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Family, Thanksgiving, and Sadness

Here on the day before Thanksgiving I find myself thinking about Thanksgiving’s past. When I was a kid there were always big family dinners at the homes Grammy and PapPap and Grandmother Lewis. I remember them being huge gatherings of people with huge spreads of food. The relationships from person to person and family to family weren’t always perfect. In fact, they were fraught with tensions large and small. But we were all together during the holiday season. That’s how I remember it.

I don’t know when I last sat down to a meal with any of my extended family on either side. In fact, I think I can now count on one hand the number of family members I’m on speaking terms with. Hell, I may have a finger or two left after that tally. What happened? What does it take to keep a family together? I need to know so I can start now planning for when my own kids grow up.

I also find myself wondering how much of it is my fault. I wrote a book and that’s what really drove the wedge, but that was long after everything started falling apart. I can’t get away from the idea that a lot of it is my fault. I left. I tried to come back and I couldn’t stay. I love where I’m from but I can’t live there. And yes, I understand why that might seem like an indictment on the folks who are still there. But it’s not.

I guess what I’m trying to say is I miss and love them all, those who are no longer with us and those who are no longer with me. I miss PapPap and watching football with the sound off while the rest of the family naps off the turkey. I miss early mornings on the hill with Dad, the fog gathered in the swales and the quiet. I miss Grandmother Lewis and her quilting looms in her carpeted two car garage. I miss the smiling little boy my brother used to be, especially when faced with the hateful racist he’s become.

I miss them all. And I miss the me that used to be a part of their lives.

This Thanksgiving I’m going to take a deep breath and mourn the family I used to have and celebrate the one I have now. I’m going to hug my kids and love my wife and give thanks that they are part of my life.

 

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Old Pictures

JTL-123pleasantstreet2011I have a hard time looking at old pictures of myself now, especially from the years when my drinking was at its apex: 2008-2012. Maybe even earlier, like, 2005 or so. But mostly its pictures from those later years, right before the wheels came off. It’s hard to describe what I see, and even harder to know if other people would see what I see. Maybe that doesn’t matter. My eyes are narrow, tired looking.My face is pale, not quite unhealthy-looking, but not quite well. I look bloated, filled with water, poison. Now, not then. Then I don’t know what I was thinking

It’s hard for me to think about the person I was then. Not just because I was someone so actively trying to destroy my life, but also because I’m afraid that when I look at that person I’m still looking in the mirror, that I’m still that person and that person is just taking a break, but will be back sometime, or has never really left.

True, I don’t drink anymore and I don’t think I ever will again, but has the omission of that behavior cured the defects of character my drinking hid in plain sight? Am I not still the same needy, self-centered, weak person I was when I was drinking. Yes, I am. The only difference is I can’t hide it from myself any more.

So when I see those old pictures, when I see the bleary, puffed up, frightened child I was then I am still afraid. I’m not afraid that I’ll start drinking again. I’m afraid that I’ll have no excuses for being what I am anymore and I’ll be held accountable.

 

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Was Today a Good Day?

16842328-sun-or-rain-black-toggle-switch-on-black-surface-positive-negativeInteresting question, that. I have to admit, it’s not a question that I ask myself very often. Sometimes I ask myself  if I got done with everything that I needed to do for the day and doing that can make it feel like it was a good day. Did I write? Did I read? Did I play some music? If I do all of those things in a given day then I feel like I’ve accomplished something and until recently I thought that meant that it had been a good day. Did you notice how I left my family and my career out? I did. Believe me, I did.

But tonight I was reading something and that sentence, “Today was a good day,” scrolled across my vision and I asked myself, “Was today a good day?” Honestly, the answer is no. And it was a day where I accomplished the three tasks I listed above. So why? Why wasn’t it a good day? I have no idea, other than I continue to be profoundly sad about something I can’t quite put my finger on.

I disappointed myself in several ways, large and small, throughout the day, almost from the moment I woke up. And there didn’t seem to be any way to get on track no matter what I did. And then I found myself exploding at the boy because of something that I knew at the moment I was exploding had nothing to do with him. I didn’t have a clue what it was about, but I found myself lashing out, making him bear the brunt of my diffuse frustration.

