Dan May at Sellersville Theater, Friday July 5th, 2019

anybody who has a passionate pursuit in their lives has an ideal – a mental picture of what their passion looks like when it manifests itself in its purest, most perfect form. for a surfer, it’s catching the perfect wave and riding it to the sand. bowling a perfect 300. pitching a no-hitter. a hole-in-one.

for musicians, there really isn’t a consistent answer, though, is there? nailing a difficult instrumental passage or playing something that was once impossible, maybe…or getting a gig you’d worked hard for, or maybe playing a show with a personal hero – there are probably as many definitions of “perfect” as there are folks who’d be willing to answer the question.

but i think it’s safe to say that for us creative types, the pursuit of our own personal definition of “perfection” is the consistent thing that keeps us coming back – the thing that drives us – the reason we get out of bed.

and let’s face it…it’s the pursuit itself that drives us. the desire to be the best we can be at whatever we’ve chosen. because nobody wants to feel like Brian Wilson hearing from Paul McCartney that “God Only Knows” was the greatest song he’d ever heard – as the story goes, when Wilson heard that from one of his songwriting heroes, he hid in a closet and cried because he took that as a sign that he’d never be able to surpass what he’d already done.

so maybe the pursuit of perfection is a lofty goal, but catching it is another matter altogether.

but boy, let me tell ya…when you get as close as we collectively came at Sellersville with Dan May last week, it’s intoxicating.

and when you’ve been at this chase long enough to know how rare it is to dance that close, and you can realize the significance of that fleeting moment in real time, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to soak it in as it’s happening.

i sure did.

it had been almost exactly a year since the last time i played at Sellersville (a solo acoustic show i did opening for Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett from Little Feat, which you can actually see in its entirety here). as stages go, it’s the place i feel most comfortable, the most at-home…the easiest place to play in the world for me. i’ve played some amazing shows there over the years, and there have been a lot of capital-M “moments” – it would take another entire post to catalog them properly and do them justice.

one of those moments in particular came up during dinner this night, in fact – we were playing an opening set and our long lost, lamentedly disappeared fiddle player, Lainey Wilson, was on the show. during the final song, our bass player (Kurm the Shoeless One) leaned over to her and said “Go Off!” his intention was that she take a solo over the end of the song while Dan was walking offstage, but she took her cue from Dan when Kurm told her to “go off” and left the stage instead.

i brought my friend Chris with me to the show, which meant that she had to endure load-in AND soundcheck, as well as suffer our collective company for the night – but she epitomizes the notion of “easy people” and took it all in with a smile…i had prepared her somewhat for what to expect so she was armed with distractions, just in case.

Dan’s band has never had a consistent stage plot, as there have always been different folks on different shows – but the band has solidified somewhat of late, with regard to the core. Tommy and Dan Faga have become the default rhythm section, and they’ve developed as a unit instinctively over time. Dan was a friend long before he outed himself as a bass player, and having him at eye level has been a gift. His wife (and fellow ST94 alum) Aly came out with their two girls during load-in and they came bearing gifts (a cake plate full of cupcakes). I remembered the fact that they had met there in that very room years before, not yet a couple…then a couple in secret, then all these years later married with children and – in my mind – fully inseparable from that room itself.

Tommy is my champion – the other half of The Tommys, my bandmate in almost a dozen bands over the years, and often the air that holds up whatever craft we happen to be flying on a given night. his presence is buoyant and he makes damn near everything better just by being there to laugh at it…unless there are avocado wraps involved. don’t ask.

Anthony Newett became an instant soulmate the first time we played together. Ant and I are the musical equivalent of one of those old married couples you see at the diner who can sit together and have a meal and pass condiments and dishes across the table without exchanging a word and always seem to innately sense what the other is about to do.

One of the things that makes our relationship (musically, anyway) special is that there’s something of an unspoken understanding between us of what our personal strengths and weaknesses are, and Ant has a way of reacting to what I play in an almost telepathic sense. he’s a much better musician than I am, and he uses that ability to read my thoughts and play parts that complement what I’m doing in a way that – hell, maybe only I end up noticing, I don’t know. but when we play together, he totally takes advantage of this ability and will play something that commands my attention (often multiple times a night), and will – as soon as I react and look over at him – will look back up at me momentarily, raise one eyebrow (a la Belushi), give me a momentary smile and continue doing what he was doing.

I wish I could put into words what playing with Ant does for my spiritual well-being, but I don’t know that I can. Musically, he is inseparable from who I am – he’s my missing part.

But wait…there’s more. Get a load of what he’s done now.

I started hearing this name crop up relatively recently, and I wasn’t sure what the story was because I was on the outside looking in – her name appeared first in a couple random posts by Dan, and I found out a while back that this Claudia Terry would be joining us for this show.

I hadn’t met her, didn’t know anything about her, and wasn’t sure what to expect – I didn’t know if she’d be primarily a harmony vocalist like Heather had been, or if she had something else to contribute. Once I heard she was there on Ant’s recommendation, I immediately felt at ease, because Ant’s not about to bring someone into this orbit who couldn’t pull their weight.

Still, my acoustic guitar parts are pretty specific, and have a certain feel to them that other far superior musicians to myself haven’t really been able to cop in the past, so I was prepared to play my parts alongside the New Girl for the duration of the night, just to make sure that foundation was there.

Well, you ain’t gonna believe this shit, but lemme tell ya…

We had loaded in and were in the process of gravitating to our respective spots in the stage plot for this particular night, and we were discussing songs from the set during line check and she started playing the intro to “The Glory Years” – MY intro to “The Glory Years” – and SHE FUCKING NAILED IT. It was perfect!

Now she had my attention.

Claudia is 19 years old. That’s significant.

It’s significant because – even in this era of YouTube Geniuses – there’s a feel, a grasp of timing, a comfort level with an instrument that some douchebag with a British accent can’t teach you during the course of a video on the internet. And yet, here’s this girl with pretty limited experience in this setting just KILLING these parts that she’d only learned prior to this show.

