Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mall Security Guards

We meet again, mall fountain. Oh, the times spent here as a spotty youth with my friends! I return here as a spotty adult. Would we be walking home or would Michelle pick us up in her fancy car? Would her car seem as fancy in 2017? Good speakers. It wasn't such a bad walk back to Greg's house. Maybe that blonde girl from a different-but-overlapping clique would come around and I'd get too tongue-tied to even say hello? Now THAT sounds fun!

Somehow it was.

In this spot, I might've said something to Rich Schumacher that seemed interesting at the time but would now seem inane. But there's no way to know! Back then, instead of social media we had to get our attention from mall security guards. And they don't seem to have documented our evenings.

In my memory, the fountain had water instead of black plastic trash bags. In that funny way that we rewrite the past in our recollections.

No, wait - I'm pretty sure there really was water in there.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Here In The Future

He doesn’t know where he slept last night, but we know. “Our” home, as opposed to “a” home. The interesting thing was that mere seconds after this upsetting revelation, he cracked a seriously funny joke. The deal, it seems, is that he’s not as ‘here’ as he could be, but he’s also not as gone as he could be. And that means a lot.

That means he got to meet BOTH of his grandkids and is watching the eldest one grow through toddlerdom and ever-closer to kiddom. He's seen his daughter start her own family and he’s seeing his son grow into a happy and strong man with a lot of love and a life largely of his own design (aside from his debts to Capital One and Discover).

On my birthday, we drove to Cinnaminson, New Jersey (which smelled OK, but not as good as it sounds) and picked up a hospital bed from the Hot Marine Widower (as we later called him). Mom tried to make my girlfriend and I cancel my birthday dinner and install the bed instead. We… struck a balance and then made our way to Cafe Michelangelo. I got drunk and Jules gave me a complimentary slice of birthday cake that was so good that it made up for at least 50% of the day’s stress.

We tried to salvage my birthday further by taking a late-night walk through the park next to our apartment. That was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a police car with its search lights a-circlin'. We hid under a tree while I prepared a script - something about looking for lost jewelry - but soon realized we, indeed, were not going to be arrested for unauthorized nature enjoyment. Phew. In the funny way that things happen sometimes, my birthday spiritually resumed nine days later at Nomad Pizza in Princeton with Nicky and her family.

The lady at the counter already knows what I want and she fills my cup. I’m eating a muffin, drinking my probably-too-large latte while a parade of business-casual older white men walk by across the street. Many of them are photographing a building near me, perhaps The Temperance House. Their leader looks like a cross between Mo Rocca and Joe Scarborough.

Underneath my notebook is the list of songs for the two albums I have planned for release this year. These songs are good friends of mine and I am interested in sending them out into the world to find out how sociable they are. It’s easy for ME to be their friend, after all, as they are reflections of my own dreams and experiences.

I’ve been reading this same book for an embarrassingly long time. Every time I read a few pages of it, I am inspired to launch into some sort of creative exercise of my own. A good problem to have, unless you ask the stack of unread books next to my bed. They could use a little attention. Elvis Costello, Waylon Jennings, Tina Fey… I’m sorry. I’m… sorry.

Groggy-minded today, my thoughts escape me faster than I’d like. As they leave, they reveal the looping chords of my friend Matt McDevitt’s song “Intoxicated Kisses.” As I let my mind drift, I can feel myself jumping into the song, eager to find a new melody to play in the instrumental section. My 1959 Fender Deluxe-style tube amplifier in full bloom (at about volume “2”), I open my mind and let my fingers find the pattern of notes that seems to be my spirit’s music of the moment, the only notes that I could possibly play that aren’t a lie. That’s why it's different every time.

Each note, as it’s struck, crashes into the springs of my reverb machine and leaves behind the essence of itself like a wave breaking and slowly receding. These waves only get bigger as you crank the amp (to, like, “4”). This is where I like to be. This is the part of my life as a human in which I can express myself the most directly, honestly, eloquently. I do this at home all the time, but I want to do it with a band again. The songs that I will put out after 'Count The Colors' need guitars that scream.

