Dec 10, 2014

Happy Birthday Sista


It's my little sister's birthday.
Paula.
She was born one year, one month and one day after I showed up on this planet. 
We grew up together right from the start. 
Year after year.  Graduations, holidays, birthdays, vacations.  We shared a room til I was 7 and then we moved upstairs to adjoining walls.  Paula somehow got the bigger room even tho I was older, which, three decades later, I am still calling 'shenanigans' on.


My sister and I went to the beach together and played Uno atop old bedsheets while eating sand-filled ham and cheese sandwiches. 
We went to camp together, we went to all the same schools up until college. 
By the middle of junior high school, my sister was officially cooler than me.
She got into trouble more, which was still not a lot.  She had a boyfriend way before I ever had a girlfriend.  We had a lot of the same friends and, of course, we had the same family.
Over the years, I've come to learn what the word 'family' truly means - it goes beyond blood.


Family is a bond, it's a closeness that is difficult to maintain sometimes.
Family is a gift that we can take for granted.  It's a dance full of challenges and hard decisions.
Sometimes family is the problem rather than the solution.
I've encountered more than my fair share of people who epitomize that - who will never get how special that is, to have a friend, a confidante, someone to reminisce with, someone who knows everything about you since you were a little boy. 
Someone who is always rooting for you.


My sister and I have always been close. 
We have our parents to thank for that - and, of course, each other.
But my sister isn't just my buddy.  Tho younger than I, my sister has often been the pioneer.
She got married before I did.  She got divorced before I did.
One night, she came over to my apartment, emotional. 
We got drunk and played Candy Land in my kitchen. 
She cried on my shoulder and I felt this overwhelming sadness for her, one that she would feel for me on a night not that long after.


My sister and I are still both pimps.
She got remarried before I did.
She got back on track before I did, back on the horse, back in the game.
She bounced around for a little while before landing where she belonged, and with who she belonged with.  We have rarely fought, and it has always been easy for us to reconcile our differences.


Over the years, people tend to grow apart.  Not just physically, but emotionally. 
But shouldn't it be the opposite?
Shouldn't the bonds we have with those we love strengthen rather than fall apart? 
That's the lesson my sister and I have gotten from our parents 40 years later in spite of our own temporary failures.  And for that we count ourselves lucky.  Because what we have is rare.

I don't have many female friends, and I often wonder if my sister is the biggest reason why.  Sometimes she's the only friend I need. 
Sometimes we dance like idiots around the Christmas tree.

 

Two years ago, my sister had a baby.
My nephew, my godson.  Baby Anthony. 
I was in the waiting room that day, going through one of the hardest times of my life.
My house had been destroyed by a hurricane and my heart had been destroyed by a woman.
Just two months later, my sister was experiencing the most joyous moment of her life.


My sister is my role model.
She taught me that you can come back from hard times. 
You can come all the way back and find your true place in this crazy world.  This little bugger she birthed has given me fleeting moments of joy, not just during the times I get to enjoy his company. But also in seeing how he has affected the lives of the people I care about the most. 
Thanks to my sister, I get to be an uncle. 
Thanks to my sister, I'm still pondering if I wanna be a Dad.


So thank you, my sister.
Thank you for the long talks, for the advice, for the delicious meals.
Thank you for being a great mother to your son and a great wife to your husband.


Thank you for making me laugh and for hearing me cry.
Thank you for being the loudest fan in the room every time you came to see me play a show.
Thank you for monkeying around with me during my highest highs and my lowest lows.


Thank you for always being there for me.
I love you.
And I'm so proud of you.
Happy Birthday.




Nov 20, 2014

Monster Crushes - Songs From The Last Q*Ball Album

Do you believe in passion? 

Do you believe in that overwhelming "duhhh...derrrr" feeling that you get for someone?  I did.  I've had my fair share of those type of feelings throughout the years and I've - sometimes helplessly - fully embraced them.

But are those feelings real?  Are they love or merely the infatuations of a passionate madman?

"Monster Crushes" represents one point-of-view.

Because my most recent romantic experiences have reminded me that the more you invest your heart in someone, the more you uncover.  And the more you uncover, the more you discover.  And sometimes those discoveries can be ugly and unforgivable.  Sometimes those discoveries serve to obliterate all those good feelings you felt in those better, more innocent moments.




But "Monster Crushes" is also about having feelings for someone you already know to be a monster.  And yet you love them anyway.  You make excuses for their misbehavior, sometimes you're even complicit in it.  You accept their shortcomings and in doing so, you lose respect for your own self.  You overlook their selfishness and their deceit because there's something inside you that just. can't. let. go.

That was my last relationship, that was my last love.  It was phony.  It was an orchestrated fraud.

It was just another one of those monster crushes.

I just had a birthday.  And an anniversary.  Sandy.  Two years since the waters came, since I started rebuilding.

Milestones.


My Mom reached out via e-mail with some typical sage wisdom.

"Don’t waste your time looking back for what you have lost, move on for life wasn’t meant to be traveled backwards."

Mom was probably referring to my autographed Nine Inch Nails tour poster, my Pez collection, my Led Zeppelin albums, my Microkorg, Nana's ancient Christmas ornaments.  They were certainly lost two years ago, amongst most of my worldly possessions.  I lost the house too.  But Mom's pretty savvy - she was probably looking beyond the material stuff.

And yet, my new album is about what my mother wants me to reject - Looking Back at all the Loss.  But The Last Q*Ball Album isn't my pity party.  It's also about moving on.  It's one final look back at the romantic nonsense I endured before and after Sandy put her stamp on my timeline.

The Last Q*Ball Album, in its own little way, is one giant leap forward.

"Don't touch a hot stove," a younger-yet-wiser friend advised me last summer.  And yet I returned for more.  Because no one knew how I felt.  No one could advise me because no one was standing where I was, no one knew what I was up against, no one knew what I had been through after that storm had taken all my crap and usurped me from my comfortable, if somewhat uninspiring, existence.

