Songs, Stories, and Spirits: Dark and Weird

By Dave Pezza

I’ve managed to wrestle the rains of SSS away from Daniel this week, and I made it a collection of music, literature, and booze sourced from the smallest state in the union: Rhode Island. The state has always had a dark and weird streak that Providence’s artistic element has managed to tap with wonderful effect. Overshadowed by Rhode Island’s beautiful beaches, Providence’s insanely delicious restaurants, and a grand and lasting tradition of political corruption, has a tattooed underbelly that details some of the longest and darkest history that America has to offer.

Song: “Bilgewater” by Brown Bird

Providence’s own Brown Bird was a powerful husband and wife folk duo that took folk to its darkest depths. The couple’s 2011 album “Salt For Salt” is especially foreboding and poetic, and “Bilgewater” sets the album’s tone. The lyrics perfectly match the song’s brooding melody, and feature David Lamb, the duo’s main writer, languishing over life’s toughest realities and the inherent beauty in humanity. “If the sun was always shining and our load always light…we’d break under the weight of any pain that ever came in this life,” Lamb all but screams toward the song’s conclusion. The words are an anthem for a region that forces its people to flip their collars up to the stiff cold and heavy snow every winter, that still suffers from a staggering recession, and constantly battles to maintain relevancy and importance. Even though Brown Bird has disbanded (Lamb passed away in 2014 after a battling Leukemia) its music continues to embody the place of its birth. And, like this week’s pick in spirit, it instills hope and encouragement to a state and region that is fed up with surviving and obsesses with thriving.

Spirit: Thomas Tew Authentic Pot Still Rum by Newport Distilling Company

Hailing from Aquidneck Island, Thomas Tew Rum is Newport Distilling Company’s effort in re-branding America’s oldest style of rum. New England was once the primary producer of rum, formerly America’s most prosperous and widely-enjoyed liquor. A darker, heavier, and stronger spirit than the Caribbean rum most of us are used to, New England rum features molasses instead of sugar cane and is made in a small pot still, which creates a bolder taste that balances out the naturally sweet flavors of thick sugars it is made with. Once America’s agrarian opportunities fully developed and distillers began to make use of the vast fields of corn and barley for bourbon and American-styled whiskeys, New England rum was all but forgotten. The rum is making a comeback as of late, however, and Newport’s Thomas Tew, named after a local colonial pirate and privateer known for his love of rum and the city, is one of the newer attempts by local distillers to not only bring back a style of rum but also re-create the region's colonial sanguinity. Providence and Newport alike were once thriving communities of distillers, artists, renegades, bootleggers, and smugglers.

If you’re drinking it straight, expect strong aromas of banana and oak with a sharp taste that’s heavy on deep molasses sweetness with an oaky, whiskey-like finish. As a cocktail though, this rum really stands out, especially when mixed with Coke Zero. All the previous flavors combine to form a cold, creamy sensation that tastes shockingly close to a liquor-fortified Wendy’s Frosty. If you are a whiskey lover looking for a new summer alternative, New England rum should be your next adventure, and Newport’s own Thomas Tew should definitely be your first stop. 

Story: “The Temple” by H.P. Lovecraft

The king of the weird, Providence native H.P. Lovecraft has been an inspiration for many of our best, darkest, and weirdest sci-fi and supernatural writers, including the master himself, Stephen King. “The Temple” is one of Lovecraft’s earlier stories and is told through a scribbled message-in-a-bottle of a German U-boat captain. He and his crew survive the destruction of their vessel and find themselves drifting into a strange land with mysterious structures and symbols. Slowly, the captain and his crew descend into madness, losing their grip on reality. Lovecraft's character’s deteriorating sanity is riveting as it is terrifying. Like our song and booze this week, the eerie aura of the author's mystical land and mentally unstable characters in “The Temple” leads you down a dark and twisting wrought-iron staircase into the unknown darkness below.

