There are several people who I want to understand what is going on now in my life, and why I keep referring to the New Me. Accordingly I'll write this piece, link to it when appropriate, and then let the chips fall where they may. To Whom It May Concern ...
You must understand that for the ten years prior to the middle of June, 2015, I had been dying a slow death. (Evalyn agrees with this statement.)
Where even as recently as two years earlier I had done some revolutionary programming relating to photography, and had created two important Photoshop plugins in prototype form and was working on a third, I simply ran out of gas in the spring of 2013. Not only did I not have the energy to "productize" the two completed prototypes, and not only did I not have the energy to finish the third prototype, I didn't have the energy to do anything at all. I was effectively paralyzed even though my body continued to function, as did my mind.
I was unable to work and rejected out of hand any thoughts of trying to hold down any kind of paying job. Since I could not contribute dollars beyond my social security checks, and since I thought there was a 50% chance that I would not live another five years, my orientation became one of saving money -- of developing a financial strategy that would leave Evalyn in a nice house in a nice working class neighborhood, with the smallest possible fixed rate first mortgage and no other debt, so that in surviving me she would be able to stop working and get by on only her own social security checks. We executed this strategy two years ago, rolling from our condo unit with an unacceptable HOA board into the hoped for nice ordinary house in a nice working class neighborhood. (We like our neighbors and they like us. I win the annual lawn competition. Others win the annual floral competition. Only one or two people in the neighborhood fail to keep their properties up to the high standards that the rest of us set.)
We took a calculated risk in financing the house 10% via a fixed rate first mortgage and 20% via a low but variable rate second mortgage for which we had a plan to retire that loan in a small number of years, the upside being that the house should appreciate by ten or more percent per year, which it has done. This plan assumed not only that I would not be working but also that I would be dead within five years. However, thanks to some new insulin therapy begun in mid-June of this year it's clear that not only am I not going to die within five years, I feel ten years younger and probably will live another ten to fifteen years. This changes everything ...
Taking a mildly theological viewpoint, I believe that The Universe has been waiting to see whether anyone would pick up certain music work I started twenty five years ago but then had to abandon due to financial pressures. Well, folks, the answer is a resounding NO. The work remains undone and I believe The Universe is now asking me to do it. Why didn't The Universe groom somebody else? I don't know. If there is a God you might ask him or her or it. I will describe the work later below. In the meantime ...
I'm suited up and ready to play. It's as if everything I've learned in my 71 years about computers, and music, and art, and writing, are all now going to come together to allow me to fund this project all by myself. How? Answer, by first turning myself into an artist who sells primarily on consignment, and secondly by turning myself into a writer who publishes eBooks through Amazon. (Writing will be more lucrative but art can be turned on quicker. The art might not sell bur at least we will have this answer before the end of 2015.)
Am I an artist? Yes for the immediate future, no for the long term. I come from a family of artists but in my case the painterly eye shows up as fine art photography. Some of what I intend to sell will be pure photography, images taken six years ago at the Colorado Railroad Museum. When I do paint I will be painting almost by the numbers, using my own photographic images as backgrounds to be overpainted, rendering with a palette knife and thick acryylics to achieve an almost 3-dimensional look. Is this cheating? If so, painter Mark Rothko was a cheat, as was Andy Warhol, who is my favorite artist second only to Johannes Vermeer, the Dutch Master of Delft.
Am I a writer? Yes for the intermediate future, no for the long term. My father wrote for fun as do I on this website. My son is Wil McCarthy, the former science fiction writer and Wired Magazine science columnist. Thirty years ago I wrote software reviews and got paid for it, but I gave it up for a career as an independent software project manager and software consultant. Now I'm going to turn professional again, but only for a while. I hope to write three or four books that will sell, spaced perhaps a year apart so they don't interfere overly with the music project.
Am I a musician? No, I'm a producer. I started my musical life as the best rhythm guitarist I knew, but when I realized that I was not as good as Al Caiola of "Lonely Boy" and "Never On Sunday" fame, I decided against a career in music. This was a huge mistake that I partially corrected during 1987-1989 when I became the pioneering producer of prerecorded MIDI cover music for computer bands. Now I'm going to correct the mistake once and for all and will die with my musical boots on, continuing my unfinished business from 25 years ago.
