The Year In Photos, 2009

December 31st, 2009

wife.jpgWhat a year. From The Inauguration to The Oscars to my tenth New York City Marathon, no previous loop around the sun has been more jam-packed with mind-blowing moments.

I played the Iowa State Fair, contributed a song to The Nadas “Crystalline” compilation, and helped raise four grand (and counting) for 826NYC with “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3.”

I spent a week on Bray’s Island, one on Grand Cayman, and another in Nantucket. I took in The Brickyard 400 (and many Foster’s oil cans), celebrated Abadfest 2: Electric Boogaloo, and narrowly escaped a perilous rising tide in Boston Harbor.

I ran dozens of beautiful, inspiring journeys through the five boroughs, including one twenty mile jaunt to Rockaway Beach where I lost (and later found) my wedding ring.

At work, we nearly doubled the size of our audience through tireless hours of reportage on Michael Jackson, Rihanna and Chris Brown, and thousands of other smaller stories. I shot U2, spent nearly three weeks in Los Angeles, six nights on live TV, and a weekend tethered to the marquee of Radio City Music Hall.

For all the big moments (and photo ops), though, my favorite memories are the more-personal and intimate ones: Abbi and I holding onto each other as the concept of our impending parenthood sank in, my brother and I wordlessly navigating a challenging “Mister Rogers & Me” edit, Chris Abad and I laughing off work over beers, Tony Maceli’s goofy-eyed, mid-song glance.

Year’s ago now, when I set out for four-nights of fasting alone in the Utah wilderness, I said to my guide, “Wish me luck.” He replied, “I wish you difficulty.” Only after returning from my vision quest did he explain. “We learn more from adversity than ease.”

2009 was a difficult year for all of us. 2010 will likely be more difficult still. Big or little, impossibly challenging or remarkably easy, though, I wouldn’t change a single moment. As Tobias Wolff writes, “We are made to persist, to complete the tour; that’s how we find out who we really are.”

Here, then, are a few snapshots of who I was in 2009, and who I take with me into 2010.

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Washington, DC Inauguration (January)

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Miami Marathon (January)

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Oscar Red Carpet (February)

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U2 In Boston (March)

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Boston, MA (May)

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Grand Cayman (June)

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Brickyard 400 (July)

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Iowa State Fair (August)

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Rockaway Beach (August)

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Nantucket (August)

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Video Music Awards (September)

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Abadfest 2: Electric Boogaloo (September)

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Abbi’s Pregnant! (October)

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NYC Marathon #10 (November)

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A Holiday Benefit, Vol 3 (December)

And Baby Makes Three

December 30th, 2009

pregger.jpgI woke early — too early — on account of a message from my younger self.

Well, not exactly.

It was 29-year-old singer/songwriter Casey Shea (nearly ten years my junior) texting me in the small hours of the morning as he sauntered home from a rock show on the Lower East Side (as I have so many times before). The sound of his text shot through Abbi and my bedroom like a sonic boom. She stirred. I woke.

He suggested that we could hook up in Brooklyn to hand off a flash drive full songs for my long-gestating documentary, “Mister Rogers & Me.” I knew better, though; there was no way the President of The Pianos Margarita Club was going to be moving when my twenty-mile, NYC Marathon training run passed his Park Slope apartment.

I turned to a different page in my Choose Your Own Adventure years ago, beginning a long, slow, gradual acknowledgement that I would not become Michael Stipe or Bono, just me. Still, I lay there that humid, October morning, half-wishing I was in Casey’s high-tops: four a.m., pickled to the gills, ears ringing, no day job come Monday. There I was, though: stone sober, wide awake, with nearly three hours to burn until sunrise. I tossed and turned, then moved to the couch.

I woke from a shallow slumber there with a shudder, afraid I’d missed my window (too early and I get shot; too late and I get cooked by the Indian Summer sun). The sky was still deep blue. The cable box read 6:01. I pulled on my running shorts and shoes, kissed Abbi, and stepped outside.

