Sunday, December 24, 2017

Those Who Know Know

Christmas Eve. Eye is twitching just a little and my head feels like an overworked laptop that needs a restart and an operating system update. I am fortunate to have a bit of alone time before launching myself into Christmas. There is a chance of greatness because my girlfriend and her family are absolutely wonderful, as are my sister and the rest of my local family. A chance of fucked-upness because the days of having non-upsetting interactions with my dad are over. It’s something that takes a few hours (on a good day) to emotionally recover from.

I don’t know if he is aware the holiday is coming up, and if he is, he might be feeling guilty and confused about it. Losing his mind to dementia, having lost much of the use of his body to a stroke. He’s worse off since the pre-Thanksgiving hospitalization when he was on the brink of death due to sepsis and a heart attack. The doctors did amazing work, but the guy that came home from the hospital (after a few weeks at Mount Horrible Nursing Home) is a much different guy.

While we struggled to get him out of the vehicle, he started yelling, in regards to my mom, “she’s a killer!” It’s nice to not have to live at Mount Horrible any longer, yet the return home seemed like just another negative experience for him.

My mom, incidentally, is the reason he was alive when I came home from New Orleans. Sure, she gets white paint on our stuff from time to time, but she’s no killer.

To have been moved back home is a good thing, but the overall situation is not and I’m having trouble pretending it is for the sake of conversation. It’s been devastating for my sister and I, yet so drawn-out that we don’t feel compelled to bail on our commitments as you might during a more compressed crisis.

I was playing a gig the other night and, while I thought I was playing well, I wasn’t getting any feedback. Sometimes, nobody wants to be the first to clap. In my emotionally worn-down state, I took this to mean that I was doing a bad job. This fucked with my head as I was, very unhealthily, looking for a loving audience to repair my damaged psyche.

“Those who know, know,” Jolly said. The people who could see that I was in some sort of crisis are the same people who are on my side, anyway. What played like a feature-length movie in my head was, in the room, a blip.

After the illness and death of Marcella, I felt unshakable. Like I’d been through the worst. I hadn’t. Now it’s one of my parents. It doesn’t matter that it’s been drawn out since January 2011. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have the fighter’s spirit that Marcella has. It’s my dad and it’s devastating. That relationship is a universe of complex feelings and sweet memories and strange dynamics and illnesses and deep, deep, deep love. An endless stream of New Jersey locales that have some sort of Dad Memory attached to them.

The day of the latest move, I was just angry. Angry because it’s easier than sad. With anger, there’s control. When he was in the hospital and he’d so recently been close to death, I was able to just be sad. It felt healthy. Anger is a head-against-a-brick-wall to sadness’s long, winding river. A river, at least, takes you somewhere. The scenery will eventually change if you take the ride.

This situation has shown me how supportive my girlfriend is, how strong my mom is, how unified my sister and I are. How resilient we are.

To leave your kids to make decisions like DNR status is so wildly irresponsible, but because of our close and very communicative relationship, we just speak freely about such things and come to our conclusions. It crossed my mind that our relationship could’ve easily ended at MANY junctures if we had opposing opinions about the many financial and medical decisions we’ve had to make without his guidance.

I am so lucky to have her. I’m glad they made two.

And I’m glad that he’s my dad. I talk about him at almost every gig I do, especially when one of those great, old Everly songs is coming up next. He shared his favorite things with me and now they are my favorite things, too. I feel like I’m enjoying them for him.

As this year winds down, I feel that the support of my loved ones kept me from going off the deep end. 

A new year is coming and, in that year, I want to get more love but need it less. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Those Are The Ones I Keep

I've enjoyed expressing myself in prose and visual art over the years, but it's through music that I communicate the most directly, with the most emotion. I consider this my life's main task.

Since my 2015 trip to Nashville, I've had a renewed focus on my songwriting. I'd already written a few hundred songs by that point, released a few things here and there, but I felt lost. I have found my way with the help of my late girlfriend Marcella. Even in her absence.

