The new year—and decade—is off to a pretty good start, although I would have preferred if I sent this out a couple of weeks ago. The big news is that (fingers crossed), for the first time since 2017, a half-marathon race is going to be run in Trenton, NJ, in 2020. Also, I was able to see two favorite music acts of mine, China Crisis and Midge Ure, at an intimate venue just 15 minutes from my house.
So…what have I been up to lately? Well, I ran a 5K, saw the Pixies (!!!), connected with a present-day ambient musician whose NYC indie band in 2005 recorded one of my favorite songs ever. I also have to welcome my friend Katie to Philly! And, of course, there is new music to share.
So…since Facebook is a trash fire platform run by a trash fire of a human being, I deleted my old account back in June (and Twitter is hanging on by a thread). I do still have a profile there through a secondary account I set up years ago in an aborted attempt to use that one to manage my podcast pages. But it basically exists solely to interact with other pages that handle things like sign-ups and notifications only through Facebook. I don’t plan to return to posting there at all.
Therefore, I have returned to posting here and on my long-dormant Tumblr account for sharing links, musings and other things, like weather updates. So feel free to check that out every now and then to see what I’m up to.
This has been a weird year for me. I don’t usually do too many races during the spring and summer months. But for the past few years, I’ve taken part in Philly’s 10-mile Broad Street Run in May and a 5K held at my alma mater, Rider University, in June.
This year, however, I wasn’t able to run Broad Street because of an all-day, all-hands-on-deck work commitment — even though my job was eliminated through a reorganization about a month later (yeah…more on that later). And the Rider University 5K didn’t happen either.
Even worse, my favorite annual race, the Trenton Half-Marathon — a race I’d done every year since 2014 (after doing the event’s 10K component in 2013) — that was supposed to take place in late October or early November was canceled earlier this year.
Basically, I haven’t taken part in an organized race since last November’s Philadelphia Marathon. Now, I have been training (running, cycling and swimming) for a good chunk of the past nine months, but it just seems odd not having any events to prepare for during that time.
But now, the events I have been training for are suddenly just weeks away. First up, is the Hightstown (N.J.) Triathlon on September 9. I’ve done this sprint triathlon every year since 2014 (it was my first triathlon) because it takes place about 20 minutes away from where we live.
Next is the inaugural Crest Best 10-Miler in Wildwood Crest, N.J., on October 7. This new race is presented by the awesome Wildwood-based DelMo Sports (who oversee a bunch of events in South Jersey, including the Atlantic City Triathlon I did in 2014…and hope to do again next year) and I’m really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, that conflicts with yet another race I usually do, but won’t be able to do this year — WXPN’s Musicians on Call 5K.
Finally, I’m returning to the Philadelphia Marathon for a second year in a row. I finished in 4 hours, 51 minutes, 22 seconds IN 2017. I’m shooting for between 4:30:00 and 4:40:00 this time out.
Cough Wars: The Recycling Strikes Back
Of course, with all these races now within a few turns of the calendar, I seriously messed up by back a couple of weeks ago. Not during training, of course. But by being taken by surprise by a violent coughing attack as I was bending awkwardly to pick up a piece of wayward recycling while taking it out to the curb one morning.
Ugh! I have never been in so much pain in my life (and that includes slamming my shoulder into the back of a Chevy Suburban during a bike ride in 1986). What’s not helping is that I’ve been trying to train through it. In fact, a few hours after it happened, I went out for a triathlon brick training session that included an 11-mile bike ride and a planned 5K-distance run that I had to cut back to a mile because I just couldn’t handle the pain. Shortly after that, I drove out to a local swim school to do a little more than a half-mile in the pool.
The next day I tried to go out for a 5-mile run, but struggled just to get through four.
Even worse is that it has led to an apparently related leg issue that crops up when I’m sitting. It seems when I put pressure on my left lower back/butt, it leads to pain in my thigh.
I’m mostly OK when I’m standing, though. I even managed to get through my first 10-mile run since January a few days ago. The only thing that’s really bothering me on my runs right now is the lingering cough that sneaks up on me.
So, yeah, training has not been ideal for the past two weeks. Hoping things are better by this weekend.
Looking for Work
So, as I alluded to earlier, I’m no longer working at George Street Playhouse. I was let go in early June as part of a reorganization that eliminated my position. They are in the process of streamlining operations ahead of the move into the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center next summer. Honestly, I had been trying to find something closer to home anyway. Despite how it ended, I’ll have mostly great memories of my four seasons there.
