Why can’t you see, you’re fighting a million and me

God’s Favorite, “(Hurry Hurry) Sunday”
(not to be confused with God’s Favorite Band…different group entirely!)

Well, this is certainly a surprise!  This has been hiding on YouTube for almost a year and I never noticed until just this moment when I was doing a bit of Walk in Silence research.  This little gem of a track was the first song I ever taped off a college radio station (WMUA 91.1 at UMass Amherst) — the same taping session on 11 November 1986 that introduced me to The Go Betweens, Felt, and This Mortal Coil.

I listened to that tape so many times I pretty much wore it out, and it wasn’t until about a year ago that I had Jeff Shelton play it on his KSCU show The 80s Underground and finally heard it again after what seemed like decades.  I downloaded that particular podcast just so I could finally have the track in my collection again.  I was never able to find the vinyl anywhere when it was out, and as I currently do not have a turntable (yes, I am a heretic!), I can’t go on Amazon and buy it.

I remember hearing this track and thinking the vocals were a little too earnest (in that 80s indie way we’ve all come to love in retrospect), but there was that gently sweeping melody that kind of reminded me of early REM, who I was getting into at the time.  It also hinted at that pastoral walking-through-the-woods-in-autumn mood that I would get from a lot of the college rock I loved then.

Flying Bohemians Trivia:  This song is one of three that inspired me to write “Lift Your Heart Up (In Your Hands)” in 1991 (the others being Love and Rockets’ “Welcome Tomorrow” and Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians’ “Swirling”).

Christmas Time Is Here Again

So.  Here we are on Black Friday.  A. has the day off today and is in the other room listening to podcasts while I’m stuck here in Spare Oom until 4pm.  Neither of us are going to be heading out for any shopping any time soon (unless that includes heading to the local corner store for a few groceries).  She’s done most of her shopping online, and I’ll be doing that later today myself.

With the many post-college jobs I’ve held over the years, I’m used to working on holidays and busy shopping times.  I dealt with the Q4 sales season at HMV for a few years which actually started mid-September but really kicked into high gear on Black Friday; that’s when we’d put out all the Christmas cds and prepare the huge amount of backstock of the big sellers.  During the Yankee Candle years my schedule got truly wonky; ten-hour days, six days a week, and quadruple the volume going out.  Between those two jobs, it’s a wonder I still found the time to write!  [Noted, I did get sick a lot more often at that time, due to exhaustion and unhealthy eating and smoking habits.]

Even when I moved away from the retail and warehouse jobs, I still had to deal with the public: the last snowy commute when I lived in New Jersey, the last-minute calls of businesses holding their banking until the absolute last minute, and so on.  I don’t think I’ve ever taken any Christmas-season weeks off in my life, at least not without chalking them up as sick days.

So yeah, I’m well-versed in holiday stress.

That said…I do my best not to let it get to me.  Sure, I completely understand the irritation of long lines, clueless shoppers, squealing kids, long work hours, and so on.  But I decided early on that these petty grievances are part and parcel of the experience, and chose not to dwell on them.  Too often, negativity spawns more negativity.  My complaining about the idiot in front of me to the guy behind me is going to make that guy think ‘you know, you’re right’, and he’ll end up in a bad mood.  Life’s too short to be irritated by everything under the sun.*

This is the time of year where I choose to embrace everything good that’s happened, on a personal level and otherwise.  Time to listen to all the great albums that came out this year.  Time to bask in the fact that I self-published a book, with three others coming out in the not-too-distant future.  Time to think about how lucky I am to have great friends and family.  Time to think about how awesome A. is.  And just enjoy the positivity that comes around.


* – Granted…this isn’t about me willfully ignoring truly bad things in the world.  I’m just as frustrated and saddened as most people by the events in Paris, the Syrian refugee situation, and at this very moment, the shooting in Colorado Springs, for example.  The point to this post is about dealing with petty irritations that really don’t amount to much in the grander scheme of things.

