Sometime in between the Spring 2023 publication of my first book and the eventual (I hope!) publication of my proposed book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), I intend to poke at the idea of self-publishing a collection of my short stories. Because...why not? Here is the tentative Table of Contents for that hypothetical collection, Guitars Vs. Rayguns!
Friday, November 25, 2022
Thursday, November 24, 2022
I have two conflicting childhood memories of Thanksgiving. I remember turkey prep in our little suburban kitchen, with my Dad buttering a brown paper bag, placing the turkey in the buttered bag, and then putting the big, bagged turkey into the oven. It sounds like a weird method to cook a turkey, but I tell ya, it results in a moist 'n' delicious bird and a tasty holiday meal.
But I also remember going to my Aunt Mary's house on Park Street in Syracuse for Thanksgiving dinner. I don't know if I've confused different Thanksgivings in my mind, or if my Mom baked the turkey in North Syracuse and we transported it to Aunt Mary's house for the family dinner. Or maybe I'm confusing Thanksgivings with the Christmas Eves we spent at Aunt Mary's. I don't know.
But I think we did go to Aunt Mary's house for most of our Thanksgivings. And my memories of holiday dinners there remain full and vibrant, and plentiful: turkey and stuffing, roasted potatoes, macaroni and meatballs (We're Italian, fercryinoutloud!), and sweet, sumptuous desserts. As far and away the youngest kid at these dinners, I was usually relegated to a meal at the kitchen table rather than the dining room. And I vividly recall loud conversations after the meal was done, as my Uncle Art and Uncle Mike argued politics, and my Dad--ever the peacemaker--tried to referee. It is an indelible, happy memory, no matter how much fuzz my aging brain tries to gather around it.
Uncle Mike passed away in the mid-70s, when I was in high school. Uncle Art died in 1995, when my lovely wife Brenda was pregnant with Meghan, our only child. I lost my Dad in 2012. Aunt Mary, now 93 years old, resides in an assisted living facility; the family house on Park Street, which had belonged to my grandfather, was sold long ago. At 91, my Mom still lives in our old house in North Syracuse, and I check in with her every day.
For Thanksgiving this year, my brother Rob and sister-in-law Barb invited us to join them in Albany for a family meal. Rob and Barb have a new grandson, whom my Mom had not yet had the opportunity to meet. With that added incentive of allowing Mom to meet her newest great-grandchild, we agreed to make the trip. On Thanksgiving morning, Brenda, Meghan, and I picked up Mom, and set off down the New York State Thruway for Thanksgiving dinner in Albany. (Aunt Mary and my cousin Mary Ann had planned to meet us in Albany, but a morning phone call from Mary Ann informed us that her Mom didn't feel up for the trip. It was the only disappointing aspect of an otherwise-lovely day.)
Travel can be intimidating, even precarious around here at this time of year. Earlier this week, Syracuse had been the unhappy recipient of almost two feet of snow dumped upon our sorry souls; it took my ol' Cub Cadet and me an hour to clear the driveway Monday morning, and I don't want to imagine how long it would have taken (and how much I would be achin') if I'd been armed with just a freakin' snow shovel.
But fortune favors the cold! Or the bold. Whatever. By Thanksgiving, temps had risen, excess snow had melted, and driving conditions were conducive for a road trip.
My wife's car has satellite radio, so Little Steven's Underground Garage channel accompanied and propelled our ride: Moby Grape, James Brown, The Dave Clark Five, The Ramones, and Lesley Gore were among the sounds keeping this intrepid driver on the straight and narrow. We were ahead of schedule, so I added two pit stops near journey's end, just so we wouldn't arrive at my brother's house before they were ready for this Syracuse invasion. We got there just as the other guests started to filter in.
