An open thank-you note for Ezra Furman's "42 Tenets of Songwriting"

Ezra Furman was one of the first songwriters I fell in love with. I made a playlist of my favorite songs, follow us on spotify for that. I wrote out a thank-you note, but the 42 tenets come first.


Ezra Furman’s 42 Tenets of Songwriting

(Saved from the great beyond when a younger version of me copied them into a note on an iPod Touch at or around 6/3/12 at 8:50AM EST)

  1. A song must be written and performed in order to be a song.

  2. Songs are analogous to human bodies. The part you write is the skeleton. The part you perform is the flesh. But songs happen primarily in time, not space. This analogy will not hold up under scrutiny, but it can be useful.

  3. Songs have the power to change time.

  4. I make songs, but I have very little control over them.

  5. My favorite kind of song is the kind that talks to people. The song's performer may talk to people, but the song itself talks separately. Sometimes a song will go to a person and grab them and shake them.

  6. Often the performer of a song will intend the opposite of the song's own intention. The song can be overruled, or it can overrule the performer.

  7. Songs are almost people. Of all the things that are not people, they are one of the closest to being people.

  8. Songs change over time and sometimes change back. When a song appears it may behave very differently than it did the last time you heard it.

  9. Over the years, even recorded songs can start to sound very different.

  10. A good song can go bad, and a bad song can become good.

  11. Songs are never finished.

  12. It is a song's audience that has the power to give it value. The performer of the song cannot also be its audience.

  13. A song is made "good" or "bad" by the way people listen to it. That said, some songs are better prepared to be listened to in a "good" way than others. This preparedness is not easy to influence and can never be guaranteed.

  14. A song does not reflect its author's efforts, but his hidden self; not what he wants to appear to be, but what he is.

  15. If you are looking for information about a song, the songwriter is usually the wrong person to ask. Ask the audience.

  16. Like a parent to a child, I know how my songs were made but I don't know what they are really like. After a certain point, they are no longer mine, because we both have changed too much.

  17. A songwriter or songwriting team, together with their songs, form a family unit. A strong family unit defines itself against the outside world of facts, keeping the world out and making its own world. Listening to these groupings of songs is like visiting someone's household for a family dinner: you are offered a glimpse into a separate world with its own separate language and truths.

  18. A song can wander away from home and end up somewhere dangerous. This is not always the author's fault.

  19. A folk song is an orphan from infancy, and has to be tough to survive.

  20. I try to influence my songs to behave violently.

  21. My highest hope for one of my songs it that it might bother someone. I want my songs to be pests.

  22. Songs are an inevitable human byproduct.

  23. The materials for songs can all be found in nature, but only humans can arrange them into songs.

  24. We cannot stand to passively listen to nature's irregular rhythms and bad melodies for very long; we yearn to correct them. Listen to the crashing waves, the whistling wind: they are terrible, musically. They have no sense of timing or pitch, and they are totally emotionless. Songs are humans' corrections of the sounds of nature.

  25. A song is not quite a thing. A song is a form that can be filled in again and again. Making songs is like making plaster molds which you can use to make many unique things. But again, in time rather than in space. Also, the molds themselves can change.

  26. The worst kind of song insults its audience. The best kind calls them to action.

  27. The surest way to ruin a song is to try to make your voice heard over the voice of the song. But sometimes even that won't work.

  28. Just as performers choose songs they like, songs choose performers they like.

  29. A song is a mask that shows its performer's true face.

  30. In song we say what we are forbidden from saying elsewhere.

  31. Performing a song is almost always a passive-aggressive act.

  32. It is more correct to use the same word for "song" and "poem," as is done in Hebrew. Poems are songs as long as they can be performed. Most songs, however, can only obliquely be called poems. "Songs" is the larger category.

  33. Writing a song is finding a psychic place and then trying to draw a map to that place. Performing a song is trying to go back and follow that map and bring people with you. The best songs are the ones that work most reliably as maps to a place. Bad songs are hard-to-follow maps.

  34. Songs always suggest images. Part of listening is picturing the invisible.

  35. I make songs in order to make something happen outside of ordinary life. I am rarely successful.

  36. The performer of a song is inhabited by someone besides himself. Who this is remains unknown.

  37. Someone who hears a song is often redefined in relation to the song. In this way songs can be a catalyst for personal change. This is their most important function.

  38. A good song is a place to live for a while.

  39. A good song erases your memory of what the world is like.

  40. Songs show me how fast time moves. They also remind me of how much can happen in a short amount of time.

  41. A song is the highest form of commemoration. But it has to be the right song. Even when moments of silence are observed, a song would be better.

  42. If it is possible to talk to God, a song is a way to do so.

Alright, here’s the personal storytime bit.

It’s weird to exchange words with someone who’s been singing to you for a decade. We didn’t really exchange words - really I just thanked him for writing the song “Don’t Turn Your Back on Love,” and he nodded and might have said thanks.

Growing up, I had a cool alarm clock radio. It projected the time with a red laser beam onto the ceiling, so you could wake up in the morning, roll onto your back, and see how upset you should be at the morning with minimal effort. I remember being excited by that mostly. It also had a radio - that was just gravy.

I listened to a lot of radio back then (Z93, with the cringe-inducing nighttime segment “What’s in Fry’s Fly” hosted by some guy who was always yelling), and only rarely would change over to The X (Dayton’s alternative/hard-for-FM rock station/advertising vehicle for Rock on the Range and Warped Tour).

