Friday, December 6, 2013

The Band That Time Forgot

Time was, I used to go out to see bands just about every weekend. You know, in the good old days before I had kids, and before standing around for three or four hours on my flat feet led to the kind of lower back pain that keeps Bengay in business.1

That there, right at the end of the previous paragraph? My first ever footnote on this, or any other, blog.

As I was saying: Beth and I went to the Middle East, TT the Bear's Club, the Lizard Lounge, Bunratty's, the Kinvara, Johnny D's and other clubs in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville. Many of the bands were touring acts, but plenty were local talent. Some of my favorite locals we saw included Slide, Charlie Chesterman & the Legendary Motorbikes (R.I.P., Charlie), Morphine (R.I.P., Mark Sandman), Susan Tedeschi, Bullet LaVolta and Sleepy LaBeef.

For a short time, I did some unpaid work for Summit Records (which grew into Boston metal label Wonder Drug), and got to see bands including 6L6 and Honkyball.

No matter how many bands a music nerd such as myself sees, there are always some that get away. I never saw Dead Kennedys, for instance. I had an opportunity in college, and I passed it up. I missed Gang of Four in their heyday, but made a point of catching them when they got back together in 2005.

On the local level, I wish I'd seen Chevy Heston. They were on Boston's Cherry Disc Records, which counted among its artists Letters to Cleo, Tracy Bonham and Heretix.

Chevy Heston (at one time known as Chevy Half-Ton, I believe) included several players over its short career, including Mikey Welsh (later of Weezer) and George Tsiaras of the aforementioned Honkyball. The primary dudes were Matt Martin and Zephan Courtney. After Chevy Heston broke up in the late '90s, Martin went on to form Kate Diamond, a band named in an obvious take-off on handbag designer Kate Spade.

Chevy Heston's songs are short, hypnotic and occasionally vulgar.

Here's an example, the title track of 1995's Destroy, whose songs speak of slutty high schoolers, perverted teachers and administrators, violent mishaps, drugs and conspiracies.

Here's "Pressurized at 16" from 1994's self-titled effort.

These are the only two individual videos for Chevy Heston songs I've been able to find on YouTube. Fear not, though, for I have found a 40-minute concert recorded in Oklahoma City in 1996. Enjoy!

1. The word "Bengay" makes me giggle. Can't help it.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Moments of Bliss

The 51-second mark of Honkeyball's "Kemosabe."

The 4:38 mark of Metallica's "One."

When The Police hit the 2:31 mark on "Driven to Tears."

What do these points in musical time have in common? They're a few of my moments of bliss, little goosebump triggers. Every time I get to those points in those songs, I'm excited, no matter how many times I listen to them. These are by no means the only songs that bring on this response. Other artists, ranging from Susan Tedeschi to Queen, the Flaming Lips to James Brown, elicit similar Pavlovian responses.

That's why, as much as I love movies, television and books, nothing hits me like music does.

Here's "Kemosabe":

Here's "One":

And "Driven to Tears":

Friday, November 22, 2013

Your Holiness

Despite my sacrilegious ways (or is it "sacrilicious"?), I find beauty in houses of worship. Several months ago, I published the first post of what I promised would be a semi-regular feature here ("Holy!" from March 28, 2013).

Here's part two.

Let there be (some) light

This stained glass window is one of many at Church of the Good Shepherd in Dedham, Mass. The church dates to 1876.

St. John's?

I love this doorway at St. John's United Methodist Church, Watertown, Mass. The building was constructed in 1895.


The former First Baptist Church, Watertown, Mass., is now known as Mount Auburn Village. It houses eight condos.

Small Grace

Grace Episcopal Church, Newton, Mass., built in 1873.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Book Review: "After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story" by Michael Hainey

Boy did I enjoy this book.

I'm tempted to leave my review at that, but that wouldn't do much to burnish my reputation as a writer. Using the word "burnish" might help, though.

Michael Hainey, now the deputy editor of GQ magazine, was six when his father died under mysterious circumstances in 1970. Growing up in Chicago, Hainey rarely talked with his mother about his father, or how he died. He ached to learn the details of his father's life, but was discouraged by his mother and other family members from doing so.

He graduated high school, went to college, got a job and finally, in his 30's, decided he needed to discover the truth.

Over the ensuing 10 years he sought out family members, his father's former colleagues, friends, neighbors and anyone else who might have a clue about how his father died. Hainey was stonewalled on a regular basis. He traveled great distances to meet people face-to-face. He used the skills he'd learned as a journalist to keep plugging away.

I really admire Hainey's writing. He uses short, crisp sentences to get across deep, often emotionally charged points. He is selective with his flashbacks, and extremely creative in their use.

"Here they come. People I know. People who know me. Blood, they say. Relatives, all. In big, wide American cars, they drive into my faded-asphalt lot. There's my uncle, Paul, my aunt Nancy; my godmother, Lorraine and her husband, Clarence. There's Uncle Harry, there's Aunt Sue. They are waving to me. I am one boy on two wheels, going in circles, not stopping. And there they go, one after another, to do what you do when a life stops. Coming to close the circle."

For the last 19 months I've been working on a memoir of my own. Currently I'm on the fifth draft, and I've been inspired by After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story. I've been cutting as much fat as I can, and making fewer words do more work.

My story is nowhere near as fascinating as Hainey's, though.

I don't want to give away too much. Hainey's father was a newspaperman in Chicago. Like his colleagues, he lived by a certain code, which called for keeping things close to the vest. Maybe that's just called being a man, I don't know. When he died, the senior Hainey worked the late shift at the Chicago Sun-Times and spent many an early morning drinking alongside his buddies at bars all around the Windy City.

One night he drops dead, at age 35. Years later, his son comes across obituaries written in the Sun-Times and other Chicago papers. He notices that things just don't add up in these life summaries. His mission becomes figuring out just how his father died, who he was with, and why everyone clams up when the topic arises.

I'm gonna leave it at that. Go read this book.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


(I gotta see this movie....)

For more than 18 months, I've been working, off and on, on a memoir about a road trip I took with three buddies in 1988 -- half a lifetime ago. I thought I'd have it done and ready for publication, whether traditional, self-made or ebook, some time this year. But writing projects rarely go as smoothly and quickly as you think they will.

I wish I were done with it, but I've had fun during each step of the process. The first draft involved fleshing out a blog series I'd done in 2008 detailing the four-month journey. In that early stage, I considered offering a wise elder stance, urging recent high school and college grads to forgo business school or smart phone app development in favor of discovering the greater world around them. I wrote about how easy it is these days to stay in touch with friends and family, but that when you're on the road, you should try to cut as many ties as possible to maximize your adventure.

In those heady early days of drafting, I threw in all sorts of background information about trips I took as a kid and at the end of college, mentioned all sorts of cool places I wish my buddies and I had stopped at, extolled the virtues of motels, diners, drive-in theaters and roadside attractions.

As I read the journal I kept on the 1988 trip, and thought more deeply about the journey than I ever had, I realized that I didn't live up to the expectations I had for the trip. As I analyzed some of the trepidation, anxiety and fear I had on the road, I realized that my son, Owen, shares some of these issues.

So I tried to make that part of the book as well. I tried to balance a linear narrative of the trip and analysis of who I was then and who I've become and how that all has an impact on my family.

And I laid a lot of this out in a foreword.

In the second draft I began researching some of the places we'd visited, filling in background information on bars, tourist sites, hotels, motels, etc. I also sent questions to my fellow travelers, as well as members of my family, and other friends, looking for additional information to shore up my account.

The third draft found me tightening things up, continuing to do research and add information from friends and family. Then I needed a break. So I emailed the manuscript to several people, four of whom got back to me with comments and suggestions.

For the last few weeks I've been working on the fourth draft. During this process I shed the foreword, realizing that it served as an outline of sorts for the book, but wasn't necessary for readers. I also ditched the stuff comparing me to Owen, and shaved down extraneous background information and bits about places we never visited, although I wish we had.

I already know that there will be at least one more draft. One of the comments I received from a reader was to punch things up a bit, to make the words sing on the page a bit more. I've done some of that, but at times I get lazy and find myself reading through the text with editing in mind more than rewriting.

Another new facet of the latest draft is photos. I brought a broken camera with me on the road trip, although I didn't know it was a lemon until I tried to get a few rolls developed. Initially I thought my memoir wouldn't have any pictures, which bummed me out.

But as I edited, I realized that I had some pictures to add. Some are from a family vacation that I reference in the book. Others were provided by my buddy Andy, who was on the trip. Others are from college events, provided by friends. One is the worst picture ever taken of me, at a going-away party before I went on the trip. I'm wearing a brown turtleneck, a green sweater, have an unstylish mid-length hairdo and a beard. I'm 22, but I look like I'm pushing 40.

I've enjoyed every stage of writing this book, and look forward to the next one. At some point I plan to seek out an editor or agent, and then there will be more drafting. I don't know when the book will get published, or by whom. I don't know if there will be any interest outside my immediate circle of friends and family.

