“Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly,” proclaims Jerry, the main protagonist in Edward Albee’s very first play, The Zoo Story. Man, I love that line—just on its face, even in a context-less vacuum, its profundity sparkles, boring deep into some core truth of the human experience. But over the past few years, I’ve come to think it applies directly, in some concrete way, to my own life.
It all started a few years ago at a backyard party thrown by the parents of one of my son’s friends. The kids were out splashing in the pool while the adults gorged on tacos and margaritas. The hostess, Linda, who wore dark eyeliner that matched her black, Elvira-like hair, asked me what I’d been up to. I mentioned a recent trip to San Antonio to see my brother-in-law’s family and how we’d happened upon a fantastic new band called Heartless Bastards at a local music venue. Although I’d been practicing law at that time for nearly twenty years, my true passion was, and always has been, music, mostly of the classic rock variety. Truth be told, the most powerful moments in my life are defined not so much by personal interactions, but by specific tracks, albums and performances.
Anyway, Linda made the mistake of asking what Heartless Bastards sounded like, inadvertently launching me into a breathless ten-minute exposition on the myriad components of the band's sonic substructure. “A lot of their tunes are built around heavy metal power chords softened slightly by a grunge sensibility and an almost psychedelic overlay,” I explained. “Think Neil Young’s 'Cortez the Killer' off the Live Rust album,” I helpfully added. I droned on for quite a while in this vein, describing how another song initially presented with a mild country twang that harkened to the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers” but then exploded into a full-fledged rock tune concluding in a stellar dissonant cacophony that would’ve made Lou Reed proud.
Linda greeted this discourse with a blank stare. I figured I was boring her; based on the bubble gum pop coming from her house sound system I gathered she wasn’t a rock fan, despite the semi-goth look produced by her eyeliner. She certainly had no idea what the hell the Live Rust version of “Cortez the Killer” sounded like. But, hey, she’d asked. When Linda was sure I’d finished citing to songs and bands she had no interest in, she muttered, “Wow.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “they were pretty awesome.”
“No, I mean you talk so passionately about music.” She put her margarita down on the kitchen counter and grabbed my arm. “You should write a music blog.”
The idea of writing about music seemed silly. Who does that? Nobody I knew. Plus, I had no time to write a music blog. I was a busy lawyer, currently embroiled in knock down drag out litigation over the deregulation of California's natural gas market, for crying out loud. I immediately dismissed the idea. But over the next few weeks, my mind would involuntarily wander back to Linda’s music blog idea. You love writing. You love music. Why not write about music?
Upon reflection, I had to admit there were stupider ideas circulating through the ether. And so one weekend afternoon while my wife was at the farmers’ market and my son was playing video games at a friend’s house, I blasted the Heartless Bastards through every room in the house, grabbed my laptop and wrote a short essay about the San Antonio show. It was the best afternoon I’d experienced in a long, long while. I smiled for three hours straight, giggling at times like I was stoned.
And so was born Fine Tuning: A Site for Sore Ears, my effort to nudge classic rock fans like myself who found themselves stuck—albeit blissfully—in the deep ruts of the 1970s into the twenty-first century musically.
Although the blog centered on new bands, it quickly became a vehicle to brood about weighty topics that consumed me—such as the tragic extinction of the ticket stub—eventually evolving into essays that explored the intersection of music and parenting, several of which, lo and behold, were published by reputable outlets.
As they often do, one thing led to another, and I decided to take a hiatus from the practice of law to focus on writing. I had in mind to write a memoir, with music as the through-line, exploring the role it's played in my life, from the cement that bonded me with my friends as a boy, to the ladder that helped me climb from the deep hole left by my father’s too-early death, to the bridge that offered a means of connection with my own son.
At the end of his powerfully revealing memoir, Bruce Springsteen expresses the hope that his recounting might help the reader make sense of his or her own life story, concluding with a charge to the reader about their story: “Go tell it.” Well, he’s The Boss, and I’m a rule follower, so that’s what I did.
I traveled a long distance from my law office to arrive here, a place that’s a short distance from where I started as a kid, in my bedroom, late at night, headphones plastered to my ears, listening to WNEW in New York City, hearing Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” for the first time, feeling like I was being transported to some far-away place in a long-ago era, a palpable sense of adventure, danger, romance, and yearning swirling through the chords and verses, enveloping me completely, mesmerizing me. Through my writing I’ve re-connected with that kid. I feel his passion. I feel his aliveness.
I’ve come back a short distance correctly.