In Providence: Have a burger with me

If you walked by the Johnny Rockets on Thayer Street in the summer of 2007, you may have noticed a rather sad boy sitting at the window by himself, nursing an order of french fries.

The month after my first real break-up, for lack of anything better to do with myself, I would drive to Thayer Street and spend hours in the mock-retro, chain eatery that seemed to ease both my heartbreak and my summertime sadness, which were colliding in a spectacular fashion as I simultaneously entered the doldrums of post-college life.

Why Johnny Rockets?

Why Thayer Street?

Why egg salad every night before the chain took it off the menu?

Who knows?

The great thing about living in Rhode Island is that you can find yourself falling into random patterns of behavior that arrive and disappear with no reason whatsoever.

I took comfort in the friendly staff, in particular, a waitress with a gorgeous Irish accent and sparkling personality who learned my name and order, and treated me with the same affection the characters on Cheers reserved for Norm.

You may be thinking that, like most forlorn young men, I chose solitude during that period, but you’d be wrong. Solitude would probably have been the healthier option, but since I’ve already admitted that I was existing off a diet of egg salad, milkshakes and french fries, you must know that health was not on my mind.

Rather than take time to reflect, I would invite friends to meet me at Johnny Rockets, and when they asked if I was talking about some irreverently named new bar, I would have to qualify that, no, I really was talking about the actual Johnny Rockets.

Most of them would show up, commiserate with me, watch as the staff danced to “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and then offer to go see a movie with me at the Avon.

(I’m confident this is why I’ve seen Gone Baby Gone more times than any gay man on earth.)

One evening I made the mistake of inviting a date to Johnny Rockets, and while he was nice enough to indulge me while I bantered with my favorite waitress and asked about her brother’s new tattoo parlor back in Dublin, the whole thing felt wrong.

I had attempted to bring the promise of love into a place I’d reserved for mourning. As a writer, I know part of world-building is making up rules for how your created environments work, and it turns out, the real world is no different.

My date asked if I wanted to go back to his place, but he cautioned that several of his pet birds didn’t like intruders, and I may need to cover my face with something upon entering.

“Unless you have a helmet in your car? Do you? Helmets work really well. They’re mostly friendly, but I wouldn’t want them to do to you what they did to the last guy.”

I decided to go see Gone Baby Gone instead. Say what you want about Ben Affleck, but all that tortured toxic masculinity is like chicken soup for the broken twink’s soul.

That summer, Thayer Street was the perfect place to throw a nightly pity party. It was a melting pot of bikers, screaming teenagers and chainsmokers. Everybody was willing to talk to you and nobody wanted anything to do with you, and even on my darkest day, I could always overhear a conversation that reminded me I was better off than most people.

Once, while walking back to my car, I passed by Kartabar and heard a guy telling his friend that his landlord was starting to ask about dried seaweed on the lawn, and even though I couldn’t stick around long enough to get the full story, I had a feeling whatever was going on with that guy was was worse than a measly break-up.

By September, the students were back and I had grown tired of watching grown men and women dressed like soda jerks do a bastardized version of the Electric Slide while Aretha Franklin played in the background.

Even my favorite waitress whose name I can’t remember (I want to say Maureen O’Hara, but I know that’s not right) went back to Ireland to help bail out her brother. Change is a given in Providence, but if you’re down in the dumps, that might not be such a bad thing.

Healing happened incrementally. The part about getting over a break-up that nobody tells you, because it doesn’t sound wise or inspiring, is that all the moping and despair just gets … boring. No matter how many milkshakes you throw at it.

If you walk down Thayer Street now, you won’t see the Johnny Rockets anymore, although the B.Good that took over didn’t bother to change the architectural structure of the previous owner, so at first glance, you might think it’s still there.

One night about a month ago, I was grabbing take-out from Kabob and Curry, and I had one of those half-second flashes where you’re standing in a spot you’ve been in before and you get a sudden clarity on a moment from your past.

There I was, 14 years younger, sitting in the window and holding onto the belief that my life was always going to be as disappointing as fries are when you don’t eat them right away or when they’re drenched in too much ketchup or when the salt ratio is off.

I could never have imagined that life was going to offer so many more instances of unquantifiable joy and emotional pain that would make that first break-up feel like a mosquito bite. I could never have dreamed that one day there wouldn’t be anymore Johnny Rockets or Kartabar or Paragon or Store 24 or Tealuxe and so help me if anything ever happens to Antonio’s I will burn this city to the ground.

When the pandemic began and everyone was reaching out to everyone else they’d ever met in their life, the man who broke up with me all those years ago reached out to see how I was doing. We got to talking, and he told me that after the break-up, he spent most of his time at a coffee shop downtown, trying to figure out what he should do next.

The pair of us were within a five minute drive of each other and as far apart as any two people could be. Shortly after that summer, he moved away and hasn’t been back to Rhode Island since, although lately, he’s been missing it.

“What about you,” he asks me. “What did you do that summer?”

I thought about how honest of an answer I wanted to give him and then decided on–

“Oh, I met this girl from Ireland and we hung out a lot.”

Sometimes the truth is like ketchup.

A little goes a long way.




The Rules Do Not Apply: The Little Theatre of Fall River’s “The Last Five Years”

“If I hadn’t believed in you I wouldn’t have loved you at all”

One of the great ironies that’ll be written about when people start assessing what the performing arts was like during the pandemic is that most of us only started figuring out how to do this whole digital theater thing right as the light was appearing at the end of the tunnel. I remember speaking to someone a year ago about what kind of shows could be produced successfully without an audience and with limited resources, and the answer came back, “Anything but a musical.”

And yet, we’ve seen that proven false with a string of recent productions that have found just the right mixture of intimacy and theatricality to make a digital musical not just work, but, well, sing.

The latest comes from The Little Theatre of Fall River. The company has made a name for itself over the past few years for reaching outside the predictable slew of titles that get mountings on smaller stages, but right in the sweet spot between “cult classic” and “beloved” is Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years.

The show is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and wow, does it continue to hold up. After premiering in Chicago in 2001, it played Off-Broadway and quickly became the most talked-about show among musical theater aficionados and the most performed show in musical theater auditions.

It follows Jamie, a writer, and Cathy, an actress, as they navigate the highs and lows of dating and then marriage. The show begins with Cathy having just learned that Jamie has left her only to transition into Jamie’s experience of just having met Cathy. The musical moves forward and backward, only allowing the two characters to meet when they reach the middle of the story.

The Last Five Years has become a go-to for smaller theaters because it’s both a performance powerhouse with two of the best roles in musical theater and requires virtually nothing in the way of spectacle, although I thought Little Theatre did a great job of finding the balance in a design that’s effective while understanding that what might read well in front of an audience needs to be even more detailed if you’re going to put it on film.

The set design by Nathan Tarantino had all that detailing, as did the lighting from David Faria. The video quality was excellent, and I thought the sound quality was some of the best I’ve seen from a digital production, so Jose Cabral deserves a lot of praise for that, as well as for co-stage managing with Pat Taylor, who also handled props.

Tarantino’s direction and music direction are commendable. It’s really easy to make the mistake of over-directing a show that allows for this much interpretation, but he let his actors shine, while not allowing for self-indulgence, which is another major trap when a show is so heavily focused on performance and emotion. High praise also should be heaped onto the musicians, Michael Coelho (conductor), Eli Bigelow (piano), William Buonocore (guitar), Sam Kurzontkowski (bass), and Sarah Nichols (cello).  They sounded absolutely gorgeous.

