Category Archives: Song Stories

Raygun Youth

"Raygun Youth." 8/3/13. Acrylic paint and ink on wood panel. 24x6".
“Raygun Youth.” 8/3/13. Acrylic paint and ink on wood panel. 24×6″.

I painted this for the cover of Billy Raygun’s posthumous discographic cassette. Each of the three bits of text is a lyric from a song of theirs that means something to me.

I thought I heard you calling; it was just the emptiness ringing in my head. I still think about you a lot. I still think about you a lot. I still think about you a lot.

In April 2011, my six-year relationship with Taylor came to a close. She broke up with me. I didn’t take it well. I had been pretty strung out on heroin, in a pretty bad way, for a little while but had just gotten into my first “treatment program” a few days prior (it was just methadone maintenance – not exactly the best path to wellness but what did I know?) On top of that, final exams for my final semester at Georgetown Law were about to begin and I hadn’t been to any of my classes all year. I didn’t even own the textbooks. I had a lot of studying to do if I was gonna graduate on time and I knew god damn well that if I didn’t graduate now that it was never gonna happen. I needed to keep it together (get it together) real, real fast if I was gonna keep everything in my life from crumbling into absolute shit, misery, and failure. Between the methadone, the heroin, the Adderall, and the sleep deprivation that goes along with studying in 24-hour shifts, I was … not entirely well. For a while there, I started to experience regular auditory hallucinations. Mostly, it was people (strangers) screaming at each other. It was like channel surfing on a TV where every single show featured nothing but loud, angry people. Occasionally though, I’d get a break in that and hear something softer and sweeter: “Sam…” It was a voice I knew; it was Taylor’s voice. Every single time, I’d turn around without fail, hoping (and actually believing) that this time she’d actually be standing there. She never was (of course) but it still broke my heart a little bit every time. It was a miserable cycle of studying, drugs, and crying.

All of this care / not caring is killing me.

This lyric isn’t tied into any one specific memory as much as it serves as an all-encompassing description of my relationships (romantic and otherwise) throughout my life. Oscillating frantically back and forth between giving a shit and shutting down. Between feeling loved and feeling abandoned and rejected. Sometimes it seems like my emotions are wired to a light switch. It doesn’t take a lot to flip from “perfect” love to total apathy (or even hatred). And since “we’re attracted to those at our same level of sickness/health,” I’ve gotten mixed up with plenty of girls who are equally skilled at unintentional (often drug-fueled) emotional back-and-forth. There was one night in early 2012 when my then-girlfriend professed her deep, unending, profound love for me in one moment, and was swearing that I was a disgusting, ugly, unlovable piece of shit in the next. And before the hour was up, she was right back to telling me how wonderful I was. Experiences like that can fuck with a person…

I’ll just admit that it’s a different girl, the same old story.

When I half-heartedly tried to kill myself in December 2012, I didn’t write a suicide note, but I did scribble something down on the back of one of many scraps of paper that were laying around my room. All that it said: “different girl / same old story.


Ideally, I’d have held on to sharing this until this release was announced but – shit – it’s been more than six months since I painted it so… sorry, kids!

Here’s a stream of their self-titled full-length. The first song is the first song I quoted lyrics from.

Arrested with Dear Landlord (Song Stories #2)

Update (10/17/13, 2:31 AM): Originally written over the course of two days (and published in two parts), I spent the last two hours rewriting it and the whole thing is now here, in this entry.


Song: “Goodbye to Oakland” by Dear Landlord
Time: July 2010
Place: Brooklyn, NY


Between semesters at Georgetown Law, you took an internship. It wasn’t required but it wasn’t a question either; it’s just what was done. I was about to wrap my first year when I got called into the advisor’s office—“Where will you be interning this summer?”


“With Rational Anthem,” The way I said it probably sounded as much like a question as an answer. She looked confused.

I’m tempted to lie and say that I followed up with the bluntest, least-responsible sounding version of the truth, but I sort of spun it to sound like they were more than my friends’ punk band and that this was something that’d benefit me in my career as an entertainment or intellectual property lawyer. If I were smarter, I’d have actually done an internship that summer. I might have a totally different life today.