One time, between all the 2000s rock, a song came on with an acoustic guitar and a strident, inelegant harmonica piercing through the rest of the noise. A little jumpy baseline. And then a flustered man huffing and heaving and puffing his way through a song about sunglasses.

My baby went out with her family to a ski resort in Colorado And left me all alone for a couple of weeks Well she called me up, she said “I love you in the middle of the night.” I said “In the middle of the night, everybody loves everybody else these days.” She said “Oh, in the middle of the day I love you very much.” I said “Everybody loves each other these days.”
— Take Off Your Sunglasses by Ezra Furman & the Harpoons

I think my working definitions of what songs should do came from Ezra. From songs whose lyrics seemed to rend the music and arrangements to their will to ecstatic screams when seemingly nothing else gets the point across. His songs were never afraid to be uncool, to be pigeonholed into a specific genre convention, to be easily called much of anything. And they seemed more alive than anything I could see with my own two eyes.

I’m thankful for his art. And I’m thankful to whatever radio DJ thought it would be a good idea to play that particular song at that particular time. And I’m thankful to my alarm clock radio.


me, who has been helped by these songs and the tenets that guide writing them

me, who has been helped by these songs and the tenets that guide writing them

Ezra had a pretty robust tumblr, and at one time, I remember finding a note titled “Ezra Furman’s 42 Tenets of Songwriting.” 

After I saw him on this last tour, I tried looking it up. When I found it in high school, I took it as gospel. But I can’t find it online anymore. 

But, years ago, I copied it into the notes app on my iPod Touch. That, I did find.

So, I don’t think this is gospel. But it is worth preaching. I’m not sure why he took it down. I hope he speaks up if he’s upset. I hope these help you as much as they helped me.

Realizing you have a network of parents | Recapping a weekend tour | Listen to Palamara

I have four noteworthy items to report after spending a weekend in and out of a Purple Honda Fit. I will go into more detail about these four items, but really, this is all you need to know.

  1. We played my favorite hometown public radio station (WYSO in Yellow Springs, OH) and invited anyone listening to attend a show in my childhood living room.

  2. We played a set in the aforementioned living room, during which I realized that I had way more than one father and one mother.

  3. We spent a day recording new songs and I haven’t felt better about anything ever probably.

  4. We played in Cincinnati with Palamara, who writes really thoughtful songs which you should listen to on Spotify and follow on Facebook, Instagram, etc.


Continue reading for a glut of personal information and sentimentality.


The summer after high school, I spent a few days a week at WYSO in Yellow Springs. I was the music intern, prepping for my time at Belmont University, jazzed about studying Music Business and a bright little future of convincing people to listen to music.

I organized about 20 thousand CDs, helped out with live acts in studio, and copied and minimized a lot of press sheets for CDs they would get in the mail. And also, I spent a lot of time with Niki Dakota, the Music Director of the station. I recorded a jingle (I need to call myself a jingle writer more often) and she played some high school songs on the radio for the whole Miami Valley to hear.

It was all quite deeply important and meaningful to pre-college Sam.

So, last Friday, five years in the future, I came back with a three piece band to the station that’s been spinning our record since it came out. And we shared our songs. And it was good. And she made me beatbox like when I was in an a cappella group in high school. And I did. And I wasn’t terrible.


We played on the radio because it was fun, but we had some serious business to attend to. We were playing a show, and wanted to drive people to come see us if they liked our music on the station.

However - plot twist. The show was in my childhood living room. In my parents’ home.

So we pretty much invited radio strangers to my parents’ house. And I got a handful of emails requesting the address. And several strangers came and were welcomed with drinks and homemade cookies.


I grew up with two parents. They loved each other. They still love each other. They were married when they raised my two sisters and I. And they're still married now. On their last anniversary, I gave them a call, asked how it felt to be married to someone for a few decades. Mom said good, that there were only about 4 hard years. And then I heard my dad yell from the background, the way that people do when they’re not really on the phone call, but want to be heard

“Yeah! Just about four!”


Strangers from the radio weren’t the only people who showed up in my childhood living room. The following people were also in attendance.

Stephanie Bange: Ms. Stephanie read stories at the local library on Far Hills across the way from our house. She described me as “one of her storytime kids.” She loved to see who they grew up to be. I never remembered Miss Stephenie personally, but I’ve always had a warm and fuzzy feeling about libraries in general. I guess I’ve got her to blame. I think I read every single one of the Encyclopedia Brown’s in the whole Dayton Metro Library system. And she helped me when I couldn’t quite handle chapter books yet.


found this picture when we were home - i’m in the front, cousin rob’s behind

found this picture when we were home - i’m in the front, cousin rob’s behind

Brody McDonald: Mr. McDonald was my high school choir director. He's the main reason I started singing. I wanted to be a beatboxer for the group - they were the highlight of the choir concerts that I attended under duress in support of my older sister. I remember being close to falling asleep the whole time, the warmth of the squeaky seats, the smell of the auditorium. But I also remember this exciting part when kids came out with personal microphones and sang covers of pop songs. And they harmonized while another kid attempted to make drum noises with his mouth.

I decided that I also wanted to make drum noises with my mouth. So, between 8th grade and high school, I auditioned for this a cappella group. I learned my part to a four part arrangement of Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight,” and tried my best. I made the team, but as a tenor.

I sang in choirs and in a cappella groups all through high school. I also tried to make drum noises all through high school. I still do one of those things. And I have Mr. McDonald to thank.


