and it never ends like you planned it…

..we had scheduled what i thought would be the last of the auditions for this past tuesday, and the guy came in and we had just hammered through a couple of songs when karen (far and away the biggest protagonist of the doomed guitarist who we were trying to replace) came in and handed darryl the phone, who then called me out to the garage and handed me the phone, at which point it became obvious what had happened here…

…we’re in the rehearsal room, blaring away, and he calls on the phone and hears us in the other room.

the irony is that we were gonna discuss, after we’d sent this guy on his way, whether or not to fire him before this weekends’ gig or not, but he managed to beat us to the punch.

but i had a call from him on my machine when i got home, as did quin, and he had called darryl twice that day asking for directions to a gig that he already had the address for – i don’t know what that was about, but he usually doesn’t make that kind of effort to track people down…strange.

anyway, i tried to get a few words in, but from the point that i told him that we were auditioning guitar players, he didn’t hear a word i said.  he was too busy venting and making sure i knew that none of us were anywhere near as good as we seemed to think we were.

i’d beg to differ, personally, but that’s me.

there’s tons of derogatory shit i could say, but i’ll simplify it to this…to just try and relay the experience…

playing in a band with him was like taking a shower every day and putting on the same pair of shit-stained underwear…no matter how much work you put into keeping the rest of your body clean and presentable, you’re always gonna smell like ass, because that component of your hygiene never changes, so all the other effort you put into not smelling like ass is wasted.

anyway, that incident kinda put a hamper on the rest of the audition, which didn’t go particularly well, and we spent some time talking about the events of the day afterward, to include a little mini-tirade from karen about how we should feel bad about how things went down…karen was shawns’ most staunch defender through this whole thing, which i attribute to the fact that she’s usually three sheets to the wind by the time soundcheck is done, so her perception of things might be a little slanted.

i do think, however, that everyone in the room who is actually in the band was relieved when it was over.  i know i was.  quin and darryl didn’t show it outwardly, but i think they’ve been waiting for the bleeding to stop for a while now.  barry requires no real discussion – he’s had shawns’ number for some time.  i think that for a long time i had faith that he’d get inspired, motivated, that something would spark him to putting forth some effort not to suck, but he had more than ample time to show us something, and he chose not to.

darryl called him prior to last weekends’ gig and confronted him about a lot of the stuff that we’ve tried to deal with, and his response was to come out on saturday and suck more than ever.

so i refuse to carry guilt over a fate that he bought and paid for.

plus, he has shit that belongs to me that i’ll never see again, so i’m in the red here.

i gotta stop yakkin’ about this, though.

i’ve been asked to learn a shitload of aunt pat songs on bass in less than a week…i don’t see that happening quite the way i would have liked for it to.  i have two separate rehearsals scheduled for tomorrow night, and one of them has to go.  i don’t know what i’m gonna do about that, and i’m kinda on the fence about whether or not i even wanna do this aunt pat thing this weekend anyway…

that band has enough baggage to carry Elton John’s 1974 tour wardrobe.

but they’re fuckin’ brilliant…when they’re diggin’ each other.

let’s see, what else…i have a video editing project that i really, really need to get done tomorrow, i have michelle nagy tracks on my adat upstairs that i need to work on, and i have a visit scheduled with keith amos this weekend to do the musical necks project on my two telecasters….

and it’s after midnight, and time for me to grab some ZZZ’s….

the cinder block that broke the camels’ back

ok, so that’s pretty much it.  after this past weekend, i’m not sure how much more i can take of our other guitar player.  this is a guy whose primary style of playing could be summed up by saying, “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then pound them into submission with sheer fucking volume.”

and this is a rhythm player!

i just don’t understand.  i guess it goes back to what i had said earlier about just having no clue whatsoever about what goes on around you.  this guy has no clue.  i think i’m gonna call everyone this week and try and get a consensus about whether or not to just let the guy go.  The gig we’re doing next week is too important in a lot of ways for him to come in and fuck it up for us.  Darryl called him last week and tried to confront him about a lot of the issues we’ve been having with him, and his response was a long, excuse-laden tirade that didn’t offer any hope whatsoever that he’d come around.

So i’m ready for him to be gone.  Big time.

we have one more guy who may or may not come in to audition, and once he does, we’re gonna make a decision and go with it…but he may be gone before that point comes and goes.

