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?)

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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.

Tom Petty

So I’ve come to the conclusion, based on almost two weeks’ worth of introspection and careful consideration, and…I’ve decided that – during the course of my lifetime, anyway, that there have been three deaths within the realm of rock and roll that, within my world, could be considered seismic in nature.

Ronnie Van Zant, Jerry Garcia, and…Tom Petty.

Certainly, there have been deaths that affected me more deeply on an emotional level (Dan Fogelberg, T-Bone Wolk, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Gregg Allman, Michael Hedges), and there have been people who’ve passed that would be considered more influential (John Lennon, Bowie, George Harrison, Prince, Kurt Cobain), but – from the perspective offered from my own view of the world, these three mark significant, distinct turning points.

Ronnie Van Zant and the infamous Skynyrd Plane Crash happened when I was twelve years old and literally just discovering rock and roll from my perch in rural western Tennessee, and their importance within my peer group couldn’t possibly be overstated. Southern Rock was at its zenith at the time – I hadn’t been around for Duane and Berry…or Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison, even…and The Day The Music Died happened years before I was born – so the first death within this new world I was just discovering was the grim and grisly events of October 20th, 1977…now almost exactly forty years ago.

It was surreal for a 12 year old kid to hear music coming out of the radio played and sung by folks who’d shuffled off this mortal coil. I’d experienced Elvis’ passing, but – no disrespect – his music didn’t speak to me at all. Elvis’ music didn’t belong to me, it belonged to “old people”. I didn’t have the respect for history then that I have now, clearly. In retrospect, it’s odd to think that Elvis passed away barely more than 60 days before the Crash, but the two events affected me completely differently.

The Skynyrd Crash was a perpetual subject of discussion among all the kids I knew who were remotely into music…and even the ones who weren’t. And it’s interesting to realize now, all these years later, that my first memories of the music that I was discovering, the specific stuff that I related to was already inextricably married to tragedy. It’s a thread that’s run through almost everything that I’ve been musically attracted to ever since, somehow. If there’s a self-destructive tortured artist involved somewhere in the mix, I’m sold. Gram Parsons, Chris Bell, Ted Hawkins – I’m all in. But with Ronnie, his songs and voice were literally everywhere. And, as has been thoroughly chronicled in the time since in print and documentary alike (the BBC alone has done Song of the South and Sweet Home Alabama: The Southern Rock Saga to cover the subject), the Skynyrd Crash was the bellwether that foretold the end of the dominance of Southern Rock as a microcosm of rock and roll in general. Obviously, I had no way of knowing it at the time, but in retrospect, the turning of the tide is undeniable. The shift was bigger than just the music, through…times were changing all around us, and music was just a means by which to measure the direction. But by the time the wave had crested and broken on the shore, I had ventured well past the Point of No Return. I was coming home from school and plopping down behind the drums and playing until my mom told me that everyone else was going to bed and I had to cut it out. I was gone, and there was no coming back for me…and the footprint left on my impressionable palette by Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and the lost Skynyrd brothers was permanent.

Time went by, my focus drifted from the drums to the desire to write songs…I saw Dan Fogelberg at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis in 1983 shortly before leaving my hometown to join the military, and – it wasn’t that I lost interest in playing drums as much as I felt like there was an entire world that had opened up to me, and I intended to learn to play guitar and learn to write songs. The future, as it’s said, was wide open.

Rock and Roll was my identity. In a lot of ways, it still is. I learned to play guitar. I became a pretty decent singer. I learned how to record myself. I made demos of my amateur songs and taught myself how to sing harmony by singing along to those homemade Portastudio recordings. Music was all I thought about. Sure, I had a job, I had shit that I had to take care of, bills to pay, groceries to buy – but any sense of purpose I had at all was related to my identity as a musician.

My first wife was a self-professed “deadhead” – and I’d heard the Grateful Dead in fits and starts prior to meeting her, but it was one of thousands of blips on a huge radar screen, and my attention was focused on what I thought were bigger, more important dots around the radius. But she hipped me to the fact that the Grateful Dead Experience wasn’t just about buying the records and listening to the music, it was much, much bigger than that – and that, in fact, “The Dead” didn’t really give a shit about making records. Making records was, to them, an afterthought…and their tours and live performances were not only their bread and butter, but the lifeblood to an entire counterculture that found its way into their orbit as the Sixties became the Seventies and the tectonic plates shifted beneath our collective feet.

