Practice in Place

You know, this social distancing thing, I’m all in.
Back the fuck up, buddy. Hell, that’s been my mantra for decades anyway.

The facemasks? The hand sanitizer? All good.
Who doesn’t want to walk around Target looking like Rorschach?
And it took a fucking worldwide pandemic to teach people how to wash their own hands.
Maybe next crisis we’ll learn how to balance a checkbook or use our turn signals.

But it’s funny, the things we miss. Awkward hugs with strangers, eating shitty Italian food in overheated diners.
And what about band practice?

The math is scary, if we ever cared to attempt it.
Been in the same band for 40 years, we’ve played a thousand gigs, which means we’ve got together to practice….damn.

How many times have we played I Got a Gun?

I mean, yeah. We have to play it to close out every show.
Oh, we’ve tried mixing it up in the setlist a few rare times, only to discover half the crowd is already out the door.
They came here to see the one CH3 song they know, so now it’s time to smoke American Spirits on the patio til Youth Brigade comes on.

You would think there would be no need to practice these old songs over and over.
But muscle memory quickly atrophies, the lyrics fade like memories of a summertime crush.

We’ve gathered in those garages and damp rooms, studios rented by the hour or basements paid for with shameful favor. Mom’s garage to Kimm’s Rec Room.
The glory days at Hully Gully, where we would work in a small room between Los Lobos and The Cramps.

It’s usually weeknights, practice.
You get up off the couch long after dinner, most of the time it would be damn nice to just grab a Drumstick out the freezer and return to the couch for an evening with Rick and Morty reruns.
But no.

You made the comittment to meet the fellas, you gotta get down to the room, haul out the gear, stack speaker boxes and amp heads.
It’s like assembling an Ikea bookcase every time.

And then you run through the setlist, hopefully not making any too many glaring mistakes.
Maybe you throw out a new song idea, work on that a bit.
Someone chimes in that they can’t rehearse next Tuesday will Wednesday work?
Out come the calendars and phones, each of us searching for the sweet spot: a blank square of the calendar, unmarred by highlit reminders of back to school nights or dinners demanded by the wife.

And before everyone leaves, there’s some show offers, a tour coming up in a month’s time.
We untangle the sticky guitar cords from the last gig, make note of what to pick up at Sam Ash before Saturday. Roll up the merch, decide who is taking the bass cabinet, what time to meet for soundcheck and what’s good to eat around that club.

You get together to practice the songs, yeah.
But you’re really practicing how to be in a band.
To nurture the living thing you have committed half your life.

It’s been so damned long since we’ve done this.
We compare face masks and laugh at our hair, as unruly as children in late Summer. We catch up on how we’re been dealing with it, the long days and fast weeks.

We try to talk of things other than the Virus, but it has taken over our lives, kept us apart.
There’s so many things to catch up on with these friends, finally back in the same room.
We finally get around to hanging guitars around our necks, and play.

I’m home now, and the ringing in my ears comforts me.
So great just to laugh at shared memories, catch up on life, play guitars really loud and just out of tune.

I give into the temptation and turn on the news.
There is rioting in the streets, another black man has been murdered by a racist cop.
The president calls for a shutdown of the social media he has so dearly abused.
New and horrific accounts have relegated this virus to the second page.

It feels like we’re fucked, again.

It feels like we’re almost back to normal.

A Separate Peace

A long shadowed October afternoon.
Jimmy Carter is still President, the Sex Pistols have already broken up.
In Mom’s garage making noise before an evening shift of folding corduroys at Wild West store.

We’d been at it a few weeks, Kimm and I trying to get the hang of electric guitars through amplifiers. The garage rang with feedback and ungodly clang; asbestos leaden particles floated down from the rafters.
We were creating weather, not music.
Somehow the open chords we’d domesticated on the acoustics became wild animals, unleashed somewhere in the 1/4″ shielded cables between pickup and speaker and free to howl.

We soon learned the barre chord was the way to go, and after a few tries were able to start and stop a whole song together. As we hit the final A-D-A there was just a pause, a silence more meaningful than a note, and we grinned at each other.
We just played Blitzkrieg Bop.

The feeling of pioneering accomplishment, probably shared by a thousand other boys and girls in their garages at the very same moment: We are all, to start, in a cover band.

I’ve always been surprised and really honored when someone chooses to cover one of our songs. To be sure, those events have been very few, but maybe that’s what makes it such an honor, no?
I mean, ya think Leonard Cohen still got a hard on every time another joker butchered Hallelujah?

