relief in sight

now playing: jackson browne, “sky blue and black”

it’s an unfair truth that as you get older, time passes with a ferocity that youth belies.

lately, i’m finding it hard to just keep a grip on the handles…sometimes it feels like the wheel is spinning just fast enough to toss me through the air and abruptly onto the dirt. but the truth is, it’s my own legs that are propelling the wheel to go faster and faster.

why? greed, i guess. not material greed, or greed in the traditional sense…i’m not racing to acquire material things or accumulate wealth (God knows). it’s not that i want it all, i want to do it all. and on my good days, i come pretty damn close. days fly by, a flurry of activity – day job, studio, music-related activities, wife and kids, the ringing phone, be here, get there by this time so you can leave by that time to be somewhere else – now, it should obviously be said that some days are more demanding than others…but i seem to thrive on this.

and – as i get older, and face the realization that this can’t really go on forever, it’s as if i feel this need to do as much as i can, while i can, before the prospect of doing it becomes a less attractive proposition than it is at the moment. i don’t hear this mythical tick of the clock or anything of that nature, but i have made peace with the notion that there’s probably an expiration date of some sort…some point at which it won’t be feasible for me to keep up the pace that i’ve kept for as long as i can remember now.

in fact, my partner blake often tells me that just listening to me reel off my itinerary over the phone makes him tired.

and it’s often people like blake who i end up envying, to a certain extent, when my life drifts to the extreme end of the scale…as it seems to have done lately.

sure, there are those who would say that i live perpetually at the far end of the speedometer, but the truth is that my life isn’t always as pedal-to-the-floor as it probably looks. lately, though, it’s probably much more so than it could potentially appear.

three straight weeks of sixty-plus hours at work. trips to jim thorpe, to atlantic city, to washington DC, to philadelphia, to wherever – on an accelerated basis. things that should be a matter of routine maintenance – paying bills, doing laundry and such – are only dealt with in fits and starts when either a few moments allow or when they mutate into fires that have to be put out. then things pile up and everything becomes a fire that has to be put out, which leads life itself down a feast-or-famine road. this much, i can at least say, is usually seasonal, and passes once things calm down a bit and go back to whatever you could feasibly call a “routine” for me. in the meantime, though, life feels like a constant game of “catch up”.

for instance, last week, i was rooting through the mail that sits in an ever-growing pile by the door, looking for something totally unrelated and a lot less important, and noticed that i had two envelopes from my car insurance company that were pretty close together. on a whim, i opened one of them to see that it contained a cancellation, dated two days prior, for failure to pay my premium. it wasn’t that i didn’t have the money, i just completely forgot about it. i went online with my debit card and took care of it and everything was fine, but the larger point for me is that i know that other people don’t simply forget to pay their insurance bills. but it didn’t even occur to me. i can blame part of this on my poor handling of finances that’s been a learned trait that i have to work on unlearning, but i mean, come on – who just forgets to pay their bills when they actually have the means to deal with them, and aren’t just forgetting out of financial convienence?

and it’s not just the insurance, either…there are a couple of other things that i’ve been glossing over or just putting off that i’ve got to get sewn up this week, period. to include the paying of other bills. i have the first batch of items to ship out for georges’ auction, and i have to take pictures of the rest of the stuff that i’m putting up this week. i have to start the wiring in the studio in the next couple of days, because the drywall is going up before you know it…now that the HVAC has actually been done. the bathroom has been drywalled, and we’re actually going to paint it within the next few days. things are about to jump into the fastlane with the studio, and as things get closer to being finished, it’s going to become more and more incumbent upon me to be involved with the decisions that are being made, as the rooms take shape and we actually have to start thinking about acoustic considerations and putting together the control room and the like. it’s been contractor-centric up to this point – soon i have to take the reins and prep the rooms properly and such…

now, in addition to all this, i have a backlog of projects that will move to the forefront as the studio becomes operable – the as-yet unfinished poco benefit/tribute album, and the unfinished album by the amazing larry burnett, which is sitting demurely, disguised as a half-dozen ADAT tapes in my house at the moment.

