The King Is Dead (For Chuck Howe)

My buddy

Chuck Howe died


Heart attack

In New York,

Not too much older

Than me,

Though we never

Met face to face

He never failed

To make me

Feel like we’d

Known each other


And he was

A kick ass editor,

Writer and musician

And God how

I envied him

Every time

I read some

New piece or

He posted a

New song.

I loved when he’d

Tell me

Life stories

On messenger,

And I aim

To pour over

Them in the

Coming weeks.

He edited the

First anthology

To ever accept

A story from me,

True story

About my suicide

Attempt almost

A decade ago


Drunk on rotgut,


By garbage

And my cats

With a Nick Drake

Record on in

The background.

Throughout the

Process Chuck

Happily accepted

My feedback

And questions,

Always teaching

Me something new

About writing

And making books

Along the way.

About a year

Before he died

I had asked him

To work with me

On a new anthology

With depression

As its theme.

I wanted to

Call it “Hooray Depression,”

And when I told

Him that he laughed

And said “Now that

Sounds like a fucking


That was Chuck,

Everybody’s intercontinental

Older brother.

I think of him,

Calm as Buddha

Recounting stories of

From his younger


Comparing notes

On the Dead

Bootlegs we

Collected as


Him telling me

About shows at

The legendary Wetlands

Or attending the Phish

Festival upstate,

Eventually writing

A book about it.

I’ve been reading

Through the comments

From the many people

Who knew him

And I see us

A large yet

Exclusive club,

Chuck made friends

Everywhere he went,

So if you

Knew him and

You loved him

Do what I am:

Play Dead and Phish

Shows with the

Volume cranked,

Or Eric Dolphy era


Read Tom Robbins

Or Jim Carroll

To a loved one

Laughing at the

Best parts,

Write your own


Bang on the

Guitar like a

Drum and make

It your own,

Hug your cat,

Take a walk

Through the woods,

Take out those

Slabbed Frank Miller

Era issues of Daredevil,

Watch Star Wars

Or the foreign film

Man Bites Dog,

Hop on a skateboard

And feel the evening

Breeze across your


Make a book

With your friends,

Make art with

Your spouse

Or children,

Laugh hard as

It’s good for

The spirit,

Talk to friends,

Put together

A reading,

But most of all

Be in love

With everything

The light touches.



America, We Need to Talk


We need to talk

About our gun problem,

About our mental health


About our racism problem,

About our opioid problem,

About our rape problem,

About our misogyny


About our homophobia


About our transphobia


About our living

In a country that allowed

States to actually pass laws

Telling us where we

Can use the fucking

Bathroom problem,

About our homelessness


About our money

In politics problem,

About our war


About our educational

System problem,

About our fracking


About our oil


About our drinking

Water problem,

About our president


About our double

Standards problem,

About our healthcare


About our totalitarianism


About our bowing

To fascism problem,

About our swallowing

A steady diet of

Corporate media problem,

About our marginalizing

Subcultures problem,

About our big pharma


About our malignant

Congress problem,

About our bribed

Federal judges problem,

About our revisionist

History problem,

About our proving Margaret

Atwood and Bill Hicks

Right on a continuous

Basis problem,

About our Fifty Shades

Passing as our attempt

As attempt at literature

In this fucking century.

People ask me

Why I’m always so

Grumpy at 6:30

In the morning

And I always say

“I was at my parents

Yesterday and they left

CNN on.”

New Year/New Poems

1)The sun is a shattered lightbulb

Swinging along the cloud line

To cast shadows and light

Over every little thing.

A slow haze of early

Morning fog rolls along

The darkened black top

Still slick with last night’s

Rain and regrets,

All of it like a dream

Disappearing upon waking.

