Song #63: David Rat – “Become Like The Sun”

•October 27, 2020 • Leave a Comment

October 27, 2020
Song #63: David Rat – “Become Like The Sun”

Yesterday, I voted. Sandy and I stood on a reasonably long line in midtown Kingston, jumping on just before the polls opened at 9AM. When the line stretched to about a block long, a man drove by and yelled “God bless you!” out his car window, followed by “God bless you for fighting!”

As we wound around the building, it felt great to finally be waiting to cast my vote for something this important. I looked at the line, all of us six feet apart, wearing masks (Sandy and I wore two each), each of us required to sanitize and don disposable plastic gloves when entering the building, remove the gloves and re-sanitize prior to leaving, each of us quietly and nervously pawing at the ground while we waited.

And then it hit me, all at once. Anger.

I don’t know what I’m going to have left when this is over. And I look at the people who’ve been fighting consistently for four years, donning pussy hats in January of 2017 and marching on Washington, and not stopping since. I don’t know how they did it.

Seven days left.

Song #62: The 65’s – “Greatest Pretense”

•October 26, 2020 • Leave a Comment

October 26, 2020
Song #62: The 65’s – “Greatest Pretense”

Bands break up, musicians have arguments with one another and part ways. It happens for all sorts of reasons. I get it.

But sometimes, those strong and dynamic creative personalities can make some fucking amazing music, and when Joe Pugsley and Dan Smith did their best work together, it was pretty fucking magical. There are songs on Strike Hard! that are just fantastic, melodically beautiful, crushingly heavy, just outstanding songs.

I think almost every song on Strike Hard! is good. I think three or four are legitimately great. And I think one, “Greatest Pretense,” is brilliant.

We put out two different versions of the song, and each one showcased different things that I loved about the lineup of The 65’s that played on Strike Hard!

The album version was the Bob Mould version, a straightforward dose of pop, with Dan singing lead, his melancholy voice singing dark lyrics over upbeat handclaps, tambourine and layers of guitar, including subtle acoustic strumming. The chorus comes in after the second verse, the phrase hitting hard:

This feeling we’re all chasing keeps escaping me
Even though we’re all caged, we pretend that we’re free.

and then, similar to Dan’s later song “The Ballad of Squeaky Fromme,” Dan single the final lyric:

Even though she’s miles away, I still pretend that she loves me
And maybe that, my friends, is the greatest pretense

And with that, the song just ends, this time with a long, one-minute fade out, Dan repeating the song title. Two verses, one chorus, and you’re left with the dark lyrics, echoing in your brain as the song fades away.

Once, I drove from Jersey to Pennsylvania in the middle of the night, with “Greatest Pretense” loaded on my iPod (back when I had an iPod), and I played it again and again, studying it, singing along, learning the lyrics and the subtle vocal melodies. Maybe I played it 20 or 30 times in a row, just deconstructing the song til I knew it inside-out, clicking back to the beginning and listening to the segment where the guitar feedback introduces the chorus, or the way the chorus ends with a slight change to the melody line, longing for a second chorus or a third verse to resolve the song in a way that befits the uplifting melody.

Two weeks after Strike Hard! was released, we put it out again, this time a completely different version of the song, on the digital B-side of a single release we did for “Pretty in Pink” on Christmas Day, 2011.

This version was completely different. Instead of the Bob Mould poppy version, this version swings, a different rhythm provided by John Steele behind the kit, and with much darker, more distorted guitar. The bass doesn’t come into the song until just before the beginning of the verse (including a clam in the second verse), and instead of Dan, lead vocals are provided by Joe. The darkness of the song, with Joe’s vocal, is much more apparent, and the vocal in the chorus is provided by Cindi Merklee, who by that time was the band’s bass player. Cindi has a beautiful, expressive voice, and Dan’s harmony vocal sits far in the background, barely audible, just providing a little texture. This time, Joe sings the killer lyric at the end, and instead of a minute-long fade, the track ends with a long, plaintive guitar solo.

Two completely different interpretations of the same song by the same band, released within two weeks of one another.

The 65’s have released some killer music since Strike Hard!, and so has Dan. The 65’s added Ed Roessler on guitar, an excellent musician who I knew from the band Miss Ohio, and Ryan Struck on bass and backing vocals (Ryan is the creative voice behind Scary Hours). They’ve released a number of singles and EPs over the years, and they were excellent.