A word about my brother's in-laws: like Tony the Tiger once said of a specific sugary cereal, they're great. I often joke with Brenda that both she and I lucked out when it came to in-laws, and that goes for the extended family, too. I love my family, and Brenda's family, and my sister-in-law Barb's family, and so on through all the attendant family tree branches you could name. I hear so much about people who can't get along with their own family, or with some element of their family, and it saddens me. Even during our holiday dinner this year, Meghan heard from a friend suffering through Thanksgiving with her aunt, in a setting where she didn't feel welcome. I realize it's a common situation, and it's alien to my own experience. I appreciate how lucky I've been to never know that kind of life.
For me, family--even extended family--has always been about love, and delight, and camaraderie. It's not that we all agree about everything--we don't--but we agree on what's basic and important. And we enjoy spending time together, laughing together, remembering what was and hoping for what may be. I wish more of my family could have been there--I wish my brother Art and his family could have come in from Ohio, and I wish my sister Denise and her family could have flown in from England, and I wish Mary Ann could have come with Aunt Mary--but I'm grateful for the opportunity to gather with those who could be there. And I'm aglow with the contented feeling of seeing my daughter grow into the incredible young adult that now stands where my cherished little girl used to be; I look back in awe, and I look on in wonder, and marvel at the grace life has granted me.
I wish we had more time together. I wish we had more time. Meghan joked that we need another wedding, just to gather the family together. I agreed, while thinking to myself, Please, not your wedding next. Not now. Not yet. We last gathered en masse for my Mom's 90th birthday celebration in August of 2015. That was a blast. We need more happy get-togethers like that. We need a chance to toast, and dance, and tell stories, and reminisce.
As a family, like all families, we have suffered loss. We have endured the trials of time and distance, and done what we could to sustain our fragile hearts. Time is cruel, and we are mortal. But we live, we love, and we understand the bounty that we have been given. On Thanksgiving, members of our family gathered once again to enjoy a fabulous meal, and to enjoy our all-too-brief time together. That's sufficient cause for gratitude right there. That's reason enough to just say Thanks.
Much has changed in the past two years. Mom is now in a nursing home. Last December, a fall at home made it clear that she could no longer live on her own. I was with her for the ambulance ride to the emergency room, as EMS workers lifted her out of the house that had been her home for more than 65 years. She knew, in her heart, that she would not be returning there. She never had an opportunity for closure, to say goodbye to the house in which I grew up. She does not want to visit that house now. The memory of what was, and which only lives on in memory, is too painful to reconcile.
My daughter Meghan and her boyfriend Austin live there now, as guests of my sister Denise (who bought the house from Mom when Dad died in 2012). It was time for Meghan to start building an independent life, and that's a good thing. But the house's current state is less than ideal, as a persistent leak in the ceiling near their bed has proven difficult to remedy. Attempts to patch the roof have been as effective as BBs shot at Superman. I haven't even been able to get an estimate on replacing the roof, because, y'know, winter in November. I'm trying to come up with at least some kind of temporary solution, and I'm beside myself with worry that the leak will grow larger and that Meghan and Austin will not be able to stay there. I feel helpless.
Last Friday, Meghan, my wife Brenda, and I attended a memorial service for my sister-in-law Patty. Patty married my brother Art in 1972; her family had lived kitty-corner across the street from our house in North Syracuse until the early '60s. When Art started dating Patty around 1970 or so, Mom asked him, Isn't she a little young for you? But together, Art and Patty were just right, and so much in love. Fuck cancer. She was only 67. Brenda thought of Patty as a sister, and she's devastated, as we all are. We all wanted to get to Columbus for the service, so we dodged threatening weather conditions for the drive to Ohio. My other brother Rob and his wife Barbara drove in from Albany as well, and we surprised Art and his family with our presence. We felt that we needed to be there for him, for my nephews and their wives and kids, and for Patty's siblings. They used to live across the street from the house where Mom no longer lives, the house where a ceiling drips ominously upon Meghan and Austin. Family needed to be there for family.
My sister Denise lives in England with her husband Tony. Tony's mom passed away earlier this year. Last week, Denise and Tony's own home was devastated by fire. No one was hurt. They will not be able to move back into their house for up to a year. They are too far away for us to hug and offer comfort.