Still, my path went in another direction and it didn’t really intersect – at the time – with what the Grateful Dead were about. It took some years of absorbing their music and a gradual understanding of their work ethic for it to sink in. To this day, I’m still more a fan of their songs than I am the extended, improvisational jams that were their trademark…I’ll listen to American Beauty and Workingmans’ Dead all day long before I’ll put on a tape of a show from 1971 with an extended “drums and space” segment. I’m a song guy. That’s just where my head’s at.

In August of 1995, I was playing a lunchtime show on an outdoor stage in Hershey, PA – and a buddy of mine tended bar during the day at a club in town that I played at on a regular basis, so I went over to pop in and visit before I turned around to head home. When I walked in, everybody in the room was morose and Brokedown Palace was playing on the jukebox. I sat down and ordered a Rolling Rock and opened a volley of small talk. “Yeah, kind of a bummer of a day,” he volunteered.

“Garcia died today.”

I sat there, silent, for a minute…he filled in the details, but I don’t know that I really heard him. I don’t think I stayed for more than another five or ten minutes before I got in the truck to drive home…I was as much stunned as I was saddened by his passing – it very much felt like the final nail in the coffin of an era that – without Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, couldn’t possibly forestall its demise any longer. Sure, the sixties, hippie culture – it had been over for fifteen years by then, but you could still go to a Dead show and forget, even for a few hours, about Ronald Reagan and the collective sellout of the Hippie Ideal. Jerry was a musical and visual representation of something that, I came to learn later, he quietly resented – he never set out to carry the burden of being the Shepherd of the Anti-Flock…and all he ever wanted to do, from the beginning, was to Play In The Band.
I’m not sure which demons eventually consumed him, but he was gone.

I drove home and grabbed a blank VHS tape and popped it into the VCR and spent the rest of the night watching and recording news reports of Jerry’s passing. I called off sick at work for the next two days…I was both saddened beyond belief and – honestly, very much surprised by how affected I was by his passing. For years afterward, I would mark the anniversary of his passing by watching that tape with a six pack of Rolling Rock.

I’ve come to learn a lot more about the clouds that surrounded the band in the final days, and I’ve also come to appreciate the improvisational nature of the band to an extent, as well – but I still feel a deep sadness that I didn’t appreciate Jerry and his contributions while he was here as much as I do now. And I’ve had opportunities to dip my toes into the DeadHead waters as a musician and a bystander to what still exists of Deadhead Nation, and I’ll be eternally grateful for his spirit for the rest of my days.

In the years since, there have been legions of talented musicians, writers, and “rock stars” who’ve left us…and again, this isn’t to catalog our fallen brethren by net worth or cultural relevance or any other means of measurement other than their significance as signposts in my life. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Time passed.

I matured as a musician, I wrote songs, I recorded my own songs, I played my own songs for other people, and…I eventually found a path I was comfortable travelling that was much more centered on being a sideman and contributing to other peoples’ visions than trying to force my own works on people. I put tens of thousands of miles behind me, played hundreds of hours’ worth of shows….changed a LOT of strings, played a lot of sessions, made a LOT of friends, had a lot of experiences I’ll never forget, and I’ll be thankful for the road I’ve taken until the day I draw my last breath.

It really has been a Wonderful Life.

So I suppose it’s fitting in a sense that, at this point in my life – as I’m reaching the twilight of my own musical career and looking down the road to a point that I can begin to identify as The End Of The Road that we would lose someone like Tom Petty.

Goddamnit.

For me, there was literally never a point in my musical life that Tom Petty wasn’t a part of.

My mother got me a clock radio for Christmas in 1977, and that bullshit little $15 radio became my tether to the world that existed outside my ridiculously limited view. The following summer, the movie FM came out, with Breakdown on the soundtrack and an actual appearance by the band in the movie, so – as far as I was concerned, they were part of the echelon. They weren’t one of those bands that I stumbled upon later that I got the privilege of going back and rediscovering their back catalog after they’d already done a handful of records….they were there from the outset, and they just NEVER. FUCKING. WENT. AWAY.

I need to admit a couple of things, though.

They were never my favorite band. I never put them at the top of my personal musical food chain, and – truth be told, there were periods of his career that I wasn’t particularly fond of.

But then again, I’d be willing to bet there are fans of Neil Young and Bob Dylan who would admit the same thing if they were willing to be completely honest.

I didn’t care much for the Jeff Lynne method of making records where it applied to Tom’s music…I had become too much of a fan of the records they made in a largely live setting, and the Jeff Lynne process just didn’t resonate with me. Obviously, I’m in the minority there, as they were some of his most successful recordings, but – as I’ve said multiple times, your mileage may vary.