now, anyone who knows me for any length of time should be somewhat taken aback by that. if you’re familiar with the inner rings of my musical tree at all, then you’re probably scratching your head, wondering why i wasn’t rifling through storage and pulling out the ADAT machines and the PC with the Frontier card in it the night i got home with those tapes in the car.

frankly, i’m not sure why i didn’t go get them that night, myself, save for the fact that i was pretty tired from the trip, and couldn’t even bring myself to head to the Dawson or up to harrisburg for my friend mikes’ radio show. we went to cracker barrel and sat and stared at each other for a while and floated home to bed.

in the time since, i’ve worked (as i mentioned) three straight weeks for over sixty hours, and feel as though my life is being taken over by churning out refurbished PC’s for users with outdated operating systems and doing Outlook migrations….

monday morning, i came in to work to a perpetually restarting Groupwise server that eventually decided it wasn’t going to boot up anymore…at all. the power supply had utterly failed, and it simply wasn’t going to turn on anymore.

it should be noted that this machine was old when i got here, six years ago, and i seriously thought that it wasn’t about to come up again. i called around, though, and found that there were two power supplies for this particular model of compaq proliant server sitting in a warehouse in springfield, VA.

“i’ll take ’em,” i told the guy on the phone, “and if i can’t find a courier, i’ll come get ’em myself.”

i made a couple of phone calls…four different services, of which three said they only served the DC metro area, and one that couldn’t guarantee that they’d have it here if they didn’t pick it up before noon – which had already passed.

so off i went.

i called jayda and said, “remember how you complain sometimes about how we never go on drives anymore?”

i told her to tell her brother to get ready if he wanted to come, too, but when i got to the house, he was sitting at the kitchen table in his underwear.

guess that’d be a no, then.

so we took off, made it into springfield in time to pick the power supplies up at a little past 4:30pm, and i called larry up…we stopped over to say hello (since it wouldn’t have been right to drive right by the exit and be within ten minutes of him and not at least swing by) and jayda and i had a couple of sandwiches from subway and chatted with him for a while before taking off in a northerly direction again.

it was around ten PM when i got back to work with the parts and set about getting the email server back up and running. by 10:30, email was synchronized and flowing again…and then there was my own end-of-day stuff that i had to finish before midnight…

so monday night was another sixteen hour affair that saw me put 380 miles under my belt and get almost nothing done in the normal line of duty.

but the true irony in all this is that monday night was the earliest i got out of there until late in the week.

and still, those ADAT tapes are sitting, staring me down, wondering why i’m not all over them…which i’d certainly be under just about any other circumstances.

think about that for a minute.

the tapes that represent the first full studio album in over two decades by one of my personal musical heroes are sitting on a dresser in my house.

does it bear repeating? very well, then.

the tapes that represent the first full studio album in over two decades by one of my personal musical heroes are sitting on a dresser in my house.

never mind the overlooked insurance bill, or any number of other things i could mention…..

if i haven’t acted on that, then it’s relatively certain that my life is a little out of control at the moment.

(footnote: it’s now friday night/saturday morning, a little before 3AM. according to my calculations, i’ve logged 67 hours at work this week, and that’s with having taken the entire morning off today. it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse…but i keep myself going by telling myself that there’s an end in sight. and i really do believe that. at some point, this has to get easier, and my time has to loosen up a bit. because i think that i’ve finally hit that point where it truly can’t get any worse…the number of hours contained in a day simply won’t allow for that.)

mel carnal: 1933-2006

now playing: my buddy opies’ live365 internet radio station

had a little flurry of email contact with jerry – in the wake of my post about the band we were in when i was in high school. jerry’s a good friend – he’s one of those guys that you could go for years without talking to (which we’ve done) but when we do talk, it’s as if not a day has passed. he told me some of the hometown news – that the water tower that i spent hours perched atop as a teenager is no more, replaced by what he called a “giant doorknob” that you can see from across the river, but can’t read from three blocks away.

he also mentioned that one of my old radio bosses, mel carnal, passed away on sunday.