The big news is that we’ll be going on a Disney Cruise while school is out in early November. I have never been on a cruise before and not sure what to expect. It will be the first time on a plane (our cruise originates from Port Canaveral) with our boys, as well. That’s kind of making us a bit nervous, especially since Benjamin doesn’t like to be contained for long periods of time. Hopefully, we can work it out so that he’s sleepy for both the departing and return flights. But the vacation is a gift and we are very grateful for it. Our boys will definitely enjoy it.
Although nothing much became of the musical aspirations I had as a teenager, this year does mark the 30th anniversary of what I consider the first real song I ever wrote, “Time Takes Over.” I recently documented the full story behind the song, and added vocals and some other light instrumentation to the original instrumental demo I recorded to cassette back in October 1988, which you can listen to here:
I’ve also dipped my foot back in the songwriter’s pool recently with some creations I consider “sketches” to use in possible future works. The most recent of these was something I did completely in GarageBand on my iPhone and is more or less a complete song, from a structure standpoint. I’ve been listening to The War on Drugs a bit recently and I’ve become rather obsessed with how their songs really don’t do much structurally, but tend to stick to a groove and just build/add or subtract elements to create atmospheric ebb and flow patterns. Here’s an untitled project I recently recorded using this approach. Again, this was more of an experiment in structure, so the patterns and melodies here are essentially placeholders…but I still kind of like it as a starting point.
I haven’t been to many concerts this year. Alison and I saw my favorite current band, Lo Moon, in March. I had seen them in November 2017 on my own and then saw them again at WXPN’s XPoNential Music Festival in late July, so I’ve already seen them three times. I really love their sound…lead singer/band leader Matt Lowell is very much influenced by the greatly under-appreciated Mark Hollis of Talk Talk. Matt is also a huge fan of The War on Drugs (with a couple of members of that band appearing on Lo Moon’s self-titled debut album) so that’s why I have become a little more interested in TWOD recently.
Also, keep your eyes and ears open for emerging soul/R&B singer-songwriter Devon Gilfillian. He played the Marina Stage on Day 3 of this year’s XPoNential Music Festival, just before Lo Moon were to hit the River Stage. I didn’t plan to watch his set, but I went over to take some photos (which came out terrible). And it wound up taking a lot of effort on my part to tear myself away to get over in time for a good spot for Lo Moon. Devon was far and away my vote for biggest surprise of the entire festival — and he’s also caught the attention of Rolling Stone. Great band, great performer, great set. The Philly-area native who now calls Nashville home has one EP out and is working on his first full-length album in Los Angeles. Here he is performing his latest song, “Troublemaker,” at the XPoNential Music Festival:
In June, I had the awesome and rare opportunity to catch music legend Midge Ure (Ultravox, Rich Kids, Visage, Slik, Thin Lizzy and — nearly — Sex Pistols) perform an intimate acoustic set in the tiny room at Randy Now’s Man Cave in Bordentown, N.J. You might not know the name, but Midge Ure has been Bob Geldof’s right-hand man with all matters associated with Band Aid and Live Aid over the decades. In fact, Midge wrote and produced “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (Geldof gave him a snippet of a discarded Boomtown Rats song at the beginning of the writing process, but has said in at least one interview years later that it’s really Midge’s song) — a song with which he’s had a love-hate relationship over the years, but he seems to have come around to embracing it more recently. Here’s the first part of an amazing documentary, narrated by Midge, about the making of that historic record.
I will be seeing Simple Minds at The Basie in Red Bank, N.J., in late September, which is going to be incredibly awesome.
Anyway, here are photos of me with Midge Ure and Lo Moon to close out this update.
“Time Takes Over” is the first complete song I ever wrote. I was 17 at the time and it was strangely inspired by a co-worker of mine at the time who was only a year older than me, but had the personality and outlook of Archie Bunker.
Anyway, we worked at what is now a long-gone Pizza Hut in Point Pleasant, N.J. It was summer 1988 — in between my junior and senior years of high school — and the older sister of one of my classmates got a summer job as a cook/server/hostess with us. I had known her brother for years and knew her a bit, and never would have imagined her wanting anything to do with my overtly racist, sexist co-worker. But they wound up hooking up that summer.
Of course, she went back to college in the fall and since our business dropped like a stone when the summer tourists left, that left a lot of downtime for my co-worker and I to talk. And, for the first time, he sounded human. He really did care for her.
Shortly after she returned to college, my co-worker went to visit her. He expressed to her how he wish they had more time together, and — this is what he told me — she said to him, “Well…time just takes over.” And, at that, she suggested to him they just stay friends.
