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this exodus – I’d gotten a job offer before returning to Philadelphia from my initial trip to town, only to have it rescinded because I wasn’t available to start when they wanted me to.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.

There’s a Light Beyond These Woods…

Back at my desk after spending literally 26 of the 60 hours between the end of my worknight on Friday and the beginning of the day behind the wheel of the car…so I’m feeling as though today, I wanna break with my usual barrage of nostalgia and quirky, ironic photos to actually use social media for the purpose it was always intended:

To share intimate, borderline awkward and uncomfortable information and observations about people around you in a potentially unsettling manner.

Or, as we used to call it before the Internet – observing life.

In fact, I’m not even gonna single out the folks mentioned by name. If you know the song from the link below, or if you’re a glutton for punishment and choose to invest even MORE time in this diatribe by watching the video, then we’ll just refer to them as “Nanci” and “Mary Margaret”. (If you know me even a little, though, then figuring out whos’ who will pose about the same intellectual challenge as one of those eight piece alphabet puzzles they make for infants with chewable pieces the size of your palm.)

So let’s begin, shall we?

If you use this platform – social media – for anything other than political rants or cat videos, it can’t help but expand your world. It makes the space you inhabit a little bigger, whether you notice it or not. It strengthens threads that might grow thin over time without such a means of keeping in touch with people.

One of my least favorite things about myself is that, where friends are concerned, I’m something of an “eat what’s on your plate” person. I tend to focus on what’s presented to me by my life as I’m living it, and when my circumstances change – people tend to drift off into the sunset. It’s never about them, nor is it a reflection of my esteem for them…it’s just how things have always ended up working for me. I focus on what – and who – is in front of me at a given time. Before this cyber-social phenomena existed, there were folks I loved with all my heart that faded off into the mists of history because I lacked the basic ability to maintain long distance friendships. There were exceptions, sure…but very few.

This platform has given us a tool to make those connections easier, and I’m thankful for that. It’s put me back in touch with folks from my hometown, Navy buddies, fellow nomadic musicians who land in different cities on a regular basis…and it’s made maintaining those connections easier – even if it’s a far cry from actual personal contact.

But I’ve always admired people who had the ability to nurture those threads without the need for a status update or a photo of their dinner…old school, as it were. It says something about their character and about the value they place on the people in their lives.

I’ve known the “Nanci” in this story for a number of years…since before she became the mother to the two amazing daughters that are perennial highlights of my Instagram feed. Her children epitomize what children their age should be – a living, breathing highlight reel of wonder and imagination. They have an inherited respect for nature and they wear their innocence on their sleeves in a way that dares you not to fall in love with them.

This weekend, though – I got to meet “Mary Margaret”.

Somehow, in the exchange of a few minutes’ conversation, Mary Margaret became an instant friend…the kind of instant friend that you find yourself willingly and comfortably volunteering information to, during conversations about things that aren’t always easy to talk about. She has a kind demeanor and empathetic eyes that convey a deep well of gentle understanding.  Right away, she felt familiar and comfortable to me.

We were all in Philadelphia…I was there for a show, Nanci was in town visiting her parents from her home down the road from me in the Nashville area, and Mary Margaret – long ago relocated to Texas – came there to Philadelphia to visit her old childhood friend for a few days of Grownup Girls’ Adventuring… or, as they initially framed it, “looking for rich guys in the bars in Chester County.”

They were best friends as children…and while it’s entirely possible that Nanci’s demeanor during the telling of their story was an exaggeration for effect, it wasn’t hard to get the impression that she never really got over losing Mary Margaret.

But the thing that left the deepest impression on me, as I’d see the two of them exploring the park, talking and laughing with one another, and just bearing witness to their friendship was – well, quite literally just that. Bearing witness to their friendship.

Yeah, yeah, I know…startin’ to sound like Crazy Stalker Talk. Stay with me and ride along to the next stop. I promise it ain’t like that.

Over the years, both Nanci and Mary Margaret grew up. Separately and together.