I started south along a dark, nearly-deserted Broadway. Only the cabbies, club kids and assorted European tourists stirred among the shadows. The neon and streetlights yielded slowly to sunshine. I crossed the Manhattan Bridge, the sun blinking through the cables. The Statue Of Liberty glistened in the morning glow past The Battery. With Jay-Z’s “Empire State Of Mind” blaring in my ears, it was difficult to resist spinning in place, arms astride, like Holly Golitely in DryFit.

On Flatbush Avenue, I spotted the coffee shop where just three years ago, I stood looking back at Manhattan like a glistening Oz and told my then-fiance, “I can’t move to Brooklyn; it’s just too far away.” I ran past it, remembering that crossroads where, as Abbi and I searched for our first apartment together, I worried that I was slipping away: the late nights, the recording sessions, the rock shows. What I didn’t know then is that, while the frequency would diminish, it would do so comfortably, naturally. The surprise of married life, I think, is not losing the old you, but finding a new one.

In Prospect Park, a blanket of fog covered the low spots. The sun shone through the branches in distinct, almost palpable rays. I struggled around the seemingly all-uphill loop, then exited 3.3 miles later for a glorious stretch of downhill back to The City. By Tribeca, I was fading. The sun was full for the sky now. Beads of sweat cascaded off my forehead and splattered on my sunglasses. Eighteen miles in, I found it difficult to imagine running a full marathon in just twenty-eight days. I persisted, though, running loops around the deli across from my apartment until my watch read 3:00:00.

I grabbed an egg sandwich, 32 ounce Gatorade (Blue Raspberry) and a bag of Baked Lays, then strode slowly across the street, through the lobby, up the elevator, and to my doorway. My hips ached. My chest throbbed. Still, I felt strong, alive, confident.

I rang the doorbell, and waited for a stirring on the other side. First I heard her feet, then the latch, and then I see her there smiling back at me.

“I thought you’d be home about now. How far’d you go?”

“Twenty miles in three hours,” I said expressionless but beaming inside.

“Wow! You must be exhausted.”

My wife is unusually engaged versus previous long runs, but — as always — I’m happy to be home with her; in my mind, Abbi has been the true finish line for every long run since we met. I drag myself to the closet, grab a yoga mat and a towel, and repair to the living room. As I unroll the mat and reach for the TV, she steps from the bathroom with a white stick in her hand.

“I couldn’t wait to show you!”

It takes a second to register. The stick is a pregnancy test. It’s white strip shows two blue lines. I’m not sure what this means, but her expression makes it clear. That she full-on hugs me despite three hours of sweat and grime makes it clearer.

We collapse into one another. I kiss her full-on the lips, pausing to remember the moment. I whisper, “I love you,” into her ear, and pepper her cheeks with soft, sweaty pecks. I am smiling ear-to-ear, my brain surging with huge, warm, inconceivable joy punctuated by brief, searing anxiety. I am bone tired, shot straight through, and thrilled beyond comprehension. We stand there in the living room holding each other, relishing the moment when our confidence in one another, our hope for the future, our excitement and fear became one with the completely inconceivable notion that everything was forever changed.

Up In The Air

December 29th, 2009

upintheair.jpgI accrued 49,000 AAdvantage miles this year. Not Ryan Bingham numbers, to be sure. But enough to get myself to Puerto Rico and back (if I could only find available departure dates).

His is a familiar world: the poetic geometry of the Midwest from 30,000 feet, the satisfaction of finding one’s name on the Hertz Gold board, the comforting uniformity of Starwood hotel rooms Admirals Clubs everywhere.

Sure, I loathe take-offs (though I get by with a little help from my friend, Xanax), but I love flying. I love the anonymity, the disconnection, and dislocation. It will never fail to amaze me that I can fall asleep on one side of the country and wake up on the other. For a few hours, as I wrote here in February, I am nowhere at all.

I’m flying home now, somewhere in the night sky high over America. Judging by the amount of time we’ve spent airborne, I’m betting we’re somewhere over Iowa. A dozen cities — clusters of orange-lit grids from here — dot the black and white earth below. A single white light at the end of our wing marks the horizon where a gauzy-gray haze ends and inky-black space begins. It’s precisely the kind of vista bi-coastal executives tend to take for granted or, worse, miss entirely.

