This is a weekly newsletter where I send out a new “nice sounding” track, some writing, and a picture of something I saw. It’s also one way I let people know what I’m up to otherwise. Thank you for reading. You can hear every single My Big Break track in one playlist right here. You can also now buy all fifty tracks on Bandcamp.
Good morning ~
It’s been over six weeks since I last wrote one of these, the world still spins, valiant social unrest continues and it’s absolutely wild how much has occurred in my life in the intervening time.
I left Ohio, managed to join a few inspired protests in the city, quit my steady but spiritually debilitating day job, played a show in my front yard, then I just moved out of NYC (like, actually just finished bringing my shit up to the apartment a couple of hours ago). Also, today is my birthday. I’m writing to you totally depleted and exhausted but in a happy and very cute home in Troy, a few hours upstate. Please enjoy the synth drones and stoop-sounds I have put together for you, track number 50.
Feels very much like I have begun “a new chapter,” as many people are saying to me. And so it makes sense in a way to wrap up this project for a bit, because this is the 50th one, and there’s been so much tumult in my life lately. It will come back, though, I think probably sometime in the Fall once I figure some things out.
So, to put a bow on it. Today I’ve put all fifty tracks from this newsletter up on Bandcamp - you can easily buy/download all of them at once and I’ll be splitting all the proceeds with Troy 4 Black Lives, an organization that has been doing important work in the city I just today moved to (I want to begin being a responsible member of a smaller community from day one, you know?).
Here’s a link, and also an embedded player for ya:
On the last Sunday I lived in New York I pointed our house’s PA speakers out the front window and out the front door and plugged in all my stuff right on the threshold, the warm tubes of my amp behind me warming in the vestibule. I had both the double doors open and a little metal chalice of dried cedar burning at my feet - trying and failing to keep the mosquitos away. We did a quick soundcheck - my roommate jumped at the chance, saying “oh my god, soundcheck?” as if remembering some long hidden beloved Saturday morning cartoon. He jogged across the street and I sang into the microphone - we wanted to make sure it wasn’t too loud, we wanted to make sure you could still hear the birds and the rustling of the trees above and the distant washed out rhythms of music wafting over from barbecues blocks over. A little while after that people started to arrive in that weird fashion moment we find ourselves in - cut off or otherwise skimpy summer clothes and sweat through armpits with a covered face, difficult to see how widely someone you haven’t seen for months is grinning when they roll up on their bike through the mask. I planned it poorly, really - I didn’t test it out ahead of time, and I didn’t ask the neighbors’ permission, in fact I only told the downstairs neighbor about it a few hours ahead of time, shot him a quick text about it while I was at the beach that morning - hey man, upwards of 30 people are going to be standing around near the front door of your garden apartment this afternoon, don’t let your excited adorable pitbull out in the early evening or she’ll totally lose her mind excited with all the sweaty bodies standing patiently on the sidewalk. Unlike usual I was actually very concerned that too many people would show up - I didn’t want to risk anyone getting infected, and I didn’t want to block the path of anyone walking down the street, and worst of all I didn’t want to invite a visit from the putrid NYPD, an organization that myself more recently and many of the people standing outside my house on Sunday have been full-throated shouting about while marching down the roadways of bridges. But the right amount of people came, enough to where you could stand a few feet apart and still have a conversation, folks I knew from when I was 18 were there as were strangers I had never met before. Something odd struck me immediately on settling in behind the microphone. And that is that with the masks and the distance it is very difficult to know how to read people, it is hard to speak that vital unspoken language that we all rely on to know what someone is actually saying. So much of what happens when I’m singing is based on reading people’s faces with love and attention and standing above the modest crowd at the threshold of my apartment I could not tell from just their eyes and eyebrows whether or not the experience was a valuable one. As I have become more desperate for social interaction I have become more and more anxious about it, too - I don’t want to fuck up one of my very few chances of being in the presence of a loved one. So my knees were knocking a little bit as I started talking into the microphone, something I’ve forgotten how to do, gotta sand the rust off the spokes, searching for those once-clear sentences in the half-covered faces. Felt that maybe I had manipulated these folks into attending, perhaps they felt compelled to be there, and felt also very strongly that the neighbors would be pissed - the woman with the heavy accent and the pack-a-day habit next door was totally impenetrable to me. But I did what I do, I raised my little voice up and heard it slapping against the buildings next door, I let the guitar spill out as the J-train rattled by and the parakeet my housemate is watching for a little while chirped excitedly along. And eventually the neighbors poured themselves a bottle of wine and started smiling, they invited a few folks up to their stoop, more people arrived, people from the neighborhood walked by and gave thumbs-up, and before I knew it it was all over again, I had tearful goodbyes and (though you may hate me for this) was asked to be hugged as many times as I can remember being asked. And I said yes.
