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Conceptual Irregularities

The modern composer refuses to die – Edgar Varese

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Milan 1: The Accident

I am going to Milan with Tony to see a performance of the Yellow Shark by Frank Zappa on the 25th anniversary of his death. Tony and I have travelled before, having gone to England and Scotland in 1995. We generally work well together and have similar interests and preferences. Neither of us wants to spend a lot of money and we want to have a good time close to the roots.

The accident came about the night before I was supposed to leave. Tami and I had planned to get up early at 5 am in order to drive into Boston so I could go to work and then fly out from there. I’m lying in bed having that typical anxiety one gets when one knows one has to go to sleep so one can get up early but can’t get to sleep because they are worried about getting enough sleep to get up early. My hip started hurting me (old injury from running for a bus) so I figure I’ll get up and take some ibuprofen. At the same time, Luna starts barking bloody murder at some unseen intruder in the back yard. She has been doing this lately. I take the aspririn and take a drink in my cupped hands, it goes down wrong, she keeps barking, I start coughing, she keeps barking, I cough harder, then I’m sitting on the floor of the bathroom. I must have blacked out from the coughing. I have this dizzy feeling faint thing for which they have run a ton of tests but have found nothing. Anyway, I climb back up to standing. I look in the mirror and there’s a scrape on my head and my ribs hurt. I must have hit them going down. I go back to bed and tell Tami what happened. I don’t think she really knows how to react. It’s probably scary for her. Luna doesn’t care.

The pain in my ribs is bad and I feel like I’ll want to go to Copake Rapid Care in the morning. I start thinking about cancelling some meetings. I can’t get to sleep so I abandon the idea of waking up at 5. I finally get to sleep around 4. We get up around 7:30. I hurt less now so decide not to go to Rapid Care. We leave around 8 for an uneventful drive. At work, I have lunch with Jeff who is always a joy to see. Since I work remotely now, I rarely see him.

Norm and Jack

The heat broke and I’m walking up the hill on Sky Farm Road with our terrier cattle dog, Luna, holding her leash as she jumps for butterflies and digs for who-knows-what. She has an innate need to herd the rare car that comes by. She lies in wait, carefully eyeing it, getting ready to pounce when it passes. I hold the leash tight and tell her ,”Stay, stay, it’s OK” and most of the time now, she does. She’s about 9 months old now and, despite her rambunctiousness, is fairly well-behaved and responds to cues well.

After a year out in the country, we have 5 chickens (down from 8), 3 goats, 1 dog and 1 cat. Karen, our cat, is the matriarch but isn’t allowed to go outside, so that cramps her style. The wildlife is brutal out here. While I know she could rule the neighborhood in Melrose, here she has to deal with foxes, coyote, hawks and we’ve even seen a black bear to whom she would lose. She and Luna spar a lot but I have faith that they will work it out. We see steady progress, both of them on the bed and stuff. Luna just wants to play, I think, and she’s a puppy, so she has a lot of energy.

We take her out for walks at the park, a huge expanse of hills and fields and trails which is stunningly beautiful. Everything out here (Columbia County, NY) is stunningly beautiful. I just can’t get over it. In the park, at the top of the hill, there is a bench we sit on and look out at the fields, the little church in the town just to the north, hills in the distance. Wildflowers are everywhere, scattered like paint drops on the green fields. It’s as if Jackson Pollack and Norman Rockwell worked on a painting together.

Our house is a character all on its own. Rambling, red, with two bars (main and tiki), a great front porch, a balcony in the great room which hold one bar, a beautiful living room painted by Tony and a fully functioning modern kitchen, with a dishwasher! The house was built by the previous owners and they put all sorts of love and creativity into it. Each room is its own space and has its own character. It has G-clefs in the stanchions of the porch and eighth notes scattered all over.

