Still Newtown

December 14, 2022, marks 10 years since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. For the last few months, I’ve been working with veteran public radio editor Cindy Carpien and reporter Davis Dunavin from WSHU on a podcast about what happened with all the stuff—emotional, spiritual, material—that piled up after that awful day.

Like another project I had a hand in at Colorado Public Radio, Still Newtown is a remarkable story of resilience after unspeakable tragedy. It has powerful, personal insights into living with trauma, what faith can and cannot do, and how folks who work in the media may more responsibly cover tragedies like this.

I’m privileged to help amplify the voices of people impacted by one of this country’s most insane phenomena. Working on it has been eye-opening and even inspiring, and I hope listening somehow helps get us all to a place where mass shootings do not keep happening.

Find it here and wherever you get your podcasts.

Music for a coronation

In this country, no one can be king. But to be kingsize? Why yes, you can.

If all my dreams come true, I’ll play “Kingsize” with a real string orchestra in an empty concert hall someday. Perhaps the coronation of a king. Here’s an anthem, with both the pomp and the circumstance.

On the other side of this EP, “Thirty-Six” is a song by John Porcellino of King-Cat Comics fame and his band Felt Pilotes, from their mid-90s record Wonderful Summer. They were a quartet of suburban Chicago expatriates living cheaply in Denver, playing on small stages in bars on Capitol Hill and the train yard north of downtown before they called it RiNo.

When we met in 1992, Porcellino’s DIY ethos jibed with and inspired me (this wouldn’t exist without him). He made comix and music and hustled his and others’ zines and records (and still does). He was a punk-of-all-trades, cranking out content from an upper floor of the Don Edward with a DAK 2000, a butter-colored Stratocaster and the keenest memory of almost anyone I knew.

It was an era. Looking back, I recognize it as one of those spans in a timeline when previously unimaginable things are possible, in part because you see the window is closing.

Plus, I was a young man falling in love.

We were married by the time Wonderful Summer came out. Soon after, Porcellino got very sick, somebody moved back to Chicago, I think, and you knew there would never* be another Felt Pilotes record.

Thirty-ish years later, this song is still embedded in my heart, a bullet from a revolution in softness. Its simple lines expressed everything I could say to the person I fell in love with then, and they still do today:

You don't know which way to go
There's just one thing I think you should know

I always want you by my side
I'm never gonna change my mind

Lately I’ve been thinking about the balance of the promises we make versus the ones we keep. Bringing that scale closer to even is a lifetime’s work. I’ll never be king of anything, but here is my proclamation.

Thanks, John. ❤️

* Never say never, because they’re back!

Proceed as if they give a damn

Here is a mixtape of songs made back in Denvertown. Most have been sitting out in the open over on the Cloud of Sound*, but why not collect them into a proper album? Just follow the recipe: sequence tunes, give it a title, add packaging, release!

Notes on these tunes (download here):

  1. A slivery, spare tunelet plucked and keyed, and truth is I recorded this as a backing track for something else. But there’s beauty in a simple thing. Like a circle.
  2. Strange, but true: I actually do now live on a sort of cul-de-sac, and I am also at this writing a sitting member on the board of the HOA. The rest of this song, however, is (still) fiction.
  3. My neighbor in Denver had an old Pontiac Grand Prix SJ parked on the street for years (likely still does). Summer sun baked away its factory sheen, and winter snow made its sharp angles all the stranger. That car and its shifting stillness is at least a little bit behind this arpeggiated experiment for two stringed instruments and an app called Bebot.
  4. Always thought I might do more with this one, perhaps add a second voice, make a video, but alas. Fun fact: I recorded the vocals on a commute to work, waiting for the 27 when it still went across Yale Ave. in south Denver. Listen closely, and you’ll hear.
  5. Another tune that could be bigger, longer … but better? Maybe not. This one is dedicated Uncle Rick.
  6. A song to follow “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” when the man-who-won’t-take-no-for-an-answer finally realizes no is the answer.
  7. John Dowland plugs in his hollow body electric guitar in a quiet Quonset hut and plays us this lament.

The world is jam-packed with homemade music, and your freetime is limited. On behalf of Kingsize Beast, thank you for listening. Proceed as if they give a damn.


Then: I’ve seen Michael Keaton’s first Batman movie, but she hasn’t. It is our first date, and we decide to go to dinner at Twin Dragon and then the movie. But we talk and talk until late. The restaurant closes, and we never see Batman.

Now: I’ve seen Christian Bale’s first Batman movie, but she hasn’t. We’ve been married 28 years, and I talk her into streaming the movie after dinner at home. But we won’t give Amazon another $14.99 just to see it. I go to bed early, and we never see Batman.

Picking up. Again.

A few weeks back I was reminded the #1 rule in radio is still a secret, but it holds fast:

Don’t be an asshole.

In the world of radio, one way to rub against this rule is to use your radio voice. Difficult to describe in writing, but like pornography, you’ll know it when you find it. The announcer is almost monotonically stentorian. Too damn smiley (aka puking). Too instantly familiar, like a stranger on a street corner who gets your attention saying, “Broham! How you doing?!?!” Or too much all of the above all at the same time. (In a job long ago we called a fellow with this condition Mr. Rugburn, and the name fit like a custom toupee.)

Broham Rugburn, about to use his radio voice ….

Another way to break the rule is to tell yourself everything you say is worth hearing (it isn’t), and all your insights must be shared (nope). Somehow some pilots of the airwaves miss the fact that radio is as much about listening as anything else. Shut your mouth and open your heart. Or more colloquially:

Don’t be an asshole.

In this way, we come to the secret of the secret: it is also the way to living a quality life. Use the rule in any profession, and in the slice of time that exists outside work hours. Repeat as necessary. Like a mantra.

So powerful, the rule can even guide an effort like this one. At this writing, it’s the last quarter of 2021. It’s been a long pandemic, and it isn’t over yet. There is so much work to be done to make things more right in this world, and I make no assumptions that whatever I do can amount to much against all that. But let me put this down as I begin here again:

Don’t be an asshole.

The Year That Was

Sometime last spring I took a picture that’s stayed with me all year. I didn’t mean to, but somehow the frame captured the mood of the last light of day without really getting the light itself. There’s a brightness, yes, but it’s tinged with awareness that the light is fading. The golden hour.

With a similar but reversed kind of layered vision, I’m looking back at 2020. An extraordinarily hard year. Deadly for way too many innocent people. But every day was a gift.

Here is a very small token of my gratitude. Please enjoy.

The Books That Choose You

A LitHub-recommended long read reminds me that one of the intrinsic pleasures of making audiobooks is that I don’t choose what I’m reading next. Instead, the book chooses you.

Strictly speaking, what really happens is that the studio director chooses you to read the book. But the effect is the same: I don’t pick the books I’ll spend hours reading aloud, word for word, cover to cover. Unlike my home library, these projects don’t say anything about my intentions to be or know or feel something—or do they?

Thanks to working at a studio with a blessedly quirky contract to record material for the Library of Congress, the books that “choose me” are a potpourri of fiction and nonfiction, books I’ve seen elsewhere and plenty I haven’t, things I might otherwise choose to read and, yes, sometimes, things I wouldn’t.

Like the rest of life’s happenstances, sometimes this works out quite nicely. Recently I narrated these three works of nonfiction over a few weeks: a book about sea otters, one about a man who spent his days and nights living as a wild turkey, then an encyclopedic account of connections between sci-fi and pop music in the 1970s.

The result: I know more than I did before (with no interest in running with the turkeys), and I’m a grateful omnivore.