This is a post that has been in my head for a few weeks. It’s in honor of my friend Debra Kepner, who passed away before the end of 2020. Her memorial service took place a couple of weeks ago, and although I was not able to attend, I wanted to write a tribute to her, as she was truly one of the most inspirational and spiritual friends that I’ve ever had.
I met Deb in 2001 when we worked together at The Vanguard Group. We were cube mates working together in Recordkeeping Services. From the first time I met her, I knew right away that we would be good friends, as our first conversation was about music and football. Things only got better from there.
Deb was a fun and energetic person, and definitely made work a fun place to be. She was my backup for my clients, and I was her client backup as well. I remember coming back from vacations, and my clients being so thankful to have both of us as their contacts. Deb never missed attending a Vanguard Band/Choir concert, and she was INCREDIBLY supportive of my music career. I remember that she used to tease me and say “I can hear your musical spirit dying here at Vanguard!” as a way of keeping me focused on my true passion for playing and singing music.
If it’s possible, Deb loved her Philadelphia Eagles almost as much as I love my New York Giants (who she lovingly called “The Midgets”)….she pulled a good prank on me which I’ll always remember. I had a Giants mini-helmet on my desk, and one day it ended up missing. I went home from work that night a little peeved (ok, a LOT peeved) that someone would take my helmet. The next morning I came to work and there was a ransom note saying “Either you sing ‘Fly, Eagles Fly, or the helmet gets it!” written in Deb’s handwriting. I wrote “I’ll just buy another helmet instead of singing such a horrible song!” with a smiley face on the back of her note, and put it back on her desk. Needless to say, we both had a really good laugh about that!
I was also very honored to do a very special favor for Deb, as it was for something very serious. When her husband Bill passed away in 2007, she asked me to sing at his memorial service. Although I had never been a huge fan of the original version of “Free Bird”, I had recently watched the movie Duets, where Arnold McCuller is the dubbed voice for Andre Braugher’s character doing a beautiful a capella version of the song. This was how I performed the song that day, and Deb told me that to her, it was the most beautiful my voice had ever sounded. It’s during moments like this when you truly realize the genuine friendships you have in your life, and I was so glad to bring some joy to a day of such sorrow.
There are so many wonderful times I spent with Deb – when Michal and I were splitting up, Deb let me stay in her guest room a few nights when I needed some space, and she was a tremendous listener as I told her what was on my mind during that whole ordeal. Deb introduced me to the band Vuja De, with whom I had the chance to play some gigs in PA. Deb was very spiritual, and always found the beauty in things that we sometimes take for granted. I don’t doubt for one second that her spirit is still here…I think about Deb when I listen to music (especially Entrain and Rusted Root), as our tastes in music were similar. I can still hear her laugh and see that smile. Debra – THANK YOU for being such a wonderful human being, and for having such an incredible impact on all of our lives.
Saturday cannot get here soon enough….it’s not because I’m having a bad week – for the first time since September of 2019, I’m doing a gig with the Cruise Control Band up in Hershey PA.
This is truly one of my favorite bands with whom I perform. Top-notch musicians, and great friends. It’s been really tough not seeing everyone in the band because of the pandemic, and as excited as I am to play music with everyone, I’m even more excited to just see them, and have a fun evening (and maybe even have a good bandwich!)…
I’ve been playing music professionally for 34 years….between the All-Night Band and the Cruise Control Band, I’ve been very blessed. There’s a natural rapport and chemistry that takes place when you work with the right people – it’s even stronger when you’re focused on playing music and finding that perfect sound and blend. I have missed this tremendously over the past 21 months, and I can hardly wait to do that again on Saturday night.
Only a few more days until Cruise Control will be smooth sailing again.
“Meaningful moments Are far and few between You gotta seize the meaning (If you see what I mean) Say what?” – Take 6
It’s been a couple of weeks since the last blog post….it’s not like life has not been busy – I just spent the last two weekends at Cypress Cove and Avalon – I’ve just been doing a lot of listening. Whether it’s music, conversation, or just interesting shows on television, I’ve enjoyed embracing my “inner introvert.”