It’s not the familiar, well-considered aesthetics of Jason’s Reitman’s “Up In The Air” that moved me to sneak out of work early to screen it a few days after its premiere, and then drag the in-laws a few weeks later.

“Up In The Air” is the perfect film for our times. It is haunted by uncertainty: job security, love, home — everything is up for grabs. The corporate landscape is bland and blank, strewn with empty Aeron chairs and vacant cubicles. Layoffs are conducted via iChat, breakups via text message. The characters are everywhere, and nowhere at all.

“The slower we move,” Ryan says, “The faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks.”

As subtle, nuanced, and nearly-invisible character arcs go, Bingham’s is a classic. He is the Rick Blain of The New Millennium, the Jerry Maguire of The Naughts, a commitment-phobe of the highest order. (Been there.) He soars effortlessly through life, anonymously seeking a meaningless, modern, corporate goal: his ten millionth AAdvantage mile.

What Reitman nails, though, and what distinguishes the film from typical Hollywood drivel, is Ryan’s slow awakening. There are no fireworks here, no right angles, only slow, steady eye-openers. Like life.

Best yet, “Up In The Air” left me thinking for days. And it was only then that I understood the film’s ambivalent ending. Having lost what he thought was his one, true love but found (of course) himself (and his ten million miles), Ryan stands before the airport departures board and lets go of his roller bag. Suddenly, we are soaring amidst dusky clouds.

“Some night soon,” Ryan says in plaintive voice over, “You’ll look up from your backyard. The stars will wheel forth from their daytime hiding places; and one of those lights, slightly brighter than the rest, will be my wingtip passing over.”

The Year In Song, 2009

December 28th, 2009

headphones.jpgThese days, I mostly listen to music while walking to work, or running around the city.

Not surprisingly, then, I tend towards songs that psyche me up to deal with the chaos of things: stress, noise, pain. Heck, maybe we all do.

Much as I try to keep up with Pitchfork, the flavor of the moment rarely sticks. Luckily, my old standbys continue to deliver, and my friends are really talented.

Here, then, are the ten songs (plus five Honorable Mentions) that carried me across the pavement and through the year.

1) “Love Is Here To Stay” (Casey Shea, In Search Of Seas): Frankly, Casey’s entire record is outstanding. “Love” — with it’s whispered verses, angelic chorus, slow crescendo and anthemic refrain — is its standout, though. Sure, it borrows heavily from his beloved Beatles, but it delivers in spades the elusive combination of depth and simplicity, while absolutely demanding a sing-a-long. Also? Casey remixed a version for the end sequence of “Mister Rogers & Me.” Awesome.

2) “So Long” (Andy Wagner, Those Who Forgive): With just a tack piano and a lone vocal, Andy manages to communicate a symphony of heartbreaking emotions. “It’s a sad thing when you can’t sing, and you lose yourself along the way.” Wish I’d written it. So jealous.

3) “Breathe” (U2, No Line On The Horizon): I’m not nuts about Bono’s almost-spoken word verses, and have no idea what he’s talking about there. But the choruses move me. They make me stand taller, move faster. “Every day I have to find the courage to walk out into the street, with arms out to the people we meet.”

4) “Fugitive” (David Gray, Draw The Line): The big beat, acoustic guitar and piano together sound like sunshine breaking through clouds.

5) “55 Pictures” (The Damnwells, One Last Century): Any of the twelve songs on this Iowa City via Brooklyn band could have made the list. Which one just depends on my mood at any given moment. Front man Alex Dezen’s vocals are weary and wise, his melodies simple and sweet. Instant classic every time.

6) “Know Your Enemy” (Green Day, 21st Century Breakdown): The thunderous, synchronous, staccato guitars are good for shaving a minute off a few miles every time. Who’s my enemy? Me.

7) “The Fixer” (Pearl Jam, Backspacer): Also good with the guitars, the BPMs, and the levity. If Rocky Balboa were running up the Art Museum steps today, he’d be cranking PJ on his iPod. It’s the sound of fighting back.

