Making The Man

“For years, for me it was that cycle: put out a new record, tour, write more songs; put out a new record, tour to promote the record.” The voice from the kitchen radio was talking about my life. Almost - I pulled up a dish sponge, a couple of pots and pans and settled in to listen. “Nowadays I just don’t write anywhere near as much.” He had my ear.

“And now, how does it work?” Good old Joe Donahue, the arts interviewer on our local public radio station. Joe has the warmest voice, asks the simple but probing questions. 

“The thing is, I’m just in a really good place right now - I mean, I don’t have to work. Music’s been good to me, very good to me.  I never have to work again.”

Okay, now I was hooked and dying to know - who was this super-successful guy? He sounded like somebody I almost knew.

“I get down to Nashville to write if somebody, Keith Urban or whoever, calls me up. I admit I got a little burnt out being on the road.” He continued: “…but now I just do it to be with the fans.”

 I waited for it, that emotional hit that comes around this point in every Joe Donahue interview. Scrub, scrub. “I owe them…everything really. If it wasn’t for them buying the records, coming to the shows and singing along to every word…” I spun through the rolodex of my mind but he wasn’t giving me anything specific to go by. It was as if a computer was generating the answers from a bank of every music interview ever.

How did it come about, this latest solo tour you’re doing? Joe asked.

“Funny story - see, it was my manager. Now he’s from New Orleans (finally, a specific! Still, music managers from New Orleans is a subcategory in itself), so he has that down-home kind of attitude. I was feeling burnt out, hey - I’ve been on the road since the 80s (now we were getting somewhere, he was a hard-working journeyman who’d gotten lucky ) - and he said why don’t you try a solo acoustic thing? And I said “well how’s that going to work? No one will want to see that!” and he says, in that drawl of his, “What, you ain’t talented enough?” So yeah, the gauntlet had been thrown down and we just decided look, we’ll try a weekend, somewhere - Florida (Florida? There was a curve ball. Well I knew it wasn’t Jimmy Buffett or Tom Petty speaking…Florida, Florida…”Making The Band”, Lou Perlman and that sub-Backstreet group? was all I could come up with) , and if it didn’t work, fine, who’d know? And here I am, going back out again to play solo cause - I love it. It’s just me and a guitar and whatever I want to do, like if we were all just sitting around in my living room.”

I could hear Joe nod thoughtfully through the radio. “So what can we expect to see this weekend at the Colonial Theater?” (My hands were wet or I’d have grabbed my phone to look it up — anyway, I was having too much fun playing guess the beloved, confident but self-effacing 80’s and beyond hitmaker.)

I had scrubbed everything in sight. The hitmaker reeled off a list of song titles I didn't recognize that he promised Joe were bound to generate mass singalongs. The kitchen was clean and I was none the wiser about…anything really. Maybe a vague realization that I’d spent the 80s listening to the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60s?

I waited a good four hours to search events at the Colonial Theater. I just felt closer to him wondering who he was.

Another Year

I had a busy week around my birthday. Knowing we had a house concert coming up, in our own house, added a feeling of pressure to the proceedings. Not that pressure is bad - it means you’re alive and doing things which is good to remember at the start of another year. I started the week sitting in a local sports bar at 9 AM with a group of other bartenders from Hudson, taking a required course in serving alcohol. The instructor showed us videos of out-of-work actors pretending to be wasted in bars with names like Mangos and Banana Joes. It turns out we are responsible should a person drink too much under our charge! If they commit a crime or harm someone else or themselves, we could find ourselves in court. I resolved to check more IDs and that resolve made me go ahead and schedule an eye appointment because with my worsening eyesight I can barely read the tiny birthdate with my old glasses and every state has a different layout on their license. I also learned (courtesy of the instructor, a sassy older lady from Saranac Lake who was speaking from personal experience) that should you pull over to the side of the road to sleep it off for a while, take your keys out of the ignition, or you could still be accused of operating a vehicle under the influence. Use it, for free.

Next I ran home to do one final check of the Toyota before the Cartalk Vehicle Donation program came to haul it away. I’m so glad I checked the CD player one last time, because one of my favorite ABBA albums was in there, The Visitors. Then I watched through the window as a man loaded our old baby on the back of a truck. I still feel a little wistful when I look out and it isn't there in the drive, though I'm loving the Subaru and having a car where everything works.

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I worked late at the bookstore/bar Monday, practicing my training tips and being thankful I work in such a benign place and not at Mangos of Maryland.

Early Tuesday I caught the train to the city. I was looking forward to seeing the snow as we’d had not one flake upstate - weird. I’d booked an eye exam at Warby Parker, desperate to get away from the clutches of Lenscrafters who seem to be the only option up around where we live. They were super-sweet and helpful with none of that “and you can upgrade to this reflection-free coating for another hundred dollars” up-selling that confuses me.

I met my daughter for lunch, she picked the place which was a relief, I never know where to eat in the city anymore and so end up at one of the places I’ve been to dozens of times already. It was Saam on Second Avenue and really good. The sun was out and we walked through narrow troughs  between the snow, down around Washington Square park, just talking about stuff - it was great. The volume of people on the streets was way down thanks to the snow maybe, and it was that old magic feeling where the city belongs to you and you alone, not NYU.

My friend Norma found us at a coffee place and Hazel went off to work while Norma and I headed to the Strand. Yes, on my days off from the bookstore I inevitably end up in - another bookstore. The book energy is so high in the Strand, it makes me high. I walked out of there with possibly the worst book in the store, but it was the kind of inspiration I need, like if this mess can end up printed and bound and sold (albeit at a way reduced price), I can finish my book too.

We stopped for a pedicure at my favorite place on 14th Street, Beauty & Cutie, and then propped up the bar in Northern Spy where Hazel works while she poured us drinks and served us lovely small plates. It was a really quiet night in the East Village. Norma and I had hoped to go see Carol but we were having too much fun.

