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RUMBLINGS 

This one took me years to reconcile. Still haven’t fully. Others like it still hang in the balance. Bureaucrats in positions of power supplant the relentless bullies of my youth, whose redirected sexual and emotional ineptitudes, like tiny grenades — lopping off a finger here, an earlobe there — would grow in size to heat-seeking missiles, the stimulus for years of therapy and unfulfilled measures of revenge. A ping of trigger remains in reaction to disregard, complacency or insolence, against myself and others. Fortunately, I’ve been able to channel all of this turmoil into a successful career helping others with similar trauma. Otherwise, I may have fucking mutilated somebody. 

In my reserves of memory, the portion of my life typically allotted for adolescent milestones like frigid football championships, clumsy first kisses and nocturnal joyrides is usually eclipsed by incidents like this. 

I am sitting nervously in 10th grade study hall next to a dumpy low achiever named Charles, whose stout stance makes my wiry frame appear sickly and malnourished. Today’s “class” — an opportunity to study, review, do actual work (which nobody does) — is particularly quiet. Normally, the cinder-block walls of my private school echo loud and proud of adolescent boys “letting it rip” and the ensuing ten minutes of young boy giggles, the tone of disquietude ultimately set by the repressed Franciscan Brothers who loom large over the proceedings. But none of that is present today so far, which, of course, provides fertile ground for something monumental to occur. 

Charles is looking uncharacteristically dapper today, wearing a plush beige corduroy blazer, the type that Elvis Presley might have worn had he survived the disco fad of the late 1970’s. Having few friends, I figured it might be advantageous to let him know that I existed, maybe even try and befriend him, despite my alarming introversion, unpopularity and awkwardness. To this futile end, I turn and compliment him on his fine choice of haberdashery. 

“Nice jacket,” I offer in a self-effacing manner that leaves my lips like the last gasp of air from a siphoned balloon. Sensing the anguish of my efforts, he pauses and shoots me a beguiling half-smile, then asks, “Wanna try it on?” 

At this point, it might be helpful to highlight that Charles is at least 3 sizes larger than me, so the idea of “trying on” his jacket is less about learning if the thing actually fit and more about having fun with the non ambiguous nature of the situation. Or so I thought. With a hint of reservation, I agree. 

The garment is saturated with an odor that’s a cross between Old Spice Cologne and arid post-gym class sweat, its sleeves drape past my slender fingers by a good six inches. I dutifully illustrate this by animating my arm movements in an exaggerated fashion, flailing them about like landlocked fish or a sparrow fledgling attempting flight, which in hindsight, might have been a smart move. As it turns out, the flapping creates a mild breeze, capturing the attention of everyone within a two-desk radius, including a few particularly disruptive classmates. 

“Hey, check out Chapman!” one of them half-whispers, half-chuckles. This prompts the attention of much of the class and incites the stomach rumblings of ill-digested breakfast foods, erupting in an audible and malodorous cluster of nasal snorts, chair squeaks and passed gas. 

At this moment, Mr. D’Arby, the study hall moderator, snaps his head from a flood of papers and fixes his gaze on me. His features are pointed and angular, like a missile braced for attack, a dubious glare directing me to the front of the class. Had I half the gumption I now possess — the fortitude that’s allowed me to advocate on behalf of those lacking the resources to do so — I might have adamantly refused to placate his demand; I now see this as a covert trap to humiliate me. 

“Go, it’ll be funny!” a classmate turns and encourages. It seems like an ideal opportunity to redeem myself worthy of attention, even if it means surrendering some dignity to do so. 

Arriving at the top of the class, I consider the sea of both familiar and strange faces, my arms mimicking the cascading movements that got me into this mess. As seconds pass, I’m settling comfortably into this new role of class clown. I continue my bid to entertain; after all, I was accustomed to delighting local audiences from years, singing lead in elementary school productions of Frosty the Snowman, Fiddler on the Roof and Oliver. The ear to ear grin on my face, the now-uproarious laughter from classmates, even the smirk of approval on D’Arby’s face — whose head shifted from side to side in cheery disbelief — indicate that I’m a hit. 

Of course, it is precisely at this moment of total surrender that a beefy jock named Doug bellows, “Hey, Chapman, we’re not laughing with you, we’re laughing at you!” 

In the ensuing fifteen seconds or so, I feel every ounce of blood drain from my face. Course through my entire body. Seems to last a short lifetime. Billows of sweat drench my pleated brow. Swamp my chest. Pool in my crotch. My body hunches to a standing fetal position. Mouth droops. Eyes fixate on the linoleum beneath my feet. I’m frozen, not knowing whether to storm out of the classroom or try and regain some dignity by retorting in anger. 

In the end, I cower back to my seat, like so many personal retreats over the years. Defeated, alongside the rumbling of shifting books, desks, perceptions. The obscure chatter. Eyes consider me, some empathize, others relish the moment they successfully knocked a fellow classmate from his pedestal.

THE CRACK OF THE BAT 

From the bottom mattress of my bunk bed — the one I slept on as an only child until I was 14 years old, the one which, when pressed for an answer as to who the top bunk was for, my mother glibly replied, “Nobody, one of you was enough!” — I can see my bedroom closet, its careening door ajar. It’s filled with the type of junk you’d find in a typical pre-teen closet: board games, electric guitars, trading cards and in the corner, baseball bats, the latter never far from view. 

