03 JULY 2019
By now I should be married. By now I should have kids. By now I should be divorced with a couple kids in therapy.
By now I should be locked away in my mancave, nursing regret, grumbling to myself over power chords. Ah yes, “The Shoulds.”
Instead, how ‘bout this…
By now I should be tuning my guitar. By now I should be aggressively booking a female drummer to lay tracks on 6 new songs. By now I should be posting on Facebook.
Nobody seems to indulge the joy of noticing who they are. Everybody seems to get-off on measuring against who they aren’t.
When I was coming up, promoting yourself on social media was called wheat pasting. When I was coming up, the word blog wasn’t a word. When I was coming up, Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers were toddlers in dirty diapers.
I’m done comparing myself to the accomplishments of people I don’t know, a subscription to People Magazine does not a friendship make. I’m done picking apart my body for imperfections to hammer away at, when did learning how to accept a compliment become more uncomfortable than prepping for a colonoscopy?
I’m done begging for scraps of acceptance. Your problem with me isn’t my problem, it’s yours.
You should know better. You should stop. You should think. But you know what? Here’s what. You be you. You know why? Here’s why...
I’m done with The Shoulds.
13 June 2019
9:28 AM, 9:28 PM
The other day, at school, I was misgendered in front of a group of people. I didn't think anyone noticed, but shortly after it happened, when there was a break in the conversation, a colleague of mine, Bradley, turned to me and asked if I was ok.
I said, "I'm fine. How are you?"
"No... I mean... the 'she.' Are you ok?"
"Oh... Yes, I'm ok," I said, though I was shaking my head. "Thank you for asking."
He gave me a hug. Through the hug, I could hear him say, "Do you want me to say something?"
I paused. I knew that there was nothing malicious intended. It was not even on purpose. I am certain because of the policies in place and the respect I receive: from the staff at my new school to the students and their families, all the way through to the central administrators. The school year I just finished has felt like a miracle.
But being misgendered, especially in a crowd, doesn't feel good.
Bradley is a gay man. He knows struggle. Many of us do but it makes us cower. Not Bradley, though. It seems to have made him stronger. Bradley stands up for what is right and I don't think he understands how rare that is.
I didn't want to impose. I didn't want to want help. But I did. I said yes. "Yes, please."
Bradley's reply, "Don't worry, girl. I got you."
(No. That's not misgendering. I was honored. If you don't understand the subversive, feminine affirming strength of two queer men calling each other girl, or the history of using cross-gender pronouns to keep safe, you can start learning by reading here.)
And I said, "I know you do, girl. Thanks."
I found myself laughing instead of crying.
I feel such gratitude. Thank you Bradley.
05 JUNE 2019
H 2 OPEN MIC
We lost. You'd think by now we'd get used to it, and in one way or another, we have gotten used to the idea. We joke around before the lights go down. We take notice of performers who bring tables filled with friends.
But those are coping mechanisms. The truth is, it'd be nice to win. Last night Lex opened up, telling his story before we launched into "I Didn't Mean To," a beautiful song he wrote about finding your way to an authentic life.
I've never really stopped to think about what it means to live an authentic life. I've always felt disconnected, or out of place, or odd, but I've learned to use the tension to my advantage, almost like a superpower.
I don't know why we make it so hard, why there are those who seem to float while the rest of us dog-paddle. I guess it's like trying to figure out why some people have been able to win the open mic on multiple occasions and we just can't seem to crack the code.
It would have been nice to win last night. If for no other reason than I thought it was gorgeous to see Lex put all of himself out there. Rejection isn't new to me, and without sounding melodramatic, I have to admit it's been one of the biggest surprise gifts of my life, building stamina within my game, generating an understanding of recognition when someone else is feeling bad about themselves, how to let them know I see them, I feel them and think they should keep going, keep trying, get back up there...sing another song.
It's supposed to hurt, that's how you know you're putting yourself out there.
03 JUNE 2019
Exit Doors are baffling.
The adult I've fooled myself into becoming still looks at the Exit Door like it's the Wardrobe to Narnia and you have to push through the uncomfortableness of an arbitrary rule to see things like talking lions playing God.
02 JUNE 2019
RED MEANS GO
Science goes a long way in the studio. Finding the right tone is like cracking the code on your hypothesis.
31 MAY 2019
Lex and Dan found their "studio groove." Sometimes it takes a while to find a working relationship in the studio.
Everyone brings a different approach to their expertise and sometimes it takes finding the perfect guitar tone, or flange on a pedal, or 4 microphones - placed just so - on a Marshall.
