Tag Archives: words


[words] rip, ric

under the cold and darkly sky / you trip the light and go…

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the cars were my fav growing up. their records and lateral solo projects not only will come with me to any desert island, they are my desert island — if i had to choose one island.

ric ocasek catalysed my desire and urgency both to play the electric guitar and to write songs. all-lowercase, overdriven-jangle, and quirky-jerk, yet endearing, intelligent, and accessible, ocasek and the cars became my crash course in how to bring depth to “disposable” pop; how melody married to meaning could still court the coolest girl in class.

more importantly over the long-arc of my teenage daydreams, some of which linger to this day, the cars’ music spoked me out into innumerable adventures in sonic discovery. riding with the cars, i found (among many more) roxy music, david bowie, and t-rex in the backseat; robert fripp, steve reich, and john cage in the side-view; buddy holly, the byrds, and tom petty in the passenger seat; and new order, blondie, suicide, the cure, and eventually the ramones, the replacements, and much of what i’ve loved since in the way way back, crouched flat out of sight of the driver.

to an intelligent kid on the fringes of cool, ocasek and the cars said, “c’mon, man, the fringe is the cool. one foot in, one foot out — that fine line — that’s the place to be.”

i’m the american misfit kid / still wondering what i did / i’m on the inside, taking a fast ride…

throughout my songwriting life, co-opting ric’s icy reserve, black leather smirk, and reverence for poetic-yet-stuctured rock ’n roll let me embrace any style without care or ambition in my own music.

in a little structure we can find freedom. learning to break with structure comes later, and makes you comfortable as an iconoclast.

alienation is the craze…

ocasek’s passing on 15 Sep 2019 saddened me, though i never met him, never worked with him, never knew him outside of my own context of almost-lifelong innocent-obsession, deep-inspiration, and distant-admiration.

i’m careful not to cry out loud (or post stock pictures with sad-emoji captions) at the deaths of people I know, let alone people i don’t know, IRL. that said, that’s okay if it works for you. i’ll hit like buttons on my friends’ memorial postings, with no irony.

sometimes you can’t help get emotional, thinking of connections a passed artist’s work threaded into your life.

when the dance night flies / and the broadway screams / connect up with me…

in december 2016, we put our dog Sterling to sleep in our living room, to a david bowie mix on shuffle. bowie died in january that year, and it all seemed fitting. now, i can’t listen to absolute beginners, the track that randomly came on as Sterling drifted off, without losing my shit. i can’t even write about it here, can’t even think about that song, without a deep-breath pause to hold back tears.

but that melodic association’s about Sterling, not bowie.

you’re emotion in motion, my magical potion…

along the same lines now, with ocasek’s death came another spectral transition, of a similar, though more distant, cosmic force to Sterling that traveled astride me over time.

what’s left of them, fortunately, will never die.

in the ethereal afterglow of their spirits, i can still return to a state of all potential and no past, with a wide-eyed worldview that, for better or worse, believed life was malleable enough to coax in my direction from sheer will.

beneath the stars / all souls are lucky…

Luna, our current companion, btw, is the dog in these photos. she is a reluctant model, but as patient with me as Sterling was.

let the photos behold, let them show what they want…

on 16 september 2019, the day after ocasek died, i plugged in my guitar and mic for the first time in a month, and hit a record button for the first time in a year.

since returning to new york city last june from an extended california sojourn, i have made no recordings, written only two tracks, and found scant musical and literary inspiration in my immediate surroundings. life has curved sharp in 2019.

unexpected reckonings. fleeting-at-best, illusory-at-worst successes.

life is as living does.

i always claw out with creativity. this time, tho, seems harder. not sure why. could be this age. my age. age-old curses. could be the mirror never lies.

dancing ’neath the stars and the strife / going through the motions of life… the flowers of evil / will surely grow…

my new york city’s changed, too. it’s not the warholian bohemia that welcomed ocasek’s buoyant darkness when he decamped from boston to manhattan all those years ago. walking the city’s surface deterioration, surrounded by unrelenting collisions and widening gaps between manmade, systemic misery and negligent, indifferent opulence, you know new york will never be new york again.

then again, maybe it’s as it always mostly was, and i was just fortunate to live here for the last 20 years in an anomalous, halcyon blip of progressive serenity.

either way, while this city owns my tomorrow, it can’t touch my someday.

the good life is just a dream away…

thing is, tho, even after an “escape” or a “clean break,” nothing resolves. except pop song choruses (one reason i love to write pop songs). ric’s songs reveled in resolutions.

and IRL “codas” are a fade-out, however, most of the time. very few people go out for good in a fireball.

