I am down to my last six nights as a Capital Region resident, so as I enter the final phases of packing and moving, I wanted to note some other things that I will miss when I leave Albany (even as I try to forget the things that I will not miss). Here are a few of those great things that will cause sweet sorrow when we part:
1. Airplanes: Oh, yeah, of course they have airplanes in Iowa, but I’m not going to get to see them the way I do now. We live a few miles in a straight line from the end of Albany International Airport’s east-west runway, so when the wind is blowing out of the west (as it often does hereabouts), incoming flights come pretty much directly over our house, with wheels down and flaps extended. As a person who likes to look up in the sky a lot, this adds a great degree of interest to the act of sitting out in the hot tub (which I also do a lot), since we get to see all sorts of traffic arriving, from small private planes through commercial Canadair Regional Jets, Boeing 737’s and Airbus A-319’s to behemoths like National Guard C-130‘s and the occasional KC-10. I’ve become something of a connoisseur of aircraft hereabouts as a result, and can often identify planes by their sound before I can actually see them. I doubt that I will ever become as well-versed in the aviation fauna operating over Des Moines.
2. Stewarts Shops: In the suburban neighborhood where we live, it’s hard to get anywhere without getting in a car (something we’ll be changing in Des Moines, as our new house is smack in the middle of the city), so we appreciate the few relatively close businesses that allow for the quick pickup of goods and sundries. The nearest store to our house is a Stewarts, so in all likelihood I’ve made as many visits to that particular business location as I have to any other in the Capital Region. And as regional convenience stores go, Stewarts is really quite a gem. Their locally-themed and produced products (Crumbs Along the Mohawk or Kaydeross Kreme anyone?) give them far more character than the national chains (e.g. Cumberland Farms) located hereabouts, and their stores tend to truly integrate in their home neighborhoods in ways that most multi-venue businesses don’t. When I was working in Great Barrington, I used to pick up the co-pilot near the Defreestville Park and Ride, and I loved the fact that the Stewarts adjacent to it served as a de facto town community center, as its booths would be filled, every morning, with a great assortment of garrulous retirees sharing their morning coffee and donuts, and providing running commentary on everyone and everything that struck their fancy. As a nonprofit fundraising type, I also appreciate the Dake family’s commitment to philanthropy in the community, as well as their approach to grants and gifts: they tend to make a lot of smaller gifts to organizations and activities that fly below the radar screen of many grant-makers around here, many of them youth oriented, rather than offering a few massive gifts that serve fewer people, but offer greater recognition. I must admit, too, that I will miss Stewarts because its analog in Iowa is quite unfortunately named. I’m going to have a hard time ordering anything with sprinkles there . . .
3. Albany Songwriters: Again, while I’ll certainly be able to listen to the music of some of Albany’s finest songwriters while I am in Iowa, I’ll miss the opportunity to see them live, and am grateful to have made their acquaintances over the years. While the Albany market has always been unfortunately focused on judging musical success through the lens of whether or not you make it out of Albany, no matter what it takes to do so, some of our greatest creative treasures have produced their finest works locally, and continue to offer them locally, to the great benefit of those of us who actually support local artists before people outside the market tell us to do so. Three songwriters in particular stand out for me after 18 years in and around Albany: Stephen Gaylord, Gaven Richard and Jed Davis.
- Stephen Gaylord writes deeply-emotional songs about often-flawed individuals, and his work is frequently rooted in the rural culture of his native Kinderhook and its environs. He has offered these riveting compositions onstage hereabouts for the better part of two decades with Beef, The Wasted, and as a solo artist (under the pseudonym Gay Tastee), and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone write or sing music that hurts as good as his does. Marcia and I both count his heart-wrenching “Beautiful Brand New” among our favorite songs, ever, and Beef’s “Spavid Story” provides the greatest description of the creative urge to rock that I’ve ever heard, including the classic couplet: “We never listened to the reasons why it didn’t sound right / We was f*ckin’ around on a Friday night.” If I had to pick a single album to stand as the soundtrack to my 18 years in Upstate New York, there is no doubt that it would be The Wasted’s We Are Already in Hell, a loosely-conceptual masterpiece of insightful lyrics and brilliant riffs, featuring a killer performance by the band (Gaylord, Kelly Murphy, Dave Reynolds) from soup to nuts. I will never hear this record without being transported back to a place where “there’s a certain shade of red the weeds down by the creeks will get between the Catskills and the Berkshire hills / and if you’re from down here you shouldn’t need to ask if it’s a theme park or a labor camp.”
