What’s in a name you say? Well, when I was growing up, there were certain words that – whenever spoken, always conjured up a feeling or an urge inside of you. Something that was more than just a rational, cognizant realization.
Let me give you a few examples from my own childhood to prove my point:
No, not Fred’s “Yabba Dabba Doo” buddy from The Flintstones. In my neck of the woods (on the south side of Easton, PA), Barney meant only one thing: The guy who made the best cheesesteaks this side of Philly. Although Barney’s been dead for nearly two decades I can still recall the days of eating his wares in his Steak Shop while trying my luck on the latest video games like Vanguard and Defender and listening to the Foreigner “4” album on the jukebox.
No, not the imaginary place or state of things in which everything is perfect (although some of the questionable paraphernalia they sold there may have you think otherwise). Utopia was/is a store in the downtown section of town where all of the teens would congregate in the 1980’s in order to purchase the latest AC/DC or Pretenders album and get concert tickets for Stabler Arena or the Allentown Fairgrounds.
I’m not talking about the chick that swiped the football out from under Charlie Brown. Lucy’s was the neighborhood candy store that served up the finest in Swedish Fish, Tootsie Rolls and Hostess Twinkies.
See how one word can easily trigger something deep inside you? And while we’re on the subject, let me give you a pair of words that does the same thing for me:
Whenever these two words are mentioned together it instantly reminds me of one of the scariest films I ever saw as pubescent teenager – “A Nightmare on Elm Street”.
Sure, by the time that movie came out in 1984, I had already been covering my ears to the creepy intro music of “Halloween” and hidden my eyes from the inevitable pop up scare scenes in the closing minutes of the first two “Friday The 13th” movies. But there was something far more diabolical with Elm Street. For unlike Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees – who at least early on were actual human beings, Freddy Kreuger represented something that was far more sinister – an unknown, malevolent creature who came to us in our darkest dreams.
Watching the scene where poor Amanda Wyss’ character, Tina, is standing in the alley way while Freddy’s arms grow and he pounces on her still gives me an uneasy feeling some thirty years later.
Back then, I wasn’t even aware of some of Craven’s earlier films like “The Last House on The Left” or “The Hills Have Eyes”. All I knew was from that point forward, anytime I saw the words “Wes Craven” before a film’s title, I knew immediately it would be scary and I would have to see it. And although some of his work was questionable in the years following NOES -“The Hills Have Eyes Part II” and “Shocker” immediately come to mind, Craven was back in top form for “Scream” in 1996. Single-handedly creating a film that (at least to me) rivaled Elm Street in terms of its originality and scare.
So hearing the news late last night that Wes Craven had passed away at the age of 76 was somewhat shocking. Knowing that there will never be another film that will give me that same feeling when I see the title. But whenever I hear those two words together – “Wes Craven”, I’ll always remember a man whose vision and memorable characters will continue to live on, both on screen and in dreams.
Back in 2014, Paul McCartney had a great idea for an album. He just needed a world-renowned guitarist and singer to make it happen.
Enter John Pizzarelli, whose musical interpretations of such legendary artists as Frank Sinatra, James Taylor and McCartney’s former band, the Beatles, have received critical acclaim. Pizzarelli even worked with McCartney on his 2012 album, Kisses on the Bottom.
McCartney invited Pizzarelli to delve into his deep catalog of post-Beatles material and take some of his lesser-known tunes and reinterpret them in a mellow jazz style.
The resulting album, Midnight McCartney (which will be released September 11), features “Silly Love Songs,” “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Coming Up” and other tunes from McCartney’s 45-year-long solo career—all tastefully done in Pizzarelli’s trademark style.
I recently spoke with Pizzarelli about the new album, his work with Paul McCartney, guitars and more.
GUITAR WORLD: How did this project begin?
I had worked on Kisses on the Bottom with Paul in 2012, and we promoted it the following year. We played “My Valentine” on the Grammys and he did a MusiCares event and a live iTunes concert. Then in May of 2014, I got this letter from Paul out of the clear blue sky. He said, “I have this crazy idea to run by you.”
