Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Trouble with Howe

The trouble with Howe?
Too many hats.
Too much talent with too many places to go. 
Too many choices.
Too many possibilities.
Too many destinations.
Too many sunsets to head off into.
The trouble is, if you never reach the destination how do you rate the journey?
Howe once told me that 'rehearsal is the enemy'. 
He probably shares a similar disdain for maps.
I see him standing, smirking, with a compass in one hand, a magnet in the other. Where most folks' talent limits them to a particular tack, I reckon that Gelb's wayward genius allows for any journey, preferably 'off piste', often without any sense of destination; his vagrant heart surely trusts in 'hazard' as habit.

“I was always good at making up songs. I can make up songs out of nothing, right now, if I wanted to, and just believe they've been here forever and then boom! There they are. The thing is to best represent the product by ‘reassimilating’ it in front of everyone. But it seemed like, instead, there were all these other possibilities and variables and things that happen. Like what if we played it this way tonight instead? Or, you know, when you get something recorded you get the frozen snapshot of a recording, but really that's only how it happened that one day. So when you're out there live, you go, ‘Okay, here's your compass.’ You can kind of see where you're coming from, but [you’re] not going to stay here. … so you allow [the song] to move again, to evolve and let it evolve in front of everybody because you can't explain music, you can't.”

You'll never put a post code on Howe's muse; he's all over the place; assembling and disassembling, wantonly, wilfully lost then found; impossible to pigeon-hole. I'm guessing that he's sick of his label as ‘Godfather of Alt-country’.
Seemingly so.
Howe Gelb celebrates his promised 'retirement' at 60 from his beloved Giant Sand by releasing a solo album. 'Future Standards' sees him reinvented as louche lounge lizard, swooning and crooning his idiosyncratic way though a set informed by The American Songbook.

“This is my attempt at writing a batch of tunes that could last through the ages with the relative structure of what has become known as ‘standards'. The likes of Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael done up by Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday.”

Where Dylan reached back deferentially with 'Shadows in the Night', Howe leads archly with his chin, leaning forward into the Arizona sunlight with a knowing wink at the shadowy past. Howe rewrites the rules. Always. Tongue ever firmly in cheek, his self knowing disdain for form can be frustrating. He often sets up a beautiful melody only to leave it hijacked and hanging in the breeze. Here he seems to be curbing that mischievous habit, reigning himself for a more structured set. I've always admired that Howe wrote wilfully; to please himself. Perhaps he's satisfied that desire and is now keen to reach out by journeying back, with the Joanna as his vehicle of choice. 
Howe remembers his first experience with a piano: 

“There's something wrong with this eye [his left] from birth, so I couldn't read music right. My whole way of thinking was fucked up from the way I look at things. Literally. I could never get the black note in ‘Polly Wolly Doodle. And it just didn't sound like what I wanted. How do I get that radio sound? How do I sound like Abbey Road? Like ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’?”

He may be informed by The Beatles but here I hear his keening croak backed by Victor Borge, Chico Marx or even Les Dawson. You're always on the edge of your seat when Gelb's at the stool. Will he/won't he go where you expect him to? Sure, his hands are firmly on the wheel - 'The clouds are back at my command' - but where's he bound?
It's always been a bewildering yet bedazzling journey.
The trouble with Howe?
This man of many hats.
More shy than sly, this jongleur, in his element when lost in motion... has come home.
A Canute in the desert.
A Prospero with no spirits to command.
A wandering soul has found his 'loving heart' but what's now the object of this vagabond's affection? 
Perhaps his song is for Tucson itself.
Who is Howe now crooning to? 
You know that you'll never get a straight answer from this marvellous, mischievous maverick. 
"Maybe the lonely; maybe them only..."
We're never gonna to get to know.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Le Mercury

Le Mercury

On Upper Street they stand
Hand over hand
One Dapper Dan
One also ran
He is beautiful
She is hopeful
Wishing she were bolder
He looks over her shoulder
Does Dapper Dan
And, only ‘cause he knows he can
He dismisses her hopes
With a kiss
She rounds on him snarling
Spitting sorrow
But as she draws back her trembling lips
He takes her folded fist
Moulds it to a hand
And holds it to his heart
They wait for a beat

And dance

Monday, 24 October 2016

Sight Failing: Aim Still True

“It’s over now, the water and the wine … 
I wish there was a treaty between your love and mine.”