Unfortunately things are riskier now in a financial sense. Evalyn insisted on buying a new car to support planned trips to SOCAL and Lenox/Boston as well as any subsequent long trips that my come up. (I'm planning one to NYC for late Q1 or early Q2 of 2016.) Funds that would have gone to second mortgage principal retirement will now go to Toyota Motor Credit to pay for the new car. Oh well. She's all grown up. However, she does not recognize that this was an unnecessary purchase whereas my purchases of art materials and certain elementary music gear items are essential if I am to exploit the fact that I'm alive and doing really well physically, not dying. If we are to recover the pre-June financials I must come up with income in advance of the music project, which is at least two years away from generating income on its own.
I have one strategy that I must remind her of from time to time. We live in Colorado and I can force a divorce and a division of the marital assets at any time. I don't want to have to do it, and she doesn't want me to do it, but if that's what it will take to allow me to work on the music project uninterrupted then I won't hesitate to do it, if there is no realistic alternative. While we have been married for 52 years, and have been joined at the lip for three years before that, the fact is that I was put on the planet to live and do the music thing, not remain married and die on the terms that would be most favorable to her.
Harsh? You bet. I have 25 years of music inactivity to overcome -- 25 years in which I've become out of date regarding today's technology for music hardware and software. This time I will let nothing -- nothing -- keep me from what I see now is my life's work. I don't regret any part of the past but I will not allow any part of the future to be changed away from what The Universe wants me to do, which is also what I want to do.
What unfinished business? Answer, I'm going to do two things that have never been done before and that stand a good chance of revolutionizing the way music gets made ..
1 - I plan to make it possible for people who don't play any instruments, and who don't read or write music, to create finished professional sounding sequenced music that they will have composed themselves without ever writing their musical thoughts down in the usual way. I will start with pop music but it will not surprise me if I manage to cover orchestral music as well, though this is not a goal, at least not yet.
2 - I plan to make it possible for someone to present my software with a piece of recorded music and then ask that my software extract a lead sheet from that recording and then compose one or more sequels to that piece, whether pop or orchestral. By sequel I mean music in the same style -- in the same "bag" as musicians used to say. Why? Because even though James Brown has been dead since 2006, I want to hear some new James Brown music. And some new Albert Collins. And some new Waylon Jennings. And yes, some new Buddy Holly. And some new B.B. King. And so on through the entire roster of musicians whose body of work I love but who happen to be dead.
How selfish of me to want these sequels. My eyes are filling with tears as I write this because this all is a big job that will for sure cost me my sanity, at least temporarily. Music made me crazy during Golden MIDI days, and it's going to do so again. Yet The Universe is calling me, telling me to do it. If I don't it may be fifty years, or a hundred, till there is someone available who possesses the necessary skills and the necessary motivation.
Am I being arrogant? No, I'm being humble. Why does it have to be me? Why couldn't I have just curled up and died per what seemed until June of 2015 to be the plan? Hell, folks, I don't know why I was chosen to live instead of to die other than to get this work done once and for all, but chosen I was, and I will let nothing -- nothing -- stand in my way this time.
In various ways I was not ready for this project 25 years ago. Now I'm ready. Now I know that I must do the work alone. That means no employees, no partners, no venture capitalists funding me and able to tell me what to do. It will be just me, alone in a room that I have equipped to support all three activities -- photoart, writing and music.
More apparent arrogance ... Over the years there have been many problems that I knew I could solve (five or six major successes), and many problems that I worked on in hopes that I could solve them (five or six failures) . The work I have outlined above comes under the heading of I Know I Can Do This. All it will take is time and some minor equipment purchases.
My failures have usually come when I was unable to define the problem I was working on simply and cleanly. Thus for example, I struggled but failed to invent relational databases. However, when I saw what IBM researcher James Martin had done I immediately recognized the importance of the solution as well as, finally, a clean statement of the problem being solved. Ditto for the mathematics of "relaxing" a system of multiple constraints to a solution without getting stuck in local minima. I failed at this but recognized the solution done by a couple of IBM people whose work involved fractals, a development that took me completely by surprise.
So no, I don't believe I could solve every problem thrown at me. However, I do believe I have a refined detector that allows me to separate problems into a) ones I know I can solve, versus b) ones I might be able to solve if I get lucky, versus c) problems I know I cannot solve. Over the years I've learned how to learn and have become a lay expert in so many different fields that I usually (but not always) know what it would take to convert a category c) problem into a category b) problem.
If I were starting life all over again I would choose a completely different field, that of molecular biology. I believe that the problem of how to create artificial life is of type b). I also believe that if I could live to be 200 years old it would be a type a) problem.