now playing: toto, “99”

children’s talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives.

maya angelou, i know why the caged bird sings

i’d like to introduce you to someone.

this is grace.   grace oughton.

grace is not yet two years old.

she was diagnosed this past christmas (!) with neuroblastoma, an agressive form of cancer for which she’s currently being treated at children’s hospital in boston.

i found out about grace when my friend angela here at work sent me an email from the company’s old travel agent, whos’ a friend of the family. the familys’ community has responded to this in a big way, and a circle of supporters have sprung from this simple email that asked for nothing but prayers a week or so ago.

there is now a website,, with news, pictures, a journal, and yes – a place to send donations.

this is a working family, good people, who just want their child back.

some of you will read right past this and go about whatever you were doing. and that’s fine, i suppose – we all cope with things like this differently.

i hope that at least one or two of you will take the time to visit the site and stop by the journal and get to know these people and get a look at what parents go through when they’re hit with something this devastating…and how truly resilient children are – even in the face of something as life-altering as cancer.

like father, like son – example #683-A

now playing: dan fogelberg, “the innocent age”

storybook endings never appear
they’re just someone’s way of leading us here
waiting for wisdom to open the cage
we forged in the fires of the innocent age

back at the start, it was easy to see
no one to hold to, nowhere to be
deep in the heartlands, a sad memory
calls to me….

i woke up this morning to the sound of the trashman at a little before 6 am from one of the craziest dreams i’ve had in ages…i mean, it made absolutely no sense..but yet it was both incredibly vivid and hazy at the same time, and i’ve been kinda jumbled up about it ever since…

i mean, it’s not something that revealed anything about myself to me or anything like that – it just cast a bunch of unlikely people together that didn’t make any sense…and it combined some details of some things that have been on my mind of late in a truly twisted way.

as the day has gone on, it’s subsided somewhat…it’s probably something that might require that i just get out a piece of paper and put it down in front of me and see what comes out (a la julia cameron).

then, once i sprang out of bed, i had to take dylan for bloodwork before i took him to school today…yet another seemingly routine activity, right? well, just like his father two decades before him, dylan had something of an “episode” when they went to take his blood…no sooner had she put the needle in did he mention that he felt lightheaded, and within seconds, his eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped backward in the chair. his face flushed to a grey color, and he started convulsing – not in an intense manner, he just went very stiff and jerked a couple of times, and then went limp again. the nurse who was taking his blood was looking all over the office for smelling salts and couldn’t find any – in the meantime, i kept slapping his cheeks to try to get him to come around. after about a minute or so, he focused his eyes on my face and responded to me when i said his name…it took a while for his color to come back, but by the time we left, he was back to normal. a little lethargic, but that’s become somewhat commonplace for him of late.

you never know, on a given day, which dylan is going to get out of bed…the usual, joke-cracking dylan, or the other one – the one that i got today. the can’t-be-bothered-to-lift-a-finger dylan…the one who makes getting dressed look like manual labor.

anyway, i wanted to take him for something for breakfast, but he declined…saying he didn’t feel like eating anything. so i took him to school and dropped him off and watched him walk into the building under his own power, and reluctantly drove on to work.

i know what you’re thinking – why would you take your child to school after something like that? i’m thinking the same thing…but the fact is, dylan is positioned to fall hopelessly behind again if he misses any more school than he has…and he’s not one to make gigantic efforts to catch up when something like that happens. so, from where i sit, i have to be the uber-bad guy and force the shit out of the school issue, just to make sure that it’s clear that i see school as a priority, even if he doesn’t.

and yeah, maybe that’s an extreme means by which to drive such a point home…taking him to school after something like that…but if you give him an inch, he’ll take a mile, and he’s far enough back as it is. by that time his color had come back and his breathing had become normal…and i wasn’t going to be the one to make that call. i’ll let the school nurse register that vote every time. i just feel better letting them register the opinion that he doesn’t belong in school, as opposed to continually keeping him out.

does that make any sense? i dunno.

there’s apparently a name for this phenomena – the whole passing-out-after-having-blood-drawn thing. i remember having heard it after it happened to me when i was still in the navy, stationed in DC and working at the pentagon.