They’ve both had families of their own…A pair of daughters in Nashville, and four children between 10 and 2 in Texas.

Yet watching them together yesterday, even casually in brief fits and starts between trying not to fluster the soundman and making sure everything was in tune…was an oddly spiritual experience. For reasons that weren’t immediately apparent, it affected me deeply.

It was almost as if – in seeing the two of them together that afternoon that I was stealing a glimpse of the two of them as children, in tiny summer dresses, climbing trees in the woods like a pair of budding tomboys, or trying to walk across the shallow ebb of the creek without getting their clothes wet…

I saw two lifelong friends who refused to let something so trivial as time or geography erode the genuine love they had for one another…who valued each other enough to remain connected as they’ve grown up and into their own separate lives, as they’ve started their own families. Nanci and Mary Margaret love each other enough to become children again when they land on the same patch of grass a thousand miles away from the separate places they each call home.

I’ve known Nanci a good while.

Today, I feel like I know Nanci a lot better than I did a short time ago.

And Mary Margaret will take a tiny, souvenir-edition shard of my heart with her back to Texas.


“It’s nice to see your family growing, Margaret…
Your daughter and your husband there, they really treat you right
But we’ve talked all night….
And what about that light that glowed beyond our woods when we were ten?
…there’ll never be two friends like you and me….”


The End Of The Summer Breakup Letter

 My Dearest Metrocenter Levee Greenway,


 We need to talk. And I think you know why.

 Look, I’m not going to beat around the bush. We’ve been growing apart for weeks now, and I think it’s time we both acknowledged that we might be coming to the end of our run…sorry, bad pun. I think we need to go our separate ways.

We had a great ride – sheesh, sorry again.

 The puns are kinda unavoidable. 

 Let me start over.

 We spent some great times together these past few months, and you made a potentially unbearable summer not only bearable, but brighter by being there for me when I needed you. I know that’s probably little consolation now, but hey – the fact is, I think the writing was on the wall when the Nashville B-Cycle folks moved the bike kiosk away from the Greenway entrance. It was almost as if they were trying to come between us, and as much as I hate to admit it – I think they pulled it off.

 At the beginning of the summer, when I needed a safe place, you gave it to me…and you grew with me when my needs changed and i took to biking instead of the evening walks we used to share. You were there when I got the worst sunburn of my life…you were there for my first 10+ mile bike ride…you were there when I needed a friend. I’ll always remember that.

 But when the bikes went away, it was hard to go back to just walking with you…it felt like we were going backward.

 And…well, the BUGS. There were always the bugs. Every night, the damn bugs. 

I know, I know…they were there before you were, and there was nothing you could do about them…but that didn’t change anything. They came between us from day one – those tiny little swarming bastards were constantly trying to create friction between us, and it worked.

 But even so, it’s not just that.

 The summer’s over, and we both know it…and soon, the weather is going to get colder, and the days will get shorter, and – well, I just don’t think we were meant to be anything but a summer affair. We’re just not built for the whole year ’round, under the circumstances.

And…I don’t want to hurt you, but I’m going to be completely honest, here.

There’s someone else. Actually, there are a couple of “someone elses”.

When the bikes went away, I started seeing Shelby Park.

 Yeah, that Shelby Park. The one that everybody else loves, the one that you’re probably a little jealous of in the first place…but you have to understand – this was a practical decision. It was never about you, not as much as it was about the bikes and the greenway trails and the lack of the beating sun and…well, look – Shelby just made sense for me. She’s closer to where I live, where you’re in the backyard of my job…and Shelby has the bikes.

Yeah, at the end of the day, it comes down to the bikes. I really am that superficial.

 Maybe that shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. For me.

 Hey, listen – you’re wonderful without bikes. Really, you are.

Well, except for the bugs. 

I’m sorry, I know I promised I wouldn’t keep bringing up the bugs, but it’s a big deal to me. I wish it were different, but that’s just who I am.