There were other family friends, grandmothers, sisters, cousins and people who may as well be cousins, friends and the younger siblings of friends. But mostly, my parents lit up the room all aglow with either pride for their son or elation that nobody spilled a drink on their carpet.


We spent most of the day playing around in the living room, demoing seven songs for a new record. I kept noticing the door to upstairs was cracked when I would go up to use the restroom. I’d close it behind me, walk past Mom making stockings, do my business, then go back down and close the door. But every time I walked back upstairs, the door would be cracked open again.

They said it was like old times, hearing music around the house when they were going about their business. But better (thanks to Dan, Jack, and a few years of doing something).



We also played in Cincinnati and spent a lot of time with Dan’s family. The highlight of the day was finding this incredible picture of him at his Bar Mitzvah. He’s serving up some looks and generally killing it.

They sent us away and back to Columbus with little chocolate coins as a gift.



In Cincinnati, we played with Andrew. The band is called Palamara. He works as a docent at an art museum in Cincinnati and he writes some really incredible songs. This is what he looks like when he begins the B section of one of his songs and it breaks into the higher register of his voice and it sounds good and real and honest and splendid in The Listing Loon.

So listen to him on Spotify. Follow him on Instagram. Like him on Facebook. And see him when we have him up in Columbus for a Bed By 11 show.

on spotify metrics being less important than how i exist in my apartment every week

Vonnegut had a rule for writing fiction: "Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted."


I think I'm at my happiest when writing songs, reading stories, and cooking meals for friends. Most of those things will never leave my apartment. Songs are really the only thing that does.

Songs are a positive side effect of the strategies that I've developed to keep feeling grounded and ok. It's nice that other people can listen to them, but that's far from the point. The real point is to foster a reason to be excited to come home from my real job and keep pouring time and attention into something that I can keep building for years and years and years.


It's nice that more time was spent listening to them than I spent making them with friends, but no one person spent more time around them than I did. That's good. I'm also the person who reaps the most benefits doing something that I enjoy (but also seemingly have no choice but to do).

I'm grateful that folks that I know and don't know have found a bit of value in these songs. I feel strange about the algorithms that have sent "Ohio" to a bunch of strangers because of some music streaming formula (or maybe just the SEO optimization of a song named after a state where a few million people live). I feel troubled on the days when I look at numbers and forget that they are people.

Hopefully, some of those numbers/people found something unexpected and fruitful. Or, at least, their day was not ruined.

(Though I'm sure some people have thought this was shit. In which case, that's also kinda awesome and inspiring.)


We have written another Hello Emerson record and are currently arranging it. I'm spending most of today trying to chart out how to budget it, record it, and have it mastered with a nice little bow by the first of June.

I hope you listen to it whenever it comes out. Maybe some strangers will also listen to it. And hopefully, most people will feel like it did not waste their time. Regardless, we'll make it anyway.

My life runs on excel spreadsheets printed on cardstock paper folded into thirds

I don’t know how you organize your life. I’m trying to figure out how to organize mine. Here’s what I’ve figured out over the past eight months.

Every week, I print off a piece of cardstock paper. I fold this paper into thirds. Then, it lives in my back left pocket. By the end of the week, it’s been highlighted, crossed out, notated, and torn at the edges from following me around for seven days. Sometimes, there are fewer things on it. Sometimes there are more things on it. Normally, it’s a wash. At the end of the week, I edit the file and print off another one.

this is the front half of four weeks of my life. i’m bad at shushing.

this is the front half of four weeks of my life. i’m bad at shushing.

Cardstock paper, like all paper, has two sides.

On the front is my life at large. That’s songs. That’s cooking. That’s groceries and laundry and steadily putting off finding a counselor or therapist each week (but I’m getting around to it, Sam Craighead, I promise). That’s finding bands to listen to and things to journal about. That’s tracking shows to book, songs to arrange, and questions to ask the people who know more about some things than I do. That’s friends to reach out to that I haven’t seen in real life for too long. And those are the small daily habits that I’ve noticed help me stay healthy mentally and physically from day to day. These are all the small bits and pieces that add up to a nice little life to share with the good folks around me. And these are the consistent steps we take to make the world better for the people we may or may not ever meet.

On the back is my work life. That’s the stuff I do on a small team at an education nonprofit that affords me the means to do the stuff on the opposite side. Sometimes they line up quite nicely. I’m fortunate to have a steady job doing mostly good and helpful things for K-12 students in Ohio and beyond. When that shines through and works out - amazing.

But work can also be work. And a job can be a job somedays. Just like a passion can become a chore if you’re ever going to finish something and put it out. We work through the gross unfun bits in service of the broader aim that laid out in the first place.

And also, we have to pay rent every month to Mike. That’s the kicker of the other side of the cardstock.

It’s also worth noting that every week, I use the work printer and work paper to print these weekly companions out. So, even in that sense, the other half literally would not have the paper or ink to be printed without the work side.

also, the sun keeps the lights on. thanks, the sun.

also, the sun keeps the lights on. thanks, the sun.

But, the thing is - Work Sam doesn’t run the show. He just keeps the lights on.

When I’m at work, I carry around all of the things that I care most about in my back left pocket. At any time, in any place, I can flip over this little piece of paper and remind myself that I’m more than the person at that particular time in that particular room. And I can remember the people I care about and the art I’d like to make with them. And I can remember the things I’d like to learn more about and the art I’d like to support and the unjust things I’d like to play a small role in making a bit more just. And at home and out in the world, I carry around a reminder of the things that I did and want to do.

