Monday, December 31, 2018

It's Harder To Be Angst-Ridden In A Glowing Suit

December 12, 2018: Today, my boss is a French fella named Damien. Although I don’t know his girlfriend’s name, I’ve bought her a rose at Chelsea Market. As I write, the pleasantly strange glow of blue LED lights passing through an indoor waterfall light my off-white pages.

It is a day in the city and, as such, things are not going according to plan. Early morning commuters have packed the Hamilton and Princeton Junction train station parking lots to the brim; I drove instead, and parked in Chelsea for twice the amount of money you could’ve bought the whole island for in the 17th century.

I’ve got a case of hummingbird heart, anticipating the performance I will give Damien and his eventual - one hopes - bride. I’ve got the melody drilled into my head and the lyrics printed in the Special Elite font on a folded-up piece of paper. Perhaps I will wear shades to remove a little bit of the social awkwardness that I am sure to feel for 20-100% of the song.



I was asked to do this job after I tried and failed to work at a real estate expo. I was supposed to help people win a drone and then drink some water. (Why? Because I dropped out of college.) Each of the water containers were allegedly infused with a unique blend of fruits, but all seemed to merely have lemons at the bottom. Marketing!

Some sort of illness crept up on me, perhaps my first real panic attack. I went outside and then around the back of the convention center for my first-ever Atlantic City vomiting session. A New Jersey tradition!

I restored myself at the mirage-like Hayday Coffee on Tennessee Avenue and then made the long trek home from this strange job where I essentially drove two hours to get a laminate, vomit, and then drive home. (I did keep the laminate, for some reason.) Somewhere in the middle of New Jersey, Damien emailed me with this request. It sounded like a good - and less vomitous - way to recoup the lost money.

would you like to come along?
you can help me sing this song

“Road To Nowhere” is a clever song for an event like this.

I walked up the stairs to the High Line observation deck at 10th Avenue and 17th Street. We immediately notice each other. He looks like him, I look like me - especially with my guitar case. He gives me a nearly imperceptible, hyperspeed nod. It’s as if we’re secret agents… of love.

I set my guitar case down and grab a pick from my wallet. I put the capo on, throw my glasses on (it’s not sunny), place the lyric sheet under my coffee, and just play. Pretending I do this all the time. I’m an extroverted guy who is comfortable singing a song among dozens of strangers in New York City. Sure.

The thing is, though, I’ve worked at CVS, Pharmor, Payless ShoeSource, I’ve set up tents for high-rolling “glampers” at Dover Downs during the Firefly Festival, telemarketed for newspapers in Ottumwa, Iowa and Fayetteville, North Carolina, data entried for the company that processes LSATs, I… need to stop writing this list.

The point being, when I get a job that involves my guitar, I show up and do a great job.

By the first verse, they were dancing. Their backdrop: an elevated view of Manhattan traffic. The road to somewhere, or nowhere, or at least Union Square. A feeling of watching the city like a film that you could physically enter at any moment.

By the second verse, he’s down on his knees, pulling out a ring. She is crying and they are both on the ground, hugging each other and weeping.

A woman stops to inspect the scene, looking concerned. I turn to her and say, “don’t worry; it’s a happy thing.” She watches the rest of the song to make sure everything is truly OK.

He hands her the rose.

We all hug, talk for a little while, and go our separate ways. We pledge to get a drink together, if possible, next time they are in NYC. They are off to the Bahamas next.

I pack up the guitar and walk away, temporarily feeling exceptionally cool for transcending my nerves and helping these strangers have a magical moment. Within about ten steps, I revert back to feeling like just another stranger walking the city on this chilly day.

I continue to not know the name of Damien’s girlfriend. But I’m happy she’s now his fiancée.

December 18, 2018: Woke up, yet again, as the luckiest guy in the world.

As I approached home, I passed under the Christmas garland draped across Route 206 (originally part of the coast-to-coast Lincoln Highway).

I've been coming in late. Everyone else is asleep. Until tomorrow, it's all for me.