I'm hearing criticism of this; folk saying that Leonard is no longer vital, sharp tongued; that the poet's pen is blunt. Folk expecting 'Hallelujahs' and disappointed by a simple 'thank you'...
It's a bit like ordering Sherpa Tenzing 'once more back up the mountain please.' Ambition is fine but there are some heights that you can only hit once. Anything beyond is a peak out of reach and the hopeful grasping can become flailing affectation, parody or parade. Some summits are beyond most of us; some journeys can only be taken by those with a golden ticket.
Everyone expects different miracles from their heroes and expectation doesn't always equate to delivery. You wanted loaves and fish? You get red red wine... Oy vey!
I hear the sound of a conflicted man pulling a blanket (or shawl) closer to chin, dissing and dismissing his Lord yet counting on his presence, and counting his blessings... still cursed by memories of lost lovers and possibility. Skeptical but still spiritually inquisitive, worldly enough to recall the earthly pleasures, still keen enough to remember the hurt.'Disappointment' is a station that we're all bound for. That we journey with dignity is the unspoken rule of travel; one rule that most of us are bound to break. Bitterness and disappointment stamps our golden ticket so indelibly that we can barely be bothered to decipher its value.
Leonard reminds us that death isn't defeat, it's a destination that we all wish to arrive at dapper and undisappointed.
Is that a word?
I hope so.
It would befit any gravestone.
And will he be met at the station?
The Maker and this holy, conflicted man: that'd be a challenging chat for both..

"A million candles burning for the help that never came... 
I'm ready my Lord... You want it darker? Let's kill the flame."

Adam has certainly captured his father's rich, faltering voice beautifully. Unadorned, unfettered from the now unneeded support of woman. Perhaps this suggests relief at desire's decline. He's travelling light; resigned to going it alone. There's a treacly lustre to the luxuriant production: perhaps a son's desire to ensure that the father's travelling clothes fit and befit. And yet this is no cosy impotent decline; "I'm angry and I'm tired all the time... the poison enters into everything". But whilst Leonard's understandably tired and tetchy, with once perfect vision dulled and dimmed, this is the wondrous sound of a wise man clinging to dear life, not raging, but going as gently as possible, with grace and dignity; surely eyeing the destination but still absorbed by the journey.

Friday, 14 October 2016

The Hat Club: November 26th: Boo Hewerdine and Dan Whitehouse

The Hat Club: November 26th.
Boo Hewerdine and Dan Whitehouse.
I believe they call this 'a double header'.
Flip the coin and both sides come up 'heads'.
You cannot lose.
It'll be the end of their lengthy tour so they should know the words, all of the right notes and play them mostly in the right order...
Advance orders help.
Guests are welcome.
Last Hat Club of 2016.
The best tenner you'll spend this year.
Come see the paradise...

