These pictures kept me up all night. A friend sent them to me yesterday. I don’t think I had ever seen them before, but I lay in bed, in my nice little suburban home 24 years removed from the moment documented in these photos feeling victorious. I couldn’t fully express the emotion I was feeling. I just could not put it into words. When I tried to, I was given that very familiar ‘that’s cute, you’ve got some big ideas’ smile. The friendly but, still not really understanding look. Cue Rod fucking Serling smoking a cigarette. No one ever listens to me.
But these photos contain the start of a 24 year chapter in my life story. As I looked at them, some themes emerged. Simply put, a lot has happened between these photo moments and today. It’s been un-fucking-real. But I have not changed. Grown a bit? I’ll allow for that, but changed, not. And that’s ok, because I’ve come to recognize that many of things people ostracize you for when you are young, are the same fucking things they celebrate you for when you are old. I’m hoping that, God willing, I’m firmly in the middle of that growth process. I’m a manchild with a mortgage. My family, while maybe not fully understanding the maniac in their midst, know that I am insubordinate and incorrigible and allow me to do whatever the fuck I want. They care about me. It’s my life ‘process’ and they lovingly allow me to “happen”. My childish scheme now helps to support a family of five with 2.5 cars, picket fence – the whole bit. I thought I was a nihilist, but these photos shows me I had a long term plan all along. I stuck with it. I held onto it like a life raft through some very dark fuckin times and it lifted me up. As long as I stayed on it, I won. If I diverted, I lost and almost drowned. Again and again.
These photographs brings so many thoughts and related stories to mind, It’s hard to share just five:
- I’m young here, not so much now. I made it this far. I should have died 382 times already. I’ve truly pushed the limits and done some really dumb shit that I am still trying to accept. It’s a process. Thank you, God for allowing me time to sort this shit out. Also, thanks for allowing me to still occasionally fit a size 31 waist. These are a white T-shirt, Levis and white Chuck Taylors so I don’t know why I still managed to look so fucking ridic, but whatever. I still look pretty much the same with a few lines on the face. I think all of the drugs I did in my 20s have kept me feeling younger than my years. Plus I have a dangerously handsome three year old son now. Everybody says he has the same shape and body English as me, but he seems to gravitate towards the drums. I’m working on that. So, seeing what I look like young I fully realize there’s a circular thing going on that’s definitely to be continued…
- This is in Sea Bright, NJ – It initially took me a minute to realize where these photos were taken and when I did I was a bit astonished. This is some kind of gig in the parking lot of the Sea Bright firehouse and beach. The beach and firehouse in Sea Bright shared a parking lot – you can see behind us the open sky over the Atlantic Ocean. Sea Bright is a small, almost “village-y” kind of town. Its very unique. It’s a little peninsula that’s maybe a total of 300 yards across between the Shrewsbury River and The Atlantic Ocean. No one has ever heard of it. It’s a small club. The small two story A-frame houses that line the tiny streets between the river and the ocean, are only a few feet apart. There are only 8 of these streets organized into the few tiny rectangular blocks that comprised my entire world : Peninsula Ave, River St, South St, Church St, New St, Surf St, Beach St, and Center Street. That was the whole town to us and the north and south of the downtown area just didn’t exist. The firehouse and surrounding parking lot was a kind of community watering hole and Sea Bright was a DRINKING and live music town. There would always be events going on here during Spring, Summer and Fall. There were Fireman’s fairs and wetdowns. This was when the department got a new vehicle, there would be a huge party with bands and food and kegs upon kegs of beer and just general raging and they would ceremoniously spray the new truck with beer and water from the fire hoses. The whole town would be there as well as neighboring fire companies coming for the beer and party. Growing up I saw a thousand bands here. I learned that people really love to drink shit tons of beer and have a great time and that live bands were an integral part of that ecosystem. I went from being an 8 year old kid sneaking beers in the crowd, to an 18 year old kid in the band sneaking beers in my amp. Here is the photo of the day that happened. It took 10 years. It felt like an honor, was a graduation of sorts and a pretty big victory in my tiny world, though it may not look much from the pictures. This is where I’m from and the place where my shit got started.
- This is one of my first paying gigs (its also my first real band) – I’ve been a sellout since day one. I always knew that I wanted to make a living playing the guitar. It’s a childish notion, really. Thank God I’m childish. People discourage this tendency in artists of all levels. “You are a sell out, you are making impure art when money is involved” blah blah –– this from your peers. “Music is a hobby, music is not a way to make a living, its impossible, what are you trying to be famous?” – — this from the outsiders. I knew that trying to become famous or whatever the usual tack most young people involved in the arts take was bullshit. I felt I could either work on making actual cash money right now or lose it all wasting time trying to get a meeting with Atlantic Records for the next 15 years. At the end of that kind of career, if you aint famous you’re pretty much done. Plus you’ve been plugging away in some shit day job to support your music. It’s dumb to me. I worked playing the whole time supporting myself in a niche, foreign genre that doesn’t really produce superstars, save for Bob Marley . I haven’t had a job since the day these photos was taken (save for an odd temp agency run that lasted a few months when I was in between bands back in 2001). I started earning almost immediately; and even though I’m far from famous, I did eventually get that meeting with Atlantic Records…and Warner Bros, and Epic and Virgin. I write songs for all of them occasionally, and here and there a couple do OK. Not having parental guidance in my life allowed me to make crazy, dumb and bold decisions and stick with them.
