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

Triple Oh Eighteen

When my mother was growing up, a woman named Edna Conrad used to take care of her during the summers.  Edna remained a fixture in her life and subsequently in ours when we came along.  She was a Quaker from Philadelphia, born in 1898, whom my great grandfather, Earl Barnes met when she was a teenager.  He hired her to help out his family during the summers when they would decamp to his country house in New Hartford, Connecticut.

My mother was born in 1928, daughter of Howard Barnes and his wife, Virginia Hood, known as Hoodie.  Hoodie had issues and they divorced by the time my mother was 3.  Edna did the bulk of the mothering of mom after that.  Edna was a teacher at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Greenwich Village.  She lived alone at 8 Bank Street.  My mother lived there as well during her 20’s.  Edna had a little house in Belmont Vermont where she and a number of other teachers had gotten summer places.  I was conceived in that house, or so I’m told.

Mom and Dad at Edna’s the morning after…

When my mother was dying of cancer in 1983, Edna came down to Rowayton and took care of her making  macrobiotic meals as was the trend in cancer treatment in the eighties. No shrinking violet, Edna descended upon our household like a whirlwind, cooking, organizing and shuttling between our house, the Irwins’ house, and the hospital. She was in her eighties and my mother was in her fifties.  We boys were in our early twenties except for John who was 13. The prospect of a life without a mother was about to dawn on us, though we had been preparing for this for about two years since we learned of the diagnosis in Fall of 1981.

Edna remained a constancy in our lives through the  years following until her death in 1993. She would always be a destination in Vermont where we could bring friends, girlfriends and fiancés. Tony and I stopped there on our road trip in June 1991 and talked about the James Gleick book, Chaos, which she was reading at the time. After supper we would play Cows and Bulls. It was a kind of memory game that we’d been playing since we were kids any time we’d go to Edna’s. We believed it was responsible for her sharp mind.

When she died she left us Hussey boys $2500 to be divided between us. I had never had such a windfall.

I’d been going to Daddy’s Junky Music Store since 1972 when Fred opened his second store in Norwalk CT. I went into Daddy’s  on Mass Ave with $500 in my pocket.   They had a guitar towards the back which had no label but looked like a badly refinished small Martin. Sure enough it was a 1971 Martin 000-18 with a $500 price tag.

That was my main acoustic all through the nineties on the Boston folk circuit. It didn’t have a pickup and I didn’t have the money to make all the repairs needed to accommodate one. I made do with sound hole pickups and SM57s. Thirty years later and I’ve finally got some money. Lenny tells me about a guy in North Adams who works on Martins, whom he has used before. His name is Steve Sauvé.

Steve Sauve working on the 000-18 in his shop.

I bring the guitar up to North Adams. On the way, I drop off Neil at the Volvo dealership where he is getting his high end Volvo. Steve’s studio is in an old mill building. There are Covid restrictions so I can’t go in. An assistant comes down to meet me, goes over the guitar with me so I can tell him what I want done. He then takes the guitar and disappears back into the old building and I drive home and wait for 3 months. I realize I never got a receipt and for all I know that could have just been some guy who steals guitars for a living. I finally call him, expecting him to go, “Who? What guitar? A triple-oh-eighteen? Are you sure?” But he does have the guitar and tells me he was just about to start on it. That week, he does and starts sending me pictures of the progress. He takes off the neck and resets it. He replaces the bridge. He puts in the Fishman piezo pickup I have provided him with. I anticipate playing the guitar and having that magical feeling of a properly set up instrument cradled in my arms.

When I finally do go up to pick it up, I am not disappointed. It plays like butter. We have a discussion about what strings to use and how often to change them, something you would think I had worked out after fifty years but, alas, I haven’t. I pay the man and come home to play the guitar I’ve always had and always wanted. It’s beautiful as long as I remember to change the strings.

The End Of September

It’s the end of September and the rich palette of our neighborhood is coming into full bloom before it all dies. This is a beautiful time in our part of the world. The rich reds and browns are accented with bursts of gold and yellow. The texture of the burrs and desiccating pods are brittle and sharp and all the dry life rattles in the wind.

Looking west on Sky Farm Rd

I got to see live music outside the other night. Peter Mulvey at The Barn in Egremont. After October this won’t happen so we savored it. Peter is a Milwaukee kid who cut his musical teeth in the subways of Boston, usually Davis Square in Somerville so I never got to see him, never having a reason to be there and living in East Somerville, from where there is no good way to get to West Somerville.

Regardless, I saw him from time to time at open mics and Tiffany and I opened for him down in Plymouth once. He is an excellent guitarist and has the gift of gab, able to relate well to his audience, a must for a busker.

I was busking at the same time, usually in Harvard Square or Park St. It was hard for me; was not comfortable joshing with the crowd. I didn’t have any self confidence and was usually very nervous. I’m the same way now but I hide it better.

I had a song I’d written called OJ In White Car about the infamous slow speed Bronco chase we all watched on TV in ‘94. I had written it before the trial had even happened. It wasn’t anti-OJ, in fact at the time I felt a little bad for him, not knowing what was even happening yet.