No one truly understood how badly I wanted it.

That passion, that intimacy - it fueled me, it consumed me.  So I ran towards the flames instead of away from the fire.  I ran towards that hot stove with a can of gasoline strapped to my back and I wound up getting burned again.

And yet I bear no scars.  Because I am free of those feelings.  Because as amazing and overwhelming as that 'duhh...derrr' feeling is in the moment, when you are finally able to step out of that place and see what you were so consumed by for what it truly is - when your eyes are finally all the way open - it is easier to forget.  Love is a long-term commitment, it's a long haul - not just over years or months, but over the course of a simple day.  And if you can't give that to someone else - through thick and through thin - well, then you're not in love.

And this is why we write songs.  Musicians.  Love's fools.  This is why we make albums even if we won't make endless bags of money for doing so.  Because we can bottle all those hurt feelings up or we can scream them out at the piano, at the guitar, in front of a microphone, in front of an audience.  I would argue with my mother that it's okay to look back at the past as a lesson for the present, for the future.  Because I look back and I don't lament it.  Instead, I try to make some beauty out of all the ugliness.  And in doing so - whether here in this space or in 40 minutes over the span of 10 songs - I can let the other passionate, hopeless romantics out there know that they're not alone. 

In doing so, I can accept that if I 'm not in love, I can still be okay with my life.  I can still be happy.


I find that passion returning again, only more cautious.  And cautious is okay.  Maybe cautious is necessary at this point, because there are phonies everywhere.  We live in an interactive world where lies and embellishment have become commonplace, where trickery has become simple, where loyalty has become challenging.  

But the truth comes out.  What lies beneath ultimately rises to the surface.  And at the end of the day, nobody likes a phony even if a lot of us like monsters.

In the wake of this most recent romantic challenge, I went out looking for apartments in Brooklyn (usually when your roommate is lying to your face about cheating on you, that's a sign to start looking for a new place to live, just an FYI for y'all) and I met my buddy Joe for dinner.

We talked about a lot of things over some delicious barbeque and some whiskey, we talked about making this album.  At some point, the conversation steered towards morality and desire and I asked Joe to weigh in on why I had put myself in this position to get hurt, why I laid it all out on the line again only to have my heart laid to waste.

"Because you're Ron Scalzo," he responded before devouring a rib tip.  His answer didn't need further explaining.  It was profound.  This is who I am. 

So maybe my passion has been foolhardy, maybe it has even been a bit of a curse.  But it comes with integrity.  It's pure, even if it has sometimes been misguided.   

It's real.

I'd like to think that's what makes it romantic.  And so I'm gonna hold on to it for a bit longer.  I'm gonna hold out a little more hope. 

I'm moving forward, Mom.  Can't wait to see what happens next.

***

The Last Q*Ball Album by Ron Scalzo - available now on iTunes and Amazon
www.lastqball.com


MONSTER CRUSHES


I'm not in love
You have to keep telling yourself
I'm not in love
I don't wanna date a girl that I know anything about
You'll just ruin it
It's just another one of those monster crushes
Do you think I'll stick around
Once I find out the truth?
I'm not in love
You have to keep selling yourself
I'm not enough
I don't wanna date a girl that I know anything about
You'll just ruin it
It's just another one of those monster crushes
Do you think I'll stick around
Once I find out the truth?
So 'Ha Ha!'
'Ha! Ha!'
Yeah you did it again!

***

Ron Scalzo - piano, synths, vocals
Joseph Milazzo - vocals
Alexa Criscitiello - vocals
John Philippidis - bass guitar
Theodore Pagano - drums and percussion

Music and words by Ron Scalzo.  Copyright 2014 Bald Freak Music (ASCAP)
 

Artwork by Joseph Milazzo

Recorded at Thump Studios and Teddy's Basement, Brooklyn, NY

Engineered and mixed by Chris Montgomery
Mastered by Michael Judeh at Dubway Studios, NYC

Oct 21, 2014

Parker - Songs From The Last Q*Ball Album


She named him Parker.  

He was a baby bird who fell out of its nest and into the back yard of our house on Staten Island.  She found him out there, on the concrete next to our gas grill.  She called me outside to come see.

He was about the size of a peach, with a long thin beak.  One of his legs appeared to be injured.  I picked him up and set him atop our outdoor table.  We put him in a shoe box stuffed with shredded newspaper and cotton balls and tried to save his life.


She named him after Charlie Parker.  The famous jazz musician.  The Bird.  Very clever.  She gave everything a name.  Cars, plants, stray animals.  And she loved music.  She dragged me to Dave Matthews Band concerts until I was grooving to "Cornbread" with the rest of the stoned whiteys, she bought me Tool's 10,000 Days on one of our first dates.

Music.  That's how we met.  She came to see one of my Q*Ball shows, at The Wicked Monk in Brooklyn.  I was single and I thought she was cute and I asked a mutual friend about her.  She had a boyfriend.  But there she was in the crowd a short while later, bouncing to my cover of A-Ha's "Take On Me," smiling up at me on-stage.   After the show, I gave her my Q*Ball business card.  She told me I was 'mad talented.'  We hugged and said goodbye.

She was a fan.

We wound up together in that house on Staten Island three years later - newly married, with our crazy Westie dog, Buttons, in tow.  I bought the detached ranch from an old Jewish couple who had lived in it for over 40 years.  I renovated the entire basement so I could expand my independent record label.  Bald Freak Music.  I would hire employees, start signing other acts and release more albums of my own.  I would write, record, and rehearse on my own property.

The following summer, she discovered Parker in our back yard.  She had a vegetable garden back there where she would often retreat after our many fights.  It calmed her - for a short time, at least.  I crushed up some pretzels and filled a shot glass with water and we left Parker outside in the shoe box atop the table.  Later that night, we fell asleep on opposite sides of our shared bed.



