Wednesday, January 18, 2017

This Is How It Felt A Hundred Years Ago


A guy that looks a little like Derek Trucks just did a double-take after walking past me. It’s never been clear to me if I’m technically allowed to hang out in the living room at Tyler Hall, the old mansion at my county’s community college. It’s just that I’ve loved it so much for so long that I can’t help but pop in and write something on the couch. One time, I even recorded a couple of songs in the nearby stairwell with its incredibly deep, rich echo. Even the sound of the living room itself makes me want to record an acoustic album, guitar sounds bouncing off the paintings and the old fabric illustration near the fireplace, the dim but imposing chandelier. Maybe the grandfather’s clock would even chime at just the right time in just the right key?

My favorite part of trespassing is when the location’s management shares your photos on their Instagram.

Ten minutes have passed without security escorting me out. I always imagined that Stella Tyler herself would approve of my usage of the house, what with our shared love of music, the arts, nature, and even the female form (if the sculptures she made for the formal gardens are any indication). I once even wrote her a song once:

waterfall vapors and dead leaves
when I open her window and breathe
she told me this is how it felt
a hundred years ago

I don’t necessarily insinuate in the verses that I was having an affair with the ghost of Stella Tyler, but then again, it wouldn’t be the only song of mine that referenced involvement with a woman born before 1930.

Riding down the country roads of Bucks County, darkened and desolate January-style, Nick Crocker​ and I headed to Sellersville Theater to watch The Official Albert Lee​ play a red guitar. We took the long way there (there is only a long way) and talked about everything from my quest to record two beautiful albums to the beauty of our expanding families to the stresses of caring for a paralyzed and oft-confused parent to the seamless way some lady from Syracuse has eased into my life to make the good great and the terrible tolerable.

I met Crocker in a period when, feeling emotionally deep-fried from recent family events, I decided to stop being ambitious and see if I could just enjoy myself. Turned out I could. Especially with White Russians (and Irish Jollys). These were the times when I’d come into New Hope with Marcella​ in one hand and my Sigma guitar in the other, drink whatever anyone put in front of my face, and sing with whomever summoned me to the part of the floor that we called the stage.

The night I had TWO White Russians, I had the gall to sing “Running Scared” by Roy Orbison​ while Barry Peterson played guitar, knowing full well there was an impossible high note at the end. I went there.

I shouldn’t have, but I went there.

We had long, beautiful nights in that many-named bar. At the time, this era felt like a period of recovering from the previous period; in hindsight, it was yet another golden era. It seems you can keep finding yourself in interesting new chapters of your life if you don’t let your spiritual waters get stagnant.

Crocker used to sing at this bar all the time and, at some point, decided I needed to be his new friend. I agreed. Yet another friendship begun over a tall glass of Neil Young​. His exuberance, his bottomless well of insane stories that are definitely all true, his high-end coffee, high-end tequila, and higher-end advice have added to my life immeasurably, particularly as it keeps getting even harder to find blood relatives to share an evening with.

Plus, his new dog is cute.

Crocker is also interested in helping me with my musical goals. During the period where I took a pause from writing and recording, we started doing acoustic gigs - my first real foray into being a professional musician. The huge uptick in my stage time has been great for my chops and my confidence. But when Nick would really perk up is when I’d sneak in one or two original songs in the third hour of a bar gig.

The more I told him about my plans for these first two LPs, the faster I drove. He was pretty sure I ran a red light at one point.

When I decided to finally throw some sort of band together to do original music - even if just for one gig - I thought of Nick first. Our December show at Broken Goblet Brewing​, old and new songs of mine played by a six-piece band while trippy short films of mine were projected onto the wall, was a somewhat ramshackle but deeply satisfying musical excursion. We had a packed house that night and some of the folks were raving about it a month later at a New Years party. It’s been encouraging.

Now that my songwriting factory was back in production, I knew it was time to start shipping.

I want my albums to be beautiful in a way that it can only be with other gifted people bringing their skills to the table. I am hearing a vibraphone. I am hearing a string ensemble. I am hearing a country-rock band. I am hearing my folk group Vagabond​ singing/drumming/fluting two of my songs of blurry-eyed longing in an old, echoey room in Noble Earth​ on Bristol's Mill Street. I am hearing the reverberant foyer at Marcella’s house and imagining singing my songs of remembrance while looking up at her arched window.

I feel fortunate to have written songs that are worthy of such events. I want them to played on WXPN​ and lot of other places.

I feel that my time with Marcella gave me a quick influx of life experience from which I can sing, play, and especially write. The well is much deeper. I can't wait to share this music with people. There are some deep, sad, hilarious, beautiful stories behind these songs. Remind me to tell you about them.

Back in the apartment, our LED globe lamp is making our roses slowly change color. I've got a new autograph from the speedy hand of Albert Lee on my Sigma guitar (my "living room" guitar) that I thought would encourage me to play guitar better but instead brings to mind Albert’s kind, mild-mannered energy.

I am glad that my dad survived to meet his granddaughter. They met in the parking lot of his assisted living home last week. Before Pam and I drove away, I looked at the baby for a little while and teared-up while contemplating the juxtaposition of her tininess and fragility and this strange and dangerous human society she has been born into. I told Pam I am happy that Penny has the parents she has. She and her brother motivate me to not give up on humans, but rather to keep representing decency and love both on days of abundant sunshine and days of muddy sidewalks.

These new family members also motivate me to keep telling my story in images, words, home movies, and music. I am inspired to tell my stories to people alive now but also those who will be alive after me.

I’ve got so much more to tell you. Remind me to write about the friend of mine who lives in a box of yams, the terrible gigs that I have come to love, and my 92-year-old girlfriend Nancy.