Archive for November, 2019

Music in the car….

November 27, 2019 Leave a comment

There’s something about music in the car. Especially when you’re alone. Dance like nobody’s watching for sure, but make sure to sing like you’re alone in the car!

The radio. The CD player. The auxiliary jack. It doesn’t matter. If music is at all a part of your life….as soon as you turn the key you’re searching for it.

I don’t have Satellite radio….so if I’m scanning the dial it’s usually for some classic rock…something to sing along with or drum on the steering wheel to. Mostly this is for short jaunts… and from work and the store…things like that. It can get a bit old when a station plays AC/DC and Pink Floyd every 6 minutes, but if I told you I turned off “Thunderstruck” or “Comfortably Numb” even one time in my entire life I’d be lying. (I will confess to throttling “Stairway to Heaven” and “Freebird” though…..and you’ll never convince me this makes me a bad person.)

What’s weird about “classic rock” stations is that when these bands filled with old fellas release new music, it never gets played because it’s not “classic” yet. To reach that pinnacle it would need to be played endlessly on the radio….which of course doesn’t happen anymore because the so-called “top-40” stations are seemingly allergic to anything that features electric guitars. So while I’ll continue to hear “Who Are You” 17 times a day on the radio, I’ll never once hear a new song from the Who’s upcoming new record. This type of thing makes sense in boardrooms and stockholder meetings, but it irritates the un-washed masses like me. But I digress…..which I’m wont to do when going on about music.

(Oh….another digression. My favorite DJs, the funniest, the most clever, the most likable. are generally the ones on the top 40 stations, which is REALLY irritating. So at times it can work in reverse……I’ll actually turn a station off when a song is played….and navigate back for the banter.)

If my trip will take any amount of time….the music must be planned. But sometimes even the best laid plan….you know. My car used to be filled with CDs. Everywhere. Front. Back. On the floors. Shoved in side-door compartments. I’ve lost dozens by forgetting to warn unsuspecting passengers what they were about to sit on (I can still hear that crunch sound that took out Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors”). But there’s always more where that came from. Eventually they’d all lose their case…..which would trigger a free-for-all. I’d just grab anything and shove it in the player, the white-trash version of music on “shuffle”. I’d go from the Husker Du to a Kate Rusby record….oblivious to the stares of my perplexed passengers, who of course DON’T MATTER. The driver is the grand high exhaled mystic ruler of a car’s sound system.

ipod-classic-5262These days I’ve largely jettisoned CDs for my trusty Ipod. It’s got about 25,000 songs on it, and when it finally blows up my life will be in complete shambles. It’s hard to believe that the act of downloading music and syncing it to an Ipod is now ancient technology, comparable to asking teens to use a rotary phone. The Spotify’s of the world have taken over (users oblivious that the service’s royalty rate of $0.006 to $0.0084 per stream is slowly eating itself..but whatever). But with my aux cord and legacy Ipod with the spinning wheel…I’ve got a 30 year music collection in the palm of my hand. With so many choices……I’m frequently paralyzed by indecision, sitting in my driveway trying to decide what makes sense to get me from point A to point B. Sometimes, knowing how long to trip will take, I’ll choose a playlist that lasts as long, so I know how close I am based on what song is playing, and how many are left. For years I’ve known that I can get to my daughter’s college in the time it takes to listen to Quadrophenia from start to finish.

On the dark side….if you think texting and driving is dangerous, try spinning your way from the Beach Boys to ZZ Top while navigating 4 lane rush hour traffic. Be safe out there kids.

The music is vital. Getting in the car without my Ipod is like getting in without my keys. Some days you need pure volume……others something quiet and introspective. Green Day to Glen Hansard. I’ll get into grooves where I become obsessed with a certain sound or a certain band. So nothing but Motown for a week….or Tragically Hip songs for a month. A new release by Jesse Malin might fill the car for days. For the last 2 days I’ve gone back and forth to work with my friend James Barrett’s new record called “The Price of Comfort”. It’s instinctive. The need for music. The need to sing along. Tomorrow might start something new. It might not. I won’t think about it. It will just happen.

This Thanksgiving, I can say that music is the only thing that has never let me down.