We overestimate what we can do in a week. We underestimate what we can do in a decade. And decades are made up of years. And years are made up of months. And months are made up of weeks. And weeks are made of excel spreadsheets on cardstock paper folded into thirds. And I keep mine in my back left pocket.

This week, I wore all of my hats. I wore my songwriter hat, my education nonprofit hat, my performer hat, my friend hat, my booker hat, my listener hat, and my “life is bursting at the seams in good and bad ways that I don’t fully understand and I’m struggling to see where I fit inside of all of it” hat. (Thank you Alex Paquet for helping me take that hat off and give it a good look-see over curry.)

I also wore my Frontier Ruckus hat because it’s getting colder and they might be my favorite band. They just released their demo archive. You should go listen to things there. We’re working on a new record, and it’s the most comforting thing to hear how some of my favorite songs sounded before they found the clothes that fit them just right.

People are more important than the songs you write about them | simple things in my house are pretty

People are more important than the songs you write about them. However, the songs that you write about them can be more important to people who listen if the people who listen never know the person that the song is about.


So, the people who listen have a strange relationship with both the person who the song is about and the person who wrote the song (without having to have met either of the people). But, without both of those people, the song wouldn’t exist, and the person who listens would be none the wiser. But surely they would find another song that could something similar. But not exactly the same. But they’d be none the wiser anyway I suppose.


I don’t know Ranier Rilke or Franz Kappus. But, if Rilke did not write poems, then Franz Kappus would not have sent his own to Rilke, asking for feedback. And then the two of them would not have exchanged letters. And then no one would have published the letters. And then I never would have found them, read them, and then, even without knowing these two fellas, changed and shifted in response to them. The relationships that we have with people have consequences that we won’t ever really know.

Letters to a Young Poet is a good reminder that people are more important than the letters that you write to them, but also that letters (and songs) give other people a window to peek into. Maybe they can take some small things from the letters/poems and put them to work in their own world.


I feel better today than I normally do the day after shows. I think it’s because I loved the sets that played after ours so dang much.

Go See Lowlights - Erin Mason is an important to many pieces of Columbus. She has one of the most memorable voices in Columbus. She is a harmonizing chameleon and can mesh with anyone. She writes some of the most inventive, decadent, and tumbling melodies in the city. And she sings them like she means it.

Go See Small Songs - I look up to Alex Burgoyne and Devin Copfer a bunch. They’re technically brilliant on sax and violin, but they never let that get in the way of evoking some real serious (sometimes ugly) feelings through them. They’re not staid or dodgy or uptight. They’re encouraging. They’re challenging. And they make some of the coolest, most evocative, and interesting music in the city. And they play seemingly everywhere at all times.


That’s all. It’s a Monday night. I took some pictures of my home over the past few weeks when the sun was bleeding in. Normally, on the day after I play music in front of people, I feel a very quiet sense of good. It’s not a plain old “happy.” But the coffee tastes better and home feels more like home. I think it feels like how these photos look. Normal and mundane things. But with a little bit of quiet shine on them.

Hello Listicle: Three reasons to listen to the Roof Dogs and three reasons to avoid lukewarm coffee

As I write, I am sitting at home on a Friday. I made a pot of post-work coffee, and then ate half of a pizza and fell asleep. I woke up with coffee that had been sitting in the coffee machine for about an hour. So now, I’m drinking coffee and listening to “This Week’s Winner” by the Roof Dogs.

I’m going to provide (a) three reasons to listen to the Roof Dogs along with (b) three reasons not to drink lukewarm coffee on Friday nights. Please take your seats.

This coffee appears to be hot. I would prefer to drink this coffee.

This coffee appears to be hot. I would prefer to drink this coffee.

1a. the Roof Dogs are too cool.

I am a fan of the Roof Dogs and you should be too. They are too cool, and if you listen to them, you can be too cool too. They recorded this at Musicol with Keith Hanlon. Both of those two are too cool too. Their debut record is also too cool. It is named “Are Too Cool.” So, therefore, the Roof Dogs are too cool, and their debut record, “Are Too Cool” is too cool too.

You got to stay cool… Lord keep it cool

If Bono danced to the Roof Dogs at his ballet recital and then wouldn’t shut about about how great he was, then U2 tooting their own horn in a tutu would be too cool too.

1b. If coffee is even the slightest bit cool, then it is too cool too.

Coffee tastes good and coffee smells good. Mostly though, it feels good to cup a mug in your hands as the warmth emanates through the ceramic and into your hands. I have a variety of mugs at home to fit a variety of hands.

If coffee is cool, then it is not warm. If coffee is cool at all, then it is also too cool, because you end up cupping and hugging a cold cup. And that cold cup makes your hands clam up. And no one can stand clammy hands.

At this point, I begin to resent the coffee mugs that I fell in love with in small-town antique stores on road trips

2a. Jesse and Andrew rhyme “Châteauneuf-du-Pape” with “traffic cop” and it’s not just a gimmick.

Cheshire/Marczak walk the line between wordplay and world creation with care. First song on the EP paints this picture:

I don’t really know anything about France - I just googled this shit and read a wikipedia page. This is a drawing someone made of the town in the late 1600s.

I don’t really know anything about France - I just googled this shit and read a wikipedia page. This is a drawing someone made of the town in the late 1600s.

