How's Everyone Doing Tonight?
Updated: Mar 6, 2022
This week I take some time out of the set to connect with you the audience, discuss the challenges of making new friends in middle age, Western Standard Time Ska Orchestra, Sex and the City, and other unlikely influences for this blog.
Okay folks, we’ve come the point in the set where I’ve just dished out a few numbers and now I take a moment to talk to you the audience, “How’s everyone doing tonight?”.
AUDIENCE: [mild applause and cheers]
Whenever you go to see a band, you will see this done at literally every show and during every single set throughout the evening. It’s what us musicians feel compelled to do. It gives the band a little breather and provides an opportunity to awkwardly connect with the crowd. “I couldn’t quite hear you, I said HOW’S EVERYONE DOING TONIGHT?!!”
AUDIENCE: [thunderous applause and cheers]
So what do you all think of the blog so far? Give it up for the blog folks!
DRUNK WOMAN: “WOOOOOOOOO!”
RANDOM JERK: “Talk about ska music!”
What’s that? I’ve been talking too much about Connecticut? You guys want to hear more about ska and NYC?
AUDIENCE: [more thunderous applause and cheers]
DRUNK WOMAN: “WOOOOOOOOO!”
Okay we’re about to get there next, don’t worry. Before I start my next story though, I just wanted to give a little background as to why I started this blog in the first place. It all started in early 2019. I had just turned 44 and had a birthday that reminded me very much of a scene from High Fidelity, specifically the part where Rob Gordon desperately tries to pull a bunch of friends together to celebrate his own birthday at the last minute after breaking up with his girlfriend. To be honest, I feel like the last few birthdays have been like that for me. This one in particular seemed like a real struggle to bring people out though and everyone was bailing on me last minute. At one point I thought it was going to be a no show but then my neighbor, who I share a balcony with, pulled through at the very last minute with her friend and joined me for some karaoke in Koreatown. They are two of my favorite people in Los Angeles who also happen to be kind of awful sometimes, and I mean that in the most loving way possible. Picture the BBC show Absolutely Fabulous but more edgy and off the rails like Mötley Crüe. They’re both hilarious, intelligent, quick-witted, sarcastic, up on current events, and help to provide that east coast edge that I’ve been missing ever since I moved here. They both used to do improv together and I seriously think they could be the next big thing in comedy with the right management…that is if they can also keep their partying under control. A typical evening with them starts off great with high energy and lots of jokes but then descends into madness after they’ve had a few too many drinks and they start screaming at each other. When sober or just a few beers in, my neighbor has been a truly amazing friend to me over the years in so many ways. She’s a great listener who gives very well-attuned advice and really builds me up whenever I get down on myself. She’s like the cool college dorm mate who lives down the hall and invites you over for a beer after your date to hear how it went. She really inspired me to believe in myself this past year in ways nobody ever has which has sent my life on a more positive trajectory, first with starting my newest musical project The Gramps, then quitting my toxic job, and most recently with starting my own company. She’s been the Vince Vaughn to my Jon Favreau, the Thomas Haden Church to my Paul Giamatti, you get the idea. After she’s had a few too many drinks and has crossed a certain threshold though, she becomes the Dennis Hopper to my Kyle MacLachlan. Very dark, mean, and scary. Cue in Roy Orbison. Ironically she is from my hometown of Cromwell, CT which is an extremely freaky coincidence and also perfectly fitting.
Anyways, this birthday really got me thinking about how difficult it is to make new friends in middle age, especially since I moved to LA in 2015. Relocation is never easy, and I’ve done it 5 times in my life, but this time in particular was feeling especially difficult at that moment. Around this time I coincidentally heard a podcast on NPR that focused on the challenges of making new friends in middle age which you can listen to here. They interview one guy who talks about hugging a pole in his basement because he was so lonely. While listening to it I thought to myself , “Oh no, I’ve hit rock bottom! I’m a single fortysomething male and have now joined the ranks of pole-huggers. Thanks NPR!”. The podcast seemed to focus mostly on toxic masculinity and single men, however since then I have noticed a very interesting trend amongst some of my married guy friends. Over the past year and a half or so I’ve done a lot of reconnecting with folks via Zoom, Skype, and phone for this blog and one complaint seems to be common: everyone misses having friends like they used to. Their social lives now completely revolve around their children and other married couples, for better or for worse, and their friendships are based more on how reliable and trustworthy people are at taking turns watching the kids, not so much based upon things like sense of humor, common interests, musical tastes, or being able to philosophize. I guess it’s sort of like when you play in a band and you have certain members who are really good at their instrument but you would never hang out with them outside of shows. It’s more of a functional friendship. I’ve had multiple friends complain to me that they have literally nothing in common with the people they hang out with at social functions. They will go to a backyard barbecue or party where all the women are gathered in one area chatting away and a bunch of dudes are sitting at a table or watching a game with little or nothing to say to each other. One of my friends told me that he tried to organize a guy’s night out with said married dudes, but wasn’t able to get it off the ground. “I’ve been trying to get more into drinking whiskey by myself lately”, said one guy. That was an actual quote.
