Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Comes But Once a Year

Ok, so when I first saw Jet as an opening act –before their first record had even come out—I’ll admit I was not impressed. I found them laughably derivative and thought they took themselves way too seriously. Then came Get Born, and “Are You Gonna be My Girl?”. It rocked. But the song quickly became ubiquitous to the point of being annoying. And later on that summer, when I saw them at the poorly conceived Across the Narrows Festival, they had graduated to arena rock level, complete with ponderous light show and annoying posturing, and so I wrote them off.

Flash forward to two days ago. I am driving home after a particularly crappy day at work. I am tired and cranky and well, a bit shall we say, on edge. I have the radio on but am not really paying attention. All of a sudden I hear this voice that sounds like Bon Scott and this groove that knocks me on my ass. And then the lyrics kick in, and I remember why I fucking love me some AC/DC: because they were the masters of the fire down below.

Yes folks, believe it or not, crotch rock is not now and has never been just for the male of the species. We women folk like it too. But it needs to be dirty, it needs to groove, and it needs a voice. You know, the kind that makes you wanna…Bon Scott had that. Even his replacement Brian Johnson had it. But I thought that once those guys faded away, there would be no more songs that hit you right between the legs like that. No rock band appealed to both men and women like they did--at least in my humble opinion--and no one ever would.

I was wrong. That dude Nic Cester from Jet can bring it. “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” is the hottest thing since, like, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal making out in Brokeback Mountain. No kidding, man. I almost had to pull the car over. Had to go get the record, had to put it in the CD player and drive around and hit repeat a few times. (Yeah, it’s been a while….) It’s as good as when Bruce does that thing with his hips, or when Prince hits that screamy falsetto, or when you are the recipient of a really hot kiss and you get all warm and shaky and your brains get scrambled and your legs turn to jello. Hell, it’s almost as good as the real thing. Almost.

So thank you Jet for making Christmas 2006—when I am even more cranky and cynical than usual, when I walk around muttering curses about the shallowness, stupidity and greed of the American public and cursing humanity in general—the most wonderful time of the year. Ever since I bought Jet’s Shine On, I have been driving around and listening to “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” and thinking about, well, you know. And for that, I thank them.

Christmas comes but once a year. Me, on the other hand, well…

Sunday, December 10, 2006

You Can't Buy Magic

Last night I attended a benefit concert honoring the founders of the Asbury Park sound. I skipped what I knew was going to be an amazing show—the annual Marah Christmas extravaganza in Philadelphia—because I knew that this would be a once in a lifetime chance to see some these people all together on the same stage. They’re not young guys, after all, and who knows how much longer any of them will be around.

They had gathered because one of their own—Johnny Shaw—had died of a heart attack last spring, and they decided to honor him by getting together and staging a reunion show of sorts. They also dedicated a memorial plaque that honored people that made it happen. Some of the names on the plaque—Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt—were famous. Some were virtually unknown outside the Jersey Shore. But they made it on there because they were once a part of something really special—the Asbury Park scene.

A lot of us, myself included, were too young to have been around in those days. (As Doc Holliday said at the beginning of the night, “If you remember [the Jaywalkers] you should be in bed.”) But if you cared about this music and were curious about where it came from, you came to Asbury Park and you learned. You hung out at Mrs. Jay’s and the Stone Pony and you watched and listened, and gradually got to know some of those faces and the names from back in the day: Big Dan Gallagher, Norman Seldin, George Theiss. And if you spent enough time in Asbury, you even got to meet some of them and get to know them a little bit. Asbury was unique even in the early 80s—a forgotten town left behind and abandoned, a place out of time. But it was a place where musicians famous and not so famous could be themselves. It was a bit of an insular world. I remember walking into the Stone Pony wide-eyed and awestruck and feeling like an outsider. I was sure everyone was staring at me. There were so many regulars there—it was a hangout spot like any other corner bar, and everybody knew everybody. So you felt like a bit of an interloper. But you came back because you loved the music, and eventually you were accepted. You began to know people, to make friends. And soon you were one of the people in the back bar gossiping with the musicians who hung out there. You were part of it in some small way. It was a special place, a special time. So though I wasn’t there in the 60s, I understand what those guys were talking about last night. How everyone was equal, everyone helped everyone, people looked out for each other, supported each other’s music,. And when someone like Bruce or Southside made it big, they applauded.

But times change and people move on. The Internet happened, and people now have all sorts of information they didn’t have before. In the old days it would take weeks for you to find out that Bruce had played at the Pony if you didn’t live in the area or weren’t a regular on the scene. Now you can get reports from events as they happen; there is no mystery, no suspense. And Bruce had a “reunion” tour for all the fans—and there were many—who had never seen the E Street Band before, and people loved it. But somewhere along the way, they began to realize what they had missed, and so they began to grab onto any little shred of the Bruce magic that they could. They jostled and fought for tickets to his shows, for spots in “the pit.” They lined up outside the Stone Pony and pushed and shoved, not understanding that a Bruce appearance is not a guarantee but a gift. They wanted—no needed—it to be 1982 again. They know they missed something very special. But those days are never coming back, and deep down, they know it. And so they whine and complain and “feel cheated” when Bruce doesn’t show. But what they don’t know, what they don’t understand is that you can’t buy your way into that world—you have to earn it. You have to show up and support the scene. You have to be in love with the music and the people and the place. And then, only then, if you are lucky, lightning strikes, magic happens.

There were people there last night that had flown in from all over the country, and spent thousands of dollars on airfare and hotels and tickets—all for a $15 benefit show. And they stood there staring at the stage like zombies waiting to be led off a cliff. They weren’t really watching the show, weren’t really listening. And as the night progressed, the hostility in the room became palpable. But the musicians didn’t care; it was their night, and they were not about to let these people ruin it.

For me, it was a great night of music. It was disorganized and shambolic and raw, just like a late night jam at Asbury’s famed Upstage. And I saw three original members of the E Street Band on the stage: Vini Lopez, who has clawed his way back to re-establish his music career on the Shore scene. Garry Tallent, the ageless wonder standing stage right all night with a smile that lit the room. And David Sancious—still looking suave and sophisticated, his grey hair reflecting the stage lights. But the best part of the night for me was watching those original Asbury guys onstage together, enjoying each other’s company and musicianship, and finally getting some long overdue respect and acclaim. There will never be another night like that at the Pony and those guys knew it. They are spread far and wide now; many no longer live in the area. And they’re not getting any younger.

So last night while the pretenders, the people who continue to take from the Asbury music scene and never give anything back (and who ironically call themselves a “community”) complained or looked bored, I enjoyed myself. It wasn't earth-shattering, it wasn’t mind-blowing, it wasn’t profound. It was just another jam night at the Pony, just like the old days. And those are the nights no amount of money can ever buy, because the Asbury scene is not and never has been for sale. You can never know when lightning is going to strike, and you can’t buy magic.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Wish That I Knew What I Know Now When I Was Younger

It’s always a little sad when something you’ve been looking forward to for a long time is over. It’s like a little piece of you has died.

I had been looking forward to this Marah weekend for a long time. There are fans, and then there are Marah fans. They are the best people in the world. And when you have to go home to an empty house and work looms and you are tired and lonely, these are the people you think of to cheer yourself up. They are the people you want to hang out with, the folks who will accept you for who you are no matter what. And in quiet moments, you will remember their faces and smile.

Dave P., the proud poppa-to-be was so happy last night I thought he was going to burst. He has worked so hard for so long and it is gratifying to see everything coming together for him seemingly all at once. I’ve known him for a couple years now, and he is good people. It’s nice to see the world giving him some love in return.

And what can you say about Adam from England? He has spent the last few days sleeping on Dave’s couch. Said couch is not that big, and Adam is a tall drink of water. He gets brownie points just for that in my book. He has amazing songs and a mesmerizing stage presence, and he will go places. I hear he is staying in the U.S. for a while. Good for us.

