JANUARY 17 - “I feel actually quite lucky!” a posh English toddler announces while sliding into the chair beside me. Accents like this only surround me when I leave the apartment. Although it would be pretty interesting to get up for a 4 AM pee and hear a little English ghost child talking to me. “A li-uhl much wah-taw then?”
Flipping through some paperwork from an asset management company, I might appear to be one of this town’s many moneyfolk. Unless they happen to notice the huge hole in my sweater’s armpit. Why do they always rip? Am I bad at wearing clothes?
Some part of the eight-story office building that is my mind tends to power down when I have to deal with this power of attorney business. I feel so ill-equipped for it that I fall into some sort of a panic spiral, ultimately using 800% of the required energy to not accomplish the task. The team effort helps. The one plus side I can find in his dementia is that he’s likely unaware of the our stress.
Fun topics, right? I am trying to write about this stuff more because I can feel that I’m keeping too much inside. I feel it when my eye starts to twitch, when I’ve slept poorly four nights in a row, when my breathing gets tight.
I never thought I’d lose my dad so early, in such a drawn-out way. Living in some kind of in-between netherworld… and doing it in my old bedroom... which means my parents are living together after a thirty-year break.
To some people, the craziest thing that’s happened lately has been President Shithole. For me, that feels like the world outside my window finally becoming as crazy as my own personal life.
Dad gave no clear answers when asked about hypothetical health scenarios. So we didn’t make him DNR and he ended up on life support back in November. I know I don’t want to live like that. But to make him a DNR felt like killing our own parent. I now see that it’s not so cut-and-dry.
Anyway, what was I talking about… posh English children? Cappuccino?
I feel for the guy, not being able to get out of the chair, dress himself, express himself well verbally. The daily fits of yelling. Banging on things around the house. Breaking the front door knob the other day, just to do it. Being verbally abusive to my mom, his caretaker.
That dynamic adds a huge layer of stress. It’s all happening because my sister and I recognized the care he was getting at facilities - no matter how expensive - was inadequate. The bed sores. The wounds from constantly falling at night, forgetting he can’t walk to the bathroom. The facility that seemed like the sure choice had to discharge him because his care level became so far beyond what they were equipped for.
He is mad about what’s happened to him and his ex-wife must seem like a reasonable person to blame. I wish he knew he’s getting incredible care. How strange that, in the end, it was his estranged ex-wife who was able to step up to the plate.
We ought to be building monuments to this woman.
We are going through all of this to keep him out of the facilities. They are the easy option, but we know we wouldn’t be able to drive home knowing that he’s getting the care he needs. I would be less stressed-out, but have a harder time looking at myself in the mirror. I’m glad we are trying it this way, for now.
Meanwhile at the cafe, I’m working on breathing. Drawing the long, deep breaths I couldn’t access this morning. The stacks of paper in front of me represent my personal hell and heaven - the financial mumbo jumbo in one pile, song lyrics and Friday’s set list in another. The music projects can sometimes seem frivolous in the context of all this madness, but I know it’s not. It’s the work that I do. What I will have done with my life. It’s what my dad would want me to be doing.
I put together a new version of my band Monday night and got to hear nine of my songs come to life in a basement in Ewing, New Jersey. After we played “Yer Shoes,” the drummer, the great Joe Falcey, let me know that he taught the song to one of his music students. Between that and Brian Dillon’s live cover version of “Layers Of Winter Clothes,” I felt amazed to see that the music is affecting people before it’s even been released.
JANUARY 21 - ...and then I became myself again. First, at a smoky bar jam session with a bunch of old/new friends. Sitting in the corner of the bar with my Cajun Valve cap pulled low, playing wah-wah-assisted slide guitar with the reverb machine at full-blast, making up licks for songs I’d never played before, stopping to take a sip of Yards beer when someone would start singing. There was no money in it; just the chance to create sound with brilliant people for the sheer fun of it. A nameless band that formed by chance, never rehearsed, and will probably only play one time ever, playing tightly enough to get people to look up from their phones and become our audience.
