John Emil Augustine, Writer Musician Teacher Advocate John Emil Augustine, author, musician, edutainer, entertainer, sting like a bitch, love seen from hell, heartache, heartbreak, healing, hope, marriage, divorce, paternal instinct, children, spousal abuse, men’s abuse, court, mother takes children, help for fathers, reality, brenda perlin, master koda select publishing, indie author, novel, self help
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Since I can remember, my dad had the album 15 Big Ones playing in our living room. This was the song I always wanted to hear because of the calliope-like organ part in the bridge. I was amazed that a rock song could have a carnival sound infused into it. I thought that was amazing, even at age four or five.
My great-grandmother took me to Shopko when I was in fourth grade and told me I could pick whatever I wanted to buy. Having just visited Graceland on a family trip, I immediately went to the very small record section and found two Elvis Presley albums, one of which featured this song. The record itself was a transparent blue vinyl. When I heard the sax solo, I was hooked. I told my mom I wanted to play the instrument I had heard.
When I heard this in sixth grade, I started to get the idea that I could record a song. I thought, “I could do that!” So I did. I enlisted some friends and we made a recording of Surfin’ Bird. A world of possibilities had just opened.
Featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day off, this song blew me out of the water when I was in sixth grade. I couldn’t believe a song could be this funny and so incredibly different from anything on the radio. Though I had not yet written a song, I realized while listening to this that anything goes in songwriting. I could do whatever I wanted! Quite a revelation for a kid trying to figure out what a “real song” was. It was whatever I wanted it to be.
Do You Like Worms
When I was in Jr. High, my dad used to take me to a record store called Oar Folkjokeopus. In the basement there was another store that no one was supposed to know about called The Record Collector’s Co-op. There we found a booleg of the legendary Smile LP which was supposed to have come out in the late 60s by the surf rock group The Beach Boys. When we heard it, we couldn’t believe it. It was completely different than anything I had ever heard. What struck me the most was the “Heroes and Villains” theme which reoccurred throughout the slivers of different song pieces. The thought that a rock album could have an interwoven theme really got me going as a songwriter.
She’s Got Me Walkin’
Also in Jr. High, my dad would listen to KFAI in the evenings which featured “The Lazy Bill Lucas Show.” What I heard in Lazy Bill Lucas was this very simple, straight ahead blues. He played a walking bass line with his left hand and chords or solos with the right. Listening to songs like this was how I learned to play piano.
Built For Comfort
Once I got into blues, I really locked in with Willie Dixon. His songwriting taught me so much about structuring simple lyrics. When you have no idea how to do something, and then you listen to someone who does, you can have these “ah-ha” moments during which you get farther into your craft than you realized you could. That’s what I got from Willie Dixon, and “Built for Comfort” was a favorite of mine to play. Still is.
Under African Skies
My dad gave me this tape with a yellow cover and some drawing of an old guy on a horse. The tape wasn’t rewound, so I just stuck it into my stereo in and hit play. When I heard this song, I instantly recognized that it was unlike anything I was hearing on the radio. There were sounds in there that I couldn’t name. And the lyrics…that’s when I really began to see what lyrics could be. I could never have written, I am sure, without having heard this album.
Once I got to my freshman year of high school, I started to realize that a recording of a song was, in fact, a production. There were layers. There could be several things happening at one time. So you can take a good song and turn it into a great production. I listened to this and went, “Wow.” It’s a real production. The basic instrumentation stays the same throughout, but there is a bridge with a tempo change. It goes into a whole other feel there. That really opened my producer’s imagination up when I heard that.
My buddy turned me onto this jazz pianist who sang along with himself. I listened and could hear him singing in this scratchy voice and thought it was hilarious. But I found myself continuing to listen to this album, over and over. What I was taking in was the ragged, lyrical quality of Bud Powell’s playing. I can’t explain it, but it has simply been stamped onto my musical psyche. I can’t imagine not knowing this album exists.
I absolutely did not understand how this track worked when I first heard it as a freshman in high school. You’ve got these guys kind of yelling on top of this electronic-sounding drum part with this distorted guitar in the background. It made absolutely no sense why all the elements were together, but something about the track was exhilarating. It was great, and my buddy and I tried to do our own rap songs after hearing this stuff. It was another lesson in fusion for me.
I must have listened to this song over and over for months trying to understand how Brian Wilson accomplished it. There are sound effects, musical moods, an overarching story, and several movements all put together in a way that made perfect sense. It was a huge departure from the verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, verse, chorus, chorus formula that I was trying to stick to in my own recordings. I suddenly realized I was free to follow any formula I wanted.
