really, really deep…and TOGETHER.

ok, i know it’s been a while since i’ve had anything to say, and this is hardly the way to make my comeback, but i just saw this as i walked back into the living room to turn the tv off for the night, and it just cracked me up….

in the video for all right now by free, there are a handful of quotes from the band that flash on the screen intermittently…and this one definitely lands the top spot on mymost profound rock and roll quotes list…

courtesy of andy fraser:

“to go onstage as a band, you’ve got to be together.”

wow. just wow.

i won’t get a wink of sleep tonight, man.

be it ever so humble…

while my trips back to tennessee have been pretty sporadic, the one thing that always strikes me upon returning is how the whole trip usually just feels like a vivid dream. i feel a very strange, tentative connection to that town…as though it’s the set of a movie that i saw a long time ago or something of that nature.

we scrambled – literally scrambled – on friday night to get everyone where they needed to be, and to get them properly equipped for the trip. i’d talked to my brother and sister-in-law the day before we left about the funeral arrangements, but they’d taken care of pretty much everything – they set the service for a day later than they’d originally planned, a gesture to allow me time to get there for the service and the viewing.

we piled in the van and drove almost straight through…i’d gotten only three or four hours’ sleep on thursday night, so i wasn’t in the best of shape for the trip, from a sleep standpoint…and a few hours after leaving, it was starting to show. i was having a hard time staying awake, but i hung in there for the lions’ share of the trip, through PA and the brief excursions through MD and WVA, and almost the entire way through virginia before stopping for one stop for a short nap in virginia, just outside bristol. we made one other stop on the trip down, at what passes for a mall in cookeville, tennessee. we had stopped for breakfast at a burger king, and jayda had been complaining about how cold it was inside the van (in her defense, she had certainly been accustomed to much warmer temperatures on these drives, since neither of my VW vans came with air conditioning), and we were going to get her a sweatshirt to keep her warm in the AC-rich environment. the mall in cookeville takes up roughly the same amount of space delegated to the boscovs’ store at the berkshire mall here in reading, but there were roughly a dozen stores inside.

we went to JC Penney’s, since we hadn’t had any luck in the sweatshirt department, and decided on a blanket and pillows for the kids. we picked out our loot and went to the register to pay for the goods and met with some resistance with regard to what we thought our price should be. there was apparently some discrepancy, and i spent a few minutes ironing this out with the somewhat uptight, very prim-and-proper clerk, who was certain that there was some mistake, and i took her back over to the bin to show her the price as posted on the pillows, and we both walked back to the counter with the sign while she summoned over some reinforcements to investigate what the problem could possibly be…when all was said and done, we got the pillows at the price posted on the bin in the first place. when i suggested to her that it was quite possible that the little yellow bouncing ball from the wal-mart commercials might have been mucking around in the store after hours, sabotaging their pricing to screw up the competition, my otherwise funny remark was met with a quizzical stare and a short burst of silence.

ok, then.

so i paid her, she took my money, and asked if i was interested in applying for a JC Penney credit card. at that point, i told her that if she were to put my name into her machine that the place would be crawling with cops in five minutes…and she took the hint, gave me my bedding in a bag, and we split.

at that point, having been fed and now sufficiently awake, we made the rest of the drive into savannah without any real need for rest…just the usual, routine emptying of bladders every so often.

we got into town at around 2:30 or so – with just enough time to check into the hotel and shower before going to the family-only viewing at 4:00pm. my mothers’ wishes were that only the family be allowed to see her, and that her funeral be a closed-casket affair…penny had told me that during the course of the past year or so, she’d become really self-conscious of her appearance, because of the effects of some of the medication she was taking…the prednisone in and of itself had caused her to swell and gain weight, and she looked dramatically different in her last year on earth than she did her whole life – so she told penny specifically that she didn’t want her casket open for anyone other than the immediate family.

renee had told me that if i didn’t make it on time, they’d arrange something, but i didn’t even consider that an option. i called penny and told her that we wouldn’t have time to stop at her house before we went to the funeral home, because of the time, and that i had four people to shower and change before we were ready to come…she was understanding about that, and this took a load off my mind. i thought she’d be upset by the prospect of us staying in a hotel instead of with her, but i knew that there were going to be a ton of people around over the weekend, and i didn’t want to impose. i felt pretty sure that, even if she didn’t understand it right away, she’d eventually come around. thankfully, it wasn’t the problem that i thought it could potentially be.

so we devised a program – without going into particulars, it was effective in its objective of getting everyone showered and offering some degree of privacy to those out of the shower and needing to change in a single room…my one stroke of genius. we got in, showered, changed, and got out in less than an hour…and we were on our way to the funeral home.

i dropped everyone off and parked the van, and stood outside talking to my sister-in-law and my brother for a while, as various familiar looking people walked in and out of the doors…after a few minutes, though, it was pretty obvious that i’d delayed the inevitable face-to-face as long as i was going to be able to.

i walked into the room, and around the privacy wall at the door, towards the polished stainless steel casket and the woman inside…she bore a slight resemblance to my mother, but it was faint. she hadn’t just gained weight – there was a great deal of swelling from the medication, and – truth be told – she looked very little like the woman i’d known as my mother all my life. this woman’s wrinkled hands were laid, not touching, at 45 degree angles from her elbows across her stomach, her lifeless fingers looking as if they were stuck together. there were two roses in the casket, one each from jayda and dylan, sent as a gesture from their mother.

i think that the fact that her physical appearance had changed so drastically in the two years since my last visit just added to the surreality of the whole concept of my mother – my primary connection to my lineage – being dead. it just didn’t seem possible, even though i’ve known that this day was coming sooner than later for some time – it was the whole impetus for the trip that we took two years ago…to introduce the kids to their grandmother at a time when they’d be able to remember her and actually get to know her…to hear about their father from his own mother, firsthand…to ask questions and have conversations and the like. i wanted them to meet these people, get the chance to take them in of their own accord, and form their own opinions. granted, a week doesn’t really allow for that in any real sense, but i wanted them to at least be able to have some memory of who they are.

after having made that trip, i had some second thoughts about it…with regard to whether it was better for them to have gotten the opportunity to spend time with her in the shape she was in, as opposed to not having any firsthand memories of her and being able to experience her through my eyes, through the stories and the pictures…which would have been kinder, perhaps, than the image they now have of who she was – frail, with her perpetual oxygen in tow, a shell of the mother that i remember.

and now, they stood next to me again, as i stood before what remained of her in this world.

since the last trip, i had made a personal resolution to keep my composure. i hadn’t succeeded even slightly in doing so when i saw my grandmother at the nursing home during the last trip, and i’m pretty certain that seeing me that way was traumatic for the kids…and i didn’t want to put them through that again. grief is a personal thing to me, anyway, and i tend to shield myself from experiencing that in public if i can. and at that point, i felt as though i was surrounded by people who needed my strength – my sister and her family were there, my aunt betty (whom i didn’t recognize – she looked immensely healthier than she did the last time i saw her) and my cousin mitsy (whom i also didn’t recognize, save for the fact that she looks a lot like her mother) and a few other folks that i didn’t really know from my sisters’ husbands’ family and randy’s wifes’ family.