We both loved Soul Coughing, Deftones, The Doors.  She got me into Chuck Klosterman.  She was living with another guy when she came to that Q*Ball show with her friend and still she pursued me.  She wrote poetry about me.  She told me she was with a boy and she wanted to be with a Man.  I gave her my Love Is A Cliff speech.

She wanted me. 

I let Buttons out back to do his business before leaving for work and I checked on Parker.  The baby bird was still alive, chirping in the shoe box.  He had eaten some of the pretzels.  He seemed comfortable.  Maybe things would work out after all.  Because sometimes things work out. Because sometimes wounded birds can still be saved.

Weeknights, I would make her a music mix on my laptop and pour her wine while she cooked us a delicious dinner.  We saw The Beastie Boys in a small club in New York City, Faith No More in McCarren Park, Billy Joel at Shea Stadium.  We saw Nine Inch Nails play The Downward Spiral at Webster Hall, sweating and headbanging, arm-in-arm.  The next night at Terminal 5, we got into a screaming match in the middle of the crowd right before the show started.  We had to be separated by security in the outside hallway.  At one point, we were asked to leave unless we calmed down.

She was unpredictable.

So too is life.  Later that morning, my phone rang.  It was her.  She was crying.

"Parker Is Dead."

I sat in my office as she tearfully recounted Parker's final minutes.  She had gone out back to check on him just as I had a short while earlier.  Buttons was with her.  Parker was still in the shoe box atop the table.  He looked up at her, then jumped out of the box onto the ground below.  Parker took his fateful leap and fell prey to The Beast.

The Beast was Buttons.  She gave him that nickname - 'The Beast'.  She gave everything a name.  I wasn't there to witness the murder, but in that moment I imagine my dog did what dogs inherently do when they see a smaller living creature - mice, squirrels, insects.  Birds.  They chase - and often, they pounce.  Parker never had a chance to negotiate.


She wasn't home when I got back from work.  She didn't handle adversity well, but for once, I empathized.  I felt this overwhelming sadness when I went out into the yard.  She had left Parker's body in a paper bag atop the table.  The shoe box was gone, there was only the little bag with the little bird in it.

I got a shovel from the shed and dug a hole.  It was a hot July afternoon, I was sweating and crying as Buttons looked on.  I yelled at my dog through the tears, not caring if or what my neighbors heard.  They had likely heard worse during our time there, those bad moments that soon became the rule rather than the exception.  The slammed doors, the cursing, the threats.  I opened the bag and looked at the lifeless little bird inside and I broke down.  My marriage was over.  I knew in my heart that it was over. 

She was no longer a fan.

She loved music but she didn't love that her man was a musician.  She had a good heart and I know she tried to do better.  She could have tried harder.  I know I could have too, but I no longer wanted to.  She had worn me down to the nub and I had turned into someone I no longer recognized.  Like that poor little bird, we couldn't be saved.

I asked her to leave and she did.  She took all my Simpsons DVDs and Calvin & Hobbes books, a lot of my CDs and even more of my money.  She didn't take Buttons.  I moved the piano into the middle of the living room, set up some microphones and a little audio mixer and I started making this album.

She was no longer an anchor.

We got together after Sandy.  First time we saw each other since the divorce.  It had been almost two years.  We shared a rice ball, a bottle of red wine and hurricane stories at Joe's of Avenue U.   I talked to her about my excitement over becoming an uncle.  I told her about the girl who had just screwed me over a month before the storm.  Talking to my ex-wife about another woman?  Surely these were different days.

I drove her back to her apartment, dropped her off.  "This was nice," I said.  We hugged and said goodbye.  I thought we might end up friends, but just like our marriage, it wasn't meant to be.

I often wonder how things may have turned out for Parker - for all of us - if, instead of dropping into a canine's clutches, he flew up and away to freedom.  Where would Parker be today if he went up instead of down?  Where would we all be?

We are all defined by the choices we make and the roads we dare journey down.  By the people who love us and by the people we choose to love.  I know in my heart that parting ways was the best medicine - not just for me, but for both of us.  I hope she's happier now.  I hope she has found peace with the choice I made.

A little bird dropped into our life for one night, reminding me that the only way I could fly was to fly away.  High above the trees.

The Last Q*Ball Album by Ron Scalzo - available on iTunes and Amazon
OCTOBER 29 2014

PARKER

In my dream you always fly away
High above the trees
Maybe someday you'll even lay some eggs
Start a family
At least you'll live to see another day

But I will always be your friend

But it wasn't meant to be
You took your fateful leap
And fell prey to the beast

In my dreams you always fly away
High above the trees
Sorry that I couldn't save the day
 
But I will always be your friend

But it wasn't meant to be
You took your fateful leap
And fell prey to the beast

In my dream you always fly away

***
 
Ron Scalzo - piano, synths, vocals
Daniel G. Harmann - vocals
Bill Nordwall - synth bass
GG Reynolds - violins
Matt Brown - guitars, loops
Shea Bliss - drums


Music and words by Ron Scalzo.  Copyright 2014 Bald Freak Music (ASCAP)

Recorded at Electrokitty Studios, Seattle, WA
Produced by Ron Scalzo and Matt Brown
Engineered and mixed by Matt Brown

Artwork by Joseph Milazzo
Mastered by Michael Judeh at Dubway Studios, NYC



Sep 23, 2014

Last Call at Uncle Johnny's


It's Last Call at Uncle Johnny's

Life is a passport.  Sometimes we plan our trips.  Sometimes life has other plans for us.  Four months ago, I made an unexpected pit stop at Uncle Johnny's.  Now it's time for Last Call.


