all songs written by Tom Flannery
recorded live on 9/29/2015 at the Home Office in Archbald, PA
Tom Flannery – guitar, vocals *
* I didn’t use a pick and sang in a near whisper so I didn’t wake my family….which is the definition of rock and roll when you are 49 years old…
for Angela and Martin
It’s fall again. Finally. I’ve broken out the flannels and the extra-large sweater that my dog always uses as a chew-toy (doesn’t stop me from wearing it….she only gnaws on the wrists…). The awning guys came and took the shades down. The trees are yearning to turn….and on cloudless days the sky is so blue it almost hurts to look at it. Football is back. Notre Dame and the Steelers are just good enough to keep me hoping but probably not good enough to make me any money. Stores are hawking pumpkin flavored just-about-everything. The bars are open on Sundays (well….the ones with the NFL ticket anyway) so a day of rest can finally be shared with a pint and some yelling at various TV screens with other communicants. I get screamed at every week by my fantasy football brethren for leaving guys in my lineup who aren’t active.
It’s getting darker earlier. The live music is moving from the patios back inside. The summer tans are fading. We’re starting to look like ourselves again. Sometimes that’s a good thing.
Work settles a bit. Routines are hardened. The kids are back in school. The buses are running. We start to look forward to different types of things. Hot coffee on the back porch over cold drinks at the shore. We prep for October baseball by finally paying attention to baseball pennant races. You mean the Astros are in first place? What the hell?
Homework takes over the kitchen table. School clothes dominate the wash. The grass stops growing. So we ponder….should I give it one more going over with the mower? Or shall I save it for the spring? Decisions decisions. The leaves you took for granted in the trees now flutter to the ground. Leaves are one of the few things that look better when they are officially discarded by their maker.
Summer might be a few months of stronger light bulbs, but the fall is more illuminating. Every day is a new painting on a new canvas. Simple things like driving to work can leave you in wonder….like browsing an art gallery with no one behind you.
I miss people I’ve lost more in the fall. I don’t know why this is. It just is. Summer is too fast. Too frenetic. Too much pressure. “You better have fun or else….” Well…no. I have this book, this iced tea….and this chair. We can speak again in 5 or 6 hours if you’d like. If not, that would be good too…
So yea, if you’re gonna be misunderstood, it’s gonna happen in the summer. I don’t trust people who pine for summer to come and then won’t let go of it. These are people who never go to the movies by themselves, lest somebody make fun of them (“on a sunny day like this? are you crazy? I’m not spending it inside….”).
I don’t completely trust anybody who has never gone to the movies alone.
Less explaining is required in the fall. Less justification. We roam freer. And we slow down, breathe deep, button up, and sometimes even smile.
And who ain’t for that?
In a bit..
My friend Mike Lambert passed away last night. Musicians in NEPA are a pretty tight lot. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody supports everybody else. But I don’t think I’ll get an argument in saying that nobody was more supportive than Mike Lambert. And nobody had more friends.
Mike was one of those rare people who went eye-to-eye with you. If you were talking with him, you were the only person in the room. He wasn’t pretending. He genuinely gave a shit. And this is why today so many people aren’t just saying, “I knew Mike Lambert”. They’re saying “I was friends with Mike Lambert.” The difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
Because in allowing us to make that connection, he gave us a glimpse into how special he was. (He’d probably look at me over the top of his Lennon glasses like I was nuts if I told him that, which is probably why I never did.)
A monster talent it goes without saying. He could make 6 strings cry or scream, depending on his mood or the size of his amp. He could play just about anything. When most folks think about the Allman Brothers they think Greg or Duane. But cats in NEPA think “Lamdog”. He’s been gracing NEPA stages since before anybody knew who U2 or REM were….and nailing Peter Buck’s and Edge’s guitar parts the whole time. You remember The Bratz? Of course you do. Because you danced to them. And drank to them. And rolled home with their volume in your ears. And told your friends…”you’ve got to see this band…” If they weren’t the best they’ll surely do until somebody tells me who the best was.
