Monthly Archives: June 2009

Take a Hike

My friend David recently asked me about my recommended Boston walks, and I was happy to oblige. I guess I’ve got a bit of a reputation. I’m a big walker, whether it’s my perfunctory walk to work (I go down Medford’s Main Street, which is actually quite nice) or a semi-planned uber-trek (like last November’s Coolidge Corner->Kenmore->Downtown Crossing superwalk). I think nothing of walking three miles to get somewhere (heck, it only takes about an hour), and I often do much more. My day off the grid last month totaled nearly nine miles. Just yesterday, I walked from Teele Square in Somerville to Harvard Square and back — all told, almost six miles, when you count continuing on to Clarendon Hill on the return trip.

For me, walking is the ultimate leisure activity. By myself, I can immerse myself in music, people-watching and scenery at the same time. With friends, quality conversation usually transpires. Not to mention that walking is a fine way to get around the Boston area, and an excellent way to get in shape while doing something you need to do anyway — get from point A to point B. And the way I feel after a good, long walk, well, I have yet to find a substitute.

With the benefits of walking in mind, here are some of my favorite Boston walks:

  • Labor Day Walkabout: This jaunt is thus-named because I did it on two successive Labor Day weekends. I start from my house and hit Union, Inman and Central Squares before turning down Mass. Ave and crossing the bridge to the Esplanade. I then walk the Esplanade all the way to the Longfellow (“salt-and-pepper”) Bridge, which I cross to get to Kendall Square. By then, I’m usually feeling a bit achy and catch the T. All told, a bit over five miles. Check out my photos from last year’s walkabout; I’m hoping to reprise the walk this upcoming Labor Day weekend, as well.
  • Cambridge Crosstown: Mass. Ave. in Cambridge is a heck of a main drag. From Central all the way up to Porter, and even farther down to Cameron Ave., you get a lovely tour of the People’s Republic on wide sidewalks in good repair. And if tragedy strikes and you just can’t go on, the No. 1 or No. 77 buses will bail you out. Yes, it’s only three miles from Central to Cameron, but with all of the awesome stores along the way — my favorites being Looney Tunes, Joie de Vivre and Bob Slate — it’ll take you much longer than an hour. Don’t forget the new Berryline that just opened on Mass. Ave. between Porter and Harvard, or stop at Porter’s Tavern in the Square for a tasty drink outdoors.
  • Downtown: Living north of the river, I sometimes find myself missing downtown Boston. Yes, I know, that seems silly to say when I am minutes away by train or bus, but it happens. When it does, I like to take some version of this walk to really drink in the city. Going down Newbury or Boylston, there are plenty of stores to dip into. When I hit the Public Garden and the Common, I end up wandering and winding around for a while before heading to Downtown Crossing. A nice extension is to keep walking up Summer Street past South Station to the Fort Point Channel, to take in some semblance of a water view and hang out at the nice boardwalk outside the Children’s Museum.
  • Brownstone Tour: Maybe I’m biased because I went to BU, but I love Boston’s brownstones. When I’m jonesing for some brownstones, I make my way to the BU East T stop and begin my trek down nostalgia lane by going down Bay State Road. Yeah, sure, I lived there for three years in college (talk about being spoiled), but it’s also one of the prettiest streets in the city. From there, I head down Marlborough Street for a quiet, scenic stroll, and when I hit the Public Gardens I loop onto Commonwealth Ave. for the return trip (and to pay homage to Leif Erikson).
  • The Emerald Necklace: I’ve already detailed this walk, but I can’t recommend it enough. You can stay on the grid, if you like.
  • The Freedom Trail: Same as above. But aside from walking the Freedom Trail proper this past May and two Februaries ago, my friend Katy and I also did a Charlestown trek during a freakishly warm day last December that ended up traversing a bunch of the Freedom Trail. Charlestown is so charming, the North End so awesome and the view from Bunker Hill so amazing, that I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the Freedom Trail.

I have a few areas I’ve been meaning to explore — namely, the swath of Cambridge between Mass. Ave. and Fresh Pond that is sliced by Concord Ave., and the path from Central Square through Cambridgeport to BU, down Amory Street toward Brookline Village. It’s nice that despite living in Boston for nearly 12 years (!), I still have discoveries ahead of me.

