A few beers, a burger, and an afternoon watching three sets of parents keep up with four rambunctious children has set the likelihood of me coupling and mating back at least two years.
I kid, of course.
The Bolster/Wagner clan — Wagner brothers Christofer and I, Bolster brothers Brian and BJ, and respective wives and children — gathered in Chatham, NJ, for a Memorial Day BBQ. By 5:00, I was the one asleep on the couch.
Just getting there was a challenge. Brian and Roxane picked me up around 1:00 and we headed for the Holland Tunnel. Francis went, as Brian put it, apoplectic. Nothing could stop his wailing all the way through the tunnel, until Mommy finally offered up some lunch. Then we had to stop for a potty break. It took us an hour to go five miles.
But it was fine, and fun, and cute, really. Clearly a sense of humor and a healthy dose a patience is requsite for the gig.
Once to Chatham, I counted twelve SUVs in the surrounding few houses in BJ’s neighborhood. As Brian put it, it would cost $30,000 to fill ‘em all full of gas. Inside, the families gathered, and children were spilling over children, and baby talk and mommy voices were chattering — it was pure chaos.
It was a beautiful, picture-perfect day outside. The kids were awesome and adorable. But man, oh, man, what a handful! I mostly sat by, documenting everything in pictures, trying to pitch in, and figure out how it is that I, the second-oldest of the four cousins, was the only one unhitched and without-offspring. But these kids were bigger than me. They were more powerful than all of us.
I don’t have any answers as to why me (or, why not me), but I can tell you that the whole thing’s pretty magical. And even if I can’t find a candidate who’s willing to have an understated wedding and just one kid, well heck, I’m in anyway.
It’s 6 p.m. ET, and I’m about to crawl into bed.
I have the good fortune of being able to drink a cup of coffee, and still fall to sleep quickly. I woke up this morning, went to Starbucks and D’Ags, wrote a song (‘Untitled No. 3′), then went back to sleep. After breakfast, I met Chris in the park for Ethan’s first bike ride, hung out with the ‘lil guy a while, came home for lunch, and watched two things at once: Spaulding Gray’s ‘Swimming To Cambodia,’ and PBS Frontline’s special, ‘The Way The Music Died.’ Both make me consider giving everything up, but for very different reasons.
Spaulding Gray was a tortured genius. His monologue on his bit part in the film, ‘The Killing Fields,’ is inspired. With just a microphone, a notebook, and a couple of maps straight out of high school geography, he tells a compelling story with wit and wisdom and whimsy and all the ingredients of great art.
Then there’s this great little PBS show on the music biz where all the usual suspects (Toure, Nick Harcourt, that cross-eyed chick from Billboard) talk about the 3,000 CDs released a year and the millions of dollars of promotion spent to make hit of 100 of ‘em. Music attorney Michael Guido says, “My first piece of advice for anyone wanting to get into this business is don’t get into this business.” Then he indicts — for good reason, to be sure — my day job: “I think MTV was the beginning of the end for the recorded music business.”
Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t lost hope in my ability to create great art, or to sell a few records. Heck, ‘Almost Home’ was added to the iTunes Music Store just this week — get clickin’ (and it’s already made its way onto a few iMixes!). And ‘Untitled No. 3′ ain’t so bad. At least it’s hella’ optimistic.
I’ve never seen the sky so blue
I’ve never seen you look so beautiful
The day is yours to run it through
The day is yours to make your dreams come true
So, get goin’! Run it through.
Every time I wear this short-sleeved, red plaid Polo, I feel a little like my father.
I tried to subvert the association with my genuine-issue, German army cargo pants, blue suede Adidas, and red, white, and blue sweatband, but still… I feel like my Dad.
My father coached my little league team, the Braves, in 1980-81. Coach Wagner. I figure he was about my age now. Anyway, somewhere on a dusty wall of photos, there’s a framed collage of my Dad coaching the Braves. (I can remember the mom who was taking the photos telling me she was spying on the other teams — that was twenty-three years ago.) And he’s wearing the shirt: red plaid. (Plus — the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree — sunglasses and a baseball cap.)
I was dressed for comfort and speed today because I knew it was going to be a doozy. At work, we soft-launched the long-awaited MTV Movies site. I’ve been working on it in one way or another — mocking up design, brainstorming content, building and growing the L.A. bureau, covertly assigning movie editorial — for five years or more. Of course, MTV gave us the green light a month ago, and mandated that we get it live by the MTV Movie Awards (June 10), so the last three weeks have been, as you’ve perhaps witnessed by proxy, fairly insane. Well, we did it. Then went out and celebrated (on me, yikes).
Now, my Father is a waste water treatment plant manager. Doesn’t sound too sexy, does it? Yeah, it probably isn’t. It’s not a gig at Dateline, or Sony, or GQ. But yunno’ what, my Dad, with his logos-based wisdom, makes your m’ f’in’ water safe when those Baby Ruths roll up on the Chicago beaches. If he says it’s ok to swim, it’s ok to swim. He comes down on The Man when his effluent spills into local creeks. He helps itty bitty towns in rural Indiana understand the mighty and bureaucratic Environmental Protection Agency. He makes good. He always says, “Do the ordinary extraordinarily well.”