Adina Lundquist has the unenviable task of taking Cathy from the present to the past, as well as finding a way to make her something outside of the desperate and high-strung actress stereotype. She gets her most dramatic moment two songs into the show, and from there, slides backward from heartbroken and frustrated to lovestruck and hopeful (wonderful if you’re Cathy, tough if you’re whoever is playing her). Lundquist hit all the right notes in the early part of the show, both dramatically and musically. She has a fantastic voice that just got better and better as she reached some of Cathy’s more vocally gymnastic moments. What I loved about her performance was the approach she took in Cathy’s younger scenes, where instead of just being bubbly and cheerful, you see that she’s someone who has to strive to trust. Yes, she’s falling in love, but she’s also steeling herself for every outcome, and so the end result doesn’t seem as jarring as it does inevitable, which is ultimately far more tragic.

While Cathy delivers her narrative from the end to the beginning, Jamie gets to present his version of their relationship in a more linear way. That doesn’t make portraying him any easier. Whereas Cathy can be a rollercoaster of insecurity and passion, Jamie is a series of contradictions. Playing him requires knowing what he’s saying, what he means, and what he feels — and rarely are the three neatly lined up. Jason Cabral is perfectly suited for the part. He manages to make Jamie’s neurosis charming, his ambition relatable, and his path away from Cathy as understandable as one can make it. His vocal choices on “Shiksa Goddess” heighten the song’s comedy, and his “Schmuel Song” performance are both highlights.

A show about love out of time is so apt for the moment, I’m surprised it took us a year to see it produced locally, but I’m glad it’s in such fine form. The nuance of Brown’s music and lyrics, the crisp direction, and the knockout performances all resonate even if you’re watching from a living room television or a laptop. While the show isn’t necessarily one that’ll leave you smiling, it will have you eager to see live theater when it returns and thrilled we have productions like these to keep us enthralled while we wait.




More Alike Than Different: World Down Syndrome Day in Rhode Island

Khalil during a Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island photo session at Big John Leyden’s Tree Farm in West Greenwich; Photo credit: Laura Kilgus, 9ten Photography

For 10 years, the United Nations has designated March 21 as World Down Syndrome Day. As the 21st day of the third month of each year, the date symbolizes the genetic foundation for Down syndrome — the triplication of the 21st chromosome. Building upon the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the UN’s declaration of a dedicated holiday reinforced how “adequate access to health care, to early intervention programs, and to inclusive education, as well as appropriate research, are vital to the growth and development of the individual.” Motif’s Sean Carlson interviewed Crystal Greene, president of the Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island, about the strides made locally and the hurdles that remain.

Sean Carlson (Motif): On March 21, 2019, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed a bill to formally commemorate World Down Syndrome Day. What significance does this have two years later?

Crystal Greene: To have Rhode Island celebrate this day shows that the Down syndrome community is not forgotten. Even though people with Down syndrome should be included every day, we hope March 21 provides an annual reminder of our need to educate, advocate and empower. We’re hoping to see more progress politically as well. We’re working to light up the Rhode Island State House in blue and yellow to celebrate individuals with Down syndrome. We’re advocating for state legislation to prohibit physicians from denying organ transplants to people with intellectual disabilities like Down syndrome or autism. We’re supporting resolution H 5833 to improve compliance and accountability in Rhode Island’s public schools around Individualized Education Programs and 504 Plans for students with disabilities.

(Editor’s note: An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is required to be eligible for special education, whereas a 504 plan summarizes how a school intends to accommodate a student with a disability.)

SC: Do you still hear Down syndrome misunderstood as a disease? What misconceptions persist?

CG: Misconceptions and stereotypes are still prevalent. We hear family members refer to Down syndrome as a “condition,” and the word “retarded’ is still used as a label to define individuals. Our language should be more sensitive and inclusive. One of the most common misconceptions is underestimating the capabilities and potential of a person with Down syndrome. People often seem surprised to hear about somebody with Down syndrome living on their own at a university, for example, but these accomplishments shouldn’t be seen as a surprise. People with Down syndrome have wide-ranging abilities. With proper support and understanding, they can thrive. When we think about what it means to be human, we in the Down syndrome community like to say, we’re more alike than different.

Celia during a Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island photo session at Goddard Memorial State Park in East Greenwich; Photo credit: Laura Kilgus, 9ten Photography

SC: Programs like the Special Olympics are well-known, and occasional stories about people with Down syndrome generate great interest, such as Lucas Warren, the 2018 Gerber baby, and Chris Nikic, who recently completed a full Ironman. What do you see in such moments of visibility?

CG: These stories are full of joy and hope, but I also wonder, would we be celebrating this if any other person accomplished the same? The media plays a pinnacle role in how people with Down syndrome are personified and perceived. It’s fortunate their accomplishments are highlighted so the community at large can see and applaud these individuals’ capabilities. But if you also don’t appreciate how much a person with Down syndrome has to overcome, some of the celebration can feel patronizing.

SC: We tend to be drawn to stories about great successes and worst-case scenarios. What do you see as the effect of this tendency on people whose experiences fall somewhere in between?

CG: Visibility goes a long way in helping change perceptions of how able, and how capable, people with Down syndrome can be. But one of the negative consequences we see when celebrating individuals who are extraordinary, is that they do not necessarily represent the typical experience of people living with Down syndrome. This can cause unrealistic social comparisons. We should try to see every individual as unique and variable in their skill sets, whether or not they have Down syndrome.

SC: Are local businesses and employers thinking about their roles and responsibilities too?

CG: Some companies may celebrate individuals with Down syndrome, or even feature them in advertisements, but that’s not the same as providing the support or services afforded to the general public. For instance, it’s extremely difficult to purchase life insurance, or shoes that fit, or dolls that carry similar physical characteristics as individuals with Down syndrome. We have a long way to go there.

SC: How has Rhode Island fared with providing support and care for children or adults living with Down syndrome and their families?

CG: We’re working hard to provide support and education to our community and institutions. We just sent out an informational flyer about resources to the superintendents of our public schools, and to a variety of non-public schools as well. But there’s a lot of work to be done locally to support our mission and to provide the resources necessary. Much of the support network comes from families who spend countless hours researching and self-educating about Down syndrome. The process can feel overwhelming, especially for people who don’t know their legal rights or have difficulty navigating the system. There are enormous gaps from our towns, cities and state overall when it comes to enabling social activities and providing lists of qualified doctors and specialists. In our schools, procuring an IEP over a 504 plan remains tremendously difficult. And unless a family or caregiver knows their options, there are few resources for people with Down syndrome who have aged out of the public school system.

Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island’s 2019 Buddy Walk and Fall Harvest Festival at Goddard Memorial State Park; Photo credit: Laura Kilgus, 9ten Photography

SC: These challenges have only worsened during the pandemic. A study from researchers at Emory University suggested that adults older than 40 with Down syndrome were roughly three times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the rest of the population. How have you had to confront such unique challenges?

