Social Distortion, “Angel’s Wings”

I triumphed in the face of adversity
And I became the man I never thought I’d be
And now my biggest challenge a thing called love
I guess I’m not as tough as I thought I was





In May of this year, I took the worst beating of my academic life. A savage, intense affair that resembled an extra scene from some literary version of Fight Club. No, I didn’t get to meet Brad Pitt. Instead, I got worked over by a smallish, youngish woman named Helen.  In fairness, this wasn’t an entirely unexpected development. I had spent the bulk of that academic year reworking, and reinventing, my quasi-stable thesis, and so the finished product was somewhat… well, unfinished.  The draft did, however, attack some of the sacred cows in my sort-of field, and I was rebuffed with extreme prejudice by the guardians of that field.  You see, originally, I signed on to do a project on early-modern drama and I ended up in printing. These things happen. The muse takes you where it will, and you have to roll with it.  Unfortunately, these changes can have rather severe consequences when they come too late.  The beating ended with an ultimatum: “give us something good in the next draft or go home.” (1) My heart sunk. In a state of utter disappointment, and perpetual anxiety, I began to plan for my trip to Dublin. And, then, for the long, American summer that would somehow pull me through everything. And as luck would have it, it finally did. But the journey, as these things usually work, was far more complicated than I had ever imagined it would be. And here, as a sort of “what I did this summer” that will hopefully make up for a long absence, is that story…

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  1. Phrased, of course, in very diplomatic language. This is Britain, after all. [Back]

Talking Heads, “Road to Nowhere”

roadtonowhere.jpg“They can tell you what to do
But they’ll make a fool of you
And it’s all right, baby, it’s all right

We’re on a road to nowhere…”



I have to come clean about this one: the only reason I ever noticed this song was because, as a child, I had a fixation with the Fred Savage movie “Little Monsters.” That’s right: Fred Bloody Savage. I used to watch this movie once a day – sometimes twice. About a year ago, I found it in the on-demand section of my cable box and discovered, much to my chagrin, that I can still recite every line of this movie. All of them. And yet, for some reason, I almost never get a chance to do this at parties. You would think that this film – along with “The Wizard” – would have finally breached the canon, but, sadly, it has not. In any case, this entry isn’t really about Mr. Savage’s oeuvre. Instead, it’s about how a song can grow along with you, and how some of the most salient facts about your life can come straight from sweetest frivolity.

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The Afghan Whigs, “Gentlemen”

understand? do you understand? I’m a gentleman, I’m a gentleman….

I have always been affected by albums as a whole. They are works of art and should be perceived that way. I like listening for the concepts and themes conveyed in an hour long piece of music. It’s like watching a movie to me. The digital music movement to me is a low point because music is now viewed more than ever before in terms of “song” rather than “album,” and it’s a shame. Its no longer about what cds you own, its whats in your ipod shuffle that matters.

One of the greatest concept albums made in my lifetime was the Afghan Whigs “Gentlemen.” The Whigs were always a cult band, and probably to this day, the ultimate cult band (although Dulli’s latest ensemble, “Twilight Singers” falls into the same category). Born during the grunge era, the band had too much of a motown-influenced sound to gain mainstream popularity. “Gentleman” got buried under albums like “Nevermind,” and “Ten,” which was too bad, because the album was pure genius. The ironic thing is that The Whigs were on the Sub Pop label early on. Anyway, they always remained too good for mainstream tastes, both their blessing and their curse.
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Bruce Springsteen, “The River”

My dad said: “Where you been?”
I said: “I went to take my physical.”
He says: “What happened?”
I said: “They didn’t take me.”
And he said: “That’s good.”

Now, before I even start to talk to you about this song, you need to hear a specific intro. I’ll wait. Ok? Good. Now, for years I’ve had to defend the notion that you can enjoy being sad. Long before my father passed away, I used to try and explain to people that there was a beauty in sadness, and that it was worth considering. “Happiness cannot be happiness without contrast,” I would explain. Part of this logic is evident to most people who’ve ever met Irish people who like music. The rest should be evident to anyone who has ever seen “Romeo and Juliet,” or something similar. I suppose I’ve been challenged a bit on this point since that fateful November afternoon, but, ultimately, I stand by it. The most profound sadness can show you things of beauty if you know how to look. And there’s no question that this is an ability that my father gave me.

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The Story, “In the Gloaming”

jbcov-angelinthehouse-215.jpgIn the gloaming, oh my darling
When the lights are soft and low
And the quiet shadows falling
Softly come and softly go…






At the start of September, 1991, I was just beginning my seventh grade year in Lowell, Massachusetts. Lowell is a fairly typical city on the decline, and the schools are both overcrowded and underachieving. Which may help to explain how I managed to find myself one of the “best students” in my particular pond. Honestly, and I sound like a complete nerd for saying it, I loved learning. I lived for books and classes and computers – school, I suppose, was a welcome respite from the stresses of growing up in a fractured home. In any case, after a conversation with my new friend Diane, I decided that I should make an effort to get transferred to the nearby town of Chelmsford. The academic opportunities were said to be amazing (and they were, comparitively), and I positively drooled at the idea of taking advanced classes in a town full of kids who – I presumed – lived for the same thing. (How young and simple, eh?) I finally made my way there for October 28th. The decision, though it has brought me the friendships and relationships I treasure, was not without its share of hardships. (1)

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  1. See also: “litotes.” [Back]