The following summer, I did take an internship. My dad’s dad is a lawyer and he took an interest in me when he heard I was going to law school (and an ever bigger interest when he found out it was Georgetown). He was the one that set this up for me. It was at a firm in Manhattan where my uncle or cousin (someone I didn’t know in any case) was a partner. (I don’t know my family). Following two consecutive summers of psychotic episodes and temper tantrums, it had already been decided that I’d no longer be touring with Rational Anthem. So I figured what the hell—I’d go be semi-responsible in New York for the summer.

Well, not quite “the summer.” Though that’s what was expected of me, I had a glut of releases coming out on Traffic Street in June and I understand how “priorities” work. And I wasn’t gonna stay through August ‘cause I wanted to make my way back to DC by way of a week on tour with New Creases, joining up when they came through New York at the end of July. Three months, one month—what’s the difference?

Midway in, Vacation came to town. I didn’t know them and I hadn’t gotten around to their demo but they were a new band and I figured they’d appreciate someone actually coming to see them. I called a mutual friend, got a phone number, and called to make plans to meet when I got out of work. Their show was at Tommy’s Tavern, but someone fucked up. Two promoters had booked shows that night and one of them had merged his show with another bill from down the street. There were fourteen bands slated to play. Did I mention that this was a Wednesday night?

Evan, Peyton, Jerry, and I sat in the parking lot all night and got to know each other while we waited for their chance to play. At 4 AM, they finally went on and the minute they finished, I helped them load out and hightailed it to my sister’s apartment in Bedstuy to get an hour’s sleep before I had to wake up for work.

I don’t nap so when I went to Lost + Found for the Sandworms show that night, I was still operating off virtually no sleep. It wrapped up around 1 AM and I got on the train. Maintenance or [who knows what] had me sitting in the car motionless for long enough to doze off.

“Hey. You. Wake up.

I opened my eyes. Two cops were standing over me.


“You can’t sleep on the train.”

I looked up at the sign; Bedford-Nostrand: only a few blocks from my sister’s.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m exhausted but this is actually my stop anyway.” I got up to leave.

“Hold on there. You were across two seats. It’s illegal to occupy more than one seat. Other people need to sit too.”

I looked around the train. It was just the three of us—not another person in sight. “You’re messing with me, right?” I smiled my best respectful, non-mocking smile.

“You think it’s okay to be a seathog?”

He was clearly fucking with me. Was I supposed to laugh at the joke? I apologized again, tried to explain: up early for work, visiting with outta-town friends, overtired, standstill train delays. No dice. He was having too much fun to let it end. Gleefully redundant, he continued his lecture on the harms of being a “seathog.” They let off the train, but not out of the station. I asked, directly, if I could go home, he asked if I had any warrants and I told him that I didn’t. “Are you sure?” “Yes, absolutely. No warrants.” “Okay, we’ll run your ID and if that’s true, you can go.” I handed it over, set my bag down, and held myself upright against a support column, waiting for my cue to exit. I’d have to be back at the firm in a few hours; I just wanted to sleep.

“What’s this here?” he asked. “Two years outstanding…”

I rolled my eyes smiling, pretending to think he was as funny as he did. “Come on. Don’t mess with me.”

Sarcasm left his face and he assured me it was no joke. The lightbulb went off in my head.


I absolutely had a fucking warrant. One that I had legitimately fucking forgot about.

“Put your hands behind your back” and the cuffs came out. I was going to fucking jail. And that wasn’t all.  It’d only be a matter of time before…

“What’s in the backpack?”

“Clothes. Books,” I told them. The first thing they pulled out was a brown paper bag. They asked what it was before they unfurled the top. I put on my confused/trying-to-remember face: “I don’t know…” Inside, they found syringes, cookers, cottons—all the usual paraphernalia. “Recognize it now?”


“How’d it get in your bag then?”

“I don’t know. I had it stashed in a closet in the bar so I wouldn’t have to carry it around earlier.” (Which was true; I do that).

“You’re saying someone put this in your bag?”

“No. I’m just saying I’ve never seen it before.”

The search went on. I was beyond fucked. “What are these?”

“Stickers,” I told them, “For my record label.” Who cares? Let’s just get this over with.