And she SINGS! Holy shit, she sings – and her innate ear for harmonies blew my mind. It was as if she’d prepared for the fact that I’d be there to sing the middle third and she just automatically went to the high fifth on damn near everything – and that’s just not something that you can prepare for, really…you either hear it and sing the part reflexively or you don’t, and she reacted in real time to where she needed to go and landed there…

every. damn. time.

I fell in love with this kid on this night. I wanted to bring her home with me and get her a room and give her free reign over my record collection and the studio and stand back and watch her blossom and let her head explode all over the living room floor and stand back and see where she goes from here – and it only got better from this point through the end of the night.

When I was a teenager, I played drums with “the” band in my little hometown, the band that got all the good gigs in town, that everybody came to see…and this Friday night, I remembered something that Jerry “Opie” Opdycke said to me after a gig one night when I was 16.

“Tom, man…you’ve got the best chance of any of us to make something of yourself in this business because you’ve got your whole life in front of you. You’re damn good, and somebody, somewhere is gonna notice that sooner or later.”

Now, decades later, I found myself watching this girl barely old enough to vote and not yet able to drink or buy cigarettes at a convenience store standing across the stage from me and just slaying everything she played.

Maybe you’ve had a similar experience watching a kid play sports in high school or something to that effect and feeling like you were witnessing something out of the ordinary – the potential for greatness that maybe only you saw at the time?

Claudia is something special. I knew it the first time we played through an intro together on that stage, that night.

I was already elated when we wrapped up soundcheck and went next door to dinner – we ordered food and everyone fell into comfortable conversation..Ant sat on one side of me, Chris and Dan Faga on the other, Tommy, Dan and Claudia across from me – with occasional visits from Lisa and Adam (Dan May’s wife and son) and a few other folks who’d come to the show (Dennis Whelan and some of the May clan from Ohio, among others)…it was becoming clear to me that this was going to be a special night, whether it turned out that way musically or not.

I was struck there at the dinner table that this was once a pretty regular stop for me – that I’d sat at that table with a ton of musicians in the years past – and that being able to be here for this wasn’t something I could take for granted the way that I’d perhaps done in the past…I made an extra effort to look around the table at my bandmates, my friends, my fellow travellers and to appreciate the moment…Dan and Chris discussing parenting on my right while I interrogated Claudia about her musical background and introducing the concept that maybe she was adopted if her parents weren’t musicians, while Anthony told me their story and Tommy was busy being Tommy…then we broke out the cupcakes that Dan’s daughters and family had made for us and we FaceTime’d the girls and raised the cupcakes in a toast to them, back home at Faga Manor, before we settled up and prepared to head across the parking lot.

I think it’s fair to say that the seeds for what happened on the stage at Sellersville were sewn at the dinner table that night.

When we left to head next door to wait for showtime, there was already something in the air.

We parted ways with Chris, who went out to take her seat in the theater, and we all circled ’round the bench seating in the green room – there was a bottle of bourbon in there and someone opened it and I poured a little in the bottom of a plastic cup and filled the rest with diet soda while everyone else poured themselves a little and we raised a toast. We talked for a short while and after a few minutes, a folded piece of paper fell onto the floor just inside the stage door.

Dan Faga picked it up and saw that it had my name on the outside fold, and handed it to me. I opened it up and read what was written in pencil on the inside of the paper….

“…do you know Free Bird?”

So I explained to the rest of the band how some 22 years ago, Chris had come to the CD release party for an album I’d put out in 1997 and had asked the doorman to hand me her business card with the same thing – “do you know Free Bird?” – written on the back of it.

It wasn’t long before Lizanne Knott and her daugher Ciara came in, accompanied by Glenn Barratt (who played bass behind her for the show) – so Tommy and I accompanied both of them for their sets as well.

There wasn’t a ton of time between when Lizanne came off the stage and when Dan went on…or at least it didn’t feel like it. We were back on the stage within moments of having walked off – Tommy and me. Me and Tommy. The League of Extraordinary Sidemen. The Tommys.

“Ladies and Gentlemen…please welcome – singer, songwriter and freelance Supreme Court Justice – Dan May!”

OK, I’m going to be perhaps painfully frank with you here.

I don’t remember a lot about the set.

I don’t remember the order of the songs we played, I don’t remember who took solos on which songs, I don’t remember which stories Dan read from his books…it all ran together in a blissful cloud in my head.

That might sound ridiculous, but it’s true.

On nights when shit ain’t happening, I can tell you every mistake I made, and every mistake that everybody else in the band made in EXCRUCIATING detail.

this night, though…oh. my. God.

It was an orgy of amazing harmonies, of stoic raised-eyebrow glances from Ant, of sheer exuberance from Tommy, of flawless rock-solid bottom from Dan Faga, and…

Dan May.

I don’t even know if I’m able to talk about my relationship with Dan without getting emotional. I’ve been playing, singing, and riding shotgun with him for over a decade, and I’ve given him more than enough reason to abandon me for greener pastures and he’s stuck with me, and as such – he’s stuck with me. I love Dan in a way that I’m incapable of putting into words. He’s been a musical soulmate from the moment he sent me a copy of “Once Was Red” in the mail in response to a Craigslist ad that I answered a lifetime ago and I put the CD into the player in my old Isuzu Trooper and heard the strains of “Lights Out In Tupelo” blaring out of the speakers. He’s brought me on the road, he’s put me up with his family (who have, in turn, become my family), we’ve played shows all over the continental US and I consider him a brother – no, really, a Brother.

This show, on this night, was a blur.

It felt as though it was over before it started, and I was outside my body wondering what had just happened.

The house lights came up and shook me loose from whatever wave I was riding, so I walked down front and started talking to folks who’d come up to say hello.

What with hanging my hat in Nashville now, I didn’t get to see these folks as often as I once did, so tonight was A Thing.