My Louisville Slugger of choice was wooden — small but mighty — and held the distinction of being signed by my favorite New York Mets player, shortstop Bud Harrelson, autographed personally at a day camp I attended for pale, nimble, somewhat athletic boys whose parents gladly forked over hard-earned cash to get them out of the house for the summer. A star player for a few years, I lunged onto my belly, saving balls from rolling into the outfield, and ran the bases as if my life depended on it. The Slugger also doubled as a makeshift ‘air’ guitar; this allowed me to jump about and contort my rubbery frame into rock star poses, all in the privacy of my 12’x12’ domain. At the time, I hadn’t yet realized the myriad other uses for the bat. 

I grew up around baseball; my father was a devout, if not capricious, Mets fan. He was an enthusiast to an alarming degree; as if the television could hear, he would scream at players he otherwise admired when they didn’t heed his armchair managing. “You bum!” his resonant voice often bellowed, attracting the attention of neighbors on either side of us. Once, he recorded a cassette of himself preaching the Almighty Gospel of Baseball and sent it to WFAN, a local radio station replete with overly zealous sportscasters whose diatribe sprayed buckets of testosterone through the tiny grills of my transistor radio speakers. His valiant efforts never received airplay, but I managed to retain a copy of that tape and have given it a listen over the years when I’ve needed a chuckle. Nevertheless, my dad took me to games at Shea Stadium as early as age seven, sparing no expense for a few rounds of ‘dirty water dogs,’ salty pretzels, icy cola and souvenirs. When he was feeling especially emboldened, he would treat himself to a few beers, each spawning a string of tirades from the stands, as I recoiled in shock when fellow fans would glance at me with concern, making certain I was being properly cared for, given the vitriol my dad spewed. Eventually, I learned to laugh at these outrageous outbursts. 

But my dad fulfilled his paternal duties and actually showed up for me. Throughout my childhood, he would sometimes go above and beyond, like rounding up my friends on our dead-end street in his Chrysler 300 suburban boat, carting us to the local ice cream shop for dripping cones and lively debate after games he would referee. Or jolting me awake at hours that no human should be up to join him for chilly pre-dawn bike rides on the Atlantic City Boardwalk where we spent a few early vacations. Or begrudgingly buying me some of my first rock record albums. And though he was rarely emotionally overt, I sometimes sensed his affection for me. Of course, it was during these fleeting moments of security when things went haywire. 

Coming home from a particularly jarring day of fending off the bullies that permeated my Catholic elementary school, I opened the door to our modest two family suburban home and, like many other days, burrowed my head into my chest to avoid any contact with my mother. Apparently, she had installed on her body a vulnerability radar, which seemed to be pointed directly at me (and later, my father). Sensing the slightest hint of emotional trauma, this contraption would squeal a mayday-like alarm and blink crimson red in rapid succession, clearly signaling to my mother that it was time for verbal attack for merely being in her path. As a result, I unleashed a bevy of cuss words in several languages. Then, her familiar closing, “Wait until your father gets home!” 

There have been pivotal times in my life that have acutely activated my senses: The squealing of the brakes on my dad’s car stopping just short of demolishing the garage door. The timbre of the heavy driver’s side door, its plastic lock reverberating having been pried loose by aggression. The agitated clanging of the lock to our front door when his keys didn’t fit quite right and the ensuing muttering of my mom and dad’s voices blending into the background of daytime television talk shows. The thud of his leather briefcase smacking the dining room table and the padding of my father’s spit-shined patent leather shoes slapping our linoleum tiled floor, picking up volume as he approached my room. The low register of his baritone voice as he summoned me to “open the fucking (cheap, hollow and plywood) door!”, the only barrier separating us — one that I am grateful for in hindsight in those fleeting moments, one that would eventually boast imprints of my fists — and the dull pound of my heartbeat becoming bolder, more sonorous, like drumming of the executed. Finally, the sound of metal splitting from wood, hinges ripped from the door jamb, as I forcefully held it closed as my father — who outweighed me by more than twice my heft, and towering over me by nearly half a foot — thrashing into me. 

The fury on his face was palpable, grooves worn into his fragile skin from years of having to acquiesce to an emotionally compromised wife, an abandoned music career and a 9–5 life that never suited him, mortgages, bills, and the expense and burden of a child who disappointed him many times over (he sometimes told me that he wished I was ‘normal,’ as in, subscribing to his expectations of who I should be) — all coalescing in this one moment. It was then when he noticed my Slugger in the corner of the closet, standing erect, innocent, begging for play, having only swatted baseballs, kicked dirt loose from my cleats, and handled gloriously like a Gibson Les Paul in the spirit of rock and roll fantasy. Firmly gripping the bat at his side, he approached me, cowering in the corner, eyes wide and crazed, winding up for the swing and… 

Crack! 

I wasn’t prepared for it as much as I should have been, miscalculating the batter’s stroke and flight trajectory, the ball loping into center field. Running furiously to catch it, I knew that it would take a small miracle to salvage this play, but I felt confident in my abilities as a fielder. At once, I dove to my right, stretching my left arm across my body in order to make contact, my belly and glove making simultaneous contact with the ground as I slid a few feet. I wasn’t certain of the outcome of my efforts but a few hearty cheers from camp teammates informed me that I had indeed caught the ball, saving the inning and a run or two but ultimately, losing the game.