I was playing it in Harvard Square on morning and a Black kid walked by and got pretty pissed off. “Lay off the Juice” he yelled. I told him to listen to the song, it wasn’t critical but he wasn’t having it. I was just some white guy assuming the black guy was guilty.

A year and a half later when the verdict came in and he was acquitted, I was working in a hospital in the South End. I remember it was lunch and all the Black staff had gathered around a TV in the lobby and they cheered when they heard the news. From the shouts I could tell that for many, this was a rare vindication of their racial and cultural identity. It is interesting that to this day, I have yet to meet a white person who doesn’t think he was guilty.

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….

Wish Of Grey

Watching Nancy deal with her cancer is truly a sight to behold. Her embrace of the (probably) inevitable is refreshing in this world of “you got to fight to stay alive”. She posts every morning on Facebook in a public post some thoughts on her situation, cooking or her life as she has lived it.

While many of us look forward to her posts and admire her candor, I imagine there are some to whom it is disturbing. We are taught to revere life and to hang onto it as long as possible. The way most of us die is painful, expensive and boring. But there is an atavistic urge toward self-preservation, no matter how illogical it may be. To be fair, while some of this is rooted in an individual’s own drive toward survival, much of it is driven by the needs of others.

We hang onto life in an effort to avoid hurting those loved ones around us. We want to keep our children from becoming orphans. Most of my friends and I don’t have children. I am completely unfamiliar with that paternal love that would drive one to the ends of the earth to protect their offspring from discomfort or harm. Sure, I love my pets and I have some of the greatest friendships in the history of friendship (yes, I said that, bitches, deal with it!) I am aware, however, that those relationships will probably not drive me to stay alive in order to spare them pain.

When my mother died of cancer over 30 years ago, she had a 13 year old son still living at home. The rest of us were up in Boston or in NYC. My parents didn’t tell John that her disease was probably fatal. There was always a “chin-up” attitude that this would all work out in the end. There were extensive grabs at possible cures, remote miracle procedures that could succeed with the right combination of diligence and prayer. Macrobiotic diets, a trip to Florida for a major vitamin C infusion, and traditional radiation (no chemo, if memory serves).

This was the hardest thing my father ever had to go through and he navigated it like a champ, or at least like sub-lieutenant in the Royal Navy navigating through Hussey’s Reef on Manus Island in the South Pacific. I can’t imagine the fear and grief he felt. On the night of her death, John and Pop and I went over to the Middletons’. My father told John what was about to happen. As we were saying our goodbyes to Cacky and Algy before going home, Pop said to Algy (a fellow Argentine), “El hijo sabe.” John could not have lived in that house through all this without knowing. The next morning John and I went back over to Cacky and Algy’s. Star Trek 2, The Wrath Of Khan was on cable. There is the whole Spock dying scene along with his funeral (being shot out of a photon torpedo tube, a method I would totally go for, just saying). This is how we processed our grief, through television, guided by Gene Roddenberry.

We continued to process our grief for years afterwards in shrink offices, bars, churches, and with friends. We went on to marry great women, each of whom I believe to this day would be great friends with my mother. We gave her (well, not we) 14 grandchildren, of whom I’m sure she is so proud. And the five us went on to excel in our careers, our hobbies and our communities.

Our Copake family will be there for Nancy during this time, but we are really there for Neil and each other. Our big huge family will not only endure, it will triumph, thanks, in no small part, to Nancy.

Boston Music Weekend

The last weekend in July in Boston is a music weekend. There are all kinds of unrelated festivals going on and I inevitably feel like I’ve missed something.
The Newport Folk Festival is the big one. I have never been. Back when I was a folk performer, I never could afford it. Once I could start to afford it, I was too much of a folk snob and took issue with The Pixies being considered Folk. Now I no longer have these restrictions; I’ve just lost interest. We opt to go to the Lowell Folk Festival which showcases actual indigenous music from around the world. I find this more enjoyable. No names (well, maybe a Chenier or McMaster here and there) and very little singer songwriter angst and ego. Well, they’re musicians, so of course there’s ego… Just great chops.

We saw a Syrian group with oud, canun, violin and percussion who taught us how to do the clap on a samai (a 10/8 Folk pattern), something with which I’ve struggled for the past 15 years. We saw the Sun Ra Arkestra, which is everything you’d expect it to be and more. Not exactly Folk, but not exactly not Folk when you see how it represents an important and crazy sector of African American life. Dewayne and his father were with us and Dewayne loved it. Eric goes more toward the zydeco, but I think he liked it too. There was Memphis soul after that, so everyone can get down with that.

We started out the weekend going to the Summer Stroll in Melrose. The city has a few of these kinds of things where they block off the main drag and all the stores and restaurants sell their wares on the sidewalks and they set up tents where bands play and kids run free and retirees from the many old folks’ homes in the neighborhood cruise around in their wheelchairs with their oxygen tanks and nursing station issued footwear and dance and spin and relish their freedom. Our neighbor Jim was debuting his band, Free Range Chickens. I thought they did very well for a first gig and I think he was very happy.