8) “Meet Me On The Equinox” (Death Cab For Cutie, New Moon Soundtrack): Count on Death Cab to deliver in spades on the unenviable (but impossible to resist) task of crafting the lead single for the teen drama juggernaut. Catchy, compelling, and meaningful. And you can dance to it.

9) “Empire State Of Mind” (Jay-Z, The Blueprint III): You know it’s a crossover when I download it. And while Jiggas’ lyrics and flow are undeniable (ex: “MDMA got you feelin’ like a champion, the city never sleeps between slip you an Ambien”), it’s Alicia Keys’ vocal hook that makes anything seem possible.

9) “Wilco” (Wilco, Wilco): We always knew Tweedy & Co. had a sense of humor, right? Moreover, though, the song nails rock ‘n roll’s primary raison d’etre. “Have you had enough of the old? Tired of being exposed to the cold? Then stare at your stereo, put on your headphones, before you’re exposed… Oh, oh, oh, oh Wilco!”

Honorable Mentions:

“The Last To Know” (The Nadas, Almanac): Technically comes out next year, but the guys gave me a sneak peak to the entire album. Every track is awesome.

“All In My Head” (Chris Abad, No Glory): One of my favorite moments of the year was sitting on the floor while Chris, Tony and Jamie rehearsed this one. A melodic pummeling. Also due in 2010. Also awesome.

“You Belong With Me” (Taylor Swift, Fearless): I downloaded this one months after every sixteen-year-old in America after watching her rehearse it from my roost high atop Radio City Marquee. The perfect pop song from the perfect prom date.

“Feel Like Home” (Benjamin Wagner, Crystalline): True, I shouldn’t include myself. But it’s Chris, Tony and Jamie’s arrangement of a Nadas song as produced by Jon Locker. I just happened to be there for the vocal. It’s one of my favorite songs filtered through a ’90s alt-rock lens.

“Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You” (A Holiday Benefit Singers, A Holiday Benefit Vol. 3): What can I tell you? It’s fun, it rocks, the sentiment is spot on, and it’s for the kids.

Merry Christmas, Baby

December 21st, 2009

xmas1.jpgI saw Oasis perform at Radio City Music Hall in May, 2000. Truth is, I was there to see openers Travis, but the Gallagher Bros. guitar assault was impressive and infectious. That night, after the show, I unwittingly cribbed a song title from Noel. “Live Forever” was released years later as the second track on “Love & Other Indoor Games.”

“Love” was released in 2004 amidst what one ex (a description of whom made the liner notes, natch) called my “Lothario Phase.” In retrospect, I was fairly lost, playing numerous rock shows a week and dating any woman with a pulse. It didn’t end well, at least right away. My (slightly fictionalized) exploits were splashed across the New York Times Style section. And that was the best part.

Anyway, my objective in writing “Live Forever” (as I remember it) was to craft a catchy, anthemic rock song, something that said nothing but meant everything. I don’t remember, but I imagine I was simply endeavoring to rhyme when I wrote

I don’t want to live forever
I just want to know
That there is something better
Than a rock ‘n roll show

Indeed, I distinctly recall singing that line hundreds of times without any idea what could possibly be better than a rock ‘n roll show. Better than harmony? Melody? Applause? Alcohol? Nicotine? No chance.

Last week, I found out.

I won’t lie, I spent a fair dose of time planning Wednesday night’s “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” artist introductions. I had to. Not only was time to kill as Chris Abad, Misty Boyce, Chris Cubeta, Bryan Dunn, Emily Easterly, Martin Rivas, Ruby Rivers, Bess Rogers, Casey Shea, Paula Valstein, Emily Zuzik and I took the stage for our sets, there was business to conduct; I wanted to be sure we made as much money for 826NYC as possible.

So I thought a tiny bit about what I’d say about each artist (ie: “Marin Rivas may be the hardest working musician in New York”) and 826 (“ie: “A five dollar donation provides a week’s worth of pencil’s for the kids”) before their set. And I thought about what I’d say before mine. Thing is, I was playing two covers (“Christmas (Baby Please Com Home)” from Vol. 1 and “Merry Christmas, Baby” from Vol. 3) and one of my own songs. I chose “Live Forever” because it’s fun to play, it kinda’ rocks, and it’s easy enough for musician’s to learn (I tapped Bryan Dunn to lend some rock).