The idea was that maybe I would do a record of some of his post-Beatles catalog as well as some lesser-known songs like “Junk,” “Warm and Beautiful” and “My Valentine.” He said if I liked the idea maybe I could call the record Midnight McCartney and include a dishy little picture of me against the Manhattan skyline [laughs].
I was like, “OK! Whatever you want to call it. Let’s go!” So I went in, did some demos, recorded the record at the beginning of this year and now here we are—Midnight McCartney!
For those of us who have never had the pleasure of meeting him, what’s Paul McCartney like?
I remember my sisters watching The Ed Sullivan Show, getting Abbey Road in the late Sixties and listening to all of the records and then following him through the Seventies and Eighties as well as the new stuff. Then meeting him and going, “OK. Now this all makes perfect sense!”
He’s a fine musician with amazing musical instincts and has done pretty much everything you could possibly imagine. I remember being in my twenties and going to William Paterson College. When he was in his twenties, he was getting off of a plane and there were 50,000 people screaming! Then he played Shea Stadium when he was 23.
To have all of that happen in his lifetime and then find out that not only is he a really great musician but he’s also a very down-to-earth guy—that’s what really stuck with me. There’s no mistaking that he’s Paul McCartney.
You can read the rest of my
Interview with John Pizzarelli by Clicking Here!
Those who know me will tell you that I’m one of those people who’s stuck in the Eighties.
Admittedly, I do love my hair metal and wish that I could somehow get inside of a time machine and go back to those carefree days of youth. To be able to use the confidence and knowledge I’ve gained through years of being an adult to make up for the lost opportunities I missed because of my shyness and lack of social interaction.
Some days I’ll take a trip to the Palmer Park Mall and remember all of those Friday and Saturday nights thirty years ago. A time when the only thing that really mattered was the usual excursions to Orange Julius, the arcade, Waldenbooks and topping it off with a visit to Listening Booth to check out the new albums by by Night Ranger, The Hooters and Bon Jovi.
But I don’t think I’m “stuck” in the Eighties. It’s just that every once in a while you need to go back to those times if for no other reason than to remember who you were.
Last night I had the chance to do just that.
Singer/songwriter Howard Jones – who many of us MTV nuts will remember for his big hair, monster songs as well as a multitude of synthesizers, performed an acoustic show at a local theater in town. What I thought at first would just be a typical trip down memory lane instead turned out to be something much deeper.
When Howard came out, gone was the arsenal of keyboards, the colorful fashion and the big eighties hair. In it’s place was a simple keyboard, a microphone and small MAC laptop. For the next hour, Jones performed many of the songs that a teenaged me listened to. Songs that were the soundtrack of summer pool parties, trips up and down the “Strip” on Northampton Street and background music in the Palmer Park Mall.
But it also felt different. These stripped down, acoustic versions of “Life In One Day,” “What Is Love,” “Things Can Only Get Better” and “No One Is To Blame” took on a new meaning. Every nuance of every word resonated. It wasn’t just music. It was therapy.
For a moment, I was no longer the middle-aged man who worries about bills, health and his family’s future. Instead, I was the wide-eyed, shy boy hanging out at a record store in small town America.
And it was good.
“Significant Mother” is the new comedy series on The CW that tells the story of what happens after young restaurateur Nate Harlowe (Josh Zuckerman) returns home from a trip only to discover that his newly single mother (Krista Allen) has started a relationship with his best friend/roommate.
Originally intended to be developed as a web series, the show was so infectiously good that a nine-episode run was immediately ordered by the network in time for the summer season.
In addition to Zuckerman and Allen, “Significant Mother” features other amazingly talented actors like Emma Fitzpatrick and Nathaniel Buzolic. The series also stars actor/director Jonathan Silverman (“Weekend at Bernie’s) in the role of Nate’s father, Harrison.
With a unique premise, talented cast and a plethora of special guests set to make appearances, “Significant Mother” is the must see show of the summer.
AXS/Examiner recently spoke with Josh Zuckerman about the “Significant Mother”, his career and other upcoming projects.
AXS/Examiner: How did this series come about for you?