Not long after devouring Rio Grande, my buddy handed me a copied cassette tape between classes that simply said, “Foxtrot.” He told me he thought I would like it. That was an understatement. It was like a 24-minute version of everything I liked about Rio Grande. Instead of six or seven parts, this had at least twice as many, and they all blended perfectly into one another. I immediately knew I could do something like this someday, but not in 1988. It would be four years before I would realize my goal with a 30-minute suite of my own called Gloved Rabbit. Its final track is the final track of my recent Postcards from the Abyss CD.
When Batdance came out on the radio in 1989, I thought it was brilliant. Pieces of dialogue from the upcoming movie arranged into the music…I can’t explain what a revelation it was to hear dialogue in a song. And it served as a great advertisement for the movie. That blew me out. Eventually, I would end up recording my own suite, complete with a spoken word story, called Description a year after Gloved Rabbit came out.
I grew up listening to Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Guns ‘N Roses…that kind of metal. But I hadn’t paid much attention to Metallica until I heard “One” in 1990. My whole idea of metal, as well as song subject matter, changed when I heard this. A song based on a movie based on a book, a song that was not a love song, and a song with an un-implied message. You could take from it what you wanted, or you could leave it. The production was a predecessor to the coming grunge movement with its clean verses in sharp contrast to distorted choruses/bridge. It absolutely changed my mind about Metallica as well as music in general when I heard it.
Are You Ready For This
In 1992 my buddy had a Chevy Blazer which he had outfitted with two subwoofers. He had me come out to his truck between classes one day and showed me this CD called Technorave 3: Technomania. What I heard was something I could never have even imagined. It took the Batdance idea and gave it cohesion with a wholly new soundscape. The electronic sounds, the bass on every downbeat, the use of panning between speakers was beyond my imagination. The original version didn’t have the rapping and singing, but you get the idea with this track. It was like nothing that had ever happened before in music, and it freaked me out a little. I just couldn’t believe it. Eventually my buddy and I would spend several years trying to get a good recording of a hybrid jazz/techno track. I’m not sure we did, but we had fun trying.
Better Git It In Your Soul
I grew up playing Charlie Parker solos from a compilation called the Omnibook. That was bop… old stuff. On the radio Kenny G could be heard around that time playing sort of a new jazz. But I wished there were a new jazz closer to the stuff Bird was doing in the 30s and 40s but with better sound. That’s when I picked up a copy of Present Tense by Bobby Watson. That CD hit the spot. It was bran new and it was bop…neobop. Once I worked my way over to Mingus, I was really blown away. This song, I can’t describe the feeling when I heard it. Amazement and elation together maybe.
Go back and listen to early Rock & Roll, and this is the sound at its core…performed by one of its inventers. When I hear this recording in 1993 I was playing with gospel musicians from around the city. It was not a new sound to me, but I could not figure out the backup vocals. They intimidated me because it was something I could not fathom how to reproduce. But the feeling…not unlike the Mingus track…elation. That feeling is what I began to strive for in my own music.
We had a small music library at my college, and I would go in and listen to the records quite often. The “classical” stuff was uninteresting to me, so I eventually worked my way to the anemic world music section way in the back. There were maybe 20 LPs. When I put this record on, I felt this unbelievably wholesome sense of happiness. This sound of fluid asymmetrical movement on top of time’s unending clockwork. It was happy and sad at the same time, simultaneously comfortable and unusual. Never before had I heard such sounds. That’s when I realized I had been missing about 90% of the world’s musical output.
The Unanswered Question
One day in probably 1996, our composition professor pulled out this recording, and it scared me half to death. We had been studying correct voice leading and all that, and then here was this sound which was way outside of that box. That really turned me onto “classical” music because I realized it had changed quite a bit since the true classical stuff we had been studying. It was no longer the one-dimensional music store genre that I had always been sold. This was a feeling or perhaps a Koen turned into sound. That really began to focus me on what things, thoughts, feeling, etc. sounded like.
Split Open And Melt
It was a little like everything I ever had heard up to that point was in this song when I listened. Funk, free jazz, rock, gospel, and more of course. It was like, “I can take everything I have ever done or heard and put them all together any way I want!” I was playing with an eight-piece group with a horn section and I suddenly began combining things like polka and surf guitar music. Suddenly anything went.