What are your favorite Boston-area walks?

Advertisements

Take Five: The Thriller Edition

1. A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with my friend Alison and she put on an album by a gentleman named John Wesley Harding. I knew of the Bob Dylan album, but not so much of this artist who takes his moniker from that release.

From pretty much the first song, I was hooked. I started throwing out comparisons to Nick Lowe, Squeeze and Elvis Costello. As soon as I got home, I ordered the album — “The Name Above the Title” — for myself. Just now, I discovered that he did a song from the “High Fidelity” soundtrack that I loved, “I’m Wrong About Everything.”

Obviously, a back catalog purchase is in order. Conveniently, he is playing at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts on July 8, and if I win free tickets via a drawing run by johnwesleyharding.com, I may just go. Or I may go either way.

I find that lately, I am pursuing a lot of artists I missed the first time around — like John Wesley Harding — as well as listening to a lot of classics I have not paid due attention to over the years. In the case of the former, I have a great way of catching up on their back catalogs. Yourmusic.com is essentially the 21st century residue of the Columbia Houses and BMGs of old (Remember the stickers you would tear off and paste onto the card? I would use those to decorate my notebooks.) While I may not be able to find the new Q Tip or White Rabbits album there, I can find a lot of older stuff. It works sort of like Netflix, where you set up a queue and each month, for $6.99, you get a new album. In the next couple of months, I should be receiving discs by Joe Jackson, the Jam, Squeeze and Split Enz (I love me some Crowded House and Neil Finn, so why not Split Enz?)

As for what I already own and am rediscovering, the other day I dug out Michael Penn’s “March” and my Roxy Music greatest hits disc. Also in the pile on top of my stereo are a greatest hits album by the Pretenders, Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” and Suzanne Vega’s “Solitude Standing.” I’ve been on a Fleetwood Mac kick for several months and have started picking up the back catalog. (The TWIT sale a while back helped me snag “Rumours” and “Tusk.”) And Paul Simon’s “The Rhythm of the Saints” has pretty much has lodged itself into my five-disc changer.

To tell you the truth, I am having a lot more fun rediscovering these older artists than I am with a lot of the new stuff I’m hearing nowadays. Not that the new stuff isn’t pretty great — but I’m just realizing I missed out on some awesome musicians, and the artists I liked alright but never dove deeper into until recently (like Michael Penn and Paul Simon) are proving to be really rewarding listens that have held up well over time. It’s like having a whole new music collection.

2. My friend Joey pointed me to this piece of excellent news: a bunch of rock luminaries are contributing to a tribute album to Mark Mulcahy, leader of the forgotten janglers Miracle Legion (a/k/a the “Adventures of Pete and Pete” house band Polaris), one of the best unknown bands of the 1980s/1990s. Mulcahy’s wife died last year, so proceeds from the album — featuring covers of Miracle Legion and solo Mulcahy tracks by no brighter stars than Michael Stipe, the National, Thom Yorke, Juliana Hatfield, Dinosaur Jr., Frank Black and more — will go to help him raise their three-year-old twin sons and continue making music.

I, like a lot of folks, discovered Miracle Legion as Polaris via “Pete and Pete,” and after I was fortunate enough to track down the Polaris “album,” I snatched up whatever I could find of the now out of print Miracle Legion catalog — “Portrait of a Damaged Family,” “Drenched” (which was a bargain bin mainstay for a while) and “Me and Mr. Ray” on cassette. I’ve also got one of Mulcahy’s solo albums, “Smilesunset.” He is an immensely talented songwriter with precise pop sensibility, and anything that enables him to keep making music, while drawing together an incredible assembly of talent to create an amazing tribute record, is A-OK in my book. The disc is due out Sept. 29, and hopefully it will expose a whole new crop of people to Mulcahy’s and Miracle Legion’s incredible work.

3. In all of my excitement about the Freedy Johnston show, I forgot about his opening act. Mike Fiore, the lead man of the local band Faces on Film, took to the tiny Armory stage with just a guitar for a delightful 45-minute set. He has one of the most amazing voices I’ve heard in a Boston-area venue, resonant, solid and sweet. His songs were great — tender and haunting and passionately performed — and he seemed unfazed by the size of the audience. And he gets points for politeness.