In a fortress town, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, / Under pain of death from a traffic cop / “What does this one do?" cries the child. Go free! / And with a tortured breath sighs relief / You never know where you're gonna wind up now.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a small commune in southeastern France. Only a couple thousand people live there, and most of the land is used to grow wine that I probably can’t afford. But I don’t know much about wine, aside that it is probably a beverage that does not taste terrible at room temperature.

This isn’t the only time that young characters encounter police on the four-song EP.

From my tenement on 42nd street I saw a newsboy getting patted down / Which to be honest with you really isn't all that uncommon in this part of town

Throughout the EP, Cheshire/Marczak paint these scenes of travelers, whether they’re traveling at the time or not. Characters go by plane and by road, or go nowhere, like narrator of “This Week’s Winner” staying in his tenement on 42nd while insisting that he could leave at any time. Characters are crossing borders and coming back with souvenirs, or just drinking wine in a better part of town.

2b. Cool wine is cooler than cool coffee because it makes you warmer.

I don’t like wine as much as I like coffee. However, if I had to compare room-temperature wine to room-temperature coffee, I would pick the wine. At least wine feels like it warms up your belly. Cold coffee just gives you the anxious shakes.

3a. This Week’s Winner is a total goddamn winner

’Scuse me while I freak out about how they somehow made the perfect hook from a simple vernacular aside, embellishing it with just a dash rhythm as they speak/sing it every time the chorus comes around, crescendoing into a yell over the song’s three minute build.

You see I ain’t no hero, man. Hell, I can leave any time I plan.

Put this song on repeat and just be there for a while. The Roof Dogs have an ear for the melody in everyday speech, and can straddle the line between song and scene without falling off either side. Please dear god join me in enjoying this rock and roll band that writes incredible opening lines like this.

I participated in a forced cry today and let me tell you I've never felt so grand / There were people weeping in droves all across the fatherland

3b. Cold coffee is better than cool coffee, but worse than hot coffee. Warmish coffee is only ok at local diners named after the person who started it.

Carry the one and show your work. You will see that this is correct.

roof dogs.jpg

Follow the Roof Dogs on Spotify and Facebook, and check out their website.

See them at a show in Central Ohio on 10/31 as the Velvet Underground or 12/4 at Ace of Cups.

Regarding an issue in Ohio

I’m going to vote yes on issue one.

I pitched in a few times to help gather signatures, but other than that, I wasn’t deeply involved in the campaign. From what I’ve read, it seems like a sensible step towards more reasonable treatment of illegal drugs in my home state. It will not solve the problems of drug abuse and incarceration. But it sure seems like a gesture in a better direction.



A short anecdote -

I smoked weed a few times in high school. If I were caught, then current Ohio drug laws would have been applied to me.

This morning, I ate a big ol bowl of yogurt, honey, and almonds. My little kitchen scale pegged that at just below 200 grams. If I had about 200 grams of marijuana on me, then I’d be charged with a 5th degree felony, punishable by up to 12 months in prison. I’d also be labeled a felon for the rest of my life. Every potential employer would first know me as a “felon” instead of “Sam.”

Those are the laws on the books as they stand. You may think that these are the consequences for breaking the law. And that’s your prerogative.

But this is about more than weed.

More topically, Issue One applies to all of the opioid abuse that we’re hearing about on the news every day. For the second year in a row, Montgomery County had the state’s highest rate of accidental overdose deaths. That’s 4,854 accidental drug overdose deaths, 800 more than 2016.

A recent Pew Study suggested no significant relationship between drug offender imprisonment rates and rates of illicit use, overdose deaths, and arrests. So, prison time does not have an affect on drug use.

Many people are dying because they are addicted to opioids. And putting people in prison and labeling them felons is not affecting the behavior of addicts. But, the laws as they are now make that happen.

About 50,000 people are incarcerated in Ohio’s prisons. That costs $26,400 each year. Policy Matters estimates that the prison population would be reduced by more than 10,000 people if passed. Altogether, those reductions could save about $136 million per year. This could be a high estimate, but even a quarter of that cost savings is nothing to sneeze at.

I’d be happy to hear from anyone who disagrees or agrees for different reasons. Obviously I’m just some guy and not an expert in anything except eating yogurt for breakfast. But this just seems like a sensible step in a better and more humane direction.

Colorblindness and Sneakers

On tour, I wore the same pair of Adidas every day. They were lovely. They’re still lovely.

Right now, I am wearing my scuffed work shoes, waiting at the airport to go to DC. They’re chukkas - some middle ground between dress shoes and boots. They’re hefty enough to wear through the slushy Ohio winter weather full of salt and always melting snow. And I don’t mind letting them struggle a bit. But after wearing the same beat-up sneakers for almost a month in Germany, I want that little spark of happiness that comes with colorful sneakers.

My colorful sneakers are at home. I recently finished reading They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib (just click the link and buy it). He talks about shoes in it a little bit. As well as close to everything I think is worth living for and making the world better at. It makes me feel a little bit less alone.

At home, I have a pair of golden sneakers. They’re showing their age. I just got some green sneakers with yellow stripes. They’re still snappy. I’d like to wear bright blue sneakers. I’d like to wear bright red sneakers. Black sneakers wouldn’t be bad either. if they had a little bit of highlight on the sides or something.