I'm not writing this book for the money, but I hope it sells quite a bit better than my first book, (C)rock Stories: Million-Dollar Tales of Music and Mayhem, which may have moved 100 units.

I think my memoir has more general appeal than my short story collection did. Whereas (C)rock Stories dealt with universal issues ranging from love, hate, death and growing up, I have a feeling that the music references and themes throughout the book might have alienated some readers.

This book is more self-analytical and deals with emotional struggles and interpersonal battles more openly.

Honestly, I don't want this writing process to end. I enjoyed writing (C)rock Stories, but there was a lot of work -- 10 years' worth, off and on. I'm finding it much easier to write this book, even though I put myself in an often unflattering light. Once I'm done with the memoir, I'll move on to another short story collection based on memories of growing up in my hometown. One of those stories is complete, and will appear in a new anthology being curated by my good friend Jim Corrigan.

Jim published Movable Feasts, which also included one of my stories.

OK, that's enough.

Monday, October 28, 2013


The leaves are falling all around, the Sox are in the World Series, I've got a beard, I'm trying to punch up my road trip memoir, I need to contact publishers about my children's book, I need to finish a short story for Jim Corrigan's latest anthology, I'm gonna look for work as a ghostwriter, I want to rock and roll all night and party every day, I wish I could run again, I have fantasies where I play pick-up ice hockey, and I also think about getting back into baseball, although my hip/groin/back tell me I'm a fool, I can't believe how quickly my kids (and your kids) are growing up but I wish they would go outside more, I'm reading Looking for Przybylski and enjoying it especially the parts about traveling through Texas and New Mexico because they line up amazingly well with my impressions about that desolate part of the country from my memoir-in-progress, I'm way behind on "Boardwalk Empire" and gave up on "Nashville" because it was too much soap and not enough opry,I recently added music by The Vibrators to iTunes, I need to recruit people for my other blog, The Backside of America, I'm resurrecting my old web site, ("Where Dave Brigham Meets Dot Com") and am taking suggestions for how to make it awesome, I spent some quality time today at the National Archives in Waltham scanning in photos from U.S. Government chemical warfare manuals and brochures, I now know how to properly put on a gas mask, I'm free-forming....

Friday, October 11, 2013

Back On the Beat

I had hip surgery 11 weeks ago, and got off crutches five weeks ago. I've been doing physical therapy for the last seven weeks. With each passing day and week, I feel steadier on my feet.

I've been walking Amelia to school most days, and Owen to school (a much shorter distance) just about every day. I'm also doing about 45 minutes' worth of stretching and strengthening to help my hip, groin and lower back.

Another milestone in my recovery is getting out and about taking pictures. I've snapped a bunch lately while on subway trips with Owen. It was during our most recent jaunt that I got inspired for a new subject. While cruising along the C branch of the Green line, I noticed (not for the first time) numerous apartment buildings on Beacon Street in Brookline that have names, i.e. Wexham, Stonehurst, Wenham.

I haven't gotten back over there on foot to take pictures yet, but I did make the rounds of Watertown Square and Newton Corner earlier this week to take pics of a few named buildings. You'll be able to see these photos and more at my other blog, The Backside of America, in the near future.

Below are some church photos (another subject I've taken a shining too in recent months) from Watertown and Newton.

St. John's?

(I love this door, which is on the St. John's United Methodist Church in Watertown.)


(Just down the street is this beautiful building, which was converted to condos several years ago.)

Small Grace

(This is the chapel of Grace Episcopal Church in Newton.)


(And right around the corner is Newton Presbyterian Church.)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Bottle On the Brain

The story I wrote for the short story anthology Movable Feasts is called "The Bottle." Set in the late 19th century, the story is about the pettifoggers who peddled curative tonics, and their struggle in the face of a public who was becoming wise to their ways. I just realized that my story would have been much better if I'd used "pettifoggers" in it, because it's one of the best words I've ever found via

Published earlier this year, the collection was edited by my good friend Jim Corrigan. Not a man to let grass grow under his feet, Jim solicited stories for another anthology soon after. Whereas the theme for Movable Feasts was "eating out," the unifying concept for the next book is "travel."

I certainly took some liberties with the the theme the first time around, and wrote too many words, but I felt pretty good about "The Bottle." I published my own collection of short stories, (C)rock Stories: Million-Dollar Tales of Music, Mayhem and Immaturity in 2010. All 15 stories were centered on music (and one of them was called "Message In a Beer Bottle" -- go figure), so I wanted to do something different for Jim's premier collection.

When Jim asked if I was on board for his upcoming travel-themed collection, I of course said yes. I had no idea at the time what I would write, but I knew I'd come up with something. I'd been outlining a collection of stories about the town where I grew up, and realized that one of the ideas I had could be molded to fit the travel theme.

One of the characters from my childhood was someone one of my friends dubbed Lady Death. I sketched out a basic idea for the story, and knew that once again my interpretation of travel might be a little loose, but I liked the idea of the story and started working on it.

I've plugged away on and off over the last few months, and have mostly completed a first draft. As I got toward the story's climax, I did a little research that led me to some important information that fit perfectly into my story. I don't want to give away too much, but I will say that, quite unexpectedly, I've ended up writing another story in which a bottle plays a role.

Unlike in "The Bottle," the glass vessel in my new story (working title "Lady Death Trip") isn't a central component. But it certainly plays an important role.

Once I finish the story and things move along toward publication (Jim is working with several authors, and is in the reading phase right now with some of them) I'll offer more details, and let you know when and where you can buy the book.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Book Review: "The Warmth of Other Suns" by Isabel Wilkerson

I abhor confrontation, whether I'm involved or just a witness. This isn't something about which I am at all proud. Well, except for the fact that this character trait has kept me out of fist fights. I'm the kind of guy who thinks of a snappy comeback well after the fact, or needs to do research to provide back-up to whatever point I was trying to make earlier. I'm just not a good debater. Let's not get into the psychology of this.

Nearly 20 years ago I worked as a proofreader at a Boston accounting firm. The work was extremely dry, the work environment was fairly buttoned down, and my fellow employees were mostly young conservative types. Most days, a bunch of us younger types (the junior accountants, receptionist, interns and me, although I was a few years older than most of them) would eat lunch in the conference room.

Most times, the conversation revolved around clients, or weekend antics or local sports. I spent much of the time hunched over the Boston Globe while I ate. A few of the young dude number crunchers used to fight over my sports pages.

One day the conversation shifted from the usual topics to something more controversial, although I might have been the only person who considered it so. Well, I suspect I wasn't the only one, but certainly nobody spoke up when a few people, especially the receptionist, started bad-mouthing black people.

I don't recall how the subject came up. Could have been a report in the paper about gangs. There have always been gangs in Boston, including the infamous Whitey Bulger and his associates, but in the mid-'90s, as today, many of the gangs are made up of young, black men. In September of 1995, a gang prosecutor was assassinated in broad daylight.

The only comments I recall from this conversation came from our receptionist, a nice woman named Maria, who was, like me, a few years older than the recent college grads who we ate lunch with. I liked Maria. She was easy to talk to, good at her job, if a bit ignorant of world affairs at times.

A proud daughter of Italian immigrants, Maria wondered that day about why black people had such a hard time moving up in the world, when her family and other Italian-Americans managed to find their way in the world and be successful. It was obvious that in her opinion, black people just weren't trying hard enough, or had some deficiency that was holding them back.

Listening to her, I got that feeling that I get when I'm uncomfortable with a conversation or am witnessing an argument or physical confrontation. My nerves jangled, my skin got hot and my brain seethed with disgust. But I didn't say anything, couldn't think of what to say that would get my point across without making Maria feel bad. See, I don't ever want to make people feel bad. Because then they'll say something back, and either I won't have an answer, or I'll get too mad too quickly and end up saying something nasty.

I've thought many times over the years about the things Maria said. I've come up with replies that would've, at the least, made Maria think for a few seconds about what she'd said.

Now, all these years later, I have an answer for her. Sure, it's more than 500 pages long and has taken me weeks to read, but Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration provides irrefutable proof of the misery that black people endured for the 100 years after slavery ended, at the hands of white politicians, lawmakers, law enforcement, employers, everyday people on the street.

"You wanna know why black people have had so much difficulty getting ahead in America?" I would ask Maria now. "Because white people treated them like shit at every possible turn, and that was in the good times. Lynchings, Jim Crow laws, unfair wages and housing opportunities, refusal to allow them to drink from the same fountains or ride in the same train cars (and countless other methods of separate and unequal treatment) -- setting up an entire system designed to keep black people from making anything of themselves."

None of this information is new to people who have any clue about the history of race relations in the United States. But when you read page after page of first-hand accounts of the unimaginable suffering that the descendants of slaves went through, it makes it far too real.