After hearing this song, I did everything in this rhythm for about a week. I ate to the rhythm, I worked to the rhythm…everything. There’s a famous line said by Charlie Parker about learning all your scales and chords, then forgetting al that shit and just playing, and when I heard this, I suddenly understood that line. Just groove. Just groove. Relax and play. That’s all. I got that idea from this.
I’ve Seen All Good People
I listened to this album almost every day for over a year. It was my dishwashing music. The chord changes, time changes, instrumentation, execution…there was something about this album the hit me. In its way, it was like the jazz I had listened to in college; I just let it wash over me even though I didn’t completely understand it. I tried to incorporate what I could understand into my writing at the time.
Zappa was beyond what Brian Wilson, Geneses, and Yes could offer. I was amazed while watching his live shows from the 70s and 80s that the band was so dynamic onstage, so tight, and yet so loose. They had the craziest sense of humor…it was better than anything I had previously heard. This track cracked me up particularly, and although this sketch was half-planned and half improvised, the band behind it is together as hell. When I heard this, it was another, “you can do anything” moment.
Then a guy who played bass with me left this CD at our jam spot. When I put it on the playback speakers, I was further blown out of the water. There were musicians out there who were so far beyond me musically, and I was in awe. I listened to the whole album for days. I tried to work the instrumental ideas of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the humor and tightness of Zappa’s band, and the unusual changes of Yes into the stuff I was writing at the time.
When I got a divorce, I had just picked up the American Recordings album, settled into my new place, and turned the album on. I had heard Johnny Cash many times, but this time was different. He had this straight-forward way of telling a story with his voice. His vocals were becoming increasingly shaky by the time of this album, yet they were clear and authoritative. There was wisdom in that voice. I instantly related to the album.
Having never heard anything by James Chance, I was suddenly thrown into his music when I had the chance to play with him while he was in Minneapolis one year. It was music unlike anything I had ever heard, and I couldn’t make it make sense. It was a straight ahead plunge, chugging and churning with an angry motion I could have never imagined. Once I understood the secret of his writing, I realized how brilliant it was. I was beyond blown away.
Wild Montana Skies
I never was a John Denver fan, but after all I had gone through with my ex and my current wife, getting back to basics by playing acoustically with my in-laws was great therapy. We played this for my grandfather-in-law’s funeral and it was a powerful experience.
White Winter Hymnal
Hearing Fleet Foxes for the first time in 2008 was a huge breath of fresh air. I knew the type of music I liked was still being created by new bands in new and inventive ways. That mixture of acoustic and electric instruments, interesting arrangements, actual melodic vocal lines…it was all there in Fleet Foxes.
I picked up the “Brown Album” at the library on a whim in 2010. When I saw the guys on the cover, I thought, “I bet they would be cool to hang out with.” When I got home and listened, I couldn’t put the album down. The grooves, the instrumentation, the lyrics all knocked me out.
No No Keshagesh
This combination of rock, almost-techno, and Native American chanting really led me into studying native music. I wished I could work with someone who could make this kind of music, and like magic I was introduced to White Buffalo Calf Woman and Holiness David Running Eagle with whom I collaborated. This song put me on the path of a huge learning experience.
I am still astounded by this track. You can almost see the movements of the flock as it slips through the air. I can’t explain how they do it in these oblong, flapping, soaring phrases, but it has to be one of the most beautiful moments I have ever heard captured on tape. I know I’ll never be able to make a recording like this, but I can dream.
I had been listening to a lot of Ravi Shankar stuff, and when he died, I came across his daughter, Anoushka. This combination of raga and flamenco astounded me. The entire album just knocked me on my ass. It was again like the jazz I had been studying. I couldn’t comprehend it, but I could let it wash over me. An amazing combination and it works brilliantly.
This is the album I stumbled on after my brother gave me a didgeridoo for Christmas. I wasn’t really sure what to do with it for a while after learning to play it, and then I heard this and instantly knew what to do. Eventually I would work the didg it into my album Chants for Renewal, Presence, and Awareness.
John Emil Augustine’s Big Surprise
I have known John Emil Augustine for almost fifteen years which is about thirteen years before he was John Emil Augustine. I have had the privilege to see him on stage several times around the Twin Cities and Duluth, as well as having been back stage with him and his musical cronies. Heck, I’ve even been a fly on the wall in the recording studio with John.
John is funny. When I think of all my experience with him, humor comes to mind first. I enjoyed his quick wit and antics on stage in the 2000s. A lot. But with the funny also came an equal dose of darkness, and that manifested in his lyrics. There was palatable pain there.