Point belabored long enough.

i’m going back to Tennessee next month for the first time in over a decade.  Could turn out to be pretty strange.  i know the kids are looking forward to it…i kinda have mixed feelings about it.  Dylan asked me last week if i still had my first guitar, and it gave me cause to remember that…i have a couple of old recordings of it, but i don’t have it anymore.

i was a drummer originally – started banging on stuff before i was ten, and actually got a somewhat poor excuse of a drumkit when i was 14 or so.  then a little later on, i auditioned for (and got) a gig playing with what was the only “real” band in my hometown at the time, and i thought i was hot shit.  and i had started learning some chords and stuff from my associations with other guitar players, and i watched every move the guitar players in this band made…and i applied what i could without really knowing what the hell i was doing…

i worked at the time at an AM country radio station, WLIC, and there was a guy who ran a leather shop two buildings down from the station who i used to hang out with after work during the summer, rick thomas.  rick was one of those guys who was perfect company for a kid who didn’t really know much about the world outside his little perimeter…i could listen to that guy talk for hours (and did, often enough).  anyway, rick had an old yamaha classical guitar that he needed to sell because he was short on cash, so i bought it for $35.00.  i had that guitar through the rest of high school, took it with me when i went to iceland, to wales, to the pentagon in the navy, and here to pennsylvania.  i used it to write a shitload of awful, sappy songs… to figure out how to play the fingerpicking parts in all those Fogelberg and James Taylor songs, did my early experimenting with alternate tunings – i put a lot of miles on that $35.00 guitar, man.


i had occasion to go back to tennessee after i’d been back in the states for a little while, and i decided to look mr. thomas up – i found his name in the phone book and got his wife on the phone, who thought i was a bill collector…i guess his cash drought must’ve lasted quite some time.  anyway, i got her to take my name and number where i was staying and he called me about an hour later, and i asked him to meet me at the famous savannah TN dairy queen for lunch, where i presented him with his guitar back.  he had been pretty down about having sold it to me, and i got more than my $35 worth of use from it, so i wanted it to go back where it came from…so i gave it back to him, complete with the hard case i bought to protect it during our travels.  that felt pretty good.

in the time since, i’ve acquired quite a few instruments – christ, i have five telecasters alone.  three or four strats, four martin dreadnought acoustics – but i probably wouldn’t have any of them if i hadn’t had that guitar for the important years…while i was learning the basics and finding my voice.

a curse or a blessing?

when i was in high school, i got a gig playing drums with my first “real” band…we had a van, a dedicated rehearsal space that had actually been a recording studio at one time, a soundman, and great players – the best i’d played with up until that time. everyone else in this band was twice my age, seasoned guys, and it was a blast. i learned a lot about arranging songs, and about playing what was appropriate, and about how keeping time was mandatory for drummers, and not an option. i’m sure that there are times when it totally sounded like neil peart playing in a top 40 band, because that’s where my head was at…but i caught on pretty quick.

but i started to notice stuff.

we were, at one point, doing “harden my heart” by quarterflash. and there’s an intro section with a sax melody, and then when the vocal starts, most of the instruments pull back and the vocal sings over just the rhythm section, for the most part, on the record. but we played it, and the guitars kept blarin’ away right on through the verses…competing with the vocal for attention.

something innate in my head told me even then that this was wrong.

i brought it up, at some point, mentioned that i didn’t hear any guitars on this particular passage of the record – and the response was, “well, what should we play, then?”

being the kid in the band, i didn’t dare answer correctly…i don’t remember if i even answered at all.

but the answer was….nothing. if there’s no part, then DON’T FUCKING PLAY ANYTHING.

this is a concept, though, that has evaded musicians of all ages, of all genres, of all levels of experience in situations that have cropped up in different areas of my life ever since. so very, very few guys really get it. The ones who do don’t seem to spend very much time on my level of the food chain.

so why, you might ask, am i still here?

there are a million potential answers to that question, but after a while, one stops asking and learns to either enjoy it down here, or they squirm out, or they kill themselves. i’ve largely opted for number one. i’ve squirmed just enough to see what it’s like further up the ladder, but i always seem to lose my grip and tumble back down to my home rung.

this hasn’t really been a source of great displeasure for me for a while…but one of the bands i play in has undergone some changes these past few months, and it’s making this thing with my ear a problem.

see, when we started out, we were all slackers, really…we’d go out and slam through songs, and it was all ok, whether we sucked or not…but as slacker players have been replaced by real pro guys, guys who have an intuition about their instrument, the one guy who has been a problem on this level has become more and more obvious. painfully so.

so, we’ve begun looking around for replacements. we all see the potential of this band, and we want to realize it. when 4 people are moving in one direction and the fifth is moving in another, it becomes visibly obvious that something is wrong, whether you can put your finger on it or not. and it’s been visibly obvious that our one dissenting slacker is neither motivated or interested in joining the rest of us on this path. thus the audition process.

