3 on Thursday – 12/22/22

Read time: 4.5 min

Today’s newsletter is sponsored by AE logo t-shirts. The comfiest tees you’ll ever wear while simultaneously supporting independent music.

And by Court Report watercolor prints. A lovely reminder not to break the law Up North or your name will be printed for everyone to read.

I hope you’ve been having a good week. Here’s this week’s 3 on Thursday, where I

  1. answer a FAQ “How’s your hand? Can you play guitar again?
  2. share a story I made up about the how I think the Court Report became a section of the newspaper, and
  3. talk to my fellow songwriters about avoiding the awkward cowriting start.

All right, here we go…


“How is your hand? Can you play guitar again?” – FAQ

Thanks for the concern, folks.

After breaking my fingers in June, having surgery, physical therapy for 8 weeks, and daily hand exercises, I can tell you my left hand is about 85 percent (strength and mobility).

I’ll be honest, I took for granted how much we guitar players curve our fingers to form chords.

Ever heard of the Distal palmar line? My hand therapist taught me about it. It’s the top prominent line of your palm.

Most people (me, too, pre-accident) can curve their fingers to that first line to form a tight hook.

I can now curl mine to just below the Proximal palmar, the crease just below the top the distal palmar.

What does this mean for me as a guitar player?

Well, thankfully, I can play guitar again. It’s a little bit stiff, but getting better. I notice the injury most when I’m in the key of D. Because in the key of D you have to curve your fingers quite a bit to form the chords.

All in all, I’m really thankful. My goal was to be playing guitar again by November, and I think I started close to the middle of October.

Thanks for asking. And, take it from me, be careful on rope swings!


P.S. Here’s a pic of my last x-ray. Aaron “the bionic” Espe!


(This artwork is for sale here.)

About “Court Report” (Track 2 of Up North)

The court report is a section of a small-town newspaper in the upper Midwest, in which all the weekly misdemeanors are printed. It takes up a half-page. The format includes the name of the person, their offense, how they pled, and the fine.

For example, John MadeUpName pled guilty to speeding and was fined $125.  Jane MadeUpName pled guilty to no seat belt and was fined $110.

Now, you might be thinking, “Wait, they really print that?” The short answer is yes.

The longer answer requires you to step into the shoes of a small-town newspaper owner (let’s call him Harold) and listen to this story I’m about to make up.

A long, long time ago, one overcast and wintery day, Harold, the owner of Small Town Times newspaper, called his staff into his office. Among them was Lillian, a young and bright reporter fresh out of high school. Ed, the typesetter and delivery driver who had been with the paper since before Christ. And the janitor, Carl.

After everyone had gathered around the wooden desk in his small office, Harold began.

“We’re struggling, folks. If we can’t find a way to sell more papers, we’re all going to have to go back to farming.”

It goes without saying that no one was going to return to the fields they swore they’d never return to. No one wanted their father to be proven right. That all this journalism nonsense was for the birds.

So instead, something magical happened that afternoon in Harold’s office. This small newspaper staff of four had one of the most productive brainstorming sessions in the history of the business.

It started with Lillian who said, “Ever notice how people die all the time?”

Everyone nodded, but they didn’t see the point in trying to sell newspapers to the deceased.

“No, you dumb-dumbs!” Lillian joked affectionately. “We would sell to their relatives. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read about the life of a loved one after they’ve passed?”

And she went on to describe a section of the newspaper that would eventually be called “Obituaries,” a section even the New York Times soon emulated.

Ed, the typesetter and delivery driver chimed in next.

“What about printing pictures of A-Honor-Roll students?”

His colleagues nodded in solidarity. The problem was that it would only account for the smartest kids’ parents and grandparents buying newspapers.

“Heck, why not B-Honor-Roll students, too?” Harold replied, lighting a cigar.

(Since that day, countless slightly-above-average students have had the pleasure of seeing their slightly-above-average faces in the newspaper from time to time. For which the author of this made up story is truly grateful.)

But it was Carl the janitor who surprised everyone next. You see, Carl had recently been ticketed for speeding. While at the court house paying his fine, he noticed a list of names displayed on the wall by the water cooler. Among them was his own. The name of the list? “Court Report.”

Carl, miffed about being exposed (but tickled by some of the other names he read) asked the clerk why the court report was displayed for everyone to see. The clerk said matter of factly that the information was public record. Then she leaned in and whispered, “It provides some real juicy conversation down in the breakroom.”

Back at the staff meeting, Carl, leaning his chin on the handle of his industrial broom said, “I think we should print the court report in the newspaper.”

“No, no,” said Harold. “Let’s not stoop so low. We’re journalists, for crying out loud.”

But after much discussion everyone agreed that not only would it be an entertaining section to read for the townspeople, there was a  chance it would promote better behavior through accountability. It might even deter crime.

The next week they printed the court report and newspaper sales increased only by 2 percent. The team, somewhat depressed,  began to think of what they would tell their fathers as they returned to the farms they had sworn off.

But Harold told them to be patient.

Sure enough, the following week saw a 15 percent increase in sales. By the following month word had spread, and Small Town Times had trouble keeping up with demand. Sales had increased by 132 percent with no sign of slowing down.

To this day, thanks to this humble staff and its historic brainstorming session, the court report remains a tenet of small-town newspapers across the upper Midwest. Not only does it help sell more newspapers, it helps deter crime and employ many, not to mention some of the finest journalists who have gone on to become folks like Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, and Barbara Walters.

Probably. Well, maybe. I don’t have time to fact-check any of this made up story.



On Songwriting: Avoiding the Awkward Cowriting Start

Cowriting is a strange activity if you’ve never done it before. Especially with someone new. But here’s one way that helps me ease into the write without it feeling too awkward.

As you’re getting to know each other, keep track of words and phrases that stick out. Keep track of interesting topics. You don’t have to write it down, but just be aware.

After you’ve been chatting for a bit, rather than saying, “Ok, what should we write about?” you can mention the things you’ve been keeping track of. Words, phrases, interesting paradoxes.

Why do this? It’s less jarring and more natural. And it makes everything you’ve talked about so far a part of the cowrite. It’s like the conversation was the onramp, and now you can easily merge onto the highway. It’ll save you time and headspace.

The other day I was in a session. My cowriter and his wife had just had their first baby. We were talking about his new life of being a dad. After all the pleasantries, what do you think we naturally wrote? A heavy metal banger? No, a lullaby.

Start your cowriting session from the minute you say, “Hi, nice to meet you.” It’ll lead you to a natural collaboration, and help you avoid awkward stops and starts.

Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to reach out to me for any reason. You can reply to this email and it goes straight to me.


P.S. Wait, you haven’t listened to the new album yet? Listen here and let me know if you have any favorites.