For me, the Holy Trinity of Tom Petty albums are:

Damn the Torpedoes
Hard Promises
Long After Dark

As with Bob Seger, he had the good fortune of having a three album run that – for me – really perfectly represented his artistic identity. For Seger, it was Night Moves, Stranger in Town, and Against the Wind…for Petty (again, in my opinion), it was those three records.

I know Tom wasn’t fond of Long After Dark – I think it was made with waning interest from Jimmy Iovine, and there were a lot of distractions that didn’t fuel the creative process, but – man, it’s a fucking great record. The singles were phenomenal, and the album tracks that most folks aren’t familiar with could easily be cornerstone material for a lesser band – Deliver Me, I’m Finding Out, Straight Into Darkness…seriously, those songs are just plain unbelievable, and I wish the record had been successful enough that more people heard those songs.

As I fell deeper and deeper under the spell of the electric guitar, Mike Campbell became one of the faces on my personal Mount Olympus, and those records were textbooks.

And as I started to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, they were a huge dot on the map for me…and, thankfully, towards the end, they rediscovered the mojo (pardon the pun) that they seemed to have lost for a moment there, when they were making records instrument by instrument for those years between Long After Dark and Highway Companion.

Too often, when we’ve lost important, influential artists, we look at their work in a typical creative curve with low points at the front and back and an apex in the middle…but I feel like they were really doing some of their best work on Highway Companion and Mojo…and their live shows over the past decade have been Springsteenesque tours through not only their own discography, but through the history of rock and roll in general.

To me, that’s one of the biggest tragedies of Tom’s passing.

I feel as though we’ve lost a thread that connected us all to the very seeds of rock and roll. Tom still had the fire, right up until the very end. Tom came from The South, just as Ronnie Van Zant had – he had that particular soulfulness that seems to emanate from this particular plot of land down here in the Southeastern quadrant of the US…and he carried that spark with him, in varying degrees, right to the bitter fucking end. It’s to his credit that he went out with all his sensibilities intact. Maybe he couldn’t hit the high notes of Refugee or Here Comes My Girl anymore, but he still played like he fucking meant it, and he still brought it, ALL of it, every night, right up through the last show of their 40th Anniversary Tour at the Hollywood Bowl, just a week before he died.

Now, that tether that tied us to the genesis of rock and roll is gone.

And maybe to much of the world – the world that’s enamored with Real Housewives, Bullshit YouTube channels, and InstaCelebrities like Nicki Minaj and the like – maybe they won’t notice so much. They’ll hear some fuckskillet like Jason Aldean when he turns up on SNL and do one of Tom’s chestnuts and that’ll be the extent of what they know about any of this. They didn’t live through it, it didn’t comprise any of the rings inside the tree for them…they know his name, they know the video with the top hat or the video with Johnny Depp or the video with Kim Basinger and that’s about the extent of what they know or can relate to.

I find myself often thinking about Johnny Carson in the days since Tom died, and how he was just Always There. No matter what else might be going on in the world at large, you could turn on the TV after the evening news and Johnny and Ed would put a smile on your face. Likewise, where TP was concerned…it could be said that some albums were better than others, he had peaks and valleys…but you always knew that he had another great record in him. Or that if you went to a show, you were going to leave with a smile on your face and a memory that no one could take from you.

We’re riding out the waning moments of 2017, and there are quite a few folks still walking among us that, frankly, I’d have expected to have preceded Tom Petty. And there are still others who I can’t really allow myself to consider the thought of losing at the moment.

Springsteen. McCartney. Dylan. Any of the CSN principles. James Taylor.

And God help me when either Jackson or David Lindley passes. It ain’t gonna be fuckin’ pretty in my neighborhood, folks.

I remember an Idlewheel show from 2010 or so in New Jersey….we were sitting at dinner between soundcheck and showtime, and Craig said something about the notion that, at some point in the not too distant future, we were gonna hit a slick in the road and all our heroes and musical icons were gonna start dropping like flies. I still think about that conversation all the time…as if I’d know when we’d arrived at that point. But I think I’ve come to realize that it’s not an impending landslide, it’s a constant, undulating erosion of the landscape. And it’s getting harder and harder to maintain a foothold.

But I’ll try to remain grateful for the fact that I got to walk the earth before so much of the musical topsoil washed away.

a look around the neighborhood

”money trickles up. give it to the poor fellow and the rich fellow will have it in his pocket by nightfall – but at least it will have passed through the poor fellow’s hands.”

