Posted in rants - political and otherwise

never take a vote for granted

this is why I think we’ll wake up tomorrow morning to find the TrumpCare bill will have passed the House vote.

Sherrod Brown of Ohio wrote this editorial fourteen years ago…and if anything, things have only gotten worse.

Never before has the House of Representatives operated in such secrecy:

At 2:54 a.m. on a Friday in March, the House cut veterans’ benefits by three votes.

At 2:39 a.m. on a Friday in April, the House slashed education and health care

by five votes.

At 1:56 a.m. on a Friday in May, the House passed the Leave No Millionaire Behind tax-cut bill by a handful of votes.

At 2:33 a.m. on a Friday in June, the House passed the Medicare privatization and prescription drug bill by one vote.

At 12:57 a.m. on a Friday in July, the House eviscerated Head Start by one vote.

And then, after returning from summer recess, at 12:12 a.m. on a Friday in October, the House voted $87 billion for Iraq.

Always in the middle of the night. Always after the press had passed their deadlines. Always after the American people had turned off the news and gone to bed.

What did the public see? At best, Americans read a small story with a brief explanation of the bill and the vote count in Saturday’s papers.

But what did the public miss? They didn’t see the House votes, which normally take no more than 20 minutes, dragging on for as long as an hour as members of the Republican leadership trolled for enough votes to cobble together a majority.

They didn’t see GOP leaders stalking the floor for whoever was not in line. They didn’t see Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay coerce enough Republican members into switching their votes to produce the desired result.

In other words, they didn’t see the subversion of democracy.

And late last month, they did it again. The most sweeping changes to Medicare in its 38-year history were forced through the House at 5:55 on a Saturday morning.

The debate started at midnight. The roll call began at 3 a.m. Most of us voted within the typical 20 minutes. Normally, the speaker would have gaveled the vote closed. But not this time; the Republican-driven bill was losing.

By 4 a.m., the bill had been defeated 216-218, with only one member, Democrat David Wu, not voting. Still, the speaker refused to gavel the vote closed.

Then the assault began.

Hastert, DeLay, Republican Whip Roy Blount, Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas, Energy and Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin – all searched the floor for stray Republicans to bully.

I watched them surround Cincinnati’s Steve Chabot, trying first a carrot, then a stick; but he remained defiant. Next, they aimed at retiring Michigan Congressman Nick Smith, whose son is running to succeed him. They promised support if he changed his vote to yes and threatened his son’s future if he refused. He stood his ground.

Many of the two dozen Republicans who voted against the bill had fled the floor. One Republican hid in the Democratic cloakroom.

By 4:30, the browbeating had moved into the Republican cloakroom, out of sight of C-SPAN cameras and the insomniac public. Republican leaders woke President George W. Bush, and a White House aide passed a cell phone from one recalcitrant member to another in the cloakroom.

At 5:55, two hours and 55 minutes after the roll call had begun – twice as long as any previous vote in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives – two obscure western Republicans emerged from the cloakroom. They walked, ashen and cowed, down the aisle to the front of the chamber, scrawled their names and district numbers on green cards to change their votes and surrendered the cards to the clerk.

The speaker gaveled the vote closed; Medicare privatization had passed.

You can do a lot in the middle of the night, under the cover of darkness.

I’m willing to concede that there’s every chance I could be wrong about this, but I’ve got a hunch I might not be.

 

Posted in rants - political and otherwise, yesterday. today. tomorrow.

The Nashville Manifesto

it’s a song i’ve heard countless times, going back decades.

 

the “you should move to nashville” song.

 

and i’ve always had a readily available excuse…and a backup excuse, and a few more on standby in case i hadn’t made my point yet…

 

“there are dozens of guys in Nashville who do what i do that are delivering pizzas, and I’m lucky enough to be able to work regularly here…”

“all the session work is tied up with a handful of guys who get called for everything, and most of the folks running those sessions have a list of backups already, but they tend to go with a known quantity because they have to get the work done and they’re not prone to taking chances….”

“since the record business has died, a lot of the session cats have had to take road work to put food on the table, and the guys who used to get calls for road work are painting houses to make ends meet…”

“bands don’t really tour anymore, they go out for weekends or extended short runs, and you can’t make any money that way…”

“i don’t think i could play some of the crap that comes out of nashville for very long without wanting to put a pistol in my mouth…”

“i was born in tennessee. i grew up in tennessee. and that’s why i don’t want to go back. i don’t have a whole lot of fond memories of it.”

 

most (if not all) of you who know me have heard me say all this at least once or twice – and certainly, most of – if not all – of that is still true, to me…or at least that’s my perception.

but in my mind, the one constant – in the past, anyway – was that the only real reason to move to nashville would be for me to pursue some sort of foothold in the music business, to make some attempt to infiltrate the network of road musicians and get a steady gig with someone that i could feel good about playing with. and every time the thought has crossed my mind or the opportunity has presented itself, i’ve managed to convince myself that packing up my family (or more accurately in years past, moving away from my older children and creating a scenario where i’d see them even less than i did…since they were still in the nest at the time) was just a bad move on my part as a parent – especially with no guarantee of anything on the other end of the leap of faith to make it worth the sacrifice i’d be making to make it happen.

but there’s a shift in the tide, here.

it’s been gradual…i could point back a number of years, actually…and i’m not sure i ever saw it coming, but last month, the alarm went off and i woke up and found myself standing at the crossroads.

