May 18, 2017

What Would Nana Do?

When I moved into my most recent place, I put Nana in my kitchen. In a frame, on the counter above the sink. In the photo, Paula Celi is shoveling snow and smiling.  She looks like she might even be enjoying herself. Nana always worked hard, that's what Nanas do.

Nana's up on the wall too - above my little kitchen table. Alongside her mother and her kids, Sal and Mary Lyn.  She's beautiful.  I look at Nana every day when I'm in the kitchen, making her tomato sauce or watering my Nana plant.

Mostly, Nana is inside my head and my heart. She's somehow still a part of me - even if just a little part - even after all this time.

When I was a teenage soon-to-be bald freak, Nana would get upset because I listened to heavy metal and watched slasher flicks. Nanas don't scold. They rarely yell. But they always get upset.

Nana could sew. She sewed all the Metallica patches onto my heavy-metal denim jacket/uniform. Surely, Nana didn't approve of "those devil worshipers." But she sewed the patches on anyway, because Nana loved me.

Nana liked music. Just not devil music. Like most proper fans, she was passionate - and a critic, too. She loved Julio Iglesias and Paul McCartney. She hated Willie Nelson and Billy Idol.

Nana was a world-champ worrywort. She was absent-minded and funny. I found all her infectious Nana quirks endearing.

And Nana doted. Oh, did she dote. Nana was our surrogate mother - and usually our greatest ally when our real mother cracked the whip. She doled out hugs in large amounts. She doled out dollar bills and introduced us to capitalism.

Nana's house was my second house. Two working class parents meant lots of after school time at my grandparents'. Nana's house was ten minutes away from ours. Inside, an ancient out-of-tune piano. Mandatory plastic-covered furniture. Lots of tchotchkes. Lots of yellow.

Nana was my first funeral. My first uncontrollable sob. My first 'There Is No God.'  The first songs I ever wrote were about losing Nana. An unfathomable tragedy.

I had chicken pox at Nana's wake - a teenage monster, a mourning leper. Losing Nana was my first real test of strength.

For a close-knit Italian family from Brooklyn, losing Nana seemed like everyone's first everything. We've all had a lot of years to get over Nana's departure. But you never really get over it.

Nana wasn't there to see me graduate. She wasn't there when I got my first job or bought my first house. Wasn't there when I fell in and out of love. She never met any of my ladies, never heard any of my albums, never saw me perform on a stage.

I feel Nana there when I'm careening off life's slippery slope. That smile. That snow shovel. Working hard and not complaining. She reminds me to not take things for granted. She reminds me to water the plants and make more tomato sauce. That bad things can happen to good people, that they happen all the time, and that there is never a convenient time for those things to happen.

You just have to live.

These days, my Mom is Nana. She's a pro. Born for the role. She's got the title now, and she's gonna hold it for a long time. She reminds everyone in our family that we're all still blessed even tho we lost something precious.

The Nana I knew would be so proud of the Nana my mother has become.

Happy Birthday Nana.

Even tho you're gone, I'm glad you're still with me.

Sep 5, 2016

The Flight Of The Butterfly

He left on Labor Day Weekend.

He's my butterfly.  Uncle Sal.  I have a few, he's not the only one.

I was taking out the garbage when I got the call that Uncle Sal was gone.  It was my father who told me.  Three decades on the planet and I don't think I had ever heard my father cry before he called me on that fateful night, his voice shaking on the other end as I was about to haul some recyclable plastic out to the street outside my Brooklyn apartment.

Then I was the one crying.  Collapsing.  Overtaken.  My life has never been the same.  None of ours are, eight years later.  Because you never get over it.  You never forget.  It is this piece of you that can never be replaced.

Two days later, I was in Tucson.  In the desert, burying my uncle, the guy who left the concrete jungle for cacti and coyotes when I was just a kid.  I sat at a hotel room desk and wrote Salvatore Celi's obituary and cried a little more.  I shaved, I put on a tie.  I provided my cousin with the soundtrack to my uncle's funeral.  Jimi's "Red House" kicked it off.  By the middle of The Beatles' "In My Life," I was a sobbing mess all over again.

My uncle and his younger sister - my mother - were my middle class hippie heroes.  They had seen Hendrix live.  I would eventually borrow (steal) all the 45 RPM records that Mom had stored in my parents' basement.  My uncle's and my Dad's were down there too - The Beatles and The Stones.  The Doors and Fleetwood Mac.  Treasure.  Uncle Sal was at Woodstock, he had driven cross country more than once.  He loved to go camping, he loved to travel, he loved to cook (he hated to clean), and, especially in his later years, he really seemed to love his life.