CG: People without Down syndrome may not know that individuals with Down syndrome often have multiple medical needs at the same time, ranging from cardiac to gastrointestinal to neurological to respiratory. Many individuals also experience low muscle tone, feeding issues and communication deficits. These comorbidities can make it more difficult to ward off illnesses like the common cold, the flu and pneumonia — and most certainly COVID-19. Because many individuals with Down syndrome are immunocompromised, they’re at a high risk of life-threatening complications. But what’s also challenging is how many of the therapies and supports that are imperative for success in daily living have been decreased or stopped completely over the past year. Many families have had to choose between a major regression of skills with fewer — or without — in-person services or face a risk of hospitalization or even death. But even if a therapy provider provides a virtual option and insurance companies approve of the session, this method tends to be far less effective, especially for individuals with communication barriers.

SC: I trust many people who don’t have firsthand experience with Down syndrome will empathize.

CG: The pandemic created a plethora of challenges for parents in general, such as distance-learning struggles and difficulties enacting special education provisions. We’ve heard from parents who’ve lost jobs or changed careers to try to balance their work while caring for someone at home. We’ve seen increases in financial insecurity and food insecurity. The community we support relies on certain kinds of services. At the beginning of the pandemic, many early intervention agencies that support children from birth to age 3 closed, lost employees and laid off adjunct providers. For local residents who need to look beyond Rhode Island for specialized care from clinics that specialize in Down syndrome, this has often meant getting to and from Boston Children’s Hospital or Mass General. And of course we’re also seeing the consequence of parents and family members getting sick. In fact, we’re currently supporting one man with Down syndrome who lost his father to COVID-19 and is struggling both emotionally and financially.

SC: Like everybody else, you’ve had to make changes to your own operations. What should we expect?

CG: In-person events remain cancelled because of the pandemic, but we’re supporting our community with a monthly speaker series online, covering topics like how to stay active and how to manage the IEP and 504 process. We packaged board games and snacks for families to pick up in Johnston and play at home on World Down Syndrome Day, and Easy Entertaining Inc. has organized a fundraiser for us. Isaiah Lombardo recently hosted a virtual dance party with us. We’re sharing updates on Facebook, Instagram and our website, and we’re looking forward to when we can meet face-to-face again safely.

Down Syndrome Society of Rhode Island’s 2019 Buddy Walk and Fall Harvest Festival at Goddard Memorial State Park; Photo credit: Laura Kilgus, 9ten Photography



All RI Adults Will Be Eligible for Vaccine Appointments Next Month: A summary of the governor’s weekly COVID briefing

All Rhode Island adults ages 16 and up will be eligible for vaccination appointments starting April 19, Governor Dan McKee announced today in a weekly briefing with the press. This announcement comes days after state leaders were ratcheting down expectations of hitting an ambitious May 1 eligibility goal set by President Joe Biden. The vaccine supply Rhode Island receives each week will be dramatically increasing, according to the federal government. The governor and DoH director Dr. Alexander-Scott will put in requests for the state to receive an additional allocation of 50,000 per week to meet the president’s goal. 

“We have high confidence in that April 19 date,” said Tom McCarthy, executive director of COVID Response.

Currently the state receives approximately 48,000 doses weekly, with shipments arriving on Mondays and Tuesdays. McCarthy stated that some weeks most of the doses go toward the second shots people need to be fully vaccinated, acknowledging that this method slows down new people getting their first dose. DoH reports the state is doing well in national rankings for vaccinations. Twelve percent of Rhode Islanders are fully vaccinated as of this morning. The state is in the top five states nationwide for number of first doses administered, on par with Connecticut and ahead of Massachusetts. The state is expected to receive more than 55,000 doses starting next week, with large supply increases from the Johnson & Johnson manufactured vaccine.

State leaders say they are working to increase capacity. As of this week, the state has the capacity to administer 100,000 shots per week, working toward a stretch goal of 160,000 shots per week by the end of March. Last week, the state expanded the vaccination pool to two new groups, people age 60-64 and age 16 and up with qualifying underlying health conditions; this translates into approximately 160,000 Rhode Islanders. When state appointments opened last week, the state’s scheduling website, vaccinateri.org, was overwhelmed leaving many unable to get appointments. McCarthy today pledged they were working to improve the state’s scheduling process. Starting tomorrow at 5pm, 3,250 new appointments will be released on the state’s website.

Dr. Alexander-Scott said today that COVID case data in RI “appears to have plateaued.” Percent positive in COVID tests hovers around 2%, with new cases remaining flat. Week to week hospitalizations saw a slight bump from 118 last week to 135 this week. The DoH reports 360 new cases since yesterday with 125 people currently hospitalized due to the virus. Of those, 17 are in the ICU and 13 are on ventilators. There have been 6 new confirmed fatalities since yesterday, bringing statewide fatalities from coronavirus to 2,594 since the start of the pandemic.

The DoH is keeping an eye on the new variants as well; it’s slowly seeing more cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, commonly known as the “U.K. variant.” Out of 85 specimens sequenced recently, 12 cases were the U.K. variant. The variant is known for being extraordinarily more contagious than the common coronavirus variant. State leaders are working with the CDC and local health experts to come up with a streamlined sequencing process to detect new strains as they arise.

“There will be music in Newport this summer,” said Gov. McKee today. Last week’s announced restriction relaxations take effect tomorrow, but state leaders are already considering plans to allow large events to happen again in Rhode Island during the summer, including the Newport Jazz and Folk Fests. Events would not look like they did in prior years; events need approval from the Department of Business Regulation, and event planners needing to consult with the DoH to ensure safety. Between May 1 and July 15, the state is considering allowing events larger than 500 people to happen, capped at 1,000. Events bigger than 1,000 people would be allowed after July 15. Commerce Sec. Stefan Pryor promised more guidance to come in future weeks and months. State leaders advised event planners wanting to host events larger 500 people to approach DBR and get that process started now.




Pulp Made Modern: Rhode Island author Robert Isenberg’s supernatural adventure tales modernize the genre

Author Robert Isenberg

Robert Isenberg fell in love with Pittsburgh.

During a 16-year period of living there, and in the years following, Isenberg became a jack-of-all-trades, working as a journalist, a playwright, an actor and a videographer. His dream had always been, he said, to write the next Great American Novel. But somewhere along the way, a new dream took root.

His master’s degree from University of Pittsburgh gave him a reading list of Great American Novels, of “serious” fiction, and of difficult stories. As he was pursuing his creative endeavors in his spare time and working on his degree, he began to think about writing something fun.

“I loved the idea of writing something for fun… [something with a] pulp-fiction atmosphere,” Isenberg says. And, perhaps most importantly, he wanted to “do it my way.”

Enter Elizabeth Crowne.

The backdrop of her stories, compiled in multiple formats under the title, “The Adventures of Elizabeth Crowne,” is the city he loved so much. The world she lives in is pulpy, filled with adventure. And its writer is happy to keep building stories around her.

The first Elizabeth Crowne story, “The Woman in the Sky,” came out in 2016. Since then, Isenberg has been working on this serialized project, creating an audio series that covers about two arcs per year. 

Physical copies of the stories are also in print.

His latest endeavor, an audiobook titled “The Mysterious Tongue of Dr. Vermillion,” compiles five of these stories into hours of listening. In it, Elizabeth Crowne, a paranormal detective with a sharp wit and quick tongue, leads listeners through supernatural mysteries, against the background of a fictionalized 1920s Pittsburgh.

