Sunday, November 04, 2018

Thoughts About Pittsburgh

I try to avoid starting a post with "It's been awhile since I've written." In the early days of the blog I did that a lot and it just comes across as overly apologetic in a way. I don't really think there is anyone coming here on a regular basis (i.e. not after seeing a link on social media) who is saying, "Aw, man!" when I haven't added anything in a couple weeks. 

But the events of the past week or so have sort of thrown me for a loop and put me in a frame of mind where I didn't feel ready to delve into an analysis of a new album, or talk about shows that have happened.

Pittsburgh made the national headlines last week when a gunman went into the Tree of Life synagogue and killed 11 people and wounded several others. This happened in Squirrel Hill, the neighborhood where I grew up. My childhood home is a little more than a mile down the hill from Tree of Life. The late Fred Rogers lived about two blocks from the scene of the crime. When the incident happened, my wife was at work, at the cemetery that's a couple blocks from Tree of Life. Our son was with her too. They were on lockdown for most of the afternoon. Of the people that died, one was the partner of my personal doctor. The father of a good friend of mine was badly injured and is still in the hospital. My friend has always been an easy living musician-type of guy. From the posts I've seen of his online, he's suddenly hit with a reality that he never dreamed of, having someone precious hanging in limbo. It's really changed his perception on the world around him.

How do you even begin to deal with that? How do you unpack the thought of someone going into a place of worship and killing people simply because they are there? What do you tell your kid? "Kid, the world is fucked up." And once you get beyond that, what can you say? Even before this happened, I often tell him to make the world a better place.

That night there was a vigil in Squirrel Hill. I didn't go because among other things I had a show that night. The wife and kid had gotten home and were a little exhausted so we all needed downtime. Then I felt guilty for not going to the vigil, like I wasn't doing my part, whatever little part that could be. I sat down and wrote a letter to the editor of the Post-Gazette. In it, I pointed out how, during the campaign trail, our current president encouraged supporters to "beat the hell" out of protesters. That attitude is more than prevalent these days: Don't like someone? Just kick their ass. Get rid of them. And that's how we got to where we are now. 

I didn't sent the letter. After doing so much internet research to make sure I wasn't misquoting the president, I was getting weary. And you know the old saying: you should never send an angry letter. It should be noted that I used the word "malarkey," so if it had run, maybe readers would think an old man wrote it. 

That night (Saturday), I got onstage for the first time since February. It wasn't with the Love Letters but with a pick-up group that played REM songs in a night of tribute bands doing whole sets by other groups. Everyone in the room had a heavy heart because, on top of the Tree of Life shooting, the word had gotten around that two nights earlier, there was another loss in music community. Jess Flati, who made up one half of the Lopez, had died suddenly from a heart attack. He was 40. 

I didn't know Jesse too well. The Lopez once played a show with the Love Letters a few years ago. His bandmate/wife Steph Wolf and I often ran into each other at shows and talked. But I interviewed Jesse for my first assignment at Pittsburgh Current over the summer. He was a sweet guy, gregarious, ambitious and really down to earth. The type of person we need more of in this world. 

At the show, people were hugging each other, crying a little (me included) but we were there for each other and the music lifted us. During the band Benefits' set of songs by the Cure (which was fabulous and made me think even more about burying my age-old resentment for that band), singer/show organizer Michael Baltzer asked us to look at the people around us and - only if we felt comfortable doing it - saying hi and, if appropriate, give each other a hug. I hugged my friend Greg Cislon, who was close to me. Oh yeah, and then the band played "Close to Me."

Our REM set went well. I got into this band because I was in the right place at the right time on the right night. Baltzer saw me at Howlers one night and said some friends of his needed a bass player to do the set. I said, sure why not. The next morning, he connected the four of us via Messenger. I have heard Joe Melba's name for a long time and saw him years ago in a band, but I never officially met him until I stepped onto his porch for the first practice. He was Bill Berry. Anthony Schiappa was Peter Buck and was great at figuring out all the guitar nuances of the songs. And he was patient while I caught up. Justin Cimba was our Michael Stipe. In a wild act of boldness, he flew up from New Orleans to do the show, arriving Thursday night before the show. We had time for one practice, which, thanks to my work schedule happened at 9:30 on Friday morning. During that practice, Joe got a call about Jesse Flati.

Tuesday morning was Jesse's funeral. There had been a viewing the day before. Since it was in Aliquippa, which is out past the airport, I was hesitant to go then, because I wanted to be home when my son got back from school and I knew traffic would be awful at rush hour. Still, I wrestled with myself over this, feeling like I making excuses when I should be showing some kind of support. So I made plans to go to the funeral, which was held in the funeral home itself. RIP Jesse. You drew an SRO crowd that day. 

In closing, I want to post a couple pics from shows that happened several weeks ago that I upoloaded but never got around to posting. The first comes from the CD release show Paddy the Wanderer's new album. I got there in time to hear the last song and a half (Grrrrrrrrr). But I love the expression on Chet Vincent's face as he looks at singer Joey Troupe. (Chet joined them for the last song.) 

And then there was the great show by Hearts & Minds, the trio of (left to right) Paul Giallorenzo, Jason Stein and Chad Taylor, one of my favorite nights of the year.

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