There’s another storm

Rolling in but that’s


I wasn’t going outside



2) a scratchiness in

The back of my throat,

A dull ache in the lower half

Of my chest just faint reminders

Of last night’s search for

The great cosmic laugh,

How I needed it after weeks

Which turned into months

Of tears making my eyes

Swell and darkness clinging

To my brain stem,

Coloring my every thought

In shadow like a tipped

Over inkwell,

Or A night sky lacking in

Stars or so much as

A moon to help us find

Our footing along the

Concrete path from

Driveway to door

After another endless


It hurts to talk

Or even draw a breath

During my silent

Early morning meditation

But I just smirk a twinkling

Little knowing smile

And with every brief rasp

I simply think

“Worth it,”

Then sip my lukewarm

Coffee growing colder

In its cracked mug,

Eat breakfast so I

Can swallow pills

And maybe a little pride

Then allow my heavy eyes

Adjust to yet another

In a series of overcast days,

Feeling a little less heavy

For my efforts,

Even well rested for once

And ready for whatever

A new dawn’s light

Might throw my way.

(Laughter as secret elixir, who knew?)

3) starry night climbs down

The sky into the mouth of ocean

And I lie shore side trying

To count my every breath

As they rise in my throat

To cast little jet streams

Into the thinning air as

A cool breath closes

The gap between these

Humid days and the

Drifting silence of these

Still evenings enclosed

In the shadows of dunes,

Faintly listening to whisper

Of the tide sharing secrets

With the shore.

(Beach dream February 2018)

4) dream within a dream

This morning,

As every leaf was burning

In a fallen heap dancing

In a flicker along my periphery,

Catching a hint of eucalyptus

In the winter wind

As I breathe deep and rise

With fingers stretched

Out wide as if to caress

Every raindrop,

Humming an old campfire

Song to myself

As I shiver in the southern

Breeze like those trees

Caught within the cosmic


My hair graying along scalp

And cheek with stray ash

Lining my cracked lips

From freshly extinguished


Every cell adjusting

For what comes next,

And I know now that

I have a disease for which

There is no cure,

Only temporary respite

As in a chance for

My soul to draw another breath,

And all I want is to

Seek out a way

To be okay if only

For a brief while,

As those stoked embers

Of my madness continue

There eternal,

Glowing hex on

my heart,

Yet somehow a

Small blessing is

Rolled in between,

Ends twisted to fit

Just between my

Two front teeth,

My jaw aching

From the taste,

At once bitter

And yet salty sweet,

Like a bleeding gum

You can’t stop tonguing,

It is both the secret

To my success and the

Root of almost every


The trick being able

To seek out the dip

Beneath your feet,

Shifting the weight

So as to balance on

Tipped heel,

Memorizing the path

Here so you can

Find your way back

Out this time,

All of the things that

You’ve carried through

The passage of time

Perfectly aligned

With your shoulders now,

Allowing you just

Enough room for

An adjustment period,

The calm just before

The storm

Hooray Depression

Clinical depression is like having a huge, black tumor on your soul. Totally inoperable. The only treatments available barely scratch the surface and mostly prolong the inevitable. It may not be today or even tomorrow but someday it will find a way to claim you like the aggressive mental cancer that it is. Some days as a sufferer are better than others. You might go six months or even years without a flare up then-BAM-it will suddenly be a struggle just to get out of bed.

I, myself have lost jobs more than once because simply leaving the house became too much. Those who have never experienced this call us lazy or say we’re making excuses but that’s all bullshit. With a fifty ton invisible weight on your heart and mind doing even the most mundane tasks that most take for granted becomes impossible. It is not laziness. It is not a limp excuse. I love working, staying busy and having a paycheck week to week. I fight to hold onto every job I can get but when that switch is thrown all bets are off.

As if the emotional ups and downs of living life with this psychological time bomb always ticking away weren’t enough of a hurdle there is the added pressure to articulate your experience others. Many of them have had the luck of never experiencing it themselves or gone through the horror of watching a loved one suffer and the sense of helplessness while trying to provide unattainable comfort in their lowest points. Some people will listen and try and understand but more often than not they’ve been deluded by the ongoing stigma that still exists around mental illness not just in America but worldwide.