Aunt Mary, who could not make the car trip to Albany in my previous Thanksgiving story, also passed away this year. She was the last of my father's siblings. That generation of Cafarelli is now gone.
Today, Brenda, Meghan, Austin, and I will go to Mom's nursing home for a Thanksgiving meal. The nursing home staff allows guests to join residents for holiday celebrations, requiring only notice and a $5 fee. Rob invited us to Albany, as he always does, but we need to stay closer to home this year. We presume that institutionally-prepared turkey will not match Barb's cooking (a pretty safe presumption), but Brenda is making some corn casserole, noodle kugel, and sweet potato pie to supplement the fare provided. More importantly, we will be there. We will try, not so much to preserve the elusive illusion of normalcy, but to be together in whatever circumstances fate allows. We all wish we could be together, all of us in Syracuse, Rob and Barb and their extended family in Albany, Art and his boys (and their girls, and progeny) in Ohio. Denise and Tony, their son Tim, their daughter Mallory and her newlywed husband Alvaro. Patty. Aunt Mary. Tony's Mom. Dad. My niece Stephanie, taken from us a decade ago. We wish things were different. We're grateful for the grace we've had.
I'm not as strong as I need to be. But I'm trying. I succeed some days. I keep trying. And I write all of this, not to bring anyone down, but to acknowledge our common frailty, our shared vulnerability, our mutual mortality. My tale is only unique in the sense that each person's tale is unique. I know others suffer, many far, far worse than I can even imagine. A high school friend wrote recently of how Thanksgiving has always been a time of struggle for her, a holiday she simply can not embrace or celebrate. I wish there were a way I could help to lift her heart. I wish I could lift a lot of hearts, my own included. But still, I give thanks. I give thanks for family, and friends, and love, and life. We will struggle. We will fall. And we will keep on trying. We will be as strong as our spirits allow us to be.
Happy Thanksgiving Day. Happy Black Friday. Happy Cyber Monday. Happy December 17th, January 23rd, February 11th, whatever. Happy any day you can. We can't be happy on all of the days. Here's hoping we can each find a few happy days here and there.
This year, it can be difficult to feel thankful. We can't wish away the troubles, can't pretend things are as they should be. They are not. For now, we have each other, and we have our music. Thank you for that.
The quarantine scene means there will be no family gathering for Thanksgiving this year. We'll have an international Zoom call this afternoon, and later my daughter Meghan will come over for a socially-distanced meal. She'll sit at the opposite end of our dining room's more-than-six-feet long table, we'll enjoy some wonderful food and conversation, and remain masked when we're not at the table. In the evening, her boyfriend Austin will join us--masked--to decorate the Christmas tree. It's not the holiday we want. It's the holiday we have. And we're grateful for that.
I won't see my Mom at all. Her nursing home is on a state-mandated lockdown, closed to visitors until the All-Clear sounds. She has tested negative for...you know, as have all of the other residents of her building. But the lockdown remains in force, and for good reason. There have been positive test results in other buildings within the nursing home's complex. Visits would present a foolish and unnecessary risk. She understands. We understand. It's not what we want. It is what we have. And we're grateful for that.
Things will get better. They may still get worse before they get better, but they will get better. Not soon enough, but as soon as they can. It's not the timetable we want. But it's...yeah, you get it.
We have what we have. And we're grateful. Thank you.
Time is the enemy. Yet it's an enemy we're grateful to have for as long as we have it.
Last Thanksgiving, we knew full well what was coming; Mom passed two weeks later. I have absolutely no memory of Thanksgiving Day in 2021.
But today, Brenda is cooking a turkey. It may seem an obvious choice, but we usually don't have turkey on Thanksgiving. We feel like having turkey this year. Meghan and Austin will come over. We will enjoy time together as a family.
And we will be thankful.