I'd written about a lot of almost-wases and might-have-beens, troubled rock stars, crooked politicians. I'd written about a lot of imagined things. When I resumed my writing, it was time to write about very real time spent with a very real person to whom I felt I owed a debt. This called for not only a resumption of my work, but a raising of the bar. This music - existing only on-stage so far - has received the kind of feedback I hoped it would.

The October 2017 debut performance was, more than a fun night, a life highlight. Even more exciting, I've found as I've dug into my archive that there are three albums of material that I feel just as strongly about. Three more song cycles, each reflecting different eras, different sides of me.

I don't know that I've accomplished as much as my friend and collaborator Patrick thinks I have, but I know that I have spent an incalculable amount of time crafting these things and that, in each of these forty-two songs, I said exactly what I wanted to say.

The truth is that I don't understand a damn thing about writing (probably why I failed English in college); I only know that I keep showing up to work and, sometimes, magic happens. Sometimes I play the song back and it reminds me of a tune that might be playing on a jukebox in some strange dream you're having at 4:11 AM.

Those are the ones I keep.

I look forward to sharing this work with you soon, and I send my thanks to the folks who have been early supporters.

For anyone who is interested in helping me release this work, you can help support me by purchasing music and merchandise at (name your own price), attending a gig, or by leaving thousands of dollars under my windshield wipers. It's the blue Scion in the parking lot; ya can't miss it!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

My Main Man

We went to the edge of Lake Pontchartrain as the November sky slowly turned red wine red. One more shot of beauty for the road. I suddenly felt ready to head back to Pennsylvania and see what was waiting for me there. The news back home was so bad that I didn’t know if I’d have a chance to see my dad again, let alone wish him a happy sixty-fourth birthday.

Among the chaos, I found my goal. I focused my intentions on bringing music to him. Bringing back to the guy who brought it to me in the first place.

In the meantime, I sent a link to the recordings of our 1960s family jam sessions, as recorded by my teenaged dad. I was happy to fill the room with the sounds of his parents talking and playing music from a thousand miles away.

I got a text from my cousin about how excited my dad was about the prospect of having me play guitar for him.

The first time I visited, he wasn’t talking, but he’d occasionally lock eyes with me. I knew he was in there. I was expecting him to be in a rough shape, and he was. I just tried to stay calm and take it in slowly. I unpacked my mahogany Martin guitar and sang him songs for about an hour. Whichever songs crossed my mind - Willie Nelson, Beatles, Neil Young, Lucinda Williams. My sister came by and we did a nearly-competent version of “When I’m Sixty-Four.” It was the first time I ever sang to my dad, one-on-one.

When I walked back to my car in the hospital parking lot, I could feel that I’d gotten to the other side of the crippling anxiety I’d felt back in the swamp. I was feeling heavy, but not too heavy to put one foot in front of the other and move through my life.

The second time I visited, he was talking a little, though largely indecipherably. I left much sooner than I had the day before, itching to start setting up my stage in Bristol. As I kissed his head on my way out, he gripped my hand very tightly and started crying, hard. I’d never seen him cry before.

I played the first set of my gig and then went upstairs to eat dinner. I wondered if I’d finally seen something so traumatizing that I wouldn’t be able to process it. But within seconds, I was crying, too. Those extra-painful, special-reserve tears. Yet I saw them as an indication that I would be OK. Righteous noticed I was upset and came over to comfort me.

As I made my way back downstairs, some ladies let me know that the ass of my pants was ripped wide open. I let them know, “it’s gonna be that kind of a show!” I wrapped my dress shirt around my waist ‘90s style and proceeded to have a great night of music with my friends.

Next day was Thanksgiving. I promised my dad I would film some of our gig, so I showed him a video I took of Righteous, Brian Dillon, and I singing The Pogues’ “Fairytale Of New York.” He let me know he liked it and asked that I come back the next day. I found out later that he was even more tired than usual because he now had pneumonia.