“Thanks for being attentive,” he said. “In all seriousness. I’m from around the corner, so it’s like being nice to someone from your own block.”

4. I’ve been eBaying a lot of stuff lately, trying to scrounge up some extra cash. Scanning my CD collection, I took note of my three Bright Eyes discs. I bought them in 2000, before Bright Eyes really became big and maybe when he was a bit more, let us say, unstable. A lot of the songs are raw, angsty, unabashed declarations of pain and loss. Perfect for the angsty 21-year-old I was back then! Surely, I thought, I can sell these now and cash in on his fame from people looking to snag his back catalog.

In the cases of “Letting Off the Happiness” and “A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997,” I feel content ripping a song or two then selling the disc. But as I listened to “Fevers and Mirrors,” which includes songs with gothy titles like “The Calendar Hung Itself” and “A Spindle, a Darkness, a Fever, a Necklace,” I realized… this is actually pretty good. The songs are top quality. I can see echoes of his current work in these nine-year old songs — the folkiness, the Americana tendencies — even though the subject matter is much darker and overwrought. Who’da thunk? I’m not about to rush out and buy Bright Eyes’ latest albums, because it doesn’t really grab me. But these older, more raw and intriguing seeds of his newer work — these I’m going to hold onto.

5. R.I.P. Michael Jackson. Here is a video of my husband and I dancing to “Smooth Criminal” at our wedding in 2004.

Joining the BlackBerry World

I’ve spent the past couple of years essentially counting down the days until my contract was up for renewal and I could get a smartphone. I admit to being hopelessly addicted to connectivity, and as well as my Samsung Sync served me, it could not completely sate my thirst.

Snapshot_20090621_1

For a while, I thought about the iPhone. Who wouldn’t, really? Heck, with the iPhone 3GS coming out  so recently, the timing would have been perfect. Alas, I am working with both a budget and a penchant for a keypad. So, while I did a cursory examination of other smartphone options (my husband, for instance, loves his Samsung Blackjack, the most recent version of which is the Jack), I had a pretty strong feeling I was going to end up with a Blackberry. And I did — the Curve 8900.

I got my Curve at the AT&T store in Porter Square, where I initially browsed my options last weekend. As excited as I was to get my new phone, I was sad to see my old one go. Part of it is that I usually have some resistance to change, even when the change is for the better. I remember when I got my Sync in June 2007, right before I went to the Cape for a long weekend, and I grumbled the whole weekend about the functionality. But as I stood in the store on Saturday, watching the salesman switch all (well, OK, most) of my data over to my new Curve before he handed me the SIM-less, powered off Sync, I felt a pang of sadness. I won’t lie. After all, my phone is my right-hand man. And I was giving it an honorable discharge.

Any sadness, however, quickly abated as I thought of all the cool new features my Curve would have. One that particularly excited me was the Google Calendar sync, which may remove the last obstacle between me and regular Google Calendar usage. My problem is that I do a lot of my social planning in transit, so a good ol’ day-planner usually does the trick. As awesome as Google Calendar is, there’s been no way to bring it with me — until now. In addition, I would get a more powerful web browser, a better camera, greater ease of tweeting and sharing photos/videos and, of course, a host of delightful time-wasting apps.

When the Curve finally landed in my grimy little paws, it didn’t have a lot of juice left, so I couldn’t play with it that afternoon as much as I would have liked. But after about a couple days’ worth of use, here are my first impressions:

Everyone is everywhere: At my softball game last week, one of my teammate’s roommate showed up, and she had a Curve. I asked her what she thought of it. “It’s great, if you like being connected to everyone you know every second of the day.” I didn’t know exactly what she meant until my phone started buzzing and blinking every time someone e-mailed me, texted me or left a comment on Facebook.