-Will Rogers

There’s something you need to understand before reading much further, and that is simply this: I have the absolute best landlord in East Nashville. Hands down, easily several laps around the track from pretty much any landlord I’ve ever had – my rear view mirror is essentially a collection of long-distance, absentees who only really wanted a check in their mailbox every month and couldn’t be bothered to hear about much else…with the odd property management company and overly nosy micromanager sprinkled in here and there.

My current guy is the SHIT.

But – having put the miles on my odometer that I have, and becoming intimately familiar with the impermanence of these little snapshots of life that – once you’ve learned to recognize them – you can actually catch yourself looking around you from time to time and thinking to yourself, “I need to soak this in and remember as much of it as I can, as best as I can, because I’m gonna want to smile about this a few years down the line, and I don’t wanna forget the details.”

I think I’ve known for a long time that this whole Nashville adventure was a vacation stop, a layover on a longer trip…but I’ve actually enjoyed a lot about my time here in my current circumstances – with my son hunkered down in the basement apartment and my daughter less than a mile down the road. Even though I don’t see either of them as much as you might think I would under the circumstances, just knowing they’re within arms’ reach has been a source of comfort.

My landlord has an easy smile, he doesn’t sweat the small shit, he’s a great hang, and he’s extended me an extra day or two on the two occasions when I’ve needed it with barely a shrug.

Now, though, Nashville – in the midst of a sweaty fervor to destroy everything that brought people into its tax base in the first place – has rewarded folks like my landlord with a record property tax increase. A Google search of the phrase “Nashville Property Tax Increase 2017” will induce what’s become a familiar blend of rage and cynicism – alongside stories from April reporting “an average increase of 37 percent”, there are stories from January with headlines reading “Barry: No Property Tax Increase in 2017” (quite Trumpian, in retrospect…although I’m actually quite fond of our mayor and understand enough about how these processes work to know that it’s not the work of a lone assassin at the top of the political food chain. Still, best not to talk shit about things you don’t have control over.)

In talking to my landlord today, he pointed out that there are pitchforks on both ends of the handle of this club…because he’s getting calls from his insurance company now, saying that “gee, man…your property is actually worth THIS much? you’re underinsured…so we’re gonna need to raise your rates to get you up to where you need to be.”

He was incredibly gracious, and I could tell he was uncomfortable even having the conversation. “Hey, listen, man…I knew this day was coming as soon as I heard about this. I know the rent’s gotta go up. If you need to take some time to come up with a number, that’s fine, but I’ll try to be ok with whatever you come up with.” In the end, we actually came up with a number on the spot, and it was less than I expected it to be, frankly…but it feels like a sign of things to come.

I’ve perhaps been avoiding the subject internally, or fooling myself about it, or maybe just ignoring it altogether…

…but this is not sustainable in the long term.

I don’t know if it ever really was.

I’m waving goodbye to friends like Paul Griffith, who’s moving to the west coast, and will probably be gone by the time I get back to Nashville from a week of gigs and sessions in Philadelphia. I’m saying goodbye to places I’d fallen in love with – Charlie Bob’s, the perfect marriage of roadside diner and beer joint, a 5 minute drive from my house…Savarino’s, the closest thing to passable Italian food I’d encountered since I got here.

There’s still a lot to love about Nashville. It took me a minute to figure that out, but it’s not dead yet. My kids love it here, and that makes me happy. Having them close by makes me happy. The burgers at the Family Wash make me happy. Brown’s Diner makes me happy. Bumping into Phil Kaufman around town makes me happy. Carter Vintage and Fanny’s and Eastside Music Supply makes me happy. Dino’s makes me happy.

There’s a lot of good left around here.

But it’s definitely time to start thinking about what lies further down the road.

the past as prologue

Hello Blogness, my old friend…I’ve come to rant with you again…

It’s been a minute, ain’t it?

This thing is long in the tooth, to be certain.  It was here before social media, it’s been quietly preserving the posts left here during the reign of social media, and – at this point, I think it may be time to revert back to leaving certain things here, just because…well, just because.

Mainly because there’s just too much shit to keep up with these days…and this seems like a good place to start cataloging the insanity.

Grab something sturdy…

 

Two Years…and counting.

Two years ago today, I woke up at Rob Snyder’s house in Nashville with four other people in tow and a 26 foot U-Haul truck with a 12 foot trailer parked along the curb, having driven the entire previous day to get here from Philadelphia.