I can’t get over how amazed I am that my dear friend Christine Smith is now a member of both my favorite bands. I had always seen a synergy between the two, but never dreamed she would be the link. She is the perfect foil, the true musician in Marah, and I can’t imagine them without her now. Her new record is truly dark and sad and beautiful, and I am a bit sad that this lovely, talented person whom I have come to know and love over the last three years is going out into the world and I will have to share her with others. She has come so far in that time that I barely recognize her, and that’s a good thing. I always felt there was something more inside her than what she showed to the world. This record tells us that story.

How to express the intensity with which Dave sings? That force that comes out of his body, the sweat pouring from his face, which turns red with the effort. The smile that says he knows something you don't know, and he isn't telling. The gesture when he raises his hand to acknowledge the audience—often with beer in hand, half toast, half fist pump—always gets me. Yes, I am at a Marah show now.

Kirk plays the trumpet. I have known that for a long time, but we have not been blessed with the dulcet tones much before this weekend. On Friday night, it seemed out of tune with guitar. Last night it was all power and fury and drama. That horn needs to come on the road with them.

And Serge—there are moments when I see him smiling up at Dave with such joy that I want to scream and shout and say, “Yes! This is what life is all about, right here, right now!” It is a smile of pleasure, of admiration, of bliss. We all need moments like that in our lives. Those moments don’t come often. Catch them and hold onto them when they do, because they will pass and your life will go back to the same dull drudgery. But you will have those moments in your mind etched in your memory, and they will get you through. I don’t know how to thank Serge for that smile, but it burns in my brain and keeps me warm when I am cold.

The night ended with Jesse and Tommy T. in the front pumping fists in the air to “History.” Jesse later told me that it was his favorite Marah song. The looks on their faces said it all: joy, transcendence, love. They were totally within themselves, totally in the moment, and yet part of the big beautiful family that is a Marah audience.

There are moments in your life you wish you could capture and put inside a bottle and let them out when you are sad and lonely and life has dealt from the bottom of the deck once again. The moment when Dave is on his knees at the lip of the stage strumming like a madman, completely lost in waves of sound; the moment when Dave P. closes his eyes and smiles from ear to ear and you think his face will crack in two, and he pounds away on the drums like he is powering the whole city of Philadelphia; the moment when Christine smiles her beatific smile shyly, almost to herself, sways back and forth, her tiny hands moving across the keys and filling the air with sound; the moment when you catch Kirk’s eye and he grins that shit-eating grin that tells you he wouldn’t trade being right there right then for anything in the world; that moment when Serge looks over at Dave and Dave looks at Serge and they all look at each other and they are suspended in time and space and music. You wish you could take a picture; you try to record the sounds. But those won’t do. Neither will writing about it later. You had to be there.

And then it is gone and you are driving home and The Faces are echoing in your head. And you feel older and emptier, and the melancholy hits you in waves. The wind gusts through the blue October sky, and winter will be here soon. But you have this night, this memory, and no one can take that from you.

You Can Look

I am the beautiful untouchable.
I am the ball everyone plays with but when the boys and girls
Are called in for dinner I am left out on someone’s lawn in the rain and the cold
Where I lie forgotten in a pile of leaves leaking air, oozing life
Until the next time the children want to play with me and look for me
And find instead an empty, used up shell that falls to pieces when it is touched.

I am the beautiful untouchable.
I am praised and loved and bought drinks and made to feel special
Until two o’clock in the morning when everyone is tipsy and warm and headed home
Together in small groups laughing and embracing and stumbling into the night air
I am the one left behind, walking alone on the sidewalk unsteady and disremembered.

I am the beautiful untouchable,
The Virgin Mary, the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa
The cold and lonely lovely work of art, carved in stone, painted on a canvas
Watch out you can look but you better not touch
I will fall apart in your hands.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Keith Olbermann, Savior of Democracy

Here I thought Keith Olbermann was just another sports bimbo turned talking head on MSNBC. But lo and behold, he has emerged as a latter day Edward R. Murrow. Check out this scathing indictment of the Bush administration's recent anti-terror legislation and see if it doesn't remind you of the CBS great.

The beginning of the end of America indeed. Let's hope somebody was watching.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bookstore Light

Sometimes you get just what you need when you don't know you needed it (previous post). Tonight I got something I needed--and knew I was going to get it all along.

This band Marah does that to you. Doesn't matter how pissed off you are, how fucked up your life is, what kind of a hellish day you've had. Doesn't matter how drunk you are and what a fool you are making of yourself. Doesn't matter if you don't know all the words, or if this is your first show or your hundred and first. This band will lift you out of your own personal shit into another place; they will make you forget about whatever it is that's bothering you, pull you out of your head and back into the world, and will make that world a place that's beautiful and messed up and profoundly moving and downright silly and it will all be all right.

Tonight they were just back from a show in Germany and going on pure adrenaline. Sleep deprivation can be disastrous, but it can also be cleansing. There is no room for overthinking when you're exhausted; you go on heart and talent alone. And that's really what rock'n'roll is all about anyway, so in a sense it's the best way to be. Tonight they were alternately focused and shambling, intense and loose, heartbreakingly sad and outrageously funny. They are brothers, and so they know each other's weaknesses and are able to poke and prod and needle each other in uniquely destructive fashion. It's hilarious onstage but the words are often true, the complaints ancient and ongoing. But no matter; in fuzzy sweaters to ward off the suddenly winterish air, with a couple of swigs of beer and a buzzing amp, they make the night their own. And you are there, and you are a part of this big family that is so warm and welcoming that you just don't want to leave, you wish it really were your family, that your real family understood you the way these guys do.

It's dark in the bookstore where the show is taking place; the three of them sit in a row, and the shadows and candlelight create a ghostly vibe but in an odd way sort of highlight everything; the way their faces keep shifting in and out of the light somehow makes it seem like you are watching a play, makes you pay attention. But how could you not? These are extraordinarily talented people having an extraordinarily good time, and you are fortunate to share it with them. I wish I could tell you how beautiful their faces looked while they were singing, explain the perfection of missed notes and guitars that won't stay in tune.

But it's late and I'm tired, and what stays with me tonight more than anything else is this--on a night when I felt like shit about myself--about the world--these guys made everything all right again. And for that I thank them.

Monday, October 16, 2006

No Future

It's Sunday night in Red Bank, and somewhere north of here about an hour or so, it's closing night at CBGB's. Not everyone can be there; most of us who think that they want to probably shouldn't be anyway. Tonight is reserved for those who made the place what it was--those who created it. (Or at least those of them who are still alive.) I had though about going, but decided against it, partially because I'm not really a big Patti Smith fan. But mostly because it was not ever my place. I had only spent a couple evenings there, and both were in the last year or two. I would've felt like an imposter if I had gone there tonight. It wasn't my night; I didn't belong there. So I stayed in Red Bank and sat in on a trio set by Maybe Pete at a very trendy and swank bar called, oddly, Red. This town is full of such upscale hangouts; there are expensive looking black tables lit with small candles, and very low chairs (what is it about these places with the low furniture--does being closer to the floor signify hipness?).

Onstage, lead singer Frankie dedicates his song "This Town" to the lost souls who had found home at CBGB's over the years, and to Lenny Kaye doing the robot (ok, inside joke). And I smile and nod.

But it was never my place. So though the music fan in me is sad, I am not heartbroken the way I will be when the places I have known in Asbury Park are gone. (I know this because it has already happened to those places I loved in my hometown of Washington DC.) When they go, that's my youth disappearing right there. And that's a strange thing to experience. But it really doesn't happen all at once; it happens little by little, eroding slowly so you don't notice. So enjoy these things now while they're still there--get out and see those bands and drink that beer until you're drunk, and scream and shout and dance like an idiot. Because one day, you'll just wake up and it'll be gone. And then it will be too late.

In a sense, CBGB--the real place--was dead a long time ago. The things that made it what it was--the bands and their fans that made it their home--are long since gone. So last night was really just a formality. But everything has its time and place; nothing lasts forever, and that's as it should be.

