Thursday, October 25, 2018

Sweet Relief

October 8, 2018: Yesterday, with the strong coffee, the Gatorade that Zayn Malik left at the studio, a successful recording session with Joe Falcey on drums, and blissful stroll/snack/drink in Doylestown, I was high as a kite. We finally cut "Here In The Future" from Count The Colors (For Marcella). I’m shocked that I slept.


photo by Pier Giacalone

photo by Pier Giacalone


It’s meant a lot to me for serious, lifelong players like Joe Falcey to be enthusiastic about my music. After our session, I drove to Doylestown to grab a beer and watch him play jazz with some similarly gifted friends of his.

After Mom was promptly sent home by the doctor for a three-month break in July, something in me opened up. Dad had just died weeks earlier, so it’s not like I was, uh, carefree (what’s that?), but I was as free as I could reasonably be.

North Brooklyn Farm, photo by Greg McGarvey

I came alive. I went to work at my songwriting with more focus and fervor than ever before.

As the summer wound down, we moved to a beautiful place in New Jersey that’s surrounded by nature. I was offered lots of music work which I accepted enthusiastically, constantly learning new songs to keep myself interested.

As we go back to New York next week, the only thing I know for sure is that, when she is finished, we will be there to greet her. We will show up.

October 16, 2018: Mom is in remission!!

She came out of the doctor’s office surprisingly quickly and gave us the good news. I hugged her and said one of the most unguarded “I love you”s of my life. An “I love you” as spontaneous as an exhalation.

We went across Broadway to a juice shop, treating ourselves to tasty drinks and calling everyone with the good news.

Cousin Helen, who works in Midtown Manhattan, arranged to meet us in Rockefeller Plaza. After taking us out for a great lunch at Isadora’s, we took the Metro-North from Grand Central Station to the New York Botanical Garden in The Bronx.

photo by Greg McGarvey

photo by Greg McGarvey

Getting off the train and walking toward the gardens, the relief really began to wash over me. Dad’s crisis was over. Mom’s crisis was over. The idea that those crises overlapped and we still managed to get on with our lives just boggles the mind. Us humans is resilient.

Immediately, my stupid, neurotic brain starts scanning around for the next crisis. “Remember the credit card debt?? When could you possibly pay that back??” “The album’s not finished! People probably think you snorted their GoFundMe money!!” “When are you gonna learn how to cook, anyway??”

No, after seeing Dad suffer from dementia, after seeing Mom face the possibility of dying of cancer this year, there are no real problems left. There will be more disasters eventually, but we can savor this moment. This moment is about remission.

Remission, and all that sweet, sweet cocaine that my GoFundMe supporters bought me. (Just kidding.)




New York Botanical Garden, by Greg McGarvey

New York Botanical Garden, by Greg McGarvey

October 23, 2018: Having left Bucks County last month, I found myself in my beloved Newtown three nights in the past week. First, to see the amazing, theremin-led Divine Hand Ensemble at Newtown Theatre, the USA’s longest continually running movie theater.

Divine Hand Ensemble, by Greg McGarvey

Having written so much prose and music on the benches out front in years past, I finally performed music at Newtown Theatre about a week ago. After all the nights playing at bars and farms and restaurants, I have to admit that I was ecstatic to have the attention of a full theater. I told the people how my Dad gave me a childhood filled with the music of The Beatles and The Everly Brothers, and they gave him a round of applause. I was at a loss for words. Newtown made me so happy that night.

photo by Matt Dorsey

If one gets hired as a jukebox, they’ve got to be ready to be treated like furniture. Having said that, the late nights at bars have been a great way to learn my craft and interface with the ever-changing crowd.

My night at the theater, though, reminded me that I am, indeed, a performer. I’m needy and I need a real stage. Or an especially cool living room.

I think back to my early twenties. I play, sing, and write differently because I don’t have a fall-back position. That was how I planned it.

Last night, I was asked to drive to Rocco’s at The Brick in Newtown, a nice spot that dates back to 1763, to help serenade a couple on the occasion of their thirtieth anniversary. They were thrilled to see us, and I appreciated seeing wait staff lingering in the hallway to listen to us sing.