I came back the next day and, as I approached his room, I realized that I flew home expecting to face my own pain about my dad’s failing health, but it turned out that I was facing his pain, too. A poker-faced kinda dad in his healthier days, it hadn’t occurred to me that I might have such a glimpse into his sadness, his fear. The pain is real, but I know the love is as strong as ever.

Before I left that night, he said, “JJ played guitar for me last night.” My grandpa, Nelson “JJ” McGarvey, has been gone ten years, but it still struck me as a beautiful thing to say.

I’m not sure if he said “I love you more than you know,” but I know he could have - and does. His eyes - so bright and blue - looked beautiful to me. I’d never noticed that before. This guy has been my main man for a very, very long time.

He’s lost a lot in this new setback, having already already lost most of his independence following his 2016 stroke. The doctors, though, have performed amazing work.

On his birthday, Cousin Patti and Aunt Gail brought balloons, Pam brought a funny stuffed toy that plays a snippet of The Beatles’ “Get Back,” my mom and our friend Linda, both early loves of my dad’s, each brought a card. I brought 8x10 prints of four photos. His friend Mike FaceTimed from his house in Honolulu, playing snippets of The Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Birthday” on piano. I played along on my Martin, a multi-time zone jam session.

Between the April 2000 family portrait and the images of his grandkids, I was able to bring both the missing older generation and the new generation to him. Too old and too young, respectively, to join him in that hospital room. The photo of the New Orleans sunset from the previous week represents the life I’m living, a life in which I happen to be indulging in many of his biggest passions. Feeling like I am enjoying much of it on his behalf.

In the hill photo, we’re all healthy and happy and I’ve got my hands up in the air as if to say, “WE’RE FREE!”

Monday, November 20, 2017

New Orleans Part II

“I got ‘the look’ from the doctor. Like, into my soul.”

We’d shown up in town on a Tuesday morning and people were already partying. We started at Cafe du Monde, immediately covering my trip uniform - black dress shirt, black pants, and black jacket - with powdered sugar from the three beignets. I made a light attempt to clean it off, but decided to just allow New Orleans to dirty me up however it wants to.

Hopelessly exhausted, we threw ourselves onto a lawn on the edge of the Mississippi and just laid there, seemingly for hours. As terrible as I felt physically, I was blissed-out to be in this new place, to see the Mississippi River for the first time. I turned to my girlfriend more than once to say, “I’m so happy right now.”

We returned to the river later after hearing some sort of incredibly loud, mildly-out-of-tune organ. It was the Steamboat Natchez’s steam calliope and it was the best thing I’d ever seen. Some shadowy figure was playing this wild-sounding organ while the boat docked at the Toulouse Street Wharf. The steam from the calliope was illuminated in the night air by multi-colored lights, as if each note had its own hue. Tunes were strung together into one big, unrelenting medley, until finally you hear the last cluster of notes echoing off all the French Quarter’s buildings at once.

Corn cakes at Who Dat Coffee Cafe and then a streetcar journey to the fantastic art museum, sculpture garden, and botanical garden. My camera and I hunted for the most beautiful batch of Spanish moss. There wasn’t a sign saying we couldn’t stuff a bunch of clementines into Nicky’s purse, so we did. I bought her dinner for her thirtieth birthday that night, but I think we had more fun eating stolen clementines on a porch swing.

An omelet with alligator sausage at Cafe Rose Nicaud. To field the phone calls and text messages and emails about my dad’s health in such a party-positive environment has been a bit strange, but it’s a familiar dance. Besides, New Orleans is not afraid of the dark side.

Walking away from the circus-like sounds of the Steamboat Natchez’s calliope to better hear my sister as she updates me about the doctors’ theories about our dad’s unconsciousness. There’s no good time or place to deal with such things, so I’m doing it under a palm tree, drinking chicory coffee.

My dad’s health has been an ongoing concern for sixteen months (and, in a broader way, for seven years), but this new hospitalization is the kind of thing that puts you into shock. Your body protects itself. Slows ya down. This is a good place to move slow.

Befriending street musicians, drinking Hurricanes and Sazeracs, eating top-notch food. We got a huge serving of pork chops at Adolfo’s and gave part of it to a dog named Disable. “He used to be Able, but then he got hit by a car; so now he’s Disable.”