There is, of course, some backstory:

My five year old son was still in diapers when we moved to philadelphia from reading – a move precipitated by the fact that both jayda and dylan had flown the coop, i’d taken a job in IT working for Wells Fargo in Center City Philadelphia, and i was spending in the neighborhood of $750 a month on gasoline to commute to work.

So we found a cute house in Havertown – a single family, 3 bedroom house with a somewhat finished basement and central heat/air for $1300 a month.

i know that some of you reading this who might live in other parts of the country are already picking your jaws up off the floor. but that’s not really out of step with what the market was for rental properties at that point in time in the philly suburbs. it was not then, nor has it ever been, a particularly cheap place to live.

well, we fell in love with that house…danny grew up there, alongside four other houses’ full of kids his age, lined up in a row starting next door and continuing down the street where we lived. the back yard was expansive, covered with shade from a tree that must’ve been over fifty years old – i remember on a couple of occasions lying on our backs, danny and i, looking up at the leaves and branches over our heads and taking it all in.

when our lease term expired, the porperty management company raised the rent a mere $20.00 – which we saw as a good sign. at one point, we even asked their permission to reach out to the owner with regard to the possibility of selling the house, but the house belonged to a 94 year old woman named Frances Glenn, who was in assisted living at the time – so the oldest son replied to tell us that it was impossible to sell the house at that point, because it belonged to his mother and he didn’t have the authority to make that kind of decision about the house.

Not quite a year later, we received word from the proerty management office that Mrs. Glenn had passed away, and they’d be needing access to the property so that assessors could evaluate the worth of the house for the estate. Wendy and I started worrying immediately that the house would be sold and we’d be looking for a new place to live, after having made a much bigger emotional investment in the house than we ever should have, in retrospect. But our agent assured us that this was typical in these scenarios, that anytime this happened it was necessary to have the property assessed for tax purposes, and that we shouldn’t read anything into this.

So we took a nervous, deep breath, and continued on with life as usual.

Fast forward half a year or so – I was on the road with Boris Garcia in Northern California, and I woke to a text from Wendy at around 7am California time…the text contained a photo of a letter from the property management company, informing us that the estate had been settled, the oldest son – the one who couldn’t be bothered to have a conversation with me about selling the property barely a year prior – had bought out his siblings and he inteneded to occupy the property and we had 60 days to vacate.

in all honesty, i don’t think we’ve gotten over this to this day.

but, still – we had to accept it and regroup and move forward. but moving forward meant trying to find a house in the middle of the hoopla surrounding the US Open coming to Upper Merion Golf Club – which was mere miles from where we lived. so not onlly were rental properties at a premium, but there were people who were actually leaving for vacation and renting their houses out to Golf Fanatics for exorbitant prices. so we’re looking for a home for our family in the midst of all this…and needless to say, there was nothing anywhere in the neighborhood where we were that was even remotely close to being in our price range. there were houses that were literally renting for $6000 a week to wealthy golf fanatics from God knows where, and we were trying to find a reasonable place to live in the midst of all this.

we ended up settling for a house that was 200 square feet smaller in Morton – tucked in the corner of the intersection of I-95 and the “Blue Route” (the I-476 expressway). it was convenient to my day job at the time, but literally nothing else. it was 30 minutes one way to Danny’s preschool, which we were determined to keep him in for his final year there…farther from just about everything that was important to us.

Looming larger than any of that, though, was the fact that the rent for the new place was $1500.00 – very nearly a $200 increase in rent from what we were paying for a house we loved…for a house that didn’t really excite either one of us very much. not necessarily because it was that much worse a place to live, but because – well, it wasn’t the House In Havertown. it was, simply put, ill equipped to to compete with what we’d come from. It was three bedrooms, but the bedrooms were microscopic – and the upstairs bathroom was so small that when you sat on the toilet, it was nearly impossible not to be up against the wall…and standing in the shower, i could literally see over the shower curtain rod. I took to calling the place “The Hobbit House”.

We moved into the house a year ago this past June – while I was on the road with the Marshall Tucker Band. when I left, we lived in Havertown…when i came back off the road, we lived in The Hobbit House in Morton.

It was an interesting year, to say the least – for a lot of reasons that had nothing to do with the house specifically, but when the lease expiration started to creep up on us, we didn’t really give any thought to moving, as i don’t think either of us had the energy to even consider it. we hadn’t looked for anything as the lease term was expiring, anyway…until a random conversation that Wendy had with one of the mothers from Danny’s preschool. It turned out that she and her family were moving back to South Carolina due to some sort of promotion from work, and they’d be moving out at the end of June. So we went to see the house, and it was awesome…4 bedrooms, a HUGE finished basement, a deck, a porch swing – but…BUT…it was TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS a MONTH.

Still, we seriously considered it – the logic being that we’d have available child care because we’d be back in our old neighborhood and we knew people we felt comfortable with that would LOVE to have Danny a few days a week, which meant that we could all work and we could likely make up the $500 difference between what we were paying now and what we would be paying.

But, after considering this for a few days, and after being prompted by this opportunity to take a look online and see what else might be available in our old neighborhood, reality began to set in.

Even when we first moved to town, and were paying $1340 a month, we were getting by. Certainly not saving money, not buying anything extravagant, not getting ahead…but getting by. And thanks to the occasional runs with MTB, we were able to make $1500 work when we had to move. But since the contract expired at my day gig at the end of the year, and with me staying home with Danny while Dylan and Wendy went to work, even $1500 had become taxing…there were late payments here and there (which, thankfully, the landlord worked through with us) and things became difficult as a rule of thumb. If it weren’t for my musical income, we’d have probably been out on the street at some point…but we always managed to make things work.