Dan, for his part, released Groping For Luna, Vol. 1 on Dromedary, and has released a few albums on his own, both original material and covers. He’s got a new project he calls Smallpox, and the forthcoming record is outstanding.

Despite all that, the creative chemistry on that first 65’s record was pretty amazing, and despite the fact that the version of the band that created it is no more, it would be a fucking shame if everybody involved didn’t occasionally stop and remember what a great piece of music that was.

Song #61: Savak – “The Point of the Point”

•October 24, 2020 • Leave a Comment

October 24, 2020
Song #61: Savak – “The Point of the Point”

Here come the leeches and the creeps
So let’s dumb it down, let’s dumb it down, let’s dumb it down
Here come the toadies and the hangers-on
So let’s dumb it down, let’s dumb it down, let’s dumb it down

Today is the first day you can begin voting in New York. There are ten days ’til the election.

Sometimes, I reach out to a band I really like, whose members I tangentially know, and make an introduction. Maybe it’s because I’d like them to be on my radio show, or maybe it’s because we have a lot of friends in common and thus wind up commenting on the same social media threads a lot so it seems silly that we don’t actually know one another. And occasionally it’s because I’d like to put out their record.

I cannot remember which of those three things drew me to Sohrab of Savak. Our circles crashed together somehow in 2016, perhaps a result of their excellent debut LP Best of Luck in Future Endeavors on Jon Solomon’s Comedy Minus One label (a favorite label of mine, from which I routinely buy just about every release), perhaps a result of their brilliant single “Keys To The City,” which appeared on the Unblinking Ear Office Supplies series, as I was a regular listener to Paul Bruno’s Unblinking Ear podcast. Perhaps it was a result of my friend Greg Vegas playing saxophone with the band.

Regardless, I found the band in 2016 and, at the beginning of 2017, met the band in person when they played a WFDU benefit show I organized that featured Greg’s original band Monsterland, who played their first show in 20+ years. The following year, Sohrab helped me to organize a benefit for Justice Democrats to raise funds for the Congressional campaigns of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jess King, where Savak played with Sunwatchers and Spectre Folk.

In the case of Savak, Sohrab was super friendly and nice, which is probably why he knows so many people and is universally liked. Regardless, when I asked him if the band might be interested in doing a 7″, he responded quickly and soon I had four songs from which to choose. Each was excellent, and it was a tough choice.

Thankfully, you can get the other two songs on the band’s 7″ at this link.

And of course, you can get “The Point of the Point” and “Checked Out” from us, in digital or lathe-cut 8″ – that’s right, 8″.

Song #60: Cathedral Ceilings – “Bonfire of the Manatees”

•October 23, 2020 • Leave a Comment

October 23, 2020
Song #60: Cathedral Ceilings – “Bonfire of the Manatees”

As a postscript to my other post from today:

We put out this new record today. Actually, we put out a lathe-cut 7″ of it too, but they all sold out on the first day the preorder went up.

The band is a brand-new band. The members are Ralph, Nick and Tom, who have been making music in bands forever. They make music like they’re teenagers. They don’t want to be rock stars, they just want to have fun.

Give it a listen.

Song #59: Friends, Romans, Countrymen – “The Day Footstone Died”

•October 23, 2020 • Leave a Comment

October 23, 2020
Song #59: Friends, Romans, Countrymen – “The Day Footstone Died”

As the 90s drew to a close, so had my involvement with music. We had, a few years before, come to the conclusion that we couldn’t make money making records. It would never be my job, at least with the record business constructed the way it was. We swam upstream – ferociously – for four or five years, but ultimately it just wasn’t working. I can be really loud, but I just couldn’t be loud enough to be heard above this particular din.

Almost accidentally, my business career had taken off, and I found myself in a series of higher-level positions in an exploding industry, doing work that was far beyond my level of experience, and I was good at it. For a while, I tried to leverage the knowledge and experience I was gaining to put together a business that married punk with the internet, providing free music downloads to punk fans in an ad-driven model that, for a brief period, would’ve been successful had we actually launched it. Ultimately, though, the late 90s and early 2000s was marked by a series of deaths that would, at least temporarily, put nails in the coffin of this idea we had, this cool little record label we hatched out of the kitchen of an apartment in Lodi, New Jersey.

First, my enthusiasm for it died.

Then, the label itself died.

Then, the bands started to die.

For a long time, I associated the death of Dromedary with the death of my best friend Rich, who was an integral part of getting the label running. But the reality was that it died because I took too many punches over a short period of time, while my career was taking off. I thought, finally, it was either one thing or the other, and the practical thing to do was to move forward with my career and family, and put the record fantasy away.

