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What we do…

June 11, 2017 Leave a comment

A hot Sunday. A day to do nothing. To remind ourselves how hard we work and how we deserve a day to sit on our ass and drink beer in the sun and watch the grass grow.  A day that “exercise” is defined as taking the garbage out.

But somebody needed help. There was a benefit set up by a friend. He asked for help. A friend had fallen on hard times. So….that was that. No hemming or hawing. Because that’s what friends do. Especially musician friends. What time do you need me? Ok, I’ll be there.

19055233_10212628971536688_4509321112557294172_oThat doesn’t make us special. It makes us human. Which is why I’m proud as fuck to be from here. Humanity abounds. There may not be any fucking jobs….but there’s humanity in spades.

The sound system was set up. Guitar cases piled up. Drums at center stage. And the music started and never stopped. A full shift. Six hours at least. There was a schedule…I think. But that gets obliterated quickly. If you’re there, you’re on call. Wanna play this one? Grab this guitar. Key of G. You’re tuned down a half step? Fuck. Gimme a capo dude…I got this. Prima Donnas….down a half step. Damn…how am I supposed to blow harp if you’re tuned down a half step?! Never mind…I got it…..I think…..

You play your instrument. Or somebody else’s. It doesn’t matter. It’s a community. If you can’t hit that harmony vocal, you just ask somebody else to do it. So he puts his beer down, finds an open mic, and nails it. Or maybe he nails it and doesn’t put his beer down. More likely actually. Or maybe he doesn’t nail it, but he tries like hell. That’s what live music is all about. Like a NASCAR race. Sometimes we crash too. We rubberneck as much as the guy on the freeway driving past the wreckage….but we got short memories, man. Because that chorus is coming back around in 20 seconds, and I got another chance. It’s called community, motherfucker.

People dance and drink and knock your microphone stands over and request songs while you’re playing songs….always a challenge but if they are dancing and knocking shit over and screaming requests it means they aren’t bored as fuck so you do what Steve Winwood suggested and you roll with it. There’s free beer at the foot of the stage too. Granted, it’s a keg of Keystone Light but…who the fuck do you think you are…..the Beatles? It’s free….and nobody thought to bring along a copy of their backstage rider saying they stopped drinking Keystone Light when they were 18 and finally got a job….and refuse to drink anything less prestigious than Budweiser or Coors Light…although we’d love to swill Guinness or Sam Adams but can’t afford this $4 pint nonsense….which is why we’re demolishing the keg of Keystone Light like dehydrated pirates…..and promise to never do so again….until the next time. Admirable self-denial, eh?

I digress. I frequently do. But you get it. I know you do.

So the night is old. We’re home. But with no regrets. A nightcap on the porch. With the crickets for company. We’ll sleep good. And once again we’re all glad we could do what amounts to little….but can sometimes mean so much. And tomorrow the cycle starts anew.

What I see is that, whatever it is that divides us, we’re still willing to come together and help those who need helping. Differences seem to disappear at times like this. Oh, they’ll probably come roaring back in the morning…….but that’s fine…..because that won’t undo what we’ve already come together for.

Wouldn’t it be great if things could be like this all the time? If, for the time that the guitars and drums are pounding, and the bar is moving rhythmically, like people on an escalator in an earthquake…we could lock in and fulfill the promises that we all want to make to each other but don’t for fear of being…..well…..

You get it. I know you do.

Let the music wash over you….like a waterfall. Join that drunken conga line when it rolls past your table. Drink the free beer. And when that call comes….just ask what time you should be there.

In a bit…

–tf

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The Shillelaghs return…

May 26, 2017 Leave a comment

June 2 at the V-Spot in Scranton…
shillelaghs

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Chris Cornell

May 18, 2017 1 comment

Who knows where the time goes? I woke up this morning to my beeping Iphone. A text from my nephew. Chris Cornell was dead, it said.

It didn’t register. It was 7am. Not much cuts through the haze at that hour for me.