By the time I took the stage, I’d been popping on and off of it all night. The room was packed. There was a terrific spirit in the air. All of the artists were helping each other out, cramming onto Pianos’ small stage to sing backup and add instrumentation. The audience was smiling, laughing and dancing, many remarking to me what a terrific group of musicians had come together, and for such a terrific cause. I felt frenzied, jumping on and off stage, pitching CD sales and the silent auction, having brief, distracted conversations with friends, playing hype man and then wrangling the next act. But it working better, perhaps, than years before.

And so I stood there before Chris struck the first chord of “Live Forever” looking out over a sea of friends, musicians, volunteers, my mother and brother, and Abbi, and I said, “Years ago I wrote this lyric and I don’t think I knew what it meant. And tonight I do. Tonight, I know there’s something better than a rock ‘n roll show. There’s friends. There’s family. And there’s this community that we’ve built together from love, appreciation, and trying to do something good.”

In retrospect, it sounds like the ending to a Nick Hornby film. And it’s a lesson I seem to learn over and over, each time more indelibly than the time prior. But there it is: the sound of an entire room singing, and smiling, all together now for something bigger than ourselves.

The totals are still out; many silent auction checks have yet to clear (and, for that matter, you can still snap up copies of all three records at aholidaybenefit.org, or download “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” at iTunes). But preliminary tallies suggest that we exceeded last year’s take. With corporate match, I have no doubt we’re write our friends at 826NYC a larger check than ever before.

Which is nice. But the real payday was in that feeling, there in that moment, where “Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You” was writ large on our hearts for every day of the year to come.

Pianos (New York, New York)

December 16th, 2009 - 8:00 pm

“A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” Release Party

“A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” is the third-annual compilation of New York City singer/songwriters benefiting 826NYC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills. This year release features Bess Rogers, Casey Shea, Paula Valstein, Chris Cubeta, Emily Easterly, Andy Mac, Martin Rivas, Ruby Rivers, Amber Rubarth, Chris Abad, Bryan Dunn and Benjamin Wagner. Visit www.aholidaybenefit.org for more information.

“A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” Release Party Is Tonight!

December 16th, 2009

xmasall.jpgTwelve hours from now, “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” will be in full swing at Pianos! Which is a good thing; I don’t think I have the energy to do yesterday over.

I tucked all sorts of small tasks into my already busy day at The MTV: gathering 826NYC materials, a final email to all of the performers, lyric sheets for our big finale (“Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You,” what else?).

At 7:45, I raced straight from work to Sirius Radio headquarters there across from Radio City Music Hall. I spent about fifteen minutes on air with Father Dave and the Busted Halo Radio Show crew talking about the record, the rock show (and how Mister Rogers inspired it).

At the same time, the interview I taped with my pal Ralphie Aversa was soaring through in the radio waves between Scranton and Providence. Have a listen here:

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I hailed a cab to the L, then raced under the river and down North 6th Street to to rehearsal in Williamsburg. Crystal Ponzio and Emily Easterly were harmonizing on the hallway floor. Inside, Tony (who’s done a terrific job pulling together all of the performers) was at the tail end of three days of rehearsals. Casey Shea, Chris Kuffner, Ryan Vaughn, Jamie Alegre, Chris Abad, Misty Boyce and Bryan Dunn were packed into the tiny space, running through Casey’s terrific (and hilarious) a capella cover of “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late).” Holiday cheer was in the air. Everyone was laughing and smiling and having a great time (as you can see below).

We rehearsed the group track twice (check it out below), then Chris Abad’s set, then mine. And then went next door for beers, hot dogs, and skeeball. Tony (bless his heart) drove us all home, laughing all the way.

And so it is! My new tie (red plaid!) is laid out on the bed. CDs is mustered by the door. Tonight’s the night: “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” Release Party at Pianos.

Can’t make the show? Download “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” on iTunes now. And it’s not too late to bid on our silent auction. Remember: all proceeds benefit 826NYC!

“A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” Silent Auction Is Open

December 14th, 2009

xmas.jpgIt’s all coming together!