the passing of heroes always begs reflection that daydreams come with expiration dates, too. when dreams die before you, regrets are more than willing to fill the vacuum.

well i think of you when i dramatize / the things we never did / and i think of you when i’m flyin’ / or when I’m feelin’ just like a kid…

when i hit “record” the day after ocasek’s death, a mournful version of my best friend’s girl poured out. as i played, i tried to sort out an alien sense of loss welling up from the fretboard. like i said earlier, it’s rare for me to lament on (or revel in) anyone’s passing, let alone in public — and let let alone to grieve in public about a stranger.

in many ways, even just cutting a cars cover song the day after ric ocasek died felt as the musical equivalent of instagramming a stock photo of him with a sad emoji caption. sharing it now, which i’m about to do, feels a bit, well, silly. yet, still, feels necessary. can’t explain, other than i’m driven.

all catharsis is tinged with selfishness, anyway.

the dead don’t mourn. grief is a one way street.

you weep for you.

who’s gonna come around / when you break?…

there are four songwriters whose deaths, if i am lucky enough to outlive them all, will have thrown me into a cycle of self-reflective sadness. ocasek and tom petty are already gone. ray davies and paul westerberg are still around.

i strum their songs all the time to myself. to calm. to sleep. to salve the sense of time passing.

playing covers is also a means to repay artistic debts to an inspiration, as much as it might cast me as a wannabe.

at the same time, every musician starts out as a cover band.

yeah, you hang on tight / (and you’re running around / with your face in the ground) / like it was your last right…

through the years, i’ve recorded dozens of covers, but only released three: george harrison’s isn’t it a pity (on my 2007 release stay home vs. the love shoppings), the postal service’s such great heights (on my 2013 release :^D), and the psychedelic furs’ the ghost in you (as a spotify single in 2010).

harrison’s track cemented the message of a record that told stories of the struggle to find spiritual centering in a post-kindness world. i couldn’t imagine that record without that track now. the recording was a series of live full tracks laid over each other. in true lo-fi fashion, you can hear my apartment radiator knocking in the more quiet moments. i loved that.

the postal service track was one that me and a few friends got obssessed with on a road trip down the east coast in 2012. the fun i had on that trip — one of the best unadulterated adult good times i’ve had — comes through on the electrified version i coaxed out of my limited virtuosity, again layering a host of live run throughs to create the recording. also as with the harrison track, i can’t conceive of the record without its inclusion.

the furs’ track was a moment where i channeled an homage to my 1980s highwire days into 6 minutes of jangle-crash. i drew an awful rendering of john hughes for its cover that i now wish i could take back, but re-releasing on spotify is a pain in the ass, and i still think it stands as a decent rendition of a great song, and an encapsulation of everything i loved about my idyllic suburban new jersey teenage space.

mostly, though, i use cover recordings as a means to explore and mine processes and attitudes — to try to get inside the heads of artists and tracks i’ve admired. so except for the 3 above, they all sit on hard drives gathering digital dust. everything from the sonics’ you’ve got your head on backwards to kris kristofferson’s i may smoke too much to the cure’s just like heaven. at some point, maybe i’ll release the ones i secured rights for.

in many ways, i’d like to think it takes courage to play or record cover songs. you allow avenues of comparison to your own work, with work that most likely has reached further and deeper into wider audiences than your work ever will.

showing up to a party you’re not invited to is always a risk. if you’re selective and creative about what you cover, though, those performances can inform and refract on your own influences and development, as i hope the ones i’ve released do.

playing covers live is a bit different than recording them, too. with an audience, covers can complete circles in a performance, fill in narrative gaps with collective free association. as a performer, you can take people on a journey through their own memories so as to bring them back to you.

in early 2018, i played a cover of tom petty’s walls (circus version) at a local solo gig. a few months removed from petty’s passing, i pulled out a floaty arrangement i had played only to myself for years, never recorded. sharing it with a live crowd in that moment felt right. i needed no catharsis, just to inspire a moment of collective joy and memories of the good times that petty fueled.

recording covers, however, is a private conversation between you and the artist you’re covering. eventually, if you release it, a crowd gets to eavesdrop on that conversation.

my my best friend’s girl performance was not an interaction between me and an audience. only between me and ocasek, in my cluttered home office / studio, driven somewhat (in retrospect) by pure cathartic intention. no one told me to do it. but i had to do it.

jackie, what took you so long…

it always flipped me out a bit that my best friend’s girl was one of the last songs kurt cobain played live (in march 1994 nirvana opened their final concert with it). what did cobain see in his penultimate month of suicidal ideation inside ocasek’s jangled tale of lost love, blithe envy, and never-faded lust?

with where the song took me, i saw not only into ocasek’s head, but also a little bit into cobain’s head.