She took this picture of us - the woman who set me afloat again with her lies and her bullshit and her empty promises of maturity and change and commitment.  Johnny and I posed for her this past holiday season.  Look at us.  We have no idea that - five months later - our lives will intertwine.  No knowledge that, thanks to the latest misadventure in this very interesting chapter in my life, Uncle Johnny would be stamping my passport and welcoming me into his madness.

Uncle Johnny isn't really my uncle.  In fact, I'm not sure he's anyone's uncle at all - not in the biblical sense, at least.  He's a friend of my boss who makes occasional appearances on the syndicated radio morning show I work for.  We both have no hair, fake teeth, and we both sing.  Uncle Johnny sings Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" and I sing about 40 electro-pop songs you've probably never heard of.



I moved into Uncle Johnny's apartment in May, a displaced victim of infidelity still recovering from being displaced by a superstorm.  I can still remember that feeling after Sandy - that numbness No, it wasn't the drugs.  It was a feeling like you're on another planet.  Everyone around you is doing their everyday and you're a homeless person, a charity case, maybe even an afterthought.  Everyone's train keeps on a rollin' and yours has gone completely off the rails.

Sandy was like that - first everyone cared a lot, then everyone cared a little, then most everyone went back to their real lives, leaving only the people who were affected to continue to care a lot.  Hey Obama, you're still coming back to Staten Island, right?  Right???

That numb feeling had returned, even if this wasn't Sandy.  Even if this new challenge wasn't much of a surprise, even after all the 'told ya so's were elicited by friends and family alike - politely and otherwise.  It was a risk to cohabit with someone who had already shown her stripes, who had already proven herself to be a Love Landmine.  But love is love and faith is faith, and I am who I am, and I took the leap.  I'd say I have no regrets, but unlike the person who let me down, I am not a liar.

I had just unloaded my watery Staten Island mausoleum, short sold it to the highest bidder.  HERE.  TAKE IT.  An acceptable loss after all that had happened just two Octobers ago, after an 18 month battle with the bank that essentially became a second job.  Moving back in was never a serious consideration - a different dude bought that house 5 years earlier.  That dude drowned with all the Batman comics and the Led Zeppelin albums.  Staten Island wasn't exactly a mecca for dating.  The Express Bus and I were already mortal enemies.  It was a half a million dollar washout, it was most of my life savings and almost all of my life inside.  And I was glad to be rid of it.  I was not in debt to any institutions even if I still felt indebted to all the people who had helped me get through that strange Sandy trip.

And now I was in this kickass new construction building with all the fixins - doormen, amenities, a view of the NYC skyline.  I had come all the way back.  But something was up.  Something was off.  I had felt this feeling before, my burning gut.  I had gotten off the mat and was up fighting again, only I was fighting against a tidal wave of bullshit this time, all coming out of the mouth of one woman who I had chosen to put my remaining stock in.  It was just like the house - an investment that quickly turned to garbage.  Only this was easier to walk away from.  It's always easier to recover when something predictable happens.  The night I finally discovered the whole truth, a sleepless night where I was forced to take shelter at my friend's place nearby, he put it into perspective. "What did you really learn tonight that you didn't already know?"  Truth.

And so I found myself on my way up to midtown a few weeks later, walking down from Penn Station to Uncle Johnny's.  I stopped in front of the church across the street and saw the building's exterior and I immediately knew this was where I was going to live.


Because I'm big into signs and there it was staring me in my fat face.  GROW.  This is what it has been all about for me - this over-stamped passport denoting five different residences since Sandy - this adult limbo that I've been trying to shake.  Something amazing had to come from all this.  Moving to Park Slope after the storm, running the NYC Marathon, getting the girl.  I was workin it, girl - all with one thought on my mind.   

Don't survive.  Thrive.

And now all that was behind me, but there was still plenty of growing to do.

Uncle Johnny lives in a factory building.  He's lived in this apartment for over 30 years and he hasn't exactly renovated the place.  Describing the architecture of Uncle Johnny's apartment is simple.  Just imagine your grandparents' unfinished basement, only moved up to the penthouse.  Then add lots of green crystal, candelabras, zebra print, and Marilyn Monroe memorabilia.  Hey, maybe your grandfather was Liberace.

Oh.  And let's not forget the foliage.

Welcome To The Jungle

Uncle Johnny has 18 plants - I spent thirty minutes a day with Johnny's little green watering can, twice a week, trying to keep these monstrosities alive.  I was not entirely successful.  Uncle Johnny now has 14 plants.  Sorry, Johnny.




The building's single elevator is straight out of '70s-era horror films like Dressed To Kill - it's key operated and opens up right into the apartment.  Uncle Johnny's floor is the only one not separated by a door, so basically any stray homeless people or serial killers that get into the lobby can stumble right on into the living room at any moment.  It's really quite thrilling.  Needless to say, my baseball bat was never too far away.




Another "feature" of the elevator is that it stays open on your floor unless you send it back down to the lobby manually.  One night while I was making dinner, my dog Buttons was sniffing around and the doors closed on him, sending him down alone.  10 seconds later, I hear Buttons barking like a lunatic 7 floors below.  I would spend the next hour running up and down the only stairwell in this place in flip-flops, screaming my dog's name at the top of my lungs like a madman - "BUTTONS!!!!  BUUUUTTTOONNNSSSS!Buttons eventually turned up on the roof.  Boundless fun.


Uncle Johnny's bathroom was another adventure entirely.  For one thing, there was no cold water.  So if you're the type that likes skin scalding showers, this is the bathroom for you.  Ah yes, those hot August nights in Johnny's shower stall with a dozen mosquito bites covering my body (Uncle Johnny also has no screens on his windows).  Because, as we all know, scalding hot water is great for bug bites.




There were paintings where walls should have been, and I didn't dare to open the vanity under the sink for fear of what I might find inside there.  This was true army training - the sort of situation that makes you cherish the simple things in life.  Things like cold water and screen doors and a fucking bathtub.  Still, the bathroom wasn't without its charms.



