If you’ve ever worked with kids maybe under the age of 10 or so, you know that their attention spans are really short. I mean I’m about to turn 26 and I get pretty bored with just about anything after twenty minutes. So when I’m teaching private lessons I try to make sure I have like, 7 or 8 short activities ready for the younger students. When I can feel them getting particularly bored one of my favorite things to do is to just start improvising on the piano and have them narrate a story. The prompt is usually something like, “If this was in a movie, what would be happening?”

So last summer I was teaching a lesson and I could feel us getting to that point where the student was totally losing interest and I was running out of things to do so I had us try narrating some music. Here’s what she came up with:

“So one night this guy is sleeping in his bed next to his wife. At the same time a giant asteroid hits Mars and breaks into a bunch of pieces and one of those pieces comes hurtling towards Earth. It crashes into this lake next to the guys house and water goes flying everywhere. But only this one guy hears it. So he gets up and is walking very quietly down the stairs because he doesn’t want to wake his wife up, who is a very heavy sleeper. That explains why she didn’t wake up when the asteroid hit the lake. So this guy goes out to inspect the source of the noise and the water and he walks out towards the lake and sees that all the water is gone and there’s a giant asteroid in the center of where the lake used to be. ‘Wow!’ he says. At that very moment ANOTHER asteroid hits this guy and kills him. This time his wife wakes up and she walks out to find him crushed to death beneath this asteroid. So she opens a museum dedicated to these asteroids and it makes her a lot of money and she gets remarried and is much much happier. The end.”

Last week I tried the same activity with another student. I had my Real Book open to Nica’s Dream (which I’m writing an arrangement of for Cheap City right now but that’s another thing) so I started playing it for him.

“Well, Nica’s Dream is… First she dreams of mountains. Big mountains. But scary mountains. That’s Nica’s Dream. I mean, Nica’s dream is always sad. But it’s always happy. That’s Nica’s dream. Now she dreams of trains and clouds and being very quiet. That’s Nica’s dream.”

I really like being in a position where I get to help kids explore their creativity. I like teaching them piano too but I also think it’s a little boring (at least for me) for it to just be, “Okay here’s the one or two songs we’re going to learn this week and that’s it.” I obviously want to teach that stuff too but I also think it’s really important that my students learn pretty quickly that being a musician isn’t necessarily just reading notes off of a page.

The first music I really loved was punk music, so I started a band when I was in middle school. And the first thing that we did was just start writing our own songs, partly because none of us were necessarily good enough to play covers (but we did anyway) and partly because we thought that was the only thing we were supposed to do. And when I started really studying music theory and composition I really thought that everyone in classical music was a composer. My impression was that orchestra musicians were like the cover bands of classical music, and that was just their gig while they work on composing. Which is definitely true for some people, but I had this notion that all musicians must be writing. It wasn’t until I was almost out of high school, which is a little embarrassing, that I realized that I was totally wrong. I think that my first impulse towards becoming a composer was completely misguided, but I like that.

I wonder how the musical landscape would change if composition and / or improv were a standard part of education. I know there are some schools that value this, but I think studying composition outside of a standard theory class is pretty rare. I did my first degree at Hampshire College, and no one walked out of that music department without improvising A LOT. I really value that experience. Right now I’m teaching a group class called “Intro to Piano and Songwriting,” where my students (about 7 of them) get to write their own music in conjunction with learning the basics of piano and music. At least one of them has said to me that they like writing more than they do playing, which is pretty cool for me because I think that’s relatively rare. This student is also in like third grade. Obviously I want them to love playing piano too, but one thing at a time.


Should we be writing break up songs?

I guess I want to be a little more specific than ‘break up songs,’ but should we be writing songs that make references either explicitly or indirectly to the actions of romantic partners? It’s one thing to write something expressing loneliness or unrequited love, but it’s totally another thing to write songs in the vein of the misogyny early 2000s pop punk bands. I’m sometimes torn on the situation because I’m primarily interested in storytelling and I feel like all stories are valid in one way or another. So it boils down to the presentation of the story. I think if David Berman and Jeff Rosenstock and Laura Jane Grace can all write songs that are obviously about break ups without needing to call someone a ‘bitch’ or a ‘slut’ to get the point across then Taking Back Sunday and whoever else can probably do it too?

I’ve been thinking about this lately because my partner recently reminded me that their ex had written a song about their relationship. It’s particularly hateful and makes a lot of insensitive and fucked up comments about mental health. I don’t know what it feels like to know a song is definitely about you, and that there have been people singing along to it. It probably doesn’t feel very good. And I’m sure that my partner’s ex has the right to his feelings, I wonder if there was a more sensitive way to write a song about them?

When I was in my first band in high school I wrote this song about a relationship that didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. I went back and listened to it today and I don’t think there’s anything explicitly in the lyrics about the person it was directed at. But what I remember happening is that I wrote this song and my band played it and someone along the line said to this person, “Oh Greg’s band wrote this song about you.” I shouldn’t have told anyone what the song was about to begin with but when that person was (understandably) pretty upset about it, instead of apologizing I just dug my heels in and confirmed it. I was an angry and depressed 16 year old and was telling myself that I didn’t care about others feelings, which of course wasn’t true but it was too late. I’d like to think that if I ended up in the same situation now I’d handle the whole thing differently. But in retrospect I made that person feel really shitty, even though I think I was entitled to being initially upset. I guess the thing about these kind of songs is that it makes moving on from the situation pretty tough, because then I had to play that song with my band every weekend. I mean, I don’t think there was one show where that song wasn’t played. And I didn’t do myself any favors because even though I knew I had really bummed this person out, I wrote ANOTHER one. A pretty explicit song actually.

And did I learn my lesson? Nope. I did the same thing in college (although it was super indirect and the object of the song told me that they thought it was pretty cool but it doesn’t matter). I’m at a point in my life now where I’ve graduated to writing about more interesting topics, or at least I’m less mean.

The whole point I’m trying to make here is that mean songs maybe just aren’t cool? Maybe just be nice? Or like, if you’re sad about getting dumped you don’t have to be a fucking misogynistic prick about it probably.



The past two months have been really busy and crazy for me.

  1. I GOT MARRIED TO MY BEST FRIEND. The wedding was so fun and amazing and then we spent a few days in Montreal and then came home to see David Lang’s new opera in Boston.

  2. Cheap City went on tour and it was really fun. Our next show is January 11th at Pink Noise in Somerville (where we’ll be recording our new full length in February)

  3. I applied to PhD and DMA programs. Nothing to say about it except bye bye money and hello waiting game.

  4. The Mazumal duo premiered my piece “Describe Vapor Again” with text by Glynnis Eldridge. And Kelvyn Koning and Alissa Voth premiered my piece “Offertory For My Upstairs Neighbor.” Quorum Boston will be performing “Things At The Apex” twice in December.

Okay so I haven’t written here in a hot minute but I’m planning on CATCHING UP this month and the first thing I want to talk about is teaching music with physical consent.

I’m really lucky to say that I’m in a position where 90% of my time is devoted to music. I have one side job these days but the rest of my time is spent writing, practicing, performing, and teaching and that’s pretty cool. This fall I started teaching group classes. First at the community music school school in Nashua that I teach at, and recently I started teaching a few classes at the local boys and girls club.

Tonight something happened that made me really happy. When parents were picking up their kids one of the moms came up to me and said, “Thank you for not making {daughter’s name} give you high fives.” I said “No problem,” but then it occured to me that I hadn’t actually realized how important that was until she said something. I feel like every once in a while that article will float around on facebook about we shouldn’t force young relatives to give hugs or kisses at holiday gatherings and this is the same thing. So what the mom was referring to was that last week when this girl was leaving I said, “Good job today! Do you want to do a fist bump?” She said, “No.” Then I said, “Do you want a high five?” She said, “No,” and I said, “Okay!” and that was the end of it. As I’m writing this I’m thinking back to being much younger and having to give my grandmother these really uncomfortable hugs that I always dreaded.

So tonight I’ve been thinking more in depth about consent when it relates specifically to teaching music and here are some thoughts.

  1. If possible, be somewhere where you’re not blocking the door to your studio. Your student should feel like they have complete agency to leave the room if they need to. This is kind of harder to do if you’re teaching piano or a large stationary instrument but i think it’s worth it, and it’s a subtle effort that counts for a lot.

  2. I can’t speak for other instruments, but when I teach piano, particularly to younger kids, it’s easier to physically show them how to do something than it is to describe it. So sometimes when my students are just starting out and they don’t understand which finger to use,, I’ll ask them for permission to move their finger for them. I’ll gently push their finger down on the correct key so they know, and that’s the end of it. But the important part is that I always ask if this is okay with them. Sometimes a student will say no, and to be honest it makes the task a little more difficult if they’re already not understanding what’s going on, but giving them the option of expressing their consent to be touched is so important.

I can think of at least five or six instances in my education where I felt like my personal space was being violated by a teacher. And I want to be clear that these were never instances of abuse or explicit misconduct, but rather moments made me feel uncomfortable enough that focusing on my lesson wasn’t really an option. For example, I briefly took lessons in the Taubman piano technique, which I hated. Not just because it was really hard to unlearn over a decade of playing habits, but because my teacher had decided that the only way she could show me how to get from point A to point B was to just aggressively handle my fingers. I was never in pain but it was deeply uncomfortable. I wonder how many people have ended up not continuing music lessons because of something like this (or worse) and then I think about how easy it would be for music teachers across the board to implement simple but more physically respectful teaching styles.

But it’s not just about making sure that kids (and adults!) are comfortable in their music lessons. It’s about teaching people that they have the right to control their own bodies and giving them a space to feel comfortable in.


The other day I drove out to Holyoke, MA for a rehearsal with Cheap City. We rent a space about two or three blocks removed from kind of the center of downtown. So I got there earlier than I intended to be and decided to drive down the road to this gas station that has a Subway and Dunkin Donuts and whatever. My partner had just texted me asking if I could pick up some flu medicine and some batteries for smoke detector which had started beeping that morning. And I was starving so I figured I had plenty of time to get these errands done and get to practice maybe even a little early still.

While I’m pumping gas I see this guy wandering around the parking lot. His clothes are disheveled and tattered and he looks very confused. This particular gas station often has a lot of people asking for change, so when he’s approaching me I figure that he’s going to ask me for some money. Sure enough he comes up to me and says, “You got any change for me?” I say, “No I’m really sorry.” He suddenly screws his face up in anger, as if he can’t possibly believe what I’m saying to him. “You’re a n****r!” Well both of us are white and I could smell some alcohol on him and I didn’t really know what to say. “Okay.” And then he walks away.

So I head inside the gas station so I can buy something at Subway. There’s this dude in line in front of me. Super tough guy. Like, he’s wearing a t shirt and his muscles are just bursting out of this shirt and he has a teardrop tattoo and the whole thing. But I notice he’s having a really hard time ordering his food. The girl working there (who admittedly wasn’t moving too quick either) is asking him what kind of bread he wants and he seems genuinely confused that they have multiple kinds of bread. He has the same sort of reaction to the selection of meat and don’t even get me started on his fascination at the toaster. It was like he was in The Twilight Zone and came from a universe without toasted sandwiches. I’m trying not to get impatient with him but he looks at me and says, “I’m really sorry man. I’ve been in jail for the past twenty years. I got out today and this Subway thing is confusing.” “No worries,” I tell him. “Take your time.” Even though internally I’m thinking, “They probably had different kinds of breads available twenty years ago. Maybe even in jail?” I’ve never been to jail and I definitely can’t speak to the trauma of incarceration. Maybe he was truly attempting to process freedom in such a way that he was unable to choose his bread. I don’t know and I’m not judging. I’m just observing, albeit with a certain extent of wonder. So the girl behind the counter is almost done making his sandwich and she asks if he wants any spices or sauce or whatever. He says, “I honestly have no idea. What do you think?” She says, “Well I think oregano would go great on this.”

“What the fuck is that?”

“Oregano? Well, it’s like an Italian herb. It’s good. I think you’ll like it.”

“O-re-ga-no? Well they didn’t have that shit back in my day but I’ll give it a try. Why not? It probably won’t kill me.”

I’m thinking to myself how tragic it would be if he somehow turned out to be allergic to oregano. So he finally pays for his sandwich and I order mine which somehow takes this girl a good 15 minutes to make - I’m starting to get nervous about being late for practice. I order simply a bunch of veggies on toasted bread. That’s it. The girl stops putting things on the bread and says, “You know I’ve seen a lot of things before but I’ve never seen anyone just eat veggies on bread before.”

“Okay,” I say, waiting for her to please finish making the sandwich so I can get going.

She’s still just standing there staring at me. After what feels like an eternity of silence she says, “Well I guess I should finish making this.”

“Yes please,” I say making an admittedly lame attempt at being polite and not annoyed. At this point I start to wonder if I have a problem with patience. On one hand, it’s really not the end of the world if it takes a couple extra minutes for me to get a sandwich made. On the other, it’s a little annoying that this woman keeps stopping to chat with me when I obviously look like I’m in a mild rush.

So she finishes the sandwich and I remember that I’m supposed to buy batteries and medicine. This is the gas station where those things are behind the counter so I walk up and wait at the cash register. The cashier is having a conversation with another employee so I don’t say anything and just wait patiently. At one point she realizes I’m there and stops talking, turns and stares at me, and then turns around again to keep talking. Finally I muster up the courage to say, “I’m sorry to interrupt but can I make a purchase?”

She turns slowly.

“Yeah?! What can I get ya?”

“Could I get a nine volt battery?”

“We don’t got those.”

“Oh, I can see them behind you. They’re on the top shelf there.”

She turns slowly.

“Oh you mean these triple As?”

“No the nine volt please.”

“Oh you mean these double As?”

“No the nine volt please.”

“We don’t got those.”

“It’s the square one?”

“Oh you mean the rectangle.”


She hands me the battery.

“Can I also get some Day-Quil and Ny-Quil?” I ask.

“We don’t got those here neither.”

“They’re on the bottom shelf.”

“Oh okay.”

She grabs some Advil.

“Oh actually could I please have the Day-Quil and Ny-Quil? They’re in the bottles. It’s liquid?”

“We don’t got those.”

“I can see them. Bottom shelf to the left.”

“Oh yeah.”

She grabs them and says, “Oh you don’t wanna buy these here. They’re way too expensive.”

I can see the price. They’re $5 each. I don’t buy Quils often so I’m not sure if that’s an expensive price or not but it doesn’t seem too bad to me. “No that’s okay. Can I just get them please?”

“Hey it’s your money.”

