The Journey Home

I’ve been a little silent for the past few weeks.  I mean I’ve been playing some great virtual gigs and recording (and re-recording) A LOT, but have not been doing a lot of writing.  I think that’s about to change, but I do want to share something I wrote during a trip down to NJ a few weeks ago.  It’s less about music, and more of a mental journal entry.

Still, I wonder how many of you have been through a similar experience over the past few months, making your first journey of any distance during these Covid times.  I’d love to hear any thoughts and experiences you’d care to share in the comments section below.

Anyway…

I set off at 10 AM. The very simple route – from the Mass Pike, to I-84, to the Merritt, to the Tappan Zee, to 9w – is one I’ve known by heart for many, many years. I’ve done the trip from Newton to Harrington Park many dozens of times, and as a day trip (down and back the same day, about eight hours driving time) several times. Familiar stops, familiar times to fuel the car, to fuel the self.

But today it feels very different.

Already halfway through Connecticut, I realize this is the first time I’ve been out of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts since March 14. This is such a strange feeling – both the awareness of having been confined in one place for so long, and also the amount of anxiety and trepidation that comes along with travel. Especially since travel – in many cases very long-distance travel – has been a regular everyday thing for so much of my life. But now all of this – the travel, the movement, the sense of how big the world is – feels so very foreign.

It’s the Sunday morning of Labor Day weekend, and while there certainly are other cars on the road, this drive is nothing like the way it usually is. Traffic is flowing freely, and in some places there are hardly any other cars on the road. I listen to podcasts during the drive – news and comedy from the BBC. It’s interesting as always to see how people in the rest of the world are handling what’s going on. All of the BBC panel shows are virtual, and even the News Quiz was a taped Zoom call.  I’ve also been listening to music (a lot of new mixes of the current set of songs I’m working on), but then after about two hours of driving, it’s just time for silence. 

The trip from Newton to Harrington Park is not terrifically long in the scheme of things – only 3 1/2 hours without traffic. As I start to pull into town, I see familiar sights: the coffee shop that was once a convenience store, the flower shop that was a record store, the hobby shop that was once the center of my universe and is now selling furniture. 

My parents’ house, not unlike so many other houses here, sits on a piece of land that 60 years ago was a farm. Homes in this neighborhood are spread apart on quarter-acre lots; everyone has their own isolated kingdom. This particular one even has its own moat in the back, in the form of a brook flowing through a small wood. The backyard protected by this moat should make a perfect setting for our socially-distanced COVID get-together. My mom and dad are right there as I pull up, and all of us stifle the impulse for what we really want to do, which is to embrace each other.

It’s a lovely late summer day. Not too hot, not too humid – just humid enough for the mosquitoes to come out. The dozen or so bites I’m about to collect will have me doing a bit of a mental evaluation to try to determine whether the West Nile virus is less of a threat than COVID. I’m OK taking the risk on that one for now.

My parents look somewhat older than they did when I last saw them back in January, more than the chronological 7 1/2 months would have suggested. Dad‘s hair is growing more white than I would expect. Granted, by the same measure I have lost more hair than my normal trajectory would suggest, and my beard is now fully salt and pepper.

We sit at snack tables in the backyard about 10 feet away from each other, eating takeout from a local restaurant. (It’s the first time that I’ve really eaten much in the way of meat in months. We keep vegetarian at the house, so this is a bit of a treat.) We spend the next three hours talking about what’s going on with the family, how my job is doing, how they’re doing. They ask me how my music is going, which is a great delight to me. I think I’ve made very clear to them in recent months how important this part of my life has become in addition to my “real job”.

We talk about how my niece has just tested positive for COVID. She and several of her friends had been getting together on a regular basis as a quarantined “pod”. One of the friends, fearful of being ostracized, failed to let the others know that she was not feeling well. (And that’s how we get to a spreader event.)

And then at the end of about 3 1/2 hours, I get back in the car and begin my trek back to Massachusetts.

In other times, I would know that it was just a matter of 2 1/2 months before I would see them again at Thanksgiving, along with dozens of other family members. Clearly that is not the case this year, and I have no idea when we will all see each other. I am happy for having made the drive, though it leaves me unsettled and uncomfortable. I am sad. I am tired. I am sad and tired most days these days.