The more obnoxious cop’s attitude suddenly changed just a little bit. He cared. He was curious; he thought it was cool. “You know who my favorite Florida band is?” he asked. [I lived in DC but still carried a Florida ID]. Ugh… I can only imagine. Are Nickelback from Florida? Puddle of Mudd? Fuel?  I had no idea. What kind of awful shit does a cop beat his kids to?

“I don’t know – who?”

Kids Like Us.”

Ho-ly shit. I laughed. What are the odds?

It’s 2010 and I have no idea who’s in Kids Like Us or if they’re even a band anymore but (back in 2003) their guitarist would come down to hang out in Sarasota pretty often. We were friends insofar as you’re friends with anyone that you hang out with a few times and get along with well enough. We weren’t close but [you get it]. Could this work to my advantage? I lied and said that the whole band were great friends of mine and started talking out my ass about our friendship. Now, he didn’t set me free at this point but his search of my bag got more perfunctory and then ended abruptly, before he had so much as glanced at half the stuff in there. I might be okay…


At the station, he asked if I wanted my property checked into inventory or picked up by someone. I’d need my sister’s number, and I didn’t know it. “Can you get it from my phone?”

Flipping through contacts, he stopped: “You’ve got Andrew W.K.’s phone number?”

I smiled and shrugged in that I’m the coolest motherfucker on the planet kinda way.

Granted, that number for Andrew W.K.: it was public information, available to anyone with an internet connection. It was only in my phone ’cause Hembrough put it there. I’m not cool and I’m not a big deal. I run my record label out of the same little apartment that I live in and I don’t know anybody.

But this cop didn’t need to know that.

My sister came for the backpack and its undiscovered contents remained undiscovered.

And all was right with the world.


From my cell, I saw that my brown paper bag of NEEDLES ETC hadn’t left the station with my backpack. “What am I looking at?” I asked. “For the warrant,” he said, “time served probably.” “How about the other stuff?” He threw the bag in the trash. “What other stuff?”

! ! ! ]


It was time to get transferred. Central Booking for Brooklyn. Before they handed me over, my “arresting officers” had some words of wisdom: “That shit will ruin your life. Stop before it’s too late.” I nodded with a solemn yeah, I’ll think about it face.

(I wasn’t gonna think about it).


Back at the station before my backpack left, I had asked for a book out of it: a worn-to-shit copy of Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. When I got passed along to Booking, I asked if I could hold on to it. “They’ll take it when they find it, but sure.” Shockingly, I made it through processing with the book stuffed down the back of my pants. Stuffed into a cell with three times as many people as it was probably meant to hold, I had no choice but to stand still. There were benches along the wall, but already packed with bodies. Those of us that stood couldn’t even move around: it was packed like a Tokyo subway car. And, if there had been room to sit on the floor, it still wouldn’t have been a great option. The toilet – still filled to the brim with urine – had spilled its contents across half of the cell.

It’s 6 AM and I’m tired, hungry, and stuck shoulder-to-shoulder in a literal piss pen. But I had my fucking book. I took it out and stood, just reading for hours, the pages inches from my face because I didn’t have room to hold it in front of me. It was shitty but I was glad to have it. When I finished the last page, I paused … and then I started again.

What the fuck else was I gonna do?

I just had to be patient. I’d be outta here in no time. Right?

About twelve more hours in, we were chained-ganged up and transferred to a bigger room. There was enough space to sit against a wall without sitting in pee. (Well – without sitting in a puddle of it anyway). I sat, read my book and ate shitty apples. They were warm and mealy but they beat the fuck out of my other options. I was glad to have ‘em.

From here, they’d call a name—if it was yours, you’d go before a judge who’d determine whether you were released or sent to Riker’s Island to wait for your next hearing. But this was a Monday through Friday operation and today was Friday. (The judge didn’t see anyone over the weekend). Hearings went ’til midnight and if your name didn’t come up before then, you got a trip to Riker’s for the weekend by default. Around 8, nearly all my old pals from the piss pen had been called up to see the judge and a new group of twenty or thirty had come in to replace them. By 10, nearly all those guys had been called away and the room had been filled again. What the fuck is going on? Why haven’t they called my fucking name?

