As anyone associated with undertaking a creative project or endeavor knows, there are always people who are the mighty wind at your back. They are the people who believe in you, have always believed in you and your work and ideas, and are the supportive, encouraging spirits who – even during those moments you may doubt yourself or your dreams – stoke them. As anybody who knows me (all too well, perhaps) knows, I can be suspicious and slow to change. I tend to like things the way they are, and the way they’ve always been.
When something works, I’m traditionally loyal to it and reluctant to discard the reliable old to embrace the shiny new. Time moves forward, but I’ve always liked looking back and holding the gaze. This can be a very good thing in many respects: when it comes to friendships; work relationships; marriage; a sense of — and appreciation for — history; the value of things; the richness and nobility of the past. Even something as simple as savoring the fading light of day in the rearview mirror.
I’ve never believed that just because something newfangled comes along, that it automatically, reflexively makes what existed before obsolete, useless, or (gasp) inconvenient. But that perspective can also slow you down and hobble you when it comes to taking a chance, seizing a new opportunity, embracing the new with enthusiasm and gusto. Thankfully, I have been the lucky beneficiary of a tremendous circle of friends, family, confidantes and colleagues, who have given me a gentle (and not-so-gentle) nudge where I needed it, usually in a direction that led to an adventurous, exciting path of possibility and purpose. This blog and website is one of them.
Before I get down to the business of loading and launching “RPM,” I need to offer my sincere thanks and grateful acknowledgment to the talented, generous folks, friends, and family who have helped me get here, directly or indirectly. Truly, there are too many to count and, happily for me, the line drawn between respected colleagues — editors, fellow journalists, critics, and even the musicians I’ve covered — and trusted friends has often been blurred. Above all, I offer a nod to every fellow reporter and editor I’ve ever sat alongside on deadline through the decades, and especially for the friendships that grew out of those shared experiences.
A few of those many friends and colleagues past and present include my former fellow battleground ally in the Western Mass. ink-stained trenches, Judy Kelliher, who has remained a dear friend for 25 years; my old Brett Dorm college roommate/fellow 21 Club roller of dice, Pete Soderberg (also a pretty fair newspaperman himself and a best man at my wedding; one of three lucky souls to share the obligatory honor of plying me with enough Guinness to get me to the altar); my first indispensable editors and early mentors at the Amherst Bulletin, Daily Hampshire Gazette, and Amherst News (my first news job as a 17-year-old high school kid epically under-qualified to be named sports editor): Janis Gray and Patrick J. Callahan; my longtime sports editor and stand-up comedy foil Rob Galvin; Milt Cole, Nick Grabbe, Larry Parnass, and the late wise, wry, and altogether wonderful Nancy Newcombe.
My colleagues during what we reckoned was a pretty glorious, gritty, and special run at the Trenton Times: editor Pete Callas, Mike Topel, Harry Blaze, my closest friend at the paper Don Henry, Addam Schwartz, Joel Bewley, Tom McGinty, Peter Page, and Mark Simenhoff. Amy Singmaster and Jason Ferguson at the Free Times, and Michael Miller at The State, helped make my transition to writing about music in the South (and surviving Hootie & The Blowfish) a pleasant one. So did Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor Hillary Meister and Request magazine’s Susan Hamre. Jim DeRogatis, Larry Carlat, Rob Levine and Matt Hendrickson at Rolling Stone also kept me gainfully semi-employed during the three years I contributed interviews, features, reviews, and even a few memorable breaking news stories that made me feel like all those years of daily news deadline experience — and the daunting prospect of rebooting my career and taking on rock & roll in my early 30s rather than my early 20s — actually gave me the secret weapon of competence, professionalism, and occasionally, good judgment.
When I moved to Boston, I encountered a cadre of talented journalists, editors, and critics who would also become friends (or friendly adversaries) in the trenches: Ted Drozdowski, Steve Morse (the city’s senior music critic and the first guy to call me with an encouraging — OK, thrilling — offer of a music review assignment), Matt Ashare, Scott Kathan, Hayley Kaufman, Jon Garelick, James Reed, Joan Anderman, Sarah Rodman, Carly Carioli, Scott Heller, Michael Brodeur, Tom Kielty, Jed Gottlieb, and Jim Sullivan are a dedicated bunch of fellow music lifers who set a high bar and kept me on my game — and/or in it. Thanks goes out to those editors who liked my stuff even though I was an unknown commodity from out of town (and the alternate journalistic “hard news” universe), tapped me for stories or regular column space, green-lighted my pitches, and most of all, pretty much left my copy intact (thank you). I have always taken tremendous pride in the fact that my music-obsessed words have been published in some great places and read by smart, insightful, curious audiences living in one of the best cities for arts and music journalism anywhere. As a columnist, critic, and weekly contributor to both The Boston Globe and Boston Phoenix (and its bi-weekly nightlife magazine, Stuff@Night) for 15 years — writing so much, in fact, that I actually managed to make something of a living at it as a freelancer — I always felt part of something special.