Now, we were looking at moving into a house that was $500 more per month than what we were already paying…and it didn’t take long to figure out that, even if I went back to work and Wendy either stayed home or found daycare for Danny, the math just wasn’t going to end up in the black.

Then, looking at the few other properties that were on the rental market in the area, one thing became clear – the whole “bump” that had happened as a result of the US Open spike obviously had something of a lasting effect. Havertown, as I’d seen it, was essentially a working-class neighborhood. Our street was a quiet, peaceful street that consisted largely of families with young children…folks with no pretense. approachable, good people. But the notion of finding another house comparable to the one we’d lived in before for a similar price was fading into a pipe dream. there were the occasional duplexes and the like to be found, but generally speaking, every available single family home with 3 or more bedrooms to be found was listing at a minimum of $1850 – and much more likely at $2k or up. It was a huge spike, and it was nowhere near being matched on the income side.

When I started working the Wells Fargo contract, I was making $23 an hour. When that contract expired and I went to work for Amerihealth Mercy, I was making $22 an hour. For those of you who majored in subjects other than math, that’s LESS money. And everything I’d seen or been presented with after the Amerihealth contract expired was even less than what I’d been making – mostly junior, entry level stuff that involved migrating data or moving PC’s from one office to another.

So let’s recap – housing is going up in the area where we want to live by hundreds of dollars a month on a yearly basis.

In the meantime, I’m being paid less and less per hour to show up at work.

Perhaps the federal government would disagree, but this can only have one end result:

THIS PATTERN IS UNSUSTAINABLE.

So what do we do, when faced with our preferred option being unsustainable?

You either find a way to make it sustainable – which doesn’t appear to be in the cards – or you choose another path.

So do we hunker down and suck it up and stay where we are, or do we do something drastic?

As fate would have it, my in-laws, Mark and Joanne, were passing through on their way to Maine just as all this turmoil was coming to a head, and after putting Danny to bed, we put the subject on the table…and the notion of picking up and moving to Nashville was thrown out for discussion – and they were surprisingly supportive of the concept. For them, it made sense on several levels that we hadn’t immediately considered – we’d be less than a full days’ drive away from them for nine months of the year, and with that being the case, it’d be easier for Wendy to take Danny to see friends of theirs that had moved to Tampa from Reading a few years back.

So, in keeping with the spirit of the discussion, we got out the laptops, went to Zillow.com and did a search for Nashville, TN for rental properties with a ceiling of $1500.00 – the amount we were currently paying.

To say that we were shocked to see what our Pennsylvania rent would buy in Tennessee would be a huge understatement. Sure, like any other major city, there were properties in the vicinity of the Belmont and Vanderbilt campuses that were double what we were currently paying, but some degree of that is probably to be expected. The Nashville economy is booming right now – lots of new construction, a HUGE healthcare industry presence (healthcare, is it turns out, is the largest employer in the city by a 3 to 1 margin over the next category…and where there’s healthcare, there’s IT, after all) – and due to the relatively small footprint of the city, it was easy and quick to get into the city from some of the outlying areas where the real deals on housing were to be had…and there were some deals to be had.

The other attraction to moving to Nashville was that we actually had a pretty solid number of friends there – from my musical associations, as well as a half brother who lives 90 minutes south of town. So there’d be a distinct advantage to being there, as opposed to throwing a dart at a map and blindly picking another city to move to, if we were to choose that option.

So we started the discussion, in earnest for perhaps the first time ever, of picking up, packing all our belongings, and moving out of state to Nashville, Tennessee.

After staying up very late and discussing this with Wendy and her parents, I got up the next day and placed a call to the Nashville office of Robert Half Technology, and spoke to a recruiter later that afternoon, and had set up a Skype interview for the following morning.

Yes, THAT quickly.

So, we made the call. We kept it to ourselves for a short time, but I began rooting out job opportunities and started scouring Zillow and Craigslist for potential rental properties and such – but after talking to a couple of realtors, I was advised that it’d be best to hold off on actually trying to nail anything down until I knew what my move date was going to be, and that if it wasn’t at the end of the current month, I’d be hard pressed to find something that someone wouldn’t be willing to move into before I got there.

So I decided that I was gonna make a trip south to start doing some of this legwork with my boots on the ground in town. I made arrangements to stay at my buddy Rob Snyder’s place (since he was going to be on the road for almost the entire last two weeks of the month of June) and got ready to head to town.

Danny had gone north to Maine with his grandparents when they left, and the following Sunday, I got up bright and early and got ready to head south…I managed to make the trip in 13 hours or so, on two fillups (at $60 a piece) and got to Rob’s empty house at around 11pm that night, armed and ready for my fact finding mission. I got online, compiled a list of places that I wanted to drive by the following day, and fell asleep. The next morning, I got up and re-checked CL and Zillow to see if there was anything I’d missed, emailed my list to myself, and hit the road.

I had scheduled a couple of interviews – one with the Tech company I’d done the Skype interview for, and another for a company that owns a bunch of Jackson-Hewitt tax prep offices and kiosks in the Southeast…and there’d be two more that would materialize over that week, as well.

I’d also do walkthroughs at houses and then walk through a second time to videotape the walkthrough and post it so that Wendy and Dylan could see it from back home.