Sunday, 2 October 2016

In Cassidy's Care: 10: The Last Chapter: This Sunday

10. This Sunday

He pursed his lips and the word came forth.
“Pops”, whispered Cassidy.
He gave a strangled, euphoric yelp and then he laughed out, long and loud, clapping his hands at the recognition.
‘Red Pops’. That was it, the name of his blue tailed kite.
Christ, the banality; his very own ‘Rosebud’ moment.
He loved Citizen Kane; and Orson Wells; what a man; all of that early promise; and, and jeez… Red Pops…
Both Daniel and Archie were looking up at him quizzically, and he in turn squinted up into the blue and breathed in deeply; he loved the parks of North London in early springtime.
Up there with the jousting kites, a confusion of gulls stalked the skies, noisily claiming territory. Cassidy craned his neck and watched as one bird caught another by the wing. After an initial fitful fluttering, their bodies stiffened and froze, perhaps out of fear, or perhaps in dazed deference to the gravity of the unfamiliar moment, a moment that lasted fully twenty seconds, as they looped and twirled in silent dance, a feathery boomerang skimming the sky, before better nature caused them to release and break their arcing descent. The two gulls, seemingly chastened, flew briefly in stunned formation before resuming their raucous rivalry.
Jeeezus, did you see that boys?”
“Mom says that you shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”
“She’s quite right Daniel. I am sorry, but… did you see that?
And she says that God loves me and Archie more than almost anyone” Cassidy let that one slide. His boys were due some special attention. In four days time they’d be in Massachusetts, scattering their Grandpa’s ashes into the bay. He wanted them to believe that there was purpose to that particular parade. He’d spoken to his mother the night before. She was rock solid.
“I’m staying put. Why wouldn’t I? The beach house is my home. Your dad always jokes about it being built on sand but… don’t fret about me Pickle.”
She hadn’t called him that in years.
“I’ve always taken care of myself while you boys were off doing your things. Besides tending to your dad’s shrubs there won’t be too much to adjust to. Still be talking to myself, there’ll just be more potatoes left over is all…”
Cassidy saw then what he’d known all along: he wanted to go home. Back to the Cape, back to the beach house, back to what he was before he wanted to be something else. What prevented his return was that which he loved the most. His sons needed their mother and she was bound to London. And although Amelia might be beyond capers, clowns and Cassidy, she sure as hell needed his benefits: school fees were waived for all faculty kids. That would keep him here for the next ten years at least. He felt sick, dizzy with resentment; he’d be in his mid fifties before he would be free to return home to live, to abide. By that time Annie might have followed Harry and the beach house could have fallen into the sea…
Cassidy rubbed his brow and stumbled, there was a rushing cacophony, a crescendo as blood seemed to flood his brain, what sounded like the snapping of a twig and then just a staggering, bright silence. Cassidy worked his jaw, shook his head, tried to make his ears pop, but the silence remained. He looked to the sky again, beyond the squabbling birds, beyond the carnival of kites, out beyond the blue and, with a jolt, Cassidy saw. He saw that there was much to be held and nothing to be kept. He felt unburdened; an abrupt sense of liberation and release; suddenly everything seemed clear. Cassidy shook his head in wonder; this was his morning for epiphanies.
The noises of the park gradually returned to him and he tested the air.
The obsession’s in the chasing and not the apprehending”, he quietly sang.
Tom Waits.
He loved Tom Waits.
His eyes stung and his throat ached. Cassidy paused, a hand on each son’s shoulder. He softly squeezed, and then gently pushed the boys into the breeze, towards the football pitch. A group of kids were clapping and noisily cheering Johnny, their maverick coach, who balanced a ball on his head like a performing seal.
You should throw that man a fish.
The young brothers turned back towards their father, both gave a puzzled shrug, rolled their eyes and sighed in unison “a fish?”
Cassidy swallowed hard.
“See you guys in a couple of hours. Love you both”
And don’t take any shit from that Johnny, he thought.
“Dad”, howled Archie, “you did it again.”
Life, thought Cassidy, placing a cautionary hand over his mouth, is fucking killing me.

