Friday, June 23, 2017

Anyone With A Heartbeat

There are two cell phones going at the same time with two different kinds of hold music, intermittent interruptions from two similar-sounding women like some kind of discordant jazz with not-very-poetic spoken word sections. I’m hoping that the voiceover women start talking to each other, confusing one another’s insurance company fun facts for voice commands.

OC4M?? Saret??

I’m always positive that I’ll be able to decipher what I’ve written on my hand while driving. I think OC4M might be “beans.” Speeding down the Turnpike with my out-of-date car inspection (the confidence with which I did this is what is meant by ‘white privilege’), I started thinking about how my Aunt Donna taught me “Beans, Beans, The Musical Fruit” at the courthouse in Doylestown when I was a little kid. We were given the unfortunate task of being asked which parent we wanted to live with and I remember how much Donna tried to lighten the mood with her irreverence. Thanks, Donna! I’ve repressed a plethora of bummers (band name!), but I remembered the one that involved humor and music. Being a ne’er-do-well, I did return to Doylestown for court business when I was older, but now I get to just enjoy the town’s loveliness.

“She had sixteen chickens. But she didn’t WANT sixteen chickens.”

I’m at a place called Zen Den. There’s a piano in the middle of the room and there are several older hippie women. I am comfortable.

“I decided… I’m not eating the chickens.”

Now I’m at a liquor store called Viking Lickers (I’ve taken liberties with the spelling). The staff at the counter are having a conversation about an unidentified foul smell. “It smells like somebody who took a shower with JUST Irish Spring.”

A woman came in and turbo-chatted with me about money and purpose. One of those moments that make you wonder if this is all scripted. I could see in her lively eyes that she thought I had, ya know, the answer. I don’t. But I gave her some of my life hacks.

As an aside, I’m pretty sure that Aziz Ansari’s father just walked in.

Ninety minutes later: “Yeah, that smell like FEET to me!”

No doubt the U.S.A.’s stinky side is showing more these days. We’ve all got one. I’ve got blog posts and songs that have ended up in coffee shop trash cans because they were written by Bitter Greg rather than Loving Greg. But I’ve also got a personal code. Things you can’t shake out of me. Some people are more susceptible to the sort of emotional vultures who prey on the dark side of our psyches. When you’ve convinced people to stop caring about others, there’s no telling what you can get them to sign off on.

I hate seeing so many of the elders get duped, a fog of paranoia polluting the years that should be a carefree victory lap. Being persuaded to vote against themselves. I also got whiplash from seeing how quickly some of my peers became the kind of people who don’t care about life outside their own front door. The sort of people we once railed against while watching a lit candle spin on top of my ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ LP in my darkened, 2 AM bedroom.

Still, I can’t deny the way that music - especially live music - seems to bring out the best in anyone with a heartbeat. I’m happy that that’s what my calling is, and I’m happy that people are listening.

My friends Whitney and Kim helped me track down the original copy of a photo I will be using in the Count The Colors (For Marcella) artwork. In her eyes, I can see Marcella's devotion to me and her connection to my musical spirit. I'm glad to have taken my time with this project; in doing so, I've been able to approach it from so many different perspectives, sometimes aided by others' input. I've been able to discard whole songs and make room for better ones, test strangers' reactions to the tunes on-stage, rewrite lyrics, and even rearrange songs I'd previously deemed complete.

I hope that this project will inspire others to spend some time memorializing people they've lost, or even just to record stories from people who are still with us.

I went into overtime with the new version of "Knit Hat Girl" tonight. I hope Mama Cleo doesn't mind that I mention her in it. I also used some stories that Whitney shared with me about Marcella’s search for love and the anxieties she felt as a young woman with a complex health situation. Whitney later told me, “I told her she would meet you one day.” I had my own emotional walls up after having had my heart beaten to a pulp in my previous relationship. Looking back, it amazes me that we opted to scale each other’s walls. It was a little scary up there, but I was lucky to have the company.

rays of love you shine 
the forever kind 
you were always scared 
always scared to find

I cranked my sound system and sang it real soft. I think I heard a man sniffling at the end. Maybe the guy had a cold. I dunno. But it felt good. And there was more money on my harmonica/beverage table by the end, too. This pile of U.S. currency is a good sign that it might be finished now.

I told the story of the song - and its album - before I played it and had this weird moment of deciding whether or not to say the word “cancer” while people are trying enjoy a beer after work. People are more likely to actively listen to a song they’ve never heard if you tell them a story first, but I’m also not interested in bumming people out. There is a balance to strike. So far so good.

I took the Pennsylvania Turnpike for a while, but then jumped off, sank the windows down, and took the country roads. Good LORD, I was flying. I feel so high from playing music for a receptive crowd.

You can’t get in your own way when you’re the only one up there. It takes a lot of stage time for an anxiety-ridden introvert to get comfortable. I allow myself to have a drink if one shows up on-stage, but I don’t allow myself to use it as a crutch. This is the only job I’ve ever wanted and I treat it as such. Tonight, I did my job well.

Having started out as a rock band dude, it’s fucking exhilarating to show up alone to a place where there’s nothing but an extension cord on the ground and, two hours later, leave having created a few moments for some strangers. Toddlers boogying. Little kids staring slackjawed like I’m a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat rather than some schlub pulling some songs out of a Martin. Something I do every day that, perhaps, they’ve never seen in person. Businessmen tapping their expensive toes. Old-timers being visibly moved by some song that’s placed them in an emotional time machine. College girls looking up from their iPhones when I stumble upon a song they know from some movie and I sing it just right. When I was up there tonight, I was thinking about the crazy journey that got me to that moment and how grateful I am that it did.

It is comforting to live so close to Gammy and J.J.’s final resting spot. The other day, we prepaid for the services that we hope are still way off in the distant future. I haven’t slept great since that day. I felt a little tweaked-out that night, rehearsing in the basement of Noble Earth on Bristol’s Mill Street with my friends in Vagabond. Music heals though, and this weird little band of ours also facilitates some good hang time with these sweet, talented friends of mine. We worked up a great set for our performance at Gina Andreoli’s Salon du Soleil Art Celebration. I’m playing roughly four times, actually, and I’m bursting with excitement about it. Tight acoustic music and explorative electric music. It’s what I’d be doing, anyway, but it’s nice to have an audience.