Dec 23, 2014

Drive-In Movie - Songs From The Last Q*Ball Album

What's it gonna be, boy? Come on
I can wait all night
What's it gonna be, boy? Yes or no
What's it gonna be, boy? Yes or no

Those are lyrics from Meat Loaf's "Paradise By The Dashboard Light," an overlong classic rock radio staple that I kinda hate.  I've always kinda hated that song.  But a lot of people love it, probably because it's one of those classic guy-wants-the-girl-to-give-him-sex-girl-wants-the-guy-to-give-her-love tunes.  It comes complete with the classic non-committal male and even sex metaphors featuring Phil "The Scooter" Rizzuto.

Go to a bar, put a dime in the jukebox, and select "Paradise By The Dashboard Light."  Then watch a bunch of drunken women put their arms around each other and start singing along to every note.  Why?  Probably because they identify with the song's female protagonist.

Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life?
I gotta know right now before we go any further
Will you love me forever?

Now here's a woman who demands respect.  She's not just giving herself to anyone.  But if she gives it, she's giving it all.

The guy, on the other hand, has less ambitious plans.  He's unsure.  Let me sleep on it. 

Because, y'know, guys are wolves.  We're wolves, we're cavemen.  We think with our meat loaf.  And the idea of "forever" - it scares a lot of us away.  We can't be tied down.  We're Danny Zuko before he meets Sandy.

Ah yes.  Sandy.  For yours truly, Sandy has been the biggest bitch of them all.  Why, Sandy darlin, why?  Why-ay-ay-ay-ay?

"Drive-In Movie" is my Danny Zuko Meat Loaf song.  But in my song, it's not the woman who demands respect.  It's not the woman willing to give it her all, but the man.  It's not the man who is less ambitious, less sure.  It's not the man who needs to sleep on it.  It's not the man who needs to sleep around, but the woman.

The man wants to park the car - not just in the way your Uncle Chaz and Aunt Joanie did up on Make Out Point back in 1959 - but because he wants to stay put.  For the girl, staying put seems a bit too claustrophobic.

In my marriage, I was the one jumping out of cars.  On the way to dinner.  On the way to couples therapy.  I was the one who couldn't breathe.  I was the one who walked away.  And it never felt unjustified.  It never does in the moment.  In the moment, we always think we're right.  But it's how we feel once cooler heads prevail that define how flexible we truly are.

My last love was never cool.  It was intense.  It had me cursing the gods one day and thanking them the next.  I was never in control of it, even in the short time that it was real and pure and not predicated on lies.  For the girl, staying put seemed a bit too claustrophobic.  So she was the one jumping out of cars.  She was the one telling stories.

So I understand both sides.  I've stomped on a few hearts in my day, but it has been a long time and my stompin boots are long retired.  I'd like to think I've learned from the mistakes a younger, less experienced guy tends to make - the type of guy in the Meat Loaf song.

I learned that if you can't breathe in a relationship, then you have to get out.  Even if you're part of the problem - and you always are, even if not the main culprit - you should walk away.  Not just for your own sake.

But so many of us do not.  When you're not happy, you're not motivated.  So you're not motivated to work hard to fix something that was once fulfilling.  So we hang on for all the wrong reasons - selfish reasons - and that opens the door for the ol' double feature.  Why watch one movie at the drive-in when you can watch two instead?  Why get ice cream with one dude when there are ice cream shops - and dudes - everywhere?

And these romantic double features are showing all over the world.  Seems like we all know someone who's steppin out.  Friends, co-workers.  Some of us might be related to a person like that.  Some of us have been victimized by a person like that.  Some of us might just be that person ourselves.  Some people learn to live with the guilt.  Others create some sort of logic, some sort of justification, for what others would consider loathsome behavior.  Because it couldn't be them.  It's never them.  Cheaters somehow never create their own messes.  

One thing I have learned in the four year experience that spanned the making of this album, and the inspirations for it, is that I am weak.  I am weak for love.  I give in too easily to it, I get impatient for it, I give the objects of my affection way too much rope.  And as a result, I have gotten less than I deserved.   