Songs, Stories, and Spirits Archive

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Songs, Stories, and Spirits: Blonde Ales Have More Fun

Songs, Stories, and Spirits jams unwanted opinions on good music, good stories, and good booze down your ears, eyes, and throats on a drunkenly basis. We hope you enjoy. And if you don’t, there is a comment section below that we more than welcome you to ignore! Cheers!

Song: “Howling at Nothing” by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

Dave Pezza: Go buy Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats’s 2015 eponymous debut album. It’s your whole summer in one album. I heard the band’s crazy popular single “S.O.B.” this winter like everyone else, but this is a rare case when the album’s single is just a tease, a tasting of what might be the most complete genre-defying rock album in a long time. Think Creedence Clearwater Revival, Buddy Holly, and The Band met in a dive bar in Nashville got drunk.   

My personal favorite, and this week’s selection, is “Howling at Nothing.” Only the second track on the album, “Howling at Nothing” is the best of a handful of tracks that are perfect for the car stereo after you’ve rolled down the windows, put your aviators on, and filled your lungs with summer air. Nathaniel’s crooner vocals invigorate the spirit with that unmatchable summer invincibility. 

The most astonishing aspect of this album is its adaptability. “Howling” works just as well, if not better, spinning on your turntable on a cool summer night. It, like its brothers “I’d Be Waiting” and “I’ve Been Failing,” will have you dancing around empty beer cans and wine bottles with your lady or gent. The project as a whole is a near perfect reminder of what is real, what is important, and what is not.

Story: “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned” by Wells Tower

Dave: “Everything…” is a personal favorite of mine, and I’m glad I can finally shine some praise on it. Tower is a relatively new/somewhat obscure name. With only one published collection, which shares a name with this story, Tower has bounced around the journalism circuit, appearing in The Paris Review, McSweeney’s, The New Yorker, Vice, and Harper’s. He even earned a spot in 2014’s Best American Essays for his piece on attending Burning Man with his father titled, “The Old Man at Burning Man.” 

“Everything…” follows the exploits of marauding Vikings through the eyes of Harald, a Scandinavian who approaches raping and pillaging like any other day job: mundanity, frustration, and an obvious lack of enthusiasm. Reluctant to leave his new wife Pila, Harald and the rest of his clan embark on a fruitless expedition to terrorize an island that they’ve tortured not so long ago. The story sets a tone not unlike Mike Judge’s “Office Space,” and is told in a stripped down style, like drinks with coworkers after a rough and pointless day at the office.

What is most notable is Tower’s skill in masking the story’s potent and heart-wrenching themes in a drab atmosphere, even when the events surrounding Harald scream for attention, outrage, and offense. “Everything…” is a fresh gust of air that realizes the world for what it is, what it pretends to be, and what we make of it.

“Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned” by Wells Tower

Just as we were all getting back into the mainland domestic groove, somebody started in with dragons and crop blights from across the North Sea. We all knew who it was. A turncoat Norwegian monk named Naddod had been big medicine on the dragon-and-blight circuit for the last decade or so, and was known to bring heavy ordnance for whoever could lay out some silver. Scuttlebutt had it that Naddod was operating out of a monastery on Lindisfarne, whose people we’d troubled on a pillage-and-consternation tour through Northumbria after Corn Harvesting Month last fall. Now bitter winds were screaming in from the west, searing the land and ripping the grass from the soil. Salmon were turning up spattered with sores, and grasshoppers clung to the wheat in rapacious buzzing bunches.

Read the rest by picking up Tower’s full collection.

Spirit: Thomas Hooker Blonde Ale

Daniel: Recent text I sent Sean Tuohy: “I have a fridge full of Hookers.”

His response: “Oh, I see you’re on the Jeffrey Dahmer diet.”

While the delicious Thomas Hooker Blonde Ale lends itself to a myriad of jokes, there is no denying its crisp summery taste, which is best enjoyed by water or a campfire. Okay, you can pretty much appreciate this beer’s golden goodness anywhere.

My older brother discovered the beer in Connecticut one summer, and we washed down a couple six-packs in short order during a night of video games and “Star Wars” nerdery. What did we do next? That’s right, we choked down a heavy, coma-inducing porter (that shall go nameless) as a nightcap, rendering our joyful pool of straw-colored beer but a memory. Needless to say, we’ve never made that mistake again. It’s Hookers or bust during the summer.

