought. And, once again, I get jealous.

The roots of creative work are fueled by two things: inspiration and jealousy. Two moods that point in the same direction, but fight along the way. Everything I’ve created – every post, every improvement to our work processes, every talk and book and playlist – has been created because of those two emotions: I’ve either been inspired, and in being inspired I create something great, or I see someone’s work and I’m jealous. I want to be there, where they are. I work to fuel my worth, rather than working for the work itself.

I bring this up not to expose you to self-loathing, but to highlight the perils of “grind culture” and the fight to stay relevant because, in our minds, relevancy equals success. Like every creative and driven person, in some way, I want to be loved. I want strangers to understand what I’m doing; I want friends to recommend my work; I want to have my name in those lights so I can see that the time I’m wasting isn’t wasted at all, that these outlets aren’t just for myself, but are, in fact, for the world. That I’m changing things. That I’m making things better.

I want to be seen. Most of us do.

“You can’t afford to miss a day / Call in sick, you better stay that way”
– “The Frequency,” Jets to Brazil

A month and a half ago, I signed a book contract. A contract with a prestigious publisher, for a book that would double both as a unique guide to making things easier for non-web practitioners and as a coming of age for my years in the industry. A book that would put me alongside good friends, peers, and some of the industry’s biggest names. A book that might not change my life but would definitely change how I saw myself within my work.

I thought of this book idea in the middle of the night, and its impetus was not inspiration, but jealousy. I thought the wheels were starting to wear down on my first book, and it was time to write the second. I did not want to be forgotten, and I thought finding a place along the publisher’s alum would give my image the boost it needed.

And then, within a few weeks, the publisher paused all new books. Just last week, I found out it was more than a pause. They’ve been, essentially, barring a miracle, put out to pasture.

At first, I held it to myself. I looked back at everything that I could have done better. I could have gotten an outline out earlier, I could have done more to make the book seem undeniable, I could have figured this out years ago, I could keep writing and look for a new publisher, I could have not worried, I could have worried more, I could just admit this was my fault and all of this is my fault and no wonder this isn’t working because why wouldn’t it be my fault.

But, of course, I was always and forever so wrong. None of this is my fault. Given the unpredictability of the web and tech market, it’s no one’s fault. It’s just what happens. The creative process is an ebb and flow, where the desire to create rarely lines up with the time afforded — inspiration gives no shits where you’re at, and the real world doesn’t give a shit about your inspiration.

It’s hard not to see it as a personal attack, because creativity and writing are soul-bearing exercises.

You take the possibilities as they come. No one’s really keeping score.

“You will get yours, I will get mine / So get in line / The frequency is fine”
– “The Frequency,” Jets to Brazil

Brannon wrote about getting old in the second issue of the relaunched Anti-Matter. And it struck me, not in a woe-is-me sort of way, but as a rush of context. Brannon wrote:

“There’s a fundamental Zen Buddhist teaching I love that, I’d argue, embodies all of the things that hardcore has historically attributed to being young, while being wholly applicable to young and old alike. It says: ‘In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.’”

Despite my experience, I might look at the world with the beginner’s mind — yet, I do so with the anxiousness of the expert’s. I see the possibility of what I could accomplish, and then stress out over the lack of time, or lack of attention, or “behindness” that comes with understanding only a few of those possibilities will bear fruit.

This manifests as a fear of irrelevance. It’s pretty sick, honestly, and while I usually do a great job partitioning these fears, they still creep in. They still show up, especially when the possibility has peeked from behind the curtain.

I used to interpret “The Frequency,” by Jets to Brazil, as an ode to the grind. It was written by Blake Schwarzenbach, former main songwriter for Jawbreaker and victim of lingering backlash over that band’s major label debut, and “The Frequency” sounds like his defense. It sounds like the words of an old frustrated punk struggling for relevance, fighting back against the tyranny of youth by working twice as hard.

Of course it does. It’s hard not to hear lyrics like, “And the city kids, the angry, with-it kids / Hate everything the first time,” and not think about how art is only cool at the moment of surprise — how creativity works when it hits that first time, but iterations thereafter are forgotten, where comfort is always ignored and a kind of angular change is celebrated. Where you release a second and third album and everyone’s already moved on. It’s hard not to hear these lyrics, as you get older, and think of them as a defense, rather than a reality. A problem to solve, rather than a poison to ignore. You’re only as good as your last hit, etc. etc.

The bold, though? The bold don’t give a shit about that, because they know how to be patient. The frequency isn’t the point — the point is that sometimes, something hits. Most of the time, it doesn’t, but no one is keeping score. In fact, this isn’t bold at all — it’s healthy. It’s not a cult of “the grind,” but instead a realistic way of understanding that words are disposable, and we’ll never know what inspires someone else. And now I see what “The Frequency” is really about: a satirical take on trying to stay relevant. Because no one stays relevant. Nature wants to change, but it always accepts the outliers. There’s always a niche, and the work of those in the niche always has a place in the life cycle.

Strangers aren’t counting my books. Friends aren’t scheduling time to read a blog post. My name isn’t in the lights because that’s not where it belongs. That’s okay. And, funny enough, it’s never stopped me. I’m still writing this, the thing you’re reading right now! I schedule, host, and review a monthly podcast! I’m in constant contact with friends within the industry! I GOT the book deal, even to begin with!

Sometimes, the creative process feels crushing, but we’re not all running at the same speed. So we all need to give ourselves grace. To know that we’re not falling behind, and it doesn’t matter if we do. We’re not graded on our completeness, and the pace is glacial. Not everything is a hit.

So get in line. The frequency is fine.

This was lovingly handwritten on July 31st, 2023