Monday, April 25, 2016


So it was that Mike McAdam and I finally got together and  entered the studio at North Main Music to start knocking out vocals for the S.E. Apocalypse Krew album. It was the morning of April 6th, 2016.


In this age of contrived TV pop star contests like "The Voice" and our late, un-lamented "American Idol" (Okay---I'M not lamenting it----I guess it's not fair to drag you into my rotten attitude) the notion of being an untalented vocalist is probably some weird anomaly that gets scuttled early on in the elimination process and summarily forgotten in the maelstrom of yodeling, warbling, camera-ready ninnies, at least 'til the reunion special. But all or most of my heroes were guys with limited or no vocal ability; Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, John Lydon, Joey Ramone, Stiv Bators, Jello Biafra, Darby Crash, Alice Cooper, Lux Interior, Handsome Dick Manitoba, Alan Vega and any of the guys who were in Black Flag.
One of the great appeals of Punk Rock to me (and I'll confess I got to the party late---it wasn't until the early-to-mid '80s that I fully embraced the genre) was the beautiful, field-leveling effect of “anyone can do it”. In listening to the Pistols, the Heartbreakers, Flag or the Stooges it began to hit me that even a no-talent schmuck like myself could grab a mic, start a band and air out his sizeable beefs with the world under the auspices of rock'n'roll.
When Mike suggested reigniting the Apocalypse Krew and recording the old songs again I think I made some mention of his own vocals. Mike is technically a much better singer than I ever was. Don't believe me? Listen to his solo work. 

His immediate response was, “you're the only vocalist for this band!” For my money, Mike has several songs under his belt that fit just fine into the Apocalypse Krew milieu and his vocal histrionics on those numbers are equal to the task.
But who was I to deny the chance at tying this chapter of my life into a neat little bow and giving it to the world with a smile?
One thing I always loved about our music, though, was that we had a modicum of natural diversity and versatility, to where we could play a blistering punk rock rave-up and then switch gears to something more sludgy and metallic, throw a few weird little jazz figures into the mix, bust out the acoustic guitars for a funny folk tune, then go into kind of a weird funk jam. And even as a guy who can't sing, I can work with these changes and create something interesting to listen to. I like to think so, anyway.
I remember at some point in the late 90s/early Oughts, I went to see this metal band---I can no longer think of their name---they were a big deal in metal circles at the time---they'd just been signed to a major label, as I recall, and played one of the bigger local venues at the time. A well-known local band I was friendly with opened---they were playing without a bassist at the time and were definitely in a period of flux----it made no real difference to the music and they still blew the headliners off the stage.The headliners played music that was somewhat derivative of Iron Maiden----lots of dual guitar leads and some time changes....two or three songs into their set you'd heard everything they were going to do----there were no slow songs, no fast songs---no real SONGS to speak of----everything ran at the same pace and it all kind of melted together after awhile----no hills and valleys---the same thing over and over.
When you go to see a band like the Rolling Stones, they might start up with “Start Me Up” and continue with “Rocks Off” or “Brown Sugar”, but it'll only be a matter of time before they change it up with “Sister Morphine” or “Miss You”. Then they'll come back with a rocker like “Shattered” or “Jumping Jack Flash”, but you know in a few songs they'll change it up with “You Can't Always get what you Want” or “Sympathy for the Devil”.
Or maybe those Stones are a bunch of deadass old fogeys. OKAY: How about Faith No More? They might come darting out at you with “From Out of Nowhere” or “Gentle Art of Making Enemies”, but then they'll throw something like “Falling to Pieces” or “We Care a Lot” at you. Later on they'll bust into “Strip Search”, “Motherfucker” or “Evidence”--they'll go all gospel with “Just a Man” and then they'll goof on you with “This Guy's in Love with You” or “Easy”.
My point is that I kinda prefer bands that do that. To one degree or another, I try to do that.
Same goes for singers, including a lot of current bad singers. I hear a lot of people who are doing the Black Metal or the Grindcore or the Screamo or the Hardcore and it feels like they only do one thing. A lot of hardcore vocalists run on a non-stop menu of one-size-fits-all hoarse roaring that guys like Henry Rollins or Phil Anselmo put in the map---minus those vocalists' level of nuance (quit laughin').
And my point is, nuance is good. Switching gears is good.

