Monday, December 24, 2012


Check it, we've got an East Coast/West Coast nativity smackdown going on. Red Santa refs in the center, and Flying Santa Fish observes from above.

From the "mostly meaningless anniversary" department: an email from an old friend the other day reminded me that 2012 has been the tenth year, solid decade, long time, since the publication of my first novel. September, to be specific. Decades don't stand as the endless time span they seemed to be when we were younger; now, decades are just so many marbles in a rapidly filling bag of time gone by. This one blue, this one green, but all of them smaller than they seemed when I bought them, and recollection of where specifically I picked them up is long gone.

The remembrance of that fairly insignificant mark in time, though, reminded me of another. One that stands in a little more importance for me. This year is the twentieth anniversary of my deployment to Somalia, and almost day-specific: December 26, 1992. Two days from now. Here's how it went: October of 1991 I began basic training in the snows of Fort Knox, Kentucky; January 1992 I began 88L10 army mariner school at Fort Eustis, Virginia; March 1992 I joined the 1098th medium boat company, first in maintenance platoon, and then second platoon. (In my twice after that in and out of 1098th, I would always be in second platoon.) In mid-December of 1992 they detached a group of us to the newly created 710th provisional boat company, and locked us on to post. And the day after Christmas we flew on to Mogadishu. Our mike boats were waiting for us when we arrived, a mile offshore on the MV American Cormorant. We celebrated New Year 1992/1993 on the main deck of the Cormorant, somewhere in the mix of Somalian and Kenyan waters between Kismaayo and Mombaso. Me, Yarddog, Kipp, Meder, Meir, Norm, Burrage.... I don't think Anne was on the Cormorant, I think she flew from Mog to Kenya. I could be wrong about that. And by mid-Jan 1993 we'd be back in Somalia.

But before I ever set eyes on Somalia, I remember Christmas Eve and Christmas, twenty years ago this week, at Fort Eustis. No snow of course, it was Virginia, but it was cold. Even though we were locked in, we all went off base on Christmas Day. Where? Steve Stalder's apartment? Was that his name? Am I making that up? I can see him clear as day, as if he was standing in front of me now. Tall and grinning, "Check!" It was him and the guys who had come back from the Gulf War the year before. They bought beer and brought us out and got us drunk. I got back to the barracks late Christmas night. My room was empty and alone: my stuff was all packed, and my roommate Derek had been moved out; he'd gotten in trouble and was awaiting discharge. In the dark and quiet barracks hallways I smoked cigarettes and plugged quarters in the pay phone and tried to convince this sometime girlfriend of mine, Leah, to come over, but it was Christmas and that wasn't happening. I went back to my room and tried to write, and that wasn't happening either. The next day we got on a bus, passing the Christmas lights draped over the bushes and around the doors and windows of on-base housing, off post through Newport News, to a waiting charter plane. Then we flew to Africa.

Back to books for a moment. After The Ice Beneath You in 2002, Voodoo Lounge and In Hoboken each followed on three-year schedules. Not intentional, but a respectable timespan. It's now been the end of the fourth year since In Hoboken was released, and it's reasonable to ask "Hello? Anytime soon?" All I can report now is that in 2012 I made my peace with the fact that this one is just going to take me longer, and I'm okay with that.

Merry Christmas, everyone. And to you Sea Dogs out there: double merry to you. I miss you. Bottles of whiskey and bottles of beer, I wish you all a happy new year.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

in like a lion, then mellow as a muskrat

Hurricane Sandy. Global warming, baby. Well, we made out better than many around here. Our friends the Roemers had a massive tree crush both cars and then take out the deck and part of the dining room for good measure. Out on Long Island, Steve and Paulie Smalltype had no power for more than 2 weeks, and poor Kraus basically lost his house completely, just days after the birth of his first child (a daughter, who is fine). Crazy town. Here in the Dog House we lost power for a week. No worries. Power shmower. We made scrambled eggs on the wood stove.

Post-apocolypse we headed north for a fun weekend with Krissy and Logan in Burlington. Here's a bunch of Baumans, doing that not-gonna-smile thing that we do so well.

