Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Cult People Have Comfy-Looking Clothes

I had on my record of vintage TV theme songs and started dancing, for Baby Penny’s sake, to the theme from Green Acres. Pam walked into the living room and joined me. Penny’s expression fell into bemusement and she seemed to attempt to mimic my arm motions. Meanwhile, little Bonkers The Dog roamed around Uncle Greg and Aunt Nicky’s apartment for the first time, making sure we hadn’t left any kettle corn under the couch or the love seat.

photo by Uncle Greg (Newtown, PA, USA, 2017)

As soon as they left, I had a realization I realized I’d previously realized: the joy in my life is ABSOLUTELY equal to the pain in my life. It’s so perfectly in balance. The heartbreak of a hard day with my dad is always evened-out by time spent playing with my nephew, time spent singing a song for my niece, goofing off with my sister, a nice evening of conversation, food, and movies with my girlfriend, or deep immersion into some sort of creative excursion.

In my life, the right people show up at the right time.

Shit, the joy might actually exceed the misery.

But the misery shouldn’t be glossed over. I feel like I’m in another period of crisis, albeit a lower speed crisis, and as such, I need to understand how my father’s health - and all the corresponding issues - are affecting me. I’ve gotta slow down and look the pain in the eye instead of just moving on to the next distraction.

After grabbing some drinks at The Coffee Room, Pam and I took a nice walk around sunny, Norman Rockwell-esque Newtown and got caught up on family matters. Ya know, it’s a rare condition, this day and age, to read any good news on the newspaper page. Sorry - got distracted. Where was I?

Diabetes is in the picture now and he’s got signs of something known as Sundowners Syndrome. This is in addition to gout, high blood pressure, dementia itself, nerve pain. Even with everything being treated by professionals, it is a large-scale bummer. I can’t imagine how I could keep my head above water if I didn’t live in another town with my beautiful and supportive girlfriend. Still, I strive to be strong enough to weather my life’s storms with or without outside help.

(...An impossibility.)

Here at Centipede Manor, lemongrass is misting out of our diffuser, illuminated by the intense summer-preview sun. I’ve just caught up, via text message, with Jenni; she’s recently flown north to Brooklyn from Asheville. I am editing music with Nicky and a Sierra Nevada by my side and I’ve got plans to make music with my friends in Bristol tonight.

After a dry period, I’m booking work left and right. On one hand, I will enjoy every second of earning and spending that money. On the other hand, I’ve arrived in a time of my life where non-music work is sort of a crutch. The dream of showing up to places with a guitar and being paid handfuls of cash has being realized and it’s only my terrible self-management skills that keep me from going full-time.

So that’s the goal. In the short-term, that means playing bars, restaurants, birthday funerals, funeral weddings, and the like; in the long-term, it means singing my own weird songs for weird people around this weird old world.

Vagabond did some good work tonight. Vagabond is a group of friends I might have met in high school if I’d talked to people in high school. We were all in rock bands in our twenties and, after visualizing such a project while watching Dave Rawlings Machine in Philadelphia, we put together this stylistically eclectic, mostly acoustic group. It’s a great sound and I feel high when I'm inside it. Acoustic guitars, conga, native flute, harmonicas, melodica, multi-part harmonies. We make up our own songs and borrow a few from others, mostly songs we’ve never heard other people do like "Among His Tribe" by Ween.

I just did business with guy called Gino in New Jersey. I am in a gazebo on the Lincoln Highway, dogless in a dog park. I appear to be in hiding. Just hiding from the sun. I saved $1,000 on the job because I know a gal who knows a gal who knows a guy. Word-of-mouth, ya know?

