Every story has its twists and turns. Our story certainly began with a major twist at the beginning with the passing of my wife.
The plot here, in my musings, writings and thoughts will take a shift as well.
A couple years ago – something I detailed at one point both here and on the parenting site Good Enough Mother – I had a long and detailed discussion with my oldest child. In that conversation I told her a simple piece of advice, something I had been given more than once:
Do something you love. It may not be your dream job, it may not be the job you expected, but do something you love, something you want to do, something that doesn’t feel like work.
I had no idea at the time that my daughter would then turn those words around on me.
“When are you going to do that, Dad?”
“You have had a slew of material sitting there, songs written, demos started . . . when are you going to record that stuff?”
I, of course, was stricken dumb; totally inarticulate. Before I could give excuses – the common ones:
“Don’t use us as an excuse, Dad. And don’t try to say it’s too expensive. If you are truly passionate about the music you write and play then you will find a way!”
I was a finite and definitive statement that ended with punctuation that said, without words: “there’s no argument here, you’ve lost this battle!”
So this, after two years of honing and writing and second guessing, is the next step.
Since that conversation, I’ve joined up with one of the most talented group of musicians – on par with my younger brother Adam Manoucheri (see his new record Aquadog) – and we play when we can. We call ourselves the “Ain’t Got No Time Rock and Blues Band” because, frankly, none of us have any time.
These musicians became the core of what will become my first ever solo LP. Rehearsal begins this week. We hit the studio at the end of March. This isn’t a quick process, we have to learn the songs and then I’ll book the next session. I have nearly a dozen songs and it may turn into more.
It is simultaneously the greatest and scariest thing I have ever undertaken. Not because I worry about the band, they are the least of my worries. This is my material. Much of it came after the passing of my wife and has a dark edge to it. There’s a lot of acoustic material. Then there’s the stuff that shows the shift in my life, the happier tones, the melancholy of a trying to find love again and the happiness and joy when it comes.
There are ballads and straight rockers and it’s all me . . . no producer, no brother to tell me I can do better, it’s me.
It’s practicing what I preached. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.
So over the next many months, most of my posts will be chronicling the trials, tribulations, joys and successes as well as failures in trying to record my first record alone.
As Upworthywould probably put it: “A single dad told his daughter to follow her dreams. Look what happened when she told him to do the same!”
Be careful what you dream . . . you might just actually be chasing them.
I write a lot here about my immediate family . . . and my songwriting process and all my efforts to move forward.
This, however, is about my brother.
Adam Manoucheri, my younger brother, is one of the most talented people I know. He plays numerous instruments, one of the greatest rock players around and I love him, well…like a brother.
His new release, Aquadog, is due out in the Spring. If you have a chance, please, please go like his Facebook page.
Until the release drops, he was kind enough to tease everyone with a video of some of his time in the studio. It’s well worth the watch and I recommend keeping an eye out for the release. I’ll give you a countdown when it’s coming when we have a release date!
I think I can honestly say I’ve had enough of the grim reaper, loss, and grief in the last year. Hell, in the last three years. Being honest, this comes after a particularly terrible day where loss seemed to be the running theme.
What I know how to do, though, is tell stories. As a result, that’s what you’re getting here. After a day where word came that two people – one a former colleague, the other more like a brother than a friend – had passed away the day went from difficult to painful. So as I write here tonight, I’ve had a couple glasses of alcoholic beverages and it did little to numb how things felt.
The first man had been ill, a few years back he’d found out he had pancreatic cancer. They’d declared him cancer-free for quite awhile, but like many other forms of this horrid disease it came back with a vengeance.
Jim Fagin was a curmudgeon of a man. I don’t say that as an insult, it honestly was in the most appealing of ways. When a woman once called our station – a call I seem to repeatedly get from multiple people each day – saying she wanted him to go after CPS. Apparently they’d taken her kids and they had no right. Sure, she’d been on meth and smoking pot and the kids were in soiled diapers but that didn’t mean she was a bad woman, right? “Ma’am,” Jim said in his blunt demeanor, “I think you’re under the mistaken impression that we’re here to help people!” He informed her we worked in news. We weren’t social workers we had to make a profit and we told stories. That was it. It may be an over-simplification, but it’s true.