He returned the boys to Amelia bang on time. He even got a wave and a smile from the doorway seven steps up. From Bayswater he stepped with a spring, up through Hyde Park to Marble Arch and then along Oxford Street. At Oxford Circus he turned north up Regents Street and entered Regents Park at its southern end. Without thinking he broke into a steady jog. He passed the boating lake and the bandstand and at the northern edge he turned east on the outer circle until he reached the zoo. He then turned north towards the southern slopes of Primrose Hill, following the now familiar path to the brow of the hill. As he surged up the slope Cassidy was giddy with hope; though still steeped in sadness, for the first time in an age he felt that he was running towards something. An elderly man feeding fish and chips to a scruffy mongrel occupied the bench. As Cassidy approached he recognized the slippers on the man’s feet.
“Monty, what are you doing here? Fancy the chances…”
‘Ah Pete, how are you doing old boy. Not such a coincidence really; you’ve rattled on about this bench so many times that I thought I’d come and see what all the fuss was about. It’s quite a setting.” Monty nodded southward “What a city?
Cassidy stretched and eyed the view. “How’s the healing Monty?”
“Oh, fine, fine, though gently does it; weeping wounds… As you can see I’ve become more discerning about the company I keep.” He patted the dog. “My new best friend. I’ve decided to call him Claude.”
“To protect you from his namesake?”
“No, that particular son of a bitch is long gone. I decided that I needed some reliable company; I took at trip down to the dog’s home in Battersea. I never could resist a pathetic stray. Our eyes met and I think that we both recognized a kindred spirit. He’s a good egg. We’re well suited; we’ll stop each other from wandering.
“Speaking of which,” said Cassidy jogging on the spot “I’ve got to keep moving or I’ll seize up. See you back at the ranch Monty.”
“Indeed. Cheerio old boy.”
Cassidy patted Claude, helped himself to a chip from the greasy paper bag and then turned back down the slope, exiting the park at Elsworthy Terrace. Picking up the pace he crossed the Finchley Road at Swiss Cottage and was soon at the front door of his apartment block in West Hampstead.

He entered the communal doorway and slid his key into the door of his flat. Before he had the chance to turn the key the door swung open on fractured hinges.
Turmoil; upended furniture, broken glass, scattered papers, an aroma of stale sweat, the rustle of material, a shadowy movement, a punch to the ribs. He didn’t feel much; a stinging pain as the knife entered his side, then just a dull ache that he knew to be deliverance. He dropped to his knees and gently lowered himself onto the carpet face down. His eyes watered and he blinked away the tears. From his supine position his vision was limited and darkening with every shortening breath. That run had taken it out of him. He needed to breathe deeply to control his gasping. He tried humming, that would calm him. He blinked again and focused on ‘The Cassidys’, he and his brothers standing with Harry after that final gig. The photograph lay skew on the floor with the glass and frame shattered. Next to the picture were broken pieces of terra cotta pot and damp earth. His cactus lay flaccid, like a fish out of water. Or a limp dick thought Cassidy. Was that irony or symbolism, metaphor or simile? That was one for Archie’s next breakfast question time.
He could hear movement but couldn’t raise his head.
What a weird and wonderful week, he thought.
“Say what? What’s that? Say something?”
Cassidy recognized the lisp.
“Want some more, bitch?”
Claude knelt beside him and rifled his pockets roughly.
Cassidy stared at a Rolex with a crocodile strap; Monty’s watch on Claude’s wrist. He fixed on the frozen second hand as it twitched and pulsed with every second, ineffectively pushing against an unseen resistance, and he found himself breathing in time with that retarded tick. He needed to do something but couldn’t think what that might be. He’d just lie there a little longer until he felt… less tired.
As his breath shortened Cassidy was overwhelmed by a tremendous sense of calm. And he was filled with love; he loved his parents, his brothers, Daniel and Archie, Monty, Christ, he even loved Claude. The whole wide world was in his arms and it was no burden because Cassidy cared. He started humming again, and only then did he recognize the tune.
He loved Joni Mitchell.
His fingertips caressed the carpet and he felt himself sink deeper.
“Amelia, it was just a false alarm”
The carpet rose to meet him.
“Amelia, it was just a false alarm”
The carpet absorbed him.
“Amelia, it was just a false alarm”
He stared in wonder as the detailed patterns merged into a glorious golden brown.
Cassidy closed his eyes and she turned towards him.
He saw sun splashed pigtails and the grain of her hair, all burnt copper and straw.
She simply said “Hello handsome” and that was that.


