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posted: 12/28/07

More than six months since the last update. This is going to be like remembering how to [insert fumbling sex metaphor here] after [insert eternal time measurement metaphor here]. But I'll give it a go. Hopefully I'll get this done over the next... three days so I can post by year-end.

Oh Hai.
It was, in fact, a year. And not a bad one. Some breaks, some changes, some do-si-do. Let's accomplish this by chunking, shall we? Yes. Let's.

Day (and Night) Jobs
One of the bigger defining moments occurred this year when I lost my day job (yes, I do in fact need one, the family fortune being depleted and all - too many Nigerian bank transfers, it seems) in April, after working for Behemothco for well nigh on a decade. It wasn't entirely a shock, it wasn't wholly expected, it was moreover inevitable. I have few regrets about the time I put in. I worked my ass off for years. Mostly good days and much, much, much accomplished. And in the end, something of a gift on the exit. Now that I'm out: worlds of possibilities. It's funny how you can't carve the time to see that when you're on the inside.

That event set up a number of mostly fortunate happenstances in the weeks and months to come. Most importantly, it gave me the first break I'd had from the geek workforce in 16 years. This was a new and scary, but ultimately very good thing. The time off allowed me to examine my career from outside the confines of... a career. It allowed me to rediscover a few things I've loved in the past but have had to abandon due to the daily grind. And it allowed me to sleep in - though I didn't for the most part. Within days I was interviewing with various companies. I stayed busy. Quite. One of the nicest things was that I got up out of this chair and went outside. Fancy that.

I met lots of local folk and businesses in the interim and made a number of great contacts through many diverse industries. I decided to start doing some tech consulting in the near-term (why fight it?) and soon had more work than I had time to do it. In the end it was a group of former associates who had launched a startup in D.C. who sought me out. I began working with this fall and stepped on as their full-time QA Architect at the beginning of December. It's an immensely talented crew and it's so nice to be getting things done without 12 layers of decision making.

Sample 32-member "team" conversation from years past:
"I just don't know - I think that 1-pixel border needs to be more purple-ish... I'll escalate through 14 project, product managers and VPs - hell, let's also involve Finance... They'll want to know. Now the rest of you just hold tight for three weeks while I get the answer... But definitely don't relax. Keep a high-level freakout on. That's it. That's the ghostly-white, nauseated look on everyone's face that I need to see. Exactly. Worry faster."


Nimble at the new gig? Dude. We're freaking pretzel-rific. Is a nice.

The State of This Business of Music
When I lost my job one of the first things I heard from a former colleague was: Hey, you should do another record and in so doing, get out and start gigging again. And yeah, theoretically, I should have done those things. But it's a little more complicated than that.

For the past five years or so, since my first record came out (and for a lifetime off and on before that), I've been involved in a love-hate relationship with the music business. While it's been tough working a full-time job and doing records and supporting them by playing live locally-ish and touring where possible, I've managed to fit it all in in the past. In particular, 2005-2006 was a very busy time for me, musically. When I injured my shoulder in late-2006 it forced me to take a break from gigging. And I really enjoyed the time off. Suddenly I didn't have to think six months to a year ahead, working with [read: incessantly emailing and calling] promoters and club managers, booking [read: begging for] gigs. I didn't have to schlep my truckload of gear down iced-up, cobblestone streets in the dead of winter. I didn't have to wear a back brace because I'd slipped a disc (again), wrestling my 20lbs. flight case off the baggage carousel at JFK. I didn't have to worry about my nails (much). I just... didn't hafta. It was sort of amazing how much time was left in the day, as such.

I love playing. I love performing. I absolutely want to get back to it. But there are things. There are things in the way.

One factor is economics. I'm not sure everyone groks this, but it actually takes some amount of money to make music. Further, it takes a not inconsiderable amount of money to make said music available to the masses. In the past, with the day job, I've been able to take a bit of a hit on the musical side of the ecomonic equation (hence the complications and reticence to go back in whole hog when the day job ended earlier this year - though I did consider it and was briefly tempted to do so). I've been able to absorb it. Almost every "professional" musician I know - at a certain level anyway, Coldplay, for example, probably doesn't qualify - works a primary or secondary job to make the music thing work. This is nothing new. It's just not possible to make a living playing music as a full-time occupation - as a solo folk/jazz/classical/etc. artist, again, at a certain level - in today's America-ville. You could argue. I'll let you. But when you consider the opportunities to play and actually make any income from them that's not instantly lost in everyday expenses, if you consider trying to pay the bills and/or support a family... It's just not gonna happen. So we take second jobs. We work for the man. We might teach and/or produce on the side. And when we do this, there's less and less time for music, or family, or whatever. That's the way it works. It's always been that way, for most players, at a certain level. There are tradeoffs.