Tonight, I’m calling into Ralphie Aversa’s syndicated “Ralphie Aversa Radio Show” to talk “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3.”

Tomorrow, Chris Abad and I are dropping by Sirius Radio to talk some more before crossing the East River for rehearsal with Tony Maceli et all.

And Wednesday night at Pianos we officially release “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3,” our annual “A Holiday Benefit” for 826NYC. Chris Abad, Misty Boyce, Chris Cubeta, Bryan Dunn, Emily Easterly, Martin Rivas, Ruby Rivers, Bess Rogers, Casey Shea, Paula Valstein, Benjamin Wagner and Emily Zuzik will rock your holiday socks off.

As in years past, we’ve whipped together a terrific collection of silent auction items. Don’t sweat it if you’re unable to attend Wednesday’s show. Just send me an email with the item description(s) and your bi(s) by 8pm December 16th and I’ll be sure you’re are in the running! As always, thanks for supporting, “A Holiday Benefit.”

826NYC GIFT PACK
T-shirt and “Good & Evil” map from famed Brooklyn superhero supply story (and drop-in tutoring center), 826NYC. Opening bid $15.

AMBER RUBARTH COLLECTOR’S BOX
Hand-made, signed “Good Mystery” collector’s edition box from local breakout, Amber Rubarth. Opening bid $25

BESS ROGERS GIFT PACK
Signed “Travel Back” EP and t-shirt from local breakout, Bess Rogers. Opening bid $25.

EMILY ZUZIK CARE PACKAGE
Three signed CDs in a nifty bag from local breakout, Emily Zuzik. Opening bid $25.

CUSTOM LILYBUG GUITAR STRAP VARIETY PACK
Three hand-crafted, custom guitar straps from Ottawa’s Lilybug (lilybug.ca). Opening bid $30.

TONY MACELI MUSIC LESSON
One-on-one bass, guitar, piano or general music theory lesson from bass phenom (and Columbia University PhD) Tony Maceli. Opening bid $50.

“A HOLIDAY BENEFIT, VOL. 3” SIGNED CD SET
This year’s all-star CD signed by performers, plus signed solo CDs from each. Hours of awesome holiday music, plus autographs. Wow! Opening Bid: $50.

“A HOLIDAY BENEFIT, VOL. 3” ALBUM PRINT BY EMILY RAWLINGS
Award-winning Brooklyn arists Emily Rawling’s original “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” illustration on archival paper. Opening bid $50.

MARGARITA CLUB ONE-NIGHT-STAND WITH CASEY SHEA
Join famed Pianos Margarita Club founder Casey Shea for a night of all-you-can-drink, tequila-fueled fun. Who knows where you’ll end up!?! Opening bid $50.

“A HOLIDAY BENEFIT, VOL. 3” SIGNED GUITAR
Paul Westerberg Edition PW580 First Act guitar signed by all “Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” performers. Who knows? With enough practice, maybe you’ll end up on “Vol. 4.” Opening bid: $100.

CUSTOM BENJAMIN WAGNER SONG
Singer/songwriter Benjamin Wagner will write and record a song just for you. You can do everything (write and sing) or nothing at all! Then he’ll deliver it on a CD with custom artwork! Opening Bid: $100 (solo-acoustic) or $500 (full-band).

CHRIS ABAD & BENJAMIN WAGNER LIVING ROOM SHOW
Singer/songwriters Chris Abad and Benjamin Wagner will perform two acoustic sets in your living room! Opening bid $200 (plus travel outside NYC and a six pack).

You can download “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” on iTunes right now! And of course you can snap up our previous two efforts (“A Family Holiday” and “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. II”) while you’re at it. Taken together, CD sales, downloads, events and silent auctions have driven nearly $5000 in donations for 826NYC (nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills).

Please visit www.aholidaybenefit.org and www.826nyc.org for more information.

“A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” Video Premiere

December 8th, 2009

xmaskiss.jpgComprising twelve tracks from some of New York City’s finest emerging artists, “A Holiday Benefit, Vol 3” is a seasonal charity compilation spanning the delicate (Bess Rogers’ “Little Saint Nick”) to the downright bombastic (Bryan Dunn’s “Don’t Believe In Christmas”) with a dash of holiday hilarity (Casey Shea’s “The Chipmunks Song”) in-between.