“I started making your drink and my hand wouldn’t let me stop pouring.” This server at the historic Antoine’s Restaurant didn’t know he was my guardian angel. I fist-bumped him, as you do when you meet your guardian angel.

The following morning, I’ve followed the sun to a lounge chair beside the pool. We found the perfect hotel through our friend Marianna - a few dozen steps from the action, yet isolated and quiet. We wake to the muffled sounds of the courtyard pond.

New Orleans keep giving.

I asked someone, “have I taken too much?” They said, “take as much as you’d like.”

“Creole mustard. There’s creole mustard everywhere.”

“How are we ever gonna eat anything again?”

“This is your second chance to buy weed.”

Walking the streets of New Orleans - particularly the day we finally bought Hand Grenades - I actively tried to put the situation out of my mind. Like some sort of invisible fog I was trying to sidestep.

Early morning musicians in Washington Square. I walk down Elysian Fields Avenue as an old man sings “Mama Tried” as well as anyone ever has. A small group of friends listens intently, looking like they’re in the same spot on which they slept.

We’d come home at night and still be able to hear the Frenchmen Street street corner band from bed. Lamothe House, in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood and built in 1839. Bourbon Street was a little too Times Square, but Frenchmen Street was always just right.

Some of those songs from Automatic For The People I was listening to were recorded across the street from our hotel in the supposedly haunted house that used to be Daniel Lanois’ studio. As great as my time in Nashville has been, I found myself trying to deny that New Orleans is the best music city I’ve been to. Each day, it became harder to deny.

The day of the news about my dad’s setback, I brought my brunch leftovers to the edge of the Mississippi River and listened to a grey-bearded, top-hatted man from Minnesota play a set of country songs. I imagined spiritually connecting to my dad. This scene, like so many in my life, was one I could imagine him enjoying.

We took a streetcar to the Garden District, first stopping at Lafayette Cemetery #1 with its above-ground tombs. Somewhere over 7,000 have been interred on this single block. The tombs were often funky and weather-beaten, but much more beautiful for it.

On the way there, a hilarious, charismatic streetcar driver stopped between stops to ask that we have a moment of silence for the sexually abusive politicians who have not yet been caught. The older white couple behind us grumbled a little, but I thanked him when we get off at our stop. “Thanks for telling the TRUTH.”

At Dat Dog, a Crawfish Etouffee Dog washed down with an Abita Andygator. I finally ordered something too spicy to finish in one sitting. We took a standing-room-only streetcar back to the French Quarter and I finished the other half.

We’re in Louis Armstrong Park for the Gumbo Festival, laying in a field with our beers, listening to yet another brilliant band.

For our last day, we got a rental car and drove out to a park. But first, PoBoys and gumbo at Restaurant des Families across the highway. Out the window, an alligator sunbathing on a tree branch.

Like so many flipped-over insects before me, I found myself on my back at Jean Lefitte National Park in Louisiana. Some sort of anxiety was hitting me so hard that I felt like I needed to jump out of my skin. I thought about trying to make myself sick, but I knew it wouldn’t help. I put on a podcast and we walked a little faster, eventually leaving this strange panic behind me. Something in my psyche was breaking; perhaps I’d finally spent too much time away from my parent in crisis.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

New Orleans Part I

Some kind of ambient noise on the plane in the key of B, complimenting the feedbacking guitars at the end of this song. I don’t know which town I’m above - that big, bright cloud could be over any number of states in one of two time zones. My body and mind were having none of this early morning travel, Bucks County to Newark, Newark to New Orleans, so I tried to listen to them and satisfy their needs. I calmed myself as well as I could with Pepto-Bismol, meditation, and a podcast about Bela Lugosi. Or was it Pepto-Lugosi, meditation, and a podcast about Bela Bismol? It’s very early.

