Your History Is Waiting To Smack You In The Face

In 2003, at a time when I was changing Primary Care Physicians, I sat down to type out a medical event history, basically a dot point listing of every surgery, major procedure and extended hospital stay from 1977 until 2003. I also sent a copy of the document to my internist, who had known me since 1992. I make updates to my copy, but haven’t sent it to any providers since I started seeing my latest PCP which was in 2014.

Thursday this week, as I lay prone on a hospital bed awaiting an IV nurse to prep the anesthesia for an outpatient procedure, the Admitting Nurse who asks all the relevant questions (When was the last time you ate? When did you last take your meds?) started to ask about my medical history and then before I could answer, she began to tick off a slew of events from the late-70’s. I was a little out of it since I had not eaten for the last 27 hours, so it didn’t immediately register that she was reading off of my old list, which meant that my typed medical history had successfully made the move to the Electronic Medical Records ‘vault.’

At the same moment I thought, ‘Cool, they still have my sheet so I don’t need to tell them about all of this ancient history,’ I listened as she continued to read off the list. I confirmed that yes, all of those things happened to me and added two more events that happened from 2015-2017.

After she left, I stared up at the celling, head on a very flat pillow, and thought ‘Goddamn, I’ve been through a lot of shit!’

I know I have faced a lot of challenges in my 40+ years, but to hear them all read off in succession, it took me aback. I really do live one day to the next, looking forward to upcoming events like concerts, and do my best not to dwell on things that hold me back. Those of you who know me well know that every single day I deal with chronic pain that’s not severe enough to debilitate, but not minor enough to ignore. Some days it’s just something to deal with, and some days it’s a feat to get out of bed and function. More often than not, though, I manage to get moving. My attitude though is that everyone is dealing with their own challenges, so what I deal with is nothing really unique or special.

I’m facing another medical adventure/challenge in the very near future, and I will write about it at length once I know more info, but I wanted to scribble this here because I knew it was far too long for a Facebook post. (That’s why I have a blog, right?)

In the meantime, thank you for reading and have a great weekend!

–Barry 

The Great (Annual) Escape

“July, July, July! Never seemed so strange”–“July, July!” The Decemberists

 

More than any other month, July has been, throughout my life, full of milestones; there’ve been memorable events, wonderful evenings I will never forget and days I wish never happened.

 

July 17 is one of the few days I wish could be deleted from the calendar, or at least my memory. Sometimes it really sucks to have such a good memory where dates are concerned, because every year, July 17 shows up and, no matter what else is going on, for that day, or at least a large portion of it, I am an emotional wreck.

 

On Tuesday July 17, 2001 my father was killed in a single vehicle car accident in his neighborhood as he drove home from work. He had a diabetic attack behind the wheel and became disoriented, passing by his own home and driving the car to a dead end, where he lost consciousness with his foot still on the gas pedal. No one knows how long it took for the engine to overheat, catch fire and engulf the car, but I would guess the fire burned for an hour or more before the fire department was contacted. When I got a phone call that night from his second wife Kathy, I immediately thought she was calling to tell me that my grandfather had passed, as he had been in ill health. When she told me she had to tell me something about my dad, I knew it wasn’t good news; we barely spoke unless forced to in social situations, so I knew it had to be something cataclysmic for her to reach out to me.

And, cataclysmic it was.

It’s funny how I don’t remember the rest of that conversation beyond her telling me my dad was dead, agreeing to meet her in the morning to start ‘making arrangements’ and then getting off the phone. I don’t remember if I called my brother or if Kathy told me she was going to do that. What I do remember about that night as my mom made phone calls to her friends and family is that Greg Maddux pitched a complete game shutout for Atlanta against Tampa Bay. Even though I loathed interleague play (and I still do), I was thankful for baseball like never before because, in that moment, I could truly escape. I always loved baseball from a very young age, but that night, I understood how important and necessary it was as a means of escaping ‘real life.’

Every July 17 since, on that day, for those 24 hours, I am a man looking for an escape.

My relationship with my father was complicated, but it’s not an exaggeration to say every day something makes me think to myself, ‘I wonder what dad would’ve thought of that?’ That trigger is usually music or sports related, and it usually makes me smile. There is still a lot about that relationship that will forever remain unresolved, and that’s okay. He had his demons and his faults, and he handled things the best he knew how to at the time. It took me a long time to come to that realization and be at peace with it. 

