Making Lemonade (and Music)

Not sure about you, but I am on day three of lockdown due to the coronavirus situation. Have been working from the house, making a lot of meals at home, even baking some bread. I hope to be finishing up some songwriting – some of that has been going on, but not enough yet to put anything out.

One of the things I am missing desperately is of course getting out and playing live. No one is going to open mic nights, particularly in Massachusetts, as there are no bars and no restaurants open. (Editorial statement This is a good thing! We are trying to preserve the public health.)

I watched on Facebook as several friends I have met through playing music mourned their last gig before going into seclusion/quarantine and started wondering when the next time was we were going to be able to play in front of an audience. And then I realized that in today’s day and age, we didn’t actually need to leave our homes to be able to find at least some form of an audience. At the very least we could get together online and play for each other – and then hopefully invite others to watch as well.

OurPerformers

Enter the Virtual Necessity Open Mic page.  We are only two days in, but there are already over a half dozen performances up, and performers are working on new videos every day. This has started as a Metro West Massachusetts thing, but there is no reason that others who have a song to sing, a comedy bit to make people laugh, poetry to make people feel, or stories to tell can’t submit something to the page (send as a link or in a message).

Author

Art is what will get us through this. Art and the knowledge that we are doing what we can to protect the people we care about. Please go ahead and film your song, poem, story, or jokes and then send them into the page. We’d love to get a little light.

 -Chris

Farewell, My Friend

First, it is my dearest hope that all of you are staying safe, and staying as healthy as possible. For those who can, please work from home, and certainly do what you can to both keep yourself from catching COVID-19 and help keep it from spreading further as well.

Second, I have some sad news related to Tunnel 18’s history. Donald Humphreys – my friend since our first day of kindergarten, the one drummer I have spent the most time with (we played together from about 1983-1996 or so), and the guy who came up with the name Tunnel 18 – died this morning.  

He was diagnosed with glioblastoma (the same cancer that killed Neil Peart and Gord Downie) last spring and had been fighting the disease ever since.

I’m going to take this moment to renew my plea that if you can, please donate to any of the cancer societies who are doing good work and research into battling this disease. My favorite is Sunnyview, but there are many others. Don and C

Aside from this, I’m going to spend some time thinking of my friend and brother in music. I will remember building and then blowing up plastic model planes in his backyard. I will remember model railroading. I will remember riding bikes halfway across Bergen County. I will remember the very first days of Tunnel 18, of learning songs, sounding terrible and then sounding less terrible. I will remember playing parties where we eventually got police officers from four different towns in the county to come by to shut us down. I will remember meeting his kids for the first time, and him meeting mine.

We hadn’t been able to play music together for years because of the separation of a few hundred miles, but just like I have been playing music again, he was as well, shifting from drums to guitar in Outside The Lines, a band in northern New Jersey. I believe they will be soldiering on, and I strongly recommend you go out and take a listen if you can. 

Farewell, my friend – thank you for all of the wonderful memories and for the impact that you made on so many of us.

-Chris

Don-Guitar

Turn off the Radio, Turn on the Video

I am incredibly thankful for my life and the incredibly cool things I get to do. Yes, there’s all the travel and my family and friends and music and building stuff, but…

Last fall, I spent the day with some new friends on the Esplanade in Boston. My friend (and sometime spirit guide) Andrew Geano had released his first solo album a few months earlier and was looking to shoot his first video:2020-03-06 23.08.31

“Chris! Are you free on Sunday? I am shooting a scene for my music video for my song “Not That Free” on the Esplanade and I am gathering people I know to participate in it have a small little part that I thought you’d be really good for. You’d be playing a street preacher getting up in the face of the lead character (played by our friend Audrey Rose). It will be pretty simple stuff, and you won’t be mic’ed, and the your part will last no more than 15 seconds. If this is something that interests you, let me know. 🙂”Preach

My response was a casual and nonchalant YES!!