In 2016, my son and I went to see the Get Up Kids play in Jersey City. The Get Up Kids were one of these bands that I listened to during the “dark period” where I wasn’t actively seeking out new music, a decent enough emo band that was in the car CD player a lot when my oldest son was little. By extension, he knew a lot of their music. When they put together a tour in 2016, my son – then 21 years old – suggested we go.

At the show, I was struck by the number of people in their 30s who were there, dancing and singing along. They were, like, the happiest people in the world, seeing this band that hadn’t played in a while, who meant so much to them just ten or fifteen years earlier.

It was at that Get Up Kids show that I sort of realized that in more heavily populated areas, music communities sort of come and go. My experience with Dromedary dying in the late 90s wasn’t really much different than other labels and bands that came before Dromedary, or after. I could name a bunch, but it would be insulting. Also, I won’t name them, because I want them all to do what I did.

I want them all to realize that having a goal of being a rockstar is a goal that has nothing at all to do with art, or with fun, or with community. Having a goal of being a rockstar is really not that different than having a goal of being a movie star, or a CEO, or President. Hiring a manager or signing a major label deal is a career choice, like going to law school or hiring an executive coach. Most of us work our way up the corporate ladder to a point, but we live our lives even if we don’t become CEO. When we realize we’ll never get past middle management, or Customer Service, or Vice President or whatever, we don’t hang up our stapler and quit – we just reframe our expectations and keep going to work. We keep taking our vacations, saving for retirement, falling in love, spending time with friends.

For some reason, though, with music, when people realize they’re not going to be rich and famous, they put the guitar away. They stop playing. They shut down their record label, or their fanzine, or their blog. They look back fondly on that part of their life, maybe a little upset because it didn’t work out for them. And a lot of times, they think “If only.”

Fuck “If only.” Double-fuck “If only.” It was fun. It was worth doing. People enjoyed it. And you should not stop doing it.

Reframe your expectations, the same way you did when you came to the conclusion that you were never going to sit behind the executive desk. And then you keep playing tiny shows, booking studio time, and hanging out with your band. Or, if you run a label, keep putting out little records nobody gives a shit about, and hanging out with your friends in bands.

It is better than skiing, or watching football, or collecting bottlecaps, or a myriad of things that people do to pass time until they die. It’s better because they’re leaving something beautiful behind. It’s better because after that Get Up Kids show, a lot of those youngsters, now working in middle management jobs in the finance business, went home with a smile, remembering how much fun it used to be when they were young, and hoping to be able to do it again sometime, maybe when Hot Rod Circuit plays a reunion, or Knapsack, or Midtown or whoever.

But you go home and actually still do it.

Those ageist kids I wrote about the other day? None of them are rock stars yet, so none of them likely will be. Some of them will age like the kids at the Get Up Kids show. A few of them will keep doing this into their 40s and 50s and 60s, and they will wake up every morning and say “Jesus, this is still so much fun.”

This wistful song by Friends, Romans, Countrymen was written about when Footstone broke up. It’s written about them in a “good old days” sort of way. Yet so many of the guys who played on it, and who it’s written about, are still involved, making music, playing in bands, being creative. It’s not a thing that has to end. These can still be the good old days.

Song #58: The Mommyheads – “Worm”

•October 21, 2020 • Leave a Comment

October 21, 2020
Song #58: The Mommyheads – “Worm”

I slept in a wigwam in the mountains of New Mexico once.

I mean, it was most certainly glamping. I don’t camp. I don’t sleep on the ground. Period. There was a time where Sandy and I would occasionally do it for fun – in college, or when we were first married. But I got spoiled at a job where the executives above me had a philosophy about business travel. I learned about it when I came back from my first business trip, which was to Burlingame, California, in 1994 – same trip where I spilled a whole container of maple syrup into my lap as the plane took off.

I got back from the trip, and that Monday morning, carefully unfolded all my receipts onto my desk and began filling out the company expense report. The National Sales Manager had to approve my expenses, because my boss wasn’t in that day, and he called me into his office.

“What the fuck is this?” he asked. And looked genuinely angry.

I wracked my brain, quickly, trying to imagine which of my expenses would be disallowed. When I was confident they were all allowable, I asked “What?”

He showed me a receipt. “Taco Bell?” he asked, incredulously.

“I don’t get it. It was lunch.”

“When you’re on the road, don’t you ever go to Taco Bell,” he said, firmly. “When you’re on the road, you live like a fucking king.”

