The lead-up to Christmas was a blur of insomnia, Ariana Grande perfume, long post office lines, longer drives down rural New Jersey roads, Quick-Chek hot dogs with cilantro sauce, financial and musical strain, coffee pods, and illegible shopping lists. “Let’s Have A Jolly Good Time” was the pay-off.
The Christmas-oriented show - my only electric performance of the year - was insane in ways both intentional and unintentional. It was reported that a certain group of people left during a very aggressive skit that they were convinced was not a skit at all; a testament to my friends’ acting!
Plus, the brewery’s extremely strong beers helped to facilitate some very late-night sibling bonding.
As if showing off, the sky just spit down a sudden burst of backlit rain in front of me and quickly turned it off like a garden hose. The clouds in front of me were marshmallow white, the clouds in front of my house were violent gray, and the sky above the backyard was altogether different. Like I was in three atmospheres at once.
In a different bar on a different night, a sharp-looking older lass in a black fedora and a black Columbia thermal shirt gave me $20 with a note praising my performances as “beautiful.” As I said goodbye to her later in the evening, I noticed she was sketching the booty short-clad bartender in black pen on a small notepad. When I grow up, I would like to be this old lady.
When I met Nicky at Princeton University Art Museum, her name in my cell phone was “Nicky Pizza.” Later, having learned what she was doing in her lab, I changed it to “Nicky Insect-Ovaries.” She was sweet, smart, kind, she liked soul music, and her eyes were pretty. I later learned that she met me partly because she wanted to meet the dog I was posing with in my dating site profile picture. (That dog died in 2011; she feels misled to this day.)
I’ll never forget the rush of euphoria I felt walking across campus to a coffee shop after our date. I don’t know what it was exactly - at the very least, it was the relief of seeing myself succeed at going on my first date in three years. And maybe I innately knew that I met the person I wanted to meet. Neil Young’s song “Glimmer” was playing in the café, a musical bridge from one era to the next.
A year after meeting her, she presented me with a gorgeous painting she made of a photograph I took on our recent excursion to the mountains of Hudson Valley. Sometimes when she looks at me, I realize I am in yet another golden era.
I recall the buzz I used to feel when I’d think about the fact that, just up the road, David Bowie was up there being David Bowie, doing David Bowie stuff. I didn’t need to see him; I was just excited knowing we were existing at the same time.
The week he died began in a hazy malaise but ended with joy - ‘cause I’d been listening to David Bowie all week.
I heard live jazz wafting through the air so I came inside to listen. Sitting on a burgundy couch with two multi-colored couches next to me, nine circular cushions as each seat, nine more as each back; a total of thirty-six earth-toned cushions that I want to play like cartoon drums. The deeper I settle into this funky couch, ingesting coffee and jazz, the easier it is to believe that we are, indeed, four years from the Twenties. I’ve already got the trilby, and my girlfriend has expressed an interest in adopting a flapper look. I can get into the Twenties.
Last weekend’s snow has kept everyone off my favorite mountain trail except for one person and their dog. I followed their tracks, contemplating who they might be and their reasons for being so committed to this path, somewhat unwieldy even when not coated in thick snow. In time, the path split and I began to follow the tracks of a deer who was walking toward the college for reasons unknown to me.
This mountain always lets me know how I’m doing. Today, the mountain told me that I’ve been spending too much time on couches and too much time eating potato chips and hamburgers. Sadly, the mountain speaks the truth.
Some jazz musicians just walked past me.
“I’ve got the dates for those gigs.”
“Are we getting paid?”
“I THINK so.”
I find myself in a time warp this week. My perspective blurred by blizzard- and insomnia-induced cabin fever, my internal clock malfunctioning due to an archival musical project I’m working on. I took the best parts of my favorite improvisations with my old friend Nick D’Amore and our various bands and strung them together into one big jam session. Like impressionistic paintings of each of our bands; the bands minus their songs. You blink and I’m playing a different guitar or there’s suddenly a different bass player or the keyboard player arrives or we move from the Tullytown landfill area across state lines to Scott Miller’s rehearsal barn in the middle of the city of Trenton.
We packed an absurd amount of music into those years, yet somehow it seems to have been in the cards that it was just for us and small gatherings of friends in Jersey pubs. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, though. One thing leads to another.
I had the thought, “if I wear my hat low enough, I’m not really here and no one will talk to me.” As if on cue, a stranger walked by and said, “where did Greg go?”
My girlfriend and I have tickets for Robyn Hitchcock tonight in Sellersville, Pennsylvania. Robyn's songs - and his free-wheeling song non-introductions - make me giddy with the excitement of turning empty space into something interesting.
Something about his comfortingly dark and surrealistic humor lowers my defenses and makes it that much easier for a song like “Trouble In Your Blood” to worm its way into my heart and completely have its way with me. I recall reading the trippy liner notes to Marcella when she was in the last weeks of hospice. My English friend Guy sweetly mailed me a copy that Robyn signed for me. Funny how a song can be a portal back to the emotions of a time that is both long-gone and present-as-can-be.
Most of the time, I’ll throw the nearest bright screen in front of my face at the first sign of a dark emotion. But a good song brings you back whether you want to or not.
And damned if ya don’t feel brighter after having faced the darkness for a little while.
At rehearsal the other night, my bandmates and I showed my pal Joe's nephew how to work the electric guitar that was sitting idly on-stage. It struck me that, at ten or eleven, he is about the age I was when I first got to touch one in an indoor flea market in New Jersey. As soon as I figured out how to switch on the amplifier, it felt like fireworks were going off in my mind, nuclear bombs in my heart. My prepubescent head was rapidly being rewired on a mangy little barstool in a dusty old building that probably was knocked down fifteen years ago. I realized that if he was feeling even 5% of what I felt that day, the dude was essentially drunk with pure joy.
Hopefully he got some sleep that night.