Jim wasn’t cold-hearted, though. Before I ever worked with him I dealt with him while I was at another station – across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa. I had stumbled on an accident and it was one of the first stories I’d had to cover in my career. A young boy, simply driving in the middle of the day to get a pack of gum at a convenience store, had been hit by a car. The driver had left an adult bookstore, likely not wanting to be seen, and struck the boy, who was following the traffic rules, and hit him. I’d shot the scene, a mangled bicycle, the street literally covered in blood. Jim called a few hours after we’d closed up for the day. “I saw your story,” he told me. “Powerful stuff! Powerful stuff!” The line was over the top enough we used “powerful stuff” for every good story from that point on . . . but Jim was serious. He swallowed pride and called to get the video from us which couldn’t have been easy. He went after the story at WOWT with a vengeance . . . to no avail. He once told me he was always upset they’d never caught the driver. That’s the kind of man he was and I always remembered that the story stuck with him. He passed away on December 2nd and the journalistic world’s a little worse off without him.
The second loss hit home from left field. On the way to San Francisco for a story I got a message from my father that George Marshall had passed away.
George was a dear friend. Closer even to my brother, Adam, a member of his band, the Manoucheri trio and drummer extrordinaire for our band together, Manoucheri.
I met George when my band ran a jam session at the Howard Street Tavern in Omaha, Nebraska. The bar had a storied history, with Albert Collins and Buddy Guy having graced its stage. We got paid in beer, mostly, but we honed our playing as well. We always opened with a set of our material and this night was no different. After finishing up I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see George standing there. “What can I do for you?” I asked pleasantly. George, a man of few words, simply opened his coat and showed me his t-shirt, which had the logo of the country club of my hometown. “Hey!!!,” was all I could get out.
“Your cousin Tom said you would be here and that you’d let me play.”
“Absolutely,” was my answer. “What do you want to play?”
“Hendrix. Clapton. Santana . . . just want to play.”
Play he did. My 2nd guitarist was starting a Hendrix tribute band and looked a bit skeptical. Here was an unknown guy, short – just over 5 feet – and my friend Grover shrugged figuring he’d play his best. We counted off “Them Changes” off the LP “Band of Gypsies” to start. George didn’t miss a beat or a break. He was dead-on, better than Buddy Miles on the original. We did other songs, it was like Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, Neil Peart and John Bonham had just arrived in one body on the stage. We selfishly tried to stay on the stage as long as we could to the consternation of the jam attendees in the crowd.
My brother would have his own tales . . . a day in the school gym playing songs from Blind Faith, Cream and Jethro Tull. The ability to play Rush with no problem was innate in him.
George was a man of few words but when he spoke it was worth it. Often funny or insightful he’d also constantly push to gig. When I left Nebraska for another job my brother and George became even closer. He’d become the drummer in the Manoucheri trio.
Just a few months after my wife Andrea passed away I came to my hometown and stayed with my folks. My brother came over and simply said “George and Orv are coming. Let’s head out to the studio.” It was a pattern repeated at every visit since. George showed up, tuned up his drum kit, and walked up, shaking my hand.
“How are you doing,” he simply asked.
“Best I can,” I told him, and it was true. It wasn’t easy and I was still a bit lost.
“You just need to play some music,” George said and sat down at his kit.
I remember that day in particular because we played so much, and I played so hard, that sweat was pouring into my eyes. I had soaked through my shirt. “Damn, he’s just torturing that guitar,” our bassist Orv said. I had broken strings on two Stratocasters and was quickly moving through other guitars in my brother’s stash.
George didn’t stop. He just kept playing. When we finished he just said “well . . . when are we doing this again?”
My brother found George Monday night. We don’t know what happened . . . we may never know. He was young, healthy, in far better shape than I am. Today just didn’t seem real. To have lost George, who was at the house a lot, spent Thanksgiving with my family many years, had holidays, was simply part of the family, was unfathomable.
2013 has not been a banner year. We lost my grandmother, the kids lost Andrea’s father and mother . . . and now this. It’s all out of left field.
We will miss the amazing songs we didn’t get to play with George, the dreams we’ll never see. We’ll miss the melodies we created over his intense rhythms. But more we’ll miss the presence of the man who was a great friend.
Goodbye Jim. Don’t rest peacefully, George, but play on. I will try to hope when the summer storms roll through that part of the booming thunder is your hands, hitting every beat and never missing a break.