And so, in the interest of doing what I can to accelerate the clock to that moment when we can safely be together, I go back to my own “cabin in the woods” (fine, my apartment in Newton, MA) to wait this out, hopeful that tomorrow will bring good news.

Dictated to Siri from the Merritt highway on September 6, 2020. Added to, deleted from, and edited significantly to be readable by other humans on September 27, 2020.

2020 Can Go Suck It

2020 Can Go Suck It 

So far, 2020 is a year when I can’t see people I love, when I can’t hear the music live that I want to hear, when the world is falling apart at the seams, and when tyranny has become the rule of the day. 

A year when the resurgence from winter into spring was stymied because we were stuck inside to keep ourselves from dying or from spreading a virus to others who might die. A year when summer has been spent behind window glass glancing outside – not a baseball game to be seen, not a swim club to be enjoyed.

It is a year in which a man tinted Easter-egg-dye-orange tries to define reality through the warped lens of his own imagination. And his imagination wants to take us to a dark, dark world.

It is a year in which pandemic has become a word that is part of our everyday lives. 

It has become a year in which I have memorial services to attend, and I don’t know when those memorial services will take place, or if they even ever will. People who were dearly close to me are gone, and I don’t know when or if we will ever have the opportunity to come together to celebrate their lives.

Here’s my tally-

  • An icon taken by glioblastoma 
  • A mentor taken by Covid
  • A friend taken – again – by glioblastoma 
  • Another friend (and boss), taken by a tragedy I don’t and likely won’t understand 

A year of mortality. 

A year of confronting the temporary nature of everything. 

A year of learning how each moment is a gift, and the next cannot be taken for granted. 

A Farewell to Kings

Today, right now, is August 1, 2020.  That’s five years since Rush played their final concert ever at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Tonight we’re watching Time Stand Still, the documentary from that tour and of its final shows. 

It’s a good thing to do. A worthy thing to do. It brings back good memories of years gone by – of getting together with dear friends and going to see and hear great music together.  

And I hope that it’s also a reminder that we will do so again, and that there are friendships yet to be forged and memories yet to be made. 

Sometime. 

Somewhere. 

-Chris

The Quarantine Film Festival

So, things are pretty quiet around here these days.  Not in terms of music – there’s plenty going on there, including a demo for “Clouds,” which is now making its way to a true recorded form.  Likewise on the performance front: I have a few live-stream performances coming up, the first of which will be on the Apocalyptic Open Mic stage, planned for 8:30 PM Eastern on April 14. Please look for me there, and I’ll also do some Tunnel 18 sets in the coming days.  I’ll let you know when!Clouds

Still, being stuck in the house has given me a chance to catch up on some films I’ve wanted to see, or to rewatch. While a few of them fall into the category of brain candy, there are a few that have given me a renewed appreciation of the music that I grew up with, and that influenced me greatly. I have a few film recommendations I’d love to share with you, and not surprisingly, most of them have to do with recording studios, or communities of musicians who pushed each other forward. 

Echoes in the Canyon

echoJakob Dylan was inspired by the music of the mid-60s, and it clearly shows in The Wallflowers’ sound. In this documentary, shot in 2018, Dylan explores how a community of musicians living in Laurel Canyon, just north of LA, inspired and challenged each other to create a brand new sound by marrying folk music with electric guitar, strong melodies and harmonies, and truly poetic lyrics. The legacies of the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield, and the Beach Boys have been with us ever since. 

Sound City

sound cityYeah, I know. No surprise that I’ve got a Dave Grohl film in here, and this one specifically. I do recommend of course watching several episodes of Sonic Highways, particularly the LA, Seattle, and New York shows. However, there is an indelible place in my heart for this documentary, which showcases the history of Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California and how it played an integral role in the careers and sounds of Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, and so many, many others. I have just about everything from this movie (and the shorts from the DVD) memorized and am much the better for it.

Trivia: Nick Raskulinecz got his start at Sound City as a runner.  Now go look up who he is and why all Rush fans should care!

The Smart Studios Story

SmartSmart Studios was a classic DIY concept, started by Butch Vig and Steve Marker in Madison, Wisconsin. And if you’ve ever wanted a great story about how to just make shit happen – as well as learn a hell of a lot more about Killdozer, Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, and a treasure trove of Indie bands from the late 80s and early 90s – this is the one. 