But for us, to hear brainy indie heroes Yo La Tengo cover Out of Control, hey now!
That’s a big deal for us.
And though I was prepared for a bit of patronizing smirk in their version, it comes across as earnestly rockin’ enough, and if nothing else got some of the goddamn wags from Pitchfork to finally acknowledge our existence.

So when our pal Zoli from Ignite called and told us his plans to reinterpret Separate Peace with his new project, we were flattered. Besides being one of the most solid cats out there, Zoli has the vocal chops that put all of us hardcore screamers to shame.

His take with the new band Ocean Hills is a cranker in the alt-metal vein: musically years different than anything we might think up, a reinterpretation rather than a cover.
And the lyric video kills me, a nice platform to see some words I haven’t really considered in a long time.

A pretty heavy story of a family in disintegration, no one escapes the blame in this cheery little Christmas newsletter.
Indeed, it is written in the form of a letter, social distancing way before its time.

I remember my Mom fucking hated this song. The mother in the song is a car wrecking drunk, and though Mom never touched a drop, she was afraid that people might digest the words as non fiction.
And no, my brother did not OD and die.

I’ve been asked if I ripped the title off the John Knowles’ book of adolescent angst, but it really comes from that Hemingway notion in A Farewell to Arms.
Our man Henry is on the train to Stresa, dressed as a civilian now, giving absolutely no fucks to the consequence of escape.
A truly separate peace. I liked that.

Posh put the track on the third Rodney on the Roq compilation, I got a copy to give to my Dad.

I went down to his office in LaPalma, hoping really to just drop it off with the receptionist and make it away.
But he saw me in the hallway, between patients, and waved me back to a private room. We seemed to be family now only by those shared awkward moments of Father and Son separated by divorce.
Meeting the new girlfriend, pretending to care what the other was up to.
We shook hands and smiled, I handed him the album and pointed out our track in the lyric booklet.

He looked over the lyrics and then looked at me.
You got a lot of anger in there, he said, pointing at my chest.

No, I said.
I don’t know.

Dear son, how’ve you been? I got your card and the bottle of gin
What’s new, let me see
Seems there’s no love left between your mother and me
She gets half the house, I’m getting my share Of half this life we’ve built in twenty-three years
But there’s no guilt, I’ve opened my cage
You’ll like my new girl, she’s about your age

Can you blame me? Separate peace
I’ll do what’s right, what’s right for me
And I’ve found my separate peace
Understand me, can’t you see, I don’t care

And son, your mother’s just fine, I see her in the market from time to time
She got drunk, wrecked the car
Trying to get home from the corner bar
This life’s too cold to be straight
I guess a little drink, it helps her escape
She’s gave up, disillusioned in men
But in that little bottle she’s found a new friend

Understand me, can’t you see
Let me go, just set me free

Oh son, I almost forgot Your brother left his body in a parking lot
I guess it happens all the time
These goddamned kids cross the needle and line
What happened? I can’t understand
He left so early, he was such a young man
Oh well, now he’s just gone
And are you coming home for the holidays, son?

Gates of the West

I got to the Roxy at 8:30. Traveling light with just a Telecaster in a gig bag and a Sugar Free Red Bull.

I took a swig then tossed the can.
The caffeine and taurine in the Austrian swill had no effect on my already over- stimulated being.
I’d been bouncing around the house all the day, trying on a dozen different shirts and shouting into the mirror: Needlessly memorizing a song that I knew by heart for decades

I rack the guitar and head up the backstage stairs, hoping to just find a quiet corner to stay out of the way until I’m called out.
Halfway up the stairs I look up and see Duff McKagan and Jakob Dylan.  They stop their conversation and look down at me.
I stop and turn back down, not wanting to interrupt them, and bump into  Fred Armisen.  He’s coming up with Clem Burke.

I am sandwiched, it seems, between celebrity.
And for a moment I wish for nothing more than to just be out front of house, where I really belong, a fan.


Ya know me, you know our band, you know how much The Clash means to us.

We can trace it back to our very first songs:
That heartbeat guitar push in Got a Gun, the background Ahh-Ahhs in Manzanar?
Loving tribute or straight ripoff, those musical cues came straight from our heroes.
The Clash albums became our songwriting 101 handbook; they taught melody did not have to be sacrificed in the name of rage.

Hell, we relied so heavily on the background ooh and ahh it sounded like Mick Jones was being pushed off a distant cliff during almost every song we recorded.

And Joe being gone so soon, he has attained saint-like status.
Indeed, we’ve been guilty of spreading those dangerously sharp metal Strummer Stars around this country like tin knocker Johnny Appleseeds.