You may be thinking that a cheery beer touched by Midas might not be the best companion to Dave’s musical and literary selections, however, Hooker Blonde Ale does have a hint of mischief buried within its suds. It’s a reminder that the beer’s easy drinking could just as easily lead to ruin, but, man, what golden misery that would be!

Thomas Hooker Blonde Ale is the perfect companion to the summer weather that’s finally made its way back to New England. It has been notoriously hard to get the last couple of weeks, so stock up when you find it.  

Songs, Stories, and Spirits Archive

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Songs, Stories, and Spirits: Take it Easy

Welcome to Songs, Stories, and Spirits. We’ll be jamming unwanted opinions on good music, good stories, and good booze down your ears, eyes, and throats on a weekly basis. We hope you enjoy. And if you don’t, there is a comment section below that we more than welcome you to ignore! Cheers!

Song: “Take it Easy” by The Eagles

Daniel Ford: “Hell Freezes Over,” The Eagles mid-1990s comeback album, debuted during my formative adolescence, so I’ve always had a soft spot for the band every music snob likes to pick on. I remember staying up late with a friend trying to figure out what the hell “Hotel California” was about. I carried the cassette with me on every road trip with my father (it battled with James Taylor’s “Greatest Hits” for dashboard supremacy).   

While I loved the distinct, breezy sound, I wouldn’t appreciate the lyrics until adulthood—specifically, those co-written by the recently deceased Glenn Frey:

Well, I'm a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
and such a fine sight to see
It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed
Ford slowin' down to take a look at me

Because that’s what rock ‘n’ roll is all about, right? Being just cool enough that a good-looking, truck-driving girl stops to check you out.

There’s a great moment in the documentary “History of The Eagles” when Frey explains how he learned to write songs. He lived above Jackson Browne, who shares the writing credit on “Take it Easy,” and would listen to how hard Browne worked at crafting music. Browne’s teapot would whistle, which would alert Frey that serious musicianship was about to happen. Browne would play a melody or sing a phrase over and over again to get it perfect.

Frey mused about living above Browne, and songwriting in general, in a 2015 interview on “The Dan Patrick Show:”

RIP Glenn Frey, here’s hoping you’re somewhere with seven women on your mind.

Story: “A & P” by John Updike

Daniel: Updike’s best work features characters blowing out of Dodge. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more angtsy beginning to a novel than his masterpiece Rabbit, Run. Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom just keeps driving away from his town, bored of his old life and mundane ways.

Right around the same time I was reading that novel, Dave Pezza dropped “A&P” into my lap. I’ll admit, I was hooked by the first line for obvious reasons:

“In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits.”

Rather than simply devolving into a prepubescent tale featuring a lonely cashier inspired to quit his job because a couple of nearly-naked babes cross his path, “A&P” explores real depths of peak malaise and discontentment. The cashier indeed indulges in fantasy while performing his duties, however, all that comes to a halt when Updike employs this line of prose like a thunderbolt:

“Then everybody's luck begins to run out.”

Indeed. The end would seem cliché if it weren’t so spot on. One could say it’s the moment when the cashier decides to fully embrace the lyrics of “Take it Easy” by “running down the road,” trying to loosen his load. It’s less about teenage lust and more about personal freedom and the potential of boundless creativity.  

Updike also captures the little things about working in a grocery store—the cranky, annoying customers, the entitled manager, the punishing fluorescent lights. Working in a grocery store can be soul crushing, even more so when your spirit is being strangled by an empty white shirt and tie. I vowed to my father I’d never work in a grocery store ever again (although I am thankful I got to work beside my old man for a couple of summers), and this story illustrates perfectly why I’ve stayed true to that vow.