Having awoken together at 3:30 AM, I shared my first smile with Nicky at about 7:46 AM. Settled into my window seat, one photo of a fantastic sunrise over North Jersey recorded onto my camera, the day’s second medication pumping into my ears - Year Of The Horse by Neil Young & Crazy Horse. The kind of person who gets nervous when he’s not the one driving the car, it can sometimes take a while for me to become comfortable on a plane. I needed The Horse and The Horse came to me.

Having felt satisfied with the songs I performed at the Count The Colors Debut Performance, I have found myself starting songs about any past experience that I recall with that shiny, gold patina that the best memories have. Some of my top-shelf recollections involve rock & roll pilgrimages I’ve taken with my Aunt Donna.

The evenings that stand out the most, I’m at both sides of twenty. I know who I am, but in the way that a twenty-year-old does. Donna was one of those figures who shows up to provide you with the kind of rich, unique, sometimes wild experiences that no one else can, when you’re still young and impressionable. The freewheeling, fearless extrovert to my quietly observing introvert. A tall lady from New Jersey who raised two kids, has seen it all, is all fucked-up on Dunkin Donuts coffee, and is not gonna take any of your shit.

YOU, specifically. Your shit! None of it.

A summer night in Manhattan. Neil manages to own the room while playing a set of all-new songs. When he follows this first set with a set of the old standbys, it’s mass euphoria. Gleeful garage band hands attack screaming guitars. I sneak down from the nosebleeds to make use of a section vacated by high-rollers who couldn’t take the heat and left before the party went into high-gear. I gesture to Donna, but she motions me to go - she and her brand new Sri Lankan friends are settled into their seats, enjoying a more-than-a-little-funny cigarette. Although she’s not a guitar player, she points to Neil’s big red pedal board, noting that it seems to have all its lights on at once. A guitar so loud that you could imagine hearing it underground in Penn Station.

For reasons lost to time, I am wearing Donna’s purple backpack backwards, a backpack with peace sign and LSD patches sewn onto it. I’m among the thousands cheering, but I’m so close to the stage now that Neil and I had locked eyes and were sharing beaming smiles with each other for so long that I found myself imagining what I would say to him if he could hear me.

Donna was my gateway to this experience and lots of others that have retained their golden glow even after the significant passage of time. The best news is that there is more to come.

From the plane window, a huge lake in distance - which one is it and is it mentioned in a Lucinda Williams song? Dipping into some clouds on our descent, my music-enabled calmness might be tested. So far, so good.

Bob Dylan wrote in Chronicles about the heavy spiritual presence in New Orleans. A well-known liar, I’ve come to appreciate his manner of telling the truth. I found myself in the same room as him last weekend. I didn’t really have the cash, but Tom Petty’s passage encouraged me to make it happen.

The things I’ve seen Neil Young do with his black guitar, the things I’ve seen Patti Smith do with words, and the things I saw The Everlys do with their honey-glaze harmony will be with me forever. And now I’ve seen an inspired Bob Dylan alternately crooning with a silver microphone stand and spouting street poet foam-mouthed madness while pounding a piano in an old vaudeville theater in Philadelphia. Even without a photograph (Bob runs a tight ship), that image isn’t going anywhere, hanging in the massive gallery of rare and beautiful sights on the walls of my mind.

I’ve followed Bob from a distance, appreciating the old, new, and new-old records at my own pace and admiring stories of his charming strangeness like the night he was picked up by the Long Branch, New Jersey police for wandering around on a rainy night. Somebody asked me if that really happened. They said he looked like a stranger. He feels that way to me, too. Yet I feel that I’ve taken him in now. A scrawny kid who wanted to walk on-stage and play some rock & roll.

Landing in New Orleans, the floaters in my tired eyes flickering like stars, adding bonus sparkles to the already-glistening water below.

Riding the tram on Wednesday morning, my now-thirty-year-old girlfriend by my side. I didn’t bring as much money as I wanted to, but I did bring the clothes I wore to last month’s Count The Colors concert. In my dress pants and jacket, I look more like the town’s older men than younger men.

