Embracing the Vagabond Lifestyle, Part 2
Embracing the Vagabond Lifestyle, Part 2

Back in Los Angeles in November, at my daughter’s and wife’s urging, I asked the 7 Door Sedan boys (Glenn Kowalski, Norman van der Sluys, and Josh Singer, now carrying on as a trio) about reuniting for a David Bowie tribute show on February 12 at the DC Pie Shop (1339 H St, NE). We had last played that show in February 2020, right before the pandemic. I naturally skew pessimistic and anxious, so after landing in Washington, DC on December 16, just as the omicron variant took off, and with all the stuff involving my mother-in-law (described below) over an isolated, sad Xmas and New Years, I was pretty stressed out and thought NO WAY was the Bowie thing happening.  I also thought, well, at least I helped my wife out with her mother, so the trip wasn’t a complete waste.  However, fellow local musician Claudia Neuman - I should say impresario, because she arranged the whole Bowie thing - was undaunted and refused to entertain a possibility that the show would not go on as scheduled: “Of course the Bowie show is happening! Just bring proof of vaccination and wear a mask!” You can’t teach that kind of optimism. Nonetheless, I was still hedging my bets with an I’ll-believe-it-when-I-see-it mindset. 

7 Door was rehearsing for both the Bowie thing and - a week before - their first show as a trio.  Because of omicron, I was gun shy about rehearsal in their small practice space and I finally joined them on January 16, double-masked and dripping with sweat. It sounded great and we hit the ground running; it was so good to make noise with them again. Because we were doing the same tunes as last time - Cracked Actor, the 9 minute multi-part prog rock masterpiece Width of a Circle, and a sped up version of Soul Love - I had been able to prepare in LA with headphones, guitar and pedals by playing along with recorded past rehearsals. Kids, practicing helps! 

On February 5, 7 Door played their gig as a trio. Of course, I thought some of the old tunes sounded better back when I was still playing with them, but they were very, very good and I am inspired by the fact that they keep moving forward. More power to Glenn for continuing to write, write, write and having such supportive and collaborative people in Norman and Josh to help build out the new material. They are working hard and they are artistically valid and relevant, which is really what it’s all about. 

Then February 12 finally arrived and all was right with the world. The evening ran like clockwork and we killed/crushed it. So did the other bands; everyone played with passion and authority as musicians tried to outdo each other with the more obscure or difficult songs, for example from the albums Blackstar or Low.  I was proud to be part of such a heartfelt and talented community and I am still buzzing about it. Such a release of all the pent-up frustration and anxiety of the previous 3 months. I have seen videos and photos and I think I look - I certainly felt - comfortable in my skin and gray hair, comfortable with being older, and comfortable with being a musician. I felt relaxed, like I no longer had to move around a lot or over-emote on stage, and as a result I thought that made my stage presence more convincing. Just as I described previously about 7 Door’s trio gig, this Bowie set felt artistically valid and relevant. I love my cowboy shirt from Austin, Texas and I love the bandanna I wore just because John Doe of the band X looks so cool with his. At age 68, I am one grateful man.  Here's a video of us doing Cracked Actor.

The other reason I came out to DC was to help Patty transition her mom from an Independent Living cottage into a higher level of care at her continuing care facility.  For the period October 8, 2021 through January 19, 2022, my mother-in-law fell twice, twice went to the hospital and Rehab, celebrated her 97th birthday, and contracted Covid (luckily nothing more than a runny nose, although we’re not sure if her subsequent, current mental fogginess/confusion is the result of that or a natural progression of pre-existing “light” Dementia). During this time, Patty and I closed out her mother's Independent living cottage, closed out her subsequent Assisted Living room, and finally settled her into a Skilled Nursing (long-term care) room. Meanwhile, Patty and I bounced from a friend’s house in Maryland, to the then-vacant Independent Living cottage, back to the MD friend’s house, to a sad Extended Stay America hotel room in Gaithersburg, MD (after learning there was Covid at the nursing facility so we wanted to make sure we testing negative), to a cousin’s house in DC, to an Air BnB in MD, back to the cousin’s house, and back with the MD friend. 

From the day I arrived in DC on December 16 until January 19, we 1) cleared out the Independent Living cottage and put a lot of my mother in law’s stuff into a rented Public Storage unit in Gaithersburg, MD; 2) further consolidated all the accumulated stuff from both the Assisted Living and Rehab rooms into either storage or her new Skilled Nursing room; and 3) reconciled all the charges or credits for her bill, with little or no clear guidance from the administrative staff. With all due respect to the sanctity of life and the nobility of aging, elder care in this country is severely wanting in the organization and compassion department. You get what you pay for – you have your choice of either overworked, irritable staff or expensive care, but often you get both. My mother-in-law is paying $450 per day. That is a lot of money. So, we found ourselves making cold calculations of how many months she can live before her money runs out and/or we apply for Medicaid. Your world shrinks when you get older, which can be a good thing and a more secure feeling for the elderly, but scary for younger people to think about. At the prospect of facing such a situation, people my age tend to issue pronouncements that are some variation on “just shoot me” or “I would just do a Thelma and Louise.” You also hear very old people being described has having a “strong life force” or “will to live.” I’ve been thinking a lot about the age group that was born in the 1920’s. Some were children of the Depression, some were in survival mode from their experience in World War II. This shapes their outlook when they are older; for example, having a sense of responsibility to provide for their children, making a bucket list, deciding to simply stop eating, etc. One hundred years ago was a different era, with paradoxes - you had diphtheria but also food without pesticides, social upheaval and migration but also more tightly knit communities. It is hard to tell whether a strong life force is despite or because of life struggles. Having said goodbye recently to a friend who had early onset Alzheimer’s from age 61 until his death at age 71 - the last half of which was spent in a Memory Unit with ever-decreasing awareness - I will say that the death thing ends up being less tidy than you might have imagined. Gone are the days of sending them off on an ice floe, although you can always move to Oregon or other places that have assisted dying/death with dignity laws.

Ken BW seven door sedan-45

Photo by #tylerelloyd

Norman seven door sedan-22

Photo by #tylerelloyd

Glenn seven door sedan-24

Photo by #tylerelloyd

Josh_seven door sedan-25

Photo by #tylerelloyd

Ken BW seven door sedan-57

Photo by #tylerelloyd


Photo by Patty, I think, or her cousin Jeanette 😉


Art day with Patty's mom Winifred


With a mother of pearl roof!

6 thoughts on “Embracing the Vagabond Lifestyle, Part 2

  1. Powerful experiences, the Bowie Concert next to the mother-in-law move. The bitter with the sweet. And, the aging-rocker observations reminds me of some band performance with the original member on oxygen on stage, not moving much…but the music was actually very good. Glad i witnessed them once in my life. Maybe it was Moody Blues or maybe Kingston Trio or both.

    1. Oxygen on stage?? As Monty Python famously declared “I’m not dead yet!” It’s not so much “aging” as simply content with who I am, now.

  2. I love it all…thank you Ken for taking the time to get all of the picture to me…it is so wonderful to see you in action and loving every minute of it!!!!…Enjoy every moment !!!!!!..love Aunt Cissie

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