Mike and Judy Morsch. Al and Carol Bien. Jack Leitmeyer. Dennis Whelan. John Woolley.

And those are just the folks who bothered to stick around…I know from aftershow reports that Frank Friestadt (the custodian of my old Fender Deluxe Reverb), Liz Miller, and several other folks who needed to leave without saying hello were in that room on that night as well.

So I stood down in front of the stage after the lights came up and Alex turned on the background music and had a receiving line of sorts for some time…all the while, listening to what was playing overhead…

“Well I’ve been looking for somewhere to go
You’ve been looking for a place to roam…”

There were a few folks still wandering about the floor, some of them ushers and some of them friends who were still chatting with the folks preparing to start tearing down the stage.

“But I’ll be steady in your hand
If you’ll take me as I am
I’ll be your rock, if you’ll roll me on home…”

I finally said goodnight to the last of the folks who’d come down to say hello and saw Chris, sitting at the corner of the first row of seats. I walked over to sit down for a minute – she was beaming. I remembered having looked out over the audience at shows some twenty years ago and seeing that same face, and I sat down next to her and looked back at the stage for a short moment – now fully lit, with folks tearing down equipment as if nothing had happened there that night…

“We’ll build a house outta broken dreams
And find our way back to reality…”

I looked around me for a long, long minute…and I looked over at Chris…

and I just nestled my face into her shoulder and cried like a baby. HARD.

I’m sure I probably made some folks uncomfortable. If I did, I’m sorry.

But it was just too much.

Now, this is the point at which we should probably recap, a la Rob Gordon from High Fidelity:

“So, how did Tom go from being the gregarious guy in the band to being a blubbering emotional minefield in the space of a few minutes? Well, it’s probably the result of at least two, or maybe all four, of the following points coming to the surface…”

ONE – mortality.

When you’ve been doing this for an expanse of time, for a large portion of your life, chasing that momentary perfection that we talked about a bit at the top of this endless trope, you learn a few things. You learn that it doesn’t happen often. You learn that when it does, it’s usually fleeting. And, if you’re lucky…RIDICULOUSLY lucky…you learn to recognize it as it’s happening and try to commit as much of what’s happening around you to memory. AND – you realize over time that these moments are precious and that every time you experience it might be the last time.

TWO – comeraderie.

On this night, I was surrounded by exactly the right people, on stage with exactly the right people, and felt every ounce of the love that was in that room – from the audience, from my fellow players, from my artist, from my people in the audience…that room was awash in love from the moment we stepped onto that stage, and it was palpable.

THREE – the show itself.

I can’t even, really…it was just amazing. I got to put down my acoustic guitar and play other instruments, thanks to Claudia and Ant, I got to hear this amazing band play its ass off in front of an audience that loved us on a musical AND personal level, and we gave them back every ounce of energy they sent towards the stage.

FOUR – nostalgia.

Sellersville is my Home Stage.

It’s always been my home stage. it’s the room where I had my CD release for “Friends and Heroes”, it’s where I played with Marshall Tucker for one of the first times, it’s the room where I recorded Craig Bickhardt’s live record, it’s the place where I watched Dan and Alyson Faga’s friendship grow into romance, then matrimony, then a beautiful family. I played there with Robert Hazard, with John Lilley, with JD Malone, with Craig Bickhardt, with Pure Prairie League, with Poco, with Blake Allen, with Skip Denenberg, with Tracy Grammer, and with Dan May…

It’s a sacred place for me.

And what better place for a transcendental experience like what happened this night?

So, yeah…I lost my shit. Sue me.

I gathered myself long enough to start asking questions about this music that was playing in the background, and found out it was a Canadian singer/songwriter named Ken Yates – his 2016 album, Huntsville, had been playing ever since the lights came up, and EVERY FUCKING SONG WAS AN ARROW THROUGH MY HEART.

Ken Yates – Roll Me On Home

After I’d managed to gather myself a bit, Tommy and Dan came down and hung with us for a bit – Tommy had miraculously found a bottle of white wine and a few cups, so Chris took my car keys and we drank wine and talked while they finished tearing down the stage….until ultimately they turned off the music and it was time to go home.

Chris drove us back to Phoenixville and stayed up with me until after 3am talking about what had just happened…I think that what had happened in that room hadn’t been lost on anyone that night – least of all either of us.

It’s a rare friend who’ll forego five-plus hours of sleep to experience something like this with you, and to those friends you should hold on, folks.

Reaction on social media was swift and intense…those who were there, they know. Those who weren’t…I’m sorry.

I will forever be grateful that I was one of the ones who stood on that stage that night, with that group of musicians on the stage and that group of folks in the audience.

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what would you do…

I hope you’ve got a minute…this one might take a while.

(and I apologize for the potential vagueness to follow, but there’s a reason for it…I want you to think about this less as something that I’m speaking of in first person, and more in terms of how it might apply to your life…with the understanding that your mileage may, of course, vary.)

I want you to clear your mind for a moment and consider a question.

What would you do if someone offered you a “get out of jail free” card for one of your biggest regrets?

And I don’t mean in the sense that someone would “flashy-thing” you, a la Will Smith, or you’d be able to be “Eternal Sunshined” (both cleverly offered up by Wendy when we were talking about this last night), but you could actually go back and correct history without erasing it, could rebuild the ruins from scratch with everything intact from the moment the bombs fell…

That seems like a no-brainer, right?

As most of you know, I buried my brother this past spring.  Jim was a lot more complex than I think he ever thought himself to be, in a lot of ways…but at the root, he was a stubborn dude.  He had strained relationships with three of his four children that he took with him to the grave, and would have likely still been estranged from his brother Bob if Bob hadn’t seen him at the American Legion one night and went over to him to start a conversation.

I saw firsthand how much comfort he gathered from his connection to Bob in his final days, and I couldn’t help but wonder why he couldn’t take that lesson into other corners of his life.