Once we said goodbye to the happy couple, we went across the street to the similarly aged Temperance House for a drink. With Nicky being abroad for a week, I’d been starved for attention; it was a pleasure to talk life, love, and music with Crocker, and an unexpected treat to see Righteous Jolly emerge from some back room where he’d been rehearsing for an upcoming play.


photo by unknown ostrich

Crocker couldn’t read the lyrics to “Faith” that he’d printed out and taped to his guitar, so he sang a few nonsense phrases like “hold down the chunk.” I jotted that down for a new song. I wrote the melody in the shower today and recorded it on my cell phone before it slipped away. It’s catchy!

one of my co-writers

He said he can’t stop listening to my new song “In Her Powder Room.” I told him: since I’ve been so good at letting sadness shine through my songs, I might as well let the light-hearted stuff flow just as freely - even when it gets a little goofy. That’s the real me, too.

Today in Princeton, Mom and I wandered around the cemetery for a while, saying hi to people with great old-timey names like Alberina Procaccini and Grover Cleveland. One reason for our trip was the sale of Dad’s media collection to Princeton Record Exchange.

photo by Greg McGarvey


photo by Greg McGarvey

photo by Greg McGarvey

photo by Greg McGarvey

Even late in life, during the height of his illnesses, Dad seemed to find some comfort in having his media collection nearby. This - all this collecting - was one of the things he did with his life, just as I have proudly squirreled away a fantastic collection of concert bootlegs, books, films, records, and oddities.

While going through his belongings, I couldn’t help be struck by the fact that I’d given him hundreds of burned CDs and DVDs; concerts we’d attended together and other recordings I thought he might’ve liked. These little discs were all messages of love from one guy that didn’t express his emotions exceptionally well to another guy who didn’t express his emotions exceptionally well.

The thing is - I’m not here forever and I’ve got work to do. So now Dad’s media library is gone and we’ve got a few more fifty dollar bills. I imagined Dad’s ghost finding it to be a fairly anticlimactic end to so many decades of collecting. But you’ve gotta watch how much time you spend in boxes, how much time you spend in the past.


photo by Greg McGarvey

I did hang onto his best Beatles books, his Beatles figurines (complete with mini-stage!), and a few other pieces that were too cool to let go. As for the rest, maybe some of his old albums will facilitate some young kid’s first experience with the transcendent power of music. It certainly worked for me.


Gravity Broke Up The Beatles, by Greg McGarvey

October 24, 2018: Nicky’s return is a sweet relief and not just ‘cause of the Haribo Wineland Gummies that she smuggled in from Munich.

photo by Greg McGarvey

Mom’s good news is sinking in more and more and I find myself digging into my work with renewed focus. The creative ideas are coming like autumn leaves blowing off the car roof. I can’t grab them all, but I hope to catch a couple. I remain anxious about having so much unrecorded work, but I’ve booked a bunch of work as a photographer to earn studio money.

This week’s work has a lot of love in it. By the time Nicky had been in Germany for about three days, I wrote her a song.

lately I been thinkin’ ‘bout my baby

my international gal of mystery

I’m sitting by the waves as they’re crashing

splashing on my ostrich and me

I been watchin’ the sky for my baby

on the shore with my souvenirs

my suitcase sittin’ lonely on the shoreline

waiting for hers to appear

Some people have asked me if she’s in “Cleansed In Waves,” too. That piece is from this summer and is one of my proudest accomplishments of this year. I think I will play both of them at the farm tomorrow night.

The week’s other big project is the planning of Songs For Dad, a concert I’m performing two days before Dad’s birthday at a historic church in Ewing, New Jersey that’s currently known as 1867 Sanctuary. I’ve got a bunch of great people joining me on-stage (on-altar?), plans for projecting images of and relating to Dad behind us while we sing, and lots of stories to tell.

Because Dad - only a teenager at the time - had the wisdom to record our family singing songs in the living room, I’ll be able to bring that music into my show. A time machine back to around 1969, Rahway, New Jersey.

I’ve written four songs for him this year. With the concert as my deadline, I want to turn more and more of my memories of Dad into music. I can feel them floating around in the ether, waiting for me to yank them down and transcribe them.

Marcella has shown me how a song can be a portal back to emotionally elevated moments of the past. Needless to say, my Dad’s memory will live on at least as long as I’m singing - and probably much longer.

photo by Greg McGarvey