Wednesday, November 23, 2022
10 Songs is a weekly list of ten songs that happen to be on my mind at the moment. The lists are usually dominated by songs played on the previous Sunday night's edition of This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. The idea was inspired by Don Valentine of the essential blog I Don't Hear A Single.
LIBRARIANS WITH HICKEYS: I Better Get Home
This sublime song (and current single) from Librarians With Hickeys' recent album Handclaps & Tambourines has already established itself as a TIRnRR Fave Rave. There's a new video to go with it, and we endorse the video, the song, and the album with all the celebratory HEY!s we can muster.
We are broken. You can see that graffiti scrawled near a heart on a wall, as depicted in the video and in the cover graphic for the single. The group's Ray Carmen sits atop that crumbling wall, looking upon the words, perhaps contemplating the melancholy they express.
It suits the song. Sometimes it suits my mood, too. This Thanksgiving week, it seems a suitable choice to open our show.
HEY! Let's play it again next week! With our best thoughts of home in mind, the holidays won't even know what hit them.
THE TEMPTATIONS: Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)
While we don't necessarily believe that Little Steven Van Zandt stole TIRnRR's format to create Underground Garage--well, Dana believes it, but I'm not sure--the similarities are certainly there. Given the fact that TIRnRR does predate Underground Garage, I'm not ashamed to admit when we do the turnabout-is-fair-play bit and nick an idea from one of the many fine shows on the SiriusXM Underground Garage channel. I'm a subscriber. More great radio shows mean more great radio.
I wish I'd made specific note of which fab Underground Garage jock played the Temptations' "Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)" last week. I think it was either Michael Des Barres or Palmyra Delran, but I'm not testifying in either case. Whoever it was, thank you Mr./Ms. DJ! Your airplay of this wonderful Tempts tune prompted me to dig the track out of my own CD library for TIRnRR programming purposes. We are one!
But, uh...make no mistake: Little Steven still owes us a beer.
THE COCKTAIL SLIPPERS: St. Valentine's Day Massacre
Hey, speakin' of Little Steven, and speaking of melancholy, please welcome back to the TIRnRR stage: the Cocktail Slippers! Little Steven himself wrote this one, and it earns a defiantly tear-stained spot in my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1):
"Van Zandt's lyrics here imply a lovers' drama playing out in rapidly elapsing time. Was it adventure, was it fear, or sanctuary? Modesty Blaze's voice is tinged with both regret and resignation as she sings; behind her and with her, her band of sisters seems hellbent on holding an Irish wake for broken hearts. Across the calendar pages that fly by with cruel indifference--Thanksgiving night, Christmas morning, New Year's Eve--a love that can't even evolve from pencil to ink careens toward its inevitable erasure come the 14th of February. Now even your carrier pigeons have been picked off by the vultures/There's only one thing left for you to confess.... The song flies to its foregone conclusion on a conjugal bed of the most bittersweet la la la la lala las in rock 'n' roll history....":...After those faux but convincing garage rockers the Twylight Zones performed 'The St. Valentine's Day Massacre' in Not Fade Away, Little Steven hisself recorded the little ditty for the 2017 Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul album Soulfire. Not to slight the song's author, nor to diss a made-for-the-movies band already dealing with the handicap of never actually existing in the first place, the song will always belong to five women from Norway who asked if they were still penciled in on your calendar. I know you're busy directing your life-long documentary/You never mentioned what part you wanted me to do...
"....Who'll be the last lover standing? Whether they liked it or not, the Cocktail Slippers knew the answer to that one. La, la, la, la, lala, la."
THE CYNICS: Girl, You're On My Mind
Dana's been on a little bit of a Cynics kick lately, and we all benefit from that. "Girl, You're On My Mind" is my # 1 top Cynics track, written by Bernard Kugel of Buffalo's phenomenal fuzz combo the Mystic Eyes. I knew Bernie a little when I lived in Buffalo in the '80s, and I was just thrilled when the Cynics' circa 1990 video for "Girl, You're On My Mind" scored a spin on MTV 120 Minutes. The song still gets the ol' blood a-thumpin' and a-pumpin' like Rock 'N' Roll oughtta.