Josh Zuckerman: I had just finished a film called “Mind Puppets” and on the last day of the shoot I remember calling my manager and saying, “Ok. What’s next?” That’s when she told me about this offer for a new web series. I had already worked with Alloy Entertainment on a film called “Sex Drive” and they were pitching a show to the CW and wanted me to be a part of it. Once I read the script I just fell in love with it and knew it was something that I wanted to do. The CW was interested in the show but first wanted to test the waters by putting it on this incubation, web-type series. They had originally only commissioned three episodes but after they saw the first cuts they were so over the moon about it that they gave us a nine-episode order!
What was it about the script that attracted you to the role?
The storyline was already appealing but for me the huge selling point was the writing. Erin Cardillo and Rich Keith, who co-created the show, have done a tremendous job. Not just with the story but also in terms of the characters and dialog. It’s always surprising and laugh out loud funny. When something comes to life for you as you’re reading it, you just get excited about playing the scene. That’s what happened with this show.
How would you describe the premise of “Significant Mother”?
A young restaurateur returns home from a trip to discover that his best friend and roommate has developed a relationship with his mom. It’s about their revolving relationship and my character, who is caught in the middle trying to live his life.
What can you tell me about your character, Nate Marlowe?
Nate’s very business driven in terms of his career. He loves his restaurant and wants to be successful. He’s also a little on the straight and narrow. So when this unexpected new dynamic happens with the two people who are closest to him, it really throws him for a loop.
What was the chemistry like on set?
It was amazing. Everyone is just perfectly suited for their role. They’re always prepared and come to the table with ideas and that charm really comes off on-screen. As an actor, you always want to work with other actors who are talented, kind and generous and they fulfill all of the criteria!
What was it like working with Jonathan Silverman?
Jonny is incredible. He’s so funny and such a warm and kind person. He even directed one of our episodes so it was fun to have the chance to see him in that role as well. There’s even an episode where we pay homage to “Weekend at Bernie’s”.
Did you always know that you wanted a career in entertainment?
I went through a lot of phases when I was growing up. I really didn’t know I wanted to be an actor until I started getting involved in theater. Eventually, there came a point where it was all I wanted to do and I’ve been doing it ever since. It was a gradual progression.
Is there a bit of advice you can give to aspiring actors?
The biggest thing is to enjoy what you do. Remember that in the end, you’re not doing it to get the job or the money or the award. You’re doing it because you enjoy it. It really is about the enjoyment of the process. That’s the biggest thing.
You mentioned your upcoming film project, “Mind Puppets”. What can you tell me about it?
It’s a story about a hypnotist in New Orleans who’s doing a show in a park and invites volunteers up to the podium. He then hypnotizes them into being someone else – like an eight-year-old girl or the Messiah who’s here to save the world. But before he can take them out of the trance the hypnotist suffers a heart attack and is hospitalized. So the people who’ve been hypnotized are running amok around New Orleans under this comedic spell. My character is the ambulance guy whose job is to round up the hypnotized people and bring them back to him at the hospital. We really had a lot of fun with it!
What are you most looking forward to about the series release of “Significant Mother”?
Everyone did such a tremendous job and really delivered day in and day out and I’m excited to see how great everyone involved on the show is. We had a really great crew who accomplished everything on a very tight schedule. But the thing I’m most looking forward to is seeing people fall in love with these characters as much as we did. Adventure is something that I always look for in movies and adventure is what people are going to find in “Significant Mother”.
Significant Mother premieres Monday, August 3 on The CW.
To fans of classic rock and arena rock, it just wouldn’t be summer without the music of Styx.
For more than 40 years the band, whose hits include “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” “Renegade,” “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Come Sail Away,” has been delivering the goods the only way it knows how: through infectious live performances.
This summer, Styx—Tommy Shaw (vocals, guitars), James “JY” Young (vocals, guitars), Lawrence Gowan (vocals, keyboards), Todd Sucherman (drums) and Ricky Phillips (bass)—are teaming up with Def Leppard and Tesla on what promises to be one of the season’s hottest tour packages.
I recently caught up with Phillips to ask him about the new tour as well as his time with Styx, the Babys and Bad English. He also gave me an inside look into his new album project, the final recordings of Ronnie Montrose.
GUITAR WORLD: What can fans expect from the new tour with Def Leppard and Tesla?