We are not stupid boys but we want to do it wrong”

Mike opened up Pro-Tools on his computer.
Okay----as a Video Editor, this one was familiar to me. It was not unlike looking at a timeline on Final Cut Pro or Avid.
“So, you wanna softball one?” He asked.
I thought for a few. “How about 'Melissa'?”
Mike brought up a timeline for “Melissa”. It was a natural starter where we could calibrate things. “Melissa” was probably the simplest song in our consists of one simple goddamn riff. Our old theory-headed drummer once told us the riff was a Vamp. We laughed at this at the time, but he was a well-read cat who probably knew whereof he spoke.
I got into the booth and the feeling-out process that would accompany every song went down. I put on the headset and bellied up to the mic and the de-S'er screen as the familiar, bouncy riff kicked in.
“I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!” I screamed, kicking the song off.

“You were once immortal
Now you're a pig
You were making motions
with the other side”

Mike killed the music. “Okay---is that how you're gonna do it?”
“Yeah, more or that okay?” It was a question I would ask about six hundred times over the next two days.
“Yeah, it's good---I'm just trying to find the right level. Stand back from the mic a bit.”
We would routinely go through any given song a few times. Mike would need to find the level that was appropriate for however I wanted to do the vocal. I'd have to run through it once or twice in order to “find” the arrangement or at least get acclimated to the song. And then there were the snafus.
One thing I'd gotten very bad about after twentyish years away from the mic was nailing my cues.
A couple of takes into “Melissa” he told me, “there's a lot of stuff in here where you're coming in late to your lines but it kinda works...there's a whole raw, imperfect kind of rock'n'roll vibe to it.”
I came out of the booth and gave it a listen. Mike was right---I was coming in late on the shit. As it was landing I could accept all of it except the last verse, which was so bad even I couldn't deal with it. We punched in the last verse and I nailed it after a time or two.
“Melissa” was very much Mike's song....with the new recording I heard that it was a fair bit longer than it was originally and so the last verse was one I came up with.

“All day long I'm walking 'round with shank eyes,” I squawked.
“All these jokers got a walking blowjob, I want an open door, I get platitudes and snowjobs!”

It's not a nice song. It's not a mature song. It's probably one of the single most obnoxious songs we ever did.
I remember partying with some co-workers back in the Apocalypse Krew days. One guy referenced a female co-worker we'd had once, saying, “we called her Merry-Go-Round, because all the guys got a turn riding her.”
I got all dark and said, “I never rode her.”
My friends ignored me and went on to another subject, which was probably smart.
I liked the girl in question. Part of me was bothered by hearing her referred to as “Merry-Go-Round”, but a bigger, darker part of me was angry because I would have liked a ride. What the fuck was wrong with me? The endless refrain. I couldn't step outside that conversation at the time, of much of what these guys said was smack talk? Was the fact that I was this outcast, this imploded Asperger's case, the reason I couldn't hook up with a girl?
Yeah.....that probably had a lot to do with it.
“Melissa' is the ultimate piece of freaked-out, horny's the stupid, raging Boy-Id on parade.
The imagined charges by the emotionally and politically dainty types could be seen mounting. Those awful guys in the SE Apocalypse Krew. They're sexist, they're misogynist, they're homophobic, they're racist. They have less than your maximum daily allowance of Roboflavin.
“Melissa” is not a song that will help in this regard.
When I exited the booth, Mike was laughing. “Sung like an insolent five year old throwing a temper tantrum,” he chuckled.
Was that a good thing? Under the circumstances, yes it was.
“Melissa” is not just a song about being rejected or ignored---it's a song about being slighted in favor of someone you consider to be way the hell beneath you. It's the musical equivalent of being bitten in the face by a retarded dog.
We listened back on it. “Whaddya think?” He asked.
“I'm okay with it,” I said. “What do you think? Is it any good?”
“Yeah,” he said. “The thing about it is, this is one of the easiest songs we're going to do---we have a lot more to go through and a lot of them are going to be more complicated than this one. One of the things that's working well in our favor is that this isn't the way I'd normally record vocals. With you, it's like, what am I gonna do? Say, 'Try it again----you were a little flat!'?”
Well, I told you already about the advantages of being a bad singer.
We were off and running.


Once again, you've judged a reflection of yourselves. Your children will rise up and kill you...LA will burn to the ground. Los Angeles will burn to the ground.”