It was fun watching them find the mojo. Two men, lost in the moment, giving it all to the song.
30 MAY 2019
NORTH SHORE PEOPLE SEEING WEST SIDE STORY
I took my dad to see "West Side Story" at The Chicago Lyric Opera. This is his favorite musical. He also loves "Porgy & Bess," a show I've never seen.
A few years ago, I took my dad to see "West Side Story" at Millennium Park. They have movies in park during the summer. I was struck by the slowness of the movie. It was shot in a time when they hadn't really figured out the difference between writing for the stage and writing for the screen and so they essentially lifted a play and put it on screen.
I think I liked the movie better than the play simply because sitting outside in summer watching a movie with your dad is the next best thing to being a kid on a camping trip with your dad. You're under a big sky, as the night rolls in, sitting around not doing much of anything with your dad. It's the best but you don't recognize it as the best. You're a kid. The idea of things being temporary hasn't really settled in and so you think things last forever.
Last night it felt like forever. The play went on and on and on. I think I don't like musicals. The songs are corny and the need to set up context embarrasses me. I find myself secretly hating the people on stage.
Music is a funny thing. I spent years on stage performing musical improv. It taught me so much about the plumbing of how a song works. But sitting there in the audience last night, it couldn't end soon enough.
The walk to the car afterwards was nice. We strolled. The city looked beautiful. There was a girl behind us singing, "I feel pretty, oh so pretty, I feel pretty and witty and wise. Oh so pretty, Miss America should just resign."
28 MAY 2019
BEEF BRISKET WITH A MINOR ROCK STAR RUB
Lex spent the day cooking beef brisket. He was up as early as 4AM, fiddling around with the grill, fiddling around with the charcoal, fiddling around with gizmos & gadgets & beef rub.
He was pretending to be the Grill Master. My favorite book is "Mother Night." When he was asked about it, Kurt Vonnegut said it's the only book he ever wrote where the moral is clear. Here's the moral...
"We are what we pretend to be so we must be careful what we pretend to be."
I'm pretending to be a budding rock star on the open mic circuit, peace activist & political soothsayer with his eyes on the prize...
The Oval Office, call me Mister Fucking President!
Ask yourself this: what am I pretending to be? I hope it's not a sheep shearer who couldn't be bothered, on Memorial Day, to reflect on the madness before indulging in beef brisket.
I'm lucky! I got to spend the day reflecting on Donald Trump, who's pretending to be a king with a crown bent toward authoritarianism. William Barr who's pretending to be a judge using the gavel as a gun to rob We The People of our belief in the rule of law. Nancy Pelosi who's pretending to reason with children on the other side of the aisle, when truth be told, she needs to give them a noogie and put everyone in a time out.
I kneel before The Grill Master. Thank you, sir. For standing in the rain with meet tongs...for rubbing the beef brisket with love...for a Memorial Day BBQ worthy of the ages...
We're not worthy!
26 MAY 2019
We spent a joyful afternoon laying bass parts to a song called "Depression." We were lucky to be joined in the studio by Nick Fane. He did a beautiful job on the fretless bass.
He sanded down the frets himself, using putty to create an imperfect instrument which sounds divine.
25 MAY 2019
Zelda is shy until you get to know her. Then Zelda leans against your leg, lets you tug at her ears & yawns when your music isn't hitting her in sweet spot.
I cannot tell you how much I love this dog.
Besides figuring out what the song needs with Lex, besides marveling the studio wizardry of Dan, my favoritest thing about Ridgeway Recording Studio is farting around with Zelda.
Such a Punim!
24 MAY 2019
LEX TAKES A CALL
"Hi mom," Lex said. "This is your son. Your other son."
I was in the studio with Lex getting ready to lay tracks when his phone rang. I didn't hear both sides of the conversation but I got the feeling his mom called the wrong son.
Having said that, it's always nice hearing from your mom. Even by mistake.
22 MAY 2019
MY NAME IS HARVEY MILK & I'M HERE TO RECRUIT YOU...
To care about AOC who's being pushed around, to care about Muhlaysia Booker who was beaten & then shot dead for being Trans, to care about Austin Eubanks who spent his life terrorized by the memory of Columbine.
17 MAY 2019
What is it about walking in the door only to have a dog sniff your crotch before leaping onto your chest to lick your face?
Last night Zelda greeted me as I walked in the door at Ridgeway Studios. It's taken me the better part of a month, but she finally treats me like a pal.
15 MAY 2019
Lex was cranky.
It's not the exhaustion that's getting the best of him, even though the exhaustion was written all over his face last night as we hit the stage, it's the end of the school year and feeling sad about losing the connection with his students that's getting the best of him.
