Subbing in Substack

I spent a few hours this week delving into Substack, the online self-publishing venue giving independent writers the opportunity to build a syndicated portfolio intended for a dedicated audience of subscribers who read for free or pay, often on sliding scales, the writer usually offering more content to paid subscribers. It’s a little like busking, where the musician sets up on a busy street corner and pulls out the axe and puts out the tip hat.

One great plus of Substack is that there are no ads, few distractions. The presentations I’ve seen are clear and clean. I was already a free subscriber to Caleb Crain’s “Leaflet,” a combo newsletter of his bird watching photography and his lit-culture-watching writing, and of Julian Gallo’s “Cazar Moscas” – wonderful title that, which means to catch flies, or to fish with a fly, apt metaphor for Substack. When Substack began, in 2017, not too long ago but maybe a long time in online years, the idea was to establish a newsletter, so that with every Substack post an email notification went automatically to subscribers. And that’s how I still read Caleb and Julian’s new pieces. And this week I discovered and subscribed to Patti Smith’s Substack. I had become aware of podcast capability at Substack, and when I found Patti there, I saw that she was also putting up short videos, which I immediately found attractive for their simplicity, honesty, clarity. They didn’t seem to be performances, but downhome one way conversations, personal, if you will, in of course an impersonal, voyeuristic way. For example, I saw her in her everyday place in Rockaway, and it looked exactly like a lived in beach house might look if it indeed was lived in.

Anyway, I had been interested in moving my “Live at 5” guitar gig from IGTV to some other venue, not really all that interested in seeing my seventy something selfie on the silver screen anymore, and growing tired of Instas addictive format, and I thought about podcasting, that is audio only, some guitar, song, story, poem, conversation. Then I became aware of Substack’s video capability and before I knew it, I was going live on Substack with a “Live at 5” show. Or so I thought. The whole enterprise ended in disaster. As near as I can tell, Substack does not enable live streaming. You have to upload either audio or video, and the videos are limited to, it appears, under 10 minutes. I had by Substack “Live at 5” showtime 16 free subscribers. I’m not sure what they ended up seeing or hearing, if anything. And then, late last evening, I discovered the “Live at 5” video I had made for Substack in the photo gallery of my Samsung device. It was just over 5 minutes long. I watched a bit of it, stopped it, and deleted it.

Interested viewers may check out another version recounting my subbing at Substack experience here. I’m reminded of Dylan’s famous words, “and I’ll know my song well before I start singing,” an admonition I’ve never paid much attention to, and also reminded of the Nobel Prize time Patti forgot the lyrics, which was no big deal, but of course everyone had to make a big deal of it, as if pros never get nervous or forget the words.

Where do I go from here? IDK. Real time with real people might be nice.

The Old Busker

He stood beneath a bank of trees
near the beach of a green spring
the wily busker taking deposits
of fruit in his cowpoke hat basket
a few choice purple cherries
a couple of greenbacks
and a nugget of fool’s gold.

He sang of broken hearts
paper torn into many pieces
litter along the roadway
how love collects like dust
up against the bent guardrails
that’s my heart in pennies
he sang out on the highway.

He worries the strings of his guitar
with his bent wire fingers
flap slaps the hook smacks the box
shapes his fretful music
the earth wants a cover
creeping vines and grasses
if any have many piled carpets.