The day of my birthday I worked and I admit I checked Facebook a few times, it was really touching to read all the birthday wishes and I felt lucky to have so many pals out in the real and virtual world. Eric took me to eat at a nice place in Red Hook and then we went to BSP in Kingston to hear Duke McVnnie play. He has Jane Scarpantoni on cello and she’s one of the greats - not in a “look at how talented I am” way (though she is) but in a mad, go for broke sense that I wish I saw more often. Brian Dewan opened - he was my neighbor back in old Williamsburg and we hang out with him a lot but I’m always stunned to hear him sing and play, he’s so good.

The rest of the week was devoted to getting ready for our house show - hanging up fabric and moving chairs and rehearsing together. After years of playing many shows as a duo, we actually had to work at remembering how our old stuff goes, and learn each other’s new songs. I hate to focus on “getting old” but eyesight and memory are the kickers. In days past I could do something once in a song and go yeah, yeah, I’ll remember how that goes but now I need to write things down and not just a vague mark on a page but actual detailed notes. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been playing as much this past year or two, though that’s changing as I book more solo shows. Use it or lose it - though it’s helpful to remember what it is and why it’s worth holding on to…I think I’ve spent the last two years doing just that. Getting philosophical here but hell, it’s my birthday.

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The house concert was a blast. We were almost ready when the guests started arriving, which is a change from other Aeroplanes. We had the help of Norma, up from the city (and Canada as she stood up and proudly declared in the middle of the concert!) and Danette who dresses as an air hostess and greets everyone. I’d bought a dress at the same vintage store in Hudson where I found the Penthouse Gallery frock that caused me such torment back in September (I still haven't worn that one in public and may turn it into curtains); I thought I was going to have a similar meltdown and end up wearing jeans and a shirt but I was brave and wore it. We played a lot from Eric’s new album and some new songs from my album in the works. There was food (too much) and drink (just enough) and it felt like everyone had a good night.

We get to do the whole thing again in a few days. I think we’d better rehearse one more time because it will have been a week and now that I’m getting older, I don’t take anything for granted.

12604685_10208486065448628_2795043626092619566_oI'm pretty sure this photo from the Homemade Aeroplane is by Mark Lerner

It's Just Lunch

They say meeting for coffee is a good way to check somebody out, decide if you’ve got a future together so we started with that. It didn’t go so great. First impressions told me you weren’t really my style, a little prissy, old-fashioned even, but you’d obviously taken great care with your appearance, spent a lot of time getting ready, so I felt I owed you a fair shot.

Things were stilted. Painfully awkward. And your taste in music - gah. I figured we’d just leave it at the once.

But it’s a small town here, and the talent pool is shallow. I passed you on Main Street a few times, wondered how things were going. Somebody I know mentioned you the other day, talked about how great you were.  I thought maybe it was worth one more try. I checked and you were open to it. So, lunch.

We didn’t even get to the main course and I knew this wasn’t happening. My mind was open, your intentions were good but, I couldn’t find anything to like. In fact, my indifference from the first date was turning to downright irritation.  Why couldn’t you just be - what I want? Better. Brighter, hipper, not having to try so hard?

I know I’m no more important to you than the next guy, but we could’ve been a thing. I could be so good for you - loyal, generous. I would’ve been proud to tell the whole world what I’d found with you.

I need something in my life, I admit it. Not some fantasy deal - I don't want that kind of pressure. No airs and graces, just a go-to, day-in-day-out relationship.

And comfortable enough to take a break when we need it. There’s others over the river, fancy city types even. But I wanted to keep it local, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do these days?

Well, screw it, I tried. But frankly, you suck. I know you hardly know me, and you seem to be doing fine without me in your life. But this is it - you won’t see me again.

Local cafe, I’m breaking up with you.

Adios Amigo

When you came into my life, I was a little past my prime, but I guess the same could be said about you. Lots of miles: 155,000 in your case. Toyota Sienna: I never thought I’d grow so fond of you, but I’ve had this thing for minivans. You weren’t much to look at, and filthy. The previous owner let you go cheap because he didn’t have time to make you presentable. “It just needs a thorough cleaning,” he said. His kids were off to college, and we found a petrified diaper under one of your seats. Fifteen years’ worth of empty sunscreen tubes; beach passes, fake nails; teeth whitening strips. There was even a mouse infestation. But an afternoon with a vacuum and a bucket of Lysol and you were ours.

The miles added up, and winters took their toll. Gigs, get-togethers, dump runs. One rear door handle snapped off in the cold, then another. The driver side door lock didn’t work, the passenger door wouldn’t open from the outside. Eric and I devised a routine we called “hutching”, a low-grade cop maneuver - toss of the keys, one handed catch, but you weren’t allowed to look at each other. Like Starsky & Hutch. It beat feeling irritated about the doors. We made allowances for our Toyota. That’s what you do with family.

Passing vehicle inspection every year’s been a trial, but we knew a guy named Al…Some miracle of Japanese engineering kept you running when lack of money and credit dictated it was you or a couple of bikes and for that I’ll be forever grateful.

I don’t know when I began avoiding you. Probably around the time you started roaring like a jet. With the windows closed, the fumes made me sick. The noise through the one window I was able to get down meant I couldn’t hear myself think. The mechanic said you needed a new catalytic convertor and, given the 266,000 miles on your odometer,  recommended putting the one grand a repair would cost towards a new car. I let the water bottles pile up on your floor and never filled the gas tank more than half.

The other night when the temperature dropped to the single digits, I wanted to stop and offer a friend a ride. She was picking her way down the sidewalk on the passenger side. I couldn't honk the horn, couldn't roll the window down to shout at her. I knew it was time to let the van go.

But how to replace you, buddy? You have a CD AND cassette player! There’s no selling you, except maybe for scrap. When I finally drop you at the junkyard, the sun reflecting off the duct tape that holds a corner of your windshield in place, you’ll look like trash to the rest of the world, but I’ll know you’re royalty - a 2000 Toyota Sienna - and we won’t see your like again.