My son, Sam, sat with me on the couch for a really long time today. We were watching television and it wasn’t a talking sponge or a kid with fairy god parents. No, I had on a documentary about the 101st Airborne’s Easy Company during World War II.
But it turns out Sam wasn’t watching the television.
Sam was watching me, which is something I hadn’t noticed until roughly an hour into the documentary. I thought maybe the explosions and black & white film and stories of Nazi aggression had piqued his interest. It should come as no surprise that I wasn’t feeling well today when you see that it took me an hour to realize that my son wasn’t really watching the documentary.
No, at a certain point, when I wasn’t feeling well and laid down on the couch after Sam had gotten up and moved to another room that I realized he was sitting next to me to make sure I was okay. He didn’t want to ask and he didn’t want to say anything. He just wanted to make sure. After I laid down and started to fitfully take a nap I heard him go outside with his siblings. Sam had gone out with the other two kids to go out and take the leaf piles I’d raked this morning and put them in the cans. Noah was already putting the leaves in the can, he was helping. When they started to argue he forcefully said “Guys! Dad doesn’t feel very good. Be quiet!”
Normally I’d have smiled and nodded off but something about his force of vocal tone made me sit up. I simply had a sore throat, likely from allergies and likely just because I’d been sleeping in fits and starts. So I got up and looked out to see Sam standing in the yard waste container tamping down leaves while the other two dumped leaves on his head.
I went into the kitchen, took out my baking cookbook, and made an oatmeal brownie I’d never made before, just so they’d have a treat for today.
I often pride myself on being observant and doing what I can to help the kids along. Sometimes . . . they need to remind me . . . they’re just as observant as I am, and I need to realize the things I do affect them as well.
So we all had brownies and milk after a day of jumping in the leaves. After all that . . . things couldn’t have been better.
The first year was a year of firsts. After Andrea, my beautiful, amazing wife passed away, every typical family holiday and event was a difficult first. The first hour without her; the first day; first week, month . . . Then came the holidays. We had birthdays. Every single thing that was normally taken for granted was something that we braced for and then endured.
But none of those days or events were the sort of monumental, milestone memories that you have. I mean, sure, every birthday is memorable. You take photos, videotape them, all the things made even easier by the use of cameras on our cell phones. I haven’t forgotten or ignored those events, I have videos and photos of all of them. I’ve written and shared them here – as much a diary of our days since losing her as they are a healing and helping exercise.
But this weekend was the kind of eventful and memorable set of days that mark a milestone in any life, not just in the lives of those who have lost, like we have. It started with just me and my oldest daughter.
Abbi’s life began with music. When Andrea got pregnant with her I was still a performing musician. I ran a jam session every week with two great friends in a trio. Andrea, with Abbi in the womb, would come to the bar and watch us play. She didn’t drink, no smoking in the area she was in, she would just come and hear us play. Early in Abbi’s life we went to all kinds of concerts. At the age of 2 she was a a massive blues festival with Neville Brothers and BB King. At the age of 4 she pleaded to see the Brian Setzer Orchestra live. At five we saw BB King and Abbi met him backstage. He called her “princess” and gave her the pin on his lapel.
So I took Abbi to Oakland’s Oracle Coliseum to see the Black Keys play on Saturday. While I started my own Twitter hashtag stating #2manyhipsters throughout the evening, I was happy to be having a night out with my daughter. We watched the show, and my daughter nearly gagged on the horrific smell of some idiot hipster’s own blend of weed there in the coliseum. We watched the show and then made our way into San Francisco so that we could spend the night at Fisherman’s Wharf in a really nice hotel in the refurbished Del Monte cannery. The hotel was a four-star place, and though I’ve stayed at these kinds of places before, I hadn’t stopped to think about the fact that Abbi, and even the other three kids, haven’t stayed at a fancy place before, not to this extent, and not while they were old enough to remember.
Abbi felt rich. She felt taken care of. I spent far more money than I should have but we had an enjoyable night and we slept well. The next morning we ate outside and then had ice cream as we walked along the wharf and then on the beach. I hadn’t realized when I booked the night that it would be a great night, something she’d always remember. It was the start to an eventful day for her.
