Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Warring at all times within our fleshy, bloody walls are thousands of big and little things that despite all their intrinsic, natural differences, tender enough connections that they can be uniformly seen as being collusive - like a dentist giving out lollipops to children for good behavior. It's how the bitter and the sweet, the longing and the riddance and the truth and the white lies usually interact with one another that give us that melodramatic sheen that refuses to wash clean from us under a showerhead. The happiest, most content person under the sun will swallow enough calamity over their lifetime to cancel everything out. This isn't pessimism working here, it's just the way it works when the sadness plays hotter, the aftertaste of it wages on even when it shouldn't, when the new chapters have been stacked deeply upon the old. There is always that temptation to desire one without the other, though that day's never that close. Happiness takes struggle and sadness takes effort. Combine the two and you've got normal. A conflicted man or woman is simply rational - looking at the dark and the light and finding that their pupils adjust automatically to both of them. It has to say something about the two contrasting elements. David Strackany, or Paleo, is a man - Daytrotter's newly crowned, first-ever poet laureate - intimate with contradictory emotions, with the person who's as cool as a melon on the outside and splintered to pieces on the inside, raging like Pamplona on the inside, knocking over china cabinets, smashing their knuckles into countertops and ripping up the carpeting, exposing padding underneath.
Strackany has a knack for delivering purviews that are as authentic as they are powerful. He plays mousy at times, coyly sending out a dry, wilting ripple of a line and as he begins to go, that line is suddenly being roared into air like a lion audibly staking out its territory. It's mostly just the protagonist trying so hard not to be done under by whatever's afflicting him at the time. Getting worked up - as the defense goes - is a mechanism for protecting that soft, gooey, vulnerable inner core. Some quickly after the flourishes and the harrumphs, the blood cools back off and tries to be civil again, but the remains of the torment loom like icicles hanging from gutters on melting days, ready to fall and do something that requires stitches. Those that he peoples his never-ending string of songs with are average people - like you and I - who go forth every morning trying to get better at living life, though the rules continually change, the rewards sometimes feel abbreviated or subject to disagreement and the protective armor is often discovered to be a veiled coating. These are not those out of the ordinary with problems that are unable to be related to or easily solved. They are unsolvable quandaries that he ruminates on and spends most of his waking hours mulling - is this happiness enough, will that other person I love ever find their happiness, why do I find myself struggling to accept my lot, will this sadness just be replaced by more of the same?
Strackany is masterful at getting to the crux of his characters' dilemmas and then cloaking what he's identified in indisputably beautiful abstraction. There's a lot of himself in the situations that he rolls out with his shaken, quivering voice - stories about his sisters, stories about his parents, stories about his days spent fighting the loneliness that he doesn't mind being stranded with almost every day of the year. He follows the dictum of Socrates, who famously said, "An unexamined life is not worth living." His songs are clarion calls out to all that is not summarized. He doesn't Cliff note his life, the lives of those closest to him or even those lives conjured up in the daily drives from city-to-city as he's been sacrificing his sanity and the sanctity of a stable home life (where personal relationships can be nurtured and not abandoned for long periods of time) for a Song Diary that has him writing, recording and posting a new song on his website every day for 365-straight days. He can see the finish line, though it might always seem to be moving like a desert's mirage -- a thirst-quenching lake, perhaps - just ahead on April 15 th, when he puts the brakes on a project that has taken he and his dinky, $30 guitar, which was purchased at Wal-Mart, into so many lives that the available lives to examine (after his own) are endless. He can remind of the ways that David Sedaris finds new insight in all of the tiniest escapades he and his siblings endured during their childhood, or the act of looking for a place to live, but those episodes were drummed up for comedic reasons and Strackany's way is to give it to us straight, with no garnish or punchline. Watch him stand on stage with his legs lightly crossed and his eyes just as lightly shaded, offering these things that he's learned through much examination with a magical wind behind them. It knocks you back some and then you do conclude -- ever to yourself because in its admittance you realize that you're on the other side - that this, what he is doing - is living. Socrates wins again.
*The Daytrotter interview:*
*How are you going to celebrate tax day this year?*
David Strackany: April 15th I will wake up in Philadelphia and I will drive to Washington D.C. where I will play two shows at The Warehouse Next Door, a matinee and a late show. Between and during those three things I will work on writing my 365th song in as many days. The 54th incarnation of a prayer I've been rewriting every Sunday. After the second show I'm going to start heading west for Little Egypt, on the southern tip of Illinois.