“I don’t mind,” I said. “I can eat Taco Bell.” I was about 23 years old. I loved Taco Bell.

“You’re not understanding me,” he said. “If you come back from another business trip with an expense report like this, I will fire you (he was not my boss). I spend half my life on the road. I’m away from my family all the time. If I have to be away from my family for work, I’m going to live well. I eat at the best restaurants. I rent nice cars. I have the company pay for my fucking dry cleaning. If they start seeing your expense reports with Taco Bell, they’re going to think maybe I should eat that shit, and I’m not eating any fucking Taco Bell. So when you’re on the road, from now on, your expense reports need to look like mine.”

It was the most fucked-up logic I’d heard, but it was actually logical. So I started eating better food, getting my clothes cleaned on the road, staying at nicer hotels. Once, on a trip to San Diego, the airline lost my luggage and I had to do my presentation in a pair of smoky jeans and a t-shirt that I wore on the flight.

“You bring your luggage?” they asked. “Don’t bring your luggage. Airlines lose luggage. You know who never loses a package? FedEx. FedEx your luggage the day before you leave.

So I started sending my luggage a day ahead of time, via FedEx. It would be waiting at the hotel when I arrived. No baggage carousel, no waiting with the masses for the rental car. I got a membership to the private club at the airport so I could wait in style at any airport in the country.

I learned little travel tips like that, and got really good at it. And by extension, I became conditioned: when I’m traveling, I’m allowed to sleep in a nice place. I most definitely do not sleep on the ground. Squirrels don’t even sleep on the ground.

Though I should note: multiple times while on the road, I have slept in my car. That’s different. That’s romantic. Sleeping on the ground, well, that’s just uncomfortable.

I routed this particular trip from Austin to Phoenix, making sure I got as much time in the desert as possible. I love the Southwest, and I love the desert. It feels like America out there, with miles-long freight trains, RVs set into the foothills, hulking mountains and endless expanses of land. The sky comes right to the ground and explodes all around you, as high as outer space and just as wide.

I found, in the Lincoln National Forest, an Airbnb that was a giant teepee with a king-sized bed inside it, and I reserved it for a night. I took my time driving, beginning the day in El Paso, stopping for lunch in a border town and then slowly making my way north, and up, til I arrived at my destination. The owners of the Airbnb met me outside, and directed me to the teepee, on a raised wooden platform maybe a thousand feet from the back of their house into the woods. They showed me the outdoor shower and chemical toilet that would be mine for the stay. There would not be much between me and mother nature, for sure.

“You can hike up into the mountain behind the teepee,” the lady explained, “there’s nothing but views for miles.”

After a long drive, that sounded great. I grabbed my luggage and brought it into the teepee, took my special vape pen and stuffed it into my pocket, and ventured out into the woods.

I hiked upward, and sort of left – the woman had given me vague directions of how I could walk through an area of burned-out trees where there was once a fire. She explained that once I got through the burned-out area I should walk up a relatively steep hill, and over a bit of rock, which would bring me to an area that had the most spectacular views.

I did what she said, and after hiking for about 45 minutes or so, I came to a clearing and some craggy rocks that overlooked an incredible valley. Across the valley, hulking an unfathomable distance above me, was a much larger, steeper and rockier mountain. The views were outrageous, and I arrived just in time to watch the sun creep below the mountainside.

I had brought my phone with me, thinking I’d have a few hits off my pen while I played some music on the phone, but there was no cell service out there, and thus no way to pick up Spotify. Content to enjoy the silence of the woods and the mountains, I heated up my vaporizer and took a few drags of the special oils inside as I watched the sun dip under the rocks.

The valley I was in most certainly depended on the sun being in the sky for light, and almost immediately as the sun disappeared it became considerably darker and colder. I pulled down my sleeves and, sufficiently stoned, stood up and began making my way back.

Except I had no fucking idea where I was going anymore. And it was quickly getting dark.

I knew I had hiked uphill for the majority of the walk – about 45 minutes or so – so when I reached a decline I began to head downward, slowly making my way from tree to tree, hanging on for balance. The walk down was actually slower and more difficult than the walk up, as there were lots of ankle-twisting roots and fallen branches over which it was easy to trip. I fell once, my right knee clunking against a rocky floor, sending zings of pain up my leg.