We’ve been wanting to work with Def Leppard again for quite some time. We did some dates with them around 2007 and it was a really good fit. If you’re familiar with Tesla’s catalog you already know that they’re a very aggressive, cool, no-frills band. They just come balls out and do it! Then we go everywhere from a little bit of prog to the guitar duo of Tommy Shaw and James Young to having three lead singers. Then Def Leppard come out with their big arena rock show. It’s a special package where fans will really have a great time.
You’ve been with Styx for more than a dozen years. What’s it like being part of such an iconic band?
The cool thing about this band is that everybody recognizes that what we have is really special. It’s rare to get a group of guys that gel as good as this band does. We all have a lot of strengths to lean on personally and musically. There’s a lot of fun and joking around to keep things entertaining, but once we get on stage it’s all business, which is a good time as well.
Has there been any talk of new Styx music in the future?
I can’t talk about it too much, but there’s certainly some stuff in the works. It’s going to happen. We’re just not sure when.
Let’s discuss a few of the other bands you were involved with. What was the story behind you joining the Babys?
I had always been a big fan of Tony Brock and John Waite and thought “Isn’t It Time” was just a masterpiece of cool rock. Shortly after I got to LA, a sound man for the band saw me play and tracked me down. It was around the same time that John had decided he wanted to front the band and not be weighed down by playing an instrument [Waite had also played bass in the Babys].
I was working in the music store across the street from where they were auditioning when the sound man came in and told me that I needed to go across the street and play. I remember pulling a bass off of the wall and (with the price tag still swinging from the headstock), went over and jammed with the guys for about 15 minutes. We played “Run to Mexico” and “Head First” and then Jonathan Cain and I harmonized with John on “Isn’t It Time.” After that, they all left the room and came back in with their manager and asked me to join the band. That’s how it all started.
Read the rest of my
Interview with Ricky Phillips by Clicking Here!
From her days performing her hypnotic blend of hook-laden music in Arizona coffee shops, it was only a matter of time before twenty-year old singer/songwriter Zella Day made the move to the larger pastures of the California music scene – and with impressive results!
Day’s debut album, Kicker is an introduction to Day both as an artist and person. Her hauntingly infectious songs personify the young singer as a cosmic force to be reckoned with.
Songs like “Hypnotic” and “Compass” lend themselves well to the self-conscious while tracks like “Jerome” offer up a revelation to the solace of home.
I recently spoke with Zella Day about Kicker, her music and where she finds her inspiration.
How would you describe Kicker?
This was such a big project for me and encapsulates so many elements of who I am and what I’ve been through. You really get a strong idea of who I am as a person by listening to this record. It’s very eclectic. There are elements of pop, ballads, outlaw country and even some desert gypsy rock.
What was the writing process like for you?
I have so many different voice memos on my phone and song titles in my notes. Sometimes I’ll have a chord progression that will be sitting around for a long time when the lyrics will suddenly hit me. Other times it may start out with just a title. It’s always different but I try to write a little something everyday. It’s important to keep your creative muscle strong and working. My most inspiring method though is just sitting down with an acoustic guitar and coming up with melodies. It’s what I’ve been doing nice I was nine years old.
Let’s discuss a few tracks from Kicker. What can you tell me about the song, “Hypnotic”?
That song was actually written on acoustic guitar. I had my producer bring up a beat that I was really inspired by, wrote a progression and then did a little rap melody over it. That’s how it was born. The song sounds great acoustically, which is something that’s very important to me. Part of my roots are playing my acoustic guitar in coffee shops. So it’s important that these songs can be broken down to the basics.
“High” was written after I saw The National play a show in California. I was so inspired by that experience. I remember it was outside the Santa Barbara amphitheater and it was raining and the whole crowd was immersed in a blue light that they were shooting out from the stage. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. That’s where the line ‘blue line in the sky tonight’ comes from. I came home that night and wrote the song.
That song was written from a stream of consciousness. I like it when that happens. I don’t know exactly what I’m trying to say while I’m in the moment but later find out that I’ve either taught myself a lesson or got something off of my chest that I needed to. In this case, I had just moved from Arizona to California and the more I listened to it the more I realized that it was a love song for my hometown. “Compass” was my revelation song.
