Tuesday, December 27, 2011


A hairy crimble and a snappy goo year from Stoneham. Above, Fiona about to light out for the territories. Below, the view from the window at a mostly empty Feu Follett late on Christmas night, enjoying a good dinner while we welcomed some much needed powder from the sky. Another bunch expected today through tomorrow, fingers crossed.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

hypothermia reunion

So... we actually did it. The Friday after turkey day, 25 years (give or take) after our last gig, we set up shop at the Pattenburg Inn off of ol' Route 78. The sign to the left there pretty much says it all. Bang for your buck, my friends. Bang for your buck.

Let me just say, I had a great time. Twenty years without drumsticks in my hands and I'd forgotten how much fun it is to pound the shit out of a 5-piece drum kit. And whatever instrument, there's not much more fun than plugging your way through some good ol rock and roll with a bunch of guys who never fail to crack you up. No one can make you laugh like guys you went to high school with. No hiding from those fellas. Mike, Matt, Karl, Gregg...all good, man. All good.

So, we came out swinging...literally, me flailing away at those cymbals. Who's gonna tell me to keep it quiet? My music teacher from high school who was sitting at the bar, perhaps. But he kindly kept it to himself.

One good long set, then we took a break, drank some beer, polished up the cowbells. After the break we did a little acoustic set. I even sang a few.

Then back behind the drums for the second set. Karl strapped on a squeezebox for "Squeezebox." Priceless. And love the shot over the bottles below.

And the music aside, it was so great to see so many people I haven't seen in such a long time. This was about the closest I've come to a high school reunion, and it was really cool to see Nic, Virg, Graham, Nancy (or rather, N. Elise), Kenny C.... Everything I wrote here a few years ago basically sums it up.

Monday, October 31, 2011

i'm no better a drummer at 41 than i was at 16

Oh, the horror. Oh, the humanity. Cats and dogs, living together. Cowbells will be rung.

You know...I think Hypothermia must have been a much more influential band than we realized back in 1986. An article in this week's New Yorker says that Occupy Wall Street might fail due to "the pressure of hypothermia." Damn.

In other news, speaking of Occupy Wall Street, my friend Chris Hedges has been up to some mischief.

And in other other news, five years after having it painted, we finally got the sign up yesterday. It's got nothing to do with education. It's Gaelic, for "The Dog House."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

farleys forever

I stopped in at Farleys Bookshop the other night for a wine & cheese & cigar memorial for owner Jim Farley, who passed away last week. I didn't really know Jim, but boy do I know his shop and some of the people he's cultivated. Farleys Bookshop -- half a block in from the Delaware River in New Hope -- is almost a piece of fiction itself, or, rather, from a piece of fiction. It is so good, so perfect, that it doesn't seem possible that it exists in the modern world. It calls to mind a little bit of Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop, but, more, something out of Dickens. Or a shop found deep inside Diagon Alley. That Farleys is the best book store in the greater Philadelphia area is without question; to me, it is the best book store in the country. It is wood and plaster and towering, teetering stacks and aisles too narrow for those widely hipped. If you get invited upstairs for some reason the stacks become mountains; these are decades worth of galleys and advance reader copies, which any bookstore gets ten of a day. Any normal merchant would throw most of these out. But not at Farleys. Because who can throw out a book? Indeed. You may read inside of Farleys, for as long as you need to, without fear of raised eyebrows or grublmed admonition.

When I was a boy growing up in Hunterdon County, across the river, a winter day in Farleys was to slip the bounds of reality into a transcendent universe ruled by the greater magisterium of literature and language. When my first novel was published and The New York Times photographer came to snap the requisite so-serious-young-author photo, it was in front of a leaning Farleys stack that I posed. The happiest book release party I ever had (In Hoboken) was in the back room there. And still, when I need to disappear for while, it is on my top five list of locations from which to vanish. In a town with an abnormally large population of writers -- living and ghosts -- Farleys is the nexus around which we all orbit.

Not just real estate, though. People...Rebekah Farley...Julian...they seem to know where everything is. Books and otherwise. I'm prejudiced, of course. One of my daughters works there. But still. In what sounds like an overall interesting life (he went to seminary with Mr. Rogers...he lived in Paris), building Farleys was an achievement for which we could never thank Jim Farley enough.

In other news, last weekend I took the picture below. That's Fiona, just below the top lip of Trail 41 (a blue) on the new mountain at Stoneham, in Quebec. It was the height of perfect autumn in Quebec last weekend, 70 degrees with no humidity and clear blue skies (for the most part). So strange and funny to see this place that I have only ever seen under four feet of snow, sans snow.

From the wildflowers of Quebec, I arrived back home in New Hope on Monday to garden flowers in a vase, picked by Kristina while I was gone. Not impressed by the flowers is Ms. Thing, who is generally not impressed by much.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

there is a town in north ontario

As August naps its way toward completion, Bill Donahue and I had a long chat about where I live and why. He distilled that down into this piece. But as it turns out, I'm currently not where I live right now. I'm here:

Staying there (look up). Doing this (look right). And walking, and fishing, and a lot of eating. No shortage of sleeping, either. Spending a lot of time thinking about someone in Boston.

