February 2010. I had no friends. My girlfriend at the time lived 40 minutes away. I was completely alone inside a three story rental during a particularly vicious winter. I had nothing besides the burning desire to absolutely destroy everyone who had wronged me, stolen from me, and turned public opinion against me. Things could have been better.
I had to regroup. I had to humble myself and learn from my mistakes. I began devouring the same kind of books for inspiration, whether comics like Batman, The Question, Hellblazer, Ed Brubaker's “Criminal” series, or noir authors David Goodis, Raymond Chandler, and Megan Abbot. They all had a similar character: a lonesome man wronged by the world with no control of his surroundings and a face perfect for bruises. I longed to connect to someone fictionalized for guidance. How can a man who has been disgraced and reviled by his inner circle, where his presence is outlawed in pockets of the city, even begin to get his legs under him? I hoped that John Constantine or Tracy Lawless or Philip Marlowe had the answers, because I was yesterday's news. I needed answers.
When I read crime books or comics, I look for three things: a great story, nimble language and slang, and no bullshit. I want the action brief and forceful, the slang thick, and the curveballs breaking inches from my face. I want to clutch my ribs when a private dick gets thrown down a staircase for sticking his nose where it doesn't belong. I want to repurpose code words for speakeasy entries. I want to smell the perfume from a broad's neckline. I want to risk life and limb for the pursuit of something noble not money, fame, or adulation. I want a man to suffer for something greater. If he dies, he did it to get some dame off the hook, or to help a friend dodge danger from ruthless savages.
Violence without purpose is nihilism. And revenge without satisfaction is just karma. My karma was rotten. Writing the new Shadowboxers album No Vacation for Murder was the beginning of reversing the curse. It started with the image of retaliation and getback guided by Bruce Wayne, the nonchalant cool of John Constantine, the citywide strolls of Philadelphia by Alvin Darby, the access to shady jukejoints like Gil Hopkins, and the badass mug of Tracy Lawless. It was a tall order, but I was vigilant about my research. I wanted to inflict pain, in real life and on the microphone. I was becoming darker in my isolation.
By the time the record was wrapped up three years later, I had become Vic Sage, The Question, a man in an overcoat and fedora who stomped out crime…without a face. A man who was battered and bruised and bided his time with Eastern philosophy, meditation, and personal revelation. A man with a wish to help people with nothing asked in return, not even facial recognition. He has a teacher named Aristotle. He is a spiritual warrior. And that's what I became.
Buddha said holding a grudge is like holding a hot coal even when you throw it at someone, you still get burned. I listened to Buddha. I meditated every week. I fasted. I surrounded myself with likeminded people in Philadelphia who longed to overcome their delusions and untamed minds. I became a foe destroyer, the foe being my ignorance.
My music took a sharp turn. Suddenly, songs weren't so hard to create. I was joyful. I had compassion, wisdom, and patience in my heart. I didn't fear those who had wronged me or what my reaction would be if I bumped into them. And my album No Vacation For Murder no longer symbolized revenge enacted but revenge unsettled. Because when you don't act on your emotions and your pride, you are forced to face yourself. The targets on my hit list became my spiritual guides. They forced me to examine, to dig deep, to put myself in uncomfortable spaces. I came to understand that revenge was useless, that pride was a useless emotion, and that the people who ostracized me were stuck in their own karma.
I still wish them the best, because we had attracted each other at one point, so I understand their suffering. But ultimately, it doesn't matter. There's no vacation for murder; pain, and suffering are a part of our lives. This album is weird to share with the world right now because it's not who I am anymore. But everything that went into it, from exhausting the comic book racks, to leaving girlfriends, to many uncorked bottles of devil water, to sitting cross legged and focusing on my breath for hours were just steps along the journey. And now I have it all; the books, the songs, the booze, the woman, and the best kind of friends. I just had to say the long goodbye to everything else.
The Shadowboxer's No Vacation For Murder is out April 1 on Three Dollar Pistol.