Now that John is writing books, I am beginning to discover the reason for the pain. This juxtaposition of happy and sad plays out all too clearly in his stories. What I sensed from him all those years ago, I am finding, was fairly accurate. I sensed a survivor whose glass was half full. He has had more than his fair share of setbacks, but that hasn’t seemed to stop him from doing what he loves, and that is creating art.
John is good at it too. In the studio, I was amazed not only at his command of the music and the recording process, but also with his flexibility and creativity when it came to suggestions or creative problem solving. I don’t want to make this sound like a Linkedin endorsement, but you get the idea. In my mind, John seems to be able to do it all: create, innovate, and present his work in a highly entertaining and intriguing way.
My intrigue for John has only grown fifteen years later, so once in a while I will selfishly try to get a good interview out of him. Don’t judge me. It is always a pleasure, and he never disappoints. This time, I received some incredible news that I can’t wait for everyone to read. Here is the interview transcribed verbatim from our phone conversation.
Ok, let’s see if I am keeping up. You have two books out, yes?
And two CDs.
So, let’s tackle the music first. You have a musical output that goes back to 1992?
Yeah. ’87 actually. I’ve been trying to write songs for a while, yeah.
Trying? Any success at it yet?
Yeah. (Laughs.) Back in those days, in the 80s, I was trying. Then I figured out the secret.
And what’s that?
Just to not try. Just to let it come from somewhere other than me.
You mean God or aliens or what? A satellite?
I have no idea. But I’m definitely tuned into something. Some wavelength or signal or something, because I know quite often the thoughts are not my own.
For example, I’ll come up with, somehow, with…some perfect phrase will appear in my head and I’ll write it down but with words missing or words phonetically wrong. And I’ll have no idea what it means until I go back and realize it and make sense out of whatever rambling I wrote down. I almost hear it first without knowing what it means.
People would call that creativity.
Maybe it is. But it feels like it comes from somewhere outside of me. It’s not me being creative, I don’t think. I don’t feel like most of my output is really something I could have, by myself, sat down and come up with. Some of it is beyond my imagination. And I can’t…I can’t not do it, you know? I’m almost forced to do it. And I hate to say it like that, you know?
Like there is something cosmic about it, because I know what that sounds like.
And that is?
Um, crazy narcissist.
And you’re not a crazy narcissist?
Oh, I probably am. But that doesn’t change the fact that I feel like I am just transcribing what is sent to me. During those times, there is no me per se. I am just taking notes.
So that’s music.
And now you’ve gotten into writing books.
Yes I have.
Is that process the same?
Oh, God no.
No. And how is it different?
Well, I still get that feeling like I have to write this. Have to do it.
As you do with music?
Just the same, except with the books I know what is going to happen because I know what I’ve lived.
And you are writing a memoir.
Pretty much, yeah.
There are a lot of memoirs out there.
You see celebrities with memoirs all the time. So why you?
I never wanted to do this, that’s for sure. Never wanted to write a book, much less a memoir.
And yet here you are.
Here I am. And I don’t feel that I have a choice in it anymore.
When I started, the first book consisted of Facebook messages to a friend who was in an abusive relationship. That’s all it was. And at some point I made the decision to revise the messages and put them out there as a book.
That book is about spousal abuse.
Yes. But then I realized that I had to continue, because each book deals with an important interpersonal and intrapersonal topic.
Ok. Explain that.
Relationship with self and relationship with others. You have to work out both, and you can see how I was working it out up close and personal in the books. So you have abuse in the first book. The second has to do with what a marriage actually is. The third has to do with classism in our society. The fourth has to do with what a parent is, and the fifth will be about what it is to be a child in a divorce situation.
And these are all real stories?
It’s all one big story. That’s you, me, everybody. We all have one big story like mine, and we can learn from each other’s stories. That’s kind of the point. We think only celebrities’ stories are worthwhile. I say, with my story, that there is far more to be learned about ourselves by sharing our non-celebrity stories with each other.
I’ve always thought of you as a celebrity.
No. I’m just a regular guy.
If you say so. Ok, so what’s next?
Yeah. I plan to do a two-piece thing with me and a guitar player.
You’re kidding. Where? When?
This fall, hopefully. And wherever I can get a foot in the door. Coffee shops.
I’m really surprised.
Wow. How long has it been?
Ten years. I can’t believe it.
I’m scared to death.
But you’re still doing it.
Yeah. I have to. I want to interact with people.
This is amazing. I’m speechless. All my questions are out the window. I can’t wait.
We are working on an actual show. Not just songs, but something really substantial and entertaining. I think it’ll be really good.
That is so great. I’m just wrapping my head around it. Who are you playing with?