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So farewell old frie- wait, there’s a 2002 Subaru Forester up for grabs? And the Subaru has everything done; all wheel drive, heated leather seats, plus a moonroof? What, do I look like some upstate New York cliche?

Let me just get the plates off this old van…

Toyota mini-who?

That's My Boy

“I love you darling, but I won’t sell your merch.” These were the words in my head before watching Eric play his Brighton show, the first one out of his many dates in Europe and the UK and even the US that I got to see last month.

In my mind I’m a haughty bitch, six feet tall in a fur coat with a car and driver waiting outside the venue.

In reality I can’t help it - I’m still an eager fan, thrilling to the sight of a guy I see every day: sipping espresso, fixing stuff around the house, reading in bed or even working out next to me on a treadmill at the gym. He’s the one I tell “hey slow down, it’s a thirty mph zone, not seventy” and “Look at this new Adam Sandler movie I got out of the Red Box!”

It was eleven years ago that Yo La Tengo had The Shams, my old girl group, play one of their Hanukah shows at Maxwell’s in Hoboken and the extra special guest that night was Wreckless Eric. Even though I’d met him five years before in Hull and thrilled to his early Stiff records, I’d never actually seen him perform before. He sang some of his songs plus Paul Simon’s America and I thought he was one of the greatest performers I’d ever seen, and have always kicked myself that I didn’t go see him at those famous Bottom Line shows back in the day - I saw nearly every show back then.

He was so great in Hoboken I went the next night to the Lakeside Lounge to see him play a solo set - that’s the part in “Do You Remember That” where I pushed in through the crowd and he was turning his amp up loud. We were both in complicated situations at that time and that was that. The next year we weren’t and we’ve been together ever since and hardly performed solo since - it just went that way, “let’s form a group!” and “we’ll move to France together and play covers in bars!” and “maybe we should make a record” and on and on.

“Will you be getting up there with him?” I knew there’d be those questions if I was standing around in clubs or towns where he and I have performed together for almost a decade now. It’s touching that fans who were suspicious of me back when “who’s she and what’s she doing here?” now consider me part of the picture and vice versa with my fans and Eric. We’ve worked our way up from curiosity, WTF to institution!

And there are no rules (thank God) for how to handle these things when it’s time to go solo. How sad to have missed hundreds of special nights playing together because it would be too awkward to figure out not playing together. So we blunder through and do what we want. No, darling I won’t trek all the way up to Scarborough with you. No darling, I won’t sell your merch.

brighton soundcheck

He played and I had tears in my eyes for most of the show. I couldn’t help it, when it was time for Whole Wide World, I pumped my fist and shouted along with the rest of the crowd. I felt proud, I felt humbled to be a part of his world. I hoped I’d get to come back and play Brighton myself but that was for worrying about another day. I stood with friends I’d made from playing here and we were in the presence of a legend and the gig was awesome, as were the other two I saw on this tour.

As he was finishing up, I saw the box of records and CDs just sitting there on the table by the exit - what? Nobody set up the merch? Oh hell.

“Get your LPs and CD’s right here! That’s right mate, fifteen pounds. Take two, there you go.” He’d do the same for me.

Amy Rigby solo house concert   Peacedale Rhode Island        Fri January 8

Homemade Aeroplane   Catskill, NY (Eric & Amy ride again!)  Sat January 30

w/Schoemer Formation  Brooklyn, NY      Barbes      Sat February 6

Rock Wife

I’m back home after two weeks traveling in England and that brief trip to Norway. It was an odd journey for me because I wasn’t working and so it felt indulgent ,but there had been no question - I had to see Eric play in London for his new album. I found myself wanting to apologize - “no, honestly it’s not really a vacation vacation, I mean England in December? A vacation would be Mexico!” And it wasn’t duty or obligation but a celebration, like if your best friend or brother was getting married, or your child just had a child, you’d have to be there. My husband, my partner, releasing his first solo album in over a decade. In the voice of that little kid on the old Shake n Bake commercial “And ah helped!” Not even that much in a musical way though I did a little but in being there like a partner does.

rock wives

So it was odd to be a person without a guitar traveling on a plane to London. I found myself wondering: “who am !?” Simple really. A person going to London.

I think I have this feeling when I am traveling with a guitar of being outside the flow of humanity. The awkward black appendage that is clearly not a crossbow or a fishing rod or a set of skis(and these days nobody makes that old “let me guess, it’s a machine gun” joke) I’m set apart, awkwardly declaring my purpose for taking up my space on earth, like a laborer pushing a wheelbarrow, head down. And the gig, the gig is the destination. It felt like a luxury but a little unfamiliar to just be on the way somewhere and then somewhere else, with the comfort of people I love waiting for me along the way.

My first stop was Thanksgiving dinner at my brother Riley and sister in law Natalie’s place in Greenpoint. I walked from the L train and it was so easy, just me and a rolling suitcase, enjoying the sight of roses in November. Even Patti Smith showed up on Amtrak to bid me a bon voyage. I'm still carrying the feeling of her solo voyaging with me from reading M Train on my last trip.

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On the flight there was this brilliant movie, 45 Years, with Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. Now something about that one little bottle of wine and the altitude makes any in-flight film the best movie I’ve ever seen in my life but this one really took my breath away. Must see it again.

I got through immigration so much quicker than usual with my honest, heartfelt declaration “Just visiting family and friends!” London Liverpool Street on a Friday afternoon was lively, people spilling out of pubs on the street corners. I sat at the counter in Ottolenghi, the fabled restaurant I’ve longed to try, and soaked up the conversation of two blond mums on my left (“Alcohol affects me differently than it does other people, for example - if I had to work tomorrow, I would definitely not be drinking right now” as the bartender topped up their glasses of Sancerre for the third time). The food was good not great but I loved the experience. Out in Spitalfields I discovered this brilliant shop called Tiger, like a Dollar Tree of Scandinavian design and caught a train up to Norwich, where I got a lift to North Norfolk and spent a perfect country weekend with our friends Peter, Karen and Daisy capped off by my new favorite TV show “Britain’s Best Landscape Painter” competition. Every show I watch for more than fifteen minutes in England is always my new favorite show.

fresh coffee

Journeyed down to Brighton and then Shoreham by train to visit Dorothy, Eric’s mum. We had a nice time chatting, I wish she could get out like she used to but she still has a great quick mind like her son. Then I strolled down to the houseboats, they're getting fancier as alternative small shelters become more and more stylish. I can never get a decent photo, for fear I'll violate some personal privacy protocol even though people in the UK live surrounded by security cameras.