So pick your vessel. And sing along. You’ve earned it.

In a bit..


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My dog is cooler than your dog….

November 20, 2019 Leave a comment

My dog is cooler than your dog. That’s pretty clear to me.

If you have a dog and don’t think he or she is cooler than my dog you probably don’t deserve a dog.

On the humanity scale, dogs are clearly number one….followed by an assortment of other animals and a few inanimate objects (like recliners and old boom-boxes). Human beings show up eventually…..somewhere in the 20s, unless they serve in Congress, in which they drop even lower.

Max is my dog. But of course he has many names. Maxwell. Mister P (figure it out). Sir Paddington. The list goes on and on. He’s a Shih Tzu, our 3rd of that breed in a row. Kiko was first, my best friend and confidante for over a dozen years. Irreplaceable. She was followed by Abbey, the most perfect living thing ever conjured up by Deity or Darwinism. Losing them both was like losing the rain.

Needless to say, Max had large paws to fill.

MaxwellMax is our first boy dog….which was a bit of a learning curve. Even though we relieved him of his package early, he still humps himself to death at times on just about anything he can mount, his dog bed being his favorite partner. He also pees all over when he gets excited, which means that if you’ve visited my house in the last year or so he’s probably pissed all over your pant leg. Despite our best efforts, he continues to go outside first thing in the morning to pee, and then come back inside to take a dump on his pee-pad. At least he’s consistent, so we just roll with it. Outdoor potty training kept getting derailed by wind swept leaves, which distracted Max the same way a howitzer might distract a golfer. And he developed a strange liking for mulch, which he’d eat constantly and then vomit back up in a dark area of the house where we’d be sure not to see it before we stepped in it.

Abbey and Kiko were filled with self-confidence. They knew they were the shit, and didn’t feel the need to remind you every 6 seconds that they were in the room. Max, like most adolescent males, has paper-thin self-confidence, and thus craves love and attention, every minute of the day. So he bounces from room to room, chair to couch to bed, up and down the steps when the girls are home (and even if they’re not…..he likes to continuously check to make sure), demanding validation. He wants to give kisses. He wants to clutch one of his many toys in his mouth and have you chase him around the house. Endlessly. In a well worn loop from the living room….into the dining room….and then back again. And if you can’t catch up he’ll stop and wait for you. And where Abbey and Kiko would gladly cuddle in your lap for hours at at time, Max, who has the attention span of a piece of lint, keeps forgetting why he’s there, and must jump off and explore. In case he’s missing something. And he wants you to come with him.

In the mornings when I leave for work and leave him alone, he deflates instantly…..and will stare at me through the bottom windows of the front door, like a condemned prisoner who never got the expected call from the governor.

But all is forgiven when I arrive home in the evenings, when he greets me with so much love I feel his heart might burst.

And isn’t that what it’s all about? Our dogs….they demand nothing of us. They simply want to love. Theirs is a world of wonder….noises and toys and chasing leaves and finding the exact spot in the morning where the sun streams in and bathes the floor so they can lay there and feel its warmth. If only until it moves on. So they will too….to the next adventure. Always wanting to share it with you. With us. And when we’re down…..they can sense it. You cannot convince me otherwise. Which is why on normal nights I might feel Max nuzzling by my feet in the bed….but when my eyes are wide open with worry and my heart is beating out of my chest, I notice him making his way closer. Towards my heart.

In a bit..


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Young Man Blues

November 12, 2019 Leave a comment

Temps in the 60s yesterday, with kids walking around in shorts and tees, while I carried a jacket and sweater I didn’t need everywhere I went. Drove home from a trip to Easton with the window open the entire way. My daughter was sleeping in the backseat, but was awoken by the sudden blast of Live at Leeds on the car stereo. She informed me, perfectly deadpan (during “Young Man Blues”) that “Dad, this is really not good music to sleep to…” and I could not argue with her. (When the Who opened their own Rampart Studios in London the playback speakers in the control room were so loud it’s said they caused “projectile bleeding” from the ears, and were once measured to be the same number of decibels as the engines of Concorde at full throttle.)

leedsIt was in that spirit that I was rolling down a dark and mostly deserted 380, so while her complaint was justified, it’s not like I didn’t have my reasons. You simply cannot listen to Live at Leeds at anything other than ear-bleeding volume without feeling like a complete fraud. But being the good Dad I am, I turned it off and drove the rest of the way to the sound the wind and the wheels and gentle snoring, watching the stars and dodging the orange pylons that seem to appear like rogue deer on Pennsylvania interstates.

