The Iffness- the end of Miyagi, and the state of the union

Mr. Miyagi


You’ve been taking your time
And you’ve been living on solid air
You’ve been walking the line
And you’ve been living on solid air
Don’t know what’s going wrong inside
And I can tell you that it’s hard to hide when you’re living on
Solid air. – John Martyn, Solid Air

1973 was a really good year for John Martyn. He played the perfect game with not one but two amazing albums, Solid Air and the highly experimental yet incredibly accessible Inside Out. John Martyn isn’t a guy you’re supposed to know.

For about a 10 year period Martyn made profound and beautiful records, and the only thing most people have ever heard is the Eric Clapton cover of “May You Never.” It’s the Mona Lisa, versus a tote bag that bears that image, bought in the gift shop for that aunt that you don’t really like. Yet he is a footnote at best.

Shit happens.

You start with a plan but you don’t always wind up where you wanted to go in the first place, and that, dear and gentle reader, is where I have found myself. Not where I wanted to go, but exactly where I need to be…. I think.

A few years ago my wife and I had a crazy notion: we would open a hair salon. it seemed like the thing to do: create a business that she could run on her own terms. I could quit my corporate clients and concentrate on the artier side my work. It would give us freedom against “the Bastards” (in the us-vs.-them argument, they is them); the business would allow us to have health insurance, which given that I have one of the more documented cases of chronic kidney disease in the us is kind of a big plus.

So that’s what we did and in August of 2008 we opened Miyagi. It was big bold and different. The walls were bright yellow that faded into acid green, with bits of orange, red, and red, there was graffiti, and hundreds of little ninjas hidden inside the brickwork. The music was loud and it was everything from the New York Dolls, to Skinhead head Reggae We bent every rule that seemed worth bending; no tipping, alternate pay systems, you could only where all black if you knew more than one Bauhaus song. It was high end service with rock and roll attitude and a major focus on education.

Opening a business is often compare to having a kid, and where that might be true on a psychological level, its a lot harder to open a business- for one thing there is a lot more paperwork involved. Its bank meetings and loans, meetings with lawyers and landlords; in all we spent a little over a year prepping before we took on a space, and that’s the easy part. Once its born its a whole other ball game, it became an infant on life support that left no other corner of our life untouched.

It challenges who you are as a person and the roles you are cast to play; when it comes to employees rarely it seems do that you both have the same idea of how the characters are supposed to be portrayed. It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world, except for Lola of course.

To make the story a tad more complex, five days after we opened the shop, I started work on what was first a TV show and then what would become a film : “Unconvention: A Mix-Tape from St. Paul,” documenting the wonders/horrors of the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul. It is a feature length doc that we made in something like 40 days, which is comparable to running the three-minute mile…on a pogo stick.

It was all off to a glorious start, as starts are want to be: the shop was the cute new girl at school getting lots of write-ups, and the film was moving along even getting funding from John Densmore from the Doors and getting enough buzz to merit conversations and considerations from Sundance.

The honeymoon was about 6 months; by the time 2009 rolls in, my minor illness becomes a major one that eventually leads to dialysis, and later on a kidney transplant. Everywhere outside of MN passes on the doc, because it’s a new era of “Hope”, and we find ourselves in the worst economy since Hoover.

I don’t get discouraged easily; a lifetime in the music and art world will do that to you. My favorite artists have almost all walked a crooked path to get to their place in the pantheon of swell. Nick Drake, John Martyn’s close friend and label mate(Martyn wrote Solid Air for him): his three records selling a cumulative total of less than 5000 copies. A few high profile fans, but not enough to keep the records in print. Cut to 1999 and a Volkswagen spot featuring “Pink Moon”. Within two weeks, that single sold more than his catalog had till that point. Now there is nary a mix tape of sad ironic hipster music that doesn’t include one of his compositions. Sure he’s dead, but the legacy, the work lives on, and with art isn’t that what matters, or is supposed to at least?