But you know, your hands aren’t clean here, either. I mean, there were other people biking and running on your asphalt almost EVERY time we spent time together…so it’s not as if I was the only unfaithful one. But what really hurt was seeing other people walking on you at sunset. I mean, that was OUR THING! The running and the biking, OK…but you had to share OUR thing, too?

That was hard to watch.

If it makes you feel better, I’ll share this with you…I’m probably going to be breaking up with Shelby Park soon, too.

I haven’t told her yet, so I’m not sure why I’m telling you…but I thought you should know.

The fact that Shelby Park has the bikes now doesn’t change the fact that winter is coming, nor the fact that it’s soon going to be dark for a big chunk of the day. You two have that in common.

So I decided to join a gym.

Don’t get angry, please. Hear me out. I’m trying to explain myself.

 I joined the Planet Fitness in Madison.

 We both know that I’ve been growing in this direction for a while, and I need to be with someone who’s going to grow with me, and I feel good about my relationship with Planet Fitness. I know, a lot of you hate her, you think she’s cheap and vanilla and boring – and I guess I can understand why you’d see her that way…you’re not alone.

But I have needs. And Planet Fitness doesn’t have the obstacles that you have in meeting my needs. 

 She’s just plain better for me, and I have to honor that.

I realize that there’s nothing I can say to lessen the pain of this…and frankly, it cuts both ways. When we first got together, I couldn’t see a time in the future when it wouldn’t be you and me, at sunset on the Cumberland River, watching the barges crawl along the waterline and listening to the traffic humming over the interstate.

But love is blind that way. When you first connect, all you see are possibilities – but when you settle into getting to know one another, the pitfalls of a relationship always end up showing themselves sooner or later.

I’m sure there’ll come a time at some point in the future when I’ll outgrow Planet Fitness, too…but right now, she’s what I need.

I’m sorry we’ve come to this. I’d really like to remain friends, if that’s not too painful or awkward. I think we’d still be able to enjoy the occasional get-together, once the cellophane wears thin and we’re able to hang out like normal people. You don’t have to answer that right now…it’s just something I’d like you to think about.

Good luck, OK? and thanks for everything. You earned a pretty important place in my life by being in it when you were…but I have to move on now.

Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.

Jerry Opdycke, 1953 – 2014

(Jerry’s official, self-penned obituary can be found here.)

once upon a time, in a land far, far away...
Jerry Opdycke at far right in the rear…behind the guy with the afro in the red hoodie.

Instead of offering any additional commentary on my friend, I’ll share with you what I shared with the folks at his memorial service earlier today.

I’ve had a week to grieve, and I feel like I’m just getting warmed up.

(I didn’t have any prepared comments…I made notes before I left – which I glanced at and then sat down beside me and forgot about.  This is from memory, and isn’t exactly as I recited it, but it’s pretty close.)

Hi, Everybody…

It’s been 32 years since I’ve been here – this room wasn’t even here when I graduated in 1983.  I actually had to use my GPS to find the high school…it’s been that long since I’ve been here.

it’s been that long since I was in a band with Opie, too, but that relationship went beyond Jerry’s talents as a musician.  The few times I came back to town, I always sought him out.

Jerry was the person who broke the news to me that David Philips died a few years ago…I know a lot of you knew David as the co-owner of Maxine’s House of Music on Florence Road that I used to haunt as a teenager.  I remember telling Jerry that day that I could count the people in Savannah that I went out of my way to keep in touch with on my testicles, and now that David was gone he was gonna have to be careful or he was gonna leave me in a hell of a bind.

Well, folks, I stand before you today as a man with no testicles.

Jerry has left us – and some of us may have expected it, but after him battling back from everything that life’s thrown at him, I fully expected him to battle back from this, too, and I’m sorry to have been wrong about that.

At almost 50, I think I’d rather be without my testicles than to be without Opie.

I see a few faces here that I know, but a lot more that I don’t, so let me introduce myself – as Debbie told you, my name is Tom Hampton.  I doubt many of you know me, but I met Jerry when I was a teenager and we played in a band together called the New Hope Music Project.