Here for another few days. Then in the car headed southeast to take a peek at Niagara Falls, from the Canadian side. Last there when I was six, I believe. I wonder if it will remember me.

Ontario is nice. For the last 15 years or so we've spent part of each February in Quebec. The Canadians got it going on. They just do. When the zombie apocalypse hits, look for me here. Actually, don't look for me here, because you might bring something unwanted with you. But here is where I will be.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

a tough week to be a folksinger

About a decade before I published In Hoboken, the great songwriter Bill Morrissey published his first (and tragically, last) novel, Edson, expertly edited by the legendary Gary Fisketjon. Reading that novel was a lot like diving into one of Bill's songs. Interestingly (to me, anyway), one of the sub-themes of Edson was parallel to an In Hoboken sub-theme: one generation of musicians coming to grips/terms with another. Just that the point of view was reversed (one looking down, one looking up). Bill Morrissey sure had a way with words, and it's a good read, if you get a chance. I found out this week that Mr. Morrissey passed away. So close on the heels of Jack Hardy it just doesn't seem fair. I didn't know Bill Morrissey, but I knew his songs for sure. It's a sad thing.

In the same week, we lost Dan Peek. You may remember him as one third of the original America. Funny thing...because Dan was gone from the band for so long, I tend to think of America as just Gerry and Dewey. But Dan Peek wrote my favorite America song, "Rainy Day." Cagno taught me how to play that, a very long time ago. If you get a chance, the NY Times obit of Dan is a good read. The others I read just pissed me off, with descriptions of America as that "soft, vanilla good-times band from the 70s." Really? Come on. Why does America always get the "CSN-lite" label? Too easy. Go back and listen to those first handful of albums (produced, by the way, by the great George Martin...and he didn't work with just anyone). Killer songwriting. Great musicianship. They're a kick-ass band. Always were. And Gerry and Dewey are still out working it.

Anyway, a moment for the late, great Bill Morrissey, and a moment for the late, great Dan Peek.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

on a mission from god

Anyone who knows about me and music would probably picture something like this image. Backstage at the legendary Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, circa 1995ish. Which explains the hair-do. (My bad hair aside, I loved the Lena. Played there bookoo between 95 and 99...alone a handful of times, opened for the late great Odetta there, and of course Camp Hoboken.)

But this year, when I say "We're getting the band back together," it ain't folkie, and I don't have to change any guitar strings. Long before I hopped the decade-long endless Greyhound Bus trip in search of Woody Guthrie, I played drums in Hypothermia (named for the cold loft where we practiced), our high school cover band (our being: me, Gregg Cagno, Karl Dietel, Matt Angus Williams, and Mike Slaven, plus others who came and went). And Matt called a few months ago to say those very words: we're putting the band back together. Mission from God. For one night, anyway. The Friday night after Thanksgiving, this coming November. Problem is, I haven't played drums in 20+ years, I didn't play particularly well even when I was playing regularly, and I don't have a drum set. Well, I can't fix the first two problems, but we got the third one licked. Fiona and I drove up to Chez Angus a few weeks ago and picked up a 5-piece he's loaning us for the summer. And so...I started test driving.

Lordy, how my neighbors love me! They just can't get enough. Fiona's digging in, too...see below. One thing I had forgotten: how truly satisfying it is to bang the shit out of drums after a long day. I may not BE good, but I FEEL good.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

the best tool in hitchhiking

Fiona above, demonstrating what it feels like to live with four dogs. Pictures and thousands of words and all that. Yep.

We're deep in spring here in Pennsylvania. Wet and green. A few things...

I'd like to thank the kids and teachers of Solebury School (esp Lauren Janis and Scott Eckstein) who made feel so welcome on Friday when I spent some time with them. We talked about "real life" to fiction and other scary prospects.

What else? I ran the Broad Street Run in Philly a few weeks ago. Context: this is a 10-mile run. I haven't run 10 miles since Fort Eustis, more than fifteen years ago. Still, 10 miles isn't the end of the world, or so I told myself. Easy to train for. Except for the whole popping out of the shoulder while skiing incident this winter, which kept me from training for anything. Still, I'm stubborn like that, so showed up for the run anyway. And finished! In just under 2 hours. Couldn't walk for the rest of the week, but what the hell.

And speaking of Fort Eustis...yeah, I was planning on going to this, and who knows perhaps I'll still be able to make it, but at the moment it doesn't look good. Really bummed. As said above, it's been 15 years, and I haven't been back since. Fingers crossed. But if I don't make it this year, will absolutely be there next year.

And the title of this post? This was a quote I heard on All Things Considered the other day, an interview with a kid hitchhiking in Texas. He said the best tool in hitchhiking is a smile. Ain't that the truth. Keep it in mind. We all gotta stick our thumb out sooner or later.