A year ago this week was the Hypothermia reunion. Bummed we didn't do that again this year; I feel a return next year, though. Heading into a nice weekend nonetheless. Gonna listen to a little Cagno tomorrow night in Dtown...see some big. Plane to Paris Sunday night. Happy Thanksgiving all.

Monday, October 1, 2012

awesome sammy at the junior ryder cup

What's new? We're down to 2 dogs, from a high of 4. Long story there. Teach na madre still, just a little less bow-wow.  Fiona has a cast, but on the mend and still playing soccer. Kristina says she made a rasher of bacon, which is especially fascinating if you know anything about Kristina. What else? I have a reading project this week: first I'm re-reading Dracula for the first time in many years, maybe since I was a teenager. On the heels of that I'm going to pivot to Salems Lot, the 70s version of Dracula, and one of the books that changed my life. I'm not alone in that, in my generation. Again, long time since I've revisited those pages. Overdue. As for writing, guy named David Abrams wrote a novel called Fobbit, his first. A fellow army vet, albeit from a different era. I reviewed it for the NY Times, you can read more here.

You may have heard today that the US team lost the bi-annual Ryder Cup to their European counterparts (again). True, true. But let it not go without saying that in the Junior Ryder Cup -- US and European teams containing the best golfers in the 15 to 17 age group -- the US prevailed! And why do I care? Because my niece Samantha Wagner was on that US team. Okay, she's not techincally my niece, she's my first cousin, but I'm 42 and she's 15 and uncle/niece works fine for us, and for her brother CJ (another stellar golfer, and likely future US Senator from the great state of Florida). That's Sam below, at Olympia Fields last Tuesday.

Truly, one of the proudest days in our family. Sam and CJ are amazing kids, and to see Sammy so completely in her element, kicking ass, having was awesome.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

happy birthday woody

July 14 was the 100th birthday of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, or Woody as he was known. There's been quite a lot of media attention lately, given the birthday (including this news of the publication of his unpublished novel with two unlikely but cool editors). I've said quite a bit about Woody over the years. I discovered Woody (in the spiritual sense...I'd known about him for years, but without big emotion one way or the other) the way many in my generation did: through Joe Klein's remarkable biography of him. I was 19, living in New Jersey, but going to school once a week at HB Studio (a theater school) in the West Village of New York. I thought I wanted to be an actor, but wasn't very happy. It was slowly starting to dawn on me that I might be a better writer, and might be a happier person for it. Spending a night a week with Jack Hardy and his band of pirates helped me to see clear to that. And discovering Klein's bio of Woody had a lot to do with it, too. I found it in a bookstore in the Village on a cold day. I devoured it (appropriately, at the White Horse Tavern, where Dylan Thomas died). Besides simply introducing me to Woody, the book started changing how I thought about myself, what I thought about my art and its purpose and its place in my life, and how I might want to live my life. When I was a guest on Fresh Air many years later, Terry Gross made a comment about how strange it was that a "folkie" like me would end up as a soldier, and yet it was reading Woody's biography that was one of the first major steps leading up to me joining the army in 1991.

The pic above, one of my favorites, is Carol Sharar, Gregg Cagno, and myself sitting in the grass behind the stage at a park in Pennsylvania moments before we performed Woody's song "Do Re Mi" with Pete Seeger in 1995...hands down one of the coolest moments of my life. The moment got trumped several years later. Gregg and I and Carol's sister Linda were on the road, touring as Camp Hoboken, and made a side trip to Okemah, Oklahoma, so I could see Woody's home town. The pic below is of the three water towers that stand over the town, labeled HOT, COLD, and HOME OF WOODY GUTHRIE. I think he would have dug that. We were driven around town by Woody's cousin Debbie Tanner. At the end of the day, she made a phone call, then handed us directions. After a bit of a drive we found ourselves at the home of Mary Jo Gurhtire, Woody's little sister.

That's us with her, below. She looks just like him. In fact, when a statue was made of Woody, the sculptor used Mary Jo as the model. As with Pete, we sang "Do Re Mi" (along with a bunch of other songs). An amazing afternoon. I'll never forget it.