A guy named Richard Novy. Guitarist. A damn good one too.
And you’ll be on keys?
No, actually guitar and mandolin.
No kidding! This is really something. I’m sure you’ll do great. You have to tell me when your first gig is.
Sure. Hopefully this fall. We won’t do a lot of gigs, but we’ll try to get one in here and there. It’ll be fun.
Incredible. Let’s leave it at that. You surprised the hell out of me.
Good. More surprises to come.
I’m sure. Thank you for taking the time.
Thank you. Love and mercy.
You can find all the latest (and I encourage you to do so) at www.johnemilaugustine.com.
Theresa L. Myrick/John Emil Augustine
I reserved Saturday night for an intimate conversation with my author friend John Emil Augustine, and I was not disappointed. We fell into conversation like old friends. As we started, I kept hearing something squeak. When I asked John what it might be, he said it was probably his chair. He can be very antsy and the squeaking noise has been known to show up in a song or two. Yes, he is both an author and musician. Everything he writes, books and music, comes from his life experience. His book series, “From the Abyss,” comes from a place deep within his heart and memory. Songs he has released, such as my favorite, “Lady,” are wrought from that same deep-down place. But I had to ask if he would be open to writing other genres.
“I will write anything that moves me.”
His mentor in writing? Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. John calls Wilson the great fall and redemption story of rock music, citing his continued musical production at age 71 as surpassing the Stones and surviving Beatles combined. I am beginning to understand that same kind of engine is within John as he fidgets in his squeaky chair. In less than one year, John already has two books and two CDs out with Master Koda. He seems to be on a Brian Wilson-like pace.
What new authors have grasped John’s interest? Brenda Perlin seems to be #1, but he does like a lot of other authors also. However, time to read can escape John. His current project is “Book 3” which is in editing, and he is half way through “Book 4.” There is also a “Book 5” in his head waiting to be written. With all of that happening, there is little time for music at the moment, much less reading as he continues his break-neck production schedule.
Who has supported John outside of family members? I found John’s answer intriguing. “When I first started, my book was put out with no publisher on Smashwords. I'm thinking, ‘How do I advertise my book? How can I get it out there to everyone?’ I did the research and found Fran Lewis, and I had to send her the book in the mail as she would not read it any other way. She loved it. Fran sent it to Marsha Casper Cook who liked it and immediately put me on her blog talk radio show. The other author on the show that night was Brenda Perlin who had also begun reading my book and loved it!” So Brenda basically inspired John to write more than one book. In fact, it was Brenda Perlin who came up with the title “From the Abyss” while in her shower looking at the drain. True story.
Sadly, I was not the first phone interview John has had, but we both agreed it will not be our last. The hour and a half flew by for both of us. It was as if an old friend had stayed up late into the night with me, joking and talking without any thought of time. When I finally asked if John had anything specific to say to his readers, he laughed and quipped, “I hope you like my books.” I was looking for something juicier, so he offered, “The point of my books and CDs is hope, love and mercy. I hope people feel that.”
Before we let each other go at the end of the night, though John had a mild case of laryngitis, he proved true on his promise and sang part of “Lady” for me, accompanying himself on piano. It was an exciting night, and so comfortable and serene. Would I spend another night like this with John Emil Augustine? You can count on it. ;)
I listened to my first non-western music in the early 90s. There was a music library at my college which not only had record albums, but also had record players for students to listen right there in the library. We were studying western music and western harmonies every day in class, so there was plenty of the classic stuff we were supposed to be learning on the library shelves. But way in the back was a small non-western section with assorted field recordings, so I tried a few of those just to hear them.
I listened to an album from Indonesia with sun dance ritual music on it, and when I heard it, I absolutely fell in love. The sound transported me. It was serene, joyful, but also peaceful and tranquil. I thought, “Man, there’s some good stuff out there beyond what we’re being taught.” So I began my quest to learn more on my own.
You can’t just study the music, however. You have to study everything about the culture which produced the music, so my learning process over the past twenty years has been slow and all-encompassing. And I still know so little. But I have had a few teachers along the way and have done a lot of reading, listening, and experiencing. Apparently at the beginning of 2014 I was at the point that doing a chant album felt completely comfortable. So I did it.
I don’t believe I recorded this music for myself, though I thoroughly enjoyed the process. I believe I recorded it to give those who are open to hearing it the same feeling I received while creating it, and that feeling I can only describe as electricity. I was extremely focused and completely open to plucking the ideas which manifested as feelings from some source other than my imagination. It was as if I were receiving some kind of signal from the air, and all I had to do was translate it to a sound recording.