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Traversed the Sussex coast by train to visit Eric’s daughter and partner and Eric’s grandkids near Rye. We watched Master Chef (my next new favorite) and five year old Tiger brought out her stepdad’s guitar and asked me to play Sombreros In The Airport. Can’t you see I’m on holiday? I screeched. Get me some blow and a bottle of Bolly and then we’ll talk. No, I strummed as best I could and practically wept when she mouthed the words along with me.

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I took five trains to get back to Shoreham - every time I settled in with my book (Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare, brilliant brilliant book) they told everyone we’d have to switch over at the next station. I bought a sausage roll and chomped and flaked on the platform waiting for train #3 at Lewes while teenagers in school uniforms mingled with each other and I was in a composite film of To Sir With Love,  A Taste Of Honey, Brief Encounter, the gatefold sleeve of Quadrophenia,and  A Hard Day’s Night mixed with Hanif Kureshi and Zadie Smith, wrong geographic and cultural references all but there’s something about old train stations in this country that answers all the yearnings of my youthful imagination but I can never actually realize how much I enjoyed it until I’m sitting somewhere warm and quiet because the stations are always so cold and the public address so relentlessly repetitive ("thirteen ten train to - Ashford International now departing from - Platform 2; that's the - thirteen ten train, Ashford International, calling at Hastings - now departing from Platform 2")

I opened the door to Eric’s mother’s and there was a guitar case in the hall. I heard Dorothy talking to someone in the next room and felt a little bit of a chaotic whirl - Eric  !

ferry inn

End of Part One - coming up next: Brighton, London, Norway? and London

Softly, Softly

“How many people traveling in your party, madam?” The security officer at London Stansted Airport holds up two plastic bags full of a medicine cabinet’s worth of small tubes, bottles and jars. “Only one bag per passenger. Do both of these belong to you?” To look at me, I really doubt the first words that occur would be “high maintenance”. Especially at an airport. I didn’t have time to put on makeup, my hair’s in braids and there’s a widening grey streak down the right side of - I can’t even call what I achieve a part, I am that vague about hairstyling - the untidy bangs trimmed with whatever scissors I can find in whoever’s place I’m staying at the moment.

Yet here I am stopping traffic on the airport x-ray conveyor belt. I thought it would be simpler to carry on my one little weekend bag for a quick rock and roll trip to Norway. And now the whole line behind me knows - I am an emollient addict. Maybe if I say it out loud the shame might soften.

Softening! Based on the array of containers that are now fanned out between the two female airport employees who are very nicely trying to fit everything from the two plastic bags into one plastic bag, I am obsessed with skin hydration. When did this become my life?

Well into my forties it felt like all I did was fight oil on my skin, in my hair. Now I spend a fortune trying to put it back.  From the trail of empty water bottles I leave behind me to all these products, it looks like my main pursuit is defense against drying out, withering up and blowing away.

The security lady is waving products in front of me to play Solomon and decide which can stay and what has to go in the bin. I practically scream at the thought of my precious blue bottle of Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Oil going in the trash. Avocado eye cream must stay with me at all costs, but there’s another eye cream I need during the day and that has to stay too. Kiehl’s moisturizer with sunscreen, Weleda lip balm.

Now the ladies are pulling tubes out of pockets of my purse, things I’d forgotten about like Weleda Skin Food for dry hands; eye drops and saline solution. Extra lip balms in case I lose one.  Travel-sized containers of shampoo and conditioner need to go. Eye makeup remover has to go. The security ladies (both impeccably made-up) seem determined that I not lose the most expensive items: Clarins lip perfector, Nars concealer, Clinique Sheer Makeup with SPF.  They work Tetris magic in the plastic bag, turning products vertically and horizontally until the zip can be closed. “We did it!” they say, and the three of us practically high five in celebration.

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I want to apologize to the people in line - look, this isn’t about glamour and extra pizazz. This is a moisture junkie trying to get straight, to square one. It doesn’t matter, they’ve all swept past me by now, on their way to Stockholm, to Majorca, to Brive and Bergerac.

And when I finally get through the security area, what’s the first thing I see? A massive Kiehl’s counter, an immense Clarins boutique in duty-free. I know this heightened scrutiny is for our protection but there must be some algorithms at work here, like when you look at hiking boots online and then a Swiss alps worth of hiking boots comes cascading down the right side of your computer screen. Had I been forced to ditch my lip perfector, well there would be a whole counter of them just waiting for me and surely security won’t be quite so tight coming back from Oslo…

I sit down with a cup of coffee, pull out my notebook to write - and find a non-sanctioned, overlooked can of hairspray in my bag. Maybe I pulled one over on the security ladies? Or maybe they knew so much about me by the time they let me through they figured it was safe. When you take a girl’s dignity, the least you can do is leave her her Elnett.