Lex has been a school teacher for his entire adult life. He is nearing the end of this career & prepping himself for the next stage of his life, minor rock star.
I think it's pretty cool that Lex is cranky. I only wish my 5th grade teacher cared that much about us. Miss Krosenjar was a good teacher but I never felt a connection.
I do remember this was the first time girls made it impossible for me to concentrate in class. I sat between Lisa Hannon & Jennifer Heartfelt. I used to sock them in the arms to show them how much I liked them.
I got in trouble when Lisa Hannon wore a tank top to school, showing off her bruises. Miss Krosenjar yanked me out of class and called my parents. I got a trip to the principle's office and a tongue lashing at home.
Lisa & Jennifer were sad. The punches stopped at recess.
06 MAY 2019
This week we're recording bass & viola. Both are fretless, which means the placement of your fingers require a discerning ear. The skill level is intimidating.
We hired the bass player but Lex is playing the viola. I say viola. He says violin.
Lex is a multi-instrumentalist capable of laying pitch perfect vocals on the scratch track. He writes songs that generate laughs even when the song is called "Depression."
By the way, in case you're wondering what I mean by scratch track, it means the track you lay to build the song. In most cases, once you build the song, you re-track the vocals. In case you're wondering what I mean by re-track the vocals, it means Greg has to sing it over & over & over until he gets it right & by the time the scratch tracks are laid, Lex is drinking at the bar.
He has nothing to fret.
05 MAY 2019
Lex texted, "It's almost like you understand how difficult this is for someone like me. The loss that the past has exacted from me. I appreciate it more than I can express. But it's all going to be ok."
I replied, "I understand. And I'm worried. But mostly I'm excited for this choice in your life. It's brave and the right thing to do and I'm lucky to be there to play support in any way I can."
We were patching things up from a rough night. After practice, instead of going home like a good boyfriend, I made the selfish decision to skip out on my girlfriend's family to hang out with Lex and Jerry, drinking beer and whiskey, marinating skirt steaks, chopping mango for chimmichurri, dicing garlic for stewed tomatoes, grilling asparagus. It was heaven, sitting on the back porch, taking in the day, deconstructing gender.
As the night got late, as the temperature dropped, as the skirt steaks were cut against the grain, we moved indoors for dinner. Jerry was on fire, inspired to deconstruct two sketches hanging in his dining room.
One artist is a celebration of inspiration with no talent. One artist is a celebration of talent with no inspiration. It begs the question: do you hole yourself away in a tower, self-flagellating in the name of art or do you revel in the spotlight?
Lex pointed to the spotlight, "That's me!" I completely agree but he has a tendency to wonder why it's taken so long. The truth is that it's taken exactly as long as it's supposed to take. I wish I had a better explanation but as sure as you cannot rush dinner, I would posit the spotlight isn't something to be chased, it's allusive.
The conversation turned to top surgery. Lex was glowing about the muscle in his chest which will be revealed. Jerry made a gentle observation about threading the expectation. It was vague and lovely. Lex didn't fully understand. Neither did I.
So I took a shot at clarifying, which is the stupidest thing I have done this far in the process of bearing witness. I didn't mean to...
I tried to explain something I don't understand. Maybe it was the beer, maybe it was the whiskey, maybe it was the red wine, maybe it was my cis white male privilege.
This is hard. I'm not good at it. I need to try harder. Sorry I let you down, Lex. At one point in the conversation, Jerry sat in my lap, trying to stop me. He gave me a headbutt. It hurt but I had it coming.
5 May 2019
Last night I stripped down to my t-shirt and baggy jeans in front of my two best cis male friends.
Yes, I was a little drunk.
No, I wasn't wearing a binder.
Yes, I think we're all still friends.
No, I'm not sorry.
3 May 2019
10:04 PM, 7:32 AM
Thursday was what I call Puberday in the fifth grade at the school where I teach. Someone from an outside organization comes to speak to the kids about their changing bodies. This is the first time in over 20 Puberdays I've experienced that I have heard the puberty talk while going through puberty myself.
As the very skilled presenter discussed the changes that take place in the body as a result of testosterone exposure, I smiled. When deepening voice came up, I smiled about my emerging baritone. When hair was mentioned, I reexamined the hair growing on my forearms and the surprise tufts on the backs of my hands. And then he mentioned breast tissue.
"We all have breast tissue," he said. He explained that most adults don't even know that males have breast tissue.
But I know. Because I am male and have breast tissue... breast tissue that was exposed to enough estrogen so that it developed into breasts.
