Songs, Stories, and Spirits: Stop and Smell the Rosé

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!

By Stephanie Schaefer

Song: “Summertime,” by Ella Fitzgerald

Nothing complements the long, hot days of summer quite like smooth jazz. Originally composed by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera “Porgy and Bess,” “Summertime” was popularized by Ella Fitzgerald, and has also been recorded by the likes of Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Janis Joplin, and more. While pop music and today’s “songs of summer” tend to fade with the September chill, this classic tune is immortal.

Story: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern retelling of one of my favorite novels, Pride and Prejudice, is an entertaining beach read. The book, which deals with similar themes as the original, focuses on a 21st century Bennet family, headed by a stubborn patriarch and money-hungry matriarch who hope to marry their five unwed daughters off to rich suitors. Sittenfeld successfully takes the traditional tale and weaves in present-day fads (think CrossFit, Paleo diets, and reality television). The sarcastic humor and over-the-top characters make for a page-turner even if some aspects of the plot seemed far-fetched. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a light-hearted read this summer.

Spirit: Romance and Rosé

This summer, see the world through rosé-colored glasses. I don’t know exactly when the light and refreshing wine became so trendy, but it doesn’t show any signs of stopping (I mean, there’s currently a 14,000-person waiting list for rosé-infused gummy bears and you can now buy the popular drink in a can, so move out of the way overly-sugary Lime-A-Ritas). I prefer a pale-colored Provence rosé because it’s crisp, dry, and pairs great with summer meals like lobster rolls and grilled chicken. 'Tis the season to relax, and there’s no better way to do so than with a glass of wine and a good beach read. Plus, why choose between red and white wine when you can have pink?

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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.

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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.  

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Songs, Stories, and Spirits: Go Maire Sibh Bhur Saol Nua

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!

By Daniel Ford

Song: “Whiskey in the Jar”

I typically avoid indulging in clichés, but, man, “Whiskey in the Jar” is just too good not to include in this St. Patrick’s Day post. Covered by everyone from Metallica to Thin Lizzy, the song has just the amount of mirth for a holiday devoted to destroying your liver. The Dubliners’s version is still my favorite and provided the perfect soundtrack to the late night writing that produced the following short fiction. 

Story: “Go Maire Sibh Bhur Saol Nua”

You can read this story in Daniel Ford’s short story collection Black Coffee.

The Irishman with some reading I picked up in Dublin.

The Irishman with some reading I picked up in Dublin.

I hate to admit it, but I’m not the biggest fan of Irish whiskey. I like shooting down a shot of Jameson every now and again, but I don’t go out of my way to purchase a full bottle of Irish brown water.

The Irishman: Founder’s Reserve goes a long way disabusing me of that notion. During my whiskey tasting at Dublin’s Whiskey Museum with Stephanie Schaefer (who handled the event with grace, class, and an appropriate amount of grimacing), this gem immediately followed a double-distilled whiskey that could have been marketed as rubbing alcohol. I’m not one to turn down free booze, but I wouldn’t even dare finish off Stephanie’s remaining swallow. I wasn’t sure if I enjoyed The Irishman simply because it washed away the remaining fire in my throat or if I legitimately liked its classy smoothness. 

Here’s another reason to like Irish whiskey: it’s really cheap. I picked up a bottle of this guy for less than $30 at my local liquor store. It was a small price to pay to discover it's perfect for lounging on a Boston roof deck on Sunday afternoons. 

Despite the distillery’s claim that the nose features “hints of black pepper, cinnamon and peaches,” it’s the green apple flavor that captured my attention. The whiskey also leaves you with a warm glow that’ll last well into the late Dublin evening (or in our case, the wet Boston spring).   

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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.

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Songs, Stories, and Spirits: When the Hotel Women Come Out to Dance

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!