I’d slept from 7:30 to 7:30 and then stepped out onto our second-floor balcony of this nineteenth-century hotel to drink my first coffee. Coffee with chicory is how they do it here. Listening to R.E.M. and gazing at the gorgeous, empty courtyard with its palm trees and fountains, I found myself in one of those rare, perfect moments that you instantly recognize as such.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Golden-Hearted People

Tonight Only! Watch A Man Try Not To Cry! Just $20!

Tuesday morning in Yardley. I have not yet listened to any recordings of the Count The Colors Debut Performance. It was too special to do the typical post-gig technical dissection. Plus, I already know that I missed a lot of notes. Yet my band, The Roadside Leaves, kept me floating along, anyway.

Floating. At no point during this gig did I feel grounded. I was halfway between the ground and wherever it is that the golden-hearted people go when they leave us. The emotion was correspondingly overwhelming, yet I’ve got enough experience singing these songs that move me that I avoided a total breakdown.

But, ya know, just barely.

“could you see him coming/as you said goodbye/or when January came/and a little girl arrived?”

The sadder the songs, the funnier the quips!

The stage design, with its wall of acoustic guitars (mine, two of my dad’s, my grandpas’s, and Marcella’s), Marcella’s coat, and tables full of photos and paintings, made it feel like I was performing in a dream. I felt protected by the beautiful visuals and instruments, strengthened by the great musicians on-stage with me.

I added a new verse to “Here In The Future,” an homage to the special bond that Marcella had with her cousin Alexandra.

“here in the future/I'm still on this ride/and I feel you reach out to me/from the other side/out on the bridge/where she'd walk with you/and breathe in the evening/sunset view/here in the future/you're still in the air”

It was a wonderful thing to walk on-stage and see a room jam-packed with golden-hearted people. I told the folks how I’d met the violin player, Frank Burk, just three hours earlier. I didn’t realize they’d think I was kidding. Some of these guys and gals can jump into the music and just start swimming. A band full of people who listen to the room more than their own instrument. At the special gigs, musician becomes magician.

Never has a gig felt like that. I felt nervous, naked. Felt like I was receiving a love electrocution. Every performance I've done for the past ten years was leading to that moment. Speaking both technically and emotionally, it was my first concert.

I’d been joking about how rude it would be if her spirit did not visit us at this gig.

My mom said she could see her essence there on-stage.

My heart is open and so is my notebook, guitar case, and, on a good night, my voice. I’ve stubbornly remained on this journey. The show was so overwhelming that I barely noticed it was the best musical payday of my life so far.

A great crowd of friends, family, and even a few strangers. A friend I met in kindergarten in 1988. His wonderful mom Rose, one of my life’s bonus aunties. A good friend I met on Instagram in 2015. Much of Marcella’s family. Much of Nicky’s family. More members of Philly’s incredible Levee Drivers band. The first guy I ever sang with, John Hankins. The first guy who suggested I should write a song, Nick Harris.

We followed the album with a set of songs that influenced the writing of the album or otherwise impacted me emotionally. “Bye Bye Love,” Willie Nelson’s “Everywhere I Go,” R.E.M.’s “We All Go Back To Where We Belong,” Neil Young’s “Glimmer,” “Wichita Lineman,” and three songs we performed for her at the hospice on the last day she was with us - “(All I Have To Do Is) Dream,” “You Are The Everything,” and “Find The River.” We ended with The Beatles’ “Across The Universe,” the song with which I saluted her at the funeral. Another thing this gig represents is the value in staying on-course. Couldn’t tell ya what my course is, per se, but…

No, no, that’s bullshit. I can tell ya. I want to walk into the Berlin Cathedral on a trip that music paid for. Ya see, the door was locked last time I went.

And I want to meet my music-lover friends (and new ones) in Ireland, Scotland, England, elsewhere in Germany, France, Spain, Australia, etc. That’s what I want to do. It’s a long way away, but not as far away as it would’ve been if I stopped five years ago.

It is a sweet thing to say, but I say it only because it is true - this music and the boost it’s given me as a performer have only happened because of Marcella. Her belief in me, her love of my music, and my burning desire to be one of the people who bring her story into the future.