I HOPE THERE'S ICE CREAM WHERE YOU ARE 

I open the box brimming with old cassettes; most are clearly labeled with familiar half-legible scribbles, the style of which I chose when I was old enough to do so, in revolt to those who cracked my knuckles with a ruler if my cursive wasn't up to snuff.  Other tape shells remain blank, anonymous, suspect.  Not having looked at them in a while, they seem curiously out of step with digital technology, yet their warm familiarity draws me in full tilt, as if through a time machine (music cue: "Set the Controls for The Heart of The Sun" by Pink Floyd).  There are volumes upon volumes of C60s and C90s, as if they were breeding while I wasn't looking.  My heart jumps at the possibility of unearthing, revisiting, editing, digitizing for posterity. 

Coming across one marked In Heat, I pop open the case, slide the plastic cartridge into the player, power up and let it rip.  At one point during the brash 1990's, I halted my editing routine and rightly so; these were times of unabashed rawness in popular music, a period when Nirvana's brutal assault elbowed Michael Jackson's candy gloss from Billboard's number one spot. As a result, the entire session reveals itself, replete with between-track banter, false starts, coughs, cackles and plenty of wrong notes.  At times, they would prove to be the more treasured parts of the sessions than the songs themselves. 

My ears delight at the buzz of the cable violating the guitar – sounds being born – then, the 007-inspired riff and finally, that voice, shrilling lyrics either written minutes before or during a hazy all-nighter, perhaps somewhere in between. The period we recorded this, somewhere in the mid-90's, would be our most fertile as musical partners; where his phrasings and playful utilization of variant voices coupled with my riff affair and tonal tweakings took the music to another level. The groove is scintillating and our mostly unrehearsed harmonies on the chorus – ones we've spontaneously spit up many times before – leave me dumbstruck. It occurs to me that there's so much life in these recordings. Turning up the volume, I am consumed with the breadth of our creative synthesis, swimming in the center of our music; anthems bred by the unique intersection of two incongruous personalities; smiling, laughing, reveling in the magic we've managed to spin for over 30 years. Then it hits me. 

He's dead, I remember.  This is never going to happen again. 

As if on cue, I awkwardly slam the stop button and experience a coldness surging through my torso, an emptiness racing toward my gut.  I freeze.  Then, I bawl.  Again. 

I recall my first impressions of meeting Kevin at age ten; how his cold gray uniform slacks bore real estate over his jutting belly, pant cuffs falling short of his shoes, his black knee-highs exposed – we coined these ‘floods’ – and a pale pink band ever abutting his hopelessly chapped upper lip.  And as he quickly assumed the role of class clown not far into his fourth-grade stint, I found him at once goofy and courageous – the latter an attribute I envied – and we soon bonded over common musical ground, citing Kiss as the greatest musical discovery of our generation.  We were true counterparts; his bulky to my bony, his extrovert to my introvert.  As we waxed philosophical over greasy pizza and icy cola during many lunch breaks, he confided that he lived solely with his mother, making him the first kid I knew to be raised by a single parent.  As our childhood haphazardly belched us into adolescence, he was also one of the first kids I knew that smoked cigarettes, and consumed alcohol and drugs.  At age thirteen, I recall him befriending the neighborhood bullies on the steps of our town’s senior citizen’s center, looking for trouble. I steered clear of the illegalities for some time, but it didn’t take long for me to follow suit a few years later, and soon after I was buying my pot from him once he started dealing, a gutsy feat considering police headquarters were in spitting distance from his claustrophobic basement apartment. 

After an initial grade school attempt at replicating Stevie Wonder’s ‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life’ that sputtered to a halt, the aural fun officially commenced on a particularly cold, uneventful February night in 1984 while his mother was working the graveyard shift at a local diner. Armed with little else than a left-handed guitar (played backwards), loosely dispersed lyrics (written sloppily), a beat-up boom box (which ate tapes) and two receptive minds (rendering some bizarre arrangements), a musical entity coined Cold Cuts was born (most likely, an homage to the lunch meats we snacked on between takes).  During many active years of making music, we churned out hundreds of recordings and held an uninhibited, spontaneous work ethic where all things were considered, restricting nothing.  This meant we could exercise unreserved creative freedom, and we did.  Many of his former enablers pontificate about Kevin's painting talents and indeed, he was a gifted artist, but I can tell you with great certainty that it was Cold Cuts – an open source outlet informing all other branches of his artistic wizardry – that elicited in him the most bliss, fulfillment and gratification. 