Everyone is everywhere, thrice over: At first, if someone e-mailed me, my “Messages” icon would light up, as well as my Blackberry inbox and my Gmail app. Not to mention my Gmail in my browser that I’ll have to deal with when I get back to my computer. Same goes for Facebook notifications — I’d get them via e-mail, via the Facebook app and then as notifications on Facebook.com. I solved part of the problem by disabling my Gmail and Facebook apps, but I still feel like I’m mowing the lawn twice. I wish there was a better way for Gmail and Facebook to understand that if I see a notification or read an email in one place, it can be mark read in the other. Room for innovation, I guess.

That said, connectivity makes me happy: I like having more information at my fingertips, more ways of reaching people, more opportunities for engagement.

Mmm, shiny: I also, let’s face it, just like having a new toy. I am not a big gadget person, but I do like a good phone. I’m still treating it somewhat like a newborn, being overly cautious and neurotic and curious, but soon, I’m sure, I’ll be beating it up just like I do the rest of my electronics.

I am a n00b: On both Monday and Tuesday mornings, I woke up to find my phone drained of battery power. Since the previous evenings, I had turned it off, this seemed awfully peculiar. Last night, I accidentally left it plugged in, so I’ll have to wait and seee exactly how the battery continues to behave. One thing I have to get used to is how much more of a battery drain smartphones are than standard phones.

Mmmm, apps: My favorite app so far has been UberTwitter, which more or less incorporates every Twitter feature I’ve been dying to have on the go — retweet, reply, viewing Twitpics, viewing @replies, viewing links — heck, even trending topics. The only thing I need to do is figure out how to make it not tell me every time someone sends a tweet. I know I saw that menu option somewhere…

Synced up: So far, the Google Calendar sync has proved to be more of a toy than a life-changer, but time will tell. I added my first event to my calendar via my phone yesterday, so there’s progress.

Overall, I’m pleased. I can’t wait it starts to feel a little less new and alien, because my new phone and me, we’re gonna have a good ol’ time.

A Non-Judgmental Bike Shop Comes to Somerville

When I emerged from the basement digs of Open Bicycle on Friday evening, the day’s grey and rain had dissipated, replaced by blue skies. I had a souped-up bike and a warm, fuzzy glow that had nothing to do with the recently reappeared sun. The only thing missing was a helmet, so I could have taken in the evening from the seat of my bike, zipping down the road back home.

susanxx-R1-052-24AI came late to bike riding. It wasn’t until 2005 (the same summer I learned to drive and, well, tried to learn how to swim) that I pursued bike-riding lessons. Luckily, a lovely woman in Somerville, Susan McLucas, specializes in adult bike-riding lessons. . (See picture at left of me during a bike-riding lesson.) I remember being astonished the first time I was on a bike, feet off the ground, and not falling over. In time, I was zipping down the bike path, riding between my house and Davis Square and enjoying the feeling of transportation independence — no bus schedules, no engine maintenance, just me and two wheels.

Those two wheels, however, were purchased somewhat ill-advisedly. I found a good deal on Craigslist of some guy looking to get rid of a bike, helmet and lock. The bike was in fine shape, but I bought it not knowing anything about different kinds of bikes, what kind I needed, what size was right for me.

Over the past couple of years, as I’ve ridden my bike around, I’ve always felt like I’ve been slower and more sluggish than other riders I see on the road, and I knew it wasn’t me. I figured there were probably some changes — whether simple adjustments or more comprehensive work — that could be made to my bike to make it more adaptable to my needs and my body. Failing that, it would probably be time to buy a new bike, this time in a proper manner.

I’ve been taking my bike to Paramount in Powderhouse (now Ball Square) as long as I’ve had it — in fact, I wheeled it over there directly after buying it — and I’ve never gotten anything but quality work done there. But this year, as I looked to give my bike its annual tune-up, I also felt it was time to confront all these existential questions I had about my bike. And, well, I didn’t feel like I could go to Paramount for that. The work’s always been good there, but I somehow felt like I wasn’t “bike-y” enough to be there. Like since I wasn’t some hardcore, calves-of-steel, all-season biker, I was a bit of a pretender. And I didn’t feel like having my ignorance thrown back at me or being subject to someone’s judgment. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened, but based on previous vibes, that was my fear.

I first saw flyers for Open Bicycle a few months ago, a few blocks from their Union Square location. Then I began to hear a bit of a buzz. And the buzz was… they’re nice. Some nice young men running a bicycle shop. Isn’t that lovely? And Yelp backed up the buzz. I did some more research and saw they were very into art and coffee and community. This seemed like it might be my kind of place.

