Henry Miller once wrote, "Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing."
You can take that philosophy for anything really. It's a different way to say focus on the task at hand. Either way, it's a motto that Vancouver's beat-boxin', blues-crooning, slam poet C.R. Avery takes very seriously.
"You gotta just be honest about the task at hand and go to it," he says on a phone call from his home in East Vancouver.
"But there's a certain amount of depression that happens after you make something beautiful and then it's over. So it's always good to just have the next thing ready to go so you don't ever have that dip. Finish one thing and then, ah, I get to work on this."
Which would explain the prodigious body of work from his last decade. He's had his hands in dozens of different projects, having recently recorded a five-song album with the Prague Symphony Orchestra called Act One, which was recently released on vinyl. As we speak with Avery, he's gearing up to head out on the road with a 12-person burlesque show that he describes as a "rock show that's not boring."
He's finishing up another album called Adventures Down in the Valley, a batch of songs that he wrote while touring Canada in December. There's the whole burlesque show. He says he's heading to Cuba to finish a book for Red Bloody Publishing.
And that's just a taste. Eclectic doesn't even begin to describe it. Avery's a bluesmith with an affinity for hip hop. He's a one-man band without any instruments. Or maybe he'll play the piano. Maybe he'll spill some poetic verse whilst beat boxing simultaneously. He'll drag you into the darkest recesses of our urban culture, and then tour you through the lunacy of his own mind.
His output, when put all together, is almost schizophrenic but there's nothing deranged about it. It's familiar and compelling. Is it folk? Hip hop? Avant-garde? Really, it's everything, all at once.
The man is a descendant of the rudest and crudest of the 20th century's finest artists. You see George Carlin in there, a little of Bob Dylan's "divine" poetry, some Exile On Main Street-era Rolling Stones and an 18-year-old LL Cool J "spitting rhymes in a kangaroo hat." Throw in a little "Muhammad Ali spitting rhymes in a press conference," and you get a sense of where he's coming from.
In short: keep the audience captivated.
"It's not like we're inventing the wheel but I mean we can see the difference between a minor poet and what George Carlin was doing," Avery says. "You know, the first words out of his mouth were just, boom! I'm not going to wait until the middle of the set to get confrontational, lewd, rude and funny. Those were the first lines out of his mouth, you see that and go, 'Oh, that's inspiring.'"
Avery grew up in "the sticks." In Portland, Ont., actually — a small town off Highway 15. He discovered hip hop when he was 11. At 14, he was accepted into an Ottawa arts school, where he was thrown in to a room with actors, dancers, visual artists, musicians and the like. At 16, he'd dropped out and migrated west only to return shortly after to finish the program.
But the call of the west drew him back and by 19 he was back in Vancouver, fine-tuning his craft. And it is here that he has stayed. He has found his little bohemian community right there on Commercial Drive.
"To the Mission (District) in San Francisco to Brooklyn in New York to Broadway in Saskatoon, these are all great communities and I'm so happy to go there and perform but I give the middle finger to them all because Commercial Drive reigns supreme," he says.
"I'd go crazy if I was here 24-7. That's just not the Hank Williams postcard, but as far as a place to write and gather steam for the next bank rob, it's the place to do it."
It's here that he chips away at whatever he's working on. He likens the artist to a carver — he's got to keep chiselin' away.
"That's what you do," he says. "And in the process you try to not think about stupid shit.
"It's the only thing in the world that's important. It's not a publicist or getting a good quote in some stupid famous publication, it's about writing the fucking song that's going to actually be in this world."