Today we awoke to ice, snow, and a 2 hour delay. My car was suddenly encased in a sarcophagus of winter. Young Man Blues indeed.

I’ve stopped looking at the weather forecast. One too many times of going from the air-conditioner to the ice-scraper wore me down. I talked myself out of cutting the grass on Sunday, and now I’m sprinkling rock-salt on my porch steps and using half a tank of gas to un-tomb my car. I let my dog out and as soon as he realized what the world had turned into he was back inside curled up in his bed, which he had conveniently maneuvered to the front of the fireplace. I’d like to tell him that he’d better get used to it but we both may may wake up tomorrow to golfing weather. So he goes his way and I go mine.

Onward we go…marching towards the holidays. Lights and trees and coming up with yet another iron-clad excuse to skip the office Xmas party. A few awkward dinners to get through as Uncle MAGA gets bombed on Coors Light and monopolizes the conversation with Fox News talking points. But that kinda stuff is so easily deflected this time of year. Good cheer and all that…..pretend the red cap was chosen for its Christmas color scheme and not its racist connotations, and keep distracting your hate-twisted kin with football so he’ll stop blaming illegal immigrants for why his dentures don’t fit anymore.

Soon it’ll be January 2, which is when the depression really sets in. Holidays are over….nothing to look forward to except unrelenting cold, the Patriots winning the Super Bowl again, and dead-souls standing in line to secretly return everything. And perhaps the realization that the gym membership you talked yourself into after half a 12 pack of PBR is gonna get as much use as the fruit cake you keep getting every year from the same weirdo. (It calls to mind the creepy person wearing a mask who for 50 years straight years would leave 3 red roses and a bottle of cognac on the grave of Edgar Allan Poe on his birthday, a tradition he or she started 100 years after Poe was already dead. I feel like this person was probably a huge fruit cake fan.)

These upcoming days can be a pleasant diversion that brings us together, or the family-dynamic version of Black Friday shopping, in which everybody in the line ahead of you deserves to die. So choose carefully. Your best bet is to shop on-line, listen to Live at Leeds and Elvis and Charlie Brown Christmas music, and eggnog yourself into the spirit of the season. Eventually….you’ll be able to roll down that window again.

So enjoy it while you got it folks. Play it loud if you can, unless the one and only thing more important than the music is sleeping in the back seat.

In a bit.


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Historicizing anthracite….

November 7, 2019 Leave a comment

Had a wonderful lunch meeting today with Phil Mosley, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English & Comparative Literature at Penn State University.

We had an agenda……what Phil calls “historicizing anthracite”. But our inner Gaelic shone through, and over a few beers we wandered off into many semi-related areas as well. Life is so frenetic these days that I’d almost forgotten the simple pleasure of a grown-up conversation.

We started things off thusly….

How can one understand what he or she has become without extensive knowledge of where he or she has come from? There’s no such thing as a blank slate. We are who we are largely because of the environment we’re reared in. For better or worse. We inherit the inner workings of familial saints and sinners, and are largely left to our own devices in learning how to keep them apart so they don’t kill each other.

harry-e-breakerThis is history you don’t get in the classroom. Schools don’t teach your history. Theirs is more like the revolutionary war on Monday, civil war until mid-week, then by Friday the bomb is falling on Japan and we’re all living happily ever after. In school I learned absolutely nothing about the ground underneath my own feet.

What triggers the effort?

Is it literature? Art? Music? Historians? Or maybe a stray remark at dinner about a box of letters in the attic?


Often…the song travels fastest and furthest. Phil mentioned how Springsteen’s song “Youngstown” probably educated more people about the Ohio city’s role in our nation’s uneasy history than the collective works of 100 historians. My fascination with the history of wildfires began with the song “Cold Missouri Waters”, which told the devastating story of the Mann Gulch fire of 1949. For songwriters, the research triggers the song. For listeners, the song triggers the research. And so it goes….gloriously around and around.