- Gaven Richard is another born-and-bred Capital Region denizen who probably achieved his greatest local exposure as the drummer-singer-songwriter for Kamikaze Hearts, though his back catalog includes a stint with the Birthday Party-esque Annabel Lee, occasional work with Stephen Gaylord and the loop-based solo project Salon Style, among others. Richard is a great story-teller, and the true testament to the power of his songs is how well they work in whatever setting he chooses to present them. I would count “Pink Huffy/Pink Murray,” “High Dive” and “No One Called You A Failure” among his greatest works, but the sonic differences between the three of them are striking. The first of those songs is swirling, organ-driven carnival dirge about an adult who has to ride his daughter’s bicycle around town after a DWI conviction (“now she’s got her license, she don’t need it no more”), the second tells the tale of a terrible poolside accident over a booming drum-and-guitar riff (“there’s an ambulance parked right on the deck / back flip to a broken neck”), and the third is one of the most profound observations about the blessings and complications of familial love I’ve ever heard, delivered over the Kamikaze Hearts’ trademark acoustic porch-rock. Marcia and I first heard this subtle and poignant tale of a young man’s tentative first steps away from home right as our own daughter was leaving the nest for the first time, and it can still bring tears to my eyes for its spot-on depiction of the emotions related to those difficult days.
- Long Island-native Jed Davis first came to town as a student at UAlbany in the early ’90s, and he wowed me then, and then wowed me during a subsequent decade spent in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and has continued to wow me since he returned to Albany a year and half ago, through his solo releases and performances, as well as his work with a variety of bands, including Skyscape, The Hanslick Rebellion (who I consider to be the greatest live band Albany ever produced), Jeebus, The Congregation of Vapors, Sevendys and Collider. Davis is the highest-profile performer among the three songwriters I’ve listed here, and the list of folks that he’s worked with over the years reads like a veritable Who’s Who in Excellent Music. Just off the top of my head, I can call up memorable songs that Jed has written and recorded with Chuck Rainey, Ralph Carney, Steve Albini, Tony Maimone, Jerry Marotta, Reeves Gabrels, Avi Buffalo, The Ramones, Anton Fig and Tony Levin, and if I had my iPod with me right now, I’d no doubt be able to call up an even longer list of the folks who have deemed his work worthy of their able ministrations. Jed is another masterful storyteller who is capable of working within a dizzying array of musical genres, and he always does a tremendous job of writing and arranging songs that allow the music to optimally complement the words he’s singing. Unlike any other songwriter I know, though, he’s also a brilliant graphic designer and layout artist, and his attention to the presentation of his work is sublime to boot. Case in point: the delightful Dixieland swing of his paean to his former Brooklyn neighborhood, “Yuppie Exodus From Dumbo,” was actually released as a period-appropriate wax cylinder! His catalog is so rich, and so vital, and so varied that I feel like I’d do it an injustice to single out a track or two, so while encouraging you to explore his numerous releases over the years, I would highlight Collider’s “Mock Cheer,” Sevendys’ “Please Don’t Eat Me I Love You” and The Hanslick Rebellion’s “Big Hot Monday” as personal favorites.
4. The University at Albany: I’ve spent three years on this campus as an employee, and two years as a student, and on some plane, my time at UAlbany stands as one of the most meaningful community experiences that I’ve had during my 18 years in the region. UAlbany is truly a wonderful resource for the Capital Region, and when we did the mental, financial and emotional arithmetic associated with moving to a new city, it was leaving this campus that weighed the heaviest on me. I have tremendous admiration for my colleagues, both administration and faculty here, and have been awed by the depth and richness of my interactions with our students over the years. It’s always easy to throw rocks at large public universities, and to accentuate the negative rather than celebrating the positive (a veritable varsity sport hereabouts, it seems), but I will remain forever grateful to the faculty who challenged me as a “nontraditional student” (a.k.a. the old guy in the class) during my masters’ degree program, as well as to the employees and students who have supported me in my work here. I am proud to be a UAlbany Alumnus, and proud of the work I have done on behalf of the University over the past three years. I will miss the UAlbany community more than anything else here when I leave, and will count myself fortunate if I am able to continue working in higher education at an institution of this caliber, with students and colleagues as good as those who support and sustain me now.