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever

I’ve been here before. A man reclines against a pillow, eyes closed, and presses his fingers alongside his nose and then between his eyebrows. A woman drags two fingers down the sides of her throat, looking serene. A group of people take notes while a doctor inserts swabs into a man’s nose. Yes, I’ve seen all these YouTube clips before, on another desperate middle-of-the-night internet search almost three weeks ago - that’s how long I’ve been suffering from the worst sinusitis of my life. I think I may be losing my mind. Is it just a long tedious march to the grave now with chronic illness? Treatments, doctors – is this my new calling? I try to put it in perspective, against all the pain and suffering going on in the world, a stuffed up head is no big deal. I try the meditation technique I half-paid attention to in yoga class. At least I’m home in my own bed, not like last week when I was in the guest room at my dad’s senior living facility. There was no internet access, no phone service; a rubber sheet on the bed.  On the surface, it’s a reasonable enough room that the place rents out to families of the residents, a ground floor ensuite decorated in late 90’s period Hampton Inn: hunter green and burgundy accents and one of those scrolled strips of wallpaper just below the ceiling. Maybe it's what's above the ceiling that makes it so airless, so not comfortable - four floors of the aged, in varying stages of decline. I was truly in the Twilight Zone.

Great, there's a TV! I thought, but it only fed my disorientation – ads for high-tech beauty products like airbrushes and battery-powered cleansing brushes that make my own makeup and skin care routines seem so bacteria-ridden and out of date, I would’ve dialed or gone online to buy them if only I’d been able to.

For a little while I was forced to watch the VH1 Awards. I didn’t know VH1 still existed. Who is Hozier? Who are any of these people?

I missed Eric. He and I have stayed in this place before and it felt the same, only upon entering the room he’d immediately loosened the corners of the rubber sheet, pulled it off with a toreador’s one-handed grace and deposited it in the closet without disturbing the rest of the bedding. This time I got up eventually and pulled it off as best I could, knowing he’d ask “Did you remove that horrible rubber sheet?” whenever I managed to talk to him again. Just knowing I could honestly answer “Yes!” made me feel a little better.

I couldn’t breathe in the old folks home either, but it was too late to take the Nyquil, my final stop when herbs and homeopathics and antibiotics and other crap haven't worked. I watched a show where Meatloaf has a haunted room in his house, the very room where he’d rehearsed all the songs for Bat Out Of Hell, and a medium is there to help him make peace with the spirit. Eventually I got up, threw on some clothes and drove to Eat n Park. It’s a Pittsburgh classic – it had occurred to me a few hours back that I could go, but I couldn’t face it at four in the morning. Now it was almost six and people were starting their days with eggs and pancakes, dressed in Steeler black and gold. It felt like nothing had changed since my high school days in the seventies. “Oh yeah, she looks pretty good for her age, ‘n whart she’s been through,” one of the guys at the next table said in his Pittsburgh accent. I knew he wasn’t talking about me, but appreciated the sentiment. I texted my older brother John who lives nearby, knowing he’s up for anything, and sure enough he joined me. I was starting to feel like I could face breakfast in the breakfast room with my dad and his wife.

“Are you new here?” a tiny, white-haired lady asked me as I held a jug of what might have been orange juice up to the light in the senior facility’s breakfast room. Yes, it had been a hard night, but I must look rougher than I thought.  My dad and Lois my stepmother waited for me back at their table with Bill, another resident;

“Bill’s from Rochester,” my dad said. “Amy’s going to play a concert in Rochester tomorrow.” Oh lord I’m not up for this I thought, any of it. Please let me be well enough to play and sing. I’d just needed to see my dad. I’m losing friends in their fifties and sixties now – can the old man be far behind? Is the future just an endless ticking off on a long scroll of friends, loved ones, acquaintances, enemies and heroes? Gone, gone, gone.

“I just came over in case I don’t get to say goodbye,” a woman with dyed red hair and big glasses was leaning over her walker by my dad’s chair. “I can’t believe you’re leaving us!”

My father and his wife just bought a condo. They can’t stand living in this place anymore -  everybody’s too old and decrepit, he says. My dad’s eighty-eight. Upstairs in his apartment are liquor boxes and copy paper boxes for packing. “Dad, you know you can go to Walmart or U-Haul and just buy a bunch of boxes,” I told him. “They don’t really cost a lot.” I couldn’t believe I was telling my dad how to move. But there was excitement and possibility in the whole enterprise. And I’ll never have to stay in the rubber sheet room again.

Back to my internet search. Acupuncture. It has never occurred to me before to try it. Apparently it has excellent results for sinus conditions. At three in the morning, I book an appointment online and immediately feel a little better. There’s always the possibility to learn about new things, grow and change. Until there’s not.

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Gone To California

“Tony says you should come in and talk to him,” says the garage owner’s wife when I call to ask why my van is making a roaring noise so loud I can’t hear the radio with the window open.  “He can’t really ‘splain to you over the phone.” This can’t be good. It isn’t. But I decide to put it out of my mind for the moment, because I’m flying to California.

*

I’m traveling light: one guitar to carry on, a medium-sized roller bag; purse. I drive the van to Albany Airport. It’s fit to sit in Economy Parking for a week but not much else. At 265,500 miles it doesn’t really owe me a thing.

On the parking lot shuttle, a guy climbs aboard with a wide case. It looks like a crossbow. Don’t let it be a crossbow, I think, and ask him without meaning to “What’s in the case?”

“A crossbow,” he says. “Going down to Texas to do some hunting.” Please do, I think. Go as far away as possible with that thing.

I’ve got a terrible cold and the flight to San Francisco is really hard on my ears. I get off the plane and can’t hear a thing. Partly it’s that the airport is completely silent at 10:30 at night.

*

Stephanie meets me at the 16th and Mission BART stop. There’s a girl with dreads and tattoos playing and singing for a big crowd in a little plaza outside the station. Young people sit cross-legged on the ground and there’s something sweet and retro about it. Everybody says this town is too expensive for the old counterculture types you associate with San Francisco, so little things like this that may have seemed annoying in the past feel good.

Stephanie feeds me soup in the yellow kitchen of the pretty apartment she shares with Chuck. He’s back east and will stay with me and Eric in a week. Meanwhile we talk about touring and books and music. She reveals herself to be a real friend by showing me how to use a neti pot

*

I chat with Elmer at Hertz Rental Car, tell him I’m going south to Paso Robles to hang out with friends. It’s easier that way. I've learned this trick from Eric, because in England if you tell them you're a musician sometimes they won't rent you a car.  We always tell them we're going to see the grandkids over there. In the US it just saves time. Elmer tells me he’s going to Tahoe to play poker. The words “I’m going to Tahoe” have the most evocative ring, I see Frank Sinatra with a tennis racket, Raquel Welch in skiwear rather than Elmer off-hours from Hertz.