The problem isn’t isolated to men, either. Another one of the wives made a similar comment about how she was unsuccessful in getting her female friends to hang out. Perhaps they feel the same way and that is just the reality of married life. With women there is the whole “marrieds versus singles” rivalry, too that gets touched upon in Season 1 of Sex and the City, a show I recently started watching for ironic reasons in order to get inspiration for another side project. Prior to quitting my job, I was about to embark on an animated web series with a friend that was going to be loosely based upon a very toxic office in Manhattan where I worked in the 00s which I closely associated with that show at the time, mainly for the affluence and designer outfits worn by my coworkers. I watched it at first just to get inspiration for character art but suddenly found myself relating to some of the struggles of big city dating life that are portrayed on that show which are actually quite common to both men and women. I have to admit that the first season made me a bit nostalgic because it has the same look and feel as Swingers, especially the party scenes and the soundtrack which includes bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and The Squirrel Nut Zippers, not to mention the theme song and incidental music by the lounge king himself Joey Altruda. It also brought me back to some of the bars and venues that I used to go to when I first moved to New York City back in 1998~1999 and when that show first premiered, places like The Supper Club: an awesome live swing music venue at the time where Carrie meets Mr. Big. After a season or two I got tired of the dumbed-down humor, which was probably done to reach a broader audience outside of New York City at the time, so I moved on to the book by Candace Bushnell. She was a columnist for the New York Observer in the ‘90s which the Sarah Jessica Parker character was based upon and I found her writing to be a lot darker, funnier, more sarcastic, and more like real New York. I must say that I hated everything that this show represented when it first came out, namely the materialism and the association it had for me with the gentrification that was slowly killing punk rock and ska in New York in the late ‘90s / early 00s but now find it more relatable as a middle aged single dude and weirdly it ended up helping me with the structure for this blog, something that I had been struggling with for a while (it was originally going to be a book). It is quite bizarre what can bring creative inspiration in life and I think David Lynch would agree with me on that point.
I hung out with my high school friend Derek this past Sunday who lives in orange county and who I recently reconnected with via this blog. He mentioned how when he and his wife first got married they suddenly got approached by other couples who wanted to hang out. “It’s almost like a cult” he said, “like ‘welcome to the cool kids table, let’s hang out!’”. Unfortunately, when this happens, the unmarried people get excluded, which is too bad because those are often the people who the marrieds actually relate to the most and once had a deeper connection with. I’ve also noticed a pattern with some single women when they reach that “Sex and the City” age, too. They cling to their single friends more desperately which sometimes leads to lashing out in unhealthy and toxic ways, especially when drunk, something that you never see happen on that show. One friend related a story recently about how her friend organized a girl’s night out and got into a fight at the tail end (while drunk) because my friend was tired and wanted to go to her boyfriend’s apartment and didn’t want to continue raging. Her friend was single and didn’t want to be alone and they haven’t spoken to each other for a very long time since. Another female friend of mine, one whom I’ve had a very complicated on again / off again dating/friendship thing with for many years, once texted “I hope you die alone!” to me while drunk after I unfriended her on Facebook. I could tell that insult meant a lot more to her than it did to me. Alcohol does seem to be a common thread in a lot of these stories and I've observed this pattern as well with the Ab Fab duo. I've heard them complain on more than one occasion that most of their friends are married off and don't hang out as much anymore which makes me wonder if there might be a connection between their drinking and not being married. I remember being caught in the middle of one of their screaming matches not too long ago and thinking to myself, "Well, I suppose this beats hugging a pole".
I’ll admit to feeling the pressure to be married when I was in my thirties, that’s the age when a lot of my friends started tying the knot. At the same time though, I was enjoying my peak Tri-State Conspiracy years where we graduated from being a mediocre ska band playing rented halls in New Jersey (Tom Lawlor refers to this era as “NO sex and the city”) to suddenly finding ourselves appreciated by adults and hipsters and playing some pretty cool shows. Not to mention that I was older at this point, making more money, doing more travelling, and becoming a bit more cultured, well-dressed, and confident. Candace Bushnell would refer to this as the, “mid-thirties power flip” for men. I was promoting shows at the Bowery Poetry Club around this time and handing out flyers at other concerts which was the perfect icebreaker for meeting women. I dated a lot and suddenly found myself fully immersed in the Sex and the City lifestyle too, only replace cosmopolitans, fancy shoes, and designer dresses with ska and rockabilly shows, northern soul parties, whiskey, and vintage suits. I literally have 300 pages of journal entries from this time period that read like some kind of cross between Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, Spinal Tap, and SLC Punk hopping from one show or hipster bar to the next in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn and all of the ridiculous characters I encountered along the way. It really is true what they say in Bushnell’s book, that NYC is the place where relationships don’t form, and I would say that women are just as much part of the problem as the men are. Everyone is avoiding being in relationships until they are in their thirties, after which they suddenly find themselves desperate to be in one when their friends settle down. The struggle is not unique to NYC, either. It’s true of Los Angeles and other big cities. I’ve learned to embrace being single in my forties though and to quote Some Kind of Wonderful, “I’d rather be alone for the right reasons than with someone for the wrong ones”.