At this point I'm delivering a ballpark memory of the docket as we tackled it (I was allowed to dictate the songs and the order in which we recorded them).
“Threats and Warnings” would not, by my guesstimation, be a really tough one to do, but it was a big one. Initially, I think that we wanted to entitle our first album “Threats and Warnings” and it was obviously one of our big numbers.
It's a heavy and dynamic song and there's a lot going on in it, musically speaking. When you listened to the SE Apocalypse Krew we pegged this as one of the songs that defined us.
The song kicks off with a descending fireball of a riff, accompanied by avalanching drums.
“ You shielding the kids from the power of choice/they'll be fine, just don't give 'em a voice/
Keep their brains shut and feed them video sedatives/preserve the future from the power to know/
Keep on lying in the lid's gonna blow”
I actually took it down a peg on the vocals, here, compared to the old demo, where it was just a lot of leather-lunged bellowing. The words are important, give 'em emphasis.

And as that cascading riff-hem subsides, I bark, in a militant staccato, “S!E!A!K!” The main riff starts in earnest.

One thing I've always loved about hiphop (and, to a somewhat lesser degree, hardcore punk, especially the old stuff) is the exclusive lingo, the tribalistic language, the fact that you have to be in the fold and know all the secret phrases---it's gangspeak. In Punk, Suicidal Tendencies were the absolute kings of this---a lot of the fan uniform art you see on their first album reads, “gang”---it's all very tribal. To paraphrase John Shelby Spong, don't ever discount the power of tribalism. Tribalism is the reason people fly planes into buildings. Black Flag also understood this back in the early days----those tags of the Bar Logo were everywhere in they were very much regarded a gang sign and an emblem of quasi-terrorism on the punk scene. Chanted initials comes from the same place. I was trying to create the same tribal impulse.

“The lies you've built will explode in your face/
Your petty fabrications will rip themselves apart/
Joke of your deceptions is an open book/
Our songs are Threats and Warnings”

On “T & W”, more than anything else we did, there was a push toward the Mansonian Credo of “Make it Witchy”. I wanted to make it plain that if proper, puritanical society went down the tubes and suddenly we were dealing with violence and riots per Ms. Good's social prescription, the S.E. Apocalypse Krew understood and we were okay with that.
Yeah, my mind goes to dark places sometimes. Frequently. Okay----most of the time.
The original ending lyric for “T&W”, almost spoken as the furious intro-riff kicks in again, went something like, “when someone reaches out to you/ you smile and say, 'I don't see it, everything's great'/and then you wonder/why people like me are so full of hate.”
For the new recordings I scrapped this and shoehorned in a bridge section from “Caustic Youth”, an older number of ours that fell by the wayside.

“ 'Don't worry, be happy' says the man on TV/
something about that fails to impress me/
like rats in a maze you obedient scurrying/
now I think it's time to start worrying”

And I'm aware that I'm really dating us with the Bobby McFerrin reference—-in the end, what can I tell you? We're products of our time.
What had been going on in my head since I started reworking the song was this---”T & W” is one of our better songs, hence it was worth recording, but it has no contemporary context to speak of. I wrote it as a reaction to authoritarian bullies like the Moral Majority and the PMRC. That climate no longer really exists...mostly society seems ensconced in kind of a blanket blandness. As much as people ballyhoo Orwell, I'm more of a Huxley guy. Who needs jackbooted oppression when you can just feed everybody their Soma and give them all the soft-pedaled convenience they want? The Revolution will not be televised----the Revolution may not be happening. Fuck, man, “The Kardshians” are on.
Which is why I did a double-take when we wrapped it up and Mike said, “it's truer now than it was back then.”
Is it? Okay, nice if that were the case. We'll see, I guess.
Coming in late on my cues was a chronic problem for me. It would continue to be a problem for the entire session. Mike espoused the belief that rock'n'roll is not a perfect art, and corporate rock acts like Foreigner, Styx and Journey, with their squeaky-clean precision, were, in essence, a ruination of the form. I was never a huge fan of any of those bands, and I wasn't about to argue.
Where the mess-ups were sufficiently “Rock'n'Roll”, we just let it bleed. Where they were so outlandish and stupid that even I couldn't let them go, we went back and did them over. And we kept on going.


Truth is Parallel”

“The Blind Leading the Stupid”, aka “Truth is Dead”, was a weird little anomaly we could softball. It's actually a very tasty, atmospheric little jazz jam that jumps out from the pack of crunch-riffing, screaming and fury. There's a fun little bit of guitar/bass interplay while I read a short spoken word piece.

