Conceptual Irregularities

The modern composer refuses to die – Edgar Varese



The Grange Concert

Copake has a Grange, #935 to be precise.  From Wikipedia:  “The Grange, officially named The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, is a social organization in the United States that encourages families to band together to promote the economic and political well-being of the community and agriculture.[1] The Grange, founded after the Civil War in 1867, is the oldest American agricultural advocacy group with a national scope. The Grange actively lobbied state legislatures and Congress for political goals, such as the Granger Laws to lower rates charged by railroads, and rural free mail delivery by the Post Office.”  Essentially, in Copake, we are a community organization that does stuff to enhance the quality of life in the community.  It’s a membership organization like the Lions or the Elks; we put on events and we reach out to the community, doing food drives, cleaning up roadways and the like.

And like most Granges, it has a Grange Hall.  In this Grange Hall, built in 1903, we have dinners, movies, baking and cooking contests (we have a full service industrial kitchen), plays and concerts.  Our grange hall has a theatre with a box office and stage and green rooms.  It has about 100 seats and the wooden walled stage sounds great.  There is a piano, a sound system and some lighting.  There is a whole common room next to the theater where we have dinners and dances.

Before we moved out here, knowing that there was a Grange, I knew I wanted to start an open mic at the Grange.  I have been intrigued by the concept of the grange hall as a rural community gathering place for years, dating back to my song Peaceful & Clean with the line “Violent gyrations at the Grange Hall Dance.” This would give me a way to play music out regularly without having to go through the onerous process of constantly seeking out gigs. 

In Boston, in the nineties, I spent a lot of time at the Cantab Lounge where Geoff Bartley held a legendary open mic on Monday night where many performers got their starts. I loved playing there and met a lot of musicians. I started playing in several bands as a result of that experience. It was a great social life and a great musical experience.

So, out here in the hinterlands, I run an open mic. It is the first Friday of every month. We tried some other days but we landed on Friday. We’ve been going since June 2018. The pandemic got a little intermittent but we powered through. Originally we were lucky if we got a dozen people and the evening would mostly consist of me playing. Now we get 30-40 people and a full night of performers. We have a good amount of really talented writers and poets. We have a group of tween children who come and play instruments, sing, and excerpt musicals. And we have a bunch of excellent singer songwriters who play individually and in groups. I get to play with some of these people, notably House Band, Noyes and the Boyes, and The Solar Plexus.

Noyes And The Boyes
Damon Clift – Didgeridoo
Chrystal’s Angels
Roger and Lenny
Geneva O’Hara

This March we preempted the open mic to present a concert by my ukulele teacher, Charissa Hoffman. She was coming through town up from Nashville on her first tour since graduating Berklee College of Music in Boston. I thought she would be a good fit for the Grange so I arranged to have a concert. We had another young performer, Geneva O’Hara open for her and I backed up Geneva on guitar. We had about 40 people who loved it and it was a great success.

The best thing was having all these people staying at our house. Geneva and her girlfriend, Shelby, and her mom, Tami’s best friend, Maria, all slept scattered throughout the first floor and Charissa and her band, JJ Halpin and Garrett Goodwin, stayed upstairs in the guest rooms. It was the last night of their tour and after a week of couches and floors they deserved something nicer.

Tami made us chili for dinner and egg casseroles and vegan French toast for breakfast. I love having the opportunity to show off our house and Tami’s cooking. It’s great having young people here. It was also great to be able to play with such great musicians. I’m hoping to make it a regular thing.

Charissa Hoffman-Panic Attack On A Tour Bus In Philly

Nancy Doyle 1962-2021

I could hear Nancy’s voice amidst the din of the party at Neil’s last weekend.

It’s been a couple of months since she passed in January. I guess, for the most part, we’re ok with it. We were expecting it for years. She had stage four ovarian cancer and the prognosis wasn’t good. This came on top of the MS she had been battling for years.

Neil seems no worse for wear and is getting on with his life, traveling and fixing up the place. He finally gets to do his pond, an endeavor of which Nancy was not particularly fond.

At Shiro

It was the first time that Neil, Tony, Tami and I had all gotten together since she died. This little coterie has been our core for twenty years now. There have been so many dinner parties, Nancy cooking up a storm, the rest of us sitting around or helping in one way or another. We had a ritual on Friday nights: get out of work, ride the T home, get the stuff for the weekend together (usually masterfully handled by Tami) and drive the Mass Pike for 3 or 4 hours with Jiffy Pop and come in the door at Knapp House to be greeted by Nancy in mid story and Neil mixing cocktails. Tony would call from the Lee rest stop to let us know where he was. It was Friday Night in Copake and it was the best.

Now that Tami and I live out here, it’s not the same. There is no drive and no euphoria any more. It’s not our getaway any more; it’s where we live. We have lives here and are woven into the community. This is great; I wouldn’t have it any other way. But things change.