As we got back home, I’d set up with a family friend to get her hair done. I helped her to call the cosmetics place and they did her makeup for her. After I’d picked up the kids from their Aunt’s house, I took them home and Abbi got home. She wanted to get into the dress we’d worked so hard to buy, tailor, and frustratingly deal with that we didn’t even really have time to realize what had come. We’d reached the night of her Junior Prom. Here it was, that first, biggest event. It’s not like I’m that kind of sentimental, Hallmark card kind of guy. But this isnt’ a birthday or a silly little Fourth of July picnic or something. This is one of the milestones that Moms usually judge their kids by. In a moment of panic we looked for fashion tape to try and attach the dress to her upper chest so that it wouldn’t fall and we realized that in the move the same said tape had disappeared somehow. After an unsuccessful trip to Target we sat there trying to figure out what to do. Abbi thought about Scotch tape when I realized that we had larger band-aids in the medicine cabinet.
I did surgery on the band-aids there on the kitchen table. I cut the sticky, cloth-backed section off and left only the adhesive plastic bandage that was close enough to the color of her skin that it would apply. We got the dress to stay, the shoes on her feet, and out the door about 15 minutes behind schedule.
She looked gorgeous.
I wasn’t worried, the same girl who said she’d never get into drugs or weed or anything because – much like her Mom – the smell would gag her and kill her senses before the drugs did, was now the most amazingly gorgeous girl I had seen since her Mom. She was happy, smiling, excited the dress fit . . . and she was grown up. I didn’t ever think about where things went from here. I didn’t know how we were going to get here.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? It was supposed to be “we” getting here. Us. I don’t have that. The weekend was very hard for me on a couple fronts. Without realizing it, I’d forgotten the fact that this weekend, on the wharf, was not much unlike the time I’d spent with Andrea here. I was with my daughter but the ghost of my past kept haunting me. The sand and the chill in the air reminded me that I’d pushed Andrea to walk on the beach, just because I wanted her to be a little chilled so she’d sidle up next to me and try to get warm. The Ghiradelli plant there so that I’d buy chocolate that she’d refuse . . . and then take bites of what I’d bought. The fancy hotel, something I’d splurged and spent all my money on to try and impress her only to realize that she didn’t care or notice the room. We spent the entire time out on the sand and holding each other.
Now I watched my daughter drive off to the prom and realized that, even though I’m surrounded by people and family who wanted to see pictures and share in the event, it’s still just me. I have reached the milestone that “we” were supposed to reach. When I saw this day coming in the horrifically distant future years ago I saw it happening and being able to sit down with Andrea and talk about how we’d gotten here. Now I talk and it’s a monologue, not a conversation. I know this is supposed to be hard. It’s not supposed to get easier watching your kids grow up and get lives of their own.
To take my mind off things I first took my other three kids to the movies, “Pirates!” by the Wallace and Gromit folks. Then we all went to the Avengers today. All in an attempt to keep this.
The things I hold dear and grip are the memories I’m getting just as much. Sure, surrounded by annoying hipsters I wanted nothing more than to grab a razor and a shotgun and start threatening lethal grooming, but that was overshadowed by the fact that my little girl – that 5-year-old who was so enamored with the King of the Blues that night 12 years ago, still wanted to share this with me.
This is the first biggest event, though I hadn’t realized it until it had hit full force. Now I wish I’d given it its due.
But I have the memories, and so does she . . . so do the other three. That makes all the difference in the world.
I sit here, now, in the Denver International Airport, a woman lying on the floor to one side with painted toes and her best Jackie “O” sunglasses on hoping that I notice her trying not to be noticed while we survived the drunken sot who thought the best way to survive getting on an airplane was to drink himself to oblivion rather than a Xanax or a Benadryl, which would have been cheaper and let him stay on the airplane, and I realized things are hard, maybe harder than ever, but it could be a lot harder.
My whole point of going home to see my folks, brother, and avoid the anniversary of my wife, Andrea’s, passing was to get to a place where we could avoid being around the mass of people who might mean well but would inundate us with thoughts and well-wishes. In reality, though, we got inundated anyway and we looked at all the message because we just couldn’t help ourselves. It’s too easy to wallow in misery and hope that it feels that much better when you stop. The problem is, it doesn’t stop and you don’t feel better.
One thing that did cross my mind, though, as we walked down the security passageway at Eppley Airfield, was that it was harder to go back to California than it was to come to Nebraska and face the anniversary of what we lost. The day came and went, the kids surviving OK – partly because of the exercise of our video – and we weren’t better or worse. We were the same. The reality that hit me is how much I miss my family and the peace of mind of just being near home.