Late that night, our weary trio checked into a no-tell motel off an Oklahoma interstate for some sleep. Long story short, within an hour we found ourselves itching like crazy, then dropping our clothes shamelessly. We were all covered in deer tics. We'd picked them up while poking around in the overgrown ruins of Woody's childhood home. We finally got rid of the tics, but sleep wasn't going to happen after that. I recall we spent most of the night playing guitar, drinking, and watching out the window as a particularly fierce storm passed by the motel.

And almost 20 years later, here's our merry trio, reunited, below. Damn, we old. July also saw the 18th Annual Black Potatoe Fest in Clinton, NJ, run by our old pals Matt and Beth Williams. Linda came down to play a set, and we couldn't help but join her for one. We sang Don Brody's "99 Years" (you'll find the lyrics to that one intertwined in my "In Hoboken").
[UPDATE: some nice person just posted the song on YouTube...Linda does verse 1, Gregg has 2, and I have 3. Reaching for those high notes, but squeaking by...]

And here's the almost full Camp Hoboken reunion, sans Mr. Grula. He's down in Florida, working for Mr. Chen. (We all work for Mr. Chen, but that's another story.)

Was great to see old pals The Collins Brothers Band rocking the stage that day, as well.

Not a bad way to spend mid-summer. I'm a lucky guy.
And what else?
Krissy and Logan got a new dog. Mab, her name is. They came by recently to introduce me and Fiona to her. She's a good dog.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

move out

What else? Fiona stopped by the Statue of Liberty recently, and re-created one of her favorite pictures. Not too shabby. She added the Elton shades to mix two of her top heros at the same time.

And Kristina moved back to Burlington last week, leaving behind a very sad Farleys Bookshop, where she has been in residence (literally) for the past year, in addition to many years of employment there beforehand. She leaves behind a score of notes and illustrations all around the place...

Happy summer!

Monday, March 12, 2012

hardy, berlin, lomax, farleys...

Great picture of Jack Hardy above was taken by Brian Rose just a few months before Jack's untimely death one year ago. When I heard about Jack's death I wrote this long post. My old pal Jon Colcord (a fellow veteran, Hardy fan, one of the guys I dedicated The Ice Beneath You to, and a folk dj up in New Hampshire) got in touch recently and asked if I would read the piece for a Hardy tribute show he was doing. I did, and you can hear it here. An all-around terrific show that Jon put together...a good remembrance if you're a Hardy fan, and a good introduction if like so many others you're just getting into him now. Jack always said that the dead get fatter royalty checks.

In other news, I'm in Berlin this morning. I've been to Germany a few times before, but this is my first time in Berlin. I've always fascinated by Germany and the Germans. In World War 2 my grandfather was a US Army sergeant posted at a German POW camp (ironically right down the road from Ft Eustis, Virginia, where I would spend my 4 years in the service), and he befriended some of the former German soldiers...all of them working class, like him, pulled into the German war machine. The year I lived in India when I was a kid I discovered Robert Ludlum, and (like the Bourne movie writers who came later) realized what a great setting this country is for a thriller. Of course some of my German curiosity stems from ethnicity. Although I always felt a stronger psychic kinship with my Irish roots, the fact is that when your name is Christian William Bauman at some point you just can't get away from the fact that your blood is at least partially German. I wish I knew more about my German side. But whoever those Baumans were they came to the States a long time ago. Unlikely that I will ever know more. Anyway, just a few months ago I read In the Garden of Beasts, the eerie history by Erik Larson of an American family living in Berlin in the beginning of the Third Reich. Their neighborhood is where my hotel is. Directly across the street from my hotel is the building that was the headquarters of the German army in the war. It opens onto a courtyard where the 1944 coup leaders were shot.

But enough of that ancient history and evil times. I love Germany and am enjoying Berlin. And spring must be coming...James Taylor is on his way.

What else? Well, if you want a good way to kill a whole year (or maybe a whole decade), you can lose yourself here: they put the entire Alan Lomax archive online.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

radioactivity and two of my favorite people

Two of my favorite people a buddy (Gregg), and one a stranger (Pierre, more on him below). Picture is from backstage at New Hope's 2012 Winterfest concert, always a good time. Winterfest isn't exactly Quebec's Carnival, but hey we try. Anyway, that's Gregg Cagno on the left. If you're reading this blog it's likely you know who he is, but here's one thing I wrote about Gregg. (That link goes to the original blog entry...jpg of the magazine article is below, just right-click it and expand.)