After 20 minutes or so, it occurred to me that I was really racing against darkness, trying to make my way back to the camp while I could still see. I had no clue what sort of wildlife lived in those mountains, but that only lurked in the back of my mind, which was beginning to be dominated by the feeling of being lost on the side of a mountain in a dense forest alone at night with no coat and at high elevation while I was stoned with no food and no cell service and no idea how to get where I was going–

Holy shit, it was hard not to panic, is all I’m saying. And it was getting dark fast.

After an hour of walking, I found myself in a clearing along the side of a ridge, and when I approached the ridge, just below a long strip of scraggly brush, was a dirt road.

A road, I thought, has got to lead to somewhere.

So I began walking along the road. A dirt road, wide enough for cars but most certainly a private road. Paranoia started to set in, as I envisioned myself, in the immortal words of John S. Hall, being “Ned Beattied” in the woods of New Mexico and left to freeze to death, squealing like a pig.

Or being eaten by a bear, or a bigfoot, or whatever the local wild animals were.

Officially night now, the road lit by moonlight, I kept checking my cellphone, with no luck finding even a single bar of signal strength. I had no clue if I was walking in the right direction or not, and since I used my GPS to get where I was going, I couldn’t describe to anyone where I needed to be.

Not that there was anyone to describe it to, as there was nobody to be found.

I remember thinking the outward hike was much better than the return trip.

Coming around a bend, I saw a sign and a fork in the road. It was the road sign that I passed in my car on the way in, directing me to the compound where I was staying. I had lost my direction so significantly that I had completely overshot the house, made an enormous half-circle, and returned to the house from the complete opposite direction from which I had departed.

I walked down the driveway, past the house until I saw my car. I thought briefly about getting in the car and getting the fuck out of the Lincoln National Forest, but instead thought “Isn’t this kind of shit the whole reason I’m on the planet?” I signed the Airbnb guest book, took another hit off my pen and settled in for what might’ve been the most peaceful sleep of my life, in a comfortable king-sized bed heaped high with blankets and pillows, the outside temperature in the low 30s and me surrounded by a canvas teepee.

Song #57: You, Me, and This Fuckin’ Guy – “Dan West”

•October 20, 2020 • Leave a Comment

October 20, 2020
Song #57: You, Me, and This Fuckin’ Guy – “Dan West”

It’s completely irrelevant to this blog, but I used to co-own a small advertising agency in New Jersey. I had found myself smack dab in the middle of corporate America in the early 2000s, and had gotten muscled out of what was a pretty excellent job as a result of a combination of being on the wrong end of an acquisition and being unable to effectively navigate the seedy, shitty world of corporate politics. I decided I didn’t want to do the corporate thing ever, ever, ever again, so I partnered up with a guy I thought I liked and started a small firm that mostly catered to mid-sized businesses.

My cousin – a guy I love and respect, and who owned agency of his own – told me in early 2008 that I needed to immerse myself in these new media if I wanted to stay on top of trends in marketing and technology. Agencies were getting on Second Life and opening virtual shops, he said. You need to be on Twitter, he said. You need to be on Facebook.

So after making it about an hour on Second Life, I joined Facebook and started connecting with people I knew in business. People I’d worked with in past jobs, former clients and customers, current coworkers. I built a page for my little ad agency and started using it to showcase our work, and started pointing colleagues toward it. Then I started reconnecting with old friends – after all, I didn’t know what they’d for a living. Maybe some guy who used to be on Dromedary, or some person I knew in high school, or somebody I played little league with, might need some marketing strategy, or maybe a new website or something.

Turned out very few people I knew actually used Facebook for business. Customers and clients were dormant, but friends were active, and for me it pretty quickly became social media. But it took me a few years being online before I established my personal Facebook policy: the only people I want to be Facebook friends with are people I actually know, not professionally but personally or through Dromedary or Signal to Noise. People that, if I have not actually met in person, are people I’ve spoken with or corresponded with or should otherwise know. Unlike the real world, I didn’t want to have to censor myself on Facebook.

I figured that Facebook could be a great way to build relationships. If I went out somewhere, I’d “check in” to that place, and sometimes a friend who was nearby would see that, and drop in to say hi. So it became a habit to “check in” on social media – something I still do today.

I also started taking pictures of shows I was attending. I didn’t want to be a pro photographer, I take pictures from wherever I’m standing, trying to capture what it is that I’m seeing. Then I put it on Facebook, and a year from now, or two years from now, that becomes a great way to jog a memory.

Then one day, a person I knew professionally made a comment about the amount of time I’m out. Which, compared to a lot of people I know, is not that much. But it reinforced to me the idea that I shouldn’t have ever become Facebook friends with people I knew professionally. Same goes with family members I don’t count as personal friends.