*Will you take a day off? Are you capable of that at this point?*
DS: It's hard to say. I'm sure I'll get ideas for songs, but I won't write them down. And I'll get ideas for melodies, but I won't record them. I'll row a rowboat, and I'll count chickens.
*Your "this year" is out there for everyone to take in. What's next year going to be like for you? What do you hope it's like? Is it going to be hard settling in to a more regular-styled life or won't that be in the cards?*
DS: This year was a waterfall. Next year will be similar in some ways, but different in others. I'm planning on trying to tour a few other continents for five or six months of it, and working on finishing a second record for the first half of it. I'm going to try to figure out how to get distribution without giving 50% of my earnings to a label, and I think I'm going to take out a loan and build a barn that I can record in.
*I've asked you this before, but I'm going to ask again as I think that you can probably have a different answer on different days for this question: What's been the real challenge of the Song Diary?*
DS: Sometimes art requires you interact with things under a microscope or from a bird's eye. And you can't talk to anyone at either of those distances. People who used to know who I am don't know me anymore, and I don't know what to tell them. I feel almost as if I don't have an identity beyond the art that I make. The Diary was supposed to be a reflection of me. But every day, more and more, I became a reflection of it.
*Which people are you missing? There are family members and friends that you've had to neglect because of this odyssey, right? Is an odyssey a good word for it?*
DS: That's the perfect word for it. Before I chose the name Paleo, I thought about going by Leo Bloom, because in Joyce's Ulysses, Bloom is Odysseus' parallel. Wendell Berry wrote some really smart things about Odysseus that I always think on out here in the desert. I have a Penelope. And I have islands. And beds built around trees I have not seen in some time.
*Are you going to expect any kind of royalties when we name our future venue Trotsky's?*
DS: Just invite me to play the grand opening show and we'll call it even.
*How is it sleeping on the floor in the Daytrotter studio?*
DS: I slept on the couch. It's a little short. My leg fell asleep. But my other one was just fine. The cup therefore, near as I can tell, was half full.
*Would you say that your characters are constantly struggling with something? What do you mentally wrestle with?*
DS: The absence of purpose. Hemingway used darkness as a metaphor for finding meaning in a world with no God. Art has no utility, you can not pour water into a song. You can not sweep the hall with a song. The problems you forget about while listening to music are still there when you come to.
*What's stronger: love or money? What is it about both that turns good people bad?*
DS: Yeah, the exchange rate's real bad between those two, but there is nothing about love that corrupts. I love my parents. I love my girl; My love for them fills their hearts up. You have a child now, Sean. and if you love that child with every little thing inside you, neither you nor your baby girl will go bad. Right? You'll go good.
*Can you tell me how you met and began working with Jesse and These United States and then, furthermore, tell everyone how bad fucking ass that record is?*
DS: Jesse I and met in English class in 7th grade. We were reading The Iliad. Jesse believes in the earth. I believe in the sky. We made an airplane together, and we called it The Forest & The Garden. It's something to get lost in; don't forget your bread crumbs.
*When you were working in Florida mapping/cataloging all those roads, where there places that you found you really liked? What else did you do to stay sane while driving?*
DS: March - April 2006 I worked for the DOT of Florida doing inventory of state routes: driving every road both directions with cameras and pavement scanners attached to a Chevy Express panel van. The first month and a half I was working on Jesse's record, getting all the music together: the drums, the keyboards, the bass guitar. I worked on that record every day after work for eight hours and for 16 hours on my days off. I finished it in the middle of April. And then I had an idea.
*Are you currently traveling alone? If you are, is that hard?*
DS: Yeah, I'm travelling alone. I prefer it, actually. I'm really lonely, whether I'm with people or not, so if someone's always around, it becomes really easy to ignore work I have to do in favor of blissing out with someone. But when I'm alone, it's easier to focus on the things that are really on my mind, and focus on what I have to do every day. But the song diary wouldn't exist if it weren't for all the magical people I meet along the way.
*You realize that you picked a fine time to be in California, right*
*What was your favorite cartoon growing up?*
DS: I watched those Spiderman things that came out when I was in 4th grade or so. Spiders are really powerful symbols. I often think of my art like it's a spider web. And not just for all the beauty. But for all the sinister stuff too. I think we're all after blood, whether we like to admit it or not. But it's both things - blood and beauty both - one doesn't cancel the other out. For every day, there is night. If you take a swastika and you flip it around, it is a symbol for zen.
*What makes the most sense in your life right now? How about the least?*
DS: I just put one foot in front of the other. If I look up I get dizzy.