Not a day will pass when I am in the midst of my depressive or anxious episodes that someone will utter the cliche “Come on, man, everybody gets sad” or “Why the long face, it can’t be that bad.” When I’m the thick of my swings I try to hide it from the outside world but usually my expression gives me away. The tendency to think of mere sadness and clinical depression as one and the same is a common mistake. It isn’t their fault, really, as everyone has a tendency to over generalize that which they don’t understand.

Even so, the struggle to find the words to explain the deeper despair to those that don’t get it just adds to the struggle. It’s beyond frustrating. They tell us cheer up or to get over it. If only it were that simple. The annoyance some put across at our “moping” doesn’t help anyone but again it’s more a fault in lack of mental health education than any problem on their own part.

Then there are those that hear of a clinical depression diagnosis and automatically think that means we’re dangerous or a liability. I’ve attempted to reach a middle ground with these types to no avail. I now know to choose wisely those that I even bother to explain my troubles to. The stigma continues in the US and elsewhere that mental illness means psychotic or worse that it doesn’t even exist. The sufferers who collect disability for these issues get the worst of this end of the spectrum.

Then there are those that equate taking psychiatric medication with drug abuse. I’ll never understand this line of thinking. Years ago following my release from a psychiatric ward at Duke University Medical Center my grandmother eyed me taking my medicine and asked how long I’d have to take it for. When I said most likely for the rest of my life her jaw hit the floor.

The only times I’ve seen a route around the stigma are in the cases where the psychic pain begins to manifest itself in physical ailments. Many sufferers of anxiety also have chronic migraines. Digestive issues like IBS (hi) and cyclical vomiting disorders have also been known to occur. I think it’s the mental health issues trying to prove themselves to the outside world in some way.

I have also began to hold the theory that many terminal diseases also have roots in psychological disorders. The earlier analogy of depression to an inoperable tumor was no exaggeration. Things like cancer, strokes, heart disease, and brain aneurysm have just as many links to unbalanced stress as they do in personal habits, exercise, etc. You’ll never see a cure for these diseases without a cure for mental illness, but that’s just one of my opinions. So until the day the doctor informs me some growth destroying my major organs or the lights suddenly go out I am going to keep fighting to manage my revolving moods and hope that by sharing my own struggles that maybe one more person will charge their views on this silent killer or another sufferer know that they are not alone.


Breaking Down The Aging Process

The Aging Process

A few weeks ago I recorded and released The Aging Process EP in my old friend and former bandmate, Mike’s home studio in High Point. It’s released under the name Conversations With the Ghost, a name I’ve been using for my poppier more singer/songwriter tinged work and the first new material I’ve released in eight years. What follows is a kind of break down of how each song was written, what they try to relate and what’s next for this revived project.

1) Intro- At the same time as I was writing the four actual songs for this record I began writing this book of prose poems (or rants, as I’m calling them). Some are autobiographical (as this one is) while others are impressionistic and border on flash fiction or surreal short stories. I decided to open the record with this piece as the opening line (“It was the year of cancer…”) echoes the last line and title of the last song (This Cancer Year) and I’ve always loved records that feature callbacks or motifs referencing earlier songs. Greg Dulli is the master of this. Greg Dulli I am not but it was worth a try. The poem goes into the multiple instances of cancer effecting my life and the lives of people I love in the last few years. It describes the effect that the stress had on my mind and the depression I slipped into last year because of it.

2) On the Clock- An audio version of Bukowski’s Factotum. At this point in my life I am a connoisseur of dead end jobs. Written in my head at work while cleaning up other, more lazy people’s messes without a single thank you. How meta!

3) Seperation Anxiety- In my very down last few years dealing with mental health issues, the death of my mother in-law and my own mother’s illness I’ve felt the gap between myself and my friends pretty deeply. The most depressing part of growing up is you lose track of people who you used to be able to see at a moment’s notice. You grow up, get married, have kids and start a career in hopefully another city and all of this is great and I’ve done it all myself. That being said there have been times in the last few years where I really wished I could reach out to people for coffee like the old days but almost everyone has moved away and now we see each other a few times a year. Adulthood is weirdly isolating at times. Half the reason I decided to make this record was to having an excuse to see an old friend. We all need that at times.