so i stood there, looking upon what was left of the woman who brought me into the world, and all i could feel was the eyes of strangers upon me – family and others alike. with the exception of the family that accompanied me to this point, most of the people in the room could count on one hand the times they’d seen me in the twenty years that had passed since i called savannah my home…and many of the ones i’d see during the next 48 hours hadn’t seen me at all in that time. my aunt nadine, wife of my grandfathers’ brother grant (known to most of the family as G.C., or “G-Buck”) was there in a wheelchair…all three of her kids were there – mark, the youngest, the middle son Ken (who was known to everybody – literally everybody – as “lard ass”…even his teachers in school), and her oldest, bud…who was accompanied by his lovely nine-month-old daughter lila (whose name i may someday steal if i ever find myself in the position to need a name for a new human being). aunt betty’s kids were represented by mitsy, my old baseball teammate (it was always me and mitsy versus randy and bobo, it seemed like), and bobo – whos’ cultivated quite a career for himself as a gospel musician…he’s actually playing the savannah bluegrass festival this july, and they’re booked solid. when we were kids, he never (to use the vernacular) “hit a lick at” music at all…he seemed to be more preoccupied with the same things that other kids his age were – buying beer and partying down by the river or drag-racing in walnut grove. he’s made quite a turnaround, though. and her daughters, susie and sherry, both came to the funeral the next day. of her nine, all that were alive managed to make it but steve – and from what i’ve heard, he’s not much longer for this world…he’s in pretty sad shape himself.

let’s see, who else…in terms of family, my grandmothers’ sisters were there – the ones who are still able to be, anyway. my grandmothers’ sisters had some of the most unusual names i’d ever heard. hell, i’m not even sure how to spell them. but then, unusual names come with the turf, where i’m from…nannie mae, effie dean, romie dee and the like – the landscape is littered with them. my old boss from my radio gig came, too…lloyd stricklin. i hardly recognized him, but he looked good. he’s working in television now, and seems content with his life…he smiles a lot. when i was in the hospital in high school with double pneumonia, he came to see me every day i was there. every day. it actually made me a little uncomfortable, because i sensed that he felt that he was to blame, somehow, for my having ended up there…as a result of my schedule. i actually remember pretending to be asleep at least once when he came to see me. i know that’s kinda messed up, but hey – i was seventeen. i am now, however, forever grateful to him.

my half-brother, jimmy, was there with his wife, alex…i knew i’d see him. jimmy (or “J.W.”, as he prefers to be called now) has always been a rock in situations like this. he looks older, as do we all, but he refuses to act it, and i love that about him. jayda said to me, after arriving home, that she thinks that my storytelling ability is hereditary, because he’s got it, too…and boy, does he ever.

it was jimmy who first told me some rather unsavory things about my dad and his past that i’d never known until i was an adult…even his way with a story couldn’t make that any easier to hear, though.

anyway, the more characters i bring into this story, the greater the temptation to digress further and further from where i stand, here…

i don’t really know where to draw the line between surreality and disbelief that i felt, as i stood there among this small group of people whom i felt i barely knew, looking down on this woman who bore a slight resemblance to my mother – i thought about how she looked the last time we’d come to visit, and how i felt so sure at the time that it would be the last time i saw her alive. i thought about that day, about how we’d gone through some of her things and she’d given things to the children and she’d given me back a drawing that my friend melody from high school had done from my graduation picture proofs…she’d been so proud of it from the day that melody gave it to her, and i knew that her gesture of giving it to me meant something. but it didn’t take that to start me thinking that this was the last time i’d see her alive. she had the disposition of someone who’d largely resigned herself to riding out the remaining time she had – when i’d chide her about continuing to smoke even as her health slipped away from her, she’d say that there wasn’t much point in quitting now, and putting herself through the process of quitting when the lion’s share of the damage had already been done.

in any event, it was plain to me, even though no one acknowledged it…we both just knew.

now, two years later, i had come home one more time to say goodbye.

there were whispers, occasionally, just within earshot and yet muffled…people who were aware of who i was that i didn’t know circling widely along the back walls of the room – one of whom was told by my sister that “she did everything she could to try to stay close to him”, or something to that extent…and i knew that was coming. expected to be confronted about it, even – but apparently no one felt like starting that particular conversation – myself, least of all. i mean, if i couldn’t make them understand who i was and where i stood on the subject while i lived there, how was i supposed to get my point across now?

naw, to hell with it. this sucks enough as it is. why scratch old wounds open now? we’re not here for that in the first place.

besides, whatever resentment that might have been directed towards the elder prodigal son in the wake of his mothers’ death was either ignored or overshadowed by the sense of sorrow in the room.

when your heart is broken, it’s either much easier or much harder to be angry – which it turns out to be is largely determined by the situation, i think.

funerals in the south often serve several functions – they’re part wake, part family reunion, and part cookout…and this one was no different, really. after i spent almost four hours talking to dozens of people that i hadn’t seen in over twenty years, we finally all agreed to reconvene at pennys’ house…that is, penny and her family, my brother randy and his wife renee, pennys’ sister-in-law and her kids, aunt betty, and a few others all went to pennys’ and stayed for several hours…the kids were tired, but they didn’t show it while they were renewing their friendship with their cousins (and cousins-in-law, et cetera). it was raining when we got into town, and it was raining when we left the funeral home, and it was still raining later that night when we left pennys’ house to return to the hotel.

we came in, wet and exhausted, at almost midnight. my original plan was that i wanted to go for a walk through town when we got back, but weather and fatigue conspired to foil that particular plan. instead, as the kids fell into bed, i turned the TV on and was greeted with a 30 year old episode of Saturday Night Live…its age given away by references to “governor” jimmy carter during the weekend update segment. buck henry was the host, and gordon lightfoot was the musical guest.

it don’t get much more 1975 than that.

i tried to stay awake long enough to watch the whole show…i don’t remember turning the tv off, but i don’t remember seeing it through to the end, either…so i must’ve fallen asleep at some point.

we had set the alarm on my cellphone for the next morning, but it never went off…luckily, we woke up in plenty of time to get ready. it was still extremely grey outside…even for savannah…but the rains from the night before had worked off most of their steam, and while there was still some drizzle, it wasn’t as threatening as i’d expected it to be. there was some irritation while we were getting ready as a result of dylans’ failure to pack socks – you’d think that someone who sleeps with their socks on more often than not would place the necessary importance on bringing them along, but no…instead, we made a mad dash for wal-mart to ensure that if anyone showed up at my mother’s funeral without socks on, they wouldn’t be part of my contingent. after a scramble into the savannah, tennessee wal-mart supercenter, we left with socks and a belt (bonus purchase) less than five minutes later. we made it to the funeral home a little later than i’d have preferred, but in plenty of time nonetheless.

when we walked in, they had her casket opened in the parlor where she’d been the day before, not having moved her into the chapel yet. i was a little surprised to see this, since penny had told me that mom had insisted that she be closed…but then maybe that was just for the service itself, i don’t know. i had given myself the impression that the viewing on saturday was for immediate family only and that she didn’t want anyone else to see her…or maybe penny, who’d told me how good she thought she looked, wanted to extend the opportunity to everyone who came to say goodbye face to face. i didn’t ask and she didn’t explain.

a very familiar looking guy named melvin came in not long after i got there and said that they’d be moving her into the chapel and the service would be starting shortly…before they closed her, i put one of my dog tags into her right hand, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. then they led the children into the chapel, with their families.

i sat down first, at the aisle end of the front row, and randy and renee sat next to me…penny and joe sat down next to them, with their children…leaving no room for wendy or the kids, who filed into the next row and sat there. fine, i thought.

let the out of towners sit somewhere else… i mean, i know it wasn’t on purpose, and i felt (after giving it some thought) that they spent the most time with her, she lived in their house, so why shouldn’t pennys’ kids share the front row? they were certainly closer to her than my kids were. and the person i can blame for that waits for me in the mirror every morning.