So, that’s the story behind this song. And it’s weird that one of the most stoic people I have ever known opened up his heart to me and inspired what I think is a pretty emotional song.
Anyway, the following summer he hooked up with another summer Pizza Hut employee and wound up marrying her (even though my classmate’s sister also came back to work with us that summer…which was awkward). I’ve Googled the guy in the past — and just did before posting this — and it appears he’s living in central New Jersey and married to the woman he met at Pizza Hut in 1989. But I haven’t seen him since the early 90s…well, except for one time when I drove by him when he was a cop in a Jersey Shore town a few years later.
Regarding the song itself, most of the instrumentation you hear on this track is from a cassette of the original instrumental demo I recorded in October 1988 using sounds from my old Roland U-20 synthesizer. It wasn’t until a year or so later that I got around to recording the vocals, but by then the arrangement had changed a bit (so I spliced and rearranged this a bit to fit the finished version). I recently added the vocals, wind chimes/shaker track and augmented piano/bass parts to this version, so I would have a complete recording of the original version in time for the song’s 30th anniversary in October.
Now, obviously, this milestone means nothing to anyone but me. My music career went nowhere, and I’m not really a musician anymore except for when my friend Christian Beach* needs me to be one or when I’m inspired and motivated to compose/record something. But I’m still proud of this song. I’m not sure how many 17-year olds were writing songs like this in 1988, but it couldn’t have been many. I mean, at its base, it really is a bubble-gum song about young love that is ultimately unrequited. But it sounds and feels so much bigger than that.
*Speaking of Christian, during our time in a band together from 1989-91, we actually played “Time Takes Over” in one of our live shows. Here is video of that performance (from 1990?), which features my trying — and mostly failing — to sing with a terrible head cold.
When I was a teenager in the late 1980s and still had dreams of becoming a professional songwriter/musician, I wrote and recorded a song I called “Time Takes Over” in October 1988. It was probably the first complete song (with words and music) I ever wrote.
The subject matter was based on sentiments expressed by a former co-worker of mine who was describing how he visited a girl at college after having a summer fling with her. He thought it was more than that, but she didn’t see it that way. Anyway, that was the basis of the lyrics, which—for the first time in my musical life—flowed out practically simultaneously with the music.
The original 1988 version below, written when I was 17, does not include the vocals, but you will hear them later on in this post in other forms. Please note that I transferred this from an old cassette tape so that accounts for the audio artifacts.
In 1989/1990, I was in an ill-fated techno-rap outfit called TMC+The New Generation and—after a few arrangement tweaks by my friend and then-bandmate Christian Beach—we performed “Time Takes Over” during a very poorly structured live show at the ol’ Green Parrot Rock Club in Neptune, N.J., which you can see below.
Finally, a few years ago, I recorded an updated version in GarageBand on my MacBook that includes vocals. In 2012, I re-recorded the vocals and made some additional tweaks. That is the version you can hear below. Enjoy.
I’ve gone ahead and updated another song from my old band days in the late 1980s/early 1990s. But this is a bit different because I didn’t write the music for “How I Want to Embrace You”…that was composed by my longtime friend/former bandmate/singer-songwriter Christian Beach. I only wrote the lyrics and I seem to recall playing the bass part into the sequencer. Actually, after I had written the words, Christian had a lyrical idea for the first chorus so that was swapped out. As usual, we managed to make a very rough cassette recording of the song, but that was about it. And since I never played any of the piano/keyboard parts, I basically had to do my best to reconstruct it all. This is about as close as I’ll get and I don’t really have the time to really go any further with it.
A little bit about the song itself…this was written somewhat in the early days of the techno/rap combo Christian and I were in with Asbury Park, NJ-based rapper TMC (Tariq Muhammad). Just prior to meeting Tariq, Christian and I had been working together on some electronic, instrumental music influenced by the so-called “new age” music of the time as well as progressive artists like Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. Even though we were now working with a rapper, we still tried to work some ballads into our set. This actually wasn’t a good idea when you’re playing New Jersey bars like the greatly missed Green Parrot in Neptune, but we did it anyway because we were teenagers who didn’t know any better. It got even worse when we started adding elements of industrial music to our set…while still also performing ballads. That was just weird.
Anyway, I never really asked Christian about it, but I always thought of this as a pop song infused with some ideas he had from our new age/progressive days…and I always liked that about this song.
I also liked the idea for the harmonies we had back then and did my best to replicate those. I’m not the strongest vocalist in the world, but I do what I can.