I am playing a lot more music and writing a lot more songs. I play at the open mics in the area and have met a lot of cool people. The Hudson Valley music scene is very rich and there is no shortage of things to do. I thought I would be bored out here, missing the rich cultural life of Boston, but was pleasantly surprised to find that there is no shortage of cultural beauty out here. I haven’t missed Boston as much as I thought I would. Having been a city kid for 40 years, I thought I would have to adjust, but I don’t miss the subway and the traffic and the density. I miss the many cultures alive in the city and it is admittedly much more white here, but not completely.

Tami has gone through all the New York State bureaucracy in order to get here Occupational Therapy credentials moved out here. She is working and is also busy with our goats and chickens. The chickens we’ve had for a year. We have lost 3 to predators but the other ones are thriving. They give us lots of eggs!

The goats were a long time coming. We had to build a pen for them which was more work than I thought. Finally I got help and we got it done and got the 3 Nigerian Dwarf goats this weekend. They are very amusing and eat a lot of grass. I have made a see-saw for them and will build other playthings to climb on.

I am learning.

https://youtu.be/viSsbgmp_mA

Out Past The Headlands

I have about 4 more weeks in Boston, then I’m a country boy. I don’t find it easy to leave here. I am very connected to this city. Once you’ve been a bike messenger in a place, then you’ve got its streets in your bones. Much has changed in the 35 or so years I’ve been here, but when you’re talking about a city that has been here for almost 4 centuries, there’s a lot that hasn’t. The ubiquitous brick, the Richardson Puddingstone, the brutalist slabs; they all make up the urban landscape for me.

When I started as a messenger in March of 1987, we used to make a drop at the State House at the top of Beacon Hill. We then would ride really fast down Beacon St., across Tremont St, down School St. with a left onto Washington and quick right onto Water and glide all the way down to the end of Water St at Broad St. It was like a roller coaster ride. We would swoop through each intersection, blending in with the traffic, almost getting hit, but “almost” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. That little spine of streets is the heart of Boston as I see it.

Now I work in the Seaport, a place of constant growth after lying dormant for decades, home to parking lots and fish piers. When I was a messenger, we did a lot of work shuttling plans around for Fan Pier and Anthony’s Pier 4. Fan Pier was built back then with the Moakley Courthouse on it. Anthony’s is just getting to its thing now. Over the last 5 years the growth has exploded and the parking lots have all grown into hi-rises, or actually 18 story rises, because I think there is a height limit imposed by the airport across the harbor. This has the effect of negating any possible skyline that might develop here. From a distance, I imagine the place will look like a block in the future, much like parts of the Bronx.

I am trying to take in all the cultural amenities while I can. We went to the MFA (another former employer), ate dinner on Broad St., went to the Lizard Lounge, etc. Not that there’s nothing where I’m going, it’s just that it is so prevalent here. It will always draw me back. I want to develop a routine of coming back here monthly, working, doing music with the Triplets and taking in at least one cultural urban experience. That will be good for me and keep me sane.

Past The Headlands from Headlands, Tom May – vocal, Greg Smith – composer

Left Laners

I am the guy comes all the way up to the entrance of the ramp, passing the line of cars on my right and then cutting in front of you at the last possible second. I am the woman with 13 items in the 10 items or less line at the market. I am the guy using his outside voice in a relatively quiet bar. I am the guy who lists purple as one the colors of people whom I treat equally. 

I am the woman who believes men should act like men and if that means I get my pussy grabbed, well, hey! I am the man who is scared. I am the guy who works hard and believes anyone can do the same. I am the person who can’t understand why people have to change their gender and it makes me say, “Ick.” I am the guy who comes from pioneer stock and has hardship and danger in my blood and my bones. I have a time-share in Branson. I am the person who is uncomfortable around people unlike me. I am a Plugger.  
I am the guy who does things because I can. I am the guy who makes his pipes on his Harley louder. I have been in fights. As an adult. I am the guy who feels like I have never gotten a break. I am from the stock of people who owned other people. I will be rich one day. I believe in and thrive on the American Dream.