But Wilkerson's book is so much more than just a recounting of terrors and heartbreak. The author interviewed more than 1,200 people in order to get as complete a picture as possible of what people in different parts of the South did to escape North or West and make a new life. Out of all of these folks, she chose three as the "leads" in the story of millions of people who made the brave and sometimes heart-rending choice to leave their homes and take a chance in someplace new.

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney left Mississippi and went to Chicago; George Swanson Starling fled Florida for New York City; and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster bolted Louisiana for Los Angeles.

Each had a different reason for leaving: Gladney and her husband escaped after somebody close to them was beaten for committing a crime that turned out never to have occurred; Starling felt threatened after agitating for better wages in the citrus groves; and Foster felt stifled in the Deep South and fulfilled his longtime dream of going to Hollywood.

All of them faced discrimination in their new cities, and hard times getting started and becoming even a little bit successful. And while they missed the people, food, culture and landscapes of their hometowns, they never regretted migrating away from the brutality of the South.

Wilkerson tells their tales with such intimacy and beauty, providing incredible details at every turn of their lives and hardships and triumphs. I felt so connected to each of the three protagonists, and learned so much about a huge chapter of this nation that I knew next to nothing about beforehand.

I have no idea what, if anything, Wilkerson is working on now. I imagine she's got something in the works. Whatever it is, I'm sure I'll read it.

I've gone on too long. Just go read the book.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


I'm happy to report that after six weeks, I have set aside my crutches. The surgeon told me yesterday that my recovery is coming along well, and that I'm ready for the next phase.

The doctor said I might want to try one crutch for a while, or even two if the pain is too much. But I couldn't wait to ditch the crutches, and so far over the past 28 hours I'm feeling good.

I was half hoping the doctor would tell me I had to use either one crutch or a cane. I would've gone for something like this:

On Monday I'll give the therapist my new prescription. I don't know what that will entail, but he told me on Thursday that once the surgeon gave me the go-ahead for full weight bearing, he'd start pushing me. I've got plenty of work ahead of me, and the doctor said I can expect a few more months before I'm feeling as fully healed as I'm going to get.

My left hip isn't ever going to be 100%. I'm not going to be a runner again. But that's OK. I'll take up swimming or get back to walking. Maybe bike riding. Right now I'm just happy to be limping.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Man am I sick of these crutches.

I've been on them for 5 1/2 weeks now, and I absolutely still need them. All along I'd assumed that I'd be off them at the six-week mark, which would be the end of this week. I have an appointment with the surgeon on Friday, which is a day after the six week anniversary of my hip surgery. But my physical therapist told me a few days ago that it's likely the surgeon will instruct me to use one crutch (or a cane) for a while before making the transition to full weight bearing.

I don't know for sure that's what the surgeon is gonna tell me, but I suspect it will be. If he gives me that choice, I'm tempted to go for the cane, so I can be wicked dope like Prime Minister Pete Nice.

My dad, who's 84, uses a black cane with a silver snake head on top. I don't think he'd part with it, but I'd like to rent one like that.

I'm glad I'm able to drive despite using crutches. Fifteen years ago I tore my Achilles tendon and couldn't drive for a few months. That sucked.

But there's just so much I can't do, or can't do as well as I'd like. I get very frustrated trying to do the simplest things, like clear the dinner table, or empty the dishwasher, or carry a book or a magazine from one room to the next. Last week I was trying to pick up some of the kids' books and toys from an ottoman in the living room, and lost my balance, and ended up dropping the crutches and falling arm first onto the ottoman.

Of course, I blamed my mishap on the books and toys, admonishing the kids to clean their stuff up so I wouldn't trip and almost fall on my face. I've always had a low threshold for frustration with simple things that don't go right, and while for the most part during my recovery I feel as though I've let little things slide by, lately I've been letting those issues bug me too much.

If I knew that at the end of my time on crutches, and after several weeks of PT and taking some time to get back in the swing of things that I'd be feeling better than I did before my surgery, perhaps I wouldn't let myself get frustrated. But I know that's not the case. The surgeon cleaned torn cartilage out of my hip joint, but he didn't repair it. He also shaved down the head of my femur, so it won't impinge on the joint.

But I notice the same physical issues now that I did before the surgery: clicking sound in my hip, discomfort in my groin, low-back pain. I know that I have to work with a personal trainer at some point to get on a good fitness program, so that will help. But I'm not going to be a runner again, and I fear that eventually my left hip will get worse and that I might need to go bionic at some point.

Maybe I'm just letting myself get a bit down because I've been house-bound for too long. I can't wait 'til the kids go back to school, so I can get to writing and figuring out what the heck I'm gonna do to get back into the work force.

OK, here's a reward for reading my rant. All this talk about canes and watching rap videos led me to this video, which ain't safe for work: Public Enemy, Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane (get it?):

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Heavy Reading

I've been in a great reading groove for quite some time now. I'm on my 13th book since the beginning of the year, and it's one I've been anticipating for a long while.

Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns has been on my radar since it came out three years ago. In this massive undertaking, Wilkerson, who in 1994 became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize while working as the Chicago bureau chief for The New York Times, tells the story of the emigration of African Americans from the South to the North and West that took place from World War I until the early '70s.

During that half century, approximately six million people fled the brutally repressive conditions in the Jim Crow south for cities ranging from Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and New York, to Los Angeles, Oakland and Houston. They didn't know what they would find upon their arrival, and often times they surely discovered that conditions weren't much better than what they'd known back home.

I've just barely cracked this book, so this isn't a review. I just wanted to get across how excited I am to be reading this book. I'll admit that I knew next to nothing about this amazing chapter in America's history. I was aware that black Southerners headed north seeking work, and that countless Delta guitarists turned Chicago into the capital of the blues.

But I had no idea of the scope of the exodus, and never thought about the incredible bravery involved in taking part. Entire families left everything behind because they were so sick of being harassed, beaten, threatened and humiliated by white folks. Sometimes just the men left in search of work; at times it was just women. All of them went seeking something better, a place where they could spread their wings a bit, have a chance at moving upward.

Wilkerson interviewed more than 1,200 people while researching and writing this book. She uses the riveting information from their stories to build the base of the 500-plus page book, while focusing on three individuals whose stories she tells in rich, rich detail.

Here she explains her process:

I may post more about this book as I read it, and most likely something when I'm all done. I can say this, though. I recommend it already and I'm only 35 pages in.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

On the Mend

I had my surgery a week ago, and things are going better than I'd anticipated. While I'm still taking pain medication, I'm not hurting as much as I thought I would be. I was imagining discomfort and inconvenience comparable to when I had my Achilles tendon repaired 15 years ago. Thankfully, arthroscopic hip surgery is much easier to deal with.

I've been reading quite a bit for the past seven days, continuing a long streak of cranking through books. Yesterday, I finished Bill Bryson's I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away, a collection of essays that are mostly funny observations about adjusting to life in the U.S. compared to Europe.

I moved right on to David Comfort's The Rock & Roll Book of the Dead: The Fatal Journeys of Rock's Seven Immortals, which a friend of Beth's picked up from the YMCA's discard bin. Seriously. Somebody left this book behind after a workout and apparently enough time went by that the Y put it out for anyone to take.

The book spins tales of the lives and deaths of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Jerry Garcia. I'm knee-deep in the Hendrix saga, which is interesting in terms of just how messed up he was mentally and pharmaceutically.

Surprisingly, I haven't been watching much TV while sitting in my living room nook, surrounded by my drugs, water, cell phone, house phone, books, magazines and computer. The only thing I've watched is some episodes of "Wilfred" from my DVR, and, occasionally, the local news.

OK, after dinner I've taken to watching "The Six Million Dollar Man" or "Charlie's Angels" reruns, but I swear, that's it. And, of course, the Red Sox.

I've also done a bit of writing. I'm working on a short story for my buddy Jim's next planned anthology, which focuses on travel. He published his first collection, Movable Feasts, earlier this year.

Much to my family's chagrin, I've been shuffling around the house, and out on the porch and front yard, while wearing my anti-embolism socks and brown slippers. I really look like an old man, let me tell ya. I believe today is the last day I need to wear the socks....

It won't be long before I'll be able to do this:

Friday, July 26, 2013

Hey Victor!

(From the movie "Smoke Signals," starring Adam Beach and written by Sherman Alexie, based on one of his short stories. I saw this movie when it came out in 1998 and to this day whenever the name Victor comes up anywhere, I imitate the goofy, braided dude in these clips.)

Sometimes it takes a long time, and a little bit of persistence, to prove you're not crazy. Not right, perhaps, but also not insane.

Roughly 20 years ago I maintained to just about anybody who would listen, that international pop superstar Prince had changed his name to Victor. This was just prior to the Purple One's decision to become known as an unpronounceable symbol. Obviously, my voice was ridiculed, lost in the clamor about how ridiculous (or awesome, depending on how you felt about Mr. Little Red Corvette's music, fashion and attitude) it was that Prince was changing his name to a provocative glyph.