The video was formally released yesterday and there was a release party at Sally O’Brien’s in Somerville, MA last night to celebrate. And if I haven’t already, let me recommend a few bands and let you know about the great music you missed from: 

Audrey Rose Hughes

Jim Weeks

Wildcat Slim

And of course…

Andrew Geano

Thank you for being patient during a long absence – been an interesting few weeks, and I should be back on this blog a little bit more regularly now.  Without getting into details, I hope to be recording a few news songs, including one I started last night about how life flies by so fast. 

I’m looking forward to being with you again soon. Thanks for joining me on the journey, as always.

The Jetset Life is Gonna Kill You*

Right in the middle of an e x t e n d e d travel jag right now.  Do have some music news as well.

So maybe let’s cover that first:

InTheEnd-Singlecover2Hey! I’ve got yet another new single up on Spotify!  In The End has seen a lot of good play in open mic and drop-in band action in Massachusetts and Alberta over the past few months, so it was time to finally drop the recorded version.   

There are more songs in the works, too.  More on that in a bit.

First: travel updates.  The good news is that I have gotten to visit and experience yet another faraway place – one that really belongs on a list of must-see places.  The bad news is that I really just barely experienced Antananarivo, and cast only the briefest of glances at Madagascar. 2020-01-25 11.25.45

I’m pretty much an accidental tourist in cases like these, but one of my favorite things to do when forced to travel for business is to get out and explore the city.  In many cases I am able to just walk around and observe life, browse newsstands and grocery stores, take pictures of old railway stations, etc, even when it is quite obvious that I am not a native – that I neither look nor speak like the people around me.

Unfortunately, this kind of exploration is not that easy to work in to such a short stay in Antananarivo.  So: for this trip, I do my own variation of the Joe Walsh “live in hotels, tear out the walls” (which in my case involves writing songs and maybe playing Roblox) and then go on my merry way.

And then get home from Antananarivo late on a Saturday, do laundry on a Sunday, and then head straight off to Edmonton.

2020-01-29 09.31.14-1I love this town, I’ve loved this town for a long time, and it really is a second home to me. I know the flow of the city whether it’s +30°C or -40°C. Either way, I don’t care. Plus, I have found a real community out here – friends I love to see and spend time with, places I love to see through the seasons, sunrises and sunsets that I don’t see very much anywhere else. 

Then home again on a Friday afternoon, another run of laundry, dry cleaning, cleaning the house, spending time with family, and then off to another plane. This time to Vancouver. An oddly cold and snowy Vancouver. Another of the most beautiful places on Earth, and another where I have wandered far and wide.

Home again by red eye on Thursday so that I get into the house around lunchtime on Friday. Sunday fly out to Tampa, fly home again on Tuesday.

And then rest.

And God I need a rest. This rockstar life without actually being a rockstar can be very tiring. Neil Peart once wrote that trying to figure out a different shower every night is hard enough, never mind a coffee maker. Suffice to say I can relate.  Also, rental cars have a learning curve, and why do so many automakers use exactly the opposite directions for engaging windshield wipers?  I assure you, this is not a thing one wants to be fumbling with when one truly needs them!  

Anyway…

2020-02-01 20.33.55One real benefit of being on planes is it seems to bring out ideas for new songs.  I had listed a few things I was working on in the last blog. Well, the flight back from Edmonton last week provided yet another new song, Clouds, which got tracked in demo form last Saturday.  And another set of riffs came during the flight out to Vancouver today.

International rockstar traveller, indeed!

 

*(Apologies and thanks to My Chemical Romance)

Resetting

Resetting is a very necessary thing.  And a thing I rather wish I had an ability to truly do.  Work for me is an obligation, but also an aspiration.  

My brother and I have had conversations about this.  Somehow we and everyone else in my family have absorbed the message that we are supposed to be working at pretty much all times.    Any spare moment is a moment that we really ought to be doing a thing from the task lists that have been assigned to us. 

Of course, this is incredibly unhealthy, and leads to burn out, sickness, and a general mental malaise. It also makes us not a hell of a lot of fun to be around.