our family is apparently a regular customer of the man who presided over the service…he’s apparently buried several of aunt bettys’ kids, ginny kate, and any number of other members of the stricklin clan. yet i’d never met him until saturday night. he seemed to have something of a personal stake in my mothers’ funeral, and seemed to have some emotional involvement – and that was moving. i was a little put off by the way he turned the funeral into a short church service, but that’s not uncommon in my neck of the woods…i remember that one of the things that i found so moving about my grandfathers’ funeral is that they talked about him and his life – they certainly interjected a religious angle, because funerals are religious events where i come from…and i’m ok with that. but i’d given some thought on the way down to either singing something at her funeral or asking to say something, but i decided against it. one of the biggest reasons (in my head) for not doing it was that i didn’t want to come down for the funeral and be perceived as though i was putting on some kind of front by getting up and singing or saying something at the service. i couldn’t be bothered to visit any more often than i did, i thought…who would buy a gesture like that from me now? so i kept my mouth shut. but i would’ve liked for those who were there to remember her for who she was when she walked this earth…as a mother who begged, borrowed, and (for all i know, anyway) stole to give her kids what she could to keep them fed, clothed and sheltered. i thought they might want to remember her life, and not dwell on her death…although that’s really not possible under those circumstances.

they played three songs at the service…the first two were somewhat forgettable, one gospel song and an awful country song that i’d never heard before, and “in the arms of the angels” by sara mclachlan…i had put my arm around my brother early on, but there was no comforting him – he wasn’t hysterical, but he was all alone in that room full of people.

just like his big brother.

there was never any question as to where she’d be laid to rest – she was buried right next to her father, and the place where her mother will eventually be laid to rest. we drove the thirty or so miles from savannah out to walnut grove to the whites’ creek baptist church cemetery in a perpetual drizzle that continued through the graveside service, which was brief…a few words followed by a short prayer. we all went down the hill to the church, then, where they’d prepared a small spread for lunch that included a close approximation of our familys’ famous vegetable soup (which dylan became instantly hooked on – they actually gave us what was left over to bring home) and pimiento and cheese sandwiches…dylan had never eaten P&C in his life, and he actually seemed to like it. jayda wasn’t about to find out, though…she was havin’ none of it.

i got an opportunity to talk with some cousins and extended family members that i hadn’t seen since i’d left home in january of 1984 – 21 years ago. some i hadn’t seen since before that, actually…some i didn’t recognize, some looked just like they did all those years ago. but after we’d all finished eating, the rain started to subside…and i went back up the hill with the family to walk about the graveyard and give dylan and jayda a refresher tour of where the family was buried, and who was who…there were people there that i’d gone to school with who had died, cousins, aunts and uncles, eighbors…even “miss martha” goodman, the keeper of the country store where we got most of our groceries…”brother nick” white, the pastor at whites’ creek for most of my childhood and an occasional visitor at my grandparents’ house…and so on and so forth.

i stood there with my aunt betty, who walked from timmys’ grave to tracys’ grave, pulling weeds away from the headstones and talking about how she needed to go get something to keep a certain kind of weed from coming back…and thinking that no mother should have “stop by garden center to get weed killer for children’s graves” on their to-do list.

we all went back to my sisters’ house afterward and talked and laughed and ate and took pictures and talked and laughed a little while longer – our contingent stayed until everyone else was gone but penny and her family, around 10 o’clock that night. i wasn’t ready to leave. i haven’t gotten many opportunities to spend time with them as it is, and there was only one other thing that i really wanted to do that night anyway.

we left and drove back home in the darkness without saying much…we got back to the hotel at around 11pm or so, and asked the kids if they wanted to accompany us on a walk – we knew what the answer was going to be before we asked, but i wanted to give them the opportunity to come along if they wanted to. we left them almost asleep already at the hotel, changed clothes and set out from the “bridge end” of town for a walk back through the past.

we walked up main street, past the courthouse and the square – up the side of the street where the banks and the newspaper is, and up to the intersection of main street and wayne road, which used to be the home to grady qualls’ amoco station – the first place i ever bought condoms. the pizza hut was right across the road from the gas station, and freds’ department store was next to pizza hut. i don’t know if i’ve ever posted the story of fred’s department store and the week before i left for the navy and ending up in a jail cell with my uncle don…

…but it won’t be happenin’ today. sorry.

anyway, we continued all the way up wayne road to the car dealership that used to be emmett yeiser chevrolet, and we turned around right where everyone turned around when they’d cruise town on friday and saturday nights and walked back up the other side…past shaw’s motel and the hospital and the radio station and sonic drive in and city hall and the old halls’ pharmacy (not there anymore) and the row of shops on main street that used to be rexall drug, the five and dime, the ben franklin store – all now gone.

there was one house left on that side of the street, down at the end, where there used to be a row of homes…one of which my mother lived in when i was born. i had no idea whether the one left was the one or not. i couldn’t remember.

i sat there, on the steps of the building that used to be the post office, and looked back up main street…and it occured to me that although a lot of time has gone by, and a lot has changed in the twenty-plus years since i used to call this town home, it was amazing how much it still looked like it always had. i thought about how intent i’d been on staying away from this place, how i’d turned my back on this town and moved on, and had essentially pretended that the years i spent here never happened…

…and tonight, the first night that my mother spent beneath the clay dirt of whites’ creek cemetery, i thought about what all those years away from this town had cost me.

we walked back to the hotel, which was literally right next door to where i sat, and i finally drifted off to sleep after some time…checkout was at 10AM, and wendy set the alarm on her phone this time, since we knew it worked. we all awoke the next day to sunshine…the first we’d seen since we arrived in savannah. i had told my sister that i’d stop there before we left to go through some of our mothers’ belongings that they’d stored in the shed, but before that, i had one other thing i wanted to do.

david phillips, the owner of the town’s only music store…the place where i hung out as a teenager who didn’t know anything, had stopped by the funeral home on sunday morning before we got there, but i had missed him….and i intended to stop in and say hello and thank you before we left.

somehow i knew when i made the plan to go over there that my cousin would stop in, and sure enough – we were there for not more than five or ten minutes before he came in. we picked up some instruments and began playing, and we played there in the store for a good half hour or so…i started on dobro and went to mandolin after a while, deciding wisely not to try to sing anything this early in the morning – but i’d never played with david before. when i lived there, he didn’t play anything. now, he was a working musician, and this was the first time i’d ever gotten to play with him. it was great.

the store itself still looks exactly as it did twenty years ago…it’s truly a time capsule. there are very few instruments in the store that could be considered telltale signs that the hair-band era, or grunge, or hip-hop for that matter, ever existed. the rotating sheet music display contained titles like “biggest part of me” by ambrosia and “i just wanna stop” by gino vanelli…songs that i used to play on the radio as a teenage disk jockey at the radio station in town. i think that’s one of the reasons that i insist on going there every time i go back to savannah – yeah, maybe the mug and cone is gone, and maybe the water tower has razor wire around it now, and maybe both the friends i knew in town and my family itself were dwindling in numbers….but the one thing i seem to always be able to count on is being able to walk into that store and feel like i’m back home again. it’s the one thing that thomas wolfe was wrong about. he never counted on maxines’ house of music.

the time flew by, and we said our goodbyes after playing for over an hour, and we went back to pennys’ house to go through what little my mother had left in this world…a dozen or so cardboard boxes in a shed, along with a few items of jewelry and some odds and ends in the closet of the room she slept in. inside the box in the closet were pictures of jayda and dylan, including a large double-image picture of jayda that i thought i’d lost. i must have given it to her and forgotten about it. it was inside a familiar-looking black folder that contained, intact, one of my press kits from my full-timer days. she’d kept it all these years.

penny gave each of the kids several things – a pocket knife for dylan, a watch for jayda and a few odd items of jewelry…and penny asked me if we had room in the back of the van for the sewing machine.