So I make the purchase and walk back to my car, realizing I’ve been in this gas station for about 35 minutes and am now very late to practice. As I get in my car I see some cops talking to the guy who asked me for change earlier

To totally change subjects, I’m getting married on Friday! I kind of can’t believe that it’s actually happening. Not in the sense that I have cold feet, but in the sense that we spent the past year and a half planning this thing and it’s finally here. Of course everyone I’ve talked to about weddings told me that the last week before it is the most stressful and I really didn’t believe them but holy shit they were right. We have people telling us they can’t come, people saying that they CAN come after all, people trying to change their meals, people trying to bring last minute guests, bubbling family drama, and I STILL haven’t written my vows and we’ve got about 72 hours to go here. On the bright side I’m wearing a tie decorated with rubber ducks, I get to marry my best friend, and our first dance is a Silver Jews song.

Even three or four years ago I wasn’t super interested in marriage. I mean, I liked the idea of it - I like the symbolism of commitment I mean. But I don’t think I was ready for the commitment. I know a lot of people will say that getting married doesn’t change anything, that you don’t have to prove your love to the state, only to each other. And I agree with that to a certain sense but I really think it does change things. It’s interesting to me because a few years ago I had no interest in this. I was relatively neutral about marriage and didn’t really want kids. Now I’ve totally flipped and I’m all about that domestic life. I really enjoy just making coffee in the morning, doing some laundry, and teaching some piano lessons. I love being on tour and doing the band thing, and don’t plan on stopping that anytime soon, but I’ve realized I’m really happy with how my life is set up.

A few weeks ago I came on a local radio show to help promote the Nashua Community Music School, where I teach a few days a week. The guy hosting the show played some of my music and asked me some questions about my work as a performer and teacher. At one point he said, “Why don’t you just move to New York or LA and make a ton of money? You’re talented enough.” This guy is from a different generation. He grew up playing drums and guitar in New York in the 70s. I tried to explain to him that moving to a big city to “make it big” is a myth. I also tried to explain that I’m really happy living in New Hampshire. I get to teach, I get commissioned to write pieces, and I play in a band that puts out records and tours. And I’m not paying a billion dollars to live in a closet. What more could I ask for?

I guess I wish more people would realize that there are so many ways to be an artist, and there’s not one right way to do it. Some people act like if your band isn’t playing a show every week then you must not be active. Some people think that if you’re not living in a huge city then you’re never going to “make it.” That raises a whole separate question about what “making it” means. It looks different for everybody. I’m just happy to be doing what I’m doing. I want to keep moving forward with my life and make the things I want to make and not worry about what anyone else is working on.


This is the first in an ongoing series of short posts called “Appreciation Cycle.” In these posts I’m going to talk about a musician or artist whose had a significant impact on me. I want to talk about them in terms of either why they should be appreciated more than they already are, or if they’re already quite popular why I think the discussion around their work could be framed differently.

A lot of my early musical obsessions came from my older brother. I have no idea how he found the things he liked but from digging through his CDs and cassettes when he wasn’t at home I discovered AFI, Anti-Flag, NoFX, Bigwig, Small Brown Bike, Hot Water Music, Pennywise, Rancid, The Violent Femmes, Refused, Operation Ivy, Pulley, Catch-22, Fugazi, and Modest Mouse. This was all before I started junior high. I was super lucky. There were also some other bands he had in his collection that I never got to listen to before he moved away with the CDs but I remember I would memorize the artwork and look for it in stores (because I was definitely not bright enough to look things up on the internet - this would have been around 2001, 2002.) and those included Broken Social Scene, Neutral Milk Hotel, Godspeed You Black Emperor, The Fiery Furnaces, Allister, and Silver Mt. Zion. Needless to say, I owe a lot of my musical taste to those afternoons spent listening to his music collection.

BUT there was a discovery I made before any of those bands. AT the tender age of 5 or 6 I found a cassette called Bad Hair Day. I put it in...I put it in something. I’m not sure. I have no memory of owning a tape player but I must have had one if i was listening to that cassette. I still actually have the cassette which is pretty cool. But anyway, I put it in and my 6 year old mind was totally unable to handle or process what I was hearing. Weird Al fans out there know that the first track on Bad Hair Day is “Amish Paradise,” a parody of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” There was no way I could have known the original song at the time, so my first thought was that this guy was just rapping about Amish people. Which I thought was awesome. I probably barely even knew what the Amish were but it didn’t matter to me because the song was great. I even loved how the song ended up with a choir just screaming “ICK!” The rest of the album was great too. I actually think this is MAYBE the best record to get into Weird Al with. A fair number of his other parodies I think don’t work as well if you don’t know the original, but the best works are the ones where it doesn’t matter if you know what he’s making fun of or not. “Amish Paradise” and “Gump” work because you don’t have to know the original works. They work on their own. I think a song like “Party in the CIA” for example doesn’t function as well if you don’t know the Miley Cyrus original.

Well I was hooked. Weird Al was the perfect music for a hyperactive kid like me, who simultaneously dreamed of being a comedian and a research scientist. I listened to that cassette all day every day. At the time I didn’t have a frame of reference for understanding that artists would put out multiple records, so imagine my surprise when I learned that Bad Hair Day was his NINTH album. God bless my parents for buying me every Weird Al CD I asked for. I was obsessed and it was the beginning of me learning about collecting music. I loved the feeling of getting a new album and putting it in alphabetical order. (At the time my little mind would have exploded with delight if I had known that in 20 years my CD and record collection would be pushing into the quadruple digits).

I even got to see Weird Al perform live. Actually I’ve seen him five times I believe, the most recent time being last March. Let me say this. I’ve been to probably about 1,000 concerts in my 26 years. They range from basement shows to orchestral performances to chamber concerts in yoga studios to club and stadium rock shows. Almost nobody holds a candle to Weird Al as a live performer. He gets pegged as a comedian, which is totally true, but he’s first and foremost a musician and performer. Nobody knows how to command a stage like he does and nobody has the kind of unbridled energy that he does. Even in 2018 he’s still absolutely killing it live. Seeing him perform was definitely the first thing that made me want to become a musician. I couldn’t have been older than 7, but watching him walk out on stage and start playing one of his polkas just made me think, “I think I could do that.” It sounds kind of silly. Other musicians have stories about hearing Lou Reed or The Sex Pistols or whatever, but mine is Weird Al and I’m really proud of that. Weird Al made me want to do I what I do.

But he taught me a lot about music too.

First, he taught me that an in depth understanding of multiple styles and instruments informs your work. Al plays guitar, piano, accordion, and has an amazing voice. He actually has a huge vocal range and is capable of a huge number of vocal styles. On the first album he kind of had this punky drawly whine thing in his high range that was pretty cool. But he can croon, he can sing in falsetto, he can sing bass like it’s his only fach. He can perform jazz, rock, all styles of pop, ballads, punk, whatever you want. Not to mention that he can write and perform polkas. Like these really challenging and hilarious polka numbers.

Second, he taught me that you have to stick to your guns, even when you’re doubting yourself. Reading stories about him trying to make it as a performer, before he had a band or a record contract, and getting laughed off the stage (and mugged in a parking lot behind the venue!) was empowering for me. He just got back on stage again because he believed in what he was doing and this was a super big deal for me when I was working hard on Dérive and thinking maybe I could write operas too.

Third, he taught me how important humor is. Obviously he’s not going to release a song under his name that doesn’t have some aspect of comedy, but I went through a period right after high school and when I was starting college where I didn’t want any of my music to be funny. It was all serious all the time. But when I really assessed the things I was writing I realized that I wasn’t happy and it’s because that there wasn’t any humor in my music. I don’t think my work is necessarily funny but I do think that a lot of it has some aspect of humor. I’m not sure I would have gotten there without Weird Al. I think hearing him and bands like The Aquabats taught me that you could take your work seriously but not take yourself too seriously. That’s an important distinction.

Finally, he taught me how important orchestration is. The only mistake Weird Al has ever made in his career is not making at an attempt at writing a symphony. He’s a master of coloring his music with all sorts of instruments - actually I think an essay on musical semiotics in his work would be really cool to read - without it ever feeling superfluous. I mean, all of his stuff is extravagant and overblown, but every little sound in the work has a purpose. It’s all very tightly controlled. So when you hear a melody in a polka doubled on the clarinet you know that he’s really thought about it as a whole composition.

I love Weird Al. I love him because he’s hilarious and serious all at once. I love him because his music is a cultural barometer that tells us what was important for a generation at the time the record came out. I love him because nobody else can truly do what he does. He’s not the first or the last person to write parodies, but he truly takes the time to make sure every sound in his parodies works against the original. If you’ve ever been in a recording studio before you know how long it can take to get the right snare drum sound. Imagine trying to get your snare to replicate the EXACT snare sound on “Beat It” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I love him because he was my first musical love and he taught me so much about music and art.

Put my cassette copy of Bad Hair Day in my coffin.


Hi! A lot to say this week but I wanted to start by reminding y’all that Cheap City’s new record “Clocktower Broke” is OUT and you can stream it right here:

At the beginning of the summer I decided I wanted to listen to every Frank Zappa album, in the order given by the Zappa Family Trust. All 111 records. I’ve been a pretty big Zappa fan since I bought Burnt Weenie Sandwich about three years ago, but anybody who’s even vaguely familiar with his work knows that you can know all the ins and outs of a hundred hours of his music, and still have barely scratched the surface. So I got to work. I have to say it’s been a journey and it hasn’t always been easy. There’s a pretty dark period for me in the mid 70s when Zappa seems to be trying to figure out what shape his career should take without the Mothers behind him. That was hard for me to get through. Zappa In New York is one of the only albums that does absolutely nothing for me. The only redeeming track on it is “The Black Page” and that’s only exciting because it’s notorious for being really hard to play. Anyway, I’m not I’m not done yet. As I’m writing this I’m currently listening to The Lost Episodes, official release number 64.

What I want to talk about is a podcast I just finished listening to called Discography. It’s put out by Consequence of Sound and it’s hosted by Marc With A C, who I had never heard of prior to the podcast. So what Marc does is exactly what I’ve been doing. He goes through every Zappa album - although he doesn’t include the posthumous releases. He stops at Civilization Phaze III, official release 63, which was technically released after Zappa died but was finished and ready to be printed at the time of his death.

So I guess this is my review of Marc’s own journey through the discography. (My own thoughts on the discography as a whole forthcoming…)

The biggest problem I have with Marc’s interpretation of Zappa’s music is the idea that everything is supposed to flow together. This is actually an often misunderstood concept about Zappa. Marc perpetuates the idea that Zappa’s entire recorded output is one big song, and so he reviews everything with that in mind. That leaves the listener sometimes listening to Marc kind of blather on about how the flow from one record to the next doesn’t work and this is actually pretty irrelevant. What Marc is referring to is that after the sessions for Lumpy Gravy (a musique concrete pastiche) Zappa was talking about how the process for making the record was a lot of cutting tape and rearranging it. He then said that you could take any of the recordings from those sessions and do the same thing and it would make sense. This quote has been misconstrued to imply that all of Zappa’s work is one big piece. In some senses that’s kind of true - there are lots of recurring themes and characters and songs get rearranged all over the place. But the idea that everything is supposed to be one big song just isn’t true and doesn’t make sense. If that was the case then Zappa wouldn’t have sometimes abandoned projects in the middle of them. Marc listens to the Zappa discography in order because he thinks it was composed in that way. It’s only interesting to listen to it in order to see how the artist develops.

There’s also this thing Marc says in the intro to each episode that really kind of bothers me. He’s talking about how Zappa was less of a rock and roller and more of a composer. That’s really how he saw himself and he more or less wrote ‘rock’ songs because he didn’t have access to an orchestra. That part is true but when Marc is talking about how everything in life informed Zappa’s perception of composition, he says something about how composing is just ‘stringing together pretty dots on a piece of paper,” which is 100% untrue and almost offensive to those who know what composers actually go through. I mean, there are actually some composers who actually would randomize the process of writing music, but Zappa definitely wasn’t one of them.

I do have to say that one thing I really respect about Marc’s review of the Zappa discography is that he pays a lot of attention to the remastering of each record in the 2012 releases. Marc is a guy who has been listening to a fair number of Zappa records on many different formats for a long time, so he has a pretty good ear for what works on the new versions and what doesn’t. According to him, some of the releases sound a LOT better, some could still use improvement, and some don’t really show much of a difference. So if you’re someone who has a bunch of old Zappa records on vinyl and wants to know if you should get the new versions, I’d recommend just skipping to the end of his review of each album to see if he suggests having the ZFT issued CD.

But frankly that’s the only redeemable thing I got out of the podcast. Marc constantly refers to things as controversial, but never gets around to explaining why they’re that way. Example: He keeps talking about how ‘controversial’ it was when the Turtles joined the Mothers of Invention, but nothing I’ve ever read shows that anybody really gave a shit. I definitely have my gripes with the guy for not liking some of the records that I really love. Burnt Weenie Sandwich and Uncle Meat are two high points for me that Marc just really hates. And that’s fine - the difference in opinion is totally okay but as a journalist I think Marc also has to dig deeper. For example he really didn’t like Lumpy Gravy, but is also absolutely unaware of what the piece is and how it fits into a long tradition (even in the 60s!) of collaged tape pieces. The historical context of the work is important! Later on in the discography, Marc takes aim at what he percieves to be Zappa’s boredom with his own work, but doesn’t back this up with any tangible description. It felt like Marc needed something to say so he just made something up.

There’s also the issue of how Marc treats Zappa the composer versus Zappa the guy in a rock band. To be fair Marc is always quick to remind us that he doesn’t know much about classical music, but that doesn’t mean he’s exempt from doing any research. The way he talks about The Perfect Stranger exemplifies this. That album was a big deal for Zappa. It was conducted by Pierre Boulez at a time when Zappa was still relatively unknown in the classical community. Getting ANYTHING conducted by Boulez was a huge deal, especially given that Boulez was a notorious curmudgeon. Marc seems totally unaware of this context, which is unfortunate because I think it plays a lot into the importance of the album. Also, Marc constantly mispronounces Boulez’s name. I don’t usually get down on people for pronunciation but there’s a certain point where you gotta do your homework and figure out how to say the dude’s name. Marc does the same thing with Ensemble Modern. He openly admits that he thinks he’s saying it wrong but it would probably take all of two seconds to find out. And this is different then something like, you can say Debussy’s name but maybe not in the perfect French pronunciation. This is just basic research.

This is the same problem I had with what I wrote about Joe Gross’s book on Fugazi a few weeks ago. March will just say he doesn’t like things or make these pretty big judgements about them but not back it up with anything. It’s one thing not to like it, but when you say you don’t like an album like Weasels Ripped My Flesh, you have to understand that there a TON of people who worship that record and there should be some more context and analysis given to WHY you don’t like it.

At the end of the sixth episode of the podcast Marc mentions that maybe someday he’ll come back and do the same thing with all of the posthumous releases, which I think would be well worth it. Of course a lot of it is archival and was likely never intended by Zappa to be released commercially but it’s still really interesting to hear. And there’s some real gems in the later albums. I recommend Dance Me To This to anyone I talk to about Zappa. It’s an album that was actually finished while he was alive, I just don’t think he had mixed or sequenced it, but all of the recordings were finished and intended to be on a record at some point.

