In 2015, Ed Plunkett experienced grief and loss on a level that sent him reeling, navigating the deaths of two friends and three relatives in less than a calendar year.
Beginning in childhood, Plunkett said he would often find solace in music, cranking the volume on the radio as a way to mute the outside noise. And in the wake of these stinging losses, the longtime poet decided it was finally time to make a racket of his own, investing a fraction of the inheritance left to him by his late aunt in his first electric guitar.
“We were very close, and she was my gatekeeper on a lot of things culturally,” Plunkett said of his aunt, who worked in the record industry and is responsible for introducing him to a number of the artists who make up his music collection. “So, I went out and bought an expensive electric guitar. And then I started to take some lessons, and I started to learn some chords. … And I think it’s rooted in trying to find some hope in music, as so many of us do. There’s joy in there, and happiness. And then there are sad songs and trying to find some sense of connection in [the music].”
Gradually, these chords began to take shape in a series of covers, with Plunkett leaning into the 1960s musicians who had proved foundational, including the Beatles, the Kinks and Lou Reed, among others. When Plunkett posted one of these raw, guitar-and-vocals covers online, friend Chris Turano surprised him by returning it as a more raucous, full-band affair.
“I posted one song on YouTube, ‘Still in Love with You,’ and a couple weeks later … he sends me a link, like, ‘I hope you don’t mind but I put a band behind this,’” said Plunkett, adding that the two continued to work this way for a stretch under the name the Jangle Brothers, owing to the style of rock ‘n’ roll favored by the pair.
When life began to pull Torano away from the project, Plunkett opted to strike out under a new name, Authority Control, at which point he also started to mix original tunes in with the covers, a number of which he adapted from earlier poems he had written. For a handful of years beginning in 2019, Authority Control existed in this way as an occasional lark – a project to which Plunkett could escape when life began to feel insurmountable. In those moments, Plunkett could duck into the basement of his Westgate home, pick up a guitar, and allow these frustrations to steadily dissipate in the rhythm.
Many of these tensions, Plunkett said, arose from the challenges that come with raising an autistic son – particularly amid an ongoing pandemic that has obliterated a needed sense of routine and added layers of complexity to a bureaucratic system that created a damning series of hurdles even under the best of circumstances. “He turned 18 during the pandemic, so I had to get all of that paperwork in for him, which was just so much, and is still a lot. … And then schooling just disappeared, and online learning was not for him,” Plunkett said.
Then, in May 2023, Plunkett’s son nearly died after his appendix went gangrenous and he fell into septic shock, with Plunkett describing how his son's nose and lips turned blue as he held him in his lap. In the hospital, the younger spent two touch-and-go days on a ventilator, and then weeks more in recovery – a series of traumas from which the family is in many ways still recovering. “So, it’s been a year, oh my God,” said Plunkett, speaking via Zoom from the basement of his home in late December. “And as we were dealing with all of that, I would just come down here and make a racket.”
As he had when he first picked up the guitar in 2016, Plunkett leaned into music as a means of navigating these accumulated hurts, writing the songs that form the crux of the new Authority Control album, It’s Bigger Than Me, out digitally on Jan. 19.
Even a glimpse of the track listing hints at the devastation within: “Emotional Trash,” “Trauma’s Stench,” “Death Reveal Party.” Meanwhile, the title track finds Plunkett directly addressing the landmine-pocked landscape that goes hand-in-hand with raising a child with autism, where routine can give sudden way to unpredictable thunderclaps. “We are a broken family/Beaten into exhaustion,” Plunkett sings on “Bigger Than Me.” “Our lives stolen/When the demon appears.”
“My son’s condition has taken a lot out of all of us,” said Plunkett, who, upon stepping back from the record, was initially struck by how often he returned to the word “empty” in the music. “It’s in several songs, and it was just like, whoa. And it really puts the last few years in perspective. … The record was born of grief, loss, catharsis. There’s a little bit of everything in there.”
A poet by trade, Plunkett said he’s been more drawn to music in recent years because the craft allowed him to abandon language, at times, with guitar riffs stepping in to express anger and frustration in a way that words couldn’t capture with the same emotional accuracy. At the same time, he said the music introduced a sense of immediacy that could sometimes be missing from the page. “One reason I’m not writing a lot of poetry anymore is because you labor over it too much – every word, every phrase,” Plunkett said. “If you mess up a word, it’s like, I gotta go back. But if you mess up a chord, it’s like, eh, whatever. … It’s catharsis.”
Recording It’s Bigger Than Me hasn’t completely set Plunkett’s mind at ease. “We’re trying to find [my son] housing because we’re not going to live forever, and that’s something that’s been keeping me up at night: What happens to him?” he said.
At the same time, the musician allowed that the process of making the album has served as a needed balm. “Healing is one word, and then accomplishment is another I’d like to use, like, I did this,” he said. “There’s a lot of space down here to make noise, to be creative, to hang up art. This really has been a place that's helped center me. ... And now that [the album] is out there and done, let's just move forward and not look too far back.”