Sunday, January 09, 2011

Mystery Sandwich Coming Right Up!

My new CD has been FIVE YEARS in the making. And the Mystery Sandwich is about to be served. My hope and intention was for the sonic spectrum and emotional range of this collection to surpass everything I've recorded before. I think it rocks, rolls, soars, goes as quiet as the voice of God after the whirlwind, and resonates with the meditative soul as well as with the heart of the intrepid adventurer.

Thanks to all the brilliant musicians who contributed: Mark Weakland, Bob Banerjee, Bill Maruca, Jeff Berman, Vince Camut, Joseph Bishkoff, Professor Nelson Harrison, Cherylann Hawk, Autumn Ayers; the angelic and dedicated children's choir: Molly DeLuca, Emma & Helen Paulini, & Sean Bailly, and the saintly Guinnessmeister who corralled them, Gerard Rohlf.

Thanks to Art Gazdik and Clenice Vincent, who contributed to the songs. Thanks to those who prepared to participate but, due to conflicts of time or health, never made it into the studio, including: John Hammond, Jr., Kelly Burgos, Gina Ketter, Heather Kropf, and Eve Goodman.

Thanks to the wife of my soul, Camille Faria, for being a constant sounding board, providing loving and practical perspective, and helping to keep me grounded, honest, and wise.

To Doug Wilkin for ALWAYS understanding, or straining to understand, the needs of the songs, and custom-crafting multi-instrumental parts to meet those needs; for helping to build the best arrangements for each, and for being gentle but insistent when my innovations wanted to err on the side of song-destruction.

Finally, thanks to Mark "Renaissance" Perna who suggested and funded the project, without whom these songs would never have received professional recording treatment, and who played brilliantly, providing immaculate undergirding for each song. Taken all in all, his bass parts, stripped of all else, could provide the basis of a gorgeous symphony.

Kevin Solecki will grace the final recording session this Tuesday night. Then we mix, master, package, and go to print.

Then we plan to provide a release concert party that you'll tell your grandchildren about.

Stay tuned for a medley of the Mystery.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Dare 2011

I dare us all, just for one day, to turn off our televisions. Maybe even drop offline. For the entire day. Just stop watching and listening to the drivel and dreck. See if we can survive. Walk out the front door, see what the stoop or porch, or stupid porch, looks like. Get to know somebody in real time, in real space.
Imagine if this was the last year we had to prepare our hearts, minds, and spirits for a battle over the fate of our planet, and think about how we'd go about making those preparations.
Think about making a solemn oath to oppose tyranny where ever we meet it -- whether petty tyranny in the workplace, the tyranny of a bully in a public place, the tyranny of our own flabby lifestyle over those sweatshop coolies who slave for beans to keep our "good times" rolling, or even the great tyranny of national and international oppression. There is no surer path to heaven, no greater growth, no better preparation for slaying the dragons of the unknowable than to oppose tyranny without stooping to its level. (If you don't believe it, revisit those movies you think you love: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Gandhi, Alice In Wonderland. See what they all have in common.)
It's down to us. Rise to reflect the light, or be assimilated by the forces of entropy and apathy. Affirm life, or negate it. But choose a side and get ready.
Tune out from the wavelength of the greatest common denominator -- the lowest frequency -- for one day and see where it leads us. If we don't like it, we can always plop back down on our sofas and hoist the remote controls again.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Stories: Take One

Work on the new CD, Mystery Sandwich, continues apace.

I told Doug Wilkin I needed a children’s choir for one of my songs. Doug said to ask Gerard Rohlf. Gerard is so talented in his own right that I hated to yank him from his muse long enough to even ask him. But I did. And man, did he come through with four of the best young singers in the region:

Molly DeLuca, Emma & Helen Paulini, & Sean Bailly. Here they are, singing their hearts out.

The mothers of these four songbirds braved the freezing rain to help a complete stranger realize his dream. And the children of these four mothers walked into the song and nailed it like seasoned professionals.