The trip got off to an ominous start when I managed to bottom out the trailer hitch on the truck by burrowing it into the asphalt at the bottom of a hill before I’d even gotten onto the interstate – and had to have a neighbor with a forklift actually raise the trailer off the hitch until I could get the truck turned onto the street – then actually drop the tongue of the trailer back onto the ball with the forklift. Which in and of itself was miraculous enough…but it’s easy to miss the Big Miracle in this scenario, which is: WHO THE HELL HAS A FORKLIFT IN THEIR SHED WHEN SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPENS?

There were already some stressors built into this exodus – I’d gotten a job offer before returning to Philadelphia from my initial trip to town, only to have it rescinded because I wasn’t available to start when they wanted me to. At that point, though, we were committed to our exit strategy, and there was no turning back. We’d given our notice, the lease had been signed for the Nashville house, and this was happening…job or no job.

So I arrived in Nashville on this day, two years ago, with my ex-wife, a five year old and twenty-two year old son, and Ramon – Dylan’s friend who came along for the ride. No concrete job offer, a limited amount of cash on hand, and a house full of folks to feed.

This time two years ago, we were unpacking the truck when Wendy got word of Robin Williams’ death by his own hand…and sure, I didn’t know him personally, and there was so much going on that there was no time to dwell on it…but it cast a shadow over the day, and quite a few of the days to come. There was news from home that I won’t discuss here that weighed much heavier than this, as well.

That night, my friend Andrea Zonn – fresh off the road from a summer tour with James Taylor – stopped over with her son, Leonard, as well as pizza and a modest grocery run. We actually managed to sit down and exhale for a moment and enjoy each others’ company amidst the stress of trying to unload a ridiculous amount of crap off the trucks that it seemed like we’d just finished loading a few hours before. (I’d hired some additional muscle off Craigslist, but they ended up bailing on me before the truck was half unloaded. Lazy bastards.)

The next day, after gallons of sweat and a personal mini-meltdown while unloading the last of the stuff off the truck, we finally emptied it out and drove it to the U-Haul yard on Wedgewood Avenue and began to deconstruct the piles of boxes into some semblance of order…

…it was a job that we never finished.

Wendy didn’t last out the year.

Simply put, it was too much. Too little to go around, too much responsibility on one person to underwrite the whole operation, too many places for too many people to be with too few wheels to get everyone there, too little support and too much blame and resentment, and too many things gone wrong over such a short period of time for anyone to sustain anything resembling a normal existence.

It should’ve been the best year of my life…with three children ranging in ages from 24 to 5, the likelihood of all of them living under the same roof is almost nonexistent, but I had all my kids in the house with me at the same time. But instead of making the most of that, it felt like everyone was up each others’ asses on a perpetual basis, and everyone did their best to hide from one another by whatever means available. In retrospect, I don’t think it had to feel that way, and I think the jury is still out on how much of the blame for that lies at my door – but I do know that I didn’t do nearly as much as I could have to try to counter it. So on that front alone, I blew an opportunity that I know I’ll never have again.

I could say that I slept through the whole thing and that wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration.

That Memorial Day weekend, Wendy and Danny left to return to Maine…and barely a week or so later, Jayda and John (who’d moved south not long after we arrived and took up residence in the front bedroom) moved into their own place just up Gallatin Road from where we were.

To catalog everything that went wrong during the first year here is probably impossible at this point, because I’ve probably forgotten more than I remember. But – as with so much in life, it becomes less important as it fades into the rear view mirror.

Ramon returned to Pennsylvania not long after everything blew up on Cardinal Avenue, and Dylan and I ended up moving into a new, smaller, cheaper place tucked away behind Shelby Park near the river. I had started a new job in February, and decided to accept an offer to move to second shift a few months later, and have been “the night guy” ever since. It’s crippled any musical aspirations I might’ve harbored in moving here, but – and maybe this is a subject for another conversation – that hasn’t really bothered me as much as it feels like it should.

In the meantime, I’ve lost myself in movies and adult beverages and long bike rides and walks on the greenway outside my office window and sleeping until whenever I damn well please. I’ve amassed a burdgeoning collection of vintage TV shows that I may never watch, but time will tell. I’ve been rooting through all the stuff that I’ve moved countless times but never read or listened to or watched or worn – and have been reducing my footprint in the interest of being able to pull up stakes and relocate at some point down the road, when the time comes.