And the list of talented colleagues and spirited, music-obsessed friends, record collectors, bands, and artists past and present I’ve written about goes on and on. Hopefully, you know who you are, because I’ve been touched in ways great and small by each and every one of you.
And now I need to single out some special people, whether they like it or not.
Lee Phenner, a writer-editor-designer-musician-music lover and enthusiastic supporter of art and imagination (what more could anyone ask for in an ally?), helped get my wheels out of the mud by one day calmly and casually suggesting, “Hey, why don’t we build you a blog for all of your writing?” She made it all seem so do-able, logical, and natural that I said yes. That was the easy part. Lee was the one who knuckled down and researched templates that would be best suited to my long-winded, hard drive memory-munching style, and then tackled the not-so-easy-to-assemble instructions on how to build this thing. So, heartfelt thanks to Lee for her patience, diligence, and for taking valuable time out of her own myriad creative projects (see them at www.leephenner.com ) to selflessly lend a huge hand. I also treasure Lee’s amazing, equally supportive and loverly wife, Mary Taylor, whose friendship – and our mutually dedicated fellowship in all things Red Sox – is the very definition of generosity.
Thanks too go to Lee’s friend and colleague, Jacquelyn Markarian, a wonderfully accomplished graphic designer (her stuff is at www.jacquesbook.com ) who lent her artful eye, creative expertise, and deft execution to a design that, left to my own devices, I would never have been able to put into play. I am so appreciative of her willingness to work to reflect the personality of a guy she’s never even met. Jacque conjured a font and design and look for “RPM” that perfectly fed my love of nostalgia and sentimental soft spot for mid-century rumpus rooms, Bob Newhart after-work cocktails from the home bar, and cozy, shag carpeted record dens. In other words, she made me feel right at home on my home page, and transformed this blog from merely imagined to magically real.
Jacque, by the way, worked wonders with an image shot by Liz Linder, an amazingly talented music-and-more photographer who got me liquored up at her home studio before snapping the cool home page pic of yours truly surrounded by a few of his favorite things. A few other of Liz’s pics of me, taken for a “Rocker” magazine photo shoot on fashionable rock dudes after 40 (how I wound up there I’ll never know!) also adorn a few of these pages. Come to think of it, Liz and stylist Emily Neill must’ve known I’d be the guy most likely to bust a move on camera if they fed me enough Sierra Nevadas and cranked Liz Phair’s “Exile In Guyville.” Find the fruits of Liz’s terrific eye at http://www.lizlinder.com/
John Laprade, my oldest friend since junior high school, has known me longer than anybody except my parents and brother, and has shared most, if not all, of the ups and downs, experiences, and preoccupations that come between the ages of 13 and, um, slightly older years: adolescence, college, work, dreams, goals, friends, girlfriends (or, in my case, the singular), wives, children, and family life. John and I instantly become about 15 whenever we get together, which is a good thing. I’m lucky to have a friend who can still make me feel that way. John’s not only a fellow lover of music, but a multi-talented musician, singer, and songwriter (his music and more at www.johnlaprade.com ) who has honored me by asking for my advice, my perspective, my eyes and ears, on his projects over the years. He’s even let me sing a time or two, on his cool debut solo album and with his college band, in front of actual people. Like I said, we know each other’s deep desires and dreams. John has been an unconditional supporter, booster, encourager, and believer in my endeavors, and all of the pieces of writing (not to mention music and mixtapes) I’ve foisted on him all these years. I’m as proud of our lasting friendship through life’s many changes, as just about any other accomplishment in my life.