For all the times I should have just walked away, I didn't.  I couldn't.  My heart wouldn't allow it even while my brain and my gut were sending heat seeking missiles chestward bound to destroy it.  I'm what as they called in those drive-in days, a "sucker."  Except sometimes I was worse.  Sometimes I stuck around even after I knew the game was rigged.

And that's on me.  That's on all of you out there like me.  Never settle for anything less than you deserve in life.  Don't be afraid to just walk away.  Be open minded, just don't be stoopid.  Demand respect.  Don't give your heart to just anyone.  If you're willing to love, then love with your all.

I've been stoopid too many times because I want Crazy Stoopid Love.  And the movies remind us that Crazy Stoopid Love never takes a straight line.  It's crazy and it's stoopid because it's complicated, it's problematic, it's larger than life.  You make yourself believe it's meant to be this challenging because that's part of what makes it so special.

But this isn't the movies.  Love shouldn't be challenging.  It should be easy.  The challenge is in trusting that you're getting out of it what you're willing to put in.

Drive-in movies barely exist anymore.  The world has changed in a way that makes us redefine the word 'innocence.'  It's too easy to get away with being someone you're not.  It's too easy to hide the truth in a virtual world, it's too easy to sin and to be sinned against.  The art of the con has changed, but there are still con artists everywhere.  And deceit has truly become an art.  

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


Have you seen the double feature?
It's showing all over the world
And if things get too emotional
Put your arms around your favorite girl
Come on let's park the car
I don't want it
I can't breathe in here
Let's get ice cream
Don't just walk away
She said 'I'm hangin with Vanessa'
'We're going to the diner on 3rd'
I said 'You promised me a date and it's getting late'
'This movie's really great or at least so I've heard, so...'
Come on let's park the car
I don't want it
I can't breathe in here
Let's get ice cream
Don't just walk away
Come on baby let's go to the drive-in movie
Gonna put on a show at the drive in-movie
Got a ticket to ride at the drive-in movie
Cuz there's nowhere to hide at the drive-in movie
Put my hand on your shirt at the drive-in movie
Slide my hand up your skirt at the drive-in movie
Come on baby let's roll to the drive-in movie
Cuz you're driving me insane
Come on let's park the car
I don't want it
I can't breathe in here
Let's get ice cream
Don't just walk away


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

Music by Joseph Milazzo & Ron Scalzo.  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

Dec 20, 2014

10 Holiday Specials To Keep You Sane This Season

Joy to the world.

It's at this time of year that I make a desperate attempt to get into the spirit of Christmas, the whole Peace On Earth jazz.  It has become a tradition - the holiday spirit I once possessed in my youth now sapped by too many chores and too much preoccupation with work.  In other words, "adulthood."  Not to mention an increasingly maddening attempt by the media and retailers to start Christmas the day after Halloween.  I want Christmas on my time, and that time to stop and smell the mistletoe has grown increasingly short.

In the wake of a hurricane, and finally in a place that feels like home, I do like to decorate, trim the tree, deck the halls, and get into the holiday music right around now.  I'm a kid at heart at this time of year.  Christmas always reminds me of family, and so it's easy to get nostalgic for Christmas Eves past where I was the one expecting Santa instead of portraying him.

I See You When You're Sleeping

When I think of Christmas, I think of Nana and Nicky's house, the smell of seafood frying in the kitchen.  I think of TV - crying with Mom at the end of It's A Wonderful Life. I think of March of the Wooden Soldiers on Christmas morning - of A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Carol with Alistair Sim as Scrooge. They are as essential to my annual Decembers as pine needles and wrapping paper.

But my love for holiday specials rolls even deeper.  Some of them are among my most favorite things in the world, never mind of the season.  Be it memorable music and dialogue, unique animation, iconic characters, or best of all - a message - these televised love affairs have warmed my heart and opened my mind.  They make me wax nostalgic for my childhood, as most of us tend to do at this time of year.

What makes me an expert on the subject?  I've seen 'em all - prime time specials starring The Smurfs, Scooby Doo, Bugs Bunny, Yogi Bear, The Chipmunks, The Flintstones.  I've sat through the overtly religious A Family Circus Christmas, the trippy Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, and the Oh So '80s Christmas Comes To Pac-Land and The Cabbage Patch Kids Christmas.