When Uncle Sal was here on Earth, he was my idol.  He moved from Brooklyn to Arizona when I was 7, the first in our close-knit Italian family to leave the spoils of city life behind.  By 'spoils', I mean he worked in a candy store under the el train just a few blocks from where they filmed the show open to Welcome Back, Kotter.

Uncle Sal broke up the band, and I loved him even more after that.  His annual Brooklyn visits were calendar clearing events, including the traditional opening night around the dining room table devouring pizza from L&B Spumoni Gardens. We would take trips to Coney Island, to The Museum Of Natural History.  Uncle Sal would take Mom and I to Chumley's, the West Village speakeasy frequented by writers like e.e. cummings and John Steinbeck during The Prohibition.  My uncle was now the out-of-towner, yet always my tour guide.

In the desert, Uncle Sal played host, his new life forcing his reluctant family to step outside the door and actually see the world.  The house he had built with his own hands in the middle of nowhere was filled with junk, vinyl records, musical instruments, animals, and more junk.  Uncle Sal was a hoarder, and a proud one, at that.

He saw wonder in the mundane, and so to him, it was all valuable.

A day after the funeral, I returned home, back to "Real Life," whatever that was now.  Feeling robbed.  Eight years later, that is still the predominant feeling.  I've been cheated.  It's the feeling we all have when someone we truly love departs.  What about all that stuff we were gonna do?

Eight years later.  Doesn't matter if it's eight or eighty or eight hundred.  Eight years removed from this Earth, Uncle Sal is still my idol, still my role model.  I still think about him every day, a man I sometimes never saw nor spoke to for weeks, or even months, at a time.  He is still the coolest, he is still so special.  But he is something more.

He is my constant reminder that things can get better.

That's what a butterfly is.  It's the caterpillar that crawled through the mud, then emerged from a cocoon, soaring through the skies.  It is transformation.  It is magnificence.  It is rebirth.

That's what Uncle Sal was while he was on this Earth.  It seems a familiar path.  I was crawling through the mud in the years after my uncle's death, then my world was washed away by Mother Nature.  I wasn't baptized by those dirty ocean waters, but I was awakened.  All at once, I had to deal with all this hard shit, and it was just mine this time - mine and my dog's, at least.  Buttons, the lovable nut whose own rehabilitation, not coincidentally, has strongly reflected my own.

It was the toughest of times, and I got through it.  It didn't happen overnight, but it happened.  It's still happening.  Because life is an uphill battle, always.  Growth is an evolution, it's a constant thing, otherwise it's not anything at all.  I came out on the other side of Sandy - with lots of help - and made a commitment to doing better, to living better, to being better.  Am I still at my best?  There are always higher mountains to climb.  But I'm better.  I'm braver, tougher.  I'm focused on what I want and grateful for what I have.

I've been back to the desert since Uncle Sal left.  I was there last Labor Day Weekend, making music with his son, growing another inch on my wings.  I traveled to Europe in May and recorded some more music with my uncle on my mind.  Eight years later and he is still an inspiration, still an aspiration.

The life span of a butterfly is only a few months, sometimes even a few weeks - a reminder that there is only so much time to enjoy the wonders of the world, to experience the undeniable magic in this life.  That was Uncle Sal, too - rafting down The Nile, trekking to Egypt - always exploring, even when most his age were busy exploring the remote control.

But Uncle Sal's greatest transformation was borne from love.  He met someone later in life who brought a twinkle to his eye, who brought a luster back into his existence.  I'd like to think he crawled out of the mud on his own and that this new romance was his reward.  You have to open a door before you can walk through and discover what's inside.  Uncle Sal was the ultimate door opener, he had to start a new chapter to find love again.  I'd like to think that it's not until we get ourselves right than we can truly be right for anyone else.

In his final chapter, my uncle seemed larger than life.  Gracious, happy.  Maybe I was blessed to only see one side of it, but that side still existed.  He wasn't a rock star, he wasn't famous.  He was a science teacher.  He loved his job and was well-loved by his students, his peers, his family.  'Carpe Diem' was his true motto.  He seemed to have it all figured out - and then *poof*....he was gone.

Uncle Sal loved outwardly, with gusto.  Big bear hugs and always an "I love you."  He ease.  With himself, with the universe.  Through good times and bad.  It Is What It Is.  He was a crusader, a jester, a romantic, a hippie.  Opinionated, eccentric, great bad joke teller, could fix anything you put in front of him.  He was a flawed guy who had made mistakes, maybe made some bad choices, maybe did some things he wasn't proud of.  But he had learned, he had grown.

Like I said..... Uncle Sal was my role model.

He left on Labor Day Weekend but he has never really left.   He is still every slice of L&B pizza, every trip to Coney Island.  He is still, and will always be, the desert.  He is always there, and he is not the only one.  There are butterflies everywhere, reminding us that we have to crawl before we can soar, even if for just a little while.  That we should do our best to enjoy the journey.  That we have to lose before we can understand what winning is.  That we can always do better, can always reach higher.