Gerard was there to greet them all. He took beverage orders, saw to it everybody was comfy, and disappeared. Thank you, Gerard, for you selfless kindness.

Thank you Kerry DeLuca, Ann Paulini, & Lisa Colautti for sparing me the use of your gifted children.

And thank you Molly, Emma, Helen, & Sean for taking the emotional message of my words to a new level:

All hail the ice storm
We may never get warm again
And I feel like my only friend
Put me out in the cold.

Thanks Doug for you invaluable suggestions and flexibility.

As a bonus, my mother and her husband, Roger, AND my sweetheart, Camille, were all there to see the session! Camille took pic-tures, and everybody seemed to enjoy the process.

Monday, November 03, 2008


Friends, Fans, Fellow Pilgrims:

Lend Me Your Ears!

I'm working on the new CD. And I've recorded so many songs, I can't squeeze them all onto one disc. I need to distill the number to fourteen.

HELP me decide which songs to include. I've uploaded rough tracks into the jukebox on my website. If you have enough music love and curiosity, listen to a bit of each. Then use the EMAIL link to send me your nominees for the keepers. And the weepers.

While you're listening, if a Theme or Title leaps out at you, let me know. The working title has been "Mystery Sandwich". And I'll tell you why:

Once upon a time, there was a great tavern in Homestead called Chiodo's. It closed a while ago. The End. Crossing the High Level bridge one evening, I noticed this ad painted on one of Chiodo's gables:


Since the new songs had a skein of mystery running through them, I said to my self - simple-mindedly:

"What a great title for my CD!"

But is it? I've been working on it for so long I've lost perspective. You tell me. If a lyric line from one of my songs seems to best personify the whole collection, you tell me. If an image materializes in your mind while you're listening to the tunes, you tell me. And if I'm asking too much?


Your thoughts and suggestions are coveted. We are none of us in this alone. I want to finish this project and have it in your earphones by early 2009. That's the goal.


Your Grateful Servant,


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Thursday, June 14, 2007

We Are All Sons of Hermann Hall

Last year, I went to Kerrville. As it happened, I didn’t enjoy it. The music was great, and the people were friendly, but I had a miserable head cold, and the ubiquitous white dust – think Pigpen of Peanuts – impacted in my sinuses and drove me to fits. There seemed to be two camps: serious networking musicians, and boomers desperate to relive Woodstock, both losing under the law of diminishing returns.

I rode down with my buddy Robert Wagner, and we stopped at famous music towns along the way – Nashville (disappointing!), Memphis (one big Hard Rock Café), Dallas. Okay, Dallas may not be a famous music town, but it’s the one in which we had the most fun. We discovered this fantastical joint called Sons of Hermann Hall on Elm Street. All the famous Texas songsters have played there. There’s a bar, bowling alley, and several gathering rooms downstairs, and upstairs a vast dance hall with a big, raised stage. Posters from yesterday and yesteryear tip their ten-gallon hats to the greats who’ve gigged there: Asleep At The Wheel, Guy Clark, The Dixie Chicks, Fred Eaglesmith, Buddy Miles, Robert Earl Keen, Indigo Girls, Arlo Guthrie. You name ‘em, they’ve had ‘em.

The place is owned by Jo Nicodemus, a charming hostess who insisted on showing us the digs. The dance hall was all laid out for a Wiccan wedding reception, complete with pentagram plates and little skull candles on tables draped with webby black crepe. Jo was tickled by the whole thing, and her infectious humor made it all seem less ominous.

We’d found a free paper at the YMCA, and the event listings described an indoor campfire sing-along at The Sons of Hermann Hall. We high-tailed it over there. They had a “campfire” made of plastic flap “flames” billowed by a small fan, and lit by a yellow light bulb. And what a cast of characters gathered round that flameless fire. There was a fellow who’d broken his neck in a horse riding accident. All his friends had held a musical benefit to raise money for him. They’d called the event Brokeneck Mountain. His nickel plated belt buckle was almost as big as his cowboy hat. “That’s the biggest goddamn belt buckle I’ve ever seen!” I said. “I got two at home’s bigger than this.” There was an African-American rancher the brim of whose cowboy hat was as wide as the open range. When his turn came at the campfire, he recited a poem about his life that carried us from the street gangs of the Bronx, and jail time, to a peaceful existence on horseback in Texas. What a life.