He knew when to play, and he knew when not to play. He had taste, in other words. Of course you could learn from listening…..but for me it was even better to watch. He was, to quote the great Fairport Convention song “Come All Ye”…..the ” possessor of the magic touch…”
We talked about making a record together. He recorded a song of mine called “Old Chairs”, a performance I treasure. He’d send me text messages asking me when I was gonna write another song for him and I’d tell him…”it’s coming man…I got one coming..”
I waited too long.
A lot of us feel shitty tonight. My hands started shaking when I got the news…..and carrying on at work today was impossible. So I bailed and sat in my car for about an hour….then took an extra long way home. I played the Allman’s “Jessica” in the car to keep me company. The song seems sacred now. It made me feel better. Music always does.
Regrets? Hell yea. That’s normal. I don’t think many of us did for Mike what he did for us. And that’s not really a knock on us, but sorta lights up the fact that the rascal set the friendship bar pretty fucking high. And oh what I wouldn’t give for a do-over about now.
But to me the mark of a true friendship is being able to say…”I’m a better person for knowing Mike Lambert”. Shit, that’s easy. I sure as hell am. And I think I can speak for my fellow NEPA musician brothers and sisters in saying that you are too. Mike Lambert didn’t just say hello. He said….”How the hell are you?….and actually waited for the answer. He didn’t just shake your hand and walk away….he hugged you and told you how great it was to see you. And when he got up and played he damn near made you cry.
Cliches are cliches because they are mostly true. So when I say don’t wait until tomorrow to do what you can do today, I fucking mean it. Because there’s no guarantees. If you want to hug someone stand up and hug them. If you want to know how somebody is doing, walk over and ask them. If you’re wondering how to play that lick in “Little Martha”, ask the guy who’s up there playing it flawlessly before he packs up and leaves.
Because if you miss out, it hurts like hell.
There’s a few lines from “Old Chairs” that seem so suddenly sad now..
How many hearts come here to live
how many beggars come here to give
from what I can see
trying to separate me…from you
take me away from you
Old chairs pass through hands
making other plans
generations on the wall
high wire act for one and all
Good night Michael. Thank you for everything…
There are days. Damn. There are DAYS.
There are days worth remembering. The kind of days you’ll conjure up with a grandkid on the knee. You’ll say…..”I’ll never forget the day…let me tell you all about it…”
And the kid will look at you, and probably wonder what the big deal was. “Two people who love each other getting married. You mean….that wasn’t allowed? Wow….how old ARE you anyway Grandpa?”
Strange days mister. Strange days.
The last time I felt this way was when a black man was made President of the United States, less than a life-span from the time when he wasn’t allowed to order a cup of coffee at certain lunch counters or piss in certain urinals.
I sat there watching that inauguration in 2008, and I cried. I watched it alone. One of the reasons it was so monumental was because, to my kids, it wasn’t monumental at all.
Progress. We move. Sometimes at the pace of a glacier. But we move. Sometimes the right stuff is buried in a piece of rock…and it takes the patience and skill of a sculptor to hammer it out into something recognizable. Something that contains all the colors of the rainbow.
My kids don’t understand baby-boomer bigotry either. Or the kind cloaked in Bible-speak that has been around ever longer. They’ve known gays their whole life. They are friends with them. They are related to them. They don’t give a fiddler’s fart, and it’s the type of not giving a fiddler’s fart that we can all learn from. It’s glorious apathy. And, I might add, democratic as hell. Kids don’t hate by instinct. Only grown-ups do that.
But kids know this is special. They KNOW. This one touches them. This is the parting of the red-sea. They’re not about to CONGRATULATE anyone, least of all 5 near-octogenarians dressed in robes, for doing what should not have been necessary in the first place. Making love legal. But they can exhale and say…”well…at least the grown-ups FIXED something for a change.”