These stories indulge the author’s love for classic adventure stories, embracing the hallmarks of the genre, including sidekicks, traveling and a quick-witted, snarky heroine. 

But Isenberg explains that his writing style places a high importance on grounding the story in the personal and the real. 

“[Elizabeth is] a female paranormal detective in the 1920s — how can that be personal?” Isenberg laughs. The answer, he explains, is to build the story around likeable characters who are dynamic and have realistic weaknesses. 

“Ultimately, it’s not going to be up to me if she’s authentic,” Isenberg says. 

But he says that his listeners, when they explain their enjoyment of the series, tell him that what they like the most is his centerpiece creation: Elizabeth. 

“Every character is a composite of [real] encounters,” Isenberg says. He explains that he worked to create a diverse cast that felt real to him, and acknowledged the historical nature of the story. 

The characters may fit a cliche, he explains, but his style is to take these character archetypes and give them something completely unexpected. This, he says, grounds the character, makes them feel more real in the subversion of what is expected. 

And though embracing cliche is a part of the appeal for Isenberg in the stories he’s worked on for the last few years, his goal is to subvert some of the more problematic elements that classic pulp adventure stories have long been known for. 

As an example, he says, in her travels, Elizabeth investigates in Egypt — a setting that Isenberg says he tried to write from a less colonial perspective than a traditional adventure story might take.

“[This is] such a trope, such a cliche… How can I do this differently?” he says of his writing process.

He explains that the genre allows for so much room to explore and play with characters, traits, stories. This is an exciting world for Isenberg to play in, and he plans to continue working on stories about Elizabeth and her supernatural adventures. 

“The Mysterious Tongue of Dr. Vermillion” is available on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher and Audible. Copies of the physical book are also available on Amazon and Books In Print — which means any indie bookstore can order them.




The Ghost Light: A year in the theater

“Do you think theater will survive?”

Believe it or not, I started getting asked this question long before the pandemic struck. I would be asked to come in and do a Q&A at a college or attend a talkback for a play I’d written, and more often than not, somebody would ask some version of this question.

Sometimes it would be phrased as “What’s the biggest challenge theater faces right now?” or “How do you get young people interested in theater?” but if you listened closely, it all boiled down to the idea that theater was in trouble.

Why?

How much time do you have?

Suffice to say, by the time theaters were shut down a year ago, I was already starting to wonder, “Could this be it? Are we finally done?”

As much time as we’ve spent over the last year hearing people bemoan the loss of human contact and socialization, the fact is, we had built up an entire (albeit mostly humorous) infrastructure of commentary on how much people did not like going out. Netflix and other streaming services had put a large dent in the entertainment industry and that, combined with a culture obsessed with working people to death, seemed destined to transform us all into those gelatinous cartoon humans from Wall-E glued to a screen and permanently immobile.

When staying home became a public necessity, and when that stay extended far past the two weeks we initially anticipated, I thought the war was lost.

We were now embracing isolationism — not trying to ward it off.

People were more engaged with streaming content than ever. Nobody was leaving their house. And surely we would all get used to this, right? And once we did, there’d be no going back. We would have fully transformed into the at-home society.

Do you know that horrible parenting story about the kid who got caught smoking so his parents made him smoke a whole pack? The idea being that once he was done, he’d never want another cigarette again?

By the time, we were a few months into lockdown, I began to suspect that everyone was ready to quit smoking.

People I’d never seen show an interest in theater before were messaging me to ask when I thought we’d be able to open up again, because they wanted to come see a play.

Friends were streaming online theater only to post that while it was a nice substitute, they desperately wanted to be in a room with actors and other audience members again when it was safe.

Speaking from experience, I was in the midst of a theater burnout. I wasn’t sure what my relationship to theater was or if I wanted to continue on with it for much longer. I joked that if I was married to theater, then theater was sleeping in the guest room.

Well, wouldn’t you know, theater moved out on me, and now I call it everyday and beg it to come back, promising that I’ve seen the error of my ways.

I know a lot of people in the same boat.

While nobody would have wished for these circumstances, the fact is, absence is a powerful stimulant for gratitude, and all this time away from making something with someone face-to-face has made me preemptively grateful for when I can have that back.

It’s not just theater either.

I find myself having wonderful dreams about simple activities like eating without a mask in a crowded restaurant or going out dancing.

Truthfully, I am a terrible dancer and avoid it at all costs, but that was back when things like “worrying about how I look dancing” seemed reasonable. Anything self-conscious now seems wildly unreasonable. Life is simply too short.

If my expectation that theater was going to pause entirely and let the void it left do all the work for it, I was mistaken.

After some trial and error, it was inspiring to see actors and directors and playwrights and artists of all kinds making an effort to do something. It was a heartening reminder that we don’t create to win trophies or garner attention or show off.

Okay, I mean, yes, we do it for all those reasons, but–

We also do it, because we come from a long line of revered and respected people known as storytellers, who understood that when things are at their worst, people will look to art.

To comfort them.

To keep them engaged.

To remind them that there’s a bigger world out there even as we were all sheltering in our homes.

Artists were connecting from all over the world for readings and digital productions and discussions about what they do and how they can do it better.

Legendary performers were suddenly available to do things like give free master classes everywhere from Instagram to their living rooms.

Huge leaps were made in discovering how we can make theater more accessible.

Important conversations were started about equity and representation.

We learned that we have so much work to do that might never have been initiated, let alone completed, if we weren’t forced to stop and reflect.

There were so many problems that were getting worse, not better, and while I desperately wish it didn’t take a tragedy of this magnitude to bring about change, change rarely happens any other way.

What I am most struck by is the feeling that I am never going to have to hear the question “Do you think theater will survive?” again.

It had become a frequent echo throughout this year, but I noticed, over the past few weeks, that echo lessening.

Because we are moving away from “Will we?” and toward “We are.”

We are surviving this.

And not because we always have. Not because theater is old. Lots of old institutions crumble. Rome was not a spring chicken when it eroded and eventually collapsed.

We survive because it has suddenly become abundantly clear that we are needed in a way that no other thing can satisfy or fulfill.

And if we can survive this, what can’t we survive?

At a time when every forum and public square is filled with people shouting over each other, theater tells you that you have to sit in a room and listen to somebody else speak.

As I was listening to the ongoing argument all year about what responsibility we have to our communities versus ourselves, I realized that everything I know about existing within a community, I’ve learned from doing and watching theater.

It’s not just the group of artists who gather together to put on a show. Yes, that is its own community. Beyond that, though, it’s the basic assembling of people in a room who have all agreed to spend an hour or two devoted to nothing more than the telling and enjoying of a story for reasons that are specific to them.

It is a tradition in theater to leave a ghost light always on in a space that would otherwise be dark. There’s a history behind it that I won’t bore you with, but the symbol of the ghost light is one that is inextricably linked to the performing arts, and it is one of resiliency.

You leave the light on because you know you won’t have to leave it on forever.

It’s been one year since rehearsals and productions and gallery openings and dance recitals and concerts were all brought to a halt. Many of those projects and experiences will not be returning, but as artists, we know that nothing we do lasts for very long and so much of what we’d like to do or see never comes to fruition.

But we do it anyway.