Meanwhile, I’m at Pretty Bird Coffee with my Old Man Pants and my matching black-with-color-specks Jeff cap and sweater, planning this week’s gigs. Some of my older songs, a few songs I’d like to borrow from the masters and try out for the first time.

Now that I’ve got recordings of my nephew introducing the song titles in his adorable, three-year-old voice, I should probably finish recording this album.

The process continues and it is a joyful one.

Here on the ground, I shared some thoughts about sexual abuse on the Internet. My hope that, if I am ever in a position of influence, I can help young guys understand that we’re better off being solid people who move through the world with a conscience than by trying to use brute force to get a woman’s attention.

Next morning, I was accused of just that. She’d messaged me on a dating site, we talked for a while, then met up the next day. Cues verbal and otherwise told me we were on the same page, and consent was explicitly asked for and granted for all moves big and small. Yet I left feeling like we must have miscommunicated and that she was upset. I stayed outside with her while she smoked a cigarette, trying to get her to open up about the mood shift, hoping I hadn’t somehow hurt her. Six years later, she leaves a comment in a public forum with allegations of abuse.

I call up a close friend, someone with an especially wide-angle view of life, a good sense of who I am, and an awareness that the growth that can come from honesty is more important than the maintenance of an impenetrable facade.

She left it up to me: ignore it or engage. But be real with myself first. Looking back, I still felt comfortable with how I handled the date, but, in the end, I decided to try to relay a message to her that I’m sorry she felt hurt. Because I don’t think she’s kidding. I think she felt hurt.

Looking back, this was a time after a break-up during which I was moving too fast. I met some great women in this period, but I was scared to open up, so I was accruing experiences instead of deep connections.

I met Marcella just weeks later and I had some of these same emotional walls up. She did get my undivided attention, but it would take a few months. Then I was hers for two-and-a-half years. There were ups-and-downs. We both thought about leaving a few times. There was a period where I was enjoying outside flirtation too much. But ultimately, we stayed with each other, I didn’t wake up next to anyone else, and I walked into the future feeling that I made a strong attempt to give my love to just one person.

I hate that there’s someone out there who thinks that I’m horrible. It might stay that way, too. Whether you’re a public figure or not, there’s always gonna be a Fan Club and a Foe Club. Both will grow over time... but hopefully the former more than the latter.

I don’t know if I am one of the golden-hearted people, but I am trying. More good than harm, I hope.

As Michelle McNamara said, “it’s chaos; be kind.”

photos by Kim Goodwin

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Count The Colors (For Marcella): The Debut Performance

I am happy to announce the Debut Performance of 'Count The Colors (For Marcella),' the album I've written about my late, lovely girlfriend Marcella, on Saturday, October 14 at Morrisville's The Space at Big Treble Music, a new listening room in Bucks County. To help me present the songs, I am putting together an ensemble called The Roadside Leaves to accompany me on-stage.

During the time of Marcella's illness (terminal cancer brought on by a genetic disorder called Fanconi anemia), I expressed myself through prose writing, telling the story of our changing relationship in real-time. The moments of darkness, but also moments of humor and love that transcended the sad scenes we were living through. This writing helped me to maintain my sanity and even a sense of purpose while I watched my beautiful girlfriend slip away.

One day, she let me know that she was worried about what would happen to me after she passed on. I told her, "I always find a way to maintain." Artistic expression, like in so many other times of my life, proved to be one of the ways that I did this.

As it turned out, these prose pieces I posted to the Internet ended up being cathartic to many people, friends and strangers alike, as they dealt with their own personal crises. The hundreds of messages of support I received during this time showed me that I was on the right track to filter these events through my creative prism.

The day before she passed away, my friends Righteous Jolly and Nick Crocker came to her hospice room in Philadelphia and they each performed a bedside concert with me. When I spoke to her sister the next day, I learned that she was playing recordings of these performances at the time that Marcella left us.