Thanksgiving In The Heartland


Day 4: Start the day very worried about our cat, Karen, who ran out of the house just before we had to leave for the airport. She usually comes back eventually but not immediately so I figured she’d come in for Andrea who is looking after the animals. But messages from Andrea for the past 2 days tell us she hasn’t shown up. 

Today we are going down to Lincoln so Tami can meet up with her college boyfriend, Carlton, whom she hasn’t seen in 35 years. Rather than the interstate, I like to do the blue roads, so we set off down route 77. 

Anti-choice signs in cornfields are big around here. Holier-than-thou farmers’ wives have a mission which they see as saving lives but is actually just their way of being catty toward women who were getting some when they weren’t gettin’ any. The lives they purport to be saving they are actually condemning to struggle and strife because the only person who really has any control over this zygote’s fate knows full well that she can’t handle it right now and needs to wait, but can’t because these catty church ladies insist on doing everything they can to shut down every clinic and harass every doctor who would help her to exercise the control over her body that God has given her. God is not going to judge her for making the choice that is clearly the best for her family; only the church ladies are. 
I’m sorry if this sounds harsh but the moral bankruptcy of the Christian Right in America is dragging this great country into the sewer. And my cat is missing.
But besides these signs, the Nebraska landscape in the drizzling rain is sublime. It’s flat, mostly, vast cornfields straddled by bug-like irrigation machines that pivot in great circles around a water pipe. Today, in the November rain, there are no machines running. The corn has been harvested and the husks are brown. 
We drive through Indian reservation towns where you can get cheap cigarettes and gasoline. Right now their Water-Protector brothers are being frozen by water cannons and humiliated by tear gas up at the DAPL. The American shame just keeps coming and coming. 
Each little town has a sign listing all the churches in it. A town of 500 may have ten different houses of worship. But they all get along for the most part. 
We pull into Lincoln, the capital of Nebraska and a college town. A new basketball arena sits to the right and the Huskers stadium towers on the left. This state runs on Huskers football and the stadium represents it monolithically.  
We go to Haymarket and meet Carlton at Laslo’s. He’s a good guy with a nice smile and a positive attitude. After a Templeton Rye, I leave them to catch up and I go off to the music stores. 
In the first one, CGS Music, a sprawling independent outfit, half of which is devoted to repair and thus is strewn with myriad instruments in various states of disrepair. Of particular interest is a 7 string fretless hollow-body bass from which the bridge has detached. I would love to see this thing in all its glory. In the 2 instrument rooms there are Weissenborns, Dobros, Pipas, Charangas, Ukelele basses, and upright basses, along with the usual complement of guitars and ukes. The proprietor tells me that in the large space he has downstairs, he has different community events-a Ukelele group tonight, a blues jam tomorrow night. I tell him this is the model many independent bookstores are using now: being a community gathering place for all kinds of groups. This fosters loyalty and repeat business.
We all go out to lunch at a steak house, Misty’s, which brews its own beer. Carlton and I got ribeyes while Tami got a prime rib. While there, I got a text from Andrea saying Karen (“that slut”) returned and was fine. This picks up my spirits immensely. We drove back on the Interstate, hitting Omaha right at rush hour.
(Photo by Tami Kander)

Thanksgiving In The Heartland 

Day 3. We met with the hospice providers that Tami’s mother, Arlene has. This is a program she gets through Medicare. A nurse comes to the nursing home twice a week and checks in on her. Aides also come by and spend time with her and there is a social worker, too. I was impressed with the care and professionalism exhibited by this team. This is a service available through Medicare that I suspect most folks don’t know about. Most people are not comfortable talking about their death and the death of their loved ones. But this is a whole lot more humane than successive trips to the hospital and much cheaper. 
Arlene seems to be doing pretty well. She’s in a wheelchair now but she recognized me and still had her sense of humor. I gotta say, Mark Kander is doing a wonderful job managing her care. We are so grateful!
We went to The Gateway for dinner, a little roadhouse which is decorated with Crown Royal bags hanging from the ceiling. They smoke their own stuff there and it is really inexpensive. Marie is always sitting at the bar and when you pay, the best way is to go up to the bar and chat with Marie while you pay. 

