Death, Gummy Bears, Etc.

There’s a security guard on the beach. He taps her shoulder. He points up to the tree above her.

“Hola! Sloth.”

It’s a reverberant little cafe in Pennington. The woman behind the counter is exclaiming, “PLAY SOME FRENCH MUSIC. SIRI, PLAY SOME FRENCH MUSIC. FRENCH MUSIC.”

Times like this, I imagine landing here from the twentieth century, feeling intensely amused/confused about this lady yelling at, presumably, the ghost of a French musician who used to live in this building.

“The male fly puts his wings up and waves it around, dancing around in a circle. And the female says, “OK. Go for it.”

Sitting on Uncle Ted’s porch. Having put my guitar away, the wildlife symphony is steadily rising in volume. Uncle Ted’s property is a little slice of paradise on the New Jersey side of the river. A bright red bird jumps up to the lodge, shouting something about, “I’M ALIVE, TOO, AND I AM RED! RED! ALIVE!” (I didn’t catch all of it.)

She’s in another chair, sketching the scene. We’re facing the river, so the view is split between the two states where I keep most of my stuff and most of my friends.

It’s getting easier to get to new plateaus. I can’t get to them myself like that bird can, like that sex-crazed fly can. I need my friends to help me fly.

Driving home last night under lightning storms through New Hope, into Washington Crossing, over the river into Titusville, and back home. They warned of tornadoes, but I knew that a night of work would be my only chance of going to bed with a smile on my face - even if I had to be delivered to my bed by a twister.

The prettiest girl in France is gone. If you saw her smile, you know what I mean. Now she’s in our music. I had her picture with me tonight as I sang.

I’d never heard her sing until yesterday. Oh my God. An angel then, an angel now.

At the courthouse, Orphan’s Court is in the same office as the marriage licenses. We keep hearing people behind the desk refer to us as “the couple.” By the time we walked out, misty-eyed and visibly distraught after discussing our father’s death a year later, they finally stopped calling us “the couple.”
Earlier that day, I saw a different blonde lady on a bench and very nearly yelled, “WHAT UP, ORPHAN?!”

(It wasn’t my sister. I’m glad I didn’t yell.)

I will get supplies at Brig O’Doon, place my canoe in Sweet Creek, and row until I get to Hopetown.

Every night I leave the studio, I drive past Leon’s house. A few months ago, I noticed several flower pots among his curbside trash. As I slowed down to take a closer look, I noticed that each pot had weird metal things sticking out. I soon realize they are kazoos, all in different colors. I’ve got myself a kazoo in Redbone red!

It’s pitch black out back, raining just a little bit. I haven’t been naked in the rain in a long time.

At the cafe, there’s a fly who can’t fly. He’s strutting around my general area, by my books, by my coffee, by my cell phone. Every once in a while he flips upside-down and I flip him right side-up. I feel that the fly that can’t fly should at least be able to walk.

A Norwegian troll with yesterday’s banana peels stuck in its hair. Glass soda bottle from a farm stand somewhere between Hillside Elementary School and Trenton’s War Memorial Theater. A box that used to have a hamburger in it. A box that continues to have fries in it. A mustard yellow Quazar TV from 1985. A trash-picked picture frame. Five coffee cups from six cafes. The USB cord that doesn’t seem to work. A flyer about the Hindu temple in Bridgewater. My ostrich bank. My pipe-smoking man carving. My instruments.

This disastrous car became this disastrous after only about three days. It’s my kind of disaster. Visual evidence of a weekend packed with good music and good people.

The man who bought Leon’s house approaches me in the back of an otherwise unoccupied bar. And then the same man goes to a second musical event and finds himself talking to the other of my two most frequent collaborators - the man whose shirt I was wearing in the back of the bar.

Maybe there is something to be said for going with the flow. Going with the flow, but making sure you build yourself a good boat, bring some good supplies. Maybe a kazoo.

I started feeling my inner stand-up comic emerging.

“It’s been a good week for death!”

The first two songs from Count The Colors, then the third. The third song is the most melancholy of the bunch, so my friend Frank Burk passed out baskets of gummy bears that my girlfriend prepared for the audience.