So, two Saturdays ago, I rode to the Union Square Farmer’s Market and then brought my bike over to Open. They’re located on Washington Street, just two blocks from the Square, in a basement next to a beauty supply wholesaler. The exterior belies the funky little shop and gallery space they’ve created inside. Once inside, I talked to Zack and explained my situation. He and one of his co-workers examined my bike and talked through what might be causing it to feel so heavy and slow. Wrong fork. Knobby tires. The energy I put into it, they said, gets sucked right out by those things.

So, I left my faithful bike with these nice young men, to get a new basket and a tune-up on top of the other changes. To my shock, they told me they would have it ready on Wednesday. Wednesday. That’s just four days after drop-off.

Wednesday night, however, I was at the Freedy Johnston show, and Thursday brought downpours. So after work on Friday, I took the bus over to Open.

When they wheeled out my bike… it turns out they had installed a rack and not a basket. I had been afraid of this, actually. During our conversation on Saturday, I had asked for a rack, but one of the guys said a basket might be better for my needs, and I agreed. When I got the call on Wednesday that the bike was ready, there was still some lack of clarity about whether I wanted a rack or a basket, but eventually it was decided that I would pick out a basket when I got there for the pickup and they would install it while I wait.

When I saw the rack and no basket, I explained my Wednesday phone conversation. It seeemed like there had been a miscommunication between the guys at the shop. They told me they would take off the rack and install the basket.

With the new fork, however, getting the basket on proved to be a tricky proposition. They had to shave some metal and do other bike-magic things that ended up taking about an hour. I was slightly annoyed, but I also felt bad that a confusing conversation had given them all this unexpected work to do. Because even in just the hour, hour and a half that I was there — between 6 and 8PM on a Friday, mind you — a bunch of people came in: some picking up, some who had just gotten flats, some who had other problems. In just a few months, Open has built up quite a following for themselves.

When the work was finally done and Zack and I exchanged apologies, he rang me up. To my shock, for the trouble, they dropped all the labor charges off the whole bill. The final total for all of that work? $105. I had been quoted $160. I was floored, and impressed. While they could probably stand to come up with a better system for confirming orders, the service was still high quality, and they were more than willing to account for any problems that came up.

I told Zack why I’d come to Open: that I’d had all these bike questions I wanted to ask in a non-judgmental environment, and I had heard they were nice guys. He smiled and shook his head, lamenting that there seemed to be a lot of bike snobbery in the area. He said it didn’t make sense to judge people for not knowing everything about their bikes.

“If they did, they’d probably work in a bike shop,” Zack said.

“And wear a cool hat,” I said, referring to his short-billed bike cap. He laughed. “I don’t know if I’d say cool hat.”

Zack said that if I wanted a city that was the opposite, where bike-riders were not expected to be two-wheeled geniuses, I shold try Portland, Ore. I think I’ll pass. If Open Bicycle sticks around, I think Somerville will be good enough for me.

All We Need is an Ewok

I don’t follow many Twitter power users, but one that I do follow is Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Yesterday evening, he tweeted:

Feeling pensive today and pondering life’s big questions. For example, what does Luke Skywalker do on father’s day?

I couldn’t help but laugh. I was going to make some acknowledgment of Father’s Day in this space, likely about how it’s still weird to have the day mean something after years of awkwardness and unanswered (heck, unasked) questions. But Hsieh’s short, offhand musing thrusted me in a different direction, toward a galaxy far, far away…

To date, the best cinematic analogy of my life has been (sigh) “What a Girl Wants.”

000ed66e

How much cooler would it be as the “Star Wars” trilogy? (Let’s pretend the prequels didn’t happen.) You’ve got a princess and a farmboy, both destined to be on the front lines of the battle to preserve galactic freedom.  They were separated at birth and thrown onto remarkably different trajectories, only to be reunited by chance thanks to a couple of wacky droids. Leia is equipped with incredible poise and toughness, entrusted by the entire rebel force with the secrets that, if revealed, could doom their cause. Luke has the blood of the jedi flowing through his veins, and is imbued with a power he can barely understand but slowly begins to master.