That song was placed #1 on the album because the song is about the woman I was named after. She was the wife of a coal miner in 1842 in Jerome; the town where my parents got married. I didn’t know much about her but I’ve always had this idea of who she was and what the ghost of Zella is and our connection to each other. I wrote the song about her and am essentially introducing myself by name.
What was the recording process like and working with collaborators like Wally Gagel and Xandy Barry?
I’ve worked with them for a few years now and we have a great chemistry. We really know each others strengths and know how to write together. By being able to push through the hard moments we’ve been rewarded with good songs. We’ve written a lot of tracks together and I’m so lucky to be able to work with such talented people.
Did always know that music would be your calling?
I’ve always played music because it just feels right and have been grateful for everything I have and the shows that I play. Even when I was playing coffee shops; it’s how its always been. Every day feels really good right now.
What excites you the most about Kicker?
I’m really proud of every song on this record. I’m not moving forward feeling doubtful or self-conscious about the creative decisions I’ve made. I’m fully behind what I’ve created and put out into the world. Whatever happens, I have that foundation and am really excited to tour the new record and connect with people. There are no secrets and as a new artist I think that’s a pretty good place to start.
Official Website: http://www.zelladay.com/
From her early days working with her brothers in the power trio Trampled Under Foot, bassist/vocalist Danielle Nicole has always found an outlet for her creative, blues-infused songs.
Collectively, Trampled Under Foot recorded five albums, with its most recent, Badlands, reaching Number 1 on Billboard’s Blues Albums chart in 2013.
But as the band wound down after 13 years, Nicole decided it was a good time to branch out on her own. Her debut solo album, Wolf Den, which will be released August 21, represents the fruits of her labor and is a treasure trove of blues, funk and groove.
Produced by Grammy-winning producer and guitarist Anders Osborne—whose songs have been covered by the likes of Brad Paisley and Jonny Lang, Wolf Den is a collaborative, New Orleans-themed album buried deep in tasty, blues-based rock.
I recently spoke with Nicole about Wolf Den, working with Osborne, her gear and more.
GUITAR WORLD: To someone who might not be familiar with your sound, how would you describe Wolf Den?
It’s an extension of the songwriting from my days playing with my brothers in Trampled Under Foot as well as some songs I’ve never had a chance to record. A few of the other tunes were ideas Anders helped collaborate on and develop with me. The album as a whole is a collaboration rather than all of the songs stringing together.
How does the songwriting process start for you?
Most of the time it starts with a bass line groove or melody, and then I’ll start writing lyrics to it. If it’s a specific instance or taken from experience, it usually starts with lyrics.
What can you tell me about the track “You Only Need Me When You’re Down?”
That was a tune Anders and I had written together. At the time, I was in a bad place in a relationship and had the line, “You only want me when you need me. You only come to me when you’re in trouble.” Anders came up with the groove and we started expanding it from that situation. That’s how it came about.
Read the rest of my
With Danielle Nicole by Clicking Here!
‘Dirt Road’s End’: Sugarcane Jane’s Anthony Crawford Talks New Album, Touring with Neil Young and More
Sugarcane Jane have amassed an extremely loyal following by performing what they like to call, “organic music at its finest.”
Anthony Crawford and his wife, Savana Lee, are both virtuosos. Crawford is a songwriter who plays guitar and mandolin while Lee alternates between rhythm guitar, tambourine and snare drum.
Sugarcane Jane’s new album, Dirt Road’s End, provides a rich, homegrown brand of Americana that draws deep from a well of influences, including country, jazz, rock and gospel. The album was conceived and co-produced by legendary Americana/roots singer-songwriter Buzz Cason.
Dirt Road’s End, which was recorded on a classic Otari MTR-90 tape recorder, traverses a spectrum of moods and stories, including the autobiographical “Ballad of Sugarcane Jane” which features Anthony’s driving guitar work, and “Heartbreak Road,” which steams with rock energy and bluegrass spirit.
I recently spoke with Crawford about Dirt Road’s End, recording “old school” and what it was like touring as a member of Steve Winwood and Neil Young’s bands.
GUITAR WORLD: To someone who might not be familiar with Sugarcane Jane, how would you describe your sound?