- Young man, old guitar – Sometimes I wonder if I am one of those “ old souls’ you hear folks talk about. I have always connected with music that is not of my era. I like old shit. All old everything. I also have this idea that old stuff that works, just works and just go ahead and use it because it’s good. Case in point is the guitar and amp in this picture. It’s a Gibson Les Paul and Marshall JCM 800 combo amp. Even at 18, I wasn’t fucking around. Bucket list gear, right to the top with no compromise boom, done. Growing up, my house was filled with three things : drugs, music, and the people who love them. The music in question was classic rock, heavy on the guitar. Wake up for school 7am, boom – Mom is high as hell downstairs with Allman Brothers wailing away on the kitchen radio, which stayed on all hours of day and night except sleeping time. I come home from school, high as hell here is Led Zeppelin, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Rolling Stones on the radio, etc etc on and on. So I knew what “good guitar” sounded like from diapers. Eventually you learn about the specific instruments that make those amazing sounds and, if you are like me you have to have them. Its never ending. I never really thought I would own a Les Paul in my teenage mind. It seemed possible, but too future distant to be worth really thinking about at the time. They cost more than a fairly decent used car, then and now. When you are 18 and broke that kind of money for a guitar is not in the cards. I’m so stubborn when it comes to electric guitars and I only really play Fender and Gibsons or anything old and American. I like American and British amplifiers and that’s about it. The technology is over 60 yeas old at this point but still sounds definitive to me and most people. I now have all kinds of Gibsons and Fenders etc, but this guitar here has its own story – how I got it (thanks Sea Bright Police Dept), where its been , that it is its own tale I absolutely would love to tell you at another time. Its almost cinematic.
- Loyalty and longterm friendships – Musicians, like athletes and even soldiers form these weird bonds that aren’t really understood by those outside of their little communities. In music, you meet some real nutcases that often turn out to be great brothers and sisters to you throughout your life. The fact is, you learn lessons, good and bad about community and teamwork in these environments. Bands have been my personal “life college” for a long time. I am still in touch with 3 of the four players in this band. They have been lifelong friends and even though I don’t seem them very much these days at all (one showed up recently at my door on a random craigslist visit allowing us to reconnect) I still occasionally link up and they are all amazing humans.
Chris Colbert GUITAR – my childhood guitar rival – was effortlessly head and shoulders above all of us in natural ability, and it really pissed me off. It was he who sent me these incredible memories. Thanks Chris!
Joe Peterson BASS – everybody has always loved Joe. They still do. Everybody knows Joe. Joe is one of the most accomplished jazz musicians in NJ. Everybody knows about Joe on the bass. Fun fact : we put Joe on the bass! He came to rehearsal a few times with a guitar and in fact was the first high school band show I ever saw during the hardcore days in the Local VFW. He brought me to see his band. But we already had this guy Rolfe on guitar who was a way better player than me. And there was Chris, and no question he wasnt playing bass. Joe graciously put down the guitar and picked up the bass, selflessly allowing us to get on with it. As for myself, I never wanted to be a singer, but had to compromise so I could hold my own in a world of guitar players that smoked me. There is a lesson or two here. Adapt your shit and be ready to compromise to achieve the win. No one wants to be the singer or bassist when youre a kid. Everyone wanted be the lead guitarist or the drummer at that age. Besides, I have severe stage fright and it’s hard for me to sing in front of people. I make it work, but I still envy those bastards with no social control mechanism and endless natural talent.
Jeff Kilgour DRUMS – still works successfully in the music industry. Jeff’s mom, Jean was nice enough to tolerate our shenanigans in her house for almost two years. She let us have parties there that became our first time really playing in front of people. Rule was, no booze off the property. God bless her and the Kilgours. Jeff was always up for trying to do the band as a business. We wanted to play gigs and earn money. Straight up.
A million people told me to not attempt to play guitar for a living or they tried to tell me how to do shit that they haven’t even done themselves. Had I listened to them, I probably would not be laying in this home surrounded by my family. Mommy was in the opening band, kids. I would not have all my amazing friends. I would not have all of the gifts and blessings that I did not even know I had coming when these photos were taken. It’s all still so weird to me because I did so much wrong in between these photos and now, but I kept at it and eventually my shit turned out right. So that means my path was right, which is crazy to think. I never changed, and I am so very thankful for all of it. I still play my guitars for a living, and I still love drinking beer and having a great time.
I look forward to many more sometimes-easy, sometimes-hard, sometimes-ugly, most-times beautiful but always-worthwhile experiences along this musical journey.
If you’d like to hear the most recent milestone of this journey, click here to listen to my most recent album, ‘Decade of Dubs’.