So R.I.P. CBGB's, and long live rock'n'roll.

Onstage at Red, Maybe Pete rock into "Just My Imagination," and for now, the future is here in Red Bank.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Things I Like Vol. 34

Ten People/Places/Things That Rock My World:
(ok, this week it's 11...)

1) Quiz Show - dir. by Robert Redford. Television has irrevocably altered our world both by devaluing books and learning and by disengaging people, especially families, from each other. This is one of several films produced or directed by Barry Levinson that show us just how much of ourselves we have lost.

2) Special Topics in Calamity Physics - Marisha Pessl. I wanted to dislike this book. I really did. And it is not without flaws. That being said, however, it is by far the most engaging novel by a new writer I have read in years.

3) Blue Monday: Fats Domino And the Lost Dawn of Rock 'n' Roll - Rick Coleman. Highly readable book that makes the case for Fats as one of the true fathers of rock'n'roll, and an excellent history of New Orleans to boot.

4) The River in Reverse - Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint. A true giant receives recognition from a new generation of music lovers. Too bad it took the Katrina disaster to do it.

5) New York Dolls live at South Street Seaport, 8/18/06 - Ok, so the new record isn't a masterpiece and there are only two original members left. Go see the live show. Now.

6) Little Miss Sunshine - dir. by Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris. There is no substitute for a good chase scene.

7) Nanci Griffith - One of the truest, most powerful voices in music, period. She's got a new song about Vietnam that is just staggerlingly lovely. Can't wait for the record.

8) Harry & Tonto - dir. by Paul Mazursky. A time capsule of the '70s and a brilliant, heartbreaking performance by the incomparable Art Carney.

9) When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts - dir. by Spike Lee. Though there are several other major docs in the works (including one by Jonathan Demme), this is the work that will stand as the definitive portrait of the horrors of last fall. Not to be missed.

10) Michael Eric Dyson. A brilliant mind unafraid to ask the tough questions and dig deep for the answers. All his books should be required reading. See Come Hell or High Water and Is Bill Cosby Right?.

11) Douglas Brinkley. Ditto. See The Great Deluge.

Hero of the Week (3-way tie): Spike Lee, Michael Eric Dyson and Doug Brinkley for speaking truth to power. Oh yeah, and that guy in Mississippi who told Dick Cheney to fuck off. He rules.

Villain of the Week: There are so many. Pretty much every Bush administration official in Lee's film: Condi, Cheney, Brownie, Chertoff, and of course, the man himself. May they all rot in hell for all the suffering and death they have caused.

Special recognition to the citizens of New Orleans for fighting to keep their beloved city alive when some would rather see it bulldozed and gentrified--their unquenchable spirit is truly remarkable. And props also to the Gulf region just for keepin' on. God knows you won't get any help from anybody in this administration.


I have a lot more to say about the ongoing debacle in the Crescent City, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Katrina Plus One

A million thoughts crowd my head. I have recently viewed a documentary on the catastrophe in New Orleans—it has been almost a year already—and still cannot wrap my mind around all that has occurred and continues to occur in that once beautiful region. (How does one comprehend the incomprehensible?) Sadly, in August 2006, we have moved on. Last year at this time, Americans viewed the disaster transpiring in the Gulf with fascination, then horror, then anger, then despair. And because we could do nothing—or felt we could do nothing—or because we had our own lives to deal with, we let go, we forgot. The suffering of thousands of our fellow countrymen drifted from our thoughts, and we moved on. But those people are still there; the destruction and the madness are still there. They have not vanished because we have left them behind; they have merely taken refuge in the shadows, in the darkness, just out of sight. There is a hungry wolf at America’s doorstep, and he will bide his time, watching, waiting until we are too weak to stop him.

This unspeakable devastation in the Gulf region will not let us be. It is a part of us; we have all suffered because of it, and will continue to suffer, though we may not recognize it. For though we have looked, we have chosen not to see, and so the deep harm we do to ourselves as a people continues. There is poverty and hopelessness and despair in this country though most do not ever come in contact with it. Most of us live our lives carefully shielded from the poor and the desperate. Hunger and homelessness and racism do not exist, so we do not have to deal with them. And so, on it continues unabated. But this comfortable myopia will not protect us; the wolf is there yet, and the day of reckoning will come.

The Italians and the Dutch have built levees to protect their great cities. We have not, I believe, because Americans lack the reverence for the past Europeans seem to possess in abundance. Though every bit as greedy, selfish and materialistic, the people of Italy and Holland have not forgotten from whence they came. As citizens of their countries, they have a shared history that is an important part of who they are. And so they do what it takes to preserve this past, and to protect the people who guarantee its future. As individualistic Americans, it seems we lack the will to even comprehend such notions.

Americans have enjoyed 200-plus years of wealth and prosperity, and we have yet to acknowledge the horrific pain and suffering we have inflicted in order to achieve our standing in the world. Many hundreds of thousands have died—directly or indirectly—because of this failure to come to terms with our bloody past. America is and always has been a forward-looking nation. That is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness, for until we understand our history and value it—both the good and the bad—for the lessons we can learn from it, we will not respect the culture we have spent these 200 years building.

No nation can survive if it does not value its past or its people. As Americans, we have allowed terrible damage to be done to our national consciousness by the many acts of callousness, greed and neglect displayed in the hours, days and months following Katrina. We have allowed our fellow Americans—citizens of this country—to be treated like cattle while we looked the other way, pretended we did not see. Our souls have been corrupted by the promise of the future, and we have forgotten to live with and love each other in the present. It will take years—perhaps a lifetime—to repair the damage done to New Orleans. But buildings can be rebuilt; they are just material things. I wonder if, as a people, we will ever possess the will to repair the gaping wounds we have inflicted upon our Spirit.


The people still need help--desperately. To contribute, please visit Network For Good for a list of charities assisting Katrina victims.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Leave 'Em Home

I know it’s not their fault—most of the time—but dammit, I really don’t like kids. I know it’s politically incorrect. I know they are the future (or so the song goes), and as a society, we need to do the best we can to bring them up properly so that our culture and species can continue to thrive. And some of them—the exceptions, I call them—are actually kind of cool. But in general—and I know I am not alone in this—I just don’t like them.

I work in a bookstore, where shelf upon shelf of books about parenting confront me every day. Earlier in my life, when the parenthood choice still loomed, I remember looking for books that would help me make the decision easier. I had never had a natural affinity for kids, never felt the parenthood instinct, and so I looked for books that would confirm that I was not alone. There weren’t more than one or two amongst the literally hundreds that crammed the shelves. I wondered what was “wrong” with me, why the gut instinct I had that children would be wrong for me was not something more people felt. I remember feeling even more desperate and alone than I had before. Was I really that much out of the mainstream?

Well a few years have gone by, and my decision to remain childfree proved to be the correct one for me. With my personality, inclination towards solitude and quiet, and with the odd trajectories my life has sometimes taken, there is no way that I could have been a proper parent. Some people are just not cut out for it, some people do more harm than good in rearing their children, and I just don’t want to be one of them. I have since found a couple books that confirm what I thought—that there are more than a few people out there who feel as I do about children and parenthood, that I am not alone in my revulsion toward the little humans. Indeed, the vast majority of my friends do not have children, and I often wonder why it is that we have mysteriously gravitated toward each other over the years. We never talk about it, but it’s definitely a part of why we are friends.

I also wonder about why it is that human society continues to celebrate parenthood to such a degree when there are so many overwhelming reasons not to procreate. The globe is heating up at an alarming rate; there is trash everywhere, and pollution and greed continue to destroy what’s left of our bounteous landscape. Where will these children go, I wonder, to enjoy the carefree aloneness that I felt growing up? Mankind has a lot of catching up to do in the procreation department. There is no reason to keep spitting out the puppies, and yet we still do. There are powerful forces that create the cultural zeitgeist, that control the advertising with which we are inundated on a daily basis, and they make money by reinforcing cultural norms, and more importantly, by creating new consumers. Yes, that is what we are, and that is why our earth is so much trouble. The sad truth is that the huge multinational corporations that dominate our world on both a personal and global basis make too much damned money from people’s procreation, and it is not until it becomes an enormous burden upon most people that things will begin to change.

