Zach’s PEN #46: Live Music

2021 Week 23: A considerably better weekend than last weekend

Dear PENpals,

Yesterday, my buddy Cameron flew into Philly from Nashville bearing tickets to a show of one of my favorite musicians, a keyboard (particularly Hammond B3) player I’ve seen live several times, John Medeski, this time as a member of DJ Logic’s Project Logic.

My favorite thing about going to “Medeski shows” is that I often get introduced to other musicians I didn’t know but who invariably are best in class.

Last night I was introduced to my favorite drummer I’ve ever seen live, Daru Jones, and an absurd-in-more-ways-than-one bassist, MonoNeon. MonoNeon wears… unique outfits but I guess that’s what happens when you hang out with Prince too much. He plays a right-handed five-string bass left-handed, but totally upside down, with his thumb on the high strings. And he’s very good at it.

There’s another person who I recently learned played their guitar upside down, and it’s a doozy.

Some of you know that I play fingerstyle guitar. It’s the only musical thing I’ve ever pursued (and my pursuit has been streaky at best). Well, one of the first fingerstyle songs that most people learn, I’d say it’s the #1 “first real fingerstyle song” (ever-repeating finger patterns like “Blackbird” don’t count) is “Freight Train” by Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten. It wasn’t the first fingerstyle song I learned, that was Mississippi John Hurt’s “Creole Belle,” but it was the third or fourth.

Well this week I learned two things:

  1. Libba Cotten lived in Syracuse (!) for much of her life up until her death in 1987 at 94 years old at Crouse Hospital (where I was born).

  2. She played this canonical, this foundational fingerstyle song, completely differently than anyone else does, because her guitar was goddamn upside down.

A lot of people know Jimi Hendrix played a right-handed guitar left-handed, but he restrung the guitar. Libba did not. Watch her show every fingerstyle player that maybe our thumbs just aren’t that special.

Writing Update

I’m pleased to report that, even though I haven’t been publishing daily (or at all) as I was before, I’m kicking out more word-count than I ever have, just a little more deeply, thoughtfully, behind the scenes, with an intention toward some longform writing down the road. The momentum and lessons from that flurry do seem to be carrying me forward.

Health Update

Last week was the biggest physical health wakeup call of my life. I have been carefully processing it and have made a decision which I’ll put here because why not? As whistling-in-the-dark overly simplistic as this may sound, I will never eat too much, ever again, and I’m accomplishing that with ease and comfort by eating slowly, which comes with a dozen other benefits and zero downsides other than that it requires awareness (which isn’t really a downside).

There will never be an occasion where there would be any advantage to eating too much, and if I’m honest, every time I’ve eaten too much in my life, I’ve done it knowingly, intentionally, for a bunch of not-great reasons. I’m aware that those reasons are psychologically complicated and I’ve dealt with them throughout my life, but there’s something about the immediate clarity of being literally tortured for five hours and thinking you’re going to die as a direct result of intentionally eating too much… I’m confident that the fallout from this can carry me far enough to establish new habits and increased sensitivity to hunger, pleasure, and satiety.

It’s working very well so far.


No kid pictures update on my end this week, I didn’t feel like doing much this week, but I have 10 rolls of film to process so prepare for the deluge.

In other kiddo news though, my cousins Mark and Vita just had a third baby girl named Lana June. I think this is a badass name.

Much love PENpals,