“the sewing machine” belonged to my great-grandmother burns – my grandmother annie laura’s mother. she and her husband tom were killed in 1970 when their car stalled on the railroad tracks in the path on an oncoming train. i can still remember the night that the news reached my grandfathers’ house – it was my first real experience with death, and i had no idea why everyone was so upset. i was five, after all.

but the sewing machine – and old singer, pedal driven sewing machine – was passed down to my grandmother, who gave it to my mother, who had now given it to my daughter. it was now in the hands of the fifth generation of family (that i’m personally aware of, anyway).

i had mixed feelings about this – i was obviously happy that it was my daughter who’d be carrying it to the next generation, but i actually felt badly about it leaving the state. it seemed like it belonged there, not here…and i felt like i was doing something wrong by taking it. there was also no small amount of prodigal guilt, as well.

but it was what my mother wanted, and i wasn’t going to intervene or argue the point…especially since it didn’t really concern me – it was between my mother and my daughter….this, of course, puts the impetus on one of them to have a daughter…otherwise, i’m not sure where it’d go after that. to one of penny’s grandchildren, if they have a female.

i couldn’t wait to get in the van and start home. i had had quite enough of this whole confronting-the-reality-of-my-mothers’-death trip, and i was ready to get back in the van, head back to my official state of residence, and figure out how it was that i’d deal with this. we said our goodbyes and, with the van packed and ready to travel, headed back out highway 64 towards 13 north and interstate 40.

i didn’t talk much the first part of the trip…we did make one last stop at sonic in waynesboro before we left…i made sonic addicts out of my entire family the first time i took them all down, and they don’t miss an opportunity to go. we went at least once every day were were down there, and this would be our last opportunity.

a few hours later, we were in nashville, headed towards charlie degenharts’ place…we were entertaining thoughts of staying the night, but i really just wanted to go home. i knew the kids missed their mom, and their grandmother had landed herself in the hospital with chest pains while we were away, and they were both aware and worried about her. so we all went to a nashville sounds baseball game together and we left for the highway right afterward. i just wanted to be behind the wheel, in the dark, with the people around me sleeping as we drove through the night.

we stopped, at about 3:30am, at a rest stop just over the state line. i joined everyone else in sleep, and didn’t wake up until a little after 6am, when i tried to start the van, to no avail. apparently, we’d lost the battery during the three hours or so we’d been there, and i had to call AAA to come jump-start us. when the driver arrived to get us back on the road, he said to us that “he was surprised that we decided to sleep there, after what happened and all”…and i had to get the story out of him. turned out that a drifter had taken a family from their car there and drove them up the highway and killed all four of them a few months back.

weren’t much chance o’ fallin’ asleep after hearing about that…

we stopped at cracker barrell for breakfast a few hours later…everyone seemed incredibly cranky at that point, and it appeared to have no end in sight, but later that afternoon everyone seemed to relax a bit. jayda sat up front with me for a while, until we stopped for bathroom breaks some time later and dylan and i took over the backseat for a few rounds of galaga. jayda and wendy struck up what sounded like a healthy conversation up front that lasted for some time…i heard snippets of what was said, but the headphones worked wonders for protecting their privacy. i fell asleep some time later, and woke up as we were crossing into pennsylvania from maryland. we cruised on, unfettered, until we’d passed through harrisburg and a “check transmission” light came on the dashboard…we pulled into a rest stop and shut the van off and turned it back on again, and the error cleared…but wendy had to go to the bathroom, so i had her pull the hood and i got out to check the fluid level. when i stepped around the front of the van, there was red fluid oozing out onto the asphalt beneath the front of the van.


we evacuated everyone from the van and called the service department at the dealership, and they said they’d have it looked at as soon as it got there…so i set about calling around to see who i could convince to come pick us and our belongings up from an hour and a half from home. it was before 5pm when we stopped, and by the time we arrived home, it was after 10pm. i was extremely happy that chris hadn’t yet reclaimed her honda that she’d so graciously loaned me when the vanagon flatlined. it would be put back into service now.

that brings us pretty much up to date…a few days have passed since we arrived back home…indeed, a few days have passed since i started writing – when i began this entry, the red sox were wrapping up a sweep of the cincinnati reds. in the time since, they’ve completed a three game series with pittsburgh, and begin playing the indians tonight..and that’s with a day off thrown in there somewhere.

the latest on the van is that i’m expected to pay $2700 to replace the transmission in a vehicle that i’d owned exactly thirty days on the day it died. i haven’t made the first payment yet, and on the day that i found out they expected me to shell out all this money, i withdrew all the funds from my checking account (since they hadn’t seen fit to put the down payment check through yet). so at this point, i’m in the red to the tune of zero dollars and zero cents, save for the money i paid for the insurance differentials…if they’re gonna be that way about it, i’m resigned at this point to letting them keep it. after reading some of what i’ve read in the time since about ford’s perpetual transmission problems, i’m pretty certain that i don’t even want it back.

the funny thing about the van is that i knew, somehow…i knew that something was going to screw this up. i didn’t know what it’d be, but i was certain that somehow this whole thing would go south before i’d had it long enough to establish a sense of ownership, and of course, i was right.

this whole “give us $2700” thing developed on friday…i haven’t had much opportunity to deal with the repercussions yet, save for making a couple of phone calls and doing some internet research, but it should do nicely as a distraction from whatever grieving trip i might’ve concocted for myself otherwise, i suppose…

anyway….at this point, i feel as though i’m talking to myself, because i know that even i couldn’t read this whole thing at one sitting…it’s 8pm on monday night, the sox are supposed to be playing on ESPN2 tonight, and i’m still at work, running off DVD’s and doing the end of day reports.

i think it might be time to go home soon.

nancy ruth stricklin, 1943-2005

now playing: vince gill, “go rest high on that mountain”

nancy ruth stricklin, born the third of five children of pete and annie laura stricklin on february 26th, 1943, passed away just before midnight the evening of june 8th, 2005. i’d like to say she died peacefully, but what i’ve been told thus far indicate that this is probably not the case. i’m told that she spent her last weeks on this earth in a perpetual care center, and that on wednesday night, her lungs finally lost their ability to function, and her tired old heart just gave out.

my mother smoked all my life and most of her own – and over the course of sixty-two years, it took its toll. a couple of years ago when it occured to me that i might be running out of time for my children to know my family and where i came from, i took the kids to tennessee to see it all – where i lived as a kid, my family, the whole nine yards – and she looked gaunt and sickly then. her perpetual companion was the oxygen tank and accompanying hose that kept some semblance of respiration going.

those few summer days we were there, nothing was as it once was – neither she, nor the town where i grew up.

my grandfather, pete, was a farmer for as long as i can remember. he wore the same clothes all the time – grey long-sleeved work shirts and blue denim overalls and grey caps. honestly, i don’t have any pictures of him wearing anything else. he drove a green chevrolet pickup truck back in the day when kids could ride without incident in the back of a pickup truck down highway 69 from walnut grove up to savannah, the county seat of hardin county. during the summers, he used to plow incessantly – my grandmother would send me with a mason jar that she’d filled with water and frozen that morning out to him at lunchtime…by the time i had walked out to where he was in the field, it’d be melted at least two-thirds of the way to liquid form…he’d drink it down and drive back to the house with me on the fender of the tractor.

he died in savannah general hospital of colon cancer when i was sixteen. what i remember most about his death are coming to the hospital just as he’d slipped away and seeing my cousin lisa come out of his room with her arms around the pillow he died on, crying into it…and going to the funeral and seeing old men that i’d grown up around crying like children.

he was married to annie laura burns, a woman who made the best vegetable soup in the history of civilization, and had more culinary uses for animal fat that anyone i’ve encountered in my years on this planet. she was the prototypical small town matriarch…for instance, she’d come shooting out of whatever room in the house she was in to investigate whose car tires were spitting gravel up the road past her house. she knew the movements of just about everyone within a pretty impressive radius of her house, and was an authority on who went where and when.

my mother was, as i mentioned, the third of five children born to pete and annie laura. as of yesterday, all are gone but the oldest, betty.

the youngest, linda, died of kidney failure. the only boy, jimmy, drove his pickup truck into a tree on highway 69 in 1984 – he was the first to go. virginia (ginny kate, as we all knew her) passed away just last year. my mother joins them now, leaving betty as the sole surviving child of annie laura stricklin – who may very well outlive every one of her children.

