Back in the day, I had a strong belief that if you worked hard, paid your dues, and attended rock concerts in large venues, you’d experience the very best that life has to offer. I grew up in a small and declining city, where we braced for the icy grip of winter by drinking a lot of beer and urinating wherever the hell we wanted. That was the way it was back then: hard work, dues paid, large rock venues, and urinating regularly.
A bit of fiction, perhaps, although I did witness certain unnamed jerks peeing all over creation back then, into the pool, into the fire pit, and so forth. And the large venue rock concerts were a real thing, with people blowing huge plumes of pot smoke into the air, poisoning themselves and everyone around them.
It was awesome! I saw bands like The Who, Pink Floyd, and The Rolling Stones while packed in with drunk young people who threw up all over themselves. And then, I saw that some formerly hugely famous bands suddenly couldn’t fill those large rock venues and would instead play in bars. Bars! The very thought!
Now I can’t seem to bring myself to see the large rock show, unless it’s Radiohead. Instead, I prize the small venue.
Enter Billy Bragg, your favorite folk-punk love troubadour of yesteryear. Turns out Billy and his East London-esque accent were in town to play the tiny Sinclair in Cambridge, MA, easily the best small venue in the area, with great sight lines, reasonable crowd sizes, and actual urinals for us to use. Tickets went on sale in late 2018 for a late 2019 show, so the nation’s most acerbic high school principal had to clue me into tickets and encourage me to buy two pair, which I did while drinking beer and then going off to urinate.
I’ll admit I was a little worried about this show, as I was bringing my lovely bride of 16 years, who attends stand-up rock shows about as often as Jesus did, but seemed game enough if we could stand in the back. We did better, standing some 20 yards away on a secure balcony, with a clear view to Billy and his lefty anti-Trump, anti-Boris Johnson message.
I won’t go through all the songs, as you can always find those by going to setlist.fm, but I will tell you that for about half the show he was talking activitism, and in this bitterly divided world we currently live in, his message was enormously well-received in one of the most left-leaning cities in the US.
I’ve received word from my publicist that you’re wondering what my rock and roll experience was like way back in the 1990s. I’d rather not talk about it.
OK, but just this once. The decade was progressing more or less like most decades, in fits and starts without a strong sense of how to distinguish itself from other decades in the history books, when my acerbic high school principal friend Bob reemerged into the US from Colombia, where he’d been teaching. Bedraggled and looking for work, he nevertheless came armed with word of the band Soul Coughing. I was made to pay heed – probably via a cd he had illegally smuggled through customs undeclared, that sneaky bastard! Which he then ripped so we could listen to it endlessly on our smartphones (which we had purchased on Amazon).
Anyway, I listened to the first album, Ruby Vroom, on my smartphone on and on and on in the early-mid 1990s, while driving and texting, and right around when the second album was coming out, the band played a fundraiser gig at the Middle East Club in Cambridge (that be in MA). The lineup, by order of appearance, was Dan Zanes (of Del Fuegos), the incredible Groovasaurus, now lost to history (but with videos on youtube!), Morphine Jr. (Morphine sans their injured drummer, whom the show was benefitting, but with the legendary Mark Sandman at the helm), and headlined by Soul Coughing, doing a short and spot-on set (with Doughty getting pissed at one or two choice mosh-pit bullies).
I saw Soul Coughing probably 4 or 5 times after that first show, and then they too were gone forever, living on only as a band-that-was, as front man Mike Doughty wanted nothing to do with the music or the bandmates.
Until this winter, when Doughty launched a tour in which he reprised Ruby Vroom, playing it beginning to end with the band Wheatus backing him up. To my great pleasure, he played the music with faithfulness to the original hip groove, even if his band (with little pepper on the drums!) didn’t quite manage to recreate the energy of those early years.
But don’t take my word for it. Check it, from some early iteration of the band, doing Moon Sammy. (As always, I don’t own these videos and can’t count on them sticking around forever, so watch them now).
Have you met any of my friends? Let me tell you something, they’re a bunch of real jerks!
Between Tim, Mark, Todd, and Eric, you’d think one of them would shoulder some of the group’s emotional baggage, but no. All that baggage has to fall on my shoulders.
Then there’s Bob, who’s constantly contributing emotional baggage to the mix and is rarely shouldering it. Meanwhile, he has Howard, Steve, and Chris as his trusted lieutenants, willing to take a bullet for him, willing to shoulder great heaps of emotional baggage on his behalf, and still he is running a deficit between the emotional baggage he contributes and the amount he and his team shoulder.
This drives me bonkers! Get your shoulders into it if you want people to identify you as someone who has both give and take responsibilities, in terms of baggage that’s emotional in nature.
Meanwhile, I asked a couple of my enemies (you know who you are) about the fake emotional baggage they’re allegedly – and I do mean allegedly – contributing to the community, and it turns out they don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. It’s so refreshing! They’re extremely strong and powerful in their denials. They tell me that they are actually contributing emotional energy, not baggage. That’s the kind of attitude I wish some of my friends would have. Instead, they are meek and mild and friendly.
The reason that you can’t understand the dichotomy between my friends and my enemies is that I have a kind of a double-negative sort of thing going on.
Score one for my enemies.
Just because your email program can tell if I’ve opened the spam you’ve sent me doesn’t mean it knows if I’ve actually absorbed and internalized your slogans. Just ask anyone in my family: my eyes can pass over the little squiggly words on the screen and my lips can move as I read what’s in front of me, but my mind is pondering more important things:
Will Tom Brady finally win that elusive fifth Super Bowl ring this year? When will WEEI begin selling Red Sox sponsorship slots on a per-pitch basis? And when our coastal cities inevitably succumb to rising seas, will the dispersing of us urban liberals to inland locales mean we can finally win both the popular vote and the Electoral College in the same year?
I hate to break the news to you, but we boys in this household are famous for nodding in agreement at the things you gals say whilst our minds are busy wondering if we’ve put too much chocolate malt in the beer recipe. We’re not proud of it, but dammit we’re man enough to admit it. And don’t tell me you didn’t notice this years ago.
So go ahead and use your analytical tools. My brain laughs at you! Even as I write these words, I’m actually thinking that I should check weather-dot-com to see how warm it is in San Diego, to where Richard has repaired. And how cold it’s going to be in Minnesota in February, 2018, when Howard scores tickets for Uncle Bobby, Mook, and yours truly to see the Pats win another title.
Sorry, did you say something?
J'Biden Era Haikuage
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Repair. Restore. Heal.
There's nothing new here
The Affordable Care Act
We're restoring it
Democracy is fragile
The world is watching
Strategy is based
On Science, not politics
Truth, not denial
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