Thanksgiving In The Heartland

Day One: We are off to Nebraska. We are leaving in the afternoon this time as opposed to 5am. Much easier. 
Meant to leave my Swiss Army Knife at home, but did the opposite. This knife was given to me by Tami on Valentines Day 2001, the night we got engaged. It’s always a thing that I have to remember to either leave or pack with the checked luggage. This time we are not checking anything so the plan was to leave it home. We had a brush with losing it in St Thomas coming home from our honeymoon. The gate attendant ultimately let us put it in a bag that we were going to carry on and check that bag. 
So, tonight we somehow got put in the TSA pre-check line. One of the advantages of being white in Trump’s America, I guess. But I squandered the opportunity by having the knife. Fortunately, they now have a deal where you can mail it home right there. They have a grey box with plastic bags with little slips in them. You fill out the slip with your address and credit card, put it and the knife in the bag, put it in the grey box and they send it back for you. Very convenient. It’s the little things in life when you’re traveling. 

There is something about watching the sitcoms they show on the plane. I never plug in the headphones to listen to them, so I’m watching this pantomime where there’s this whole story going on that I am not really privy to. I can see the action and not knowing the reason for it makes me wonder if I should plug in the earphones and listen and enjoy the show. But I sort of like being in this limbo, just grooving on the movement. Whenever I see tv I can’t hear it always reminds me of flying. 

Jiffy Pop Has Left The Building

Jiffy out by the fire
Out by the fire

We are at the vet getting Jiffy checked out. He is in the twilight of his life and wil be turning 16 on December 2nd. He threw up blood a little yesterday and we thought we should get it checked out. While he has gained .2 pounds since last time and doesn’t have a fever, he is weak and doesn’t want to go on walks anymore. Tami is despondent. I’m trying to keep my chin up. I want clarity from the vet as to how we negotiate these last weeks or months of his life. How do we know when he is done? They say we will know but it’s hard not knowing.

Stormy, 9 months older than Jiffy is going strong, it seems. He is the ugly stepchild, having been adopted at ten from Tami’s mom when she went into assisted living. He whines and we never know what he wants, but we love him anyway. I am trying to communicate with him more since up to now I thought he was deaf. I don’t think he is.

Karen, our 8 year old cat, just got done with a few weeks of staples in her neck from an apparent cat fight injury. She is, however, happy and vital.

The vet, Dr Franquin, comes back in after doing an ultrasound on him and informs us he has a mass around his pancreas. We go back and forth about the possible treatment options. She could give us a referral to the animal hospital in Woburn. If it was pancreatitis they could treat it and maybe we get a few more months. If it’s cancer it is a whole treatment routine for a very old dog. Or we can euthenize him today. Or wait a couple of days. She leaves us alone.

We cry and hold him close. We hear him struggling with each breath. We know he is old. We want to at least let Andrea and the kids say goodbye. But that would mean making an appointment for his death. We went through that once before with Daisy Duke and it was awful. I remember Tami lying on the front porch with the kitty, crying, knowing the day was coming tomorrow.

We make the decision to do it today. Rip the bandaid off, so to speak. Dr. Franquin tells us what to expect and takes him out to put a catheter in his foreleg.

They give us plenty of time to sit in the little room and cry. Another tech comes in and has me sign a paper saying we want individual cremation. As opposed to cremation with a whole lotta other animals. We have a graveyard in our garden with Daisy Duke and Cheryl. Of course we’re gonna have the individual cremation. I just couldn’t deal with holding the body, so we got the cremation.

We cry some more and hold him, this dear sweet poodle who has made our lives so much better in so many ways. We could bring him to parties and he would run around doing all the socializing we were too shy to do. He was smart, charismatic, and a really great dog. A once in a lifetime dog. He even had his own website for a while, jiffycam.net. Ironically, that domain name expired yesterday.