SARCASTIC FRIEND: “Jeff, you’re so brave!!”
Shut up! This ain’t no after school special and there’s no bravery in doing what literally half of the adult population in the world is doing right now. That’s right, half of the adult population is currently single and embracing it. Look it up, it’s a thing now. All the cool kids are doing it, and if being single in your forties is cool then consider me Miles Davis! Look I’m not a pole-hugger, okay? I’ve had a few girlfriends since I moved to Los Angeles (though COVID-19 seems to have cockblocked my dating life at the moment) and currently have a dozen or so very casual friends: people I’ve met through work, concert-going buddies, golf buddies, college friends. Also I’m not here to make anyone feel bad about themselves whether male, female, single, unmarried, thirtysomething, fortysomething, you get the idea. It’s just that, you know how it is, it’s tough making friends in your forties like the ones you made in your teens and twenties that’s all, and I think that’s something everyone here can relate to regardless of their current situation in life. We don’t have to hide it or be embarrassed about it. We can talk about it and share humorous nostalgic anecdotes with obsessive musical details tying it all together. I’m here to tell it like it is like I always have. Most importantly though I hope that I can inspire some of you to reconnect with your old friends that you miss the same way that I’ve been doing for this blog which is what we should all be doing during these difficult times.
AUDIENCE: [Cheers wildly because Jeff just said something that struck a chord]
Anyways, going back to my birthday in 2019. Something very special happened a couple weekends later. Western Standard Time Ska Orchestra played a show at the Regent Theater in Downtown, LA. If you haven’t seen this band perform yet, please do yourself a favor and go! Well…the second that we are allowed to have shows, that is. I really miss going to see bands, folks. I really do. I’ve seen this band multiple times and they are freaking amazing. They’re a 25 piece big band that covers The Skatalites and old school Jamaican ska standards and features many celebrities on the LA ska scene: Greg Lee and Alex Desert from Hepcat, Joey Altruda (speaking of Sex and the City), Chris Murray, Jesse Wagner of The Aggrolites, and Angelo Moore of Fishbone and more are often known to jump on stage at a WST show. This show in particular though was really mind-blowing and really picked me up, almost to a spiritual level. Here’s a little clip of that moment that I caught on my phone at the time.
I love the way the horns are interspersed with the crowd blasting away, this epic bright energy that almost all cultures can relate to in some form or another, from the French Quarter in New Orleans to Carnivale in Brazil, to similar festivities that my ancestors probably enjoyed in Italy and Poland back in the day. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love hearing horns! If you don’t believe me, then read more here. This show really lifted me up, the way that music always has throughout my lifetime. It was one of those shows that was so good that I was completely high the next day from the endorphins, the way that I would feel after a Tri-State Conspiracy gig.
It then occurred to me that I am in my my mid forties, have been listening and enjoying this music called “ska” for well over 20 years, and still haven’t grown tired of it. Not just ska either, all kinds of live music: jazz, swing, northern soul, rockabilly, punk rock, garage rock, reggae, rocksteady. Stuff with horns specifically though. Music is almost like a religion for me. It’s been my lifeforce, one that has kept me going through the hard times, that propels me to go out and explore the world and meet new people. All of my best friends I’ve made through music: playing in bands, going to concerts, sharing mix tapes, randomly breaking out into song, etc. In fact, a couple of Halloweens ago I made friends with a couple while seeing The Selecter perform also at The Regent theater. I was dressed as Sean Connery from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade skanking up a storm and they asked if they could take a picture for one of their friends who works for Lucasfilm. We started chatting and really hit it off talking about ska, punk, and music related stuff. Turns out that they live not too far from me and we still hang out.
Anyways, this is what inspired me to start this blog. I have so many great stories to share and wanted to write it all down. It’s been great because it’s provided an excuse to reconnect with old friends, many of whom I haven’t spoken to in decades. I thought it was going to be weird at first but it wasn’t at all. In fact it’s been the exact opposite. Funny enough I started doing this way before the pandemic, but COVID seems to have made it easier to book time with my friends. I can’t tell you how psyched a lot of my old guy friends have been to hear from me and in some cases I feel like I’ve turned into their therapist. Some will call me at random hours while drunk to talk about their marital issues. Sure beats Facebook, I can tell you that much.
Okay, who’s ready for some more blogging?
Ladies and Gentlemen, give it up for Western Standard Time Ska Orchestra! Happy Halloween Everyone!
AUDIENCE: [more thunderous applause and cheers]