*

Driving south on the 101 in my rental car – it’s a Toyota Yaris – this weird thing happens. There’s lots of traffic but there’s a flow to it all, less aggression than back east. You can go fast or not go fast, everyone just blazes their own trail instead of trying to make you bend to their will. I relax. I realize how bad things have gotten with my van back home, the roar and the fumes and different broken doors and locks, because I’m in a brand new car now and I LOVE IT. I start imagining that I’m this normal person who makes car payments and just DRIVES A NEW CAR. Why the hell not? I sing along to bro country, under the spell of golden hills while a freight train glides past.

I sit in traffic behind an old Toyota minivan up on the back of a truck. It feels cosmic, heroic. It’s that bizarre lunar module the dB’s had; Duane Jarvis had one too, and I marvel how this one hung in there so long.

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When the cold medicine wears off and the traffic lightens up, the local public radio station is holding their fund drive and I’m so in love with the car and public radio and the 101, I feel like pulling over and calling to pledge. Instead I exit to blow my nose and find myself in a KFC drive-through. Grease and salt feel like the only things that can cut through this cold. I ask through the intercom what’s the smallest thing they serve: popcorn chicken in a cup with potato spears – it’s delicious. I think.

*

Vic and Jenn own a winery in Paso Robles, Vines On The Marycrest. I love their wine. I love a lot of wine but I know there is something special about theirs, it’s like a musician you discover who isn’t well-known but the art and craft is all there. “Mom, your idol is sleeping on our floor,” their son says to Jenn. Eric and I played at their annual harvest weekend event three years ago and it’s fun to come back and get to spend a day, sampling wine and even getting to visit a few other vineyards courtesy of Vic.

“Try our von rouge,” a tasting wench says at one of the elegant wineries we visit. A guy in khaki shorts and ballcap comes up and asks her for some of that “van rogue”. I only wish Eric were here, he would truly love this little slice of Americana – Sideways is one of our all-time favorite movies.

I play outside and it’s a soft night, I’m getting used to playing on my own again and have a few odd moments where I try to launch into familiar songs but there’s no Eric to my side and it’s like a couple of strings are missing off my guitar – I can’t think for the life of me how they go. Other ones that I haven’t played in ten years roll off my tongue and out of my hands without thinking.

After I play, I talk to people and one woman tells me she listened to my first album for all the drives she made from CA to Texas to visit her dying mother, I have to make a joke to keep from weeping.

*

I get up very early next morning to drive to Santa Cruz to play on the radio. Car Talk is on the NPR station, I’m a fan of this show and not just because they’ve played both Til The Wheels Fall Off and Astrovan. The miracle of radio keeps Tom and Ray the brothers together even though Tom passed away last year, but it really chokes me up when one says “Don’t drive like my brother” and the other one chimes in “Don’t drive like my brother”.

I’m just coming through Gilroy when I tune in KPIG, the station I’m headed for like a bright blue arrow in my Yaris. Please Stand By is the long-running Sunday morning live music show hosted by Sleepy John who also promotes shows around here.  He’s reading a feed store ad while the morning’s first act tunes up. I’ve stayed at his house many times and he’s even taken me surfing in Santa Cruz. His voice is the sound of sand and pot smoke and wet dog fur, sunshine through the pine trees.

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I have a show at 2 in the afternoon in Felton. It’s at Don Quixote’s, part Mexican restaurant, part Music Hall. There’s not really a dressing room and I end up going onstage in the clothes I put on early this morning.

It’s a good crowd. I’ve always liked playing in Santa Cruz, they make their own rules for life. I apologize to the audience: I have never played a show in a plaid shirt before. It’s the default setting for male musicians who don’t know what to wear onstage and now I’ve joined their ranks.

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“I was so glad you said that about your shirt,” a woman confides at the merch table after telling me how much she loves me. “I’d just said to my friend ‘She needs better clothes’.”

*

Back in San Francisco I return the rental car and Elmer tells me he made out alright at the poker table up at Tahoe. Now I’m on foot and public transportation. There’s always been a dense layer of street people here and that doesn’t seem to have changed much or maybe it’s gotten worse. I see this couple: he’s gaunt and stubbled, grins at babies; she looks like the chicest woman in town from twenty yards away, striped French jersey, straight jeans and white sneakers, dyed reddish brown hair, pale face – it’s only close up I see the scalp through her hair, clenched jaw, mad eyes. History – there’s a special brand of west coast history and it’s so unpinned from the map back east I can’t even begin to guess at her story.

I play a few songs at the Makeout Room for Tom Heyman’s once a month show, it’s casual and everyone is really good. I remember playing here years ago and a load of drunks making so much noise I had to tell them to shut up or I may have even cried or pleaded, it’s a bit of an exorcism for me to stand up here again. I'm growing up.

*

I’m meeting a friend at Ocean Beach in the morning. I start to walk across the sand to see the ocean and there’s an older man next to me hobbling on a cane. “Beautiful morning!” I say to him, and then I see this office chair alone in the sand and I really want to take a picture but the man is right beside me, practically racing me - I realize he’s making a beeline for the chair too. Maybe it’s his chair? I feel rude but I have to hustle past him and beat him to the chair so I can get a photo without him in it. I snap my shot and seconds later he plops into the chair.

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A little later in the café I’m having breakfast with my friend and the man hobbles in and sits right next to me. I want to apologize to him about the chair but out west I never know what I’m dealing with – back east we’d end up laughing, but here?

I get on the train and am admiring this chic woman in black blouse, navy linen trousers and brown sandals when I realize it’s the mad-eyed woman, yep there’s the gaunt stubbled guy grinning at a child. She juts out her jaw and motions to him to get off at Embarcadero stop. San Francisco is a small world.