Conversely, and possibly by virtue of his candor, it would also prove to be the creative tendril that would dial up his most formidable insecurities, partly because of his raucous (read: clever) wordplay; the remainder, his paralyzing fear of failure.  This brings to mind our second attempt at a live performance (the first and only complete gig was at his apartment under controlled circumstances in the midst of a drunken party).  We were so confident – even cocksure – that we would dazzle our audience with our visionary art.  We chose an outdoor venue and prepared, dressing in outlandish outfits that would make a costume designer blush, employing a toy rhythm machine to accompany us. As we made our grand entrance up the stairs of the Alpine Boat Basin picnic area overlooking an unflinching New York City, I immediately perceived the stunned faces of on-lookers, recoiling in disbelief as we brazenly soared into our opening rap, ’Walking through the woods with a knife in my hand...’,  strutting around like some third-rate white suburban hip-hop imposters. To make matters worse, our ‘drummer’ decided to abruptly stutter a tempo switch midpoint during our second song.  We negotiated our way through a few minutes more and were graciously rewarded for our efforts by sheer silence.  Stone-faced, we retreated, swiftly making our way back down the pavilion stairs. We didn't mention a word of it for the remainder of the day.  The following day, however, when the subject was broached, I told Kevin that I believed we were ahead of our time, that mistakes happen and it wasn’t a big deal.  But Kevin was convinced of his failure and would never move past it to attain any resolution.  In fact, during one of our final conversations, we reminisced about that day and I still sensed his uneasiness about it.  From that point forward, Cold Cuts, by and large, became a secret society where only a few elite members would be enlisted to contribute. 

But the recording dates were quite another story.  I made plans to sleep at his place where the bulk of the early magic coalesced so that we could engage in marathon sessions, burning the midnight oil only to continue the process the following day.  I can't recall how many phone calls we shared in the early days (this is before even dual cassette players for duplication were commonplace), positioning the phone receiver to the speaker and rewinding certain parts repeatedly because we were laughing so loud we'd miss them. And as my father, who never understood our creative prowess from the onset, eavesdropped and deemed us ‘totally tasteless’, we delighted in subverting that label to motivate and amuse us throughout our tenure. Our exuberance rarely faded, even until recently; there was always an underlying cheer factor associated with our sessions, even when our relationship became strained, or when it was clear I was making music more with the substance du jour than Kevin, a hard truth to negotiate that became an increasingly grievous factor in later years. 

Hence, it wasn't all gumdrops and rainbows. Hardly. Particularly during the past decade, my friend had an uncharacteristic helplessness that resulted in repeated, more pronounced self-destructive acts.  And I was front and center for it all, donning many hats - psychiatric unit transporter, blood mopper, holistic consultant, unqualified therapist.  I suppose the politically correct thing to say is that I wouldn't have changed a thing, but given the toll this took on us both, I wouldn't have hesitated to alter certain aspects.  Despite all the aforementioned, ours was an enduring friendship whose profundity survived career changes, failed relationships, family turmoil, multiple relocations and death of loved ones, weaving through our musical mojo, making us near complete. 

And now it's gone

Luckily, Kevin did continue to practice his art – next to music, painting was his creative practice of choice – gifting himself with some reprieve from the demons that kept luring him back.  Most likely, he tacked some time on his life by doing so.  To coin a lyric of his – one in which he absurdly stretched and annunciated each vowel with a mock Jersey accent well past the brink of annoying, sending me reeling in hilarity – ‘I’m gonna sing a soooong… and I’m gonna make it gooood’.  Indeed, he did. 

The fact remains, however, that my friend is dead, and as a result, any future efforts to burn genius together has expired with him, and that just sucks, but as I edit our stockpile of recordings, his contagious energy lingers. In the coming days, months, possibly for the rest of my life, I know I will be informed by Kevin's hefty contribution to my life; his tenacious loyalty (he typically championed my efforts, even outside the sphere of our own), passion for merry-making (if laughter translates to prosperity, I do believe I'm a wealthy man), boundless talents (‘doing’ Cold Cuts has unequivocally been one of the greatest joys of my life so far) and much more to be revealed.  And yes, even through his self-annihilation, he gifted me with a more acute appreciation of life.  Life, for the living, wishing he was.   

Yet I ponder how to equate the sum of these truths; the untimely passing of my brother-in-arms, the dissolution of a creative partnership, unresolved friendship issues, music that will never be created, my own mortality. 

And some questions that linger, if I may, comrade: what was the last thing you saw before you collapsed? Was it the rooftop-lined sky of our hometown – the soaring orange orb burning its dirty gray shade, its presence announcing a promising August 27, 2015, or the overly-luminous tiny lights that framed the waxy windows of the cell phone store below your apartment?  Was it the mix of cement, water, aggregate and sand as your face plummeted to meet it, or a watercolor wash of earthen greens and browns that streaked our weekly hikes?  Was it your mother’s prematurely aged face – the one you held in contempt for repeatedly abandoning you – or the fresh-faced young women who found themselves on the unfortunate end of that misdirected anger?  Was it my Cheshire cat grin, cackling as you haphazardly dropped your pants in the middle of a vocal take while I brewed a sonic stew to compliment your croon – filling me with warmth and satisfaction, or the devilry on the faces of those who helped you speedball through your last year – filling you with warmth and satisfaction?  Or was it the god you professed belief in, but cursed for how shitty your life turned out? 

Ultimately, I reach no satisfying conclusion, or how to move forward; the only proposal I can piece together is to merely place one foot in front of the other, a canned and clichéd strategy that makes me ill, but it's the best I can do. 

Eventually, I return to the task of archiving our music, listening intently with new ears; ones that survive him, ones that have yet to know how to listen without welling up. Sifting through, I find some unmarked sessions; these prove to be the last recorded, just a few years back. Attentive and with new allure, I wonder if he’d have remembered.  One particular recording, the final in the series, sounds exceptional, like Cuts of yore. It's all there; the fuzzy riffs, instinctive harmonies, belly chortles, the immediacy of the process.  And that voice, muttering some curious banter, ’This is a happy song’,  followed by an uncharacteristically dissonant vocal harmony with an eerie chorus: ’I die, you die, they die, we die’.  A premonition? Or merely an apathetically dribbled verbal conjugation, yet another cringe-worthy flashback of our shared Catholic classroom terror?  On tape, laughter threads the track, possibly at the absurdity of coming full circle, but more likely at the uneasiness of its truth. 