i had seen those ads in the city paper – you know, the “come let us give you drugs and draw your blood and test your reaction for a couple of days and we’ll pay you $1500 for the privelege” ads? they’re nowhere near as prevalent in the philadelphia city paper as they were in the DC version, but at that point in time they were dripping out of the back of the thing…in between the 976 numbers and the “find hot man action tonight!” ads.

at the time, i was working a schedule that they referred to as 2/24/2/96 – which meant you worked two twelve hour day shifts, had a 24 hour break, worked two twelve hour night shifts, and then had 96 hours off. and i figured, what better way to spend my four days off than to be sequestered in a medical testing compound being prodded and poked and given repeated doses of mystery tablets, right? i mean, c’mon…pinch me, man!

anyway, i called ’em up, got the pertinent “be at this address at this time” information, which included instructions not to eat anything after 8pm the previous night, and i was on my way to the initial testing phase.

i got there at around 10am, to find that the place was packed…people of every walk of life were filed into this place, waiting for their opportunity to flip death the bird for $1500 – college kids, immigrants who didn’t speak english, folks who looked a rent payment away from homelessness sitting next to cardiganed philosophy majors…it was quite the human highway, believe me.

well, with that many folks to weed through, the process took quite a while. in fact, it was well after 5pm by the time i got to the all-important “take several gallons of blood” phase of the testing…having filled out forms and stood on scales and said “aaaaaaagghghgh” any number of times up to that point. in that sense, it was very much like the enlistment process all over again.

so i go in, sit down – i notice that it’s getting dark outside – and put my arm on the arm of the chair…i can hear the radio playing in the room…phil collins…she puts the rubber hose around my arm…everything still fine now…gets several tubes from a box and lays them out on the table next to her…preps the needle…”billy, don’t you lose my number…’cuz it’s the only one…”…i’m looking across the room at a poster on the wall detailing the path taken to traverse the human digestive system…

the next thing i remember is the sound of the phlebotomists’ voice saying “i need some help over here” and the linoleum floor coming into focus – i had slumped over in my chair, that much i knew…but what happened before that, i couldn’t tell you. i don’t know if i went through any of the stuff that dylan did yesterday or not, in terms of the seizure-like physical stuff or not…all this time, i thought i just slumped over in my chair and that was it. now, i don’t really know.

i can tell you that i never got a phone call from them after i finished the process that day.

guess they figured that they didn’t want to go through that every time they starved me for 24 hours and then took my blood.


dylan made it through the morning…went to the nurses’ office around 4th period and laid down and fell asleep, and the nurse called his grandparents to come pick him up.

so he was a trooper about it…he did his best to ride it out.

van halen’s fault

now playing: shame, “turn you on”ok, i know it’s probably old news, but nonetheless, it appears that debra lafave has struck a plea – which may mean something to those of you who follow the news more closely than i do, but today was the first i’d heard about this case….to summarize, this 25 year old teacher was apparently having sex with a 14 year old boy – a lot in a short time, as a matter of fact. something like 3 times in 4 days…it’s all in the story. go look.

i don’t know what people are saying about this, because it hasn’t really come up around the watercooler here, if you know what i mean….but my immediate reaction can’t be that far from what most other guys i know would be. which is to say, take a look at this woman for a minute:


my immediate thought was, “where the hell were the teachers that looked like that when I was 14?”

seriously – she’s HOT! i mean, who is it exactly that complained about this? if a normal 14 year old boy came forward and said to someone, “listen, i’ve got a serious problem, man…i’m banging my incredibly hot teacher whos’ ten years older than i am…and i’m not sure what to do. should i tell my parents or go to the police?” – i mean, can you really even visualize that? 3 times in 4 days…most teenage boys masturbate more often than that, fer chrissake!

now, granted, just because she looks like that doesn’t mean she’s necessarily got any, uh, skills….but let’s say that she’s at least passable, for the sake of argument. i mean, i knew a bartender once who insisted that there’s absolutely no such thing as bad sex…and at 14, i’d be inclined to think that even if that’s not true, that you wouldn’t have had enough sex at that point in your life to know the difference. either way, this kid definitely has stories to tell that none of his friends will be able to top.

i guess what i’m trying to say is that this is all van halen’s fault. if they hadn’t made that indecent video all those years ago, this concept wouldn’t even have occured to any of us.

did i mention that she’s HOT?

editors’ note: just to make sure we’re clear on this – the subject of “what if the genders were reversed and my daughter were having sex with her 25 year old male teacher” is not open for discussion at this juncture. this is a purely incredulous male ponderance, and was never meant to be politically correct.