The first person that I performed live with is also the last person (as of this writing) - Matthew McDevitt. Saturday night, I played a set of cover songs, mostly songs I’d added to my songbook that week, with my friend Marc "Skaggs" Magnani on congas. New songs, new lineup. Keepin’ it fresh! Later, I switched to electric guitar as Matt joined me. His first time on a stage in about three years. It was a joy to see his songs work in a new place and time. I accompanied him on lead guitar and harmony vocals, just as I did when I first followed him onto a stage ten years ago.

In these ten years, I have not become a name, but I have become an artist. I would’ve been embarrassed to say that when I was dating the lady I wrote “The Dirt & The Moonlight” about. Despite all the, well, art. It’s an everyday concern. I don’t wait for permission. Improvising on guitar (most recently via the vaguely theremin-like sound achieved by playing slide guitar with an E-bow), adding things to my constantly expanding Sound Collage 1998-2017 project, taking photographs, working on songs, the occasional upchucking of prose… it’s just part of my routine. I’m so happy that I have these outlets. Some work is celebrated and some is ignored, but it all feels true.

Generally speaking, these are not things I was led to by other people but rather by my own intuition. Creativity is the reason I can bear the pain of, for example, an upsetting moment with my paralyzed and dementia-suffering dad, or the stress of dealing with his ever-changing business (or my own).

(Well, my friends, family, and girlfriend are the other reasons I can deal. Thank you.)

Speaking of gratitude, I started a fundraiser to help me take the next steps in recording “Count The Colors (For Marcella)” and I raised about $1,500 in a week! A marquee name I am not, but it seems that the people who do know what I’m up to have faith in me. It’s a great feeling. I’d asked my girlfriend to get me a recording session for Christmas and it is because of her that we got the first five songs of the project recorded.

I put together a mish-mash band of folks from different parts of my musical life. Joseph Falcey, a masterful drummer based in New Jersey, had played with me in various makeshift, rehearsal-free bar bands - most amusingly at a small racetrack in South Jersey - and followed through on his promise to help me record. We even used his amazing basement to rehearse for these sessions. Nick Crocker contributed great guitar playing and also served as sort of a human good luck charm as he’d shared many an evening with Marcella and I in New Hope and elsewhere.

Speaking of good luck charms, Marcella’s sister was sweet enough to lend me Marcella’s favorite coat to bring to my recording sessions.

Having been involved with one of my favorite drunken nights of music in New Hope, Levee Drivers’ Kyle Perella contributed his pedal steel-like lap steel guitar. Mike Kiker, a genius of many things stringed and struck, wrote piano parts for the five songs in record time, which was especially helpful as I’d forgotten to email him the demos in advance.

While I was my typically disorganized self, perhaps overly reliant upon the improvisational skills of those around me, we did, in fact, nail the songs. Driving home down the darkened country roads of Bucks County, I listened to rough mixes of our tunes and realized, “damn, here they are!” I even liked most of my lead vocals - a rare occurrence and something to which I credit the four-hour bar gigs I do most weekends. I do them largely for money, but it’s also like going to the music gym. Singing fifty or sixty songs in one shot is a great music workout.

While it takes everything out of me to not plug two microphones into the dual-cassette recorder that props up my living room TV, record all my unrecorded songs, and quickly upload them to Bandcamp, I want to do the songs justice. That will require the help of other talented people which means money and - worse - time. Still, my friends and family are helping me to realize the goal of bringing an orchestra to some of the gentler tunes from ‘Count The Colors’ and that is such a beautiful gift. I want to rise to the occasion and do work worthy of these people.

And, of course, Marcella. I’ve almost finished writing the album. I want to tweak about two lyrics and finish another song nobody’s heard yet that might be called “Specks Of Paint On Your Fingernails.” I’ve also found myself writing one today. If I finish it, it might be called “Here In The Future.” It also might be called “You And Your Red Coat.” If I finish it, I will use it to tell Marcella about the beautiful baby I hang out with and sing songs to, the quickly growing toddler that I was hanging out with at the playground the other day, Whitney’s fast-approaching wedding, the twenty pounds and the many gray hairs I’ve gained, and whatever else comes to mind.