By Dave Pezza

Song: “Hotel Women” by Patrick Sweany

Yeah, we’re pretty sweet on Patrick Sweany over here at the fictional Writer’s Bone offices. This dude is as straight up cool as Sam Elliot drinking a Coors with a Backwoods cigar in hand. Sweany’s folky blues style and deep, smooth voice offers a rare sound. “Hotel Women” might be the best of that sound. You can just about smell the blues emanating from this low, dark groove, feel it on the tip of your tongue with every movement of the slide guitar. And it smells like deep, sweet tobacco and sharp dark liquor. This song reminds me of that numb-warm sensation of drunken lips on skin. Night and day, sober and drunk, right and wrong all slides into a penumbra of glowing twilight under the spell of Sweany’s voice. The tight, crisp guitar and background organ conjures the hazy delineation of legs and blouses, the heavy pounding of heart and lungs. It makes you really wonder if you love or hate those hotel women, those hotel drinks, those hotel feelings. Or maybe it really just depends on when you’re listening: with or without your hotel woman.

Story: “When the Women Come Out To Dance”

What purveyor of fictional fantasies goes best with booze, blues, and hotel rooms? Yup, Elmore Leonard. “When the Women Come Out To Dance” comes from a short story collection of the same name. This collection has become famous because it features “Fire in the Hole,” the Raylan Givens story that sparked the FX series “Justified.” (We had the distinct pleasure of interviewing that programs head writer, Graham Yost.) It’s unfortunate, though, that the Raylan Givens story overshadows the collections other stories. There are certainly some hidden gems, and “When the Women Come Out to Dance” shines brightest. The story opens on the trophy wife of a Pakistani plastic surgeon living the high life in Miami. Mrs. Mahmood, also known by her pole-name Ginger, is looking to hire Lourdes, a Columbian mail-order bride, as her personal maid.  Ginger, a “tall redheaded woman in a little green two-piece swimsuit,” requested Lourdes because of her particular skills, skills that do not necessarily include keeping a good house. Lourdes and Ginger fit nicely with our song and spirit this week. All three are provocative, intoxicating, and not at all what they seem. This Leonard shot to the dick offers that women can be as shady and terrible as the men who try to cull them, and just as entertaining.

Spirit: Eight Bells Rum from New England Distilling

Hot damn, do I have something awesome for this week’s spirit. If you, like me, love the smooth finish of dark rum but have always had a hankering for the warming punch to the throat that only bourbon can offer, then all of your fears have been assuaged. Ladies and gentlemen I present to you Eight Bells Rum by New England Distillery. My cooler than thou girlfriend surprised me with a trip to Maine including an all-encompassing tour of this distillery. The two-room operation began in 2011 by a master distiller from Pennsylvania. I‘ve been on a distillery tour or two, but these guys walked us through literally every step in making their gin, rum, rye, and bourbon. And they let us taste it. All of it.

As a bourbon man, I was most interested in their take on the dark elixir, but, as a new distillery, their first batch is a whole year away from its proper age, the bourbon equivalent of jailbait. They did, however, have plenty of their rum, rum aged in former Jim Beam bourbon barrels. Yeah, read that again. This rum bites and warms like bourbon, but finishes as smooth as the devil’s tongue. I know everyone and their drunken grandfather is offering new artisan this and that, but I assure you this is something new and different, but dangerously good. It is a New England-style rum (low on cane sugar and high in molasses) at 90 proof. Like Sweany and Lourdes, this rum is not what it appears, looking dorky in its decanter-style bottle and nautical themed name, but I promise you it’s as seductive as a green-bikini clad stripper in your hotel room…


Songs, Stories, and Spirits: Melting Pot

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: “When First Unto This Country” by Crooked Still

Daniel Ford: Fridays call for rollicking Americana. This rendition of “When First Unto This Country,” performed by Crooked Still, has been on repeat since my interview with author Taylor Brown. Who doesn’t like a tune about horse thieving, tortured love affairs, and early American angst? It’s a damn good thing we figured out our immigration policies because we’d have a lot more songs with lyrics like:

They beat me and they banged me
And they fed me on dry beans
'Til I wished to my own soul
I'd never been a thief

Most likely, any music crafted today based on our current political and cultural situation would feature Donald Trump screaming on a continuous loop. And, sadly, it would win a Grammy…

But don’t be glum! It’s Friday! If you’re like me, you’re going to enjoy this tune and then binge-listen to the rest of Crooked Still’s work. You won’t be disappointed!