good vibes

now playing: little feat, “fat man in the bathtub”

thanks to my longtime buddy heinrich for his kind words this week. he made mention of some long-and-likely-thankfully-lost tracks that were done in one of many drunken stupors back in the day that, i told him, will probably be archived someday if The Great Digitization ever actually takes place…

and, while i’m on the subject – thanks to all of you who were so kind and supportive in reply to the inaugural issue of the mailing list recently. encouragement can be hard to come by, and it’s truly appreciated. thank you.

like pretty rats from a sinking ship

now playing: lynyrd skynyrd, “simple man”


looks like the chicks are about to join the elite group of country superstars like emmylou, lyle lovett, rosanne cash, willie nelson, loretta lynn, and God only knows who else on the list of formerly embraced nashville stars who’ve had to take their business elswehere for acceptance. not that i have a problem with the man or his work, but i’m just glad they didn’t jump on the daniel lanois bandwagon. that just wouldn’t have worked for them.


Nashville Pines for Dixie Chicks

Country stations eagerly await new music from formerly banned trio

When the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines made her infamous anti-Bush, anti-war comments almost three years ago, she exposed a shocking truth: Country music, as it turns out, is not 100 percent Republican.

With radio stations across the nation boycotting their music and outraged commentators predicting walkouts at their concerts, the Chicks were made to seem like very lonely liberals in the love-it-or-leave-it world of country. In hindsight, however, the group set off a political bombshell of an altogether different sort: They blew open the door for a remarkable number of closeted Music Row Democrats.

In fact, that’s the name of a high-powered Nashville advocacy group that sprang up in the wake of the controversy. The blackballing of the Dixie Chicks was a prime motivation in the founding of the left-leaning political action committee, says co-founder Bob Titley, a prominent talent manager (Brooks and Dunn, Kathy Mattea) and a confirmed Democrat. “There was a failure in our community to step up to their defense,” he says.

The Music Row Democrats now claim more than 1,300 members, including key Nashville executives, songwriters and artists such as Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. “The organization grew spectacularly fast,” says country music historian Robert K. Oermann, a founding member. “People were hiding in corners, afraid to come out. Now the community is more mobilized.”

As the political tides turn — not just in Nashville but nationally — the Chicks are preparing to release their long-awaited follow-up to 2002’s Home, an as-yet untitled album recorded with renegade producer Rick Rubin. “Instead of making a country album with a rock side,” Rubin recently told Rolling Stone, “we wanted to do a rock album that leaned country, like [Tom] Petty or Gram Parsons.”

Hints like that have unnerved some in the country industry, where sales were recently reported to be down about ten percent from 2004. From an economic perspective, it’s tough to argue with an act that has sold more than 22 million copies of its first three major-label studio albums, according to SoundScan.

“We need them,” says Clay Hunnicutt, Clear Channel’s vice president of country programming nationwide. “Radio is always looking for great artists with great music, great hits.”

Yet the Dixie Chicks — Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire — may have already moved on. “We don’t feel a part of the country scene any longer,” Maguire told the German magazine Der Speigel in September 2003. “We now consider ourselves part of the big rock & roll family.” (The group, lying low in anticipation of the new release, declined to comment for this story.)

There are a few hardcore holdouts who continue to boycott the Chicks. In Lubbock, Texas — Maines’ hometown — the staff at KLLL 96.3 (“Country for Texans”) has recently tried spinning an occasional Chicks track after more than two years of banishment. Many local listeners, says PD Jeff Scott, are still upset that a hometown product would declare she was “ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas,” as Maines did.

Lubbock, Scott notes, recently took second place in a poll of the most conservative cities in the nation. “People still have a lot of anger over what was said. It’s been a real lightning rod for us.”

Elsewhere, however, there are nagging questions about the legitimacy of some of those complaints. Titley is one of several people interviewed who claimed that the rash of angry calls demanding boycotts were at least partly the result of a coordinated effort by conservative political activists.

Despite the controversy — or perhaps because of it — the Chicks continued to prove their commercial viability, selling almost six million copies of Home and mounting the top-grossing country tour of 2003. Now, as they prepare to reenter the spotlight, some speculate that the group might be poised to shun the industry that shunned them.