After Kerrville, Robert had an emergency and flew home to Pittsburgh, while I took my time and drove back alone. I stopped again in Dallas at Hermann Hall. Jo was there for the Wiccan wedding rehearsal. I knew I’d be driving late into the night, and asked for a Red Bull to help me stay awake. Jo said they weren’t open, and gave me the drink for free. When I was leaving, she gave me two more for the road. I left her my CD and mentioned that I’d love to open there for one of the national acts sometime.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


A seventeen year old male had climbed a tree outside of Myrie Bledsoe's home. The distraught woman discovered him outside her bedroom window at two in the morning and called the authorities.

Two fire trucks and four police cars arrived on the scene to assist in the removal of the man. In the meantime, he fell out.

The minor received a few bruises. He was taken into custody, and later released to his parents. Charges were not pressed.
-- The Times-West Virginia circa 1982

I was the kid in the tree. The story was all wrong, but funnier the way they told it. I’d been staggering along an alley, so drunk that I began hallucinating. There were glowing eyes in the darkness all around me. I became convinced – through the extrasensory perception of inebriation -- that a Satanic human sacrifice was underway in a large house that abutted the alley. I could just feel the evil, sort of like our President can. I was God’s chosen crusader, and had to rescue the victim. I climbed the house, or a tree – maybe I flew! I pried open a gabled window.

I must have stumbled around in the attic and knocked something over. Footsteps thundered in the house below. The Satanists were coming! I scurried back out the window onto the roof. I stood on the rain gutter three stories in the sky and watched the ground spin below me. The Satanists would soon be upon me, tearing my flesh with their ravenous teeth! The only reasonable solution was to leap into a nearby tree.

I caught bark in the face, chest, and thigh, and slid down until a sharp branch snagged me by the armpit. I clutched for dear life. I heard a window open behind me, and the reassuring sound of a shotgun being pumped.

"Don't move, or I'll blow your motherfuckin' brains out! Cops is on they way."


Between the leap, the bark burn, the suspension at an unknown height in the chasm of night, and the rifle pointed at my noggin, I had forgotten all about Satan and begun to sober up.

Four cruisers and two fire trucks did show up. The cops yelled for me to come down. I inched down till I was within reach. Officer Chuck Freeland -- a tall, burly cop with whom I had a mutually antagonistic history -- jumped up, grabbed my shirt, yanked me from the tree. He slam-dunked me on my belly. He stepped on my ass and cuffed me tightly, then threw me on my back in the cruiser. The whole maneuver was breathtakingly refreshing.

There was a little more roughing up at the station. Freeland accused me of stealing one of my grandfather's company trucks. Grandpa had a pest control business with a fleet of company vehicles. One had been "borrowed" earlier the same night. It might've been me. Who can say? At any rate, I resented the accusation. I charged at Freeland, calling him a sonofabitch. His little partner -- a draconian dweeb, famous for giving his own mama a speeding ticket -- hit me across the collar bone with his night stick.

I landed on the floor and sat there, recovering.

"I'm gonna throw up."

Officer Runt Nazi slid the office trashcan over to me and I puked in it.

There's really nothing more to tell. My father or mother arrived and took me home. I think.

The story hung at The College Lunch for years. I didn't know it had been posted. I didn't drink there. I preferred demon-peopled midnight alleys, bushes under bridges, bikers’ pads, and other tourist spots. One night, my good friend Jack Hebdon, now dead of liver failure -- truly -- and I were exchanging war stories, and I mentioned the tree episode.

"That was you?" He told me about the posting. He'd been laughing for years at the story, and at the poor sap who’d been stuck up a tree.