And yea, America is used to leading, or at least used to bragging about leading. In this case we dragged ass. The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, France, Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand, Britain, Luxembourg, Finland, Ireland, all of them beat us like a gong here….but…well….once we were blind and now we see.
Or at least some of us do. The rest are like that asshole who insists on wearing sunglasses indoors.
It’s absurd, on the face of it. And underneath the face too. That it HAD to come to this. But we’re a broken nation, living on fault lines manufactured by past haters and kept in working order by present ones. Hate drives us apart for sure, but it also brings us together, which is one of the reasons it’s so easy to fall into its ditch. So you’re some social misfit sitting in your basement on the weekends with your joy-stick in your hands? You know what….that’s probably somebody’s FAULT. And the only thing easier than finding somebody to hate is finding somebody to hate with.
Those who hate the most always seem to be the most “god fearing”. In the US nobody hates with more white-hot intensity than a lower to middle class white Christian egged on by a way upper-class white Christian. I don’t know why this is so. I stopped believing in an invisible man in the sky when I realized the Easter Bunny was a hoax, so those who think the lesbians across the street signify the end of America are a source of endless wonder to me…sort of like talking to a 50 year old who is afraid of short changing the tooth fairy. I do know that nothing divides us more than religion….and that all of the major ones seem equally intolerant, especially of each other. Talk about a crap shoot. There’s too much pressure choosing your god these days. You think people fucking hate you for loving the Dallas Cowboys? Try drawing a picture of Muhammad on the wall. Then wear a turtleneck.
And really, can you imagine Jesus coming back today? A socialist dark-skinned Jew who trashes capitalism and befriends the poor, lepers, the IRS, and whores? Poor wretch would be tasered in about 15 seconds. If he showed up in Texas he wouldn’t last that long.
(I wonder how long it would take Hannity or O’Reily to cut off his mic?)
But I digress. Because digression is fun sometimes.
Until this sort of mindless ideological jabbering goes the way of the statue of Baal and Tim Tebow….days like today will continue to be necessary.
But still, what a day.
Hug who you want. Kiss who you want. Love who you want. Drink yourself stinky tonight. And sleep in tomorrow.
But then come back. Because there’s so much left to do. Hate is nothing if not resilient.
Reptiles like Antonin Scalia (today his legacy as the Roger B. Taney of our time was, with his hilariously unhinged dissent, cemented in stone) are still out there….but they are a necessary evil, for they give a face to the abyss they represent.
And he is one ugly motherfucker.
In a bit..
You’ve heard this one before,
“Only in America”.
What followed used to be a list of superlatives.
The greatness is still there, but it’s getting shouted down by an invasion of stupidness.
It’s fun to be stupid. Stupid people really aren’t held responsible for anything, because they have the perfect excuse. If you attempt to explain rationality to a person who has none….you’ll truly understand the clinical definition of insanity (“Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.”)
So a stupid white kid walks into a black church, announces that he’s there to kill them because they are black, and then does so. He leaves one alive on purpose….so that person can tell the tale, lest there be no misunderstanding of the killers intentions (The other survivor survived by pretending to be dead).
In a matter of hours the kid is caught. His picture is splashed across front pages. With a Moe-from-the-3-stooges haircut and eyes that look like discarded Christmas lights, what we have is a poster boy for dumbness. We already know his story before reading the first sentence. Such an interesting nation this is. Always it’s the insignificant little shits who make the biggest news. News leaks out. Friends speak. No surprises. A run of the mill racist who told “nigger jokes” and, in a theatrical touch, posed for his Facebook pic wearing racist patches celebrating racist South African regimes. Black males made him nervous, especially when girls he liked seemed to like them more. So he killed for the same reason the goons killed Emmett Till 60 years ago. See how far we’ve come?
