As I embark on a new decade of life, I have this desire to look back and reflect on my life for the past decade. There is much I have learned, lost, loved, and loathed over this tumultuous, however rewarding period of my life. I am sharing this with those who wish to read it, but its purpose is to mainly serve as a shortened journal so that in ten more years, I can read it and reflect again.
One week before I turned 20 years old, on September 6, 2001, I played a prank on someone. That day is my friend Fred’s birthday, so I pasted flyers with his picture all around Mason Hall (the music building) at SUNY Fredonia, where we attended college. He wasn’t too pleased with my celebration tactics; however, he took it in stride, knowing he could have revenge in 7 days.
The next Tuesday, as I walked through the campus center on my way to class, I saw a small group of 5 people looking at the TV in the entrance. I looked up, saw one of the twin towers burning, and asked the group what happened. No more than a few seconds later, before anyone could answer, the second plane hit the South tower.
I spent that day somber, confused, and trying to help calm down my friend Alli, whose father was an NYPD officer (he was ok). Needless to say, I entered my 20’s two days later, with no real reason to celebrate. Wisely, Fred did not go through with his plans to humiliate me on my birthday. I just remember turning 20, and thinking to myself: The world has changed, and I’m not sure what is in store for me as I move forward.
Life went on, returning to some semblance of normal. I formed a band called League with my friends Dave, Ryan, and Elliott…and later Matt and Jordan who replaced the latter two. We gained a loyal following in Western NY/PA with our syncopated rhythms and 3-part vocal harmonies. Over Winter break of my senior year, I informed my parents that after graduation, I was planning on going on tour with League for 5 months straight. This was something I feared, but knew I wanted to do. I learned so much on that trip. Knowing what love is, and losing it in order to pursue a dream. Working hard for little money, but incredible satisfaction of the soul. Learning that humans are incredibly kind and caring and will house and feed a few musicians who have nowhere to stay. I also learned that my best friends, Steve L., Trevor, Mike M. and Jason C. would pretty much drive anywhere to hear bands I was in which still stuns me to this day.
League eventually parted ways, but it is nice to know we had an influence on lives and made a small mark in music. On the drive home to Binghamton, leaving Buffalo after League made plans for the final few shows, I received a phone call from Matt Doty of Saxon Shore, and they were looking for a new drummer.
At first, I felt so out of place. I was coming out of an essentially punk/math rock setting, and thrown into the world of ambient post-rock. It literally happened overnight. I played League’s last show on January 28th, 2005 at BJ’s in Fredonia. The next day, I had to drive 8 hours to New York City to play my first show with Saxon Shore at Mercury Lounge. How’s that for a transition? I did my first tour with Saxon Shore in March of 2005, and soaked up all the music I could from my band mates. I was determined to get inside their heads. The result was a large shift in my musical taste, and a greater appreciation for a wider base of music.
Fast forward 6 years, with tours through the United States, Japan, and Europe, I’m still making music with all 4 guys that made up Saxon Shore, even though we are all in different places, and one even left the band. I love making music with them.
In the middle of 2005, my friend Mike O’Connell and myself made a pact. We’d each leave Binghamton to another destination. His plan? To get on a bus New Years Eve after playing a concert with his jazz band, taking only the money he made that night and the clothes on his back. My plan was to move to NYC and do my best.
We both met our goals. In the fresh new year of 2006, Mike landed in Raleigh, NC, and me in Brooklyn. I moved to live with Fred, and worked at CVS…the job I held for 8 years of my life. I made $9/hr (which I found out that they should have been paying me more, but the manager didn’t want to…) living in NYC. I saw my funds slowly deplete. After 2 months, I was on the verge of giving up. Then Joe died.
March 2, 2006. I was working at CVS in Queens when I got a phone call from a friend telling me that Joe had been in a car accident and had passed away. Here was a friend, whom I had known since Kindergarten, went to the same church with, and played in his tree house throughout my childhood…gone. I’d been through deaths of loved ones many times before…but Joe was the first one close to me who was my age. At the time, Steve L. put it best (I’m paraphrasing): “Joe never did wrong. Here we are taking risks by drinking and driving, getting ourselves in risky situations, and Joe, who wanted to make everyone’s lives better by running for office, or volunteering at church. And he’s the one who leaves us first.” It was a sad time. Five years later, when Joe’s best friend, the aforementioned Mike O’Connell got married, Mike did not have a best man, because his best man couldn’t be there. I cried so many times at Mike’s wedding, mostly for happiness, but that put me over the edge.
I’m not a very religious man, but I do believe that there is something after life. Three weeks after Joe’s funeral, I got a job offer from MTV, almost a week before I was going to run out of money and have to go back home. I can’t help but wonder if Joe had something to do with that fate, because it wasn’t something I really sought out.