Spirit: Patrón XO Cafe

Dave Pezza: I have been becoming painfully aware these past weeks that we truly live in a brand new world. The old ways, the old guard is falling away. Bowie, Rickman, Frey. For a guy like me who all but worships a time before cell phones, “social” media, and music up in a cloud somewhere, 2016 is already a massive pain in my ass. But somethings, thank god, never really change. Rock survives and is clawing out of its shallow ‘80s grave. In honor of the old ways, to early morning hours on a typewriter, to recording a song over and over until it’s right, to those tequila sunrises we recommend a newer twist on an old reliable: Patrón's very smooth XO Café tequila liquor.

For those of us who aren’t ashamed to get our morning drink on, Patrón has provided a vehicle for your morning tequila intake. Perfect for your morning coffee or, if you’re a badass, a morning wake-me-up shot, XO Café doesn’t require a lime or salt. XO Café offers a coffee-flavored infusion to a smooth tequila base, delivering a sweet kindness to a legendary tequila. In honor of that old glory try some in your morning coffee and keep on keeping on.

Full Songs, Stories, and Spirits Archive

Songs, Stories, and Spirits: Monsters

Welcome to Songs, Stories, and Spirits. We’ll be jamming unwanted opinions on good music, good stories, and good booze down your ears, eyes, and throats on a weekly basis. We hope you enjoy. And if you don’t, there is a comment section below that we more than welcome you to ignore! Cheers!

Song: “Monsters” by Electric President

Robert Masiello: Electric President fell off the radar rather abruptly in 2010, without much commotion. Their brief discography remains criminally underrated, despite an appearance on “The OC” soundtrack way back in the Paleozoic era. Sounding like a darker, dreamier version of The Postal Service, Electric President’s wistful brand of electronica found the perfect middle-ground between catchy and surreal. "Monsters," the opening track from their best album (2008's “Sleep Well”), weaves a haunting narrative that deftly balances darkness and light. Maybe it's a song about battling society's ills. Maybe it's about struggling with the monsters within ourselves. Perhaps it just describes a fever dream. Whatever the case, let Electric President's lush, spooky atmospherics wash over you this Friday the 13th.

Story: “Monsters” by Scott Cheshire

Photo credit: PB Elskamp

Photo credit: PB Elskamp

Daniel Ford: Author Scott Cheshire has mastered the art of dropping readers into an instantly recognizable world. His debut novel, High as the Horses’ Bridles, embeds you in places like Queens, N.Y., California, and even 19th century Kentucky so deeply it feels as if you’re smoking a cigarette on a street corner watching the plot unfold. If Cheshire only accomplished that, he’d be a fine writer, however, he does something else that makes him an intriguing scribe to follow. I heard him do a reading at Queens College at the beginning of the year and he said something that stayed with me. He mentioned that because of his upbringing (which you can read about in my interview with him), he came to the writing profession late and feels as if he’s missed out on the “normal” route an author might take. Cheshire said that he doesn’t have time to mess around with linear plots or paper-thin characters that might sell more books. He wants to grapple with “big questions” and use his talent to tell complex stories in the vein of Don DeLillo and Paul Auster. I didn’t know who the hell those guys were before becoming friends with Cheshire, but now that I’ve read them, I know they’re two tough fucking acts to live up to. However, a writer like Cheshire just might be up to the challenge.

While you wait for him to publish his next novel, read his haunting short story “Monsters,” recently published by Catapult. Then drop him a line and tell him to hurry the hell up with his second book!


Peyton walked into the dark hotel room, closed the door behind her, and set her briefcase on the floor. Standing in the shadows, by the bed, was her father.

He sat down and said, “How’s your mother?”

She didn’t like the question, because if he really wanted to know, he’d go visit and see for himself.

She noted the topography of the room. A large television sitting on a wooden desk. A chair. A mirror. The bed was neatly made, and she expected nothing less. Her bed back home was the same. She was a lot more like him than she cared to admit.

Read the rest on Catapult.

Spirit: The Drunken Cookie Monster

Daniel: Enough darkness! It’s Friday! By some miracle of Google, this video came up while I was searching for monster-related cocktails. I wouldn’t suggest actually making it because you’ll be drunk and develop diabetes instantly. Cheers!