Because of my work schedule, I’ve found it very easy to make excuses not to leave the house unless it’s for work, the gym, or basic necessities like the supermarket. The few times I have accepted invitations to shows or something similarly musical, I’ve tried to navigate the outskirts and avoid feeling like a total fraud for being there in the first place. I feel almost zero connection with the musical community here, and that’s one hundred percent my own doing. I haven’t been the least bit proactive in forming any relationships or playing around town, and – again, that should bother me more than it does, but it doesn’t seem to.

I’ve become content to make my Nashville World as small as possible, to simply exist here rather than to actually live here. Considering that most of my motivation to move here in the first place was to try to cut my overhead and maximize my earning potential, the notion of remaining musically active was a secondary concern to begin with…Nashville became a possibility more because there were friends here than because of some vague notion of playing guitar for some douchebag with a chain wallet, which never appealed to me in the first place.

Everything I’ve used as an excuse NOT to move to Nashville in musical circles for the past twenty-plus years is absolutely true. It was then, and it still is now. But I’m not bitter about any of that – my eyes were open coming into all this. I’ve made as much money in one trip to Philadelphia for gigs and sessions as I could make in a year of playing one-off gigs or shifts on Lower Broadway, and that never once came as a shock to me.

So the second year of The Nashville Experiment found me settling into a loose routine of living an almost exclusively solitary existence here – Dylan lives with me, but he works during the day while I work at night, and he spends most of his weekend time with his awesome girlfriend Carley…so our paths only really cross if it’s planned in advance. Jayda and John are moving into a new house with their pal “Stove” (Michael Stovall) at the end of this month, where we’ll all share a landlord. John’s mother fell ill some time ago, and he’s been back home for a while…and in the time since, Jayda and I have taken to weekly meetups to do laundry and run errands during the day. I hate that it’s happened under the circumstances that brought it on, but I’ll forever be thankful for the gift of time that it’s given the two of us.

There’s a new chapter beginning as Year Three kicks off.

Wendy and Danny returned to Nashville for Christmas last year, and we had a wonderful visit – full of promise for us as a family, but a subsequent visit on neutral territory (back in Philadelphia) in April wasn’t quite so full of promise, and found us returning to familiar territory that cast the final shadows on any notion of a future for us as a couple. We’ve been navigating the aftermath of that in the time since – the difficulty of which is compounded when the notion of having a conversation about anything heavier than how weird it is to see Cole Hamels in a Texas Rangers uniform is completely off the table.

Still, while the writing on the wall may have been in washable ink sixteen months ago, it’s dried into the paint at this point…and there’s no washing it away.

Mourning the loss of a relationship comes in waves – and I feel as though the largest of them washed over me a summer ago, but nurturing the notion of possibility has been something akin to emotional waterboarding, I think. Coming to terms with the finality of it, and negotiating the harrowing task of Parenting Via FaceTime isn’t going to come and go in one tide, I don’t believe.

Meeting someone new – someone who offers a wealth of promise – has been an interesting cocktail of emotions, in that there’s excitement and infatuation and a fresh breath of optimism washing over me in waves that alternate with rushes of regret and guilt, mostly swirling around accepting the finality of the fact that there isn’t going to come a day when Danny and I will sleep under the same roof again. I’m not sure that I ever fully believed that to be a possibility in the time since watching them pull out of the driveway of that cursed house we shared, but there’s still a significant difference in thinking of something as vaguely possible and accepting that it really isn’t…and maybe never was.

So I find myself on a bit of an emotional seesaw, in that respect – being swallowed up just by looking into the eyes of this woman I’m welcoming into my life now, and tripping over little reminders of what I’ve said goodbye to at various points on my path.

I’ve walked this path before – but I stayed as close by Jayda and Dylan as I could, in order to continue to see them, to be as much a part of their lives as they’d allow. We had two nights a week and every other weekend, we had “mallwork” (where we’d go to the food court at the mall and do our homework over pizza or burgers or whatever), we had road trips to nowhere in particular, we had fun and we had rough patches, but we had relationships.

Danny and I have…FaceTime.

I’m going to have to wrap my head around that gradually, because I don’t really know how I’m going to navigate this moving forward…but I’ll figure it out.

The sun is going down on the Cumberland river, right outside my office window…the building has mostly emptied out, and the typical quiet has settled in.

Tomorrow will be Day One of Year Three – full of promise, with a taste of nostalgia sprinkled here and there…and while regret or guilt isn’t on the list of ingredients, every once in a while I’ll be able to taste it in there somewhere.

Will there be a Year Four?

I feel completely ill-equipped to think that far ahead right now…but that notion doesn’t repulse me the way it might have this time last year.