We spend time and money building sets we’ll one day have to strike. We write novels that will sit somewhere in our computers until we’re brave enough to show them to someone. We teach 30 people a dance, then decide we don’t like it, and teach them a different one.

We make something where there used to be nothing, and when we’re done, we make something else.

And in between, you leave a light on.

Because you know, one day, you’ll be back.




In Providence: The Late Night

If you happen to be a night owl in Providence, there are only a few select spots where you can be around others of your kind in a social setting.

That’s why the proliferation of closures and adjustments that sprang up a year ago seemed to hit the hardest the first time I found myself itching to get out of the house sometime after midnight and realized that my go-to late night routine was no longer available to me.

That routine consisted of driving to the IHOP in Providence with my laptop to get some writing done only to find myself people-watching the entire time I was there while pushing scrambled eggs around on the plate in front of me.

If you’ve never been to the IHOP after 1am on a weeknight, you have no idea what you’re missing. Regardless of where they seat you, I promise that a Robert Altman movie will begin to unfold all around you.

One night, while telling myself I was working, I proceeded to watch a couple break up, get back together, get engaged and break up again all in the span of an hour and while only one of them spoke.

As they were leaving, the woman in the pair caught a glimpse of me, turned to her fiance (?), and said, “Do you believe people still eat alone? I could never do that. Good for him. He looks sad, but good for him.”

Several times, I’ve seen people burst into song. I don’t have a record of every title, but my favorite, by far, was a table full of what looked to be truckers belting out Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” as though they were at a local pub instead of under the fluorescent lights of the pancake palace.

During an unexpected blizzard, I was once stuck at a back booth until nearly dawn, and somehow, one of those plastic beach balls appeared, and people began tossing it back-and-forth from table to table, while waitresses offered free refills on the coffee. Somebody started playing Kid ‘N Play’s “Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody” on their phone, and reader, if there’s ever been a better party, I’ve never attended it.

Even Studio 54 didn’t offer the Split Decision.

Before this becomes an advertisement and I have to do a SponCon disclaimer, I’ll point out that there are a few other places you could kill time on a Tuesday evening if insomnia was rearing its ugly head. Haven Bros is the immediate go-to, but I have a bigger story about them that you’ll read in a future issue.

Once in my mid-20s, after a particularly bad break-up, I found myself wandering around downtown in the hopes that, like any good ’80s movie, something interesting would happen that would send me on some kind of wacky adventure.

It was just after 2am and the clubs had all closed. Little pockets of buzzed smokers were huddled outside every establishment, and as I made my way past one of the now defunct gay bars, I spotted four of the most attractive men I have ever seen in my life.

There is a certain kind of attractive that we simply don’t have in the Rhode Island LGBTQ community. I’m not bashing my home state, but the fact is, no gay man resembling Jason Statham has ever come out of Providence, and if I’m wrong, please DM me the details immediately.

In addition to the J-Stat doppelganger, this pocket featured a guy who looked like a Brazilian soccer player, a Matthew Perry-esque sardonic-seeming fellow, and a fourth guy who I’m sure was very nice, but who I cannot remember for the life of me.

My initial impulse was to introduce myself, and then I realized that whatever league I was in was about seven leagues down from theirs, and I decided to keep on walking. Then, like a gift from the John Hughes gods, I heard one of them ask if there was anywhere you could get food in Providence at that hour.

Like a homosexual roadrunner, I blasted into the conversation and asked if they wanted to come get breakfast with me.

I remember the one I can’t remember recognizing me immediately as a thirsty and newly heartbroken hanger-on, but the others seemed somewhat charmed by my unique mix of unwarranted theatricality and anxious assertiveness.

So we all loaded into my car — which I believe only had three wheels and one brake. I learned that they were from New York, but that Matthew Perry had planned to fly them all to the Cape where they would then head to PTown, except the weather wasn’t great, so they had to land at TF Green instead.

At least, I think that was the story, because all I heard was “Rich,” “Gay,” “Pilot,” “Handsome,” and “Single.” Some of the words were never used, but I inferred them, because I still had so much hope back then.

We ate quickly, because they wanted to get to the airport, but both Perry and Statham gave me their business cards, which I held onto for years even though I never contacted them. I drove them to TF Green and bid them farewell the same way Rick did as Ilsa was boarding the plane in Casablanca, except in my case, I was parked across the street at the Hooters wondering where in the Hamptons the five of us could vacation that summer.

Looking back, I imagine them taking them off and looking down to see the state underneath them still covered in darkness, except for the lights of those all-night businesses that offer a wired writer or a sad single the chance to stay up a little later in the hopes of finding some excitement to ensure them that life still has a few surprises left to offer.

Some of America’s greatest gems are the 24-hour diners and eateries that act like sentinels against the night, helping some of us sleep better knowing we don’t have to. 

Knowing that if we want, there’s a place we can go to sip coffee, sing Fleetwood Mac, or spend an hour with four people we’ll never see again.

I know how badly everyone wants to get back to normal, but what I miss was never really considered normal. Those late nights where, even in a city as small as Providence, you could still find someone or something so interesting you almost wonder if you’re dreaming.




Restrictions Continue to Relax: A summary of the governor’s March 11 press conference

COVID cases are on the decline, vaccination rates are trending upward and businesses can look forward to new relaxed restrictions. Governor Dan McKee and state officials announced starting today and next week many businesses will have higher capacity limits, and bars will be able to be open until midnight when serving food. 

“Be very diligent, be very disciplined on the protocols in place,” said Governor McKee. His administration is in the process of relaxing restrictions to a degree not seen since early 2020. Many of them start next week. Indoor dining’s capacity will be raised to 75% of total capacity. Catered events can have up to 100 people indoors, 200 people outdoors. Houses of worship, currently at 40% capacity, today will be lifted to 75%. Today retail has no limit for capacity outdoors, but next week changes to 1 person per 50 sq ft, with big box stores at 1 per 100 sq ft. Gyms and personal services (think hair salons) will be 1 person per 50 sq ft with no limits for fitness centers outdoors, and hair salons require 6 feet of spacing. 

Next week venues of assembly will be at 50% capacity capped at 250 indoors, 500 outdoors. Funeral homes will be at 50% capacity. Offices can see their workers return up to 50% in person, with remote work still being preferred. Social gatherings today are two households max indoors, three households outdoors. Next week that will lift to up to 15 people indoors, 50 people outdoors. Gov. McKee said he was open to considering changing economic reopening metrics from COVID hospitalizations and deaths to the amount of fully vaccinated people in the state.

RIDOH continues to report good news on COVID-19 metrics in Rhode Island. “Our data picture for Rhode Island continues to be a good one,” said DoH director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. Statewide positivity rates have hovered around 2% for the past month. D-H reported a brief rise in cases a few weeks ago that has remained stable. Dr. Alexander-Scott reported that state health officials were watching data in North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Smithfield, Woonsocket and Portsmouth closely. 

The state health department also reported hospitalizations and fatalities among older residents continues to drop. The last two week span in nursing homes saw nine new cases. Compared to one two-week span in November when nursing homes reported more than 400 coronavirus cases statewide. “This is exceedingly low,” said Dr. Alexander-Scott.

RIDoH reports 315 new cases since yesterday. The percent positive rate is 1.8%. 138 people are hospitalized, 24 people are in the intensive care unit and 19 of them are on ventilators. State officials report 4 deaths since yesterday.