I’ve seen tremendous acts of kindness and compassion from my friends, and I’ve also seen people be the lowest of the low. By listening and observing, it’s been a very enlightening period of silence.
Mister Rogers said it best – sometimes the most important part of the page is the space between the paragraphs, as it allows you to pause and reflect. That’s what this unplanned hiatus from blogging has done. The silence has given me a different perspective. And as I’m enjoying my time with family and friends, I look forward to blogging about fun and happy/silly events, while still having an attitude of gratitude.
For those in Northeast Pennsylvania, this post is not about the restaurant with the fabulous pizza and great chicken salad sandwiches. This post is about something very personal from my past, and it was triggered by an event from this morning.
I found out that a former colleague of mine passed away this week. To preface the story, this was someone I worked with nearly 30 years ago, and at the time, I was a young and immature young man who made a LOT of mistakes (honestly, I was a cocky, arrogant pain in the ass.). Even though this colleague still supported me even though they probably wanted to slap me silly, they saw the good in me, and in my abilities. Years later after I’d moved away (and got my incredibly huge dose of reality), I had the chance to reconnect with this colleague, and they were incredibly kind to both me and to Jenn when we’d see them while visiting Upstate New York. This leads me to Dino and Francesca.
Dino and I never clicked….we worked together, and we actually got to a point where we almost came to fisticuffs in the parking lot after work. We were both very customer focus driven, competitive, and then I became the guy who ended up dating his ex. (This was in no way handled like Clapton and George Harrison over Patti Boyd.) In hindsight, I see how I ruffled his feathers, and the feathers of the people we worked with, and although it’s a regret that I’ve had for many years, I learned to forgive myself and move forward.
My history with Francesca is well documented. It’s been in previous blog posts, and to go through all of it again is something I choose not to do anymore. I can’t change it, and I know I’m not the person that she remembers. After going through a horrible divorce, dealing with PTSD, coming very close to a suicide attempt, and being disconnected from my teenage daughter by a vindictive ex-wife, I’ve had a shitload of things happen that far outweigh anything between me and Francesca. Through years of therapy and the support of a loving wife, good friends, and a 120-pound Floofinator who loves me unconditionally, I’ve learned to value who I am, and not base my opinion of myself on my past mistakes or the opinions of others who don’t forgive.
There was a group communication this morning about a memorial for our colleague, and when I joined, you can guess who the first two people I saw were….Dino and Francesca. I said some kind words about our friend who had passed, and then I realized that I don’t need to put myself back into that situation, and I removed myself from the group. If they choose to see me the same way they saw me 30 years ago, and they choose never to forgive, that’s their fucking problem, not mine.
Onward and upward….and now all I can think about is chicken salad.
Every spring, I try to pick a musical artist to be my Summer favorite…..usually it’s someone that’d I’d recently seen in concert, or someone recommended to me by a musician friend. With the restrictions of COVID for the past year, I haven’t been to any concerts, and really have been limited in interaction with a lot of musicians.
As I was flipping through my streaming services the other day, I stumbled upon a documentary on Amazon Prime that I knew was released a few years back, but was impossible for me to find. It’s the documentary “Horn From the Heart – The Paul Butterfield Story.”
Paul Butterfield was a legendary blues musician, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was at one point a dominant force in both blues and rock music, as they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. Butterfield’s impact both musically and socially in blues music will never be replicated. Growing up in the Hyde Park section of Chicago, he was blessed with the opportunity to not only learn the blues from legends like Little Walter, Muddy Waters and Albert King, he was encouraged to sit in with these guys as his way to becoming an amazing blues musician. His harmonica playing was always top-notch, and as he became known around the Windy City, he was an integral part of introducing the blues to White audiences.
This lead to the formation of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, made up of both Black and White musicians. The band’s biggest years were from 1965 – 1971, and they took blues, rock and a little bit of psychedelia in a direction never taken before. Their albums East-West, The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw, In My Own Dream, and Sometimes I Just Feel Like Smilin’ bring many different styles and tonality to both blues and rock music, and their performance at Woodstock was downright phenomenal, as they had a horn section (featuring a young David Sanborn) that was comparable to the other horn bands like Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago.