Thanks, Uncle Sal.  For showing me the path.
Eight years later and you're still teaching me how to fly.

Mar 24, 2016

A*Pathetic Song - Songs From The Last Q*Ball Album

I don't wanna do this anymore.

This.... recollecting.

It has been a big theme here in the ol' Bald Freak Blog-o-sphere since ol' Superstorm Sandy came around and turned ol' Ron's life upside down.  Reflection.

Lately, I've been living in the moment.  I've just been living.  But I come back here every month to take my medicine, ten songs' worth, and this is my last pill.  Usually I drink a little whiskey, maybe take a puff, and reflect on a specific moment that inspired each of the ten songs that comprise The Last Q*Ball Album.  That has been the ritual.

Recounting experiences with dreaded ex'es is a musician's birthright.  Ask everyone from Phil Collins to Taylor Swift, they've all got a tune that fits the bill, some have dozensThe greatest songs in the world are about Some Jerk or Some Bitch.  The greatest songs in the world are about love and loss, life and death.  The Last Q*Ball Album is about my life from 2011-2014.  Was that the darkest period of my relatively short life?  Maybe.  I've had others.  Don't we all?

Right now, I'm having a really good time.  So it has become a bit of a chore to look down at the valley from up on the hill, and I say that knowing full well that somewhere, perhaps way beyond the horizon, another valley awaits.  I say that knowing full well that my life is blessed right now.  I say that knowing that I have made peace with all my Bad Choices, with all the rotten apples I've picked from The Love Tree.

But that's good.  It's humbling to recall when you were once down in a pit, relying on the unreliable to help pull you out - aware that the choices you made were poor, or in some cases, just outright irresponsible, and yet making them anyway - following some fucked-up destiny that you thought you deserved.

A*Pathetic Song is about giving up on fucked-up destiniesIt was the last Q*Ball song I ever released, years before it became the last song on Ron Scalzo's The Last Q*Ball Album.  It's about giving up on Q*Ball, and that asterisk that I insisted on including as part of my electronic alter-ego, a simple keyboard character that would create all types of issues in a digital age - from royalty collecting to search engine confusion and beyond.  That's why I put that asterisk in the title of this song, because it was a Bad Choice, and Lord knows I've made my share of bad choices in the time it took me to make this album, and not just romantic ones. 

Two other Q-Balls showed up after me, a rapper from Milwaukee and a prog rock act from Pennsylvania.  More headaches, more confusion.  When creating a logo for the project with my good friend Seth Kushner, we borrowed heavily from the logo for a used clothing store in Brooklyn.  More bad choices, more unwanted controversy.  On my first release, I lifted audio from Depeche Mode, The Chemical Brothers, Led Zeppelin, The Phunk Junkeez, White Zombie, Jesus Jones, Ennio Morricone, and the All In The Family theme song.  I never got clearance for any of these samples, and I was never punished for any of it, criminally or monetarily.  Karma-wise, however....

Karma can be a bitch for those who make bad choices, and back then, I was a real dingbat.

One could assume that A*Pathetic Song is about a woman - considering every other song on The Last Q*Ball Album is - and of course, the themes are evident.  The second verse is all about My Jealous Ex, my wounded birdIn my mind, that vicious green monster was the (biggest) cause of our eventual demise, and five years removed, I still feel the same.  We loved each other, and in a lot of ways, we were good for each other, but the jealous rages and all that came with it were something I could never fully overcome, and eventually the levee breaks.

The girl who came next - My Cheating Ex - told me on more than one occasion that A*Pathetic Song was a big reason she fell in love with me, felt attached to me.  She of course felt this way while existing as another guy's prize.  She was a cheating trapeze artist, never allowing a day or even a minute to pass without swinging over to the next guy's waiting arms.

Apathy is neither positive nor negative.  It is unfeeling, uncaring.  Years after I wrote this song, it is the predominant feeling I have about both of these women.  I don't care about either of them.  The passion that existed for both - once perceived as this awesome, inspiring thing - has dissolved.  I don't wonder what they're up to, I don't stalk them on social networking, I probably won't show up to their funerals nor will they to mine.  They are ghosts.  They are hard lessonsAt the time, they were risks worth taking.

The heart wants what it wants.  Often times, for me, there has been no stopping it, even when the brain and the gut are pulling me in the opposite direction.  I'm not a dumb guy, but I have certainly been a big dope for love.  On the road to win My Cheating Ex back, I distinctly remember trudging thru the snow outside her apartment telling myself as much aloud.

What are you doing, idiot?

Because she was with another guy.  I knew about him and he knew about me, but we only knew as much as we were told by the woman pulling our strings.  She pitted us against each other, two knights looking to win the fair maiden, only we both ultimately discovered that we were fighting over a troll instead. 

