I used to be a chronic journal writer. I collected black marbled journals and kept a ballpoint pen at the ready. In fact, I used my afro as a pincushion (pencushion?) and often looked like a Morehouse student-film remake of Hellraiser II. My mom would always buy me leather-bound, high-class journals, but I couldn't deface them with my chicken scratch or the prenatal words not ready for the world. It had to be a cheap, black marbled journal from Staples or Rite Aid.
Several times, I've had to explain to fellow bargoers why I was frantically jotting last-call ideas in the corner of a dive instead of swaying malevolently to "The Humpty Dance." I've mastered using my steering wheel as a desk without any major accidents. I have enough coffee-stained napkins with first sketches of songs to wipe a lifetime of green sauce out of my moustache.
But in recent years, I've abandoned pen and page for the smartphone. No more ink-stained khakis (I've had a few pens blow up in my hair, as well, but black ink smeared in an afro is permissible). No more trying to decipher my own after-midnight penmanship—only the convenience of typing and texting.
The new process has burned me more than once. While bursting at the seams, pregnant with burrito and looking for a bathroom off Interstate 5 in gridlock L.A. traffic, I dropped my phone into the toilet and crowned it with awful. Like black-metal band Mayhem, the phone was beyond salvation. I lost about 100 texts worth of lyrics that day.
My relationship with smartphone-vs.-journal is similar to mp3-vs.-vinyl. The vinyl experience is realer to me, more tangible and authentic, but I'm often forced to operate the vehicle of convenience. I still have a black marbled journal with me nearly always, but it's gathered enough dust to write "Wash me" on its cover with a wet index finger. I negotiate lyrics in the journal, but I stage them in a texting folder.
I recall biking through Normal Heights, talking on the phone with Midnight Pine singer Shelbi Bennett as she was returning from Coachella. She said, "I might lose you in the mountains," and, as forecast, her voice was gone in seconds. I quickly texted the following to myself:
I might lose you in the mountains / As her voice fell fast away / On the precipice of always / What was left for her to say / As she winds down desert highways / Turns I marked long years ago / Underpasses overwhelming / And the peaks still white with snow
Who knows what, if anything, that text will become. But in the alcohol-soaked '90s, those words would have been lost as fast as her voice faded into the desert's abyss, and there's nothing more frustrating than the what-ifs that slip into the oblivion of recall.
About a month ago, I moved on from my shattered Blackberry full of ideas to an iPhone full of new ways to capture them. The Blackberry had lasted through enough drops to suggest I should never hold a child, but it's always the last drop that shatters it. I sulked my way into the AT&T store and was coaxed by fast talkers into joining the rest of the world in understanding the joy an iPhone can bring.
The transition was a little bit tricky. Megan Liscomb from Boy King was kind enough to teach me that hashtags aren't just Amsterdam coffee-shop labels. And Erik Canzona of The Heavy Guilt introduced me to Instagram. Since I got my iPhone, I've sent about 50 texts to the contact saved as "Alfred Howard." Out of context, these texts mean nothing. For example: "midget / batman shirt / fat girlfriend" and "you'll suffer for your silence / I'm sorry for you sins / I should have never knocked / you shouldn't let me in."
Recently, though, I got a response from this "Alfred Howard," which was really confusing. "You Crazy!!!" the text read. "LOL." Which is the last sentence I'd ever write, ever. I throw around "You crazy" as much as the next man, but I just learned LOL wasn't "lots of love," and I have enough time to write out "Laughing out loud."
That wasn't the most confusing part. It appeared that I had somehow just texted myself with my mind. Had my phone become sentient? Are iPhones that good? Do I sleep-text with the personality of a 16-year-old? Was this was the rise of the machines that Skynet had warned me about in my adolescence? Briefly, I even looked forward to a new Arnold Schwarzenegger film for the first time in 20 years. I cautiously asked Erik, my rational and more tech-savvy roommate and bandmate: WTF (as the kids say) is going on?
It turned out to be a simple mistake: I'd saved Alfred Howard as 619-9**-3800, instead of as my own number, 619-9$$-3800. Sorry for all the super fucked-up texts, 9**-3800. Especially the one that said, "I'm coming for you."
Alfred Howard plays in The Heavy Guilt, The Black Sands, The Midnight Pine and Rebecca Jade & The Cold Fact.