The resulting recording is earthy and organic. It is much the same sound as was vibrationally fossilized in our ancestors, yet it is as equally alive and inherent as genetic memory. The song forms and instruments I play have existed for thousands if not tens of thousands of years here on earth. Whatever information I received must be coded deep within our species.
The album is both practical and spiritual (which only makes perfect sense). It is meant to give focus both physically and spiritually. It is meant to calm and invigorate simultaneously. I believe it is work music, and by that I mean it is music that can be used the same way our ancestors used music while working: while harvesting, while rowing, and while grinding grain or seeds. Music has been used during innumerable tasks to help workers keep up a certain rhythm and energy while simultaneously evoking spirituality. I believe I somehow received the blueprint for that kind of music during my solitary recording retreat.
This is not new age music as our current genre system would have one believe. This is ancient and genetically interwoven music of the human spirit from many cultures on one living planet. This is music from the one collective source, which is both ancient and modern, and it is for every living being right now. I believe this work has come through me specifically to you. After all, I believe you have read this far for a reason.
John Emil Augustine
Just a little about From the Abyss
I never really intended this to be a book. I have a friend who was kind of like everyone’s kid sister in my high school group of friends. After many years of not hanging out with that group, we friended each other on Facebook and I began to notice her posts were always very sad. I sent a message asking what was going on. She wrote that she had just gotten out of an abusive relationship after a year of prodding from this guy she knew. The two of them eventually ended up in a relationship which was a very positive one. He was a really good guy. He was also a navy seal stationed on the east coast. She was going to take a little trip to see him, meet his family there, and start school for journalism. Unfortunately, two days before she was to leave, he was killed in combat. I could only imagine how lost she felt. Still, she went to meet his family and to be there for the funeral. Then she stayed on the east coast and started school.
When I messaged her, all of this had already happened, and she was very homesick and lonely. I told her I thought I had a story that she might relate to if she was interested in getting it in small chunks. So I sent a little bit of it each day. Eventually, she looked forward to the next installment of my story at the end of most days. It cheered her up, particularly coming from someone she had known fairly well, and gave her something else to think about other than all that she had just gone through. I think in a small way it confirmed her getting out of her own abusive relationship as well.
She loved the story so much that I thought maybe I should just put it out there and see what would happen, so I fixed it up as best I could and self-published it in 2012. It was an exhilarating move, even though the book didn’t garner much attention at first. After all, I had just quietly published it, saying nothing to anyone about it.
After about six months I was approached by a publisher and signed some papers around Christmas last year. I waited, and in the meantime, continued on other projects. In August, I asked my good friend Brenda Perlin if her publisher might actually move on a book like mine since my publisher was doing absolutely nothing.
I had no idea I would be getting myself into such a good situation with Master Koda. Thanks to Kim, Brenda, Rebbekah, and a few other people that I will probably learn of in the future, I was taken in and given another shot at sharing my story which is just one voice in the effort to send some hope and love out to those who are in abusive situations. And quite frankly, there aren’t many voices out there for guys who have been taken advantage of, so I hope to start a few conversations about that as I go.
Thank you for being a part of the kick-off to this book series. The more voices we can get out there, the more the conversation about abuse and bullying will perpetuate itself, and the more help we will be to each other.
Love & Mercy,
I had such a response to this on Facebook, I decided to repost it here.
1. I fell several hundred feet down a mountain in the Swiss Alps when I was 16. My buddies and I decided we were going to go sledding, and I was flying through the snow so fast that when I got to where the snow met the rocks below, I didn’t stop. I cartwheeled for a long while, right up to the school bus-sized rocks near the valley. I was somehow able to stretch myself out and stop before I was dashed to pieces. I still have the scars.
2. I’ve been held at gunpoint/knifepoint more than once and have almost always been able to talk my way out of the situations. I once had three guys follow me into a dark alley after I played a gig and while I was carrying all my equipment. They blocked my path to my car and held knives up to my face, and I still managed to talk them out of the way and left with all my gear and my car. I got lucky.
3. Among others, I used to arrange for and perform with one of the Wailers. I was truly schooled in reggae during that time.
4. I was adopted into a Lakota tribe several years ago and learned more than I can tell from the experience.
5. I have been homeless in the winter, played for change on the streets of Downtown Minneapolis, and have sold scrap metal for food money. I also learned much from those experiences.
6. I had three of my front teeth knocked out while playing a gig on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. I now sport porcelain caps.
