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God and John Prine

March 30, 2020 Leave a comment

You try to make the best of things. Stay home and stay busy. TV is on…or a book is laid out on the table. For snatches of time you can almost forget what’s raging outside.

And then something jars you back. Somebody you know is fighting this thing. It could be a friend from work, or a neighbor, or Tom Hanks, or Jackson Browne. And you’re back in the moment again, because this thing is remorseless and indiscriminate.

Things are so surreal right now, we’re kinda digging ourselves into our own holes. I check the news for the latest info and that’s all. Facebook has has become even more of a virtual lunatic asylum, so I’m using that to stay in touch with friends, not to diagnose online patients with my non-existent medical degree. Admirable self-denial these days.

JohnPrine1And then yesterday I got a note from a friend. John Prine was in critical condition with Covid-19.

I had to catch my breath. I really did.

If you want to know how great a songwriter John Prine is, consider this. The man generally acknowledged as the greatest of all time is Bob Dylan. Dylan’s favorite songwriter is John Prine.

That’s how good he is.

He’s an American treasure is what he is. And if this thing takes him from us the days are gonna be less bright, and the nights are gonna be even darker. I’ve never lived in a world without John Prine, and I don’t want to start now.

The songs. “Hello in There”. “Sam Stone”. “Angel From Montgomery”. “Illegal Smile”. “Paradise”. “Souvenirs”. “Lake Marie”.  “Grandpa Was a Carpenter”. “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore”. “That’s the Way That the World Goes ‘Round”. “6 O’Clock News”. “Jesus – The Missing Years”.  “Picture Show”. “When I Get To Heaven”. There’s a hundred more.

It’s one of the most impressive catalogs in the history of American music.

Each song simple and ultimately devastating. Nobody could write lines like Prine. You hear something like this…

“there’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes / Jesus Christ died for nothin’, I suppose.”

or this…

“how the hell can a person / Go to work in the mornin’ / And come home in the evenin’/ And have nothin’ to say”

or this..

“I know a guy that’s got a lot to lose / He’s a pretty nice fellow but he’s kind of confused /He’s got muscles in his head that ain’t never been used”

…..and as a songwriter you have the same feeling a guitarist had when he first heard Hendrix. Utter defeat. You’re never gonna be able to do that….no matter how hard you try.

But still. What a bar to look up at.

I can’t tell you how many times I turned to Prine for comfort over the years. Or for a kick in the ass. He can make you laugh and cry, sometimes in the same song. He’s never cruel. His songs are soaked with empathy. His characters are always approachable. We know them. They’re us. Old folks or veterans or lonely housewives. His simple sounding songs are majestically layered….you come back to them again and again and find something new each time. There is no better road companion. He’s Mark Twain with a guitar.

“Who writes songs like this?” asked John Mellencamp. He then answered his own question. “God and John Prine.”

His music is American music. It defies any other categorization. It’s folk. It’s country. It’s rock and roll. It’s the blues. It’s stand-up comedy and high drama. It’s everything. For reasons unknown to little ol’ me, he’s still not in the rock and roll hall a fame. Together with Warren Zevon, it’s the hall’s most glaring omission. I suspect that will change. I just hope he’s still here to accept it himself.

When I first started to write songs, I studied Prine’s catalog. How did he do that? Musically there’s nothing complicated going on. “I learned 3 chords and they sounded pretty good to me so I never learned any others I guess” is how he put it. But the melodies are gorgeous. The lyrics are like eavesdropping on long lost friends. Most of what I know about songwriting I nicked from John Prine. I’m still at the bottom of the hill looking up, but my plan it to keep putting in the work, crawling on my hands and knees if I have to.

He beat back cancer. Twice. He drives himself on tour. His backstage rider includes $12 deli trays and a few 6-packs. He’s loved and lovable.

I’ve been listening to nothing but his music for the last 24 hours. “Long Monday” is on as I finish this up. I shit you not…

Gonna be a long Monday / Sittin’ all alone on a mountain
By a river that has no end / Gonna be a long Monday
Stuck like the tick of a clock / That’s come unwound – again

And it is.

The latest news from his wife is that John is now stable. So sing it boys and girls. Raise your voices. We can’t do this alone. Maybe he hears us.

