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Op-Ed: An ‘Ode to Noise’ for Parents

I first started playing drums sometime right after my 6th birthday. My dad, after months of being constantly begged, finally decided to buy me my first pair of drumsticks from a local pawn shop.

From that day on, everything in the house became some kind of percussion instrument. I remember drumming on every hard surface I could find, experimenting with timbres and textures, somehow managing to land free lessons with a kid who lived across the street and played on the drumline where I eventually went to high school.

I learned the correct way to hold the sticks, how to think about rhythm and sticking patterns, and even how to do some of the flashy stick tricks I’d use much later on in my playing career.

When I first wanted to join the school band in 6th grade, my teachers were amazed that I knew so much without any formal instruction. I eventually went on to study music for my undergraduate degree, perform with world-renowned musicians, play under the batons of some of the most respected conductors in our day, and eventually earn a living through teaching music full-time.

But of course, any parent who has had a child who played a musical instrument knows that all of this comes with a great cost: lots and lots of noise.

I am often surprised when I hear some of my students tell me that their parents don’t let them practice in the house. Of course, being a music educator who teaches instruments to students beginning in fifth grade, I’m no stranger to the piercing squeaks and squawks of a beginning clarinet student.

I’m also no stranger to the fidgety kid in class who can’t stop drumming on everything he can get his hands on. But what always surprises me is when students tell me that they’re not allowed to practice in the house because it’s, “Too much noise.”

Of course, not all of these claims are true. Students are students, and in the first few years of learning to play an instrument, students will make any claim they can conjure up to get out of practicing.

But when I discover that some parents really do forbid their children from practicing in the house because the noise is just too unbearable, I hurt in a very deep way for these children.

My music career has granted me opportunities that I will be forever grateful for, and as my creative life begins to take shape in many ways, I am always grateful to be brought up in a home where making too much noise and getting dirty was always acceptable.

I was the kind of kid who wanted to paint and then would accidentally spill everything all over the kitchen table. I was the kind of kid who would practice my drumming late into the evening when everyone else was trying to sleep. I was the kind of kid who would make my parents endure stand-up comedy acts and ticketed magic shows in the living room to try out my personality.

I was the kid who would make my parents and older brother read pages of fiction about characters I made up while doing my math homework. I was the kid who wanted to hack away at the piano during adult conversations, climb trees, and ask a million times why I couldn’t stay out late and play with my friends on a school night.

All of this I owe not to any sort of naturally endowed intelligence on my part; all of this I owe to two people who never told me that I couldn’t make too much noise in the house: my parents.

Today, I live a highly meditative yet very creative life. Much of what I do is born out of a natural curiosity for the world and how it works. In some sense, I still feel like the kid who isn’t afraid to make a mess every once in a while, except now much older and much more curious.

Those who know, me will tell you that I’m always talking about some new idea I read, or that I’m constantly reinventing some aspect of my life. My apartment is infested with books, and my friends have all already grown accustomed to my habit of sneaking in a piano concerto on the hip-hop playlist at our parties.

I do Jui Jitsu, I write a blog, I still play percussion, and I’m all too used to talking way too much in conversations. I recently picked up skateboarding again and I still would rather go to the symphony over a football game any day.

All of this natural curiosity for creativity, however, I consider to be a product of one of my greatest strengths: not being afraid of making too much noise.

Paradoxically, this strength isn’t something that I can claim any personal credit for. It’s something that was gifted to me very early on when my parents showed me the greatest kind of love they could possibly every show me by refraining from ever telling me to, “Be quiet.”

There’s an interesting pschological phenomenon known as learned helplessness, “in which an organism [is] forced to bear aversive stimuli, or stimuli that are painful or otherwise unpleasant, [and] becomes unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with those stimuli, even if they are “escapable,” presumably because it has learned that it cannot control the situation.”

This has been demonstrated in animals in the famous study conducted by Martin E.P. Seligman in the 1970s. More recent research has contributed to the conversation by illustrating that chronic stress, particularly in the developing brain of a child, has immensely adverse affects on long-term memory and learning.

Imagine being a child who wants to do nothing else but play an instrument, or paint a landscape, or get dirty because of a natural curiosity, and imagine never being able to follow that curiosity all the way through to the end.

Over time, this kind of subdued creativity becomes a kind of learned helplessness of its own. Children learn that the answer is often, “No,” and that curiosity isn’t all too convenient and therefore not worth pursuing.