Some people thought Prince made the change just to prove how Prince-y he was, that he didn't care about names and that, dammit, he could do whatever he wanted. I wasn't a Prince fan at the time, but even I had to admit that he seemed somehow sexier now that he'd shed the name that us mere mortals used, in favor of an otherworldly emblem.

Why did Prince change his name? In part because, under terms of his contract with Warner Bros., he owed the label five albums. He wanted the freedom to explore, to not toil under the demand of creating hits. So he figured by using the symbol, he could release music on a smaller label, and fulfill his Warner contract with music from his massive vault.

For more on the contract tussle, read this.

An artist as prolific and talented as Prince (I've come around on him since the early '90s, although I don't own a lick of his music) needs to constantly challenge himself. He has no desire to do the same thing, or be called the same thing, forever.

But nobody believed me when I said I'd heard that Mr. Purple Rain had at one point decided to change his name to Victor. I couldn't cite my source, but I knew I'd heard it somewhere. Over the years, this just became one of those things that made me "me." Oh, Dave's the guy who thinks Prince was going to change his name to Victor. Dave's the guy who saw "Brother From Another Planet." Dave's the guy who's into Phantom Tollbooth.

I had a chance to ask the Man himself about this, years ago, but I chickened out.

I was working at Webnoize, where I was a writer and editor. The details of how I was put in touch with His Purple Highness are lost to me, but I may have been working on a story related to the launch of Prince's paid online music club.

I was told that I could only communicate with Prince via AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), an account I didn't have. One of my coworkers, however, did and was more than happy to let me use it. My coworker's last name was Karp, and his AIM screen name incorporated the name. At one point, Prince (who was supposedly using AIM through an associate as well) asked something along the lines of, "Who is this person who's named after a fish?"

I recall that his answers to my questions varied between silly and generally useless, and somewhat helpful. I printed out a partial transcript (I was unable to capture the entire text) and saved that print-out for quite a while. I wish I had kept it, so I could quote from it.

I don't remember whether I seriously considered asking him about the whole Victor thing, but I'm sure I joked about it, and I seem to recall people giving me a hard time after the fact for not broaching the subject.

With all the talk this week about the The Woman Formerly Known as Kate Middleton (now the Duchess of Cambridge) having given the British monarchy an heir to the throne, I got to thinking about good ol' Prince Rogers Nelson.

So I decided, for the first time in a long time, to seek confirmation for my Victor theory. Past efforts on Google, Yahoo! and AltaVista (I told you I've been at this a long time) were fruitless.

Finally this week Google gave me a few hits.

I found an article written by the pop music critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Jim Walsh, on August 16, 1994:

In writing about Prince's song, "The Sacrifice of Victor," which is about abuse the Purple One suffered as a child, Walsh concludes this way: "Wait a sec. Did I say Prince? Scratch that. And forget all those other ones - Symbolina, TAFKAP, Victor; I think I just figured out what to call the guy.

"His name is Lazarus. And he is funky."

And from

"Since the album (with the unpronounceable symbol) began with 'My Name Is Prince' and ended with Prince stating " name will be Victor", many media outlets reported that (the symbol) could be referred to as Victor, some fans even going so far as to show how the symbol could be broken to form the letters V-I-C-T-O-R."

On tour around that time, however, TAFKAP made comments that "my name ain't Prince, and it damn well ain't Victor."

So I was wrong, but I still claim vindication.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Going On the DL

I'm having arthroscopic hip surgery tomorrow, and will be on crutches for as many as six weeks. I will also need physical therapy for roughly the same amount of time. So that translates to perhaps three months of being on the disabled list.

Yesterday I went for a four-mile walk, something I will miss in the next few months. I haven't been able to run in a long time, and my surgeon told me that since I'm not an elite 48-year-old runner, I shouldn't return to that activity. So I've been enjoying walking over the last several months, two or three times a week.

I walk along a path that for much of the time is adjacent to the Charles River. I really enjoy hearing the birds, seeing other walkers, runners, cyclists and kids playing along the banks. I've been monitoring the progress of a new apartment development behind the Stop & Shop.

Simple things like walking up and down the stairs, going to the grocery store and hanging out in the neighborhood will be much more difficult for the next several weeks. I won't be able to amble about taking photos as much, either, which is why I went out today and snapped a bunch of pictures in Chelsea, a small, blue collar city just north of Boston. I'll be posting pictures broken out into a few series on my other blog, The Backside of America, in the near future.

My brother and his family, along with my sister, will be visiting here two weeks after my operation. We plan on doing some things in Boston, but I'll have to take it easy, unfortunately. I'm hoping we can do a duck boat tour and a few other things that won't tax me too much.

I'm going to miss the annual golf tournament in my hometown that I attend every year -- another bummer. I'm going to miss going to a Red Sox game with Owen on August 1st.

And I have no idea how much better I'll feel after the surgery, recovery and therapy. At this point, I'm not even sure exactly what the surgeon will do. I know he'll be cleaning out some torn cartilage that's gumming up my hip. I don't believe he's repairing the tear, but it's conceivable that he will.

The doctor told me I won't be back to 100% at any point, so I don't know what that means. Will I be able to do four-mile walks, three times a week, and not feel the discomfort in my groin, hip and lower back that I often feel? Will I be able to play softball and run the bases a bit?

Only time will tell. What I do know, is that I'm gonna have plenty of time on my hands to post updates here, and to read books, and to write a short story that I promised my buddy Jim Corrigan for his next anthology. Stay tuned....

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Vacation reading?

I don't consult best-seller lists, and rarely read book reviews, whether they be in the Boston Globe or Entertainment Weekly, the only two publications I read regularly that offer such things. And when the hot weather descends and it's time to hit Cape Cod for a week, I don't confer with summer reading suggestions either.

What did I read last week while hanging out on the Cape with Beth, the kids and Beth's family? A light mystery or upbeat biography? A collection of humorous short stories or a memoir about how swimming with dolphins can change your life? Not quite.

I took on Stewart O'Nan's The Circus Fire. An easy, breezy read this ain't.

The book, which came out in 2000, is an achingly complete reconstruction of the events leading up to, during and after the 1944 circus fire in Hartford, CT, that killed 167 people.

I forgot we had the book, and I don't remember who gave it to either Beth or me. I found it in the attic a while ago and put it in my pile of "to read" books. I'd cruised through August Kleinzahler's memoir, Cutty, One Rock, recently, and wanted to take on something a little weightier.

I could've chosen Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns, but I knew I'd never finish it in a week. That will be my next book, after Bill Bryson's I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away, which is a collection of essays that are funny, insightful and easy on the brain.

O'Nan (author of, among many other books, Faithful, a chronicle of the Red Sox' historic 2004 season, which he co-wrote with Stephen King) obviously did a lot of research for The Circus Fire, his first major nonfiction work.

At times, I got lost in the minute details he provides about various victims, both before, during and after the fire. But for the most part, I was engrossed by the history of fires in the circus industry, the details of circus life, the individual stories of courage and heartbreak, and the amazing work investigators did to try and identify victims and solve the case.

I was born in Hartford's St. Francis Hospital in 1965, and grew up 10 miles north of the city. I recall hearing about the fire during the course of my life, but I never knew just how awful it was. Here's a video that will give you just a very basic idea of the horror:

This book is obviously not for everyone. It's a tough read a lot of the time. O'Nan gives in-depth descriptions of the horrendous scenes of struggle and escape from inside the tent; the condition of the survivors and the dead; the agonizing attempt by family members to identify the charred and mangled bodies at the makeshift morgue.

But as a history lesson, it's fascinating. O'Nan details how negligence on the circus operators' parts -- ranging from narrow entrances/exits to animal chutes that blocked easy egress -- led to so many people dying. He also spends time analyzing how people react to unexpected, traumatic situations such as fires, and how they may see flames but since it's so out of the ordinary, their brains don't register the situation right away. O'Nan also talks about how in mob scenes too many people act only in their own interest, and how they too often blindly follow what everyone else is doing, instead of considering other options of escape.

Unfortunately not enough people have learned the lessons that the circus fire offered, as evidenced by events such as the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire in Kentucky in 1977, and The Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island in 2003.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Running on Empty

I ran all the time as a kid -- on the baseball diamond, the football field (which were the same patches of grass at the school next to my house), the street hockey rink (?), at recess. But it wasn't until I was in college that the thought occurred to me of running for no other reason than to stay fit.

Even then, I didn't stick with it. I would run occasionally during the summer, and lift some weights and do push-ups and sit-ups, but I never stuck with it during those years.

I always wanted to be one of those people who ran year-round, no matter what the weather, or how sick or hungover I was. I wanted to have those tight calves and the lung capacity of a horse.

After college, I hiked, went on walks or rode my mountain bike every so often, but I didn't run for many years. After I got married I did a little bit of running, but then in April 1998, seven months after my wedding, I ruptured my Achilles tendon.