Disney, Hanna-Barbera, and Warner Bros. have all made memorable shorts that should be hung by the chimney with care.  Then there is Ren & Stimpy's 'Son of Stimpy', in which a traumatized Stimpy searches for his lost fart during the holidays.  This special is so oddly touching, beautifully animated, and yet so absolutely ludicrous in its subject matter that I could not find a way to include it.  It's my #11, but sadly this list doesn't go to 11.

So crack some chestnuts, pour some egg nog and read on for ten holiday tales that are sure to make your season bright:

  • 10. Tales From The Darkside - "Seasons of Belief"

Tales From The Darkside is not exactly the pinnacle of anthology horror/sci-fi series (typically outclassed by Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories on NBC, which incidentally has a pretty cool Christmas episode entitled "Santa '85").  It was produced by zombie movie god George Romero, ran for about 5-6 years in the the middle 1980s and aired mostly in the wee hours of the night.  The creepiest and coolest things about Darkside were the opening and closing credits, all spooky analog synths, haunting stills of large trees and spooky bridges, and seemingly narrated by Satan himself.

In "Seasons of Belief," veteran character actor E.G. Marshall, who appears in two of my all-time favorite movies, 12 Angry Men and Creepshow, spins a yarn about a mythical creature named The Grither with "fists the size of basketballs" to scare his bratty kids on Christmas Eve.  The whole thing is a fairly smart take on the tale of Santa Claus with one kicker of an ending that makes it memorable in spite of the bad acting by the kiddies and the actress portraying Marshall's wife (who appears to be at least 30 years younger than him...nice job, casting director).  It's certainly non-traditional and not for your 5 year-old, but if you're a bit warped and twisted - as I am - it comes highly recommended.

  • 9. South Park - "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics"

South Park is still one of the sharpest satirical series on television, and it always won major points for its timely holiday specials that aired every October & December.  Season 3's Christmas special focused on insane-yet-catchy musical numbers featuring everyone from Hitler to Satan to one of TV's most ingeniously written characters, Mr. Hankey, a cute talking turd who visits the boys of South Park every holiday season.

The episode is jam-packed with catchy songs, including the celebrity-skewering "Christmastime In Hell" and the Jesus/Santa duet finale that ends with Mr. Claus belting out Duran Duran's "Rio."  Wrapped around all of it is an insider-only live action nod to the infamously terrible Star Wars Holiday SpecialShow composer and pianist Marc Shaiman, who was once Saturday Night Live's resident pianist and musical director, provides the amazing soundtrack, which spawned a top-selling album and critical acclaim, all inspired by a singing dookie.

  • 8. The Snowman

Oscar-nominated for Best Animated Short in 1982, this tale of a boy who builds a snowman that comes to life is far superior to the more popular Rankin/Bass production of Frosty The Snowman.  Based on the Raymond Briggs book, beautifully animated and carried by a great Howard Blake score, The Snowman contains only a few lines of dialogue - all uttered within the first 30 seconds of the special - and remains engrossing in spite of it.  The UK production's realistic ending is not all tinsel and mistletoe, rather a sudden sadness that is more indicative of life and of loss than of Christmas.

  • 7. The Twilight Zone - "Night of the Meek"

This is not the greatest episode of the amazing, groundbreaking Twilight Zone by any means.  Neither spooky nor scary, it has some goofy moments, and slightly off-putting cinematography due to the fact that it was filmed on video rather than film due to some budget-cutting concerns during Season 3 of the series.

But then there is Art Carney, perhaps my favorite television actor of all-time for his incomparable work as Jackie Gleason's best pal Ed Norton on The Honeymoners, and one of TV's greatest physical comedians.  Here, as a soused Santa who discovers his purpose thanks to some Rod Serling-aided Christmas magic, Carney shines, showing a great range of emotions in his performance as a back alley St. Nicholas.  The episode's commentary on poverty and the religious undertones of "the meek shall inherit the Earth" make it that much more powerful in spite of some poor sound editing and the occasional cheese.  A must-see.