7. I was an English professor for the better part of a decade until the economy tanked. I loved teaching.
8. I was the victim of domestic abuse and have written a book series about my experience. The first book comes out next month with Master Koda Select Publishing and is called “From the Abyss.” I hope to bring a message of hope to those who read it.
Three squad cars were seen parked near the corner of North Milton Street and Orchard Avenue in the Como neighborhood late Thursday night. Saint Paul police said they were responding to a kidnapping. According to resident Cindi Augustine, her four month old child was taken out of her arms by her husband, John Augustine, around 10PM. “Then he threw me to the ground and told me I would see Charlie when I met his demands. I had no idea what he would do with my baby. He is capable of anything,” Mrs. Augustine said.
But the police report told a different story. According to the report, the baby had been missing for less than an hour. “According to the father, he was at the story buying baby formula,” Officer Tate said. Mr. Augustine returned to the St. Paul residence around 11 PM. At officers’ request, Mr. Augustine left the scene after giving a statement and turning the child over to the mother. “This isn’t our first time responding to this kind of call at this residence. My guess is it won’t be our last,” said Tate, adding, “What’s unfortunate is there is an infant involved.”
This actually happened in 2001. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
It wasn’t a typical Easter family scene when police responded to a reckless driving report at the intersection of Lexington Parkway and University Avenue in St. Paul early Sunday morning.
Responding officer Mark Anderson reported a red Honda Civic speeding erratically though parking lots and onto University Avenue around 8 AM. Inside the vehicle were St. Paul resident Cindi Augustine and her one-year-old son, Anderson said.
Anderson also reported a man hiding behind a nearby building who turned out to be St. Paul resident John Augustine, Mrs. Augustine’s husband. Mr. Augustine said he was avoiding being struck by Mrs. Augustine’s Honda Civic.
However, according to Mrs. Augustine, she and her child had been abandoned by Mr. Augustine at a nearby restaurant. His refusal to reenter the vehicle was the source of the woman’s frustration, the report said.
“In this case, we had a vehicle chasing a pedestrian. It was in the officer’s best judgment to hold the vehicle while the driver calmed down and to allow Mr. Augustine to leave the scene peacefully. The abandonment claim was not substantiated at the time,” said the chief of police in a statement.
This actually happened in 2002. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
A shocking tell-all that will forever open your eyes is coming. This is the true story of John Augustine.
On My Experience in Teaching and Writing
Most high schools have done a pretty good job of making people groan when the words “English” and “Class” are uttered in the same breath. How much time did we all spend in those classes? I understood what most students (the good and the not-so-good ones) were thinking and feeling when getting basically the same thing right out of the shoot in college. It was a real “you gotta be kidding me” moment. After all, hadn’t they suffered enough in high school?
But the beauty of teaching college English was that I was able to get into some of the interesting stuff about the language and the creative process that apparently no one had ever gotten to in high school. My class was a bit of an eye-opener for students and I had a heck of a lot of fun. I was neither a grammar Nazi nor a fine-toothed editor, though I could be both when appropriate.
I was far more attuned to the creative process…that thing that gets stomped out of most people by teachers. The creative process is what writes proposals and emails and resumes and copy for radio and letters of intent and advertisements for your business…everything, really. Without the ability to utilize your creativity, you sit there staring at a blank paper or computer monitor and become pissed off because you know you can’t do it. How do you know you can’t do it? In many, many cases it's because of crappy experiences with crappy grading systems.
Unfortunately, what we rarely if ever were graded on in school was the first draft: the horrible version of the eventual product. And it's the most important thing you will do when writing anything. Nobody seemed to tell us that. So much attention was given to what a paper looked like in the end that we began to believe that every word needed to come out “right” or we were just wasting our time. Then when at first we could not get it to look “right” (whatever that means), we would become frustrated, and BOOM! Suddenly what we were doing was writing something horrible and we would give up. That’s most people’s creative process.
A true creative process is just that: a process. A writer must process his or her thoughts and feelings, and it can be difficult. Perhaps I should write that it can't not be difficult. A process should not only be difficult, however. We process to learn. And we clarify the process in order to turn around and share what we've learned. At some point the process will be enlightening. That exchange, that communication was something I tried to emphasize to my students.
So what I did as a teacher was to say forget the finished product. That is secondary, if that, because if you have nothing to work with in the first place, you will end up with nothing. Your first ideas, dumb as they may be, are the most important part of creating anything. I would say jot them down – all of them. Map them, list them, web them, write them – use whatever technique from whatever textbook you want. It is all the same idea – get the good and the bad stuff on the page. Once a student got as much as he or she could onto the paper, we could make the rest happen in class together. But we needed something to work with in the first place.