I’d like to say that I’m different, more evolved somehow…but that stubborn streak runs through my DNA as well.  Just ask all the folks who can’t read this because they’re blocked, ostracized, otherwise disowned and cut out of my life in some form or fashion.  There are a few, to be certain.

And let’s be fair – there are some things that can’t be forgiven, nor should they be, and when people show you who they are, sometimes you have no choice but to believe them.  BUT – I digress.

Not long after Jim died, I got a message on Facebook from someone that I hadn’t spoken to in FIFTEEN YEARS.  In that message, they said that they sat with the question of whether to contact me for almost a week, because I’d slammed the door under duress and made it clear at the time that I wasn’t really interested in reconciliation on any level.  It took a lot of courage to reach out to me in spite of how we’d parted ways, and I’ve demonstrated time and time again just how lacking I am in that department.

Because while there had been maybe a dozen times over the course of that fifteen years that I’d seriously considered sending an email or checking to see if their phone number was still the same, I remained steadfast in my resolve not to break.  If I ever thought about it, my first reaction was to remind myself that nothing good would come of peeking over the fence, and that there was nothing to gain from having a look…so why bother?

So time passed.  For both of us.

Major life events…Danny, moving to Nashville, stuff…happened during that decade and a half of radio silence.  

But when that message showed up in my inbox, I was genuinely surprised at how I felt when I opened it and read it.  None of the resentment or baggage that I’d dragged kicking and screaming with me all those years ago, nor any of the raw nerve endings that I would have imagined would be present if I’d given myself permission to visualize something like this even a couple of years prior to when it actually DID happen – none of that was present.  I wrote a short note back, which was followed by a reply, which was eventually followed up with a phone call, which eventually led to an exchange of two specific emails…

these emails, man.  Lemme tell you something, here.

Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to be in the right place, in the right frame of mind, at the right juncture of your life…and with the right words…to actually be able to speak and hear things that should have been patently obvious before, but – for whatever reason, on that random afternoon, the clouds part and everything – EVERYTHING – makes sense.

Not everybody gets to do this.

Not everybody gets a chance to put a troubled past into perfectly clear perspective, acknowledge it, make peace with it, and then move on without carrying some incidental shrapnel that still hits a nerve from time to time, but that’s what this feels like right now.

A lot has happened on the other end of this connection over this past fifteen years, as well.  It’s not my place to inventory any of it here for perspective, but – there’s a lot to talk about.

And that’s where we find ourselves – with fifteen years’ worth of catching up to do, with fifteen years’ worth of “oh my God, I didn’t tell you about…“, fifteen years’ worth of photos and music and…

…and this place where we can talk about our past without feeling the weight of regret and enjoy where we are now without the burden of expectation – where we can just exist and enjoy this connection that had been dormant for all those years.

I don’t think this could have happened two years ago…or five years ago…or even ten years ago.  

For either of us.

We had to go out into the world individually and collect our experiences and our scars independently of one another in order to get the perspective we needed to get to this point.  In that respect, there isn’t even a sense of regret about the missed time…just gratitude that one of us (ONE of us…meaning the one of us without the Stubborn Hampton Gene…in other words, certainly not THIS one) came to a place in their life where they felt some random compulsion to check on the other and see if they were OK.

So let me ask you, person reading these words:

What would YOU do if you got a “get out of jail free” card for one of your biggest…perhaps maybe even your BIGGEST – regret?

And you could hit the reset button, acknowledge your history, and start from a place where it felt as if nothing had changed and not a day has passed, and yet – even BETTER than it was before you went off the rails?

Would you do it?

Would you try?

Open up your email or the contacts list on your phone and see what the future holds for you and those dead circuits in your past.

You may have the same epiphany that I’ve had – that you didn’t realize how much you missed it until you realized how much you missed it.

Go out into the world and fix something.

some idle tuesday

(if you don’t read this whole thing, you’re already forgiven. i already know it’s gonna be a loooooong one.)

it’s just after 11:30 – i just tucked him into bed with his two faithful dogs, and after the day he had, i’m pretty sure he’s already asleep.

i can’t tag him in this post, because he’ll definitely see it if i do…it’s already likely he’ll see it anyway, but for now – this will just be between us.

as some of you know, i should be in Philadelphia tonight…wrapping up the first of two day’s worth of sessions and looking forward to a weekends’ worth of shows, but i’m still in Nashville – sitting in a quiet house as midnight approaches and pondering the last two weeks – and considering the implications of the next two weeks and playing out multiple scenarios in my head, wondering which is most practical or most likely or most (or least) likely to extend the clock as much as possible.

for some vain reason, i feel compelled to tell you why.

you guys remember that fake email that made its rounds back during the halcyon days of the internet? the one that purported to be “Kurt Vonnegut’s commencement address to MIT”, but instead was a column written by a Chicago reporter…the “sunscreen” email?

the relevant passage:

“Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.”

Some Idle Tuesday has fallen on our formerly calm household.

let me fill in the blanks for you as best as i can…

those of you who know me beyond what instrument i played in what band at what time know a little about my attitudes towards family…i’ve likely bored most of you with my diatribe about how family is something you create, not something you’re born into – and how you can’t feel responsible for being saddled with a horde of people who just happen to share a few chromosomes with you, when you have literally nothing else in common, and all that jazz.

truth? i still believe that. even all these years later, after i’ve moved from being a weed in the garden to being something of a partriarch, all these years later, with my own children and with fewer and fewer folks who could lay claim to having known me when i was younger…i still feel as though family absolutely MUST have some foundation to stand on that isn’t simply built on shared DNA – there has to be a bond there that goes deeper than having shared the same vaginal path into the material world.

so yeah – i was never close to my family. they seemed like fucking aliens to me, and i’m pretty certain that i seemed like an alien to them, too.

but then, there was my brother Jim.

just to fill in the blanks…the first thing you have to know is that my dad was the epitome of a fucking Garbage Human. absolute trash, a racist alcoholic shitstain on humanity who should have spent his life in prison (although, paradoxically enough, i wouldn’t be here to type this if he had…so there’s that).

he had a number of wives, thus siring a number of children – two prior to my particular set of siblings…the eldest of us, my brother Jim – and his younger brother Bob…before moving on to other pursuits…namely, my mother – who gave him three more children. who the fuck knows how many other siblings might be scattered out there, but i gotta go with what i know.