The following week, I was asked by her family to perform music at her funeral. All of these moments of performance were very healing for me, not just because I love making music but because Marcella herself was a deeply impassioned advocate of my music-making.

As her first posthumous birthday approached, I decided I wanted to create an art show around the most evocative photographs I took of her.  "A Few Moments With Marcella" opened in August 2015, accompanied by lengthy articles in local newspapers. It was an experience that I found beautiful and cathartic. It was my first chance to look back at our time and tell some of our stories while the details were still fresh in my mind.

The next month, I took a trip to Nashville with my dad and I found myself writing a new song. I'd focused on photography and prose writing over the previous three years, but it seemed that it was finally time to start telling some of my stories in song.

It'd seemed almost like too tall an order. Where would I even start? How could I do justice to this beautiful woman who loved me so much and is still loved by so many? Having heard a few of my songs on our first date, she continually asked me to write a song about her. And I continually left her hanging! What a jerk!

Now that Nashville had gotten my creative juices flowing, I pledged to write a whole album for her and to place a copy of it in her old bedroom.

"The Grandmas Of Nashville" is dedicated to my nephew Nolan, born just a week after Marcella's passage. A  whimsical travelogue, it features references to both Marcella and my dad.  The day I wrote it, I ran over to Third Man Records and recorded an extremely rough version of it in the record booth.

In the song "Hey Marcella," I tell stories from our early days while the scents of her mother's delicious Italian cooking waft by.

"hey, Marcella / you're hard to find these days / but Marcella / you're coming with me, anyway"

"Yer Shoes" recalls the dream vacation Marcella arranged for us just weeks before her diagnosis of terminal cancer. A dual-citizen of Italy and U.S.A., she was a born traveler and loved the freedom of being on the road with people that she loved.

"I think I'll take a walk / and breathe some southern air / in between the moments / will you meet me there?"

"No Grays And Blues" is a ballad that I wrote using only messages that she left behind in letters, text messages, and graffiti.

"I'm broken-down but I'm happy here / I feel lucky to have you near / you know I could hear you sing / and I wouldn't trade you for anything"

“Specks Of Paint On Your Fingernails” is a piano instrumental that I wrote in the music room of her father’s Bucks County home.

"Layers Of Winter Clothes" recalls a series of emotionally impactful dreams - one from Marcella's cousin Tommy, and two of my own.

"I sang about the lineman / as we began to grieve / we grieved for what was coming / and didn't hide our tears / I woke and I was crying / like I never had before / still I felt so grateful / that she visited once more"

"Count The Colors" begins at the sad scene of her hospice room but ends with my pledge to remember the beauty of her free, artistic, loving spirit more than her dark final days.

"when the roadside leaves / tumble down / and gracefully / touch the ground / I'll count the colors for you / I'll count the colors for me"

In "Something So Beautiful," I take words she spoke to me and turn them back on her: "how could you make something so beautiful in a place like this?" I celebrate our shared love of travel and pledge to take her memory with me as I continue on my own journeys.

"Centralia was a ways away / where the fire burned underground / you and me made ourselves at home / in other people's towns / we didn't wait 'til the sun came out / we'd just turn the key and drive / you never knew where the time would go / so it was time to be alive"

"Knit Hat Girl," her favorite song of mine, will appear for the first time on this release. She heard it on our first date and instantly loved it. These days, she's in the song, too.

“I’ve sung by your side / and I’ve sung without you / you can have my melody / if I can have you”

About two years after writing “The Grandmas Of Nashville,” I wrote the album’s closer, “Here In The Future,” a piece that gave me opportunity to imagine catching up with Marcella, three years later. I reflect on advice she gave me, the highs and lows of my contemporary life, and tell her about some of the little kids she just missed her chance to meet.

“here in the future / my buddy's going down the slide / sister's in her carriage / watching everyone go by / I dance for her  / and sing a little song / she stares back at me / like she's been here all along / here in the future / I give them extra love for you”

Interspersed around the album are clips of Marcella - laughing, singing, and even a recording of her explaining the meaning of her name.

“It could also mean ‘young warrior.’”