The truth is that people have children for many reasons, and many of them aren’t any good at it. Parenting is as much instinctual as it is a skill, and like any other human trait, some of us are better at it than others. That’s just the way it is. It’s so easy to mess up childrearing—a fact that always terrified me back when I was still thinking about doing it—that I wish more people would think a little bit harder about what their real priorities are in becoming parents. (You can really mess up your kids, and while some may still thrive, some may never recover. Do you really want that hanging over your head your whole life? I don’t.) Do the parents out there feel a natural affinity for kids, or are they just doing it because “everyone else” is? Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. And you know what, I refuse to be made to feel inadequate, like less of person, because I have made the (very wise) decision not to be a parent. It’s not “greedy” or “selfish” to not want kids. On the contrary, I think it is both those things to recognize how messed up our planet already is, and to go ahead and bring children into this overpopulated, overburdened world in order to be one of the Joneses so one can “fit in” at the office, at the club, at the supermarket, is just plain asinine. If I want to look after someone else’s wishes beside my own—an argument people always use to slander the childfree is that we are too self-absorbed—I can go volunteer in a hospital, a nursing home, a school, a community center. I don’t need to bring a new life into the world in order to become less obsessed with mine.

Which is not to say that I don’t respect the choice to be a parent. I am in total awe of those of my friends who have chosen to make this leap. It’s a huge responsibility, and an irrevocable decision. And even those who didn’t do it by choice always say that they don’t regret a thing. But I know that sometimes people do, and that there are powerful social norms that keep them from ever saying anything. I know there are people out there who just should not have had children, who were forced into it by carelessness, by their parents and relatives (who, by the way, are not the ones who have to assume the physical, psychological and financial burdens of childrearing), and who often wish they had not become parents.

So modern society lies to us with all those books on the shelf. I know that there are people out there like me who are afraid to stand up and be counted on this issue. But I know that I am not alone, and I am not afraid. I have worked too long and too hard to discover who I am, to piece together the person I have become. And I know deep within myself that kids are not for me, and that this does not make me less of a person (though those who are secretly jealous of my childfree status constantly try to make me feel otherwise). And I will not apologize, and I will not explain. I don’t like kids, and I don’t want to be a parent.

So when I am out enjoying myself at an adult event in the adult world, I do not want kids around. You guys made the decision to have children, and it comes with a price—your freedom of choice and flexibility are gone. You have to plan, you have to hire a babysitter, you have to spend money to leave them behind. And that’s not my problem. If you can’t afford a babysitter, if it’s inconvenient, well that’s too bad. That’s the decision you made. I made mine, and I’m comfortable with it. You guys seem to be really good at making me feel selfish for being childfree. Well I think you’re selfish for dragging your kids every damn place where they don’t belong and obviously don’t want to be. One of the things about parenthood that so turned me off was the idea that you always have to put someone else’s needs ahead of your own. (This never seemed fair to me. I mean, you work hard all your life to get somewhere, to become who you are, and then suddenly this person you’ve become takes a back seat to the whiny little entity who wants to dump sand down his sister's shirt in the playground.) But that’s the choice you made. When you get up in the morning, and as you go through your day, that’s the priority you chose. So you know what, live with it. You can’t have it both ways. Children don’t belong in expensive restaurants, in bars, at loud rock shows. They don’t belong in R-rated movies, in strip clubs, or in casinos. That’s life. I mean, I made the choice to not have kids—don’t really like them—and yet they’re all around me. I don’t have a choice about that. But I do have a choice to sometimes go where children are not wanted, where they are not expected. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to be happy about finding a five-year-old running around underfoot whilst I’m trying to get my drink on. Life gives us more than enough crap to deal with—do we have to raise your children for you too?

Human society doesn’t have to be a war between the parents and the childfree (not childless—there is a difference). We really need to take better care of each other, and that only comes from—surprise, surprise—thinking about someone besides yourself. So you parents out there, hey, I know you’re desperate sometimes and you just want to have a little fun adult-style. Well guess what, so do I. As Bruce Springsteen often says, life is the series of choices you make and how you live with them. I’m living with mine, so please, you live with yours, ok? Leave ‘em home.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Bring the Rock

I had planned on trekking into the city last Saturday night to check out Walter Lure’s Waldos at the Continental in the East Village. Sometimes you just need that fix. But to paraphrase David Jo & Co., something happened on the way to Manhattan…

It was very hot and humid last Saturday afternoon—the kind of heat that makes you stick to the furniture. The kind where no matter how many beverages you drink, all your energy is consumed in just being. It’s hot like that, and we are sitting outside in the middle of downtown Long Branch, N.J. in a parking lot. This part of town is heavily Mexican; small groceries and taquerias line the street. For this afternoon gig outside the Shore Institute for Contemporary Arts (S.I.C.A.), an asphalt lot outside a converted warehouse has been transformed into a music venue, and as they run their Saturday afternoon errands, the locals wander by and pause to listen as various bands make their glorious noise. For many, this is probably the only live music they can afford. The sight of a band standing in the middle of a parking lot is even enough to lure the occasional car to pull over and listen. Live music just doesn’t happen in this part of town very often.

The sun blazing above them, the last band of the afternoon sets up in the lot by a brick wall. Outdoor shows are a unique challenge for any music outfit; you never know what the conditions are until you get there and start setting up. Today, this particular band is met with a performing space where the ground slopes slightly, and the drum kit keeps sliding towards the street. The smallish sound system is just barely enough. Undaunted, they have the soundman crank it as high as it will go, and they’re off. “Can’t Hardly Wait” opens the set. This song means everything to me, and I am fairly particular about where and when I hear it. I have heard plenty of bands cover the Westerberg classic, including two of my favorite bands ever, the BoDeans and Marah. It gives me goosebumps every time I hear it, and often brings tears, too. It’s just one of those songs. Today, instead of closing the set with it as bands so often do, Jersey Shore stalwarts maybe pete choose to open with it. An unusual choice, but it works.

Most bands work up to peak intensity level by the end of their set; maybe pete has it -- on a 90 plus degree-day -- from the beginning. This is professional show business, kids, and not for the faint of heart. Strap yourself in. And on and on they go, driving through one song after another, their faces flushed with heat. Amongst the original material is a rocking cover of Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” which I have also heard other bands do, and which I don’t recognize until Frankie, the lead singer, opens his mouth. This is a band that will try anything, knowing that their audience, which is seated somewhat incongruously across from them at white picnic tables, is always right there with them.

Cars continue to pull over to take in the proceedings. Folks stroll by in small groups; moms and babies, fathers and sons, groups of young men wandering aimlessly. They stop to listen, talking amongst themselves. They can't quite seem to figure out why this particular brand of entertainment has come to their neighborhood, why it is that today, they can hear this stuff for free. The music of maybe pete, which is loud even for a parking lot, is a deft mixture of Joey Ramone power and Jersey Shore passion. It draws a small, devoted following down here on the Shore, but Long Branch is a bit off the beaten path; usually to hear this music you have to drive down the road apiece. It is an odd audience for this show, the devoted fans and the casual observers, but somehow, it is exactly what is required.

