29 years ago today we convened in your mom's old basement apartment at 371 Garfield St. to hang out and smoke pot. Little did we know what was to emerge from that simple, fun session would shape our musical future. And oddly enough, the words that formed at my father's lips after hearing our music was our battle-cry; our motivation to keep the faith, no matter what others thought or said.
From the siren of the police car just outside your window that we instinctively decided to tape to begin the session, the die was cast. I picked up your backwards-strung acoustic guitar and began to strum unique pseudo-chords, you sang and moaned your bizarre, creative lyrics, pressed the record button on your old boom box and cranked out YP, Appointment, Turkey Roll and others. We even used your kitchen sink's running water as a syncopated rhythm track. Nothing was off limits. We jammed, laughed, taped and played it all back, knowing little of what we had truly done. We were 21.
Through the years that followed, we expanded our arsenal and our repertoire, jamming each Thursday for a while and penning more bizarre lyrics, adding drum machines, keyboards, electric guitars, electronic de-vices. We gave our sessions album names - (fill in the blank) Cuts, whatever we were into at the time and were downright smug about it. We began multi-tracking, which offered an entirely new palette of sound. When we didn't have a rhythm track, we used an empty water bottle and a bag of potato chips. When we didn't have lyrics, we used a newspaper or grocery list to recite or howl the day's events over an interesting chord progression. We made some seriously drug-addled videos and performed a gig and a half only to never returned to the stage - we were too outrageous and innovative even for ourselves. I see that clearly now.
"Hey Jonni, wanna jam?" was our cue to let the tape roll and let the night and our own creative prowess take us where we hadn't been before. The exchange was evident as the songs came seemlessly and effortlessly; lyric meets riff, rehearse once, tape, then onto the next song - lather, rinse, repeat. We adopted a work ethic which, though at the time unbeknownst to me, is eireely poignant for me today - let it flow and let it go.
And now, here we are, on the 29th anniversary of that fateful night. Cold Cuts has shaped the way I play guitar and write songs. It gave me the safe, creative outlet I needed to get me through some hard times as a young adult and has afforded me the gifts of joy, confidence, experimentation and brotherhood along the way. Through all the bands I was ever a part of, joined or lead (and there were many!), Cold Cuts has outlived them all and endured. We're still making music after 29 years. There's something to be said about that.
I salute and honor your endless stream of innovation, articulation, brilliance and absurdity, your willingness to try anything musically for the sake of the song and most significantly, your support and belief in me as a guitarist, writer and musician, even at times when I didn't believe in myself.
And though we opened the door to our sessions on only 3 different occasions (Nappi, Eryn & J9), we are now letting the world in, as it should be at this time. May the upcoming year bring more joy, prosperity and abundance to our lives and continue the creative flow of the world's most fun, outlandish and expressive band, Cold Cuts.
Happy Anniversary, Brother.
“They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”
Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell, 1970
It is a cold, bleak, soaked morning as I peer over my city-suburban landscape. Barren, though rooftops fill my view. Something is missing; something which transcends early morning java chat over office desks, social media posts, war highlights and desktop weather alerts.
“There is unrest in the forest, there is trouble with the trees.”
The Trees, Rush, 1978.
Enter, stage left:
Her name is Joya (or so we named her). Her liberal appendages swaying with the wind, blessing us with summer breezes, sprinkling us with tiny drops to alert us of the impending storm, and gifting us with a green panorama, shrouding the sullenness of weather-worn shingle gray and chipped brick. She, as all others like her, is divine in presence, majestic in aura and the clincher in my decision to reside where I do. Unfortunately, with a sheer arrogance only rivaled by utter ignorance, we have momentarily forgotten about the natural world and all it offers and as a result, she falls victim to the blade and to the disregard, the fear and the clock, and in the time it takes this country to get it’s meathooks into American Idol, she is reduced by small men with big toys though mostly by society at large.
“…Endless rooftops from my window, I felt the gloom of empty rooms on rainy afternoons.”