All that nonsense was part of my Hurricane Story, part of my comeback.  I was pulling strings too, only my words and actions came from an honest place.  I urged her to leave him, to even leave us both until she truly figured out what she wanted, but she had already figured that part out - she wanted to be a princess.

But she turned out to be A*Pathetic Princess, a social networking addicted pathological liar disguised as a responsible middle-aged woman.  I can still hear her drunken slurring the night I came back to our apartment to discover the inevitable truth on her cell phone, her tool of deceit.

After all that mess, I was finally free.  I didn't go to therapy.  I didn't cry.  I wasn't in shock.  I stopped glamorizing this person even tho I had already seen her ugly side more than once before.  My eyes were finally all the way open. 

Instead, I did what this woman always encouraged me to do while we were together, while she was cheating on the guy before me with meI made music.  I made this album.  I got it all out of my system, but it takes more than just ten songs to get over this sort of romantic bullshit.  Anyone who tells you different is a worse liar than my dirty little cheater.  Some of us never get over it.

The scars of being let down by two women who were totally unlike each other in so many ways may have faded, but new habits are borne.  I'm cautious now, maybe overly so.  My heart doesn't suffer fools gladly.  My gut is on Red Alert on every date.  That was the last thing I wrote to My Cheating Princess - it will take me a long time to trust again, and she was to thank for it. 

But it's not just her fault.  The Internet has played its part.  There's always another beau-in-waiting just a mouse-click away.  I can wine you and dine you, I can be the perfect gentleman, but after I kiss you goodnight, there are still a dozen dudes waiting on all these dime-a-dozen dating apps.  On Instagram, on Snapchat.  It's a gold mine of dick and pussy, only most of it is fool's gold, Candy Crush for Lonely Hearts.

Do I exist in that world?  Sure.  Have I gone on decent dates, then rushed to the smartphone when I got home, seeking out something better?  I have.  I'm no angel when it comes to my relationship with my own phone, but I'm not accountable to anyoneI'm playing the game in a world where "meeting cute" and "eye contact" no longer exist.  So I embrace my solitude, I'm patient with it.  I have music to thank for that, and running too.  I have my dog and my job and my friends and This Stoopid Blog to help fill my days rather than drama and private investigating.

Writing about those misadventures was good medicine at first, a great exercise that also acted as a way to promote my first new album in years, my first solo album ever.  But now it's poison.  Because I'm free.  I'm over it, all of it.  I'm climbing a mountain - and the higher you get, the less you can afford to look down.

For those of you who have ever been let down by someone else, for those of you who have put all your eggs in the Love Basket only to end up with yolk all over your face, let me tell you:


But you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make it better.  It's on you.  The healing comes from you, not to you.  You may be let down again, so make better choices, or maybe don't choose anyone at all for a little while.  Choose yourself instead.  Be the best You that you can be and good things will happen.

If that means being apathetic about love until someone worthy of your heart comes along, then so be it.  Better to feel that way than to feel that pit in your stomach after discovering the ugly truth.  Better to feel that way than to feel that burning hate that makes you want to break a chair with your bare hands or, even worse, break another guy's face.  None of that really solves anything, unless you need some extra firewood.

Better to feel that way than to keep telling yourself that the frog you chose is a prince or that the troll you pined over is a princess.  The truth comes out - it always comes out, whether you force it out or it blows up in your innocent, unwitting face.  Where there's smoke, there's fire - if you smell something burning, just run away.  Run.  You might still live a fucked-up destiny, but it won't be because you picked a rotten apple.  You're never fully in control of what happens, but you can at least steer the ship in a particular direction and avoid some rough tide.

Sure, You Deserve The Best.  But if you're shit, then you deserve shit.  In my younger, dumber days, I was pathetic too.  I was just another ape.  But I have evolved.  I'm free as a bird.  Life has never been better.  The book - or in this case, the album - is closed.

A*men to that.

The Last Q*Ball Album
by Ron Scalzo
Available now on iTunes and Amazon


I don't wanna do this anymore
Go away
I can't help but think of you
Longing for something new
I don't wanna be alone
I don't wanna do this anymore
Can't seem to fit my arms around you
We seemed so lost before I found you
The space between us is growing wider every day
Give me a reason to stay or just
Go away

Ron Scalzo - piano, loops, vocals
Chris Pennie - synths, loops

Music and Words by Ron Scalzo

Copyright 2012, 2014 Bald Freak Music (ASCAP)

Recorded at Hurricane House, Staten Island, NY and The Boiler Room, Princeton, NJ
Engineered by Fight Mannequins, Ron Scalzo and Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal
Mixed by Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal

Artwork by Joseph Milazzo
Mastered by Michael Judeh at Dubway Studios