Writer, editor, playwright

Sports fans are made, not born. Most of the time, team devotion is handed down from parents to children. In my case, I learned to love the Seattle Seahawks with the help of some friends, and with the help of a profound sense of loneliness.

I became a Seahawks fan about ten years ago. That was the both the year I left Seattle and the year the Seahawks became a Super Bowl team.

Before you accuse me of being a bandwagoner — or worse, a fair-weather fan — let me explain.

Becoming a Seahawks fan wasn’t just about switching loyalties to a successful team. It’s been a way to connect to the city where I lived for a significant decade of my life.

I moved to Seattle from the East Coast in my mid-twenties, while the rest of the planet was in the mid-1990s. During the ten years I was there, I spent too much time working at clerical jobs I disliked. But I also learned how to become a writer.

Plus I did lots of things that underemployed people in their twenties ought to do: I dabbled (and failed) in sketch comedy; I bar-hopped and went to ridiculous clubs. I appeared in drag in a stage adaptation of “Night of the Living Dead.”

I went to the Folklife festival every Memorial Day weekend and I went to Bumbershoot every Labor Day Weekend. I saw Death Cab For Cutie in a small club. I was not impressed, but they grew on me. I saw a band called The Paperboys. I was impressed. I have been a devoted fan ever since.

I bought a share in a Mariners season-ticket package. I spent two seasons as a shareholder in a Sonics season-ticket package. I went to an NFL game at the now-imploded Kingdome, when the Seahawks were bad and Dennis Erickson was their coach.

I joined a writing group that met every other weekend, filling notebooks with character sketches, scene studies and bits of micro-fiction. I fenced competitively, then quit when it became too expensive.

I eventually figured out that I wanted to work in journalism. I sold some stories to various weeklies and covered soccer, gymnastics and volleyball games for a daily newspaper. Then I was hired to run one of the small neighborhood papers where I had sold some articles. I continued to follow the Mariners and the Sonics.

I went to two more Seahawks games but only because the tickets were free. Century Link field was under construction, so both rainy December contests were held at Husky Stadium on the University of Washington campus. It was a giant horseshoe with the open end facing Lake Washington. Both times, it rained so hard my waterproof jacket became waterlogged and I left before the games ended. Though the Seahawks had improved — they had Mike Holmgren as head coach and a promising  young quarterback named Matt Hasselbeck — I still wasn’t ready to switch allegiances from the Philadelphia Eagles, the hapless team I had followed since I was a kid.

I learned a great deal in my editor job, writing tons of stories each week, laying out the paper, writing headlines, editing copy and occasionally delivering papers on Wednesdays to the nice old ladies who called after circulation closed (but before I left the office).

I also learned that Seattle is an expensive place to live — and that  editors of weekly newspapers don’t get paid much. After three and a half years I needed a job that paid enough to let me start paying off my student loans. Since Seattle was fresh out of newspaper jobs, I moved back to Pennsylvania, the state I had been glad to leave a decade before.

Everything about that move was painful. Seattle had become my home. I missed my friends. I missed the beach at Golden Gardens. I missed the sight of mountains. I missed living in a major city. (I moved from Seattle to Easton, which was half the size of Ballard, the neighborhood where I had worked.) Financially the move made sense. But in the immediate aftermath I was depressed, lonely and struggling to adapt to my new life.

Along came the Seahawks.

That same year, the team had the most successful season in franchise history, going 13-3 behind Hasselbeck’s arm and MVP running back Shaun Alexander’s legs. They were just plain fun to watch. Because good teams are shown more often on national TV, I got to watch the Seahawks more than anyone on the East Coast normally would have. Following the team gave me a connection back to the city I knew and had so recently left. Their postseason run and Super Bowl appearance only cemented my loyalty.

I know that makes me sound like a bandwagoner. But I still followed them through the stinking seasons between 2005 and 2013, when they again dominated the NFC West (and finally won a Super Bowl).

Friends who are devoted Eagles fans don’t understand how I could switch my allegiance. I do root for the Eagles when they’re not playing the Seahawks. But on those rare occasions — such as the 2014 season, when the two teams met in Philadelphia — I pull for Seattle. My rationale is simple: I lived in Seattle. I never lived IN Philadelphia.

In the ten years since returning home, I have married a wonderful woman, purchased a house in a great neighborhood and get to experience the everyday joys of being a father to a beautiful child. Leaving Seattle was  also good for my career.  I wouldn’t change anything about the life choices I made since leaving The Emerald City.

Still, Seattle is a place that I will always miss, no matter how many times I visit. Nostalgia makes us long for the past as if it were a geographical place. For me it is: the northwest corner of the country where it rains much of the time and everyone has a library card. I may go back to visit, but Seattle will probably never be home again.

Facebook, texts and phone calls help me stay connected to my friends in the Northwest. Sports helps me stay connected to the city. Football is ideally suited for that. Following the Mariners from three time zones away (especially on a daily basis) is a chore. The once-a-week (and occasionally on TV!) football schedule, on the other hand, is easier to manage. For a team representing my favorite city in the world, I can make that commitment.

Go Seahawks.