Story: “My Grandmother Tells Me This Story” by Molly Antopol

Daniel: I have a soft spot for family yarns. I based an entire novel on my personal history, so I gravitate to those tales that have a messy family dynamic at their cores.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m such a big fan of Molly Antopol. Her short story collection The UnAmericans explored Cold War-era East European politics and Jewish American liberalism, while also featuring themes based on the author’s family history.

Also, in light of the turbulent 2016 Presidential campaign, it’s worth revisiting what Antopol told me during our interview earlier this year:

I was really interested in thinking about this notion of “Un-American-ness” for these characters—dissidents and academics, banned artists and writers—who risked their lives for their politics in their mother countries and are then forced to reinvent their identities in the United States, a country where they’re treated as anything but American.

Those issues are further discussed in Antopol’s harrowing, 2015 O. Henry Prize-winning short story.   

“My Grandmother Tells Me This Story”

Some say the story begins in Europe, and your mother would no doubt interrupt and say it begins in New York, but that’s just because she can’t imagine the world before she entered it. And yes, I know you think it begins specifically in Belarus, because that’s what your grandfather tells you. I’ve heard him describing those black sedans speeding down Pinsker Street. I’ve been married to the man almost sixty years and know how he is with you—he makes every word sound like a secret. But he wasn’t even there. He was with his youth group by then and even though I was there I don’t remember being scared. Even when they knocked on our door, I didn’t know what was happening. Even when they dragged us outside with our overstuffed suitcases spilling into the street, shouting through megaphones to walk in the road with the livestock, I still didn’t know. I was thirteen.

The story really starts in the sewers.

Read the rest of the story on Econtone Magazine.

Spirit: Long Island Iced Tea

Stephanie Schaefer: I don’t think I’ve had a sip of a Long Island Iced Tea since I was 21, and there’s probably a good reason for that. One could call it a “melting pot” of a liquor because it's made with nearly every alcohol under the sun including tequila, vodka, light rum, triple sec, and gin. I wish I could tell you a fun anecdote about drinking the concoction, but let’s face it; nights featuring Long Island Iced Teas don't exactly result in vivid memories. Also, let’s not forget the time Writer’s Bone contributor Matt DiVenere said Long Island Iced Teas best defined his writing style.


Songs, Stories, and Spirits: Homesick

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: “Washington Square” by Counting Crows

Robert Masiello: Okay, so Counting Crows may not have been the most important band spawned in the 1990s, but they certainly weren't the worst. Their 2008 release “Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings” was a somewhat bizarre piece, with the album's brawny Gil Norton-produced first half ("Saturday Nights") segueing into a more subdued, folkier second half ("Sunday Mornings"). The record's latter side kicks off with "Washington Square," a delicately plucked lament with rather thoughtful lyrical details. Frontman Adam Duritz's weary vocals were tailor-made for this kind of thing. He ruminates on the passage of time and feeling lost in a new city. There's nothing groundbreaking going on here, but it's just all so goddamn lovely, right down to the requisite harmonica solo. And if you've ever felt a feeling ever, good luck not getting emotionally clobbered by the chorus:

"I love like a fountain / and it left me with nothing / just memories of walking through Washington Square"

Story: “The Guesthouse” by Kirsten Valdez Quade

Daniel Ford: This past April I devoured Kirsten Valdez Quade’s “Night at the Fiestas” in nearly one sitting. Publisher’s Weekly called the short story collection “an emotional tour de force,” and it couldn’t be more on the nose. Packed with family drama, characters at the end of their ropes, and set in the rugged, literary fertile Southwest, “Night at the Fiestas” is an essential read for anyone who loves a well-crafted short story.