Then, at the end of the day, I’d come home, decompress a bit, and go out to see music. And I went out to see music literally every single night I was there. Monday night, the Time Jumpers at Third and Lindsley. Tuesday night, dinner with my buddy Charlie (where we bumped into Dan Tyminski on the porch of the restaurant, hanging out with the owner), then to the Five Spot to see Shawn Byrnes’ surf-punk band, the Doke Ohms. Wednesday, dinner with Peter Rodman, then to Douglas Corner to see Steve Conn play a set…and bumped into George Marinelli and was introduced to Guthrie Trapp, a great player and subsequently, a good friend as well. In fact, he was playing the following night at the Station Inn with his band 18 South…so the next night, I went to a Nashville Sounds game, and went to 18 South afterward and saw a great band fronted by wonderful songwriters play to a packed house who fell absolutely silent when they played “Whiskey Lullaby” (a song written by Jon Randall with Bill Andersen). I hung out with Guthrie and some other new friends in the parking lot until the wee hours (after having been the last two folks to walk out of Douglas Corner the night before)…and this went on the entire week.

So I’d get home from whatever adventure I’d gone on that night and would sit down at the table with my laptop and go over job listings, as well as whatever might’ve been posted on CL or Zillow during the course of the day…and make my “list” for the following day. While I was there, I secured an interview for an IT position at the Frist Center, as well – which I stayed an extra day to attend. Then, later that day, I got an email from RHT asking if it’d be possible for me to work the short, pre-holiday week prior to the 4th of July at the company I’d interviewed for first…”just to see if it’s a fit,” the email said.

So I consented to stay another week and get in 32 hours with this managed services company in Franklin and see how it went, so to speak.

In the meantime, I was still looking at properties…including a place in East Nashville that had a great back yard and a deck, a full basement, and was in an awesome neighborhood – I went to see it and met Sarah, the current occupant, did a video walkthrough, and…well, the place felt to me like we already lived there, on some levels. And it’s walking distance from the river and an easy drive into the city.

So we’ve signed the lease, we’ve sent the deposit check, and…

 

…it’s a done deal.

 

The Hamptons will be moving to Nashville shortly after the beginning of August – all of us, including Dylan. (and I’m not convinced that I won’t manage to lure Jayda down eventually, either.)

 

and…perhaps the most ironic detail of this whole adventure…after considering the move for musical reasons literally dozens of times over the course of my life, we’re moving to Nashville for reasons that have absolutely ZERO to do with music or the music business.

 

Go Figure.

 

We’ve put the news out there for everyone, and I’ve given up on trying to manage people’s perception – the universal response has been based on some vague assumption that I’m making this move for musical reasons, and I can certainly understand why folks think that way. I’ve tried to explain to the folks that are willing to have the conversation exactly what I’ve said here – that it’s much less a musical decision than it is an opportunity to try to create a better existence for my family. The job I’ve accepted pays $23 an hour (which spoils my theory that the reason the cost of living is so much cheaper there is because it’s harder to make a decent wage), and there’s no state income tax, which means that I’ll keep an extra $54 or so PER WEEK from that hourly wage than I did in PA.

AND we’re paying almost the exact same amount for a 1,700 square foot home in a great neighborhood that we’re paying now for an 1,100 square foot Hobbit House in a place where none of us ever really wanted to be in the first place.

The weeks ahead of us scare the hell outta me – we’ve paid the security deposit, but we now have to come up with money for the move itself (the base rental rate for the truck is $1500.00), and work out the logistics of the move, between clearing out the storage space in reading, picking up dylan’s remaining belongings at his moms’ house, and possibly piggybacking another friend onto the move as well)…then just the sheer manpower of getting everything onto the truck, getting everyone to where they need to be and such…AND Danny starts school the second week of August, and I have three gigs in New England the weekend prior to that.

 

My head hurts just thinking about it.

 

But I do honestly believe that by the time August has come and gone, we’ll all feel that we made the right decision.

 

Send good thoughts our way, folks. We’ll need ’em.

Posted in rants - political and otherwise

an open letter to Pete Sessions

Perhaps it’s easy for most folks to believe that Congress’ arrogant, perplexing refusal to extend Unemployment benefits for millions of Americans only affects shiftless, lazy, unemployable layabouts who’ve been addicted to entitlements and have been draining the coffers for months and years.

I’m here to tell you that – at least in one very personal instance – you’re dead wrong.

That would be my own.

Explain, you say? Gladly.

As do many Americans these days, I work two jobs – I’m a freelance musician, but my “day gig” – the job that puts the majority of bread on my table – has been consulting work in the IT sector for some time now. I’ve worked in IT for over 15 years, but have been doing consulting on a temp basis for the past five. What that means, essentially, is that I’m a Temp. I work for a company who farms me out for projects, rollouts, installations, et cetera. It’s the New Normal in America in many, many fields – and statistics bear that out. So, in plain and simple terms, what that means for me and my family is that job security is a pipe dream. It means no employer-provided benefits, no paid time off for sick days, vacation, or holidays, and it further means that the longest an assignment will last is 18 months – thanks to some legal precedent set years ago when a temporary employee sued a corporation after having been retained for several years with no offer of a permanent position. The employee felt that they should be entitled to benefits extended to permanent employees, thus the basis for the lawsuit.

The actual end result, however, has been that a benchmark has been established – 18 months – after which time a company must either bring the employee on permanently or terminate their assignment.