Good guy. Cool shirt. Thanks, dude.
Tonight, I have a boatload of newfound admiration for Kevin Anthony, and every record producer I’ve ever know.
See, I’ve been wrestling with ProTools, trying to get a new song down to share with you, Dear Reader. I’ve had the software/hardware for almost two months and haven’t produced a thing. For a guy who gets off on achievement and accomplishment, it’s been frustrating. True enough, up until this week I’ve been all about live performances: The Smith Family, Cockfight and I have filled most every free non-MTV hour. Still.
So I tried to hack my way through something new after dinner (West Side Sushi, yum) tonight. I cribbed the time signature and key from Wilco’s ‘Summer Teeth,’ but that’s all. I started with a shaker, added a guitar part (EG#mC#mA), wrote some lyrics, added a rimshot and snare, then the vocal.
What a mess!
I have some fantasy of recording and releasing Beck-caliber work with just me, some pretzels, headphones, and my laptop. But people, lemme’ tell ya’, I have a long way to go.
Problem is, Kevin makes it look easy. But it so ain’t easy. It get’s pretty dizzying pretty quickly: all these tracks and waves and effect racks and time signatures and all these IDEAS I can’t quite make so…
And so… And so, Dear Reader, someday you might hear it. For now, though, you’ll have to read it, and imagine what it sounds like. Its called ‘Memorial Day.’
For now, though, it’s back to Keane’s ‘Hopes & Dreams.’ And come fall, when it’s time to record a new CD in ernest, it’s back to Kevin’s Control One Studios.
I was mostly speechless sitting on John’s rooftop at 89th & Riverside tonight. Sporadic raindrops punctuated the cool, dry air. Low-slung clouds rolled in from the Atlantic. Jet’s passed just overhead. And I sat quietly, not much to say.
Sure, we discussed President Bush’s inability to pronounce Abu Ghraib, and Phish breaking up. As we mused on growing older, and growing up, as we so often do. But mostly, was done with my voice. I was over language. I’d said enough for today. (Until now, apparently.)
It doesn’t hurt that John’s rooftop is a garden paradise complete with a cherry tree, broccoli and tomato plants, impatience, ivy, goldfish, and Christmas lights. Met with a cool spring breeze, it’s a pretty excellent place to sit a spell.
I stopped through John’s to return his Taylor guitar which he so graciously loaned me when my Martin was too sick to perform last week. Then I hopped a cab — an eight dollar luxury in these days of inflated taxi fares — back home to 56th Street. I visited my local D’Agastino’s for a six of Kiran and some pretzels, and couldn’t resist the two-for-five dollar Lean Cuisines. Back home, I tried to watch ‘Before Sunrise,’ but all that talking was too much (not surprisingly).
And so here I am, windows thrown wide, listening to my newest iTune additions, Keane and Matt Pond PA, trying to find just a few more words for today.
Last one(s): sweet dreams.
Reason #72 why my job at The MTV rules, my new office 29-stories above Times Square notwithstanding…
“I’ll T&E the tetherball set.”
So said the president of MTV Networks not :30 ago on a conference call I’m on as we speak, er, type. T&E: Travel and expense, ie: write it off. (It’s funny to us, but mostly because we’re laughing about tetherball.)
“Remember tetherball?” someone asks. “Oh hell yeah!” he answers.
Every day brings its surprises. Today’s? The orange sun breaking through thunderclouds at sunset, and the sliver moon rising over New Jersey. Who ever thought the Garden State could be so beautiful.
That wasn’t all. The first sip of iced-coffee. The afternoon cookie break. The early-evening downpour. The unexpected email. The fit of my linen jacket (I know, I know — too early.) Wilco on my iPod. The cool breeze off the park.
I guess beauty is where you find it. Or how you look at it.
I’m not sure I’ve ever really loved.
Oh sure, I’ve said it a few times. And I’ve meant it. But lately, as I plumb these depth within myself, trying to figure out just what love is, and how to know it when I’m in it, and how to sustain it for a lifetime, I’m just not so sure. And here’s why: Ethan Baruch Wagner.
I know, I know: here he goes again gushing about his nephew. Hear me out.
Christofer and I sat on his rooftop yesterday silently watching Ethan drag a blue-handled broom from one end of the patio to the other. He giggled and squealed. He stood knob-kneed and shaky. He tumbled backwards onto his Pampered-butt. He dug in the potted plants and smeared the soil on his face. And he laughed, and laughed, and laughed, oblivious to his father and uncle smiling in the half-light of dusk.
What do you call that, if not love? Isn’t it the same? A transcendent feeling of joy and light? A compulsion to spend time with someone, even if they scarcely know you’re there? Even if they scarcely say a word? And you whisper into their ear over and over, ‘I love you!’ and they don’t understand anything you’re saying?