I dropped off some new grey sneakers at a UPS yesterday. I ordered them online before my trip, and they arrived the day before I got on a plane. I laid them out on the table at home, waiting for me to come home, slip them on, and celebrate being able to wear more than one pair of shoes. But I got home. I tried them on. They’re kind of 80s looking, with a big white plastic toe box. On the inside, they’ve got blue and red fabric stripes, but matte grey on the outside. They’re nice in theory, and they were on sale. But I wouldn’t wear these shoes. Someone else would wear these shoes. And they’d wear them well.

They look weird on my feet, the same way that the work chukkas look weird on my feet. They’re functional but feel like tanks at the base of my leg.

I don’t care about shoes. I spent a month not caring about shoes. No one I meet cares about my shoes. And they will not play into any real story about my life.

But maybe I do care about colorful shoes.


When I was a young kid, my parents say that they had me tested for color blindness. I say that they said this because I don’t have a memory of this. But, I do have a memory of being in a classroom. I don’t know what age or what grade, but I knew that I had a brand new pack of Crayola twistable crayons. They just about the same size as normal crayons, but encased in a little plastic sheath. The label around the outside was clear with a Crayola logo, allowing you to see the wax held inside. When you twisted the bottom, more of the wax poked out of the top. So, you could use every last bit of the crayon without having to struggle with holding the little nub. Granted, it also created waste that will be on the planet forever, but that was a small price to pay for the thrill of unneeded innovation of a childhood staple.

And so, this was the most excited I had been for school supplies in quite a while. And I was a kid who got excited about school supplies. I loved the idea of preparing my tools for the whole year. I loved big yellow Ticonderogas in the early grades. I got excited about white out when the teachers allowed us to use pens. I remember raiding the loose change drawer to walk to Walgreens to buy some candy and a premium Uniball black pen with the ink smoother than I ever thought ink could be.

But, at this early age, twistable crayons were the obsession.

I don’t remember what the assignment was. I don’t remember who the teacher was. But I knew we were all drawing a picture. In a class of 20 or so. And I know when I turned in the picture, someone made a comment. It wasn’t mean, more surprised. They mentioned my purple ocean and my dark green clouds. As if I was making mature, unsettling choices with my Crayola color palate. On purpose.

But I never meant to. And I wasn’t in on the joke. I grabbed the colors I thought I was seeing. Blue and black. But no - purple and green. The label on the outside of the plastic shell of twistable Crayola crayons have the logo, but not the name of the color. Because you should be able to see the color. And I should be able to see the color. But I can’t. Or, I can’t tell them apart from the correct ones. They mush and merge into the same color. So even a 48 count palate would merge into a lower number for me. And I’d pick the wrong one.

I was upset. We got new crayons, and I don’t know what happened to these ones. But after that, every time I got colored pencils, markers, or crayons, I double checked to make sure the color names were written on the outside.

I went to Catholic school from K-8. We wore a uniform. So, our shoes were the only way we could express ourselves, especially after they came down on the colorful socks that students started to wear. If you give an inch, they’ll take a mile. So nip it in the bud and send them off to church.

This put a lot of pressure on us to wear shoes that could encompass the whole of our budding little identities. Nikes were the most popular, with the high basketball socks with the swoosh on the outside. I didn’t want to be that ostentatious. And I can’t particularly remember most of the shoes that I wore at that time. I always had one pair of sneakers that I wore every day. I remember some black Nikes that felt like I was walking on clouds. I was convinced they made me run faster. I also remember when my older sister started listening to Avril Lavigne and wearing Etnies. She didn’t skate, and I didn’t skate. But of course, I wore those shoes for a while.

When my shoes would start wearing through their soles, mom and I would decide it’s time to start looking for another pair. And we’d go out to the store. I mostly remember Kohls. And we’d try on pair after pair after pair. I’d be so nervous with each one. Did it fit right? Was it comfortable? And did it look like something I would wear?

The last question was the most difficult to answer. In middle school, we don’t have a clue who we are. We can only see who we think other people think they are, and then compare ourselves to that. And I wasn’t sure of my tribe. When you’re with the same kids from kindergarten through puberty, you fall into the pecking order by fourth grade or so. And tend to stick to your roles as you change. But I’m not sure if any of us were particularly thrilled with this. Or comfortable with it. And most of my anxiety came through my shoes.

I didn’t mind wearing a uniform. I didn’t have to match outfits, which I found was difficult when I started dressing. When I went to the public high school, without any uniform requirements, I found a new freedom. But I couldn’t navigate it very well. There were too many choices. Too many colors. Too many things I wore together than apparently “didn’t go together.” And it took a long time to figure out what that meant. Every time I got a new piece of clothing, I would talk to mom about what I could wear it with. And I’d do my best to remember. But I had to remember. I couldn’t trust my instincts, or I’d end up looking like a purple ocean or a green cloud - and not in an artsy way.

So, for most of my life, I dressed with the trust of other people. I needed people outside of me to confirm that I didn’t look like a fool; that I wasn’t breaking any rules that my eyes couldn’t see or understand. So, when I went off to college, I didn’t have those people. I couldn’t ask those questions. Especially as a young man, I felt like I shouldn’t ask those questions. I shouldn’t care about how I look, or I shouldn’t take pride in it. I definitely shouldn’t ask other men if something looks right or good on me. So, I didn’t. And I slowly started making a plan.

Over the past couple of years, I bought my own clothes. I bought shirts for the office. I bought shirts for the rest of the world. I bought black jeans. I bought black shirts. I bought white shirts. I bought grey shirts. I bought a grey suit like I thought grown ups are supposed to. Dad lovingly and consistently bough new black socks for the family at every Hallmark occasion under the sun.