And now, a little mind candy….

That Thing You Do

thingYup, purely for fun.  But at the same time I was put in the mind to watch this again after hearing the news of Adam Schlesinger’s death earlier this week.  It’s a sweet film with a few really great songs. It’ll bring a smile, and honestly we could use that right about now.

Almost Famous

almostAnother one purely for fun, and music that’s a lot closer to what I grew up listening to.  Peter Frampton and Ann Wilson from Heart were musical advisors on the film, and the playing is great as a result.  Also, Jason Lee is a comedic treasure as a lead singer who constantly gets second billing.

Now I’m looking for other great films to watch. I know there’s the Joan Jett film, and that’s on my to-watch list, but what else do you recommend?  Please leave me suggestions in the comments – I’d really appreciate adding great stuff to the list!

-Chris

PS – The featured image is from the CD label for the first album I released back in 2015 when I was working under the (clear) band name of Steeling Time*.  You can take a listen to the full album here.

 

*Unfortunately there are bands in Canada and Australia working under the same name, so I changed back to using Tunnel 18, which frankly is more meaningful to me anyway.

 

Confinement, Day 20

Man, these are weird times.

First, let me repeat what I said the last time – I really hope that you are all safe and healthy. This is a very scary time, and all of us have been affected.  

On the one hand, I do want to share with you some silver linings from my own recent experience. First, losing my commute and spending all my time in my home studio (which is also my home office and my bedroom) has helped me find more time and focus to write and record music. I already have several songs that are on their way into the world, including “The Head that Wears the Crown” and “Clouds.”  The first one is already up on Facebook, and the second is available today via YouTube. Both will be more formally recorded and shared via SoundCloud and then Spotify in the coming weeks.

There have also been some wonderful online gatherings – ranging from getting together with old friends whom I haven’t seen for many years, to continuing to play live online with friends, particularly through the Virtual Necessity Open Mic2020-03-24 19.59.01 

(Speaking of which, please join us for our first ever live event, coming up this Sunday at 8 PM! Come to share your music, poetry, prose, or comedy, or just join us to listen. We’d love to see you there!)

Still, these are scary times. I have friends who are still on the road, half a world away and not sure whether and when they are going to be able to come home. I have family and dear friends in the greater New York area, who are doing everything they can to stay in their homes as much as possible and minimize exposure. Even here in the Boston area, I have been out of the house for very short periods maybe once a week.

May we all find our way through this healthy and strong. On the other side of this crisis, may we find the opportunity to celebrate once again with each other.

2020-04-03 20.08.29

It’s amazing how many times in a lifetime one lives through an experience that ends up in a history book. 

May you live in interesting times, my friends.

-Chris

 

Making Lemonade (and Music)

Not sure about you, but I am on day three of lockdown due to the coronavirus situation. Have been working from the house, making a lot of meals at home, even baking some bread. I hope to be finishing up some songwriting – some of that has been going on, but not enough yet to put anything out.

One of the things I am missing desperately is of course getting out and playing live. No one is going to open mic nights, particularly in Massachusetts, as there are no bars and no restaurants open. (Editorial statement This is a good thing! We are trying to preserve the public health.)

I watched on Facebook as several friends I have met through playing music mourned their last gig before going into seclusion/quarantine and started wondering when the next time was we were going to be able to play in front of an audience. And then I realized that in today’s day and age, we didn’t actually need to leave our homes to be able to find at least some form of an audience. At the very least we could get together online and play for each other – and then hopefully invite others to watch as well.

OurPerformers

Enter the Virtual Necessity Open Mic page.  We are only two days in, but there are already over a half dozen performances up, and performers are working on new videos every day. This has started as a Metro West Massachusetts thing, but there is no reason that others who have a song to sing, a comedy bit to make people laugh, poetry to make people feel, or stories to tell can’t submit something to the page (send as a link or in a message).

Author

Art is what will get us through this. Art and the knowledge that we are doing what we can to protect the people we care about. Please go ahead and film your song, poem, story, or jokes and then send them into the page. We’d love to get a little light.

 -Chris