“If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
attr. George Berkeley, Philosopher
This classic philosophy 101 quote has both empirical and metaphysical implications, the former being that sound can only be perceived through the biological mechanism of hearing, and ergo without the on-site presence of ears to perceive the noise and fulfill the equation, the answer to the posed question has to be no.
But what if the falling tree were photographed in motion as it fell to the forest floor, all blur-streaked and undeniably kinetic in its last reluctant surrender to gravity? What if the photograph were accompanied by florid, evocative descriptions aptly penned by the surrounding trees? Could one “feel” the noise, then, and be doubly assured instead through one’s eyes that the event truly happened? Local photographer, guitarist, journalist, singer/songwriter, and Idynomite Media mogul Tim Flack has given the San Diego music community an arguable yes to this hypothetical query with his new book of photographs and text, With One Eye Open: A Decade of San Diego Music in Photography, 2001-2011, which chronicles the professional existence of artists – in what is and has been a predominantly overlooked-subset within the San Diego music scene.
Tim Flack grew up in northern California’s central valley, where bad cover bands reigned but three uncles – two of them guitarists, one a photographer – still managed to inspire the young aficionado to pursue dual muses.
Tim made it to San Diego in 2000, during which, in retrospect, could very well be designated ground zero for the “Troubadour” scene (this publication being the main voice-giving hub in which the principal practitioners found an official public presence after its 2001 founding), as many of its representative artists moved here from other places in or around the same time frame, and eventually found their way into these pages. While its affiliated artists have by no means been limited to the stylistic scope of the Troubadour’s genre manifesto, many of the faction’s central participants fall under the rubric of an acoustic, roots-based and/or singer/songwriter genre in some respect.
Flack began frequenting San Diego music venues shortly after his arrival, where he eventually crossed paths with the likes of Christopher Dale and Cathryn Beeks (and other featured artists like Deadline Friday, Sweetooth, and Podunk Nowhere, all of whose members he would ultimately befriend, and the latter two with which Tim would sit in on guitar), and began amassing the nearly 35 thousand digital images that would provide the photographic grist for the book. In the meantime, he also designed many of the same artist’s web presences and album layouts, and handled physical CD production and publication through Idynomite Media, while simultaneously holding down an on-call day job in the computer industry (and plotting his emergence as a solo artist).
Since coming to San Diego, Tim’s versatility has found an otherwise rare symbiosis within an equally rarefied DIY music community of other musicians, many of them multi-instrumentalists and singers to begin with, who have also doubled (or tripled, or quadrupled…) as music journalists, photographers, multiple-project session musicians and band members, studio or live sound engineers and producers, while also holding down a dizzying variety of day jobs. In fact, if there is one unique characteristic that defines the denizens of this Troubadour scene, it is this virtuosic versatility, this natural manifestation of multiple, often disparate talents that Tim exhibits in his own life and career, and through the creation of this book, and which is epitomized by most of the artists portrayed within the book.
With One Eye Open found its genesis, innocuously enough, through a “dusting off” of Flack’s virtual shoeboxes. He began taking stock of the tens of thousands of digital images from the past decade (some of which he hadn’t laid eyes on in years) in the fall of 2010, in an off-hand attempt to organize and expand his portfolio, but mainly just to see what he had. Slowly but surely the idea grew from a small seed into what it eventually became: a photographic love letter to an unsung cross-section of the San Diego music community. Put simply, Tim felt that all of the artists he had photographed – especially his personal favorites – deserved to be in a book, even if their relative lack of notoriety gave the book slim to nonexistent commercial prospects. It simply needed to exist regardless of practical concerns.
As the project began to take shape, and despite the photos already speaking volumes of their respective artists, it became evident that some other kind of documentation was needed to illustrate each musician’s contributions, so Tim decided to exploit the aforementioned versatility by having local writers – many of them also featured in the same pages – contribute short article/bios to accompany the images. Just as Flack’s insider perspective as a guitarist better serves his photographs of musicians, so too would the artists’ (and close affiliates’) writings better serve their compatriots.