“Saving the planet one good vibe at a time” is our slogan. Savana and I are energy pushers and write songs that make people feel good. Although we have songs in our repertoire that have deeper meaning, the lyrical content for Dirt Road’s End is more light hearted. Savana and I are in love with each other, and that shows in our music. Ultimately, it’s energetic Americana that’s positive and light hearted.
Read the rest of my
Interview with Anthony Crawford by Clicking Here!
To many Eighties music fans, Jim Peterik will always be the maestro behind classic songs like “Eye of the Tiger,” “I Can’t Hold Back” and “Burning Heart.”
But prior to launching Survivor in 1978, Peterik was the front man for another successful group—the Ides of March—whose signature 1970 song, “Vehicle,” is still played regularly on the radio and in TV shows and films.
This year, the Ides of March are celebrating their 50th anniversary. In honor of the occasion, Peterik and company have released a new five-disc set, Last Band Standing: The Definitive 50-Year Anniversary Collection.
The box set includes four Ides albums: Vehicle, Common Bond, World Woven and Midnight Oil. Also included are early singles like “You Wouldn’t Listen” and “Like It or Lump It,” plus random tracks the group recorded after reforming in the Nineties, not to mention three brand-new songs.
The fifth disc is a DVD that features a 2014 Ides show from the House of Blues in the band’s native Chicago. It features songs that span the band’s career, plus re-arranged versions of Survivor songs and hits Peterik wrote with 38 Special and Sammy Hagar.
I recently spoke with Peterik about the Ides of March’s 50th anniversary box set, his new project with Marc Scherer and more.
GUITAR WORLD: When it dawns on you that this is the 50th anniversary of the Ides of March, what comes to mind?
There are so many thoughts. We always used to think we had an identity crisis. I remember we started out as a British invasion wannabe band, emulating bands like the Kinks, Zombies and Beatles. Then we got enamored with brass and started a Memphis/soul thing.
Then the big moment came when we had the whole brass section and went in and cut “Vehicle” and toured the country with groups like Cold Blood and Janis Joplin. We threw out all of these different incarnations. When I listen to it now as a whole, it all hangs together. There’s a group personality and a positivity that really shines through the music.
You can read the rest of my
Interview with Jim Peterik by Clicking Here!
1. an opening, hole, or gap.
2. a space through which light passes in an optical or photographic instrument, especially the variable opening by which light enters a camera.
It was underneath the smell of cut grass and gasoline that I first noticed the hole. A medium-sized perforation about the size of a tennis ball that was sticking out like a pockmark on the face of my freshly manicured lawn.
On first glance I estimated its size to be approximately three-inches wide by four-inches deep. A perfectly shaped cylinder unlike any of the typical oblong-shaped chasms that are dug by man. On the contrary, I was certain this particular hole was delivered by one of the masters of dirt and dig – a varmint. The enemy of perfectionist yard enthusiasts everywhere.
Now, I’ve always prided myself in keeping a tidy yard and have been mowing my one-third of an acre plot religiously every Saturday morning during the mowing season. Always making a point to follow-up the proper mow with a good trimming around the base perimeter of the fence line as well as going the extra mile to get every rogue dandelion that curiously survives the spraying by the professional weed service I pay top dollar to in order to make my lawn the envy of the neighborhood.
And now — there’s a freaking hole in it.
For the last twenty years mowing the grass has been the only thing that has really given me any sort of happiness. During that same span of time the long, blondish lawn on my own head has disappeared and the chiseled abs I once had have succumbed to the inevitable phenomenon I like to call age mass. I’ve been in and out of jobs over the years, habitually single and even survived a bout with colon cancer at the tender age of thirty-six. For the most part you could say that my life has been pretty much status quo.
But I wasn’t always the lawn-loving, bald, thick in the middle-man you see here before you. At one point in my life I actually had dreams. Dreams of becoming the next Edward Van Halen as guitarist for the hair metal band, Silent Rage.
You’ve heard of us, right?
Don’t worry. I won’t shed a tear if you haven’t. But I will say that Silent Rage was one of the 80s most well-known hard rock groups. I mean, we played gigs everywhere from Maine to South Florida; opening for bands like Winger, KIX and Heaven’s Edge. We even had a showcase for the Adverse City Records honchos in New York City, who promised us a two-album recording deal in early 1991.