130925191836-chris-cornell-red-chair-orig-00004611-story-topBut the fog lifted. It does every morning. And it was all too real. He was gone. Played a show, returned to his hotel room, and hung himself. The crowd and the amplifiers were still ringing in his head. But it wasn’t enough. We’ll never know why. Only those who deal with what both Winston Churchill and Nick Drake called “the black dog” can come close to comprehending what filled Cornell’s head last night. And even they will end up chasing shadows. You may be able to walk in a man’s shoes, but you can’t get inside his head.

We’ll learn more in the days ahead. A note maybe. Perhaps drugs….booze….the usual suspects. But still, it won’t change anything. Yet another gifted soul who changed lives for the better has decided that his own wasn’t worth the effort. And for that we’re all diminished.

By all accounts a monster talent, A rock vocalist with a 4 octave range…Soundgarden didn’t really sound like anything else coming out of Seattle because Cornell could do things with his voice that others could not. Call it whatever you want. Grunge. Metallic Punk. Loud Mountain Music. He could wail like Plant and snarl like Rotten, with a touch of the poet thrown in for good measure. Quite a combination when you stop and think about it. I once heard him sing Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” with just an acoustic guitar and if the world ended when the song did, well, there’d be worse ways to go.

We’re about the same age. You forget that sometimes. In my late 20s……things started to change. Cornell. Cobain. Cantrell. Wood. Gossard and Vedder. It’s so easy to be cynical about what it became….$100 flannel shirts and copycats and and the like. But these were blue collar kids filled with angst and rage, surrounded by poverty and drugs and overdoses….drop-outs from broken homes. They had no patience for anything between a whisper and a scream. They closed ranks, supported each other, and kick-started rock and roll at a time when it was down for yet another standing 8 count. Most of them flew too close to the sun….and today we’re left to ponder the remains. But at least we can do so with a helluva soundtrack for company.

I listened. I was always listening. I had my guitar. My pen. It registered. I felt safer. More secure….writing the things I was writing. Playing the songs I was playing. Loud. Soft. Whispers. Screams. I learned. I’m still learning.

So what did I do today? I reached out to friends. The ones who are my age. I wanted to hear that they were ok. I wanted to remind them to hug their kids. To not wait. Do what you need to do, now. There is no promise of a tomorrow. When beautiful souls like Chris Cornell start hanging themselves from hotel bathroom doors, synapses start firing.

It’s late now. The house is dark and quiet. My kids are home….safe. Asleep. My wife lays beside me as I type these words. We’re vaccinated from it all…at least for one more night. But for the first time today, I feel like crying. Maybe that means something. I don’t know.

What may have changed his mind? What may have pushed him along to the next show? A kind word? A human touch? A new song? An “I love you Daddy” text from his daughter? So often we seek to anesthetize artificially……as if we don’t trust the natural methods. But then again…..it’s all about timing, isn’t it? We’re stubborn. We’re selfish. We want what we want and we want it now. Did he plan this? Was it some terrifying, spur of the moment impulse? A cry for help gone wrong? Did he realize his own gifts? His own power? His unique ability to get inside people’s heads and stay there? Or did the business of it all just leave the scar tissue…..the cynicism….

The world was a better place with Chris Cornell in it. But it ain’t gonna stop turning ’cause he’s gone. So that part’s on us.

So sing your song. And remember his.

In a bit..

–tf

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My catalog now on BandCamp

May 10, 2017 Leave a comment

I added my entire catalog to BandCamp.com

All my records….$7.00 each. Click below….

bandcamp_1000x515

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The Shillelaghs return! One night only..

May 3, 2017 Leave a comment

Our first full gig in 4 years!
Wiggy / Lenny / Moonie / Tom
We might even rehearse first!
SHILL POSTER BRITE

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Rock and Roll’s Big Bang

March 19, 2017 1 comment

chuckChuck Berry was rock and roll’s big bang.