Anyway, this isn’t the first time I’ve said it and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but I’d really like to see people taking on the role of rock journalism or criticism take more of analytical and journalistic approach to it. That doesn’t mean that the writing has to be overly academic or jargon-y, but it needs to say something more than, “I didn’t like this.”


It’s been a busy week for me but the most exciting thing I want to share is that yesterday my band Cheap City released our first record. It’s called Clocktower Broke. I’m really proud of it and I’m super happy to be in an active band again. Six months ago I sort of thought that my time in ‘rock’ music was done but Cheap City just kind of happened out of the blue and it’s suddenly a project I’m devoting a lot of time to. Anyway, you can stream the new record, buy CD’s, cassettes, and shirts here:

It’s also on Spotify and many other streaming services!

I’m also really excited to announce that I’m now a contributing writer to I Care If You Listen. My first review (Yuko Fujiyama’s new album Night Wave) is here

Okay. Down to business.


That’s right. I’ll say it. Millennials are killing the pizza industry. It’s been on my mind for some time now but I can’t keep quiet about it anymore. Millennials are killing the pizza industry.

Once more for those of you in the back.


Here’s how:

But first an anecdote:

When I was in undergrad and moving into my first roommate-less apartment - a one bedroom in downtown Amherst which was somehow going for like $650 or something - my parents were helping me move in and my dad commented about how I should have my friends help me move in and I could treat them all to pizza afterwards. “That’s a good point,” I thought. But where were my friends? Well all of my Western Mass friends at the time were either out of town, on tour, or unable to help, so I figured I must just be a loser with no real friends or in the position of not having any available friends.

But as more and more of my friends started to move out of dorms and into apartments I noticed I would never get asked to help them. I’m a capable mover! I play in bands and routinely carry amps and cabs up and down staircases and whatnot. I even worked for a week as a piano mover! My friends should be asking me to help them move damnit! Finally one day I just asked someone if they needed help. “Oh no thanks. I don’t really have that much stuff,” they said.

And that’s when it hit me like a sizzling pie in the face. My friends don’t want my help because they don’t need any help. They have a bed and a computer and that’s it. They don’t have books or movies or whatever because everything is digitized. If you have a laptop what else do you need?

Now, some will tell you that a world where everything is digitized is an environmentally friendly world. Computers help us declutter and the cloud is a tool that we can use to stop producing physical items with an ever increasing toll on the environment.

I’m here to tell you that the pro-digitization contingent, however well wishing they may be, have a sinister agenda in mind. Much like corporations such as Whole Foods who promote organic and healthy eating while exploiting prison labor, the push to collect everything in a digital format is a move against the pizza industry. Pizza shops are the exploited minority in a world controlled by binary code. What do we buy for our friends when they help us move? Pizza. If they’re not helping us move because we don’t have anything, then we’re not buying pizza. What do you buy if you have a party? Pizza. But why have a party when you can have a cool Google hangout? You can transfer a file but you can’t transfer a pizza.

So I say all hail the book buyers and record collectors. Without you every small pizza shop in this great nation would be at risk.

AND P.S. Next time your pop-punk band writes a pizza anthem and DOESN’T press it on vinyl, YOU’RE PART OF THE PROBLEM, NOT THE SOLUTION.



I recently sent an email to the Boston Voyager asking them not to run the article they were planning on publishing about me. It wasn’t because I had accidentally said something in the interview that I didn’t want anybody to see, it’s because it wasn’t a real interview.

These Voyager interviews pop up all the time. A lot of my friends and acquaintances have been doing them and I had been starting to wonder if I would ever get to do one. It’s not that the Voyager is a particularly prestigious publication, I mostly just wanted to feel included. Then my partner got asked to do an interview and not long afterwards I got the email asking if I would be interested in having an article written about me. “Yes,” I said. “Absolutely.”

The person who had contacted me then sent me a link to a questionnaire, explaining that they’d like me to fill it out and then they’d be in touch with some follow up questions. At the time this made a lot of sense to me. I assumed that they knew very little about me and this would allow them to get some more basic facts down before having a real interview. The questionnaire was nothing more than some generic questions about my “business.” I was confused because I don’t own a business. I’m self employed as a piano teacher and composer but I’m not running a business in the traditional sense. So when questions about my pricing or potential sales for readers came up I wasn’t sure what to say so I just ignored it. There were some pretty bland questions about “my story” but the end of the questionnaire really took me aback. They asked me to list 5 people I thought they should do stories on and that’s when I realized that I wasn’t doing this because the writer was interested in my work, it was because someone else (my partner) wrote my email address down.

“I guess it’s still not a big deal,” I thought, “Any publicity is good publicity.” And so I finished filling out the survey and sent it off. Then my partner’s story came out. I had been under the impression that the writer was going to send me follow up questions based on my answers to the questionnaire. I think this was a fair assumption because that’s literally what they told me. Then I saw my partner’s article and saw that they had just copied and pasted their answers and made up some questions to make it seem like they had had a real discussion. What’s even worse is that there were parts where they obviously didn’t even read their answers and just typed a question. Maybe I’m naive or maybe I hadn’t been paying enough attention to the other articles I had seen about my friends and colleagues but as I went back through different articles I realized that every question asked was a variation on the same thing. Or sometimes it was just a cut and paste and more often than not the question had nothing to do with the answer.

So I emailed the writer who had contacted me and I said, “Hi. I was under the impression that you would be sending me some follow up questions for the story. Based on other articles I’ve seen I believe that that’s not the case. If you would like to have a real interview please feel free to give me a call so we can chat. Otherwise I’d prefer for my article not to be printed.” The writer wrote back, “Okay.”

I don’t want any of my friends or colleagues who might read this to think I’m trying to badmouth them for going forward with their articles. That’s not my intention at all. I just feel that an interview should be a real discussion. I’m certainly not in a position to be choosy about where I’m getting press, but I’ve also been around the block enough times on this issue to know whether or not I’m at a loss for not getting press from a certain outlet. And it actually wouldn’t have been so much of an issue if it was just that I filled out a silly form and they printed an article. But what’s actually happening when they ask you to give them email addresses of others they should talk to (the questionnaire actually won’t submit without FIVE of these responses) they’re just getting you to do their work for them. The Boston Voyager SHOULD be a publication that’s supporting its community, and that means actually going places and meeting people and learning about what’s moving the city forward. The way it stands right now is that it might as well be run by bots. Actually for all I know and for all the interaction I actually had with the site, I might have been having an email conversation with a bot.


I believe in the past I’ve made my distaste for music journalism, broadly speaking pretty clear. It’s not that I think it shouldn’t exist, it’s mostly that I read very little writing on popular music that I find engaging or worth my time. I really like to read reviews of movies. Not because I need someone else to tell me what I should watch or not (although that can be nice sometimes) but because I think a good review can add to a discussion about a movie, or make me think about a film in terms that I hadn’t considered. Writers on film have generally done a pretty good job at figuring out how to have a discussion about film in a way that is engaging for cinephiles and accessible for a general audience. Music writers typically have not figured this out just yet. The problem with writing on classical music is that it’s often way too academic for anyone outside of the community to be able to engage with it. Meanwhile, writing on pop and rock music is often so watered down that it doesn’t actually say anything.

One of the reviews I turn to often for this discussion is the Pitchfork review of Rehearsing My Choir by the Fiery Furnaces. The writers biggest complaint is that there aren’t any moments on the record that are poppy enough. I believe she says something about not being able to curl up on the couch and cry to this record (although I’ve totally done just that). The thing is that she’s not wrong but at the same time anybody who knows even vaguely what The Fiery Furnaces do would know that they’re not coming to those records for emotional hand holding after a long day. The writer of that review is holding the band to a standard that doesn’t apply to them. It’s like listening to Black Angels and complaining that there’s not enough hooks.

What I want out of music journalism is writers who know how to describe music and contextualize it for their readers. I think it was a review on the Needle Drop of one of the newest Godspeed records where he keeps saying, “Oh it just sounds very mysterious.” What does that mean?

I recently read the 33 ⅓ book about the Fugazi album In On The Kill Taker. Fugazi is and always will be one of my favorite bands of all time and although Kill Taker is not my favorite record of theirs I understand why it was chosen for 33 ⅓. If you haven’t read a 33 ⅓ book, they’re these pocket sized books about different albums. There’s almost 140 in the series. They usually break down a record song by song and give some biographical information and make an attempt to talk about why the album is important culturally. Some of the books are better than others at this.

The book on In On The Kill Taker was okay. I’m glad I read it but only because I’m a huge Fugazi nerd. I’m not convinced that someone who doesn’t already know a lot about the band would get much out of it. What I mean is that the book gives general information in a way that anybody who has listened to the album once will already know. And when it gives specific information, it’s only information that is relevant to a small subset of Fugazi fans. There’s no middle ground. And of course this is the hardest part about writing about music of any genre. You don’t want to be so specific and analytical that the general reader can’t take part, but you don’t want to be so general that it becomes uninteresting.

What was particularly frustrating about this book is the way it talked about the music. Again, you can’t say something about syncopated lines and modal figures because only a few readers will know what the fuck you’re talking about. But describing a song like this, “It goes bee boo ba dum dum dum,” is almost worse. Let’s say you’ve decided to read the book without having listened to the album for some reason. Do you have any idea what the song sounds like? Can you come even close? The answer is almost definitely no. What’s even worse is that the author will then sometimes intersperse chord names into the description. Telling me that a song starts with an Eb chord doesn’t do anything to strengthen my engagement or understanding of the music.

Further than that, he totally fails to make any definite conclusions about the music, and when he does he doesn’t back them up with anything. The chapter on “Smallpox Champion” starts with an indictment of upper middle class white rock stars singing about the way that minorities and marginalized communities have been abused in America. So is he trying to say the same thing about Fugazi? Is he criticizing them? Is he trying to say that they’re better than the rest? Who knows? Later in the book he discusses, “Walken’s Syndrome,” one of my favorite tracks on the album. The author hates it! Which is fine. My problem with the book isn’t that he doesn’t like this song. My problem is that he doesn’t explain why he feels it’s not a good song. He’s not adding any perspective to the music. There’s no analysis which makes him less of a journalist in this moment and more of a tape machine, just repeating facts. He explains that Guy Picciotto wishes he chose a different title for the song and then he goes on to say that the song is the most boring part of the record. Okay?

The author (I don’t know why I keep referring to him as the author - his name is Joe Gross) then goes on to claim that the last two tracks are both great closers and should be in the same chapter. Again, I wish he would explain why he thinks that. In my opinion, “Instrument” would be a real bad way to end a record. And to reiterate, my issue isn’t that we have a difference of opinion. It’s that Gross isn’t doing the work of a writer. The chapter on “Instrument” and “Last Chance for a Slow Dance” just feels like he was rushing to meet his deadline. (interestingly enough, I have the same issue with the Fugazi chapter in Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life  - he devoted so much time to Minor Threat and Black Flag only to gloss over Fugazi).

There’s also a constant tension in the book between both his intentions and the band’s intentions. A lot of the story of the record is told through interviews with Fugazi, Jem Cohen, and Ted Nicely. But what happens is that Gross claims multiple times that Fugazi chose to keep their lyrics vague and open to interpretation. But then they turn around and explain every song in detail to Joe Gross. So did they actually want to keep things vague? Did they want this book to be the only place that the songs were analyzed? Maybe they never wanted to leave things open to interpretation? I genuinely don’t know what the answer is and my big problem with the book is that Gross doesn’t seem to notice the inconsistency.

To be honest, the interviews are the best part of the book. And to be fair Gross does point out that Ian Mackaye is really good at giving interviews, but the problem is that Gross isn’t particularly adding anything to the discussion. Perhaps the most interesting moment is when they discuss “Great Cop” and Ian Mackaye presents this lineage of the song, almost ten years in the making via different bands until it finally got committed to tape by Fugazi. What the book needs more of is that. An actual history of the writing process. The book falls apart (especially at the very end) when it relies on assuming that the reader has a cultural framework for discussing grunge in the early 90’s. Gross refers to this constantly but never attempts to analyze how Fugazi fits into the punk explosion of the era. Are they peers or are they separate? I think there’s arguments to be made for both sides but Gross avoids the question entirely - and for the record it would be great to read something about 90’s rock music that doesn’t solely rely on reminding the reader that “nobody expected Nirvana to be huge but they changed everything!” But he also simultaneously makes a point of showing the reader that lots of other musical styles were popular at the same time. (There’s this really weird moment where he refers to the Silver Jews as Pavement for people who want more Pavement out of their Pavement…). He supposedly does this to prove that it was a huge feat that Fugazi independently distributed a charting album in 1993 but of course he’s unable to settle on one point. The afterword is the worst part of the book, where Gross waxes poetic about what Fugazi achieved and how maybe no one could do it again? Again no one is really clear on what point he’s trying to make. Is he optimistic? Is he defeated? Is it both?

The book is most successful when Joe gets out of the way and lets the band speak for themselves. Maybe it just should have been an oral history? It really should either be entirely interview based or he needs to have the confidence to make some actual points about the music and create a real analysis. And the analysis doesn’t need to be heady or overblown, but it does need to create a picture of why the album mattered MORE than having sold a lot of copies. There have been a lot of albums that have sold a lot of copies in the past that nobody really talks about anymore. But 25 years later In On The Killer Taker is generally regarded as an important milestone in punk music. Joe Gross’ book should have told us why.



  1. Cheap City played at 4th River Fest in Pittsburgh last Saturday and then at WUML Lowell on Monday. It was a lot of fun!

  2. I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be writing a piece for the 45 Miniatures project: https://www.45miniatures.com/composers


I tried really hard to write an introduction to this. I wanted to justify everything that follows with an assurance that I’m an okay person but ultimately I felt like that might be contradictory to the point, so I’d rather just jump in.

I said two things last weekend that I’m not proud of.

The first was at Cody’s, Cheap City’s drummer’s, house. I was telling a story to the group and the word just came out of me. “Retard.” Everyone sort of stopped and instantly changed the subject and I kind of looked at the floor in shame. Internally I tried to make some excuses to myself. It’s 2 AM and you just drove 4 hours to get here after working about 80 hours this week. I said things like that to myself for the next half hour, assuring myself that I’m not a bad person because I didn’t mean to say it. It just came out. Finally I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what good intentions I might have. It doesn’t matter that I was exhausted and mentally checked out of everything. (Later that evening I was trying to talk about the Fresh Air interview with Boots Riley and kept referring to Terry Gross as Terry Riley). None of that matters. What does matter is that there’s still something inside of me that hasn’t unlearned using that word.