For me, the final straw came when a relative that has the same name as me sent me a text that said “Your friend Jim is a real asshole,” or something like that. I had no clue what he was talking about, and it took me a few minutes to realize that my pal Jim Santo was somehow having an argument on Facebook with this family member of mine.

So I went to Jim’s Facebook and read the thread. Jim had made some sort of anti-religious post, and for some reason it showed up on my relative’s newsfeed (I guess Jim had his Facebook set up so that friends of friends could see his posts). My relative made an argumentative response, Jim looked at the name, thought it was me, and so he responded sarcastically. My relative responded to Jim again, and since he thought it was me being sarcastic, he responded even more sarcastically. Pretty soon it was a full-blown argument, with Jim thinking he was having a sarcastic discussion with me, and my relative thinking Jim was an evil satanist or something (which he is).

So I began the arduous process of slowly deciding which Facebook friends could remain friends, and which ones would quietly have to go, sometimes precipitated by a discussion about why they were going.

And then donald trump was elected.

I could spend tens of thousands of words explaining what I dislike about donald trump, why I think he’s the worst president in American history, why there’s not even a close second, and why I consider it a personal affront when somebody I know supports him. I won’t. Suffice to say that after the 2016 election, I quietly hit the “unfriend” button about 50 times, dumping my trump supporting friends right out of my life.

The logic was simple: if you’re okay with overlooking the racism and misogyny and complete lack of care for others, you’re not welcome in my life. On top of that, if you’re okay with the complete fumbling of the pandemic, you’re not welcome in my life.

Gradually, over the past four years, when a less overtly political friend makes his or her position known on Facebook, I quietly hit the “bye” button. I’ve dumped about a hundred people (and I’m fairly confident that as many have dumped me, which is also fine), and in the process, I’ve also weeded out most of the people who were professional acquaintances, childhood friends, and other assorted folks that aren’t really relevant in my life. It’s narrowed down to a small window of people that I’m close with, that I truly like, who are trump supporters, and they’re all generally respectful and understanding enough to know not to be overt about it with me, because I don’t want to be pushed into making that decision with them.

What’s left is a nice little echo chamber where I can at least make believe that the world is only filled with people who care for others, who want to elevate the marginalized, help those in need, fix the environment, and maybe stop the spread of the disease that is not at all a hoax. I like that world, I wish the rest of the world was like that, instead of a place where gun-toting assholes get in your face because they don’t want to wear a mask.

I’m fully aware of all the evils of Facebook. I’ve got, at this point, more than a decade of memories and photos there, conversations with people, relationships and such. That’s where I’m at, in terms of social media. I use Instagram, but that’s a weird amalgamation of record label, radio show and personal stuff that requires the page to be viewable by everybody. I use Twitter, but that’s even more public. Facebook is my spot. It’s my cousin’s fault.

Anyway, here’s a poem that John S Hall wrote about his Facebook friendship with Dan West, both of You, Me and This Fuckin’ Guy, from the Garden Variety Fuckers LP. It’s called “Dan West.”

Song #56: Stuyvesant – “3AM”

•October 19, 2020 • Leave a Comment

October 19, 2020
Song #56: Stuyvesant – “3AM”

I’ve got a weird schedule. Which is partially why there are two entries today.

Years ago, I read a story in some magazine about a scientist who decided to take the adage “There’s not enough time in the day” literally, by expanding his “day” by one hour, living in 25-hour days. I don’t even recall if the story was fiction or nonfiction, but basically, he created his own clock and his own calendar, and then set about the business of living an extra hour each day. I don’t recall many specifics of how he did it, I just remember the results: at first, it was quirky and weird. Then, his days became out of sync with the people around him; he would go long stretches where he was working while everyone he knew was sleeping. His family and social life became a mess as he could not coordinate a schedule with others. The story – and the experiment – ended with his suicide.

My schedule is not really a schedule, I guess. I am productive sometimes, and unproductive others, and have always been that way, and so I’ve learned to just go with it. When I’m getting things done, I work until I’m finished. I go to sleep when it seems like it’s too late to be up, and I wake up when I feel like I’m finished sleeping. I stop for lunch, I stop to spend time with family and friends at a logical hour. Sometimes I’ll sleep twice in a day, other times I’ll sleep three or four hours and then take a nap sometime in the afternoon, sometimes I go to sleep and wake at a normal hour. When I’m unproductive, I’m really unproductive. When I’m productive, I can accomplish more in a day than most people do in two days, mostly because I’m up for 20 hours. I’ve always been this way, it’s just taken me a while to figure out how to embrace it.