THE KINKS: You Really Got Me
TALL POPPY SYNDROME: Come Some Christmas Eve (Or Halloween)
From our absolutely irresistible compilation This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 5, Tall Poppy Syndrome's ace invigmoration of the Bee Gees' "Come Some Christmas Eve (Or Halloween)" isn't really about either one of its titular holidays. So we felt secure in blasting it now, in this time frame smack dab in between visits from the Great Pumpkin and Santa Claus. A fantastic track in any season.
THE RAMONES: Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
The record that changed my life. Dana and I had already settled the playlist when I realized that this week also marked the 45th anniversary of the first time I heard "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" by the Ramones. In November of 1977, less than two months shy of my 18th birthday, I was already an enthusiastic rockin' pop addict, a dyed-in-the-wool Beatles, Monkees, Kinks, and Dave Clark Five fanatic, and a burgeoning punk rocker. Listening to that "Sheena" 45 shifted everything--everything--into overdrive. It's not an exaggeration. The first spin of "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" changed my life.
Looking at the calendar for November of 1977, I've gotta guess it was either Wednesday the 23rd or Thursday the 24th--Thanksgiving Day--when my ears opened, my eyes widened, and my mind kaleidoscoped as I listened to a 2:45 single over and over for twenty minutes or more.
I couldn't let that anniversary slide by without commemoration. 45 years! A 45 that changed my life. I'll be speaking about the Ramones a lot in 2023. The manifestation of that ongoing obsession started here: Thanksgiving week, 1977. I remain grateful. Thanksgiving really has it all. Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh YEAH...!
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Tuesday, November 22, 2022
45 years ago this week, a record changed my life. That was the first time I heard "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" by the Ramones.
It wasn't the first time I'd heard the Ramones; my campus radio station in Brockport had played "Blitzkrieg Bop," which I liked, but "Sheena" was the track that had immediate, seismic impact on 17-year-old me. I am not exaggerating when I say that moment was, for me, as important as hearing the Beatles had been in the previous decade.
I've written about the experience before, and I'll direct you to those pieces here. First, we have the specific piece about the record that changed my life. The events also inform the "Sheena" chapter in my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1). Reading Phonograph Record Magazine had hooked me on the Ramones well before I ever heard the Ramones, and that whole crucible of rockin' pop discovery in my late teens and early twenties set me on my path.
What path is that? The path to cohosting This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl (which, of course, takes its title from a line in a Ramones song) and to writing about rock 'n' roll. To writing my first attempt at rock journalism in 1978. To twenty years freelancing for Goldmine. To writing contributions to books (including one entry about the Ramones). To this daily--DAILY..?!--blog. And now to writing two books of my own, both of which include material about the Ramones. The first of those books will be published in the spring.
None of this happens for me without the Ramones. It all started with a 45 rpm single that changed my life.
Happy birthday, Sheena. You're looking mighty fine at 45.
Monday, November 21, 2022
We better get home.
Our definitions of "home" may vary. For now, think of home as a refuge of comfort and companionship, a shelter of warmth and camaraderie, a fortress for family and friends. A place of love.
We know that homes aren't always like that. For some, the reality of home, the reality of family, does not match the idyllic dream of what we want. And for some, it's much worse than that. Perhaps much, much worse. I know I'm fortunate to be able to claim a happier sense of home.
But we wish you the home you wish for yourself. We are friends. We are family. We are not alone.
It won't be easy. Hell, it might be impossible. Empty place settings at the dinner table remind us of what's lost. The home we wish for may be beyond our mortal ability to hold.
But it's what we wish.
This is what rock 'n' roll radio sounded like on a Sunday night in Syracuse this week.
This week's show is available as a podcast: TIRnRR # 1156
This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/, and via the TuneIn Radio and Radio Garden apps as Westcott Radio.
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