Record Stores and Reinvention

Long before I had aspirations to take my writing to the next level, I was merely a writer hiding his writing under a bushel. Back then, records and record stores kept me going. Actually, it was less about record stores, and more about the music that record stores carried.

In the late 1980s, I returned with my young family to the place where my roots were the deepest, which also happened to be close enough to the WBOR radio tower to pull-in its meager radio signal, which emanated out from Brunswick for a 15-20 mile radius, barely reaching Durham, where we were living with my in-laws. The signal was slightly stronger on the Lisbon Falls side of the river where we moved waiting for our house to be built, occupying the downtown side of a duplex at 16 ½ Oak Street, one of Marcel Doyon’s many rental properties in my former hometown. This connected me to late 1980s college rock and the likes of They Might Be Giants, Lois Maffeo, The Fall, and The Replacements. A few years later, I became deeply affected by something called alt-country and the band Uncle Tupelo, as well as a host of bands on the long defunct Faye Records label out of another college town, Columbia, Missouri.

A student named Brett Wickard had a radio show I listened to every week. While still working on his Bowdoin degree, Wickard started a tiny little record store on Middle Street—I think it was next to an Army recruiting center.  Brunswick had been lacking a store like this one ever since Manassas, Ltd. closed up shop a few years before. Wickard called his store, Bull Moose.

It might seem overly dramatic to say that “music saved my life,” but it was one of the few positive keeping me running during a difficult period for me during my 30s. Lost in a series of soul-sucking  jobs I hated, full of ideas that never came to fruition, the music of this time period spoke to me like nothing else at the time. Later, books and then writing became default options for me, helping me to make sense of the world. Music still remains a positive force in my life.

I’ve always wondered what it is about music that manages to forge such an intimate connection with humans—are we wired for music and melody and when we hear the right combination of notes, is that what moves us deep within our souls? Of course, this deep experience with music isn’t universal. My lovely wife doesn’t have anything like my own deep connection to music, but she certainly knows how much music means to me.

Saturday was Record Store Day 2014.

Saturday was Record Store Day 2014.

Saturday was Record Store Day. Record Store Day is a national event that began in 2007. It was a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly 1,000 independently owned record stores in the US and thousands of similar stores internationally. This year, the number of participating stores ballooned to 1,600.

Bull Moose was celebrating RSD 2014 at all its 11 locations. Since the Brunswick store was closer, I opted to head over to Joshua Chamberlain’s hometown, rather than the Scarborough location, where REM bassist Mike Mills was in-store signing autographs and offering a special release of acoustic REM tracks. The band’s “Fables of the Reconstruction” cassette was the first item sold at the original store in Brunswick back in 1989.

A few balloons and a lot more vinyl.

A few balloons and a lot more vinyl.

I ended up going home with two pieces of vinyl and a Judy Garland CD (I also adore torch singers like Garland). One of my records was a reissue of Songs Ohia’s “Magnolia Electric Co.”, the band/project of the late Jason Molina. If you are a fan of heartfelt, genuine songwriting and the grittier side of music best enjoyed late at night with a glass of Jim Beam, and have never heard the name Jason Molina, you need to check his stuff out. Molina is just one more example of an artist no longer with us, but who left a huge musical legacy behind.

Brunswick Bull Moose Music.

Brunswick Bull Moose Music.

What Can You Do?

I have been limiting my intake of bad news and tragedy. To the best of my ability, I have disconnected from most vestiges of “grief porn.” Local news has hitched its wagon to this industry and viewers can’t get enough of it. Popular shows now fixate on zombies and the apocalypse. Americans have a predilection for this kind of thing and television execs know this and serve it up on a platter for mass consumption.

Humans are limited in their capacity to process tragedy and grief—yet, thanks to the media most consume it in unhealthy amounts, with death and mayhem just one remote or mouse click away. Continue reading

Lobster Roll Season Opens

I was pleased to hear about Sherman’s Books & Stationery opening a new store in Portland. I learned about it when I emailed an old friend and colleague from my workforce development days. His son, Josh Christie, happens to be manager of the new Sherman’s. They held their grand opening on Saturday. I covered it for the Bangor Daily News. Christie is also the author of one of the best books about Maine beers, Maine Beer: Brewing in Vacationland.

Grand opening at Sherman's on Exchange Street.

Grand opening at Sherman’s on Exchange Street.