Here in the future, I should probably hit Post and eat some food before I pass out.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

CALIFORNIA MUSINGS FINALLY

She just keeps giving to me. Gone almost two-and-a-half years, she manifested in my latest musical move and the highlight of the day so far - a phone call from the leader of an amazing orchestral ensemble. When I thought about how to best approach the songs of mine that require strings, I thought of them first. But initially I felt sheepish. Could I really work with musicians of that caliber? The idea that I was able to gather interest from the people I really wanted is a Marcella-inspired idea. Like my 2015 photography show ‘A Few Moments With Marcella,’ doing this work in someone else’s honor has given me the incentive to have big ideas and not compromise them.

I am taking the same approach to the record about my time with Marcella, my first album after ten years of songwriting, and its accompanying record of older songs. I looked at the song list and tried to be honest with myself about how I want to approach each piece of music. It was gonna involve getting some outside help from people that I didn’t yet know, as well as people I do know who I know to be busy people. It’s been the greatest thrill to have all of these people tell me yes.

We did our first session the other day at Sweet Creek Studios in Upper Bucks County. I will tell you about it soon, but I am currently distracted by the clouds underneath me. Mountains in the distance, unidentified. Go west, youngish man!

I got Mini Rainbow Frogs all over the plane. The woman next to me told me, "let them go."

Flying over the upper tip of Texas, my right pinky finger scans two nearly imperceptible hairs on my nose. Nicky is asleep and I am the meat of a Sleeping Lady Sandwich. Passing over Oklahoma City now. Most of these mid-USA places are all about as foreign to me as Wrocław, Poland was. I want to see them all. Newtown, Pennsylvania to Los Angeles, California feels like a long journey to me, but perhaps not to the woman next to me who is traveling from Quebec to Hawaii.

The first place we take the rental car is In-N-Out Burger. I hope this will be my first “WOW!” moment in California. It is not.

Parking the car in our new temporary neighborhood, the first thing that strikes me is the delicious aroma. Nearly every inhalation fills my head with honeysuckle and jasmine and perhaps trace amounts of ocean breeze. Like we're in the middle of a garden no matter where we go. NOW I am in love with California.

Here in Los Feliz, we stay with Shannon, a friend of Nicky’s who works in the film industry. We discuss celebrities a little bit, but we discuss Marty The Dog a lot. He is a small white dog who is a known man-hater. I work hard to present him with my calmest energy, soft-voiced, limp-wristed. It works. Before long, I am serenading him. I made up a song called “If I Wrote A Song For Marty (How Would It Go)?”

if I wrote a song for Marty
would he look me in the eye?
would he say that I am OK
even though I am a guy?

We take a short walk to H Coffee on Shannon’s recommendation. The Australian man in front of me in line thinks it's freezing. (It is sixty degrees.)

I pass women on the street and wonder, “have you known Anthony Kiedis?”

What is John Frusciante doing right now? It's none of my business.

What does Flea’s house look like? Do I think about the Chili Peppers this much on the east coast?

“It’s a ‘Crenshaw’ sign! Like in the Snoop Dogg videos!!”

Driving around this huge, oft-romanticized, historic city for the first time is a thrill. We stop at the Walk Of Fame just ‘cause we can. I give a guitar pick to the recently departed Chuck Berry, photograph some teenage girls flipping their respective birds on the Donald Trump star. In front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, a hip hop guy accuses me of being afraid of black people when I fail to take his free hip hop CD. “I don’t have a CD player!” I lie emphatically. Every few feet, someone asks us to take a tour of the stars’ homes. I judge their invasive industry, and resume my thoughts about the whereabouts of John Frusciante. It is evident that the Walk Of Fame is something to do once, and probably just once.

Does the impeccably dressed, cheerily chipper CVS manager aim to be discovered by a casting agent? I like his pep. I also like how merchants in California aren’t confused about my desire to take my items without a bag like they often are back home.

We take in the amazing views at the top of Griffith Park, sun beating down on our pasty skin. It strikes me that I haven't made enough plans for my first journey to California but that it doesn't matter. These mountains are the event I want to attend. I scan them for hikers and fantasize about days spent investigating the trails that surround us. I imagine hiking as close as I can to the Hollywood sign. It quickly dawns on me that this region will require many return visits to see everything I think I want to see, let alone the things I want to see that I don’t yet know that I want to see. It's like visiting five or six east coast states at once.