It is true that when I was growing up, at least to my knowledge, that word wasn’t necessarily considered a slur. “Mentally retarded” or whatever variation might come up was just how you referred to it. I don’t think I heard anybody use terms like “learning disability” or “mental disability” until I was in college. And that’s just kind of how terms and phrases work. Things change and it’s our responsibility to use the language appropriate to the time.

So maybe it’s just a learned habit thing. I grew up hearing the word used casually and in a moment of carelessness I reverted to an old mode of thought. My ultimate conclusion for myself is that accidentally using the word isn’t the end of the world. It’s not worth beating myself up over but it’s also an important reminder to myself that I need to be better. Language is powerful and the way we use it indicates our respect for others and I want to conduct myself and my language in a way that expresses my respect for others.

A few days later I went with my partner and some friends to see the Bo Burnham movie Eighth Grade. As a quick aside, I really honestly expected this movie to suck but it was great and definitely worth watching. It’s kind of marketed as, “Watch all the things that made you uncomfortable when you were 14,” but what was really interesting about it is that everyone that I’ve talked to about the movie keeps saying (myself included), “Those are just the things that still make me really uncomfortable or embarrassed.” Which I think says a lot either about how little we actually grow up or maybe about how mature teenagers actually are. ANYWAY (if you don’t want spoilers for the movie stop reading now) there’s a scene in the movie where the main character Kayla goes to hang out at the mall with some high school kids. One of them offers her a ride home and at one point he pulls over and sits in the back with her. He asks her to play truth or dare and proceeds to ask her a lot of inappropriate sexual questions and then he takes his shirt off and tries to get her to take hers off too. When she refuses he gets really angry and gets back in the driver's seat and starts yelling at her about how he was trying to do her a favor. All of this makes Kayla feel endlessly guilty and then we see her sobbing on the floor in her bedroom.

After the movie my partner and I were walking back to our car and they said to me that they felt like the truth or dare scene was too long. I disagreed because I felt that the length of the scene matched the tension of the situation. I then said, “What actually bothered me about that scene is that I have a hard time conceptualizing how an 18 year old is so interested in hooking up with this eighth grader,” densely missing the entire point of the story. I was going through a moment of being entirely without empathy. The scene is important because it forces you to watch an experience that might be unfamiliar to you, but might be a common occurrence for a lot of other people. And from my perspective I was unable to wrap my mind around what was happening and could only see it from one angle. Again, I could blame it on being tired and unfocused. But what actually happened is that I stopped thinking about what was being shown to me and reacted instead.

I’m trying to learn to be better, which is a process that we never get to be done with. I think that it’s everyone’s job to always try and be a little better. Which doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes. I said some things last weekend that I’m not proud of. I think that the things we say we’re not focused on our language can either indicate our habits or the way we might really feel about things. I don’t think we should use the word “retard,” and I don’t think that that scene in Eighth Grade was unrealistic and it was wrong for me to argue that. The fact that those thoughts came out says that I still have learning and growing to do. I don’t want to hide that.



Thanks for reading this. Before I get to the meat of the title I have a few things to say:

  1. Cheap City played our first show last Friday in Portland and it was really great and fun. Wizard Party even said that I could be their fifth wizard! Wow! We are playing again at Fourth River Fest in Pittsburgh, PA this upcoming Saturday and then on Monday we are at WUML in Lowell MA.

  2. This week I’m teaching at a young composers summer camp. The theme of the week is Electronic Music and we have a syllabus for these kids (up to age 13 I think?) that includes music by Aphex Twin, Kate Soper, and Stockhausen.

Anyway, last week I posted a brief blog called “WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT PUNK TIME.” If you didn’t read it and have no idea what I’m talking about let me just summarize. Punk time is a term used in the DIY community to describe things that don’t run on time. I told an anecdote about a show that went absurdly late and then talked about why I think punk time can probably just not be a thing.

The point of writing these blog posts has been more for me to just work on my writing and learning how to convey information. I’m not necessarily concerned with how many people are reading it, although I am posting about it on social media. I’ve been pretty good about NOT checking the analytics on the website because I don’t want to create a situation for myself where I’m getting stressed out about how many people are reading it. BUT the article got quite a few shares (relative to my usual traction) and I saw a good number of people post about it too. So I checked the analytics and saw that WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT PUNK TIME had well over 1,000 views. That’s a lot for me! Things got more interesting when people started sending me screenshots of their facebook friends arguing about it. Most of the arguments boil down to someone saying, “Fuck this guy, it’s punk rock,” and then someone else saying, “This actually kind of resonates with me.”

BUT I want to talk about one response in particular that I’ve been thinking a lot about. My friend sent me a screenshot of someone basically saying, “Yeah fuck this dude,” so I looked him up and read all the comments and spent the weekend really trying to think about them.

The first thing I want to address is a comment that doesn’t seem to be up anymore, but someone said something like, “Greg’s not wrong but this doesn’t bother me too much. I think the condescending tone of the article is much worse though.” That really bummed me out because I really don’t want to come off as condescending (although the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve come to feel that any piece of writing that disagrees with the reader is probably at least a little condescending on some level). I don’t want to make anyone feel like I’m talking down to them. I genuinely want to use these blog posts as a chance to learn and if nothing else, I want to refine my writing as much as I can to not come off as condescending.

So the initial post in question says something to the effect of, “You’re complaining that you were there for an hour longer than you were supposed to be.” This person is referring to the DIY event that inspired the post. Let’s be very clear here. I was not there for an hour longer than I was supposed to. I was there for THREE hours longer and was ultimately not able to see the whole event. Again, there were three hours of content with two 15 minute breaks scheduled. So that means, that for an event that said it would start at 2 PM, even if it started thirty minutes late, THE WHOLE THING should have been done at 5:30. At 6:30 I had only seen the second act. So that comment leads me to believe that the person in question perhaps did not read the entire article but I could be totally wrong and they might have just misread a specific portion.

Anyway, I want to dig into some of the comments:

“Yo to be fair music at 8 ALWAYS means music at 9.”

This is true but is also the point of the original post. What I was trying to say is that, what if music at 8 actually meant music at 8?

“Lmfao punk rock isn’t orderly enough”

100% not what I said. People seem to think that professionalism and DIY are mutually exclusive concepts. You can run a DIY venue or a house show and still treat it like it’s a club show. That doesn’t mean that you need to turn a profit or have a green room or whatever (although I once played a house show where the person running it made this partition and like, guarded it so only we could go in and that was kinda cool albeit very unnecessary).

The first time I read the comments on this post I saw someone write something to the effect of, “I have a bunch of mutuals with this guy and don’t want to say anything,” which I thought was really interesting and kind of opposite of the typical response to anything on social media. But the comment isn’t there anymore which leads me to wonder if it was EVER there.

The major through line in a lot of the comments is that DIY shows are just for fun and shouldn’t be taken that seriously. I agree that there’s a difference in spirit when you go to a house show versus going to the House of Blues or whatever. But those comments also miss a major point of DIY. Let’s remember that the DIY circuit was started by a group of bands with literally no other alternative. DIY venues and house shows exist as viable alternative to mainstream venues. And while yes, they often function as social events, they aren’t exclusively social events, and lots of touring bands don’t approach DIY shows as social events. That’s certainly an aspect of them and of course I’m not talking about every band in the world here, but it’s important to remember that bands touring to DIY venues are often using the DIY community as a potential springboard to greater commercial success. So they often times actually are expecting things to run relatively smoothly.

The comments about these shows being social events actually confuses me, because I don’t think it’s impossible to have things run on time AND get to hang out and party or whatever. Ask yourself this. If you go to a club show with your friends, does the fact that it runs on time inhibit your ability to socialize?

“I feel like I have to take this article’s lunch money and stuff it in a locker.”

There’s a certain section of the punk community that has this rhetoric of, “Punk is this free space where we can say whatever we want until someone says something that threatens my concept of punk rock so I have to make a joke about violence because I can’t think of a productive argument or response.”

I think that just part of being human is that we tend to see things as all or nothing. I feel like a lot of the negative response to my article has been based around people thinking that I want to take the fun out of shows, as if the mere suggestion that as a community we can run things more efficiently means that we all need to show up to concerts in suits and ties. Someone wrote that these are punk shows, not the TD garden, but all I want to suggest is this: WHAT IF we tried to treat a DIY show even halfway like it was a show at the TD garden. I fundamentally feel that DIY and punk rock are built on growing as a community. Punks love to talk about how progressive they are but are we really that progressive and inclusive if we make jokes about violence when we hear an idea that differs from our own?

If you’ve made it this far let me just try to wrap things up with some final thoughts. All I’m trying to suggest in my previous post and this one is that we, as a community, try something new. I’m not saying that if a show says that it starts at 8 that I’m going to throw a fucking temper tantrum if it starts at 8:15. I’m saying, what if we didn’t have to wait another an hour? A lot of the comments I saw were from people who seemed to feel that I was trying to create restrictions, but from my perspective I find that the insistence on these shows being strictly social events to be an overbearing restriction in and of itself. What if there was a happy medium?


I recently went to a DIY event that was advertised to start at 2. (I’m not going to give any specifics about this event because I don’t want this to come off as a hit piece). It wasn’t unreasonable to assume it would start a little late but I showed up right at 2 anyway. There would be three performances, all about an hour long with a ten to fifteen minute intermission in between each one. The organizers were not new to this kind of thing. In fact, they run multiple events per month and to my knowledge have been doing so for over ten years. Again, it was advertised to start at 2 but didn’t get started until after 3. The first performance was well over an hour and the intermission which should have been 15 minutes tops turned into half an hour. The second performance took an hour and a half. Do some math real quick with me. If the event is supposed to start at 2, has three hours of performances with two 15 minute intermissions then the whole thing should be done around 5:30. Even being generous, the whole thing should be done around 6, right? The SECOND performance was done at 6:30. At that point, I left. I had made other plans and had assumed that I would be able to see all three performances AND get to my other plans for the evening.

So we need to talk about punk time. If this is a new phrase for you, it’s a term used in the DIY community to refer to how things never start on time. Standard practice seems to be that music will probably start 45 minutes to an hour after the advertised start time, but I’ve been to countless shows where starting 45 minutes late would be a miracle. Depending on what kind of shows you go to you might see some Facebook event pages that proudly exclaim, “NO PUNK TIME.” This simply means, “We’re going to start on time!” but that’s not always a real guarantee.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older (i.e. not in college anymore) and I have lots of shit to get done every day but I just don’t have time or patience for this anymore. The problem is that an event that should take 2 or 3 hours at the max ends becoming an all night affair. It’s exhausting and I honestly suspect that it has a lot to do with why some DIY communities are really successful and others aren’t. If you want to be able to see a whole show you need to block out an unrealistic amount of time.

You might be reading this and thinking to yourself, “We start the show when people get there and if we have to wait that’s just the way it is.” I’m gonna call bullshit. People who regularly go to shows learn very quickly the idiosyncrasies of how a particular space is run. The best DIY community in the world is in Hattiesburg, MS and one of the reasons that the shows there are consistently great and touring bands continue to book shows there is that shows start on time and people show up. If you start a DIY space and from DAY ONE start your shows at the time you advertised (come on, even 15 minutes late is totally cool) then people will learn to show up on time.

The issue of punk time relates to a greater issue of respect. If you’ve been given a platform to showcase your work, and even one person has shown up to see what you have to offer, then you owe them the respect of doing your job. That means showing up on time, putting on the best performance you can, and then taking part in the rest of the show. The toughest part about going to see DIY shows is when a band isn’t “bringing it.” And let’s be crystal clear here. I’m not saying that every band needs to be full of wild virtuosos. I’m not even saying that every band needs to be particularly good at their instruments. But I do think that every band, every performer, every artist needs to seriously and deeply care about what they’re doing. It’s not fun for anyone to be forced to watch some dudes fuck around on stage for 35 minutes. If you’re going to show up and do a Dead Kennedys cover set or whatever, that’s fine, but you better have done your homework. Know the words. Know the parts. Be ready to sing your guts out. Otherwise don’t waste my time. Respect your audience enough to give them something interesting.

I’m not particularly concerned or interested in conversations about the state of punk music or rock music or I guess any sort of music in general. But the state of art as a whole when it lacks respect for its audience is deeply concerning to me. Why is that most people kind of drift out of DIY scenes as they get into their late 20’s and 30’s? It’s not because they get boring or have different priorities (well to be fair that’s sometimes true) but it’s mostly because people eventually don’t have the time or patience to give six plus hours of their time to see a total of like 90 minutes of music. So fucking cut it out with this punk time shit. If you’re running a space or a show you 100% have the power to make punk time NOT happen. If someone shows up and has missed the first band then they’ll either learn that they should show up on time at the next show or they’ll just always be late.



Last night I performed at the Riverwalk Cafe in Nashua with MCtheprofessor.gov. I conducted and it was a lot of fun (except for the part that wasn’t fun which I’ll be talking about in a couple paragraphs).This Saturday I’m giving a solo performance at Coffee and Cotton in Lowell, MA. I will be performing a short children’s story about drum machines. Meanwhile I’m working on some commissions that I want to not say anything specific about until they’re ready but I’m very excited about all the projects sitting in my pipeline. I’ve also been recording vocals for the upcoming Cheap City record which I expect will come out in mid to late August. Speaking of Cheap City we have a few shows coming up:


August 3rd - Sun Tiki Studios. Portland, ME

August 11th - 4th River Fest. Pittsburgh, PA

August 13th - WUML. Lowell, MA

October 26th - Geist House. Montreal, QC


I also posted here a few weeks ago that I had made a score for my partner’s film Performing the Feed. I’m excited to say that on July 29th it will be showing at the Rock Water Film Festival at Sue’s in Rollinsford, NH. The piece will also be a part of the upcoming group show at the Kelly Stelling Gallery in Manchester, NH opening on August 9th.


Down to business.


I am super lucky to know James Ikeda. I first met James when we were both playing in Greg McKillop’s band (Greg McKillop is another person deserving of entire essays). The first rehearsal we had together was kind of a disaster and I remember feeling like the show we were getting ready for maybe just shouldn’t happen, but I was really struck by James’ optimism. James has this remarkable quality that I have always longed for but never quite figured out how to achieve, where he can be very clear and sometimes blunt about what’s working and what’s not working, but he does it in such a way that everyone is still really happy. If you’ve played in a band before, you know that there is often that one player who throws a little tantrum when somebody says, “Hey maybe try it like this?” That’s the kind of thing that never happens to James, or if it does I’ve never seen it.