i always felt a little detached from mel when i worked for him back in high school…i wasn’t as interested as i probably should have been in doing the most professional airshow that i could have, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he saw through that. i don’t know that he disliked me, but i think that he knew that i was capable of doing a better job than i was interested in doing (most of the time, anyway). that, plus hiring me was always perceived (on my part, anyway) to have been his partners’ idea, and i don’t know that he was ever really in favor of my working there in the first place. but as i got older, and i grew accustomed to who he was, we got along well. i had seen him, in fact, on the “get acquainted with where i’m from” trip that i took the kids on before my mom died, and my son got to meet him and see the radio station where i worked.

his obituary mentions an interesting fact…that he apparently kept an apartment on the side of the building that housed the flower shop that was our next door neighbor. i somehow never knew that, all these years.

so i had to call my friend thor, my water-tower climbin’ buddy, who now lives in tampa…who was probably gettin’ ready for bed just as i called…but he had to know.

he had to know that not only was the water tower gone, but, by the way…guess who had an apartment upstairs next door to the radio station?

someday, when i’m feeling a little less ashamed of it, i’ll share some of the stories of the things that we used to do to prank the guy who took my place when i left there for the other station in my hometown. they were pretty stupid, and not very nice, and i’m not very proud of any of them.

but knowing now, even after his passing, that mel used to sleep upstairs just a few feet away when we were doing some of the stuff we used to do to that poor guy, just freaked me out, and i had to tell my partner about it.

so we talked for a while…thor (real name: theodore james bond. there are reasons for the rechristening, but i’ll spare you) is in the same category where jerry opdycke resides – we can go for years without talking, but when we finally get around to it, it’s as if not a day has passed.

after we hung up, though, i went back and read mel’s obituary again.

i remember, back in the day, finding copies of mel’s records (he fancied himself a songwriter, and he had recorded in the building where the new hope music project ultimately took over and built their studio) in the storage area either at the radio station or at the studio – memory disappoints, but i think i still have those old 45’s in my collection.

blessings on your way to the other side, old friend. see you when i get there.

boy, do i have a lot to own up to when that day comes.

a quiet normal life

now playing: gordon lightfoot, “if you need me”

if you saw him on the street, you probably wouldn’t give him a second look.

and it’s even less likely that you’d see him and think, “that guy looks like a musician.”

and it’d certainly never occur to you that he was in a band for seven years that sold over eight million copies of their first six albums on atlantic records and wrote several charting songs while he was along for the ride, playing to stadiums full of fans.

he got on board the train in 1975, based simply on a phone call from a fellow musician.

it’s a story you hear over and over in the rock and roll business, and it certainly makes me wonder how many amazing talents were on the receiving end of that particular phone call that we’ll never hear because they made the decision to stay put…rusty youngs’ story is identical – he was teaching steel guitar and playing clubs in colorado with his buddy george grantham when a phone call lured him to hollywood to play steel guitar on buffalo springfields’ kind woman, and the rest is history. but what if he’d said no, thanks, i’m fine where i am these days…??? this is the kind of thing i think about when i’m lying in bed, staring at the ceiling.

anyway, the same could have been said for this guy – if he’d said, “no, thanks, ya know…i’m not really ready for that right now,” it would’ve changed the whole complexion of the band he helped to make famous.
but he got on a plane to colorado to join the band.

almost a year later, to the day, the band signed a recording contract with atlantic.

their first album contained two huge singles, and they were on the map instantly…and the ride continued for six albums.

think about that, newbie bands….six albums.

can you name a band from the last ten years who’ve even been given the opportunity to do six albums by a major label?

pencils down…thanks for trying.

there were more after his departure, but none came close to equalling the success of the records made with their core lineup.

i had – hell, still have – that first single. it was a sweet little pop song that just about anyone over a certain age would recognize if i sang them a couple of bars of it. i still play it every now and then at solo acoustic gigs.

but on the flip side, there was this other song. this great song that i’d never heard on the radio, and played once out of curiosity, and i was hooked. in fact, i used to do the little thing with the turntable….you know what i’m talking about, the little thing where, if you pull up the arm and swing it all the way back, it’ll repeat the record until the needle gives out or the record becomes transparent or the power goes out, whichever comes first. that little thing.

don’t look at me like that, you’ve done it too.

when i was in the throes of despair over my unrequited crush on alicia holcomb (who was clearly out of my weight class, to paraphrase rob gordon in high fidelity), that record was the soundtrack. i’d lie in bed in my room and listen to that song over and over again and wonder why the gods would play such an evil game with the heart of a kid who just wanted to be with this girl and didn’t understand why that was such a ridiculous notion…

“…it’s been a long time, baby, let’s make it worthwhile….
say something cute and show us your new style….
…you come back to me and i’m lettin’ you in….