Being the creatures of habit that we are, this mentality becomes learned over time and eventually, that creative spark dies out. Without it, we take less risks, we question our decisions less, we become trapped in careers and lifestyles we don’t truly enjoy, and we are left feeling like something was taken from us.

But as a fellow creative friend of mine once said, “Feeling trapped and frustrated when you’re not a Syrian refugee is not seeing your situation clearly.”

This is perhaps a lesson we can all be reminded of from time to time: our natural curiosity about the world isn’t always all that convenient for us. At times, it may require that we change everything about the way we live, all because we can’t stop thinking about a certain project or idea.

It may require that we move our lives to a different country, or begin a new career, or see the world in a different way, or question our beliefs, or at the very least, listen to our kids play drums for hours every day.

My younger brother, who naturally also picked up playing drums at a young age, now plays in a band and performs frequently. He recently had a show that I attended with my parents. We all sat together as my brother’s band performed their set and we reminisced after about what it was like to grow up with so much noise in the house.

My mom, who turned 56 last month, smiled in her usually big smile and said, “Why would we ever tell you to stop playing? It’s your passion.”

Despite the many trials and tribulations my family has endured over the years, in those moments, I was reminded of why I was so grateful for my family and particularly, for my parents.

Sometimes life is noisy, and sometimes it isn’t all too convenient to be who we are. But what is most important, and what will always live on within me because of my parents, is never being afraid of making too much noise.

Even after all these years, I still find myself asking a million times why I shouldn’t stay up late on a school night to work on something interesting, and after all these years, there’s still no one around to tell me that I can’t.

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By Gabriel Fernandez – Special to the Herald-Post

Gabe Fernandez is an El Paso area educator, musician, and career strategist for new college graduates.

He writes at www.gabefernandez.net.

Bianca’s Borderland Beat: Celebrating ‘Cigarettes After Sex’

A multiple eargasm heard ‘round the world aroused by none other than El Paso’s own musical talent, leaves a melodic overflow of butts on the bedside ashtray. The magic smoke swirls gently up the neck and tickles the lobes of any vulnerable listener leaving them aching for a slow dance.

It took Cigarettes After Sex four years of online foreplay before the EP, ‘I.’ (Roman numeral one) would sway more millions of fans worldwide, now selling out shows across Europe as the band embarks their first international tour.

And here I was, frantic inside a booth at Tippi Teas, hoping the band frontman Greg Gonzalez would show up late to our interview because the brewing contraption wasn’t straw-friendly and I’d made a matcha puddle all over my notes. At least now the whole table would smell like pomegranate incense. Who needs interview notes anyway.

He strolled in just in time for me to get my sh*t together.  The spice of his cologne paired well with the fruity green tea I let him sample, and he ordered the same. I’m not sure why or what caused the initial interview jitters but the familiar voice that floats regularly through my Spotify playlist soothed it right out.

It was the same Greg I had interviewed for a broadcast journalism piece four years ago. A humble and floaty smooth talker that could turn my sometimes excitable current of conversation into a refreshing creek of good old fashioned catching up.

It was a stroke of luck that Greg was visiting his hometown of El Paso, who recently made his way back from the icy grips of Brooklyn to visit family and friends and prepare him for his first international show in the Czech Republic in early March. (Prague!) It will be the first of a string of shows across Europe through 2016 that will only further catalyze the sweet hypnotic power of his almost decade-old project, Cigarettes After Sex.

The Cigarettes trance first hit me at Hoppy Monk back in 2012, and the band was an immediate candidate for a segment I used to air with a local news station every first Friday of the month. I found it…and still find it necessary to showcase the raw beauty of El Paso’s musical poets.

Hopefully by now, a larger scale of residents have embraced the fact that the artistic expressions birthed in our valleys of the Franklins are world class.

Image2CigsUpon its release, ‘I.’ hardly had the puppy love effect with fans in its early stages. Though the band did have some local support, those smoke signals hardly reached past the Chihuahuan desert and their national fan base was “scattered.”

”People just didn’t know us,” Greg said. “And I feel like things would have kept repeating if I stayed in El Paso.”

A guitar, suitcase and 2,200 miles later, Greg left behind the affordable sunshine living for the icy hustle of winter in New York. He rang in the 2014 new year at his new home of Brooklyn, soon to be the launch pad of his musical career.

He didn’t abandon the Southwest soul of his music thankfully. The nourishment of ‘I.’ comes mainly from the severed love connections with El Paso sweethearts.