Again, that’s something my dad would have done, indiscriminate anger directed at someone under my power. What the hell is wrong with me? There are times I feel like there’s something seriously wrong with me, like fundamentally wrong. It’s something that I was able to push down, to mask for years with drinking and youth and irresponsibility but now her it is, untethered, uncontrolled and I feel like it might consume me.

So maybe what I need to do is go back to that question: Was it a good day today? I need to affirm my intentions to make it a good day in the morning and check in with myself at the end of the day and maybe I’ll figure out how to actually have a good day in between. I hope so. I need it.

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My Beatles “Black Album”

Steeped in post-Beatles Beatles today. Haven’t seen Boyhood yet, but the Ethan Hawk letter to his kid/the character in the movie really moved me. Rick Moody asked folks to come up with their own post-Beatles Best of the Beatles list and here’s mine. If you want to listen to the whole list that was included in the movie follow this link.

You can watch videos, since not all of the songs are available to stream. I have to admit, reading that piece by Hawk and delving into these songs has got me feeling a little weepy and unstable for reasons I can only chalk up to early fall melancholy, but there’s probably more to it than that. In compiling this list I tried to stay away from “hits” for no other reason than I figured folks knew them and I wanted to concentrate on material that spoke to me when I looked back at these records. Honestly, other than “Plastic Ono Band” and “All Things Must Pass” I haven’t listened to any of these records for a long time. I also concentrated on records I actually own.

  1. Mother- I was adopted. This song (and the majority of the POB record) resonated for me in a very personal way.

  2. I Found Out-Great uptempo rocker, so raw in comparison to late Beatles output.

  3. Isolation-Again, raw emotion, but sheathed in a beautiful mid tempo soul arrangement.

  4. Jealous Guy-Originally called “Child of Nature” and later turned into an amazing confessional tune.

  5. How Do You Sleep?-Maybe the best fuck you song ever written?

  6. Glasses/Junk-To my ears McCartney was at his best in the 70 when he was fiddling around and not trying to hard. he could write effortlessly beautiful music, seemingly without trying. These two pieces together are perhaps the best examples of that phenomenon

  7. Too Many People-Response to “How Do You Sleep”? Maybe. But what makes this song for me is the transition between the plodding verses and the lyrical refrain. Another example of Macca’s next-level melodic gifts.

  8. Long Haired Lady-A pretty love song that’s not trying to hard to be anything more.

  9. It Don’t Come Easy-Had to include a Ringo song and this one is better than the rest. Yes, it’s a hit, but lyrically (thanks, George) it stands up strong.

  10. What Is Life-It’s arguable that George had the better early solo material. Of course, he had a huge backlog from the Beatles days. What’s striking to me is how the output in this early solo period really seems to settle in on the personalities and demons of each of the three principle songwriters. George’s questioning throughout all of All Things Must Pass remains germane to me and my life in ways that only John’s output rivals. As a recovering person, I look at these three songs and see in them the questions that I have to answer for myself still encapsulated to near perfection in pop songs. There’s something about how centered George in on this record that inspires me to continue to try.

  11. Art of Dying

  12. All Things Must Pass

 

Disc 2

I’m not going to do a song-by-song-breakdown of this disc. It was a trudge to find 12 songs worth including, but I told myself I’d find 12 for each “disc.” Ringo and George were notably absent from the land of good throughout the ’73-’80 time period. Their selections here are just above tokenism. John’s output flagged as well, but he still had his moments. Mostly I fell back onto thinking of how these songs hit my ears when I was 11 or 12 and I was John obsessed. The Rock n Roll LP was the first of his solo records I bought and for years I was more familiar with is versions of these songs than I was with the originals. John’s “Double Dantasy’ (at least his songs on the record) rival the spiritual journey that George encapsulated on ATMP. Paul got the better of the late 70s. Yes, the records are incredibly uneven, but there’s a lot to choose from. I could have stuck with “Band on the Run” and chosen great songs from him, but I eschewed the hits on purpose to find again those little moments where he was letting melody guide him instead of what seemed like an almost pathological obsession with proving he was a pop genius without the other three dudes. I included “Silly Love Songs” because I think it’s a great, great tune.