“she used to be mine.”

yeah, yeah, yeah

in many ways, ric’s world — the cars’ world — used to be mine, too.

RIP, ric.

i’m in touch with your world / and nobody’s gonna buy it / it’s such a lovely way to go.



[img] 20190928.1042

“It’s weirdo,” Luna fronted.
“Yeah?” I asked.
“You’re Westy.”
“Yeah?”
“And I’m a Westie.”
“Yeah?”
“That’s like if you’re Fern and your one plant is a fern.”
“First, I was Westy way before you got here. Also, they’re not even spelled the same.”
“Excuses, excuses. Still weirdo.”
September 28, 2019 at 10:42AM
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[img] “Hey look I’m Aqualung!”

“Hey look I’m Aqualung!” Luna piped up, & sang, “🎵Sitting on a park bench!”
“You’re kinda the anti-Aqualung,” I said. “You couldn’t eye anyone with bad intent if you tried.”
“But my paws are greasy! And watch!” She blew a loogie out her nose.
“Ok, you’re Aqualung. Can we go?”
August 06, 2019 at 05:36PM
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[img] “Look! The Brapps…”

“Look! The Brapps are training little Tanner to potty outside like me!” Luna exhorted with optimism.
“You sure it’s not just a stoop giveaway?” I asked.
She sniffed between the lid and seat. “Well if so, it would give new meaning to the phrase ‘free shit!'”
“This city,” I sighed.
August 05, 2019 at 06:51PM
instagram


[img] Upcycled

“It’s a TinyKit,” Luna exclaimed, “for teenies like me!”
“Some things really shouldn’t be recycled, Luna,” I intoned.
“But it’s more of an upcycle, not a recycle,” she cocked her head.
“Upcycle, eh?”
“Yeah! Upcycled in your-”
“Enough. Let’s go.”
August 03, 2019 at 07:17PM
instagram


[img] Kentucky Fried Huey Lewis

If you don’t like Huey Lewis, we’ll still be friends. But never will we spend Friday night watching The Kentucky Fried Movie on a twice-copied glitchy VHS, and never then sneak into the country club down the road to make out on the edge of the sand trap on the dogleg par 4 11th.
August 02, 2019 at 02:57PM
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[img] Randy Newman’s Satire

“I love LA!” Luna declared.
“You’ve never been-”
“Shut up! Like you’d know!”
“Uh, hello…?” I pulled a poop bag from my pocket.
“Rrrr. New York’s cold & damp & everyone dresses like monkeys. I love LA!”
“You know Randy Newman’s satire, yes?”
“Yeah, & his attire isn’t monkey!”
July 30, 2019 at 10:27AM
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[dispatch] stationary chevy update 20190715.1717

full story at medium


[words] of #pride and particle theory

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The bar, as many are, late into random Wednesday nights, was almost empty. We toasted the straight line between the 1969 riots that spilled out of the bar and the 2015 Supreme Court decision that realized many of the demands of those courageous rioters to simply be seen as human. We toasted love. We toasted John.

The original court case, fwiw, was Obergefell v. Kasich, and revolved around the inability for John and Jim to be listed as spouses on John’s Ohio death certificate. They wanted to be buried together. You couldn’t share a family cemetery plot in Ohio if the state didn’t recognize you as family. That the case centered on a death certificate, not a marriage license, from a legal POV, brought the equal protection clause to bear in a way that Ohio could never get around. 

Doesn’t mean they didn’t try.

If you recognize the defendant in that original case, it’s because John and Jim sued the state of Ohio, and Former Gov. John Kasich became the de facto defendant in court documents. Kasich, though, with his presidential ambitions, and his tea leaves reading correctly that this case would be decided against him ahead of the 2016 elections by the U.S. Supreme Court, forced a patsy in the Ohio Department of Health named Hodges to take his place in the case.

Weasels gonna weasel.

John’s and Cat’s being lifelong friends, we had a front row seat to the whole glorious, tragic, bittersweet, and loving arc of their two-decade relationship. Their wedding took place on a tarmac in Maryland in July 2013, a few months before John’s death.

My 2014 record Particle Theory [Spotify \ Bandcamp] was was written during the last stages of John’s battle with ALS, dedicated to Jim and him, and released after John passed away, a full year before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on their landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case. The case’s outcome was never certain, and the tracks revolve around the nature of love and justice, death and sentience, and finding one’s self in the context of politics. As happens when your writing’s tuned in a bit deeper into current events, songs on the album tell the stories of a few people, real and imagined, consumed in the global common denominator struggle to protect rights of the individual in the face of cold anti-humanity.