Next, silence, then ’Let's go get some ice cream’.  I ponder all of this – the wordplay, the content, the timing, the lack of completion, the compare-and-contrast element of dairy treats and death – then I pause, chuckle, speculate, yet all I come up with is ’I hope there's ice cream where you are’

If I’m correct, you’re probably using that line in a new song.

8:04, BORDER TO BORDER  

The claustrophobic walls of my 12x12 bedroom are forcefully squeezing me out tonight, like my pores to the abhorrent acne that would take residency in and scar my yet-to-be-tainted adolescent face in 2 years.  I’ve just finished dinner and flipped through my latest subscription of Circus magazine – October 31, 1978 – Linda Ronstadt adorning its cover, featuring a concert photo of Boston’s Tom Scholz on his knees, which I am especially taken with.  We’ve agreed to meet on the corner of Hamilton Avenue and DeSoto Place in a little while, just a few blocks from where I share living quarters with my procreators. There’s nothing particularly significant about this spot – yet; you could swap it out for virtually any other in my .85 square mile city-suburban hometown, positioned a mere 6 miles driving distance from Manhattan.  My nerves are at heightened awareness; it’s my maiden voyage into the relationship realm; first date, first girlfriend, first kiss. My thoughts coalesce into a mishmash of internal dialogue resembling, Do I breathe once our lips meet? What do I do with my hands? How does my tongue fit into all this activity?   

I dress in my most comfortable torn-at-the-knees Levi’s, torn-at-the-sleeves plaid collared shirt, faded pinned back-badged denim jacket, and blow dry my feathered hair – which is getting longer by the day – partly in homage to the rock stars I idolize, partly as a defiant middle finger to the self-righteous, hypocritical systems of authority that have pervaded my teen years.  Either way, I look pretty fucking good, in an awkward 16 Magazine-Sean Cassidy-type way. As it turns out, this proves to be one of the more memorable moments in my life, as I will perch myself on these same pavement cracks virtually each year forward on this day at this time, waiting – fulfilling a pact we made that night – replaying the scene frame by frame, wondering if she’ll remember, too.  Positioning myself under the noxious glow of the street lamp overhead – the shivery October air signaling the need for warmer ware – with the green chain link fence to my left and the eastward view of compressed two family homes, I await her slender frame peering around the corner.  I am bedazzled by her freckles, cocoa eyes and Jordache jeans, and the unsteady drum of my heart that jumps unflaggingly every time I see her.   

I’m in the thick of serving icy iridescent treats, spinning dough and utilizing all the neat cleaning gadgets and toxic agents at our local pizza joint two years earlier, situated on the main drag through town, where bare-backed roller skaters, girls with green apple Lip Smacker-frosted mouths, bespectacled math whizzes, denim-clad rockers, and mesomorphic, steroid–injected jocks converge. Positioned across from the neon candy-saturated depot where I purchase chalky packs of baseball cards and sticky root beer barrels, it is also adjacent to the bookstore where I purchased a fresh-pressed copy of Jaws – a hot new novel three years prior – much to the chagrin of ocean-goers everywhere that summer, the likes of which I blazed through midpoint in one sitting. The pizzeria also houses an active jukebox, one that will introduce me to a new song called ‘Roxanne’ the following summer which will, in a small way, alter the way I hear music.  I am exploited for my tireless efforts with an hourly wage of $1. After burning holes in my wallet for a few elementary school terms’ worth of lunches, I was graciously offered the gig by its two proprietors who dubbed me the ‘wart kid’ due to my tendency to request slices with the largest burnt air bubbles. 

Upon earning a staggering $35 for a few weeks’ worth of underpaid child labor, I decide to make my first-ever large-scale music purchase, which will be nothing short of every Aerosmith record to date, totaling five at present.  As I’m too young to drive there myself, I hop aboard what is one of the longest-ever bus rides in transportation history across town, placing only second to the one I’ll take on the return trip with vinyl in tow. As I enter the compact shop, I make a bee-line for the ‘A’ section and there they are: in full subtractive process color, sitting erect, contending for my attention to be cherry-picked and fondled.  The combination of the paperboard sleeve, printed ink, cellophane, and cooked 33 ⅓ vinyl biscuit floods my olfactory receptors; the scent is alluring. I hold out hope that at least one of the five contains a gatefold sleeve, lyric sheet, poster and/or merchandise form; it’s almost too much to bear. After final inspection for dog-eared corners and crumpled spines, I carefully place them on the counter, shell out all my earnings and head home.  For the remainder of that day, in the confines of my seemingly secure cube of a room – and to the dismay of friends who can’t comprehend my choice to self-imprison on a sunny July day at the mercy of my hi-fi set – I consume all five releases utilizing each of my senses, in chronological order, as layers of sonic bliss ooze creamily from my cheap stereo speakers. 

I’m covering one of three bases in a ball game called triangle, one that my father played as a young boy in Astoria and has introduced to my friends and I around four years earlier.  The playing field covers the span of the narrow street on which we live, our dead end status ensuring minimal interruption from cars. As my dad has advantages of height, weight and age, he assumes the role of steady pitcher and umpire. 