This is real folks. Stay home.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

Every Picture Tells a Story

March 29, 2020 Leave a comment

I’ve been walking a lot. Alone. Just to not feel the ever-present four walls. Four, five miles a day. Maybe more. Wandering to and fro. Sometimes it’s a left out my front door. Sometimes it’s a right. There’s not much happening outside. Cars, yes. People, no. Last night I saw one. Today I exchanged socially distant greetings with a man and his dog. Otherwise, I had my corner of the world to myself. I saw a few things that caught my eye. That’s where these pictures came from. And so that’s where I’ll start. I’ll try to frame what I saw with 150 or so words each. How’s that? I really need to keep my brain from atrophying. Last night I actually sat through a Grateful Dead documentary, despite considering them the worst band in the history of the world. Mentally, I’m fading fast.

**************

IMG_0110What I really want to know is…..how has this not been stolen? I don’t mean the entire thing. Just the mask. There’s shortages all over the place. I figured this would have been picked clean in a matter of minutes, but I’ve seen it for at least a week. Undisturbed. I suspect crime is down everywhere. It’s no fun being a criminal when everybody is home. (Although it is a good time to find those who have been hiding from you because they owe you money.)

The first time I rounded this corner and saw this….I got a bit freaked. It’s life sized…..and it’s Eynon, so nothing really surprises anybody up here. I damn near said hello. Today he looks to have clorox wipes on his lap. Last night he was definitely holding a red solo cup, so he’s clearly been monitoring the situation and adjusting his behavior accordingly.

If tomorrow he’s holding a rosary I’ll know we’re fucked.

**************

60719370118__1C21BF57-93D1-4516-8F9E-3C11DDA18E4EThis has to be the most NEPA thing ever.

It’s Dawn of the Dead-ish. I get it. We’ve got a well earned reputation for…er….imbibing. I recall a local documentary where a kid said “there’s only 2 things to do here….work and drink….and nobody works so…”

That seemed a bit harsh but then..well…there you go.

Still, the only message something like this sends is….”if we don’t do this you’re gonna throw cinder blocks through the front windows and steal all the Captain Morgan because we know that you are all brittle savages”. Either that or they suspect a category IV hurricane is imminent.

Don’t get me wrong. Our assholery frequently knows no bounds, but I’m not sure we’re quite at the level of violently looting liquor stores, especially when the beer distributor a quarter mile down the street is open. And places like Wegmans have an entire section that caters to our inner-alcoholic.

But thanks for planting the seed anyway.

**************

IMG_0116Again, not sure humanity is being given enough credit here. Maybe I’m just hopelessly naive.

It’s been 2 weeks that most of us have been in isolation. Doing our best to be socially distant while still trying to earn a living. Heroes are literally everywhere. Working the registers and stocking the shelves and cooking the take-out and delivering the packages and tending to the elderly and taking care of the sick. Much of what we’re finally noticing now we took for granted before this all started. Many of these folks we didn’t even notice when they were standing right in front of us. And now, they’re the ones holding anarchy at bay. Here’s hoping when this is over they all get a pay raise.

There’s all sorts of light being shone on the occasional asshole among us, and rightly so. But they’re the distinct minority. As they always are. They’re just louder. Don’t mistake amplification for anything other than what it is.

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IMG_0118I was up on Route 6….and in the Sugarman’s Plaza there is a discount food store. Folks were coming in and out with supplies…..which were being re-stocked at the same time by these trucks and drivers. All the supplies we need right now, are being delivered by trucks. Trucks don’t drive themselves. These folks are out every day. Enabling us to take care of our families.

Even with this pic, you can’t see the drivers. They’re always anonymous. It’s Sunday. Is this the end of a long night for them? Or the start of a long day? Where do they live? When will they be home again? How are their kids coping? Are they scared? Is anybody asking them how they are coping? Will their be well deserved extras in their paychecks for this type of quiet heroism?

It’s weird….because we say we all want things to “go back to normal”, but actually that’s not at all what we want. We want this virus gone, but it exposed that “normal” needs to be revamped. Here’s hoping things never go back to normal.