You Say You Want a Revolution

I try not to go into politics all that much online, at least not anymore.  I used to debate and growl and soapbox like the rest of them out there, but in the words of John Lennon, I’m “no longer riding on the merry go round / I just had to let it go.”  I found that I was taking a lot of things a little too personally and emotionally, and realized that not only was that unhealthy for me, it was also pretty irritating to everyone else.  I had to back away and focus on more important things in my life, like family and writing.

I still think about it some, just not as much as I used to.  This past week has been kind of a tough one, considering all the white noise I’ve been hearing.  [I use the term ‘white noise’ here to describe the heavy volume of Tweets and FB posts on certain political subjects, most of which is usually in the form of shouting matches, name-calling and trolling.  Most of it is well-meant but often drowned out by the thousands of others saying the same exact thing and the thousands of others saying the exact opposite.  Thus, white noise.]

It’s not that I’m ignoring the injustice and the idiocy out there.  I’m still well aware of it.  I’m just not offering my opinion on a public platform nearly as much as I used to.

Sure, I may still be a rebel at heart in some respects.  If I want my voice to be heard, believe me, I can make it heard.  But I realized some years ago that the voice I was using was getting lost in the din of that white noise.  Or as I’d said on my LJ, I no longer wanted to contribute to a lot of the hot air that was already out there.  I chose to internalize my thoughts about things…think about them, figure them out.  Think about why they were bothering me, what I can do about it (if anything), and go from there.

One avenue that hasn’t escaped me when it comes to this sort of thing is music.  I’m fascinated by protest songs, especially if they’re in an unexpected format.  That is, protest songs that aren’t outright protest songs like the ones we expect from Pete Seeger, or early Dylan, or Billy Bragg.  Or even obvious outcries, such as the punk aesthetic of the Sex Pistols or Dead Kennedys.  Some of them are oblique, only describing a hectic mise en scene of a stressful time.  Others are more poetic, describing the mood or the mindset of those involved.

Still others decide to offer no filter; calling it like it is, for good or ill.  Pouring out black bile and anger and never holding back once.

In the past week or so, I’ve been trying to focus on many things in my life, both internal and external.  Trying to keep focus on my writing deadlines and near-future writing plans. Trying to avoid overindulgence of social media and social justice.  Trying to avoid reading the comments.  Trying to keep an even mind and an even heart.  It’s tough, especially when it sometimes feels like it’s expected of me to react to whatever injustice is going on. It’s tough, but I have found ways to calm myself.

Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, as Congreve says.



WIS: Points of Interest II – Northampton

A few more pictures from our visit to New England a few weeks ago…this time focusing on Northampton.  Our road trips in 1987-88 often included a stop or two down here.  I obviously gravitated towards the record stores and sometimes the book stores, but there were also quite a few excellent restaurants here as well.  It’s still one of my favorite places to go when we’re in the area.  I would not mind living here either, if it were not for the fact that we’d have to deal with snowy winters!

Downtown Northampton

Downtown Northampton, north side of Main Street across from City Hall

Here’s a panoramic shot of part of downtown Northampton, as seen from across the street in front of City Hall.  That alleyway is Cracker Barrel Alley.  We used to park in the lot back there during our trips to Main Street Music, which is where Village Salon on Main is now, to the left of Starbucks.  Here’s another view of the Alleyway.

Cracker Barrel Alley...many an evening clutching my latest record purchases while walking here.

Cracker Barrel Alley…many an evening clutching my latest record purchases while walking here.

A few reasons I show this. On our trips to MSM, there was many a night’s end when we’d be walking down this alleyway and back to the car, clutching our latest spoils and already planning when we’d borrow them for further dubbing.  In fact, after our shopping we’d often hang here for a good half hour, talking about all sorts of things before we had to head back home.  It has not changed one bit, maybe aside from the repaving.

Second?  See that building in the background?  That community-themed mural has been there for decades (and touched-up here and there), at least since the 80s.  But the important part was that boring little brick wall around the corner from it.  About two stories up, someone sometime in the early 80s spraypainted the word ‘ANARCY‘ in large black letters.  No idea how they got up there, and I don’t think anyone fessed up to it, either.  But promoting anarchy to the point that you deliberately spell it wrong?  We loved that idea!  It fit in with our 80s small-town nonconformist ideals quite nicely.  I think it stayed up there at least until the early 90s when it was finally powerwashed off, but I’m sure most Smithies and other Five College kids from that era will remember and cherish that tag.