betty knows a thing or two about outliving children – she’s outlived four of her own. her first child, becky, was stillborn. she then lost a son, timmy, to suicide – he hung himself in a barn on the property where he lived, despondent over a broken relationship. her youngest, tracy, had his throat slit as he got into his car…and her oldest, donnie, just died a few months ago. i haven’t heard what took him yet, but he’d been in a wheelchair for years after an accident. without going into too much detail about donnie, i’ll simply say that if it’s possible for karma to be fatal, then that could certainly be listed as his cause of death.

yet, betty has weathered all that’s happened to her, and now she’s the last one standing.

i don’t know if it’s really possible, with nothing but words, to convey what it was like to grow up when and where i did. outside the world where i lived, wars were being fought – both with a largely invisible enemy and amongst ourselves….i knew nothing of the times i lived in. life, for us, was centered around my grandfather and grandmothers’ house, where all the cousins would congregate and help work in the garden, with firewood, with picking wild blackberries (which i hate to this day), and helping out however we could. we played in the pasture, in the woods by the creek, on the “sawdust pile” (the place where they dumped the excess sawdust from my grandfathers’ sawmill years before…it had settled and turned a reddish color, and it was our mega-sandbox when we were kids), or (when we could get away with it) in any one of a dozen or so abandoned cars that sat about 150 yards behind the house, on the other side of the dirt road that led to the barn and then the creek. on the other side of that road was a small open field, bordered by the road on one side, three apple trees on the other, and a fence along the back. that field was the site of literally hundreds of baseball games amongst the cousins over the years – games that would go literally all day sometimes, with insanely high scores…think basketball scores.

some of my older cousins cut down trees in the woods when i was a kid and built a one-room log cabin with a tin roof that stood there for years…it was still there when i left town, although it’s not anymore. we used to spend days down there as well, although fishing was pretty much nonexistent…we’d lay on the creek banks and watch the tiny little uncatchable bastards come and go as they pleased.

as i got older, i became less and less enthralled with the idea of being outside…i was pretty talented with a pencil, and i loved to draw. often, i’d stay inside and draw for an entire day while the rest of my cousins played outside…and i think that (although i remember feeling it before then) this is probably when i really started withdrawing from my family and giving space to the feeling that i had always had that i didn’t belong there. i never felt much of a connection with most of my family, and i don’t think they really knew how to take me, what to do with me.

i continued to grow up – i discovered rock and roll thanks to a christmas gift from my mother, an am/fm clock radio. once i locked into the music that i heard on WQLT and WKIR, i never looked back. it was my consumption – i even made lists of the songs that i heard, because i was afraid that i’d forget who sang what. i don’t think i fully understood the capacity my brain seems to have for what some would consider useless information, so i wrote them down to make sure i remembered. and i just kept writing them down…almost 3000 songs’ worth. i don’t remember when i stopped, but i stopped at some point…but i still have the list to this day.

once i discovered music, it changed everything else. it changed the pictures i drew – i went from cars and superheroes to drawing musical instruments and stage setups, especially drums. it consumed my thoughts, and i became obsessed with who sang what, what album it was on, who played on it…i built a makeshift drumset out of buckets and strips of wood and such, and i used to make more than enough noise to earn an ass-whoopin’ from most parents, but aside from the occasional “can you take a break for a while”, i never got any grief over it.

once i was old enough to do so, i knew that eventually i’d end up somewhere else. i just knew it…as soon as i was old enough to formulate the thought in my head, i knew that i didn’t belong there, and the older i got, the stronger that feeling became. i never harbored any ill will towards my family, and i never hated them for not being what i felt i deserved, or any one of the thousands of reasons that these rifts open between members of families in other circumstances. i wasn’t bitter towards my family – i’m still not bitter towards my family. i just don’t feel particularly connected to them…and that’s a constant source of sadness for me, but i don’t blame them for that – i take that on myself.

with what she had, my mother did the absolute best she could…she had injured a hip in a basketball accident in high school, and walked with a limp her whole life. even when she’d come down to the field and play baseball with us, she’d always have one of the other kids run for her if she got a hit…and aside from what she was able to do around the house, she was never able to work at a standard job – either because of the physical demands or because of our living situation. we didn’t own a car when i was a kid – lived largely in houses with little or no indoor plumbing, bathrooms that involved a walk out into the backyard, and so forth…but we got by, largely on my mothers’ resolve.

she’d get out of bed in the morning in the winter and throw the sheets back to the inside of a freezing cold house and go start a fire in the stove before we got out of bed. i remember getting dressed for school and putting on whatever clothes she’d lay out for me without a complaint and having to listen to my brother cry like a little bitch about whatever it was she wanted him to wear – and i knew she was doing the best she could, but it seemed as though that was lost on my siblings for a time, when they were younger.

as i got older and more discontent, and as a result more separated from my family, i kinda went my own way…and my mom gave me that freedom. she kept tabs on me, but i went largely wherever i wanted – because she knew i wasn’t out with a truckload of beer nazis, racing out on highway 64. i was just as rowdy and rebellious as most kids my age, but i manifested it in different ways. when i’d tell her about some of the things i’d done with my friends, she’d get cross with me, to be certain…but i think she wrote most of it off to my age….

she put up with noises coming from my room that would’ve driven some parents completely crazy. i’m still not sure how it is that she took the drumming thing in stride the way she did.

…and i think that somehow, even though she never, ever showed it – that she related to my restlessness somehow. i think that she understood me in a way that she never really let on. i don’t think she’d have let me get away with as much as she did otherwise. i think it’s possible that she might’ve lived precariously through me quite a bit back in those days.

a couple of summers ago, i took the kids to tennessee. i felt that they were old enough to ‘get it’ – to understand where i come from a bit better than they might’ve when they were younger, and that perhaps they’d be interested in their heritage somewhat. dylan got it, i think. jayda wasn’t feeling her best when we were there, and it seemed apparent, but i also think that she might’ve been a lot less interested in the ramblings of her old man than perhaps dylan was. but we got to spend time with my family, and they got a chance to put faces with the names and the stories.

it was painfully hot the afternoon we left, and we pulled away from the yard in my old blue vanagon with the huge sunroof, on our way to the alabama line (so that the kids could say that they’d been in the state).

i knew, even then. i knew that would be the last time that i saw her alive. i didn’t know for sure how long she had, but i knew that was probably it. and i think she did, too. she gave me pictures and stuff that she wanted me to have to bring back with me that i don’t think she’d have been so eager to part with if she felt that she was going to be much longer for this world.

for the past couple of weeks, she’d been in a 24 hour facility for perpetual care. i didn’t know anything about this, and my sisters’ explanation was that she didn’t think she was in grave danger, because her pneumonia had actually been subsiding, and she seemed to be improving.

but on wednesday, she found herself unable to breathe at all – drawing breath in short, spastic bursts, and the doctors considered airlifting her to jackson…but couldn’t make a decision because she was flirting with stability. but as the night wore on, it became apparent that she was going to have to go to jackson.

my brother, who lives in jackson, was on the phone, trying to figure out if he needed to come back to savannah, or stay in jackson and wait for her to arrive…he finally left for savannah before they decided to airlift her.

he never got to see her before she passed.

penny and my mothers’ only remaining sister were with her before they put her on the airlift, and she was aware that they were there. she couldn’t speak to them, but she could answer “yes” or “no” questions…so they knew that she could hear them.

my sister said goodbye to her, and she passed before she made it to jackson.

she can breathe just like the rest of us now.


the pot calls the kettle black


did anyone catch any of the post “deep throat” news shows? i don’t watch nearly as much news now as i did before the election, because frankly, i’m too busy living in total denial. but i do still take in an occasional daily show – and i caught a rerun last night of the jon stewart deep throat segment, in which he rebroadcast excerpts from such moral and ethical giants as g. gordon liddy and bob novak espousing their views that deep throat was a criminal and a moral embarrasment to the country, so on and so forth…
it was a real what the fuck moment, for me. i mean, here you’ve got one of the fucking watergate burglars on national tv talking about how this deep throat character was an abomination? and then you’ve got bob novak, the man who leaked the identity of a CIA operative in his newspaper column, discussing what an embarrasment it is that this government official leaked information to the fucking press? gee, ‘scuse me, bob, but i don’t see you being quite so forthcoming in naming your sources within the government – if this is such an ethical lapse, wouldn’t you have maybe mentioned this by now?

i was literally speechless. i couldn’t believe what i was seeing.

the most telling part of the segment, though, was probably the crosstalk between stewart and stephen colbert, when jon asked, “do you think that something like watergate could happen now?”

