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Video Killed the Radio Star

Video Killed the Radio Star v2We drove in silence, anger draped over us like a heavy cloud. I sat in the cargo area of our little van, dreading the long drive back from Michigan to Texas. All the tension that had built up between my ever-faithful traveling partner and guitar-playing wizard, Paul Finley, and me had erupted in a teeth-bared grizzly fight. The camera stopped. Marcus had gotten what he wanted.Since the very first time I acted out my poetry at the 1998 Hope Arts Festival, people had talked about capturing my performance on video. “There’s so much that you do that a CD can’t communicate.” “The way you capture an audience with your facial expressions makes you perfect for video.” “I’d love to get a crew to video a live performance from several angles.” Despite everyone’s enthusiasm, a finished video rarely happened.

Rex Williams previously held the record for unfinished Peter Nevland video projects. He’d recorded a number of my solo performances, trying to find music that would match the words, only to see them buried under a pile of too much work to do. Later, when he began developing his online video introductions, he taped me talking about Spoken Groove as a video promo for our website. Within a few months, I gave up hope of ever seeing it completed. Finally, we arranged for an entire band video shoot of Still We involving three locations: an old airplane hanger, a steady cam, and me flirting on-screen with our drummer’s wife. After 5 years, it’s still only 90% complete.

Occasionally, VHS tapes of live performances in tiny towns with the full band would arrive in my hands. I’d watch them on a TV, marveling at how fast it looked like I moved on stage, only to later give up in frustration after not being able to find a way to edit them into a reproducible format. We even have a four camera shoot of our CD release, Birth of the Spoken Groove, that the Pentagon worked on to train their people on video-editing techniques, but never sent back to us. They’re probably using it to torture suspected terrorists.

Eventually my quest for video production began to feel like Cortez searching for El Dorado. When Marcus Flack offered to film a 2006 Soul Survivor performance of Paul and me, I tried to suppress my excitement. When he didn’t show up, I tried not to give in to disappointment. When we saw him the next day, he told us how sick he’d been and offered to shoot two videos of us performing In Love with Your Sound and The Flobgob in one take each. We nailed them, and he actually finished the editing and sent them back to us in a format that we immediately loaded on our website. Our quest for the fabled video came back to life.

When Marcus invited us to come play in Australia in the Spring of 2007, we planned another attempt at a live performance and documentary of our behind-the-scenes activities. The boom cam, nordic photographer, and roving camera all captured our one-and-a-half-hour show expertly, but the outside the scenes documentary didn’t happen. Marcus got too busy with all his other festival coordinating responsibilities, and I wondered if the $1000 I’d paid—although a bargain for a serious camera crew—was worth it.

By the Fall of 2007, we’d missed our chance to sell hundreds of copies of a live performance DVD to our rabid Soul Survivor fans in England, but we still hoped to capture the experience of life on the road with Peter and Paul. When Marcus’ schedule opened up for a couple weeks, I borrowed $1500 from a friend and flew him to Toronto to ride in the back of our GMC Safari and film our lives for a week.

In addition to the awestruck crowds and impromptu magic of everywhere performances, he soon discovered the large amount of conflict in how Paul and I related.

“How often d’you guys fight?” his Aussie accent asked. “I mean, real knock-down drag-out fights?”

“Well, we’ve never had a physical fight, and we don’t get into too many long arguments, but we do have a lot of conflict,” I answered. “We’re just so different.”

It had always been that way. Paul pulled his side of the Spoken Groove wagon at a tortoise pace, while I struggled and strained at my side like a rabbit on speed. If I wanted to see a movie, he wanted to stay home. If he wanted to go on a hike, I’d walk or run a couple miles ahead while he examined faint animal traces or stood still to take in the wonder of nature that always captivated him. We actually learned a lot from each other in the concentrated 6 years we spent touring the world, but deeper problems existed than our personality clash.

Paul displayed incredible guitar talent at a fairly early age. His junior high and high school years found him enjoying success and near celebrity status among his peers as the lead guitarist for a popular local Waukesha, Wisconsin, band named Mas Optica. He turned his focus solely to music, neglecting the math, science, and writing subjects that he viewed as unnecessary. After completing an associates degree in music performance at the Wisconsin conservatory of music, he and the band decided to escape the small town limitations of Waukesha and moved to Phoenix. The band crashed along with Paul’s dreams. He struggled to survive on his own as a music teacher under a burning desert sun. By the time I met him in Austin, he had taken on the mentality of the quintessential struggling artist.

I could never understand what seemed like his suspicion of me. “I’m going out of my way to treat you generously,” I thought. “Doesn’t he realize how much I’ve sacrificed and given up to make this happen?”

“Why does he always have to show me up and get the glory?” he thought. “Can’t he just slow down and appreciate the moment?”

With Marcus in the van with us, it only highlighted the tension. Marcus would ask us each individually to talk about the difficulties we had with each other. Paul and I would go to bed, analyzing the problems in our relationship. By the end of our week together, all the inadequacies, wrongs, and flaws that we saw in each other exploded over some trivial thing I don’t remember. We lashed out at each other on the way to a guitar shop that Paul looked on as paradise, and I saw as boredom. Marcus took it all in with his lens, even though it ironically erased some priceless footage we’d recorded of a new song we hoped to release. Paul and I made some sort of peace with each other and sent Marcus off on his way, looking forward to an ultimate Spoken Groove DVD that I had no money to pay him to complete. It still lies unfinished.

On the way home, Paul let me know that he wasn’t going to come with me to Indonesia after our November tour to Germany. Later, he let me know that he wanted to take at least a year off from touring with me to pursue some of his own individual performance dreams. Despite the time limit he gave, I knew the years of touring with Paul Finley had come to an end.

I talked to Kevin, our booking agent, about the change in structure and how he was going to have to promote me solo from now on, but he struggled to get any bookings for me. While I lectured at a Muslim university, performed concerts, and preached at churches in Indonesia, he let me know that he needed to focus on booking other people so he could make money. The exhaustion of 7-1/2 months of traversing the world that year sank down on me. To top it off, I found out that my long-distance girlfriend didn’t want to pursue a relationship beyond friendship anymore.

It seemed like the end of my dreams. I wondered if I had made any difference. Despite the thousands of smiling faces and multitudes of encouragement I’d received over the years, I felt all alone in a strange country with very little hope for the future. “How do you know when to pack it in…” I wrote. “God, what do you think of me?” I asked, expecting silence.

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