This has been the case for as long as I’ve been doing this kind of work, and there’s no loophole that any of my employers have been aware. So what that means is that every year and a half, if I’m still on assignment after that time, the company has to either bring me on or let me go, and they tend to drop the incumbent and bring on a new face, retrain the new guy and carry on – as it’s cheaper for them to maintain “temp” staffing than it is to pay the cost of benefits for full-time, permanent employees.

So, this being the case, you can probably imagine that the Unemployment process becomes part of the package after a while. In the time since I’ve moved to Philadelphia, I’ve had to take advantage of Unemployment Compensation twice – for several months after my previous assignment, and – since December 29th when my most recent contract expired – after this one.

But here’s the huge difference between last time and this time.

Last time, I enrolled, filled out the paperwork, and began receiving benefits almost immediately.

This time, I’m looking almost six weeks into the rear view mirror and haven’t received a dime.

Why?

Congress.

See, here’s the deal.

I received roughly $500 a week in benefits for my first stint on Unemployment. This time around, I made a dollar an hour less than I did on the prior assignment…and that measley dollar resulted in a decrease in my benefit amount of over $100 a week. Because my prior benefit amount was over $100 more than what I’ve been allocated this time around, I’m required to exhaust my Federal Unemployment benefits before the state will kick in.

AND – since the Federal Unemployment benefits have expired, guess how much I’ve received in benefits since December 29th?

zero. zilch. nada.

No, it doesn’t make sense. I’m not sure why it works the way it works, but this is what I’m told. I’m not allowed to collect a single red cent in Unemployment benefits until Congress passes the extension.

In the meantime, underneath a record blanket of snow and ice, musical work has been postponed or outright cancelled, money that was already tight has all but evaporated. Rent is due. Trips to the grocery store have become miserable, painstaking exercises in mathematics prior to checkout, we’ve consolidated down to one car. Phone conversations with creditors have become commonplace, negotiating truces and working out payment schedules – because my family, like the vast majority of working families in Modern America doesn’t save money – not even when everyone is working and things are operating on our version of a “normal” playing field. There is no nest egg to fall back on when life throws us a curveball, because we live from check to check to make ends meet. So when that check vanishes, it’s not a speedbump, a temporary inconvenience.

It’s our own version of the Fiscal Cliff.

And, after six weeks of no income, we’ve gone over it.

Anyone who deals in employment forecasting will tell you that there are a few no-brainers, among them being the fact that the job market is at its worst in the months after the holidays. That’s doubly true in my field, where IT projects are typically at a lull while companies come to terms with budgets and plan for the year. What that means to our house is that there will likely be a three to four month period that will drift by while various client companies scramble to try to shake work loose from the trees. And during this period, however long it lasts, there will be no “safety net” for my house, because of a technicality that allows the State of Pennsylvania to flip me the bird and refer me over to the Federal folks, whose hands are tied because dickheads like Pete Sessions think it’s “immoral” to extend Unemployment benefits. Mr. Sessions has a short memory, since he practically tripped over himself to vote in favor of giving 750 Billion Dollars to the banks when they kicked our economy in the nutsack a few short years ago.

There are a handful of people playing in the nations’ most important sandbox who have a warped sense of priority, whose shameless self-serving agendas are hurting ALL of us – not just unemployed Americans, not just gay or lesbian Americans, not just immigrants, not just gun enthusiasts – but ALL of us. Whether it’s a sense of powerlessness, apathy, or distraction, we seem to be more than happy to ignore it. To turn and look the other way, to pretend it isn’t happening…but left to eventually bend at the hips and brace for the impact.

Maybe you’re one of the lucky folks who – whether bracing for it or not – have yet to feel the impact. Maybe they haven’t gotten around to you yet. But trust me – the law of averages won’t allow for you to be excluded forever. Sooner or later, you’re gonna find yourself in the same position I am. In some form or fashion, they’ll get around to you someday.

Posted in rants - political and otherwise, yesterday. today. tomorrow.

amy winehouse and bill morrissey

there appears to be something of a new, intangible cottage industry springing up around the notion of being cynical about death.

when the news of amy winehouse’s passing hit yesterday, twitter lit up with any number of arrogant, snarky missives about her, and i was scrolling through all this on my phone and wondering to myself, what’s the point of all this?  what did she do to bring this down upon her in the hours after shuffling off?

i’ll certainly admit that there have been people whose deaths have not exactly triggered a sense of loss for me, and there will most certainly be more.  i highly doubt that i’ll shed a tear when dick cheney finally, for the last time,  clutches the spot in his chest where a heart would normally be found and drops to the floor.   but dick bought and paid for that lack of empathy with no visible outward sign of regret for the life he’s lived, and i doubt i’m the only one who will feel that way.

but all amy winehouse did was to publicly live the life that many people live in total obscurity – addiction, i don’t think, can ever be fully understood by those of us with largely non-addictive character.  saddest about amy’s passing, as with so many others in her situation, is the spectre of what she would’ve accomplished had she not fallen victim to her vices – and fame, notoriety, celebrity…and the trappings that accompany all that…only fan the flames for someone who’s an addict and doesn’t have to worry about where their next fix is coming from.

i’m not necessarily interested in defending her actions, and i wasn’t a huge fan of her music – i didn’t have any contempt for her, and her talent was undeniable…but i’m at a loss as to why marking her death with public derision benefits anyone.