Buttons and I were never short on company at Uncle Johnny's, sharing the space with all types of critters - roaches, skeeters, mice.  I soon became a vermin assassin.  The first mouse was a mercy killing - Buttons found it stuck on a glue trap and turned it upside down.  I put my face against my forearm, begged the gods for forgiveness and quickly stomped my foot atop the trap.  Sorry, Mickey.  The second mouse frizzle fried inside The Raticator.  Yes, this is a real thing - a Rodent Control System I bought online because Johnny refused to pay for an exterminator.  I returned from making music in Seattle to the smell of fried rodent and spent the morning scraping mice guts and burnt hair out of the trap with a wooden spoon.  Yep, this place was a real babe magnet.  Howyoudoin, ladies?

The third kill belonged to Buttons while I was at work.  Good boy.  By August, I was wearing war paint and throwing hand grenades - I was fucking Rambo and the mice were Afghan commandos.  They had no chance.

I retreated to the radio station one night in early July even tho I was on vacation.  It was cooler at work, and also vermin-free.  Heavy thunderstorms raged outside the window of my production studio.

I returned to Uncle Johnny's in the wee hours, waiting for the evil elevator to open, and I could already hear the water.  The doors opened and there was a waterfall in Uncle Johnny's living room.  The ceiling was leaking.  Badly.  It was the morning of the 4th of July, and Johnny was in Italy.  No one was coming to fix this problem, so I went up to the roof to discover about 6 inches of standing water on the level above me.

I laid towels and pots and pans around Johnny's living room, took a deep breath, and crawled up on Johnny's couch, where I always slept, thanks to my fear of things that creep and scurry in the night.  The rest of the weekend was hot and dry and the water on the roof dissipated.  Soon after, I was hanging on that roof nearly every night.  I had some drunken caucuses up there, I talked to God up there, I smoked a joint up there, I had some very public sex up there.  It was the discovery of the century.  Sometimes shitty things have to happen for new discoveries to be made.  That's pretty much been the story of my life for the past half decade.



Outside, it was pure madness.  Cabs, trucks, police sirens, drunk Rangers fans, crazy homeless people, tourists toting their luggage, tour buses, fire trucks, crack heads, prostitutes.  3 dollar a slice pizza.  Buttons hated it out there and who could blame him?  On the first night I stayed at Uncle Johnny's, there was a plastic container of piss on the sidewalk outside the door.  On the last day I stayed at Uncle Johnny's, there was a turd in the same spot.  Not doggie doo, mind you.  A man-sized dookie.  Welcome to Manhattan, American's toilet.

Up on the roof, however, Buttons loved life, always climbing to the highest point of elevation by the elevator shaft, surveying the rat race below.  My dog's well-being has become a big priority in my life ever since my divorce, ever since Sandy.  He has been through every step of this twisted journey with me.  Buttons could have had a complete meltdown at Uncle Johnny's, instead the situation became very manageable.  He is no longer crated, he gets on great with his boarder.  I take him on the subway now.  I take him to work sometimes.  He's running with me again, often 5 or 6 miles at a time.  And he fucking loves it.


Buttons healed up at Uncle Johnny's and so did I.  I ran in Hudson River Park, in Central Park, up the West Side Highway.  I discovered The High Line. I ate a Quarter Pounder with Cheese at 4 in the morning in front of Madison Square Garden and I didn't give a fuck.  I barbecued chicken on a small grill on Johnny's tiny terrace and watched sunset after beautiful sunset with a glass of whiskey in hand and my faithful dog nearby.




I was fucking free, and not just in the literal sense.  After Sandy, all those romantic feelings kept me tied down.  At the time, I saw it as motivation.  Live a better life, be a better man, and you will attain your goal.  And it drove me - more pushups, more miles on the pavement, more writing, more fighting, and more fearlessness.  At Uncle Johnny's I realized a few things.  I am a better man.  With or without anyone, I am a better man than I was before all this blogging bullshit, before all this bad luck and these bad choices.  I got fucked over - again! - but I didn't wallow in it this time.  I posted some true shit in this space that about 900 pairs of eyes saw, then I took it down and I moved the fuck on.


Some still tell me that living well is the best revenge, and I never disagreed with that.  Because I am living well again.  It's quiet in my back yard now.  I can hear the crickets at night, I have a tomato plant.  There is no evil elevator, no bugs, no mice - just plenty of space.  My piano is here, Buttons is asleep at my feet.  But revenge was necessary.  My boss told me that if slamming my ex in this space helped me move past the shitty feeling that comes with being cheated on, then it was a good thing that I did it.  Like most, he empathized.  And as usual, he was right.


Some still tell me that I should be writing full-time and I never disagreed with that either.  I'm just tired of writing about mishaps, about my shitty misadventures with unfathomable floods and insane ladies.  Sure, that's where the best material comes from. But it still feels more like my medicine than my destiny.  Some still tell me to leave New York and start a new life, and I made a real concerted effort to do that this summer.  But it just didn't happen and I'm at peace with it.  I put it out there to the universe that I'm game, I took that first big step.  it's just not time yet.


I went out to Seattle and made an album.  I surrounded myself with amazing musicians and once again benefited from the generosity of kindred spirits, only under much dryer circumstances.  I fell in love with a part of the country I had long yearned to visit.  I dated strange women and some not-so-strange women in five different cities, and I didn't fall for any of them.  Instead, I fell in love with making music again.  My new album will be out next month and it's nice to feel excited about the process, to be working towards another goal, another destiny.


And maybe - just maybe - I would never have done any of that if not for my time at Uncle Johnny's.  And so I'm grateful for the experience.  I dare say I'm enjoying the journey.  I lived in midtown Manhattan, a place I never thought I would spend more than an hour in without losing my shit.

It was pretty fucking awesome.  