A hate crime for sure was this……except in the eyes of the people who hate the most, and thus should know better. The chain-gang for Jesus. The chaing-gang for Jesus sees this as an attack against Christianity….because the dead black people happened to be Christians. So they were not killed for being black. There were killed for loving Jesus. You know….the same thing the boogie-man-du-jour ISIS are doing to our blue-eyed sons….
All about as subtle as a hammer hitting a nail. But give them an A for staying on message.
And this stupid kid is sitting around listening to this and saying…..”NO you dumb shits……I killed them because they were BLACK!!!. I ANNOUNCED IT! Are you jackasses DEAF or what!?”
Thus, dumb and dumber. For real. The unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.
Because to admit that this kid killed simply because he hated black people might cause a chain reaction. It might cause people to wonder….”gee….I wonder why he hated black people?”……and thus……maybe, just maybe….bring them ’round in a great big ‘ol circle to the relentless barrage of hate spewed by people who….wait for it…..love Jesus the most-est in the whole wide world.
But….no, that ain’t gonna happen.
Imagine for just one second….if a dumb muslim walked into a Texas church and killed 9 white people.
The fucking military would be at defcon 3.
But 9 blacks in South Carolina? Probably just some atheist cracker who wasn’t taking his Prozac.
Nothing to see here. Move along. Go back to the Jenner’s.
And by the way, play no attention to that Confederate flag hanging from the State Capital. It’s not flying at half-staff because that would alert people that it was, you know….a fucking CONFEDERATE flag. In case you are wondering, the US flag also flies in South Carolina. That flag IS at half-staff. Isn’t that interesting?
Pause for a moment. The Confederate flag salutes a treasonous attempt to destroy the United States of America. To those who argue that the Civil war was fought for “states rights”, I agree. But the right your state was fighting for was the right for one human being to own another. So…..well….I for one am fucking glad you lost.
Make no mistake. You did lose. You can put up as many Stonewall Jackson or Robert E Lee statues as you want. You can even name the street the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church sits on after a virulent racist, but that doesn’t change the outcome. You fought for something ghastly and disgusting. That fact that so many of your sons were brave and even honorable in defense of that cause doesn’t make it fucking noble.
And I haven’t even mentioned guns. You know, that thing these dumb people use to kill people they don’t like because they have darker skin.
“From my cold dead hands” and all of that gibberish. Nine cold dead hands in this case. Less than half the butcher’s bill of Newtown, and no little kids this time, so maybe that’s American progress? The NRA already blamed the dead black guy for his own death because the guy voted against a law that would allow guns in Church. You really can’t make this stuff up. You can try, but that would make you stupid too.
The world is justly laughing at us, and what do we do?
Well…we just whistle Dixie.
In a bit…
When we think of Alzheimer’s Disease, the focus is seemingly always on memory. The forgetting.
But there’s more.
As I watched the disease slowly take over my father, what seemed most insidious of all was the fear.
This was my father, after all. To most kids, fathers are fearless. We learn later that us kids scare the bejeesus out of our Dads (and Moms) pretty much daily, but they never show it. I never saw my father scared. I never saw my father cry.
Until Alzheimer’s got him.
He didn’t want to be alone. If you were in a room with him and walked out, even for a moment, he’d wordlessly follow you. When he wanted to go to bed, he’d insist my mother go with him. As the disease progressed “bedtime” could by 10pm…or it could be 10am. “Will you take me up”, he’d say. If she left him and came back down, he’d stand at the top of the steps and call her name. On and on it went. Only complete exhaustion would end the cycle. His. Not hers. That was not allowed.
At the very end the eyes die….you can gaze into them and see nothing. Like the eyes of a doll. But what I remember most is the light in his eyes. The way they’d dart back and forth, taking in the moment, which was all he had left. Every noise, even seemingly slight ones, would make him jump. Every movement he followed, like the hunted in the wild. Curious. Eager. Not at all disinterested or disengaged. Childlike. If you could look past the horror, at times it was even charming.