  • 6. Christmas Eve on Sesame Street

This special was a staple on PBS in the late 1970s and early 1980s, one of the few holiday-themed specials to actually air on Christmas Eve, which always won bonus points with me.  The songs are cheesy as hell, specifically the main theme of "Keep Christmas With You" sung by Sesame Street's resident closet homosexual Bob, and Bert and Ernie's generic rendition of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," but otherwise the Children's Television Workshop pulls out all the stops here.

The plot revolves around Oscar The Grouch convincing Big Bird that Santa can't possibly deliver all the presents to the kids around the world and fit down skinny chimneys.  Big Bird spends the episode stubbornly determined to prove Oscar wrong, yet The Grouch's logic addresses an issue that all kids growing up on Santa eventually have to deal with - that suspension of disbelief, and the inevitable loss of innocence.

A secondary plot line features Bert, Ernie, and the late Mr. Hooper in a clever retelling of O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi.  The hour-long episode has a great feel, wonderful music, a very funny (if somewhat disturbing) sidebar involving Cookie Monster eating everything in sight while fantasizing about the cookies he hopes Santa will bring, and an interesting first act with costumed adult-size Sesame Street characters ice skating in '70s-era New York City.

When this was first broadcast, and even tho Santa is never actually seen (cleverly represented only in shadows and voice), I firmly believed that the real Santa was involved in this production.  Of course, back then, I also believed that Sesame Street was a real street instead of a sound stage, and that Big Bird was really a big bird and not really an old white dude with whiskers who actually looked like Santa in real life.

  • 5. Mickey's Christmas Carol

Screened in theaters as a short preceding the uninspired Disney feature The Rescuers in 1983, Mickey's Christmas Carol was a full-on event, with inspired "casting" that included Goofy as Jacob Marley and the odd, yet interesting choices of Jiminy Cricket, Willie the Giant, and Black Pete as the three spirits who visit the more obvious choice as Scrooge, Scrooge McDuck.  You could say McDuck was "born" to play this role.

Kids across the land surely became familiar with the classic Charles Dickens tale and the spirit of Christmas thanks to Walt and the gang.  You have to give Disney credit for making the brave choice of including Mickey & Donald in smaller roles and focusing on story rather than shoving the popular characters down our throats.

When MCC made its way onto network television a few years later, it was accompanied by other Disney shorts, including the hilarious The Art of Skiing, featuring Goofy at his pratfalling best.  Disney was top-of-the-mountain as far as animation for so many years and this was as good as it got.

  • 4. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rankin/Bass' pioneering, groundbreaking stop motion animated classic is half-a-century old and has some minor flaws that are impossible to squabble over considering how insanely difficult it must have been to film.  This holiday staple based on the Johnny Marks song of the same name features inspired characters with inspired names.  Yukon Cornelius? A flying lion named King Moonracer who lords over an island of misfit toys?  What were these guys smoking and where can I get some?

Then there's the story, about "fitting in."  Rudolph faces the pressures that almost all kids face during their formative school years - being called names (bullying), dealing with a changing physique (puberty), and independence (discovering who they are). 

A minor gripe with the special is that most of the adult characters are major league pricks, most notably Santa, who is completely out of character as a grousing, pompous douchebag.  But The Abominable Snow Monster (or the affectionately dubbed 'Bumble') is a revelation and was a truly scary sight when I first watched Rudolph.

Then there is the music, surprisingly heightened by the presence and golden throat of Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman.  Hard to believe the guy who played Grade A asshole Big Daddy in Cat On A Hit Tin Roof could add so much that is warm and cuddly to the proceedings, but Big Burl pulls it off.  Great Bouncing Icebergs!

  • 3. Ziggy's Gift

I've never been much of a Ziggy fan, a long-running one-gag, one-panel comic strip that featured a short bald dude whose only friend seemed to be his dog Fuzz and who was constantly under life's cruel thumb.  Ziggy doesn't talk - in the strip or in this special - but he's mesmerizing all the same, a lone nice guy in a world filled with selfish stubborn people and petty crooks.

Tho seldom seen by the masses, everyone who I've turned Ziggy's Gift on to has praised it for its unique look at the holiday season. The story revolves around Ziggy answering an ad to become a street corner Santa, eventually running afoul of an unnamed, vile thief, and a stereotypical Irish cop who is determined to crack down the crooked Santa ring that Ziggy has unwittingly involved himself in.

