Archive for October, 2019

Running On Empty

October 29, 2019 Leave a comment

Songwriting is a solitary pursuit. You need to get inside your own head…..and try to treat what’s in there like you would a holiday snow globe. As the late great Ric Ocasek once said…”Shake it Up”.

To be good at it you need to embrace loneliness, and then flip the switch and become desperate for community, because once the song is born it’s gonna end up in a better place if it’s raised by a village.

There’s just something about making music with friends. So much of it is non-verbal. A nod. A smile. What my friend (and probably yours) Fud calls the “perfect stew”, when the song is barreling down the runway and finally lifts off right before the pavement ends. It’s communication on a level that was never invented before bands were formed. True bands talk endlessly about why things aren’t working. But once you find the pocket, words are no longer necessary. Just try to land safely when it’s time to go home.

(And by “true”…..I don’t mean a random gathering of musicians. I mean guys who live in each others pockets….24/7……no secrets, ’cause there’s nowhere to run to, baby…nowhere to hide. Put simply, if you don’t have your own code-words for pretty girls in the audience, you’re not a real band.)

jbI’ve become an inveterate walker. If I can’t run away from getting old, I can at least try to not look back and see age gaining on me. For each walk…..I require a soundtrack. And I was thinking about all of this… shared…..when I chose Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty for Saturday’s 5 miles.

It just seemed right. A “road” album recorded everywhere. On the bus. In hotel rooms. Backstage. Browne and his band huddled in circles, not letting anybody else in until they captured what it must have been like for a group of wild 20 somethings, topped off with powder and pills and jugs of wine, to pretend that living this way was normal. So they not only sang the Reverend Gary Davis’s cautionary tale “Cocaine”….they sang it in between audible snorts….adding their own lines..

I was talking to my doctor down at the hospital
He said, “Son, it says here you’re twenty-seven,
But that’s impossible
Cocaine…you look like you could be forty-five

Running on empty indeed. I’ve owned this record for years….but this might have been the first time I really understood that Browne could never have made this music by himself. It needed his friends. It needed the bus and the hotel rooms and the backstage areas. The decadence was force-fed by exhaustion and boredom, and all three found their way into the grooves. Browne sounds like lots of things in these songs. Weary. Resigned. Stoned. Older than his years. But never lonely. I can’t say that about anything he has subsequently released.

(As you can probably tell….I take these walks very seriously, so if you see me out there and I bury my head in my chest as a hustle past you without making eye contact, this is why. Who knows what’s next. Maybe I’ll reach for “Late For the Sky”….although I’ve a feeling my time might suffer.)

If you want to learn how to write, you need to read. If you want to learn how to write songs, you need to listen. The best prose writers I know read incessantly. The best songwriters I know wake up and fall asleep with music in their ears. But through it all, find some fellow lunatics that know how to properly wrap cables and don’t mind loud noises and messy rooms and don’t disappear when it’s their round. Form a circle and don’t let anybody else in until you find the sound that’s in your head. And then get on that bus.

In a bit..



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James Barrett and The Price of Comfort

October 14, 2019 Leave a comment

Most of my friends are friends through music.

Guys and girls who sing and play and write and support each other. The kind of people you can count on when the chips are down. You meet one….and through them meet another….and on and on it goes until the entire community is intertwined and cheering each other on. Maybe it’s not like this in other places. But here it is. And for that I’ll always be grateful.

jamesMy friend James Barrett just released a stunning record called “The Price of Comfort“. It’s his first full length record after putting out a series of EPs.

I’ve known James since he was a teen. I know his wonderful family. He’s always been mature beyond his years (he’s all of 22 now), and uncommonly driven. He’s got a sound in his head, and he refuses to compromise until he can find it. His earlier releases came close, but there was always something missing….life experiences maybe. Or maybe just more wood-shedding sessions in the basement. It’s this record that he’s been searching for all these years. There’s nothing half-assed here. Nothing that sounds casually tossed-off. You can tell that even though we call these things labors of love…’s easy to forget that the labor comes first. The love you gotta work for.

This isn’t a record review. Music is in the ear of the beholder…..and just because I think a song like “The First Days of July” is a stunning piece of work doesn’t mean you’re gonna think so too. But maybe it’ll intrigue you enough to check it out….which is all I’d hope for. Because I was writing songs when I was 22, and I can assure you they didn’t sound like these songs…..and that I wasn’t writing and singing world-weary lyrics like this…

I think you’re scared and coming of age 
petrified of debts we’ll pay
the cost of living accelerates 
but believe in me I’m not afraid 

I’m not sure this kid is ever gonna stop. I know the type….from looking in the mirror. This is his stake in the ground. It’s not the end of the journey, but merely the beginning. It’s the type of record he’ll look back on when he’s my age and say, “yea….I’m not sure I can still do that….”

It’s a neat feeling being there from the beginning. Or so it seems. Watching this kid searching……being influenced by this or that band for sure, but knowing deep down that while he could borrow, he wasn’t gonna steal. It was all gonna get tossed into that pot of stew, and once the stirring was done, what was left was gonna be original. It was gonna be, unmistakably, his own vision. His own sound. And that’s thrilling sure, but also dangerous. Like being told you have to drive without be allowed to use the brakes.

If he can put together a band that can duplicate this sound, (James plays everything here but the drums) I may be seeing less and less of him around NEPA.

This is an intensely personal record that sounds universal…..a record that doesn’t divulge itself after one or two listens. It’s music you can run with.