I have written here before about how I didn’t speak to my father from April 12, 1996 until sometime in June of 1999. I was working in radio and he heard me on air and called me one night literally just as I was walking into my apartment, and I picked up without checking Caller ID.

That ‘chilly’ conversation broke the ice, and we eventually met for dinner a few times a year up until his death. I chose to forgive but not forget the reasons for our estrangement, so we were able to mend things as best we could. I spoke to him for the last time the Friday before his death and we agreed to meet for dinner the following Friday (July 20). Instead, that day was his wake, which meant my brother and I, along with his first wife Tara met dozens of people who knew my dad. Some I knew, some I only knew the names from conversation, but they all knew me. If you have ever been in that situation, I don’t have to tell you that it is exhausting.

That summer of 2001 was also the summer I became very well acquainted with vodka. Working in radio, coupled with emotional trauma I couldn’t really process meant I was drinking on a nightly basis for the first time in my life. It was something I knew I shouldn’t be doing, but I really didn’t care. Remember, this is before 9/11. Once that happened, it’s no wonder I quit my job in radio and when New Year’s Eve 2001 arrived, I quite unapologetically drank myself into oblivion.

I leaned on old friends and new friends to ‘get me through’ that time. Some of those friends I still talk to often, some I haven’t seen in years, but they all played a part in helping me, and I thank them for all they did.

Many years later on a July 17th afternoon, while I was in my annual emotional funk, I received news that a dear friend had passed away. That was when I began to wish that the calendar would just skip July 17th every year. As I mark the day, remembering my father and that dear friend, I know that no matter how much time passes, some wounds never heal, they simply scab over.

Whatever your own ‘July 17’ is, I hope you have an army of friends to help you through it, I hope you have an escape hatch nearby that you can use, however briefly, and I hope you know that the next day will be better.

Thank you for reading,

Barry 

Old School / New School

As readers of this blog know, I have been a Spotify Premium member since July when my iPod Classic stopped working. Spotify was new to me, as the only streaming service I had used previously was Pandora, but since Spotify allowed Offline listening and the ability to download songs to a Listener Library with just the touch of a button, I joined up, using Spotify as a replacement for my iPod. I eventually got the iPod to work, so now Spotify is mainly used at work since it is convenient to stop/start tracks on my phone while working. 

Very late Saturday night, I found an old album on Spotify, Crystal Gayle’s “Miss the Mississippi” from 1979. 


My dad owned this record on vinyl and it was one he would listen to often, so the songs were ingrained in me, and are inexorably tied to memories of my father and my youth. I remember trying to find the record on CD in the late 90s, and I eventually found the album on CD in 2009 and added it to my iPod.

 

But Saturday night, I wanted to hear this record and my iPod wasn’t close by, so I found it on Spotify and started listening to songs I have known for almost my entire life.

 

And then, I noticed something strange: After the first song finished, I heard that distinct sound of snaps, pops and hiss that is only heard when listening to vinyl. It seems that the only version that Spotify had to make available for streaming was a very well-worn LP, with lots of pops and hiss (but thankfully, no skips).

 

I am all for nostalgia, but I was very surprised that the only version of this record Spotify had to offer for streaming was a digital transfer of an LP, especially since the album has been available on CD for many years. I wrote an email to Spotify support just simply to ask what were the reasons/restrictions that made that LP version the only version available to stream on Spotify.

I’m genuinely curious to learn what rules and/or restrictions led to a vinyl transfer being available to stream. If anyone has any details on the inner workings of Spotify, post a comment below. 

Tonight in response to my email, Spotify Support said they “see what I mean” about the audio quality being less than desired. They say they’re working on it, so…stay tuned. 

–Barry

Alan Doyle Still Has A Smile On His Face (And Four Walls Around Him)

Tuesday night I had the pleasure of seeing Alan Doyle play a very small local music venue. Who is Alan Doyle, you ask? He’s best known as one of the founding members of the band Great Big Sea, who tried their best to hit the big time in the US in the late 90s and early 2000’s after conquering their homeland of Canada a few years before. While they would play to stadium sized crowds in Canada, Great Big Sea (GBS) would play small theatres and clubs in America, where the crowds were smaller, but no less enthusiastic.

GBS is pure nostalgia for me. Their music marks a very specific time period in my life, and reminds me of very specific people. I honestly was not aware that GBS had officially split in 2013. When I heard that Alan Doyle was going to appear at Tin Pan, I knew I had to get a ticket to see what he’d been up to since I last saw him fifteen years ago.