Six months after undergoing surgery and rehab, I decided to try running again, but I decided to commit myself to it a little more. The first time I went out, I barely made it half a mile before I had to stop for fear my lungs were going to expel themselves out of the top of my head.

I kept at it, and before too long I was regularly going a few miles, a few times a week. I even had favorite running gear for the colder days: a white sweatshirt that my Uncle George had given me as a Secret Santa gift a few years before. It said "Be alert. The world needs more lerts" on it. I wore it inside-out.

I can't say I ran regularly through the winter, but I definitely stuck with it, on and off, for the longest I'd ever done it. In 2000, Beth and I bought our first house, in Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood, and I continued to run.

In April 2001, I ran my first road race, a 10K in Dedham, Mass., called the James Joyce Ramble. I ran with my buddy Dave, a seasoned runner. Along the course at random points, there were kids doing Irish step dancing, and people dressed in period costumes reading from James Joyce books. It was a great time. After the race, Dave took care of me, fetching me a beer and a donut.

I became enamored of running and doing races. I ran a few 5K's, and then decided to try a half marathon, slated for October 2002.

I ramped up my runs through the late summer and into the fall, and felt good. I knew I should do some sort of cross training or strength training, but I didn't. I finished the half marathon in just under two hours, which I was excited about.

I ran that same race, the BAA Half Marathon, the next two years, and did pretty well. I ran the Ramble and other, shorter races in the next few years.

In 2005, when I turned 40, I decided I'd had enough of the softball I'd been playing for a few years, and give baseball a shot. I'd played Little League and Babe Ruth for seven years, and really missed hardball action.

I played for four years and had a great time, but I managed to injure something each year. The first year it was my groin/abductor muscles. Over those few years I also had hamstring, quad and more groin issues.

I did some physical therapy after the first injury, and strength training on my own at the YMCA off and on during those years. I continued to run on a somewhat regular basis.

I stopped playing baseball in 2009 because it was taking too much time from my family on Sundays in the summer. I got into a more regular running groove, and decided that, after several years off, I would run another half marathon.

I heard about a new race, the Chilly Half Marathon, being run right in my town, Newton, in November. I decided to train for it.

Once again, I had little problem extending my runs. I got up to between 11 and 12 miles a few weeks before the race, then tapered off. I thought about strength training, but didn't do it.

My first Chilly went very well. The weather was cool and I ran a pretty good time, somewhere right around two hours, although I don't remember if it was just under or just over.

In 2011 I decided to run the race again. And once again I blew off any kind of cross training and strength work. The training went pretty well, although I began to feel the miles in my left quad.

I finished the race but was pretty sore and stiff by the end. The pain and discomfort lingered for a few weeks, so I took a break from running. In addition to my quad, I was feeling pain in my groin and weakness just above my left knee.

I found myself wishing that I'd done some strength training.

Over the next several months I alternated between resting or going for walks, and testing things out by going for runs of two or three miles. There were times when I didn't feel much, if any, pain during and after a run, and I was encouraged. Other times, however, I made it only a mile or so before I had to walk, with a bit of a limp.

Finally, last fall I went to my primary care doctor for a physical, which I was overdue for anyway. He said I was in good health, but that my running career was probably over.

I decided I needed a more informed opinion, so I contacted a sports medicine practice. The orthopedist didn't see anything in my x-ray, so he prescribed six weeks of physical therapy.

The therapist theorized that I had a hip condition, although my groin was giving me the most trouble. After six weeks, I realized that not only was my groin not improving, but my hip and back were feeling worse.

Back to the orthopedist, who said I needed to get an MRI. Two weeks after I did so, I returned to his office and he told me I had a tear in my left hip labrum, and that he was sending me to a surgeon.

That guy took a look at the MRI, concurred with the torn labrum, and gave me the low-down on surgery and recovery. Unfortunately, I'll be on crutches up to six weeks after the July 25th surgery. And then I'll need more PT. When I asked the doctor if I'd be able to return to running at some point, he said, "If you were an elite 48-year-old runner, I'd say yes. For the rest of us, however, we need to do something new."

I've been walking two or three times a week for a while now, and while I have some discomfort afterwards, it's manageable. So walking is a post-surgery option. But I don't get enough of a cardiac workout doing that. Swimming seems like a good option, but I know it'll take a long time to build up to a point where I don't hate it.

Biking? I'll have to talk to the doctor and therapist about it.

If you've made it this far, congratulations. Here's a Jackson Browne song that I don't like that much, but which is sorta appropriate:

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book Review: "Blown for Good" by Marc Headley

I will tell you right off the bat that Marc Headley's Blown for Good isn't well written. Headley too often gets bogged down in Scientology jargon and abbreviations, uses way too many exclamation points and can be sloppy, repetitive and ham-handed.

But the story he tells is utterly fascinating.

Like many folks, I was aware before reading this book that Scientology was a weird business masquerading as a religion. I knew that big-name actors such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley were Scientologists, alongside lesser-known names such as the musician Beck and the actor (and Beck's brother-in-law) Giovanni Ribisi.

I knew little, however, about how the everyday Scientologist lived. Headley joined Scientology when was 15, because his mother did. He attended their schools and before too long, moved into one of their West Coast facilities and began working there.

At age 16, Headley became the treasury secretary for the group's Association for Better Living and Education International (ABLE Int -- Scientology loves its acronyms), which controls, among other things, four of Scientology's non-profit organizations.

At age 16, he's in charge of finance for a major organization, but like most people living at Scientology's heavily guarded compound in California, he's unable to have a driver's license.

The fact that Headley, and countless others in the book, are put in charge of projects and departments that they're clearly not qualified for, amazes me. I believe that head Scientologist David Miscavige runs the system this way so that he can come in and look like a genius when his underlings screw up, and then bust them down to slave-level jobs so it takes them a really long time to climb the ladder.

In order to move up the food chain, members are required to take course after course based on the teachings of Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard. They are also regularly "audited," during which they are grilled for hours while hooked up to an E-Meter, which is similar to a lie detector. If they exhibit physical reactions that lead the auditor to believe they're lying, or hiding something, then they don't pass, and have to study some more.

Headley recounts being audited a number of times by Cruise, when the "Top Gun" actor was earning his stripes with Scientology. Members who don't live in one the group's compounds pay thousands of dollars for courses and auditing. This is how Scientology makes its money. Well, that and selling books and videos to members.

I was just astounded at how much of a cult Scientology is. Those who are members of what's called Sea Org wear matching uniforms, live in Scientology-owned housing, often work 100-hour weeks for little or no pay and are warned that if they ever try to leave, they will be cut off from their families who are still in the "religion." Short for Sea Organization, the name Sea Org is rooted in Hubbard's late '60s initiative to teach Scientologists aboard three ships, an effort that many attribute to Hubbard's need to evade the prying eyes of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Internal Revenue Service.

I could go on and on about the mental and physical torture that Sea Org members, and those living in other Scientology encampments, endure, and about how bizarre their litany of courses and organizations and books and films are, as Headley describes them. But I feel as though in doing so I would drive myself crazy.

That's how I felt while reading this book: that I was going insane. The Scientology culture is so claustrophobic and controlling and filled with meaningless jargon -- and I haven't even gone into their belief that all humans have lived past lives going back trillions of years!

I'm sure there are other, better written accounts about life behind Scientology's barricades. I recently added Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion to my Amazon wish list.

If, like me, you get consumed by labyrinthine issues and outraged by how the I.R.S. in 1993 granted tax-exempt religion status to Scientology basically because the revenuers were exhausted by a barrage of Scientology lawsuits, then read this book. Or check out Reitman's book and let me know how it is.

Maybe this video of Supreme Scientolgist David Miscavige and Tom Cruise will convince you to buy a book:

OK, I just watched that video and wow, is Tom Cruise an idiot? Is he a robot? I think he's trying to come across as enthusiastic and serious and committed, but I don't see it or hear it. All I can do is shake my head.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Out of My Hands...for Now

Last week, after more than a year of on-and-off work, I emailed the manuscript of my road trip memoir to six friends and family members. The book isn't done, but I needed to get it out of my hands and in front of the eyes of impartial readers. This is a big step for me.

I spent 10 years writing my first book, (C)rock Stories: Million Dollar Tales of Music, Mayhem and Immaturity. I received some feedback during that process, but I was never confident enough to send the finished product out ahead of time to see what people thought. While I'm proud of the book, I know it would've been better if other folks had looked at it before publication.

I self published that book, and I may do the same with my memoir. I'd like to find a publisher, but no matter which way I go, I want the memoir to be the best possible book it can be. I've already received some helpful feedback, and at least one person has read the entire manuscript. I'm anxious to read the comments he emailed.

In the meantime, I'm working on two short stories in a planned series about growing up in Simsbury, Connecticut. I plan to submit one of the stories to my buddy Jim Corrigan, who's soliciting stories for his second anthology. He recently self published the first one, Movable Feasts, which includes one of my stories.