The guy on the right in that B&W pic above is Pierre Robert, quite simply the world's greatest DJ/broadcaster/radio concierge...whatever you want to call it. I'm very old school with radio, and consider "DJ" to be a compliment, so we'll call it that. Anyway, in my definition of things, Pierre has ascended from being one of the world's most unique and lovable DJs to assuming the throne of "simply the best." It helps that the station he's on, WMMR in Philadelphia, is one of the country's last great commercial stations. It's not freeform exactly, but it's as close as you can come in major commercial broadcasting. (In fact, Pierre did a brilliant broadcast on Thanksgiving weekend this year where he mapped the station's "Everything That Rocks" mantra and did this generational connections thing where he spun triple-plays of seemingly unrelated but oh-so-related-in-his-mind songs, all of which were about ten years apart from each other. I'm not doing a good job of describing it, but it was kick-ass. The fact that it started with an impassioned monologue on and song from CSN and then went on in the course of the hour+ to include Foo Fighters, Green Day, blah blah you name it...all wrapped in Pierre's wit and wisdom...lovely.) These days I'm 41 and old and if I'm in the car I tend to be NPR news on WHYY (mornings) or god-i-need-a-drink jazz on WRTI (evenings...home of the second greatest radio concierge, "BP with the GM")...but if I'm cruising around on the weekend, the odds are good that I need to rock out loud, and it's a comfort to know that WMMR is always there for me.

But back to Pierre, through a slight digression first.

It's a little known fact but I am a radio obsessive. When I was a boy, my father was in radio, both as a DJ and then later as a suit. And even as a suit, he usually kept his hand in as a broadcaster, wherever he was. My father is a whole other story that I don't want to get into right now, but of the few positive things he introduced into my life, radio was probably the biggest one. I could cue a record and run a board when I was 7 years old, skills I learned both directly and indirectly from him, at a slew of stations across the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, as well as the old WIFI in Philly (and all the other stations that filled 1 Bala Plaza, where I wandered unnoticed while my distractable Dad took phone calls or did whatever it was that he did), and a couple of religious stations whose call letters I forget. When I was pre-teen I built my own radio studio in the attic of my mom and step-father's house (no, it didn't actually work, but that's besides the point) where I would quite happily spend entire summer days (let's be honest, entire summer weeks) reading the news and commercial spots (all written by me) and spinning records. As the songs played I indulged my other obsession: reading. I'm sure psychologically all of this was supposed to bring me closer to my Dad or some shit. The side result was three things: 1. A huge and useless backlog of lyrics and liner notes that I still have memorized; 2. A huge amount of novels read at a very young age; 3. A deep and abiding love of all things radio.

I had a shortwave, which was amazing. And AM was amazing (for some reason getting a midnight broadcast from Singapore on shortwave or a midnight broadcast from Chicago on AM was equally cool to me). But as I entered my teen years my late-night radio listening began to focus more and more on FM, and where I lived there were only two stations that mattered: an hour north of me, Z95 in Allentown, and an hour south of me, the mighty WMMR in Philadelphia. My entree into WMMR was the legendary (and still rocking) Michael Tearson, and his late-night "For Headphones Only" show. Too much fun. But the guy who nailed it, the guy who symbolized everything I thought rock radio should be, was the guy who was on mid-day (then, later on, mornings, which made no sense, and now back mid-day again). An hour might go by and Pierre Robert might say very little...or he might just decide to talk for a full hour, which was just as awesome. He was about community, he was about equality ("Excuse me, fellow citizen..."). He knew more about arcane music facts than any other human being I'd ever heard, and he sprinkled the knowledge like shiny diamonds across the landscape of his broadcasts. He was generous. And, if you listened to him over the years, it was also clear that he loved radio as much as I did. Without a doubt my favorite Pierre Robert broadcast was similar to the Thanksgiving weekend broadcast I described above in that I heard it quite by accident, because due to circumstances I wasn't able to listen to Pierre much at the time (like now, honestly). Looking at the Wikipedia entry, this broadcast would have been in January 2004. It was Pierre describing the memorial service for Ed Sciaky, that he had just attended. Ed was another legendary Philly DJ, also with time at WMMR, but people my age probably more closely identified him with WYSP. Pierre spent a long time just talking about Ed Sciaky and his life and his love of music and radio, and then talked of all the amazingly diverse radio folks who came out to pay tribute...all the rock guys, of course, but also people like Ed Cunningham from WHYY (small side note on him below).