This continues to be a problem.    

During one particularly heated two-on-two matchup – where both sidewalks constitute out-of-bounds territory – I find myself at-bat facing my paternal nemesis.  The sponge ball used during play is somewhat unpredictable; when slapped a certain way, the trajectory could take an unexpectedly critical short-hop to the groin, leaving a male fielder potentially stupefied, numb and prostrate for hours.  As my father has been taking sizable liberties at refereeing of late, I am poised for attack. After a few foul balls, I smite one mightily back at him, of which he fumbles and loses control, eventually arriving at first base late, a few seconds after me.  From every vantage point, including that of the opposing team, I arrive safely and flail my arms to this degree in sheer victory; that is, until my father calls me ‘out’. The ensuing chaos is somewhat typical of our dynamic; as I brazenly mimic Major League managers coming toe to toe with and in the face of umpires, the already contentious line between son/player – dad/decider blurs further.  I proceed to utter insults at him in at least two languages, as a classic chase scene up and down my street ensues, meandering around a powder pink ‘57 Chevy, a blue Dodge utility van and several other parked vehicles, during which I lob the ball directly at his head at least once. As my young nimble star athlete status enables me to outrun him, I make it back to my home unscathed.  Later that evening, I am rewarded for my duck-and-dodge abilities by being grounded, my prefrontal cortex as yet to become fully developed.   

I’m slogging through the viscous pea soup atmosphere of my densely-populated hometown, currently 14,421 and climbing, the subject of a spirited song I penned years back titled ‘This Old Town Is Killing Me’.  As teens ‘cruising the Ave.’, we would muse that ‘Stairway to Heaven’ – all 8 minutes and 4 seconds of it – could start as you entered our baby borough and would still be playing as you crossed its periphery; now, I’m lucky to get through Side A of IV traveling border to border.  Pollution resulting from non-regulated free enterprise transportation is palpable; the air feels heavy. The last of my contemporaries have either moved away, or surrendered hope and taken refuge cavorting with the senior citizens I currently work with, or taken to the self-fulfilling prophecy we once belted out car windows in The Who’s ‘My Generation’ and quite literally died before they got old.  Meanwhile, a new generation has shifted into position and are dreaming of new and creative ways to assume the planet with AI, pompously proclaiming that – when given the authority to do so – they would never hire ‘grandpa’ (meaning, any person over 50).  Even worse, the only time I see my cohort represented in the media is in pharmaceutical ads, encompassing less than 10% of advertising funds.  And to complicate matters, the young voice that just interrupted my Spotify Ritual In Repeat listening session (to clarify, that’s a release by a new band) arrogantly thanks me for choosing their service because I ‘could have listened to an 8 track, if [I] knew what an 8 track looked like’. 

Fuck this. 

But it’s not their fault – or anyone’s, for that matter.  If anything, time is to blame, and its inherent nature to endow and expire, to stimulate change while wreaking its ravages.  It is at once the creator and the avenger, as I witness my little hometown buckle under its process; homes defaced and mangled by a few spiteful swipes of a bulldozer, lush green vacant lots uprooted by corporate greed, low income families – ones that have depicted its limits for decades – falling victim to gentrification.  With each passing year, I rely more and more on the keen reserves of my mind to reconstruct my overtly fragmented metropolis, like tender, nagging cavities being filled. Somehow, preservation maintains my sanity. 

A few days after completing my latest anniversary celebration of that prodigious night at the crossroads of Hamilton and DeSoto in ‘78 – a prepared playlist unmasking slighted memories and marking her continued absence – my phone dings with a Facebook message notification; it’s her.  Immediately, the drumming is reactivated; floods of time and space engulf my senses; the factory redolence of Jontue perfume and strawberry-scented shampoo, our cupped hands as we dotted points of the well-worn streets of our town – like the Kennedy Drive circle green, where she birthday-gifted me with a 12” copy of Cheap Trick at Budokan, or her best friend's house, where we waxed philosophical about teenage quandaries to Breakfast in America, or Our Lady of Grace Church, the site of my first ever flea market visit, where I picked up a grazed copy of Paranoid for 75¢, as well as my first and only square dance – or the very few blinks of light pitched against the tarred rooftop-lined sky, granting me inches of hope where there was so little. 

The message she sends – a simple ‘I took a detour’ – is accompanied by a photo of that corner during an apparent drive-by.  When I pressed her for the impetus behind sending it, an affectless ‘nothing really...it made me laugh...I took the picture because you’re the only one who would get it…’.  With that, after 40 years, I finally experienced validation of that night – even in a passing way – of a place once filled with wonder, yet one that time has distorted, distempered, displaced.  Ultimately, though, I feel vindication that our experience was indeed shared. And for the moment, that was good enough for me. 

Of course, I then read her parting thought, ‘don’t think too deep.’   

Too late.

RECORDING SESSIONS AT CHATEAU SAZZ - DAY 4, 8.21.13 (It's Lonely Out In Space) 



Space can be lonely, but loneliness ignites and permeates from within.   It is born of ego.  Only spirit is refuge.  From spirit blossoms all things virtuous - love, peace, creativity, selflessness, service.  It is not virtuous to suffer.  Suffering is optional.