In the French romantic comedy, ‘Love Me If You Dare,’ our star-crossed couple seal their love with a kiss in a bed of concrete. They are forever frozen in that moment (though they are, of course, dead). Isn’t that romantic? Sigh, swoon. In the quirky coming-of-age comedy ‘Napoleon Dynamite,’ our protagonist finally finds someone with whom to play tetherball. It’s the last shot of this film: Napoleon and Deb high-fiving on a deserted playground. Sigh, swoon.
There are those of you, I presume, who will suggest that I am confusing my ‘types’ of love: romantic and platonic. That may be. It’s all academic to me. It’s language. I’m talking about bloody, nerve-strewn internal organs here.
So, what to do? Well, I have a friend who always says, ‘You’re doing it.’ Which doesn’t really answer the question, and doesn’t really help all that much, but it does seem to make some sense.
I’m doing it.
Frontmen want to be drummers, and drummers want to be frontmen. In 24 hours, I’ve been both.
Thursday night’s Open Center show was a challenge, but not because of the music. Musically, the band was spot on. After some twenty plus years of performing, I don’t worry about the music. (Which is kinda’ miraculous.) I’ve found a pretty good place with it: part confidence, part muscle memory, part Zen. Plus — and this is major — Julia Kent and Todd Cohen make it really, really easy. They’re total pros who have been playing together for years, are complete sweethearts, and completely understand what I’m doing. It’s a mutual admiration society.
Being the host and the organizer, though, was a drag. Of course, the whole thing was my idea. I thought it would be cool to “own” the night instead of being one of five bands run through the rock grist mill. And that was cool. But taking care of catering, wine, sound, sales, management, meeting and greeting … it was a lot. Gratefully, friends like Fish, Jonathan, Rachel, and my sister-in-law Jennifer made it all doable. And rock stars Shiv and Casey Shea made it wicked cool.
And of course Ethan was there, which means I had flashes of pure joy for seconds at a time. Feeling overwhelmed? Tickle the kid!
So what, you ask, did you miss Thursday night?
Hundreds of dollars of delicious wine, cheese, and fruit
A candle-lit, prayer-flagged, slide show-lit performance space
Casey Shea and I performing his beatiful song, ‘To Lose A Friend’
Shiv’s stellar cover of ‘(Hit Me) Baby One More Time’
Julia, Todd and I taking ‘So. Central Rain,’ ‘Here Comes Your Man,’ and ‘Lucky Man’ (with Casey returning the favor) to new heights
Ethan dancing to everything (until falling asleep in Daddy’s arms)
My set-closing, just-learned solo cover of Wilco’s ‘I’m Always In Love’
And what of being the drummer, you ask? Put it this way: by the end of Cockfight’s five song, twenty minute set last night, I was wearing nothing but sneakers, running shorts, aviator glasses, and a knit cap. And it worked. Trust me. I was pretty much spot on my parts. Sometimes during rehearsal, being that I’m not so coordinated, I’ll literally seize up and fall forward into the kit. Not last night. Nay, Dear Rock-n-Roll Reader: I hit that shit. Hard. So much so that at the end of the set, Siberia’s soundman and booker said to me, “So I’m guessing you’re the ringer in the band?” M’ Man thought I was an actual drummer! (I may play there again, with Cockfight, my band, or something new — we’ll see.)
And so I guess that’s it. I’d be excited for a little rest now, if this weekend weren’t so jam-packed: lunch and a movie this afternoon, BBQ this evening, then into the studio to record the Smith Family EP tonight. Tomorrow’s similarly booked up: another film screening, then dinner with the family. But yunno’ what I was just thinkin’ on the walk over here? (I’m at Starbucks now, having started writing this last night after the Cockfight show, then working on it this morning at home before walking over here.) I say again, yunno’ what I was just thinkin’ on the walk over here?
I was thinking that I think that this is what fulfillment feels like. Despite my achy hips and knees, despite the occasional headache or cash hemorrhage, this feels pretty good. No, this feels great. I think I’m happy.
It’s Wednesday night, er, Thursday morning. And I’m braggin’.
Everything’s in place for tomorrow, er, tonight’s show. Well, mostly. I discovered yesterday that the neck was peeling away from the body of my Martin acoustic guitar, I switched to Plan B: John Rosenblatt to the rescue. After a twelve hour day at The MTV, and two hours rehearsing a 20-minute set (over and over and over and over) with Cockfight, I hopped the 2/3 to 96th Street. In exchange for a place on the guest list (plus one) and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla frozen yogurt, John loaned me his Taylor.
So the band is rehearsed (wait ’til you hear how amazing Julia and Todd sound). The postcards are out. The emails are send. The slide show is prepped. The set is list, um, set. The car service is reserved. And all that left to do is get the wine, cheese, plastic glasses, merchandise, and, well, myself, to The Open Center at 83 Spring Street (just east of Broadway) by 6:30. Casey Shea hits the stage at 7:30, Siobahn at 8:00, and Julia, Todd and myself at 8:30. Sixteen songs later — seventeen if ya’ll make enough racket to prompt my just-learned encore — and it’ll all be over. And it’ll all be good.
But questions remain:
Will I catch the moon like a bird in a cage? Will I set the sun on a big wheeled wagon?