and what can you say about that, really?

yesterday, we had the guy over who i really thought was going to be the one. we had been emailing back and forth for a week, talking about guitars, about music and musicians, and he felt like the perfect fit. how lucky can you get, i thought. but once the dust had settled yesterday, it was apparent that in his years, he had yet to learn the lesson that i already intrinsically knew way back in 1982, playing in my high school top 40 band.

if there’s no part, don’t play it.

i’m still bummin’. hoping the right guy turns up somewhere. effort has been made, but no one has turned up as of yet.

no one knows more than i do how arrogant this sounds, but if i could clone myself and replace him with a second Me, i’d do it in a heartbeat.

this saga is far from over…updates will follow.

i just want to close by saying that i think willy porters’ “falling forward” album is one of the most stone beautiful records of any era i think i’ve ever heard. i could put “infinity” on repeat and listen to it for weeks. i just hope that i don’t attach the crap going on in my life to it like i’ve done to other music in the past…christopher cross’ second album is forever bound to a girl i dated in wales. they exist as a common entity. one is not separable from the other.

but great music does that – it marries itself to something that you relate it to and becomes part of your personal fabric.

and what a fucked up tapestry i’ve become in close to forty years.

i still know how to pile it on

got a phone call yesterday from an old roster mate (back when i warranted actually having a manager), michelle nagy.  michelle and i were handled by matt asbell, one-half of the asbell-baker team…as such, we did some travelling together, a number of co-bills, what have you…and i developed a pretty serious animosity towards her at the time.  she was neurotic, not very well suited to what she had chosen to pursue artistically, i felt…didn’t have a hard enough shell. too fragile.  i could go on, but it’s irrelevant at this point.  she was also romantically involved with matt, which made for some interesting moments during our travels…one particularly bitter argument on the west side highway in new york city that almost caused an accident comes immediately to mind – there were others, and they’ve all been filed away, but it’s all history at this point.  talking about it isn’t even really necessary for the sake of backsell now.

long story short is that she has some new songs and i think that initially, she wanted me to help her hone her guitar skills and to co-write with her, but i don’t do co-writing.  never have.  nothing personal at all, i’ve just never felt open enough to sit down with another person to express something that i want to make a statement about.  it kinda seems contrived to me.  some can, i can’t.  i know it’s all the rage in nashville, where it’s evolved to a predatory art form – you attach yourself to other writers to co-write to infiltrate a peer group, and work your way up through the various levels of the food chain, writing with (ideally) better and more successful writers as you go until you start getting “cuts” and, ultimately, “singles” which result in “radio”, which results in “money”.

seem contrived enough?

nashville always felt contrived to me to begin with…i have friends who have made it work for them, in terms of finding support for their music and great musicians to work with – charlie degenhart made an incredible record there with cliff goldmacher and a roster of absolute A list players that he couldn’t have bought in philadelphia.  george marinelli played all the guitar parts on the record, which i then had to cop once the parts were in place (marinelli was the original guitarist in bruce hornsby’s band, the range…also played with bonnie raitt and james taylor – big shoes to fill).  to this day, though, charlies’ band was the best group of musicians i’ve been involved with, if you discount the one-time only band i put together for my cd release party…a real bunch of pros.  loose and tight at the same time…if you’re a player, you know exactly what i mean by that…

so anyway…michelle….

when the dust had settled and the conversation was over, i had agreed to help her record some of her new songs in the attic – i think the term i used was we’d “leventhal” them – meaning to give them the john leventhal treatment, starting with drum loops and layering guitars and other stringed instruments over them in moderation until a song emerges…i guess the blake allen record is far enough down the road to completion that something else needs to start taking shape at this point…it’ll definitely be interesting to see if she’s managed to acquire a level enough head for this to get past the initial stages…i had some real issues with her back in the day, in terms of her flakiness.  i guess we’ll see where all that stands in time.

i haven’t mentioned it here, but i earn the lions’ share of my living by doing network support, building custom computers, and doing web development work…and i had a pretty good month this past month, so i celebrated by picking up a couple of additions to the collection…first a custom telecaster with a bigsby tremolo, and then the long awaited, coveted ’56 reissue les paul goldtop.  i’ll probably end up putting a bigsby on that, too, at some point…

rumblings of change within the stone road camp, too, but i can’t really talk too much about that yet…

another one for the ages…

i have a new mathematical equation that – via extensive research – was proven out this weekend.