4) Don’t Listen to the Static- A sarcastic kiss off to all of my many neuroses and self image issues. If you fucking own it no one can hurt you. The title is a quote from Nate Fisher, Jr. on Six Feet Under to his sister, Claire about her own issues mourning the brother she barely knew.

5 This Cancer Year (Slow)- A Chaos by Design song done more like the way it sounded when I wrote it. The more somber side to the more rage fuelled version with the band. A brief history of the last few years marked by illness and death.


So, what’s next? Hopefully some shows locally if anyone will have me. I also have a wealth of other songs left over from this I hope to fine tune for a follow-up later in 2018. I hope to make the next one more varied with a wider palette of instrumentation and elements of ambient music. I also have a few instrumental pieces in the vein of Fahey and William Tyler. I want it to be more hopeful but also politically subversive. Chaos by Design will be starting back up soon, too and a new book or two are on the horizon. I don’t plan to stay quiet any more.

We’ll Meet Again Some Day: Remembering Tom Petty or How I Fell in Love with Rock and Roll



When I was nine or ten years old I used my allowance money to purchase a cheap portable tape deck and radio boombox and a small stash of cassette tapes. I was just starting to take an interest in music though my tastes were still developing. Among the now embarrassing choices (I went through a thankfully brief MC Hammer phase, ditto Guns ‘N Roses) was Tom Petty’s first non-Heartbreakers album Full Moon Fever. I played it so much the tape eventually began to warp and finally break inside its plastic shell.

A few years later I asked for and received a Sony Discman for Christmas along with the first TP and the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits set with the brand new track “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” recorded just for its release.

A funny thing would happen during that Christmas break involving these presents. I went to spend the night at my cousins Matt and John’s place and brought the player and new CD with me. After a late night in which John would introduce me to the wonders of the then hard to come by stateside Japanese anime of Biobooster Armor Guyver and Battle Angel: Alita John asked if he could borrow the CD player and Tom Petty disc to listen to before bed. I handed em over and went off to call it a night, myself. I wound up staying up the rest of the night anyway. The following afternoon I got a lift from my aunt into town to spend a few hours at my grandma’s house. Climbing up stairs to get the sleep I fought off the night before I slipped on my headphones and pushed play intending to listen while I rested. As I closed my eyes and awaited the jangling intro to “American Girl.” When a swirling sample of talk show hosts discussing serial killers layered over distorted drum loops, impossibly heavy metal riffs and a snarling voice kicked in instead I sat bolt upright. John had switched cds and forgot to switch them back or tell me. I couldn’t stop listening to whatever this was I was hearing even though, especially in my sleep deprived state, it fucking terrified me. Hell, one repeated sample sounded like someone yelling my name. I played the whole disc before checking to see what the fuck I just heard. It was Ministry’s Psalm 69. Tom Petty inadvertently introduced me to industrial music.

It wasn’t long before I became a frequent visitor to what was then The Record Bar in Signal Hill Mall. I’d continue to shop here through its many transitions from Trax, Blockbuster Music and Armada. Many of my friends would spend time behind the counter and hook me up with store discounts or play me advance store copies of albums they thought I’d like. That’s where I’d hear The Strokes for the first time among many others. My first purchase with my allowance was the self titled debut of Tom Petty and the original lineup of the Heartbreakers. I must’ve played it a million times over the next year.



I would drop a lot of my early tastes upon my punk and indie conversion in middle school but Tom was one of the few to survive the transition. The guy may have played sixties indebted folk rock with country flourishes but his attitude and refusing to play the mainstream game or attach himself to the trends was completely punk rock.

Tom was quick to champion smaller bands and take them on the road. He brought The Replacements on one of their first arena tours (sadly also one of their last tours). Paul and Tommy would join them onstage night after night for a string of covers and originals alike. There was one infamous gig where the ‘Mats played their whole set in dresses borrowed from Tom and his band and crew’s wives and girlfriends.