  1. Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down and Out)

  2. No.9 Dream

  3. Medley: Rip It Up/Ready Teddy

  4. Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)

  5. Watching the Wheels

  6. Crackerbox Palace

  7. No-No Song

  8. Let Me Roll It

  9. 1985

  10. Venus and Mars (intro and reprise)

  11. Silly Love Songs

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My top 10 fiction picks

This is an off the top of my head list. I’ve been invited to do a couple 10 book lists, one being a list dedicated to non-fiction by my friend Pete Cenedella. I’m embarrassed to say I really haven’t read enough non-fiction (or been sufficiently altered by that reading) to compile a list of 10 selections. Non-fiction is like vegetables to me: sustaining, sometimes enjoyable, but ultimately not super inspiring. YMMV.

As for fiction, I’m having a really hard time putting together a list of 10 for that as well. There have been some many formative phases of reading in my life, each of which contained at least 10 mind/life altering readings and I find myself reluctant to really put a list in print.

The list I have to compile is embarrassingly filled with dead white men. Well, not embarrassingly, I guess because reading these book shaped me and if I’m embarrassed of them, I’m embarrassed of myself. Oh, wait.

I’ve been thinking about just not doing a list, but that seems like a cop out. I don’t know why I feel it’s imperative. Maybe it’s the relentlessness “everyone’s doing it” of Facebook. Oh peer pressure, you are an insistent and fickle tormentor.

So here goes. I’m trying to be as honest as I can with this list, which in itself seems like a pose. Sigh.

1. Spider-Man comics, specifically the 1982 run that featured the romance of Peter Parker and the Black Cat.
2. Phu Nam, Sgt. Barry Sadler.
3. Salem’s Lot, Stephen King
4. East of Eden, John Steinbeck.
5. The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake
6. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
7. The Stories Of Raymond Carver
8. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
9. The Sprawl Trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive), William Gibson
10. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
11. The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy

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Indigo Girls-Nomads, Indians, Saints

I stuck this record on my iPod on a whim. It popped up the other day and I have to admit, I was struck with a few moments of nostalgic bliss. And after the nostalgic bliss subsided I found myself newly impressed with this record. I wore it out when I was 19 or 20, after a few years of hating the Indigo Girls. You see, I used to be in a band that was two singers and one guy on guitar. We did a lot of close harmony and the group most people put us in with was the Indigo Girls. I hated them until I went to see Bob Mould on Mountain Stage one Sunday afternoon . The Indigo Girls were also on the bill.

I was resigned to suffer through them if it meant seeing one of my songwriting idols solo acoustic. Well, they blew me away and I was a fan. It didn’t hurt that The Girl Who Would Ruin My Life loved them as well. My relationship with her started sometime in the nearish future after that. Specifically, she loved Nomads, Indians, Saints and it was the soundtrack to ll the things we did together through the spring semester of 1991. THen she went back to Ocean City to wait tables for the summer and broke my heart by sleeping with some dude she worked with. I wonder what ever happened to Carrie Morgan….?

Anyway, needless to say Nomads was sullied forever after and I don’t think I’ve listened to a note until the other day. And now I have it on loud and it’s pretty darn great. Great singing, writing and just the kinda raw we rarely hear these days. Makes me feel bad  I was too crowd-phobic to go out and see the Girls play a free show in town last summer.

If you haven’t heard it for a while, dig it out.

