In August, I wrote a blog called “Confessions from the Devil” about the crippled course of The Devil’s Carnival series. It was difficult to write. Difficult, because it felt like an official separation letter from a project to which I’d wed myself for half of a decade.
My romance with TDC had all the typical trappings of marriage and divorce: passionate courtships and meddling in-laws, dewy-eyed collaborations and unrealistic vows, pretty dresses and bitter disputes… and a displaced child. Fittingly, this devilish matrimony also had a touch of all of the deadly sins.
I obviously have a lot of conflicted feelings about the way things are left with The Devil’s Carnival. Aside from the blood and years committed to the pilgrimage, I really believe in the message of the movies. Sure, there’s a lot of onscreen glitter and camp, but there’s also a celebration of the weird and the willful, and a condemnation of theocracy.
There is also the matter of TDC‘s fans, thousands of wonderfully wicked souls who believe in and have supported the project for years. Knowing there’s a dedicated fanbase wanting more makes the unceremonious way in which the series is left hanging feel especially lame and shortsighted.
At the end of each year, I routinely find myself in a reflective mood, thinking back on the successes and failures of the dying year, and contemplating the promise of the one to come. These recent musings made me think about The Devil’s Carnival, which is why I’m writing this blog.
There were many triumphs and losses experienced with TDC over the years, but last week my brain fixated on a singular regret: a frustration and depression over the notion that I may never get to portray Lucifer’s origin story, never get to share my take on this epic character, who was thwarted and humiliated, but who overcame loss and fear by using will and imagination to shape a new world.
And then it dawned on me, this is precisely my story for 2016.
The story starts in the fall of 2015. Reeling from the abusive, dishonest treatment that the TDC2 touring crew and I had just suffered, I returned home to the reality that my tour colleagues had been stiffed, that I allowed myself to succumb to litigious bullying, and that a project I loved and bled for would be entering a state of limbo (from which it would most-likely never recover) due to the mistakes, incompetence and bad business of a select few. It was a devastating homecoming.
I wallowed in this state for a while. Months. Hoping that things would change, that grievances would be addressed, and that a plan to deliver on all of the promise that the musical series had to offer would be enacted. Instead, those involved chose to act as though none of the grossness ever happened and I—the author, co-composer and star of the series—was all but dismissed from any meaningful conversation on the project’s future. It was a cold and ego-sobering reality.
By winter, the ashes of The Devil’s Carnival seemed to cover all of 2015 in gloom. What emerged from this rubble, however, was not defeat, but a new resolve.
In early 2016, Saar Hendelman, TDC‘s co-composer, and I launched a brand-new project called American Murder Song. In doing so, we set some reeeeally ambitious goals for the year. Our mission: create a musical brand that was every bit as artistically bold and rich as The Carnival series, but with way less cooks in the kitchen, far more modest budgets, and a commitment to honest and respectful business practices.
On a personal level, I also set out to ascend above The Carnival debris and deliver a satisfactory and cathartic experience for myself and the fans who were left in the lurch, as well as mend some of the relationships that were bruised by TDC‘s fallout.
Saar and I launched American Murder Song in March 2016. By this coming March, we will have recorded twenty original songs, produced over fifty videos, completed a thirty-five city tour, and laid the way for an exciting future with the project (some big announcements on this last point are a-coming down the pike soon!). In other words, we met and exceeded our goals.
The American Murder Song road was not without its bumps, but overall the ride was smooth and satisfying. In November, at the end of six-week The American Wake Tour, everyone on the tour crew was sad that the journey was ending, and eager to do it all over again if given the opportunity. This was the polar opposite of the ways things ended on the final TDC tour.
This positivity and warmth was not just present aboard American Murder Song‘s tour van (“The Murder Wagon”), but exuding from the audiences who attended our shows. There were many touching moments with fans, but two bear repeating here:
At our NYC show, which took place in a very cramped venue, audience members near the front of our stage sat down, as a group, whenever an onstage video component played. They did this, without any prompting or conversation, to make sure that those behind them could better view the screen.
In Minneapolis, when our band played some post-show instrumental tunes, the entire crowd—again without prompting or discussion—sang along to “The Star-Spangled Banner”… even though the familiar tune was presented in a most unfamiliar minor key.
In other words, our fans are awesome!
On tour, the whole project was aglow with a sense of kindness and community, and it was a honor to witness and be a part of American Murder Song‘s rise in 2016.
I know what you’re thinking. Did TZ really just compare his petty and privileged artistic struggles with Lucifer’s fall? You bet your evil ass I did. Hail Satan!
I’m sharing all of this not to gloat, but because I’m excited. Excited, both by the achievements of 2016 and the promise of 2017. I also hope that some of you struggling artistic souls out there will find the journey and perseverance inspiring.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who are part of the adventure with me. Thank you for believing in and supporting my artwork, and for not giving up on this ol’ devil.
There are a lot of souls who contributed to making American Murder Song‘s inaugural year a success. Too many to thank here, but there is a handful of talented souls who deserve special thanks at this year end juncture:
Jake Akuna (director, editor and visual effects artist for the bulk of our videos—that’s s photo of his AMS workboard above), Oceano Ransford (designer of the majority of our graphics and logos, including The Mark, which has been tattooed on many a fine soul, including yours truly), Scotty Morris and Cedrick Courtois (music producers and mixers of all of our murder tunes), Scully Rybarczyk (tour booker, manager, and road goddess), and Brian Smith (our videographer, who’s presently directing and editing a documentary on AMS‘s impressive 2016 expedition). Thank you, all.
Brian’s documentary, which is currently available for pre-order, comes in a fancy box set. The box set is a replica of the compass featured in American Murder Song‘s music videos. It includes two CDs of murder ballads, a DVD of the documentary, and a numbered certificate of authenticity (we’re only making 1500 box sets, so get yours now as these are most definitely a collector’s item!).
So, if you’re looking for something on which to spend the money that Santa gave you, order one of these beauties today: http://americanmurdersong.com/GetBloody.
In short, I’m not sure what the future of The Devil’s Carnival will be. All I know is that American Murder Song is an experience that I look forward to continuing to share with you in the new year and beyond.
Happy New Year, everyone!