Anyway, James is a high school history teacher and has a project called The Michael Character who I really love. James also books shows in Boston and even hosts cool events like study parties for local elections. James EVEN helped me with nailing down of the historical accuracy of my opera War Is a Racket. I’m honored to know him and I’m even more honored to be included in his relatively new project MCtheprofessor.gov


Last April - at the premiere of the opera actually - James asked me if I was free in a couple nights to play organ at a show with him. I said I was without really knowing anything about the project. All he said to me was, “I’ll send some instructions.” The instructions never actually came and when I arrived at the venue a few days later (the amazing Pink Noise Studios in Somerville) James said, “Oh I’m going to just talk for a bit. There’ll be some projections. Just make some music on the organ.”


Here are the two lectures from that night:






If you’re not going to watch the videos what the band does is this: We all kind of improvise and drone while James gives a lecture with an associated powerpoint. So far the lectures have focused (broadly speaking) on reshaping narratives associated with American history. After the third lecture (which is not online yet) we made the decision to have me switch to mostly conducting the group. So I worked with the musicians to develop a common understanding of hand symbols and directions we can use to guide the improvisation process.


Which brings me to Wednesday night’s performance at the Riverwalk Cafe in Nashua, NH. The lecture that night was called A Brief History of Japanese Americans. In the first part (I’m going to very broadly explain what happened in the talk but if you want to know more you should really watch the video which I’m sure will be available soon) James gives a broad overview of Meji era Japan and explains what caused so many Japanese to leave for America. In the second part he goes over the treatment and reaction to the influx of Japanese immigrants in America, as well different reactions to WWII internment within the Japanese-American community. And finally in the third part he goes over how the country and Japanese-Americans have dealt (or not dealt) with that history in the past 70 years. The best (and most relevant for me) part was towards the end when he reminds the audience that since 2001 internment camps for Muslims and Arab-Americans haven’t necessarily been off the table.


After the lecture I had to laugh when James said, “It’s funny because this was the least innocuous of all four lectures we’ve done so far.” Which is totally true by the way. The other three have required some complex analysis on both the part of the speaker and the audience. They require the listener to be present and ready to be challenged. The lecture on Japanese-Americans was much more straightforward, which is why we were all sort of surprised when James got some relatively upset reactions from the audience.


The fuss started about 20 minutes into the lecture. A gentleman sitting near the front was talking to his friend quite loudly. It’s not that he’s not allowed to talk, but regardless of the kind of performance happening, it’s not a lot to ask that he keeps his voice down. Also he had to pay a cover to get in so it’s not like he didn’t have at least some idea of what he was in for. So Adrian, who has been filming all these things, goes over and asks him to be quieter. “I can’t fucking talk?!” he says. Adrian asks again and soon Jed Crook (who was running sound) runs over and tries to calm the guy down. This guy would later say loudly as he got up to leave, “Guess I better go masturbate now,” in an apparent reference to what he perceived to be the masturbatory nature of our performance. I think. While this is happening and James is trying to continue with the lecture (we’re at the part where he’s talking about internment) and I’m trying to keep the band together we hear a voice from the back. A possibly inebriated voice, but an interrupting voice nonetheless.


Here’s what the voice said:


“It’s all too negative man! I appreciate what you’re trying to do here but you don’t get it. It was war. A lot of bad stuff has to happen. It was war. You’re not even making a point.” He continued on (somewhat without a point) for quite some time as James tried to calm him down and explain that if he would wait until the end of the lecture he might actually hear a conclusion! The fella didn’t want to hear it and after arguing with James for what felt like an eternity (but was probably 5 minutes) he wandered out of the cafe.


So we continue on with the performance and we’re in the third part and I think we’re going to get to the end just okay, when James starts to talk about the early 2000’s call for interning Muslims in America. In the middle of a sentence we hear another voice shout, “Well who’s in prison?” James says, “Excuse me?” The voice says, “Who’s actually calling for this?” James says, “Well I’m about to explain that.” The guy then says something else I either couldn’t hear or I can’t remember and James says, “You know I would be happy to talk about this with you after we finish up here.”


So we finish the performance and all go home and as far as I know James is actually having an email discussion with voice #2 as I type and you read.


There are two things I want to talk about in reference to the performance.


  1. Without a doubt the best show we’ve had. I think the band’s playing was at its best (and I had a lot of fun conducting) but the confrontations were important. I think the point of the lectures is to challenge people and their expectations. Now, I highly doubt that either of the two naysayers had their minds changed about it, and I don’t think it really matters that they were challenged. What I do think matters is that a bunch of people saw exactly what happens when someone is speaking truth to power and gets challenged, and then stands up for themselves. And that’s an intoxicating feeling, and I think it’s more important and more valuable than giving a lecture to a bunch of yes-men.

  2. History dads. If you didn’t grow up with a history dad you’ve almost definitely had the experience of going to a friends house and noting that their dad has like, a small, but sort of big enough to have a discussion about, collection of history books. But it’s usually not real history. It’s stuff like 1776. I haven’t read it but I’m sure it’s a great book, but it’s not the kind of book that you read because you want to learn a lot about history. It’s the kind of book you read when history is too dry for you but you kind of still like knowing stuff. This kind of dad was probably also a boy scout leader. You know the type. I’m bringing them up not because I want to stereotype dads or whatever. I’m bringing them up because they’re the most vocal indicators of a really insidious trend in America. And that’s the inability to question any dominant narrative that you’ve been taught. And the three interrupters at the MC show the other night are great examples of this. The guy making the masturbation comment is the guy who thinks he knows everything about everything and gets upset whenever he’s put in a situation that requires self analysis or critical thinking. He probably makes six figures because he “pulled himself up by his bootstraps and worked hard and didn’t complain.” The guy who complained about things being negative is the one who says, “Hey whatever happened in history might be bad but it’s stuff that just had to happen! We had to intern the Japanese. We had to take the land from the Native Americans (he’ll actually probably call them Indians). We had to bomb Hiroshima just like we had to invade Vietnam and we had to invade Iraq.” In twenty years he’ll be saying the same things about war with North Korea and Russia. And the final guy is the one who’s actually probably pretty well informed but only via a dominant strain of information. This means that he probably reads the headlines on The New York Times and watches CNN every now and then. His problem is that he’s unable to consider a perspective other than his own.


If we learn nothing else from MCtheprofessor.gov, it’s that it’s our responsibility to not become a history dad.

rock 'n' roll don't come for your brain

The full quote is “Rock ‘n’ roll don’t come from your brain. It comes from your crotch!” It’s not really screamed but more whined by James Franco’s character in Freaks and Geeks towards Jason Segel’s character. The debate is this. James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and that other dude are all in a band together. But it’s the version of a high school band where you all get together once every two months and stumble your way through some classic rock song, and then spend the rest of the afternoon doing some dumb rock and roll tricks like kicking cymbal stands over or miming a smashed guitar.

I’m bringing this up because I got into a weird pseudo internet confrontation about a year ago that I’m still a little confused about. Here’s what happened: There’s this guy that I’ve known at least peripherally for like 7 or 8 years. He plays in some bands and we’ve done some shows together. So last fall he posted on Facebook a screenshot of James Franco yelling about rock and roll and genitals and wrote something to the effect of (I’m paraphrasing because he ultimately deleted the post) “Is there anything cheesier than a band running a scholarship for college kids?” It was something like that. What he was referring to is that Dérive had been doing just that. We were running a bunch of benefit concerts and a whole bunch of the money was going towards a scholarship we were getting off the ground. We took submissions from anyone trying to study anything and all they had to was write a little bit about how DIY had an impact on their life. We did two rounds of it and with the band now being more or less defunct I suspect it won’t happen again. At least it won’t happen under Dérive’s name.

But I always thought it was a pretty cool idea. I still think it was a pretty cool idea and even though we never raised a whole ton of money there were a few kids who didn’t have to worry about textbooks for a semester or two and I’m proud that I was able to help them with that. The thing is that I feel pretty strongly that a band can be more than a group of friends playing some music together. I think that’s a great thing in itself but I also think that music can be a direct force for change. And this isn’t some “oh yeah Woodstock and a great song can change the world” shit. I’m talking about direct action. A benefit concert is a really great example of this. Or what about Anti-Flag using their major label status to establish non-profits to fight the laws that allow the military to poach students information from public schools? The things about punk music that i still find the most inspiring now 17 years after I got my first album are the things that showed that punk could be more than music. When it transcends a concert or a record and actually makes something happen.

The person who posted this I don’t think actually had a problem with the scholarship. I think he actually had a problem with me. I don’t know what his problem was because he never responded to my messages afterwards because it’s much easier to say something shitty on Facebook than it is to have a real discussion. His problems with me (I assume) stem from my insistence that when bands play shows they come on time, watch all the bands, and participate in the event. I think it’s sad that it’s a point I’ve had to remind people of but I feel strongly about it. A concert of any kind, whether it’s a basement show or at The House of Blues, is a community event. And community events only work when everyone there is an active participant. My favorite shows have been when all the bands work together to make something awesome happen, rather than two or three bands relying on one person to do a lot of work. The most common courtesy you can show to someone running a concert is to just show up on time. Be ready to load in, set up, and stick around for the show. Leave your egos at the door. The particular person who posted this thing about me was at one time upset because I chewed his band out for being all sorts of late to a show I was running. What was truly frustrating about it was that they had no reason for being late other than just being late. I remember thinking to myself, “Why should I be doing this band any favors if they can’t give me the courtesy of vague punctuality?”

The problem that Mr. Facebook Shit Poster has displayed isn’t that he’s been made uncomfortable by me, it’s that people in general need to see things as black and white, and have a hard time viewing anyone as a complex person.

So that guy essentially viewed me as a hardass who doesn’t want to have fun. He’s probably referred to me as P.C. because I feel that it’s inappropriate for a band to be too drunk to perform to the best of their abilities. His opinion is that a show should just be fun and if that’s how people want to unwind then that’s how they should do it. Of course I would argue that you can just get trashed at home and not force people to watch you do it on stage but that’s another argument. The point is that he has a hard time believing that I can view punk rock as both something that is serious and community minded, as well as something that can be fun and silly.

My band Dérive had this issue constantly. We were creating what we thought of as serious artsy hardcore music. But we weren’t afraid to have fun and be silly either and it always threw people off. Maybe we just didn’t do it the right way. But I’ve always felt that people need to see a band as one thing or another. For that reason a lot of people didn’t know how to handle Dérive. They couldn’t decide if we were Holy Molar or if we were Fugazi. Speaking of Fugazi - talk about another band that was never afforded the right be a few things at once.

The same thing happened recently with the plastic straw debate. All of a sudden everyone wanted to ban straws because they never get recycled and contribute to a lot of ocean pollution. So everyone is getting all hyped up about getting rid of straws and then a few people start to make the point that people with certain disabilities rely on plastic straws to get through their day to day. At the same time other people are saying that not using straws doesn’t amount to anything and we should really be holding the corporations accountable for creating the majority of pollution in the first place. People need to view issues as all or nothing agendas. There’s no reason that we can’t say, ban plastic straws while coming up with a viable solution for those who need them, AND hold corporations accountable. All three things can happen at the same time but these quick social movements are more often based on proving somebody wrong than they are looking for solutions. The argument that individual actions don’t amount to anything because there are mega corporations creating so much mess that we could never counteract is just silly and counterproductive. Again, imagine a world where we could simultaneously reduce individual impact WHILE holding those in power accountable for the mess they’re creating. Of course, if you don’t recycle a little bit today it’s not going to end the world, and on the same token if you somehow completely eliminated your carbon footprint it’s not going to save the world either. But the assumption that individual actions can’t help anything is defeatist and not needed. What we really need is a social movement that can pay deference to the complexities of any given issue and not reduce it to a black and white display of one upmanship.

not a hair to spare

A few orders of business that I feel obligated to address:

  1. This Saturday Joshua Scheid will be performing a few “pop up” works at the Ruckus Pop Up Gallery in Boston. The gallery is on Boylston Street by Target. He will be performing a work of mine and a few other composers including Clifton Ingram, Alissa Voth, and Kelvyn Koning. It will be at 2 PM and should be a lot of fun!

  2. My amazing partner Boy Nirvana made this short film to accompany the text from a lecture called “Performing The Feed” and they asked me to write some music for it. Here it is! It will also be shown at the Kelly Stelling Gallery in Manchester, NH which is pretty cool!

I’ve been to three new music concerts in the past week and a half that I want to give some shout outs to.

  1. The Times Two Series hosted Transient Canvas and New Morse Code at The Record Company in Boston. Transient Canvas are one of my favorite local ensembles and they frankly just keep getting better. It was my first time seeing New Morse Code (who I believe are from Kansas) but I was really impressed with their performance - especially of a piece by Robert Honstein at the end of the program.

  2. Last Saturday night Fourth Wall performed at Boston Conservatory. I’ve known Neil for quite a while now (he directed my opera!) and I’ve been aware of Fourth Wall for just as long but through circumstance have never actually gotten to see them perform and I really never want to miss another performance. Their current show is called Fallen From the Toy Box and I believe they are taking it to Minneapolis and Winnipeg right now. I helped them with their light set up and they did a really great job despite me messing up all my cues.

  3. Last Sunday I saw the Northstar Duo at The Boston Sculptor’s Gallery. They played their own arrangements of pieces for oboe and flute, done for saxophone and flute and then performed a piece by my buddy Aaron Jay Meyers. I’m not saying this because I’m friends with him but the piece was really something else and I need to ask him for the score because the rhythmic energy of the whole piece has been stuck in my head all week. Also The Sculptors Gallery is where I first met Aaron so that was really nice! (Actually it was Transient Canvas playing a piece of his when we met so there ya go.)

Well the thing I want to write about this week is being a balding person in their mid twenties. Any reasonable person or any person that wants to appear reasonable will tell you that it doesn’t matter if you’re losing your hair. They’ll put their hand on your shoulder and tell you that it’s not important and doesn’t change anyone’s perception of you. Well I’m here to tell you that they’re all full of shit and are just saying that because they think they’re supposed to. What people actually think when they see someone balding is either:

A.) That person must be very old and probably not aging with distinction. They probably didn’t take care of themselves the way they should have.

B.) That person is somehow physically or genetically deficient.


C.) Maybe an academic of some sort?

If you’re bald (AND FOR THE RECORD I’M TALKING ABOUT NATURALLY BALDING PEOPLE, NOT THE KINDS OF PEOPLE WHO CASUALLY SHAVE THEIR HEADS IN THE NAME OF SO CALLED STYLE)  you know the kind of looks you get. A pitying glance on the street. Maybe you wear a hat and when you take it off the person you’re talking to can’t help but sneak a peek at your fucked up scalp.

I started losing my hair when I was a freshman in high school. I was 14 years old and had hair down to my shoulders. I thought I was cool and I was full of confidence. And then one day my mother asked me, “Have you been feeling extra stressed lately?” “No, not particularly,” I replied, “Why?” “Well I can’t help but notice that your hair has been thinning lately.” Thinning? What does that even mean, I thought to myself. But she was right. Over the next few months I noticed it myself. Suddenly I was noticing that instead of three or four strands of hair left in the shower it would be ten. It never came out in clumps but every new strand of hair that I found missing was like a slow death. My mom did some research and found that thinning hair can be a result of having a thyroid condition. Issues with thyroids actually run in my family so we went right to the doctor where I prayed with all of my available thought power. “Please tell me that something is wrong with my thyroid so I can just take some medication and not have to be bald.”