Tin Pan is an interesting, intimate venue in the mold of Alexandria’s Birchmere. They offer dinner reservations with your ticket for preferred seating, and the music, not chatting is the most important thing.

 

After a funny, sardonic and brief opening set by Donavan Woods, Alan took the stage to sing a song a cappella, proving that his voice is still in top form,  then his band Beautiful Gypsies joined him and they started with ‘I Can’t Dance Without You’ from Alan’s latest solo effort, 2015’s ‘So Let’s Go.’ The mix was great, the house was packed and I was pleased to see Alan had not lost any of the gregariousness that made him my favorite member of GBS.

The sing-along started early when the band kicked into ‘When I’m Up’ and Alan demanded audience participation. It was around this time of the night when the crowd began buying Alan shots and doubles of Jameson Whiskey, which Alan never refused.

Here’s the set list, and then some thoughts:

Dream of Home (a cappella)

I Can’t Dance Without You

When I’m Up

Come Out With Me

My Day

Where the Nightingale Sings

Sea of No Cares

The Night Loves Us

Lukey

Forever Light Will Shine

I’ve Seen a Little

In The Morning (Guitarist Cory, solo)

Old Black Rum

Roll Me Bully Boys Row

Consequence Free

Testify

1,2,3,4 (featuring verses from ‘Tub Thumping’ and ‘You Can Call Me Al’)

[Encore]

Wave on Wave

Shine On

Ordinary Day

 

No matter the size of the stage, Alan is a showman, making sure that everyone in attendance has a good time. Even though we were seated at tables and the bar, dancers got up and waltzed, reeled and jigged. 

The biggest surprise for me was that, while with GBS, Alan would sing at least one ballad per album. His set Tuesday was more upbeat and, as such, none of the three pop ballads Alan sang (‘Fast As I Can’, ‘Boston and St. John’s’ and ‘Clearest Indication’) were highlighted. Not that I minded, I was just very surprised. 

Bonus: Murray Foster, formerly of Moxy Fruvous and mote recently the bassist for GBS is part of Alan’s band, as is former GBS drummer Kris MacFarlane. 

As the show ended, Alan implored fans to stick around for autographs and selfies. Instead of sitting behind his merchandise table, just outside the venue in an entrance hall, Alan took a seat at the bar and the fans queued up to get a pic, a signature and share stories. Props to Alan for taking time with everyone, including a ten year old girl who got a drumstick from Kris and the setlist. Alan autographed the setlist and got a picture. He also spoke for a bit with your dear author, whom he remembered from a meeting a very long time ago. 

If you’re like me and lost track of Great Big Sea and their members, Alan has two solo albums (“Boy on Bridge” from 2012 and the aforementioned “So Let’s Go” from 2015) and he’s also written a book. If Alan Doyle, the self-proclaimed ‘Prince of Newfoundland’ and his band of Beautiful Gypsies land in your town, go see him and say hello. It’s a good time, I promise. 


Thanks for reading. 

Barry

Shameless Self-Promotion (but it’s for a good cause)

Here is a blog post about two things I don’t normally do:

First, a bit of shameless self-promotion, but it’s for a good cause. On Saturday afternoon, (March 25), The Firehouse Theatre is sponsoring ‘Hamiltunes’, a fund-raiser for The Richmond Theatre Artists Fund Taking place at The Virginia Historical Building, ‘Hamiltunes’ is a unique interactive experience that allows those in the audience to sing their favorite songs from ‘Hamilton’. As of this writing, tickets are still available, starting at $10.00.

 

Which leads to the second thing I don’t usually do: Sing in public! It’s been decades since I last made the karaoke rounds with friends, but I will be singing two songs from ‘Hamilton’ on Saturday, so if you need incentive to buy a ticket, there ya go!

The fun starts at 2pm. I recommend arriving early, because it is going to be packed! Full details here

Thanks for reading. I hope to see you there if you’re in RVA; it promises to be a fun afternoon.

Garth, Trisha & All the Hits (11.12.16 @ Richmond Coliseum)

Garth Brooks is that rare artist that transcends genres, while still seeming to remain true to his roots. He’s a country singer of ‘Cowboy Songs’, he’s a troubadour in the tradition of James Taylor, and he’s a consummate showman onstage. Perhaps what gets lost in the spectacle of his current world tour is that Garth Brooks is one of the best American songwriters of the last thirty years. 