OK, maybe my brother and I don’t completely match up to this plotline. But, well, we were separated at birth, and we did get thrown onto markedly different trajectories. The other details vary juuuuuuust a little bit.

The other big problem with this comparison is their father, Darth Vader. Because as we know, in the movies, Darth Vader has been consumed by his power and turned to the dark side. In a small part of his heart, though, he remembers who he was, and he loves his children.

I think that I might tentatively liken my childhood and adolescent understanding of my father, who I didn’t yet know, to something like Darth Vader — a big, dark presence to whom I accorded all sorts of nefarious intentions, but who in his precious few moments of humility manages to remember his past.

As the past few years of actually knowing him have proven, my father is nothing like Darth Vader. Thinking about it, he’s sort of a mix of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo. He’s got Han’s confidence and charm, but Obi-Wan’s insight and goodness. I’m not sure he’s the best starship pilot in the universe, but he can handle a Toyota Four-Runner on the narrow, winding roads of Oxfordshire pretty well. That’s got to count for something.

So maybe “Star Wars” isn’t the perfect cinematic analogy for my life. But “What a Girl Wants” isn’t, either. This is my story, unique in all of its perfect and imperfect ways. There’s no ideal analogue out there. That, of course, means there’s no template for understanding all the things I am still trying to figure out — like Father’s Day. But I’m getting there.

I’d like to think, though, that my brother and I could save a galaxy if called upon to do so. That there is an untapped wellspring of capacity buried deep within us, just waiting for the right moment to make itself known.

Concert Review: Freedy Johnston

It was a tough night for Freedy Johnston. But it had nothing to do with the fact that only about 20 people had come to the Center for the Arts at the Armory in Somerville for his scarcely publicized show. And it wasn’t just because his guitar bit the dust earlier that day. Rather, he was frustrated because he could not properly tune the guitar he borrowed from opening act Mike Fiore to play the title track from his forthcoming, long-awaited album, “Rain in the City.”

“I just want to do it right for the people,” said a visibly annoyed Freedy. After a few moments and a couple of muttered curses, he abruptly got up from his chair on stage, banging the guitar into a mic in the process, grabbed one of the folding chairs near the front-row table I shared with my friend, and plopped down in the middle of the audience. The twenty-odd of us turned around to face him, along for the ride, ready for wherever he was taking us.

Unplugged, he launched right into a spirited cover of Wings’ “Listen to What the Man Said,” which is on his covers album “My Favorite Waste of Time.” It was as if he had to work through the frustration that his guitar was giving him, and the only way he could do it was by playing a song, and damned if that same troublesome guitar wasn’t going to do the job for him, whether it liked it or not. As he went back onstage, he said, “We artists are not stable types. You may have learned that.”

If we hadn’t know this before, we certainly knew it by then. This was only one in a serious of magical moments at Freedy’s June 17 show, the first being the fact that he showed up at all (read more about my first near-Freedy encounter).

Inside the Armory

This was my first time at the Center for the Arts at the Armory, and it was a miracle I was there at all. The only way I found out about the show was via a posting on the Somerville Arts Council Yahoogroup. Really. Later on, I saw a press release republished by the Somerville Journal. But in terms of promotion, there wasn’t much. No buzz among any of the Boston music bloggers I follow. No posters around town — that I saw, anyways.

I hadn’t yet been inside the Armory. I’d followed the protracted construction process, the conflict with the neighbors over parking and other snags and delays. But the end result seems well worth the wait. On the first floor, there is a galley area that also doubles as a nice function room for a small talk, reading or film screening. The main hall, however, was truly impressive, and made me realize the building was much bigger than it looked on the outside. The high, exposed-beam ceilings have been coated in insulation foam that was painted purple. It makes the ceiling feel like a permanent sunset. The hardwood floors, brick walls and exposed air-ducts give the building a hip, industrial loft feel. Along the sides of the space, birch trees mounted upright on wooden platforms were wreathed in white lights. The audience area consisted of some folding chairs scattered around, with some cocktail tables set up closer to the front. The tables were covered by white tablecloths adorned with pictures of fruit. Imagine Club Passim in a gymnasium, and you’ll be close.