I don’t dislike California, let’s get that straight. My father has a soaring loathing of the state and all it stands for. He visits and stays there because of us and that’s all there is. At his age, hating to fly, driving to see us may not be an easy prospect for much longer. The kids go out every summer and spend a couple months with them. It’s not that I miss the break or want my parents to wait on me. They don’t, nor would I let them – and God help me if I thought to tell my Mom that I wanted her to. You’d find pieces of me floating in the Elkhorn River a few years from now. But I was able to endure and stand up, just like they helped me one year ago when I needed it.
I should never have made any decisions in the hours, days and weeks following Andrea’s death. So many of them had to be made, though, and as hard as it was for my Dad to be there and endure the grief and sadness that hung over our lives like a fog he knew it was easier to help me than to make me decide on my own.
This last week was no exception. I could have stayed home, taken the days off, sat there and wallowed, but I knew that’s exactly what I would do if I stayed. Leaving the checkpoint to the gate was harder than the week itself because I felt the distance weighing on me. My kids see where we are as home. That’s what matters and is most important. If the didn’t, I’d have probably moved home in a heartbeat. The offer was even on the table. My Dad didn’t see too many options before I got my new job. . .neither did I.
So as I left, knowing I had to, I realized it’s going to be a long time before I move on. Before we move on. I cannot tell you the things that trigger my sadness. The clock chiming 9pm in O’Neill reminded me of leaving my wedding reception on that day. Watching a documentary on the band “The Swell Season” makes me tear up and get goosebumps because it touches me in the same spaces that are still bleeding from losing that piece of myself when Andrea left. But a simple day, the turning from 11:59pm to Midnight did not, and I was up until then. Yet that night, remembering my wedding night, the lack of humor I had that night, being angry at her being hungover and then too tipsy on the limo ride to the hotel . . . those things weigh on my mind.
As I said, it will be a long time before I can exorcise the demons from my marriage, the pieces I wish I could forget but seem seared into my grey matter like a cattle brand.
So I sit in the airport seats, looking at my children moving on through the day, and I realize I don’t have it so bad. I could be one of the people I see walking around, tattoos in places that peek through like they’re trying to hide, but really hoping to get attention. The single people who look woefully depressed to be alone at the airport and realizing I had it good for awhile. The woman next to me, lying on the floor, trying so hard to act like she’s inconspicuously aloof but peeking through her sunglasses hoping others will notice her.
Me, I want to get through the day, knowing full well that for now – maybe I never will – I cannot see a moment tick by without thinking about her in sadness. I look forward to the day that I can be reminded of our wedding day and not see it as the day our marriage started and ended together.
Exactly one year ago, I lost the love of my life, my very best friend, my wife, Andrea Andrews Manoucheri. We lost so very much that, by all accounts, this could have been the year everything fell apart. Instead, it became the year our story began. We have not lost the feeling of loss, the hurt of missing her so very much. What we did learn, though, was that we are far better together than we ever are apart.
The kids and I did this video, with the pictures and words made by our own hands. It’s purposely low-tech. It’s meant to show you how we scratched our way up day by day on our own. We could have done a bigger, fancier, more produced version, but that’s just not us.
The one thing that’s not low tech is the song. When I started dating Andrea, she playfully said to me, “Write me a song!” When I looked at her flabbergasted, she simply said, “You’re a musician, they write songs for their girlfriends all the time. Don’t I rate a song?!” She was kidding, being silly and pushing my buttons with a mischievous grin. Two days later I played the song for her. While my brother and I recorded it for a previous incarnation of our band and it got minimal airplay years ago in the Midwest, I never felt like I’d gotten the song right, not really. So when I started this project, as hard as it was to do, I wanted to get it right. She deserved so much better. I changed the lyrics to match where we are today.
I miss her more than you can possibly imagine. It’s literally like a piece of myself, the part of my soul intertwined with hers, was ripped away. leaving a wound never heals. She wasn’t just my wife. She was my love, my life, and my best friend.
It’s like she came here long enough to give me what I needed then left, abruptly. But I hear my kids laugh together and the timbre of their giggles is her laugh. The smiles they have radiate their Mom.
I had it good and perfect for a while. It’s a hard life to come back down with the rest of the mortals. Particularly when she helped me learn to fly up with the angels.