When I was 14 years old, I had the audacity to dial a number I heard on the radio to call the studio that Jerry shared with the band because I’d heard them on the radio, talking about a 45 they’d just released, and I called to ask if they ever needed session musicians.  I was 14 – I didn’t know if that was how it worked or not, but they actually told me that if I wanted to come down and try out, that I was welcome to.

I think I knew even then that they were probably just being nice to a green kid who’d never been in a band before – but my aunt took me to the studio, i went in and played three songs with them, and they took my number and wrote it on a card and hung it on the wall in the control room.  and time went by…a lot of time…and one afternoon i got a phone call from the band, because their drummer had taken a job out of town and had to leave the band – so would I be interested in coming in and auditioning for their band?

It was the beginning of a two year run playing drums behind Jerry with a group of musicians who were all at least a decade older than i was…and in bands, there are inevitably cliques that emerge – Pat and Frankie were longtime friends, and Ricky the soundguy was dating the lead singer, so Jerry and I were the last two left.  If we were gigging in town, Jerry would drive me to the gig in his turd-brown Toyota Tercel hatchback and he’d brainwash me on the way to and from the gigs by playing Little Feat incessantly in the car.  We’d go back to Jerry’s house after shows and he and I would rifle through his album collection and he forced me to fall in love with Karla Bonoff…we covered her song “Trouble Again” and I had to hear where that came from.

I talk about Jerry and David Phillips in the same breath because just about everything good that’s happened to me in my life since crossing paths with them was made possible by the fact that they took an interest in me. I was a dirt poor kid, living in Walnut Grove with my mother, brother and sister, and if those two hadn’t shown me the possibility that there was something else life had to offer, there’s absolutely no way that I’d have had the experiences I’ve had. It might sound cliche’ to say it, but it’s absolutely true that Jerry changed my life.

I joined the Navy and left town, and took my guitar with me because it was impossible to travel with drums…and Jerry’s ghost followed me too.  In fact, I listen to recordings of myself playing guitar during the years that I was “graduating” to playing lead, and if you listen to him and listen to those tapes back to back, the influence is undeniable.

When I came back to Savannah the first time after having left, I looked Jerry up and he told me to meet him at the old drive-in…I thought he was nuts, as it had been closed for ages, but Jerry had helped convert the refreshment stand at the old drive-in to the first Elks Club in town, and we talked for hours and hours…I remember snippets of the conversation, and I remember him saying several times that “your money ain’t no good here” when I’d try to pay for drinks.   After a while, I don’t really remember much else about that night…or leaving…or how i got home.

Our paths crossed time and time again over the years – he came to Nashville to see me play with my band, he came to Nashville to pick me up at the airport when my car crapped out on the way to a gig with Daryle Singletary…and he was always a phone call away.  I’ve still got voicemails on my phone from him.  I talked to him at 9 o’clock the night before he died.  Even after all that he’d been through, he was a rock.  I truly believed that we had a lot of miles left on our odometer.

About a month ago, I came to town with my friend Bert, who’s here today, to visit with Jerry…I brought my wife and 5 year old son, neither of whom he’d ever met, and we spent the afternoon together. Capped it off with a shot of Jack, his favorite drink. And I remember thinking on the way home that we should’ve taken a picture…but that we could do that next time.

One of the things I find a lot of peace in is the fact that there wasn’t anything unsaid between Jerry and I…he knew I loved him, and I told him everything I’ve told you today.  He was aware of the profound effect he had on my life, and I’m so happy that we got that afternoon together last month.  I thought it would be the first of many more, but it turned out to be the last.

If there’s a silver lining that we can take away from losing Jerry…all of us…go home today and pick up the phone.  send an email or a text.  Find somebody that you haven’t talked to in a long time and start a conversation.  Let them know you miss them.  I’m incredibly fortunate to know, at the end of the day, that Jerry and I said everything we needed to say to one another.

I was lucky in that respect this time.  It’s not usually the way it ends…but that’s the way I want to do it from now on.

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:


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 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.

too old?