I thought I had taken that in stride. Because with more than 4 decades in this body and a decade and a half of therapy, I have come to grips with that... Right? I well know what my body looks like. And I'm fine. I'm not pretending.
Oh, but I have been. And Thursday, I was suddenly pushed out into the open expanses of my changing brain. While at work. Surrounded by students. My head started to spin and I was thankful that I was not in a teaching role at that point. Because I wouldn't have been able.
There were other adults in the room, so I grabbed my water bottle using the pretense of filling it in order to leave. I headed out the door into the hall and couldn't walk. I leaned my back against a wall and slid down into a squat.
It was a shock. You see, I am a TEACHER. When I'm at work, I'm ON. There are no quiet moments in an office or cubicle. It's like being one of those FBI dudes. I deal with tremendous pressure. I have deep skills honed by 30 years of classroom experience. I don't get bathroom breaks. I don't cry in front of kids. When I left the room, I knew how many present adults were allowed to be in a supervisory role with students unassisted because they are covered by district insurance in that way, how many students had peanut allergies, how many had asthma... I don't lose my cool.
But I lost it. I waited in the hall for my head to stop its internal wobble. I took deep, slow, silent breaths. I engaged in positive self-talk. "You're ok... Lex. Damn. Almost deadnamed myself. Trying again. You're ok, man. It's ok Lex. It won't be long."
03 MAY 2019
CORNER OF LINCOLN & WILSON
"Kiss Me" is a song I wrote about meeting Emily Anne.
I was on the way to grab a beer with Lex when we played together in the Glam Rock Ensemble at the Old Town School of Folk Music.
We were about to cross the street when Lex was approached by a woman. I was struck by the beauty of the woman and the graciousness in the exchange.
After she walked away, I asked Lex if he could get me her number. I didn't know Lex had the super-power of a Yenta, but 27 minutes later the phone number was mine.
I texted. I told her I was the guy who noticed her on the corner of Lincoln & Wilson. I asked if she'd be interested in going out for dinner. This is what she said, "I like dinner."
Emily Anne insists this wasn't her exact reply. I don't remember her exact reply, but when I tell the story it lands well in the room.
Last night, after spending the day teaching 3rd graders, she made the trip to lay percussion on the song. This was an idea Lex had and I'm in the business of bringing to life the ideas of my friends.
By the way, how cute is that sweater?
1 May 2019
I am having surgery in June. I will finally be rid of what I never wanted once I was taken hostage by female puberty: breasts. It's difficult to talk about. Embarrassing.
When I feel this profound shame and embarrassment, something called dysphoria, some hyper-rational part of my mind tries to reassure me thusly: Lex you should not be embarrassed by something you had no choice about. It's not your fault. Not your doing.
But it's embarrassing nonetheless. So why do I keep talking about it? Writing about it?
I'd like to think I'm doing it to be generous. To share my journey. But something tells me it is for more selfish reasons. I think it's for me.
I'm tired of hiding.
01 MAY 2019
Last night was one of those nights where the mood at the open mic was playful.
This week in Chicago, snow has turned to rain, so there's a gloominess hanging over the city but you wouldn't have known last night.
Maybe it was the way Lex hit the room, living large, beaming with confidence.
I took this picture. It looks like an album cover: Vainglorious!
30 APRIL 2019
THANKS FOR LISTENING
Tonight we play the open mic at Uncommon Ground.
It's become a winter ritual and as tempting as it is to call it a spring ritual, when there's snow on the ground headed into May, you have to finally make peace with the fact it's winter in Chicago from January until June.
Maybe even July.
This is how you get through it, otherwise seasonal depression starts to become something you buy into. Don't get me wrong, it's real, very real. But it reminds me of losing at an open mic, don't buy into it...
Of course you want to go home with half the tip jar. Plus an invitation to compete in the semifinals. Of course you tell yourself this is the night when the applause goes my way and I take home the win.
But to quote Dr. Phil, "The best indication for future behavior is past behavior." So there's no reason to believe the outcome tonight will be any different from the outcome we've faced all winter.
Beating back seasonal depression is like walking out of the room with a smile after the applause pulls away from you and the tip jar is passed to someone else.
You wear the mask.
You double down on rehearsal. You double down on writing new songs. You double down on doubling down. It's tempting to chase the result, since positive reinforcement feels like a hand job.
But the real benefit of showing up is process. And a hand job. The work is in the room, on the other side of the stage, when you're finished playing your songs. Somewhere inside the sting of polite applause is the sound of someone else winning the night. But you wear the mask. You smile at the room and say this...