So, here’s a picture of some cows:2020-01-11 16.02.43

These are authentic Texas Longhorns, located on a ranch northwest of Nacogdoches. The ranch is owned and run by some distant family members of ours, and the cows are kept as pets. In fact, they referred to them as “very large dogs”.

While there is cell and Wi-Fi coverage there, it is spotty and somewhat unreliable. As a result, the focus is a little bit more local. Access to my day-to-day job and work very much took a backseat. What work there is to do on a ranch is a lot more immediate and tangible, and the results visible and more immediately relevant to life.

In the process of catching my breath and spending a little time in the woods, I came back to a whole set of songs that I have started but not done very much with. I don’t know how many of these will actually make it to a final form, but here is a list of song titles of things I’m working on:

  • Burn the Ships
  • Death in the Neighborhood
  • Pixie Queen
  • They’re Waiting for Me
  • Uneasy Lies the Head
  • Nobody’s Business

As has been my habit of late, I will typically demo songs in the studio at home, then take them out to open mic to work shop them a few times, and then do a final set of recordings for release.

Along those lines, I do have a little bit of news:InTheEnd-Singlecover2

Instead of releasing an entire new album at this point, I have decided to put the songs from Wayfinding out as individual singles as I am happy with their recording, mastering, and mixing. The first two have just been released and are available on cdbaby, iTunes, and Spotify. 

Not That Bright

In The End (Spotify link coming soon)

Please go ahead and take a listen! We’ve also put a lot of work into artwork that was or is intended to eventually be used for the album cover, for the CD print, and for liner notes. I promise I will make those available for download on this website as soon as I release a few more of the singles. 

Also, I continue to play at local open mics in the eastern Massachusetts area, and will be playing at Devlin’s in Brighton on Monday, January 27.  If all goes well, I will also be playing at Pub 340 in Vancouver on Wednesday, February 5. 

I have also confirmed that I will be the featured performer on Sunday, April 5 at Article 24 in Brighton. I really, really hope to see you there!

Please like and follow Tunnel 18 on Facebook or Twitter for more real-time updates. 

So finally, if I can leave a gift for you – here is the sunset from the first night that we spent on the ranch. I dare you to look at this and not feel just a little bit more calm, and recognize just a moment to be still. 

2020-01-11 18.10.11

The Professor (RIP)

A personal blog is often a place for many words about a lot of things: thoughts, reflections, and whatnot.  Today, I will offer just a few words, about something that has affected me very deeply.

2020-01-10 17.12.57As I’ve said before, Rush was my favorite band growing up.  Their music was the soundtrack I lived my life to.  Their lyrics reassured the mind of a kid who was a bit of an outcast, and more than a little odd.  And their music never got old – they continued to change with the times and with their own tastes.  A lesson I hope to keep with me as I (hopefully) continue songwriting for many years to come. 

Neil Peart died earlier this week after a three-and-a-half year battle with glioblastoma.  If you don’t already know who Neil Peart was, all I can do is offer you just a sample of how the man played, and then urge you to read his writings.  His lyrics are the liturgy of Rush. His own storytelling spoke of a humble but searching mind.  

I would ask you to do one thing, if you can.  Glioblastoma is a devastating and frighteningly unkind killer.  Unfortunately it is a disease that I have more familiarity with than I would like, due to a dear friend’s struggles (more on him another time).

Glioblastoma of course also took another great songwriter, Gord Downie (of the Tragically Hip), back in 2016. On his passing, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto established a fund for brain cancer research.  If you can, please donate.

I have to go now.  It’s hard to type through tears.

New Year, Stuff Done, Stuff to Do

A very happy 2020 to you all! 2019 was an incredible year, and I’m really looking forward to this new year ahead. In 1943 Woody Guthrie famously put together a list of things he wanted to accomplish in the year ahead. I’m gonna do something of the same here below (though a slightly shorter list). 

Live Performances

I played 40 shows in 2019 – mostly at open mics.  While most of those appearances were in Newton and Brighton here in Massachusetts, I also played live in Edmonton, Red Deer, Indianapolis, and Toronto. I also played four longer shows where I was the featured act. All steps in the right direction!2019-11-06 20.29.24

With the new year, one of my resolutions is to do more live performances in 2020 than I did in 2019. My work travel schedule may make this a little challenging, or it may make it that I am performing in more parts of the world. 