After about 40 minutes, the set ends, and after a brief pause, it’s time for an encore. They play “Exit 140A,” a driving song about disappointment and survival. The beat picks up, and the song reaches its apex with a furious guitar duel between (husband and wife) guitarists Frankie and Kelly. The latter walks out into the parking lot towards the paying customers, while her husband edges closer and closer to the low wooden fence that borders the parking lot to his left. He is eyeing the fence—no, he is stepping up on it while he continues to wail on his guitar like a madman. He stands there, precariously balanced atop the fence, completely in the moment. We all hold our collective breath, convinced he is going to fall. He is tall and thin and ungainly, and does not appear to have the physical coordination to survive this foray unscathed. But in the blink of an eye, he is down off his perch on the fencepost and onto the sidewalk outside the parking lot, where a startled group of passers by stands transfixed. He is standing inches from a small boy, motioning to him to strum the strings of his guitar. The boy doesn’t quite get the message, but Frankie doesn’t care; he continues to wail away on his Fender before the startled throng. He walks back into the parking lot, and turns to face the band, feedback raining down around him as he puts his guitar down on the ground at center stage. Kelly has had enough; she hands him her guitar and walks off to the snack bar to get a well-deserved drink of water. Her husband increases the cacophony by adding her guitar to the mix before, at last, turning again to signal the song’s end to his band mates, leaping in the air and collapsing in a heap. Sweaty and red-faced, the remaining band members slowly walk off in search of liquid relief. Frankie finds his way to a chair and sinks down, shaky and drained.

Some days you just need the music. You need someone to bring the rock, to lift you up and out of the mundane. I had been anticipating this feeling all week, waiting for Saturday night so I could go into the city and rock it with Walter and his Waldos, waiting to come to life once again after another week of drudgery at work. But even on their best nights, Walter and the Continental represent a bygone era. They are figures from the past, their best days behind them. When I got home Saturday evening, I thought about whether I had the energy and the inclination to make the one hour-plus trip into Manhattan. It didn’t take me long. After that hot afternoon on the Jersey Shore, resurrecting the past no longer seemed necessary. The rock had been brought to the people, right there on the street--where it started, where it belongs. The spirit of Johnny Thunders and his Heartbreakers was alive and well in the present in a parking lot in Long Branch, N.J.

I’m sure Walter was great; he always is. But I never did make it into the city last Saturday night. I didn’t need to.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Things I Like Vol. 33

Ten People/Places/Things That Rock My World:

1) The New York Dolls. Nuff said.
2) The Complete Stories of Truman Capote - Say what you want, the man was a master.
3) Amy's Omelette House - Long Branch, NJ
4) The Bitter End - New York, NY
5) Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - Catch the new clean, sober Ryan and prepare to be amazed all over again.
6) The Ryan Adams Archive and - Trying to organize the crazy world of Ryan Adams is a monumental pain in the ass. These guys have done a great job and deserve mucho kudos. The definitive Ryan Adams sites.
7) Concerts in the Studio - Freehold, NJ - The Costanzos are in it for nothing but love of the music, and that's the best part.
8) "Message to the Boys" - The Replacements. Three-fourths of the band playing a not-so-new Paul Westerberg song is still better than 90% of what passes for music these days.
9) Holme - Proof that cover bands don't have to suck.
10) The Baronet Theater - Asbury Park, NJ - Recently reopened and fighting eminent domain catastrophe. The last movie theater in Asbury Park. Catch it while you can.

Hero of the Week: All those who are fighting eminent domain abuse around the country and here in Monmouth County, NJ. People have the power!
Villain of the Week: Larry Fishman and the ghouls at Asbury Partners.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Things I Like Vol. 32

Ten People/Places/Things That Rock My World:

1) Capote: A Biography - Gerald Clarke
2) Rockwood Music Hall - New York, NY
3) Hudson Falcons - what happens when Joe Strummer meets Bruce Springsteen
4) The Deep - Asbury Park, NJ - punk lives in AP
5) Bobby Bandiera - still the coolest guy on the Jersey Shore
6) My Life So Far - Jane Fonda - you may not always like her but you gotta respect her
7) Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll (DVD) - Chuck Berry & friends
8) The Complete Reprise Sessions - Gram Parsons - Cosmic American Music
9) Three of Cups - New York, NY - vino and good friends
10) Daniel Wolff - a great writer and a great friend

Hero of the Week: Spike Lee & Jonathan Demme (and anyone else making a documentary on New Orleans)
Villain of the Week: George W. Bush - do I need a reason?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

You're Missing

The city is not the same without you in it. It lacks sparkle and glow and energy. It is still the greatest city in the world; of that there is no doubt. It is a diamond isle, the land of dreams. But without you in it there is nothing to look forward to, no humor, no vibrancy. Its light is dimmer, its voice muted.

Tonight you are not there and the city is filled with nonsensical youngsters dressed in what they think is fashion with no imagination, no sense of adventure. Shhh, be quiet, they are Looking For Fun. The city smells of flowers and cigarettes and subway and beer, it is a romantic smell filled with hope as though something were about to happen. There are older single men in guinea tees carrying shapeless plastic shopping bags out for their daily walk to get the paper and bet the numbers (they have lived there forever and it’s summer and they are not about to start getting dressed up to go out now, pally.) There are pairs of women everywhere (why do women travel in pairs—are they afraid of something?), women of all ages talking and laughing. There are street vendors and flower salesmen and coffee and donuts and guys on bikes that weave and whiz through the traffic performing death-defying acts. There is the Chrysler building, its glittering silver tower shining brightly in the night sky. There is even a full moon peeking out from behind the scattered, shifting clouds, casting its glow on the city streets below. But you are not there; there is no one to shine on and so it moves along back from whence it came.

Monday, July 03, 2006

I am the Scarecrow

I am not one of the lucky ones whose problems all work out, whose life and loves and ups and downs all balance each other and are in harmony and everything finds some resolution. I am a tangled knot of loose ends and pieces that don’t fit. I am the misshapen remains of last night’s party, slightly hung over and bent out of shape, sore and misguided. There are pieces of me spread everywhere like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. There’s my brain drifting off somewhere taking me back to times and places purged of pain and heartache by memory so I see only the good, only what I wish had happened instead of all that actually did.

There’s my heart, scattered in pieces. It is in the distant echoes of epic Springsteen marathons long gone; it is in every corner of that pizza oven with a stage, my beloved Stone Pony. It is in the sunny meadows and cool, dusty barns of my youth, long since torn asunder by bulldozers and real estate greed. It is in the warm haze of childhood playgrounds and bicycles and Popsicle sticks. It is in the great city of Washington, misbegotten and forgotten, cast aside and trampled upon by the country it serves, the country that misunderstands and uses and forgets. It is in the rainy Sunday jaunts to the Smithsonian with my dad (before he got sick when he could still walk and everything was ok), in the hours spent wandering the musty halls of art museums and technology exhibits, watching free puppet shows and riding the carousel on the Mall and waving my arms in the air and smiling. It is in the cool salt water rushing over my head, the freedom of just you and the ocean and being a teenager, when anything seemed possible. It is in the great state of New Jersey, where so many wonderful things have happened to me; where I fell in love and shared my life with someone for the first time. It is in New York, the place that haunted my childhood and now drives my imagination.

But these days, the biggest piece of my heart belongs to someone who will never acknowledge it. There is nothing I can do but wait and hope, and that is not enough. I am the scarecrow, and there are pieces of me everywhere.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

So We Beat On...

Life sends you things that you don't need when you don’t really want them. And then it sends you exactly what you need when you don’t even know you need it.

Last night I went to see Southside Johnny at his old stomping grounds, the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. A lot of my friends from the old days don’t come out much any more; it takes something like this annual Fourth of July Weekend bash to get them to hire out babysitters and get out from under. Walking into the Pony at the annual event is (as my good friend Lori said last night), like coming home. It’s like walking into your living room and someone has organized a surprise party for you and all the most important people from you life are there. Only it’s different ‘cause you’ve been going there for 20 years and every square inch of the place holds memories. I have loved and lost here; I have seen the best rock’n’roll has to offer grace this stage—its legends, its upstarts, its stalwarts. I have fought with my best friend here. (I made so many friends here over the years. And lost a few along the way, too.) I have felt my heart swell with sorrow and anguish at what the years have done to people. And I have felt it swell with joy and pride and happiness watching musicians—my friends now—get up on that stage and make magic happen.

