To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before

A few years back I got around to The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. I liked it but I swear, all I can remember is something about the Schlieffen Plan, and then the description of the German officer who spent his nights drinking wine and eating sausages. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother reading books.

I just finished Reaching for the Moon: A Short History of the Space Race by Roger D. Launius. I’m pretty sure this is what I’ll remember:


[Pete] Conrad’s sense of humor became legendary at NASA… when a psychologist showed him a blank white card and asked him to describe what he saw, he replied that it was upside down.


The scientific community worked with the Apollo astronauts to prepare them for geological fieldwork… flight crews underwent formal education roughly equivalent to a master’s degree in geology.


In May 1974 the Kremlin shut the whole program down… government officials directed that the remaining hardware be destroyed to validate the Soviets’ continuing denial that the USSR had ever intended to engage in a race to the Moon.


Gagarin was surprisingly calm and confident. He relieved himself on the side of the carrier before entering the capsule at the top of the rocket; that became a ritual engaged in by all cosmonauts ever after.


“Johnny and Andy were completely obsessed with Spinal Tap,” he says, “and there were mini Stonehenges of cigarette packs left all over the studio… Andy had learned – by note – the bass line to Big Bottom! We only did that when Morrissey wasn’t in the room, though. Don’t worry.”


A few years back I took Twin 1 up to a local seaside town for A Special Day With Dad. We walked past a record shop, and, after asking her if she knew what records were (“They’re like old CDs,” I said), we went in.

We looked around, and I got a used book on REM, and we got in line to check out. There was some awful music playing. It was the kind of racket you’d expect in a place like that. And then – mirabile dictu – one of the clerks took the record off mid-song and put on “Panic” by the Smiths.

(“Panic” is on my Mount Rushmore of 2:20ish knockouts, along with “She Loves You,” “Fortunate Son,” and “Immigrant Song.”)

I grasped Twin 1 by the shoulders and looked her in the eye. “[Twin 1], this is my jam!” (Up til then I’d been telling them it was “Cake by the Ocean.”)

I saluted the clerk on his choice, and he and the other guy and me talked about how awesome the Smiths are. It was only for a minute or two, but Smithdom requires no more.


Andy Rourke, their bassist, who “provided the muscle and drive,” died recently.

This next bit is pretty much a lecture series, so I will do my best to compress it to a paragraph. The Smiths were The Best Band. This is due to their singular singer and virtuoso guitarist, but also to their rhythm section, which grew, over the course of the band’s five-year life, from good to perfect. (You go try that, pal.) At their beginning, you could have swapped out either the drummer or bassist and maybe done better; by their last album this would have been only in the realm of infinite possibility.

The point I’m trying to make is probably best briefly illustrated by one of the singer’s post-Smiths early singles, “Interesting Drug,” in which the lineup is the Smiths without their original guitarist. Holy smokes that’s some drum n’ bass.

But I’ll share instead this one, my favorite Morrissey single. There’s Andy stage right, holding it down.


I smiled at him once, at a club in Brooklyn. He smiled back.

So long, Andy. May it ever be your lucky bun-day.


I wonder if Daniels’s appeal has something to do with the fact that many men, if asked to cast their lives without undue conceit, might settle on Jeff Daniels to play themselves.

– Magic Hours, Tom Bissell


In October of 1994, some friends and I drove up to Philadelphia to see Pulp and Blur at the Trocodero. Pulp were opening.

The opener took the stage and we were like: … huh? It was obviously not Pulp.

Deciding to chat up a nearby concertgoer, I asked, with wry and salty disparagement, who was onstage. In my storied ledger of rejections, hers was among the more emphatic. She damn near took the roof off with her eye-roll.

In fairness to me, there may have been other factors; after the set the singer came up to her and they embraced and left together.

I later learned that Pulp had left the tour to go back to England as shortlisters for the Mercury Prize. I finally saw them a few years later at the Paradise in Boston, and they were terrific.


When it comes to pop songs, these are a few of my favorite things: Handclaps. Xylophones. Full stops. Pre-intros. Choral shouting. Intermittent bass lines. Toms instead of snares.

I also like songs that don’t have choruses, and songs that speed up, and songs about heartbreakers. Voilà le hat trick!


Steve Mackey, their bassist, died in March. His Guardian obituary declares him “a model of self-contained cool.”

So long, Steve. I declare, with over-due conceit, those dummies can have Jeff Daniels.

Batter Up

Twenty summers ago I made myself pancakes every day over vacation. I couldn’t get away with it now, but it was awesome and I kind of miss it.


When the twins were little I’d make them pancakes (or, as Twin 2 called them, “panpakes”). This was less pleasant. Serving a brace of toddlers breakfast is like being a waiter in Hell Restaurant.