i think there’s an underlying belief that it’s somehow easier for prosperous addicts than it is for the guy who stands in front of the dunkin’ donuts on walnut street, talking to himself all day – and certainly, someone with a bank balance and a support system might stand a better chance of getting certain kinds of help, but their addictions are no less severe than the addictions of someone who isn’t affluent…and their chances of relapse might actually be worse, when you consider the surroundings and temptations that accompany celebrity – and the fact that addicts tend to surround themselves with enablers, who would never think of denying them the things they want.

another ridiculously talented soul left us yesterday, although he’ll get much less ink over having done so.

bill morrissey (1951-2011)

bill morrissey first came to my attention as the guy on the cover of the now-legendary (in some circles) legacy compilation…the guy holding the sign that said, “i wrote all of gorka’s songs”.  some of the other folks who appeared on the album (gorka, cliff eberhart, sara hickman) all went on to have successful careers, and bill’s trajectory never quite reached as high as it should’ve…the song that represented him on the album, handsome molly (featuring harmonies from suzanne vega) wasn’t his best work, and i’m sure that there were folks who found his weary, weathered voice a little hard to digest.  but on his best work, his voice is the perfect companion for his lyrics…and he used that voice and his insightful writing style to forge a career that spanned three decades over the course of a dozen albums, novels and short stories.   and – when you heard him sing, if you were at all familiar with his work, you knew instantly that it was him…for a musician, there’s really no higher compliment than that.

the two songs that best represent his talent as a songwriter, to me, are inside and birches.

inside paints a picture of quiet desperation that, to my ears, has no equal elsewhere:

this ain’t hollywood
it never really gets that good
call it love if you think you should
no need to explain…

…and you won’t leave soon, because i know
you’re just like me, with no place to go
there’s a love still here, nothings’ died
it just got buried somewhere deep inside…

…you’re home later each night, i see
i fix dinner while you talk to me
then we’ll wait for the late movie
to take us away again…

and you won’t leave soon, because i know
you’re just like me with no place to go
no place to go, it’s just a matter of time
you’ll find someone, it’s just a matter of time…

i totally and completely understand the notion that reading lyrics without hearing the song is something akin to listening to sports play-by-play without watching the game…you get the general idea, but there’s no comparison to the total picture.  this is as true with these two pieces of music as any other you could pose as an example.  but since i can’t play them for you, the only means by which to convey a snippet of morrissey’s genius is to cite his lyrics.

the song birches is acknowledged by most as his masterpiece…and probably rightfully so.  i still vividly remember the first time i heard it – when the last line came about, i was just speechless.  and it’s a hard song to stop thinking about after you’ve heard it.

i’m going to strongly recommend that you go find it and (legally) download it, but if you need to be convinced…

 

 

 

They sat at each end of the couch, watched as the fire burned down,
So quiet on this winter’s night, not a house light on for miles around.
Then he said, “I think I’ll fill the stove. it’s getting time for bed.”
She looked up, “I think I’ll have some wine. how ’bout you?” She asked, and he declined…

“Warren,” she said, “maybe just for tonight,
Let’s fill the stove with birches and watch as the fire burns bright.
How long has it been? I know it’s quite a while.
Pour yourself half a glass. Stay with me a little while.”

And Warren, he shook his head, as if she’d made some kind of joke.
“Birches on a winter night? no – we’ll fill the stove with oak.
Oak will burn as long and hot as a July afternoon,
And birch will burn itself out by the rising of the moon.

“And you hate a cold house, same as me. Am I right or not?”
“All right, all right, that’s true,” she said. “It was just a thought,
then she said, “Warren, you do look tired. Maybe you should go up to bed.
I’ll take care of the wood tonight.” “Oak,” he told her. “Oak,” she said.

She listened to his footsteps as he climbed up the stairs,
And she pulled a sweater on her, set her wineglass on a chair.
She walked down cellar to the wood box — it was as cold as an ice chest —
And climbed back up with four logs, each as white as a wedding dress.

And she filled the stove and poured the wine and then she sat down on the floor.
She curled her legs beneath her as the fire sprang to life once more.
And it filled the room with its hungry light and it cracked as it drew air,
And the shadows danced a jittery waltz like no one else was there.

And she stood up in the heat. She twirled around the room.
And the shadows they saw nothing but a young girl on her honeymoon.
And she knew the time it would be short; soon the fire would start to fade.
She thought of heat.
She thought of time.
She called it an even trade.

goodbye, bill…and goodbye, amy. i think that the best thing that can be said about someone in light of their passing is that they left something behind that made the world a better place – and they both can lay claim to having done so.

Posted in music and the music business, rants - political and otherwise

how do ya get to carnegie hall?

just a short note from the unsolicited advice department here at tomhampton.com, for you aspiring guitarists out there – and in here, as well…

it’s extremely important for any aspiring musician to learn to recognize the difference between studying your instrument, practicing your instrument, and playing your instrument.

this is a distinction that is easily lost on newcomers, and often overlooked by intermediate players as well…but it’s hard to become an advanced player without eventually coming to terms with the differences between the three.

some of you probably aren’t crazy about the idea of thinking of your instrument as something that you have to study, but the form of study that you apply to your instrument doesn’t have to be purely academic. you may also be one of the many players who tends to confuse the study of your instrument with the concept of practice, but the two are actually separate and independent of one another.

the study of your instrument consists strictly of gathering new information about it. when you learn something new from watching a video on YouTube, or seeing another player live, or reading something on the internet, this qualifies as study. anytime you’re gathering information, it can be considered study.