I would say, “Write it on a napkin or a cereal box and turn that in.” For some reason, students loved that idea: the first draft could look like crap and still be worth something in my class. I really didn’t care what the draft looked like at first read, as long as it was something. The first draft, in any condition, was half the paper’s grade. That’s pretty good encouragement when you’ve already got 50/100 just for writing something…anything.
I actually was encouraging crap. It was often a very new concept. You can see why the so-called problem students did well in my class! Even a crappy writer can turn in crap. In fact, with most of my students, they felt that their specialty was, in fact, crap. In my class, we could work with crap. After all, we’ve all got to start somewhere. Starting with something awful meant only that we were starting, and that was at least half the battle. I was amazed how many people didn’t understand that concept prior to the class. It was like a life jacket for someone who was drowning in a perception of his or her own awful writing ability. Half your grade was based on doing something awful. Talk about good news for someone used to barely getting Ds in writing. Heck, it was good news for someone who was used to getting As.
Then, of course, the bad news would come, but in a slightly new light. Quite simply, each paper would have a version of this written on it: “Here’s how many more points you would get if you called this your final draft and here’s what to do to get more points” – or – “Here is where the draft you just turned in falls on the continuum between the 50 points you have now and the 100 points that will get you an A+.” A paper could, for example, score about 60/100 if turned in again as it was and someone could walk away with a D on the paper.
That was a pretty normal occurrence, a rough draft equaling 60/100 points were it turned in as a final draft. Once in a while someone would take me up on the 60/100 on their paper, but usually students would look at my comments and say, “This is all I need to do to get an A!?!” Once you have something to work with, the editing is so much more achievable. Sometimes the editing is hard and sometimes it is easy, but if you do it in steps, a little at a time, it really isn’t the perplexity that we've been led to believe. It’s just like any other process. You do it until you are satisfied and until you think your audience is going to understand it. I was just there to help at that point.
Everything needed to be modeled several ways several times and I did that for them, writing along with them during my own exercises. They needed to see it as many ways and times as it took to get comfortable with the process, and they needed to see it from me as well as their peers. Trying and trying again was integral to the class. Once students saw and began to try the creative and the editing processes, the whole thing turned into small steps that were tolerable and knowable.
There was no limit on drafts. If someone turned in draft #2 and was satisfied with 70/100, so be it. If someone turned in draft #8 and still wasn’t satisfied with 98/100, a draft #9 was fine with me. Complete control of their own destiny with lots of help or no help if someone didn’t want it – everything was up to the student. I set the standard and they could take it or leave it knowing they had the control and the help. That is communication. That’s how you keep people interested and learning even though they initially don’t want to be there. The quality is not compromised and neither is the students’ integrity.
I loved seeing people who were adamantly against writing turn completely around and try. I marveled at my students as they did. The excitement was electric and I went home charged up more times than not. Now I encourage everyone to try writing: blogs, travelogues, emails to relatives, whatever. Find someone who inspires your writing – an author, a teacher, a blog show host – and soak it in. Then turn around and try it. For me, it has been an incredibly rewarding pastime: my way to sort through all kinds of bullshit I am hanging onto, to get it out of the way, and to live again.
We all need something that helps us process our life, and writing can be it. I still have students who get in touch and let me know they are still writing…without groaning! Whether I was the one who opened eyes or not isn't really important. The importance was in their trying. After having tried, the process and the result can be quite enlightening and exciting; in my case, extremely liberating. After all, as I used to tell my students, each of us has suffered enough.
I found a beautiful secret hidden inside hell and heartache.
I know what it’s like to be hated. I know the fear of being in the way of a menace, of being aware that my time is almost up. It’s an impending feeling; a close-hanging, rancid, dripping terror. That precious thing, a child, can be held angrily and purposefully in front of you while the courts and psychologists tie your hands as if you will only make things worse. The urge to fight and the instinct to salvage what is still good becomes your trap. You take the form of your worst self, manipulated and puppeted until you feel wrongly placed in your skin. You move because someone else moves you and are condemned because of your movements – set up and castrated.
I thought I knew what I was getting myself into when I asked my girlfriend to marry me. She was scared and pregnant. She was also mentally ill. Functional, but warped. I was young and inexperienced and easily became her patsy. I was far from perfect, but now can say I did the best I could in the face of extreme duress.
Most importantly, I learned a secret and I am about to share it with the world.