The news about the Sherman’s opening came via my own network. I tapped it and it’s provided opportunities for me as a writer. I continue casting my freelance net widely, and I’ve been landing writing assignments more frequently. Yesterday, my news story about the grand opening appeared in the BDN. I wrote a prior story about bookstores across the state. I have another article in the works about Portland being Maine’s literary hub. Continue reading

Having a Vision

Community spirit might be battered and bruised in many places; there are some where that spirit of place is on life support. Then, there are those towns where the locals recognize that the solution won’t be coming from anywhere else but from within.

I was in Rangeley Wednesday night for a Community Visioning hosted by Rangeley Health and Wellness. On a very quiet night in the middle of the region’s sleepiest month, more than 100 townspeople turned out to say what were the most important things their community needs to consider. Continue reading

You’re Out!!

After seeing my blog stats crash and burn over the past week, it might be time to get back to bread and circuses. Seth Godin says blog stats don’t matter, but I’m not as self-actualized as Seth is. I guess writing about education, post-industrial collapse, and even food is way too controversial for most people. While I don’t plan to start tackling certain kinds of pop culture subject matter—like zombies and meth-dealing science teachers—baseball is a sport, and one of the circuses I’ll still buy a ticket for and write about.

Longtime readers and old friends know that I played the game, coached it, and even ran a semi-pro college league for five summers—heck, I even wrote a book about baseball. What many don’t know is that I once was an umpire and given the nature of the free agent lifestyle, I’ve decided it’s time to get back behind the plate again.

The boys in blue.

The boys in blue.

I was a member of the Western Maine Baseball Umpires Association (WMBUA) from 1998 to 2001. After four years, I had worked my way up from 7th and 8th grade junior high games to getting some varsity high school action. Then, Mark graduated from high school and I wanted to see him play college baseball at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, a three-hour drive I got used to making two or three times each week; when he came home in the summer, I started coaching a team in the Twilight League and it wasn’t long before I was running a team, running the league, and even writing a column on the league for the local weekly newspaper. Umpiring got pushed aside. Continue reading

The Quest for Education


Don't take my education!!

Don’t take my education!!

In the southern part of the state and mainly greater-Portland, events at the University of Southern Maine have highlighted for me (and maybe a small cadre of others) the challenges inherent in maintaining the status quo relative to higher education.

Is it possible and even feasible given the current landscape of diminishing public resources for taxpayers to be on the hook for what some consider an outdated education model? Along those same lines, is the current statewide higher education complex and namely, the University of Maine system, viable and more important, sustainable? Continue reading

We are all Detroit

Ruins at the abandoned Packard Automotive Plant are seen on September 4, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. (courtesy of Chicago CBS-2 affiliate)

Ruins at the abandoned Packard Automotive Plant are seen on September 4, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. (courtesy of Chicago CBS-2 affiliate)


“It regards itself as the temple of a new gospel of progress, to which I shall venture to give the name of ‘Detroitism’.”—British historian and MP Ramsay Muir in 1927

“Mayors come and go—it is the footmen that tie the knots and divide the bag—the longtime little men; bureaucrats, cockroaches.”—from Detroit: An American Autopsy, by Charlie LeDuff

Crashing the Party

My sister is a writer and a blogger. If you haven’t checked out Julie-Ann’s site, I highly recommend that you do so. She brings the goods, which translates into fresh content on a regular basis.

One of the features that she’s developed over the time she’s been blogging is a series of posts she calls, “Lady Alone Traveler.” These are some of my favorite posts that she’s been laying down over the past two years. Continue reading

Cheap Meat

True believers are a dangerous lot. Not dangerous in the sense that they’ll physically hurt, or inflict something worse on you—dangerous in that they think they are the only ones with a direct line to the source of truth.

Their unwavering belief in their cause—whatever that cause might be–renders them incapable of considering alternative viewpoints, or being able to empathize with how others frame the same issue with equal fervor.  While belief of this type is often directed towards deities and religious systems, more and more this same kind of rote call and response is found in most of the debates about issues from gay rights to gun control. Ultimately, people just end up talking past one another. Continue reading

Time for Food

Real food takes time. Time to grow it. Time for the harvesting, or the fattening of livestock for those who don’t have an opposition to locally-grown meat.

Since convenience foods have come to predominate the American diet, the home cooked meal has become an endangered species. Families no longer commune around food, instead, everyone fends for themselves. If you have older children, think about the last time you had a family meal that wasn’t a special occasion, but just a normal weeknight. Continue reading