“Truth is Dead. Facts, whatever 'facts' are,
have been replaced by factoids and carefully-orchestrated
pie charts. Educators are being outmoded by ass-kissers
and line-towers. Soothsayers are being rubbed out by
statisticians and polltakers. Truth is dead and exhumed
as a neon cartoon character. Truth is a subjective whore,
up for grabs to the highest bidder. But why take my word?
After all----what am I but another liar?”

I wrote that in the mid '80s, watching the 24-hour News Cycle in its full, infantile glory, watching the guy from the right wing of the CIA argue with the guy from the left wing of the CIA on “Crossfire”. Now? We're on to some next level shit....the adherents of Fox News and the adherents of MSNBC are running around with two different sets of “facts” in their head and in the infotainment cyclone perceptions of reality are hitting a level of schizophrenia we've never seen before. People live in different realities.You can argue all day as the veracity of my ravings on”Threats and Warnings”----with “Truth is Dead” it gets truer and scarier by the day.
I'm sorry I got that right. I'm sorry I got that right.
There were several cuts of “Truth” (mostly instrumental) floating around on various tapes over the years...until I was recording, there was one thing that never hit me, and it was that the current version Mike had whipped together was much shorter than I was used to. The earlier rendition had me spew my little hypothesis and then let the jam breathe for a while. As I nailed the final version in 2016 it occurred to me that as the last word was leaving my mouth, the last note of the song was fading. I always thought Mike's tasty instrumentation was the highlight of the song, but the current version never got out from under me.
Listen good to that music while I ramble, 'cause it's worth hearing.


Someday a real rain'll come and wash all the scum off the street.”

Time Bomb” would be an easy one, because we knew it well and it was a song that remained fundamentally unchanged since the early '90's. It comes charging out of the speakers like a mad bull and before you know it, it's stampeded over you and it's over. Except for Mike's sharper, more concise guitar work, you could liken it to something an Oi band like the Exploited or Discharge might have pumped out.

“That picket fence that I can't get behind/
the barriers that burn inside my mind/
one look at you and I get bad ideas/
I lost my head, now I'm a time bomb!

Can I co-exist with you/Can you co-exist with me
Can I even pass your test?/ Not as far as you can see!”

The protagonist of “Time Bomb” is a guy who can't cut the mustard in society. He can't even get in the front door. And somebody----probably someone who doesn't deserve it---is going to pay.

“And now I've got a big surprise for you/
Bullet with your name on it!

Can I co-exist with you/Can you co-exist with me
Can you even pass my test?/ Not as far as I can see!”

I think that we wrote a whole slew of songs along the lines of this theme---”Time Bomb” was the big winner.
We got through it pretty quickly.
We'd hit our stride.


Sunday, April 24, 2016


If you're crazy enough you'll get your own band.”

It took me three or four years to make the vocal end of the Apocalypse Krew album happen. The bitch of being a working class artist never ends. I watched the recording of the basic tracks happen from afar. Musicians were introduced to the project----some contributed, others had to bail. I got sent most of the basic tracks through Dropbox. I tried to send lyrics back through Dropbox but that didn't work so well. Oh, well. Technology turns to dried shit in my fingers.
Mike and I needed to address some things going into the project---most notably the fact that close to 25 years have passed since the Apocalypse Krew were actually a “Thing”. It's a different world, and goddammit, we're two very different people from the guys who formed that band back in the mid 80s. Do we come at it from a different, more mature perspective? Or do we pick up where we left off?
To put it bluntly: Does the S.E. Apocalypse Krew, in our old age, clean up our act?
Short answer: Hell no. To quote Mike, “political correctness is getting pretty ridiculous.”
“Getting”? Shit. It was an idiotic proposition when it first reared its ugly head in the late 80s/early 90s...I made up my mind back then that no one would ever convince me to call short people “Vertically Challenged”. Despite media fueled hysteria I'm personally convinced that ninety per cent of all people, whether they're on the right, the left or the two-headed giraffe contingent, don't give a rat's ass about political correctness. It has next to no bearing on anyone's actual life outside a handful of handwringing campus radicals who live in a bubble world they can't see outside of, but which disappears shortly after you graduate. Whatever will they do?
I've been a free speech advocate my whole life. It's been a driving factor in most things I've done. From the time the Chelmsford City Council decided to ban “The Warriors” at the local cinema in the late '70s to Tipper Gore and Susan Baker and their PMRC witch hunt in the '80s to the Dead Kennedys and their bullshit “obscenity” trial over the H.R. Giger art in the “Frankenchrist” album, my path was pretty much laid out for me. This was going to be my fucking war.
I carried that aesthetic with me from my days as a zine publisher to my days as a public access TV producer, where my crew and I actually faced an obscenity hearing. Yeah----thanks for presenting me with a battle I spent my entire adult life preparing for, douchenozzles....I got to make monkeys out of an entire city administration and all their sycophantic buddies in the newspapers who threw in to help make their arguments for them. And I got to dog them all for years afterwards. 

