Not too alive and not too dead

Picture a warmly lit room. Wood walls. A couple of rugs on the floor. A room that was once a garage in a rural Texas house, one in a row of small houses on a quiet highway way down south of Austin, on the road to San Antonio. Woods behind.

If a bunch of Colorado hippie musicians move into an old house, and some of them do framing and finish carpentry to pay the bills, a garage looks like a place you could drywall and make a practice room. That's exactly what happens here.

The wall between the garage and the rest of the house is filled with phone books and recording magazines, for soundproofing. Two doors with a gap between them go in at the top of the steps. Frame it, enclose it, paint it.

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Ladies and Gentlemen: A White Album

Though I love The Clash and I can listen all day to Joe Strummer shout about the Sandinistas, in general the records that most affect me are personal. Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Ani DiFranco’s Dilate and Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions all tell larger stories: about American economic bleakness in the 80s, or the arc of a doomed relationship, or the struggle to live and love while navigating systemic inequality.

But they do it by getting very personal, either in confessional lyrics or through the use of characters, which humanizes larger issues and makes them relatable. I’m nowhere near as moved by a set of statistics about employment losses in the rust belt caused by outsourcing as I am by a Springsteen song about one dude spiraling into alcoholism and crime after his job disappears.  

“Well they closed down the auto plant in Mahwah late last month
Ralph went out lookin' for a job, but he couldn't find none
He came home too drunk from mixin' Tanqueray and wine
He got a gun, shot a night clerk, now they call him Johnny 99”

On top of being emotionally compelling, these albums are all just freaking awesome records. They are catchy and sad and triumphant and musically wonderful.

That’s the bar I’m striving for with my new album. It’s a high bar.

 

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I Am A Rock and Roll Doula

This journal/blog I'm keeping right now is mostly about my upcoming album and the performance that goes with it. But today I want to talk about an album by someone else -- my friend Tara Jeffery. Helping bring her first record into the world is a joyous parallel track.

Tara and I really bonded in the mid-80s when she rented a room from my dad in a house on Meadowbrook Drive he was paying for with Ecstasy money. She had style: long black hair, colorful jewelry, good taste in music. She sang at Charlie’s By The Sea. We went to the same high school, but she was a few years ahead of me. She was a massage therapist and, to my eyes, a fully functional grown up. I was eighteen with no idea what I was doing with myself except that it somehow involved writing songs. She and I would smoke my dad’s Benson & Hedges Menthols in the living room and whine together. It was so satisfying.

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Make Use of It

I started this long ago. Well, it seems like so long ago, last early Spring, thinking I needed to write something - a record or something. That was my first thought when the pandemic started. Make use of it.

But I was stuck - stuck in a way I'd never felt stuck before.

I thought, "I'll write that horror movie." So I bought a bunch of books related to the subject but it fairly quickly began to look like a dead end, or not my story to tell.

Then I thought, "I need a metaphor. I'm writing a musical."

So I found a great metaphor, and went down that path. It was about the fire. Thinking back, I guess I started the musical before the shutdown, but as the pandemic raged on I realized a local brush fire, no matter how devastating, was being eclipsed.

So I did what works best for me. I carved out a few days and drove away.

 

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Week 1: The Rules

The Rules

  • You have to be young.
  • You have to already be famous.
  • You have to be in New York.
  • You have to be in the Theatre.
  • You have to be in the Academy.
  • You have to be connected.
  • You have to have a band.
  • You have to know Stephen Colbert.
  • You have to have a budget.
  • You have to be someone else.
  • You have to have played at Largo.

The rule I most want to break is the one that says I have to do it by myself. Some people surround themselves with collaborators, and I do that, but at the core it's just me, I'll do it, I got it, don't worry about me, I'm fine.

 

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