“no,” colbert explained – “the credibility just isn’t there now, jon.”

“you mean the media doesn’t have the credibility now that they did?”

“no, jon…the truth doesn’t have the credibility it once did.”

different drummers

now playing: aunt pat, “satellite”

a lot of the groundwork for the new blake allen site has been done…stop by when you can.

i was looking it over last night, and i thought about chuck treece – the drummer who blake brought in to play on the record, and i decided that i was gonna try to hunt him down today to tell him what a great job he did on the record.

in my travels, i came across this article, written by margit detweiler in the philadelphia city paper:


Chuck Treece

In his small South Philly apartment, musician Chuck Treece spoons baby food to his 17-month-old son Isaac while he fields phone calls. Treece is waiting to hear about a possible drumming gig on a song with Jon Bon Jovi.

“They’ve already tried out Kenny Aronoff and Andy Kravitz,” says Treece. “They’re trying to get the best possible sound.”

Aronoff (most famous for playing with John Mellencamp) and Kravitz (who has played with The Goats, Cypress Hill and Urge Overkill) are some of the best session drummers around, and Treece is right up there with them.

You haven’t heard him?

Sure you have.

Philadelphia’s Chuck Treece is everything from the bassline in Billy Joel’s “River of Dreams,” the drums on the theme song for the TV show Clueless and the backing vocals on Bad Brains’ album, Quickness. He’s toured with Urge Overkill playing bass, G. Love and The Goats playing drums and played guitar on the road with the Disposable Heroes of Hiphopracy.

He put out a solo album in 1990, Dreamin’, on Caroline Records and has founded several bands over the years: the ’80s skatecore band McRad, the ’90s melodically groovy Black Beans, and the recent hardcore hip-hop trio Supergrub. His current side projects include playing live with classic rockers Aunt Pat and singer-songwriter Nancy Falkow. He’s gigged with many other Philly bands too numerous to mention.

He was also a professional skateboarder at one time.

Does that cover it?

“Just about,” says Treece. Like many talented session musicians, the number of acts he’s played with is mind-boggling. He can barely remember himself.

Among several posters of his main inspiration, Jimi Hendrix, Treece’s pad is plastered with memorabilia reflecting his work: posters from tours he’s played on and a multi-platinum plaque for his work on “River of Dreams.” Some of his equipment is in a storage space because he never knows what his next project will be or where it will take him.

“It might seem like I’m whoring myself,” laughs the 32-year-old Treece, bright-eyed in wire glasses with one tiny dread hanging in his face. “But I bring my skills to the table every time… If I play for someone they’re getting something that I’d give myself.”

Stylistically, too, Treece is all over the map. He pulls out a fan-club-only Pearl Jam 7-inch. He plays drums on the song “Swallow My Pride,” – he got that gig through his friend Stone Gossard. He can do metal, rock, reggae, hip-hop – you name it.

He points out that more Philly musicians should be well-rounded – perhaps that’s one of the main problems with the Philadelphia music scene.

“In Seattle, musicians can play just about anything from jazz to rock to country. Here rock musicians can only play rock music. People in Philly are more mainstream in their approach.”

Treece is part of a community of dozens of session musicians in Philly who make their living supporting other bands. It’s Treece’s level of professionalism and versatility that keeps artists, bands and producers calling.

“He’s a first-rate, first-level musician,” says Miguel Gonzalez, who played percussion with Treece in the reggae-influenced Timi and the Dub Warriors, among other projects. “He’s fabulous as a drummer, he can play the sort of Billy Cobham fuselage of notes or he can lay back and play the tightest groove possible.”

“Chuck is one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met,” adds Andy Kravitz, who, along with being a session drummer in his own right, runs The Amazing Barn recording studio. “If I’m producing a project and it needs a bass player, I’ll generally call Chuck.”

Treece grew up in Newark, Delaware, but he’d come up and hang out in West Philly where his mom lived. He moved to Philly in 1982 because, he says, “I was sick of high-school and I knew I wasn’t going to college. I knew I wanted to do music and skate.” It was through skating that he met Zeke Zagar, with whom he started the skate punk band McRad (named by Husker Du’s bass player Greg Norton) in 1982. At the end of 1984, Treece moved out to San Francisco. Since then he has bounced back and forth between Philly and the West Coast and in and out of various bands.

His 1990 punk-pop-styled solo album on Caroline records, though well-received, didn’t sell as well as expected. It made him realize he should beef up his chops and work as a session player.

“I thought, if I can’t get my own gig together,” says Treece, “it’s better for me to learn the trade.”

Getting session work can be tough at times; Treece has also had to do construction work to pay the bills.

Even when you do get session work, Treece adds, you’re not always sure the album, band or tour will be worth the effort.

“Basically it’s like being in a desert waiting to come across water,” says Treece. “But when you come across water, you don’t always know how safe it is.”

Around 1990, Treece met Jay Davidson, a sax player who hooked him up with the Butcher Brothers, Joe and Phil Nicolo, at Studio 4 (Ruffhouse Records’ recording studio). Through Ruffhouse he’s worked on remixes of work by everyone from Amy Grant to Sting to Ben Arnold to The Goats.

He also became part of the “A Team” – Andy Kravitz’s crew of session players which includes Treece, sax player Davidson, Phil Nolan, Mike Tyler, Randy Cannor and Ian Cross.

“Chuck has gone through the whole procedure,” says Gonzalez. “He’s been in the band that got a contract and lost it; he’s gone solo; he’s become a session musician. The difference between him and people like Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman of the Hooters is that Chuck did all that before he hit his late 20s.”

In 1993 Treece toured with Urge Overkill and Bad Brains back to back. Switching gears for the different styles of these two alternative acts wasn’t easy.

“With Urge there was a lot of hype – the band was hot, already in the buzz bin… People from labels were there, everyone shaking your hand. At that point they were trying to break out of the alternative mold. We were touring around the one song, ‘Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon,’ that wasn’t even their song – it was a cover. We never even played that live… That was the end of their beginning in my opinion – their better songs were on older albums.

“Playing with Urge wasn’t the stressed-out, hard, fast music of Bad Brains – and their message was different. [Urge] wasn’t the peace and love of Bad Brains. And Bad Brains never centered around a single at all. With Urge it was more of a rock thing, you could relax more and work your position on the stage. With Bad Brains you took your position and held it. You can’t say, oh I used to play in Urge Overkill – all of that went out the door. You had to prove yourself again. But if you can’t pull it of, you can’t pull it off.”

Treece’s latest projects include playing bass and drums on the new Dahveed record: a self-driven project which he calls, “poppy-seeded hardcore;” producing work for artists Nisa and Q and a collection he calls “Kitchen Instrumentals” – which includes music he’s recorded from ’96-’97 on his four-track recorder in his kitchen.

But what about skateboarding?

“I still session with friends but don’t compete,” he says. “The kids are pretty sick today, I don’t wanna be Evil Knievel. I need to have all my body parts working.”

Margit Detweiler


chuck also played bass on brand new distance on our mutual angels.


hollywood squares


now playing: jackson browne, “before the deluge”

most folks who know me well know my stance on forwarded emails…but this one slipped through the security system today, and it killed me. i remember most of these folks, i’m afraid.