Photo by the author


Brooks and his wife Trisha Yearwood (a top-notch performer in her own right) stopped by Richmond this weekend to play an astounding four sold out shows in three days at the Coliseum. The stage was one that allowed every seat in the arena a view (even behind the stage) and Brooks, sporting his famous cowboy hat and headset mic, was so frenetic, running to all areas of the stage, that it was easy to lose sight of where he was actually standing. Yes, the stage, the presentation and Brooks’ persona were big, but it’s the songs that keep the fans coming back in droves some nineteen years since he last played the city.

Photo by Dana Kiser

In 1991 when his album ‘Ropin’ The Wind’ was released, I was a full blown Metal Head, more likely to be listening to Metallica, Overkill or Danzig. But, thanks to my friend Eddie, with whom I rode to school each morning of the 1991-92 school year, even I had to admit that Garth was one hell of a songwriter and performer. Literally every day for two months straight, our morning school commute music was side one of ‘Ropin’ The Wind’, so I got to know those songs very well, and I liked them.

 

Last night, as I was part of a raucous and loud sold out crowd who knew all the words to every song, I thought a lot about that senior year of high school and about my friend Eddie. Music is memory and the memories were very thick as I sang along to “Friends in Low Places” and “The Thunder Rolls.” I felt very fortunate to see this show, and witness a performer who’s at that age now where he seems to fully appreciate all of the adulation and love his fans give him, and every night (sometimes twice in one day) for two and a half hours, he does all he can to reciprocate.

The setlist (mostly from memory, so apologies if it’s inaccurate):

Man Against Machine

Beaches of Cheyenne

Rodeo

Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House

The River

Two Piña Coladas

Papa Loved Mama

Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)

Unanswered Prayers

That Summer

The Thunder Rolls

In Another’s Eyes (w/Trisha Yearwood)

Trisha Yearwood Set:

XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl)

How Do I Live

PrizeFighter

Georgia Rain

She’s in Love With the Boy

Garth Brooks Second Set

Shameless

Callin’ Baton Rouge

Friends in Low Places

Night Moves

Piano Man

The Dance

Encore

Wrapped Up in You

Mom

Standing Outside the Fire

 

In closing, it was a pleasure to see a performer who was genuinely having a blast on stage. Brooks and his band have been together for 20+ years and the sense of ‘family’ was palpable. This week was one of the most absurd, strangest weeks I have ever had (that did not involve a morphine drip). It was refreshing to simply be able to go out, have a good time, and realize that I had at least one thing in common with 11,000 other people in my city on a Saturday night. Music has a way of doing that, and I thank Garth for being the facilitator of that.

 

As always, thanks to Dana, and thanks to you for reading,

Barry

Elvis Costello Welcomes One And All Into His Imperial Bedroom [Warner Theatre; Washington DC 11.03.16]

Sometimes artists record albums to make a cohesive, singular statement. Sometimes, the LP is simply a collection of what the writer has laying around that he hasn’t used yet, but, for the most part, when an album is released, unless it is a ‘concept album’ like The Who’s ‘Quadrophenia’ or Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’, the artist never intends to perform the entire record in front of a live audience. In early 2016, Bruce Springsteen embarked on ‘The River Tour’ in which he played his entire two-record set from start to finish. By the time the second leg of the tour finished, that idea was abandoned, simply because the pacing of a record does not always make for great pacing in a live setting. 

Which brings us to Elvis Costello’s latest US tour, which stopped in DC last night; entitled ‘Imperial Bedroom and other Chambers’, Elvis and his band The Imposters promised to play the entire ‘Imperial Bedroom’ album, along with other songs from all eras of his career. And, the first thing Elvis got right that The Boss did not is, he chose not to play the songs in running order, which would have made for a very strange live show. Knowing before the show began that I would hear ‘You Little Fool’ and ‘Man Out of Time’, two of my all-time favorite Costello songs, I was extremely excited to see what the evening would bring as my friend Dana and I made our way inside the beautiful Warner Theatre.

 

Elvis kicked things off with a very deep cut, and a song not from ‘Imperial Bedroom’. Instead he started the evening with ‘Town Where Time Stood Still’ from the ‘Punch the Clock’ album. I admit, it was one I did not immediately recognize until the chorus showed up, and even then, the initial sound mix made the lyrics a bit hard to understand. If the audience wasn’t really sure what to make of the opener, that was soon corrected when drummer extraordinaire Pete Thomas launched into ‘Lipstick Vogue’, played at breakneck speed.