I didn’t want to go to Riker’s Island for the weekend. That didn’t sound like fun.

11:45 PM: my window of opportunity for release was down to fifteen minutes. Basically, I was fucked. But then I heard my name. It was glorious. The door was unlocked and I could hardly contain or my excitement. Led into the courtroom though, I found myself seated in line behind six or seven others. Still, I had to be in the clear…

I looked to the guard beside me: “Everyone that’s already in here will get to see the judge tonight, right?”

“Not necessarily.”

I will kill everyone.


As it turned out, I didn’t have to kill everyone. The judge called my name and I stood up. She asked a few questions, read some bullshit off a paper, and ruled on my case. The gist: “Don’t catch any new charges in New York for six months and you’re good. No additional penalties or fines.”

Out on the empty street, I actually jumped in the air, cried out in joy, and ran all the way to the train station. (I probably fucking skipped). I don’t know if I’d ever been happier in all of my life. Just to be out of there – it was amazing. I’d never felt better.


While in New York, I was floating so as to not wear out my welcome anyplace. My pre-arrest plan for the day was to relocate – from my sister’s apartment in Bedstuy to Chadd, Grath, and Toni’s in Elmhurst. The train I got on wasn’t taking me to either though – because my Friday plan had also included seeing my favorite band from back home; Dead Mechanical were in town and playing at Tommy’s Tavern (where my whole stupid sleep-deprived adventure had began two days prior)! I knew I had probably missed the show but so long as everyone was still kicking around, that was good enough for me. It took everything I had to not fall asleep on that train as I rode back out to Greenpoint but the adrenaline and serotonin pulled me through. I thought about the last thing I had done before I got arrested: my goodbyes outside the Sandworms show. When I walked up to Tommy’s that night, I found the exact same group standing out front (along with Matt, Dan, and Lucas). I couldn’t have been happier to see everyone.

” Who can guess what I’ve been up to since we parted last night?”

I told my tale and we laughed and joked and it was fun. And even though I missed their set, it was cool just to see Dead Mechanical in a different city [outside their natural environment!]

Around 2AM, everyone packed up and I headed for Bedstuy to collect my things. …And totally fell asleep on the train…

I woke up scared as shit, shaking and knocking myself into consciousness. When I got into my sister’s she was mad and mean as shit about having been called down to the station in the middle of the night.

“Sorry! Gotta go!”

I grabbed my stuff and turned around for Elmhurst. …And totally fell asleep on the train.

Live to fight another day…

[the end].


Obviously, there’s one lyric in particular that’s affixed “Goodbye” to this memory with concrete, but how am I gonna throw that up here without “Park Bench” when the two are so intertwined on the album (and “Park Bench” is so strikingly appropriate/relevant for a story like this)? It’d be criminal!

Start the video at 0:22.

you were swaying on your feet, trying to light a smoke
waiting on a bus, you got nowhere to go
you were sleeping in the park in a dirty sweatpants suit
the cops woke you up, now you gotta move

walking around wearing a motorcycle helmet
up and down the same streets you walked yesterday
wild irish rose can make a mean world almost decent
it’s an illusion handcuffs quickly take away
there ain’t enough room in this city for a guy who
wants to drink himself to sleep under the stars
there will always be some shit bag to remind you
right where you are, right where you are.

I got two dollars and fifty-one cents
eighteen matches, a lighter, two pens
and a beat up copy of Cannery Row
five hundred miles left to go

everywhere I go I’m looking down
watching my old tennis shoes as they’re wearing out
walking off these homesick blues
I may be drunk and lost but I’m not confused and
I know where this train is slowly going
north through K-Falls then on to Portland
I know I’m fucked up, it’s stupid hoping
you’ll answer phone calls, goodbye to Oakland



Other entries (more) related to Dear Landlord:

Living in Shit with The Copyrights (Song Stories #1)

If you’re anything like me (and for your sake, I hope the similarities start and end right here) certain songs trigger memories for you. On our drive down from Jacksonville, late Thursday night, I had the iPod on shuffle and a few songs came up that I hadn’t heard in a while but gave me an idea that I thought might make for a cool series of entries on the website. Here’s the first in my (remarkably cleverly titled) series of Song Stories.