The special's minor characters - the cop, the thief, the crooked Santas and their ringleader, and a hilarious turkey salesman - are all inspired, and creator Tom Wilson's animation is original and absolutely beautiful.

The bow on top of this little-seen Christmas gift is the music - an uplifting jazzy score and title theme composed and performed by one of my heroes - the late, fantastically great Harry Nilsson.  Ziggy's Gift won a well-deserved Emmy award in 1982 and is available on DVD.  Go get it.

  • 2. Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Yes, it spawned a loud, obnoxious, forgettable, disappointing movie starring Jim Carrey, but let's not blame the incomparable Chuck Jones nor the man, himself, Dr. Theodore Geisel - Seuss - who was worm food way before his estate granted permission to make the movie. 

Let's just forget about the movie.  Let's focus on the good - it's Christmas Time, after all.

Top-notch animation from one of the men responsible for making Bugs Bunny a household name, an unbelievable songbook by Albert Hague and Seuss, the classic theme sung by Tony the Tiger, they all make Grinch iconic.  But the cherry atop Mount Crumpit is Boris Karloff as The Grinch, perhaps the single most inspired bit of voice casting ever.

The Grinch has become as iconic as Scrooge and Santa Claus at this time of year, and the character itself embodies both of his iconic predecessors as he turns from anti-establishment sourpuss to Who-loving roast beast carver after discovering that the true meaning of Christmas is being with each other.  There is no greater holiday special than this.  Except.....

  • 1. A Charlie Brown Christmas

If you're a fan of Peanuts, of Snoopy, of comic strips, in general - if you're an artist, a complicated person, a romantic, a self-made business man or woman with seemingly unrealistic hopes and dreams, I strongly recommend the book Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis.  It's a long read, an in-depth look at the life of the creator of Charlie Brown and friends, a window into the mind of the first wildly successful syndicated cartoonist in existence.

I've always related to Charlie Brown (I've had the haircut for awhile) - hopeful one moment, apathetic and depressed the next, never able to truly grab "the brass ring" in spite of hard work, passion, and whatever good things happen in my life.  I imagine I am not alone in those feelings, and it turns out Schulz, himself, in spite of all his many successes, was the ultimate Charlie Brown (tho apparently he had a little Snoopy in him, as well).

A Charlie Brown Christmas is not perfect, although the pitch-perfect jazz soundtrack from maestro Vince Guaraldi is.  Its characters are all flawed, just as its creator is.  Lucy is a bitch, Pig Pen is a slob, Schroeder is a snob, Snoopy is obnoxious, Sally is naive and materialistic. Even Linus - the "voice of reason" and the most sensitive of the bunch - has major security issues, what with his blanket dependence and all.  Then there's ol' Chuck, whose problems are too long to list and the focus of nearly the entire episode.  "Everything I touch gets ruined," he bemoans.

And therein lies the true perfection of the special - we all feel down about something at some point in our lives, we've all had Christmases marred by some tragedy, bad feelings, or circumstance that didn't make it live up to how Christmas in the 20th (and now 21st) century is represented - candy canes and mistletoe and presents and tinsel.  But that's not what Christmas is all about, rather Peace on Earth, and goodwill towards men.   For those who celebrate, it's supposed to be about the birth of Jesus.

This was a very strong message 50 years ago.  If commercialism was rampant in 1965, imagine what Schulz would think of the present day.  It's the ultimate irony that you still see Snoopy, Charlie Brown and friends plastered all over the place around this time of year, as it was the success of this special so many years ago that opened up the floodgates for Schulz's billion-dollar merchandising empire that still exists today.

The fact that A Charlie Brown Christmas is still one of the most beloved - if not the most beloved holiday special ever - is testimony to the distinct message it sends even after all these years: Be Nice To Each Other.

In the end, Charlie's friends practice what Linus so eloquently preaches by decorating his tree and 'oooo-ooo'ing over the closing credits.  I'm sure on December 26th, they reverted back to treating him like garbage, but for one magical night of 'oooo-ooo'ing, the message sank in.

We could all use some more 'oooo-ooo'ing in our short time on this planet together.

Dec 10, 2014

Happy Birthday Sista

It's my little sister's birthday.
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.


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


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


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.