From the recording Moving Home
Until I was 24 years old, I had moved more times than years I’d been alive. We lived briefly in Anaheim, and for two years in Australia, but mostly, we moved around San Diego. But when you are a kid, any move far enough to change schools, might as well be across the country.
In 1997, Alison and I bought a house in South Park. For those of you familiar with the neighborhood, back then there was nothing like what you see now. There was no hipster bar to show off your handle-bar moustache. No kid-friendly burger joint where you could drink a craft beer while your kids played on the wooden trolley. No French bistros. And there sure as hell weren’t any boutique clothing and candle shops.
There were exactly two store fronts, a used appliance store that occupied two different dilapidated warehouses and a tiny thrift store that had shit-all nothing that any sensible person would buy. Every other store-front was boarded up. Mazara’s Pizza was exactly where it is now. The Big Kitchen was there, and had been for years. Rebecca’s Coffee had a small space that now houses a fancy fusion restaurant. There was Snippy’s, a dark and tiny old-timer’s bar that couldn’t even fit a full-size pool table. Hamilton’s bar was there, but it didn’t have 150 craft beers on tap. It was called Sparky’s back then, with pieces of paper taped to the wall that said, “Por Favor, No Escupir en el Piso”, written in black magic marker. Nobody bothered to translate “Please don’t spit on the floor” into english, because honestly, I don’t think anybody would have enforced it anyway. It was simply a request. And that was pretty much it when it came to our little area of Golden Hill during a time when nobody had even thought to call it South Park.
Our house was certainly no exception to the ‘hood. In fact, it was the worst house on the street. The previous owner was in prison for running a meth-lab out of the place. Our neighbors told stories of semi-trucks pulling up at 2 am, and mysterious explosions in the backyard that burned up what was once an outside staircase to our upstairs.
Nearly every person we knew thought we were fucking crazy to buy the place. This gave me no pause whatsoever. If we wanted to buy a home, we simply had no other choice. This is what we could afford. When we signed the loan papers, Alison’s hand started shaking so hard she had trouble putting the pen to paper. She stopped, looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Are you sure we are doing the right thing?” I steeled my reserve, looked right back at her and lied, “Absolutely, baby. Trust me, this is going to be good for us.”
And I never backed down. It took 3 months of negotiating down half a dozen liens on the property just to get it to sell at the appraised value. There was a “medical glass” company that was owed $5,000. I offered them $500. The owner’s ex-wife had a lien for the same amount. I offered her $500 too. Everyone balked, and I told them to drive out to the property and call me back. I reminded them the house was in foreclosure, and if it hit the court-house steps, they wouldn’t get a dollar. Then I pleaded the case of a young couple trying to buy their first home. Eventually, they all came around.
After the finances were worked out, there were still junkies living in the house to be dealt with. During escrow they were selling fixtures from the house and ripping exterior windows right out of their frames. There was an open sewage line where a toilet should be. The house was a literal shit-hole, littered with needles and crack-pipes. My favorite feature of the house was a bit of graffiti written on the wall in lipstick, surrounded by kiss-marks. It was a “to-do” list.
1. Get drugs.2. Get food.3. Get money.4. Get a job.
The priorities were exactly backwards, reflecting a complete unawareness that the job gets the money that gets you the food and drugs.
After an epic and sad battle to get the junkies out, a long story in itself, the house was finally ours.
The first thing we did was tear the interior down to the studs. We couldn’t move in for six-months while it was under construction. During that time, Alison had posted a sign on the front door that said, “New Tenants. No Drugs. Go Away.” The word “Tenants” was a conscious choice. We didn’t want anyone feeling resentful toward some fancy-ass new owners coming in and gentrifying their drug-den. We figured new renters would be more sympathetic.
Eventually, we transformed the place into one of the nicest houses on the street. Our neighbors loved us, and the feeling was mutual. And South Park transformed right along with us. I often opine that the American Dream is a lie. By that, I mean there is no amount of hard work that is going to turn a janitor or a factory worker into Donald Trump. But if the American Dream is to work hard and build a better place for yourself and your family…a place you can be proud of and live a modestly content life - if that is the dream, then I have achieved it. I have an absurdly supportive woman who has indulged me beyond belief in my creative pursuits. I have an amazing extended family and more truly great friends than any man has a right to ask for.
Against this backdrop, I write melancholy songs that I am blessed to have found an audience for. My biggest struggle has been getting this all onto a record. And now, I’ve achieved that too.
I wrote “Moving Home” about ten years after purchasing our house in South Park. I was on my way home from work, and I saw a young couple loading moving boxes into their car, and it reminded me of all the times I had moved, and how far I had come in my life. I was instantly filled with a rush of bitter-sweet memories. But in the end, the sweetness triumphed over all that was bitter.
This record is a true reflection of that journey. Before starting this record, I was a bit musically lost, wandering in the forest when it came to trusting other people with my songs. I had the songs all written, but struggled for years, crashing against obstacle after obstacle, between me and my ability to get these songs down for posterity. It was often a soul-crushing weight that plagued and haunted me in the darkest moments of my quietude. Until I finally let go and let other people in. The DIY aesthetic of punk rock has pushed me to incredible heights in my life. But it took a long time to learn you don’t have to do EVERYTHING yourself. I suppose I am still learning that lesson.
I want to thank all the incredible musicians who helped me find my way home on this. My right hand, and the low resonant sound of my heart, Erin Browder, who brought me the cello I have always longed for. Christopher Hoffee, whose engineering , creativity, musical prowess and most importantly his fine-tuned ear, made this record something it never could have been without his limitless gifts. The virtuoso musicality of Marta Zaludova and her violin. Matt Lynott, who laid down the foundation of everything we built with his always in-the-pocket drumming skills. Carlos A. Keller, whose mariachi trumpet gave my album a uniqueness that I’ve always sought in my every creation. Beston Barnett, for bringing me the upright bass that I desperately needed during key moments of this recording. Simon Jones, who gave me exactly what I needed, whether I knew it or not. Finn Lohner, who without playing a note, contributed more musically to this than he will ever understand. And of course, Alison. If I start listing all the ways I am in debt to Alison, I will be writing until the end of my days. With her support, I hope to do just that.
Finally, I want to acknowledge Christopher’s dog, Zorba, who played the bells hanging on the back door in perfect time and kept us grounded with unconditional love throughout the entire process of making this record.
Every one of you had a hand in making a long-time dream and personal goal of mine become a reality. All my friends even chipped in financially to help fund this through my Kickstarter campaign. I will never forget that. I will say it again. I have many flaws. Lack of loyalty isn’t one of them. You will forever be in my heart, and always have a room in the home I’ve spent a lifetime building.
“It’s clear. I’ve come home.”