Tuesday, October 28, 2003


A friend of mine once insisted that Elliott Smith was more interesting when he was struggling with his heroin addiction.

While in the past I would never condone a drug habit, this time I sort of agreed with him. Because back then the torture was so vivid and apparent that it overcompensated for the lo-fi production. We never minded the background hiss because it was drowned out by the sound of pent-up tears of sorrow waiting for an eventual release. His sweet tiptoed voice gently reclined on the mattress of your emotions. Lying down, resting out of exhaustion from trying too hard. Sighing. Admitting that sometimes giving up doesn't feel better but it just feels easier.

Yes, Elliott Smith was obviously a tortured soul. We all knew it. And as much as we hate to admit it, we also benefited from his grief. We vicariously moped over bad break-ups, problematic relationships, worries, concerns, issues, dilemmas, things that you can never understand unless you were in our shoes. He was the soundtrack to our despair.

Words like "I’m never gonna know you now but I’m gonna love you anyhow…I’m tired" encapsulated just how we felt about most people we met in New York City. Time never allowed for us to know them better, intimately, but nevertheless we love because a deeper presence bigger than ourselves tells us to. The simple sentiment of "I used to like it here/it just bums me out to remember…" evokes the nostalgia of a place with a past we’re trying to escape. To some it may be their bedroom, or a café they saw the prettiest girl in the world. To others it may be the corridor in their mind that holds the memories of a lost parent and all the joy that will never be gained from them again.

Smith's earlier recordings will always sabotage--a word I do not use lightly--my thoughts, my feelings and my very being. Sometimes when I listen to a song like "Angeles," I get the chills. Not the good-chills but the kind of chills you get when you're certain there's a ghost looming somewhere over you shoulder. The spookiness of that song could inspire the scariest of Halloween costumes.

ROMAN CANDLE, his self-titled, and EITHER/OR make up a trilogy of uncontested intense, rawness. They are the anti-Prozac. They create an atmosphere of pensiveness and introspection that feels awkward and uncomfortable. Like silence in a house of mourning. In fact, in the past few months, I can't help but think of my father when I play his music. Not because the lyrical themes are relevant (because they aren't) but in-between the words, I could almost hear Smith pleading for me, for us, to remember the ones we love, the ones we've lost, and what they all mean to us. To remember the tragedies and celebrations of life and how the two sometimes get lost in each other and become this massive blur of incoherence.

Perhaps I'm placing a great deal of significance on his music in retrospect, but I don’t think that's the case. In fact, Barry proved to me that I was even underestimating his potency.

Last week, I called my friend Barry to let him know about Smith’s untimely demise as soon as I had heard about it. Barry wanted to hang up the phone immediately. He didn’t want to talk about it because as he told me, "Elliott was the most important presence in my high school life." To some it was Cobain and his anthems of angst, to others it was Smith and his delivery of angst through whispers.

I had the pleasure of seeing the Portland, OR folksinger live on more than one occasion but I will never forget one performance in particular. I had just seen "Good Will Hunting," which Smith had contributed a few songs to, and I was enamored with the simple beauty of his music (ironically enough, Smith, on the hand, was quite an unattractive person). I wish I could replicate that concert experience with words because it is one of the rare times in my life where I would experience purity. I clearly remember watching him shuffle wearily on stage before a small yet boisterous crowd. Unannounced, he merely sat down and began to tune his guitar. After finding the right key, he thanked us for coming and started to sing. His voice. My lord, his voice.

Through my eyes of swelling tears, I saw a crowd with respective similar watery gazes. Mouths were open agape with pity both for Smith, for experiencing the pain that could inspire such songs, and for us, for now understanding what that pain could feel like. Initially, most had no idea what to expect from this live show and it turned out to be more than we bargained for. Again, it was purity. Smith played for an hour plus that night. The audience retained this eerie quietness that one finds only in a room by him or herself. Hands swiped cheeks for the occasional escaped tear.