**************

IMG_0117 (1)Well, cross this one off the list. I don’t care where you plant me, but if dogs ain’t allowed, I’m gonna do my best to haunt your ass forever.

If I could find any eggs I would have thrown one.

I mentioned above that I passed a man and his dog today. We exchanged greetings, and he told me he was going stir crazy. But his dog (a gorgeous golden retriever….I wish I got that pic) seemed absolutely ecstatic with the current situation. I was once told that dogs only understand time to mean “forever”. So when we leave they think we’re gonna never come back. And when we’re home, they think we’re never going to leave. So when this all passes, we’re gonna have some serious explaining to do.

We’ve got all this time now. And lots are thinking about the first thing they’re gonna do when we can all re-gather safely. I’m pretty sure mine is gonna have something to do with grabbing all my friends and all of us taking our dogs to this cemetery.

Thanks for coming on my walk with me.

Stay safe. Stay home.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

Music in iso…..

March 27, 2020 Leave a comment

Woke up to a new track from Bob Dylan this morning called “Murder Most Foul“. True to form, he offered no context whatsoever, saying only that “you might find (it) interesting” and that it was recorded a “little while back”.

Interesting dude, this Dylan.

Nominally “about” the Kennedy assassination, it eventually wanders and encompasses….well….everything but the kitchen sink?….name checking the Beatles and the Who and Gerry and the Pacemakers and Altamont and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, Don Henley and Glenn Frey, Dickey Betts, “Only the Good Die Young, “Nightmare on Elm Street,” Buster Keaton, “Charlie Parker and all that junk,” Nat King Cole, Marilyn Monroe, John Lee Hooker, Wolfman Jack, Patsy Cline, Houdini, “Wake Up Little Suzy,” “Let the Good Times Roll,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Down in the Boondocks,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “Memphis in June,” “Moonlight Sonata,” “Play Misty for Me,” “Lonely at the Top” and “Lonely Are the Brave.” Oh, and Wolfman Jack. Did I mention him? Oh, I did. Sorry.

And that’ about half the song…..it’s 17 minutes long and meanders like a dream. To take it all in I’d have to listen about 100 times.

It’s structure-less and crazy and complete genius and slightly ridiculous all at the same time. In other words, it’s exactly what the world needs right now. I really hope the mad bastard lives forever.

The new Pearl Jam record “Gigaton” dropped overnight as well…..and it’s snarling in the background as I type these words. It’s crunchy and loud and conjures up old ghosts (and if I was a betting man I’d say Vedder had the Clash on some recent playlists) and manages to sound sorta modern at the same time (not sure what that means…but whatever..they still ain’t gonna play it on the radio). It ain’t gonna make anybody forget “Ten”, but it’s still pretty damn good. They sound like something is up their ass…..which is the state of mind you need to be in to make great rock and roll these days. Nobody would have blamed them for living off their past catalog. They’ve given plenty and don’t owe anybody shit. But knowing that these old dudes (the same age as me….so….) are willing to re-form and set up the instruments in the garage and howl about the shit we’re in the midst of warms my depressed and miserable cold dead heart.

kittyI don’t know about you….but it’s the music that’s been getting me through this. Music from my friends (including a version of Joe Exotic’s “Here Kitty Kitty” from my friends Wiggy and Stacie that turned them instantly into my new favorite male/female duo of ALL TIME. Sonny and Cher are silly little bitches compared to this, yo) and music from my Spotify account and music through my TV. Rock and roll and soul and folk and blues and all of the hybrids that are out there in their own corner of the virtual record store. The freaks and the outcasts and the kids you that got ignored in high school for unacceptable weirdness. Since we can’t be together, music is the thing that breaks down social distancing and gets in your face…and when it hits Bob Marley reminds us again and again that we “feel no pain”. So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice.

And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I keep forgetting what day it is. And since I’m working in a room in the basement I have no windows so I check my phone for the weather. Time drags and then it flies and then it stops completely. I’ve got my guitar down here and my Quadrophenia poster and my phone and an Amazon Echo my daughter let me borrow from her room. I work regular hours and interact with my co-workers as much as I usually do. During downtime I try to keep my mind occupied. I write and I read and watch virtual live gigs from my friends and I try to get out of the house for solo walks at night. I scour Facebook for Joe the Tiger King memes because I’m a true fucking American, yo.