Circumstances, Rush, 1978
Enter, stage right:
His name is Kenneth. His creative essence is palpable, surging through his hands, onto the canvas, paper, guitar, microphone – magically transforming whichever medium he chooses. Stained, blood soiled sheets litter his disheveled quarters, a by-product of the looming twilight he retains, deeply. These two irrepressible forces wrench at his core, simultaneously at times, until finally his fragile eggshell gives way and he falls victim to the blade and the disregard, the fear and the clock and is slowly reduced to gaping wounds, shattered dreams and lost hope.
I feel the loss of them both, profoundly.
He survives, she doesn’t.
“It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong.”
Nature’s Way, Spirit, 1970
We have neglected compassion, for the Creator’s gifts, for our fallen brother & sister. Our attempts at understanding fall short at times, or miss the bull’s eye completely, and we, in turn label, categorize or worse yet, turn, imperceptive for fear of seeing something in ourselves which may tug at a chord in the hollows of our inner sanctum. How can our eyes witness so much beauty, so much light and not be blinded? We have been conditioned to ignore grace in favor of indifference and accept rigidity in place of love. Stories are handed to us in bitter mouthfuls, each one more leaden than the last and we swallow as whole, inquiring of none.
When the smoke clears, we either 1-slay the dragon (in the name of fear), 2-allow the dragon to slay us (in the name of victimization) or 3-make peace with the dragon (in the name of serenity) so becoming diminished over time, reduced to a mere blip on our radar.
“Ice blue silver sky fades into grey, to a grey hope that, oh, yearns to be, starless and bible black.”
Starless, King Crimson, 1974
As I settle into the night calm, my heart fills with love, an austere lesson of compassion and a call for forgiveness at the foot of the mountain, to the service of my fellow humanoid, animal friend and Mother Earth, for one grave slip down the abyss and I could be in a similar quagmire. I am drawn to the fortuitousness of these two seemingly unrelated events, both of which rented real estate in my body today and occurred within hours of each other. Their link is a lesson for us all, for the future of humankind, for right now.
Regrettably, she didn’t have a choice about her survival.
But we do.
No trees (or humans) were harmed in the writing of this article.
There’s no good music anymore.
This statement, along with “I don’t listen to anything past 1980” was conveyed to me by an old bandmate regarding rock music a few years back. Judging his statement harshly, I immediately deemed him as “stuck in the past”. Surely, if one were to critically view the state of our present music culture solely based upon the Billboard Top 40, I tend to agree with his argument. Conversely, if you look deep enough, there’s always existed the counter-culture (beatniks and then, hippies) and even the counter-culture to the counter-culture (punks), presently (and vaguely) known as the alternative. Also, as a result of the ever-changing face of rock music, in many ways there’s never been a better time to seek out new, interesting, diverse, genre-defying music, but this is a topic for another article.
If I were to succumb to his words, I’d never write another song, pluck another note, slap another beat or sing another melody for fear of nostalgia (or, if you prefer, the “good old days”) casting such a foreboding shadow as to obliterate anything proceeding it. But face it; every generation has their glory days, and rightly so, no matter how ridiculous this seems to the generation preceding it. I’m thinking in particular of a time I was in a bar in the mid-90’s where a group of then 20-somethings were singing along boisterously (and perhaps drunkenly) to Brian Adams’ Summer Of ’69. Being the musical snob of yore that I was, my immediate thought was “how goofy, couldn’t they pick a better song?”. My next thought was “back in MY day…”. You get the picture.
But what is it really that draws us back into nostalgia’s warm inviting arms? Is it the security of its’ familiarity? Are we inherently comfortable with things we know, places we’ve been? Is it more difficult to boldly stand before the future with an open heart, not knowing what lay ahead? As a result, do we grow more complacent with age?