Less enjoyable still was when, last year, Twin 1 asked me to play a song on my phone. Propriety forbids me from stating its title; suffice it to say my commotio cordis ended only by learning she innocently sought a parody, “Waffles and Pancakes.”


You know what’s fun, though? The “biggest pop-art extravaganza to shake North America in the past decade.” Thursday, May 18. Me and my buddy Scott will be selling t-shirts. Stop by and stop, buy!

PS ask about the friends and family discount. I’ll tell you to eat your pancakes and pay full price, but Scott’s a nice guy. Maybe ask him.

Me Again

La vieillesse est un naufrage. – Chuck D


I’ve been busy! Working on this thing, and this other thing, and another thing too. Tell you more later. In the meantime spare a thought for my laptop, which winterlong faced this thing:


Now then. I am not bad at shooting baskets. I wouldn’t say I’m good, but I’m definitely not bad. This has been remarked by Twins 1 & 2, who are super into basketball, and good at it. Neither seems to have inherited my lack of athletic grace.

Which is weird, for if fatherhood has taught me anything, it’s that genetics is for real. Accordingly, I am somewhat terrified I’ve inherited my old man’s bad knees. When I’ve gone for a morning run, and later in the day the twins ask me to play basketball… oof.

So I tell them I’ll be the stationary teammate of whoever has the ball. And when it’s passed to me, I shoot. I find this a decent solution, but it does produce disagreement about whether my varying field goal percentages indicate bias. I always say if I miss it’s because I prefer the sister.

As for the knees, I’ve started running on trails in the local state park. It’s definitely easier on the knees, but more important, so much more enjoyable. Running on sidewalks is like drinking warm Coors in your garage; running in the forest is a G&T on the veranda at sunset. Either way, if you happen upon me, please revive me with the latter.


My latest short story, “The Fix,” has been published in Fauxmoir. It is, indisputably, among the better sub-600-word tales of eavesdropping in Eritrea in the 1960s.You can read it here.



Photo Credit: Tandberg Rullbandspelare Serie 14, by Tubaist via Wikimedia Commons

Phases and Stages

In the late 1990s I became smitten with a Welsh psychedelic pop band, the Super Furry Animals. I first saw them in Boston, then a couple years later in Seattle, where I’d moved, and then a few times in New York City, where I’d moved again. I’d stand in the crowd and imagine a conversation with the band, catching them up on what’s new: Hi fellas! Life sure has changed since last we met! I’m living here, dating her, working there…

Don’t act like you never think weird stuff too.

On Saturday I went down to Brooklyn to see Pavement for the first time in twenty-eight years. I didn’t even know where to begin, imaginary conversation-wise.

Below are comments on the band and the show. They may be of cascadingly diminishing interest to those not into Pavement, so be advised before clicking through. Either way, if you don’t know Jim Pepper’s magnificent “Witchitai-To,” click on that. It was their encore closer, and my new favorite song.


Continue reading “Phases and Stages”

Ain’t No Cure

This summer, man. Strikes and gutters, ups and downs.

It was the kind of summer that had me contemplating breaking glass on The Emergency Plan, but then I read this: “… nearly all of the people I served with were unfulfilled in their expectations of the whole affair, myself included.”

No kepi for me!


I was also saddened by Paul Ryder’s death. He was the bassist of the Happy Mondays.

I’ll spare you the (boring) explanation, but I had a miserable senior year of high school. At night I’d put Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches into my Sports Walkman and go for long runs. It was a reliable tonic.

O! “God’s Cop”! “Step On”! “Dennis and Lois”*! Thou art forever my jams!

Here’s a bit from Ryder’s Times obituary:

A year later he taught himself to play the bass guitar. In his untutored style, he referred to the instrument’s strings simply as “the fat one, the thin one and the one down from the fat one”…

… it was Paul who came up with the name Happy Mondays. After signing on the dole on a Thursday, his benefit giro was supposed to arrive on Saturday morning but seldom came until Monday.

My friend Ben said in our chat group that the Happy Mondays might be even better than the Smiths. I was all: Dude. You know the penalty for blasphemy. It is only in deference to your grief that I stay my hand.

But I will say this. If you’d like me to be quiet and stare off into space for several hours, ask me if I’d rather see the Smiths in their prime, or the Happy Mondays in theirs.


Lastly, shoutout to the lady on the Charlotte – Des Moines flight who, seeing Twin 1’s silent meltdown at not being seated next to me, readily switched places (to a middle seat, no less). She was awesome, instantly. Let’s be like her.

Alright, back to school, back to work. Be well, Gentle Reader.


* When the twins were little I would merrily sing at their bathtime, “We all learn to wash at the scrubbers club, where we wring out the dirt with rub-a-dub-dub!”