on America’s changing values. Asking- generally spiritual, garden variety philosophical- questions about a way to live.
Atlantic sailin, grilled cheese flippin, dry land farmin, chevy van livin, hotdog drivin Steve Ray
I was 13 years old when I first heard the band Boston.
Their spot on Harmonies, dual guitar solos, and driving melodies were irresistible. I learned to play guitar so I could be like them. I aimed for the sort of classical infallibility I saw in Tom Scholz, the lead guitarist who is by trade a perfectionist. An engineer by day, rock and roll star by night.
This music reflected my adolescence psyche. I wore black boxers every Monday. Football boxers on Thursday, and a collard shirt on Friday. Never the same jeans two days in a row. And never those socks with the bumpy seems. At night, I’d close the blinds all the way, sleep in a yellow shirt and wake up at 6:48.
For my teen years, this is what I understood. If you can’t play it perfectly don’t play at all. So my musical repertoire was limited to about 6 songs. The 5 bar blues, by the almond brothers, Scarborough fair by Simon and garfunkel, Tears in heaven by Eric Clapton, and two Boston songs I played for separate guitar recitals. Peace of Mind, and, of course More than a feeling.
When I went to college I brought my guitar, and the few songs I had perfected. These were great for about a week. But people wanted to jam. Play new songs, solo, and sing.
There was no place for the rigidity of Boston. No time to practice or write down chords. Play now or don’t play at all. So I spent a lot of the time fake strumming, trying to catch up. I didn’t understand until Chip introduced me to the Avett Brothers.
I loosened up. Started playing by feel and singing.
If the Avett harmonies weren’t perfect, why did mine have to be? So I pushed the edge and explored my limits. I started a college radio show, sold hot dogs outside of a bar, and delivered grilled Cheese sandwiches to dorm rooms. I went to Asia and South America, built a green house, and played football in the fall, lacrosse in the spring.
Senior year the Avetts came out with their second album produced by Rick Rubin. Their style changed and became too tame, like Boston, and the linear perfection I wanted nothing to do with. Bands evolve. So do we.
After graduation I was 1 of 12 hotdoggers selected to spend a year driving across the country in a 26’ long hot dog on wheels.
A partner and I were in a new city every week going to events and parades, speaking on TV and radio, and living out of hotels. We were upper class gypsies playing the pop music that found our antenna and fueled our high.
The job ended and to the beat of Mapei, I took the cash and ran, or flew, to Europe where I worked on farms, a fishing boat, and in an organic food truck. After 8 months I returned to the US by sailing across the Atlantic with eight people and 1 dog. I made a short documentary.
I was excited to return to the US. It felt like there was potential waiting for me on the other side of the ocean.
Surely former connections would be waiting to embrace this ambitious world traveler with open arms. So I sent emails: to mentors, crickets, fellow alumni, crickets, random people doing interesting things, crickets. In college I was a cute puppy. Fun for professionals to have around to reminisce with about the good old days. But now, I was a shabby stray dog.
Returning to the land of the free, Josh Tillman, preforming as Father John Misty, entered my musical consciousness. As my peers welcomed me home to overpriced rent, growing debt, and unfulfilled ambitions, FJM struck the millennial chord.
I’ve fallen in and out with music the same way I have with experiences. Not much makes sense in the moment. But in retrospect I find clarity. As life moves on I want to keep asking questions about values, purpose, and a way to live but I’m not sure of the best way to do it.
Whatever happens I’m going to keep listening. Because I believe people are good and nature is true.
I hope this was somehow helpful. If not, try listening to my podcast at night. I’ve been told my voice helps people fall asleep. Subscribe on iTunes (iPhone) or Stitcher (Android) and sign up for sporadic email mussing below.