This is what I learned today.

So, I fed my spirit with some guitar playing and a bit of track recording, a bike ride in nature, raw foods and a sunset hike over a majestic lake.   And enjoying the usual nighttime cricket symphony.  Mmm...

Self-care is the first item on the menu.

Heading back tomorrow.  Will miss the Sticks and the magic it spins.  So grateful.


 

RECORDING SESSIONS AT CHATEAU SAZZ - DAY 3, 8.20.13 (Bike Wheels On A Gravel Road) 



I'm writing this missive overlooking a big clear moon and enjoying a symphony of crickets.  Ah!

Surrendering fully this morning, I decided to take a little R&R and unmount the pressure.  Headed into town for breakfast and light errands, then onto The Barn to see if I could procure a free loaner bike (this area is so radically cool!).  Once mounted, hit the Walkill Valley Rail Trail and headed due north.  Bridges, farms, and endless green layers lined the wooded trail as my path crossed with many friendly faces and well wishes (have I expressed how ultra cool this area is?).  Mental note: finish school + internship and explore places to live and work 'round these parts. Expressed much gratitude for my good fortune and in time, headed back. There was work to do.



Arrived late afternoon and was fully rested and spirited.  Fired up the 24 track and within a few hours finished (seemingly) all acoustic guitar parts for every song, including a finger-pickin', country-lickin' instrumental theme ditty (last time - this area is sooooo cool!).  More on that later.  As for tomorrow, the amplifier hums...



What (mis)adventures will our hero get on Day 4?  Stay tuned...


 

RECORDING SESSIONS AT CHATEAU SAZZ - DAY 2, 8.19.13 (Black Cows & Bad Coffee) 



Interesting day, toggling between bliss and grief.  Channeled all the energy into the tunes.  Covered lots of ground as I commited washes of guitar tracks to tape.  Most acoustic parts done.  Will then transition to electric tomorrow as the ol' Jazz sounds rich in the neck pickup with a little tremolo or vibe.

Some new techniques inherent to the 2488 learned today.  Some are just left as questions unanswered.  All the same, ploughing forward...

Drove into town for some quiet coffee house contemplation and found myself right smack dab in the middle of an open mic (how could I not bring my guitar?).  As they were winding down, I put my name on the list.  Hey, an opportunity, right?  Wound up using some dude's classical, soft yet lush, which was no match for the urgency of my pipes.  In other words, it felt unbalanced.  Fair reception for Die and How Do You Feel (maybe they weren't up for a philosophy lesson?).  Untimately, glad I took the plunge.



Along the way, passed a pasture of black cows.  Must have been at least 50 of them.  Stopped to take some photos and was spat at by one unfriendly, camera-shy bugger in the bunch (even after I lectured my ethics to her). Perhaps she doesn't speak vegan?  Later on, learned that they were part of a beef farm.  I can see her point...

Thanks God for surrender.  Without it, I'd be packed up and headin' home right about now with my tail betwen my legs.  Life is good.

'Til tomorrow...



RECORDING SESSIONS AT CHATEAU SAZZ - DAY 1, 8.18.13 (A Toyota's Worth of Baggage) 



Spent the better part of Saturday packing - music equipment, clothes, food.  Remembered everything (a miracle, since the car was packed!) save the frozen bananas for raw smoothies (isn't it always that way?).  Still, amazing day. Full of appreciation.  Peaceful drive north beginning at 1.30 with gratitude calls along the way.  Arrived in New Paltz area at 3.30 or so.  Pit stop @ Karma Road for a banana-walnut muffin and a quick spin around town before arriving onsite (the meandering roads up here are dynamic and magnificent!).  

BTW, The Chateau is a quaint country cottage in the heart of the Wallkill sticks.  Nothin' but damn crickets! (Thx, Sazz!)



Unloaded the ol' Toyota and immediately set up.  Put aside time for the slight learning curve in getting acquainted with the new 24 track.  In an hour or so, was up and running. Recorded most of a song called I've Got You, complete with acoutic guitar, bass and dry Univibed Jazzmaster electric.  Rounded out the evening with some raw herbed sunflower seed pate, a raw green smoothie and yeah, some of that fat muffin! 

Will commence tomorrow for a full Monday's worth of sonic goodness.  Stay tuned!

OPEN LETTER TO JONNI WADD 

Dear Jonni,

"Totally tasteless".

29 years ago today we convened in your mom's old basement apartment at 371 Garfield St. to hang out and smoke pot. Little did we know what was to emerge from that simple, fun session would shape our musical future. And oddly enough, the words that formed at my father's lips after hearing our music was our battle-cry; our motivation to keep the faith, no matter what others thought or said.

From the siren of the police car just outside your window that we instinctively decided to tape to begin the session, the die was cast. I picked up your backwards-strung acoustic guitar and began to strum unique pseudo-chords, you sang and moaned your bizarre, creative lyrics, pressed the record button on your old boom box and cranked out YP, Appointment, Turkey Roll and others. We even used your kitchen sink's running water as a syncopated rhythm track. Nothing was off limits. We jammed, laughed, taped and played it all back, knowing little of what we had truly done. We were 21.