In addition, the contributing artists deliver a raucous cover of Billy Squier’s classic, “Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You.”

The charity CD release party is set for December 16th at Pianos in New York City. The event will feature performances from Rogers, Dunn, Shea, Paula Valstein, Emily Easterly, Chris Cubeta, Martin Rivas, Chris Abad, Misty Boyce, Ruby Rivers, Benjamin Wagner and Emily Zuzik, plus a silent auction.

All proceeds from “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” will be donated to 826NYC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.

“A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” Release Party / Charity Concert
Wednesday, December 16th 8-11pm @ Pianos
158 Ludlow Street New York, New York 10002 (212-505-3733)

“A Holiday Benefit, Vol. 3” participants first gathered at Chris Cubeta’s Galuminum Foil Studios in Brooklyn, spending a long, October Sunday afternoon together recording their cover of the 1985 MTV hit. Each artist was then tasked with covering a favorite holiday tune, or writing a new one. The results are decidedly different, and surprising.

Easterly and Cubeta deliver a faithfully-edgy cover of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” Abad gives The Ramones’ “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” an alt-rock twist, while Paula Valstein and Shea bring themselves to The Pogues’ “Fairytale Of New York.” As surprising, though, is the breadth and depth of the brand-new songs, like Rivas’ sprightly “Christmas, Already?” and Ruby Rivers’ plaintive “Little Elf.”

The complete “A Holiday Benefit, Vol 3” track listing:

1. Holiday Benefit Singers – Christmas Is The To Say I Love You
2. Emily Easterly & Chris Cubeta – Wonderful Christmastime
3. Martin Rivas – Christmas Already?
4. Chris Abad – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight)
5. Bess Rogers – Little Saint Nick
6. Amber Rubarth – Christmas Carol
7. Paula Valstein & Casey Shea – Fairytale Of New York
8. Bryan Dunn – Don’t Believe In Christmas
9. Benjamin Wagner & Emily Zuzik – Merry Christmas, Baby
10. Casey Shea – The Christmas Song
11. Ruby Rivers – Little Elf
12. Andy Mac – Merry Christmas Darling

Brooklyn artist Emily Rawlings illustrated the album cover. Director Daniela Capistano edited the “Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You” music video. The “Holiday Benefit” series was conceived by singer/songwriter and MTV News executive Benjamin Wagner. Previous efforts (“A Family Holiday” and “A Holiday Benefit, Vol. II”) raised nearly $5000 for 826NYC.

Please visit www.aholidaybenefit.org and www.826nyc.org for more information.

Mazel Tov!

December 7th, 2009

allofus.jpgWay back in 2000, my then-boss foisted an interview on me with a recent college graduate named Jonathan.

“Trust me,” he said. “This guy’s cover letter was so over the top, you’re gonna’ love him.”

I won’t front; I was dubious. But sure enough, the kid had moxie. So we hired him. In his first month, he asked Britney Spears to spit out her gum, and suggested Godsmack’s Sully Erna to take off his baseball cap. He’s had me over to Passover Seder twice, shot and directed my music videos, and been a terrific friend.

In 2004, I interviewed a young intern candidate from UPenn named Rachel. She struck me as conscientious, thoughtful and smart. So we took her on. Back in Philadelphia that fall, Rachel hosted one of my living room shows. A few days prior to her graduation, I hired her to start a few days subsequent.

Ten years after first interviewing him, Jonathan nearly runs the place. And five years after hiring Rachel, she a crucial member of the team. Somewhere in between all that, Jonathan and Rachel started dating. And tonight, they were married.

It was a strange, wonderful feeling watching my two colleagues and dear friend wed. Watching them there beneath the huppa, they still looked like the young people I met all those years ago. And yet, there they were, getting married. I can’t say enough about these kids. I felt plenty moved, and a whole bunch proud.

In the morning, they’re off to Thailand for two weeks. God help us our little website in the meantime.

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