My journey (I hate that term, by the way---why's everything gotta be a goddamned JOURNEY these days?!) as a free speech advocate has been a bumpy one, though. Most of today's Free Speech Poster Boys are troglodytes and morons and I can't relate to them at all, don't want to be associated with them and am not interested in their quandaries. I was having a conversation a couple of months ago with an old colleague and we were touching on some pet peeves----political correctness, censorship, morality policing....he was alluding to a lot of the nonsense going on on campuses these days, what with PC brain police, trigger terror, Social Justice Warriors et. al. And he told me, “Gamergate was really just the tip of the iceberg!”
And that was about where my brain broke.
“Gamergate”. Okay---my read on Gamergate (as a non-gamer) was that it was primarily about a bunch of dingleberries who couldn't get any and who lived in their parents' basements freaking the fuck out because GIRLS were actually trying to assume a place in gamer culture and so they reacted the way any enlightened individuals would---with verbal abuse, harassment and threats of rape and murder. Yeah, gee, who couldn't get behind that?
“No, no,” goes the other side---”it's about ethics in Gaming Journalism!”
AH. YES. Okay---that explains away all the rape and murder threats PERFECTLY.
So it became apparent my old colleague and I were at a philosophical stalemate. I'm of two minds when it comes to the SJWs----more often than not I agree with them, at least until they start policing peoples' language and trying to put Trigger Warnings on everything. If their meds are balanced enough to where they don't need to go there, maybe we can sit at the table and talk.
This was a philosophical inner conflict that might not dominate the recording and rewriting of certain songs----but it came up periodically and it was always worth writing about when it did.
But from bands to writing to the zine to political activism to video and now back to the band, I knew in each and every instance the fight I was probably in for...I've fought against the death of irony since people declared it dead after 9/11 and I fought for the importance of context since 2007 or 2008, when a number of citizens fell all over themselves in an attempt to ban books in the local school system...they later wound up forming the crux of the local Tea Party---a much-overlooked blow to anyone who thinks these clowns are the new champions of freedom---the only freedom they're concerned with is their own.
And I'm still fighting for the importance of context—--something that should be a no-brainer to most people. It'll come up several times in this series.
Not that it should have to, but......pleebs.


Know who you are...know where you're going to.”