…you talked me into lettin’ you go…
so many times before…
..i never really learned to say no to you, baby – never wanted you just to go….”

it wasn’t the same voice as the voice that sang the songs i’d been familiar with. it was less lilting, more throaty, more…

honest. that’s the word, really. honest.

while his counterpart sang the songs that you might hear at a wedding, he sang the songs that you played on repeat when you were at a romantic or emotional crossroads and needed a voice to identify with. he was the guy who felt the same way you did, who you identified with – who, you somehow just knew understood where you were at that point in time.

time passed, and new albums came out, and he never failed to disappoint…not every song on every album is a gem, and not everything that any of us write is always on par with our best work, and he was no different – but his songs were consistently the most honest songs on the albums…he was willing to go that extra step or two to fill in some of the colors that you might’ve missed otherwise.

it’s not as though his songs weren’t on the radio, too…his biggest hit was a song that dealt with an unwed father reacting to the news of his new status – not exactly the fodder of your typical AM love song, by any stretch…and it was, in fact, ignored (so to speak) by some of the more conservative top 40 stations (a term which has become an oxymoron as time has passed…where musical content is concerned, anyway). not ignored enough to keep it from becoming a huge hit, though.

time and albums passed, and i consistently found myself drawn to his songs…on the album that i personally consider their high point, he contributed two songs that are probably two of his best – business is business and only time will tell (which was released as a single, but didn’t set the world on fire). there are two things from my adolescence that i remember about those songs…one was playing business is business for my friend jeff, who was a great guitar player, to see if he could figure it out. “that sounds like two guys”, he said to me. later in life, when i figured it out on my own, i remembered that moment with a smile on my face. only time will tell was played on the radio a lot when it came out, and i just loved that song. i remember keeping pen and paper lying around so that i could scribble a few lines of it as it passed until i got all the words down on paper…it’d come on and i’d lurch for my pen and wait for the spot where i left off last time and scribble wildly trying to get as much down as i could before i lost my place. it took at least half a dozen passes to get it all.

“…you know, a player’s got a few things to count on
his fortune, it comes and it goes
here’s a sensitive heart you can pound on
and a gallant way of takin’ the blows

oh, i wrote you letters, and i knew what to tell you
but they never got off the ground
i thought i had something to sell you
but it wasn’t the best buy in town…

…i’d love to be the youth in your eyes
the truth in the lies that you tell….”

and of course, by the time i’d finished writing them all down, i had pretty much memorized them…but, hey – i was fifteen, ya know.

in a few years, it’d all be over, for the most part – he left the band in a similar fashion to neil youngs’ famous “bowing out” of the 1976 stills-young band tour. the band got on one plane, he got on another, headed back to his hometown, where he checked himself into a clinic – convinced that he was going to die if he didn’t get off the roller coaster that his life had become. as with many well-intentioned people, his first trip to rehab didn’t “take”, and i wonder sometimes if it wasn’t just a convienent place to hide from the consequences of his departure from the band as much as it might’ve been an attempt to clean up his act.

no matter what, he left and didn’t look back, and simply vanished into oblivion.

i think that, in later years, that mystique only added to his enigma. they had become successful in an era where information about rock stars was limited to what you read in rolling stone or creem or hit parader or what you might have heard mentioned in passing on the radio. there was no MTV, no internet, no band website bleeding personal details about every little move that a band makes, no journals or blogs where musicians spilled their guts on a regular basis….

there was the music and not much else…and some of us think that this was just fine, thank you very much.

so he left the band, and in the time between then and not long ago, i always wondered what the hell ever happened to him – i didn’t really know if he was alive or dead, although i was pretty sure that it would’ve surfaced at some point if he’d shuffled off this mortal coil.