The thing is that a hatred of bald people, or at least a perception that anyone missing the hair on top of their heads has something wrong with them, is taught to us by media. Balding men in TV and movies are often either noticeably overweight, emotionally pathetic, or both. The archetype for the lame bald guy is of course George Costanza, and although Seinfeld will always be one of my favorite TV shows (the title of this post is a strange reference to the weird toilet paper episode!) I think George didn’t provide a positive service to the bald community. Now when people see a balding man they instantly assume (whether they want to admit it or not) that he is creepy, a sexual deviant, probably a liar and a coward, and / or that he doesn’t take care of his health. Once in college I spent a few days at my then-girlfriend’s parents house (which was a total fucking disaster) but at one point I asked her mom if they had any Advil because I had a headache. Instead of offering me something like any normal human would she turned to her daughter and said, “See honey. He’s no good for you. He’s balding and he gets headaches.”

But I don’t want to pin everything on Jason Alexander, George Costanza, and Larry David because hatred of bald people is expressed in all layers of modern society. In kids cartoons the only bald people you’ll see are douchey gym teachers, unless you’re talking about a weird show like Doug where everyone is kind of deformed anyway. Shows like Gilmore Girls dictate taste in romantic partners to their viewers. In one sentence the characters will reject a man for being bald or having back hair, and in the other pine for a man who doesn’t judge them solely based on their physical appearances. Meanwhile there are almost no famous balding actors who aren’t regarded as “men of distinction.”

A common phrase used when talking about good looking older men is, “He still has a great head of hair,” or a variation on that theme. What that really means is, “Isn’t it great that he didn’t inherit a certain gene from his parents? He’s got sturdy ass DNA and I want me a piece.” The truth of the matter is that we can let our bodies go in any direction we so desire and nobody will really say anything but once you lose your hair you’re in a different class and that’s because we associate great hair with wealth, success, and upstanding morality.

Here’s a list of US presidents who were balding in reverse chronological order:

  1. Gerald Ford - who remembers anything about this clown who was only there to finish Nixon’s disaster of a presidency.

  2. Dwight Eisenhower - not really balding. Actually he had a very rare form of the big bad baldness. Instead of the “classic horseshoe pattern” (thanks Georgey boy!) he had what I call the “slow retreat” where the hair on the top of his head slowly becomes a smaller circle. I think this is important because he really doesn’t qualify as a bald man. I also think the “slow retreat” approach is indicative of his obsession with the Civil War. The Eisenhower estate is at Gettysburg and I believe that his pattern baldness represents the slow defeat of the Confederacy.

  3. Grover Cleveland? I actually can’t tell if he’s bald because of the angle on these dang Wikipedia photos but again my point stands. No one remembers a bald president.

  4. Martin Van Buren - a total creepazoid and for the record, I only know who he is because of Seinfeld so everything is truly full circle.

  5. John Quincy Adams - I have no idea what he did other than being part of the first presidential dynasty. Although he was bald he had some sporty mutton chops which I think counteracts the baldness. It’s all about drawing the gaze elsewhere.

  6. John Adams - this asshole doomed his son to be bald as well. Way to go #2.

Meanwhile the presidents we talk about the most are regarded not because of their great policies or their ability to lead our nation in times of great distress. They’re remembered for having great heads of hair.

  1. Abraham Lincoln had a hairstyle that just wouldn’t quit. Lincoln was a great film about a president figuring how to get an amendment passed, but you tell me if a bald man could have convinced and tricked all those racist senators to vote in favor.

  2. Theodore Roosevelt brought a mix of European elegance and rugged Americana to the presidential hairdo. When he wasn’t busy creating the National Park System or building canals you know he was keeping that bad boy styled with a big can of turtle wax. It adds to his charm. Charm only a man with hair is afforded in this country.

  3. JFK. Anybody alive at the same time as him probably had a crush on him. Remember that there’s an episode of Seinfeld that centers on Elaine dating a Kennedy. When the CIA assassinated JFK they knew they would never be caught because the public would be too focused on that marvelous comb job. AND THEY WERE RIGHT.

Do you remember in 2015 when Donald Trump first formally announced his campaign? At the time everyone knew him as the schmuck who hosted The Apprentice. The public at large didn’t know anything about his actual political ideals (at least before that first weird announcement on the golden escalator or whatever it was) but that didn’t stop everyone from freaking the fuck out. Why is that? Donny’s hair is thinning fast and people have a hard time trusting someone losing their hair. It represents someone with a severe moral deficiency and of course ol’ 45’s morals are in the dumpster so he’s not doing much for the cause of follically changed gentlemen.

When I started college everyone I met assumed that I  must be an older student. I can’t totally blame them for that because I did technically look older than them, but when I would explain that I was also a freshman coming to college straight from high school I would get that all too familiar pitying look. The look of, “What happened to you, you poor bastard?” I didn’t always have an answer because I was busy dealing with the mental and emotional trauma of becoming a second class citizen. A bald citizen.

NOFX broke my heart

I have a lot of projects in the works and I’m trying to be good about not saying things about them until things are more tangible and concrete. BUT I’m really excited to talk about a new band I’m in called Cheap City. I’m playing keyboards and singing and it has some of the people from Dérive. We just put out a demo single of a song called Witch In The Alley. We’re recording an eight song EP in a few weeks which should come out towards the end of August. It’s called Clocktower Broke and we just got the artwork and I’m really excited about everything. Anyway here’s the song:

Two months ago I was pretty sure that my career in rock music or whatever was coming to an end. Dérive hasn’t played any shows this year (but we are playing in Pittsburgh next month) and we’re slowly writing a new album. Anyway, Dérive isn’t done just yet but for all intents and purposes it really isn’t anyone’s major project anymore and coming to terms with that throughout 2018 has been really hard for me. I started that band really in the fall of 2011, my first semester of undergrad and writing and performing with that name has shaped the majority of musical identity for the better part of seven years now. The weird shift from one group to another has me thinking a lot about my musical history and reflecting on certain things, especially the news, and that’s why I want to talk about NOFX.

If you’re reading this and don’t know who I’m talking about, NOFX is one of the most commercially successful punk bands of all time. They’ve been putting out records since the mid 80s and at least for me, everything they released from 1992 (White Trash, Two Heebs, and a Bean) through 2003 (War On Errorism) is 100% worth listening to. When I was in middle and high school NOFX were one of the bands that really defined the way I thought about punk music, at least aesthetically. They could be serious when they wanted to be and they could usually make me laugh too. They definitely took their jokes too far every now and then (we’re going to get to that in a bit) but it always seemed okay to me.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized how cool NOFX actually are. I loved their band but I guess I regarded them as this punk band that just made it big and that was the end of it. But NOFX actually has a lot of cultural importance and in some ways I think they should be talked about in the same way that we talk about Fugazi as this fiercely independent minded outfit. Or at least they were at one point.

But here’s what I mean. Fat Mike, the bands vocalist and bassist, owns and operates the label Fat Wreck Chords. It’s not just that it’s a cool indie label, but the records that they funded in the 90’s literally defined a certain generation of punk music. The Fat sound (along with Epitaph - actually a whole essay should really be devoted to why Mr. Brett is one of the most influential people in rock music but anyway) really helped to create the subculture we associate with 90’s skateboarding and Warped Tour. Fat is actually still putting out a lot of cool music and even though I take some issue with how Mike has taken bands off the label for “not being punk enough” I have a lot of respect for a really well curated catalog of music. Not to mention the Fat Music compilation series still holds up as six or seven really strongly curated snapshots of a particular music scene.

But more than that I didn’t realize how important it is that NOFX operates under their own label like that. I never really thought of Fat as an indie label in the same that I do Dischord until one night on the Punknews.org forum, Jeff Rosenstock, of all people, in response to someone saying something about how there would never be another Fugazi, posted something to the effect of, “How about NOFX? They own and operate their own label and next to Bad Religion they’re one of the only mainstream punk acts that operates independently.”

On top of everything, Fat Mike’s opposition to George Bush and the War on Terror was among the strongest, at least in terms of other musicians. He started the group Punk Voter, which spread information about how to register to vote. They were even registering voters at concerts. I’m sure I could find the exact number somewhere but I know Punk Voter registered voters in the thousands. Of course Bush won again anyway but seeing a band take some serious direct action instead of just saying how great it would be if everyone would vote was a really formative experience for me.

All of this is to say that NOFX for a long time represented what I think a punk band should be. They really represented a certain spirit of the philosophy of punk rock that I ascribe to. They were making really great music and working to inspire direct social change.

But last month NOFX began to deal with the fall out of some truly despicable remarks they made while playing a concert in Las Vegas. It happened like this. Eric Melvin said, “I guess you only get shot in Vegas if you’re a country band,” referring to the mass shooting at a country music festival late last year. Fat Mike replied, “At least they were country fans and not punk rock fans.” In response the band was dropped from their own touring festival, the Punk In Drublic tour and their entire upcoming US tour was cancelled by the venues.

I don’t want to talk about why what they said was wrong, because it’s obvious. That wasn’t a joke, it was just idiocy. I don’t want to talk about whether or not the reaction to a band that has based the past ten years of its career on dumb and offensive jokes is too much or not. I actually want to talk about Fat Mike’s response to the criticism and specifically how one hashtag he used on Instagram sums up the past few decades of his career in punk music.

First came the official band apology:

“There’s no place here to backpedal. What NOFX said in Vegas was shameful. We crossed the line of civility. We can’t write songs about how people in this world need to be more decent, when we were clearly being indecent. Las Vegas has always been a welcoming city to our band, and to make light of the tragedy that occurred there was egregious. All members of the band would like to sincerely apologize to anyone who experienced loss from the Vegas shooting 8 months ago, and to anyone who was at our show who lost a loved one or a friend, or who had to witness the incredibly senseless violence that night. We were asked why we didn’t release an immediate apology. Well, we didn’t feel that we could write a sincere apology without reflecting on the actual damage we had done. No press agent was gonna write this for us. That’s why we have struggled with this for the past few days. We didn’t plan or intend on saying anything so insensitive. It was off the cuff, but just as hurtful. We won’t blame it on drugs or alcohol or Ambien. That’s too easy. NOFX said it, and we own it. We made a tasteless joke. But to be clear, NOFX does not condone violence against ANY group of people, period!”

The simple fact of the matter starts with that everyone is liable to say something stupid. No one is perfect and in 2018 it’s more than likely that our mistakes are going to get caught on video. Of course there have been lots of caught on tape moments that you can’t come back from. But a smart performer today needs to know that this can totally happen because we’re all humans but we also need to know how to concede. If NOFX had apologized and kept their mouths shut for a few weeks everything would have been fine. This isn’t to say that what they said wasn’t awful. It was really awful. There’s nothing funny about a mass shooting and contrary to what everyone on a message board says, acknowledging that this kind of thing isn’t funny doesn’t you’re too P.C. or that punk rock is too safe. Acknowledging it is just part of being a decent person.

BUT THEN on June 21st he wrote, “fatmikedude Fuck it! I’m not supposed to talk about it, but because of the comments we made in Las Vegas... every NOFX show has been cancelled in the US. We did not drop off the shows.... we were told that NOFX is not welcome to play ANY big venue in the United States. No joke! NOFX has effectively been banned in our own country. This is not our choice, but it is our reality. We are very sorry to our fans, especially the ones in Austin. For now, we are playing in Europe, Mexico, and Canada. The Punk in Drublic Festival is still happening in Europe and other continents. I’m trying my best to bring it back to the US but a lot of people don’t want it to happen. It fuckin sucks! We made a mistake, we apologized, and we gotta suffer the consequences. Maybe it ain’t fair, but whoever said life was. We are just very thankful that our fans are being so supportive. Thanks to all of you!!!!! See y’all in Slovenia tomorrow! #punkindrublicinternational #whendidpunkrockbecomesosafe #IhatednotbeinginOhio”

The most frustrating part about this is that 15 years ago NOFX was ready to permanently seal their legacy as one of the most outstanding bands in the genre. They were ten or so albums deep and all of them were pretty amazing. They had achieved mainstream success on their own terms and were doing a lot of really cool political work. (HEY SIDE NOTE BUT THE DECLINE IS STILL THE BEST NOFX RELEASE) But after The War On Errorism came out they just … stopped. All of a sudden every album and most of the songs became focused on jokes about sex, wordplay, referencing all of the famous punk musicians they’re friends with. Their shows devolved into Mike making fun of his audience and neglecting to focus on actually playing the music.

What irked me the most about his post was not his childish complaining about the cancellation of his American shows. It was the hashtag “whendidpunkrockbecomesosafe.” That was the hook lyric from the song “Separation of Church and Skate,” and despite me feeling like the song’s message was boring and plodding, it’s one of the better NOFX songs. The song is centered around Fat Mike complaining that since punk shows aren’t violent and the fashion has changed, it’s also become neutered and safe. He even reminds us that he knows Fletcher from Pennywise! Actually here’s the lyrics:

Lost in a sea of combat boots,
flush the bouncers with wasted youth
When did punk rock become so safe?
When did the scene become a joke?
The kids who used to live for beer and speed
now want their fries and coke
Cursing and flipping birds are not allowed,
in fact let's keep noise levels down

Must separate the church and skate!

Why don't we put pads on the kids?
Helmets, head gear and mouth pieces!
Then we could pad the floor and walls,
put cameras inside bathroom stalls
We make sure only nice bands play,
make every show a matinee
Teach kids to be all they can be,
and we could sing my country tis of thee
sweet land of liberty

When did punk rock become so safe?
I know it wasn't Duane or Fletcher,
Who put up the barricades
Like a stake in the heart,
Somehow we got driven apart

I want conflict! I want dissent!
I want the scene to represent...
Our hatred of authority,
our fight against complacency
stop singing songs about girls and love!
You killed the owl! You freed the dove!
confrontation and politics...
Replaced with harmonies and shticks
When did punk rock become so tame?
These fucking bands all sound the same
We want our fights we want our thugs!
We want our burns we want our drugs!
where is the violent apathy?!
These fucking records are rated G!
When did punk rock become so safe?!

There’s another message in the song about complacency but I’m not convinced Mike knows it’s there. I’ve honestly come to view this song as Mike admitting that he’s too old to understand how culture is changing. And what’s really sad is that the whole ‘when did punk rock become so safe’ thing is something that permeates DIY music. Anytime I’ve asked people at my shows not to mosh because I don’t want anyone getting hurt it’s almost always met with the argument, “It’s just punk rock man!” HUGE EYE ROLLS OVER HERE. What NOFX did is help to strengthen a dangerous mentality about music and the punk rock sub culture. Mike claims he wants to be surprised and inspired by punk music again but what he actually wants is to go to a Black Flag show in 1981 and get into a fight.