If there was anything we were good at with the Apocalypse Krew, it was forging a distinct identity. Whatever the hell else was wrong with us---from living in a suburb without much culture to musical schizophrenia to our inability to find and keep musical collaborators----we were good at drawing a concrete picture of ourselves.
We were washing dishes at a hotel at the time—our white (and more often than not stained and mottled) work shirts became part of our visual identity; we began drawing band graffiti on our disposable folding paper hats and it was only a matter of time before we started defacing old work shirts with similar graphics. The “Band”, such as it was (and it was barely a band---it was more of an attitude problem on wheels), turned into a lifestyle. We'd rove around at night, stop in various fast food joints, people watch with glaring contempt toward everyone and scribble lyrics, legends, cartoon art and slogans in our notebook, assigning wherever we wrote the designation of “Pit”. Friendly's Pit. Mall Food Court Pit. Denny's Pit. They were all pits. We looked around us and there was no hope.
My original vision of the Apocalypse Krew was of less a concrete band and more of a loose collective engaging in a series of terroristic, random “performances”----home invasions set to music. I saw us as kind of an amalgam of the Fugs, the Sex Pistols and Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, pulling up in a truck in a shopping mall parking lot, berating the consumers with horrific, antisocial acoustic “songs” and then blowing out of Dodge before the cops showed up.
Mike was learning to play guitar (his original musical experiences were as a drummer) and as he learned his way around the fretboard the band's music began to take shape. The vehicle was hard rock, although if you looked at any of our “Musicians Wanted” flyers you would have seen the immediate problem...musical influences included Van Halen, the Velvet Underground, the Mothers of Invention, the Sex Pistols, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Suicide, the Stooges and Black Flag.
Do WHAT, now?????
Musical schizophrenia.
So we'd get guys who were trying to put together a Fate's Warning cover band and they thought we were too punk. We'd connect with a Clash fan who thought we were too metal. We briefly had a Lynyrd Skynyrd-loving, music theory-obsessed drummer who wrote all his songs in G (“It fits my voice”) and whose frequent response to our songs was “I don't know where THAT'S going!”
It was best typified by us showing up to rehearsal wearing “The Two Dead Guys”----Mike in a Jimi Hendrix tee-shirt, me wearing an Ian Curtis shirt. No one would ever understand.
But goddammit, no matter who we confused the hell out of, we had our branding down!
A lot of the visual identity we crafted revolved around logos and catch phrases (“What your subliminal mind is coming to”, “Your worst nightmare come true: People who think”, “I hate Everything/Everyone/You”) and these little cartoon characters we called “DREGS”. They typically wore white short sleeve workshirts, long bangs that covered their eyes (a defense mechanism?) and were often seen curled into fetal positions as if they couldn't take one more minute of living. One Dreg I drew was all red-faced, aggro and enraged, with tears in his eyes, screaming, “go ahead, pig---beat me up----I'll make you pay!!!!” The guy knew he was going to get his ass kicked and there was nothing he could do about it-----but he would devote the rest of his life to hurting his oppressor/persecutor in every way humanly possible. The Dregs were what we saw as caricature proxies of our assumed audience, but also, to one degree or another, ourselves and the brash-but-maladjusted attitudes reflected in our songs.
I was coming up with phrases like “Nerd Rock” or “Loser Rock”----Mike preferred the term, “Fuckup Rock”. In the run-up to re-recording the songs I thought of “Postal Rock” (we were natural maladjusts who were fascinated by the trend of “going postal”---”Taxi Driver” was a common favorite movie and we even entertained the notion of writing a concept album about a guy going postal).
By the early 90s we had drifted apart a bit----I had begun focusing on novels and short stories (I eventually started this little zine that did okay for a while) and Mike had begun playing guitar for this prominent local prog rock band. Still, it was hard to let go of a beast like the S.E. Apocalypse Krew. A lot of our material was damned good---Lollapalooza was happening, Alt Rock was happening, bands like Jane's Addiction were breaking out and a lot of the old, archaic barriers between “Punk”, “Metal” and whatever else were falling apart...we liked this and we kept recording demos but it was never enough.
Mike got busy with a legit gig and I drifted further down the rabbit hole of writing and xerographic publishing. His fortunes took him on tour around Europe, mine took me across America, where I eventually landed in Northwest Arkansas and that led to eighty billion other things.
The Apocalypse Krew, though, like some latent tumor, never really left our brains.


One thing I began noticing with the recuts of the old material was that not all of them were According-to-Hoyle. I had enough oldass demos on ratty, 20-plus-year-old cassette tapes to where a number of the arrangements were burned into my brain. This wasn't a major issue---it enabled me to mess with some arrangements and write some new verses to flesh things out. It led to some things getting interesting when we set down to record.
Mike informed me, while we were recording vocals, that when he and Brad the drummer recorded these tracks he went more from ballpark memory and didn't rely on the old recordings for a reference point at all.
And having learned that, I thought he did a stellar fucking job. For an intuitive methodology, Mike nailed it.


Riding into Boston with my brother Steve we immediately went into planning mode. How many nights would I be spending in New Hampshire? Three. How much of that would be spent recording? I guesstimated, maybe two and a half days. “You guys are doing, what? Nine or ten songs?” I guessed---I had a few lyric sheets in my overnight bag. I really didn't feel like digging through it for an official count. “That's pretty rough, trying to get through that in two and a half days,” he said.
I inwardly shuddered. I hadn't done any serious singing, recorded or otherwise, in the twenty-someodd years since the Apocalypse Krew first stomped around Nashua, throwing our ugly business around however we could. Practice? You've gotta be joking. I've spent the last twenty years in Fayetteville living in a succession of tiny apartments, usually with paper-thin walls. “Practice” wasn't about to happen.
A daunting challenge, but where there's a will there's a way. I'd overestimated on one point: That first half day of recording wound up being a wash. And I'd underestimated on another. Nine or ten songs to lay down vocals on? No.
There were seventeen.
Seventeen songs in two days....quite the challenge indeed.
We had one strange bit of luck that was going to turn the whole circumstance in our favor, though; I'm a bad singer.
That's not to say I'm a badass singer or a really super-awesome singer....I'm a terrible fucking singer. Always have been.