“If I were the Chicks,” says Oermann, “I wouldn’t give a rat’s behind if [country] radio played us.”

Titley, too, thinks a little payback may be in order. “Now that things have fallen apart politically on the right,” he says, “there might be a certain vindication.”

But industry gatekeepers say it will be hard to ignore the Dixie Chicks’ commercial track record when the new album comes out. Mike Peterson, program director for Chicago’s WUSN (“America’s Country Station”), says he’s keeping his fingers crossed that the new album will work for his station’s format. “I can’t wait to hear it,” he says. “I want to own the Dixie Chicks in this market.”

“It doesn’t matter to me which side of the political spectrum pulls for them,” says Brian Phillips, executive vice president and general manager of country music network CMT. “The Dixie Chicks captivated the limelight to the extent that it caused a lot of conversation.”

And he says that’s good for business: “We’re not looking for wallpaper.”


reading the comments from KLLL’s program director, i can’t help but wonder if he harbors the belief that they were ashamed that the president was from texas…as opposed to the more correct emphasis being that they were ashamed that the president was from texas…

boy, you just never really know, man.

thinning the herd

now playing: pure prairie league, “the cost of doing business”

i might have mentioned here some time back that i was playing with charlie degenhart right before christmas…it was at the tin angel in philadelphia…i took my gibson lap steel, my newish agile mandolin with the pickup in it, and my gretsch anniversary with the bigsby tremolo on it. i realized, after i got there, that every instrument i’d brought with me had a tobacco sunburst finish on it – i kinda felt like a tool for having matching instruments. it was funny, we got a laugh out of it, and moved on…the show itself would’ve been great, but i had this awful hum coming from my amp which i thought originally was a result of being plugged into the same outlet as the lighting fixtures…but i moved it and had the same result. anyway, i soldiered on – the mandolin was unaffected because it went directly into the pa, and it was present but somewhat tolerable on the lap steel. the gretsch just wasn’t cutting it, though. it didn’t sound – well, like a gretsch.

and that night, i wrote it off to the troubles of the day. but then i brought it home and played it for a bit, and i had a rare revelation.

maybe it’s time to let this one go.

now, that might not seem like an earth-shaking sentiment to most people…maybe even to the majority of people who know me. but to truly understand this, i guess you really have to know my fascination with gretsch guitars.

i never caught onto the whole brian setzer thing when it hit. never cared for rockabilly at all, still don’t, really. but when i really dove into the crosby, stills, and nash catalog hard – back in the late 80’s/early 90’s, believe it or not…it took me that long – i became enamoured of them. i loved the way they sounded, i loved the way they looked, and i had to have one.

well, around that time, i got my opportunity – a sunburst 1959 country club that i bought from an ad on the wall at a supermarket. it was a package deal – i got that guitar, a 1946 martin 00-17, and a blackface fender deluxe amp for $1250. it was one of a few unbelievable deals that i’ve been in the right place at the right time for in my life. but i had to sell that one during the period of time when i was playing full-time due to a lack of funds. my next gretsch was a double anniversary model that i got in ’96 or so – it was a casualty of my split with the kids’ mom.

and for a long time, i’ve thought about getting one, and i just haven’t found the right one.

this particular one, the sunburst double anniversary in the picture, was an eBay purchase. i landed a couple of computer builds in a row that yielded some decent money, and it showed up at just the right time, and i grabbed it. i immediately took it to the first following stone road gig and played it – it was adequate for rhythm work, but it didn’t really feel right for soloing. i used it a couple of times after that, but i wouldn’t call it part of my regular work stable.

when i got down to brass tacks on this latest project, though, i went through the arsenal and pulled out the guitars that i thought would be most appropriate for the project. i put away the PRSes and the heavy duty stuff, and this one came out. so when it was time to pack for charlies’ gig, i thought – what the hell? and i brought it along.

turned out to be its last show with me. i sold it to a nice guy on the west coast, who seems thrilled with it. and i got to buy new gear for the studio, which i needed. so everybody wins.

and it wasn’t as painful as i thought it would be…the whole “letting go of a guitar” thing. if i hadn’t needed additional gear, i might have just held onto it…but that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me at the moment. there’s a pretty major space crunch staring me in the face in the not-too-distant future, and i need to start thinking about that…where the studio is concerned.

anyway – she was a nice ol’ gal, and i’ll miss her…