I’ve watched this kid grow up….and I really didn’t have to. All I needed to do was listen….from then until now.

Nice work kid. Now what’s next?

In a bit..


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Warm blankets…

October 4, 2019 Leave a comment

fall_leavesI’ve always loved this time of year. The explosion of colors. The fresh snap in the air. Football on the weekends. Playoff baseball. Stegmaier Oktoberfest and pumpkin ice cream, preferably together as a meal. The heat gone back to hell where it belongs. The days are shorter and the nights spread out like a warm blanket. You can open windows. Turn off air. Sweatshirts. Hoodies. No more sticking to car seats. A little bit for everybody. Frosty mornings. Slowly warming days. And the evening just enough to invigorate bones worn down by the heat-induced torpor of July and August. Yea winter is coming, but it can wait. We’re gonna watch the trees catch fire first. And as an added bonus I can take my out of shape dog for a walk without him stopping from heat exhaustion after 50 yards.

Summer is too busy. There’s no time for reflection. Everybody’s afraid of missing out on something….so they’re off and running…..mostly doing nothing but bumping into one another. The days are impossibly long. You want to feel like a sloth? Wake up to bright sunshine, and hear your bed calling out to you 15 hours later…..when it’s still light enough to read a book on your front porch. Summer shames you into doing what you don’t want to do. That is…remain conscious. Plus, I wear glasses. When I summer-sweat they slip down the bridge of my nose at the same rate Eric Clapton was losing his specs during his “Unplgged” show on MTV (look it up… was so distracting I was hoping somebody would tape them to his forehead). How am I supposed to embrace days that treat me in such ways?

But, alas. Winter. There’s no escaping it.

I’m always been here….so I’ve never not known the 4 seasons. My brother moved to Houston and became demented…. bragging about cutting his grass while wearing a cowboy hat and shorts….on Christmas Day. My NEPA brain isn’t wired to even comprehend such things. So roughly anytime between Halloween and the Saint Patrick’s Day parade, we live with the threat of being carpet bombed by ridiculous snow storms….with the monotony broken by deep dives into below zero wind chills followed by out-of-the-blue spring-like thaws that engorge our rivers and streams. I don’t know about you but I find this all perfectly acceptable. Imagine living in Southern California and having nothing to look forward to except warm, sunny days and hoping a rogue earthquake doesn’t swallow you whole? How boring is that?

(I don’t even want to mention spring….because as nice as it can be it just reminds me that summer is around the bend, and thus pisses me off. Football and college basketball are over, and as I don’t get interested in baseball until October….I have absolutely nothing to look forward to sports-wise except the Masters, which lost some of its luster when I learned that they spray-paint the brown patches of grass an emerald green, put blue food dye in the water, and pipe in fake bird noises for TV. A place unlike any other indeed.)

I’d be remiss in my reflections on fall to not mention one of life’s greatest pleasures.

A warm fire.

If you’re lucky enough to have a fire-place, it was made for these nights. To nap in front of one and wake without your bearings…..for a few seconds not knowing if it’s AM or PM…and then realizing that it doesn’t matter….because it’s the weekend. Living doesn’t get much better than that.

We’re bombarded with so much stupidity and hatred and dishonestly these days it’s easy to forget the simple beauty that surrounds us. We live through gritted-teeth….with the highlight of some days the snapping shut of the garage door behind us…leaving the rest of the nonsense behind….at least for a few hours. The soul needs the changing colors. The soul needs that fresh air snap. The soul needs for you to see your own breath again. The soul needs that old sweatshirt…..and that old walking path you are your dog trod with the leaves covering you like a canvas. The soul needs to be reminded that the ugly and the beautiful go to war every day, but sometimes the latter wins.

In a bit..



Categories: Uncategorized

Letter to my youngest daughter

October 1, 2019 Leave a comment

(last week my daughter went on a class retreat, and parents were asked to write their child a letter. On the last day, the letters were read aloud to the unsuspecting kids. This is mine…and I’m saving it here just because I want to remember it…)

Dear Kiera,

You think you know what love is. What it means. How it feels. And then you have a child. And you realize, “this feels different”.

It’s an instant, unbreakable bond, staggering in its intensity.

Me and your Mother felt that while peering into your older sister’s blue eyes. I never thought I would, or could, ever feel that way again.

I was wrong.

Because almost 4 years later, you arrived.

You were beautiful and feisty and with your first breath had me wrapped around your little finger, which is where I happily remain.

The world needs kind souls. There are days when it seems filled with the other type. It’s frighteningly easy to become discouraged. But when I look to you, I see all the goodness the world holds, and I’m instantly lifted up. I can think of all the mistakes I’ve made in my life and forgive myself, because of you.

I could sense it immediately. The extraordinary empathy you possess. When another was hurting, you hurt too. When somebody was down, yours was the first hand offered to help them up. And your ability to forgive has always been a wonder to behold. When I think to myself, “I don’t know if I could do that”, it’s not because I doubt your judgement, but simply because I’m not as good a person. I’m trying though kid. You set a high bar.

As much as you’ve learned from me, I’ve learned from you. There needs to be a better word than “proud”. Because it’s just not big enough.

A final memory. Your grandfather adored you. He called you “little one”. And when he got sick, he drifted slowly away from us, never really feeling engaged any longer. Except when he saw you. His eyes would re-light, and he’d bounce you on his knee. When he couldn’t remember anything else, he knew you. I treasure those moments.

And I treasure you.



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