Saturday, April 23, 2016


“It's tragic,” my father says.
This is in response to the innocuous question, “how's it going?” I knew it was a dumb question, but I wasn't expecting “it's tragic” as a response.
“It's like a prison here,” He elaborates, “and then you have her.”
The first person in my line of vision is his wheelchair-bound lady friend, and I doubt this is who he's talking about.
“Not her,” Dad says, almost seeming to read my mind, “her.
The subject of his ire is a petite, attractive asian nurse. Okay---about what I expected.
My father, in his old age, has problems with authority, which means we probably have more in common now than we ever did growing up. I don't want to dress that up in any kind of romantic way, though...he's always been a cantankerous, loose cannon type, especially to medical professionals and people in food service.
This is the second visit I've made to this nursing home this week. I'm back in New England for the first time in over ten years----I haven't seen my father in 16.
He and my mother---who've been divorced for well over 30 years----are both residents here. Long story----don't feel like repeating it.
My understanding is that all the residents on this floor are dealing with one or another form of dementia. In my Mom's case, that's Alzheimer's. In my Dad's case, it's the aftermath of a traumatic brain injury. He's not dealing with delusions but he's extremely forgetful. He's asked where I'm living these days several times. He's asked if I've got a girl these days...I tell him I've got a wife. We've been married nine years. But he was having trouble with these details before the head injury. In fairness and deference to the head injury.
We're waiting for my brother to come back----he went off in search of my mother in the Rec Room. We're sitting in the main hallway, which is less than comfortable, but we're in a holding pattern until then.
After what seems an interminable stretch, my brother Chris returns. We wheel Dad back to his room where he shows us around. He has pictures of various children, stepchildren and grandkids who've from his recent birthday. It becomes apparent this particular swatch of wall means a lot to him. I make a private note to myself that I should send him pictures.
There's also a crude crayon drawing of a lighthouse that I instantly love. Chris had told me a while ago that he was doing art therapy, which I'm all about. Late in his life my left-brained engineer Dad has found some use for art and I like what he's doing. Things like this are why Outsider Art exists.
Also on the wall are pictures of Hawk Missiles, and my Dad is wearing a Hawk Missile baseball cap. The Hawk Missile was his bread and butter as a defense contractor...he worked on the guidance system. He boasts about being in the Middle East and watching a Hawk Missile take down an Iranian warplane. (I'm debating whether he means “Iranian” or “Iraqi”----no matter)
Proud Poppa.
His roommate is a scared rabbit of a gentleman who sits in a corner and doesn't interact much with us.
Eventually, on Chris's suggestion, we move back toward the Rec Room. A good many of the residents are there. Some congregate at tables, others crowd around a large screen TV where the staff shows movies and other fare. My Mother is seated with a couple of other people at a far table by a big picture window that looks out onto the roof of the facility. Chris and Dad encourage me to go spend time with her.
I head over and seat myself at the far end of the table. Mom acknowledges me and she knows I'm her son...she doesn't use my name, which probably opens questions as to whether she knows which son I am. I don't feel as though those questions are necessarily that important. 
She's listening intently to a white-haired woman who's talking about vague military operations and she seems bemused by the whole thing. The other person by the table is a thin, balding, dour-looking man with glasses who's taking in the whole conversation but saying nothing.
In my previous visit my Mom had spent a good chunk of the time walking around with another very animated, pleasant lady who was apparently new to the home. “I always look in on her and she always looks in on me,” she explained. “She's a Nun.”
I'm not sure whether she was actually a Nun or not....she wore an unusual headkerchief and I guessed it wasn't outside the realm of possibility.
There's no sign of her today.
The white-haired woman is very focused on what's happening outside the window (which is nothing) and is talking ragtime about the cadets who are out in the woods in the back of the facility. I remember family members relating to me a story about Mom saying one of our cousins (she wasn't sure which) lived in the woods out in back of the home and was going to high school out there. This is the first indicator to me that the residents talk and their delusions may all dovetail into one another.
The white-haired woman continues her looping, endless narrative that she always returns to, despite periodic interruptions. She talks about how “we” (whoever the undisclosed “we” are) are going out to Fort McHenry and bringing in rafts full of food to the cadets across the river. I humor her and ask questions where I think it's appropriate. My Mom listens with a gleam in her eye, occasionally shooting me a smile that seems to ask, “can you believe this?!” She occasionally latches onto something that prompts a reaction, where she'll wisecrack about being thrown in the ocean by a bunch of guys. This is a source of humor to her but it's something she seems obsessed with lately. No one seems to know where it's coming from.