"We're Friends withOUT Benefits. Thanks for listening."
28 APRIL 2019
Yesterday it snowed. The forecast said between 3 and 5 inches. This is the thing about the weather in Chicago, either it breaks your spirit or you learn to laugh it off.
To get through the winter months, I double down on working out, taking classes, writing more consistently & hitting the open mics.
This summer, in July, we're planning on doubling down on doubling down when it comes to hitting the open mics.
Lex is hooked on momentum. So am I, truth be told. We're craving a bass player, a drummer & a relentless string of gigs.
27 APRIL 2019
Lex texted, "Drive safely in the slop."
"The roads are nuts," I replied.
"Do you want to postpone?" Lex asked. "Wait a bit?"
"Nope," I replied.
It was a snow day. Or as Lex calls it, a slop day. At the end of April. 4 days out from May.
Welcome to Skokie!
26 APRIL 2019
Union has become our favorite place to decompress after recording on Thursday Nights. The pizza is great. The vibe is fun. The staff is knock out.
Last night, a sexy woman in a red dress looked up from pouring water to check out Lex. It was kind of him not to blow me off and go in for the kill.
It begs the question: what's game? Do you stick with the people you arrived with or do you pivot to the sexy woman in the red dress?
Just before we left the recording studio, Lex was bragging about his soul patch. He was swaggering! I think game is taking what you've got and having fun with it.
Next time sparks fly, I hope Lex pivots.
25 APRIL 2019
COMMON RESULT AT UNCOMMON GROUND
We played the open mic this Tuesday at Uncommon Ground. The familiar faces were there.
Matt who plays unnamed songs with no lyrics. Zachary who pours every inch of his soul into the microphone. Friends withOUT Benefits whose determination to put the appropriate tone into the room has driven Lex to lug across town a pedal board that he personally welded to a skateboard.
Mr. Quigley wasn't there, the host of the open mic. The host filling in was a gentle voiced soul, this seems to be a staple of the genre.
We played a tight set. The banter was fun. The songs landed in the room with laughter and genuine applause. A couple who was there on a date swung by our table on the way out of the room and said we sounded like Kids In The Hall. I couldn't have asked for a better compliment.
It felt like the night was ours. We were a shoe in to win half the tip jar and the right to come back to compete in the semi-finals. That is until the final act hit the stage. She was a new face in the room, a mom playing ukulele, an empty nester talking about her life after her kids left home.
She brought a table full of friends. I should have known we didn't stand a chance, that they would hoot & holler for their friend. But I have this naive idea our songs should be able to transcend allegiance to a friend.
At the end of the night, as the applause was passed around the room to see who won the night, I could feel the room pull away from us. On her first night playing an open mic, the empty nester on the ukulele brought home half the tip jar.
Turns out, it's dangerous showing up. Everything is rigged. Call me a masochist, but I'm encouraged. There's something about the friction of disappointment. It keeps me in fighting shape.
23 APRIL 2019
PIED PIPER OF WHITE PEOPLE
Silver Room hosted a townhall. The subject was "Negotiating The N-Word." I usually go to Silver Room for their open mic, "Grown Folks." It's my favorite storytelling jam in Chicago.
Even though last night they were passing around the microphone, I felt compelled to listen. I was struck by how many white people there were in the room. There were 4, maybe 5, tops.
Why is it white people can't make the time to talk about race, or listen to black people talk about race? I suppose they have better things to do like golf, shop and pat themselves on the back for being "the good white people."
I'm so grateful to Eric Williams for putting in the effort to spark this conversation. I don't know how to keep it going, or how to play the white people flute, but I sure do hope it continues.
The work is necessary, and believe it or not...exciting!
21 APRIL 2019
THE SOURCE OF REAL JOY
Lex texted, "ETA 11:55PM."
We were meeting up to go dancing at Beauty Bar. The crowd was nice but the music wasn't really for dancing. So we left.
Heading west on Chicago Avenue, then north on Ashland, then diagonally west on Milwaukee, then all the way up North Avenue.
4.6 miles. Google Maps tells me the total walk time is 1 hour and 33 minutes, not counting the bar we stopped at for a drink just before last call.
Lex asked about the source of real joy. I think it's a good thing to ponder. Incidentally, I was coloring the other day with my 6 year old bestie. I took a picture of him scrunching his brow and scratching his chin while he picked the perfect pencil.
"I like the way you ponder your color choice," I said.
"What's ponder?" he asked.
Sometimes I forget I'm talking to a 6 year old. This is why he trusts me. I don't talk down to him.
