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Bret Alexander

It’s hard to write about friendship.

Sometimes it’s taken for granted while we’re in the midst of it.

Maybe it’s a guy thing. Dudes are notoriously reticent about stuff like this.

As we get older our circle of friends gets smaller. And then it tends to solidify. These are the ones we can rely on. The ones who will answer that call at 2am. The ones who talk you off the ledge. Or the ones who will join you on the ledge and say (to use the words of a certain songwriter I admire), “I don’t know how we’re gonna get through this one…but we will.”

For those of us who play music, these bonds mean everything. Music is a communal experience. We get by with a little help from our friends.


Bret Alexander is my friend. I’m a better person for that. He needs a little help.

I started out a fan. I remember running out on my lunch hour at my job to get to Gallery of Sound to buy my copy of River Songs. We’re pretty tribal here in NEPA, and it just lifted me up knowing that these guys belonged to us. Before this, great rock and roll bands always seemed to come from somewhere else. But these guys had elbowed their way up to the bar, and they were setting up the entire house.

And years later….”Love and Rain” showed up. Those songs. My god. We Will was worthy enough for Marvin Gaye. Why wasn’t this band huge?

I won’t attempt to explain the vagaries of the music business.

Fast forward some years…..and I got to play a show with Bret. First time we’d met in person. It was a songwriter in-the-round gig. His solo mandolin version of “Fear of Falling” brought the house down. Trying to follow his songs, I felt like a dog thrown into a pool. I was dog-paddlin’.

But he was so generous. He listened. He exuded nothing but positive energy. I worked up the courage to suggest that we might collaborate someday. He could have very easily deflected….but he didn’t. He looked right at me and said….”man, I’d love that. Let’s do it. Soon. Call me. Here’s my number.”

I wasn’t expecting that.

Now what the fuck was I gonna do?

One thing you do when you work with Bret. You bring your A game. At the time I felt like a B student. So I woodsheded.

And when I felt ready I called. I went to his place. That legendary Dupont bunker, as well lit as a coal mine during a power outage. Space heater at my ankle. Apple whiskey in the corner just in case. Before we played a note of music, we sat and talked. And talked. And talked some more. About music (a shared affinity for Levon and Tragically Hip). About our families. Our fathers. Our mutual friends. We discovered we each had 2 daughters roughly the same age. We shared some parental…er…tales. It wasn’t just random common ground. This was “brother from another mother” stuff. Eventually we ran down a song. And then another. We talked about so much, but the music was something that didn’t require lots of words. It was more subtle. A gesture. A smile. A foot tapping on the concrete floor. I liked to work fast. He never tried to slow me down.

And when the take was done I’d wait for his verdict…..he’s stroke his beard and say…”I’d leave it alone”. And we would. We probably make our first record in less than 8 hours. Mostly live. Us sitting knee to knee. Like the stuff you’d hear on back porches. And we both knew when it was over that we were gonna make another one. And we did. And it was even better the second time around. Music flows out of him like a river. Sometimes I felt like I was being baptized.

I don’t think he realizes how much I’ve learned from him. How much I’ve nicked from him. How much I’ve absorbed. Just the way he carries himself. His impenetrable coolness. And how that coolness never, ever, made him unapproachable.

Try that sometimes and see if you can do it. You can’t. Because you’re not that fucking cool.

I’m not sure he realizes how much so many love him. How much I love him.

The special ones are the ones that make you feel special. The ones that lift you up. That’s Bret Alexander.

The one who wrote stunning lines like this…

that driver / he always calls me brother / but he don’t look like me
give me love give me love give me peace on earth / give me more than my money’s worth

Bret has a genetic kidney condition that requires a transplant. He never mentioned it to me during all the time we spent together. Because that’s just not his way.

He’s gonna get it in a few weeks, and he’s gonna be laid up for a while. And as he’s the hardest working man in show business (250+ shows a year), his friends are banding together to keep the meter filled while he gets stronger. He’d be the first in line to help any of us. I know this all makes him uncomfortable. But he deserves it. And that’s that.

And when he comes back……I’m heading down to that bunker again.

If you want to help come to the show in April, or feed the meter through the GoFundMe campaign here.

I wish you friends like mine.

In a bit..


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