My father told me stories…..of filling sacks with coal in the winter…..hanging around the sharp corners of the tracks, where sympathetic conductors would sometimes increase speed so that the coal would fall off the cars that were filled to the brim. I remember how a lone abandoned coal car sat atop a mountain of culm overlooking the road to his childhood home like a sentinel. I remember him telling me of covering the entrances to illegal mines with their family Christmas tree to keep the mine bosses off their scent.

All this put the hooks in me.

Do we embrace our own history? Or do we wish we could re-write it?

Ours is a place forged by immigrants fleeing unimaginable horrors, and thus willing to do the kinds of things we today might find….well…..unimaginable. To live half of their lives under the ground so that, just maybe, their kids might have it a little better. Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers and great-great grandfathers had to fight for everything. Nothing was given to them. They fought, and sometimes died, attempting to blunt the cold edge of an industry that valued the mules they worked beside more than it valued them. It’s so easy to take for granted that little boys don’t have to work 60 hours anymore…..and that an 8 hour day is plenty, thank you very much.

They fought and died for these things. Right here. They powered the nation……they fought and won its wars. Local names. On local gravestones.

And for this….what?

Many are weary of the past…..more proud of “The Office” than being known as some backwards coal-cracker. More folks make jokes than give thanks.

But still…..there’s something about this place…..something about the coal region’s concept of home. It’s why so many travel great distances to and from work… stay. Why so many who strain at the leash to get out…..wind up coming back. And it’s why one of our largest tourist attractions is a place, Centralia, that literally is not there anymore.

Bitterness is easy. Sentiment is hard. We manage both.

I want to learn more. I want to read more books about this place. I want to hear more songs about this place. I want to sit over more beers and have these types of conversations again and again. I want to talk it out….and I want to pass on what I’ve learned to my kids so that they can pass it along to theirs.

For too long we’ve been holed up inside…..phones in our faces……screeching at each other with our thumbs. Our partisan outrage almost seems scripted by now. We’ve forgotten that we can disagree without being disagreeable.

In a bit..




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Writer’s block…

November 6, 2019 Leave a comment

snoopyWriter’s block is a strange thing.

It can creep up on you, or dive-bomb you like a bird from the Hitchcock movie.

In 1848 Niagara Falls stopped flowing because of ice. Residents accustomed to hearing the sound (the way Hershey residents are accustomed to smelling chocolate) were awoken by the sudden silence. The flow was there….and then it wasn’t.

Words are there….and then, they’re not.

It’s terrifying because even though intellectually you understand that such droughts are inevitable… never really know if the words will ever come back.

Even the scariest Hitchcock film can’t compare to a writer staring at a blank sheet of paper (or a white computer screen). Sweat forms…..we’re unable to stay seated…bouncing up and down…..looking for any type of diversion. Even a bug on the floor will do. Maybe I should check the mail? Did I check for it already? It’s only 8am. Well…maybe they’re gonna be early today. I should check the weather. The grass looks high….might be one of the last chances for me to cut it this year. Milk? Bread? Maybe a quick trip to the store will give me an IDEA. Yea….that might work.

No, it won’t. But I’ve tried it anyway, because it gets that blank white thing out of my face. The one thing that computers can’t give you is that great feeling of writing half a sentence by hand and then crinkling up the paper and throwing it away, like it’s covered in disease. It’s very therapeutic to sit in a room with a wastebasket overflowing with nearly empty sheets of paper. The blank computer screen is more insidious….because there’s no remnant of effort AT ALL. You just open and close the word document over and over…clicking “do not save” each time. It’s a brutally efficient beat-down, and one of the reasons I suspect so many old-timers have a hard time giving up the quill.

If you do have an idea…’ll come at the WORST time…..when you’re in the middle of nowhere without a pen, 10 minutes after your phone just died. You promise yourself that you’re gonna remember it, but of course that’s a lie. It’s gone with the wind. And it was probably the GREATEST IDEA EVER. But….well….tough shit Bubba.