A big part of the reason we moved here was to be with N&N while Nancy died. It took longer than expected, a blessing and a curse. We got more time with her but she really was in a lot of pain for much of the last year. Patrick and Cynthia also moved up from Brooklyn and they have been wonderful.

Cynthia and I were there on the last day when Neil came out of her room and said he didn’t think she was breathing anymore. We went in and couldn’t find a pulse and that was that. She had been hopped up on pain killers for the past few weeks. There was a drug she was taking for her trigeminal neuralgia  which was really helping with the excruciating pain in her jaw but it was causing anemia, which in the end may have been what she died from, not the cancer.

Nancy Holding Court

Nancy held court like the New Yorker she was. Strident, declarative, and awfully sure of herself. She learned from her father how to tell a good story and never forgot his advice that a story was more than just the truth. She loved her cats, her cooking, and her audience.

And she loved her Neil. I have never known two people so attached at the wrists and ankles. When they were apart, they would call each other a few times a day. It never seemed like they were saying anything important, they just needed to connect. Now, I love Tami but we never feel compelled to call each other when we travel separately. But they got together at a young age and grew up as a couple. Old habits were formed in their twenties and stayed. They were never very demonstrative but their abiding love for  each other was clear.


So last weekend when we sat around their rusted smoker, The African Queen, chatting in the afternoon, I could hear Nancy’s voice echoing through the years and it was nice.

What I Did On My Coronavacation

I had had lunch with my college house mate Regina on February 11 and I don’t think we were really even talking about it yet. There was no social distancing in the little Bistro in Lenox and we probably hugged hello and goodbye after not having seen each other in over 30 years. It wasn’t a thing yet.

On March 5 I had to get my Honda Element worked on at Northeast Muffler down in Millerton and that is my first memory of having to wear a mask out in public. I had been to the pulmonologist the week before and I had gotten a mask there. That is what I was wearing at the muffler place. There were one or 2 other people in the waiting room wearing masks but it was really a new thing. We were still talking about how this was affecting Corona beer sales. I felt self conscious about wearing the mask but I kept telling myself that I should because I was at risk since I have emphysema.

The pandemic has inconvenienced me less than it has others. My wife, Tami, an occupational therapist, has had work virtually stop for her except for one virtual client whom she sees over Zoom. I was already working from home as was most of my team. While we are based in Boston, my boss lives in Atlanta and we are all very used to being virtual. Music with others has been the biggest casualty but on the plus side we started having virtual cocktails every Friday with my band, Noyes and The Boyes, so I have been seeing them and hanging out more than we ever have. It has been a lot of fun reconnecting with childhood friends and I feel very lucky to have them. We would also have drinks with our friends Steve and Ann in Florida. I am a big supporter of this new remote contact. The life depicted in “2001: A Space Odyssey” more than fifty years ago has finally arrived 20 years late.

It’s great to be able to connect with everyone so easily especially since we live way out here in the boondocks. The sad part is that I’ve seen less of all the new friends I’ve made out here. I am not doing the open mic at the Grange and we are not having Grange meetings so while I see people from time to time it’s not really that much. But we are meeting a whole new group of people: folks who live in NYC but escaped upstate for the quarantine. A whole bunch of new people would be walking by our farm every day, marveling at the goats and chickens. One family down the road had a daughter who hadn’t brought her guitar up from Brooklyn so I lent her one of mine. As it has gotten warmer Lenny and Richard and I have gotten together to play music outside at a distance so that’s been fun.

But the best thing I did on my coronavacation was to do a live streamed performance every day at 4:00 on Facebook Live. I would do 3 songs, randomly picked by a spreadsheet, one of which had to be an original. 4:00 is when Tony got off work so he could watch it. I never got more than 6 or 7 people watching live, but that was enough for me. The performance would stay posted on Facebook so more people would watch it after the fact. I would then post them on Instagram and YouTube. I kept this up for more than 2 months. That is a long time for me. As you can see from the consistency of this blog, I can maintain a practice for about 3 weeks and that’s it. So two months was a big deal. I have sort of run out of songs. I am learning a new batch and then I hope to continue, but I got through around 150.

Most days I would put up a charity to which people could donate through Facebook. It started out with organizations that helped out of work musicians during the pandemic. Then I would pick others or get my sis in law, Alyson, the charity whisperer to make recommendations. On Juneteenth, my friend Steve Arrington who runs a fund called Stand For Good, said if I put up Equal Justice Initiative for donations, his organization would match what we got and make a donation of their own. We pulled in more than $1800. I feel connected.

Middle of the Night

At what point does one’s home become something more than an abode? I am sitting in an empty house. There is practically no furniture. The only things that remind me of me, other than the TV stand I made, are the paintings on the walls, all by artists who are friends: Desmond Hussey, Jeanne Risica, Babe Bakalar, Neil Bakalar, and then some Gaucho prints from the Argentine which have graced my family’s wallls for as long as I can remember. There are Tricia Lowrys, Hiro Watanabes, and Patricia Pedreiras in storage. And probably others I am not remembering right now.