Although I’ve owned a few of these albums before watching the documentary, I found a renewed passion for them over the past few days. As Butterfield lived in Woodstock from the late 60’s to the early 80’s, this music also makes me think about growing up there, and how much I look forward to going back after being restricted by COVID.
I really look forward to rediscovering these albums all over again this summer….even though it’s the blues, it’s a sound and style that is truly energizing, and when I listen, “sometimes I just feel like smilin!”
Rest In Peace, Paul Butterfield. Thank you for leaving us with your incredible musical legacy.
I’m enjoying a fun Sunday afternoon with Otto, and we’re on his turf….at the dog park.
A year ago, I would’ve laughed if someone told me I’d be enjoying my time at a dog park with a 120-pound Great Pyrenees. Now, I wouldn’t miss the opportunity.
I’ve gotten to know quite of few of the dogs (and their humans) in the community, and there’s definitely a sense of camaraderie between the humans as well as the dogs. We all keep an eye on our dogs the same way we would with our kids, and I’ve learned a lot about other breeds of dogs and their characteristics.
The thing I find most enjoyable is how the dogs all get to know each other without any hesitation….within seconds, the traditional dog greeting (butt sniffing) starts, and then they’re off to the races…butt sniffing aside, I wish we could be as welcoming and non-judgmental in society as the pups are!
I love to see Otto having fun, whether it’s him standing on the fire pit in the backyard, riding in the car, taking our walks together, or hangin’ with his peeps here at the dog park. Every dog should have his day, and I’m glad that Otto has his seven days a week.
“Hooray, Hooray, the first of May. Outdoor fucking begins today.” – Issac Taylor (James Taylor’s father)
Quite the unusual quote, which then became one of my favorite JT songs from one of my JT albums. The reason had nothing to do with the lyrics….
I used to drive a 1991 Mercury Tracer hatchback. I remember that in the summer of 1992, I needed the cassette player replaced (under warranty!), because one of my cassettes was stuck in the player – JT’s “Never Die Young” album. I found myself listening to this album over and over, but not minding having to listen to it over and over.
I specifically remember driving home from a gig in Poughkeepsie at 1:30 am on a crystal-clear full-moon night, and the song “First of May” was the first song that played. It just struck me differently that night, and I spent the 45-minute drive listening to just this song repeatedly. I don’t remember anything else about that night, but I remember listening to that track vividly, as it became a song of comfort on a night I’ll never forget almost five years later.
May 1st, 1997 – I’ll always remember this Thursday evening for two reasons….that was the night that Ellen DeGeneres officially “came out” on her sitcom, as my ex-fiancée Bonnie called off our engagement simultaneously. As courageous as I thought Ellen was for taking such a risk (and for enduring the incredibly ignorant backlash), I found myself at a low point, because I had allowed myself to feel defeated by someone who had done nothing but degrade me, I had neither the courage or self-esteem to disagree. She once said that “it’s obvious that I’m the smarter one in the relationship” and I had no response – not because I agreed, but because I didn’t even know how to respond to that. When she broke things off, it hurt deeply, because I was not yet realizing that she had done me a huge favor. My mom’s initial reaction later that night spoke volumes – “Hey, she just saved you from a divorce….go for a ride, listen to some music, and know that you’re gonna be alright.” I got in my Pontiac Grand Am, drove up I-81 from Scranton to Binghamton, and listened to JT’s Never Die Young CD….and yes, there was also a full moon that night, and although I didn’t listen to “First of May” over and over, I do remember listening to the track a few times.
The song has just become a song of hope and optimism to me – not because of the lyrics, but because of how it has inspired me from its arrangement, to the instrumentation, to the background vocals, and of course, James Taylor’s incredibly warm “like a smooth cup of hot cocoa” voice. There’s one lyric that says “it’s a rite of spring” – although this lyric is meant to be sexual in nature, I feel like listening to this song in the springtime, when the smell of flowers is in the air, the warmer temperatures and incredibly beautiful nights with moonlight are my “rite of spring”. This has become very much a traditional song to me. It reminds me that the optimism of summer will soon be here, and that no matter how dark things may seem, things will get better, and that I have to have the courage to keep moving forward.