Jim is the first…the oldest of the lot. I was the oldest of my particular strain.

i remember seeing a specific photo of him with his first wife, judy – he was living in the UK at the time, and he was always something of a Rock Star In Absentia to me. i grew up with cousins and aunts and grandparents who farmed and picked cotton and grew their own food, but i had this half-brother who lived in ENGLAND! he wasn’t like the rest of us! he had managed to find his way out into the world and actually have a life, to go to faraway places and live somewhere other than West Fucking Tennessee – and i can’t say, even all these years later, if i would have figured out whether or not it was possible to live outside the constraints of my birth circumstance if it hadn’t been for hearing about “my brother Jimmy” when i was a small kid, and wondering what it must’ve been like to live in England, to actually travel the world, to somehow have that ability to shake loose the circumstance of your birth and say, “nah, fuck that…i can do better.”

when i was older, my mother sent my brother and i to Memphis to spend a couple of weeks with my brother Jim and his Mysterious English Wife, Alex – a saint of a woman if ever there was one. i remember my well-meaning mother warning me before we left that they were Buddhists – because apparently that’s something you warn people about when you come from where we did.

that time was transformative, to say the least.

it was summertime, they stayed up with us to watch movies, we got to see Doctor Who for the first time (for-real Tom Baker Doctor Who, vintage shit), i remember watching “Alien” with them and falling off a chair when the alien sprang out of the escape pod with Ripley in it), and – at a very, very impressionable point in my life – figuring out for myself that life wasn’t just about where you were planted when you landed, but about where you were able to land once you figured out what the notion of home meant to you. you didn’t have to marry a girl from your hometown, you could go out into the world and find a soulmate. you didn’t have to get a job at the same plant that everyone else in your hometown ended up at, you could cast your net out into the world and find something that fits…and not SETTLE for whatever landed in your lap.

i’m pretty confident that my big brother had no idea that he taught me this stuff, but he sure as hell did, in an indirect but significant way.

lessons taught by example are ALWAYS more powerful than academic instruction or advice.

i grew up. i played music and weaseled my way into bands in high school and figured out who i was, what i was, and what i was supposed to do, and it became patently obvious that i needed to cast my net further than my hometown…so i joined the Navy (cheaper than college), ended up in the Philadelphia area, married (twice), had three amazing kids who’ve taught me far, far more than i bothered to teach them.

i’ve been far, far luckier than i deserve to be.

but i largely abandoned my biological family. time passed, shit happened, and i didn’t have any real emotional tie to most of them as it was, so i let nature take its course, and the distance took its toll. my mother would call and i’d talk to her, i’d visit home once in a blue moon, and i’d commiserate with them when life required it of me, but i still never felt close to most of them.

but Jimmy? Jimmy was different.

i can look up from my laptop this very minute and see a photo he took of me when i was no more than thirteen or fourteen, sitting behind the drums in my room at the house we lived in…yard sale clothes on my back, frizzy hair, holding drumsticks and pretending to play – i still have a vague memory of when that photo was taken.

at that point in my life, i did almost nothing but eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, and play drums…and while everybody else looked at me as if i was insane, Jimmy came to visit and actually asked me to pose for a picture behind my drums.

he acknowledged me.

he validated me.

it probably seems stupid, but any creative soul existing in a vacuum such as the one i grew up in is always one criticism away from throwing in the towel and getting a landscaping job or selling weed at the Quik-Mart when you grow up in a town like my hometown.

without burdening you with too many details of my adolescence, let’s leave it at this – Jimmy was a role model, a hero who demonstrated with his actions that it was possible to escape a future of baling hay and picking cotton just like the rest of my cousins who embraced their lot in life and never made an effort to do anything outside their assumed birthright.

so i pushed a little harder.

i made a little more effort.

i aspired to things that most people considered foolish.

i made plans.

i dared to dream of something other than burning out in my hometown.

and i have a number of people to thank for that, but maybe first among them would be my Big Brother.
now, all these years later, i have half a century of memories filed away – and i’ve travelled the world, i’ve played music in almost every state in the union, i’ve lived what i consider to be a pretty memorable life, and it’s still going…and i remain thankful for all that i have – both in terms of friends and experiences.

and while i’ve fallen out of touch with most of my family (especially in the years since my mother died almost 15 years ago), Jimmy has been a constant.

we haven’t been great at staying in touch, but whenever the phone would ring, it was as if barely a month had passed since we last spoke. he was always there, somehow, and while he was a patchwork quilt of The Old South, Buddhism, Europe, the Big City and the Country – he was never inaccessible, and i never stopped looking up to him…even as his own personal cracks began to show and he revealed himself to the Adult Version of me to be just as flawed as we all are.

when i moved the family to Nashville in 2014, we reached out to him, and it was at a crucial time. as fate would have it, he was about to go into the hospital for what turned out to be a quadruple bypass, and we welcomed him into our home during his recuperation period. he got back on his feet, went back to his home in Hohenwald with his dogs, and we saw each other when we saw each other…he came to my sporadic shows in Nashville, and visited on Christmas…and we went to his house for Thanksgiving…just every so often, ya know?

we’re all getting older. ALL of us. some of us faster than others.

i used to think that Jerry Garcia got it right…he packed several lifetimes’ worth of living into his 53 years, and he checked out without failing organs or dialysis or chemotherapy or invasive surgery or any of that shit – and to a degree, i still feel like Jerry got it right.

once your quality of life starts to desert you, things get dicey.

but if you’re lucky, you get to make that call. you get to look at your circumstances and decide, for you and your family, whether the quality of life questions outweigh everything else.

