TO TABLE OF
November - December 1999
When I was a little girl,
symphonies filled my ears in
twilight sleep, the stage between sleeping and waking. Until I was older, I thought that everyone heard
this music just before dozing off or waking. It calmed me after nightmares and brought the vividness of
my senses back to me when I could not remember my dreams.
During my four years of college, I wavered
between concentrating in fine art and writing, while focusing on music in my spare time. Just before graduation,
I was asked to move from Chicago to Minneapolis to join two bands in the Twin Cities. I don't think I
would have moved to Minneapolis had I been offered a well-paying job as a writer. Yet, music somehow lured
me away from a city with which I was constantly enamored.
These bands thrived for a few years and
then disintegrated. There were other bands, but it was not until I began to play the music in my sleep
that I actually felt successful. The project was called Swoon. We had only played three shows before being
nominated for best new band by the Minnesota Music Academy. I was working hard for my dream, to be a professional
musician, and it was coming true. At 25, after years of eating peanut butter and jelly and having to borrow
money from my parents, I was finally financially independent and doing what I loved. This meant juggling
a full-time day job plus an evening job as a waitress, promoting my musical project, playing live shows
and still managing to find some quiet hours with my boyfriend, Ev.
I moved in with Ev after
getting what seemed to be the flu. I was unable to walk for two days and the illness never quite went
away. Shortly afterwards, I discovered I had CFIDS and fibromyalgia. Because of my symptoms, I quit both
of my jobs and was forced to give up music. CFIDS and fibromyalgia took it all away from me.
was housebound much of that summer. Ev was extremely supportive and we worked through our resentments.
He resented my illness and the way it affected the growth of our relationship. I resented that he (also
a musician) had gotten signed with a major label the month I received my diagnosis. I wanted to be happy
for him, and truly was, but there was an envy that lingered from having to give up what I loved most while
he thrived in what I had worked toward for so long. During my housebound time, I was able to use our computer
with little repercussion and when I had enough energy, spent my time writing and learning Photoshop. I
went from being practically computer illiterate to computer savvy in just a few weeks.
I had begun
writing every day and forming my literary musing into a manuscript, with hopes of publishing it. I also
began doing a lot of experimental photography. Due to my illness, I could not use a flash and did a lot
of time exposures in dark settings. Then a friend of mine who wrote for a few local publications said
he was doing an interview with musician David Byrne. He invited me along to take the photographs.
next thing I knew I had been invited to join Pitchfork Internet Media as the staff photographer and was
taking photos of my favorite musicians during their live performances. So I was accomplishing great things
while at the peak of my illness. Sometimes my health caused me to cancel photographing concerts at the
last minute, but the editor of Pitchfork kept his faith in me and, regardless of my health, kept me on
as his photographer.
While I was still quite ill and confused about what direction my life was
taking, I discovered my guitar sitting in the closet. I picked it up one day and just played it until
my fingers hurt and peeled. It was then I realized that despite my accomplishments, I had missed making
music the way a true romantic misses her first love. I picked up my guitar every day after that, not really
knowing what my intentions were. I knew I would not be able to play live shows or even attend rehearsals.
Yet, on my humble four-track recorder, I was writing up to five songs a day. Songs would just pour out
of me, as if from somewhere else entirely, like the music that came to me in my near-dreams. It was back.
Ev was the one who first encouraged me to continue. He took some of these songs and arranged, produced
and mastered them.
During this process, I remembered Shannon Kennedy. She was a photographer who
developed sensitivities to chemicals used in the development process. Instead of changing professions,
she made her work adapt to her. She began executing elaborate and very beautiful photocopies of the human
body. Her work was unique and more revered than ever. This fueled my decision that even though the music
business is very tough (even for a healthy person), I was going to make it adapt to me. Instead of giving
up because of my inability to tour, I made an album that could not be performed live. I became a solo
artist by default, because I could not work well in the studio with others due to my fatigue and malaise.
I honed my skills in production and Ev completed what I could not do. My album was distributed only to
a few acquaintances, who encouraged me enough to consider marketing it to record labels. Ryan, the editor
of Pitchfork, liked it so much that he helped me distribute it to his label contacts.
my first label offer recently, but still need a lawyer and still have no money or paying job. However,
I do have the support of my family, friends and Ev, who have made these things possible. My manuscript
is complete, but has not been sent to an agent yet. I have developed new techniques in using bad photographs
as springboards for collage rubbings. And I have started on another album, this time in our basement studio.
A great deal of my energy has come back, but I am not recovered. There are days when I accomplish nothing
and cry all day long. I still meet people who think my illness is a state of mind or a conscious derailment
from life. I am overwhelmed with all I have left to do-I have created all of these wonderful things, but
they are still just sitting like dust in my desk, computer and cassette tapes.
My greatest challenge
will be to make my creations real to the general public, and I realize that even when I do, I still might
not make any money. This illness has opened my eyes to a new world of suffering, but also a new world
where I can make my favorite things the main part of my everyday life. I have learned to appreciate the
uniqueness of the music in my sleep and its role in my life. I cannot let go of the things that make me
who I am or I will be living in my own skin as a stranger.
At the time she submitted
this article, Karen Kopacz
was giving her creative side free rein through music and photography.