“What’s that son?”
Harry leant closer this time.
Cassidy could smell Old Spice and modeling glue.
“Nothing Pops, just… thinking out loud.”
His mother’s voice sang out from within the beach house, “Suppers nearly ready you two. Up to the table in five minutes.”
Cassidy squinted and fixed on his cactus, searching for a word. 
Harry reached down and gently slid the turquoise pot out of their creeping shadow and into the softening light.
“Some things can’t be fixed Pete, some things are beyond repair, but it’s good that you care son; there can be a blessing to burden.” He rubbed his forehead and then rocked back into his chair, crossing his heavy hands against his chest as if nursing an injured bird.
Cassidy did the self same thing.
There was much that he needed to let go of, but not this.
He needed to hold this close, and wondered if he would.
The sun was sinking over the salt marshes and a bourbon sky gently backlit his father, ancient and immortal.
He looked into that steady eye, then down at his own shaking, outsized hands, and Cassidy realized, with some relief, that his fate was sealed.

                                      *** Fin ***


We are all connected
By our unravellings
But don’t always feel the tug
The line might tighten
Leave a mark
Draw blood even
Then relax and
All will seem normal again

It’s sorrow’s way
A gentle rise and fall
Towards oblivion
We mark the journey
And then leave without a destination
The rest is hazard
With joyful detours and interludes
Still, the path remains sorrow’s way

Saturday, 1 October 2016

In Cassidy's Care: 9: Last Christmas

9. Last Christmas

He’d last seen Harry three months ago.
Amelia had claimed the boys for the holidays and Cassidy had gone home, alone, for Christmas on the Cape. He and his father sat out on the wrap around porch of the beach house, surrounded by potted plants, drinking tar black coffee out of their favourite chipped mugs. His gift to his parents had been a CD player and one CD, to replace the family’s antiquated gramophone. Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ provided a perfect soundtrack to the early evening.
He loved Beethoven.
“How’s life treating you son? Rolling with the punches?”
Cassidy thought of horseshoes, the kind that you’d put inside a big brown boxing glove. As a boy he’d found a canvas sack full of them in the boathouse and convinced himself that his father was a prizefighter. And then one morning, Harry had slung the sack over his shoulder and taken Cassidy and his two brothers to the beach at Sandy Neck to introduce them to the game of ‘Horseshoes’.
They pitched the heavy iron shoes at a stake in the sand, arguing over ‘ringers’ and ‘closest to’s’.
"Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades”, sang Harry.
They played ‘first to 21’ over and over until their wrists ached, and then took to skimming stones, occasionally scoring sixers and seveners.
Only Harry could get into double figures.
“It’s good to be home Dad; things seem clearer from here, but… life’s complicated.”
Cassidy looked at his father’s weather beaten features. Nearly ninety and in pretty good shape, chipper even. As ever, that faded blue cap sat atop his peeling pate. There were fresh scabs on his forehead; he had always been a practical but clumsy man; too tall for his own body. He’d stopped shaving regularly and the stubble added to an air of rough integrity. Round wire glasses sat square on a bulbous blue veined nose that Cassidy knew he would inherit. Your nose and your eyes keep growing he thought, everything else shrinks. His father’s ears were now huge and hairy, like hirsute plastic comedy ears, although his lobes remained fleshy, perky pink and… chewable. Harry’s hands were huge also, the hands of a boxer, not a poet. I hope to hell I look that that when I’m 86, thought Cassidy.
A faint aroma of baking came from within the house. He pictured his mother peeling apples by the kitchen table, standing barefoot upon her ‘magic carpet’, a woolen Berber rug that Harry had bartered for and bought on their honeymoon in Morocco. It was her most cherished possession “and the only treasure I need”.  As a boy he’d lie on the luxuriant pile while Annie cooked and the gramophone crackled, pressing his face into the soft wool, conjuring mountains and valleys out of the woven patterns, mapping out his future adventures.