Time passes, the economy gets better, kinda.. The RNC convention becomes a faded memory save for the legalities, with the historical significance of a fifth grader’s birthday party–the whole world may have been watching, but they quickly flipped the channel and in the process forgot the show entirely. I get another person’s organ, and Miyagi, well, that’s the thing isn’t it.
Businesses come and businesses go, and sadly this one went. Lots of reasons, but in the end the reasons are ours and ours alone, but living in public make the loss all the more noticeable. It’s why I have been absent from these pixels the past few weeks. Much how the birth of a business touched every aspect of our lives, so to does the closing. We decided to take the opportunity to change, radically. We got rid of most of our furniture, a small stores worth of antiques. We moved from 2400 sq feet crammed full to 750 sq ft of relative sparseness all to embrace the radical change.
The point being sometimes change can be gift, if you let it. So we accepted and with no return receipt. I often get accused of bravery; it’s a tag that I find laughable mostly because my initial reaction to everything is a cocktail of panic and anxiety. I swallow it down heartily and then dive in headfirst into the unknown anyway, because I refuse to be ruled by anything, and least of all fear. Everything is unknown till we know it. I fear change, so the only way to conquer it is to meet it head on. There is sadness, but the show must go on, much like the clown’s rubber nose and floppy shoes.
The thing about closing a business is that it can feel like failure. It’s not. It’s just a choice, it’s just that the perspectives of it all would give MC Escher a headache. There is a parable about a Zen master who observes the people of his village celebrating that the son of a popular citizen had been given a horse, who were singing of the boys good fortune. “We’ll see,” the Zen master says. Later the boy falls off the horse and breaks a leg, The town in consensus says the horse is a curse. “We’ll see,” says the master. Later still a war breaks out, the boy cannot be drafted because of the injury, and everyone now says the horse was a blessing. “We’ll see,” the master says again.
Shuggie Otis was another guy supposed to be the next big thing; the son of rock and roll pioneer Johnny Otis, with all the talent and baggage that comes along with that. He should have been a Sly Stone, Jimi Hendrix and Arthur Lee rolled into one, only he wasn’t. He ran the same race, but the drugs and drink took their toll, which is what they do to those that don’t have the Keith Richards gene. He made 3 amazing records, forgotten to AM radio, and a few young soul rebels. Today Shuggie Otis is bigger than he has ever been.

Sometimes an idea needs to be lost so it can be found again when the time is right. Sometimes that time never comes around, or the audience isn’t as big as you hoped. Shuggie wasn’t a big name ever, not really, and bam! He comes out of the dollar bins to be a college radio all-star.
Shuggie Otis got a second chance; John Martyn didn’t. Oh, he made a bunch of records afterwards, he to got a hip label reissue in the late 90’s and a semi healthy cult status in the UK. He never got the chance to be the soundtrack to kids on a TV joyride. It could still happen of course, but he passed away in 2009, and while the music may be eternal, people not so much. Still, in the UK he is a cult icon. When he died he even got a posthumous OBE. Success is a matter of perspective, its not the cards we are dealt, its how we play them.

You really don’t know how the story is going to turn out, you just play along with the choose your own adventure. While consequences can sometimes suck you never know how it plays out till the end, and even than not always. It all tends to work out as it should.

Miyagi is closed, and even though it should have worked, it didn’t. just because it seems like something should succeed doesn’t mean it will. Things end everyday, some good, some bad; It’s the impact that has the power. We closed it on our own terms, and by our own hands, it ends but its little ripples in that world go on. Mo has a quote that she really likes about people that they are in your lifetime, a season or a reason; has corny as I find that, its pretty accurate. Businesses are like that too.
I think we find out who we are mostly in the worst of times, and in our best. Its fairly easy to be agreeable when its all running at a steady boil. Kippling said it better than I could ever hope to” If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same;” Its those extremes that we find out who we are. Its just life you get up dust yourself off and live to conquer, fail or just exist another day.

As I write this I find that I keep starting out of my new studio window, it looks onto the block where I really started about two decades back a lot has changed, but that’s always the constant: things change. I try and live without regrets or apologies but really that only works in Clint Eastwood movies, that said Miyagi isn’t on either of those lists.

I have stumbled before, I will stumble again; mostly because I am always trying to soar. Its only when we stop trying, that we truly fail.