I told him it was a fitting metaphor for my life.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Failed Forays into a Life of Crime: Midget Bandits

The day was colder than the night before. My accomplice and I stood on the half-way landing of a long stairway and shifted from side to side, bouncing on the balls of our feet. Our breath formed a crystalline mist in the air between us. The stair ran eighty feet from one end of the Mid-city bridge to the parking lot below.
We scanned the area and, finding nobody near, checked our guns one last time. They were loaded. We jammed them back into our coat pockets and pulled our ski masks over our faces.
"You ready?" I asked my little brother. True, he was a sometimes stool pigeon, but this caper was too important to trust with anybody not bound by me by blood. I had to trust him to keep mum this time. "Remember what to do?"
He nodded. He looked scared.
"Don't worry, we'll be in and out of there in two minutes."
We paused near the top of the stairs and listened until all passing traffic was gone. Then we climbed to and crossed the street with long, brisk strides. We went about a half block up the main drag of downtown Fairmont, Adams Street, and stopped in front of Hartley's Department store just long enough to glance up and down the street. No cops, no cars, no approaching pedestrians.
We entered the revolving door, which was heavy, and not well greased. It took a bit of muscle to get her moving.
Here is how I imagined the caper would go down. We'd enter, wave our guns in the air, yell for everybody to get down on their bellies; everybody but one cashier. Then while my brother covered the room with his gun aloft, I'd instruct the cashier to fill a plastic shopping back with money. She'd be scared, but I'd reassure her.
"Don't panic, sweetheart. Nobody pulls a fast one, nobody gets hurt."
I'd wink through the ski mask. She'd fill the bag and hand it to me.
"Nice try. But ain't you forgettin' sumpin'?"
I'd point my six shooter at the ceiling and poke it heavenward a time or two. She'd shrug, then write a note, place it in a cylinder, and slide it into a pneumatic tube. The note in the cylinder would then wisk magically away up through the ceiling. Moments later, the walls would begin to vibrate, then to rumble, as a torrent of crisp paper cash would spew back out of the pneumatic tube, sent from every corner of the store: hardware, furniture, appliances, men's clothing, women's clothing. Hell, even from fabrics, where I'd patiently spent so much of my infancy in strollers while my mother pored through the sample catalogs. Oh, my revenge would be delicious!
Here's what actually happened:
As we stepped out of the revolving door onto the long, marble entryway floor, we took our guns out and waved them in the air. I used muscular throat control to pull my adam's apple down deeper into my neck and said, in my deepest voice,
"Everybody down on the ground. Now! On the ground!"
The security guard was the first to bodyslam the floor. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the accordian gate of the old fashioned elevator pull to as the liftman secreted himself behind the control panel. A few shoppers were slow to lie down.
"I said everybody! Or I'll shoot ya where you --"
The vast, echoey room was suddenly impaled with the terrified scream of an old woman.
And at that very moment, it occurred to me that what we were doing was real, not make-believe. And that the outcome could be less than desired.
I turned to my brother.
"Run away!" I said. He needed no prompting, but was on his way to the revolving door. I backed away, covering the room with my gun.
"Stay where you are!" I said. "We'll be right back!"
We ran back across the street and down the stairs by the Mid-city bridge. As soon as we were out of sight, we ditched our guns behind some large stones, reversed our reversible coats to sport two different colors, and did the same with our ski masks, rolling them up into mere snow caps. Then we ran all the way down the stairs, across the football field-length parking lot, and walked back towards town another way, careful though to avoid the main drag.
I was ten and my brother was eight. We had specifically requested the reversible coats and hats, and the very realistic looking cap guns, for Christmas just so that we could realize this little heist that I'd spent a lot of school time daydreaming up. We were humbled, and petrified.
For weeks, I checked the headlines of the Fairmont newspaper for news of the "midget bandits", but none appeared. Every time a car came up our gravel road, I eased back the corner of a curtain with weary resignation for the jail time ahead, but the cops never came.
To this day, I marvel that the episode seems to be unheard of by the citizens of Fairmont.