If you remember the original Hollywood Squares, its host Peter Marshall, and its comics, this may bring a tear to your eyes. These great questions and answers are from the days when “Hollywood Squares” game show responses were spontaneous and clever, not scripted and (often) dull as they are now.

Unfortunately, Peter Marshall (who asked these questions), as well as most of the respondents, are no longer with us.

Q: Do female frogs croak?

Paul Lynde: If you hold their little heads under water long enough.

Q: If you’re going to make a parachute jump, at least how high should you be?

Charley Weaver: Three days of steady drinking should do it.

Q: True or False, a pea can last as long as 5,000 years.

George Gobel: Boy, it sure seems that way sometimes.

Q: You’ve been having trouble going to sleep. Are you probably a man or a woman?

Don Knotts: That’s what’s been keeping me awake!

Q: According to Cosmo magazine, if you meet a stranger at a party and you think that he is attractive, is it okay to come out and ask him if he’s married?

Rose Marie: No, wait until morning.

Q: What are “Do It,” “I Can Help,” and “I Can’t Get Enough”?

George Gobel: I don’t know, but it’s coming from the next apartment.

Q: As you grow older, do you tend to gesture more or less with your hand while talking?

Rose Marie: You ask me one more growing old question, Peter, and I’ll give you a gesture you’ll never forget!

Q: Paul, why do Hell’s Angels wear leather?

Paul Lynde: Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.

Q: Charley, you’ve just decided to grow strawberries. Are you going to get any during the first year?

Charley Weaver: Of course not, I’m too busy growing strawberries.

Q: When you pat a dog on its head he will wag his tail. What will a goose do?

Paul Lynde: Make him bark?

Q: According to Ann Landers, is there anything wrong with getting into the habit of kissing a lot of people?

Charley Weaver: It got me out of the army.

Q: While visiting China, your tour guide starts shouting “Poo! Poo! Poo!” What does this mean?

George Gobel: Cattle crossing.

Q: When a couple have a baby, who is responsible for its sex?

Charley Weaver: I’ll lend him the car, the rest is up to him.

Q: In bowling, what’s a perfect score?

Rose Marie: Ralph, the pin boy.

Q: Jackie Gleason recently revealed that he firmly believes in them and has actually seen them on at least two occasions. What are they?

Charley Weaver: His feet!

what’s your plan?


now playing: carly simon, “the stuff that dreams are made of”

sometimes, life will forgive you – even reward you – for veering from the course you had originally set for yourself.

todd came over to my office on friday afternoon, and mentioned that he was playing atporters pub in easton that night, but that it was just going to be him and randy – that jesse had something else that he had to deal with…well, this turned into an invitation to take jesse’s place for friday night – not on drums, but on guitar. so i figured, knowing the place, that i’d go ahead and do it up right – bring all the gadgets and toys, and make an effort to do the absolute best job i could, under the circumstances. i brought a pair of lap steels, both of my dobros (square and round neck ones), mandolin, and one each acoustic and electric guitars. i was loaded for bear, ready to kick some serious ass.

well, this was not to be…not at first, anyway.

first of all, the bug in the whole dobro situation followed me from charlies’ sunday night gig to the youngers’ friday night gig. it just wasn’t cutting it. no presence, no real definition, no volume – it just wasn’t happening. i tried the metal-bodied one a few songs later, and it was cutting through nicely – until it decided to stop working altogether.

so that sealed the fate for the dobros.

i also found that, between my 30’s gibson lap steel and my early forties rickenbacker lap steel, there was a world of difference in the volumes between the two guitars – the rickenbacker was so much louder, in fact, that i was uncomfortable using it…so it, too, sat for the rest of the night.

in fact, all i ended up being able to use comfortably were by gibson lap steel, my acoustic, and my gretsch electric that i brought along.

so much for pullin’ out all the stops.

obviously, i need to set my stuff up at some point and arrive at the best means by which to use it all the way i want to – because there’s no reason that i should’ve had the problems that i had on friday night. my setup is more streamlined now than it’s ever been…so it has to come down to individual instruments. i need to do some serious maintenance on the stuff that i have, to get it into gigworthy condition. both of the dobros are brand new, with brand new pickups in them. the national-style instrument had never even been gigged before – WTF?

pretty frustrating first set, to say the least.

things settled in, though, as the night wore on, and everything loosened up considerably – we ended up pulling some songs waaaay out of our collective asses as the night wore on, and it was fun. i think todd and randy enjoyed the fact that i was willing to drive them (after so many times being the passenger on these little group outings) as well. wendy came along and manned the merch table, too…and we got quite a kick out of trying to figure out where the hell the mohnton exit off the new 222 corridor dumped us – if todd hadn’t woke when he did, we’d probably still be driving.

“she sells sanctuary” was on the CD player when we came to…and i heard a voice from the back of the van reminiscent of jack black in high fidelity:

“is this the fucking cult?”

i laughed my ass off over that one…it was a “you had to be there” moment, but for the remainder of the short trip, todd kept blurting out, “fiii-re woooo-man!” every few minutes or so….

we had picked wendy up at her house, so she was next to be dropped off, after todd, randy and the instruments had been safely unloaded (in the rain) at todd’s house…and i ended up staying there for the night – with my battery-depleted cellphone sitting inaudible in the van. it was 4:25 am when we arrived back at her house, and we both slept well into the afternoon the next day.

i was supposed to get up and go to keiths’ first thing saturday morning, but my cellphone has lulled my once photographic phone number memory into total atrophy, and i didn’t know his number to call him when i did finally wake up and let him know what was going on…my phone was dead, and by that time – six hours later – it almost seemed pointless to call anyway, as he’s normally moved on by then.

seriously, i used to be able to remember phone numbers for years. some of them, i still do. david phillips’ home phone number, back home in tennessee? my old music store owner/mentor? that’d be 925-3610. my ex-fiance’s old apartment on washington street in downingtown? 269-5644. it’s an uncanny skill that i once actually posessed.

now, in the age of cellphones and programmable numbers and the like, i’ve let it slip away from me. i can’t remember shit anymore….’cept for the ones that are already stored in there.

anyway, wendy and i spent the entire weekend together – we went out to a new bar in town on saturday night after bumping into james jewell in line at the movie theatre – he was heading over with his friends, did we want to go too? sure. so we went and grabbed something to eat and headed over – and it was actually quite nice, for the most part. i don’t know that i’ve ever seen that many people at a berks county establishment that wasn’t the silo, though…and after hanging out for maybe 45 minutes or so, i was ready to leave.

i don’t know what it is about places like this – they remind me of a number of truths that i don’t really like to be forced to consider. among them:

one. people have no desire to be aware of their surroundings.

they will look you in the eye as they’re walking into you and knocking loose whatever beverage you’re holding in that tentative grip, and then punctuate it with a beavis-esque chuckle and a “sorry, man” as they keep right on going. while you’d love nothing more than to stomp their sandalled, exposed, hairy little hobbit feet in gratitude, you usually just end up mumbling obscenities on the way to the bar to replace the drink your giggly friend spilled at your own expense.

two. conversation is optional.

that’s right. any attempts to talk to someone will be met with indifference or stares of dumbfounded confusion.
if the band is playing, you will be relegated to vain attempts to lip-read, usually embarrasingly ineffectual…

(him) “what? did you say you wanted to blow me?”
(her) “know you…i said, ‘do i know you’ – not ‘can i blow you’…asshole!
(him) “oh. sorry. later.

extreme example? you bet. but not by much.

three. people, as a rule, are stupid.

you want proof? join a band and find out the hard way. grin with feigned tolerance while you’re trying to carry your gear out past all the last-call optimists chatting up the remaining women in the place while standing right between the band and the only exit. it’s an unspoken rule – the minute the band stops playing, all the inebriated patrons of said establishment will coagulate like hair in a drainpipe right between the band and the door.

