By 2005 or 2006, just about the only connection that I had to music was Ralph.

Ralph and Diane had moved back to New Jersey, relocating to Trenton, and that was an unbelievable bright spot for me.  At first, it was great just to see him and know he was nearby.  Every year he and Diane would come to our Labor Day party, drink a few beers, eat a burger, and we’d catch up for an hour or two.  Once or twice we went to a Nets basketball game (I became a basketball fanatic somewhere along the line – I don’t even really follow any team anymore, I just love to watch and learn about the game).  A few times we grabbed a drink in Hoboken.

One year when he came to my house, he told me he was writing music again, and had gotten into a new band.  I don’t think there could have possibly been anything more exciting that he could have told me.  No music makes me happier than the happiness I get out of a brand new batch of Ralph’s songs, and it had been seven or eight years since I’d experienced that feeling.  You don’t realize what a drag it is when you’re used to being one of the first people in the world to get a demo of new songs from a band, and then suddenly you never get another one.

Ralph’s new band included Sean and Brian from Friends, Romans, Countrymen, a band that played a few shows for us toward the end of Dromedary’s life in the 90s.  One night we went to a Nets game together, and the two of us sat in the car in the rain, listening to rough mixes of the new band’s music.  It was a unique band in that Ralph and Sean shared songwriting duties, and they both sang lead – so the band had two lead singers.  Ralph’s vocals were, obviously, powerful leads that soared above the band.  Seans were more gruff, melodic leads that stayed within the band.  When they sang together, it sounded fantastic.

Ralph was so enamored with Sean’s songwriting – Sean hadn’t recorded all his vocal parts yet, so as Ralph played the CD, he sat there in the car and sang some of Sean’s parts.  It reminded me of listening to Nick Berry play a show just for Sandy and me at the coffee house in Boonton – we were sitting in my car, and Ralph was singing his new music for me.

The songs were tremendous, filled with aggression and hooks and loud guitars.  By 2005, I felt like indie rock had gotten wimpy.  Too much acoustic guitar, too much synth.  Too much “beautiful,” and not enough rock.

They had a tough time naming the band.  Ralph sent me a few of the ideas they were considering, all somehow related to New Jersey or New York.  I was partial to Pulaski Skyway.  If I were in a band, I’d want to call them Pulaski Skyway.

They settled on Stuyvesant.

Stuyvesant was great, and they very quickly became my favorite band.  I saw them play a show at Maxwell’s in 2005 – the first time I’d been back to Maxwell’s in years – and Ralph called me out by name from the stage.

Well, not really by name – he said “Dromedary Records in the house.”

It was pretty cool to hear that again.  And the band played a great show – it was the release party for their CD EP Quit More Often.

Ralph and I kept in touch over the next couple of years, doing the Labor Day thing and occasionally exchanging emails about one cool band or another.  And in the winter of 2008, he sent me another CD of fantastic music – probably the best pop I’d ever heard from Ralph.

Song after song was absolutely amazing.  There was a cover of the Lemonheads’ “Ever” that was just unreal, and four or five songs that were just so full of indie rock or power pop hooks that I had to listen to them five or six times before I could truly understand their depth.

Somewhere along the line, Ralph started paying more attention to lyrics.  In a recent conversation, he credited Diane with giving him the motivation to focus more on what he was writing (which doesn’t surprise me at all; I’ve already mentioned that she’s uber smart).  But what’s given the music even more depth is Sean’s songwriting.  When the two of them get together, it just seems like they’re on a whole different level than most indie bands.

Here’s my favorite from the CD that would eventually be called Linden Calling; called “Tape Hiss.”

I think it’s Ralph’s very best work.

It was through Stuyvesant that I slowly became interested in music again.  Particularly Linden Calling.  When I got the CD that Ralph sent me, I listened to it in Ryan’s bedroom with him – he was, at that point, a teenager, with a growing interest in music.  I sat there with him and tried to explain what Dromedary Records was, who Ralph Malanga was, and to explain it in a way that he understood the importance of it all.

And he didn’t.  He didn’t get it.

So I dug deeper.

I pulled out some of the old music – stuff we listened to, and stuff we released.  There was no 24-cassette tape case this time; it was an 80 GB iPod that was eventually replaced with a new one twice its size.  As the library grew, the cobwebs started to get shaken off a bit – the safe, easy commercial alternative stuff eventually became dead weight, as Ryan and I started to find common ground in indie rock.

On the night I snuck into his room after he had fallen asleep to tuck him in and kiss him goodnight, and heard Explosions In The Sky playing on his stereo, I was, once again, hooked.  My son and I were bonding through music, and in turn, it was resonating with me again.

It became routine for me to spend evenings online, discovering new music in ways that I had dreamed might be possible when Rich and I were scouring Audiogalaxy and in the late 90s.  To communicate with other music fans through social networking sites that were so much more conducive to relationship building than Usenet was fifteen years ago.  To have access to a universe of music that could be downloaded at any hour – at a reasonable price that was neither cost-prohibitive to the consumer or unfair to the artist.

In late 2008, something awesome happened: I bumped into You’re Not A Dream, a brand-new record by The Mommyheads, released on an indie label called Bladen County Records.

It seemed that the band’s original drummer had, unfortunately, passed away.  To honor his memory, the band reunited for a few shows, and out of that sprung a brand-new record.  It sounded great, it looked great, and I discovered it by stumbling onto a blog that had posted an MP3 of one of the album’s tracks while I was at work one day, eating lunch.

From there I immediately jumped over to iTunes, where the record was available in its entirety for $9.99.  I bought it, loaded it onto my iPhone, and listened to it in the car on the way home.

When I walked into the house, I ran up the stairs, shushed the kids, and yelped at Sandy “You’ve got to hear what I found today.”

Sandy was in the middle of ten different things, and was utterly disinterested.

“Listen, listen, LISTEN!” I hollered.

She turned around and sighed.  I docked the iPhone in its jack, which is connected to our stereo, and a song began to play.

“It’s good,” she said.  “Who is it?”

I responded by jumping to another track on the album.

“Who is it?” she said, getting annoyed.

“Just listen,” I responded.  And then the vocal began.

“Is that Adam?” she asked.

I smiled.

“Is this The Mommyheads?”

“Brand new Mommyheads,” I said.  I had a huge smile.  A huge smile.  And maybe I welled up a little.

Brand new Mommyheads.

~ by Al on December 21, 2009.

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