Music brings people together, and nowhere has that adage been more true for me than in my friendship with Michael Hayes, a gifted singer, songwriter and musician. I swooned under the spell of Michael’s music before we had even met. (Go here to hear great stuff: http://vinylskyway.com ). When we did meet, for an interview I was doing on Michael’s pre-Vinyl Skyway band, Lemonpeeler, the chemistry was instantaneous. It was as if we had known each other all of our life. A scheduled 45-minute interview turned into a two-hour conversation about music, life, politics, mutual obsessions. Michael, like everyone else here, has long encouraged – no, gently insisted – I gather my archives in one place. We’ve always been fans of each other’s work, which is a nice basis for friendship and firing the creative spirit. I’m touched that Michael’s always been stellar in his support, and I’d like to think it’s not just because I’ve said some nice things about his bands in print.
My younger brother Chris and I grew up wrestling each other, antagonizing each other (well, he antagonized me, mostly), and demarcating the boundaries and borders of our shared bedrooms. Then when each of us finally got our own rooms as teenagers, we’d have stereo wars as we tried to blast each other’s band out of earshot (Chris was Zep and I was the Stones, though I would sometimes have to break out my second favorite band, The Who, to compete with the decibels wrought by Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonzo). Although I didn’t let on then, I loved it when Chris immersed himself in music and found his own heroes. Chris, like most of the people closest to me, also became a singer-songwriter in his own right (he even let me sit in on drums at a paying gig in a church once). Ever since Chris and I grew up, we’ve not only become closer as brothers, but good friends as well who genuinely enjoy each other’s company. Me being the older brother, I got to a lot of things first. But Chris got to the adventurous world of jazz first. Over the years he’s turned me on to many essential performers not named Miles, and thus has been instrumental in expanding my own understanding and appreciation of jazz. That, in turn, has broadened my scope, range, and vocabulary when it comes not to just my profession, but in thinking and talking about music in general. Any jazz reference points that have turned up in my pieces over the years are a direct result of Chris’s initial introduction, guidance, and good taste. Oh, and he knows a thing or two about rock music too.
First and foremost, I want to humbly return, in some small measure at least, the generous gesture that my extraordinary wife, Roxanne Euben, has accorded me in saying nice things about her husband in the acknowledgments to her books (yep, that’s plural!) all these years. The debt of gratitude I owe Roxanne cannot be overstated. Most everything I’ve been able to experience and accomplish these past twenty years, both on a personal and professional level, can be traced directly to the love, lifeline, and sense of place and purpose she has given me, unerringly and unwaveringly. No one knows me as well, and by that I mean the total ‘all’ of me; the best and worst. The highs and the lows. The triumphs and failures. Wins and losses. And still, she lets me hang around. Roxanne’s own incredible breadth of talent, brains, skill, and achievement in the academic world is beyond impressive. Astonishing is more like it. (It comes as no surprise, as her parents, Peter and Olga Euben, are two of the smartest, most intellectually curious people I know, and I’m not just saying that because they are fantastic in-laws who embraced me and encouraged my journalistic pursuits from the first day I met them 25 years ago).
The example of ethics, justice, fairness, and the bar of excellence Roxanne sets — for herself and for those around her, including me — in her writing, scholarship, and teaching is higher than Sly Stone at Woodstock. Her IQ, I’m fairly certain, is even higher than that. Want proof? We both met as police reporters working the early morning beat at a small daily newspaper in Western Massachusetts. She quickly wised up and headed for grad school and gold-leafed accolades. I kept covering the cops. But Roxanne kept covering my back while I dug in the news trenches, reminding me how good I was, or could be. She’s always been, along with my dad, my greatest champion and source of confidence. She’s even said so in her books. This site may be as close as I come to having one of my own, but as a repository for my work – and, in a sense, a place where my own personal and professional history, and life in print lives – it’ll have to do. For now, at least.
Finally, I would like to dedicate these pages, and everything else I’ve written and gotten published over what amounts to a 30-year run (so far), to my parents Jack and Annette Perry. My dad, sadly, is no longer with us, but I think he would be proud and tickled at all of this. And I think he’d know and wholeheartedly agree with what I am going to say. That I didn’t need to experience becoming a parent to Roxanne’s and my precociously precious daughter Asha — whose exuberant demeanor and life-affirming presence has made my choice to become a stay-at-home dad one of the best and wisest decisions I have ever made — to know that being surrounded by infinite love, a tight embrace of tenderness, and solid ground to stand on is what every kid craves, and deserves. My Mom and Dad gave me all of these things and so much more, readily, freely, eagerly, instinctively. They always made me feel special, and sometimes extraordinary. They encouraged me first to draw, then to write, and write some more – not only that I could, but that I should. So I did, and here it is.
– Jonathan Perry, June 2013