And when you’re blocked, the more you read your peers the more pissed off you get. Because NOBODY ELSE SEEMS TO BE BLOCKED. They’re writing just fine and dandy…..with all sorts of ideas that probably are shit compared to the one that you FORGOT….but still. They seem all happy and content and smug in their little creative corner… you smirky side-eye for being such a word-drained loser.

Ok, maybe that last bit isn’t true…..but I DON’T KNOW FOR SURE….

I’m sure you’ve already gathered this, but any writer writing about writer’s block HAS writer’s block so…..there.

I felt like writing something and could think of absolutely nothing to say, so I decided to write 500 words about having nothing to say…..which is what writers do because admitting defeat is fake news.

Here endeth the lesson…

In a bit..


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Fading light….

November 4, 2019 1 comment

I like when the darkness comes early….so daylight savings time is just fine with me. My problem is hating the mornings….when the light comes streaming in an hour earlier. That messes me up way more than navigating a dark parking lot at the end of the working day.

As a kid I was terrifyingly shy, so I’d invent reasons why I didn’t have to interact with anybody who didn’t live inside my own head. This included pesky neighborhood kids and classmates and siblings and the like. Darkness was a built-in excuse to stay in my room and listen to records and play the tennis racket in front of the mirror, pretending to be Townshend or Jimmy Page.

When it was dark outside I didn’t have to pretend that I loved playing sports that I was terrible at, or that I was a willing participant in the types of shenanigans that I only became willing to participate in (and sometimes lead) once I discovered the persuasive properties of hops, barley, water, and yeast. The good part about the darkness was that I never worried about what might be there that I could not see. Instead, I was always grateful for the cover it provided.

I’m still the type that walks into a room and immediately closes the shades…..trying to make the room as time-neutral as possible. If lights can’t be turned off, they’re turned down. Any room I wander into, I immediately turn off all the lights. I don’t even think about it anymore. It’s instinctive.

Watching TV with a blaring light on is impossible. If I’m alone in a hotel room, forget it. Keith Richards and a suitcase full of scarves couldn’t make the place any darker. One time the hotel hall light was bothering me, so I jammed a bathroom towel under the door to keep that out. There’s a part of me that would adore living in Tromsø, Norway between November and January (google it Bubba….)….as long as I had guitars, books,  a lap-top, and Netflix.

(I’m also the type that doesn’t rake leaves until the spring, always being able to convince myself that once they disappear under the snow, they’re gone for good. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice. Not sure why, but I feel like the 2 things are related somehow)

fadingWith the fading light comes more indoor exercise. While the darkness can fire up my creative synapses, it does make the couch much more inviting. So my daily 5 mile walks on the heritage trail will be relegated to Saturday and Sunday mornings. This week my soundtrack was an hour of The Jam…..Paul Weller’s outstanding early 80s mod band. This re-invigorated my search for the perfect Mod bulls-eye t shirt, which I promise to buy myself right after I talk myself out of needing a mod parka jacket (it’s getting cold you know…) and a vespa scooter (think of the savings on gas!). The struggle is real people…’s doggone real.

So to the treadmill I go (of course it’s in the dark). I’ve re-arranged the world in the basement so the TV is sitting 3 feet from me…..and I can time myself with a Netflix episode instead of staring at the treadmill timer itself, which I swear moves in reverse. So far my record in one session is bingeing (and yes, that’s how you spell it….spell-checker be-damned) half of season 5 of “Peaky Blinders”…..somewhere around 7 miles. All it cost me was a stress fracture that I’m trying like hell to ignore.

So I’ll finish this session by looking out the window here on top of this mountain, watching what’s left of the sunlight burn its way out over the valley. On Friday when I was here…..I needed sunglasses to navigate my way out of the parking lot. Today…I’ll hit the headlights and make my way down into the darkened bowl, trying to convince myself that I’m ready for what comes next. Because this time of year is never satisfied with the status quo. It practically demands that you take stock, and make the kinds of decisions that the lazy haze of summer allows you to put off. It’s exciting. And it’s a bit scary too. Because honestly, it’s the stuff that you can’t see that fires up our nightmares.

In a bit..



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