Song: “Prove Me Wrong” by The Copyrights
Time: June 2012
Place: Miami, FL


It backed up. From wall to wall, the floor in our little shitbox of an apartment was now seeped in toilet water. And yeah – when I say “toilet water,” I’m talking about a lot more than water. We had no cleaning supplies and no car to get to the store. Normally, I’m happy to walk but this was Miami in June and I was in the midst of heroin withdrawals. I felt about as awful as a human being can feel. Besides, we didn’t have any money to buy cleaning supplies anyway. And you can fucking bet that – whatever money we were going to scam up – it sure as shit wasn’t going to pay for paper towels and Lysol. I did the same thing any “sensible” person would do in my position: I took the comforter off the bed and threw it on the floor. It stayed there like that until we left town a few weeks later.

I hated being in that apartment. Actually, to call it an “apartment” paints too grand of a picture. It was a fucking room. And it felt more like a coffin. I felt trapped all day and night around the clock. I wished I were dead. But I wasn’t going to walk out the door for anything. Anything but drugs.

My memory’s a little hazy but if things were as I remember, I’m too ashamed to spill all of the details. You don’t really need to know the source of the money anyway. Suffice to say it was a process that involved more than one felony and ended with a Moneygram or Western Union transfer. I braved the outside world to go pick up the cash, so I could hop a train to Overtown and finally get some heroin. Not enough to overdose and kill myself (what a sweet dream that would have been; I fantasized about it constantly) but enough to make the hurt go away for a few hours. That was enough. I calculated the exact minute that I could expect the money to be ready and left so as to arrive just in time.

But it wasn’t ready. I waited. And waited. And waited. And it still hadn’t come in. Because the people that I was counting on to send it were also drug addicts and – you know – they’ve got their own schedules.

So I sat on the sidewalk outside of the CVS, calling and texting, trying to find out when the money would become available. It started to rain. And I just sat there, clinging to my hope that they would eventually come through. I shook and shivered and sweated. I prayed not to be recognized – after all, this was the same CVS where I’d steal $80 boxes of allergy medication which I’d then return to Publix or Walgreens for store credit. (On the rare occasions that I ate, this was one of the ways that I got food). I’d have walked down the street and looked suspicious elsewhere but I just didn’t have it in me to care that much. It all hurt just a little more than I could stand. Sitting there in the rain… I don’t know… maybe I was paralyzed or maybe I was punishing myself. Maybe I enjoyed my squalor and tragedy on some sick, stupid, self-destructive level.

In any case, that was my evening. And as I sat on that stupid fucking sidewalk in the rain, I listened to music on her phone. The battery was low and I shouldn’t have done anything to speed that process up but I couldn’t help it. Those songs, my songs, were all that kept me from laying down in traffic some days. There was one that stuck out and that I’ll forever associate with that night.

I told you there was a time back then when I still believed
You asked “believed in what” and I said “in anything”
Well the world’s still spinning, and we’re still grinning with cold drinks in our hands
But you’re grading on a curve while we’re sitting on a curb in a cold and callous land

And you tell me there was a time I’d laugh at this dramatic trash
That was coming out of my mouth after too much sour mash
I say the world only spins when I shut my eyes and it goes too fucking fast
But then I’m free to dream about the frequent smiles of a not-too-distant past

You will always run into creeps like me
Who love to swim and drown in negativity
But we want you to strongly disagree
Ignore all the surface signs and prove me wrong

Reminds me when I first saw the Pacific in a sunset glow
Or when we came through the Holland Tunnel for our first New York Show
But if the winners like these are fewer and further between now
The losers like us are too stubborn to ever forget how
to compare and contrast to the best of days
in competitive, unfair, and bullshit ways
instead of just putting our arms around someone we love
you gotta let it go

Please make sure to remind us
Our best days are not behind us


“Prove Me Wrong” by The Copyrights comes from the compilation LP, “The Thing That Ate Larry Livermore.” You can buy the LP from Interpunk. And (I was under the impression that it was only released on vinyl but) it looks like you can also get it on CD from It’s Alive.