During my first visit she pointed out Dad and told me, “he threw me in the ocean once. He's a nice guy.”
I was confused by that, but I played along and said, “well, it doesn't sound like a very nice thing to me!”
“Oh, it's not bad,” she said. “The other guy threw me in the ocean twice!”
It sounded like some kind of a whimsical allegory on her marriages----my Mom, of course, was never real big on allegory and I doubt she has much use for it at this point. Today it had taken great precedence in her mind. She's jovial about it, anyway.
Mom seems, at least part of the time, to be in on the joke. She seems to understand that the conversations around her are circular and deluded, although her own contributions are also circular and deluded.
The loss I feel in all of this is that my family are an incredible group of talkers and listeners, and it's not unusual, when we get together, for us to fire up a pot of coffee and yak long into the night about anything and everything. At least on this front, that's lost, now, and it's never coming back.
Somewhere around this time my youngest brother, Steve, has shown up. There was a method to this madness----I had spent the last few days in Nashua, New Hampshire with Chris and will crash with Steve and his significant other in their Boston apartment before flying back to Arkansas the next morning.
We laugh and joke and take pictures with Mom and Dad. Mom seems particularly tickled. The woman with the white hair merely pauses in her looping story to keep her vigil out the window. Chris, Steve and I laugh and reminisce with Mom. Whether she totally gets it or not, I'm not sure---she gets a kick out of our brotherly repartee.
At this point, the dour man in the corner begs my attention. “I'm a good man,” he tells me, pleadingly, almost desperately. “I'll never see my wife or my daughter again. But I'm a good man! I know I'm a good man!”
“I can tell that you are,” I tells him.
'There was something I was trying to convey in there,” he says, “but I think I've lost it.”
“I know how that goes,” I tell him and meant it sincerely. Sometimes it feels as though my whole life is endless tangients and unfinished conversations.
“Well, then, good luck to you,” he finally says. The sentiment seems to be that we were laughing off our mother's condition, which we certainly aren't.
The military woman continues her story. As she hits a pause in her conversation the dour man leans over and whispers, “I'm sorry for what you're going through. I hope it works out for you.” He softly kisses her and retreats to his corner. The military woman is undaunted and continues along her track.
Chris has left at this point and I will leave with Steve---he hangs back and gives me whatever time I need.
The staff is playing a DVD about baseball greats like DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson when a man comes through and starts dispensing little pink plastic rosaries from a box. This precipitates a change of DVDs. One is thrown on that has people praying the rosary and a number of people pray along.
I realize Mom is actually wearing one of the little pink rosaries. During lulls in the conversation I watch her absentmindedly fingering it and lapsing into the Hail Mary.
At some point a fifty-or-sixtyish lady comes in to visit with the dour man. The daughter he said he'd never see again, perhaps? He cries copiously and the two of them leave the Rec Room.
The place is genuinely starting to creep on me. Alone at one table sits a man who keeps trying to stand up from his wheelchair. Every time he does an alarm goes off and a nurse comes over to sit him back down.
At one point there's only one nurse in the room and she's very young---maybe a CNA? She's popping the rosary DVD out and popping in “Gigi”. An old woman about ten feet away is slumped over in her wheelchair, crying, “I can't take it anymore---somebody please help me!”
The young staffer is attempting, from the DVD player, to verbally address the issue, but she's addressing the wrong resident.
I'm verging on a panic attack at this point; I keep telling myself, it's a well-regarded facility. The family have dealt with them for years. My grandmother spent her last days here.
Its not the first staff to be momentarily overwhelmed. And goddammit, I certainly couldn't do the job they're doing.
Things continue, conversations go on and my Mom points out several nurses to me, telling me, “She's a hard worker---I like her.” Whereas my Father grumbled about the facility being an authoritarian prison, my Mom is perfectly at home, sees her place in a larger community and seems to believe she works there. She has a good sense of humor about the whole situation.
The sky's turning and I know it won't be too long before rush hour traffic is snarling up the Boston Area. Steve gently suggests we might head out, and so I say goodbye to my parents. I remember well over a decade ago being in some silly email argument (much of the silliness probably being mine) with most of my immediate family and imploring them that we might never see each other again. It wasn't a threat, just a statement of fact....any one of us could die at any minute, and did we really want that to be our last exchange?
My goal with the visit was to be able to see my Mother while she still had a fighting chance at knowing who I was. Mission accomplished, but I also left knowing it might be the last time I saw either one of my parents. Hopefully not----but we'll see how that goes.