Rock and roll did not exist until Berry came “motorvatin’ over the hill” chasing after Maybellene in her Coup de Ville. It took 36 takes….but there it was. Bum note in the opening guitar lick be-damned. It was 1955. Berry was 29 years old. He invented an art-form. It was a mix of blues and country and bluegrass and jazz and pop and folk and big band. And it was poetry. We know this in retrospect. At the time, nobody knew what the fuck it was. To Chuck it was hopefully a way to pay his bills.

It was all driven forward by his stinging guitar playing, inspired by the boogie-woogie piano sound that he could not get out of his head. His solos were the first solo all of us ever learned. And for a lot of us, it’s still the only one we play.

Sweet Little Sixteen. School Days. Almost Grown. Brown-Eyed Handsome Man. Nadine. You Never Can Tell. Roll Over Beethoven. Rock and Roll Music. Little Queenie. Around and Around. No Particular Place to Go. Memphis , Tennessee. You Can’t Catch Me. Back in the USA. Let it Rock. I’m Talking About You. Sweet Little Rock and Roller. Too Much Monkey Business. Carol. Johnny B Goode. Tulane. Reelin’ and Rockin’. Promised Land. If you were going to blast rock and roll into space, you’d put these songs in the capsule and light the fuse. It’s the story. It’s the whole world. If I heard this music for the first time, I’d want to travel to the galaxy where it was created.

The Beatles? The Rolling Stones? No such thing without Chuck Berry. Dylan was finally able to step out of Woody Guthrie’s shadow with “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, which he later admitted was simply a “Too Much Monkey Business” rewrite.

Dylan got the Pulitzer. Wrong guy.

Berry’s songs were soon carved in stone. The man toured constantly, without a band. It was the promoter’s job to hire the backing musicians, and when they’d finally meet Berry, inevitably 5 minutes before the show was about to start, and inquire as to what songs they were going to play, Berry would reply, “we’re going to play some Chuck Berry songs, son.” If the band was good and the equipment didn’t malfunction, Berry would give back $1000 of his earnings (which he always demanded upfront, in cash). “Play for that money, boys!” he’d whoop to countless local cats who would never forget the day for the rest of their lives.

Jerry Lee Lewis is still pissed off that his own Mom considered Berry the true king of rock and roll. “I though I was”, said the Killer to his Mom. “Well, you and Elvis are pretty good”, she replied. “But you’re no Chuck Berry.”

Mom’s know these things.

Chuck Berry is the greatest rock and roll lyricist of all time. I don’t think there’s much argument about that. He wrote his best songs 60+ years ago. Not a single word sounds dated. He could say more in 180 seconds than any man alive. Funny. Biting. Ironic. Aware. Un-threatening on the surface….he was a black man in a racist nation after all….but it didn’t take much in the melon to understand that “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” wasn’t a song about guys with brown eyes. The way he spat out lines like “looking hard for a drive-inn / searching for a corner cafe / where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day” were darkly ominous, in that Berry knew most of ’em wouldn’t serve a black man. But still, he didn’t frighten parents the way an obvious lunatic like Little Richard might have. In fact, most parents, hearing his perfect diction and dead-on teen drama “School Days”, thought he was a white teenager to being with. Surely it wasn’t a 30 year old black father and drop out singing “up in the morning and off to school / the teacher is teaching the golden rule / American history and practical math / you studying hard and hoping to pass..”

He was teen America’s ventriloquist.

He was also a deeply flawed man. Perpetually pissed off, driven by dollars. A philanderer with a sweet tooth. A man stingy when credit was due. A frequent guest of US penal institutions. A maddeningly private public figure who squandered his prodigious talents, grinding out increasingly sloppy versions of his early songs over and over again, literally taking the money and running (his coffee colored Cadillac would be driving away from the venue before yet another unrehearsed backing band had gotten off the stage).

And yet, somehow loved without being lovable.

Because when he hit on that familiar rolling riff…and crouched into that crazed duck-walk….it was like being able to converse with the statues in a museum. There he was, in the flesh, the George Washington of rock and roll. And suddenly nothing mattered anymore but the music. Because rock and roll might need her memory jogged at times, but it is true. She never forgets.