The folks running the show seemed a bit disorganized — I’m not sure how many live events they have hosted there yet — but they did not lack in kindness, graciousness and enthusiasm. Everyone received us warmly. There’s a bar, which is nice, and prices are quite affordable ($4 beer/wine, except $3 PBR, and $2 water/soda)

The intimate stage was set against a moveable wooden backdrop and made homey by a rug, lamp and some plants. As Freedy mentioned at one point during the night, it was nice to think that at one point the hall had been filled with guns and ammunition, and now it was filled with music. Indeed, the acoustics in the large hall were spot on. And that’s why we were here, after all. Not for an architectural survey. For the music.

We got to the Armory nearly a half hour before the 6:45 doors (I may have been slightly over-eager), which gave us time to take in the facility. But we also got to hear Freedy soundcheck. I even saw him briefly, looking at the setup in the hall. The knowledge that he was in the zip code assuaged anxiety I didn’t know I had built up — or had leftover from nine years ago, apparently.

I’m not sure what I was thinking — that there would be a line of people waiting to see Freedy Johnston play, clamoring when the doors opened to get seated up front? It was us and one other guy, some diehard who had seen him three or four times. The thing Teresa and I learned was that nobody else knows who this guy is. We would excitedly tell people about the show, and get blank looks in return. Oh well. It’s totally their loss.

The Concert

“Thanks for having me over to your house,” Freedy said when he took the stage, seemingly unbothered by the small number of people attempting to fill up the cavernous hall. When I heard the notes from “Evie’s Tears” float out of his initial noodling, my breath caught. As the song, one of the best on his most popular album, “This Perfect World,” began to fill the hall, I couldn’t believe my luck. I was sitting ten feet from a man, one of my favorite singer-songwriters, playing a song from an album that had helped define a formative part of my adolescence. There were just about 20 other people in the room sharing this moment with me, including one girl and her male companion who seemed like an even more hardcore Freedy fan than me. I felt as if we were being told a secret nobody else knew and it was ours to relish, and if anyone else found out what they were missing, they’d be pissed.

After “Evie’s Tears, he played a couple of new songs, “Too Close to the Rio Grande” and “Neon Repairman.” Freedy then pulled out his cover of “Wichita Lineman,” which had inspired the previous song, before playing a song from “Blue Days Black Nights,” “Pretend It’s Summer.” Next up was a poppy new track, “Don’t Fall in Love With a Lonely Girl.” I started getting excited for October, when “Rain on the City” comes out on Bar-None. He then reached back for the title track on “This Perfect World” before playing two more new songs, “Central Station” and  “When The Love is Gone (?).” He had tried to play the title track to the new album, but was unable to get the guitar appropriately tuned. Then he hopped back to another TPW track, “Cold Again.”

At long last, he played his one hit, “Bad Reputation,” telling the story about a guy who came up to him at a show and said he had played that song everyday while he was imprisoned. “If he did play it every day in the pen, I”m sure he got lots of death threats eventually.”

Hearing Freedy play a song is likely on my top 10 or 20 all-time… it’s impossible to describe. It felt like closure. It felt natural and right and inevitable. It felt glorious.

Sitting up front, I enjoyed studying Freedy’s mannerisms. He was conversational and self-effacing. Looking like a cross

between Dr. Cox from “Scrubs” and John Malkovich, he did this thing after every song where he would sort of sit back, lean from left to right and smile widely, exuding a blend of humility, graciousness, pride and happiness. A way of saying both “Shucks” and “Damn, I love this job.” At times, though, he seemed to wrestle, both with himself and the guitar. “No, you play it like this,” he told the borrowed guitar as he tried to tune for “Evie’s Tears. “Let’s try that again, Fred,” he muttered when he bungled a lyric in “Pretend It’s Summer.” It was a real joy to watch the way he works, a fine complement to the music.

After playing another song by request, “Remember Me” from the 17-year-old album “Can You Fly,” he re-attempted “Rain in the City,” resulting in the above-described moment. Afterwards, he took more requests, and I called out one of my favorite Freedy songs, “I’m Not Hypnotized” from the album “Never Home.” To my absolute pleasure, he agreed, and he nailed it. Next up were the haunting TPW album-closer, “Emily,” CYF’s “The Mortician’s Daughter,” and “Caroline” from the old EP “Unlucky.”