The result of this is that I’m often awake at 3AM, and whenever I am, and happen to notice the time, Stuyvesant’s “3AM” suddenly begins playing in my head. It’s my favorite song on the Shmyvesant album besides “Hellbent for Heather,” and definitely one of my favorite Stuyvesant songs.

Still image from the Stuyvesant “3AM” video by D. Smith

The first time I heard this song, the band opened with it at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick. It was one of the last shows I ever saw at the Court, on a cold night in February of 2013. Though we didn’t get there nearly enough, the Court was one of my favorite venues, partially because of the multiple levels (you could sit upstairs at the bar and talk, or go downstairs for the music), partially because the room sounded great, and partially because there was really convenient parking. This particular show was with Eastern Anchors and The Anderson Council (who also played a song that resonated with me that night, “Gardening Man”).

Stuyvesant opened with the song, which featured excellent vocal interplay between Ralph and Sean, just loads of hooks at a breakneck pace. That night was the night I felt like Stuyvesant was at its absolute peak as a band, I felt they were the best band in New Jersey at the time. The studio version of the song features saxophones by Scott Zilitto (The Everymen) and Greg Vegas (Monsterland, Savak), and became one of the songs we emphasized when marketing the album. Dan Smith, who at the time was experimenting with making music videos using license-free video, created a sort of dreamy video around the line “It’s 3AM inside her head,” and the single got its premiere on some website I’d never heard of.

Because of the catchiness of the song, and my wacky schedule, I don’t think there’s any other Dromedary song that’s stuck in my head more often – my head hits the pillow with “3AM” playing in it a couple of times a week. As a result, I wake up with “3AM” playing in my head pretty frequently as well.

Give it a listen, maybe it’ll play in yours, too.

Song #55: Glazer – “Couch Cooking”

•October 19, 2020 • Leave a Comment

October 19, 2020
Song #54: Glazer – “Couch Cooking”

It’s an uncomfortable conversation.

A couple of years ago, I heard a story about some friends that were playing a show at a DIY space. The members of the band are probably in their 30s, with at least one member in his later 30s. Before their set began, they were milling about, and a person who was attending the show approached the older of the band members in a really accusatory way, implying that a person his age should not be in the venue. The musician calmly explained to the kid that he (the kid) had just paid a cover charge to get into the venue to see his (the older guy) band. The kid sort of slinked off.

There is ageism in the independent music and DIY scene, and it is rampant.

I get it. There are all kinds of social issues that need to be addressed in independent music. We pride ourselves on being inclusive, and yet women still have to deal with ungodly amounts of abuse from venues, labels, fans, and even other artists. We look around and see the dearth of people of color in DIY music. We see the struggles of the LGBTQ community. These are all real issues, and all important, I see every one of them and I strive to constantly get better, to be an ally and to help elevate anyone who feels marginalized.

And I’m saying that age also needs to be a part of the discussion, because some of the most progressive, inclusive people I know are ageist as fuck. I’ve heard some leaders in the scene reel off ageist tropes like they were reading their grocery list, completely oblivious to my obvious and visible distaste at the words coming out of their mouth.

Here’s what I can tell you:

People over 40 in the scene have been doing this shit for decades and have seen a lot of cool stuff, and have a ton of great stories.

People over 40 in the scene who are still in the scene have 20 years of passion and love for music, a passion that fades for a lot of people over time. But if they’re 40, and still doing it? That’s passion.

People over 40 buy records. They’re married to the idea of owning a physical artifact and they will buy your record, your tape, your T-shirt. They will pay the cover to see your band. They’ll actually pay more. If you’re playing a DIY show where you pass a hat, the people over 40 will put more money in the hat.

People over 40 can be astonishingly talented and creative musicians.

People over 40 are a ton of fun to party with. People over 50 are even more fun to party with.

If there is a person over 40 that is showing interest in your creative endeavor, chances are pretty fucking good that this person is not part of the problem you are railing against, and is actually actively working to better the situation. People over 40 in the scene are activists, they’re volunteers, they’re educators, they’re artists, and you should include them. Inclusive means everyone.