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My First Speaker Build: The Overnight Sensations

I’ve been rolling through speakers recently and DIY speaker building came across my radar about a week or two ago. I was super impressed with how cheaply you could buy a set of speakers that, by nearly all reports, sounded fantastic. So I decided to give the Overnight Sensations a try.  photo 4bb6f9ed-0ba4-4ec1-8ece-917cd564c7ac_zps5f49302e.jpg

I ordered the kit from Parts Express with all the doo-dads I would need otherwise (soldering iron, solder, glue, screws, etc.) and got out the door at less than $250. I’m not much of a wood worker. I’m handy around the house, but not really a builder. I got a D in shop class when I was in Jr. High. I was building a shelf. It wasn’t much, but I was determined to try this speaker thing.
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The kit came on Friday of last week. I decided to put the sides and back of the box together first, since I was going to paint the fronts a different color and I thought it would be easier to do that if the front wasn’t attached. This would prove to be a mistake, but not a terrible one.
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I got to the crossovers on Sunday. I woke up ready and willing to spend all day on them, forgoing all other household duties to get them done. I started at about 10 am with a cup of coffee and all my supplies laid out in front of me. I watched the Parts Express video. Um, it stops halfway through putting together the tweeter crossover and moves at lightning speed through the rest of the crossover build. I tried stopping it in key places to see if I could make out what was happening, but it didn’t do a lot of good. So I decided to look online for photos of an assembled crossover. I found a lot of them, but I also discovered that the kit is shipping with a few different parts than it used to, so I had to figure out which was which. And I discovered that there are about a million ways to put these things together, at least in the looks and layout department. photo 2014-08-31130832_zps926b1fe0.jpg

But I persevered. Why didn’t I just look at the wiring diagram? Because I’ve never read one before, so it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I’m a musician and small time recording engineer, but I’ve never done much more than wire stuff together with patch cables. The only soldering experience I had came 25 years ago when I was interning in a studio soldiering patch cables. But I looked at the video and other designs online for long enough that the crossover started to make a little sense, enough that I could look at the wiring diagram and make some sense of it. So I did that and finally got the thing loose wired together. I hooked up a speakers and the Lepai amp and tested. It worked! First time out of the gate! Patience proved successful. I never knew I had it in me.
After that bit of progress I wired up the second crossover using the first as a template and then I soldered it all together. It was 4:30pm. Only took me about 5 hours of staring at the things to get them together. After that I got a couple coats of paint on the boxes and the baffles and I called it a day.

Yesterday I decided I was going to finish, I got the crossovers into the boxes, I wired them up to the binding posts and speakers and tested again. Still worked! So I soldered and set to gluing the baffles on.

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I was using Gorilla Glue, which I knew from doing the boxes would bubble out the sides as it cured, so I got the baffles on and waited. I wiped what came out (I tried using just a little, but I guess not little enough), and went off to left them dry. A couple hours later I came down to the workshop to find that there was more. So here’s where things started going a little pear-shaped.
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I used a Rustoleum metallic paint for the baffles and even though it had been more than 24 hours since I finished the paint, the paint still took my fingerprints as I glued the baffles. That plus the glue made it necessary to touch up. The results were not pro quality, but still, they turned out OK. Not bad for my first go. I have them in my office now and they sound decidedly better than the Bose Companion 2s I had been using.

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Now I need to figure out what to build next weekend. I’m leaning toward the Hitmakers, but I’m also thinking about the Amigas. Right now I have a set of JBL LS308 on my mixing desk. Tempting to try the Hitmakers in their place. I have a set of Klipsch RF-82II in the living room. The Amigas are a tempting replacement for them…

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2014-05-23 10.42.17

Who wants to disappear?

I have to admit, I read this story, about a man who disappeared into the woods for almost 30 years, with not a little envy. I can’t quite figure out what it is, but there’s a part of me that very desperately wants to disappear. I guess it’s not all that hard to figure out. 42-year-old man, husband, father of two, with satisfying job as jobs go, but never achieved what I dreamed I might achieve, and I see in the life this man lived the manifestation of real freedom. Or at least that’s what it seems like I see. True, the guy survived by stealing from people–he once stole a kid’s Halloween candy–but there’s a pull to it, the thought that you could float away and untether yourself from the world.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the public life I’ve made for myself as an advocate, a public figure in some small way, a performer…whatever…and how dissatisfied I’ve been with that life. How dissatisfied I’ve always been with that life, and how it daily feeds into my mania to be noticed. I can psychoanalyze myself and have an intellectual understanding of why I have these desires. I’m an adopted kid in a man’s body. I still have a deep need to be loved because some part of me feels like I started life unloved or unwanted. I want you to want me.