Still, it's gotten worse. There are fewer and fewer places to play. Venues are closing and/or seriously restricting the number of acts and genres they book. Tightly coupled with this fact is that fewer and fewer people are going out to see live music. They stay at home, they surf the web, they play with their Wii. A good chunk of my "audience" is of child-bearing age - and bearing those children they most certainly are. They don't go out more than a couple of times a year. It is what it is. But it all does have an effect. Fewer people are buying music. CD sales (which result in a much higher margin) for most artists are drastically down, if not totally dead (thank you, European CD sales - I don't know what's up with that, but Merci!). Online/digital sales could be a godsend to the music business (more than 70% of my sales are now digital) but for several reasons: 1) the record industry fought it for so long that label-led monetization is a lost cause and of course artists took the hit; 2) yes, digital piracy/theft is a real threat and again the artists get screwed, especially the smaller ones - like me; 3) while digital sales are incredibly convenient for the consumer, margins for the artists are considerably lower than CDs, and forget it if the label wants a piece of the pie.

In terms of trying to make it work financially as a musician, it's my opinion that regardless of the huge advances in technology and distribution potential over the last 5-10 years, the business is incredibly bleak. It's as bad as I've seen since I started doing this stuff 25+ years ago. When you're losing money just driving to gigs, something's gotta give. Unfortunately, more and more often it's the music.

I mentioned it above, sorta, but the other factor is time. I do things. Many things. It is a massive hustle trying to book gigs. It's a full-time job. I already have one of those. I enjoy the recording process, once I'm in the right space in a project, but it's like training for an Olympic event getting ready to do it. All-encompassing, for me. Lately I've found other ways of getting through the weekend that don't involve lugging three guitars and a bunch of cables around - though I do love performing, once I've started the first tune. That's probably the biggest thing. There's just a lot to be done. Ya know, I haven't podcasted in forever. That's another thing that needs doing. I've considered talking through a lot of these challenges on an episode, though the subject matter both intimidates and depresses me. But perhaps I should get over that hump and do a confessional. We shall see. Look forward to a glimpse of that underbelly, for sure. Maybe.

All this said, I love music, and I will get back to it. I've already committed to it. I'm in. I will do another record. I have one already written (long-delayed due to various, and continuing to evolve) and when I actually have the time to think about the project, I get all excited and stuff. I just have to be in the right frame of mind, and there has to be adequate time (and, okay, inspiration and motivation) to do it. It will get done. Promise. I'm not sure when I'll be playing live again. But I'm sure I'll do that too. All a matter of... time.

Keeping the Wheels Turning
So, to happier and sillier in some ways, stuff.

I've mentioned this previously, and my last several installments have been narrowly focused on the subject, so it's probably fairly obvious.

I'm riding my bike(s). A lot. It's true.

2007 was the year that I returned to bike racing after 16 years of... not bike racing. At all. Even. At first, I resisted. I did buy a bike (a cyclocross bike, which was somewhat of an odd choice after all of those years on the road, but also not), but I didn't plan on racing it. When I found myself with some free time after the job loss, I just went out and rode. Every day. For months. And I started getting the urge again. To lycra up and go half-fast.

In May I raced my first time trial in more than a decade, just for a bit of fun. I did not vomit. From there I started doing organized group rides and racing on the road again, first with more time trials, Tour de Cure 2007 and finally by doing my first licensed road race of the year, the brutal Tour of the Hilltowns in western Massachusetts, where I got completely schooled, yes, but also, again I did not vomit, though I might have liked to. And from there I just kept going. I had a few successes and even a couple of wins by year end. Mostly though, I just rode. I put in ~4,300 road miles this year, from April to December, and managed to lose 15lbs without even trying. And it was good. A few highlights... and lowlights, depending, follow below.

This was my first season racing cyclocross, ever. When I raced in Oklahoma in the late-'80s/early-'90s, cyclocross was something we'd heard about from Eddie B.'s book, but no one was doing it in any kind of organized fashion in the States (okay, there were very, very small factions on the fringe, all elsewhere). But for the most part it was something almost entirely Euro - exotic, strange and frightening. Oddly enough I owned an early production 'cross bike in the early '90s (a Fisher Sphinx), but just used it as a winter and occasional offroad bike. Now the sport is by far the biggest thing happening in competitive cycling in the U.S. And that's way cool. I count myself as extremely fortunate to be living in New England, which is a hotbed for the activity - and insanely competitive as such. My first season racing 'cross was... painful. I did a handful of races, finishing DFL a few times, to finishing respectably mid-pack in a few races, to actually winning one. Cyclocross is by far the most demanding cycling discipline I've experienced. Take the physical output of a time trial (100% effort). Move that effort offroad, to a deviously laid out course. Add run-ups, barrier jumping, mud, snow and ice (or heck, all three) and you have a well-mixed torture cocktail. It's... a lot of fun. I still enjoy the theoretical benefits of cyclocross (something to do after road season, a novel way to improve bike handling, a relaxed camaraderie that just doesn't exist among the high-tension, self-obsessed roadie crowd - of which I am certainly a member) more than I enjoy the actual racing of cyclocross - which is simply distilled anguish for some defined period of time. But at least it's over in :45-:60 minutes.