Approximately 25% of the state has received the first dose of the vaccine, and around 10% of the state has received both doses and is fully vaccinated. The state has administered 355,174 shots statewide. President Joe Biden last night pledged every adult in the country would be eligible for a vaccine starting May 1, with a goal of having all adults vaccinated by the end of May. RIDoH announced yesterday that starting today, people aged 60 to 64 can start getting vaccinated. Additionally, the state is opening up vaccinations to people ages 16 and up with qualifying underlying medical conditions. 

“Not everyone is going to get a vaccine appointment day one,” said Dr. Alexander-Scott. State officials report they are currently receiving a total of 48,000 vaccine doses every week, with marginal increases in supply every other week. While looking forward to significant supply increases, Dr. Alexander-Scott estimated they would need to receive 100,000 doses a week to reach President Biden’s ambitious goal within the timeframe.




Governor McKee Releases His $11.2 Billion Budget Proposal: New gov proposes an end to prohibition

Governor Dan McKee released his $11.2 billion budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year today in a budget briefing with the press. He inherits a big task from predecessor Gina Raimondo — balancing a deficit of $336 million dollars with some new budget priorities. Federal dollars will provide a big boost to state and local budgets. The state will receive $1.7 billion in the American Rescue Plan, with $1.1 billion allocated to the state, and the rest to be doled out to municipalities over the next two years.

“My budget also looks ahead for the needs that will persist even after the virus subsides,” said Governor McKee. Highlights from the governor’s budget include additional funds from the medication-assisted treatment program for inmates in the ACI, a dedicated funding stream for affordable housing, legalized marijuana, and millions in grants for small business assistance. State budget officials also want to start a child care assistance pilot program for parents pursuing higher education, make investments in utility infrastructure, and create a fully funded car tax phase out. Under the McKee budget, school districts could see total state aid to local districts increase by $34.9 million.

McKee’s proposal for marijuana legalization is different than former Gov. Raimondo’s; McKee favors a market-based system. There would be a controlled rollout of 25 retail licenses spread over three years with five set aside for qualifying Minority Business Enterprise applicants. The governor would create a Cannabis Reinvestment Task Force to make recommendations on long-term investments of cannabis tax revenues in specific targeted areas. 

“This budget will propose an effective tax rate of 20%, around 7% sales tax,” said DBR director Liz Tanner to Motif. The remaining 13% in taxes would be various other retail, wholesale and excise taxes. The effective tax rate, under the governor’s legalized marijuana plan, would be 20%, the same effective tax rate as neighboring Massachusetts. 

The RI State Senate has introduced legislation to legalize marijuana, and officials from the governor’s office said they were looking forward to an ongoing dialogue with the General Assembly on the marijuana moves.

The proposed budget sets aside an additional $50,000 in arts grants and continues to fund the full-time equivalent positions in the arts created from a previous round of federal funding last year.

No new tax increases were contained in the governor’s proposed budget, something the governor had promised previously. There have been slowly growing calls for increases on the Ocean State’s wealthiest over the course of the pandemic as wealth inequality increases. The governor’s team stressed the importance of federal funds in avoiding any tax increases this year, with money dedicated to minimizing the economic impacts of the pandemic and keeping the economy going.

The governor’s proposal also closes the deficit to balance the state budget. The McKee administration seeks to recover lost tax monies from PPP loans. The loans, given to local businesses throughout the pandemic, are typically forgiven if the business follows the loan agreement. Typically when debt is forgiven, the state or federal government is allowed to tax the forgiven debt as income. The first round of PPP loans were not allowed to be taxed by states, causing an estimated $133.3 million loss for the state, according to McKee’s team. The proposal would exempt the first $150,000 of loans forgiven to taxation, with 13% on loans above the threshold. In FY 2021 this will recover $3.6 million for the state, with an additional $64.1 million the following fiscal year.

State officials also want to defer paying back money into the rainy day fund, saving the state $70 million that will not be paid back until 2023. This would be subject to change if the law was amended to allow the state more time to pay it back. Under the proposal, the state would also increase the hospital licensing by 1%, netting an estimated $62 million in revenue, with various other cuts. 




Jack Downey Says Hello: Wave Goodbye frontman on where creativity and technology collide

As the solo member of indie-rock project Wave Goodbye and self-proclaimed clone of Harrison Reed Dolan (the drummer of alt-rock band grizzlies.), Jack Downey wears many hats — drummer, bassist, guitarist or vocalist. He juggles all of these roles with ease, and presents his stories with poetry. His latest EP, summer, tackles the feeling of time lost as a result of the pandemic. “Lately I’ve been freaking out because it seems like the world is crashing down” are probably the most universally relatable lyrics, presented with undeniably raw enthusiasm.

Although Jack isn’t a professionally trained vocalist, his sense of tone is completely authentic and fearless. Like a shattered pot repaired with gold, subtle imperfections only bring more personality to the music. Paired with slick layers of guitar plastered over different structures and time signatures, summer is an EP that exists somewhere between sadness and joy, in the place we know as the odd in-between of 2020. 

I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Jack about this project, including what he wants to accomplish with Wave Goodbye and his plans for the hopefully not-so-distant future of live music.

Angelina Singer (Motif): I’m really excited to hear about your experiences while putting summer together. What inspired you to build this collection of songs?

Jack Downey: The solo project [Wave Goodbye] came around in the summer of 2018, so I’d just finished junior year of high school and was in kind of a dark spot. I was basically caught up on various teenage things: worries about school, girl troubles, etc. Also, I was in a band at the time – Friday Life, which I sing and play guitar for, but I needed something on the side where I could get my emotions out without putting it through a whole band first. I could come up with the music on my own and just do it whenever I felt like it. So out of that need came Wave Goodbye. And it started out as really nothing serious – as I said, it was just a way to vent and just screw around with more minimal music. But over time, I got more attached to it because writing the music for the project came so easily to me, as I had a lot more wiggle room in terms of what direction I could go in. So I tried a bunch of different things. And eventually, I started polishing it up a little more, because I took a lot more pride in what I was doing with the project, and I started mixing it better. So, with each release, starting in 2018, the mix has really improved. This last EP summer is probably my most accomplished EP yet in terms of mixing. So that’s how it’s come about, and it’s always been a solo thing. Occasionally, I’ll collaborate with people to help mix. I’ve played a couple shows, and I’ll probably start doing that again when shows are back. I was always worried about playing solo with the loop pedal and stuff, because that’s always how I do it – since it’s a bunch of layered guitars. That always scared me, because if you do even one thing wrong you have to start over. Now I’m much more ready to take that on.

 As for the EP, I was writing another one called Dead Summer, and then I came up with the song “adrift” in June, just by screwing around with the loop pedal a little bit. And it was different than the other EP I was working on, so I decided to pursue that one for now. The EP was under the working title Milk because my friends, The Mudskippers, have an album called Dairy that also has a dog on the cover, so I figured I’d kinda just make a joke out of that. Then I recorded a bunch of songs for that, just chronicling my experiences that happened over the summer: dating a girl before we ended up breaking it off, going back to school, and just living in a pandemic. So I took all that and put it into the lyrics. And then when it came time to send my music out to the label that put my songs on tape – 

AS: Congrats on that! It’s so cool that you have a label backing you.