And I think about those out there on the front lines. Fighting. Saving lives. And risking their own. We have to do better. Don’t we?

Surely we can…right?

So that’s it for right now. Keep your head down. Stay home. Try not to cough all over the grocery store produce. NEPA has been in the news enough this week. If somebody needs something and I can help, I will.

Reach out. Folks are there. I’ve seen it. And it’s been pretty life affirming.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

Day ? and the boys of summer…

March 25, 2020 Leave a comment

I’ve lost track of how many days it’s been. Maybe 10? Maybe more?

I keep forgetting what day of the week it is.

Our family is extremely fortunate. We’re able to work from home. Our sacrifice has been minor compared to many. We work and then we eat and then we sorta wander around in circles and maybe find something to watch or to read and then settle in and wait for another day.

But still, it’s surreal.

We only step foot outdoors to get supplies, or to go for solitary walk/runs. These usually take place at dusk. It’s eerie out there then. Just a few cars, and no people. The soundtrack is birds and the barking dogs that spy you as you pass their front parlor windows. I usually take music with me, but for whatever reason that feels like an intrusion now. So I just listen for the silence and think about where we go from here.

We talk of things going back to normal. But what will be the definition of “normal” when that time comes? Eventually, if all this isolating flattens the curve, they’ll be some sort of world-wide “all-clear”. That may be months away. Maybe the summer. Maybe even longer. But when that day comes, what then? Are you gonna buy that concert ticket? Or visit that crowded mall? Feel comfortable sending your kid off to college? Are you gonna gather and hug it out with everybody you so sorely miss? Or did this thing damage something internally, permanently.

It’s become politicized because we politicize everything. But you can’t lie or bluster your way out of a pandemic. And you can’t build walls to keep it out. Or slander it away. Our nation should have been more prepared, and we weren’t. It is what it is. The buck stops with the one in charge. Fix it. And fix it now.. If you need help, there’s plenty of grown-ups out there who have already taken the lead. Follow them. Stop being such a whiny fucking pussy and do your goddamn job.

(Sorry…..I wanted to put that another way but couldn’t think of anything better.)

The news has been so relentlessly bad that I stopped watching network TV….and have limited my facebook time. Facebook has become a breeding ground for the stupid virus, which is way more infectious than Covid-19. Since so many folks are home, the number of users has exploded, which means there are literally millions MORE people popping up that don’t know how to use “there,their,they’re,to,too,your,you’re” correctly in a sentence, and it’s slowly breaking my soul into tiny irretrievable pieces.

When it’s this quiet….I often miss my parents. Their reassurance. The way just a short conversation with them could do wonders for my mental stability. My father was never flustered, and focused almost exclusively on those that lifted others up. He had no tolerance for hate, and wouldn’t give it the time of day. My Mom was…well…..she’s a mom. And she soothed me as much as a grown man as she did when I was a wee one. Because that’s the superpower that Moms have. I miss her now. I miss him now. But in a way I’m glad they’re not forced to see what’s become of us. And what we’ve managed to do to each other. Each had a huge heart. Which made it exceedingly fragile.

I hadn’t really noticed until last night, but it’s staying brighter longer. Winter seems in the rear-view, and all those birds will not be silenced. Dogs have never been happier. The end of this thing is gonna result in a lot of guilty stare-downs from our best friends. But I think they’ll understand. And they might enjoy the quiet time to catch up on some napping.

baseballLate last night I couldn’t sleep, so I was watching the Ken Burns “Baseball” documentary on PBS. It struck me that maybe the “all clear” that we’ll be waiting on will come when the umpires yell “play ball!”. Even world wars couldn’t stop it. Or terrorism. But now this. This cruel thing. Unseen….nowhere and everywhere….punishing us for seeking the company of others. I was watching last night……the section of the film that dealt with my childhood. The 1970s. Pete Rose and the Reds. My team. The Big Red Machine. The Mets on channel 9. The Yankees on channel 11. The Phillies on channel 17. I wanted a hot dog. I wanted an absurdly expensive beer. I wanted to sit close enough to hear the chatter. I wanted characters like Casey Stengel to invade my dreams..