I always liked the looks of this town. Driving past it fourteen years ago after a day of delivering a now-defunct newspaper called Philly Edge to businesses in the Princeton area, I never would’ve imagined the zigzag path that would one day lead me back here.

Making my way into my new neighborhood, I slow down to avoid hitting a trio of deer who are relaxed in a way that I never experienced during my years in the outskirts of Philadelphia.

These are not skittish deer. These are old-money deer, with diplomas and framed pictures of their grandkids back home. As my blue car approaches, they stay still, not as deer-in-the-headlights, but as deer who’ve learned to not sweat the small stuff. Deer who know it’s all gonna work out, ba-by!

They eventually take a step or two each and clear a path for my car. I’m listening to Aerosmith at the time.

As far as I can tell, old-money deer like Aerosmith.

Ah, to type a first-time-in-human-history sentence! Write your own at the bottom of this page!

I leave my music gear in the car, manage to get my boots off, and melt - fully-clothed - onto the couch for what is supposed to be the day’s Netflix coda but instantly becomes a deep-zonk sleep. There’s a fantastic bed upstairs, but there are far too many stairs and even more ZZZs between here and there.

I’m wishing I could split myself into five. One of me would write books. One of me would practice lead guitar. One of me would work out. One of me would make enough money to buy the exact gifts I want to buy the people I love. One of me would be rehearsing the songs I am recording in the studio tomorrow. One of me would finish the year’s semi-finished songs. One of me would write this. One of me would go upstairs and see if she wants a back massage. Did I say five?

Downstairs again, a woman named Blue is playing jazz on the radio. The color-changing diffuser that sits atop my left stereo speaker pumps out a blend of peppermint, cardamon, sage, ginger, and fennel. The moon is shining through the living room window, not quite full, appearing alongside a slightly mangled, reflected version of itself. I can’t quite seem to extinguish the light anxiety buzzing through my brain like a very mild electrical shock, but, in this jazzmosphere, I’m at least slowing it down.

Spell check has not underlined jazzmosphere. It’s so late now that even spell check is asleep.

Anyway, Christmas Boobs. I am two of the Christmas Boobs. We do our Christmas show Friday night.

I had a moment of bliss last night. Sitting on my guitar amplifier in a familiar studio (i.e. one that has multiple Greg McGarvey prints on the walls) as part of an all-pro, five-piece band.

I dirtied my amp up about halfway, the low notes vibrating my butt and up my back like some sort of strange, semi-legal sonic massage, the spring reverb giving each note and chord a cavernous majesty. Having taken the time to learn the road map to each song, we went off-road.

December 20, 2018: Went to the studio yesterday to sing harmonies to the songs from Count The Colors (For Marcella) and my brain could only find the lyrics to Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.”

I did manage to re-record a lead vocal and harmony part for "Yer Shoes," giving it the Everly glow I intended it to have.

The delicate "Knit Hat Girl," Marcella's favorite song of mine, got a harmony part, the guitar and lead vocal having been recorded a few weeks ago. I don’t know what my style is, but I know it when I hear it. This is definitely me.

I went a whole week without noticing that I am on Neil Young’s web site. Tom from Santa Cruz gave me a heads-up. I always wanted to write a “thank you” song to my favorite musician, so I did. Neil correctly points out that the song “It’s A Very Shakey World” is “goofy.”

Neil Young listening to ME was somewhere near the top of the Possible But Out Of My Control section of my bucket list.

it’s a very shakey world
it’s a very Shakey Deal
but give my credit card
right to Uncle Neil

I’ve left myself a post-it note to remind myself to write letters to my good friend Arlo, as well as my Grandpa in Kitty Hawk. The Outer Banks gets lonely this time of year.

I used to write letters like that to my dad. Between visits, I'd email the latest updates about girlfriends, my bands, my jobs, and the like.

I'm sure I will think of Dad as I improvise some sort of half-speed Albert Lee-ish guitar solo on "Friends In Snow Places" tonight.

December 27, 2018: As Righteous introduced a song at this weekend’s Christmas gig, I recalled a long-forgotten childhood highlight. Dad and I recorded a version of “Silent Night.”