Slowly but surely, I amassed a small wardrobe of black, grey, and white clothing. A handful of colorful t-shirts that I mostly wear around the house, but other than that, everything I own matches with everything else I own. I can’t make mistakes, and I don’t have to ask anyone for help. And I feel confident with that. I have my uniform.

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Except for my shoes. Found a pair of bright yellow Adidas online. I still hate shopping for shoes in the store. And they shipped to my house. And I tried them on. And they worked. And I walked taller with a bright pop of color around my ankles. They’re the perfect self-contained pop of joyful color that I can add to any of my greyscale outfits. All of my greyscale outfits. And I love it. And it makes me happy when people mention them to me. So I’m always on the hunt for more. I want them in every color - because I don’t have to match them to anything else. Just the same greyscale.

I know that my shoes don’t matter. What I walk on and what they look like don’t make a difference in the way that I live my life. But, the story that I tell myself lets me take pride in this. I learned over the years that (1) I am normally wrong about what looks good on me and (2) I shouldn’t be caught caring what I look like anyway. My little shoe habit is my personal vendetta against those voices in my head. I know what I wear now. I choose what I wear now. I’m in control of what I wear now. And it’s alright to care about how I look. These colorful shoes are my middle finger to color blindness and moderately-poisonous ideas of what men should and shouldn’t care about.

I’m allowed to care about this. And I’m allowed to build a story around this. And I’m allowed to bring two pairs of shoes on business trips because for the few hours that I strut around in my sneakers, I feel like I’m worth it.

Getting Home

At the Frankfurt airport, I met Jessica and Kevin. While we were halfway through a line with about 50 people in it, an older man walked into a gap in front of me. The couple behind me looked at each other, then me, then him. We asked him if he knew that he cut us in line. He mumbled something about him being allowed to do that because he’s quite old. I will remember this trick in 40 years if I stop caring about being rude in those intervening decades.


That’s how I started talking to the couple behind me. Their names are Jessica and Kevin. They live in Arizona.

I learned that they were on a weeklong vacation, mostly in Amsterdam. I assumed that they’d been together for a while. They seemed comfortable with each other, and it looked like each of them knew how the other would react when a stranger confidently cut them in line.

Kevin was an actor in LA for the better part of a decade, but he said he mostly worked in restaurants. He’s been everywhere from Army barracks to the Playboy Mansion (and claimed to see Axel Rose crawling around drunk on the floor, Bill Maher drunk on the floor, etc. drunk on the floor).

Jessica is looking for a more stable job and is delivering pizzas right now. Kevin definitely was in more of a mood to chat, but maybe he was just blowing off steam as the older man stood right front of us, staring intently forward.

I asked them why they came out to vacation.

Jessica is in the middle of a divorce. Kevin just went through a breakup. They met about 3 weeks ago on Tinder.

He had already planned the trip, but didn’t know who he should take. He almost took his mom, but instead floated the idea by Jessica (sorry mom). She promptly told her coworkers that she would be out of town for “school” and packed up her things.

Then, they partied. Hard. They got kicked out of their Air BnB in Amsterdam for being too loud too late. I asked them what they did. “What didn’t we do!” said Jessica to avoid telling me. Kevin piped in with a story of doing a nitrous balloon back in college. I’m not entirely sure how it was relevant, but it painted a more vibrant picture of what they might have been doing to get kicked out of an Amsterdam BnB.

We both got our tickets. I assume we both got home. At least I know for sure that I got home.


I write that to write this - I slept in my own bed last night. I made my own coffee. I showered in my own shower and used my own soap. I cleaned up some spiderwebs and plugged in my bedroom reading light.

I’m happy and thankful. I’m happy to go back to work. I’m happy to live across the street from work. I’m happy to sleep alone for the first time in about a month. I’m happy to go to the grocery and cook a meal for myself. I’m happy to splurge on a bottle of whisky and spend money on beer for the first time in what feels like forever.

I’m excited to finish writing this batch of songs. I’m excited to arrange this batch of songs. I’m excited to rehearse this batch of songs. I’m excited to record this batch of songs. I’m excited to see if they’re any good. I’m excited for people to hear them. And I’m excited to go back on another tour after that’s all happened.

Looking forward to looking back with a bit clearer head over these next few weeks. Looking forward to sharing a beer or coffee with friends I haven’t seen in a bit. Looking forward to squeezing in some tennis before the winter. Looking forward to what comes after that.

Thank you to everyone who gave us a place to sleep, a place to play, food to eat, beer to drink, and stories to share and carry with us. My favorite part of this were the conversations with strangers who seem a bit less strange after talking for a few minutes - and we can find that anywhere.



PS: I need to ship some of this nectar of the gods over to my house every month. Club-Mate is the real hero of this tour.

Closing out tour with Lilly Among Clouds

After 16 shows with Dan, I spent the last five as the opening support for a German act, Lilly Among Clouds. Lilly is the songwriter and singer, and she’s got four fellas traveling as her band. Here’s a quick rundown of the cast of characters.

sam, onno, florian, jimi hendrix statue partially obscured

sam, onno, florian, jimi hendrix statue partially obscured

Florian plays percussion. He likes reading the newspaper set out with the hotel breakfasts. He found a story about a Missouri man who fell off of a treehouse after being attacked by wasps, then landed on a grilling skewer facefirst. It went through his head and face?But he’s ok? USA? Florian’s got two kids - 11 and 13. When he was 12 he got terrible grades in music class, so his parents got him lessons on the drums. After that, it was over. He’s a wine guy. I’m not a wine guy. But I did drink wine on the last day.