The Target men’s department looks the same no matter how far you roam, like some sort of portal back to  - for me - Langhorne, Pennsylvania. It’s as disconcerting as it is comforting. Corporate America - It’s As Disconcerting As It Is Comforting!™

“I always knew I'd kiss you in the West Hollywood Target.”

I buy new pants for the wedding and am disturbed by my changing waist size. But not so disturbed that I don’t grab a Toblerone for the elevator ride down to the underground parking garage.

Shannon calls a Lyft and takes us to dinner at the delicious Wurstküche. It’s the kind of place that is probably proud of their long line, something we typically don’t bother with in our suburban lifestyle. They even have a Wandering Bro to help you decide what sort of meat and beer you might want to put into your face when you eventually order. I ask Nicky if she thinks he saw an ad in the paper that stated, “WANDERING BRO WANTED.”

I’d been talking with my dad for years about getting a rental car in Los Angeles and driving up the coast. That has sadly turned out to not be in the cards. Instead, I am doing it with a woman I met through my cell phone in 2015 and two of her friends. And it’s great! It’s like that song says, “life is what happens when you’re busy trying to find the In-N-Out near Camarillo… not the one in the outlet mall, but the other one.”

I failed to grab my AGPTEK MP3 player from my car in Pennsylvania, so the car radio is playing whichever staticky college radio station I happen to land on. We stay left-of-the-dial when traveling, and occasionally far-right. As we make our way toward the lower end of Northern California, my original primary California reference point - Neil Young - comes on the radio with his recent piece “Peace Trail.”

We’re playing jazz by the time we get into the Santa Barbara region, jaw-dropping mountains out the right window, Pacific Ocean and some massive tankers in the distance out the left. Someone speaks of the hiking trails in these mountains and I get another craving to extend our trip for another two months so I can see EVERYTHING.

A moment alone under palm trees on the main drag in Santa Barbara. Nicky and her Bryn Mawr pals are shopping. I’ve been warned all my life that I’ll never come back from California. It’s indeed a risk. I also had trouble fleeing Nashville and Berlin, but I always come back to the area of the world where Jamal The Cat lives.

Fueled by unbelievable fish tacos from Corazon Cocina SB, I wander Santa Barbara in search of a cheap haircut. I enter a place that promises a $45 cut after a ninety minute wait. I’m not in Tullytown anymore! I will be a shaggy Greg at Ari and Drew’s wedding. People are used to a shaggy Greg.

Nicky does a reading from the altar at this beautiful Unitarian church. I’ve never seen HER on-stage! She does her friends justice and everyone is happy-crying by the time the bride makes her way out. These people are cool and these people love each other! As The Minus 5 said, life doesn’t really half-suck most of the time.

Surrounded by a bunch of celebratory gals, I barely have to speak. Perfect! Sam and I are unified in our near-silence under palm trees and beautiful California skies. Marty The Dog waits in the hotel room. Sam loads a Pez dispenser for the first time in his life and feels appropriately euphoric. I try to catch up to his level of euphoria by drinking lots of booze. It works! A Manhattan and a margarita; east coast and west coast together in my bloodstream!

Or a guy getting drunk on free booze. Either way.

I drink enough to do my version of dancing. Nicky is beautiful, as usual. No matter how many new contexts I see her in, she keeps being beautiful. I am so lucky to be traveling with her.

Just as the bride is doing, I dance a little, then reach into the bowl of Haribo Peaches for a sugar fix, then dance a little more. My addictions are delicious.

I spot a piano in the corner of the room and play along to “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” hoping that Nicky won’t notice. She does and tells me that she does not approve of my unauthorized use of the Unitarian Society Of Santa Barbara's piano. Drunk Greg decides that she’s full of shit and fumes for a few seconds before grabbing another Haribo Peach. I find on this instrument-less trip that I gets squirmy FAST. I miss playing guitar by Day Two. My addictions are delicious.

Marty accompanies us to breakfast at both the hotel and, on New Friend Lauren’s advice, Savoy Cafe & Deli. We say goodbye to everyone and get back on the road, going north up the Central Coast.

Our room at Monterey’s adults-only Hotel 1110 has a large portrait of Tina Turner above the headboard. The rooftop bar has an excessive amount of succulents and a great view of Monterey Bay, presumably (it’s very dark right now). The barman invites us for a complimentary drink. We promise to return the following evening but instead we - more than likely - never see him again in this lifetime.