“Most people my age are dead at the present time, and you can look it up…”

Thinking about it damn near made me cry.

When the boys of summer return……that’s when we know. The healing has begun.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

Another live virtual show

March 24, 2020 Leave a comment

Tom Flannery – Virtually Live
from the Home Office

March 26, 7pm

fblive

Categories: Uncategorized

Isolation…

March 23, 2020 Leave a comment

isolationIt’s a strange thing, this isolation.

Living inside our own heads. Communicating with our thumbs on small devices. Missing our friends. Missing where we used to gather. To eat. To drink. To laugh. To play. Even to work. We took all that for granted, until now.

There’s more than a few still out there….feeling invincible. Beaches are packed…..parks are packed….no social distancing for this lot. I went for a solitary walk yesterday and was surprised to see so many large groups of people still wandering….inches apart. Seemingly oblivious. Judge not lest ye be judged, but I gave them plenty of lee-way as I slid my way past.

And for the hypochondriacs among us? This is Armageddon. Every sniffle or cough or sore throat or stubbed toe is proof that the virus has arrived. Self-diagnosing has gone into overdrive, and with so much conflicting bullshit out there, what could possibly go wrong? When facebook memes replace our primary care physicians, it’s time to reboot the internet.

And, as always, there’s the invisible among us. The ones who can’t “stay home” because they don’t have one. There’s not been much mention of our homeless populations recently, but then again there’s never much mention of our homeless populations. Just another slit in the safety net. I have no idea how they are coping now. And I have no idea how they were coping before this. And that should be my shame. And ours. Maybe this will change things for them as well. Maybe they’ll be invited out of the cold. Maybe we can help find everybody a home to quarantine themselves in.

And through it all the same idiots are out there, filling up their shopping carts with all the toilet paper and all the eggs, smirking at the bewildered empty-handed elderly as they load up the SUV and tear away. These are the worst of us, and will probably come through this without the proverbial scratch. Because there is no such thing as karma, no matter how much we pretend otherwise.

But still…..for every shithead, there’s 100 angels. Even though we can’t be together, I’ve seen folks come together in so many ways. Folks offering to deliver food. Restaurants offering free meals to the elderly. And just a bunch of regular people saying “I’m here if you need anything, so just ask.”

Teachers had a day or two at most to come up with a plan B….with no extra resources. No extra money. And no real direction other than “figure it out”. And they did….which is why my daughter is sitting at her desk in her room right now, in a virtual classroom with all her classmates, learning. Small miracles are breaking out everywhere, and they are not coming from the titans of industry…..the gods of Wall Street…..the 1%-ers. They are coming from the ones so casually dismissed just a few weeks ago. Cashiers. Cooks. Warehouse folks. Drivers. Minimum wagers. Those pesky teachers who “only work 180 days a year”. And through it all Washington has only made things infinitely worse, so at least there’s some continuity and comfort in a sea of change.

On Saturday night I did my first ever “virtual gig“…..streaming live on Facebook from my basement. I played for 75 minutes and had a great audience cheering me on (and a local audience of my 2 daughters) the entire time and I can’t remember ever feeling better about what I do. Because it came into focus that the music, not just mine, matters. Call it what you will. A diversion. A distraction. I don’t care. But these virtual gigs are popping up all over the place now, and folks are tuning in and dropping coins in virtual tip jars and artists are playing and singing their asses off. It’s a place to go for an hour or so, to sing and to dance like nobody is watching, because nobody is. So maybe once we get past all this madness and you’re out in your local watering hole and there’s some musicians there, maybe give ’em a nod or a wink. You have no idea how much it matters. But then again, now, maybe you do.

It’s a strange thing, this isolation.

We’re learning about ourselves. For some, introspection like this is uncomfortable. For others, it can be a revelation.

Stay safe. Stay home. Be good to each other. More music is on the way..

In a bit.

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

Live virtual gig 3/21 at 7pm

March 20, 2020 Leave a comment

Saturday, March 21 at 7pm via FaceBook LIVE
fblive

tipjar

Donations GRACIOUSLY accepted via…

PayPal – paypal.me/TomFlannery1966
Venmo – @wig1176

Categories: Uncategorized