me? i’ll take a pile of Klonopins and check out on the spot…but that’s my choice. it’s not everybody’s choice, and i get it.

recently, Jim has been confronted with that choice.

he called me about a month ago with the news…he had checked into the VA emergency room with shortness of breath, chest pains and the like…and they had admitted him, done a scan, and – in the process – they found approximately 15 lesions on his brain during a CT scan taken during his stay.

his doctors didn’t pull any punches. after other cancer treatments, kidney issues and a quadruple bypass, this was going to be the final act.

best case scenario?

six months.

anyone in his situation has three options: surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. in his case, two of those options were immediately off the table due to age and medical history, and the final one – radiation – has no hope of actually eradicating the cancer that’s consuming his brain on multiple fronts.
i spoke with his oncologist and arranged for him to come live with us here in East Nashville, because we’re less than a half hour from Vanderbilt and the VA hospital, and – perhaps selfishly – if he only gets a short time, i kinda want to have him close. i want to help out in whatever way i can, because the truth is – I OWE HIM.

so he’s been here for two-plus weeks’ worth of appointments, of surgery followups, of radiation consultations, of ER visits for pneumonia and fluid on his feet and ankles…it’s been a handful. it’s also been hard watching his memory fail him, watching his frailty robbing him of basic things like the ability to walk to the bathroom unescorted, and fatigue starting to become a 24 hour adversary.

so…for the time being…we have a diagnosis – stage 4 brain cancer.

but we also have a plan.

I’m going to do everyihing i can on a daily basis to help him continue to make new memories and to tell me ALL about the ones he wants to share.

so – for the foreseeable future, we’ll be watching TV, going to doctors’ appointments, trying to stand up to whole-head radiation, and the like.

we’ll also be going on road trips, driving past old houses, eating at the biscuit house, finding barbeque, looking at old pictures, and watching the sun go down through the front window of the house from “the dan may chair” (a recliner that Dan gave me years ago when he was remodeling his house).

we have a motto here, now…”eat the fucking bacon”.

derived in no small part from Warren Zevon’s “enjoy every sandwich”, it gets marched out whenever we get too precious about choices around here.

so for the time being, i’ll leave you with that…”eat the fucking bacon”.

hopefully, i’ll see all my PHL friends in due time…and for this aborted trip, i want to offer my sincere apologies to Michael Braunfeld, Skip Denenberg, Gordon Glantz, and Jon VanSpriell for my absence this week – know that I’ll get to you guys in due time. (also, Tony Rosario – we’ll get squared away ASAP. I promise, ok?)

a little random advice…

SO – recently, I was approached by a musical colleague with a proposition to produce his debut album.  I was (and continue to be) flattered – it’s not a scenario that comes up often, even though I’ve been involved in production for some years now.

We’ve been going back and forth for a week or so, exchanging thoughts and demos and such, and tonight he sent me an email with the question:

“…do you think I should even be thinking about making a record right now?”

I sat down to reply to his note, and several hundred words later, I finally got around to hitting “send” and thought – maybe these words might find a nerve with a larger audience, so – here you go.  Reprinted here in its entirety.

 


 

Boy….you’ve asked the $64,000 question, there.

And of course, I’m not gonna be able to go to bed without spitting out an answer of some sort.

There’s really only one person who can answer that question, and that’s ultimately you.  BUT – there are some points to consider when thinking about something like this.

You can’t really base the answer to “should I make a record?” on the number of Facebook followers you have, or how many people are showing up for gigs, or statistics, or algorithms – because none of that is gonna give you the right answer.

First of all, you should come to terms with a couple of universal truths:

1. Your first album will underperform your expectations.  Even if it sells a quarter million copies, it will fall short of some mark you’ve set for it in your mind.  It’s just the way our brains work.  There’s nothing you can do about it either before or afterward, it’s just the way it is.  Might as well prepare for it.

2.You will hate your first record for the rest of your life.  I won’t try to explain that to you in an email, it’s best saved for a conversation – but you should also make peace with that beforehand.  It’s yet another universal truth – you will likely end up hating your first album.  Jackson Browne hates his first record, and it’s universally considered one of the best debuts ever.  Counting Crows’ first record is brilliant, as is the debut by Crosby, Stills and Nash – they’re the exceptions to the rule, as those records represent something unique to their frames of reference….but if you surveyed a thousand bands or artists, 997 of them will hate their first record.  They will almost all have fond memories of making their first record, they’ll have stories about the making of their first record, they’ll tell you all about what they learned making their first record, but they’ll insist they hate it.

NOW – that last point is important.

Because – not unlike having children – making your first record is something that it’s easy to convince yourself to put off, to postpone, to talk yourself out of making that first record.

But days become weeks become months becomes years until it becomes “why bother” and you end up shelving it indefinitely.

So the answer to your question is yeah – you should make a record.

BUT – what’s a record?

Does it need to be a full length, 12 song effort?  Can it be an EP?  Does it need to be physical product?  Can I release it on iTunes/Spotify/etc. only, or do I need to actually have something you can hold in your hand?

This is all stuff you have to think about and come to the best conclusion for yourself, but I’ll tell you this:

Every single artist whos’ ever walked the earth has been in your shoes.  Everybody started somewhere, everybody had to figure this out for themselves, everybody had to make mistakes to learn valuable lessons from, everybody played to empty rooms, everybody slept in rest stops, everybody lost sleep and worried too much…frankly, if they didn’t, they’re not doing it right.

Making your first record is a rite of passage – no matter what the final product is (EP, CD, Vinyl album, iTunes only release)…it doesn’t matter.

You’re gonna learn the process, you’re gonna figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, you’re gonna develop preferences for certain rooms, certain microphones, certain instruments, certain players – and honestly, man…the only way to do it is to do it.