We turned the collection basket into a “sorry about the morbid songs here have some candy OK” basket.

Back to the beginning of my songwriting, “Strawberry.” For the redheads.

An incredible band - The Congealed Gummies - joins me for “I Don’t Mind The Rain” and “gettin’ closer,” the other two songs I wrote on my first night of songwriting in 2007. Jenny Cat on grand piano, Frank Burk on fiddle, Lysa Opfer on electric bass, Nick D’Amore on a small ‘n’ sparkly drum kit, Nick Crocker on guitar and vibes (not to be confused with vibraphone), and Dave Van Allen on pedal steel guitar.

I’d asked someone who the best pedal steel player in our region is. When I got the answer, I emailed him and asked if he’d play with me - a stranger - for no money. I must have had one of my sister’s four-leaf clovers in my pocket that day!

I’ve checked the tape and it’s true - this band helped me do the best version of almost every song we played that night.

The mid-set duo set with Righteous Jolly was yet another special touch that helped to make this my dream concert.

After reading a sweet note that I got from my music hero Neil Young, we played “Winterlong” and dedicated it to Ms. Jones. She was my fan and I am hers.

Next, a poem entitled “To Whom It May Concern” by my friend Paul Woods. Living in Adelaide, I never got to share the air with him, but I know we understood and loved each other. He then inspired my best-ever rendition of my favorite song, Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane.” After spending my twenties playing heavily improvisational rock & roll with Nick D’Amore, it was good for my soul to play this kind of music, even briefly.

It’s like there’s a radio station that only you have access to, and even for you, the dial is fidgety. You can’t necessarily always find the station. But anything can happen once you get there. The music you’re hearing at 9:01 PM might bear no relation to the music that’s being broadcast at 9:02 PM. It’s as free as your mind during some epic travel dream that finds you in a combination hotel/ancient library, and then a trash dump, and then a speeding car on a torn-up, spraypainted, glitchy highway. You’re not thinking more than a few seconds ahead, maybe not even that much. Instead of getting good at baseball and kissing, you spent too much of your formative years bashing away at your instrument (uh huh huh), but the result is that you can transfer all the thoughts from your crazy mind and all the feelings in your restless heart into musical concepts and then instantly communicate them through your strings, your keys, your trumpet, your voice, your notebook. You just have to trust that you have something to say and that it matters.

More than likely, you’ll have to fight through periods of apathy - perceived or real - from the world around you and it will feel like an unreasonably uphill battle. But then you get to that place and, of course, it was worth it. That’s my holy place. It happened in this former church, but truthfully, it’s also happened in strip clubs.

To play music with skilled players who are downright giddy about the search for something new and of the moment, even within an existing composition, is the highest level of music-making.

I’d presented Songs For Dad here the previous fall. It was a spiritually heightened affair, and one of the three best concerts I’ve led, but I recall being a nervous wreck. I delivered that which I needed to deliver for myself, my dad, the people in the room, but my nerves were shot.

This time, I’d arrived at the venue - a nineteenth century church that is now used for concerts - four hours early. I set up my equipment and props, wandered around the stage (formerly: the altar), down the aisle, up to the balcony, and back, rehearsing my show. This extra time alone helped me to relax into the space, to recognize that I finally have a chance to present my art in the most ideal environment possible. I could push my voice in any direction I wanted to, on-mic or off-mic, and it would bounce off the big walls and interact beautifully with the intricately designed ceiling.

Singing in a space like this allowed me to sing songs like “Count The Colors,” “Hey Marcella,” “Layers Of Winter Clothes,” and “You Don’t Have A Map” which I’ve learned to not play at festivals or bars. They deserve more respect than that.

This was something different. I save this for special occasions. If you missed it, we can send you a postcard about it, but you have to wait for the real thing to come around again. I’m thankful for my friends that helped make this special night happen.

I’m thankful that my friends Bob and Helen had the foresight to preserve a building like this and thereby provide a space for music that is intended to be more than background noise.

To those willing to walk through that door, welcome to my holy place. Enjoy the gummies.

GSM June 2019