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.