Joe has luckily avoided seeing us huddled in our houses, isolated.
A quick look at the Socials find little of the brotherhood he always fought for.
You’d have to wonder what he’d be calling for now:  leading the charge to riot in the streets, or pleading for shelter and calm?
Willing his troops to stay healthy to fight the true enemy another day?

Duff shakes my hand as I remind him of a gig we played long ago in San Francisco, back when he was in The Fartz.
I really don’t want to take too much of his time, but he seems happy to chat there on the stairway.
It’s just another hang backstage it turns out, and though these people may be more used to the backstage now being the visiting team locker room of Madison Square Garden, they surely all remember the dim lighting and funky smell of the Hollywood clubs they put in their time.

Before Christmas Paul from Sheer Terror sent a message, asking if I’d be interested in doing a song for Jesse Malin’s Gates of The West show at the Roxy.

The week of the show I met up with Jesse and his amazing band at a North Hollywood rehearsal studio.  We exchanged a few pleasantries, tried to remember the last time we’d met up, if at all, in the decades past.
I knew Jesse mostly from the D-Generation glory days at Coney Island High club, but he has gone on to become a proper roots rocker and Lower East side champion in the last decade.

We strapped on guitars then and ran through the song: Wrong Em Boyo!

The band effortlessly hit the swing and groove of the song.
I realized this was new only to me, that they had of course played this song dozens of times all over the world already: just the lucky chump out front singing  the only variable.
We finished with the same heartbeat of a pause just before the tonic resolving chord, just like on the record.
It sounded so proper I half expected to hear the chiming chords of Death or Glory starting up after a proper 2.5 seconds pause.

I could not stop grinning then, to be acting in a movie that I’d watched so many times.  Jesse said it was all good, unless I wanted to run through it again?
Hell, I would’ve stayed there and played it a hundred more times, never wanting the day to end.

I keep looking at the set list taped to the wall, though I know this album by heart.
The track listing is embedded in me, deep as heartache.

I know that after Fred Armisen (!!) sings Lost in the Supermarket  Duff sings Clampdown.
 Then I am to go to side stage while Gregg Foreman does his heavy version of Guns of Brixton.

I go up and do it, starting out safe, playing the wrong chords on the guitar which I didn’t think was going to even be mic’d.
Just something hold in my shaking hands, really.

But then we start swinging, it sounds so great with the horns joining in.
I’m standing there, and I’m thinking it’s just like the record.
That record.
And it’s over too soon.


I go backstage to pack up my guitar, Jakob Dylan actually walks past and gives me a good job.
I resist the urge to whip out my phone and take selfies with him and every other goddamn person back here.  Haven’t had a drop, but I am drunk.

I pack it up and towel off, and then hurry back out front of house to join the crowd on the packed dance floor.
To get back out where I belong, a fan.


The CH3 Test Kitchen: Popeyes Chicken Sandwich



Two cars up, there is movement.
The Honda Civic creeps forward, just one car length but that is enough.

The Town Car in front of me does not budge though.
The driver is head down and surely scrolling though Murder Hornet TikToks or witnessing his E*Trade portfolio sink to new depths.  I consider a tap of the horn, but really, we got nowhere to go. 
The poor guy is probably missing a ton of Prom work this year, so I wait until he finally raises his head and pulls up.

I’d seen this since Fall, the impressive lineup of people getting on the latest food craze: Popeyes Chicken Sandwich.  Oh sure, it was easy to feel superior, coming out of Stater Bros with my reusable shopping bag filled with Sockeye Salmon Filet and Organic Kale. 
Look at those slobs, disgusting! 
To fall into the fad, line up at a temple of corporate fast food like cultists clutching empty Dixie cups.
To give in,  eat half your weekly Sodium allowance and all your daily calories in one shameful meal.

Yet here I am, surrendered to the line up like a starless Sneetch.
I’ve ventured out of the shelter, masked and sanitized, just wanting some sense of community and comfort in a world lacking either.

Comfort Food has become more than just a guilty pleasure after a tough work week.
We’re not talking about the occasional Papa Johns Meatball Pepperoni after a spartan week of clean proteins and dark leafy greens.  We’re talking mental survival.

These past weeks we’ve had to work at it, not get too fucking crazy with the Frigidaire always humming its siren tune just meters from our at-home workplace.
To not uncork the Malbec at 11:30 am, to not have dessert after both breakfast and lunch.
Food becomes the weapon, not just the fuel.  To not, our new mantra.