First live performance of 2020 will be an open mic – look for me at Article 24 on Sunday, January 5 (and then another one on January 19) a little after 9pm.  Details here.

New Songs

Did get a few new songs out there in 2019, notably “In a Minor Key” and “All’s Well That Ends.”

Still, there were a lot of false starts. One of the challenges I have is that I have a lot on my plate, making it rather tough to have a clear mind to write and then to record. 

For 2020, I have a few ideas:

  • I have a lot of musical ideas stored up on video and sound clips (but without lyrics). I have about 100 lyrical ideas stored up either as a line or two or as complete songs (but no music).  Dig into the bag of ideas and bring together some of these things into full songs.
  • Take the entire Wayfinding album and release it – not as a full CD, but as singles. The first of these (and there will be two, as singles always have and forever shall have an A side and a B side) will be “In The End” and “Not That Bright.”  The plan is to release these in early January – CD Baby is having a little indigestion with the audio files, but we’ll fix it.
  • And of course I’ll keep bringing new tunes to open mics, to Soundcloud, and to Spotify as they ripen.

Anyone Wanna Play?

Man, I really want to be part of a band again.  Have had the pleasure of jamming with a few friends again over the past few months and – while they’re not in a position to be part of a band right now – I love that energy, and so many new ideas come out of playing with other people.  It just raises everything to a new level.

So….

Do you play guitar, bass, or drums?  Maybe even sing a little bit?

Wanna get together and play some of my tunes, some covers, and try out some things you’ve got on your mind?

Want to get in front of people and see what this sounds like when other people hear it, start dancing and maybe even sing along?

Please oh please let me know.  Let’s make some music together!

A Week of Holidays

Hello everyone! If you’ve been wondering why it’s been a while since I’ve posted, it’s because the last few weeks have been quite a hectic time. Day-job stuff has been unrelenting, but I have been able to get out and play live quite a bit more as well, for which I am quite thankful.

Another thing to be thankful for is – it’s holiday week! I’d like to share with you what holiday week means for us here at Tunnel 18: 

Day 1 – December 21 – RUSH DAY2019-12-21 08.47.53

Written “21/12” in European Standard, December 21 is clearly and forever shall be Rush Day. This holiday is celebrated by playing the entire Rush catalog from the debut album through to Clockwork Angels and then watching Exit Stage Left and Beyond the Lighted Stage at least twice each. 

2015-12-17 18.04.25Day 2 – December 22 – 1st Night of Hanukkah

Hanukkah does not always fall at exactly this time of year, but this year it does and therefore I am counting it in the list. Although this is a minor holiday, for someone with not-particularly-mild seasonal affective disorder, the chance to light candles, bring light into the world, and eat fried food is of incredible comfort. 

Day 3 – December 23 – Tibb’s Eve

A shout-out to my dear friend Mark Morrissey for bringing my attention to this excellent holiday! Advent has historically been seen as a time of somber (and sober) preparation for Christmas. A Newfoundland tradition, Tibb’s Eve was established as the first day where the populace could let loose and have a drink, or many drinks. (By the way, don’t let this happen to you.)

(Sidenote: I and a few friends will be going to the open mic at Devlin’s in Brighton on Tibb’s Eve this year, hoping to establish the tradition here in Boston much as Mark has done by bringing it with him from Newfoundland to Edmonton.)

Day 4 – December 24 – Erev Christmas

I am Jewish, but come from a Christian family of origin, and as such am grateful to have the opportunity to partake in both traditions. So, we’ll light the third candle, finish up present wrapping, and read through cards while binge-watching a show to be decided upon at that time.

Day 5 – December 25 – Christmas Day

Christmas Day shall be spent in the Traditional Way: getting up late, quietly exchanging a few minor gifts, and then finding a place for Chinese food and a good movie. It is entirely possible that the new Star Wars movie may find its way into our eyeballs on this day.