And when I was down here with family, while I spent most of my time (and money) at MSM, my dad would often go a few doors down to…


Broadside Books, a fiercely indie bookstore that would make City Lights proud.

…which not only is still open, but still looks the same after all these years!  This indie has always been a mix of commercial, obscure, and political since 1974.  It’s a quintessentially New England type of indie, a community-first type of store that offers the bestsellers alongside books on grassroots politics and local history.

Faces, where many 80s rock pins for my denim jacket were purchased.

Faces, where many 80s rock pins for my denim jacket were purchased.

Ah, Faces!  It opened here in 1986 during the high point of that decade’s fashion, and catered to all kinds of ridiculousness.  This was your one-stop shop for dayglo clothing, fun printed tee-shirts, whoopee cushions, fake poop, posters (album, band, and black-light), disposable dorm and apartment furniture and accessories (in their huge basement), and anything else to make your college life California flashy in an otherwise drab New England.  And also where I bought a crapton of those pins you might remember seeing on denim jackets in that decade.  I usually went for the rock band logos, album covers, and the occasional silly jokey ones (‘I’m not weird, everyone else is!’).  It very nearly closed recently, but since it’s so beloved by students and locals alike, someone bought it from the original owner and it’s still alive and well.

Thornes Marketplace Building and environs, including a boot shop that I believe is older than me!

Thornes Marketplace Building and environs, including a boot shop next door that I believe is older than me!

Just across the way from Faces is another hangout, Thornes Marketplace.  Their website states it took over the site of the old McCallum’s Department store in the mid 70s and by 1977 or so it got its present name and has been an indoor shopping experience ever since.  There are stores of varying shapes and sizes, from clothing boutiques to kitchen accessories and even an Acme Surplus in the basement!  Speaking of which, way down in the sub-basement (back parking lot level) was a huge used record store called Dynamite Records.  It didn’t so much cater to hard-to-find obscurities as it did those albums you never got around to picking up when they were new, or that one record you’re missing from some band’s discography.  This was a bit later on, I believe, maybe in the early 90s and into the early 00s, as I spent many an afternoon beefing up my back catalog with their selection.   OH!  Yes, and just around the corner on that side street to the right (Old Street) is Herrell’s Ice Cream, quite possibly one of the best local ice cream parlors in the area.

Pleasant Street, which really hasn't changed all that much...aside from the storefronts

Pleasant Street, which really hasn’t changed all that much…aside from the storefronts

This little strip at the head of Pleasant Street has changed a bit over the years.  Northampton Wools is where Pleasant Street Video used to be for decades (said to be one of the best local rental places in town, and had quite the collection of popular and obscure titles).  McLadden’s Irish Pub has taken place of the former Pleasant Street Theatre, where all kinds of indie and low-budget movies would be shown.  I never went there until the mid-90s, but I did get to see quite a few great films there.  Their basement screening room was so tiny and oddly shaped, the first two rows had 3 seats on either side.  Further up is another record store I’d frequent in the 90s called Turn It Up! Records, down in a musty basement.  I usually went here for used cds, as their dollar bins were quite choice.  They’re still there, I believe!

One last thing I want to post here…it’s another ‘no longer there’ Google Maps embed, but it’s kind of important, at least to me!  It’s one of the stores in the strip mall on King Street, north of the town center, right near I-91.

This is the storefront where Northampton Newsroom used to be, back in the 70s and 80s (and I believe into the early 90s). It was your small WaldenBooks-style store with a selection of genres, a wide selection of newspapers and magazines, as well as candy, gifts and more.  I mention this place because in late 1984 during one of our family shopping trips down to the Valley, I bought a book here called Dragon Fall by Lee J Hindle.  It was the first winner of a YA writer contest for its publisher, and when I heard a teen had written it, a light bulb went off: hey, I could do this too!  I’d written some stories here and there that didn’t go anywhere, but after seeing this, there was no helping it…I had to be a writer too.  I started writing the Infamous War Novel in earnest and never looked back.

Hope you enjoyed the tour! 🙂