Surviving punkers for the most part know about sacrificing their vices with time.
The bad habits fall by the wayside as we reach an astonishing new number each year.
We start to think about boring shit like hydration, blood sugar levels…sleep.
The days of Oki Dogs at 3 am are over now, luxurious drunken brunches have been replaced by dry Belvita crackers and Soy Milk-lightened Decaf.
And proper fried chicken?  No more Roscoe’s mate, it is enjoyed only as a memory now as we chew thru our air-fryer boneless and flavorless white meat.

But this is a war, right?  Aren’t we allowed just this, at least, a bit of delicious gluttony before heading back into the bunker?  

Besides, Popeyes has always seemed pretty cool as far as the franchise places go. 
Like JolliBee and their wacky Spam Sliders, Popeyes has crawfish poppers and red beans, foods that at least reflect some sort of regional palate.


We’ve been here 23 minutes now, our little tribe.
It actually feels good to be out, in a crowd of sorts.  Though we are socially distanced and separated by our cars, we are at least experiencing this same place and time.
We share this evening, the moon rising already, the blue paint of shadow spilled along the parking lot asphalt.

The Honda is up next, and when she pulls up to the window I feel included in her victory.   
A latex gloved hand hands over a bag, and then she is gone.
I imagine her walking in the door, the victorious hunter returned to family. 
Provided for, they will drink toast upon toast to her bravery as she tells the story of this adventure yet again. 

The Lincoln pulls up to the window now.  I’m next. 
I roll down my window and take off my mask, breathe in that drive thru perfume of french fried oil and car exhaust. 


One August day, seems like a lifetime ago, we were on an easy drive from Basel to Köln.
Nothing special about the day, one of those hot Summer weekdays on tour, just driving among the Sunflower fields, coordinating urination and petrol stops. 
A day when food becomes the subject in the van, each of us chiming in with memorable meals and the places we will hit as soon as we got back home.  

At the Cafe Westminster just off the 405, they serve the Midnight Special:
3 runny eggs over a brick of chicken fried steak, everything smothered by a peppery country milk gravy.  An insane and fantastic thing to eat at 2:30 after a long night at the Doll Hut. 
To sit in the booth after the plates have been cleared, check divided, drinking coffee though we should not.
Prepared for the night of heartburn fueled nightmares ahead, regretting nothing.

The van is quiet now.  We are all hungry.

We stop in Baden-Baden and sit at an outdoor cafe, eat airy schnitzels garnished with nothing more than a squeeze of lemon.  
A long communal table, eating and laughing while literally rubbing elbows.

Even then I knew that meal would become another marker in time. 
You are reminded again of what a meal with friends can be, a meal that can be remembered in future van rides, if we are ever fortunate enough to get back in the van again. 


I drop the bag on counter and call out to the house that food is here!
I barely have the patience to wash my hands for a single verse of Happy Birthday, let alone two.  

The sandwich is unwrapped, dissected, inspected, reassembled.  
I pause before taking the first bite. 
I know a queasy county fair feeling will surely accompany this meal, an ocean of salmon and a field of kale will be consumed in penance next week.

But for now,. back inside the house, this jewel-like souvenir of the outside world glows in the kitchen.

I take the bite, consider it.
Salt and heat, the smear of spicy sauce giving it a slightly curry-like kick. 
I am reminded of something, my mind searching for yet another tangent to a better time.

Then I am just thinking about the next bite, nothing more.


Unmasked and Unplugged

I thought I’d start this week’s entry with some snarky recap.

Oh, maybe a spotlight on the kooky #Openthisbitchup protesters. 
Freedom fighters who will not rest until Hooters re opens, thank you.

Or howsabout my favorite new sitcom, the daily White House briefings!
Open the beach? Don’t open the beach? 

You  know, I just don’t have the energy.
Our current state is viewed instantly from a million different perspectives. 
Opinion then regurgitated instantly, socially mediated, an algorithm of terror and bile. 
What else, really, is there to say?

We fucked up, we’re fucked, we’ll be fuckin back.

Let’s talk about something-anything- else.


We swore we’d never do it.
I’m talking about that term that used to make me queasy: The Acoustic Set.

Oh, I’m sure we’ve all been there.
You’re thrilled to see a fave act is coming to town, and what’s this?  Playing at a nice little venue?!   
But then your eyes wander down to the italicized fine print at the bottom and your heart drops:  An Intimate Acoustic Event…..!

You think of all those hoary Unplugged shows in the 90’s, most every band proving they could not pull off what Nirvana somehow could.  Your favorite band desecrating the anthems of your youth with instruments mostly identified with Burl Ives.
People:  Do we really want to see KISS reduced to an underground busker act?