"Ponder is stepping back to scratch your chin and think about why you want the yellow pencil instead of the green pencil. It's when you take your time making up your mind. It's a super-power!"
He smiled at me and in the moment just before he began scribbling with the yellow pencil, I felt real joy.
A few weeks ago, I met Lex for rehearsal. We were invited by Jerry to swing by his backyard for BBQ. We hemmed and hawed. Lex had a date. I had to be across town for a bachelor party.
Finally, I decided the day was too perfect to worry about being on time and the occasion didn't demand punctuality. It was a bachelor party, which is a celebration of impulsiveness.
So on a whim, I decided to swing by Jerry's backyard, even though typically, I only hang out with Jerry if Lex is around.
But on a beautiful day, impulsiveness is real joy.
Jerry was cutting meat in his kitchen when I arrived. He grabbed me a beer. Then he put on black latex gloves and made his way to the smoker. As he was seasoning the meat, he looked up and smiled at me.
This was the look on his face. If the joy ain't real, I don't know what is...
21 April 2019
Stolen Bike Redux
My father, Buddy, didn't steal the bike. It was a commissioned work of artfulness. He, like so many white cishet men before and after him, paid someone else to do the dirty work.
Jorge lived down the block from 2828. To get into his place, one stepped through a door that seemed to come out of nowhere into the apartment equivalent of Harry Potter's "bedroom" under the stairs. It is from him that I learned to warm tortillas by putting them directly on the gas burner of the stove. And it was from him and Buddy that I learned how deeply tainted simple joy can become when you don't understand joy's real source.
They thought it was about winning. Paying less. Taking the easy route. Besting someone else. Robbing someone of their bike, their sense of well-being, their power.
I'd love to know what others think the source of real joy is. Here's one of mine...
20 April 2019
Eraser on Paper
I had a day off of work yesterday. I spent the morning getting stuff done. I spent the afternoon and evening as I pleased.
With Greg, I saw an amazing movie, Wild Nights With Emily. The Emily is Emily Dickinson. She was queer, brilliant, iconoclastic, misunderstood, and gaslit. She was unrelentingly herself despite all of the hits she took. And she took a lot of hits.
I don't think I'm ruining the ending when I say that the sound of eraser on paper is the last sound I remember hearing during this movie. It was subtle and it was devastating.
Oh, and I'm in love with Molly Shannon.
19 APRIL 2019
THE STOLEN BIKE
"My dad lived on that street," Lex said.
"Do you want to walk down the street?" I asked.
"Yes," Lex said.
This is the best part of working with Lex, the twists and turns of memory leading you to a place where sharing the moment leads to a better understanding of how we got here.
We stopped at a gate with the number 2828. Lex stopped. So I stopped. He began taking pictures of a door downstairs from the street. I tried the gate. It opened.
I held the gate open so Lex could walk down the long alley. He showed me where his dad lived. He described the neighborhood, how it used to be run down. He told me about the construction site where he used to play and the bike his dad stole for him.
There's more to the story but the story is for Lex to tell, not me. I was there to bear witness. To listen with my whole heart. To take this picture.
19 APRIL 2019
RIDGEWAY RECORDING STUDIO
Last night, Lex laid the vocal tracks to a song called "Depression." As we were leaving the studio, I turned to Lex and said, "You just laid the vocal tracks to Depression and I've never felt happier."
He took the song to a place where the emotion is the only thing you notice, where the song feels like a moment instead of a fancy arrangement of instruments.
Our sound is raw, honest, there's lots of space between the notes to feel the chemistry in our friendship. The question is how do you capture that feeling in the studio without making the mistake of adding too much complexity?
I don't have the answer. But last night was spectacular.
18 APRIL 2019
This week, Lex brought his pedal board to our gig at Uncommon Ground. It's not really a gig. That's our mentality. But the truth is, there's a big difference between a gig and an open mic.
At a gig, you do a set, maybe half an hour, maybe an hour. At a gig, you put asses in seats, either by reputation or guilting friends. At an open mic, you are the ass in the seat, you trade patience for stage time, creating the illusion of an audience, giving the waitress something to do.
(And to those at the open mic who don't order or tip the waitress, let me just say this: you're a jerk!)
So for Lex to lug his pedal board along with his amp was a testament to his determination to put the right tone into the room. He has one of the best ears in music. He knows exactly what he wants. It's intimidating.
We played 2 songs. It was our most intimate set. We talked to the room, we talked to each other, it's probably my favorite show on a level of connection.
Lex talked about his mom. He wrote a song about her called "Gaslit." He forgot a few lyrics but it didn't matter since his emotion landed in the sweet spot where music slips beyond judgment into connection.