I take the train to Lafayette and Joyce meets me. I’ve been a fan of hers since Seventeen magazine printed her “An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back On Life” piece – I was twelve. I’ve kept up with her writing and eventually wrote her a letter and she answered me back! That was over ten years ago and since then we’ve kept in touch, but this is the first chance we’ve had to hang out.  It’s a thrill, she’s got those same incredible eyes that looked at me so soulfully from the pages of Seventeen all those years back and she is still that girl but a woman of the world too. And funny. We talk all afternoon and I play a few songs for her and husband Jim on his Martin.  I pull out my phone later and see she’s written up our afternoon, I feel honored.

*

Stephanie and I have dinner in the Mission. I could talk to her forever. She travels the world playing in Mission Express with Chuck Prophet and is an ace musician and person. We go home and watch this clip Caryn Rose made of Patti Smith doing Gloria this very night at Olympia in Paris. Patti spits on the stage, twice, and struts and stomps proudly in her boots and it does give a woman hope.

I read M Train all the way home. It makes me cry a lot, and my ears open a little.

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Back at Albany Airport I unlock from the passenger side cause the driver side lock doesn’t work, then roll down the window a bit even though it’s cold, because of the whole problem Tony had to talk to me in person about. He said the fumes would make me sick. But – it’s almost winter.

Iris DeMent is talking to Terry Gross and turns out Let The Mystery Be is the theme song for The Leftovers tv show.  Way to go Iris, one of the best.

The news comes on and they say Toyota is recalling many million cars for faulty power windows that could result in fires and death. They read out the models: ”Camry, Corolla, Highland…Yaris.”

There is no normal.

After Taxes

I know it’s foolish to say NEVER AGAIN but I’ll say it anyway – NEVER AGAIN WILL WE FILE FOR AN INCOME TAX EXTENSION. It’s hard enough reconstructing the previous year from spring-fresh April but in October, when this entire year is on the wane, how is it possible to remember the year before? Both Eric and I still work by the old “bag o’ receipts” method, so there’s a constant “Oh look, here’s a menu and business card from Lexington Barbq, was that last year the guy thought you were Roger Daltrey or was that this year?”  With all the technology available to us, we still reconstruct our touring lives from pages torn out of Moleskine notebooks and fading scraps of paper along with online bank statements, though there came a point in the receipt sifting where we were further reduced to scrolling through Facebook timeline 2014 trying to recreate a patchy section of last year: “Eureka! It says here ‘I’m driving an ashtray to Dallas’, the date is June 10 – you were in TEXAS that month?!” Last year, after decades of using accountants, we decided to go it alone with Turbotax – after all, most of the work is gathering the information, right? Just a matter of putting those numbers in there…by the point when we were filling in all the numbers for 2013 after many moments of doubt and one desperate phone message left for my friend the accountant who wasn’t taking calls since it was after all April 14, we convinced ourselves “This is fun! This is easy!” and decided to hang out our shingle as The Musical Accountants. “It’ll be great, we can have a bunch of instruments around the room and people can play while they wait for us to do their taxes.” Yes, we were that good last year, but wait – it wasn’t October last year, it was April and – remind me, what year are we in NOW?

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I’d been crowing about how great Turbotax is, but yesterday at a crucial moment, when I’d been plugging numbers in for hours and coming to the end of the process – the program just shut down. Updates started updating and when I went to open it again, you guessed it – everything was gone. The smarmy clip art accountant guy was asking “Would you like me to walk you through everything? Let’s see how we can get you the biggest refund!”

“You already did that you bastard! Two days ago! God no, this can’t be happening!” Will you think I’m a total idiot when I tell you I never bothered to save the whole time I was working in Turbotax?

The HELP page took me to a Community Board where desperate people just like me typed heartbreaking questions into the void: “Worked for three days, ALL DATA LOST, tell me how to get it back?”

After collapsing on the couch to watch an Adam Sandler movie that made me question my entire life (there was a time I loved him…so much) we got back up and running again and managed to get it all done, saving all the while. FILED. SMALL REFUND. High fives in the kitchen. But there isn’t that camaraderie with the rest of the country like in April. In October you’re really alone in this.

I’m worn out – for next year, let the record show that October 15 I went to California for a few days.

  • SATURDAY OCTOBER 17  VINES ON THE MARYCREST        PASO ROBLES, CA
  • SUNDAY OCTOBER 18      PLEASE STAND BY KPIG.COM    10 AM - 12 PM  (listen)
  • SUNDAY OCTOBER 18     DON QUIXOTE'S                 FELTON, CA   2 PM SHOW

)

 

 

Who Are You?

Screw you Marie Kondo and the porcelain 14th century horse figurine you rode in on! I have to blame somebody, and as much as there've been hints that life might indeed become miraculously more clear and streamlined thanks to her cleaning/organizing book The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up (my daughter and I were in such a feel-good frenzy of purging and organizing we actually texted each other photos of our t-shirt drawers), I am now even less sure who I am than usual thanks to her. Admittedly I haven't had time to do the tidying steps exactly as the author insists they be done so that could be part of the problem. Whatever it is, it made dressing for this wedding party I'm on my way to almost impossible.

I'd been really calm since seeing that the invitation to a wedding party in the city called for sparkly festive attire. Sure, I thought - I'll stop in TJ Maxx and get something low-cost and showy...as if that has ever worked for me.

The area we live in is odd - there's Walmart, Kohl's, with TJ Maxx the higher end of the chain stores, and then all-organic expensive boutiques. Nothing in between and anyway I live in fear of purposeful shopping, still believing thanks to decades of thrift store scores that if a fabulous item is out there with my name on it, it will find me. Less and less true as the years go by, but I know no other way.

