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.