Yep, the world was going to be our oyster. That is until Kurt Cobain, Alice in Chains and the rest of those Seattle grunge lunatics shot that dream to hell. Forcing the band to dissolve and me to have to sell off most of my gear and take on the first of countless jobs just to make ends meet. Eventually leading to the middle-aged conundrum I now find myself in.
In a world where age, health and hair have forsaken me, mowing the lawn is the only thing I have any sort of control over. So you’ll have to excuse me if I get a little upset when a rabbit or groundhog comes into my inner sanctum and decides to dig a hole.
How did I not notice this obtrusive hole while I was mowing, you ask? Good question. I pondered the same thing myself. Surely I would have seen a tennis ball sized hole as I was making passes over it with the lawn mower, yet I must have somehow overlooked it.
But what made the whole thing even stranger was the fact that there was no dug-up loose dirt in the area surrounding the hole. In fact, the earth near the hole was hard packed and completely dry. Giving every indication that the hole had actually been there for a long, long time.
Now, I may be forty-five years old and been diagnosed with presbyopia at my last eye doctor visit, but even I would have noticed a blatant hole sticking out like a sore thumb several weeks into the mowing season. I decided to kneel down to get a closer look at the intruder’s work, hoping to find a clue as to what brand of rodent had been infiltrating my land.
As I started moving loose grass clippings out of the way a drop of sweat slipped off of my brow and fell into the hole. There, beneath the warm June sky something began shining out of its depth. At first I thought it might be a quarter or some small piece of glass or stone reflecting off the hot summer sun. Instead, it turned out to be nothing material at all.
It was a beam of light. A light shining out from somewhere within the hole. It was almost as if someone was on the other side of the hole shining a flashlight outward and into my eyes.
A lump began to develop in my throat and I actually felt my heart skip a beat. I’ll be honest with you here. I seriously gave consideration to making a run for it. Something about this whole thing just didn’t seem right. But instead of running, I decided to do what only a fool would do. I laid down flat on my stomach and peered my eye right inside that cantankerous hole.
Screw you, Alice in Wonderland.
What I felt when I first looked into the hole was reminiscent of a pirate who had been lost at sea for months. A pirate who would spend most of the day peeping through his spyglass in a vain search to find land but only finding endless sea. Until one day, just as he’s about to run out of food and water, he discovers the thing he had been searching for. The only thing that mattered.
As I looked down into the hole I could see a white-colored, cloudy canvas. Like I was flying through a sea of cumulus clouds, with edges clean and soft. A canvas whose brightness covered the entire spectrum of my senses and then; as if on cue, having already known of my intentions to see what lied beyond, the canvas of clouds quickly parted into some dream-state dimension
From a third-person perspective I saw myself in this surreal state just as clear as day. Only it wasn’t the forty-five year old me I saw. Instead, it was a much younger version of me, no more than twenty-one.
Nearly forty pounds from my midsection had all but disappeared and every last one of my long blond hairs had miraculously returned. The real me had a sense of confidence he hadn’t felt in a long time.
For all intents and purposes, it felt like the year 1990. Like watching some old home movie, but in the highest of definition. One where every nuance of every movement was noticeable – the sights, the sounds, the feeling. From that moment, I realized I no longer wanted to just look into the light inside of the hole. Instead, I wanted to become a part of it.
I watched from above as this younger version of me stood somberly next to his idling, green, 1976 Chevrolet Vega wagon. A dark brown suitcase sat next to the car as it sputtered in and out of stalling. I was certain that it wouldn’t be long into my trip before the car would leave me sitting on the side of the road.
It was 1990.
The familiar sounds of Westminster Chimes began to play from the St. Agnes Church a few blocks away. I had enough time to count each chime as it signaled the hour of day.
By the time it reached the ninth chime I had already determined that it was early morning based on the positioning of the sun in the eastern sky and by the faint sounds of another lawn mower leveling the landscape some distance away. It was also at that moment that I realized I was at West Chester University again and even more importantly, I was fully aware of what was about to happen next.