It's Last Call at Uncle Johnny's.  We had a great time.  Just one more shot of whipped cream flavored vodka before I go.  Time for another stamp on the passport.  When I tell people about my time here, I won't think about the bugs or the mice or the cheater or the challenges.  I'll think about that GROW sign, I'll think about embracing more adversity, I'll think about this crazy shitty dirty city that I love, that I hate. And I'll think to myself, what a wonderful world.



Sep 11, 2014

Never Forget


That's what they want me to do.  That's what's trending today on all the social networks.

#neverforget 


But how can I ever forget?  How can I ever forget losing you?  My life has never been the same.  Thirteen years later, and that's what this day is always about for me.  Losing you.

I could have been there that day.  I was in that building four days a week, back and forth from Brooklyn to Jersey City.  Once a week, I went to midtown instead, to our crappy Sales office.  Always reluctantly.  That's where I was supposed to be that day - midtown - instead of inside the mouth of madness.

You were in my bed when my father called.  We were both asleep.  My machine picked up.  "Big Ron, just checking to see where you are.  Just heard about a blimp hitting the World Trade Center.  Call us back."  Dad wasn't drunk, that was the original news report.  A blimp, or maybe a helicopter.  A plane?  At 8:45am on September 11th, 2001, the idea of that was still unfathomable.

And the phone call that roused us from our slumber?  That was my Dad.  That's still my Dad.  Retired NYPD.  23 years on the job.  Always checking in.  Always cynical about the city he grew up in and would live in for fifty years.  Maybe it's an Italian thing.  Maybe it's a Scalzo thing.  But Dad's always on alert.  Every time I fly, my father tracks my flight on his computer.  He almost always calls me immediately after I land to ensure that I'm alive, wherever I am and whoever I'm with.


Dad's call woke us up and I turned on the TV and you and I watched the whole thing from my living room.  Not believing what we were watching.  It didn't seem real - the second plane, both towers on fire just 11 miles away.  I had just bought an exercise bike in Borough Park and you were sitting on it while I sat on the couch.  You were crying on top of my new exercise bike as the North Tower went down.  "Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod."  How can I ever forget?

Me, I was numb.  I was numb in the days and weeks to follow.  I couldn't get to work, to my friends and my co-workers.  My subway route was now rubble.  I would drive daily to the N train, take it to Cortlandt Street and walk clear through the World Trade Center to grab the PATH to Z100 in Jersey City.  I would do my Christmas shopping in that building, would grab breakfast there every once in awhile.  Our station's holiday party was all the way at the top - at Windows On The World, a hundred and seven stories up, less than two years earlier.  A different time, a different world.

I lost you that day.  You were still here but I lost you.  Because I lost myself.  I didn't help anyone in those days that followed, I didn't feel close to anyone or anything.  I made an attempt to drive to work a few days later and it was an absolute nightmare.  Highways were closed, everyone was being stopped and red-flagged on the roads.  Every truck driver was a terrorist and every truck held a bomb.  Anthrax was in the headlines - not the band, the lethal disease.  I remember screaming bloody murder in my car in unfathomable traffic, wanting to be with my co-workers, most of who witnessed the towers go down from directly across the Hudson River and more who put on helmets and backpacks and grabbed shovels and did whatever they could to help the first responders.

Me, I was a prisoner in a Toyota Camry, a three hour attempt to drive 15 miles thwarted by terrorism.  I made it as far as Bayonne, then turned back, defeated.  Apathetic.  I took it out on you.  Your job sent you to Baltimore and you left reluctantly and uneasily.  I was already pushing you away.  I remember returning to work soon afterwards.  I was reading the newspaper in the studio, a big article in the Lifestyle section about how couples who had just started dating were rushing to the altar because hey, the world had changed.  Hey, the world was ending.

Me, I didn't feel like rushing anywhere.  We were together 6 years, and they were solid.  We rarely fought, we understood each other.  Everything was good.  You made me feel like the only man in the world and I was in love with you.  The sex was good, the rapport was good, we liked each others families and friends.  People envied us.  It wasn't perfect, but it was solid - something to be grateful for.

And I read that article and I heard myself saying "Not me."  I'm not ready.  Because I wasn't ready and I should have been.  I should have sealed the deal, I should have felt what those people in the article were feeling.  Now is the time.  I should have asked you to marry me, and it would have seemed far from crazy.  It would have been cause for celebration.  But I was lost.  I lost myself that day, watching those towers go down and wondering how different my life would have been if this was Monday or Wednesday instead of Tuesday.  Maybe I would have been covered in soot, maybe I would have been covered in worse.  That's what happened to Father Mychal Judge.  He was down on the ground giving Last Rites to the dying and he was crushed by debris when the South tower collapsed.  Witness accounts state that moments before his death, he was screaming aloud - "Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!"  I'll never forget Father Mychal Judge, a man I never met.


I never wanted to go to that Sales office in midtown.  I hated it.  I fought requests by my bosses to go there, passive aggressively.  Sometimes I just wouldn't go.  I didn't have my own office in midtown, didn't have my own computer or even my own desk.  The place was a shit hole and it was near Grand Central, right in the middle of the Rat Race.  In August, I ultimately relented, agreeing to go there once a week.  On Tuesdays.  Whenever I went, I would show up extra late in protest.  That's why Dad's call woke me up at 8:45, why I wasn't on a train or a bus like most of my friends and co-workers that Tuesday.

I broke up with you 2 weeks later.  Over the phone, like a coward.  You were at my apartment and things weren't going well and you left to go back to your place, frustrated.  And then I called you and I broke up with you.  "You're breaking up with me, aren't you?," you said uneasily.  I can still hear your voice.