Last night was one of those nights. You have to understand, the Pony was where everyone hung out. When they weren’t up on the stage, musicians hung out in the back, shot the breeze, exchanged gig information, gossip, and girlfriends. It was where deals were made and hearts were broken. Where beers were consumed and love was found and lost. Down here on the Shore, there once was a thing called a musicians’ community; so much great music happened here. In the beginning, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes were the friggin’ house band!. There was Cats on a Smooth Surface and Joey and the Works and John Eddie and the Front Street Runners and John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band and La Bamba and the Hubcaps. And those were just the regulars. Every Saturday night was national act night, and you could see legends like Gary U.S. Bonds and Ronnie Spector and Gregg Allman. You could see established acts like Dave Edmunds and Graham Parker and Ian Hunter. You could see up and comings like the Smithereens and Concrete Blonde and the BoDeans. And every now and then Somebody Famous would drop by. Somebody who lived right up the road and was on the cover of Time and Newsweek. You wouldn’t recognize him from seeing him walk around the club, for that was when he looked like just another face in the crowd, just another Jersey Shore musician out for a good time. But when he got onstage, which he did every now and then, he was magically transformed, as though someone had plugged him into an electrical socket and turned him into the very Spirit of Rock’n’Roll. This happened fairly regularly for a while, and when it did and you were lucky enough to be there, it was enough to get you through the week, through your shitty workaday job, your boring ass life. The Stone Pony was where the magic happened; it was where your life changed forever. It was the only place to be if you were a music fan, the only place you wanted to be, the only place that mattered.

But those days are gone. They came to an end, as all good things must. We grew up and got older and the music changed and people moved on. But every now and then, on nights like last night, you can go back again like Peter Pan and be young again.

Last night, one of my very favorite young bands, maybe pete, played on the indoor stage opening up for Southside Johnny. This alone meant the world to them. You see, they would not be playing music if it were not for SSJ and his world-class band of misfits and geniuses. Frankie and Kelly met and fell in love over this music; they used to sneak into the Ritz in NYC when they were 16 to see their heroes in person. And now they were sharing a bill with them. But that was not enough. Previous to their set, Jukes guitarist Bobby Bandiera had run into Frankie in the men’s room and asked if he could sit in. Frankie agreed, not really believing that this was going to happen. Life deals you many cruel hands as a musician, and you learn very quickly not to get your hopes up. So they played their set as always, and when it came time for their closing number, a cover of the Stones’ version of “Just My Imagination,” Frankie called for Bobby to come up. For a minute or two, nothing happened. And then suddenly, through the crowd came a diminutive, instantly recognizable figure. It was Bobby, and he was going to play with them. It wasn’t earth shattering, it wasn’t transformative, but for a moment there, I thought my heart would burst in two seeing my friends up there so happy, so in the moment, with their hero giving himself so generously (as he always does; he’s just that kind of guy) and making their night special, giving them something they could take with them from this place for the rest of their lives. I spoke with them after the show and they still couldn’t quite believe it. I do believe it will take them weeks to recover.

Oh yeah, there was an amazing Southside Johnny show after that. I’ve seen him a lot and it was a Top 5 show for sure. My ears are still ringing and my feet and legs are sore and I am hung over and a bit sad that it is all over, that the reunion has come to an end for another year. But that’s not important. What’s important is that, in some small way, people like Bobby Bandiera make the Stone Pony magic continue.

There will never be another place like the Pony. When it is finally gone, it will leave a huge gaping wound in my heart. For there was where we were once young and alive, and anything seemed possible. It is a place out of the past; its best moments are long gone. But people like Bobby know what it has meant to us, what it continues to mean. He understands. And so, on a night when we were all carried back into the past, Bobby helped bring the spirit of the Pony into the future.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

June Sunday

Every time I get to feeling a little bit better, like I might be moving forward, might be going somewhere I get knocked flat by reality. I am meaningless in the great cosmic joke of a world; my presence has little value except to myself. I can do nothing for anyone; there are no favors, nothing special that makes me indispensable. I am nothing--my presence is irrelevant. Why would I think any differently? It’s a cruel trick the world plays on us that makes us think we matter. The reality is we are here and we are gone. We do the best we can, we try to help people and they stomp on us and backstab us and cast us aside; we open up and give of ourselves and are pounded with cold steel hammers. So you have to live for yourself, you have to tell yourself you are worth something because no one else will. The rest is cold and dark and meaningless.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Things I Like Vol. 31

Ten People/Places/Things That Rock My World:

1) maybe pete-the coolest band from New Jersey that no one knows about (yet)
2) Streets of New York - Willie Nile - the best record I've heard so far this year
3) Amusing Ourselves to Death - Neil Postman - 20 years after publication it's more timely than ever
4) Fox Confessor Brings the Flood - Neko Case - ethereal vocals and stellar songwriting
5) Three of Cups - New York, NY - late night grand Italian and fabulous red wine
6) All Seasons Diner - Eatontown, NJ - late night bullshit and good times
7) Sami Yaffa - just 'cause
8) Netflix - sure beats what's showing at the multiplex
9) Chocolate Genius - the man, the music, the hats!
10) The Falls - Joyce Carol Oates - why doesn't this woman have a Nobel yet?

Hero of the Week (tie): Rep. Robert Murtha (R-PA) - for speaking the truth about the quagmire that is Iraq and refusing to back down and Chris Isaak - for doing the USO thing both in the Middle East and at Walter Reed - and for just being damn fine!
Villain of the Week: George W. Bush. NOW you go to Iraq?

WTF of the week: Karl Rove is not going to be indicted? Are you kidding me?

Monday, June 05, 2006

June 5, 2006

Life throws you some curveballs. And they always seem to come rapid fire right in a row like you’re standing in a batting cage instead of being spaced out so you can breathe. Last week was like that for me. Kind of makes you wake up and realize what’s really important—the slap in the face we all sometimes need. It’s so easy to get jealous of what other people have—or what it looks like they have—so easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing. If you don’t feel good about yourself, it’s natural to compare yourself to others and come up short. Then you beat yourself up, call yourself a loser because you didn’t do this or that, weren’t there when such and such happened, and are therefore not hip or cool or interesting. It’s easy to find fault with yourself, so hard to tell yourself you’re special and unique just the way you are. That all the experiences you have had in your life—the good and the bad—have brought you to where you are now. One thing done differently, one choice you might have made could have led you down a completely different path. Easy stuff to say— much, much harder to internalize and make real to yourself. This world beats you down, it sands down the rough edges, it wills you to conform and surrender and shuffle along meekly and unquestioningly. So much harder to forge your own path in life, to not care what other people think, to come to your own conclusions about yourself and your place in the world. And people have agendas, they will suck you in and milk you dry and tramp you down and break your spirit. It will happen. But it is the journey, not the arrival that matters. Eyes on the prize and all that. We are walking in the footsteps of those who have gone before. It’s the truth. Believe it. But more importantly, believe in yourself. That is the hardest thing of all.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

I Know Who My Friends Are

Like most of us out there these days, I have a Myspace page. It seems like a lot of people have a few bands listed as friends, but mostly they have people they know from work, school, etc., or just from living life. That’s as it should be. People should have friends. But on Myspace, the line between friendship and stalking is unclear, and there is an odd phenomenon in which people add "friends" they have never met and really don’t know. I am not quite sure what to make of all this; in order to be on my "friends" list, you have to be someone I know and/or a band that I like. Period. None of this collecting friends, or living voyeuristically through the Myspace pages of friends of friends of famous people, or whatever. Creeps me out. Why would you want someone as your “friend” if you are really not friends with him or her other than to "look cool" or to spy on them?