And for the record, War on Errorism came out the same year as Burn, Piano Island, Burn, The Ugly Organ, Sing The Sorrow, The Resignation, De-Loused in the Comatorium, Bigger Cages Longer Chains, Plague Soundscapes, AND The Whole Tooth and Nothing But The Tooth so this whole shtick about records being too boring or rated G can honestly kiss my fucking ass.

There a few bands that have just been around for so long that their current career just focuses on reminding everyone of the great records they used to make. Almost nobody goes to see The Rolling Stones for the newest album they put out. They go to see them because they want to hear Gimme Shelter or Satisfaction. Pennywise has fallen into the same career cycle. They’ve been making the same album for 30 years and their shows are primarily based on reminding people that they’ve been around since ‘the good old days’ or whatever they want to call it. The only reason Bad Religion isn’t totally a useless legacy act is that Greg Graffin still has important and interesting things to say.

NOFX broke my heart because they could’ve been the best band in the world but they've gotten so caught up in their self mythology and a blind dedication to preserving a conservative definition of a musical style that they've forgotten how to do the work they initially set out to do. They could’ve kept doing what they were doing and everything would have been great. Instead they chose the legacy act route and with each new record and each new offensive joke they become a caricature of a caricature of a caricature.


9/11 and the flashbulb

My girlfriend, friends, and family are understandably exasperated by my obsession with 9/11. A few months ago I was eating at the Red Arrow in Manchester, NH and in the bathroom they have a framed article about the diner - published on September 10th, 2001. I ran back to our table fascinated trying to picture what it must have been like on that day. Everything eerily calm and still and unknowing. Like the beginning of that episode of The Twilight Zone “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” before everything goes haywire.

The immediate period after 9/11 was a distinctly strange time for me. I was about to turn nine years old. I think I was too young to be aware of a lot but I definitely remember the weirdness of the following year. Everything seemed to come to a standstill. Coming from a family of middle eastern descent but also being white put me in a different position than I had ever felt. I had never really been aware of my heritage before but now all of a sudden just having a middle eastern last name made me something of a target and made me feel like an outcast. (Maybe not coincidentally this was also when I read Lord of the Rings for the first time which has stayed close to my heart my entire life). The night that George Bush officially started the invasion my dad had taken me to a Manchester Monarchs game. I remember this because someone came out before the game and made a speech about what the troops were doing and we should all be praying for them. I imagined troops in helicopters parachuting into the desert while I ate popcorn and watched hockey with my dad. Something felt wrong about the whole thing but I wasn’t entirely sure what it was just yet. I still wonder if the way I felt that night is how it felt to be a kid in like 1943. When I was in junior high (2004-2007 I think) I was obsessed with 9/11 conspiracy theories. I distinctly remember going on one of my first dates (maybe in 8th grade) and talking this girls ear off about how a tower wouldn’t fall like that if it wasn’t a demolition and what about the other building and the insurance policies and so on. I was a weird kid.

But my interest in the event never really seemed to go away. In high school even as I was getting into classical music and Woody Allen movies and whatever I still continued to read and watch really anything that had to with 9/11 that I could get my hands on. I preferred well researched fact based work, but was also in love with those shitty youtube rants. I wouldn’t say I was a truther but I wanted to know everything I could. One of the last things I can remember about my senior year of high school is these two or three kids throwing bottles and trash at me in the parking lot after school while yelling “Get the fuck out of here Muhammad.” They might have called me Osama. I can’t quite remember. It was a strange moment because I really don’t look Middle Eastern so they had to have known my last name which is even weirder because I had no idea who they were. But my first thought at the time was, “I wonder if this would’ve happened to me if 9/11 hadn’t happened.”

Actually a quick side note here - so my brother recently got married and I discovered that my now sister in law is connected to one of the conspiracy theories which is kind of blowing my mind. I would like to not reveal exactly how because I don’t have her consent to talk about it but I’ll say that one of her close relatives is at the center of a relatively well known conspiracy theory about 9/11 and through the power of marriage I’m going to argue that makes me connected too. :)

It sounds like I’m trying to use 9/11 as an explanation for traumatic events in my life, or just to explain away the frustration of being a teenager but that’s not it at all. As a kind of shitty history buff I’m fascinated by these huge cultural turning points. In music history classes we often look at Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune and Wagner’s prelude to Tristan und Isolde as these joint musical landmarks. World War II is regarded as a historical landmark to the degree that all other events are described as pre-war and post-war. This isn’t new information for anyone but it frames my understanding of 9/11 as an event that will always be regarded in the same way. Things are now pre-9/11 and post-9/11.

One of my favorite podcasts is Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History where he digs into a historical event that has a common understanding but he reframes and analyzes it. The best episode is about why shooting free throws in basketball with both hands (the so called “granny shot”) is actually more efficient and consistent than shooting above the head with one hand. Then he goes into why the latter style is preferred - and even how using the former has ruined people’s careers. It’s all very interesting but a recent episode was all about what he calls flashbulb moments. These are the kind of history changing events that everyone can say where they were when it happened. My parents can tell me what they were doing when both JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. They were both less than 10 years old but they have the answer. Gladwell goes into some of the psychology of flashbulb moments and actually shows how a lot of our memories of these events are probably wrong but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about why I think that 9/11 is either going to be the last flashbulb moment or the last one for quite a long time.

Anybody who was old enough to form a sentence in 2001 can tell you exactly what they were doing when they found out about 9/11. I actually can’t remember anything about the day itself but my most vivid memory is from the next morning. I walked into the kitchen of my parent’s house in the morning to eat breakfast before I went to school. I saw the newspaper sitting on the table and saw a picture of what looked to me like an explosion. I was eight years old and definitely wasn’t one to check the newspaper often if ever. But I grew up in New Hampshire and at the time the front page of the newspaper was usually a picture of a moose that had wandered onto Main Street or something about a post office getting a new parking lot. Seeing a fiery explosion on the front page set off alarm bells for me. I remember asking my mom what happened and I know she explained something to me but I can’t remember what she said. I’m not sure if I really understood the full gravity of the event but I was definitely aware that something big had happened. I remember that she also told me that under no circumstances was I talk to anybody at school about it. I think that there was some debate between my parents about whether or not they should even send me to school for a few days after that. I’ve never really thought of my mom as a particularly political person - and I don’t think she would describe herself that way either - but in the years since I’ve always been kind of in awe that she was so quickly aware of what was going on - or what could potentially happen. (UPDATE: I just texted her to ask if she remembered this and she said she doesn’t but I’m sticking with my story.)

So back to my original point which was that I don’t think these flashbulb moments are likely to happen again and here’s why. We talk about huge historical moments now like they’re a commodity. Like I said earlier. Everyone of a certain generation can tell you exactly where there were when JFK was killed and the same goes for 9/11. We have a whole subgenre of Hollywood films devoted to depicting every possible angle - real or fictional - of historical moments. It’s gotten to the point where when something happens I think to myself, “Is this the moment? Will my whereabouts right now be my answer to the question for years to come?” In the summer of 2012 I was on tour with Dérive and I remember we were in a rest stop - I believe in Ohio - on I-80???? But this was when one of the school shootings had just happened. I want to say it was Newtown and I know a quick Google search would give me the answer but I’m pretty sure it was Newtown. We were all sitting at this table eating french fries or whatever watching the news report and as we engaged in a sort of debate about gun control I remember thinking to myself, “Well this is it. In 50 years when your grandkids ask you where you were when Newtown happened you can say that you were in an Ohio rest stop eating french fries.” But school shootings have become the norm and nobody would ever ask you that question now.

The point I’m trying to make is that I feel like historical flashbulb moments are a thing of the past precisely because we’ve focused on them so much that from now on nobody will ever know if we’re actually experiencing one. I thought the same thing when Donald Trump got elected but he’s turned his presidency into an endless series of moments that could or could not have a huge impact on history. I’m kind of talking out of my ass here because I’m definitely not educated enough on the matter to make any sort of historical prediction - and part of me wonders if my obsession with the way history is framed around large moments is mine alone. I suspect not.



never enough simoleons

First things first, last week I put out some new tracks on a cassette called Hunger Detail. They're 3 audio collages and they're released on my label Dollhouse Lightning. Check it out:

Last weekend I played a show with the amazing MCTHEPROFESSOR.GOV and I am going to be doing it again on July 25th at The Riverwalk Cafe in Nashua, NH. THEN on July 28th my new duo (with my fiancé!) Smith and Jones will be performing at Coffee and Cotton in Lowell, MA. On August 11th Dérive will be performing at 4th River Fest in Pittsburgh, PA. I have some other shows and projects in the works that I'm really excited about but we'll get there when they're ready. 

The past few weeks I’ve been catching up on Westworld. I had never actually watched it before. For some reason I thought it was a joke? I don’t really know how to explain it. When so much of our exposure to pop culture is via facebook feeds it’s easy to misinterpret something. I guess a year ago everyone on my particular facebook feed was posting a lot of Westworld memes so I thought this must be something to make fun of. Well a few weeks ago my partner suggested we try watching it and I’m really hooked.

If you haven’t seen the show here’s the relatively spoiler free summary: There’s a theme park where rich people can go pretend they’re in the Wild West and the park is staffed by incredibly life like androids. So all these rich people can go kill and fuck these androids and never feel bad about it. Well these androids start to figure out what’s going on and they’re not happy about it. It’s also produced by J.J. Abrams (Lost) so you can be sure that a lot of confusing plotlines get thrown into the mix and half of every episode is just you saying, “I have no idea who this is and why they’re trying to do anything but I can’t look away.”

Anyway, there’s a lot of obvious philosophical discussions in the show about what makes something real and how we all perceive reality in different ways. Once these androids are sentient who’s to say they’re not real just because they were made in a lab instead of a uterus?

I don’t really want to have one of those philosophical discussions because what I really want to talk about is the Sims. If you’ve never played this game, all you do is lead a simulation of a life. Your character goes to work, watches TV, cooks dinner, and goes to sleep. Your job is to make sure they’re happy and going to the bathroom and whatever. A few weeks ago my partner and I bought a copy of this game. I had played it when I was maybe ten or eleven but not since. The thing about the Sims that kind of freaks me out is that it tends to disprove our assumptions about ourselves. In West World we watch these tourists make a game out of raping and murdering these androids. Most rational viewers are probably saying in time with the show, “I would never do something like that.” Enter The Sims. The first thing most people do when they play this game is look for a way to kill their character. Just to see what will happen. You can sell their refrigerator so they can’t eat or if you want to be particularly sadistic about it you can take away the doors in one of their rooms and trap them in there until (literally) the Grim Reaper comes to reap their soul.  

I’m actually having the opposite experience where I find myself caring almost too deeply about my sims. When my first character died of old age I felt genuinely sad for him and watching his daughter mourn affected me in a way I didn’t anticipate. I felt legitimately excited about watching a character get married (this might have more to do with the fact that I’m planning my own wedding right now) and watching my sims take care of their toddlers actually resulted in me thinking very seriously and tangibly about when I’d like to have kids of my own.

My first thought was, “This game shouldn’t be as fun as it is. I’m just acting out the things I do every day.” But the more I played the more I’ve come to feel that the Sims isn’t necessarily different from a lot of other games. So many video games are based on this idea of slowly building your characters skills so you can advance through the plotline. Some games aren’t even really based on skill building and are just based on mindlessly shooting your way through World War II. In some ways the Sims is more fluid and spontaneous.

My favorite game of all time is Final Fantasy VII. I’ve played through it probably 30-35 times. I can’t get enough of this game. I think everything about it is a perfect construction and a perfect piece of art. The storyline, the gameplay, the music all coalesce into something that legitimately leaves me feeling pretty inspired. But Final Fantasy VII is going to be the same game every time I play it. Cloud will always be a construction of Jenova cells. Aeris will always be murdered in the City of the Ancients. Sephiroth will always summon Meteor and the final shot of the game will always be Red XIII looking at an overgrown Midgar. (That is until the remake). But the Sims is always going to be different. Every time I play that game things are going to work out in a way that was different than the last time I played. This isn’t really an argument for why the sims is a great game - but I do want to argue about why the Sims is actually an advertisement for privilege based capitalism.

In the game the only way to really “win” (without using cheat codes) is fulfill all of your characters aspirations. Sometimes these are “write a best selling novel” or “raise three children” and other times they’re “own $1000 of electronics.” No matter what the aspiration is, it always boils down to having enough money to keep your Sim happy. The crux of the matter though, is that making money in the sims is a pretty slow process. So what you literally have to do is have your first character work hard and save their money so their kids can have a better life. The kids start with more money than their parents did. If you can get down to a fourth or fifth generation and you’ve had some high paying jobs along the way then you’re talking about starting a child with upwards of $100,000. So if the sims is there to teach us anything, it’s not something vaguely philosophical about the implications of playing a simulated life. It’s there to teach us that the only way to make it in life is to be born with a whole bunch of cash in your pocket.

meet the small potatoes

In the fall of 2015 through the next spring I was living in Stamford, CT and got a job teaching an after school music program at elementary schools in Stamford, Norwalk, Greenwich, and a few other surrounding towns. I was hired by a third party company that had the idea that you could teach reading music to kids by color. I actually think that was a really good idea in concept but it didn’t work out all that well in execution. So they designed this little keyboards that didn’t have piano keys in the way that we know them, they were just different colored buttons in a row. We would give kids sheet music where all the notes were colored so then they could just match the colors to the buttons. The idea was that they would slowly take away the colors and BAM! The kids would know how to read music. It really didn’t work out that way since 1st and 2nd graders can’t focus on much for longer than a minute or two and when you have twenty some odd 6 year olds who are all cranky because they’re expected to learn music after a full day of school you don’t really care if they’re matching colors anymore.

So I came up with some alternative projects for my kids. I showed them videos of rock bands and we talked about different instruments they saw. We watched videos of orchestras and did the same thing. Once they figured out the whole color equals note concept I had them start trying to write their own music which worked to varying degrees of success. I brought in my accordion a few times and performed for the kids.

