Conceptual Irregularities

The modern composer refuses to die – Edgar Varese

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.

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.

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


I gave up Facebook for Lent.  Twitter, too.  I can’t say I miss them terribly.  There’s a lack of connection, to be sure, but I don’t miss the political hoopla.  I’ve thrown in the towel on that front.  The Republicans are going to do what they’re gonna do. Let’s give them a chance to try this very libertarian free market capitalism program and watch it fail miserably. Or at least that’s what I’d like to believe.  My friends all have Trump Derangement Syndrome.  Just like Republicans had Obama Derangement Syndrome.

We got the bad news that Nancy has been diagnosed with Stage 4 Ovarian cancer, something one doesn’t usually come back from.  She has a good attitude and has been very open about dying on Facebook, which I have to see through Tami’s account.  We are going to move out there to support her and Neil.  Tami wants to raise dwarf goats and miniature donkeys.  I will work from home, which means I’ll be a data analyst/goatherd.  New professions for the new millennium.

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.

Coming To Grips

It is hard to wrap one’s head around the fact that the leader of the free world is a man of such loathsome values.  A man who lies with impunity.  A man in whom a significant proportion of citizens have put faith.  I can’t help but believe that he is conning these people.  He is a businessman first and foremost.  That means he puts his own interests first.  He has always been a great manipulator. I believe his goal here is to profit.  And if he continues to feed his constituents’ fear and xenophobia, they will look the other way when he uses his position to make deals and/or ensure policy that help him or big business in general.

More than ever, we live in bubbles now.  We naturally choose like minded people to socialize with and many of my friends have no conservatives whom they regard as friends.  I grew up with my brother, Desmond, the uber-conservative, so I have always had someone there to show me the other side.  He has always been very angry about it and political conversations with him go South in a hurry.  More than half my band is conservative, ranging from Tea Partier to Rockefeller Republican. I work in finance, so there are a few people with whom I work who are conservative, but not as many as you might think.  

A fellow blogger, Beauty Beyond Bones, liked my site so I went and visited hers.  She’s a very nice woman who is recovering from anorexia and has some very interesting things to say about recovery and self-discovery and faith.  She voted for this man and outlined her reasons why in a very thoughtful post.  Her main reason is that she is anti-abortion, and I find that that does tend to be a deal breaker for people who think that way.  If you feel that babies are being murdered, you can’t really soft-pedal that.  She is also in favor of stronger immigration laws and resents being called a racist for feeling that way. 

I don’t care one way or the other about immigration laws, having spent my childhood being told to get off of people’s lawns.  I believe some of this stems from the primacy of private property that capitalism evokes.  Capitalism needs selfishness and greed in order to succeed.  Or, conversely, capitalism succeeds due to the selfishness and greed that are inherent in the human condition.  There are a few of us who don’t feel like we always need to gain more stuff and can be happy with just enough, but most humans want more.  For that matter, most living things want more.  You keep putting bowls of food before a dog, and it will keep eating ad infinitum.  

Clearly, the proletariat wants something different than what we elites want.  They are scared, they want security.  They have no pensions and they don’t have the wherewithal to put away the money that they will need in the future.  This fear is not limited to the US.  The Phillipines have elected Duterte as president, a mans who has openly called for extralegal killings of drug dealers and has bragged about doing it himself.  He retains a high level of popularity.  

Liberal society’s rule of law has not worked out for many of the great unwashed.  They feel as though they play by the rules yet struggle to get by while others destroy their communities with impunity.  While the Wal-marts of the world exploit them, they don’t hold these corporations in contempt because they provide cheap goods and jobs.  The drug dealer does not.  

For those of us who grew up in relative affluence and then went on to liberal arts colleges, putting aside the atavistic comes  more easily.  We believe in compassion for the downtrodden and want to give them a hand up.  Conservatives see that as a handout and believe it just enables them.  I personally believe there may be some merit in that idea but that there are a great deal of the poor who simply, due to family history, racism, mental illness, or other factors beyond their control, cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  Mostly because they have no boots.

I would like to be able to sit down (actually or virtually) with a conservative and just be able to lay out little pieces of what we believe in and see how many of the points there are on which we agree.  I have made peace with the fact that I am not going to change anybody’s mind.  I just want to see where we can find common ground.

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

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