I feel like my job in this process is to make it as painless for you as possible, and the way to do that is to develop as clear a vision as we can for what you want the final product to sound like and come up with a way to get you there.  What form that product takes is up to you, and we don’t necessarily need to know that out of the gate…obviously, with limited budgets, that’s going to affect the process and we’ll have to make decisions around that once we start devising the game plan.  You have options.  A veritable SHITLOAD of options.  There’s no one right way to make a record, and our mission is to figure out YOUR right way to make a record.

I don’t need charts at the moment, but I appreciate the offer.

Since you’re not on a timetable, then right now my advice would be to keep writing.  Keep making demos.

Momentum generates momentum.

If you tell yourself you’re making a record, it grants validity to your efforts, it creates inspiration, and it makes you feel like you’re working towards something.

So write and record at home and think about this vague concept of a “record” and write with that in mind and write so many fucking songs that you’ll lie awake nights thinking about which songs belong on the record, and what the record will sound like based on your choices.

Some folks might call it anxiety, but I tend to think of it as feeling alive.

Let the work call the shots, and we’ll figure the rest of it out as we go – it’s far and away the best way to make a record.

That way, when you’re seventy years old and thinking back on this time of your life, you can look at the whole experience with a smile on your face.

Yeah, you’ll hate your first record, just like everybody else…but if you don’t make your first record, you’ll never make your second, or your third, or your fourth – so at some point, you gotta jump on into the water, brother.

Come on in and join the rest of us.

That’s me in the spotlight, losing my….

(this was from a Facebook post from a year ago today, and perhaps more true now than it was then.)

…religion – ALL religion, regardless of denomination – amplifies who you are as a person. it’s a channel through which your natural inclinations are shown to your fellow man. if you’re cut from kind, loving, charitable stock, then you’ll find inspiration from your faith to escalate your game in that direction.

conversely, the same is true if you’re someone who walks the earth with a chip on your shoulder, full of hostility and general disdain for your fellow man. If you’re a hateful person, you’ll use your faith or your religion as a crutch or a banner to propogate and spread your hatred and fear of anyone who doesn’t hate the same people you hate.
Whether it’s ISIS or the Westboro Baptist Church, the latter scenario is true across the board with all of them.
People who are inclined to hate will do it in the name of their chosen higher power, because they find absolution in it. It frees them from personal responsibility for their own character.  
It’s not Islam, specifically, that we need to be worried about. It’s the alarming rise in population of people who only know how to hate each other. And they exist EVERYWHERE, in every color and creed.  
And there are more in your own backyard, dressed like you, speaking the same language as you, going to the same church as you…than you may want to realize.
Blame religion, blame guns, blame politicians, whatever gets you through the night…but our downfall will be our failure to simply see our fellow man through a different lens – and choose kindness over hate and exclusion.

what Al Franken SHOULD say…

so there’s been an announcement that Al Franken intends to address the public at some point tomorrow.

Hi, Al – just in case your speechwriters were maybe hitting a wall, I went ahead and wrote up a little somethin’ for you to consider incorporating into your remarks.

You’re welcome.

 

My fellow Americans…

You see before you a man who, on a lark nearly a decade ago, did something stupid, insensitive and just plain wrong.

In fact, I’m willing to bet that you’re seeing an awful lot of guys who have done stupid, insensitive and wrong things regarding their treatment of the opposite sex lately, and regrettably, I’m one of them.

If there’s a silver lining to this maelstrom of courage that’s swept up our victims this past few months, I’d say it’s this – it’s given us an opportunity to have open, frank discussions about gender, harrassment, and shame in this country.

Tonight, I’d like to focus a bit on the latter.

Friends, you are living in a parody of a once-great country, a Nation Upside Down and at war with itself…a war being fought largely via a tidal wave of hypocrisy, and this issue is no different.

I don’t come before you today to argue that the scrutiny of my actions has been unwarranted – rather, I want to remind you that ALL of us – Democrat, Republican and Undeclared – are willing participants in the most staggering double standard in modern political history, where the notion of scrutiny is concerned.

I would remind you that the very people calling for my resignation are supporting the candidacy of a pedophile to take office in the same legislative body that I’m currently a part of.

I would remind you that my colleague, John Conyers, just resigned from Congress for the same offenses that Blake Farenthold is accused of, and Mr. Farenthold’s repentance is comprised of cutting a check to reimburse the $84,000 settlement that American taxpayers paid on his behalf…and oddly, no one seems to give a rats’ ass about his transgressions, if media coverage is any indicator.

I would remind you that just last year, sixty two million Americans went to the polls after hearing their candidate brag about “grabbing women by the pussy” and throw their vote behind him anyway…and I would submit to you that those are the very people who are currently calling for my head on a spike.

I am not defending my actions, nor am I asking that you overlook my behavior – but if you’re willing to be truly honest with yourselves, you cannot ignore the fact that, at present, WE ONLY SEEM TO DEMAND ACCOUNTABILITY FROM DEMOCRATS.

Let me say that again, so that you have a moment to let it sink in….

WE ONLY DEMAND ACCOUNTABILITY FROM DEMOCRATS.

We are currentlly less than a week away from a historic election, in which an accused pedophile may very well be seated in the United States Senate. The Majority Leader of that body voted in favor of Bill Clintons’ impeachment twenty years ago, but his moral position seems to be considerably more flexible all these years later, as he’s all in for the guy. Jeff Sessions also voted for impeachment, but he’s clearly possessed of the same selective integrity as the other leaders of his party. John McCain, Richard Shelby, Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Grassley…all found their voices to condemn a sitting President two decades ago, but now – with a man sitting in the Oval Office carrying the accusations of over a dozen women of the same sins I have publicly confessed before you, they have fallen silent.

I will say again – what I did was wrong.

But I didn’t jump through hoops to distract, deny, or otherwise obstruct the words of my accuser…I issued an immediate apology, and I called for an Ethics Committee investigation the day the incident came to light.

In other words, while I can’t change what happened, I’ve done everything in my power to own it and be a man about it, before God, my family, and my constituents.

Where others who stand accused of similar – and much worse – are concerned, I seem to be in the minority in that regard, and you know it.