The EP encompasses the swirl of romance and heartbreak that makes you dizzy and sad, turned on and breathless, sleepy and energized. The silvery nostalgia could play through the tears of fresh teenage heartbreak or pacify the angst of a midlife crisis.  ‘I.’ is the memoir of a love life conceived under the Franklin star that would shoot through the skies of YouTube one day, and turn a musician’s dream into a viral reality.

“Greg are your ready for this?!”

My enthusiasm..and overly forward-leaning body language began showing borderline signs of girl-gone-groupie. But it really was just the excitement and pride welling up inside me knowing that Greg had unlocked an invisible bolt I’ve seen shackle down the ambitions of too many talented borderland musicians. In Brooklyn, he developed a perfect cocktail of modern music business sense and creative commitment to a style concept and brand for Cigarettes After Sex. The rest is a historic punch drunk love in the making.

You see, Cigarettes After Sex has been fantastic from the get go. All that was missing was a stronger fire than what’s provided by the music industry of El Paso, and it took a bold journey halfway across the country to light that cherry.

“I love it here,” he said of El Paso. “But there’s more adventure in New York.”

The adventures for Greg began as hour-long subway commutes to work a movie theater (and we complain of rush I-10 traffic) while developing a friend base in the populous, 2 million + resident borough.  Mix in dreams to make a living off of a music career and the starving artist goes into survival mode for the soul.

“You get hungrier,” he said. “It was kind of a grind, but things got better and better.”

He joined other bands, not in search of a new mission in music, but as an undercover interviewer looking for the right energy for the New York version of Cigarettes After Sex. And so began his new network.

Another native El Pasoan, Phillip Tubbs remains in the band on synth as an original member. Randy Miller, a Brooklyn transplant from Los Angeles plays bass, and drummer Jake Tomsky of Brooklyn leads the heartbeat. It’s Greg’s vocals behind the mic, and calloused fingertips on the guitar.

By late Fall of 2015, the Cigarettes were playing more regular shows throughout Brooklyn dive bars and stages. Listeners were still only trickling in to catch their performances initially, but it was the online fire on social media channels that catapulted their name throughout New York, and eventually, the world.

The name, Cigarettes After Sex does have a way of forcing a double-take, and perhaps inciting a spurt of dopamine in the pleasure and memory center of one’s mind. Nostalgia is after all, the framework of Greg’s lyrical progeny.

“It’s all little sweet moments,” Greg said of his writing.

Image1CigsCigarettes released ‘Affection’ while the internet momentum was still hot, and for many, it was love at first sound. Collectively, the tracks on ‘I.’ have been replayed more than 10 million times on Youtube, with comments reminiscent of the bathroom stall romance graffiti later scribbled about in drunk diary entries.

Or maybe those are just my own tattered Moleskines. Nonetheless, when it comes to Cigarettes’ fans, obsessed is an understatement.

“All the fans are the best I could ever ask for, just how much the music seems to mean to them, that’s pretty crazy to me,” he said. “I’ve gotten letters where they tell me it’s helped them deal with things, pretty deep things.”

For Greg, it’s the greatest compliment that the truthful and occasional emotions of insanity embedded in the soundtrack of his past love life has become a form of therapy for many. He’s returned the favor that music played through his personal ups and downs.

”It’s always kind of a gift when you’re living life and your feeling deep emotions. And you write about it.” he said. “It’s exciting. You can help people.”

It’s no question that the therapeutic, sultry roller coaster delivered by the Cigarettes After Sex is the gift of storytelling in its purest form. U.S. fans can expect to ride that wave with some national shows upon completion of their expedition through Europe.

“I’m just anxious to go already,” Greg said, realizing take-off was only a week away. “I’m excited to see what comes of it.”

Meanwhile, as we anxiously wait for Cigarettes’ next El Paso show, locals should make a regular habit of peeking their heads into the dives and coffee shops of El Paso. The music scene’s still popping out babies that will soon grow out of the Sun City serenades and end up selling out shows across the world where music appreciation runs rampant.

Support local artists. Dance at their shows. Buy their merch. Stream them on your car speakers, headphones, computers, and tell your friends about them. Discover and appreciate what’s within reach before they go up in smoke.

Join the chainsmokers. Follow Cigarettes After Sex here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CigarettesAfterSex/?fref=ts
Spotify: https://player.spotify.com/artist/1QAJqy2dA3ihHBFIHRphZj
Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/cigarettesaftersex

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