I ended up working at MTV from April until October of 2006. It was my first “real job”, and one that allowed me to make friends with people outside of those I already knew from college. I finally felt like I was going to make something of myself in New York. I was living with awesome friends: Jon, Todd, and Chris, who would go out dancing with me at Royal Oak until 4am. I was making music with The Gritty Midi Gang, with one of my best friends and one of the most amazing musicians I’ve ever known, Chris Keyes.
Around July of 2006, I saw a job opening for a recording engineer listed on the Juilliard web page and decided to apply. I didn’t think I had a shot, especially since I didn’t hear anything from them for two months. Then, on my 25th birthday, I got a phone call from Juilliard. I set up an interview. I got the job. I was so incredibly happy and excited to work at an institution held in such high regard. Later on, I would learn that the main reason I got the job, was because I showed up with a tie on…apparently audio engineers don’t even dress up for job interviews.
Working at Juilliard was another high point in my life. I got to work with such amazing musicians, actors, and dancers, as well as making some incredible and deep friendships with my fellow co-workers. As much as the job could be tedious and frustrating, I always went to work knowing I was going to be around amazing people, surrounded by breathtaking music and artistry, and play softball every summer with friends from work. While I was there, I got to know the organ professor, Paul Jacobs, and he asked me to record an impressive Messiaen organ work, Livre du Saint Sacrament. After 5 months of recording, editing, and mixing, I was glad to see it done. A year after it’s release, I would wake up one morning to learn that it had won a Grammy the night before, and I had no idea it was even up for one. I couldn’t believe it. I still don’t believe it.
Which brings me to the final chapter of the past 10 years. Leaving Juilliard and New York City was probably the hardest decision of my life. I’ve always been somewhat of a risk taker, and have never been afraid to try. However, leaving a secure job and amazing friends to become a poor grad student in a city that I had only visited because my college ex-girlfriend was from there as well as a few stops on tour, left me quite nervous. Much like when I left Binghamton for New York, I was embarking on something I wasn’t sure would pay off in the end, but I had to attempt it.
I do not regret my decision to move to Rochester to pursue my masters, because it has opened up my brain to incredible new places, even if they are mainly math equations. In a year, I have made amazing new friendships (Gina, Jim, Steph, Sarah K., & K.T.), and strengthened many that I knew from Fredonia (Marlene, Mark P., Nate S.). Also, I am playing music again with three of these friends, Rob, Jim, and Nick, and it seems like we share a brain when we play together. I am happiest behind my drums, even if I still try to sing on occasion.
I am nearing the end of this essay, but I do have a few more things to say about the past 10 years. For six of those years, and arguably the most trivial ones I’ve encountered, I have had someone by my side through all of my tears, triumphs, and tribulations. Her name is Sarah, and I know some of you know our history. Probably many of you are sick of hearing about it. We’ve had our troubles, but we’ve also had our moments of bliss. Honestly, I don’t think I could have gotten through most of those years without her in my life. She let me cry on her shoulder for days when Joe died. She was the first person I called when I got the job at Juilliard. So, in short, thank you Sarah for putting up with so much for such a long time.
The past ten years has been filled with joy, sadness, fun, making music, drinking too much, not getting enough sleep, and traveling. Looking back, I have a few regrets, but I look at them as life lessons learned. I look at my best friends and think about where we were 10 years ago.
It’s amazing to see that Trevor has a beautiful baby daughter named Mazzy…Steve L. owns a house…Mike M. is slowly, but surely, becoming a known name around Washington (for good things!)…Jason C. went from owning a wood truck to making lots of money (but he works too much, and should write more music)…Mike O.C. is married and finally getting back into politics…Chris K. writes some of the most amazing songs (but needs to release them)…and Jon K. still loves the Bills (He’ll never learn).
To the rest of my unmentioned friends, believe me, you all are close to my heart and I am incredibly happy to know all of you. The best times I have are those surrounded by ones I love, and it is because of all of you.
My parents, Frank and Susan, are in their sixties and they look and act much like they are my age. My only hope is to grow to be as amazing as they are. My brothers, Erik and Ryan, still inspire me and make me laugh like no other people on this planet.
I don’t really know what is in store for me over the next ten years (Marriage? Kids? A real job?), but I look forward to the next decade knowing it will be full of challenges, accomplishments, and memorable times. If I was asked where I’d be in 10 years when I was 20, I never could have guessed that all of this would have happened. So, don’t ask me where I’ll be when I’m 40. I have no clue.
Thank you for reading. I love you all.
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