Song #13: Cuppa Joe – “40 (Hey Al)”

September 1, 2020

Song #13: Cuppa Joe – “40 (Hey Al)”

My 40th birthday was like the old TV show This Is Your Life, played out in living color, right in front of me.

I’m usually the spectacle guy, trying to make everything out to be bigger than it really is.  I’m like Don King for weirdos, everything needs to be an event, and if it doesn’t turn out that way, I beat myself up.  Sandy is the voice of reason, the person who talks me down when I’m not happy about the attendance at a show I organized, or the feedback to a record I put out.  It’s taken me more than 30 years of being with her to let some realism seep into my shtick and just enjoy some of the stuff, soak it in and understand that all this Dromedary Records stuff is really for a small audience (maybe sometimes just me) and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that as long as it’s fun.

But on my 40th birthday Sandy was Don King for a day.

We always had a party around Labor Day; it stemmed from when we lived in the small town of Boonton, New Jersey.  Boonton had a retirement home for firefighters, and on Labor Day the town would have an enormous parade with firetrucks from every town in the state.  The thing would go on for hours.  They’d have a fair at the high school, with games and rides for the kids, live music and dancing, all sorts of food and beer, and then at the end of the day, there would be a fireworks display that rivaled big city fireworks. I guess having every fire department in the state all in one place at one time gave them latitude to go a little crazy with the pyro.

From the front lawn of our tiny starter house, we had a great view of the fireworks, so we decided it was a decent enough attraction that we should throw a Labor Day party.  We continued the tradition after we left Boonton for the rural town of Great Meadows, taking the party with us, if not the firetrucks.

The thing I learned was this: if you want to have a surprise party for someone, the best possible cover is a party.  If the guest of honor knows there’s a party, you don’t have to hide everything.  And since you don’t have to hide everything, you can hide all sorts of things in plain sight, and the guest of honor will not suspect a thing.  So Sandy planned the greatest party ever, right under my nose, and I even helped with some of it, thinking it was our regular Labor Day thing.

On the morning of my 40th birthday, a day I wanted to sleep in, Sandy woke me up early and said “I need your help, I don’t know how to set up a stage.”

I was still bleary from sleep, and kind of pissed because it was my birthday and I wanted to sleep in.  “What?!”

“How do you do it?  Where do you think is the best place for the band to play?”

The band?  What the fuck was she talking about?  I opened my eyes.

The first thing I noticed was that she was wearing a Footstone t-shirt that I’d never seen before.  Footstone’s logo was a ripoff of the Firestone tires logo – same typeface. And there it was, on her shirt.  Along with something about a reunion.  She was smiling.  She actually had special t-shirts made.

It sunk in.  “Is Footstone playing here?!”

She smiled.

“Holy shit,” I yelped.  “How did you make that happen?”

“I just asked,” she said.  “They all said yes.”

Mark lived in Minneapolis.  Eric lived down in Cape May.  Some of the guys weren’t really friends anymore.  And she managed to get them to play a show for the first time in a decade.  That would’ve been enough.  More than enough.  But that wasn’t all she did.

She invited people from every facet of my life.  Childhood friends. High school friends.  College friends.  Dromedary friends. Neighbors.  Parents of kids I coached.  People I hadn’t seen in decades, and people I saw every weekend.

She asked everyone to tell them a song that reminded them of me, and then she made a playlist of all of them.  She gave me a list of song titles, and a list of people, and my task was to pay attention to the songs, and then guess who chose each one (and you’re goddamned right I got every one correct).

She invited the guys from Cuppa Joe, who I hadn’t been in touch with for fifteen years, to come to the party.  They couldn’t make it, so they wrote a song for me.  It was the first and only time anyone has ever written a song for me, and it makes me swell with pride.  I have a song.  It was a typical, twee Cuppa Joe song with clever lyrics called “40 (Hey Al)” and it was filled with things that added up to 40, or different uses of the number 40 (did you know the atomic weight of calcium is 40?  Or that there are 40 varieties of Pop Tarts?).  They sent it along with a video they made, and Sandy played it for me while projecting the video onto the side of the house so everyone could see it.  They put their kids in the video, kids I never met, and when I saw them I cried.  I hadn’t seen these guys in fifteen years.  Fifteen more than twenty-five, as the lyrics say.

The whole thing was overwhelming, and it was also like a high school party in that everyone got drunk and out of control, playing beer pong and drinking the strongest Mai Tais I’ve ever had, out of paper Dixie cups that were disintegrating from the strength of the alcohol in them.  At 4am I smoked a joint with Ralph on my deck, made my way up to bed, the happiest guy who ever lived, having spent a night surrounded by so many of my favorite people from my entire life.  I still get a warm glow when I think about it.  I am so fucking lucky because I’ve had the best and coolest friends in the world, for the entirety of my life.

Screen Shot 2020-09-01 at 12.47.38 AM

Every fuckin’ person in Footstone broke the shorts rule when they played my backyard.

Anyway, I’m writing this entry on my birthday.  I turned 50 last year, and I have decided that my 50th year sucked for everybody I know, and so I’m just going to pretend it didn’t happen and turn 50 again this year.  If you’re reading, I hope you’re cool with that.  It’s not that I care much about how old I am, it’s that I want a do-over, and I think everyone else does, too.

I’ve been writing these anecdotes every day because I anticipated that the 80 days leading up to the election were going to be tough to bear, and I’d need something to take my mind off things, and so far, I’ve been correct.  It’s already bad.  It’s going to get worse.

Stay focused.  Keep your eye on the ball, and don’t let all the sideshows distract you from the goal.  All of it – every piece of it, every awful thing that’s happening, the disease, the dying and suffering people, the violence, the people losing everything they have, the racism, the crazy conspiracy theories, the billionaires lining their pockets while regular people suffocate alone in hospital beds, the normalization of behavior you never thought you’d see – it all stems from one person.  All of it.  In 64 days we can put an end to it.

It won’t get better instantly.  Biden won’t even be able to fix all of it, and for most of us, he won’t go far enough.  But it’ll be a start.  We need a start.

Anyway, I’m going to play you “40 (Hey Al)” by Cuppa Joe today.  They re-recorded it for the Tunnel Trees album we put out with them in 2012.  It’s clunky and awkward and goofy and clever and will always remind me of that night.  I’m not asking you to buy it today, I just want you to hear it.  It was fun.

And if you’ve read this far, please take a second and learn about the National Independent Venue Association.  Their current campaign, “Save Our Stages,” is trying to lobby Congress to get the Save Our Stages Act and the Restart Act passed, to help keep independent venues nationwide from closing permanently.  You can go there and send an email to your representatives.  Do it.  Costs nothing.

And remember: we could have been out of this by now.

~ by Al on September 1, 2020.

One Response to “Song #13: Cuppa Joe – “40 (Hey Al)””

  1. I love this song! (And I love the story of the partially-secret party). Happy birthday, sir! 🎂

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