Songs, Stories, and Spirits: The SteelDrivers, Joe Biden, and Moscow Mules

Welcome to Writer’s Bone newest bastard child: Songs, Stories, and Spirits. Daniel Ford and I decided we're only going to break out Bruce/Bob, Bourbon, and Books on special occasions and retire it as one of our signature series. But don’t fret; we’ll still be jamming unwanted opinions on good music, good stories, and good booze down your ears, eyes, and throats on a weekly basis. We hope you enjoy. And if you don’t, there is a comment section below that we more than welcome you to ignore! Cheers!—Dave Pezza


Dave: My slow descent into tolerance for country music has led me to a number of bands and artists I wouldn’t have touch with Jimmy Page’s 12-string guitar. One such artist is The SteelDrivers. To be honest, I don’t know much about them in a refreshing pre-21st century ignorance. What I do know is that the lead single off of their 2009 album, a track titled “If It Hadn’t Been For Love,” has invaded my head.

The track, and the band, might be a perfect compromise between blue grass and country, hitting all the best elements (stripped down banjo, violin, harmonizing male and female vocals) and none of the truly regrettable stigmas of each genre (that obnoxious country strum, overdone southern accents, and clichéd story premises). If you’re looking for a catchy track to belt out in the car or throw on the stereo while kicking around the house, you’ve got to give “If It Hadn’t Been For Love” a listen.


Daniel: Politics can provide writers with a treasure trove of potential story ideas. But those plots typically involve scandal, corruption, and impropriety. Rarely does the opportunity arise for writers to observe a genuine human moment in the political arena. More often than not in our recent political discourse, those qualities are exemplified in Vice President Joe Biden. If you haven’t already, check out his interview with Stephen Colbert on the Sept. 10 edition of “The Late Show:”       

Biden has been a public servant longer than most of our staff has been alive, but, even though he isn’t official a presidential candidate, he just made himself relevant in a way that the other Presidential candidates can’t. Regardless of your political affiliation, you can’t argue that Biden is a genuine, honest, human public servant. Sure he says dopey things typically reserved for drunk uncles or Rotary Club presidents, but at his core, he is still one of us. How many of your stories start with, “My mother said, this,” or “My father said, that?” Haven’t you told yourself, “Get up, get moving,” during moments of tragedy and sorrow? Haven’t you transformed your suffering into meaningful action or prose?  

Storytellers—and I mean all storytellers, not just literary authors—tend to be at their best when exploring themes through characters that honestly and empathetically deal with the fictional world around them. We go into most stories searching for a bit of ourselves, along with a good plot and snappy dialogue. Biden’s story proves that you don’t have to mine the lowest, seediest aspects of the human experience in order to be entertaining and relatable.


Dave: It’s Friday afternoon; you’ve almost made it through the week. Just a few more hours. If you’re anything like the Writer’s Bone staff, you’re using this time to decide what delicious alcoholic beverage you’re going to imbibe the minute you get home. Hopefully we can give you some more options to mull over as 5:00 p.m. slowly approaches.

Summer’s just about six feet under, but before you start buying your Shipyard Pumkpinhead and Jack-O Traveler beers in pint glasses rimmed with cinnamon and sugar…mmmmmm pumpkin beer…give one more refreshing summer cocktail a chance!

My girlfriend recently bought me some copper mugs, the mugs specifically used for the enjoyment of Moscow Mules. It was her subtle way of telling me that I should start making them for her. So like a 20-something adult in need of information, I Googled “how to make a Moscow mule,” and, as always, I was disappointed in my findings. I was able to gather the three main ingredients: vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice, all three of which were already in my home bar! After many, many tries, we finally arrived at a perfectly palatable summer drink. Perfect for lounging and perfect to quench your thirst. And if you find the sweet spot between vodka and ginger beer, you’ll have pounded two or three before you can slur “weshouldhaveeatenfirst.”  I found a six- or seven-count of Kettle One vodka to a 10-count of Gosling’s ginger beer with a splash of lime juice, served in the famous copper cup loaded with ice, really does the trick.

Try one quick before summer’s officially over!