We, as humans tend to romanticize the past, at times rewriting it, twisting it so it fits neatly into our own vision of who we were, who we are and who we wish to be. I’ve heard others say that there won’t be anything like “blank” again (fill in the “blank” with your favorite pop culture memory). Perhaps that’s so, but history has proven time and again of our evolution as opposed to our de-evolution (though the new wave band DEVO (whom I love) and the mass media (whom I don’t love) would have us believe otherwise).
Before any type of therapy or recovery, I used to perpetually dream of going back to my childhood so I could relive it. Though I do recall the carefree lightheartedness of that era of my personal history, in reality it was underscored with physical, emotional and psychological abuse, pain, fear, shame and perpetually living up to someone else’s unrealistic expectations, all attributes any clear-thinking adult would steer clear of. In the unearthing of my sordid past, I now know of my desire to time travel. Feeling robbed of my childhood in many ways, my desire was to relive correctly a misspent youth knowing what I know now, which of course is impossible, but understandable given the circumstances. So, perhaps that’s part of the lure.
Recently, I had the privilege of reuniting with some old bandmates I hadn’t seen or heard from in 30 years. Clearly we were different beings in our late teens than we are now. For one year after finding each other on Facebook (and after much reminiscing), we planned a reunion drawing up possible set lists and posting old videos of bands we once covered (which in large part weren’t available to view pre-cyberspace save late night TV). It was all too exciting, really, and a real jolt for my nostalgic tendencies. I envisioned it all in my head: we were tight, powerful, loud and ready to rock, just as it was 30 years ago. Or was it?
Truth be told, I can’t recall EXACTLY how we sounded all those years ago (there are no surviving recordings at the time of this publication). Sure, I recall the feeling of it all - that I had enormous fun and I’d like to think that even at the tender age of 19, I had enough talent and discerning taste not to be a contributing member of a band that couldn’t play or sounded bad. Nevertheless, nostalgia swiftly took the wheel and I was along for the ride, because in my head, 1-we were a force to be reckoned with (which may or may not have been so) and 2-we are STILL a force to be reckoned with (less likely so). So, we finally set our date, booked our 2 hour slot and for 2 weeks I rehearsed, fretted, obsessed, dreamt, obsessed some more and prayed and meditated a whole lot. Then came the day.
Sparing the details, it was great to be back in the fold with guys I spent an important part of my formative years with. It was great fun and the music wasn’t bad for being churned out by four rusty latter-day metalheads but the biggest thrill for me was the late night catch-up segment afterwards at the greasy spoon down the road. Over late night grub, we talked not only of olden days but of our present endeavors and topics both musically and un-musically related, the ties that bind us so apparantly present. I felt a ping in my heart as we departed, vowing to not let another 30 years go by without speaking. What I find so striking about this is that if you take away the link to our respective adolescences (which, in fact was short in regard to time spent together), we’re just four men leading very different lives who happen to play music. Once that link is replaced, we become united in brotherhood, sharing a solidarity which will always possess value, truth, warmth and significance. So, to what extent of that experience is nostalgia playing a role and what portion is reality? And does is really matter in the end?
Shortly after our get together, one of my brethren declared “I felt so nostalgic” which prompted me to dig deeper. The human psyche holds onto so many of our life experiences (all of them, really, though some more readily dialed up than others), it’s difficult at times to know when we’re dealing with old stuff or new feelings (as one program of recovery states, “if it’s hysterical, it’s historical”). In cases of nostalgia, I submit that as long as we don’t allow it’s alluring, false-sense of reality to grip us into submission and invite us into permanent residency, then who’s to say a little time traveling isn’t good for the soul?
Location: Seaside Heights, NJ
Weather: Sunny, 82 degrees and windy as a mother (but no clouds whatsoever)
In time-honored tradition, I decided to make the trek to the shore, as only Jersey-speak can lay claim to. This was to be in honor of, well, me, celebrating the anniversary of my entry into this particular physical plane.