Upon losing their drummer Tom would be the one to encourage Dave Grohl to come out of hiding following Kurt Cobain’s suicide to play music again. Dave would play drums with the band on SNL and a few live dates supporting the just released soundtrack to She’s the One. Dave would later admit Tom was extending the invitation to become a Heartbreaker full time but Dave ultimately decided to finish the debut Foo Fighters album and move from behind a drum kit to the microphone with a guitar strapped on. He said that turning the gig down was one of the hardest decisions he ever made.

As radio and mtv went through grunge, alternative, nu metal, boy band shit, pop starlets and other trends most of the old guard disappeared from the positions of household names and only get airplay on classic rock or oldies stations. Tom Petty was one of the few to remain a constant in music videos in the top ten and late night talk show performances. All of this was hard won by sticking to his guns and refusing to sell out or make anything but the records he wanted to make. This remaining true to his own vision gained him the respect of younger musicians who grew up on his music like Pearl Jam, Jack White, Superdrag, etc. They would cover his songs, tour with him and sit in when he rolled through their town on his never slowing tour schedule.


Jack White, Tom and Eddie Vedder

Ever the music fan and champion of what he liked Tom became the host of the excellent Sirius XM satellite radio show, Buried Treasure, sharing lesser known tracks from his personal record collection and sharing stories about each cut with a damn near encyclopedic knowledge and wit. The playlist ran the gamut from garage psych, country, jazz, punk and everything in between. Listening to an episode was like a late night listening session with your best friend, breaking out dusty lps and 45’s (“This is that single I told you about finding at the flea market. Check it out….”) Tom loved music and he knew that one of the best parts of music was turning other people onto your finds.

Tom Petty died last night at only 66 years of age. He lived enough amazing moments and bitter tragedies and hard won battles for countless lifetimes. Still, he had so much music left in him and new finds to share on his show. The guy was always on the road bringing true rock and roll to every city on the map. It was true rock and roll made with zero compromises, full of pure soul and passion the second you heard those first chords. It’s impossible to measure the impact he had on music just as it’s impossible to imagine the loss that will be felt all around the world and through music with his passing. Fuck Kid Rock, Tom Petty was the quintessential American bad ass. Half the records he made were instant classics and even his missteps were at least interesting. Dude got to play in Johnny Cash’s backing band on his late career resurgence album, Unchained. I would not be surprised if the choice of covers (Beck, Soundgarden, Tom’s Southern Accents title track) were suggested by Tom personally. Not many other people get to play in Cash’s band AND that of Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and George Harrison. There will never be another one quite like him.

You and I will meet again
When we’re least expecting it
One day in some far off place
I will recognize your face
I won’t say goodbye my friend
For you and I will meet again

I heard you singing to no one
I saw you dancing all alone
One day you belonged to me
Next day I just wouldn’t know
Someday all the rules will bend
And you and I will meet again

I’ve got a feeling
I’ve got a feeling so strong
Maybe someday our paths will cross

A red-winged hawk is circling
The blacktop stretches out for days
How could I get so close to you
And still feel so far away?
I hear a voice come on the wind
Sayin’ you and I will meet again
I don’t know how, I don’t know when
But you and I will meet again

Terms of Psychic Warfare: Remembering Grant Hart or A Punk Memoir


Grant Hart and D. Boon 1985


                 When my brother went off to college he left behind two things which would forever alter the course of my life: a stereo with working turntable and small record collection. A first generation skate punk he’d collected many of the cornerstones of the era. The posthumous Salad Days EP by Minor Threat, DOA’s excellent Bloodied but Unbowed compilation, the first Surf Punks LP and, most importantly, Husker Du’s groundbreaking New Day Rising.

               I’d cut my teeth on Nirvana and their ilk and never missed an episode of Mtv’s late night alternative and underground show 120 Minutes. Yet, as I inched closer to my teens I became hungrier for new sounds which mirrored the aggression I felt growing inside of me. I was a curious kid by nature and in the days after Kurt Cobain’s suicide I scoured through interviews and pictures making mental notes of the bands he mentioned or wore the t-shirts for. I was especially curious about punk rock.