(outdoor gigs)+(time of day)x(relative proximity to [rural area]+[body of water])+([temperature]+[time of year])=misery index

i’ve learned, over time, to keep my expectations relatively low when the situation calls for it…and i was already kinda bummed that we were playing over the weekend as a 4 piece, but there were a couple of things that i didn’t take into account that compounded matters somewhat.

first of all, the proprietor – apparently completely swept away in the tide of New Greed Republicanism, decided to not only charge the folks for us when they showed up for the weekend, but again at the gate coming into the stage area.  Naturally, this pissed some people off, so attendance was a fraction of what it was when we were there some years ago.

secondly, i don’t remember the insect quotient being anywhere near what it was this year.  i verged on hallucinating at one point, envisioning giant hordes of bugs flying over from new jersey for the show…they were so thick that i actually played the second set with a towel over my head, a la the 1993 phillies.  i just hope, in retrospect, that i managed to spit out more than i swallowed…i had to scrape them off my guitars after the show.

there was a little girl, possibly 7 or 8, right in front of me for a good portion of the last show, playing air guitar, flailing her little arms in time with the music…we were playing a song in E, and at the point that my guitar solo started, i stepped over the monitors and kneeled down in front of her and handed her my pick and pointed at the strings, still playing the whole time.  i muted the strings with the heel of my right hand and plucked out single note runs as she strummed the guitar feverishly with an amazed look on her face – you could make out the stray rakes across the strings a bit, but mostly all anyone heard was the solo i was squeezing out between her hand and mine with a little extra percussion in it…some of her friends saw what was going on and started to circle around her to watch what was going on as she stood there, beaming, strumming the guitar and apparently pleased with what she perceived as the result of her effort.

after we finished, she came up to me and asked approximately 13,462 questions about guitar – “why is this one different from that one?” “does it hurt your fingers when you play?” “what do those knobs do?”

rapid fire, one right after the other.  i think there’s one more future guitar student in the world this week.

blake came over last night to run through some of the songs from the record, and he told me that i may well have sent the poor kid into therapy – if she thought she was playing the guitar at the show, she’ll get a complex when she tries to do it herself and it doesn’t sound as good…

i guess that just serves to underscore the severe mental distortions that exist in the psyches of musicians…forecasting psychoanalysis and all.

so i’m leaving in the dead of night this evening to go to maine for a wedding over the weekend (through some strange freudian misalignment in my head, every time i try to type that word, it comes out “weeding”) – no gigs for a while.  which is just as well…things in the band are headed toward a shake up at the moment, it seems.  (insert Ratheresque vocal inflection here) “more on this story as it develops….”


two people have asked me today to “hear some of my new stuff”…and of course, there isn’t any “new stuff”.  hasn’t been any “new stuff” for a long time.

something happened, somewhere, to water down my interest in songwriting, and i’m not sure what it was, what it is, specifically, but i just seem to have no interest in trying to create anything new.  none whatsoever.

i think i’ve just gotten older, fatter, and far too content playing in cover bands to care much about creating anything new…that, and i think the way my first record was received did its share to cool my jets.  when i admit that, all that does is underscore (for me) that other peoples’ approval on a large scale was way more important to me than i think it should have been.  maybe, just maybe, that was too much of a motive for me to begin with.  maybe it was never as much about creating something for the sake of creativity – out of actually having something to say – as it was about trying to garner some level of notoriety.  i’ve always hoped that wasn’t true.  but now, when i start to question myself about the prospect of writing, of recording something with the idea of a new record, i always come back around to a general sense of “what’s the point?”…which forces me to confront some pretty awkward realities…

and the really screwy thing is that i don’t really feel it when people give me complements, anyway.  when people do “get it”, when they do relate to something i do or are moved by one of my songs, i appreciate it but i don’t feel like it really makes it through the exoskeleton.  and that just tells me that there’s something wrong somewhere.

now i’ve thrown myself behind this new blake record, and i’ve started recording parts for some of the basic tracks that charlie gave me during his last trip north, and I’ve got this great little studio in my house, for christ’s sake…so what’s to keep me from doing a record?  there’s never been a time in history when it’s been easier to throw your shit against the wall…it just seems like it might have been a little too important to me up until now that it stuck.

maybe what i need to do is what i should have been doing from the outset – writing what i feel and giving it over to the people who relate to it, who are moved by it, and let them decide whether it sticks or not.  i think that’s what the people i respect the most have done.  i don’t think that john gorka, for instance, set out to conquer the masses…nor did he.  what he did manage to do was to be successful enough to have a following that allows him to do what he does for a living, to make records on a regular basis, and to tour as he sees fit and do it his way.