it’s a fact. swear to god. and it never fails. it’s as if they’re following some unspoken, unexplainable command that’s hard-coded into their DNA, like salmon swimming upstream to spawn or something…they form a barrier, like riot cops, between the band and their ultimate escape from the bar. no one can offer a rational explanation for it, but it happens nonetheless.

in the twenty years that i’ve been legally allowed in these places, not much has changed. you still have the beautiful girls fawning over guys who, on an intellectual level, make dauber from coach look like MENSA material, but just happen to have the right haircut or smile a certain way….you still have the group of guys who (for what will become apparently obvious reasons, over time) go out together every weekend, sharing their high fives, their all-too-loud private jokes, their “fuck YOU…no, fuck YOU…no, fuck YOOOOOUUUU” chant…they sit around at the bar, within arms’ reach of each other, admiring the women but failing to speak to them. then there’s the female equivalent of that group – the girls who go out together on the weekends, dressing to the nines and dancing with each other and no one else all night long…i’ve come to believe, over time, that they exist to balance out the previous group – to “give ’em somethin’ to think about”, so to speak. there are the working-class guys who come just to have a beer or two and watch the game on TV, and the like – but you really only see them in certain places – these other groups of folks are found predominantly at the “college bars”…the places where people go to put on a person that they aren’t and try them on for size and see how they fit.

the place where we were on saturday night is walking the line between two different places…out on the patio, it was all legs and cleavage and biceps and big smiles and putting your best (fake) foot forward and doing the lab work in Pretensiousness 101, gettin’ ready for the final. you walk inside, though, and you see a smattering of working class folk, sitting around the bar and at the occasional table…the music is on a little louder than maybe it should be, but it’s not completely unbearable…it actually has moments of comfort, in between the influx and exodus of those less experienced in the ways of places such as these.

wendy and i didn’t last an hour – we walked across the street and got back in the van and rolled the windows down for the ride home, to let some air blow some of the stench loose from our clothes. i felt immediately better once we pulled out of the parking lot and the air started blowing through the van as we picked up some speed.

sunday was spent buying groceries, reading in lawn chairs in the back yard with blades of grass between our toes, eating corn on the cob from KFC and going to the late, late showing of Episode Three. i took a picture of the van, sole vehicle in the sprawling parking lot, with my cellphone…as i knew i’d never see that sight again…or at least not for a long, long time.

sometimes, it’s good to have a plan – if you have something specific you want to accomplish.

other times, not having a plan at all is a great way to spend a weekend.

spirit of radio


now playing: joe walsh, “turn to stone”

i’ve had the absolute worst winamp playlist ever on for two days now, and i finally killed it and loaded something else. it was adventurous, i’ll give it that – but it also pointed out to me how many incomplete and corrupted files i have in my mp3 database…there must’ve been twenty or so in a list that only contained eighty or so songs.

musicus interruptus bad.

i’m finding lately that i’m having a lot of conversations similar in spirit to conversations i had with people about computers in the mid nineties…except the subject of the conversations haven’t been about PC’s, but about XM satellite radio.

in 1994 and 1995, i remember that during a very short period of time, i went from knowing three, maybe four people who had computers in their homes and were avid computer users where i worked….to a point when – all of a sudden – that number doubled, then tripled, then soared.

a few months ago, the only person i knew who had any kind of satellite radio was my buddy jon rosenbaum. now, not much later, i’m finding that it’s cropping up more and more in conversations. the other night, i went out for a few beers with the guys from shame after one of their shows, and mike noecker tells me he has XM now, and that he’s a big fan of The Loft channel, he heard “kind woman” the other day and it made his afternoon, so on and so forth…then charlie degenhart tells me that he was listening to his Sirius satellite radio all the way home from nashville last night….it’s definitely in the seed stages of an epidemic.

so, then…what’s the deal?

are we about to enter the dawn of pay-radio service? are there enough people who are willing to broaden their horizons out here to make XM and/or Sirius household names like HBO and Cinemax? is music important enough to the huddled masses in the year 2005 for them to pay for something like this, or would they rather sit in front of their television?

right now, for instance, i have comcast digital cable. in addition to having the whole “on demand” feature, which has tons of music features (including guitar lessons, even), they also have a solid double handful of digital music channels available, in a shitload of flavors…and the fact is, i never really take advantage of it.

so i tend to wonder – would things be different if i had XM radio?

well, here’s the one thing i think i’d certainly take advantage of – the car.

one of the reasons i’ve been thinking about this is that i’ve literally gone nuts burning compilation CD’s of late (now that i have a vehicle that has a CD player in it)…and i find myself lamenting the potential element of surprise, the way i always did to some extent with mix tapes. you know what’s on the tape, and you know what song is going to be next, and there’s nothing unpredictable about that. when i worked in radio, back in high school, i used to pride myself in digging up things that were within the format, but that i knew the other jocks weren’t playing. i’d go out and buy k-tel albums with old one-hit wonders on them that i knew weren’t in the stations’ library and play them…just to be somewhat different from everyone else. sure, nice to be with you by gallery fits the format, but no one else played it…i did because i had a copy of it.

i still have a ton of vinyl, and i’ll never get rid of it…and that’s compounded by quite a bit of recorded music in other formats. but i miss being able to turn on the radio and hear something that i didn’t specifically pick out and stick on a compilation of some sort. but then again, the element of surprise has been missing from radio for a long, long time.

last night, dylan made the remark that he’d like to own his own radio station and be able to play whatever he wanted to – and jayda’s commentary on the subject was that it’d be “boring”.

i guess if i needed any further indication that she and i will never see eye to eye musically, i got it.

i told dylan, though, that when i did it, being bored never crossed my mind – besides doing the job (digging through records and picking out what i wanted to play, running the program log, pulling news feeds, etc.), the phone was almost always ringing…even during my late shifts. and when it wasn’t, there was always the music.

being bored or lonely never even crossed my mind. i had what i thought was the greatest job in the world. i was getting paid to listen to music! in my teenage mind, i could only think of two things that could possibly be cooler than that – getting paid to actually play music, or getting paid to have sex (keep in mind, i was sixteen at the time…and the idea of prostitution being a lowly, degrading occupation just doesn’t settle into the hormone-laden psyche of a sixteen year old boy…especially if said sixteen year old boy is a music geek).

i wasn’t even out of high school yet, and i had the third place job on my top five, all time job list.

but radio has changed a wee bit since then. jocks don’t really get to pick what they play anymore, and it’s all analyzed and formula’ed to death…to the extent that i just can’t listen to it anymore. you can hear in their voices that they’re not really enjoying what they do, no matter how “up” they try to be. they’re putting on a brave face for the world, while they do something that they really don’t enjoy, even though it’s something they’d love if they could do it on their terms.

which, now that i think of it, is probably the dictionary definition of prostitution…

and – being older now – the real definition of prostitution is much more apparent to me than during the day when “male prostitute” was still on my top five, all-time job list.

now, though, there’s a ray of hope shining into the void in the form of satellite radio…we have our high-profile endorsers of the concept (howard stern, among others), and we have people who genuinely know and love music who are playing music on one of a hundred channels that you’ll never….NEVER….hear on other stations.

it feels like it may once again be possible to go back to an era when i used to be able to turn on WKIR in jackson and hear pure prairie league going into robin trower…then maybe something from yes, and a little bit of little feat or perhaps some triumph or something else completely unrelated, from a format standpoint…but because they drew from every corner of the genre pool, it all seemed to fit.

in today’s environment, you’d never hear a station like the WKIR of old on commercial radio.

so, i guess if XM or Sirius is going to catch on, it had better be sooner than later…before the only generation who remembers what radio is truly capable of perishes from the earth and there’s no one left to care.