Onno plays keyboards and synthesizers. He’s the son of preachers and grew up in a little town bordering the Netherlands. They speak a unique language there, a mishmash of a variety of languages. Most of the younger folks aren’t learning it enough to pass on, so it’s slowing making its way out. The older folk in the town still speak it - and he ran into a hotel receptionist who grew up in his town on our last day together. He describes himself as not the best musician, but someone who kept making friends with gaps that he could fill on tour. Really, he’s just a great modest musician.

sam, lucio, tiny gunnar far away, prosecco

sam, lucio, tiny gunnar far away, prosecco

Lucio plays guitars on stage, but also manages the tour. And he’s my age? I feel like a slouch. He coordinates the day to day shenanigans, always making sure we’re in the right place at the right time. He’s gracious and gregarious, always toting around a camera to snap pics for the band in spare moments. He plays and manages tours in a few other bands. So, check out Giant Rooks if you’re interested. All of the music that he puts on during his morning routine has really crispy electric guitar tones.

Gunnar runs sound. They tote their own board to every show, and then he adds his own special little bits to it. He manually adds delay throughout the set at a few little moments. So, if you watch in the back, you can see him popping back and forth between the soundboard and the delay pedal, peppering in some goodness and making it all feel alright. He also plays guitar and keyboards in the band Staring Girl - they also played the Sound of Bronkow.

Lilly is the singer and songwriter. She’s got a heck of a voice, and a heck of an ear for melodies. At one show, I talked to a couple as I was selling them a CD - they said that this is their ninth time seeing Lilly. This is a common thing. She writes these really strong songs with soaring melodies that never quite get out of your head. I started more than one day with her songs bouncing around in my brain before I even realized I was humming them.

We played five shows - a few things stuck out.


I met the band at the venue in Potsdam. It felt odd to play a solo set after 16 with Dan, but I think I got all of my big mistakes out in this show. Afterward, I met Sofia, Klaus, and Ana. They all had kind things to say. I also met a stranger when they grabbed me and whispered into my ear, “You are Beautiful,” and then walked away? So, that also happened? I’m not sure what else to say about this show. I’m just gonna move on here real quick. I spent most of that day in Dresden anyway.



In Halle, I went for a long walk in a nearby park. I found some buckeyes. It occurred to me how weird my alma mater’s mascot is. A hard, inedible nut. With arms and legs? Anyway, it felt important at the time.

We played at Objekt 5. It’s a really cosy underground club with a fancy ass restaurant in the top part. As always, that means we ate well. We all had this super rich noodle dish with spinach and goat cheese. I will choose to believe that this dinner reminded me how to play a show solo.

I remembered that I have to talk a little bit to set the stage. I remembered to have fun puttering around stage. I remembered to look at people in their eyes. I remembered to make some lame jokes. I remembered to beg people to buy CDs and LPs, and they happily obliged.



Bang and Olufsen is a crazy hi-end stereo company based in Denmark. They billed themselves as the world’s oldest consumer electronics company in the hardbound history book of full color designs and stuff. They seem like they’re a designer and audio engineer’s wet dream. But I don’t think I’ll be a customer any time soon. I think I could live comfortably well into my thirties on what people spend on those speakers. But, like, more power to them.

So, we’re in Hanover, at the ultimate home audio store. And we’re playing this thing called the Salon Festival. It’s this concert series where people perform in unexpected places. We weren’t sure if I was going to be able to play. The booker was really intent on having only Lilly play, less intend on some random fella before her. It’s a special event; they feel fancy and important about themselves. And they’re billing it as a living room concert (but everyone was really fancy and dressed up?). That’s all well and good. But they did not want an opener.


So, after Lilly and them soundchecked, Lucio had me set up and check. Then, he made a beeline for the booker. They went outside and had what looked like serious words as I strummed and hummed. He popped back in, told me to continue playing, and went back outside to continue the discussion. He came back in. He said he had to fight, but he got me 25 minutes (she had initially said nothing, then no more than 12 minutes). We celebrated our victory after the show with Domino’s delivery.

So, thanks to Lucio’s insistence, I played a singer-songwriter set on two speakers that cost about $80,000 each (seriously) in a room where I could have played completely unplugged. So that’s like, over $150,000 of sound equipment. I also ate my weight in Lindt chocolates, and those aren’t cheap either.

The set went well. People laughed, I mumbled about Ohio a bit too much, and sold a bunch of CDs. People talked about how well the sets went together. The booker profusely thanked Lilly for playing. She gave the cold shoulder to Lucio. I avoided eye contact and later fell asleep to a German dub of a Superman movie intermittently interrupted by phone sex ads.


We played our last show in Darmstadt. Full lights, huge rack of speakers, and a bigger stage than I’ve ever been on. That felt great. Afterwards, goofing off til nearly three in the morning felt even better.

Lilly and Florian and Onno and Lucio and Gunnar - Thanks so much for your help over the past week. Thanks for translating jokes and keeping everything light. Thanks for your feedback on my sets. Thanks for helping me order at the finest German Chinese restaurants close to the autobahn. Special thanks to Lucio and Gunnar for being stellar roommates as we moved from hotel to hotel.

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