Through the years that followed, we expanded our arsenal and our repertoire, jamming each Thursday for a while and penning more bizarre lyrics, adding drum machines, keyboards, electric guitars, electronic de-vices. We gave our sessions album names - (fill in the blank) Cuts, whatever we were into at the time and were downright smug about it. We began multi-tracking, which offered an entirely new palette of sound. When we didn't have a rhythm track, we used an empty water bottle and a bag of potato chips. When we didn't have lyrics, we used a newspaper or grocery list to recite or howl the day's events over an interesting chord progression. We made some seriously drug-addled videos and performed a gig and a half only to never returned to the stage - we were too outrageous and innovative even for ourselves. I see that clearly now.

"Hey Jonni, wanna jam?" was our cue to let the tape roll and let the night and our own creative prowess take us where we hadn't been before.  The exchange was evident as the songs came seemlessly and effortlessly;  lyric meets riff, rehearse once, tape, then onto the next song - lather, rinse, repeat. We adopted a work ethic which, though at the time unbeknownst to me, is eireely poignant for me today - let it flow and let it go.

And now, here we are, on the 29th anniversary of that fateful night. Cold Cuts has shaped the way I play guitar and write songs. It gave me the safe, creative outlet I needed to get me through some hard times as a young adult and has afforded me the gifts of joy, confidence, experimentation and brotherhood along the way. Through all the bands I was ever a part of, joined or lead (and there were many!), Cold Cuts has outlived them all and endured. We're still making music after 29 years. There's something to be said about that.

I salute and honor your endless stream of innovation, articulation, brilliance and absurdity, your willingness to try anything musically for the sake of the song and most significantly, your support and belief in me as a guitarist, writer and musician, even at times when I didn't believe in myself.

And though we opened the door to our sessions on only 3 different occasions (Nappi, Eryn & J9), we are now letting the world in, as it should be at this time. May the upcoming year bring more joy, prosperity and abundance to our lives and continue the creative flow of the world's most fun, outlandish and expressive band, Cold Cuts.

Happy Anniversary, Brother.

xo
Dee

THEY PAVED PARADISE: A SHORT PLAY FOR HUMANS 

 

Act 1:

“They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”
Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell, 1970

It is a cold, bleak, soaked morning as I peer over my city-suburban landscape. Barren, though rooftops fill my view. Something is missing; something which transcends early morning java chat over office desks, social media posts, war highlights and desktop weather alerts.

Act 2:

“There is unrest in the forest, there is trouble with the trees.”

The Trees, Rush, 1978.

Enter, stage left:

Her name is Joya (or so we named her). Her liberal appendages swaying with the wind, blessing us with summer breezes, sprinkling us with tiny drops to alert us of the impending storm, and gifting us with a green panorama, shrouding the sullenness of weather-worn shingle gray and chipped brick. She, as all others like her, is divine in presence, majestic in aura and the clincher in my decision to reside where I do. Unfortunately, with a sheer arrogance only rivaled by utter ignorance, we have momentarily forgotten about the natural world and all it offers and as a result, she falls victim to the blade and to the disregard, the fear and the clock, and in the time it takes this country to get it’s meathooks into American Idol, she is reduced by small men with big toys though mostly by society at large.


Act 3:

“…Endless rooftops from my window, I felt the gloom of empty rooms on rainy afternoons.”
Circumstances, Rush, 1978

Enter, stage right:

His name is Kenneth. His creative essence is palpable, surging through his hands, onto the canvas, paper, guitar, microphone – magically transforming whichever medium he chooses. Stained, blood soiled sheets litter his disheveled quarters, a by-product of the looming twilight he retains, deeply. These two irrepressible forces wrench at his core, simultaneously at times, until finally his fragile eggshell gives way and he falls victim to the blade and the disregard, the fear and the clock and is slowly reduced to gaping wounds, shattered dreams and lost hope.

I feel the loss of them both, profoundly.

He survives, she doesn’t.

Act 4:

“It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong.”
Nature’s Way, Spirit, 1970

We have neglected compassion, for the Creator’s gifts, for our fallen brother & sister. Our attempts at understanding fall short at times, or miss the bull’s eye completely, and we, in turn label, categorize or worse yet, turn, imperceptive for fear of seeing something in ourselves which may tug at a chord in the hollows of our inner sanctum. How can our eyes witness so much beauty, so much light and not be blinded? We have been conditioned to ignore grace in favor of indifference and accept rigidity in place of love. Stories are handed to us in bitter mouthfuls, each one more leaden than the last and we swallow as whole, inquiring of none.
When the smoke clears, we either 1-slay the dragon (in the name of fear), 2-allow the dragon to slay us (in the name of victimization) or 3-make peace with the dragon (in the name of serenity) so becoming diminished over time, reduced to a mere blip on our radar.


Act 5:

“Ice blue silver sky fades into grey, to a grey hope that, oh, yearns to be, starless and bible black.”

Starless, King Crimson, 1974

As I settle into the night calm, my heart fills with love, an austere lesson of compassion and a call for forgiveness at the foot of the mountain, to the service of my fellow humanoid, animal friend and Mother Earth, for one grave slip down the abyss and I could be in a similar quagmire. I am drawn to the fortuitousness of these two seemingly unrelated events, both of which rented real estate in my body today and occurred within hours of each other. Their link is a lesson for us all, for the future of humankind, for right now.

Regrettably, she didn’t have a choice about her survival.

But we do.


Curtain Call:
No trees (or humans) were harmed in the writing of this article.