Needless to say, all the restaurants are packed but I know we can get a seat at Sushi Corner, which is, true to its name, tucked into a corner of a back parking lot where only those in the know can find it. They have some of the best sushi around and when we got there we were the only people in there. They are always doing a serious takeout business, so they are not bored. Fortunately the place filled up while we were there. There are only 17 seats so it’s not hard.

The first rock concert I ever went to was The New York Rock and Roll Ensemble at the Stratford Theater in Connecticut. I must have been 10 or 11 because Abbey Road had been released. Out in the lobby they had a band of teenagers playing and they were doing Come Together by the Beatles, the single of which I had just acquired. I thought it was the coolest thing and I aspired to be like those guys.

I never actually got to play Come Together in a band, though. Until this weekend. My friends Tina and Steve had a party and Steve’s band played and they asked me to sit in on Come Together while Barry sang because Barry would rather not play and sing at the same time. My dream had come true and you can judge the results for yourself.

Camp Uke Fall 2016 Concert

I run a Ukelele camp through my church.  I have never been a big fan of the Ukelele, usually finding it too twee and trendy and thin to be an actual instrument. On Denis Leary’s Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll they referred to it as “a motherfucking Game Of Thrones midget guitar” which I actually find apt.  However, our previous pastor, Rachel Manke,  was a big Ukelele player and she got this camp started to reach out into the community and when she left, I took it over.  I have gotten to like the instrument.  I have made a couple cigar box ukes that I use.  I find it a very convenient instrument to play.  You can play it in an Adirondack chair because it is small and the arms don’t get in the way.  So, being able to sit back with a bourbon and a cigar and noodle a bit is always a good thing.  I’m even starting to use it on the Noyes and the Boyes project a little.  It focuses your playing because you’ve only got an octave to work with.  I’ve learned a few jazz pieces: Wave, Night in Tunisia, Epistrophy.

It is a particularly good instrument for kids, being small and all.  So we started this camp for 8-11 year olds.  We have it one week in the summer and then every other Wednesday throughout the year.  We learn a lot of kids’ folk songs and then try to throw in a pop song or two.

Malden, being the most diverse city in Massachusetts, gives us a wide variety of countries of origin for our campers.  They come from Brazil, Haiti, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Pakistan, to name a few.  This wonderful quilt of culture informs what we play and how we relate to the community.  We have all kinds of abilities in the group but in my mind, the most important thing is to have fun.  I believe kids are too over-programmed today and I feel guilty contributing to that.  I try to give them some freedom and I try to engage them in making choices about the direction of the repertoire.

We had our fall semester concert this past weekend and I thought it was a great success.  Thanks to Janet Lundstrom, my fearless sidekick, we had a good turnout and sounded terrific.  We started out with the Henry Triplets doing a couple of numbers and helping me out on a Christmas blues tune I wrote, Peace On Earth Blues.


I then did a solo version of my tune, My Grandfather’s Chair.  Then the adult ukes came up and did a couple of Christmas carols.  The adults meet after the kids and we always do a couple of numbers at the concerts.  It has been fun and has gotten people into music who would not have otherwise done so.

Then the kids did their pieces, including “I Don’t Know My Name” by Grace VanderWaal.  She is a 12 year old kid who did this Ukelele song on America’s Got Talent and won it.  The kids nailed it.  They also nailed Lime In The Coconut which for some reason they hate doing but Janet and I love.  So they humor us.

We ended the night with Simple Gifts and This Land is Your Land.  We have done this Woody Guthrie song since the beginning and I feel it really speaks to the melting pot that is the United States.  I like to believe that thss is bigger than the hate that is so trendy now, what with the orange one coming to the White House.


The next day we played at the Festival of Carols at the Malden Baptist church.  We did Joy To The World along with the adults and they l0oved us.  I am so honored to be able to bring this music to everyone.

Video by Shanan Edwards

Music On Wheels from Yellow Barn

Boston Globe article: Music on Wheels

We were just talking about the Yellow Barn festival this weekend because one of the guests was on the board.  I have never been to the festival in all the years I’ve been going to Vermont, and it’s a shame because it is clearly right up my alley, with its focus on contemporary music.  My teacher and plan sponsor at Marlboro, Jerry Levy, played there I believe.  I love this music on wheels concept.  I love the idea of bringing music to kids at school, playing during recess, and letting them listen or not.  I love the idea of bringing the arts to the underprivileged and under-exposed.  And I love the idea of a cool vehicle.

Jazz from Eric In The Evening

Most Fridays we sit out back and listen to Eric In The Evening on WGBH. I have been listening to Eric for longer than I can remember.  It used to be that every week night at 7, you turn on 89.7 and you would hear Peace played by Tommy Flanagan.  It was such a reassuring way of ending the day.  But all things must change and ‘GBH had a change of format a few years to mostly news.  Eric got moved to the weekends, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.  I suppose that now it seems more special to listen to it since there is only 75% of the opportunity we used to have.  Also, it occurs on weekends so that makes it easier to relax and enjoy it.

Website Powered by

Up ↑