Oh yeah, important update: the mighty Hypothermia returns! Day after Thanksgiving. Somewhere near Clinton, NJ. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 11, 2011

sing hallelujah, for the guttersnipe lives

I am devestated to learn that my friend Jack Hardy has passed away. Linda Sharar just called with the news. Jack and I hadn't talked in about 2 years, and I didn't know he was sick. Our last communication was a letter he sent me about 2 years ago, a great, long, Hardy letter, giving me his opinion on my turning him into "Geoff Mason" in In Hoboken, and reminiscing about some of the old days; it was a great letter, like the kind he used to write me when I was a soldier in Somalia...and that great letter has been sitting on my desk since the day I got it, waiting for me to respond. Ah, Jack. I'm sorry, man. I'm having trouble imagining the world without you in it. I don't even know what to say. At a complete loss.

UPDATE: The Times ran an obituary of Jack yesterday. I think he would have been pleased, although he would have grumbled about the innaccuracies and the stuff left out. "Fucking journalists and editors," he would have sneered...although with a small twinkle in his eye to show how pleased he was that the thing got done. Let me put it this way: if the Times hadn't run an obit of him, I believe he would have haunted them.

One thing I'd like to say (and this isn't just to avoid the haunting I deserve for failing to reply to Jack's last letter to me...in fact, I'd love a haunting, Jack, if you could arrange it). But here's the thing: the press and everyone talks about Jack as a mentor, and influence, and the guy who had the weekly songwriter's dinners, and the guy who founded Fast Folk. That's what everyone always says about Jack. What I'd like to hear a little more of, and what I'd like to talk about now, is Jack as an artist. So let me just say this: Jack was an incredible artist. To call him a poet is akin to saying Dylan Thomas liked an evening nightcap. He was a master carver of words, slicing and sorting the lyrics like he sliced and carved his subjects. And Jack was an incredible performer. He had a beautiful voice, a great tenor that could go higher than you'd imagine if you knew him, and then dip all scratchy into spooky nether-regions. He was funny, and could hold an audience in his palm. He was a journeyman, and this was his craft. We all learned from him. Way back in the day, I used to marvel at Gorka's stage presence, and the technical brilliance of it, and take notes (yes, literally)...the way he owned and controlled a vocal microphone, for instance. I knew Jack, then, but had not seem him perform in public. One night Jack came out to Godfrey Daniels for a rare night there, and we all barrelled out to see him. And goddamn if it didn't become instantly clear that JG had cribbed directly from Jack's playbook. Very cool.

That aside, in my opinion Jack was at his best around a campfire. With a Texas (or Massacussetts or Colorado) dark breeze blowing and the fire popping and just a shadow of his face visible...that was Jack's realm. That's where I'll remember him.

As I said above, it was Linda who called to tell me about Jack's death. I'm glad it was her. Besides the comfort of hearing it from a friend rather than in the paper, I think Lonnie had a similar place in her heart for Jack as I did, in her own way. Our times as regulars in his apartment didn't overlap, actually, but we were both relatively young when we met Jack, both had mixed feelings, both grew to love him in our own ways. I wrote her an email the other night, trying to talk about that. I loved Jack, plain and simply. Some if it was idolization, and I'm okay with that. But his acceptance of me (you see, he didn't accept everyone) so early on, when I wasn't all that good frankly, his ability to see the flame of something in me below all the smoke, his willingness to have me around and encouragement, meant so much to me. I was a basic wreck of a human being at 19, 20, 21 years old (the years of my life I consistently attended the weekly gatherings in his apartment), and Jack's encouragement meant the world to me. Jack made me feel like I had something worth offering, when the picture couldn't have looked more different. And the fact that some people thought he was an asshole only endeared me to him more. He once referred to me on a radio show or article or something as a fellow ne'er-do-well, and I consider it one of the greatest compliments I ever received. I'm so sad today. Pasta and asparagus and olive oil, and come on by anytime, Jack. I could use a haunting. Did I mention I was pleased to meetcha?

(If you don't know Jack's work and are intimidated by the volume of stuff available when you search online, just order the single CD "Retrospective" from Brambus Records in Germany. No, you can't get it on itunes. Buy the CD, pay the foreign premium, and listen to this work of art. And then go buy "The Passing" from Prime CD records, which you can get on itunes, I believe.)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

best nonrequired reading

I just found out a nonfiction piece of mine from last year got a nice "Notable" mention in the 2010 Best Nonrequired Reading. The essay is called "Our Father," and can be found through this link to it at the NY Times.
What's the piece about? Hard to say. Here's how it's described at Identity Theory, who published it: Entwined contemplations of author Chris Hedges (War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning) and former ad-man Bruce Bauman, and their respective relationships to this essay’s author (a ne’er-do-well novelist and ex-soldier); one poem by Gerald Stern and that poet’s perceptions of God and Paul Giamatti; the writing process of an older book by Hedges (wherein there be soldiers) and the contents of a more recent book by Hedges (wherein there be Fascists); Ocean City, New Jersey tongue-talkers who later go on to become hosts of the 700 Club; what it means to be a born-again Episcopalian Jew; Ralph Nader’s time in the army; and trying quite unsuccessfully to stop the war in Iraq.
Yep. That's about it. Easy. As easy as anything about your family can be.
Anyway, my great thanks to Identity Theory for publishing it, as well as publishing a whole slew of my stuff over the past 10 years. Matt B and his friends are great people, and IDt should be on your weekly reading list.