And knowing that makes me sick to my stomach. Slowly, over the past several weeks, I’ve made attempts at stepping back from my “public life.” I’ve limited my time on Facebook, which I recognize as the worst of all the social medias. Facebook is constant posturing, insidious in its fake mundanity. I’ve stopped thinking about education advocacy. I’ve stopped putting myself in the position to even talk about schools. I can’t bring myself to think about music very much, at least my writing of music. I’m working on a novel, but that alone feels like and act of disappearance.

I just can’t do it anymore because it makes me unhealthy in my mind. I look at the news, all the violence  and injustice, all the vehement online repostings and soapboxing, and I just can’t do it. I have this mental image of my mind, a decomposing corpse, slightly green, mostly goo, going through some kind of St. Vitus Dance of online indignation tourettes just to pass the time until I can go buy something else to soothe my existential ennui.

And I wonder why disappearing into the woods for 30 years seems attractive? But it’s not an option. I’ve gotta find a way to disappear while remaining present, active, and whole. I have to find a way to love life and leave the bad stuff behind.

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Ryan Adams keeps “borrowing” from the past

Once again, Ryan Adams proves himself to be the most uncanny mimic of rock n roll songwriting style I have ever heard. He tiptoes that line between aping his influences shamelessly and writing songs informed by his influences more adeptly than I thought possible.

I felt this way about his songwriting in Whiskeytown and on early solo records, and I always thought he’d grow out of aping and find a voice and sound of his own. Not yet, I guess.

The insidious thing is, he’s good enough that I find myself really liking the stuff. Then I realize that it not so much I like what he’s doing as I like what he’s borrowing and he’s good enough to copy it so well I’m willing to accept it as analogous to the original.

In my mind, this is something like masterful forgeries of paintings. Some of the artists who make the copies are talented, but  no matter how talented, their work is still a recreation masquerading as the real thing. But pop music has a short memory; Ryan gets away with it again and again.

There are probably some of you who are thinking, “Hey, music is about borrowing. Just look at folk music, the blues, etc.” Yes, you’re right. But the difference between that and what Ryan does is the difference between imitation and interpretation. His sonic signatures, vocal timbre, even visual delivery (see the video) so closely resemble the source material that it enters the realm of plagiarism, not homage.

Sounds like this new record is his attempt at co-opting Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers circa late 70s-early 80s.

 

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Beatles vs the Stones is asking the wrong question

My friend Jay posted this on facebook and it distills something very basic in why I love the Beatles so much and why I’ve always just appreciated the Stones.

“…the Beatles were hard men too. Brian Epstein cleaned them up for mass consumption, but they were anything but sissies. They were from Liverpool, which is like Hamburg or Norfolk, Virginia–a hard, sea-farin’ town, all these dockers and sailors around all the time who would beat the piss out of you if you so much as winked at them. Ringo’s from the Dingle, which is like the fucking Bronx. The Rolling Stones were the mummy’s boys–they were all college students from the outskirts of London. They went to starve in London, but it was by choice, to give themselves some sort of aura of disrespectability. I did like the Stones, but they were never anywhere near the Beatles–not for humour, not for originality, not for songs, not for presentation. All they had was Mick Jagger dancing about. Fair enough, the Stones made great records, but they were always shit on stage, whereas the Beatles were the gear.”

-Lemmy

I’m from West Virginia. It’s a hard place, too. It’s a place where you have to scrape just to get by. The very ground is against you, but people find a way to make it. And WV also has a kind of redheaded stepchild mentality. The folks there never feel like they’re quite good enough and they’re always trying to clean up for the neighbors. And in a way that’s what the Bealtles did. Maybe it was Brian, but I know what it feels like to be a kid from a poor place who wants to fit in, be popular, and all that. And the Beatles had the chops to do it.

I’m not saying the Stones were posers, exactly, but they were rebelling against safety by trying to be the opposite of what they were: poor, hard scrabble kids who wanted to sound like the records they loved. That’s totally valid. The Beatles did the same thing in the opposite direction, and to me the results were wildly more compelling.

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