The art connects me to my life, to my home. Stormy roots around on the bed. He will wake me at exactly 4am and want to be fed. We will go to the kitchen and he will eat and then we will both go out and stand at the end of the driveway in the quiet night. We will see the woman running, I think she’s Haitian, and say hi to her. She used to run with her son, who never looked like he wanted to be out running at 4 in the morning. He looked no more than 10 or 12. I guess by now he’s grown old enough to say no, but for a few years there it was a comforting sight.

The odd car goes by. If it gets late enough, a Boston Globe truck or a bakery sedan delivery. I will always notice the moon, what its phase and position is. I will think about the eons of humanity who have looked up at the same moon and thought the same things. This little slice of the galaxy that surrounds us and provides us with some kind of consistency.

This weekend is the Perseid meteor showers. Every year on our anniversary. We always go out to Copake where the wedding took place 16 years ago. We sit out on the grass in our Adirondack chairs, eyes trained on the sky. Someone sees a shooting star in the direction opposite from where you are looking and everyone turns but it is always too late. You see a meteor and you feel like you are the only one that saw it, but in reality there are thousands of people on lawns up and down the east coast looking at the same meteor and thinking the same thing.

My bride has fallen asleep out in the living room on the futon we have folded into a makeshift sofa. This is just like she used to do. Since we got rid of the sofa in the living room, she has been coming and joining me in the bedroom which I love to no end, but realistically, after 50, couples sleep alone. There is just too much mishegas when two old people are in the same bed. There are going to be a lot more bedrooms and living rooms and sofas in the new house. We’ll see…

She is my home, my everything. As difficult as this whole move has been, we have been tackling it together. We don’t necessarily talk much. But we get it done. And we provide a home for each other.

This song came up on my playlist today, a Matt Skeele song we recorded back in 95 or 96, “I Wake Up In The Middle Of The Night”. It is such a beautiful evocation of love and comfort and his singing and playing is so beautiful and it is one of my better atmosphere productions if i do say so myself. Enjoy….

Thanksgiving In The Heartland

Day 5: We go to Arlene’s assisted living facility to have Thanksgiving dinner there. We are seated at a table with the Freemans; her mother is a resident. Mr Freeman has got that taciturn Midwestern guy close-to-the-vest thing going on but I manage to get a chuckle or two out of him.

Arlene has had better days but eats a little pumpkin pie and a few bites of the string bean casserole. We all tuck into The styrofoam containers, noisily tearing off the lids so they don’t take up extra table space.

A woman is sittting alone at a table near us. An aide comes over, hugs her, and sees if she wants to move to another table with other people. She does and so moves. The interaction was so sweet.

Dinner is done by 12:30 so we take Arlene back To her room and go. It is not lost on me that that may be the last time I see her.

Mark, Lora, Kelsey and Lindsey get back from Des Moines around 6. It’s always fun to see the kids, both successful young professionals in Charlotte and Phoenix. When they get home, they are kids again, falling back into roles they have honed over the past 25 years. We sit out back on the patio around the gas fire pit and talk about work, plans, and old friends who still live in town. Kelsey and I, though at opposite ends of our careers, are dealing with similar issues: the intransigence of those who are permanently ensconced when one is trying to improve systems. I am glad to see that she is such a dynamo and is bent on trying new things.

We get back to Boston Friday night. I beg out of going to Copake and Tami winds up being sick so she doesn’t go either. Sunday she feels better and makes a fabulous turkey dinner for the two of us. I feel so lucky to be attached at the wrists and ankles to her.


Last week we went to a funeral for Don Irwin, one of my father’s best friends. They had both grown up in Argentina and had emigrated to the US. Don went on to become a US congressman and mayor of Norwalk, CT. His family and ours were very close. One of my earliest memories is of driving down to visit them in Washington DC. They were always at the Argentine asados my father threw on an annual basis. When my parents would go away for much needed R&R from us, some of us would stay at the Irwins.

Don was always cheerful and kind of a happy go lucky guy. He and my father had a great friendship and I think that watching them taught me how to be a good friend. Don gave my father the job of DPW commissioner which was a left turn for Pop, having had no experience in public works. But the workforce was spanish and needed to be communicated with and that’s where Pop came in. The job only lasted a few years but it was one of the best times my dad had.

I have really good friends and they are among the things I value most. I believe that watching my father and Don joke around and support each other and talk about all kinds of topics and share music and family showed me how to cultivate this wonderful gift.

The Simple Life

Today was cooler. I picked raspberries tonight in Lorraine’s yard. Jiffy is lying on the bed with me. Stormy is his spot underneath The bed. My wife is watching The Young and The Restless tapes in the living room. It’s not much, it’s simple, and it’s home.
There was nothing that piqued my interest in the news today so I’ll talk about something else. Karen, our cat, is so full of life. She is playful and loves the dogs, playing with them, running after them and jumping over them. The dogs seem to regard her with bemusement. They generally ignore her. They let her eat their food and they wish they could eat hers, but they can’t.

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