The photographs were carefully chosen, and the artist-on-artist blurbs eventually trickled in (with Ed Decker’s, Jim Trageser’s, Olivia Diez’s, and Lizzie Wann’s writings being the only non-musician exceptions), and the book was eventually completed in September of last year. At 11 inches tall by 1213/16 inches wide and half an inch thick, and sporting a classic professional layout, With One Eye Open belongs on the front display stand with all the other enticing coffee table books at Barnes & Noble. Flack’s photos are evocative of kinetic and soulful performance moods, with the subjects’ expressive faces augmented by vibrant stage light colors, drawing the viewer in as though they were actually at the gig. (Tim had to laugh when he discovered that the majority of “action shots” contained overly passionate closed-eyed singing expressions, which he consciously avoided during the selection process.) And the artist description/anecdotes come close to making this book as much about the writers as the featured musicians, waxing as poetically – and effectively – in their written paeans as they do in song.
Flack made arrangements through Blurb dot com – an online publishing house for independent authors – for an “on-demand” deal (i.e., one copy at a time) as opposed to a 10,000-unit print run, because he anticipated insufficient interest to justify crowding his basement with dozens of boxes of the book for years on end. The problem of choosing this option within the general catch-22 Tim faced in getting the book digitally printed in high quality, however, is that the one-at-a-time unit price is vastly inflated (the 80-page book retails for $170.00), which stands to scare off what demand there is.
Tim may eventually make a virtual version available for Kindle, etc. (it is interesting – if not utterly disheartening – to see print media in a similar tailspin as the music industry), but this conundrum raises bigger questions: Where is the demand? Why is this scene scraping by on such an inordinate dearth of fans at the shows and events, with little to no mention in other publications? Why aren’t thousands of people discovering and getting into these amazingly talented artists?
Several of With One Eye Open’s subjects, including Cathryn Beeks (with her ubiquitous Listen Local San Diego showcases at prominent local venues, and now more recently with her “Homegrown Hour” on 102.1 KPRI FM), Chuck Schiele and his Beach Music Mafia production company and studio, Kitsch & Sync Production mastermind Sven-Erik Seaholm, and Jeff Berkley with Miracle Recordings, took up their own calls to bring the visions of this loosely unified and wide-ranging talent pool to the people of San Diego via venues, radio stations, and studios. But despite the gargantuan efforts of the aforementioned paragons (among many others) to expose its breadth of talent, because of the stigma born by the pervading perception of it being a presenter of overly personal, overwrought, often ineffectually solo-performed music from bygone eras (it is clearly the older, redheaded stepchild to this city’s younger hipster-rock scene), the fact that fair-weather coastal tourist towns tend to be less conducive for the deeper emotional shades of soulful, acoustic-based roots and Americana music, and perhaps because of the lack of legitimate recognition by San Diego’s other publications (CityBeat went so far as to publicly declare its withdrawal of journalistic coverage in its local music section a few years ago), this scene has remained underground.
But now there is a book, a bona fide vade mecum, a tangible record of the eschewed magic that has transpired under so many San Diegan noses since the dawn of the new millennium. And it’s not all tumbleweeds and crickets; several of the book’s featured artists – including Anya Marina, Tim Flannery, Transfer, Steve Poltz, and Gregory Page – have managed to gain substantial traction over the last decade, performing regularly in front of copious audiences at home and abroad, getting regular TV and advertising placements, and generally becoming known outside Southern California (not to mention winning numerous San Diego Music Awards, which either outs CityBeat as a sender of mixed messages, or simply thumbs its I-told-you-so nose at the currently struggling weekly magazine). And Cathryn Beek’s latest Acoustic Alliance event (at which Tim Flack performed several songs from his debut solo album, The Bridge Is on Fire) had a more than respectable turnout at the spacious Bay Park venue, Brick By Brick.
Tim Flack is using With One Eye Open as a chapter-closing excuse to lay down his camera for the time being (as there are now ample photographers at the shows) and shift his focus to other areas. As a music town, San Diego has a long way to go before any of its artists will be able to get the recognition they deserve without having to kowtow to low-brow party lines or migrate to more conducive locales…but Flack can now boast of having done more than most, as both a fan and practitioner, to attempt to change these circumstances, having captured the sound of beautiful music made by wonderful artists in astounding pictures and words.
Order With One Eye Open at www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2460034