Cassidy was going to be an explorer when he grew up. For his 10th birthday he’d been gifted a copy of Jack London’s ‘Call of the Wild’, inscribed with the words “Remember Pete, all journeys lead to home. With much admiration, from one ‘Sailor on Horseback’ to another. Love Grandpa Bertie”. Bertrand Cassidy’s escapades were family legend. Born in 1900 he’d been a boy whaler and later a Merchant Marine, before settling on the Nantucket Sound in the early 1920s to pursue his passion for deep sea fishing. Here he met and married Molly Stevens and developed ‘BC’s’, a boat charter company, soon one of the biggest in Barnstable County. He built his beloved ‘Beach House’ with the fruits of that labour. In his later years, and to the family’s astonishment, he had revealed a long hidden talent to become ‘Yarmouth Yodeler of the Year’, a title that he proudly retained for four years straight before ill-fitting dentures compromised his art. Old BC still made guest appearances, and it was in preparation for the competition of ’89 that he had driven himself into town for a shave and a trim. Although still sprightly, his eyesight was poor and he hadn’t noticed an unmarked worker’s trench outside of Bob’s Barbershop. The fall broke a leg that would never properly heal. He hobbled around the house with a cane until he just seemed to lose patience with that shuffling decline and, in his 90th year, Bertrand Cassidy quietly passed away, on his porch, in the very chair that Harry, his son now gently rocked. Cassidy could still picture Grandpa Bertie sitting there, in a faded bleu de chine fisherman’s jacket, tipping his bright blue cap to his wife and gently singing “Molly, my Molly, she’s the only older lady whooo I love.”