By late October, I realized I had made a mistake.  I reached out, and we reconciled, just for a little while - my birthday, the holidays.  But I wanted you back selfishly.  I needed a security blanket because hey the world had changed, hey the world was ending.  But my heart wasn't 'all in'.  I drove us up to Connecticut for a long weekend alone and away from the madness, trying to reignite the flame.  I insisted on watching the Yankees play in the World Series while we were up there and you didn't argue - you never did.  You knew it was important to me and maybe it was important to you too.  Somehow, they lost.  In a year they were meant to win, they lost, and I always saw that as a sign of our ultimate demise.  Stupid, I know - but that's what I felt.


The next week, I spent most of my birthday evening fighting over the phone with one of my band mates.  I was leaving the band and it had all come to a head and we were having our little rock star spat.  You and I had dinner with my sister and her boyfriend, and when we got back to my place, I left the three of you watching a movie in the living room while I argued over the phone in my bedroom, effectively breaking up with four other guys.  (Hey, I was on a roll)  My sister scolded me afterwards.  I should have been trying harder.  I should have been working on my relationship and I was taking it for granted instead.

I didn't deserve you.  I didn't do enough to keep you.  I didn't care enough, maybe I didn't know how to.  I didn't care much about anything anymore besides my own selfish needs.  After the holidays, you were the one who ended it - and you were much more committed to that than I ever was.  We lived a mile away from each other and I only saw you one more time after that - on roller blades on the Belt Parkway bike path six months later.  I ran away from a girl I was hanging out with to chase after you, to talk to a woman who I no longer recognized.

I wrote you letters, I wrote you songs.  I begged and I plead and I prayed and you never took me back.  You were cold and callous and you had every right to be.  You told me the butterflies were gone.  At the time, I couldn't understand why, but I understand now.  A few months later, I sat at my office computer and watched you make out with 3 different dudes on a Blind Date ripoff reality show called Shipmates.  You married someone else.  You moved away and you had twins and you got what you deserved and so did I.

Never forget?  No problem.  Losing you was the hardest thing I had to deal with in the years to follow.  I left Brooklyn, I tried to forget you but how can I ever?  I never forget the best thing that ever happened to me, I never forget the love that was ultimately never meant to be.  I got rid of all the photos, but I never forget your smile.  I never forget my cowardice, I never forget the bad karma, and I never forget my fear of commitment.  I never forget that I blew it.  And so I never forget that I can always try harder, I can always do better. 


The past 13 years spent at what is now known as 'Ground Zero' have often angered me - the bureaucracy that held up the construction of the Freedom Tower, the tourists taking pictures of a hole as if it belonged in someone's scrapbook.  They still haven't figured it out - the new PATH station, the traffic, the building's interior.  I got stuck down there twice this past winter due to falling ice, and suffice it to say I wasn't thinking about ice while being trapped inside like a cow in a cattle drive.  It's still a mess, it still feels like we haven't fully recovered from the carnage, and maybe we haven't.

I remember listening to Elvis on Z100 in the days that followed the attacks, the guy who would ultimately become my boss and in some ways, my savior.  He was just talking to people.  He was being a friend.  No music, no sound effects, no pomp and circumstance.  Elvis would later confess that those days that followed were the biggest reason he recognized that what he did really meant something to people and that he truly loved what he did.  I'm still waiting to feel what Elvis feels, that validation.  I'm still searching for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow while I shake off the dust of an imperfect past.

One thing Elvis is always quick to mention these days is that it's September 12th - the day we all came together and started to heal - that really deserves a commemoration.  Ironic that on this day, I am writing this once again surrounded by boxes.  I'll be moving into a new place and starting the next chapter of my life.  Maybe today, after surviving a divorce, a superstorm, and some heartbreaking infidelity, I'm finally starting to heal.


I feel like I've spent half my life trying to run away from New York City, but I'm still here - sure, I've bounced around.  I've lived in 6 different places since Sandy took my house and nearly everything in it.  But I've never left.  I recognize that it could be a lot worse - I feel like we all know people whose friends died, who almost died themselves.  And I was fortunate to not be one of those people.  13 years ago, the world changed for everyone around me, and for some in much much worse ways.  I do know what it's like to lose someone in an instant - it is truly the worst feeling I have ever experienced.  There's nothing I can say about the brave men and women who responded to the attacks that hasn't been said already, nor that can be said any better.  They are true heroes.   Me, I'm still trying.  Bravery was never my strong suit as a kid, and only now as an adult, having experienced unexpected hardships of own, have I learned to stare my fears in the face.

New York is a resilient city, and I am a New Yorker, an American.  I'm not much into politics nor religion, but like most in this country, I have no tolerance for oppression of my freedom.  In spite of all its flaws - past, present and future - I'm a grateful citizen of these United States.  I see those lights out my window and I wish they could illuminate the sky every night instead of just tonight.  I know I would help pay the electric bill to feel what I feel when I see those lights.  I feel lucky to be a New Yorker, I feel lucky to be alive, to still have a chance to make a difference in other people's lives.

I feel gratitude.



But what I really think of most when I see those lights - those twin beams that seem to extend all the way up to heaven....what I always think about - is losing you.  I look up at those symbols of freedom and I never forget that you were, and will always be, The One That Got Away.

Jun 19, 2014

The Last Q*Ball Album


I'm making The Last Q*Ball Album.  My first album in 7 years.

"Album"

What does that even mean anymore?

To most music fans nowadays, it means nothing.  But to me, it means everything.  Never mind that I'm a purist, that I'm an audiofile.  I lost over a thousand vinyl records, over two thousand compact discs after Superstorm Sandy.  Box sets, collectibles, memorabilia.  My electronic analog babies.


I've been through a lot these past few years.  A lot.  I'm not dead, I'm not dying.  I'm not bankrupt.  I'm not disabled, I'm not depressed, I'm not on the decline.  I'm on the rise.  I'm energized and independent.  But I have been through a lot.  And I can't help but think that what I've been through will ultimately lead me to my destiny, to happiness.