But let's rewind the cassette a bit, shall we? At 12:10 on the morning of, I cast forth into the universe these 3 things: 1- my new website, 2- the 1st single from my new album, 3- the announcement of my birthday, all happening concurrently. Yes, the ol' hat trick! Never have I regarded me or my art in such high esteem. See, my past is sordid at best, but, alas, we're not there, we're here and all roads converge here, literally and spiritually, as evidenced by the above testimony. So, here is where I'll place my focus.
Exciting as all this is, it proved to be just the advent of a star-studded day, replete with many cameo appearances; winding through many emotional peaks, most of which I'll dub as gratitude, elation, love, grace and spirit. With a soundtrack of summer-themed songs fizzing out of my crackling speakers and blasting me through time and space, I proceeded southbound. But I'll spare you of all the fragments of the day which only I'll find interesting. Rather, here's the cliff notes:
But the greatest of these today arrived in the form of the spiritual equivalent of a house call from my dad. You see, my dad passed from this life a little over 5 years ago and though I have forgiven myself and made peace with him in the process, our relationship wasn't without strain most times.
But today, and possibly for the 1st time since his passing, he came to visit, fully; that is, his core presence was wholey felt, as if he were riding shotgun or better yet, tandem, as I was on my bike. No words were exchanged - for they were unneccesary. I understood fully the reason for his visit and I accepted, with a brimming heart at first, and then, with grace. In short, it was clear that he was there to witness me as I now witness myself - through the eyes of Source, with all the love, support, respect, acknowledgment and pride thereof. Truly, this was a first in our relationship and as he saw me, I saw myself, and vice versa. I felt complete, knowing I was in good company, finally.
Mind-blowing, to say the least.
Last, it is neither my intention nor motive to compare and contrast (though I realize it is by virtue of contrast's presence which enables us to more clearly see our best), but the light with which I coursed through my day today (and lately, on the whole) was a fresh experience for me and as a result, I feel the dawning of a shift - from standing in the hallway to the opening of a multitude of doors ahead.
Indeed, it was red-letter birthday, possibly the greatest.
I mopped up your blood today.
Yes, your blood, like my blood, and his, and theirs. I hadn’t planned on such merrymaking. But your blood summoned me, like an old compadre - so customary, cordial, scattered. I didn’t want to respond. Rather, I preferred recoiling into seclusion - well, getting the hell out of there, really, but I stuck around anyway.
It’s presence perceptible without sight, poignant without smell. I jolted the padlock once and pried open the old door, remaining cognizant of it. Still, it was a chance encounter when I happened upon it - rust draped on curtains, sticky brick thickets on sooty wood floors, pale crimson-adorned mats, like the kind our parents procured at department stores when we were younger.
What enticed you to relinquish your blood to the world? Such secrets are to be kept. Only children are granted pardon for this, their reckless abandon skinning knees and braising brows. But you? It takes audacity to dance in such close quarters with death, to spill your robust wine on any surface that will accept it, to litter your abode with it’s breadth.
Amidst the recklessness, I pinpointed the mop and scrubbed, rinsed, repeated until your room fell silent, fell untarnished, as if God signaled me to cease, your one abhorrent act obliterated even if momentarily.
Can something so disconcerting ever be fully eradicated, it’s frenetic energy lingering longer than even you will? For the sake of those whose residence follows yours, I surely hope this is the case. Because the blood has a life of it’s own. Savvy, holds information that spans generations, cleanses, cures, recalls, restores, breathes life. Life, for the living.
I wrung the mop dry, the ruby-tinged liquid cascading toward the hollow drain, your grave torment rinsed clear and away, fixing my gaze upon the absurdity of it all. Washed my hands in similar fashion as I didn’t want to take you with me. Heaving a sigh, I drew a long cleansing breath, wrenching the heaviness of this selfless act from me, jerked the latch, swung open the door and departed, the scene clear, like a movie set. Is this how you envisioned it for those left behind?
What force led me to your door? How did I know you were suffering in silence? Your blood spoke volumes without muttering a word. It told me, and I knew.
In the end, the blood unites us, your blood and mine and hers, and theirs. Because like tears, all blood taste the same...
Bitter, tender, harrowing.