I love the Classic Albums DVD’s…I probably own a dozen of them, if not more.


And even though they’re supposed to be mostly about how the records were made and such, there are some sobering interview moments that crop up every now and then – the one that plants a huge rock in my gut every time is Robert Hunter, in the “Anthem to Beauty” episode, where he talks about being in London, and having bought this case of wine…and walking around the city taking it in, and then – in a single afternoon – writing “Ripple”, “Brokedown Palace”, and “To Lay Me Down”…and then saying, “…would that those days but come again…


…and they will.  But not for me.”


Then in the Rumours episode, there’s a segment where Stevie Nicks talks about her regrets from having committed to Fleetwood Mac to the degree that she did for the best years of her life – “I never married and I never had kids,” she says, “because having a baby would have meant taking two years off and that just wasn’t acceptable.”


“…Everybody I know, all my friends who are famous…are sorry for something.  And I’m no different.”



This life that we’ve chosen comes with a HUGE price, and I think that if all these folks lining up to audition for American Idol had any idea of what it means to commit to a life as an artist, as opposed to having a part on a TV show for a season, only to be forgotten in a years’ time…they’d go back home and go to college and put it completely out of their mind.  The truth is, fame and notoriety don’t have shit to do with being an artist.


And when it comes right down to it, the biggest part of the choice you’re making doesn’t have shit to do with being an artist, either.


I’m saying this as a man a few birthdays shy of 50 years old, a man who’s most certainly sabotaged his own life with choices he’s made in the interest of pursuing a life as an artist to varying degrees since the day – over 25 years ago – that he received his discharge papers from the Navy and settled in a town eleven hundred miles from where he was born and started a band.   Several failed romances and estranged parental relationships later, I’m still working a day gig, as an IT consultant, and living from paycheck to paycheck – in order to create room in my life to do what I consider to be the only thing I’ve ever been good at.


And were you to ask the question that’s on the tip of your tongue right now,  I’d love to stick my chest out and proclaim loudly that, hell yeah – it’s totally been worth it, and I’d do it exactly the same way if I had it to do over again…but then there’s that always-present sense of doubt.  I don’t know that I’m speaking for anyone but me, but the notion that I’ve completely flushed my life down the toilet never completely leaves my mind.   But that doubt fuels me, pushes me on, inspires me to prove myself wrong…and sometimes I do.  It’s usually fleeting, but it does happen on occasion.


That moment when you create something that you immediately recognize as bigger than yourself is, quite possibly, the worst drug known to man.  Insanely addictive and every bit as dangerous as any illegal substance you could name…once you’ve made that happen, the drive to repeat the process fuels itself.  And when it happens – when you finish a song that you connect with, when you execute something on an instrument that gives you goosebumps, when you stand on stage in front of a crowd of people and the connection between you and them begins to exchange energy back and forth – well, there’s nothing else like it.  Those moments are fleeting, but – if you’re meant to do this – they become a lifelong craving that you’ll do anything for, give up anything for, risk anything for, sacrifice anything for.


And…we typically end up living rather bohemian lifestyles as a result of the choices we make in pursuit of The Artist’s Life.   And this is where the disconnect truly makes itself obvious – between those who choose this life and those who opt to live more conventionally.


If you want to go the conventional route, you sink your time and effort into a career path that requires MUCH more of your attention and energy than you can spare if you want to live The Artist’s Life.  If you want to go to law school and pass the bar, you’re going to be held accountable for how you spend your time…and taking a week off to do a Northeast Club Tour is going to be frowned upon by the folks paying you a salary to devote your undivided attention to the work they’ve given you.   The careers that create the kind of income it takes to live life on the conventional route require that you be engaged, permanently – and most folks who pursue The Artist’s Life are typically permanently engaged by pursuits that have little to do with what we do during the course of the day to earn money to pay the rent.  Serving two masters – the Muse and the Job – is a supremely delicate dance, and it can be draining in every sense of the word.  But for a lot of us who aren’t lucky enough to be able to make enough to live strictly by playing music, it’s a necessary dance.