when you take that information and apply it to your instrument, it can be debatable to some whether that should be considered study or practice, but for the purposes of our discussion, practice should be considered as the process of taking information that you currently possess about your instrument and learning to apply it in a playing environment. this means that you’re taking those rudiments and scales that you’ve already learned and you’re running through them to reinforce them in your mind, and you’re also working on your physical technique to improve the means by which you actually play your instrument. speed, accuracy, and fluidity aren’t born into the vast majority of us, and improving those qualities takes a degree of repetition to hone them, and to push our personal envelopes past our comfort zone.

a healthy (but not necessarily exclusive) regimen of study and practice are vitally important to you as a player if you want to continually grow and improve. when a player constantly practices the things he already knows, the only opportunity he’s really giving himself is to become better at executing the things he already knows – and there’s a brick wall waiting at the end of that path. conversely, you can study your instrument, gather information about it, learn new things about it – but if you don’t take the time to work on incorporating that information into your vocabulary as a player, then that information only exists as random academia in your brain, and not in the muscles that control your instrument.

your ultimate goal in finding a balance of these two activities should be in cultivating the ability to take your instrument into a gig or a session or any other performance situation and be able to call upon this stream of new information when you play.

you’ve likely heard it said before – when you strap in and get ready to do this for real, the best work you’ll ever do is when your brain is switched off and you’re relying on your internal wiring to send the signals back and forth without fully realized instructions from your conscious thought processes. if you’ve done the necessary work to gather information about the instrument (study), apply that information to your personal ability as a player and have repeated it enough times to commit it to your vocabulary (through practice), you’ll find that it’s not really necessary to expend a lot of attention towards your actual technique when you’re playing with your band or cutting a track for a session.

i don’t know much, but i do know that – without a doubt – one of the best things about being a musician is that moment of euphoria that occurs when something flies off your fingers that amazes you as much as anyone else who might have heard it…and leaves you wondering where the hell it came from.

you may not always know specifically where it came from…but if you strike the right balance of study and practice, you’ll at least know why it came.

Posted in music and the music business, rants - political and otherwise

good night, performing songwriter.

pink.  iggy pop.  mick fleetwood.  wow.
pink. iggy pop. mick fleetwood. wow.

so, amidst all the chaos and disorder that reigns in the post-internet culture that we find ourselves occupying at the moment…as newspapers close or retreat to online-only editions (i’m lookin’ at you, rocky mountain news), we’re looking around us and seeing that, true to the words of The Prophet Zimmerman – “he who is not busy being born is busy dying.”

newspapers, magazines – print media in general – have been on a slow, steady downward spiral with the advent of the internet, and when you factor in the attrition of readers who’ve jumped ship to online equivalents alongside that rueful combination of arrogance and delusion that seems to affect many businesses who wait too long to try and remain relevant in this day and age…

…well, it doesn’t make for a very positive forecast.

the latest apparent victims of this sea change would appear to be radio and records magazine, published since 1973, and – the loss closer to home – lydia hutchinson’s labor of love, performing songwriter magazine.

yes, it’s true…after sixteen years in print, performing songwriter is calling it a day.

to hear that radio and records would be stopping the presses was something of a headslapping, V-8 moment – well, of course, they’re closing! the very title of the magazine screamed irrelevance! no one listens to conventional radio anymore, and no one buys music anymore!

it was a moment akin to hearing that the typewriter quarterly would be ceasing publication, really.

performing songwriter was another story, though. we’ve all borne witness to the problems that paste is trying to weather…and we all watched sadly as no depression succumbed to the online-only solution…but i thought that the community that sprouted up around performing songwriter would be the difference for this particular mag.

that is, until i took a minute to think about a few things that hadn’t occured to me.

they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but those who say such things beg that we pay attention to the exceptions and not the rules.

all you have to do is look back at the covers of performing songwriter over the years to see where the shift started to occur that would alienate the very community that i perceived to have their backs.

i was a subscriber for three years…and they were good years. i saw jewel on the cover, jackson browne, shawn colvin, james taylor…the indigo girls were on the cover of the issue that contained the glowing review of my mutual angels album…i read about marc cohn, sarah mclachlan, david wilcoxs’ brilliant articles on songwriting and creativity…

but they lost me. somewhere along the way, they lost me, and i never really thought about it until i heard they were closing.

the magazine became, for me, analgous to a relative that i’d moved away from – someone who was really great to grow up around, but who’d changed significantly enough that you both realized that your best years were behind you, and you were forced to accept that who they are now and who they were then were two different people…and you had to get on with your lives. amicably, yes, but with a twinge of regret and nostalgia.

i have my doubts that i’m the only person who felt estranged from PS over the years. when the coverage turned from master songsmiths like carole king and john hiatt to modern fluff purveyors like alicia keys (who graced the cover twice, in 2005 and 2007, the latter containing a bonus article on that legendary master of wordcraft, kid rock), a lot of the folks who put performing songwriter on the map simply tuned out.

maroon five on the cover in 1997 turned out to be a harbinger of things to come. later, we’d get covers featuring jimmy jam and terry lewis, mary j blige, lionel richie, david bowie…with insighful articles on such master songwriters as….