JD: Yeah it was really cool and it was a first for me! I realized when I sent it to them that Milk was a stupid name unless you knew what I was talking about, so I changed it. And I figured summer was a good name, because it’s about what happened over the summer – so it’s like a chronicle of that time period.

AS: Yeah and it’s interesting that you chose to chronicle that, because like you said, the original name was going to be Dead Summer. And I think so many people relate to because we all feel like a year of our lives was wasted essentially. Finding purpose and meaning in that is really powerful. So I really enjoyed hearing the different textures and emotions that you have in the EP, and how you chronicle the emotions throughout that experience. Was there one song that you feel sums up your whole experience the best out of that EP?

JD: The fact that they cover so many different topics makes that one kind of hard.

AS: I know! *laughs*

JD: The music on that EP except for maybe “tuesday night” and “you and me floating in space” have lyrics that are kind of depressing, but I’m not normally that depressed, and it’s probably because I have that musical outlet that stops me from bottling up all those negative emotions. But I would say, there isn’t any specific song that sums it up; I’d say the EP as a whole sums up my experience of the summer in the various moments it was written; some of the songs were written early in the summer. “206 (i hate weekends)” was the last one I wrote – that was when I was going back to school. So that one is probably about summer the least. If I had to choose, I’d say either – that is kind of tough.

AS: Just pick one; don’t overthink it!

JD: I’d say “summer of love”, mainly.

AS: That was my favorite! 

JD: Oh, thank you!

AS: Yeah, I really liked that one. 

JD: I would pick that one, just because it details the broader scale of summer. “crashing down” would probably be second, because that’s also about an extended period of time. I found ways around the mindset in that song where it’s kind of the feeling of hopelessness about a situation – which is fortunate. But yeah, I’d say “summer of love” because everyone around me found a girlfriend or something over the summer – which I thought was pretty funny. And like it says in the song, I thought I was in that boat, and then it didn’t end up working out. So it chronicles the rise and fall of that experience.

AS: Would you say that song helped you cope with that? I’m sure it was frustrating to feel like the odd-one-out in your friend group especially. 

JD: It helped! It’s kind of a tongue-in-cheek song in a way – like the whole summer of love turns into the fall of despair. I was in [Martha’s] Vineyard, and that line just popped into my head, and I was like “okay this song will be called “summer of love”. Though the relationship that it was based on – it was never really a terrible thing that happened. Sometimes in music, I guess, you take things that happened and dramatize them a little bit. The girl in question and I are still really good friends. She’s a musician too, so I’ve helped her with a couple of her songs – we’re still really cool. 

AS: I think everyone can relate to that optimism, and the frustration when it all crashes. You really portray that so effortlessly with this whole piece. I also enjoyed the way you use different time signatures and different musical structures to reflect your ideas. How do you attack your songwriting? Do you go and say “I want to write a song in 5/4 time, I want to do this or that”? Or do you let the lyricism and the emotion drive the technique?

JD: Yeah, that’s a good question. I would say a lot of the songs are definitely instrumental first. On my computer, a lot of them are labeled “untitled” and the date they were recorded. I don’t want to stick a specific name to them at that point if they haven’t had an idea put to them first. So I said how “adrift” came out of the loop pedal. “you and me floating in space” (the 5/4ths time) came out of me seeing if I could do something with that. And I did, so that was pretty cool and I decided that would be on there. I had the riff for “golden” since the very end of 2019. It was a much different song, but I just took the basic idea of it and restructured it over the loop pedal too. Then I figured out what chords went with the lead guitar, and what drum machine beat I could do. A lot of the lyrics – oddly enough for this album — I didn’t really think through all that much; they just kind of happened spontaneously when I was recording vocals. A lot of them I kind of ad-libbed, because I wanted them to feel more natural. Then if I had the ad-lib down, I could change this line a little bit, and that’s kind of how that process went. I think I wrote “you and me floating in space” and “crashing down” I wrote in advance. The same also with “adrift” to an extent, but songs like “golden” and “summer of love” I’m pretty sure I wrote while I was recording. So it’s a mixture. 

AS: How you ever had an emotion that is hard to write about? Maybe the breakup, maybe stuff like that in your life that is frustrating? And do you find that you have mental blocks sometimes? Or is it easy enough to just dig in and go for it?

JD: I would say, that even in my most depressing songs, I’m holding back from how raw I want to make them. Like I want to make really honest music, but at the same time, I don’t want to freak people out, or anything like that. So I tend to edit them in post if they come out really dark, or I just don’t use the lyrics. There was this one EP I released in 2019 called “oh no” – which, was pretty dark. 

AS: I could see that from the title, yeah. 

JD: Particularly this one song “Anger”, which was just, well, angry. And I’m not even that angry of a person, but I was angry for a brief period. And I kinda came up with the lyrics at work during that time. Then my parents heard it and were like, “Are you good? Do you need help?” And I didn’t want them to think that, you know? I didn’t wanna worry my parents. There’s gotta be a level of politeness, I guess, with my lyrics. I obviously want them to be honest, but I think at some points, even just for presentation, I tend to hold back sometimes. 

AS: Well you want to consider your audience and you want to think about how they might perceive it. That’s all just good marketing, so I totally understand that. I also wanted to ask you how you came up with the name for your one-man band, Wave Goodbye. Does that mean something to you?

JD: So the original name of the project, from when it started in 2018 to March or April of 2019, was Sunset Demon. And that just kind of came to me one day when I was starting to write music for the project, because I wanted something that was kind of haunting but beautiful. So that was what I came up with, and I went with that. But I just grew to hate the name after a while; I just thought it was stupid.

AS: It’s a little too metal for your style, maybe. 

JD: It’s a little metal, and it’s just kind of cartoony. It’s kind of like a Tumblr handle, in a way. It wasn’t really what I stand for. I remember when people found out about it, they were like, “Really? It just doesn’t fit.” And I was like, “Yeah, you’re right.” So I went through a ton of other names, and Wave Goodbye came from an episode of the show Magnum, P.I. Do you know that show?

AS: I feel like I heard of it, but I haven’t watched it. 

DJ: There’s been a reboot of it recently but I’m talking about the ’80s version, because that’s the classic, and it’s a really good show. So the title Wave Goodbye comes from a title of that TV show. And it was surprisingly not taken by any other bands, so I felt like it fit the vibe. It’s got that somber, melancholy tone to it. Also, each Wave Goodbye release is waving goodbye to something I was holding onto that I kind of let go of through the songs. So, it’s kind of waving goodbye to these feelings, or to these words that you had that you needed to say. You don’t have to say them anymore necessarily because you’ve gotten them out of your system. There’s a feeling of relief attached to that, and I feel like for the people listening, it’s like waving goodbye to any of the emotions they connect to in the songs – because now they know they’re not alone. And it’s a catharsis. Because for me, any kind of music I listen to is a kind of catharsis in a way. Maybe also some of the instrumentation, but most often the lyrics with what the subject matter is about.

AS: I love the saying too, I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but it says: “If you focus on the past, you’ll trip on the now.” Like if you get too caught up, and I think it fits very much in your message with what you’re trying to do with your project and how you really have to forge forward and keep pushing through these things that hold us back. I’m an author myself, so I’ve written about this sort of stuff, and I think everyone can universally relate to that. And I know you’re going to get back to playing live shows as soon as you can, so do you have anyone backing you, or is it really just you with a loop pedal?