Day 6 – December 26 – Boxing Day

Boxing Day isn’t really a US thing, but in many countries, it is essentially a less formal Christmas Day, during which presents are given to public servants and people get together with friends, rather than with family.  In observance, we’re planning to have at least one good friend over for dinner. 

A bit less traditionally, Boxing Day for us will also include boxing a whole bunch of stuff up in preparation for travel to …

Day 7 – December 27 – The Gathering

The family holiday celebration takes place in New Jersey, usually a couple of days after Christmas. This year we are all heading to Bergen County on or about the 27th. Hopefully traffic will be a little lighter than it would have been a few days earlier. It would be nice to think the traffic is actually part of the celebration, but that’s asking quite a bit.

Day 8 – December 28 – The Feast

And then finally, we all are together with family for reunion, celebration, gift-giving, drama, hijinx, and anything else that happens when you get 20 to 30 people together in any confined area. 

(It’s worth noting that Letterkenny Season 8 drops in the US on the 28th!  Uncertain if we’ll start watching while away or have to wait until we get back home.)

 

May your holiday week also include your own traditions. May this time of year bring light, warmth, love, friendship. May you afford yourself time to rest, recuperate, regenerate, and most of all to create.

A Special Place

I am of an age at which starting new habits or routines is unusual and often difficult. We become set in our patterns and are loath to change them – which is why when it comes time to make a change, having a supportive community around you is so incredibly valuable.

An institution of seven years came to a close this past Monday night. The Open Mic Jam at Bill‘s Pizza* – formerly at Terry O’Reilly‘s and at Smoken’ Joe’s before that – provided that supportive community for many songwriters, musicians, comedians, poets, and even novelists. It was on this stage 16 months ago that I first returned to performing live (after a break of few decades).

2019-12-02 21.14.38I will be eternally grateful to Terrance and Andrew for providing this environment, both for a returning performer to find his chops again, and also for providing a great workshop for trying out new songs and material as I was writing them. I am so, so pleased and honored to call you my friends!

Likewise, I now find myself in the community of some truly talented fellow performers, including (but absolutely not limited to) the up-and-coming Elliot Wren, the folk voice of Bob Greenwood, bassist extraordinaire Ethan Mackler, and theater composer/lyricist/blogger Danielle Pinals. 2019-12-04 23.11.35

In the meantime, the revitalized Tunnel 18 is moving forward. I’m gonna be playing with a couple of interesting people over the next couple of weeks, including a drummer who I am really looking forward to collaborating with. Look for new music soon – I know I’ve been promising it for a while, but it’s on its way. Love to you all, and best wishes for warmth and fellowship this holiday season. 

 

*Bill’s is still an institution on its own, and run by some damn fine people. Go and enjoy the food!

Two Sunrises on the Same Day

I’ve been able to add quite a few cities to the list of places I’ve played in front of audiences this year.  I regret that Huzhou, China is not one of them, even though I just came back from there.

Huzhou – which is about three hours’ drive away from Shanghai – is twelve time zones away from my home.  For all practical purposes, it is on the other side of the world from Boston. This leads to some really weird travel when flying there and coming back.  First, you fly neither east nor west, really. Instead the flight path is mostly longitudinal as that’s the most direct route (the world being round and all that).* 2019-11-01 03.09.45

The other true time travel piece of the puzzle is how one either races away from the night – and loses – or races toward the night and gains another sunrise.  Flying to China you cross not only 12 zones but also the date line, and pretty much lose two days. Right now, however – coming home – I clearly remember waking up to what passes for a sunny day in Huzhou.  That was a long time ago. The sun set. And now out my window it is rising again. And it is still the same date. For me, October 31, 2019 will have been 36 hours long.

2019-11-01 03.12.21There is of course a lesson or metaphor here about second chances and the beauty of a sunrise.  But it’s been a long day, and I think I’ll let you ponder this all for yourselves.

 

*Neat trick: get a globe and run a piece of string between Boston and Shanghai and you’ll see what I mean.  Also pretty cool to try it for other city pairs.