I saw the neighbor this morning as we began our long day moving my stuff out of the beloved apartment. As we piled the boxes of LPs and the paintings by my mom and my exercise bike into the little yard she thanked us sincerely for putting on a show. She said she enjoyed it so much, that it made her feel “fresh,” because lately everything has been…she folded over as if shot in the back by an arrow, let loose by some floating ogre. I said yeah, we’re all a little wilted. She said yes we’re all a little wilted! Please do it again, she said, puff, let me give you my email or something. We have never once spoken before.
Walking home from the beautiful perfect dance spot at sunrise during any season, or better yet renting a scooter and recklessly topping 30 miles an hour down the middle of bushwick avenue. How all the people who read the code of conduct knew me by sight, how you could hear the kick drum first from three blocks away and as you approached the music from inside and outside would grow more vivid. How it’s next to an enormous graveyard, and how anytime you ran through it you thought of how many unimaginable people with whole lives personalities and dreams at night had lived and died in this very city for hundreds of years, how every single one of them probably ate a corner slice joint pizza slice at least once, folding it up and catching the neon grease on a paper plate. How impossibly calm the reservoir in the park across the Jackie Robinson Parkway is at certain times of day, and how desperately alive and in need of outdoor motion the hundreds of people you saw circling that reservoir seemed to be. That restless and maniacally restless energy of people bopping around, how the subway brakes sometimes throw sparks and how the people bopping around also seemed to be throwing sparks. You love sparking, and you love hurtling yourself from place to place, no greater feeling than managing to hit 2 concerts and 3 parties in a night, squeezing every last biting citrus drop from the rind, holding it high above and clenching it in your fist, letting it run down your forearm. Band practice, with all the other bands practicing, too, the funny posturing of watching other bands waiting for their rideshares to arrive. Having to carry your guitar to the bar after the show and sticking it strategically in a corner with a coat over it in the winter. Listening to music being played in your living room on Sunday evenings. Getting let in to shows for free because someone working the door knows you, getting a free drink ticket here and there, bullshitting with whoever in-between acts. How one could so easily find themselves floating in the ocean looking back on the skyline, how surreal it feels to fall off the edge of the earth with planes flying overhead and a big city just there. How the train flings itself across the sound on the way back. How the public library would let you request any book you wanted and deliver it to your preferred branch within a couple of days, so you could grab it on your way home from work and carry an omnibus collection of Ursula K. LeGuin over the Williamsburg Bridge. It felt like a genie sometimes, walking around there, because you would have a sudden urge and instantly know exactly how to satisfy it, whether it’s for a specific type of food you’ve never seen for sale elsewhere or for running into someone you know, a reliable phenomenon that has almost disappeared entirely (it felt like a small miracle to see your techno friend on the train the other day, and proof of something deeply right when you knew at least 20 people who were occupying city hall park). The constant wonder of driving down FDR in a cab that someone else is paying for. Daytime movie theaters and taking a nap in a park. Knowing that somehow your dad’s eastern european family had lived for a few generations in the Bronx, knowing that your grandmother had lived on an island where they kept Typhoid Mary for a while, now it’s overrun by birds. Russian baths and hand-pulled noodles. Walking up Broadway alone on Christmas and feeling the happy cheerfulness of all the closed stores and empty apartments (NYC has felt like it is Christmas Day every day for a while now, perhaps this is no longer cherished). But best of all - and something amazingly told to you by people after you sang your last songs for them - is that you could stop at any moment and consider what your friend might be doing in that exact moment. Like for years I could be stumbling home and take delicious and total comfort in knowing that my buddy was probably just then trying to buy a loosie in chinatown. Knowing that your people are out there, thinking of them and that they’re thinking of you, and living your life in this dirty chaotic and still a long way to go cop ridden place for them, so that they can know you’re out there, too.
That is it. I miss people so bad, I miss hearing from them and seeing them. I miss them so bad that I don’t think any amount of normal hanging out and freely embracing will ever satisfy. I miss you, and I will continue to do so, even if we’re one day sitting across from each other at a diner sharing a plate of chocolate chip pancakes.
Are you good? Are you a Cancer, too? Have the last six weeks uprooted you, in a manner of speaking? How are you participating in the community around you? Would the neighbors enjoy a glass of wine were you to do what you do in your front yard?