I can’t even describe how I feel right now over the verdict….in some ways it feels 29 years in the making since the Rodney King verdict, but at the same time I’m sad that it took a death of a human being for change to finally happen. My gratitude to the prosecution and the jurors who helped to make a big step forward in standing up to systemic racism.
I’ve posted plenty on social media today….it’s hard not to, as I’m feeling a lot of emotions after the last year of such social unrest. I find myself thinking about what if it was the other way around….would I feel the same way if a minority cop did the EXACT same actions as Derek Chauvin, and a White person died? My answer is yes. The dynamics would be incredibly different, but nobody deserves to die as a victim of police brutality.
I moved to the Scranton area in the autumn of 1994….before changing my car tags from New York to Pennsylvania, it was a regular occurrence to be followed by the Scranton and South Abington Police – I was never pulled over, but they’d follow me for a couple of miles. For what? I had no tail lights out, and I was driving at or below the speed limit. And this would happen in the middle of the day. It’s one of those situations where no matter how much it pisses you off, you can’t do anything about it.
The video in the Derek Chauvin trial did not lie. I’m sure that the African-Americans who saw this happen (and shot video from the curb) felt the same type of frustration. Wanting to say something about such an incredibly wrong action, but fearing the repercussion for speaking out. In this case, a man was choked to death, and there was no question about that. Hopefully this is a strong statement towards the end of this type of police brutality. There are a lot of fantastic police officers throughout the country who risk their lives to serve and protect, and they do it the right way. They have (and will ALWAYS have) my utmost respect. There are good and bad cops, and there are good and bad people. Stevie and Paul said it best 39 years ago – “There’s good and bad in everyone. We learn to live, we learn to give each other what we need to survive, together alive.”
Rest In Peace, George Floyd. It’s time for us all to do better…..it’s time to start “living in perfect harmony.“
We’re getting a new fence for our backyard. The existing fence is very old, and I’m 99.999% sure that The Floofinator could easily knock it down. This seems very symbolic to me, as knocking down my own walls by writing this blog has improved my life the way building our new fence will improve the quality of “The StoweAway.”
Over the last two years, I’ve written about things that I never thought I’d share publicly, out of fear of what my friends and family would think of me. Some of these things are deeply personal, and sharing these things publicly was truly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it needed to be done. For years I’ve put some many walls up to protect myself (including using sarcasm, snarkiness and arrogance), and it really took its toll on my emotional health.
I had a conversation with a friend recently that easily could have gone on for hours or days….we started taking about music and life, and my friend shares the same appreciation for music that I do. As we talked and shared stories about our lives (both good and bad), I realized that I felt like I could speak open and freely in a way that a couple of years ago I was afraid to speak. The fear of judgement (even self-judgement) that has always consumed me wasn’t there. As I talked about things like being able to relate musical notes to colors, or how cool it felt to win our high school battle of the bands, or how debilitating it was to go through a very ugly divorce, at no point did I feel afraid or ashamed.
What meant a lot to me about this conversation is that my friend totally understood, as we’re definitely on the same wavelength. I don’t know if I’m ready to have conversations with a lot of my other friends who don’t understand me musically or otherwise, but it was the first time in a very long time that I truly felt like my walls were down. I remember having a lot of similar conversations with my friend Pat Cerello before he passed, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this probably was the first time I felt this way since my last conversation with him 10 years ago.
I’ve been blessed to have “family” that I’ve always been able to talk with openly and honestly, but I’ve still been very self-critical in my head. And family to me isn’t just my immediate family – my friend and former band mate Patty, my dear friend Brenda and my college friend Maria I consider to be like sisters, and Brenda’s husband Marc, and my friends Sean and Rob are my “brothers from other mothers.” Have I truly let my walls down with them? It’s hard to say, but as I go forward, I need to focus on letting the walls down with myself, and not be afraid to let people understand my feelings, my quirkiness, and the things that I truly care about.
Time to build something new, better, and different.