After the show, I was significantly moved. But I was also inspired. That weird mixed-up confused state of sadness and euphoria. My friends and I left the venue and we saw Smith standing outside. An aggressive fan then approached Smith and brought up "Good Will Hunting."
"Hey man, you sold out," the fan said.
Smith responded, "I did not, man. That's really unfair of you to say." And I remember the pained expression on Smith's face when he faced his accuser. The non-chalant comment actually offended him. Most musicians would ignore the selling-out silliness because it comes with the territory. But not Smith. He was offended and pained.

But I guess his pain, in retrospect, never went away. It was always present, only to be occasionally suppressed by the numbing appeal of drugs.

But now, sadly, it has finally been extinguished. That pain is no more.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003


When I was in high school, I came to the brutal conclusion that Gary Cherone had even penetrated my mom.

Although he would deny it, the lead singer of Extreme was with my mom in our kitchen conjuring up his best falsetto, swooningly intertwining his angelic harmonies with the vocals of his guitarist, Nuno Bettencourt, as a guitar was plucked and slapped (just as their groupies inevitably were) in the background. It was unnerving. I was unnerved. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Gary! Nuno! You’re taking away my rebellion! You were a hard rock band that was supposed rock hard. Not rock hardly.
And what made matters worse, was that in recent days, I had found Extreme’s presence also in my dentist’s office, my dry cleaners and horribly enough, my local supermarket, Pathmark. I walked up and down the aisles listening to "More Than Words" on the speakers only to be interrupted on occasion for a price check on the honeydew ("….more than words is all you had to…attention, clean up on aisle 5"). I wanted to grab hold of the suburban moms in their Members Only windbreakers as they whistled along, even mouthing the words. I wanted to yell at them for not knowing about Pornograffitti’s other songs like "He Man Woman Hater" or "Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?)." You wanted ballads? Go listen to the balding safeness that is Phil Collins. Grab your exhausted cassette of Chicago’s Greatest Hits and look away, baby, look away. But please, just leave my Extreme alone. Your favorite band should be named "Moderate."

And then a week later as I turned on the radio to hear Extreme’s newest single, suburban moms everywhere rejoiced. Another ballad was born and its name was "Hole Hearted."


While some insist that the most influential movies of their youth were E.T., Raider of the Lost Ark or Star Wars, mine was Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It is difinitevly Keunu Reeves best acting role (or was he actually acting? Discuss) and it introduced me to the glories of hair metal. Yes. The glories of hair metal. To this day no movie has been bold enough to send Socrates, Joan of Arc and Napoleon to the mall whilst flying arpeggios tangled furiously in the background. It was the Fruity Pebbles to my ears. It was like crack cocaine, if back then I had actually known what crack cocaine was. Later on, the closing credits informed me that the song in the mall scene, my newest raison d’etre, was Extreme’s "Play with Me." I bought their debut album the next day. Which coincidentally was the day I decided I needed to have long hair.

I stuck with Extreme throughout the years from the self-titled album until three albums later, Waiting For the Punchline (where I can boast to be one of the 17 proud owners of this fine final chapter (of course, outside of the Bettencourt family)). And despite the ambitious brilliance of their grandiose effort, III Sides to Every Story, my favorite remains Pornograffitti. Granted, I felt slighted when "More Than Words" became a surprise make-out hit (dude, we don’t make out in metal. We tongue) but as I grew older and debunked the myth of Cooties, I realized that we all get sensitive once a while. No, that’s not a tear. It’s just that something got in my eye…

Sporting a decent voice and having a best friend that could replicate the best licks around Elizabeth, N.J., Moshe and I learned how to play a dead ringer of "More Than Words." Doing something this feminine never felt so manly. And of course, when we were done learning, nothing was ever the same.
Night after nights, we would sit upstairs in Moshe’s attic for hours at a time strumming our hand-me-down acoustic guitars, which might as well had a Playskool label on them. I delivered the most passionate and heartfelt Cherone I could muster. I closed my eyes and imagined having long black curly locks and a thousand "chicks" screaming my name (the only problem was that I was sure they would mispronounce "Arye"). After we had felt confident enough with our rendition, we decided to record it. Like an old school indie rock band, we found a mini-cassette recorder, found a tape to record it on (I think, we taped over a copy of a Police album. Our way of sticking it to Sting) and went through four renditions until we got it just right. Moshe even did the tapping that Nuno does at the end of the song.