I can't help but think that all this mess has ultimately led me to the making of this album.

And living through this mess is what making this album is all about.

Courage.
Catharsis.
Therapy.
Validation.
Closure.


It's all about three women.  And it's about the mistakes I've made, the bad choices, the bad luck.  The Last Q*Ball Album is about commitment, it's about truth.  It's about the fight for what you believe in, it's about realizing your passions.  The Last Q*Ball Album is about the righteous path - about saving yourself and getting more than one chance to make things right.

More than anything, this album is about reinforcing what I've largely been missing in my musical misadventures these past few years.  Kinship.  Collaboration.  There is no greater feeling as an artist, as a musician, than to be surrounded by fellow talented and passionate people who are on board with what you've created, willing and able to add their unique touches to your musical canvas. 

I have no expectations for how this album - these songs - are received.  When I released my last album, This Is Serious Business, in 2007, I was a different man living a different life.  Not much happened with that record, the biggest footnote involved my longtime collaborator Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, who had, in the middle of making that album, been recruited to join Guns N' Roses, effectively ending his full-time contributions to my electronic rock passions.

Seven years later, Bumblefoot is still in GnR.  He has toured the world over with Axl Rose, he's finally doing a tour in support of his own excellent solo material.  He is chiseled and slim, he's revered and recognized.  He has reached his peak, and he deserves every moment of glory that he has experienced these past 7 years.  I'm happy for him.  Shit, I'm damn proud of him.

But Bumblefoot and I are no longer partners in crime.  And his departure from this project a few years ago essentially signaled the slow death of Q*Ball.  Ron Thal made Q*Ball a worthwhile collaboration for nearly a decade - our first two albums garnered favorable reviews thanks to his awe-inspiring guitar work and his invaluable production skills.  The songs from both albums were licensed to the likes of MTV, Red Bull and Bunim-Murray thanks to his connections and persistence.  Money I made from those licensing deals was used to start my record label in 2005, Bald Freak Music.  Love him or not, I owe Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal a debt of gratitude.  He was an important part of my musical career.


Less than two years ago, Superstorm Sandy buried Bald Freak Music in a tomb of dirty ocean water.  The albums, the merch, the gear, the computers, the office space - all drowned, all gone.  But my relationship with Bumblefoot was already underwater before the storm came.  

So this is The Last Q*Ball Album - this is the album I'm choosing to make in the wake of all this mess.  Part of me has always truly felt that for me to ever release another album - to ever effectively write any more quality music - I would have to do so from a dark place.  Certainly getting to that place was never my intention, never my choice.  But here I am.  And here these songs are, songs that will appear on The Last Q*Ball Album.  Songs that I have worked on and practiced and tweaked for the past 3 years.  Songs that I'm damn proud of.

It will be formally released in late October - on iTunes and Amazon and thru my Bald Freak site.

This song will be on it.


And this one.


And 10 more like them.  It's a dark departure from my last three releases, and justifiably so.  Most of the songs were written on my Yamaha P22 upright piano, one of the few musical instruments that survived in the wake of Sandy's destruction.  Composing most of the pieces from the new album on this piano seems like another destiny of sorts.  It's beyond satisfying to know that the rescue of this one vital instrument - its transport from a cold and moldy post-Sandy grave on Staten Island to the comfortable confines of my radio production studio in New York City - has played its part in the release of this new collection.  Thank you Adam.  Thank you Elvis.

As for me?  Fuck, I'm right where I want to be.  I'm free - of obligation, of all the nonsense that has dominated my life these past few years.  The house is sold, the lies are over, and the hard truth has been revealed.  I have moved on and I am moving forward.  I'm spending a week in the Pacific Northwest with talented guitarist Daniel G. Harmann, tracking three tunes at Electrokitty Studios in Seattle.  Then off to Dirty Jerz with my Return To Earth band mates Brett Aveni and Chris Pennie to track four more Q tunes, then two more at Brooklyn's Thump Studios with my childhood friend Joe Milazzo and talented vocalist Alexa Criscitiello.

I'll be documenting the making of the album, the time in the studio with my collaborators, here at this blog, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

This is my destiny.  This is The Last Q*Ball Album.

You may have heard the last of Q*Ball, but you haven't heard the last of me.




May 13, 2014

Dear Everyone,



My Uncle Sal once gave me some good advice.  In the midst of some serious heartbreak of his own, based on a love related event that changed his life forever, he relayed these words:  "Even if the other person is in the wrong, they still have their opinion and you have yours, and there's nothing you can do to change that."  Today, another man that I respect and admire reminded me of essentially the same thing.  Every coin has two sides.

I showed my side and what's done is done.  Any loyal readers of this blog know that my words have always come from an honest place.  If I wanted to write fiction, I would have found a better forum.  This blog has been therapy during a long stretch of emotional recovery and it has always served its purpose for me, and - surprisingly - often for the people who read it.  This latest storm, even if of a different sort, is just what the last one was.  Temporary.

In the last few years of his life, my uncle was the smiling guy you see above.  He lived with great regard for life, family, and the world around him, and he found someone who was truly right for him, who loved him fairly.  He recovered.  I think about him every day.

And now it's time for me to do the same.  In deference to my uncle's memory, to my parents and to this other man I have come to respect, a man who is not my father but did his best to treat me like a son in the short time I knew him, I'm back on the high road and I intend to stay there.  It's at times like these when you realize that the brightness of your future clearly outshines the darkness of your past.



Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much and Carpe Diem - Seize The Day - are two phrases I will always associate with my late great uncle, Salvatore Celi.  All words I still intend to live by.

It's a lot easier to grow without an albatross around your neck, and I'm removing mine.  To those of you who have reached out, bent an ear, offered guidance, judged me fairly, and lifted me up during the darkest hours, I can't thank you enough and I love you for it.  You all know who you are and you all the mean the world to me.

Your friend,
Ron