And I know you know it.

So to those who have steadfastly called for my resignation, I stand before you today to say to you:

Either spread it accordingly amongst your own kind, or just go the fuck away.

There WILL be an Ethics Committee investigation. My fate will be decided after a thorough review of the facts involved in my case.

In the meantime, I would ask those of you who keep parroting the notion that “the people of Alabama should decide” whether or not a pedophile can be a senator or not to kindly go fuck yourself before weighing in on the future of my political career.

Merry Christmas.

We Get The Government We Deserve

In less than two weeks, Roy Moore will be the newest member of the United States Senate.

Why?  Because he’s exactly what the people of Alabama, and the nation, deserve.

Now of course, you’re reading this, and you’re already offended, because if you’re a person who runs in the same circles as I do, you’re not someone who traffics in the same ideologies that people like Roy Moore does…you’re a generally tolerant person who puts a lot of stock in “live and let live”, you don’t trade in hatred, in bigotry, in sexism, in demonizing people based on race or religion…you understand that the constitution was actually written to enforce freedom of religion, and you don’t twist that principle to leverage Christianity over other faiths or practices.

And that means that you, like myself, are in the electoral minority in this country.

Sure, we all know that there’s a huge unrepresented ghost-herd of “reasonable disconnected citizens” out there who don’t hate people, but also don’t vote, don’t participate in the process, and as such – don’t COUNT…because they’re unwitting participants in the rise to power of unrepentant assclowns like Roy Moore.

Let’s be clear, here….political scandal is NOT a new thing.

But the vast majority of scandals past ended predictably – with the ensuing publicity resulting in resignations (Mark Foley, Larry Craig, Tom DeLay, etc.) and occasionally jail time (William Jefferson, Duke Cunningham, and the like).  There have been the odd outliers who managed to escape any real electoral scrutiny after coming out on the other side of various scandals, but – until very, VERY recently, they seemed to be – by far – the exception rather than the rule.

We’ve entered a new age, though.

We’ve entered the Age Of Zero Accountability here…where you can publicly rape and pillage as long as you have an R after your name and walk the streets unmolested.

Now, we have assholes like Scott DesJarlais, who managed to get re-elected by a horde of trailer dwellers in East Tennessee after a laundry list of shitty behavior.  For those of you who are old enough to remember this past summer, there’s Greg Gianforte – who was elected LITERALLY THE NEXT FUCKING DAY after being brought up on assault charges for physically attacking a reporter…and first lying about it, but being disproven by an audio recording of the attack.  (some of you who actually bother to watch the news may remember the “man on the street” soundbites of folks who said that the fact he went at Ben Jacobs actually made them MORE likely to vote for Gianforte.)  And, hey – if you remember that, you probably remember the good folks of Georgia electing human cardboard cutout Karen Handel after famously telling her potential constituents that she “did not support a living wage”.

You see, we don’t punish our lawmakers for wrongdoing now, and – shit, even WORSE – we reward garbage humans with seats on Capitol Hill in light of incontrovertible evidence of shitty behavior.

Alabama, the state currently in question, actually has a colorful recent history of rewarding shitty behavior in lawmakers – their state Speaker of the House, Michael Hubbard, was famously brought up on two dozen counts of corruption prior to election day and – guess what – he won re-election.  Oh, and not only that – once re-elected, he was given his old Speaker job back by his fellow lawmakers WHILE AWAITING TRIAL.

Then, of course, there’s Robert Bentley, the gross, Viagra-popping, secretary-groping, dirty-talkin’ Governor who got caught on tape saying some truly creepy shit to the object of his affection.  Oh, and due to the politically exquisite timing of that particular shitstorm, it turns out that there was a Senate seat to name someone to – what with perennial Disney Bad Guy Jeff Sessions becoming Attorney General and all.  So Governor SexyTalk named his Attorney General, Luther Strange (no, you really CAN’T make shit like that up) to replace Sessions on Capitol Hill…mere moments after he managed to squelch impeachment proceedings against Bentley in his capacity as state Attorney General.

So you see, that’s how shit works now.

We are a nation of knuckle-dragging, Budweiser-swilling intellectual midgets who are not just unafraid, but PROUD to reward garbage humans at the ballot box.  And in the Gilded Age of Trump, all bets are off.

Beat up a reporter?  You Win.

Fuck a mannequin out of wedlock while your terminally ill wife is dying of cancer, all while leading a good old torches and pitchforks revolt against a sitting president for a less shitty plot of your own story?

You Win.

Arrange for an abortion for your mistress while running on a staunch pro-life position?

You Win.

Two Dozen Counts of Corruption?

You Win.

Alabama, it’s not as if it’s a choice between two similar fucking shades of grey, here.

You’re not choosing between two similar mindsets who have slightly different outlooks on intricate legislative points…two guys who are both shitty but maybe one is slightly less shitty than the other.

There is ZERO nuance involved here.

You’re literally choosing between a fucking nutjob whos’ been thrown off the bench not once, but TWICE – for failing to enforce constitutional law.  A dude who, even BEFORE the truly shitty stuff started coming out recently, was ALREADY a drastically awful candidate – but in light of his fondness for teenage girls and getting banned from the mall and all the avalanche of crap that’s come out lately, it’s as if the cherry on top of the whipped cream somehow actually became the entire fucking sundae….

…you’re choosing between that guy and a lawyer with decades of prosecutorial experience fighting for the people of your state, to include actually sending members of the Klan to jail for bombing a church and killing four children.

You’re literally being asked to choose between John McClain and Hans Gruber, and you’re charging to the polls yelling “Yippie Ki-aaaaay, Motherfucker!” in a German accent.

In two weeks, Doug Jones will join Jon Ossoff and Merrick Garland on the sidelines to watch the final chapter of this shitstorm run its course towards swallowing up our democracy…and we’ll deserve every sad, ridiculous, avoidable landmine that we collectively step on.

Hide your daughters.