Inspired in part by my quest to get a great cup of coffee somewhere new each morning, we find ourselves in Carmel-By-The-Sea. I fantasize about having a three-day writing bender at Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co., but I get my latte and we stay on the move. Elsewhere in town, I'm knocked out by the beautiful garden outside the Church of the Wayfarer. I like seeing a church that doesn't discard natural beauty but celebrates it.

On our friend Lauren’s advice, we travel to Point Lobos. We park right on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway and enjoy a brisk walk through a sweet-smelling forest. As we approach the shoreline, Nicky wisely advises me to not get my hopes up about seeing sea lions. What she doesn't know is that I've decided that I MUST.

I gingerly wander the cliffs and the pterodactyl-era sandstone rock formations known as the Carmelo Formation. To my great relief, the relatively cautious Nicky joins me. Walking these strange fossilized rocks with my partner, I'm reminded that, whatever I may think of myself, I am merely one of the animals on one of the planets. I steal a shell for my nephew Nolan who is busy being an animal on the other side of this continent.

Someone nearby smokes a joint. “I get it,” I think. “A redundant high in a place so beautiful. But I get it.”

(I did look for them, though.)

We find the sea lions. My camera battery hangs in there just long enough for me to take their family portrait. Just a buncha bewhiskered sea schlubs trying to get a nap, unknowingly representing an achieved goal for this human traveler.

A day and night in Big Sur was cancelled after we learned of the recent mudslides, but we did drive to the point where the PCH was closed and wander around the forest a bit. Passing a homeless and/or hiking man who blended into the scenery almost to the point of invisibility, I touched my first redwood tree and walked up to a sunlit creek, kneeling down to steal a cookies-’n’-cream-style stone.

Back in the rental car, I scarf down my fish and chips leftovers while Nicky cruises through the awe-inspiring scenery around the Carmel Highlands. We marvel at the seemingly inaccessible luxury mountain top homes with their treacherous private roads, alternately scoffing at the rich assholes who must own them and hoping to be those rich assholes one day. I wave to more hill-dwelling cows and horses than I’d like to admit.

Home is a long way away. We drive from Monterey to Los Angeles listening to My Favorite Murder Podcast and You Must Remember This. Third try at In-N-Out, somewhere on the 101. Better, but still not as good as I'd expect for being mentioned in a Neil Young song. Aside from a stop at the Carmel Mission Basilica, this day is essentially one of two travel-home days. It is exhausting, yet I feel that the time spent along the Pacific Coast Highway would have been worth MUCH more effort than that.

We stumble onto Venice Beach ‘cause we can and then collapse in an inexplicably handicapped-accessible Super 8 room in Culver City, resting before traveling to Houston and then Philadelphia the following day. The Super 8’s free orange is too bland and the Super 8’s free orange juice is too sweet. In my weary delirium, the lifesize standee of a man who looks a little like Sam Phillips in his prime seems to say, “IT ALL BALANCES OUT IN THE END, JACK.”

Waiting for my suitcase to be hurled onto the carousel in Philadelphia, Nicky spots the caged bird that rode on our flight. I hit Record on my cell phone and record one final animal sound on this trip.

"SQUAWK!"

My sister kindly drives us home from the airport, catching me up on moments of east coast life that I missed. I wheel my suitcase down the sidewalk in front of my beige home, Nicky by my side, and I realize things ain't so bad here. There is some stressful business to deal with, but so many joyful things, too.

It all balances out in the end, Jack.

"SQUAWK!"


Friday, March 3, 2017

It Was All Inside

I only know what it’s like to be in this one head. It is often noisy in a placid place and vice versa. Garrison Keillor says the city is a good place for shy persons. I am alone in the country (just a few miles from the pig farm where my family’s old pet pot belly pig Zoe came from) and I’ve got an off-green patina of angst covering the exterior of my brain. Like a barely perceptible electrical shock that keeps me from peace. Silently. There is no indicator light on my forehead to alert those around me to the conditions inside my head. Perhaps those closest to me recognize my weather patterns. 