Here are some of the things I learned in the process:


  1. Kids learn privilege at an incredibly young age. One of the schools I taught at was in a working class neighborhood in Stamford. None of these kids were poor by any means (or at least to my knowledge) but they were definitely all really aware of the fact that having their parents pay for an after school program was something of a luxury. All of them were really respectful towards me and even when they got distracted none of them really threw any tantrums when I tried to redirect them. By contrast a large proportion of the kids in Greenwich (one of the wealthiest towns in Connecticut) were just kind of dicks to me. They didn’t really care about the class - partly because they’re children- but I couldn’t help but feel it was at least in part due to the fact that their parents were probably shelling out for lots of programs and classes and activities. One day while teaching in Greenwich one of my students was inappropriately grabbing a female student. She kept asking him to stop. When I separated them I told the boy that you can’t touch others without their permission. Especially when they’re asking you not to. He apologized to the girl (who it seemed had already forgotten about the incident) but then looked at me and said, “I’m going to tell my parents that you hit me.” That was maybe the scariest thing a kid has ever said to me. After I gave time out LIKE A STONE COLD MOTHERFUCKER in the hall for like 20 minutes he apologized to me but the scariest part about the situation was that at 6 or 7 years old he had the vocabulary to blackmail anyone. This is the kind of kid who breaks his mom’s vase and blames it on the maid to get her fired.

  2. Kids learn archetypes and stereotypes about music pretty young too. One day one of the kids asked if I ever perform music instead of teaching. So I showed them a video of my band playing (at this point I’m realizing that it sounds like all I did with these kids was watch videos but I swear we did lots of other productive music stuff too) and the class pretty much agreed that I was “too fat” to be in a band. I guess overweight individuals not being allowed to be in bands isn’t necessarily a music stereotype but I thought it interesting that all of the kids seemed to gravitate towards that consensus. At another point in the semester I showed them some videos of rock bands. When I asked them to identify the different instruments they had some surprising assumptions about the players. The kids were pretty quick to say that bassists are the least important member of the band and nobody cares who they are. They regarded guitarists and singers as the most famous but felt that singers lacked the necessary talent to play a “real instrument.” They also pretty quickly came to the conclusion that drummers are not as famous as the players in the front but (and I literally quote) “probably get asked on lots of dates.”

I’ve been teaching private piano lessons since I was 17 or 18 years old and the territory of that is that you mostly teach kids under the age of 10. A lot of the archetypal thinking I laid out above holds true for a lot of my students. At extraordinarily young ages kids are able to identify trends and character traits in celebrities and apply them to new and abstract concepts. One of the reasons for this is that kids are usually just really smart. Maybe a subject for a whole separate blog post is how the American education system probably makes a lot of kids somewhat more lazy, frustrated, less inspired, less creative, and maybe not even as smart. But the thing I’m trying to get at is I really want to know where some of this thinking comes from. There are lots of kids shows now that are music centric, but the most interesting is The Small Potatoes. (Yo Gabba Gabba is the better program but TSP has some weirdness going on that I really want to talk about.)

Having done minimal research here’s what I can tell you about The Small Potatoes. It was a short movie (I watched it on Netflix) that I believe was also developed into a TV show that may or may not still be on. The movie is presented in documentary style and tells the story of the band The Small Potatoes. Four actual talking potatoes who write some folk songs on their farm and they’re on their way to stardom. This movie has everything. Their music sweeps the nation in “Potatomania” as they explore rock and roll and start to experiment with Eastern musical traditions. They get a TV show! They get into doo wop, punk rock, and New Wave. Eventually they break up when they start to argue over stardom. Two of the potatoes try to start solo careers. One of them deals with an addiction to bread. The fourth doesn’t do much of anything if I remember correctly. Anyway, the film ends with a successful reunion and that’s it.

The Small Potatoes is one of these lame attempts to make something that is vaguely interesting for kids and shoves some weird moralizing messages down their throats while making a few inside jokes for adults to laugh at. In that way it’s really like a lot of kids shows since we collectively decided that letting kids watch truly fucked up TV like Ren and Stimpy and Rocko’s Modern Life isn’t okay anymore. We’ve decided that entertainment needs to be educational and safe. And what we’re left with is a cut and paste cartoon about potatoes (that doesn’t make any jokes or references to the fact that they’re potatoes by the way) that sings to kids about the importance of getting a haircut.

But what The Small Potatoes actually achieves (perhaps without the show’s creators even knowing it) is that it teaches kids about rock and roll stereotypes.

Nate and Ruby both represent current pop star trends but on somewhat different points along the spectrum. Ruby is akin to Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, and a whole host of Teen Disney stars. She doesn’t actually have much talent or musical ability but has enough natural charisma to get by. She’ll jump on whatever bandwagon she thinks will keep her in the spotlight but as we see in the film she’s unable to sustain a real career by herself.


Nate meanwhile is something more like Kanye West, Taylor Swift, and possibly a late 60’s Bob Dylan or MAYBE an early to mid career David Bowie. Nate has an interest in jazz and poetry (it’s right in the theme song people) and regards music as a purely expressive medium. He’s the one that pushes the band into their punk phase and I suspect he might be their principal song writer. Nate is to the Small Potatoes as Brian Wilson is to the Beach Boys. Nate keeps the band on the cutting edge but makes sure the music remains palatable. Nate and Ruby are the guitarist and singer that my students from a few years ago are sure would be the most famous.

Now let’s talk about Olaf:

I want to direct your attention to the stanza that starts at 0:48. It starts with Olaf saying, “I’m Olaf. I’m the big guy!” This is really an issue of orchestration. Olaf’s weight is represented by the tuba (only present when Olaf is singing), and I think this teaches kids that A.) Tubas are for fat people which is certainly not true and B.) weight is something to be laughed at. I envision a world without what I call “the propaganda of orchestration” but that’s yet another essay.


Olaf is what my students perceive to fill the drummers role. He’s recognizable and can probably hold down a beat and almost definitely gets asked out by some potatoes who want a roll in the hay with a famous spud. And of course he’s the member of the band with no self control. He’s the one who joins the band because he wants to have a good time and get fucked up. For most of the movie Olaf is the dull smiling face in the background. UNTIL their manager has an intervention with him at the bakery. “You can’t fit any more buns on that plate.” Olaf is a classic carb addict. And what the movie does here is EXACTLY what Frank Zappa was opposing in Joe’s Garage. The Small Potatoes are telling kids to be creative and use their imagination, but not TOO MUCH. “Look what could happen to YOU if you pursue a career in music! You’ll end up like Olaf. Fucked up on carbs and without a band. Don’t be a drummer. Get a degree in engineering and put a drumset in your basement so your relatives can come over and say ‘Agh music your passion.’”

And meanwhile there’s nothing to say about Chip (other than he’s the only one who gets to actually make jokes about potatoes - his name is Chip for Pete’s sake! - and who is this Pete guy anyway????) because he’s the archetypal bassist and no one gives a shit about them anyway.

the uncanny veggie burger

Am I the only one who prefers cool and intermittently rainy days to almost anything else? Being self employed is usually just really scary and stressful but today (Monday the 4th) I slept in until 9:30, made coffee, and now I’m sitting at my kitchen table listening to the rain. I’m also listening to CocoRosie - a really cool group that my partner introduced me to. I’ve actually only listened to their album Grey Oceans, but I really love it and plan on listening to more of their work eventually. If you haven’t heard them, they construct these soundscapes often out of a lot of found sounds augmented by drum machines. One of the sisters has a really classically beautiful voice - she would probably be a great mezzo. The other sister in the group does something that I might compare to rap but that’s really not accurate. She sings in this very strained voice that kind of reminds me of the voice a child uses when they’re being possessed in a horror movie.


Movies are actually what I wanted to talk about. I love going to the movies! I love going to see bad movies just as much as I love going to see good ones. Going to see a movie is a very truly democratic experience. The experiences of others around you filter and contextualize your own experience. What I mean is this: Last year I went to see Mother. (Stay tuned for a post about Darren Aronofsky is the greatest living director). Mother is an amazing film on its own. I think the way that it captures pure energy is astonishing. Aronofsky is a master of building tension and releasing it in the most uncomfortable way. Just typing about it I’m getting chills. I want to watch this movie all the time. If you haven’t seen this movie here’s the spoilers. Jennifer Lawrence moves into a new house with her husband who is a famous poet. He actually grew up in this house but it burnt down and now they’re rebuilding it together. This house is huge and is in the middle of nowhere. He has this weird crystal thing that has flames inside of it that’s he’s very protective of and he’s also kind of a dick to her. So this guy just shows up at their house one day and Jennifer’s husband who is kind of fluffy (he’s the kind of guy who talks a lot about the “magic of lovemaking” or shit like that) invites him to stay in. New guy then invites his wife in and Jennifer Lawrence wants them to leave because they’re just kind of bad guests. Then their kids show up and get into a fight and one of them actually kills the other in a Cain / Abel situation. Then the husband lets them have the funeral at their house and way too many people show up and they destroy the place. Jennifer Lawrence flips out and makes them leave. Fast forward like a year or something and Jennifer is pregnant and that inspired hubby to write a new book which sells a whole ton of copies as soon as its released. So she wants to make a special dinner for him but then all of his fans show up at the house and he invites them in and they start destroying the place. Here’s where things go ABSOLUTELY HAYWIRE really quickly. I think this sequence was MAYBE 10 minutes long? It starts as just a party celebrating this great poet, right? Soon people decide they should start stealing things from the house because they’ll probably be worth a lot someday. More and more people keep showing up and some people start to regard the poet as God and they start to worship him. Every room has people experiencing this religious fervor in a different way. Eventually a full out religious war breaks out. There’s gunfire and explosions and one sect starts executing people right in the living room. SWAT team shows up and they’re killed by terrorists. Jennifer goes and hides in her husbands writing room and he goes in there with her. Now she’s in labor and she gives birth. Things quiet down outside the room because everyone realizes that the equivalent to Jesus is being born. So Jennifer Lawrence falls asleep and her husband takes the baby outside to show to everyone. Then he lets the baby crowdsurf across everyone over to the priests who then proceed to kill and eat the baby. Jennifer Lawrence (understandably) is pissed off and goes into the basement and blows up the house. At this point it’s revealed that her husband is actually God (?) and he picks up her burnt body and reverses time and they just try it all again.


Okay so that’s the movie. Here’s what I’m getting at. This was marketed as a horror movie. There’s no way around it. The trailer makes it seem like her husband invites a cult into their house and then they do some creepy shit. There’s even creepy string music in the trailer! So I went on opening night knowing that Aronofsky was probably not going to make a cut and dry horror film but it was pretty obvious that everyone else in the theater was expecting The Omen or whatever. So as things in the movie got weirder and weirder I could feel everyone around me getting more and more uncomfortable. We had a real community experience. Theirs was framed by seeing something they really didn’t expect. Mine was framed by knowing that I was going to get something I didn’t expect but also getting to watch a bunch of people either get their minds blown or just get angry that they weren’t watching a slasher.


Movies for me are this really great community experience. I love the whole thing. My partner and I go to the movies 2-3 times a month and honestly if we made more money we would go a few times a week. Watching movies at home is lots of fun too but it’s like listening to the record when you can go see the band. It’s a different experience.


Which leads me to last weekend. We went to see Book Club. Book Club was marketed as sort of a sex romp where four aging women discover Fifty Shades. That’s not really what it was. I was expecting something a little more nuanced about our expectations of the lives of the elderly, especially women. That expectation was based on an interview I listened to with Mary Steenburgen about it but it wasn’t really that either. It was really just four women vaguely finding love. Jane Fonda learns that it’s okay to not always a be a no nonsense businesswomen and have a little fun. Mary Steenburgen tries to drug her husband because he won’t sleep with her but then they come to an understanding and dance to a Meatloaf song. Candice Bergen learns how to online date and somehow DOESN’T END UP WITH WALLACE SHAWN?! And Diane Keaton starts dating this cool pilot. What was really fun about going to see this movie is not that it was a very good movie. I mean, it was fine. I wouldn’t watch it again but I’m glad I did. I will say that I think it’s important that a movie exists that starts not just one, but FOUR older women - they are all white but that might be a topic for a different essay (this one IS supposed to be about veggie burgers by the way). Anyway, what was fun about going to see this movie is that everyone else in the room was probably over the age of 50 AND ABSOLUTELY FUCKING LOVED THIS MOVIE. If I watched this at home I probably would have played tetris on my computer while it was on and not really paid any attention. But at the movie theater every joke got a huge laugh and that made it more fun. I guess depending on which way you look at it movie theaters are actually very fascist but I still had a good time.


Why is this called The Uncanny Veggie Burger? I’ll tell you! We didn’t see Book Club at any old movie theater. This wasn’t some chump ass AMC. This was Chunky’s. Never heard of Chunky’s before? That’s because there’s only a couple of them and they’re all in New Hampshire or Northeastern Massachusetts and they’re awesome. And when I saw they’re awesome I really mean they suck but they suck in the way that food at a bowling alley isn’t very good but it’s still fun to eat. What happens at Chunky’s is that they have tables and big chairs they took out of cars and they’ll come serve you food while you watch the movie. They even give you this little buzzer thing (like the ones they give you at a restaurant when you’re waiting for a table and it buzzes when it’s ready) that lights up. So you can just press the button on it when you want a waiter to come by. The food isn’t that great but it’s a silly novel experience and I kind of love it.


So there we are watching Book Club and drinking root beer and having a grand old time and I say, “Hey they have veggie burgers here. Let’s have one.” So I press the button and the buzzer lights up and the waiter comes by and I order a veggie burger with no cheese and some onion rings and he turns the lights on the buzzer off and he goes to the kitchen and he comes back to my table and he puts the plate down in front of me and he walks away and I lift the bun up to spray some of that sweet ketchup on it when I notice that this particular veggie burger looks suspiciously like beef. I haven’t had meat in about 10 years now and I’m sure eating some would make me pretty sick. I inspect the patty. It looks and feels a lot like meat. Just to be sure I press the button on the buzzer because I would really like some confirmation that this isn’t meat. Nobody comes by for 45 minutes and this is when I realize the fundamental flaw in the Chunky’s system. I always imagined that when you press the button there’s a computer in a back room with a dispatcher who’s telling waiters, “NUMBER 26 JUST WENT OFF! GET OUT THERE PRONTO!” But what actually happens is that waiters just walk into the theater looking for lights. Well if no one comes in (and why would they come in to check on a bunch of old women and a 25 year old watching Book Club) then they don’t know if anyone wants anything! At this point I’ll spare you the part where I complain about a specific business and my experience and how I complained to the manager and got some free tickets which I’ll probably just use this weekend anyway and get to my point here.








I get it, okay? These companies are trying to make something that resembles meat in the hope of making new converts feel a little more comfortable. But this also creates an actual and kind of strange problem for us vegans and vegetarians where we don’t actually know if what we’re eating is what we’re being told it is. When you have a specific diet and you see a menu that actually has something you can eat on it, it feels like a gift from God. When you have to then ask someone a few times if it’s actually vegan or whatever you start to feel stupid. But I actually don’t think it’s that far fetched to imagine a situation where a veggie burger looks so much like a real one that a waiter doesn’t actually know what they’re serving.


So I say let’s take these uncanny veggie burgers and put them in the trash heap of history with Jar Jar Binks.