In a world gone mad we’re all keen to find a temporary oasis….and if you can bring your guitar with you so much the better….
I’ve reached that age. It’s not a number, more like a feeling. It’s called “old”….and it creeps up on you. Things hurt you didn’t even know you had. The nights are shorter and the days are longer and the couch beckons the way a long-legged cheerleader sitting alone at the back of the bus used to. Most things you used to do you can’t do anymore. Those you can do….take a lot longer….and if they take too long you wonder why they were so fucking important in the first place. I’m way smarter than I used to be, but I don’t have the energy to mobilize my brain-power. In other words, I’m asleep by the time the 3rd quarter of Monday Night Football starts and need 2 days to recover if I stay out past midnight….which I rarely do of course, because I’m old.
But I sometimes do…and it’s because I still play music. Music is the only thing that makes an old person feel not so old. If it’s 1am and I’m singing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in a smokey bar filled with empty chairs and a handful of people who know the words and aren’t shy about sharing…..I get a second wind that even drugs can’t touch, and I should know because….well….never mind. That was a long time ago….when I was young and stupid and happier than I am now but I was happier probably because I was stupid. Yea, that must have been it.
I spent the last few hours playing music with another old guy….whose identity I’ll protect because he probably doesn’t want you to know that he’s even older than me. We sat knee to knee and sang songs and tossed ideas back and forth and said “yea, that works”, or “no…that don’t move me” and tried to make things right with the world for 3 minutes at a time. We spoke of Levon Helm and eating pizza with Van Morrison and having Dylan peer over your shoulder and why it’s perfectly normal that the same guy who wrote “Jungleland” also wrote “Crush On You” and was proud of both……and we spoke of making movies and rum commercials and writing plays and having daughters and being blown away when others are as passionate about their craft as we are about ours…..which in turn means we give our shit away for free when we should probably ask for at least beer money….but no matter. It’s only rock and roll and we like it even though we’re broke as shit.
And then it was time to go home and feel old again because nothing this good lasts forever.
On my way home I had the music blaring so loud that I lost track of the fact that I was merging into a single lane construction zone….blowing past a yield sign and nearly getting flattened by a meth-fueled 18 wheeler in the process…piloted by a driver who clearly did not understand or much care that my muse was working overtime…and that singing along with Richard Manuel to “King Harvest” was way more important to me at the time than not being killed. At least that’s how I took the long, hideous blast of his wretched horn. Perhaps he meant something else by it, but I doubt it.
Probably an old bastard in the cab. Can’t you just spot them a mile away? I sang these lines tonight. “I don’t wanna grow old / rather run out of time…” and now I know why I wrote them in the first place.
And so it goes. The things that make me feel old work on me like a masseuse, so maybe the music gods try to even the odds a bit by granting me a few hours with a kindred spirit.
In a world gone mad we’re all keen to find a temporary oasis….and if you can bring your guitar with you so much the better. When the world comes crashing down I’d much rather be found playing a loud A chord than worrying about the ecumenical details….because any angels worth believing in would never turn their backs on a dude banging out an A chord. This I know to be true because I’ve been praying to Pete Townshend since I was 16 and the fucker always answers me.
I’ll keep chasing these shadows across the borderline, because it makes me feel less old. And that beats shit out of being old.
Thus endeth the lesson.
In a bit..
I don’t know what to say but feel the urge to say something….anything….so I can at least look back on today and have a record of what was going through my head.
We’re no longer shocked I don’t think. The world we live in no longer has that power over us. Instead we kinda live in a perpetual holding pattern, hoping that what we all know is going to happen, at the very least, doesn’t happen today.
Today it happened. I watched the body count grow higher every hour. As I type these words the reported number of dead in Paris is “more than 150”. Are we to say….”well….at least it wasn’t 3000?” Is that how we measure victories in times such as these?
So what can we offer? Prayers? Please. If there’s one thing we don’t need it’s fucking prayers. The assorted invisible men in the sky we’re praying too are the same ones in whose name warped fanatics kill. If prayers are all we can offer….this war is lost. If organized religion isn’t the root of all evil, it sure as shit is the root of most of it. Virgins armed with automatic rifles are bad enough. When they think they’re gonna be ravished by multiple virgins after they blow themselves up, well….that’s a special kind of anti-social. The next person who offers “thoughts and prayers” to Paris should never be invited to another dinner-party. Ever. It’s pissing on a forest fire and calling yourself a fireman.
I had a gig tonight. I didn’t want to go. That last thing in the world I felt like doing was playing music. I wanted to stay home and huddle with my family. I wanted to hold them and watch them sleep. I wanted to barricade myself and not venture out into the wild blue yonder.
But the show must go on and all that. When you have a gig booked, you play. I was fortunate that the gig was a duo show with Joe “Wiggy” Wegleski…a musical soul brother who happens to be one of my closest friends. We talked a little bit about what was happening as we set up. We were both shocked. Saddened. Pissed off. Confused. But what can 2 poor boys do? So we played our asses off for 3 hours. It was a decent crowd. Good folk. Nobody fucking shot anybody over the ecumenical details. A few even danced in front of us. They drank beer and sang along and yelled out requests and when it was over said “you guys were great”….and we said thank you and meant it. I drove home listening to music in the car…loudly….and as soon as I got into the house I checked on my wife and kids. Safe and sound. Sleeping. I poured myself a beer and nursed it. I checked the clock. Late. But I can’t sleep. Not now. After a gig you need to wind down. Your ass may be dragging in the hours leading up to it, but when it’s over the second wind has doubled. It’ll be a while. That’s why I’m doing this now.
I feel older than I used to. That sounds funny and all that, but I didn’t used to feel old at all. I look at myself in the mirror and sometimes I hardly recognize the gaze. My eyes seem hazy. Confused. Like they’d rather not be subjected to what they’re forced to see.
The shouters are out in full force now. They’ve got all the answers. The lower your IQ the easier things are to fix. Who says being a fucking moron is detrimental? I’ve been cursed with what I take to be somewhat average intelligence….along with the ability to feel the pain of others. Empathy is the word. The lack of it is, for some, is the best definition of evil ever devised.
I presume this is the work of ISIS. Fuck ISIS. Fuck any religious zealot. If you want to fuck a virgin, buy her roses and tell her you love her and make sure she believes you. Then hold her hand and promise to love and honor and protect her….and love and honor and protect her. Trust me son. You’ll be in and it’ll be magical. There ain’t no short cuts. Patience is always rewarded.
I want to sleep and wake up tomorrow and find out that these “more than 150” people are still alive.
In other words…I want to dream.
In a bit..
Sometimes you sit down with the guitar….or face the piano keys….and the music flows.
Sometimes you sit with pad and pen….and the words flow.
As a songwriter, both of these things have to happen at the same time. And therein lies the rub. Because they rarely do.
Make no mistake. You CAN force it. If you paid me to write songs……I could make a fortune. If you paid me to write good songs….I might have to live on Mac and Cheese and Pabst Blue Ribbon…..but still that would be preferable to actually working for a living, which is what I’m forced to do now.
Come to think of it, even with a real job Mac and Cheese and PBRs are never far away. So what gives? Well…a “real job” guarantees that I don’t have to charge them. I have to charge just about everything else, but still. Living the American Dream and all that. That’s me.
Songwriting feels like work when you’re doing it, but when you do it right and look back on it you realize you were having the time of your life. That’s the power of music.
Real work feels like work and when you look back on it you wonder how you hell you ever got through it. Which is why so many of us sit at our desks with headphones on listening to music.
See how it all fits together?
In a bit..
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..