When I asked Glazer if they wanted to come on my radio show, their answer was “yes.” When I asked if they’d be interested in playing a benefit for WFDU, their answer was “yes,” and when I asked them a second time, their answer was also “yes.” When I asked them if they wanted to put out a record on Dromedary, their answer was “yes.” There was no ageist bullshit there, even though I’m pretty sure the guys in the band are not much older than my kids.

And we put out a record, and it sold out quickly, and I’m proud to have done it. I think they’re the best band in New Jersey (though wait til you hear Cathedral Ceilings), and I’m thrilled they didn’t turn their backs on my radio show or my record label because I’m paunchy and greying.

Here’s “Couch Cooking,” which is the second song on the lathe-cut we did with them this past summer. Last week they sent me a gift as a thank-you for putting out their record, and it was touching and cool, and certainly not something that’s ever happened before. You should listen to all their music, and buy all their records. And if you’re over 40, I love you. Also if you’re under 40, I love you though, so…

Song #54: D. Smith – “The Ballad of Squeaky Fromme”

•October 17, 2020 • Leave a Comment

October 17, 2020
Song #54: D. Smith – “The Ballad of Squeaky Fromme”

A lot of the music that’s come out on Dromedary over the years, if it wasn’t originating from some tiny micro-indie label in New Jersey, sounds almost mainstream. I can’t help it; I love a good power pop song, and if someone writes a really good pop song and plays it for me, I’ll want to put it out.

I mean, I’m not going to race out and release 1910 Fruitgum Company records – it’s still got to have some kind of edge to it – but a common thread through a lot of the records we’ve done – Melting Hopefuls, Footstone, Cuppa Joe, Mommyheads, Stuyvesant, Shirk Circus, The 65’s, D. Smith, Joy Cleaner, Positive No, Sink Tapes, and Cathedral Ceilings – has been that they’re basically pop songs. A little edgy, a little weird, but pop songs.

Dan Smith does pop songs brilliantly. Even with his cover songs, there’s something to love in almost every one. Outwardly, he’s pretty modest about them – I remember asking him once about the time signature in this song, and his response was “What the fuck is a time signature?”

I know Dan Smith knows what a time signature is, but I don’t think Dan necessarily likes talking about himself. At least in this context.

“The Ballad of Squeaky Fromme” sounds like the theme to a television show. It’s on, like, the Lifetime Network, and the music is playing over the title sequence where there’s a happy family all dressed in white, the parents are holding hands, running in the surf, toothy white grins and sparkly eyes. Then it cuts to a funeral, maybe a photo of the dad on top of the casket, little kid crying. Then it cuts to the mom, super-frustrated, trying to make dinner and help with homework and she drops something on the floor and it breaks, and she’s got a tear in her eye. Then the mandolin starts playing, and she’s at a baseball game with the teenage daughter, sitting in the bleachers, and the little boy gets a hit, and suddenly they’re all dancing in the outfield.

Right? It sounds like that?

But then something fucked up happens in the song, and it blows me away every time I hear it.

Songs that start slow and then build to some sort of crescendo have existed since, well, since they invented the word “crescendo.” That’s precisely what that word describes.

Typically when that happens, there’s a huge payoff at the end. Think of how “Stairway to Heaven” (for lack of a better example) slowly adds instruments, from quiet guitar, then doubled electric guitar, then bass, then drums, then guitar solo, then screamy vocals. Then after the climax, it sort of falls off.

“The Ballad of Squeaky Fromme” starts like that. The first verse it’s just Dan, singing with an acoustic guitar. A second layer of guitar joins in the second verse. A third layer adds more texture in the first chorus, along with a harmony vocal. Coming into the next verse, we get sleigh bells for some rhythm, along with the layered guitars. Then in the second chorus, a mandolin joins in, playing an octave higher than the guitars. Then, at the end of the second chorus, drums and electric bass join in.

But then, instead of reaching some crashing climax, the song just ends. 43 beats of drums and bass, then a few strums on the mandolin, and that’s it. No more words, no fourth verse, no bridge, no solo, nothing. It just ends.

It’s like that family was dancing in the outfield, and they suddenly all got eaten by a bear.

Anyway, I always thought that was a brilliant device – build the song up, but no crescendo, like musical blue balls.

Today was “The Big Send,” the final day of a big campaign engineered by Swing Left to get people to send letters to unlikely voters in important states. Writing those letters all month and yammering about it made me feel great, like I was contributing to this giant effort to fix the country. Jesus, I hope it helps.

“On to the next thing,” as I like to say. Time to move on to the next thing, whatever that is going to be. Seventeen anxious, edge-of-my-seat days.