The guitar tone was worth lugging the pedal board. I made sure to help Lex break down his gear after the gig. Did I say gig? I did. It felt like a gig.
16 APRIL 2019
In my 20's I sang in a band. But I didn't play an instrument. I had all kinds of reasons why I thought this was the way to go. Turns out, they weren't reasons so much as they were excuses. It held me back.
There came a time in my life when I was between jobs for longer than I had ever been between jobs. I had a guitar hanging on my wall, collecting dust. So I took it down. I began strumming. I noticed the strumming helped with the loneliness, with the feelings of fear I was dealing with between jobs, with turning off the excuses.
Now I use the guitar for songwriting. For the longest time, I told myself the only reason I wanted to play guitar was as a tool for songwriting. Turns out, those were excuses too.
Lately I've been playing lead on songs written by Lex. It's challenging. It's intimidating. It's fun. The other day, he told me the lead I was playing on the soft part of a song was pulling away from the intention of the moment.
So I put the guitar pic in my mouth. I played quite lead. It was so satisfying!
05 April 2019
Seven Month Manniversary
As of today, I have had testosterone in my body for seven months. In that short time, my voice has gone from alto to baritone. I have more than tripled the number of pushups I can do. I have sideburns and other whiskers. I feel desire in a completely different way. I can hear parts of songs that I've been listening to for years that I've never heard before. I drive just a teeny tiny bit faster than I used to. I've gone from being addressed as, "Sir-oops-sorry-I-mean-Ma'am?-I-mean..." to "Sir."
I am calmer and more centered--good thing too because it has been a lot to adjust to.
I have lost and continue to lose subcutaneous fat so that muscles and veins that were always there but covered are now visible. This is a good analogy for everything that is happening. More and more the true anatomy of who I am inside is being revealed to those who are on my outside.
So... Hi everybody! I'm here. I'm healthy, horny, hairy, hungry.
04 APRIL 2019
RIDGEWAY RECORDING STUDIOS
"Anybody want something from Starbucks?" I texted on the way to the studio. "No but thanks for asking," Dan texted back.
A few minutes later I heard from Lex, "Yes! Am I too late?" He knew the answer. Even if I left Starbucks and was already in the studio tuning my guitar on a bean bag while getting a foot massage from Miguel Ángel Silvestre, for Lex I'd make a coffee run.
"Your order?" I texted back. "Tall blonde espresso Americano. Please."
Whatever the fuck that means.
That is to say, I understand please. But a tall blonde espresso Americano? I asked the barista to explain. She said it was a fancy pants bean. Of course she didn't actually say it was a "fancy pants bean." But that's what I heard when she spoke.
Anyway, I got to the studio just ahead of Lex, in time to grab this shot. Walking in the door, ready to go, he looks sexy!
04 APRIL 2019
WHAT'S THE GOOD NEWS? WHAT'S THE BAD NEWS?
Today we're starting the process of recording an album. Over the course of the next few weeks, we'll have songs available for you to hear as we add complexity in the studio.
Some call it arranging. I call it fun.
Speaking of things I cannot explain but somehow need, we played at The Uncommon Ground Open Mic on Tuesday Night. We got there early, before the sign up sheet was full.
The crowd was big. Lots of ringers. We had a tight set. But once again, we didn't bring home the prize: half the tip jar plus an invitation to compete in the semi-finals.
I get the feeling we're never going to win in that room.
This is either a good thing or a bad thing, but either way, we're going back for more. If I learned anything from The Dexter Avenue Church it's the power of what kind of voice you can build over time in a small room.
Hope to see you there.
03 APRIL 2019
Played an open mic last night. As we got on stage, I began talking about how excited I was for Chicago. Either way, last night, we were electing a black woman to be mayor. But one of the women was openly gay.
I didn't know I was holding out hope until we got off stage. Lex began fiddling with his phone. He held it up: Lori Lightfoot won.
Chicago elected an openly gay black woman to be mayor. I began crying, sitting there at an open mic, tears of joy caught me off guard.
What a great night. We didn't win. That is to say, Friends withOUT Benefits didn't win the open mic so we didn't get invited back for the semi-finals or the pot of gold, half of the tip jar, $13.00. But on every other level we won.
I'm competitive, so winning matters to me. Lex is the opposite of competitive, so winning is exactly as it's supposed to be, nonsense.
I can only hope Lori Lightfoot won't do exactly what I watched Barack Obama do on the night he won the presidency. In front of the world, on a stage in Grant Park, he began the slow process of backing away from the power.
Own it, Madame Mayor. We elected you. Own it!