A tech, Danielle, comes back in and asks us if we need more time. We answer no. Dr Franquin comes back in with the 2 syringes, one to provide the anaesthetic and the other to provide the overdose. That’s how dogs die, from a an overdose.

We put him on the steel table wrapped in an Indian blanket. Tami holds him as one syringe is connected with the catheter in his arm and then the other. Dr. Franquin puts on her stethoscope, listens to his heart and says, “He’s gone.”

Copulation and Architecture

After almost 30 years, I finally got up the nerve to release the album I made as I was turning 30.  It is called Copulation and Architecture and it is available on Bandcamp.com.

The delay was due to a combination of low self confidence and laziness.  For years I have been paralyzed by the prospect of success in the music business.  It has been very hard for me to go out and sell myself.  I couldn’t even ask club owners for a night.  I couldn’t even ask Geoff Bartley at the Cantab for a feature there, and I worked with him for years.  He likes and respects me but I always felt he would say, No, you don’t have a following, you’re not ready.  When I write it down it sounds absurd, but that has been the default operating position.

I worked on this in therapy for years, particularly with Bob Porter on the Cape.  His theory was that I liked to wallow in my low self-esteem and if I actually took any steps to succeed, that would prevent me from doing that.  It’s like a fear of failure, but it is really just a perpetuation of limbo.

I actually believe that I am very talented and the others who have heard me agree.  While I have been fired from a few bands, most of the people with whom I have worked have had great respect for my musicianship.  While I’m a decent guitarist and bassist, I feel my strength is in my songwriting.  If I did it more, my performances as a singer/guitarist could really shine. I feel I interpret other people’s work well, also.  I have a huge respect for the craft of songwriting and I try to cover other local songwriters as much as I can.

Right now, I am focusing on honing my guitar skills as much as I can.  I continually try to learn jazz pieces out the Real Book.  I work on my reading.  I also work at teaching.  I run a Ukelele camp at my church.  It is 8-11 year olds and a I really enjoy seeing them get into music.  I also teach our “godchildren”, Thora, Sarah and Dewayne, guitar, bass and drums, respectively. I don’t think I’m very good at it, having taken very few lessons myself, but I’m better than nothing and they seem to like it.

Copulation and Architecture was my first endeavor in the home recording studio.  I had bought a Yamaha MT1X 4 track and was having fun with that.  When I moved back up to Boston in 1987 and got my place with Tony Savoie in Union Square, Somerville, I bought an Atari 1040ST computer and a Korg DS8 synthesizer. The Atari had built in MIDI ports and was a good music computer for the time.  I was fascinated by the process and the aural vistas which it opened.  I could mimic horn sections and marimbas and go on to make new sounds that didn’t exist in nature.  With step entry, I could play synth runs that I could never play myself.  I really can’t play keyboard at all well.  And though there is a certain electronic sterility to the sound of the album, musically, I like it.  It is the process of a lot of focus and hard work.  I have fond memories of that process.

It also allowed me to write about my many loves and infatuations from early adulthood.  The same dysfunctions that prevented me from pursuing music also kept me from fully realizing relationships with women.  So often they were unrequited and I was left in the role of platonic boy, a role that I was probably too good at.

One song of which I am particularly proud is Wish Of Grey.  It is about my mother’s last days in the Norwalk Hospital Cancer Unit.  I was fortunate in being able to spend her last hours with her.  Her death at 55 was a huge loss to our family and me.  Fortunately, we have managed to flourish without her here, thanks to the gifts she imparted to us while she was alive.  Her influence lives on in her grandchildren, and her daughters-in-law, while they never met her, feel as though they knew her.

Anyway, that’s Copulation and Architecture.  Feel free to buy it for seven bucks.  There will be more coming to bandcamp from me.  I like the platform and I feel as though I fit in with the music I hear on there.

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