You can look at my “friends” list, which is somewhere in the 200’s these days, and it’s pretty clear who my friends are—the people I know and trust. But mostly it’s bands. Not because I know them personally—most of the time, I don’t—but because when things get really bad (and they have been pretty damn bad a lot lately), these are the people I count on to get me through. It’s like that scene in Almost Famous when Penny talks about what the music means to her. How if she’s every really down and lonely, she can always go to the record store and visit her friends. Of course, she really does know a fair number of those bands, and ironically enough, the friendship is far from reciprocated; in fact, to those musicians who do know her, she is no more than a plaything to be traded away on a drunken gambling spree. But to her, these people, this music is everything. It’s the reason to get up in the morning; it’s the medicine that makes everything all right. People are people, and they will always let you down. But the music is always there, always the same. You know you will always get that charge when you hear the opening rim shot of “Like a Rolling Stone,” when the opening guitar riff to “Rocks Off” blows through your speakers. Or when it’s late at night, and you’re lonely and sad, you know that you can always listen to the lonely, sad voice of Ryan Adams and it will be all right. Screw people; they always let you down. They all have agendas and egos and misplaced priorities, and when it comes down to it, they will always put themselves first. So when life sucks, and the world hits you in the head with a cold steel hammer, put on the music, turn to the bands. Because the music is always there and does not change.

So take a look at my Myspace page—if you know me, you will see a few familiar faces. But mostly, you will see my friends.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Things I Like Vol. 30

Ten People/Places/Things That Rock My World

1) Status Anxiety - Alain de Botton - the book every American should read but won't
2) The Animal Years - Josh Ritter
3) Entourage - HBO and Adrian Grenier, perfect together
4) cold Corona and lime - can summer be far behind?
5) The Tiki Bar - Asbury Park, NJ- margaritas and tasty waves
6) Comfort Food - Rachael Ray (yeah, I know, I know)
7) Nagle's Pharmacy - Ocean Grove, NJ - ice cream the way it was meant to be
8) Chilangos Authentic Mexican Restaurant - Highlands, NJ
9) Ryan Adams - just 'cause
10) The Mercury Lounge, NYC

Hero of the Week: Cindy Sheehan - still the authentic voice of America's outrage
Villain of the Week (tie): Donald Rumsfeld (no explanation needed) and Condoleezza Rice (ditto)

Monday, April 24, 2006


It’s dark and grey and rainy and melancholy. I can feel my life passing by in small episodes of memory. What is it about rainy days that makes you think about the passage of time, about other rainy days? About where those people are now, what happened to those places? Why on earth was I doing that, why did I spend so much time in jobs I hated? Why was it so important to do what everyone expected of me all the time? Why didn’t I just pick up and move somewhere where things were happening, where I could have been a part of something? You do the best you can at the time, but days like this make you question everything, make you recognize the fleetingness and the loss and the ethereal nature of life itself. I hear the voices of people who are gone; I feel the presence of ghosts.

The wind blows and the rain falls and I am 8 years old staring through the screen door and listening to the thunder. I am inside I will be all right it is only thunder. But there is that knawing melancholy fear and sadness. As though every time it rains something dies.

The smell of the rain on cement reminds me of all the people I’ve worked with, all the boring ass jobs and wasted time in drafty, sterile office buildings and people I’ll never see again whose names I’ve forgotten who I once saw every day, who once were so important to my daily life. How easy it is to just walk out the door one day and never come back, to forget everyone and everything so completely.

The smell of the rain on grass reminds me of blissful hours spent on horseback, in barns caring for those beautiful, graceful animals who love you back without question, who were often my only friends. The sound of utter contentment at feeding time, of large jaws and teeth munching oats and hay, the snorting and stamping and slurping. The sound of birds chirping, wet hay and wet animals and solitude and peace. Animals don’t care who you are or what you look like or who your friends are or what you do for a living; they trust you totally, they are grateful for the simple things in life like when you show up to feed them, brush and groom them, keep them warm and happy and fed.

The cold rain falls and it is New York and I am 12 years old and my dad is flat on his back in a hospital bed and he has been there for a year and he may be there for another year. No one at school, none of my so-called friends understands this; I have given up trying to explain it to them. About the therapy, the rehab; about the endless illnesses and recoveries; about the depression and the rage and the dirty, corrupt scary New York City of the early ‘70s. About the terror of knowing and not knowing what will happen next; how your whole life changes in an instant. It takes me a long time to get over this memory/vision of Manhattan. For many years, it is a place of darkness and filth and fear.

The rain falls and it washes everything away, and the smell of the salt air wafts toward me and cleanses my lungs. All the weight and the sins of the past are meaningless; the smell of the sea reminds me that we are mere specks in the vast universe, that it is all transient, that the big important monumental things in life that we think will destroy us, that are irreparable and destructive and dangerous are just the blinks of an eye. The sea has been here before us; it will be here when we are gone. What are the cares of today beside the wind and the sea and the waves?

The rain and the grey and the melancholy linger. It drips from the rafters, it blows against the window as if to remind me that there is not much separating me from the dampness and the penetrating cold. It is easy to be jolly when the sun shines. Is there true happiness when it rains, or only the absence of sadness?

Don't Get Sentimental On Me

I know you’re tired, I’m tired too
Loosen up, sing me a song and I’ll dance
Cause I don’t move, or get moved too easily
Take me home, just don’t get sentimental on me
Cause the wind, the wind, the wind
is carrying us down the darkness of Broadway
And it’s fine, it’s okay: here tomorrow, gone today
Take me home, just don’t get sentimental on me

I know you’re fine,
I followed all the lines on the dress
You know, yours the lover bought you
And these drinks turn into maps of places we will never go but once
So don’t get sentimental on me
Cause the wind, the wind, the wind
is carrying us down the darkness of Broadway
And it's fine, it’s okay: here tomorrow, gone today.
Take me home just don’t get sentimental on me
Take me home, take me home
Just don’t get sentimental on me

(c)2006 by Mr. David Ryan Adams

Sunday, April 23, 2006


It's amazing what security (or the lack thereof) can do to some people. Apparently there are people who are so incredibly threatened by me that they will go out of their way to shut me out; to be mean and hurtful and spiteful, to verbally harass and threaten me with no discernable provocation (and believe me, I am great at provoking people, and well aware of when I am doing it). I find that interesting because I am not really in a position to do anything to anybody; I have a shit job, no money and most times am just barely able to keep it together. I have very little power in this world to do anything to anybody. And yet around some people, I command great armies. Good Queen Bess I am not, but there are those who will have me beheaded just the same...

Friday, April 21, 2006

How Can A Poor Man Have Such Fans and Live?

Thanks, no really--thanks!

To all of my so-called friends who couldn't be bothered to pick up the phone yesterday and tell me what was going on at Convention Hall with the GA line. And who rubbed it in my face that they were in "The Pit and I wasn't. Thanks, guys. You're real pals. Remind me to call you when I find out some info or have a tip that might help you. NOT.

It never fails to amaze me how self-centered and shallow Springsteen fans are. He is one of the coolest, most intelligent and talented individuals making music today. With some of the biggest assholes on the planet for fans. Narrow-minded, greedy, self-important, arrogant, sexist, get the picture. How do they just totally not get it? Not get what he's about, what his music's about, what it can teach you about tolerance and fairness and justice? How can you go to a show and listen to "We Shall Overcome" and all the while push and shove each other like animals? How can you not get how incredibly priveleged you are to be able to afford hundred dollar tickets to anything, and instead whine, complain and make other people feel small about something so insignificant in the grand scheme of things as where you stand at a Springsteen show?

Wow. Unbelievable, right? But then again, we all live in a country where people are arrogant enough to believe that they somehow deserve the natural beauty and wide open spaces, the vast wealth and economic privilege that they have been handed. Who are just now waking up to the Bush Administration's unbelievable corruption and complete incompetence. DUH. So why would I expect them to understand anything with any degree of sophistication? Read a book? Can't even be bothered to read the crap that passes for newspapers. I don't need to know anything. I'm American, everything will be taken care of for me. I can do no wrong, the world loves me. So....

I'm moving. Somewhere. Anywhere but here in the US. Because when the bill comes due for the Bush II years, it will not be pretty. Springsteen will retire to warmer climes. Maybe we'll sit on the beach together in Baja sipping Tequila and laughing about America's Glory Days...