I followed up last night’s inspiring rehearsal with the completion of a new song - “Here In The Future." I think Chris Marston's new song, tentatively entitled “Home,” was the spark that lit that fuse. It’s really beautiful to watch a song come to life. Mavish The Dog seemed to approve. I also feel newly inspired after seeing my album recording fundraiser come to completion after just three weeks.

here in the future
I still waste lots and lots of my time
I spin my wheels
and get stuck in the mud of my mind
so much to do with each day that's passed
and sometimes the clock seems to run a bit fast
here in the future
there ain't time for very much but love

photo by Greg McGarvey (Newtown, PA, USA, 2017)

I know this new tune is a keeper because I’ve been listening to the demo non-stop since I recorded it. I live the song for a day or two if it’s a keeper. It’s a cathartic piece for me. I used it as an opportunity to talk to Marcella in the present day.

I decided I’ll put my brother-in-law Scott’s late brother Jeff in the album dedications, too; some of these songs reminded me of his early departure (not long after Marcella’s). I hope his family can find a connection to some of these tunes.

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

It made Pam misty-eyed, so I must have succeeded.

Cycling back and forth between music jobs at night and photography jobs in the daytime, I feel like I’m sleepwalking, like I’m on a five-minute delay with the world around me.

photo by Greg McGarvey (Newtown, PA, USA, 2017)

I snapped a photo of a painting of Edward Hicks on my walk to the coffee shop. I live about half a mile from his old house. Working in Philadelphia these past few days filled me with urban wanderlust, but my fatigued body is requesting that I pursue a path of minimal resistance today. I’m down the road from Edward’s ghost, sipping slowly. I’ve lost touch with my projects and therefore myself, but luckily I’ve got a road map.

This stack of papers contains my latest songs - one or two of which still need the final perfect line - and plans for the two albums I’m planning to get out this year. I’ve got an album about, err, myself; songs written in my twenties and featuring various women who no longer speak to me on vibes. I’ve got an album about the love, death, and continuing influence of Marcella. I’ve got half an album of new-new stuff no one’s heard. I’ve got twenty-two fallen-through-the-cracks songs that I want to put out as a series of free, Internet-only EPs. Songs that I want to rescue before they fall into the sewer. Oh, and I’m helping Tullytown Slim with his album of songs about Tullytown.

(Incidentally, people keep accusing me of BEING Tullytown Slim. Do you really think I would write a song called “Have You Ever Seen The Sunrise [From The Landfill]”??)

Point being, Greg The Songwriter is back - after a lull in my early ‘30s - and I credit Marcella with this. If I didn't finish the album about her, I suspect she would haunt the SHIT out of me. I don't mess with Italian women.

Marcella wanted to be involved with getting my songs to the outside world. Whether the world cares or not, she will be part of them making their way out my front door.

The uptick in my productivity also coincides with my move to my girlfriend’s apartment. This lady, currently asleep on the other couch, is exactly who I hoped to meet in this part of my life.

Here’s a direct quote from her: “Cult people have comfy-looking clothes.”

I've been working hard for a long time. I'm at a point where Johnny Banana's Booze Shack won't necessarily reply to an email about music booking, yet I regularly make strangers cry with my songs. There’s a feeling, at times, of hiding in plain sight, but I remind myself that my music has mostly existed on-stage. Gone as soon as I hit the final note.

In my gut, I know I’m on the right track. Five nights later, the feeling of playing three hours of music with Righteous Jolly at Tir Na nOg in Trenton is still with me. Irish folk music, some of my new songs, Righteous’s beautiful “Last Fall” and a song he improvised, Bob Dylan’s “Tweeter And The Monkey Man” (“in Jersey, everything’s legal as long as ya don’t get caught”)... we just played whatever was on the top of our heads and the crowd seemed to eat it up. Or maybe the Guinness and Tullamore Dew just made it seem that way.

photo by Darren McKessy (Trenton, NJ, USA, 2017)

It’s hard to put this joy into words other than to say that it’s where I find my sense of purpose. I did a few non-music jobs after it and, while I enjoyed hanging out with my co-workers, it felt like I was at the ‘wrong’ job. Like I’m ready to cross over into something else.

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.