In my interview with the author, I asked what themes she wanted to tackle. She answered,

“I find myself writing about family and the little betrayals that can occur between parents and children, brothers and sisters. The family is such fertile terrain for fiction, because there’s shared history there, such intimacy and love, and yet our families are forced on us. No one knows quite how to push our buttons like our family members, and small gestures can take on huge resonances.”

The idea of “home” is rarely uncomplicated and stirs emotions in all of us that can boil over given the right circumstances. Jeff, the main character in “The Guesthouse,” is pained by the death of his grandmother, but can’t simply bask in the nostalgia of her home because his degenerate father has taken up residence in her guesthouse. While Jeff toggles between sadness and anger, there is also a far amount of humor in the story. It goes to show you that even when home isn’t what you remembered it to be, there are still stories you can find worth telling.   

The Guesthouse

Jeff stands with his sister in their grandmother’s kitchen, still in his funeral clothes, but barefoot now. He heard the stroke had been painless and decisive, yet, judging from the state of the house, his grandmother had clearly been in decline even before the clot wedged itself into that tight corridor in her brain. She was always tidy, but the place looks awful: the floor is sticky and grainy, the sink full and on the stove smelly water stagnates in an egg pan. In the cupboard beneath the sink, there is a leak. The wood is buckled and soft, stinking of spores and damp garbage. He thought his grandmother was doing fine, and his obliviousness pains him.

“Why didn’t you tell me things had gotten this bad? Didn’t you ever check up on her?”

“Excuse me?” says Brooke. “Are you blaming me for Grandma dying?”

“Of course not,” Jeff says, although he is.

Pick up a copy of “Night of the Fiestas” to read the rest!

Spirit: Sombrero

Daniel: Alabama’s Christmas album played from a beat up CD player. Every Christmas light in the room glowed soft white against the dark night outside. I lounged on my parent’s couch awaiting orders from my mother, who was cutting, folding, and taping wrapping paper onto awkwardly boxy presents. Our cat Whitey (#RIP) meandered happily around the scraps of colored paper and curlicue ribbons littering the floor.

Everything felt like Christmas, but, goddamn, my mother and I were freakin’ glum.

The gift wrapping had seemed like drudgery from the moment I hauled her supplies up from the cellar. I had fought with the aging card table’s stiff leg joints. My two other brothers were nowhere to be found. My mother and I had barely said two words to each other. There had been more holiday spirit on the Metro North train I took to get home.

Finally, my mother, being the smart woman that she is, ordered me to the kitchen.

“Go make me a fucking drink,” she said.

(Editor’s note: She probably didn’t use “fucking,” but she’ll appreciate my artistic license).

Booze. Of course that’s what was missing. I walked into the kitchen and surveyed my parent’s liquor cabinet. My mother isn’t much of a drinker, so I wasn’t sure what I could make her that wouldn’t cause her to end up on the floor.

“What’s in a Sombrero?” I asked, sticking my head back into the living room.

“Just dump some eggnog and Kahlua into a glass,” she replied as her shears vociferously sliced through another large sheet of paper.

“You got it.”

That’s precisely what I did. No measuring cups. No mercy.

Roughly 15 minutes later, the booze washed away all remnants of our Scrooge-like selves. We laughed heartily over family memories, cracked jokes about each other back and forth (lovingly, of course), and we finished the gift wrapping done in half the time it usually took us.

Whenever I think of “home for the holidays,” I think about getting my mother drunk on Sombreros. According to my father, she only has them now if I make them. She claims his are too weak.

I’m rarely home for the wrapping festivities now, but I’m sure my mother would have a drink waiting for me if I showed up to help. More likely, she’ll be hand me a bottle of Kahlua and tell me to get to work. Like the good son I am, I’d oblige.

No measuring cups. No mercy.