The only real downside to this season has been the injuries. I've had a couple of nasty crashes this year (one only a few days ago - downhill, black ice over pavement, gravity stopped working, then came back with a vengeance a moment later) and I just don't recover from physical setbacks like I did 15 years ago. Impact at 38 hurts as much as it did at 19. But it hurts 10 times more in the morning. And the morning after that one. And so on.

Despite the suffering, I'm already looking forward to the 2008 seasons, road and 'cross both. It will be nice to be riding with a team, as well. I'm at the end of a couple of weeks of semi-active rest but will be moving on to the winter training program just after the New Year. I'll be boring you with all of the details, rest assured.

Food and Drink
We cooked a number of really nice meals this year and to be sure I quaffed more than a few bottles of vin délectable. Because I'd like to finish this thing this year, I'll mention only a few on either score.

Best meal at Chez Golay: Tossup between the Valentine's Day lovefest and the short rib extravaganza. While I'm sure I'll in some way regret not giving the edge to romance, the Hammersley recipe for braised short ribs - in Guinness and other goodies, no less - was tout simplement incroyable. I've made the dish a few times and it currently stands as my best effort to date. The Picard recipe for tomato tarte is up there, but does not quite a meal make. And yes, while we're on the subject, my wife is an excellent cook, more and more inclined to baking and desserts these days, which is all working out quite well. Everything I've learned about food has come from her (and by extension, her family). It's true.
Proudest cooking moment: The Valentine's Day meal collaboration with my wife, of course. See how I wrapped that one up? Also, in addition to widening the repertorie a bit this year (if you need something braised, I am your man), probably the thing that makes me feel best in the kitchen is the fact that I've learned to cook fish. I don't know why I've avoided it so long. I do understand a lot of folks' apprehension at cooking the stuff. It's the burning. There is, generally speaking, a narrow temperature range in which one must work. But, pay a little attention, give it a shot, and I think you'll find, as I did, that it's one of the easiest entree components to prepare. Broil, pan-fry, bake, grill, what-have-you. One of my favorite things to eat growing up was trout. I'd always wanted to cook it. And now I have, a few times. It's like a :10-minute deal, even with de-boning. I confess, though, I'm just doing the filet thing. I've never liked my food looking back at me. Oh, and also, speaking not of fish but of that magical animal the pig, I make a wicked carbonara. And I finally got a line on good pancetta. Rock and roll.
Best bottles of wine: There were several, of course. But thinking back, a few loom above all the rest. An '03 Scagliola Barbera d'Asti Sansi. An '02 Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier. An '02 Eyrie Pinot Blanc. And the winner - a '98 Milliere Chateauneuf du Pape Vielle Vignes, a dinner gift from our friends Brian and Valerie, which paired perfectly with the short ribs, above. One of the best wines I've ever tasted - and I loves me the Pape. There were others, but those were the standouts around the house.
Best wine values: I still think Heron's pinot noir is some of the best value-oriented wine made. Ditto Perrin's Reservé Cotes du Rhône rouge. Unfortunately both are going to go up in price, as is everything European, next year, due to the weak dollar and higher transport costs. Domestically, Cline is still doing good stuff - just had an '03 mourvedre that was quite nice. Beyond those, the days of good, cheap-ish wine are numbered. If you find something reliably good coming out of Willamette for under $20, let me know. Montinore is the best I've found at that price point. Sad. Even the cheaper, good stuff coming out of Chile, Argentina, Spain and so forth is going to go up. Oh well. We consume. And so it goes.
Brew-ha: Probably because of the bike racing and a renewed fascination with Belgium (which of course would follow), I've been on a slight beer kick lately (which is only made possible by the coming and subsequent ending of cyclocross and thus, the racing, season). I'm forever a fan of Unibroue's stuff - Maudite remains a fave. Lately we've had a bit of the Rare Vos, Three Philosophers, a few bottles of Chimay. I was quite surprised by Allagash White. I'll need to try the rest of their Belgian-style ales. It's important to look forward to things.

That was slightly more than a few. So it goes.

The Rest
There is, of course, more stuff. My wife and I are doing well and enjoying life together. She was extraordinarily supportive through the whole job loss thing. I'm a lucky guy. Her family is fine - we just had a nice X-Mas together - as is mine. My parents were able to come to Maine for Thanksgiving and finally got to see a bit of New England, which was quite nice to be able to facilitate. I still love living in this area. The winters can be a bit rough, but that's what boeuf bourguignon and a bottle of Pommard are for. I'm going to get out and do some backcountry skiing and climbing this season, one way or another. My friend Adam and I did a Cascades climbing trip this past July, but it ended up more of a drinking and sitting trip than anything else. Hmmm... I see a pattern emerging... I think it's time to wrap this one up.

Things. There are many. And these things. They are good.

Look for more in 2008. We see ye.

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