Monday, February 20, 2006

I am a Storyteller

I am a storyteller.
I open my mouth and your life spews out
You hear your life, your most painful memories
Your happiest moments and I know them

I know them all because I am a storyteller
I tell you things you hear and recognize but don’t want to know
I have lived a thousand lives inside my own head
And those voices sometimes tell me that it’s not worth it
That I should give up and let it go
And they are so convincing, they almost have me until

Someone else who is not any good, who gets all the acclaim and
The fame and the notoriety
For being a self-absorbed, self-loathing dolt
Who tells us all the thoughts inside his head for no good reason except
He needs to be noticed, he cannot help himself
He tells us things we have no business hearing, he drops names
like bird seed that we consume and then dispose of in endless scattered droppings

He makes me keep going, makes me want to keep telling stories
Because it is worth it, it is all I can do
Because though I push papers and shovel garbage and
Wait on customers and listen to bullshit until I want to scream
I am a storyteller and it is all I know.

Monday, February 13, 2006

For L

What happens when all that you love, all that you care about is denied you? When, through fate or circumstance (or just plain bad luck) you finally find that person who understands you, who loves you despite your faults, who encourages you to do better, who eases you through the bad times and with whom you enjoy the good like you would with no one else— and you cannot be with him or her, and you are forced to live your life in an agony of self-denial and emptiness, to spend year after year endlessly longing for this person who makes you feel whole at last?

You lack the strength or the will or the courage to take action to change your situation. Or the opportunity never arises. What can you do except force your emotions deep down inside where they can’t surface? Except sometimes they boil over and you lash out at whomever gets in your way. Or you tear yourself apart, seething, loathing yourself, rotting from within.

Happiness comes when you least expect it, and sometimes you don’t recognize it until it has been taken away. What then? What if it’s too late? What if the only truth you know is what you feel in the moment, and the sense of what has happened only becomes clear afterward? You feel stupid, senseless, used, used up. Drained, hopeless. How is one to make life decisions in the midst of a whirlwind?

Opportunity knocks once and the door slams shut…and the worst part is, there is no warning, and all too soon the moment is gone.

What happens when you deny yourself happiness, or when happiness is denied you by society, by what others might think or say or do? What kind of toll does that take on you? Do you go on as before, or do you die slowly, one day at a time? You push the happiness and the thoughts and the memories aside, but every now and again they surface to torment you, and you wonder how things might have been different if only you had made different choices, if circumstances had been different, if only, if only…

So you stare off into the distance, holding on as best you can, wondering what might have been. And you drink to forget…

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ain't This What Dreams are Made of?

Do buildings have sense memory? Do they remember you when you’ve been there before? Why do particular places exert such a powerful hold on our memory? “Last night I dreamed of Manderley again” is still one of the most famous phrases in literature. Our dreams take us back to particular places in our lives, to events of great power and significance. We always go back to places where we belonged, where things made sense, to where no one could touch us, and life was simpler.

But is that really true? Sometimes we go back to the messed up parts of our lives and try to fix them. How many of us have dreamt of high school or college—you know the one in which you forget your locker combination, show up late for class and everyone stares at you, sit down and take the exam you didn’t know you had and didn’t study for? Maybe our dreams are the great levelers—we go back and try to fix things in our dreams so we don’t have to deal with them again in waking life. Or maybe we just yearn for the comfort of the familiar. When the present is so terrifying and sad, why not?

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

R.I.P. Coretta Scott King, 1927-2006

Another one of my heroes has died, and along with her, another little piece of the once-powerful American civil rights movement. She was every bit the intellect and talent her husband was, and made many personal sacrifices over the years in order for him to continue his relentless work in support of the cause. She maintained her composure and dignity through some of the worst moments in this nation's history, and raised four children as a single mother.

Coretta Scott King helped us to recognize what was possible both for ourselves and for our country, and to dream of a future in which the impossible could become reality. She will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Land-Locked Blues

Self-esteem is a funny thing; people do all kinds of crazy shit to get it, even worse to keep it. Money can’t buy it; it comes from inside your own head. And if one is particularly sensitive, or damaged in any way, it’s easily bruised and takes a lot of work to fix. This work is hard, and of course, it’s much easier to blame our wounds on others than to look inside ourselves. We see things we want to see, hear things we weren’t meant to hear, create scenarios in our own minds.

You know that cliché about how we always point out in others the things with which we fault our own selves? It helps to stop and think about that before one makes accusations about others. Judge not, baby, judge not. Yeah, I have a big mouth and strong opinions. But I know who I am and what I stand for, and passive aggression is something I particularly abhor, and something that I attempt to avoid at all costs. I’m half Italian – we’re all about being loud and direct and confrontational. It takes everything I have not to defend myself when accused; it’s so hard to turn the other cheek, to walk away. But it’s almost always the best thing to do.

If you walk away I’ll walk away.
--Conor Oberst

Monday, January 16, 2006

Life’s Mystery Seems So Faded

Some things puzzle me. How you can wish and wish so hard for something to come true and it doesn’t, and then it happens to a friend instead, to someone whom life has already hit harder than it should? And you feel terrible because you only wished it out of self-pity, and now it’s really happened to someone and it’s too late to take it back. You have put that negative energy out in the world, and you can only hope and pray that this person who has been dealt such a nasty deck of cards will rise above this, too. And you berate yourself for ever having sunk so low as to wish this fate on yourself.

I am also puzzled at how you can be open and friendly and do nice things for people out of kindness and generosity, out of the best of intentions because this is how you are and you don’t know how to be duplicitous and unkind, and then people can step all over you like you’re not even there, can forget all the favors, forget who you are and walk right past you, right through you because you don’t even matter anymore. And it can all happen in the blink of an eye. Why?

I wonder also at how some people can be so messed up and not see it, not want to see it, not want to get help, just continue to take it out on others, but worse, they keep on taking it out on themselves despite people’s offers of assistance. Because when you are deliberately mean, cruel and nasty to someone else, it’s really yourself that you are hurting in the end. How much longer can you keep up the act until it comes back to bite you in the ass?

It’s a mystery why those with the most depth, feeling and insight, the creative types who most deserve some small success in this world—some acclaim and respect—usually have to scratch out a meager existence in some soul-sucking occupation never really being recognized for their talent, and yet it’s the most shallow, boorish, monomaniacal people who seem to get all the power and the glory. With very few exceptions, among all artists, writers, poets, musicians—the ones who really matter, the really interesting people, the ones who challenge us, who make us see things differently, who shake us to our very core—those people seem to gain recognition of their genius only after they are gone, whilst the marginally talented but brilliantly lucky sort get all the notoriety when they’re still here on earth to bore us all to death with their insipid prattle. As though most of what any of us has to say is the least bit interesting to the general public. It’s not, nor should it be. But thanks to the Internet, to self-publishing, anyone can put his or her art out there for all to see. If only quantity equaled quality, we’d all be the richer. As more and more gets put out there, you’d think there would be more good stuff, wouldn’t you? That the ratio of good to bad would remain about the same. But unfortunately, what seems to be happening instead is that the value of the good stuff diminishes because fewer and fewer people out there are able to recognize it—standards of quality sink lower and lower, weighed down by the sheer volume of the mediocre. And when kids don’t learn about art and poetry and drama and music in school, how will they even know it exists? Where will the future artists come from? And how can human beings exist without art?

We all have value as human beings, as living things, and we all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Most of us never get what we deserve. But small moments in our lives can still bring us joy. And most of the time we don’t even recognize them when they’re happening. It’s only later when we look back that we see how precious those times were and realize how quickly they disappear. How few of us really live in the moment and enjoy things while they’re still there to be enjoyed?

We are not all Picassos or Mozarts, but we are all here and we all deserve love. How few of us get real, unconditional love from anyone? How many people were never nurtured as children and have never really sorted things out since, have turned to crime and evil and desperation? How many lives turn on one fatal mistake?

Yes, it all can and will be taken away at any time, So be kind to each other, but be careful to whom you open your heart—it might just get stepped upon with big black combat boots.