The opening track, Drifting Moon / Spinning Earth tells the story of a queer person’s escaping Ohio, who uses their “shadow as a sword” to find love “1000 feet in the air” in New York City.

The title track later on was written on the plane home after John’s memorial service in Cincinnati, OH. Those songs bookend some of the songs I am most happy to have written, but never wanted to have to write, including a track exploring the disappearing of Syrian programmer and open-source advocate, Bassel Khartabil. Alive when I released Particle Theory, Khartabil was executed in late 2015.

The cover photograph is a sunset moonrise over the North Carolina Outer Banks beach in front of John & Jim’s house where we spent many summer weeks with them. The shot is from December 2013, when we took a trip down there to say goodbye to John towards the end of his battle with ALS.

It’s a dark record under its sunny surface – which is my wheelhouse, of course. Dancing through darkness is the only way I know. Could be one reason why queer folk and straight AF me have always found safe harbor in each other. Very psyched Particle Theory remains among my most spun and downloaded collection of songs, and that it’s a grace note, as well as a footnote, for a movement based on love.


[img] sun + flake

March 20, 2019 at 04:10PM
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[dispatch] 20190223.2013

February 23, 2019 at 08:13PM
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[dispatch] 20190223.stationary.chevy

February 23, 2019 at 05:56PM
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[words] Quiet, Silence

February 15, 2019 at 01:30PM
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always only almost



i never jump
but sometimes
wonder as to be



/ squeezed between wheel and rail /
/ liquified into sidewalk cracks /
/ betrayed by the softness of water at terminal velocity /



a final taste of blood into quiet black
forever suspension
soul mixed into the city gutter



always only almost /
the city self-harm paradox:
selfish + public
too many other’s
commutes, too, interrupt



missed the train announcement again
headphones too loud
head too cloud
unprepared for changes
anyway
someday
now


[img] Evolution Win

“But why? You guys never have to wear one!” Luna protested.
“Evolution,” I replied, “left us no ability to lick, you know, down there.”
“Really?” she chuckled. “That’s so sad.”
December 08, 2018 at 12:00PM
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[words] The Curious Case of the Stationary Chevy

December 06, 2018 at 08:56AM
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Crystal Stems, Part I: DISHR 2078

In the latest installment of the Design Life future-fiction series, we find romance in how we load our dishwashers and drying racks, frogs are the new rats, and the New York City subway system is exactly the same as today…



Sound Sculpture Preset: “Synthwave 1974.”
Number of Notes (1–16): “3.”
Note 1: “C4.” Note 2: “G4.” Note 3: “E4.”
Waveform: “Saw Tooth.”
Detune: “7 O’clock.”
Low pass filter: “On.”
Sustain: “Medium.”
Reverb: “Small Hall.”

An InnerHome C-quence22 door chime floated through Aracelle Freer and Karl Mercer’s white-walled, spare three-bedroom townhouse on a far-western block of Jane Street in the Lower High Line district of Manhattan, New York City. At the sound, Aracelle looked up from the kitchen sink, and Karl rose from a couch in the adjacent, sunken open living area.

Eighteen months earlier in 2078, Aracelle and Karl met on a New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority downtown Q Train, hurtling underneath the technopolis of 28 million flapjack-stacked residents. Entering car 3699, second from the front, heading home through a typical Friday evening underground salmon-and-sardine-spawning midnight crush hour, Karl and Aracelle both angled to sit in a rare, just-vacated open seat, and bumped into each other.

Karl relented. “No, you, please. You’ve got your hands full with, what…” he noticed her carrying a covered object, and made out outlines of bars in the cloth. “Is that a cage under that curtain?”

“Yes.”

“Bird?”

“Nope. Frog,” she said.

“Oh, what a shock,” deadpanned Karl.

“Yeah, yeah. I know. ‘Frogs everywhere.’” Aracelle scare-quote countered, and waved her hand around as the train lurched forward.

Approximately three-dozen frogs hopped lazily around the car floor, their ceaseless croaking and constant movements unheeded by commuters whose gazes remained fixed around 12 inches in front of their right eyes, on infolayers in their corneal overlays, lost in dreams of dinner and solvency.

CONTINUED HERE…


[dispatch] 20181023.1633

October 23, 2018 at 04:33PM
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[dispatch] 20180904.1058: Pay-Per-Press Future

September 04, 2018 at 10:58AM
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[dispatch] 20180830.0935: Uncle Topher

August 30, 2018 at 09:35AM
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