in 1995, when i first started working on what would eventually become our mutual angels, i recorded a cover of business is business with a longer acoustic intro than the original, but it got lost in the shuffle when the decision was made to move over to longview and start the record fresh over there. i still have a rough mix of it in my archives (the ADAT tapes that contained the master are probably lost forever, as i had turned them over to the label…and the last time i googled the guy who’d have them, all i was able to find were references to liner notes on other projects he’d worked on…now that guy knows how to disappear.)

that song, though…his songs – made the transition from the 15 year old kid scribbling lyrics in his bedroom to the full-grown budding songwriter and performer who was starting to make his own mark, and there are certainly rings near the center of the tree where his influence is clearly visible.

fast forward to last month, when i was playing with blake at the sellersville theatre, opening for dave mason…i struck up a quick friendship with dave’s guitar player, johnny sambatora. nice guy, very outgoing, willing to talk and share information…and, as it turned out, he’d been in the same band, and had joined not long after he’d gotten on the plane back to DC that day back in the early 80’s. we had a great time talking about the band and various aspects of it, and it got me curious yet again….

…what the hell ever happened to this guy?

well, a google search answered my question right away. he had his own website, and had in fact returned to recording…he had put out an EP of solo acoustic songs a couple of years ago, and was (according to his site) working on an album of new material.

well, of course i had to email him. and – who woulda thunk it – he emailed me back!

so we started a dialogue of sorts – i asked him about the new record, told him about the studio that we’re building, and offered to help out any way i could, and he emailed me back and said that work on the record had stalled, and that if i was serious about my offer, he’d love to talk about it…so we did, and then we talked some more…

phone numbers were exchanged. conversations occured.

then on sunday, i went down to actually meet with him – to talk about the record, to have some lunch and to play some songs together, too. he lives a modest life these days – he has a day job and lives a quiet, normal life, for the most part. he and i have matching 14 year old sons and deal with a lot of similar issues where raising them from the distance of a separate residence are concerned…and frankly, from the time we began this dialogue, it’s been hard to think of him as the same guy who wrote those magical songs that i heard decades ago. i’ve certainly communicated to him a lot of the things i’ve talked about here, and he’s been very humble about it, acknowledging at the same time that he has some of the same difficulties hearing those kinds of things that i do…which went a long way in a short time towards making him a lot more human to me than the mythical figure i’d made him out to be for years now.

we sat in his living room and played for about an hour or so – i can’t really say how it felt, because it was mostly new material and i was intent (as i usually am in situations where i’m learning songs) on listening for chord changes and repetitive patterns and leaning on my instinct for guidance…”using the force”, as it were. david lindley is a great believer in relying on instinct more so than whatever technical knowledge you posess, and it’s been working for me this long…

so in the time we were playing, it never really got to the “jamming with my hero” level…it came close when i ended up singing only time will tell to him…that certainly bordered a bit on the surreal, but it was fine. really. he’s a great player, inspired by some of the same folks i’ve been inspired by, and we both have a deep-seated love for the drop-D tuning (he uses it almost exclusively, with the occasional open-G song thrown in for good measure).

later that afternoon, after we’d come back from lunch and had finished playing, he went into the back room and emerged with a half dozen ADAT tapes, all labeled up and showing obvious signs of previous use.

“i don’t have any other copies of the mixes or the data files, so you’ll just have to take these,” he says. “obviously, i’m gonna want them back….”

it was a gesture of trust that surprised me a little, frankly…but it established an unspoken shift in my own perception of where we stood from fan to collaborator – which is a pretty serious leap. it adds a dimension of respect and responsibility and faith that usually takes a little more time to establish – but it all feels good. it doesn’t feel over my head, i don’t feel intimidated, the interaction feels rather natural – even this early.

that’ll be the two of us, on the tarmac, watching the plane leaving for lisbon….

“…the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

i can’t wait to play this record for the world and say to them – see? this is what you’ve been missing out on for the last twenty years.

but knowing him, you’ll still be able to run into him on the street and never give it a second thought.