Always a sweet man, he became even sweeter. More docile. The way he interacted with his grandkids. The way he interacted with my beloved dog Abbey, who would run through the front door when we visited and immediately leap into his lap…..lick his face….to whoops of delight. (One of the most heartbreaking moments of my life came the first time Abbey visited the house after my Dad had passed. She ran to his chair….he wasn’t there. She ran through the entire house, upstairs and downstairs, looking for him. She did this for weeks afterwards….always looking at me quizzically..)
But then the fear would come over him, like a muscle spasm. Something that was just in his head would drop out…with no warning. He’d be in the middle of a room and not realize where he was….or on his way to a place he no longer knew existed. He’d see a face one minute and know it, and then it was gone. And he was left with a roomful of strangers. Like expecting 10 steps when there are 11. Over and over again. That moment when you lean too far back in your chair….past the point of catching yourself. Over and over again.
Always being in the moment, he’d notice that his fear brought out ours. Which of course just made things spiral ever-downward.
In the beginning, he knew what was happening to him. He heard the words. “Alzheimer’s Disease”. The fear must have been overwhelming. You are literally told you are, to paraphrase the first documented Alzheimer’s patient, “losing yourself”.
That patient is known as Auguste D. She died in 1906 at the age of 56. She repeatedly would say, “I have lost myself”…as she scribbled non-answers to questions (when asked to write the number “5”, she wrote “a woman”…when asked “Where are you right now?“ she answered “Here and everywhere, here and now….”) from her physician, a Dr. Alois Alzheimer.
Dr. Alzheimer wrote, “She seemed to be consciously aware of her helplessness.”
In other words…..fear. Unrelenting.
At the end, it dissipates. My father was transformed. From terror to rage. A vast difference. The man he was…was not the man he became in his last few weeks.
He fumed. He lashed out physically and verbally. It sounds bizarre, but in a way I think he finally remembered the forgetting. His furies came out, and he was fighting against the plaques and tangles that had taken over. He was sick and tired of being afraid and he wasn’t gonna take it anymore.
It was one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen.
So when I think back on his disease, what I remember (irony of ironies….) is not what he could no longer remember….but the fear in his eyes when face to face with, in that ghastly phrase, “losing himself.”
I wanted to get this out today. I don’t know why. I’m missing him. That’s probably enough. But maybe I’m starting, for the first time, to feel my age.
But really, ultimately, I’m asking that you help….and give what you can. Because we need to beat this bastard.
Alzheimer’s took him. It’s been 5 years now. My father deserved better. He worked hard his whole life. He was unflinchingly honest and decent. Never shirked. Earned everything. He had plans when retirement came. Travel. A book. Spoiling his grandchildren, who adored him. It was all gonna be done on his schedule. Finally. Not somebody else’s.
It’s insidious….this Alzheimer’s. There’s no warning. All we know is that the longer we live, the more likely it’s gonna come. It’s like waiting for the storm…and when it comes, watching the water rise. Slowly. Inexorably. It’s a ghastly thing, a bit like being punished for the crimes of a stranger.
Oh sure….we fight it. There are pills. Aricept…Namenda….but they don’t do much…maybe slow down the progression, that is if the side effects aren’t intolerable, which they often are. Ultimately, what we call treatment is no more than bailing the flood-water with a bucket. A band-aid on a severed limb.
There is no cause for Alzheimer’s. And, currently, there is no cure. It is always fatal.
In the beginning, he knew something was happening. The words which always came easy didn’t come easy anymore. The faces that drew names to his lips didn’t draw names anymore. There was a series of fender-benders. Left turns from the right lane. One way streets and mixing up green and red and yellow. He could no longer tie his tie. Things that could be explained if you tried hard enough and we tried like hell. He was always active….always moving. His mind could never be idle. “The devil’s workshop” he called it. As kids we’d vegetate in front of the TV for hours….and he’d shake his head. It said “where did you people come from?” Now, he’d spend hours in his chair. “Seinfeld” re-runs mostly. He’d laugh and laugh….the same episodes. Like it was the first time. The typewriter on the dining room table sat by itself. Eventually it was moved into storage. Not hearing those keys took some getting used to. Imagine living on the beach and not hearing the waves. Still, he was still there. He smiled. He laughed. We visited. Sure he was slower. But that’s just getting older.