As all stories involving awkward teens and music goes, there eventually was a girl. Her name isn’t important (and besides the court order says I can’t mention it) but she became the target and association of every cheesy lyric I had heard. I finally understood when Cherone and co. sang that "there’s a hole in my heart that could only be filled by you," what that hole felt like and how it could be filled. I desperately wanted to impress her as the only thing I had working for me was a bitchin’ comic book collection. I decided to play her the cassette.

One night after my Algebra homework, I picked up the phone and nervously dialed every number as if I was asking someone to marry me. Each button pushed was another proposal. And the following digit was reliving the humiliation and despair of doing it again.
The phone rang.
She picked up.
I asked her if I could play something for her over the phone that Moshe and I had recorded.
She said, sure. Hesitatingly, I pressed the play button. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the confidence. It was that perhaps she couldn’t know how huge this moment was for me. This was massive. This was nothing normal or regular. This was Extreme.
The song ended and I put the phone back to my ear to listen to her gush.
And I’ll never forget the first thing she said to me for as long as I live.
"That was really great, Arye. My mom really loves that song."

Thursday, October 16, 2003


Granted it's been a while. Are you mad? Wait....did you think we weren't talking because we were in a fight? Heavens forbid (I just said "heavens forbid"). I like you. A lot. A lot a lot. You knew that.

It's just been that "things" have been slightly "trying." Yeah, trying in quotes. That means the word "trying" doesn't even do justice to what's been going on. I actually find it interesting how similar that word is to "trial." I guess that's the intention but still I never took the time to recognize that. The wonders of the English language. Been speaking it for 26 years and I still find the little pleasures in it.

So, where do we start? How about you sit first?

Here. Take this chair. Want something to drink?

I don't know--water? Orange juice? Coke....? Actually, I don't have any Coke.

Ok, water. Be right back.....

Yeah, I'll get to it. Sorry. I'm procrastinating.

Well, I've been thinking a lot about life, the future, what decisions to make...unfortunately, I recently experienced another death very close to me and I'm not sure if I was completely ready for that.

True. No, we are never ready. True. But still, this rocked my proverbial boat. Right into the water, plunging in the deep without a life preserver. It felt a bit like drowning. You try to forget things...you keep them supressed....or as I like to put it, keep them at bay. "Supressed" has a negative connotation. Like I'm doing something intentionally bad to myself like anorexia. And I would never do that. It's stupid.

Yeah, I know. People have told me I'm looking thin nowadays. It's excercise. I'm trying to stay alive here despite that not being the theme around these parts. But anyway....I kept my emotions at bay, telling myself everything was back to normal....whatever that means. But then this happens. And everything falls from the attic to the basement. There are no ceilings or floors. There is nothing to keep the baggage we store away hidden and secure. It's a freefall. Crumbling. Collapsing.

Good question. I haven't written anything in awhile because I didn't know how to talk to you. I don't want to bum you out. Get you down. But still....this is what's on my mind. Yes, I'm ok. I think this is all completely healthy. We doubt. We feel pain. We feel angst. Pain is not bad. Pain feels bad...there's a difference...but the possesion of it, this is what makes us feel alive. We are feeling. And that is something.

Yes, the future. Well, I've been thinking about doing something more meaningful to people. I'm thinking about school. Going back to graduate school and applying myself and becoming a teacher. The notion feels right. I just need that direction to something better than me, something that feels greater than the notion of me. No, I won't give up the music writing. I feel better about it more than ever. It makes me feel great and I am getting better at it. Wish me luck.

Ha ha. Thank you.

Yeah, I know. I've missed you, too. I'm glad you came back. Seriously.

Social life....eh? You're picking all the sensitive topics here. Well, obviously, everything is easier when you have a pillar or wall to lean on. I don't have that luxury yet so I built my own. It's temporary. Think of it as an item from Ikea. I will replace it with something more substantial soon.

Look...crap. Oh, I'm sorry. I need to go but I must say; I am so happy to be back. We have so much to catch up on. And we will. Fret not.

Thank you for sticking around. It's so very meaningful to me.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

It's been to hectic. So much going on. So much to say. Give me the time to sort it out.