I'm also moving forward with my children's book. As I write this, Staples is salivating over the order I placed online today to get five copies of a mock-up of the book. Once those are in hand, I'll schedule a meeting with the folks at Ward Maps, who are the official licensing agent for the MBTA. For those who don't know, my book is about riding the MBTA's Green Line in Boston. If the book gets accepted, I plan to write at least three other books in that series.

The picture at the top of this entry is one I took with my first camera on a family trip in 1977. I was 12 years old, and loved boogie vans. I shot that beauty in Salt Lake City. I plan to include that photo in my book, along with others such as the van I traveled in, shots of myself and some of the guys I traveled with, and pictures of me before the trip, when I was fat and had a beard.

I hadn't thought much about including photos in the memoir, because I had none from the trip. I'd brought a camera and shot two rolls of film, but when I went to get them developed, I was told they were blank. That was the same camera I'd used to take the van photo up there, I believe. I threw the camera away in disgust.

But upon reading Satan Is Real, the autobiography by Charlie Louvin, and seeing the pictures he included, I realized I could insert pictures into my book that, while they weren't from the trip (with the exception of one or two taken by somebody else), would contribute to the overall product.

Stay tuned for more about the memoir, as I'll know more about how much more work I have to do once I get more feedback.

In the meantime, please to enjoy Fu Manchu:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Yes, I know that based on the title of this post, you're expecting a treatise on the latest cool music or beard style or organically raised vegetable I've discovered or cultivated or raised.

But, no, this entry is all about aging and the breakdown of the physical body. Or at least about how a guy with flat feet, a repaired Achilles tendon and a family history of leg and back issues is dealing with turning 48.

Nearly two weeks ago I was diagnosed with a labral tear in my left hip. I'd been experiencing pain in my left adductor/groin area since November 2011, after training for and running a half marathon. Over the next 10 months or so I alternately rested, went for walks or short runs and went to the gym. The pain in my groin, and sometimes in my hip and lower back, persisted.

Finally, last fall I went to my primary care doctor for an annual physical. He didn't have much to say about my groin pain, other than, "I think your running career is over. That's OK, you can swim."

I needed more information and clarity, so I made an appointment at a sports medicine practice. The orthopedist there took X-rays, which didn't show anything. He prescribed 6-8 weeks of physical therapy.

Although I was complaining of adductor discomfort, the therapist figured that my hip was the problem. He began to focus his efforts on that area, as well as my lower back. After going twice a week for six weeks, I wasn't noticing any improvement, so he wrote up his observations and sent me back to the orthopedist.

The ortho told me to get an MRI. That experience was quite a trip, and not in a good way. Oh, it wasn't that bad, but sliding into a giant metallic tube that makes awful, grinding and bumping noises for 25 minutes with nothing to do but contemplate the avant gardiness of it all isn't my idea of fun.

After a week off with Beth and the kids in Vermont, I returned to the ortho to get the MRI results. The good news: "You don't have arthritis in your hip. The bad news: you have a tear in your labrum," which is the soft tissue that holds the ball of your hip joint in its socket.

I was experiencing all of the symptoms: a "catching" sensation in my hip, pain in my groin, stiffness or limited range in the hip joint. I've also been feeling weakness just above my left knee, and sometimes a sense of weakness all the way down to my foot.

And, as of Friday, I've got severe back spasms that make me walk like an old man. I've had pain like this before, but it hasn't been this bad in quite some time. I'm trying not to get too bummed about all of it. I've got an appointment with a hip surgeon at the end of this month, and I'm hopeful that before too long I'll get arthroscopic surgery and be on the road to more normal activities.

I'm not sure I'll return to running, although I'd like to. Perhaps I will have to take up swimming.

None of this comes as a surprise to me. Ever since undergoing surgery in 1998 to repair an Achilles tendon that I ruptured playing basketball, I've known that my left leg was more susceptible to stress and strain than my right. Add to that my two flat feet, weakened abdominal muscles from hernias I had as a kid, and my left leg is under some serious strain. father also ripped (but didn't rupture) his Achilles tendon when he was younger (although older than I am now), and has suffered from arthritis and other issues with his back and knees for the last few years at least.

While I'm a bit depressed that I seem to be following in his footsteps at too early an age, I'm confident that surgery and rehab will get me back on track. In the meantime, I need to keep myself in as good a shape as possible, which means doing exercise and strengthening work, and not eating and drinking like a pig.

Now, who wants to talk music, beards and vegetables?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Swing, Batter!

I love spring, especially when it's accompanied by a decent Red Sox team.

Baseball is my favorite sport. I played Little League and Babe Ruth as a kid, as well as countless pick-up games with my older brother and anywhere from one to six of the Keegan brothers who were our best friends growing up. The boys ranged in age from 3 years younger than me to 10 or 12 years older.

On the cusp of turning 40, I decided to try playing again, after 25 years away. I tried out for an over-40 league in Boston, got picked for a team based out of Quincy, and for the next five years had a great time reliving my youth. Sure, I got hurt a few times, and my team wasn't that good, but I had a blast.

I left baseball behind when my son, Owen, decided he might want to try Little League. He and I had been playing quite a bit of front-yard whiffle ball at that point, and I told him he should make the move to baseball.

He was unsure, though, until I told him I would help coach his team. So, in the spring of 2010, he made his debut on the diamond, and I made my debut behind the bench.

I co-coached with a great guy named Bruce, and between the two of us, along with a handful of helpful dads, we had a fun and somewhat productive season. I couldn't have been happier that Owen was playing alongside some of his friends. It just felt good to be out there on the field, teaching the game to a new generation.

Owen skipped summer ball that year, but played in the fall. There are fewer teams for fall ball, which meant there wasn't one for me to coach. Owen landed on a team helmed by the fathers of two of his classmates. I was more than happy to watch from the sidelines. Owen struggled at the plate, but made some plays in the field and had a good time.

He played again in the spring of 2011, once again coached by other dads. His interest was flagging, but he stuck with it. He and I continued to play whiffle ball in the yard.

He decided to try summer ball that year, and once again I offered that I would help coach. As it turned out, I ended up as head coach, which wasn't the position I was hoping for. I knew Owen's interest was a bit low, so I'd wanted to just help out, in case he decided to drop out.

Two dads whom I'd never met before coached the first two games, because we were on vacation. After that, either one or both of them showed up to help out. Our team was definitely a bit like the Bad News Bears. Some of the kids had never played baseball before; others, like Owen, weren't that into it. And a few enjoyed playing, but would whine and complain if they didn't get to pitch, or play the position they wanted.

We had one girl on our team, and like in "Bad News Bears," she was one of our best players. She only played half the season, however, before going away for the summer.

The season ended on a low note, as I couldn't get Owen to attend the final game with me, and we only had 6 or 7 players.

It's been almost two years since Owen last played baseball. But we have continued, somewhat regularly, to play whiffle ball in our front yard. This season, the dynamics have shifted.

Owen, who's almost 11, has gotten bigger and stronger, and can now pummel most of the pitches I throw. Granted, I'm not bringing my "A game" from the mound, but it's cool to see him getting better.

We've also been joined by a few neighborhood kids, which means that I often get to take a break and hang out with adults in the neighborhood.

A few weeks ago, after playing with a few of these kids, Owen said to me, "We should have a neighborhood whiffle ball game."

"What a great idea!" I told him. So we sent out an Evite, and this Sunday we'll gather on a field at a former school across the street from our neighborhood, and play with kids and grown-ups from our road and nearby streets.

I'll admit that I was bummed when Owen lost interest in playing baseball. I envisioned going to his games, eating snack shack burgers and commiserating with the other parents about how the team was doing. I imagined watching him develop into a better player, having loads of fun and learning about teamwork.

But that didn't happen.

He likes whiffle ball, and watching the Red Sox with me, both of which are great things, especially since I know it won't be long before he moves on from these as well.

I'm just so proud of him for coming up with the idea for a neighborhood game. He worked with me on picking an Evite template, and putting together the invite list. He's got ideas about how the game should go, and he's excited by all of it.

He's growing up, which I find both exciting and frightening (because it means I'm getting old). While baseball didn't turn out to be the sport he wants to play, he has been taking part in a youth track club at the YMCA, so maybe that's something he'll pursue.

No matter which direction he goes, I'll be right behind him. Just one more thing....


Saturday, April 13, 2013

I Heart Vermont

Somehow, we've never taken our kids to Vermont. Amelia's not yet 6, but Owen will be 11 next month and he's never been to the Ben & Jerry's State. Well, we're gonna rectify that.

As a kid, I traveled to Vermont with my family with some regularity. My grandmother lived in Perkinsville, a small village in Weathersfield, just a few miles outside Springfield. She lived on the top floor of a big old house; one of her sisters, Helen, owned the house with her husband, Henry. They lived downstairs.