We knew. We had to know. But we didn’t talk about it. Because…well…we just didn’t. Maybe alone at night in our cups, whispers….
It was the middle of the day. I was sitting at work when the phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number but I knew the voice. It was him. He sounded….confused. Foggy. He was calling from a cell phone. I found out later that he had just gotten a hair-cut at the same barber shop he’d been going to for years. My mom had dropped him off and was running a few errands. He wasn’t sure who he just called. He was just saying, “hello? Hello?”…..as if I had called him.
I asked him where he was. He wasn’t sure. I heard cars driving by. He was outside. I was scared all of a sudden. Fear rising like something in the throat. I could hear it in his voice. He was too. I called the house phone using my own cell. I got voice mail. I was trying to contact my mother. I was asking him where she was. He was saying he didn’t know. Then…as I was reaching for my coat to get him….from where?…..she pulled up. I could hear the relief in his voice. “Your Mother is here. Do you want to talk to her?”
My hands were shaking.
I knew before this….but this is what it took. This was sitting in a crowded, noisy bar….and the background noise of the juke-box being turned off…and the band kicking things off with an AC/DC song. Thunderstruck.
This was a man who traversed the streets of Manhattan and Paris like he could have been giving guided tours. This was a man who never lost his cool, whether he was in the midst of the chaotic Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, or sitting across the glass from cold-blooded murderers, trying to make sense of their crimes.
And now, he was mere miles from his home….lost. And even worse, scared.
I’m sure a part of him knew what was coming, for a time at least. Eventually this disease robs you of even knowing you have it. If it gives you anything, maybe this is what you would not spit back.
It teases the rest of us….because there were subsequent days when what happened that day would not have happened. Lucid days that flickered hope. …and we thought….it’s just age. It happens. It’s….normal.
But, again, and maybe only in our cups….we knew. No. Enough bullshit and false hope and pills and prayers and pretending that him not being able to sign his own name was because his eyes were bad.
And so a few years later I got another call. This time from my Mother. She was crying. Terrified. She needed me there.
He didn’t know her anymore. He wanted her….whoever she was, to take him home. He wasn’t sure where he was, but it sure wasn’t home.
When I got there, he knew me. But the only woman he ever loved…his constant companion for 60+ years, was a stranger. The pain in her face seemed the visual equivalent of a death sentence. He wanted to see her, but he didn’t know who she was. “Take me home” he kept saying. So I said….”ok, I’ll take you home now.”
It had taken us years to get to this point. Years of quiet, unseen heroics from my Mother, who watched over him like a bear. Years of him hitting literally hitting himself in the head, saying “what’s wrong with me!” But never in front of us kids. He protected us to the end. Years of whispers from friends and former friends alike….some understanding, but most not.
We went to the hospital that night. He never spent another night in his own home. He fought like hell, and it was almost impossible to watch. When he decided that what he was fighting for wasn’t as important as what he was fighting against, it took a few peaceful days. He was gone.
So when I think of this horrible disease, I think mostly of those 2 days. The day he first got scared, and the day he felt so sure of himself that he said to me, “take me home”….despite the protestations that home was exactly where he was.
Alzheimer’s disease will be cured someday. Polio. Smallpox. Diphtheria. Malaria. Typhoid fever. All deadly. All met head-on by the best and the brightest. And bested.
I want to be here when Alzheimer’s is tossed onto that same scrap-heap. I want to be able to visit his grave and say, “you were right about idle minds. How about what we’re capable of when we keep moving?”
If you could help….in any way….I’d be so grateful.
In a bit…