JD: I mean for now, it would probably just be me and the loop pedal. Because I can bring my guitar, and the drum machine, and just loop those together. It’s just cool, because if I ever wanna play a show, I can just go; I don’t have to coordinate with other people. That’s always been the problem with being in a band like Friday Life – and that’s just four people. You have to make sure everybody’s on board, and if they’re not on board, you have to decide if you want someone to fill in for that person, or those people. Then you have to find people who are available on that day. And it’s just a lot of work. The smaller the band, the better for scheduling purposes. I’m in another band called Sun Mask with just my brother, and that band is easy because he and I are always on the same page and we live together – at least when I’m not at school anyway. It’s pretty easy to coordinate stuff like that. The smaller the circle, the easier it is to plan. But I think at some point, I’m gonna go with a full band, because I feel like I can explore more avenues that way. There’s only so much I can do with the drum machine set-up right now. I think I still have some ideas for it, but I think eventually I’ll move away from it. 

AS: I love too, these days, how these new innovative bands are cropping up out of the woodwork. I actually talked to a guy recently about an Internet band of people that live all different places, called sky.age.

JD: What was the name?

AS: sky.age – I don’t know if you know them, it’s partly based out of California.

JD: Oh, my friend from Cape Cod is in a band where the singer and guitarist is from England, the drummer’s from California, and he’s the bass player. It’s called Cabin Boy.

AS: Oh that sounds similar, so funny—almost the same situation. But anyway, I really enjoy the fact that people are doing things solo like you with loop pedals and technology, or they’re using technology to connect with their band members from miles away. So either way, technology is building these new opportunities, which I think is really awesome. So now I’ll ask, do you have a favorite lyric that you’ve ever written? Is there one that sticks in your head?

JD: I’ve written a lot of songs, so that’s tough. I would say the lyrics to the songs “Flying Car” and “In and Out of Focus” – which are two songs off of my EP Youth Songs, which I released back in 2020. Those two songs – actually, the lyrics to that whole EP, I’m very proud of. But I think those two songs in particular – I think I hit the nail on the head with what I was going for. “Flying Car” is about alienation, and just wanting to escape. PC [Providence College] is a great school, but there aren’t a lot of musicians here, in the way that I am. So I felt like I was outside of that. In “Flying Car”, the main character finds this one person that shares a similar interest, and it’s like okay, we have each other and we don’t have to be tied down to this place. That came from my feeling of no one else really sharing my passion for music. “In and Out of Focus” was about a situation – this girl I was talking to at school. We were talking on the phone and stuff and it was really cool. Then we started hanging out, and it just was not what I expected it to be. So it was kind of like a whole thing of do I continue pursuing this because of what it could be, or do I realize what it is and act accordingly? And I feel like both those songs got across – it was like a perfect mixture of straightforward and poetic. That’s what I try to shoot for in my songs, so I think that both those songs are my favorite sets of lyrics that I’ve written – at least for Wave Goodbye. 

AS: I’ll definitely have to take a listen to those, as I’ve focused more on this EP for now, but I’ll check those out later. Also, I meant to ask you too – did you start on guitar primarily, or how did you first get into making music?

JD: I started simply just writing lyrics for songs. That just kind of came naturally, and then I decided that I wanted to play guitar to further flesh out my ideas. I kept at it long enough where I convinced my parents to let me get a guitar. So they got me an acoustic guitar, and I started working up from that. I got my first electric guitar, which is a Fender Telecaster, in eighth grade. I took lessons for guitar, and I currently am as well, but I’ve never taken lessons for singing – which may or may not be apparent on the EP. 

Mostly I learned because I’d be singing either in the car, in the shower, or in church – my family goes to church pretty much every weekend. I would start singing along to the hymns and stuff. That helped me develop an idea of notes and other concepts. That’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a singing education. I probably should take actual lessons at some point, but I think for now I’ll just do my own thing. Over time, I moved out into bass playing, and I know some drums. And then learning keyboard — because I’m in a piano class right now. 

AS: I’ve never heard of someone starting music from writing poetry essentially — if you think about it. That is very unique, because I feel like for most people, it’s like “oh, I started playing guitar and I wanted to write my own stuff” — that’s the most common answer. It’s cool that your music journey started from lyricism by itself — that’s very special. 

JD: Thank you!

AS: Yeah! I play guitar too, and have been for twelve years now, but I still take lessons because I want to learn how to teach later. It’s a journey, and I’m really glad that you’re pursuing it. And hey, you got a record deal, so you’re not doing too bad!

JD: Yeah, it’s a loose record deal. It’s from a tape label, and tape labels are really underground and really independent. I collaborated with this label called Baron Tapes from Indiana. They send me some of the tapes that they made, and they keep some. Whatever they make they keep, and whatever I make I keep. So it’s pretty simple, and there aren’t any binding contracts or anything like that. My goal for all my future works is to release them on a label each time, no matter which label it is, because there’s a lot of really cool tape labels—including some in Massachusetts. So I’ll see what I can do. 

AS: What I always like to tell people, is it’s exposure and it’s learning experience, and either way, it’s prestige. People hear “record label” and their expectations immediately go way up. Even if it’s just a tape label like you said, it has perceptive value. So absolutely own that, don’t talk it down because it’s impressive. Did you have anything else you’d like to share?

JD: Tapes and music can be found at https://wavegoodbye.bandcamp.com/album/summer, my primary platform. Hop on that wave. If you want to hear the rest of my music, that’s also on bandcamp and https://soundcloud.com/wavegoodbyemusic. summer was the first release I ever put on all platforms, because I wasn’t even planning on it, but I knew I had momentum building and wanted to continue that. If I limit myself to three platforms, then I’m not doing a good enough job exposing my music to people. So I put it on all platforms, and I think that’s definitely helped. 

AS: Great! And last thing, just because I was curious; how do you know Harrison [Reed Dolan, drummer of grizzlies.]? I know you guys are friends from grizzlies., and all that

JD: Harrison and I—last year, before the pandemic—we both went to shows at this place called the Bear Cottage in Narragansett. It’s a house venue. I was playing in a band called Intertidal—I played bass for them. We were supposed to play two shows there. We played one, and the second one got canceled by the landlord back in February of that year. Harrison was just there, either to play or to see shows. grizzlies. might’ve played early on, but I don’t think it was a show I was at, sadly. I did see grizzlies. one time as AS220, and I didn’t realize he was in the band, though I found out later. There was a picture with Harrison in it that my friend posted, and he tagged me in it because Harrison looked a lot like me in the picture. And I had to clarify that it wasn’t me, and he was like “Dude that’s so weird.” Then we found out it was Harrison, and I was like “Dude, you’re like my clone” so we hit it off that way, and we started talking about music. He’s a really great guy—he’s really cool and great at making music. I sent him a beat one time and he did something with it. I don’t know when that’s coming out, but he and I have worked on a track together. 

AS: Well if there’s a collab coming, hit me up because I wanna cover that too.

JD: Oh, I definitely will. 

Stream Wave Goodbye on Bandcamp HERE: https://wavegoodbye.bandcamp.com/album/summer