That ended up being my warm-up for Friday night’s gig at Broken Goblet Brewery. I put together a version of the always-morphing Roadside Leaves band that was so big that we almost didn’t fit on-stage. Drums, bass, lap steel guitar, second guitar, violin. A beautiful bunch of sounds and that made my tunes really come to life.
For my Grandpa JJ’s birthday, I played the old Carter Family song “I’m Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes,” a song he taught me posthumously via the McGarvey family jam session tapes from the ‘60s. We did a duet version several birthdays ago; me singing along to the tape from about fifty years earlier.
On the nights when I’ve got enough energy to play a good show, I go into a slight panic before playing. The energy turns on me. I try to focus on setting up equipment and other technical concerns, avoiding conversations with people, avoiding the chance to psych myself out in some way. I took a walk around the industrial complex with my girlfriend to try to loosen up a little.
I went on-stage in a tailspin, wondering how I convert myself from an introvert into an extrovert in the next five seconds. This is a familiar dance, though. I’ve got experience with this. I remembered how it works. Just play. Just show up and play. The music will take over.
And it did, almost right away. The Carter Family tune was followed by two older songs of mine. “Imagination 2011: The Scenic Route” and “The Dirt & The Moonlight.” Then my friends joined me for half of the songs from “Count The Colors (For Marcella).” I took a couple seconds to tell the crowd the story behind the album; just enough to pique their interest. My band played great and the songs were received well by the hometown crowd.
Somehow, that music never feels morose for very long. Something about the way that I approached the writing allowed the songs to acknowledge the sadness without losing sight of the joy that was the bedrock of our relationship. I felt, as always, a sense of calm and peace having brought Marcella’s name and energy into the air.
As a way of thanking the crowd for listening, we did a set of well-known rock music next. Wilburys, Petty, Neil, “When Will I Be Loved” for Phil Everly’s birthday. The ever-fiery Joe Falcey made my day by replicating that song’s unique drum arrangement.
We did an interesting version of “gettin’ closer,” a song from my first-ever songwriting night back in 2007; I sent it out to Matt Park to thank him for supporting my music both before and after we played in a band together. We followed my rant-as-song “My Grass Is Greener” with a version of Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane” that made one lady feel, as she told me later, “like I was stoned!”
It’s fun doing those long, electric, freak-out songs in front of people who might think I am strictly a folky.
Local harmonica legend George Price joined us for a jam at the end; I would’ve played ‘til 4 AM if the bar wasn’t shutting down.
I posed a question to myself before Christmas when my work started to dry up. I’d emailed all sorts of places that had never heard of me and (nicely) asked them to give me money to play music. Most did not respond. I had a sneaking suspicion that the lack of a response from Johnny Applesauces’s Bar & Grille didn't mean that it was time to hang up my rock & roll boots (they are actually just Clark boots), but I felt frustrated to have been passed over for, more than likely, somebody less talented. My schedule and cupboard were not bare, but a little too close for comfort. My question was: why?
In this great musical weekend, I found my answers. Just show up. Life happens in person. Some things will happen over email from time to time. Social media has benefits. But most of the stuff that matters will happen in person. In person, it's easier to see who really means it. I understood that all I have to do is keep doing my work and the word will continue to get out. Try not to let stress, anxiety, depression, self-doubt, inertia keep me tucked away at home too much. Just show up.
This weekend also showed me that, with love and music as my gateway, all the joy I ever had is still available. I am probably aging a little faster since my dad's struggles intensified, but I'm willing to collect these bags under my eyes, go a little greyer, wear slightly bigger clothes, and so on, if it means that I get to still be around traveling, telling my stories, sharing good energy with people.
Actually, it's been nice getting older and having fewer (and shorter) moments of self-doubt, having a more defined sense of mission.
I wouldn't have imagined I'd end this post this way when I first started it, but it's true. Just like that posh English child. I feel actually quite lucky!