…nikki sixx of motley crue.

nay, i shit you not.

those of you who know me know that i’m not a folk nazi, and i don’t think anyone ever thought for a minute that PS was going to be a single-minded celebration of singer/songwriters…the audience is too small and fragmented to support a publication as openly ambitious as PS was. when i fell in love with it, i foresaw it growing into a magazine that would eventually bring together disparate songwriting communities from various genres with an emphasis on artists whose persona emphasized their songwriting chops. i could easily digest an issue with room for roseanne cash alongside marc cohn alongside gillian welch alongside ben harper alongside ben folds alongside marshall crenshaw alongside erykah badu alongside ron sexsmith…blah blah blah.

but…lionel richie? come on, now.

from glancing over the covers of the magazine from front to back, there appears to be a trend of pandering for the sake of selling magazines to people who had little or no interest in the core group of artists that were initially part of their platform – which is fine, but to believe that you would be pulling converts over to the publication on a long term basis by featuring artists so far afield of their primary demographic as some of the folks they put on the cover in recent years is…well, far fetched.

in that respect, it’s only fitting that such a heralded, legendary songwriter with a decades-long lineage of timeless classics to their resume as pink, no less, should grace the cover of their final issue. it’s an almost blatant-yet-subconscious nod to why they should call it a day in the first place…never mind the additional coverage given in their swan song issue to such songwriting giants as…mick fleetwood? seriously?

still, as far afield as they wandered over the years, losing performing songwriter will create a void that losing an industry ragsheet like radio and records doesn’t really hint at. from all appearances, the magazine was on solid ground from a financial perspective – they didn’t resort to the public pleas for reader assistance that some other music magazines have had to resort to, nor did they opt for the online-only status that others adopted.

they simply pulled the plug.

perhaps it was a “beat the economy to the punch” thing, perhaps the publishers were just ready to give the magazine the kevorkian treatment before old age did it for them, or maybe they just felt – as i’m finding that i feel – that they shouldn’t be capable of sleeping at night after such a dick move as putting pink on the cover of a songwriters’ magazine.

sometimes, when you’ve lost your way, the best thing you can do for yourself is to simply stop walking.

Posted in music and the music business, rants - political and otherwise

why make another record?

this question was posed to me on the phone a while back by my buddy, blake allen…as we have a habit of doing during conversations, we veered off the cynical road and wallowed around in the big-assed puddle of whats-the-point-of-it-all there on the roadside.

which is especially easy for me to do, as some of you well know.

the conversation drifted to the topic of making records…specifically, making records if you happen to be someone of our particular demographic who occupies the rung of the food chain that he and i do – which is to say that a certain set of lowered expectations come with the territory. we know that our audience is limited, as is our ability to grow it significantly…we kinda know who we’ll be playing to, and we’re painfully aware of the ceiling imposed on us by various factors, most certainly including our ability – or willingness – to push these ventures past a certain point.

so why make a record, then?

well, because something inside you is perpetually giving birth…is constantly foisting snippets of lyrics and melodies on you that you can’t deal with in any way but to grab them by the head and yank them, sometimes unwillingly, out into the world and nurture them into maturity.

there are a lot of people who do this for a shitload of reasons that have nothing to do with music or creativity. they take their shots at reality television or american idol and chase the sizzle without any idea what the steak tastes like. they want the money, the notoriety, the pornstar girlfriend, the guest host slot on saturday night live, the superbowl halftime show – and they’d happily do it without learning a single chord or even singing a note, if they could get away with it. because, let’s face it – learning all that crap is hard…and it takes time…and dammit, they wanna be famous now!

if it had to be boiled down to a general analogy, you could use the baby boomers’ watershed moment…february 9th, 1964. the beatles on the ed sullivan show. it’s been cited time and time again as an inspirational moment by singers, songwriters, artists and entertainers. but you can tell, by examining their collective body of work, which ones heard music that defined their generation and felt something resonate inside them…and which ones saw a theatre full of screaming women and wanted a piece of that action.

i have no small amount of actual pity for the latter group.

if you’re lucky…truly lucky…you have that nerve somewhere in the center of your soul that has a degree of sensory perception that’s triggered by hearing a great piece of music, or a sincere lyric. you’ve experienced what happens when you hear something that stops you in your tracks to the extent that the degree of choice you have over whether or not to listen is practically removed from your control…you can’t not listen to it.

if you are such a person, you’ve probably already remembered a moment in your life when this happened to you as i was describing it. it probably wasn’t the only time it’s happened to you, either.

now imagine that you also have been given the seed of a gift that allows you to create that…that, at some point, something touched that nerve in the center of your soul to the extent that you summoned the courage to sit down at a piano or pick up a guitar or a pad and pencil or bravely open your mouth to sing – just to see what would come out – and found that you also had the ability to create this very thing that moved you so much.

you’d probably do it whether anyone was listening or not, wouldn’t you?

yeah.

me, too.

people like to point and laugh at some of the bands who are perpetually on the road long past their prime…they like to giggle and say that they should hang it up, that they’re not rockstars anymore, that they’re only in it for a paycheck. and, the fact is, that’s probably true of some of them. it’s usually pretty easy to tell when you cross paths with them – they don’t hide their motives well.

but then there are some who do this long past the point that most would call it a day that are doing it because they can’t imagine their lives without it.

i’m fortunate enough to call some of them friends of mine, and i’ve seen up close what they have to endure just to be able to walk onstage for 90 minutes and play for people…the travel headaches, using rented gear, dealing with house soundmen who aren’t always familiar or sympathetic to what they do – it’s a pain in the ass. but they do it because they can’t NOT do it.

so…why make another record?

because you can’t NOT make another record.