“Boxers” by Matthew Ryan

I’ve known Matthew Ryan for about a decade now. I was introduced to him via my wife, who knew I was looking for music for my film YOU ARE ALONE. She discovered him when watching TV one night, ONE TREE HILL to be specific, and a Ryan song came on. She knew me well enough to know how I’d react to that sandpaper and honey voice.

I bought every record, and yes, eventually used Matt’s songs in not only YOU ARE ALONE, but also in FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) and in my latest film BROKEN SIDE OF TIME (for which he wrote the theme song). But my discovery of his music came mid-career. The infectious rockers of earlier albums like MAYDAY had been replaced with haunting introspection. The songs were depressed and lonely, perfect for the films I was making. And albums like FROM A LATE NIGHT HIGH RISE felt like a glass of good Scotch going down. His music was a drinking buddy. It was a Matt Ryan song Sinatra was really talking about when he sang “It’s a quarter to three…”

MR Boxers cover FINAL copy

Then earlier this year Matt sent me an early mix of his new album BOXERS. The songs were like nothing I had heard from him before. Anthems, rollicking and rambunctious. Songs that would not leave your head for days. It was as if an invisible beast had sudden been awoken. And the man who could so easily break your heart with one piercing line, could now rock your very soul.

But I didn’t want to talk about the album then. Why, if no one could buy it. So I kept it on the back burner for many months. Hell, I even directed a music video for the title track.

And then I received the final mastered version of the album a few weeks back, and the record that had secretly been on my list of the best albums of 2014 was even better. The tracks has been re-sequenced, and somehow that made them all the more powerful. Like chapters in a book, telling a tale of greater scope and vision.

And what exactly is that story? It’s Matt Ryan saying “I’m still here. And I’m not giving up.” The title track “Boxers” makes that abundantly clear. A soaring rocker about having your back against ropes. “How do you say goodbye/To a dream that just won’t die,” he sings, adding later, “All our heroes had no choice/Some busted chords and a broken voice.” And those heroes make their presence felt in every corner of the album’s eleven track boxing ring. Matt’s well documented love of The Replacements and The Clash especially can be heard in songs like “Suffer No More,” which would have been one of the best songs on “All Shook Down” had Westerberg in fact penned it, or the brilliant “An Anthem for the Broken” which had to be written with the ghost of Joe Strummer watching over Matt’s shoulders. These are the sort of songs that a lesser musician would build an album around. But the problem here, if you can call it that, it that there’s too much greatest to go around.

“Then She Threw Me Like a Hand Grenade” with its chorus of “You might feel lonely but you’re not alone” is presented twice on the record. And though it harkens back to the Matt Ryan songs I first fell in love with, there’s hope in this world view. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Until you arrive at the demo version of the song which is included as one of two bonus tracks. There, Matt’s voice, bruised and vulnerable, drives us to despair. I actually don’t know which version of the song I like best. They are different animals. One runs free through open fields no longer being preyed upon. The other hides in darkness waiting to fight back. Both are beautiful.

But the masterpiece on “Boxers” is “God’s Not Here Tonight.” This to me is the song Matt Ryan was born to write. It’s the anthem for life in American in 2014, a commentary on those in power, those who feed us the news. On one hand its title is the headline the New York Times secretly screams every day, and on the other its refrain of “I don’t care what you wanted/I don’t care if you’re scared” is the mantra of seemingly every elected official. It’s a song that hooks itself into your psyche, his “Bastards of Young.” It’s a song that ranks as one of the best recorded by anyone this year.

With guitars blaring, this record sounds alive, as if Matt Ryan himself is the boxer up against the ropes. He’s not ready to give up on that dream. In fact he just landed an upper cut to the jaw to pretty much every other rock band around. “Boxers” is that sort of a knockout.

Phoebe (2/14/2002 – 10/11/2014)

The last 18 months living with our eldest dog Phoebe have not been easy. Watching a dog you love suffer.  And yet not being able to really do anything about it. Not being able to just ask her how she feels.  The last two months harder still. But today was the hardest of all.

She came to us in April 2002. Just four weeks old she had been dropped off at the local animal hospital. She had been abused. We met her and though we had two other large dogs at the time, Casey and Kilgore, we thought about it, and decided we would give her a home. But before we could pick her up, another family said they wanted her. We stepped back thinking she’d found a perfect home. But then a week later she was returned to the hospital, again abused. We picked her up that day.

It was April 1st, 2002. And though we didn’t really know know what her birthday was, we decided it would be Valentine’s Day.

A photo that was shown to us of Phoebe before we even met her.
A photo that was shown to us of Phoebe before we even met her.

Kris came up with her name.  I actually wanted to call her Winona Ryder.  (No joke.)

My favorite memory of Phoebe was of course when she misbehaved.  I had been in LA shooting a film and was home for a few days.  All I wanted was some amazing New Haven brick oven apizza.  We sat down to dinner.  Because we eat so late, we almost always do so sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table and TV.  I had my first four slices on my plate.  I ran back to the fridge for a beer, but when I returned only three places sat on my plate.  Casey and Kilgore looked mortified.  Despite the food being right at their level, they knew better.  But there was Phoebe munching down that piece of pie.  She was young.  She hadn’t learned the rules yet.

She’d always been our difficult dog. Moody, often times bitchy, and certainly neurotic, she was also loving, loyal, and, well, our 75 pound lap dog. She was the best blanket in the world on a cold New England night. And damn if she didn’t love having those floppy ears scratched.

Casey certainly loved her as if she were her own pup. They would have epic races in the yard as to which of them could get to the tennis ball or frisbee in our back yard first. Casey would usually win, sometimes I think towards the end it was because Phoebe let her. Kilgore would rarely partake. If he did if was usually to snatch the toy away, go lie under a tree, and chew it to pieces.

I will always remember the night Casey died in March of 2006. Kilgore was barking his head off at 3 in the morning. I came downstairs to find Phoebe cowering under the table, and Kilgore running to me, then running into the living room, and back again. He brought me to Casey, who had passed without warning.

I know they both missed Casey in their own way, but Phoebe especially turned into a loner dog. Kilgore didn’t have much patience, and by this time he was a grumpy old man. And when his turn came in October 2008, I honestly think Phoebe truly enjoyed her life most for a few months there as an only dog.

Always my favorite photo of Phoebe.  Feel it really captures her personality.
Always my favorite photo of Phoebe. Feel it really captures her personality.

Then we brought Springsteen home, and the epic races for the tennis ball started up again, and once again the younger dog would let the older dog win.

Phoebe was definitely a people dog. Not all that fond of other animals, she just wanted attention. She just wanted a treat. She just wanted to play ball. She was a lab/hound mix, gangly and beautiful.

Springsteen (front) and Phoebe
Springsteen (front) and Phoebe

In recent months, though she could barely walk, she’d still bring you a tennis ball out in the yard and drop it right at your feet. I would always toss it lightly. And despite her trouble in retrieving it, she’d bring it right back and wait for me to toss it again. The joy she received from playing ball outweighed any pain she might have been feeling.

I even played ball with her out in the rain this morning.  One last time.  Though after bringing the ball back to me twice, she gave up.  The pain was finally winning out.

I hope she can chase balls for eternity on the other side. With Casey once again running by her side. And hopefully Kilgore will wait a bit, enjoying the reunion, until he snatches away the ball and chews it to bits.

I hope we came through for her and gave her the life she deserved.

I hope she’s not suffering anymore.

R.I.P. Phoebe.

Phoebe earlier today.  (It has already been a very long morning.)
Phoebe earlier today. (It has already been a very long morning.)