Anyway, Pierre has just always symbolized everything cool in Philadelphia ("always" self-servingly defined in my Generation X context). I remember being in high school and going with Gregg (remember him? See up top) to see Tom Petty and Bob Dylan at the old Spectrum (as I recall, Dylan sucked and Petty rocked) but seeing Pierre in person up on the second level was as cool as the concert itself. It's just a very simple outcome from an impossible-to-duplicate formula: when you turn on your radio and Pierre is there, it makes you happy. What could be better than that. The promise of radio,'s a beautiful thing.


Last side note: to prove just how large of a radio geek I am, is this small story: Knowing what a radiohead I am, it should be no surprise to you that the number 2 and 3 coolest things that ever happened in my writing career weren't book related but were being a guest on Terry Gross and the approximately 10 or so commentaries I did for All Things Considered (those were #2 and #3 respectively). But what was #1? I was in the lobby of WHYY, waiting to be interviewed by Terry Gross, when who comes walking past me but Ed Cunningham, this giant voice of radio from my youth and still broadcasting today. Ed was concerned about the weather and asked the receptionist if he would need an umbrella. As he walked to the door he happened to glance at the visitor's couches where I sat, and he said, "Hi there." That was cool moment #1 with a bullet.

Monday, January 23, 2012

time to mind the pollacks

Very cold and very snowy this weekend. I was sitting by the fire yesterday, avoiding writing, and came across this very good, recent interview with Neal Pollack. The interview referenced an older interview with Mr. Pollack (follow the links, I'm too lazy to do it all here) which I distinctly remember, especially the opening line, which I loved. All of us loved Neal Pollack back then, and if you didn't then you didn't get it, and if you don't anymore, then I'm afraid you probably didn't really back then either. Jesus, that didn't make any sense. Sorry.

Although it has been a long time since I've heard from him, Neal and I were friendly once, in that Y2k-uber-email way of a decade ago. I forget exactly how we connected, but it was probably through Atrios. Neal and I were both rabble-rousing back then, and Atrios often hosted our individual rants. As one of very very few pissed-off writers back then who had actually been to war, I was skeptical of everyone. Neal took about two sentences of Neal Prose to win me over.

Neal was a god when those of us in our generation who write needed a god. He was an organic god, real and smelly and not something you would bring home to meet the folks, so to speak. He wasn't presented to us by the Times or the Guardian or the New Yorker, he made no best seller list, there was nothing sanitized about him. Which of course did him no good in the end, but it was good for the rest of us. Even better, he was genuinely a kick-ass person, at least that bit of him I got to witness. He cared. He would tell you to fuck off, but he cared.

I think I only met him in person once (the same night of my singular meeting with the aforementioned Atrios), at the old 215 Literary Festival in Philly. Right around when The Ice Beneath You was published. We were on the bill together, and I walked into the joint, a pretentious early hipster hole, and I thought to myself "Fuck, I can't spend the evening with a bunch of people who think it's retro cool to drink Pabst." At that moment, an angry man yelled across the bar, "Oh for fuck's sake...Pabst? Really?" That was Neal, and I was glad to meet him. He opened a door or two for me, or tried, and I appreciated that. I hope I did the same for him, but I don't know. I was very naive, and he was light-years ahead of me. A few years later he really pissed me off with something, which he is probably completely unaware of, but it hardly matters. He's a killer writer, a better and more honest person than a slew of our better-known peers, and I hope it all works out for him (which means I hope he keeps writing, and makes a living doing it).