I loved playing football and whiffle ball with my brother in the driveway, or rolling down the hill in the side yard. I loved looking at my grandmother's old furniture and knick knacks, and staying up late and goofing off in the same room as my brother and sister.

We would sometimes eat at the Idlenot Restaurant in Springfield. Part of a small chain, the eatery was similar to Friendly's. I also recall on at least one occasion stopping by the A&W Root Beer Drive-In to get a drink or snack.

In 1988, on the one-year anniversary of our first date, Beth and I went to Springfield. My grandmother moved out of the Perkinsville house and into my parents' house when I was in high school. I wanted to see what her house looked like, and soak up the atmosphere of a place of which I had great memories. The house had been turned into a bed and breakfast, but wasn't open when we stopped by, but it was cool to see it.

P>Beth and I stayed at a motel not too far away from the house. I thought it was great that we could feed apples to the horses there. Beth didn't want to get too close to them because they had "people teeth." That night, we tried to eat dinner at a restaurant called Penelope's, but discovered after sitting down that it was too expensive. We had a cheese plate and beers, then picked up a pizza and some ice cream on the way back to the motel.

In the ensuing years, Beth and I made a handful of trips further north, to Burlington. We had a great time visiting one of her college roommates, hanging out in bars and shopping for records, clothes and silly souvenirs.

But for some reason, we haven't been in the state in a long, long time.

So tomorrow we're heading up to Smuggler's Notch for a few days with the kids, which will be quite a change from the trip to New York City we've done the last three April vacations.

There's still snow on the ground in Vermont, so we might do some tubing or snow-shoeing. The resort has an indoor entertainment area, so we'll definitely spend some time there. There are also pools, so you know we'll be hanging there.

We also plan to go to Burlington on one day, and to Waterbury another, mostly for the Ben & Jerry's factory tour.

I hope we can find some real Vermont flavor, as well, such as hitting a maple sugaring house or hiking in the beautiful mountains, but I can't guarantee we'll be able to convince the kids to do that.

No matter what we do, it'll be good to return to the Green Mountain State. It's been too long.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review -- The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America

Reading a memoir about traveling across America, while simultaneously working on the same type of book, can be dangerous, especially when that memoir is written by Bill Bryson, who, in addition to being a best-selling author, is the chancellor of England's Durham University.

The book -- The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America -- is the second of Bryson's I've read, the first being A Walk In the Woods: Rediscovering America On the Appalachian Trail. I really liked the Appalachian Trail book, in which Bryson walked long stretches of the at-times grueling, world-famous trail that runs for approximately 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine (I wrote a little about the book, and my childhood spent playing amid the trees last year; see February 13, 2012, "Woods").

In A Walk In the Woods, Bryson spins a great tale of traveling with an out-of-shape friend, who provides comic relief. Bryson's descriptions of the wonderment, hardship and fear they faced during their adventure are terrific, as are his portraits of the landscapes through which they pass.

There are times when he gets a bit grumpy about things, understandably so given the challenge he set out for himself. And he gets a bit self-righteous about preservation at times. But overall, I really enjoyed the book.

So I had high hopes for The Lost Continent.

And I was somewhat let down. Sure, Bryson's trademark wit and self-deprecation are there. And his descriptions of the places he visits and travels past, and of people whom he meets, are vivid and funny. But there's a meanness to this book that I wasn't expecting.

Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. After dropping out of college and traveling a bit through Europe, he moved to England in 1973. He got married, and he and his wife briefly moved to the States. But in 1977, he moved back to the UK. In 1995, he, his wife and kids moved stateside, to New Hampshire. Then, in 2003, he went back across the pond.

He wrote The Lost Continent during two trips across the States in 1987 and 1988. At that point, he'd been in England for a decade, and was obviously used to the people, the culture, the history, the food, the states of entertainment, retail and travel in the Old Country.

So it's understandable that he'd compare things between the New World and Europe. In the book, he rarely makes direct comparisons between the two worlds, but his harsh statements about how fat and boring he finds most people in the States, and how disappointing he finds many of the points of interest that he visits make it plain that he believes his native land comes up short when held against England, et al.

American are fat. They're stupid. They don't care about real history, only about fake representations at sites designed only to separate you from your money. There's too much landscape in between towns out West. Southern people speak too slowly. On and on he goes.

I'm not gonna lie to you: when I traveled across the country in a van with three friends in 1988 I made many of these same observations. But I expect a world-class writer to do a better job, to get off his high horse and engage with people, and find the stories behind the facades.

Still, I found enjoyment in the book. Bryson's a great writer, funny and observant and quite capable of tying his road trip experiences to moments from his childhood. In fact, the comparisons he draws between trips he took with his parents and siblings to some of the same locations he revisits as an adult, are some of the funniest and most poignant in the book.

Evidently, he returned to Iowa after his father died, and then took the road trip before flying back to England. It makes sense that the stories about his father and family trips are so well done.

I found myself wishing I could travel to some of the places Bryson visited, as well as to revisit some of the spots that I'm writing about in my memoir.

Unlike Bryson, when I traveled from Connecticut down to Florida, across to New Orleans, up to Memphis and out to New Mexico, I wasn't planning on writing a book. Sure, I kept a very basic journal and recorded some conversations on cassette tape, but 25 years after the fact, those sources aren't as complete as I wanted them to be.

In reading Bryson's cross-country tale, I'm jealous of the detail he includes, and the seeming ease with which he makes me laugh. Honestly, though, I'm doing a better job than I ever could have imagined with my memoir. I've spent 11 months on the book, and have arrived at a fairly complete picture of the trip I took, and how I felt about things while on the road. I've also managed to tie in other events from my childhood and from high school and college into the whole affair.

So, I recommend the book, but with the above caveats. And I look forward to reading I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes On Returning to America After 20 Years Away, Bryson's book about returning to the U.S. with his family in the mid-'90s.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


I'm not at all religious, but in recent years I've come to really appreciate churches for their beauty.

As a kid, I went to church school at a few different houses of worship: the First Church of Christ in my hometown, Simsbury, Connecticut, and the Unitarian Church of Hartford, which is hands-down one of the oddest looking churches you'll ever see. Check it out.

My parents eventually made the move from the latter church to the Universalist Church of West Hartford. There, I was in the youth group through 8th grade. I can't say I particularly enjoyed church school or the youth group, or learned any lifelong lessons, although I think I turned out alright. The best part of the youth group was a pretty girl named Johnny, who was really nice, and who, on a car ride back from the group's visit to the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, had to sit on my lap. I think she was supposed to be in the second car, but ended up with me and a bunch of other boys. I was the envy of the other kids on that day, if not on any others.


For quite some time now, I've found myself drawn to churches. The buildings, not the teachings. I love the tall, gleaming spires, the clock towers and the statues. I appreciate both grand edifices and intimate chapels.

I decided recently to expand my photographic horizons beyond cute pictures of my kids and not-so-cute shots of collapsing buildings and abandoned railroad tracks, and begin documenting churches that catch my eye.

Below are the first two photos, with some information about the buildings. Look for more shots here on occasion.

Parish of St. Paul #3

The Parish of St. Paul, Newton Highlands, Mass.

From the Parish of St. Paul web site:

"On the first day of May, 1883, ground was broken for a chapel at the corner of Walnut Street and Lake Avenue. On Thursday, July 19, 1883, an opening service was held in the new chapel. Cost of the chapel was $4,100, including the land, and the new parish began life with a mortgage for $1,500.

"In 1888, the parish purchased the land on which the present church is located for the construction of the first rectory. Within the next decade, additions were made to the chapel and an organ fund started. But the growing parish had outgrown the chapel by the turn of the century.

"In 1902, the rectory was moved to Columbus Street and the chapel was rolled across Walnut Street on logs to where the church stands today. The chancel was enlarged, and the left transept was built to provide a connection to the proposed parish house. The first service in the new church was held on Sunday, October 12, 1902."

First Church in Belmont

First Church in Belmont, Belmont, Mass.

From The First Church in Belmont web site:

"The church building, erected near today’s post office, was dedicated on October 28, 1857. The Town was then founded in 1859, and the church spire can be seen in the Belmont Town Seal. In 1890, a new stone-based church church was nearly complete across the street when the original burned. The bell tower contains the official town clock."

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Peek Behind the Memoir Curtain

I'm knee-deep in my road trip memoir. Sometimes I feel a bit schizophrenic, living in The Now Times with my wife and kids; in 1988, when I traveled from New England to the Southwest with three buddies; and in the future, when I can revisit some of the places we hit along the way.

I like the way the book is coming together, but I still have plenty of work to do on it. I have no idea if it's a viable product for a traditional publisher. I plan to push it in that direction, but will go the print on-demand route if I have to, as I did with my first book, (C)rock Stories: Million Dollar Tales of Music, Mayhem and Immaturity.

Over the past 11 months of working on the book, I've done a lot of research online. I've looked into campgrounds and motels where we stayed, checked out maps of our route, discovered tourist attractions that I wish we'd visited, and scoped out bars and clubs where we hung out.