There’s so much in our blood. I make money, friends, and old women swoon with the musical gifts that course through my veins, inherited from a grandfather born in Appalachia in the 1920s, the Big Band players in the Burns family from Rhode Island, and who knows where else. I also, perhaps, get these overcast moods from my blood. I see the melancholy times as my spiritual payment for the joyful times. 

Perhaps it is both nature and nurture. When shit would hit the fan during my youth (in the home or on the schoolyard), I used to step outside my skin and wonder, "isn’t this gonna stick with me?” I heard “you’re gonna carry that weight a long time" like a friendly warning from rock & roll shamans.

Late winter light is beaming through the front window to the delight of the flowers in the transparent blue vase, my skin, and perhaps the woman typing on her laptop. This spot was a tobacco store in the Marcella Days. Now it is a café. I judge your addiction and celebrate mine. 

These days, I feel more integrated. Passing years and fallen tears have lead to new plateaus. For a man with an ongoing family crisis, I am far too happy. I do miss plenty of sleep and I do clench plenty of teeth. But I also keep having absurd amounts of fun. I’ve never been happier than I was chasing my little blonde nephew up and down playground equipment the other day in Lambertville, New Jersey. 

This winter, I shoveled snow once and shook a musical hero’s hand twice. Country-rock guitar god Albert Lee’s in January, tuneful surrealist Robyn Hitchcock’s last night. While signing my “Living Room Guitar” (formerly just “My Guitar,” 1995-2014), Robyn asked who’d signed near the soundhole. I explained that I signed it under an alias (Chance Raspberry) and then had the curious sensation of being momentarily concerned that Robyn Hitchcock (he of “Man With The Lightbulb Head” fame) might’ve found me to be overly whimsical. He then proceeded to out-whimsy me by signing “Robyn Hitchcock Signed Greg’s Guitar.” Phew.

My wingwoman snapped some photos of us standing in the lobby with the guitar, formerly my dad’s. Just when I figured I’d exceeded my quota of fan interaction time, he started to ask me questions about the guitar. “What kind of guitar is it?” “How’s the action?” One of the voices that most often emanates from my stereo speakers was being used to inquire about this old guitar that I played with Mike Harris at the St. Michael The Archangel schoolyard, pulled dozens of Greg McGarvey songs out of, made a few thousand bucks with, and played “Across The Universe” with at Marcella’s services. Nice. I don’t know what the fuck is up with this jarring, erratic, still-amorphous young year of ours, but I know that it is the year when I shook Robyn Hitchcock’s hand. 

Will it also be the year that I jam at Don Everly’s house in Nashville? Some of my dreams are less realistic than others. My friend Dale used to see the guy at Whole Foods every couple of days and, somehow, this fact filtered through the impressionistic caverns of my mind led to the birth of this goal. 

Teens outside the window keep picking up the café's sandwich board sign every time the wind blows it back onto the sidewalk. May we all stay this devoted to our impossible goals. In my life, I’ve looked at my hands and seen myself doing things I would’ve previously deemed impossible.

Perhaps I will look down one day and see myself preparing dinner. 

Should I walk to the record store or tell this notebook more things? Writing is always the best move, right? I like these prose things because I want people to get to know me after I’m dead. Relatives whose parents are still unborn. Similarly, I want Teenage Penny and Collegiate Nolan to get a taste of the flavor of these days, if they want to. The days when they were new to the team/everything. I love you now and I’ll bet that I love you later, too.

I wrote a note on this other page that says “it was all inside.” I made a few moves last year that felt inorganic but I nevertheless thought might lead to advancement. They did not. By abandoning those thoughts and following my intuition, I managed to write the songs of Count The Colors, the album I begin recording on March 12. It is through these songs that I have been able to see my way forward. What I seek is an audience for these songs about my experience of being human as filtered through my beautiful, scratch-and-dented brain. I want these songs to take me around the world. 

There are moments when I feel too short for such a tall order, but if those teens won't give up on that sidewalk sandwich board, I won't give up on my goals either. 

Sincerely,

Chance Raspberry

Friday, February 24, 2017

on my right

one bird is singing the same three notes in a time signature that only birds understand

on my left

the bird melody is reverberating through the forest, clustered together like some chord that only birds understand

now it's switched to a lower, flatter melody that doesn't resonate with the trees in the same way

just keeping you updated