maybe the fact that i’ve reached a point where i can put aside some of my old expectations to rest might make it possible to make a record without having to concern myself with whether or not dan “dipshit” deluca will review my record in city paper or not…but first one would have to write songs in order to record them to make a record…i’m not really interested in revisiting a lot of “catalog” stuff or rehashing crap that i wrote seven years ago…so it comes down to whether or not i find myself motivated to write songs or not, really.

i suppose time will tell – in the meantime, there’s plenty of other stuff to work on.

but wait….

enough explaining myself, already.

on to the meat and potatoes, i think.

i just accepted a booking for a solo acoustic gig…something i had all but stopped doing.  the last acoustic show i did was in DC last year at the request of my old lawyer from back in the day, Heather…and it was in the lobby of a museum for a group of people who scarcely heard a thing I did – which was a fitting close to that chapter of my life, i thought, since it was similar to the lions’ share of the shows i’ve done through the course of my career.  i’ve been doing almost nothing but band and sideman work with the occasional session for a long time now, and have had no desire to return to being the guy in the corner with a guitar again.  still don’t, really.  but the opportunity presented itself, and i saw no real reason to say no, so i guess i have one more in me.

tomorrow is the 4th of july – which reminds me not of the epidemic of redneck, chest beating FoxNews Patriotism that’s all the rage these days, but of charlie degenhart.  got out “bridge street main” today and listened to it again…what a great record.  that was one hell of a band, and i sure do miss playing with those guys.  talked to charlie on the phone about 2 weeks ago…he’s still in nashville, talking about returning to the northeast depending on how things pan out with his management.  don’t know if we’ll ever put that band back together, but i do look forward to playing with him again sometime down the road.

blake allens’ solo record is drawing near completion, and that’s gonna turn out to be a great record…blake and i both have adat units in our home studios, and this project started out with the two of us trading tapes – blake actually had loaned me one of his adats when i started putting my place together, but eventually i caved and bought a pair of my own and we started working on parts between the two of us on off nights months ago without really knowing what we were gonna do with these songs.  they’ve blossomed, though.  and i’ve come to cherish my relationship with blake – i’ve known him longer than pretty much anyone else that i met during the time i was an active part of the phila music scene (which has slowly degraded into part parody, part oxymoron), and i’m glad that circuit never fully shorted out.

my cherished “white trash trailer park classic rock cover band” is doing our first gig without our new keyboard player this weekend – i know i’m gonna miss him already.  hope that doesn’t play its usual tricks with my attitude.  i’m a pro at going into a gig with a chip on my shoulder if i know beforehand there’s something that’s going to bother me…this would be a good instance of that.  but i think it’ll be fine, once we’ve gotten through the first three songs and i reacquaint myself with what the songs sound like without the B3 in the mix.

bought a custom built telecaster with a bigsby this week.  still waiting to hear from my guitar tech with regards to the fate of the strat i’m supposed to be getting from him…

so, already, i’m thinking…

…that the differences between this platform and the blank paper that stares back at me from my journal are pretty significant in one glaring sense – i can’t remember who to attribute the quote to, but someone once said that the act of observation itself distorts that which is being observed…boy, am i feelin’ that now.

the thought of sitting down and scribbling something in a book that will go back into my backpack or onto a shelf is purging – cleansing, even…if the subject matter dictates that it be so. this, however, smacks of voyeurism to me in a way that i didn’t expect.

the huge irony in that is that i’ve been a songwriter since high school…so writing thoughts down for others’ perusal shouldn’t feel foreign to me. but songs are crafted, honed and perfected…to some extent…before they’re unleashed on the world. i suppose i could apply the same mindset here, but then why not just write a song? journalling, for me, was always supposed to be stream of consciousness…in order to be truthful, that was always a prerequisite…otherwise, harder truth runs the risk of distortion during the editing process.

“people never talk about their feelings anyway
without dressing them in dreams and laughter
i guess it’s just too painful otherwise….”

jackson browne, “the late show”

so, as far as i’m concerned, there are no rules, there are no taboos, and whatever i write, you’ll have to suffer through. if that’s ok, then we can proceed from here.

so on with it, then….

i tracked down one of the four hundred remaining drive-in movie theatres (once a 4,000 strong force in america’s cultural landscape) and sat in the waning light of day reading my last pen-and-ink journal, waiting for darkness with my kids, drive-in virgins, antsy yet waiting patiently to see what the fuss is about…

i remember when i used to scribble incessantly in a series of books with blank pages, thoughts and ruminations on relationships and life and parenting and memories – mostly at work, as i recall.  my line of work now involves sitting behind a CRT while i’m on the clock, so this seems a natural transition…from wasting my work hours on paper to this.

we sat there in the back of our VW van, with the light fading, and i realized that i miss this.

so i’m back.