Looking out past Chatham Lighthouse, beyond the elbow of the bay, Cassidy accepted that his journey had undeniably brought him home. But he was no ‘sailor on horseback’, no explorer. Cassidy cradled his coffee cup and chuckled at the thought of himself as an adventurer. Of all the people he knew he was probably the least prepared for uncharted territory. He only had to look at a city road map and he’d come out in a cold sweat. He was a home bird and the beach house, this mine of memories, offered safe harbour, shelter from those complications of London.
 “Complications?” Harry’s spidery eyebrows arched. “Stop trying to understand everything Pete. There are always more questions than answers. Crows and doves son, crows and doves. It’s how you react to the storm; that’s the stuff that shapes you. What you is is what you aint.”
What I is is what I aint?
“Absolutely. Our strengths are our weaknesses son”, he scratched at his head “and ah… vice versa. We’re all shaped by our mistakes and compromises. The trick is in knowing when to let go of things; no point watering dead flowers.”  Harry flinched, seemingly agitated, as if trying to make sense of a distant calling. He looked around at his chaotic collection of potted plants then back at Cassidy, his left eye drooped, rheumy and discoloured. “I’m going to tell you something now that might mark me out as a sappy pappy, something even Annie doesn’t know, but I’ll give it a go because I think you’re in need of some… affirmation.” He took a long swig of coffee.
“I was born in this house. You know that. Story goes that when I emerged all bloody and bawling the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ was bellowing out of the gramophone. He loved Handel did your Grandpa. That certainly marked the moment for old Bertie, for, secretly, he was a mawkish mule too. Just before he passed, he confessed that he’d whistle me home with that tune whenever I was out in heavy seas, probably even tried yodeling it knowing Bertie.” Harry picked up his old Corn Cob pipe and idly placed the bit between his teeth. He hadn’t smoked for over twenty years but the pipe was still a prominent feature. Only Archie dared call him ‘Popeye’. 
“Anyways, when Tom was born I too felt the need to mark the moment. There were no tunes blasting out, no ‘hallelujahs’ for Tommy. But I knew I wanted to honour his birth with something that would endure, but something personal: something private: something just for me. I sat here on the porch listening to your mom howling at the saints, using language would make a fisherman blush. I took my mind off the carnage by tending to my shrubs, it’s always been a grand passion of mine as you know.” He flourished a hand. “Your mother loves to fuss over her flowers but these plants are my charge. They don’t really need me mind, feisty little fellas, most can fend for themselves, don’t shout out “look at me and love me”, makes me admire them all the more. They just get on with the business of… survival. And there I got the idea. I’d always coveted a ‘Thanksgiving Cactus’. Real beauties; strong, handsome, independent, spiky little fuckers”, he ducked his head and glanced towards the open kitchen window “but not quite as thorny as they look. Virtues that any father would wish upon his sons.” Harry blinked hard, tilted his head “And there you all are.” He nodded towards three potted cacti that stood close to his chair. “Tom is the gnarly old bugger in the cracked green vase. In fact he is the only true claw cactus. He’s certainly seen better days but, as you can see, he still produces a beautiful scarlet flower every winter. I planted Dick skew if, hence his sorry twisted self” he pointed to five contorted tubas emerging from a terra cotta pot; the tallest central digit seemed to be flipping them the bird. “I only found out recently that Dick is an Echinopsis, otherwise known as aPenis Cactus’ or ‘Woman’s Joy’. Kind of ironic eh, given your brother’s name and his tomcat habits. The cactus stood proud: plump, rigid, and undeniably phallic.
“And this one is you son.” Harry reached for a squat turquoise pot that hosted an orange flowering plant, and placed it in Cassidy’s lap.
“Yours is a ‘Christmas Cactus’, in its prime this very month. Experience taught me to tend to you the best, which often means just ignoring you. No fussing, I just knew how to position you better. You’ve thrived, here in your absence.”
As Cassidy sat cradling his wholesome effigy he noticed a small letter ‘P’ etched an inch above the base of the pot. Fashioned by Harry’s hand, forty-four years ago. Forty-four years and… one month. Without warning, Cassidy’s shoulders shuddered and he wept openly, effusively. Like a baby.
“Let it go son.” Harry looked away, rubbed his forehead hard and then slid a hand into his pocket, pulling out a perfectly ironed white handkerchief. 
“You’re wound too tight Peter. Too many knots. Too many complications.” He absently traced a blue embroidered ‘H’ with his thick, yellow thumbnail, waved the hanky towards his son, then thrust it back deep into his pocket.
Seems to me that your life is too damned… considered. Maybe you’ve had to be so protective of the boys that you’ve shut yourself off from hazard. You’ve become hobbled by habit Pete. Open some windows, let in some light; you never know, a little life might creep in around the edges.” He chewed down heavily on the charred stem of his pipe. “Ring the friends that you knew before Amelia. Talk to some strangers. Go get yourself laid”, he whispered, glancing towards the open kitchen window again. “If there’s one thing I do know it’s that we seldom help ourselves.” That tilt of the head. “It’s other people that rescue us son. The best of us is reserved for other people, and the best that we can hope for is to bathe in some of their… reflected light. You get what you give Pete.” He pulled the pipe from his mouth and raised the mug to his lips. “And here endeth the lesson. Cold comfort I know, cold as this damn coffee.”
He leant forward and gently squeezed Cassidy’s knee with that huge hand, then took the cactus from his son’s lap and placed it in the incandescent light between them.
Cassidy had recovered and wiped his face on his sleeve.
 “We’re all damaged Pete. That damage defines us. Our wounds might not be pretty to look at but they make us better men; give us integrity.”
Cassidy winced; how come his dad always made song lines and pale platitudes sound like immutable, well-worn wisdom?
Honour your life boy, get to living it, but remember that the joy is in the journey…”
Christ, he should have been a country singer.
“And that truth rings like a bell."

Indeed it does Pops, thought Cassidy, brushing fresh dirt and 20-year-old tobacco from his lap.