Husker Du live at 7th Street Entry 1985

While searching through the bargain bin at Peppermint Music one afternoon after school I stumbled onto the compilation Old School Punk Volume One: The Reagan Years. The track list was a veritable who’s who of the bands I’d been reading about and longing to hear. Opening with Wasted Youth’s “Problem Child” and closing with “Out of Vogue” by Middle Class (arguably the first hardcore song) my eyes and ears felt open for the first time. In between were tracks by Flipper, The Germs, Fear, X, Circle Jerks, The Adolescents, Agent Orange, Channel 3 and Red Kross. Summer vacation had just started and by the time middle school started I’d be a completely new person: I was a punk rocker.

The Germs-Richie Dagger’s Crime

Two events that summer completed the transformation perfectly and both came thanks to members of my family. My cousin came up from South Carolina with a stack of cds by NOFX, The Queers, Bad Religion and Rancid and I stumbled onto my brother’s records and stereo in a cabinet at my house. I began bashing out atonal noise on an old acoustic guitar, bought a skateboard and making homemade punk tees.

Each record made a dent in my mind but New Day Rising was a different animal from the second I dropped the needle on it that Saturday morning for the first time. It was rooted in hardcore, sure, but with a sense of melody I recognized in Nirvana and the Beatles albums I grew up hearing from my parents. There was also a deeper emotional connection to the songs. This wasn’t “fuck Reagan” times twelve. The lyrics hinted at a nostalgia for your rapidly vanishing youth (Celebrated Summer) and the sense of loss in the wake of a crumbling relationship (Terms of Psychic Warfare).


I would track down more records as the summer war on including my favorite Huskers record, Metal Circus. Bob Mould would become a hero for sure but as years passed I found Grant Hart’s songs stuck with the most. Bob’s were more direct slabs of rage while Grant’s were more layered and almost subliminal psych pop drenched in reverb and wall of sound distortion. This became much more clear as I explored their respective solo careers through middle and high school.

Grant Hart-The Main (live 2013)

While Bob remained prolific and in the public eye right out of the gate with his steadily released solo albums and work with Sugar, Grant would often take a decade to release a new record. This coupled with drug and health problems, record labels folding soon after their release and a devastating house fire in 2011 which destroyed demo tapes and gear kept him from attaining the same status as his former songwriting foil.

It’s a shame because his work after the demise of his former band consists of some of the most underrated and deeply crafted pop music of the last twenty-five years. Intolerance and the 2541 ep were constants on my turntable as I wrestled with sobriety in my late twenties just as Grant did while working on them. Nova Mob seemingly picked up where Husker Du left off but their label fell apart just as the record was released into the era of guitar centric alternative rock. Good News For Modern Man and Hot Wax married 60’s garage psychedelic rave ups with understated avant-garde singer songwriter elements. The Argument took everything he’d done up to that point but raised the bar with it’s ambitions.

Grant Hart-The Argument (full album)

Based on a treatment for a musical adaptation of John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost written by avant-garde novelist (and friend of Grant’s) William Burroughs the double LP sidesteps pretension and delivers an hour long masterclass in pop songwriting and subtle production. Released in 2013 to universal acclaim it did little to raise Grant’s profile and he continued touring tiny clubs up through the final years of his life.

Watching the documentary about him, Every Everything reveals a man who was not bitter about his fate in life. He was just happy to make the records he wanted to make and if other people liked them that was the cherry on top.

A consummate artist till the very end he controlled every aspect of the records from hand making the covers, to playing a variety of instruments on down. Every Husker Du gig flier was his creation, every album cover (he also designed The Replacements’ Hootenanny cover) and t shirt design was his too. That kind of freedom in expression will always inspire people even if it takes longer to reach them. It certainly did me. Thanks for everything, Grant. Go in peace.

Every Everything Trailer

Grant Hart-2541 (ep version)

Husker Du-Pink Turns to Blue (live 1987)


Grant Hart with William Burroughs and friends


You’re The Reflection of the Moon On the Water