The History of The Next Step, Part V: Honesty & Happiness

May 24th, 2023

At the start of Love & Fear, I apologize for falling asleep; at the beginning of Honesty & Happiness, I (unapologetically) crack open a cold beer (literally) and proceed to black and then pass the f— out.

Honesty & Happiness is the angriest, sharpest, and saddest Next Step record, and it took me ten years to realize it was all a love/suicide letter to my addictive personality.

Every song.

Take this lyric from The Breakup Breakdown:

“In the spirit of irony
I’m helping you get over me
You’re just mourning a memory
And I’m just your 12 steps”

This was written by a man who staring down the barrel of addiction and had no idea how to get out of its (or his own) way.

Honesty & Happiness, both the album and the title track, are about those ideas as opposites. You can be honest, or you can be happy, but you can’t be both.

The delicious irony of that is not lost on me now; I didn’t realize that honesty was the actual key to happiness. I have never been more honest or happy than I am now, and my dishonesty had kept me locked up in the deepest, darkest place, the same place where I wrote these songs.

I’ve written about some of these songs at length in other essays, especially the centerpiece of the album, Second Drink. (The title itself is a delightful joke; in an episode of The Office, Pam jokes that once the ice melts in her margarita, it’s “like second drink.”)

This is a Next Step record unlike the others, in that it’s on the offensive, attacking everything and everyone, especially itself.

We had been playing live shows for years now, and there are two very different sides of that coin.

On one side, I love performing and I have some amazing memories from those nights. At the Hexagon alone: I once did a choreographed dance (with two adult toys), I once got (rightfully) kicked out (for being a total jerk), and I once ran into a guy (who lost his mind upon seeing us).

He was watching us play and thought, “That guy looks a lot like me.” Turns out, he was my cousin, Eli, and he got a big kick out of randomly finding me playing at his local watering hole.

We made friends and played with so many rad people. That side of music was fun, connective, life-affirming — it was playful.

The other side? Have you ever had a friend or a co-worker who talks a lot of shit about everyone, and you get the sinking feeling that they talk about you the same way when you’re not around?

There are people like that in music, too, and we met our share.

Look, music is competitive. It’s full of egos and wildly different personalities and addicts just like me. I write about that scene here, especially in The Shroeder House, a three-song, punk-rock declaration of hypocrisy.

Some people truly thrive in that environment. Me? I started to wither.

Honesty & Happiness was the last Next Step album. I never recorded Life & Death, the planned third album of the Streetlight Diaries trilogy. The last track, Return To Sender, offers a taste of what could have been: all the guitar parts were written by Tony, which I arranged and turned into a song. Support and collaboration were on the table, but the legs themselves weren’t stable.

We — and I use the term “we” as loosely as the word can be used, as The Next Step had only one consistent member, and he was a loose bundle of nerves himself — started to play less and less, until we stopped playing completely.

I continued under the name at least through 2015; I also played a small gig last Saturday afternoon in Lakeville, so technically, where there’s a spark, a speaker, and me, The Next Step will always exist.

The next part is the last part, and I’ll talk about what could have been, what never was, and what still could be, plus what The Next Step means to me.

Which is a whole heck of a lot.


Published by dennisvogen

I'm me, of course. Or am I?

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