And…AND – if you’re as lucky as I’ve been, and you’re not only still playing the game at my age, but possibly playing it better than you’ve ever played it – you’ll have managed to make enough during whatever endeavors the daylight hours bring you to allow you to pursue The Artist’s Life with as few compromises as possible.


But there WILL be compromises.


You will watch as friends your age, folks you went to school with, go on to jobs that command a comfortable salary…move into houses that will inspire envy when you visit…put their children through school, and save money for retirement.  You’ll watch this as you continue to pay rent, as you continue to move from job to job and make just enough to get by…as you continue to sacrifice the comforts of the conventional route in order to pursue The Artist’s Life.   Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t.  Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t…but you’ll find that, if you choose to follow the family road, that your choice of lifestyle will become an issue – whether spoken or unspoken – between you and the family you create.  Your spouse may insist that she’s one hundred percent onboard with your choices…but every time you have to choose not to pay a bill that’s due, every time you have to postpone repairs to the car, every time you have to decline to buy something for your children solely on the basis of an empty wallet – you will feel the weight of your choice, whether your family presses it upon you or not.


And you’ll be tempted to be jealous every time you encounter someone that you knew when you were young enough that you still had the option to choose…and see how they’re living, what they’ve accumulated, how well life has treated them.


But if the truth be told, chances are pretty good that this particular shoe fits both feet.


Your friend – the one that you envy for making the socially acceptable choices and taking the Conventional Road – is likely envious of the fact that you made the hard decision to follow your dreams and see where they take you.  It’s highly likely that you posess a skill that they simply do not – whether it’s your voice, your abilities on an instrument, your talent for weaving words together – you have spent your life honing a craft to the point where people pay you to use it.   You may not be making as much as a hedge fund manager or a securities banker, but you have something they don’t.


You may live in a circle of friends and family who don’t approve of your choices…but your choices are yours.  They may have forgotten that, but you don’t have to.


And maybe, you – the person reading these words right now – are at a crossroads in your life, and you’re weighing choices that would lead you down one road or the other.  Maybe you’re wondering if it’s ok to be taking this road at this particular time in your life, at your age…maybe you’re worried about what your friends and family will think about your choices.  Maybe you’re having the age-old argument with yourself about whether you’re doing the right thing or simply throwing away your life at a time in your life when you should be going to graduate school, applying for your internship, doing your residency.


You have to ask yourself a hard question right now.


And you will need to become accustomed to asking yourself this question, because it will become a regular signpost on your travels, no matter which path you choose.


“Will I regret this if I don’t do it?  Or will I regret it if I do?”



Maybe you ARE too old to decide to be a songwriter.  Maybe you’re not talented enough to sing in front of people.  Maybe you don’t have the chops to play professionally.   Any one of those things could be true.


But do you want to find out for yourself, or do you want to be 75 years old and complaining to the nurse who empties your bedpan at the assisted living facility, whining about how you could’ve taken a shot at it, but didn’t?


They say that you’re officially old when your hopes and dreams are replaced by your regrets.


Every man and woman walking the face of the earth wants more than what they have, when it comes to material possessions – you’re no different than they are when it comes to wishing for more than life has given you.  But if you’re pondering the choice right now, you should ask yourself the hard questions:


Am I willing to sacrifice in order to participate in this lifestyle?


Do I believe in myself to the degree that’s necessary to be confident in my actions?


Am I able to overlook the standards set for me by other people?  Am I willing to look at the questions of where I should be “at my age” and remind myself that I have to hold myself to a different standard?  Can I do that?



This life is full of rewards that other journeys simply don’t offer…and honestly, there’s no point in elaborating on that for you.  If you’re thinking in these terms, you already know that.


So it’s up to you…


What do you want?


OK, Good.  Now are you willing to do the work to give your choice the fair shot that it deserves?


 No need to answer now…take your time and give it some thought.  But don’t forget to ask yourself – will I be ok with my choices at the end of my life when I’m looking back on this moment?