As the show came to a close, he thanked us for our patience and attentiveness, expressing his pleasure with the venue and, despite everything, the evening.

“That’s all I can do, is entertain you with chaos,” he said. For his last song, the third time was the charm, and he finally succeeded in playing “Rain on the City.” It’s fitting that, the next day, a several-day long rainy stretch began in Boston. But that’s okay. I saw Freedy Johnston live, after all these years. And that’s worth a few blue days and black nights.

Skeletons in the Closet

Sometimes, when I am putting away laundry, I stop and notice my coat hangers. Most of them are not special in the least — just ordinary, boring coat hangers. But on some of the white ones, you can still make out a faint black mark, made by a Sharpie  nearly 12 years ago.

31Ii2CMRJWL._SS500_Freshman year of college, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) Rick and I made friends with a guy named Tim. We first noticed Tim because we had seen a series of near-doppelgangers for Rick around campus, and Tim was one of them. One day, we ended up eating lunch at the same table as him in the dining hall. Turns out, he was a geeky filmboy who loved They Might Be Giants. We became fast friends. Early on, he needed to borrow some hangers. I lent him ten or so, marking them with a Sharpie so we would know which ones were mine at the end of the year.

Soon, our friendship was tested. Tim entered a relationship that would take an up-and-down course, one that pulled him out of town often and for increasingly longer stints, one that sometimes jerked him around. He was losing focus on his life and studies in Boston. I became very protective of him, jealous (in a platonic sense) of losing friendship time to a girl I didn’t think treated Tim very well. I felt enraged on his behalf, and I believed that this was what it meant to be a good, loyal friend. One time, I staged a We Love Tim weekend, pulling his friends together for a fun weekend of activities to show how much we cared for and missed him. By Saturday afternoon, however, he had already booked his bus out of town.

This all continued even after he transferred to go to school closer to his hometown, where she lived, and after college, as well. When they were together, I rarely heard from him. When they weren’t, Tim fell back to us, where we counseled against his getting back together with her. But Tim usually did.

When I found out they were engaged, the alarm bells sounded in my mind. Who am I to judge, right? But I did. The wedding invitation came, and I was filled with self-righteous indignation. There was no way in my mind I could attend a wedding where I did not support the union. I initially sent my RSVP, mainly because a mutual friend wanted me to attend. Eventually, he realized he couldn’t go. So I didn’t go either.

I tried to call, e-mail and write to explain myself. I wanted to state my case, offer a reason for why I wasn’t going to be there to support the decision he made, one I felt I couldn’t support myself.

He never responded. The wedding went on, and I wasn’t there. And when I saw the two of them at the same mutual friend’s own wedding a year and a half later, the reception was so chilly that despite it being August, I felt like I needed an overcoat.

That was almost a year ago. It’s hard to have a friendship die, and I’ve thought a lot about how my friendship with Tim fell apart and what my role was in that happening. I think part of the problem was that I didn’t listen to him. I projected a lot of attitudes, opinions and emotions onto the situation, but I don’t think I wanted to hear a whole lot in return. It’s also about trust. Ultimately, I didn’t trust him to live his own life; I thought I knew better. I am a firm believer that people shouldn’t blindly support all the choices that their friends make, particularly if they are dishonest or self-injurious. But I don’t think I ever had a conversation with him about my concerns and feelings that wasn’t full of self-righteous bluster and misguided protectiveness. It all comes down to honesty and being direct. We all deserve friends who won’t posture or project, or pull away when things get tough, but will give it to us straight and listen when we do the same. I failed at that, but I’ve accepted this and hopefully learned from it.

And if for some reason I haven’t, everytime I thumb through my closet and linger on a black-marked coat hanger, I have a reminder. In an instant, I’m flung back to a simpler time. We’re standing in Tim’s dorm room, next to his closet. Pictures and headlines cut out from free newspapers blanket the wall. Tim is laughing. He’s my new friend here at college and we’re off to a great start, and I haven’t fucked up yet.