New video: Static Jacks, ‘I’ll Come Back’

July 22, 2013

I’ve been beating my head against a wall for the last few weeks, trying to figure out what kind of music blog I want to write. (If you take into account the time that’s passed since my last true music blog, which I wrote at my last job, then it’s been more than two years, not just a few weeks. But who’s counting?)

Part of me wants to just give up on the venture. There are plenty of places on the Internet for you to find good, independent music by good, independent artists that I like to spotlight. And then I found this song by the Static Jacks. It reminded me of all the fun, interesting young bands out there that deserve some attention.

I don’t know how much my humble blog will help them get attention. But based on “I’ll Come Back,” from their upcoming album, “In Blue,” this is a band worth following. This is a fun, riff-driven summertime song. Happiness is all the rage, indeed.

Give it a listen, and discuss in the comments. Hope you enjoy it. I certainly do.

(This post also appeared at

If you want to know what music I like, just ask. I’m happy to tell you, and I don’t need Rdio, iRadio or any other misspelling of the word “radio” to broadcast my questionable tastes. When it comes to listening, it’s better to keep both feet on the ground than to dip them in the rushing waters of streaming music services.

Streaming music is such a Next Big Thing that both Google and Apple have gotten into the act. But as avid a listener I might be, I don’t ever use the Twitter music or Spotify apps on my iPhone. I have fallen out of love with Pandora.I never tried Rdio and I won’t take Google’s new streaming music service for a spin.

As for iRadio: I draw the line with Apple at my MacBook, iPad, iPhone, iPod and iTunes account.

My antipathy is partly out of privacy. I don’t need to know what bands my friends are listening to, and I don’t want them to know when I’m listening to Pink’s “I’m Not Dead.”

(Full disclosure: On occasion I listen to Pink’s “I’m Not Dead.”)

Still, it’s not out of a desire to live off the social media grid.

Far from it. I am plugged in as much as anyone. I have a Google Plusaccount, multiple Twitter handles and a Facebook account or two (maybe it’s three). I have shared photos of myself, my family and my kids on sites that are more public than I want to know. I will even post on Vine short videos of the music I’m listening to at any given moment.

On top of that, I spent more than five years as a music reviewer, which is just a glorified way of telling the world what bands you like.

Taste is not binary

Still, the use of these services is one more step along the way to reducing people into quantifiable data, in the tradition of supermarket loyalty cards, as a marketing tool.

The world of social media has ripped open the age-old privacy debate, and we willingly share online much more than we ever would if a total stranger asked us. It didn’t start with sites like Spotify, but it certainly continues, further exposing who we are as individuals to the rest of the digital universe.

Worse, it reduces something as discrete as music taste into an algorithm. If you like X band, you might like Y. So says a remote server somewhere in The Cloud.

(Which isn’t true. If you like X, it just means you’re a fan of early ‘80s punk. Good for you.)

Virtual, schmirtual

My biggest objection, however, is the fact that you never really own the music. You pay a monthly fee (or tolerate ads on otherwise free services like Spotify and Pandora) and you can listen to the music, but you have no tangible copy of it. All you pay for is the access that brings the songs to you, but once you stop paying, the notes end. You no longer own albums; you just rent the airspace.

Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer my music collection where I can see it: on my CD shelf, in my record cabinet and, if necessary, on the external hard drive where I store my iTunes library.

That last option isn’t ideal, but we live in a digital age and even music fans must keep up.

The point is, the albums I own have a physical presence. When I playBruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” on the turntable it’s because I want to listen to THAT album at THAT time. There’s a physical connection, however small or brief, doesn’t exist with streaming services. You just turn it on and let the digitized tunes flow, as passive as standing in a – well, a stream.

It’s also no great deal for the artists. Album sales and legal downloads are what help the struggling independent musicians – the ones that you might possibly “discover” on Spotify. Payouts from streaming services are a pittance by comparison — $100 for 20,000 plays on Spotify, according to New York Magazine.

There are plenty of ways to find exciting new artists whose music you should buy, ways that won’t cost you $10 a month. If you’re an avid listener, buying by the album remains the best way to support both your habit and the artist’s way of life.

I don’t know if Google’s new service will last, or whether Apple’s iRadio will go the way of Ping — remember that? Heck, I haven’t paid attention to Twitter’s music app to know if it’s even still around. But I was encouraged by some news that vinyl sales – people buying physical copies of music – rose in 2012, for the fifth year running. Perhaps I’m not the only one who prefers to keep my listening offline.

My daughter enjoys it when I play records for her, whether it’s Mozart or Jr. Walker & The All-Stars. That’s good. When I’m dead, she’ll get the albums and, with any luck, the turntable.

She won’t inherit a monthly invoice for streaming audio, that’s for sure.

Photo by Pat Benic Steph Paynes, left, and Shannon Conley front Lez Zeppelin. In the background is drummer Leesa Harrington-Squyres.

Many, many people in Berks County will get their jazz fix this weekend. Those with more rockin’ sensibilities still have options for live entertainment, however.

The tribute band Lez Zeppelin, based in New York, comes to town Saturday for a show at Reverb. You can read my profile of the band for the Reading Eagle, where I work. Steph Paynes was a great interview and really knows her stuff — enough to impress the original members of Led Zeppelin, if the stories she told are true.

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