Or worse than a drum solo, the bass player and drummer wander off mid concert, and here we go:
Ok, yeah, we’re gonna slow things down a little here.  Then out come the motherfucking barstools and capos. 
What you’re gonna get here, ya see, is a dirge version of your favorite rocker, but with mandolin and tambourine.  But why?

Nah man, this isn’t what we signed up for.
Last I checked, we committed to the snarl of the Marshall stack, the hornet hive buzz of P-90 pickups. Ampeg bass cabinets the size of Easter Island Moai.
A lifetime onstage, standing in front of an artillery of speakers and percussion. Or in the pit,  front of weapons-grade PA speakers to not just see the bands we love, but to also feel them.

It just doesn’t seem like you’ve been to a punk show if you don’t go to bed with ringing ears; you have been cheated if you’re denied the constant companion of tinnitus.
The sweet song that will accompany us to the grave.
And even then, a sweet high pitched tone will be discernible to our mourners above, if they just listen hard enough.


But there is another way to play it, that became clear.
Friends and heroes like Kevin Seconds and Steve Soto, they showed how their crystalline voices and easy strumming of open chords could bring out a new dynamic. 
Stripping punk bare naked: If you got something to say, let’s hear it.
Takes some balls to step out from behind the disguise of volume, to let the lyrics out there without the cover of mumble and snarl. 

And let’s admit it, we are getting to that point where we look for gigs that are unusual in some way.  Some angle that will keep our interest, something to give us the semblance of nerves– anything different, really, after 40 adrenaline deadening years onstage.

So when Crystal  & Eric sent yet another message inviting us to play one of their Sunday acoustic shows. we finally agreed.



We had to get together to actually think this out, cradling the awkward voluptuousness of  Ovation acoustics as we went through the set list for suitable victims.

I strummed a few chords on the 12 string.
An open D Chord farted out, flubbed by improper technique and pressure, decades of cheating on puny electric strings apparent.  I concentrated and tried again, twinned grooves cutting into fingerpads with thrilling pain.  
It became apparent there was no way to fake it, no distortion pedal to mask a sour note, no way to mute the strings for dynamics or fake it with lazy barre chords.

 We were suddenly back at Faye Ross Junior High, Kimm and I.
Mr. Misajon’s Guitars for Beginners after-school class, learning those first open chords on high arched nylon stringed boxes.
Learning a new language from blue mimeographed charts, the dots marked upon string and fret graphs like Morse code tabulated.
A treasure map to a fortune just there.


We went through songs 38 years old to us and discovered new colors. 
Lowered a key here, slow it down there, throw that one out.
Didn’t Know becomes a 3/4 time Beatles-esque waltz.
Separate Peace in a spare G-D-C, the holy template of any Dylan composition.  
We play it for 18 minutes, as it morphs into Knockin’ on Heavens Door, then I Shall be Released.    
Helpless melts into Here Comes a Regular,  and it suddenly occurs that we are having fun doing this.

Bourbon Street bar in downtown Fullerton is packed for a Sunday afternoon, it’s surprising.  Our old mate Eric Leach is up there now, an old hand by now at doing the acoustic set.  He’s got it down effortlessly, plays relaxed and sounds great, people are smiling.

Greg Antista gets up next, joined by Warren and Jorge, Frank Agnew…and it’s like we’ve been admitted into the secret clubhouse of OC punk royalty.  They play a set of songs melodic and heartfelt, well suited to the afternoon sun and gentle tapping of tambourine the only backbeat necessary. 
The crowd in the bar often drowns them out, as the people are getting happier (drunker) and hugging pals.  We greet each other in natural light for a change, don’t need to yell out drink orders as if we were in a hurricane.
This Sunday matinee thing, I’m telling you. 
Shattered veterans of the late nights, all of us.  We’re out among friends like regular people, the band playing at a volume that doesn’t force a shout to say hello. 
We’ll all be home early enough tonight to watch Westworld then fall asleep to John Oliver

Driving home we talk about it, that was fun.

Will we do it again? 
There’s possibilities here, how much easier it would be to tour without the amps.
Maybe give Nick some Bongos, a Guitarrón Mexicano for Ant instead of the Rickenbacker and Ampeg.  

But as I lay in bed that night there’s something missing. 
We’re had a gig but in bed by Eleven. The clothes in the bedroom are not rank with spilled beer and sweat.
But that’s not it.

It’s that ringing, comforting as rain on the roof, missed only by its absence.