Before launching into the first ‘Imperial Bedroom’ selection of the night, ‘The Loved Ones’ Elvis asked the crowd ‘Are we sick of this yet?’ The audience seemed perplexed, as the show was just getting started. ‘I don’t mean the show, you know what I mean! Are we sick of this yet?!’ he clarified, to which the crowd roared their approval.

Photo by Dana Kiser

A word about the album ‘Imperial Bedroom’: It was released in July 1982, only eight months after Elvis had released an album made up entirely of covers of classic country music, which puzzled many of his fans, who expected the ‘Angry Young Man’ of ‘Armed Forces’ or ‘This Year’s Model’. ‘Imperial Bedroom’ is not for everyone, and it doesn’t have many instantly recognizable radio hits that the casual fan would recognize. For all that the album may not be, it does in fact contain Costello’s strongest lyrics to date, perhaps ever. Here is one example, from the standout track ‘Man Out of Time”:

There`s a tuppeny hapenny millionaire

Looking for a fourpenny one

With a tight grip on the short hairs

Of the public imagination

But for his private wife and kids somehow

Real life becomes a rumour

Days of dutch courage

Just three French letters and a German sense of humour

He`s got a mind like a sewer and a heart like a fridge

He stands to be insulted and he pays for the privilege

 

Almost every track on the album demonstrates Costello’s lyrical acumen, and if the public at large weren’t ready to follow him, he didn’t care. Thankfully the record has been repackaged and rereleased several times over the last twenty years, allowing fans to rediscover and appreciate it, and I think today the album, rightfully so, is considered one of the best in Elvis’ 40+ year career. Playing all of the songs live was no small feat, but for those lucky 1400 fans in attendance, it made for a very memorable evening.

 

Here’s the setlist, then some thoughts:

 

The Town Where Time Stood Still

Lipstick Vogue

On Your Way Down

The Loved Ones

Accidents Will Happen

You’ll Never Be a Man

Tears Before Bedtime

Moods for Moderns

This House Is Empty Now

Shabby Doll

Green Shirt

Human Hands

Watching the Detectives

The Long Honeymoon

Pills and Soap

Hand in Hand

High Fidelity

You Little Fool

Pidgin English

Encore:

Alison

Shot With His Own Gun

Almost Blue

Kid About It

…And in Every Home

Beyond Belief

Man Out of Time

Encore 2:

Town Cryer

Everyday I Write the Book

Encore 3:

Blood & Hot Sauce

A Face in the Crowd

American Mirror

(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea

Pump It Up

(What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding

 

Photo by the author

Mid-set, hearing, in this order ‘Pills and Soap’ (again, a song that is an acquired taste), ‘Hand In Hand’, ‘Hi Fidelity’ and ‘You Little Fool’ was the portion of the show that seemed to be directed right at me! Hearing those songs all in a row, almost without even a break to differentiate where one ended and the next began, was a wonderful moment for this longtime fan.

 

While the set mostly consisted of material originally performed by Elvis & The Attractions, along with one of his collaborations with Burt Bacharach, the evening wasn’t completely about nostalgia. Costello is working on a musical adaptation of the 1957 film ‘A Face in the Crowd’ which starred Andy Griffith as a man who rises from the gutter to the halls of power. (If you’ve never seen the film, I highly recommend it). Elvis showcased three songs from the production, which definitely gave the proceedings a political undertone.

 A shout out to the mad musical genius that is piano/keyboard player Steve Nieve. His showcase piece of the evening was a charged and tense rendition of “Shot With His Own Gun”. Thomas, Nieve and bass player Davey Faragher (the “new guy” who’s been with the others for about fifteen years) were on point throughout the night, helping to keep things moving. 

The second to last song of the night was the crowd pleaser ‘Pump It Up’ which had everyone dancing, regardless of their politics and then he closed the night with a song written by Nick Lowe and recorded by Elvis in 1978. The song of course was ‘(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace Love & Understanding’ and, I cannot think of a more appropriate song (or question for that matter) given the current climate. It’s quite a feat when a song originally written in 1974 is now, forty-two years later, even more frighteningly relevant than I think its author or the evening’s performer could have ever possibly imagined.

 

As I walk on through this wicked world,

Searching for light in the darkness of insanity,

I ask myself, Is all hope lost? 

Is there only pain, and hatred, and misery?

And each time I feel like this inside,

There’s one thing I wanna know,

What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understanding?

 

Thanks as always to Dana for attending this show with me, and thank you very much for reading.

Barry