Omitted Chapter from My 2017 Memoir

4/13/20: The following was one of my favorite chapters from my memoir, but I wound up cutting it because it didn’t quite move the narrative along. But I love how it captures the anguish of that period of my life when I was walking away from music. It also speaks to my all-of-nothing mentality at the time. I wasn’t doing music for fun anymore, I was looking for a pay-off. Since I recently released new music for the first time since this era, it felt like a good time to unearth this chapter. With “I’ll Take My Chances,” I feel like I am writing a new one.

The West Side
Nothing was more exciting than being in the studio. There was a reason The Dent preferred recording to gigging. Sure, there were endless, tedious hours. But there were moments that were the closest thing to transcendence I’d ever, and ever will feel. The West Side was a love-letter to New York as well as a lament that my life was passing me by. I got the idea for the lyrics on one of my final treks into the city for a thankless open mic night. After driving three hours and fighting to find a place to park, I hung around for hours waiting for my name to be called, played two songs, and went home. It was a herculean effort for nothing; perhaps I thought the universe would reward me for simply trying so hard.

I remember being stuck in traffic on the West Side Highway on the way in. I was running late, hungry, tense, tired and indulging in my favorite coping mechanism at the time – smoking.

It was one of the first warm days of the spring, early April, and to the right along the Hudson River were hundreds of people hanging out, running, roller blading, walking, kissing, dancing, skate boarding. I wanted to be with them. There seemed to be a particularly strong buzz of energy in the air, likely because it was so warm after a long, protracted winter. Not only were these people enjoying the day, they were likely unburdened, or so I imagined. They went to their jobs, made some money, felt good about their work, and then had fun with friends and loved ones. More or less, they were happy. They were free – and free to enjoy their lives.

I was imprisoned, and so sad. I was sad with my life, sad with the constant feeling of failing, sad about my debt, and sad that I was letting everyone close to me down. Worse, I was sad that I no longer really wanted to do music anymore which made me feel incredibly empty and lost.

I used to dream of performing The West Side on the West Side – Madison Square Garden. In my fantasy, I was the opening act and with every song I was winning over the crowd more and more with my voice, my songs and my witty banter. I’d close my set with The West Side and by the end of the song, maybe not everyone, but at least everyone on the floor seats would be on their feet. The crowd would roar back at me at the song’s end. Those who didn’t know me in the crowd would all be thinking the same thing. “Who is this guy?” And my life would never be the same for me after that night.

That show never happened. But the recording sessions for the West Side did.

The whole recording process took months from start to finish. I recorded the drums at Kevin Hupp’s studio in Brewster, NY, just me and him. What a great rock drummer! From my perspective, there’s no better pop rock drummer out there. And it doesn’t hurt that he played the drums on Rufus Wainwright’s first record.

He laid down the drums while I played piano and sang a scratch vocal for reference. He performed so powerfully, as if there was a rocking five-piece band playing along. You could already tell it was going to be great.

I brought the drum tracks to Brett Kull’s studio in Philadelphia to record everything else. He was the brilliant mastermind behind my adored (by me) debut solo debut. We laid down the tracks and as we went along it got bigger and bigger. At one point, after recording the rhythm guitar, he said “Yeah dude, Def Leppard.” Sure, any reference to 80’s hair metal sounds like a diss. But this was no insult to me. Def Leppard’s “Hysteria” was one of the most produced, meticulously recorded and expensive albums of all time. If this little pop song I wrote in my home office and was recording piece meal around the Northeast for practically no money in any way sounded like “Hysteria,” I was proud.

The moment he’d said that was the moment – that moment during a recording session when a bunch of independently recorded tracks start to sound like a song.

I took it to be mixed by Pete Moshay in Pawling, NY. Pete mixed the best Dent stuff, as well as the Day Traders. For a very reasonable price, he magically makes stuff sound huge.

Mixing a song at Pete’s is like going to Disneyland. For five hours, through his massive speakers at one hundred and thirty decibels, I just sat there listening as he made the West Side into the power pop perfection I knew it could be. My teeth shook. The musical bromide “Less is more” went out Pete’s rattling windows. That night, “More was more!” Waves of guitar distortion filled the room as he muted the twenty five other tracks, isolating the doubled, tripled, quadrupled guitars making sure their equalization was just right. Once approved, he’d re-introduce every other instrument at the exact same second, all thirty tracks – bass, drums, guitars, piano, strings, synthesizes, chimes, tambourines, my double-tracked lead vocal and harmonies would fill every inch of the control room with the propulsion of a freight train.

I had little to offer in the mixing session; Pete was the artist at this point. I just sat back and savored every second, knowing it would soon be over. And I so appreciated the care he took. He dug the song and he was in the zone. It didn’t matter that I was a no one, paying him very little for his time; Pete is a professional and a perfectionist. When Pete is working, it doesn’t matter if your last name is Springsteen or Linker, he’s going to give one hundred percent of himself.

With assists from great musicians, producers and mixers, The West Side made me sound like a rock star. It all stoked a suffocating wisp of hope that maybe, just maybe, I will be famous after all.

After the session, I listened to it the whole way home. After hearing it for five hours straight in the studio, I listened for another two in the middle of the night driving back in the dead of winter, wide awake, enjoying how different, though still amazing, it sounded in my car stereo. By this point, I’d recorded hundreds of songs in my life. But in listening to my creation, I had that same old familiar feeling of awe. The feeling that I can’t believe this is me!

I woke up the next morning like an eight year-old on Christmas, bursting to open presents, anxious to hear it again. You’d think I’d be sick of it by then, but no way. First I wanted to listen to it on every different stereo in our home and then I wanted to share it with Susan. Your own music always sounds different when you listen to it with others for the first time. Sometimes it’s not as good, you hear it a little more objectively through their ears, or you’re disappointed by their reaction which you hope and pray will be nothing short of amazement. This show-and-tell can be nerve wracking, but it wasn’t with The West Side. I knew it was great.

No matter what awaits me in my life, I am pretty sure nothing will ever match the high of recording a song like The West Side.

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