So I figured I'd share some of what I found in the latter category, as that's the stuff that I find most interesting.

Unfortunately, some of the places we went to have been lost in the mists of time. Either I forget them, or they simply don't exist 25 years after the fact.

There was the Goal Post Cafe near Bucknell University, for instance. There, on the first night of our trip, we saw a band called The Plague. Sounds like a punk band, no? Well, it wasn't. The bar may still be there, but I can't find any trace of it online.

In Philly, we spent a great night at a place that I remember as being called Frank's. But my good friend Jay Breitling, who knows a thing or twelve about boozing it up in the City of Brotherly Love, wonders whether we were at Dirty Frank's, which is a legendary watering hole. I have no idea where we were, but we had a blast drinking and watching three of the funniest guys in the world pump quarters into one of those "claw" games where you try to win stupid prizes like stuffed bears and different stuffed bears.

In Myrtle Beach, we hung out at the Rock Burger. Owned by one of the guys from lame-o band Firehouse (not to be confused with awesome band fIREHOSE), the bar had hot, friendly waitresses who kept trying to sell t-shirts to my buddies (Andy, Pete, John) and me. The place closed in '95, but someone opened it up about 10 years later in a new spot.

We also spent time at a placed called Pier 14, which I have no memory of, and Buddy's Place, where we heard a redneck singer in the band use the "N-word" after the lone black guy left the bar. The band then proceeded to play "(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay," which of course was written and performed by one of the most amazing performers of all time, Otis Redding -- who's black.

Continuing south, we hit Athens, Georgia, home of R.E.M. There, we hit the legendary 40 Watt Club, which R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck used to co-own. We saw a few bands there, neither of which I liked. I sorta, kinda tried to hit on a chick from a band called Ray Ugly, and because I was so drunk, I thought she was sorta, kinda good looking. Pete assured me she wasn't, but she was nice enough to take us to a party, but I passed out in the van soon after we got there.

Andy struck out with the bartender.

Our home base while in Athens was a great Mexican restaurant/bar called Gus Garcia's. The bartenders there took a shine to us, and even gave us some free shots. One of them told us, as he was coming on to his shift, that there was a Klan rally about 10 miles outside of town. I don't know if he was jerking our chains, but we decided to stay put.

The place doesn't seem to be in business anymore, unfortunately.

Naturally, when we hit New Orleans, the pace of drinking and insanity picked up a bit. We hit a bunch of bars, the most memorable of which was a strip club called Big Daddy's.

Compared to the pathetic joints I'd been to in Connecticut, Big Daddy's was ornate, and the dancers were almost attractive. We were drawn to the place by the mannequin swinging out over the sidewalk from a window of the bar. There was also a swing inside the bar where live girls did rotating shifts.

We didn't spend much time there, but we sure did spend too much money on drinks, that's for sure.

Read all about Big Daddy's sordid past here. This place is also deadzo.

The Rum Boogie Cafe in Memphis holds the distinction of being the place where I spent the most time drinking in one location, in my life. John and I spent eight hours there drinking beer and Jagermeister, whooping it up for Mojo Buford, who, unbeknownst to us at the time, had been Muddy Waters' harp player at one time.

Here's a taste of Mr. Mojo:

Andy and Pete started at the Rum Boogie with us around 3:30 but left four hours later for a professional wrestling event.

We parted ways (temporarily) with Andy in Memphis. The next bars that John, Pete and I hung out in were in Albuquerque.

There were two bars we frequented during out three-month hitch in the Land of Enchantment.

El Madrid was right around the corner from the house we rented. It looked like this, and still does.

We shot pool there, drank cheap beer and saw some mostly unmemorable bands and even a performance poet. The mural is killer, isn't it?

We also spent time at the Fat Chance Bar & Grill. There, we saw local bands including Cracks In the Sidewalk, whose bass player was incredibly hot, and A Murder of Crows, who kicked a large amount of ass.

Here's a 1986 video from public access TV of Cracks In the Sidewalk. They start playing around the 1:15 mark, and when they finish, another band comes on. The bass player doesn't look hot in this video, but trust me, she was.

Alas, the Fat Chance closed in 1997.

So there's a little taste of what I'm brewing up in my memoir.

Friday, March 8, 2013


Driving home from Connecticut last weekend I saw gold everywhere along the highway.

In the woods, buried under generations of leaves. Scattered across the fields, hidden 'neath the soil. Even deep below the foundations of houses.

I found myself wishing for a metal detector, or at least a very good and magical shovel. And some clones, so I could be everywhere at once, digging in my backyard; exploring sites in my hometown in Connecticut, with which I've become newly fascinated with in recent months; stopping at random points in any town or city and taking pictures, poking around for pieces of history, learning as much as I can.

I've long had a fascination for archaeology, for ancient and not-so-ancient history. I also love old buildings, whether in good condition, or in a state of ramshackleness. I post about these sorts of things on my other blog, The Backside of America.

As a kid I collected coins, a hobby that began when I was digging in the dirt at the field complex where I played Little League baseball. I found a Mercury dime, something I'd never seen before. Soon I was poking through my piggy bank, my father's coin wallet, his box of stuff from his Army stint in Europe, looking for cool old coins. My Grandma Jo helped me by sending along old pennies and special sleeves to store them in.

I had a brief stint as a bottle cap collector, as well. I would scour the parking lot of the school behind my house where the hoods drank beer, blasted loud music and tinkered with their muscle cars at night and on weekends. I walked along the railroad tracks looking for caps to add to my collection, which I housed in a shoe box.

Now I take photos of rusting cars, abandoned railroad tracks, hulking old factories covered in graffiti and the like. But I feel like that's not enough. I want artifacts. I want to dig in the earth and discover old coins, buttons, arrowheads and pottery sherds (I prefer "shards," but anything I read in archaeology publications uses "sherds").

I've been volunteering at the local branch of the National Archives, which satisfies my history jones somewhat. But I long to get involved in a real dig. I found out that the City of Boston has an archaeology program that welcomes volunteers. I may check that out.

I subscribe to American Archaeology, a magazine published by the New Mexico-based Archaeological Conservancy. They offer various tours throughout North America, and one day I'm going to join one.

In the meantime, I'm committed to taking pictures to preserve pieces of history before they disappear. And I really want to get my kids involved at some level, so they'll gain an appreciation for the past.

It's not glamorous, but it sure looks like fun. And I dig that WBUR used a Consonant song for this clip.

Monday, March 4, 2013


Yesterday, just four days before the eighth anniversary of the death of a childhood friend, I learned about the passing of a woman I knew back in the mid-'80s. Julie was 48; my childhood friend, Bene, was 39 when he died in 2005.

Bene and Julie knew each other, too, a little bit. I grew up with Bene (pronounced "Benny"). We played on the same Little League team, the Yankees; toiled together in the junior high school band, he on trumpet, me on clarinet; and went through all the highs, lows and craziness of high school with the rest of our crew -- Andy, John and three guys named Steve.

All of us met Julie, her sister Laurie, Laurie's boyfriend, Jimmy, and one or two other guys at the Hartford Drive-In in May 1984. I forget what movies we saw, but they were definitely schlocky horror flicks along the lines of "Last House On the Left" and "Slumber Party Massacre."

My friends and I were hanging outside the car drinking beer, munching on movie snacks and goofing off when the girls and their friends approached us. They had applied fake blood on their mouths, and were squirting it around at each other and at us. We'd never met them before, but we all became instantly friendly.

We all hung out that night, and they invited us to a party they were having the following weekend. I told them I was going to be out of town, but I urged my friends to go.

The next time I saw Julie and Laurie was at an Echo & the Bunnymen concert that summer. Once again we had fun just hanging out, being goofy and digging the music.

Over the next four years I saw the two of them off and on, both at concerts and parties in Connecticut, and when they came up to visit me at college in Keene, NH.

The two sisters were always a blast to hang out with -- fun-loving, outrageous, spontaneously wacky, and into cool music. After I graduated from college in 1987, I didn't see them as much. After I moved to Boston with my girlfriend (now wife), Beth, I lost touch completely with Julie and Laurie.

Until Facebook.

Laurie found me first, and I quickly added her and Julie as friends. It was great to reconnect, catch up with each other and talk once in a while about the "old days."

I found out a few years ago that Julie was sick with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease. Still, despite her condition, I could tell from the photos and status updates that she and Laurie posted on Facebook, that Julie still had her fun-loving spirit.

Although she lived about 30 minutes away from me, outside Boston, we didn't reconnect face-to-face. I regret that.

I never knew Julie well, but I'll always remember her as a really nice person who was quick to smile.

As for my friend Bene, I'll always remember him for his honesty, his humor, his athleticism, his laugh and his willingness to drive all of us around in his Galaxie 500 just looking for something fun to do, like a party, a mini golf game, or a drive-in movie.