I can’t remember what I played on it. I was a little kid and probably didn’t know any chords. But I remember it being AMAZING. Probably because it was Christmas. Probably because I did it with Dad.

I wish I had that old cassette. I suppose it accidentally ended up in a landfill. But I can still play a sorta distant, hazy version of it in my mind. Dad would often claim that the musical talent skipped right from his father to me, but it wasn’t really the case.

I put a lot of pressure on this show. I needed this gig, my last full-band show of the year, to help me shake loose a lot of leftover tension. Given that the whole band had purchased light-up Christmas suits, I knew we had a good chance.

Sometime after we flicked our lights on, it happened. There was a moment when Righteous was simultaneously singing into both the microphone and a HoMedics personal massager (no time to explain) and I’d jumped into the crowd to play guitar beside my sister. The whole bar was singing along to every chorus.

I got my party. The Christmas Boobs shook!

By Christmas day, my psyche had grown blurry and dank. I figured I’d wear my light-up suit to our family get-togethers and just flick myself On if I started feeling dark. While it is certainly possible, it’s harder to be angst-ridden in a glowing suit.

December 31, 2018: Hello again. I’ve woken up inexplicably early and I’m trying not to wake her, too. I am underneath the covers, as if I’m trying to hide porn or some illicit WhatsApp conversation. Really, I’m just sort of texting myself.

We end the year in Center City Philadelphia tonight. For me, it’s felt like five years in one. Without this great woman, I really have trouble imagining surviving all the upheaval. Or at least coming out of it with a smile on my face.

Three days before Christmas, I recorded the song I wrote for her when she was in Germany. I went up to Sweet Creek Studio and cut a seven-song collection of songs for loved ones. It was a wild year and it seemed to bring out the best in me as a songwriter.

The song I wrote between Dad’s passage and his services - “Nightingale.” A song I wrote for Mom - “Down The Watchung.” For Pam, “I’m Glad They Made Two.” For my nephew, “Happy To Meet You.” For my niece, “Crayola Blue Skies.” For the McGarveys and Delaneys, “Terri & J.R.”

I hope they like ‘em. If not, I did include a gift receipt. Maybe trade me in for Josh Groban? I wouldn’t be offended.

Yesterday, Nick Crocker and I sang together in the bar where we first met. On a Tuesday night in late 2012, he was playing “Cowgirl In The Sand” and I thought, “I want to also be playing ‘Cowgirl In The Sand.’” Everyone assured me it would be OK to plug in my guitar and join him. Marcella filmed the moment our friendship began.

I am six years older now and he, inexplicably, is only two.

It was a noon gig. I showed up somewhat underfed and with a killer headache. I was showered with compliments at the end, but I knew part of me was missing.

My new friend Drucie was at the bar, watching our three-hour performance in its entirety. She loved our music, but noticed what was absent - my storytelling.

If you stick around long enough, you’re bound to have a story or two to tell. My pledge to you, Drucie, and this cell phone is to better tell them in the new year, behind the mic and elsewhere.

Mere moments after packing up my gear and sitting back down at the bar, Righteous Jolly showed up and asked me to wander around New Hope taking promo photos with him in advance of our spring concert at Silver Lake Nature Center.

Within ten minutes, I’ve got a parking cone on my head. A man drives past me and smiles. We like props.

I check in on the mannequins beside Love Saves The Day. Some of them are decked out in Christmas gear. The Statue Of Liberty one is still there. The remarkably busty one is still there.

I drove home just as it was getting dark along River Road. Another day of creativity and weirdness in New Hope. I did my job fairly well and set my sights on the future (which, incidentally, is coming in just fifteen hours).

I’ve got some exciting plans, but the year will largely be flavored by things unplanned and unforeseen. I’ll try to let you know how it looks from here - and I’ll try to look surprised.

In “Nightingale,” I write of a beautiful dream that Pam had the night of our dad’s departure. I hope that I will see him in my dreams this coming year.

Regardless, I will take him with me through all my journeys. I’ve made that pledge before, but I mean it somewhat more literally now. Pam gave me a guitar-shaped pendant with a little bit of Dad inside.

(Yeah, Pam won Christmas.)