02 April 2019
Acts of Bravery
I retire from teaching in about two years. By then, I'll have been teaching for 33 years. I get a lot of different reactions to that news. The reaction I inevitably get from teaching colleagues is, "Once you retire, you can come back and sub!"
No. I can't.
To walk into a room that isn't yours, be put in charge, and expect things to go well? That is an act of utter bravery. I've been bold and brave in many areas of my life. But subbing? No can do.
I can do open mics though, and it is similar: You walk into a room that isn't yours, take the stage, and try to expect things to go well.
It never ceases to amaze me that usually they do.
02 APRIL 2019
TRANS: TRANSFORMATION 2
I carried shame for such a long time it felt natural. I began seeking out people to let me down. I dated lifestyle addicts. I clung to friendships born out of geography instead of the heart.
Where did I learn this behavior? Why did it feel so good, letting myself down, seeking opportunities to sabotage my ambition.
Lex is struggling to get a handle on his "biological imperative."
Can you re-wire the DNA of shame? Can you reclaim a sense of joy when you've buried sex under an avalanche of hopelessness? What do you say to someone you're hitting on in a bar who would look you in the eye and say this...
"I'm out of your league!"
Look at this smile. Look at the joy Lex is taking in this moment. He just got a new guitar. It wasn't handed to him. He didn't buy it with trust fund money. He earned it. His smile is earned. I think maybe it's a clue to recapturing your "biological imperative." I think maybe...
02 April 2019
Trans: Transformation 1
How does sexual frustration transform itself into shame, hopelessness, desperation, and sadness? How do our brains manage that feat? Somehow the direct line--one that carries a biological imperative--that goes from our brains into our groin gets... severed? Rerouted to the shame lobe of the brain?
The mind is a powerful force. Seems to me, I can use that same force to rectify the situation. Right the route.
01 APRIL 2019
Last year Lex got tickets for Hump Fest. I was skeptical. Who wants to sit in a dark theater with strangers & watch porn. Maybe this was how they used to do it. But now I've got PornHub.
Turns out, Hump Fest was one of my favorite things I did in 2018. There are so many different ways to celebrate sexuality and not all of it has to do with jerking-off.
Not that there's anything wrong with jerking-off. In fact it's divine!
This weekend I'm not going to be able to join Lex, another friend of mine is getting married and this weekend is his bachelor party. But I'll be there in sexy spirit. If you happen to be in Chicago, and you're looking for something fun, make your way to Hump Fest.
Oh, don't get butter on your popcorn. Trust me on this, you'll thank me after the show.
01 April 2019
27 Jennifers, Stephanies, Katies, and Sarahs
I love Mike Doughty because his voice is like mine. Low. At this point, I don't seem to be able to sing in a typical register. But I can always count on Mike.
I can also count on his songwriting. 27 Jennifers is my latest love. The video is sexy and quirky. The lyrics are a ton of fun. And the arrangement of the song leaves a ton of room. For play. Playing.
I can't wait to perform it.
01 APRIL 2019
Meeting Lex at Pressed Coffee on Oakton Street in Skokie, Illinois. We were supposed to walk through a building across the railroad tracks to scout out a potential location for our community center...
We had to reschedule the walk through but we're going to meet anyway to go over the Homepage & Blog on this website. I'm looking forward to collaborating here with Lex. I'm a fan of his music, writing, perspective.
I highly recommend working with people you secretly admire. It lifts your game by forcing you to show up at the highest level of your ability. This is more than an exercise in blasting off the rocket ship of your ambition.
This is where the music lives, in the chase, in the attempt, in putting yourself out there. To the Moon, Alice!
01 APRIL 2019
Two planes have gone down. You'd think it's a deal breaker. Think again.
We're more interested in cheap flights than keeping track of who's to blame. Boeing makes planes. They're a good company with a recent stumble. What is this in the world of business? I'll tell you what it is...
If it sounds cynical, it is. If it sounds like the wrong thing to do, it is. If the behavior seems criminal, it is. But this is the world of The Stock Market. Know the world, know the players, know the game & play the game.
Then go out & change the world. But do it with a pile of cash in your bank account.
31 March 2019
FRIEND BENEFIT POINTS
On your average night, we get to play 2 songs at an open mic. It runs about 7 minutes.
This feels like seconds on stage but it can feel like forever in the room, which goes to show you time is relative so get your shit tight, people!
This week we're choosing between the following songs: Blue Balls, Gaslit, Working Class Hero & Backlash Splish Splash.
Drop by, call out the song & if we play the song you call...
Win 890 Friend Benefit Points.