A young, attractive woman slowly approaches the vehicle. She had fair skin, a creamy complexion and the familiar long brown hair that ran down beneath her shoulders. With deep blue eyes that breathed a life in me that I’ve never felt before nor ever will again. She wore the blue denim jacket her parents had bought for her in high school, with matching jeans and scuffed up Chuck Taylor’s that have seen a lot of miles from the long walks we had taken together over the last two years. The smile she had that could light up a room was now replaced with sadness. I knew going in this was not going to be easy.
Christine is was my everything.
“Have everything you need?” Christine asked in her casual, nonchalant fashion. The faux me was already quick to answer.
“Yes. Enough to get me through to Scranton.” I said. Of course, I was lying. As Christine already knew from our many journeys in the beat-up old wagon, the Vega constantly burned oil and overheated. I figured I might only make it as far as Allentown before I’d have to stop.
“Did you get all of your paperwork complete?” she said, hoping that somehow I might have overlooked something. Something that would have delayed the inevitable.
“Uh-huh. Got the final papers from the bursar’s office yesterday. It’s all done. Turned in my keys to the resident advisor this morning, gassed up the car and here we are.”
“You know, you don’t have to do this.” Christine said solemnly. “Can’t you at least stay until the end of the semester and see what happens?”
Tears began to fill her eyes.
“ I can’t.” I said. “You know I’ve waited a long time for my music to take off. This gig up north promises shows for the next three months. Good pay too. Mike our drummer even says that it may lead us to a showcase in New York City if we’re good enough.”
There was an odd silence and then she said those same five words I still ask myself in my darkest nights.
“Are you good enough, Jim?”
Even though I already knew the answer, at that moment someone greater than me had pressed “pause” on this supernatural VCR.
“Choose.” a voice said.
“Choose?” I asked looking at the now frozen in time Christine. I could not take my eyes off of her.
“You can change the outcome. I’ve given you the choice.” the voice responded.
“But I already know what happens” I thought to myself, now knowing that whatever voice was speaking to me could also read my mind.
“Twenty-five years ago you decided to leave college for music.” the voice responded. “You now have the chance to change it.”
“Change it?” my conscience said. Could I really sacrifice these last twenty-five years? Is it possible to get a second chance in this life?
It’s true. I did turn my back on college and Christine [who was already halfway through her second year of pre-med] in exchange for a chance to become the guitarist for Silent Rage – the next great hair metal band. But instead of staying in school to get my teaching degree, marrying Christine and living happily every after, I took my beat-up Fender Strat on the road for two years performing to semi-packed crowds before the advent of grunge destroyed me and nearly every other 80’s hard rock band that existed and ended my musical dream.
During those ensuing years Christine and I fell out of touch. I don’t know if she ever did become that doctor but I am sure that her end result was better than mine. I did try looking her up on Facebook and LinkedIn after my battle with cancer [being face to face with death has a tendency to make you want to tie up loose ends] but came up empty-handed.
“Are you good enough, Jim?” the voice asked me again.
“This isn’t that movie, ‘Groundhog Day’.” my conscience told me. “No one can really go back. You only get one life and the trick is to make the most of it.”
Sure, grunge was a setback. And I know that if I had been made that decision back in 1987 instead of 1990 things might have been completely different. But age, health, relationships, job-hopping and even that little drinking episode I had that led to a night in the drunk tank were all setbacks. But none of those things really destroyed me. They only made me who I am
“Are you good enough, Jim?”
I looked at the frozen Christine. I looked at the frozen twenty-one year old me. I looked at the idling Vega that would wind up stalling out halfway to Pottstown, leaving me stranded on the side of Route 100 for two hours. Until a friendly trucker came by and offered me a lift into town where we talked about music and The Gulf War over a six-pack of Coors Light.
What happened next I can’t explain. It was as if the dream sequence I had become immersed in had suddenly become a puddle and a huge omnipotent hand had disturbed the still water. I saw Christine and the Vega and the young me ripple away into darkness while the real me drifted off into another stream of consciousness. I woke up lying face down next to the hole on a warm bed of freshly cut grass.
As I was pulling myself up off the ground I noticed that the sun had already begun its soft descent into the deep western sky. I smiled. The light and hole that once seemed so painfully intrusive to me was now gone and in its place was a breach that no longer seemed like it was the end of the world.