Red Light Writing with Flint Eastwood
This story appears in the Fall 2018 issue of EMMIE Magazine.
Some time after 11 p.m., somewhere along Pike Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, I saw her jump off the bench and throw her hands up in the air. She might have yelled a little bit. (She definitely yelled.) She wasn’t angry. She wasn’t upset. She was a little excited, a little nervous, and, with a smile on her face, was pacing wildly in front of me.
A few months later I’m sitting again with Jax Anderson (aka Flint Eastwood), this time in Colectivo Coffee in Milwaukee, asking her what she does when she gets excited. “I pace. You’ve seen me pace,” she laughs as she finishes her espresso. “I like the idea of being excited about something. I like the thrill and the challenge of taking a cool concept and figuring out the puzzle of making it happen.”
If anyone can put together the pieces, it’s Anderson. She has a way with convincing those around her to get their shit together and start writing their own destinies. She’ll coax your deepest dreams and innermost thoughts out into the open — an intrinsic set of characteristics for the Detroit-based artist. A filmmaker, photographer and musician, Anderson undeniably occupies a space that is completely unique, but never exclusive, to her. Naturally, as life progresses, spaces shift.
“My biggest transformation has been learning to love and be myself fully and freely. It’s an ongoing transformation and is something that’s vital for everyone,” Anderson says. Arguably, that shifting energy — her vitality — comes from the ability to look at what’s in front of her now and process it, accept it, or not, and express herself, for herself, and for anyone else that may be trying to discover a way to cope with the ways of life.
From a young age, Anderson had to develop a scrappy, tenacious attitude in order to understand her world. Afternoons spent watching “That 70’s Show” reruns in her living room while strumming her father’s Taylor 12 string, a gift from her late mother, and seeing her oldest brother playing drums and “going crazy” in the untamed Detroit punk scene as a teen, left her entranced by the art existing around her. The distinct way of craft and unapologetic integrity within the punk scene instilled in Anderson the very DIY, collaborative work ethic she stands by today.
“It was like, ‘Oh, you don’t have a venue? We’re going to make a venue. Oh, you don’t have merch? We’re going to make our own merch,” Anderson says. “I thought that was very fascinating to take the concept of not needing anybody else, just yourself and your friends. And so whenever I started making music I definitely took a lot of those concepts and put them into play. Like, anything is possible. If you can dream it, it can happen.”
Looking at Anderson, we immediately feel that punk energy pulsing and radiating out of her, notably with her loud and off the wall stage presence. Not many would venture to guess she grew up in a religious family, nor would they attribute the time spent in church during her youth to the nurturing of her creative outlets. The church of her childhood, the church rooted in her creative origins, also told her that she needed to change, that something was wrong with her, that she wasn’t “right.”
Over the course of 2018, the church held “conversations” (i.e. gay conversion therapy) for girls aged 11 to 13 that were questioning their sexual and gender identity. “I was one of those girls at one point they were having these conversations with,” Anderson says as she shakes her head. “It put me very deep in the closet, it gave me a lot of issues with anxiety and depression and self-hate for a very long time for what they said to me.” These so-called workshops set forth ideas in young adolescents that, who they are and who they feel they are, isn’t valid.
“As someone who has actually lived through it, that’s very toxic and very wrong,” Anderson says. “You are perfect just as you are. Be yourself. The faster that you learn to love yourself completely, the happier you’ll be.”
The “conversations” were met with protest, but when the pastor leading the class received an award, honoring his “efforts,” Anderson couldn’t shake the ghosts of her past. Three days later, a producer at Assemble Sound (a music collective founded by Anderson, her brother and other Detroit creatives) sent her a folder containing a piano loop that eventually became the foundation for her single “Real Love,” released in June 2018. “I played it and it just felt very gospel,” she says. “As soon as I heard it, the first line [in ‘Real Love,’] ‘Can I be honest for a minute / I found peace when I lost religion’ immediately came out, and it started to unfold and was written within a 30-45 minute period.”
Within this stream of conscious method came an unintentional narrative, a common motif for the artist. The “Fruits of the Spirit,” a concept under the Christian religion, states that if you’re a “good” Christian, your life will produce several truths and the closer to God (i.e. the more enlightened) you’ll be. These fruits — love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — had cordially manifested themselves into the words of ‘Real Love.’ “I went back through and mentioned all the fruits of the spirit,” Anderson says, reflecting on the process. “And how I obtained them by being myself and being an openly gay person and accepting myself and loving myself, even though the church said I would never find those things.”
Once thought impossible, all of these fruits found their way to her — just by the way of Anderson being herself. The way she sees the world, the way she interacts with it and forces it to move, all with a tender touch and compassionate spirit, is conveyed through a special sensibility she possesses and all that she has found; it’s powerful. But beyond the surface, even the strong meet adversity and are troubled by their own battles. Looking to someone and saying “we don’t love each other anymore” isn’t easy. After she and her girlfriend of five years parted ways, Anderson, like most people, needed a way to understand her feelings.
“Two weeks after it happened I got into the studio and turned on this red light that was, for some reason, in my studio — I have no idea how it got there,” she says with a shrug and a smile. “But there was this red light and, I turned it on and I spent a full 24 hours in the studio, and I just wrote a bunch of songs, all in consecutive order.”
“For me, it was like I unintentionally told the story of what it feels like to experience heartbreak for the first time, because that’s something that I’ve never addressed,” Anderson says of her latest release, This is a Coping Mechanism for a Broken Heart. “I’ve never really written about love before.”
The album carries the listener through a raw exposure of her heart, one chapter at a time. Although not originally written with the intent of becoming a story, post-creation Anderson intentionally compiled all six chapters into a 23-minute, full-length piece — The Handbook — seamlessly and truthfully pulling us along.
“I process life experiences by creating art and I always have. It’s very healing,” Anderson says. “My hope is that, by me being honest and vulnerable, it can help other people be vulnerable about the things that they’re dealing with.” Vulnerability requires introspection and therein lies strength. In this moment of pause and consideration, we actually think about ourselves, about how we feel and about what we desire. (And so, begins the process of self-love. Take the time to think about you. You’re not selfish for doing so.) The rawest pieces of Anderson’s identity and music act in unison, demanding attention from all those in contact with them, revealing the authenticity, originality and passion behind her work.
Anderson found her red light fortuitously at her feet. The light, which by no means needs be constrained to a form of glass, filament and wire, guides us to where we need to be, when we need to be there — no matter the destination. It is a moment in time that we envelop ourselves in completely to feel something, or maybe it’s just a space for us to begin to understand something. Regardless of the reason, the red light we regard has a fiery influence that pushes and pulls us onward as we move throughout our lives. It exists not to occupy our space, but to illuminate it. It’s not an inhibitor, but a conduit for thought and reflection.
Ablaze in incandescent red, we are exposed. Our inhibitions fade into the heat and we are restored to our most primitive form. Our fortitude is at its peak in the moment we allow ourselves to speak in tongues of passion and exploit them, willingly. Anderson, having found the strength to share her vulnerability to find peace, opens up the gate for the rest of us to follow suit. In her fire, in her hurt, the affirmation of the existence of some divinity is mobilized. To Anderson, “Divine’ is commanding. It says something is untouchable, yet wise. It also says ‘don’t fuck with me.’ It’s out of reach, but very much in sight.”