The promised land was calling, and the poor boy was on the line.

In a bit..

–tf

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Stella – 1 Da Valley – 0

March 15, 2017 Leave a comment

Stella – 1

The Valley – 0

flagOur daughter was stranded at a friend’s house less than a mile away (she had spent Monday night there). And we couldn’t get to her. Road was blocked with an Archbald borough plow being towed with a chain by a large piece of farm equipment. So that made what would have been the stupid decision to drive that much easier. I actually set out on foot with a bag full of warm clothes over my shoulder (she only had a sweatshirt….yea, I know…) like a Saint Bernard intent on delivering brandy. As I walked into the teeth of 40 MPH winds and negative wind chills, even the guy driving the tractor, who saw me appear out of the ether like some sort of crazed mental patient, shook his head and said…”uh….good luck dude.”

I might make it…but there was no way I was gonna subject my girl to the return trip, so I figured she could survive another sleepover at her best friend’s warm house. First world problems, eh?

Still, the last few days have been crazy. My car was in the driveway, put there to make room in the garage for our lawnmower, which I would surely need soon based on 70 degree February days, right? By Tuesday all I could see of my vehicle were the mirrors. My mail box had disappeared….and my dog looked at me like I was deranged when I suggested she go outside and pee. I know we’ve gotten this much snow before. Must have. But it’s hard to remember things being intense all at once. Over 2 feet of snow. Howling wind. Drifts. Roads not just impassible, but gone. Like everybody else, I spend the entire day digging out. Or trying to. At one point a 4 foot wall had built up at the end of our driveway, and when we were finally able to bust through it, a plow would show up as if on cue and start building it back up again. I was inside and out at least 10 different times, desperate to stay ahead of it all. The only thing that made me feel better was pulling up facebook and reading about everybody else. What I was doing was child’s play compared to the rest of the valley. People literally couldn’t get out of their homes. They were climbing out windows. They were digging themselves out to go….well…nowhere….since plows hadn’t reached their roads yet. At all. Our plows might be stuck in the snow, but at least they were out and about. You have to appreciate the effort. You really do. 

Social media is made for shit like this. It was like an evolving Greek tragedy…..written one post at a time. One person was waiting on a 3rd rescue attempt, the first two having resulted in stranded plows. From what I could tell, short of a helicopter or a military operation, they might resurface in the spring. Cars were left on roads, abandoned. People were begging for plows, offering money, booze, whatever. A randy entrepreneur with 4 wheel drive and a smile could have named his own price last night. And of course, anyone with a satellite dish wasn’t gonna Netflix and Chill anytime soon (“you might want to climb up and dig it out….or just wait for spring…”  – rep to customer)

There was good……people helping neighbors. There was bad…..landlords MIA as their tenants struggled to even push open their doors. And there was ugly….people who had genuine emergencies and could not be reached, left to fend for themselves. I don’t know the death toll of this storm, but there will be one. That makes me sad.

People lashed out….wondering why their tax bills seemed to arrive like clockwork but their local DPWs seemed to be taking their sweet time. To steal a line from Lincoln, there’s just “too many pigs for the tits”. I suspect that the workers out there the last few days and nights aren’t any happier with things than the people waiting on them.

Stress brings out the best and the worst in people. I’ve seen both during Stella.

I’m guessing the worst is over. Here’s hoping we get a gradual temperature thaw, and not some crazed summer weather that might raise the rivers and really give folks a reason to pontificate on Facebook. Because water can ruin you day, bubba. Snow is a bitch. But flooding is a whore.

So that’s that. We’ll return to the highways tomorrow…..and this storm will gradually fade from memory, like they always do. In a few weeks I’ll be cutting my grass…..probably with little piles of un-melted snow still in view.

And that’s the way it was. And is. At the tail end of Stella….on the Ides of March. In NEPA, a place we love and loathe with equal intensity. Because we’re human. And we can. So we do.

In a bit…

–tf

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