Vintage! I thought, I'll go vintage! remembering this bold geometric arty tunic in red and purple, turquoise, green and black I'd seen at a local place. Even the label: Penthouse Gallery, which at first glance I'd believed read "Penthouse Goldberg", somehow even better - was calling. Could I pull it off though? It was mid-calf length but had a certain Brenda Vaccarro in Midnight Cowboy pizzazz, enough that I dared to emerge from the vintage store dressing room to take a turn around the store in it.

"I always wanted to be a lady who could wear this kind of thing - you know, with bold earrings and tights - I'd have to cut it off mid-thigh of course..."

"You are!" said the shop owner. "You ARE that lady!" I didn't think she was just angling for a sale - I really liked it. I Believed - SOLD.

But...the night before the wedding I carefully measured and cut. Pinned up the hem...damn pockets, I swear I know I always see it as a plus "AND it's got pockets!" but they add bulk and tend to complicate things. I tried my pinned-up Goldberg shift with tights and my Young Edwardian purple sixties shoes - it could work.

Meanwhile Eric was texting me from his own solo wedding uncertainty. He was performing at a ceremony down south and it's just hard to know what to do with yourself at these things when you're on your own. That's part of what made picking an outfit even trickier - the thought of going to a party is hard enough; if I'm not performing I don't know how to present myself, but solo - it's confusing at events when you've become used to being half of a pair and there's no one to bounce ideas off beforehand of the "Honey does this outfit say 'I made an effort/I clean up well' or is it more 'Tired Old Cougar on the prowl'"? variety. I mentioned to Eric over the phone that I had a new dress to wear that was maybe a little "wacky" but he must have been distracted or unable to grasp that I was asking for some kind of guidance. Still, I took his "uh-huh" as a blessing. Maybe this would be my "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple" moment?

But hemmed and ironed two hours before departure, it felt wrong. I mean, I loved the dress, even looked up the label and saw that it was Edie Sedgwick's party dress of choice. But something about thick black tights on the last weekend of summer felt like a bummer. Bare legs looked better but since I'd cut it so short and had no time for vein therapy and/or a tanning parlor, the idea of walking through Penn Station in such a short skirt told me the dress was wrong. I thought of removing the precious pockets but that would have required getting out the sewing machine, relearning how to wind a bobbin and I couldn't risk destroying the dress which I now clearly planned to get A LOT of wear out of in the future - just NOT NOW. This is where I really started cursing Marie Kondo because all my clothes are in transition. They're either on their way out or taking their place in some Hall of Fame of joy-sparking (her criteria for holding on to an item). One of the in-betweens was this cool gold dress I'd worn on one of me and Eric's tours, but I couldn't think what shoes would work, plus it was fraught from that time a guy told me after a gig how much he hated it.

Shoes! Those bejeweled sandals I found at the beginning of the summer and never had an occasion to wear - that's it, I thought - I'll build an outfit around those sandals. It could be simple, classy - with the sandals adding that something extra.

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I pulled out my precious black skirt, the one I'd searched high and low for in France and hadn't needed in over four years. Now it felt slack, but it could work, let me just tuck this patterned silk shirt in - oh my God, there was a massive stain on the front of the skirt like one of those black lights that shows stains on hotel mattresses, but this was ongoing and covered the entire front of the skirt. I kind of remembered a whole beer knocked off a merch table onto my lap and trying to dry clean it back in England...thanks to Life Changing Magic I prepared to bid farewell to a treasured friend who'd gotten me through several years of weight gain and menopausal confusion - "goodbye, it's been an honor, you have served me well but now I must let you go" followed by a slight bow. At this point I was considering wearing jeans with the sandals and a sparkly blouse but that felt like a lack of respect.

Then I saw the black skirt with white dots: I've worn it a lot this summer but it fits and would be a good length with the sandals. I had a sheer black blouse, not super-see through but enough that I thought it was worth running to Walmart for a camisole or something to wear under. The clock was really ticking now and there was nothing at Walmart unless you were XXXL and wanted to wear a complete set of spongy flesh-colored armor or a what looked and felt like a scuba diving suit underneath. I grabbed the sandals and shirt and ran for the train, thinking that Macy's was just upstairs from Penn Station and I could find something there to wear under the sheer shirt.

TO BE CONTINUED...

As soon as I exited the train and came up into Penn Station it occurred to me how absolutely absurd it was to try using that hellhole as some kind of wearability yardstick - clearly you could walk through in a Walgreen's plastic bag and no one would bat an eye. There were goths in torn tights and platforms six inches tall, a lady in a black undershirt, thigh high boots and nothing else, six men in Lederhosen and knee socks rushing to catch a train. I started to realize what a fool I was to think anyone would notice or care what I had on. Still - I had fifteen minutes to complete my outfit and get down to 26th Street.

I hustled my way up towards Macy's corner but was sucked into the H&M on the other side of 34th Street which was a huge mistake. Music pulsed relentlessly at high volume, the place was a madhouse as if the whole city had the same goal, find something to wear TONIGHT! TONIGHT! The music shrieked. I grabbed a few camisoles and then had to wait in line for a dressing room, listening to an impeccable young woman describe her awful case of the runs to an eager male co-worker. I hardly bothered trying on my shapeless items, instead deciding to just put on the sandals and the shirt in the dressing room, shove on some earrings and get out of there. Confidence! That's the main thing. Then I had to catch a cab because there was no way I could walk seven short blocks and five very long blocks in those sandals. Some kids and their dad were getting out of the taxi "Come on, Come ON! Move it you three!" I wanted to shout but the kids were clutching little boxes from Magnolia Bakery like they were precious and the little boy even said "We got cupcakes!" to me and waved goodbye as I rode off in the taxi and I thought oh who cares how you look as long as you're smiling. But in the cab I lost confidence and pulled a black v-neck sweater on over my head while removing the shirt from underneath, sure the driver probably sees this sort of thing all the time. Yep, they'll take me as they find me I thought - got to be comfortable above all.

But when I exited the elevator up to the party space, there were a half dozen of Antonio Banderas' younger brothers holding trays of flutes of Champagne and Manhattans and goblets of wine and I thought this is a fancy affair, fuck it, the sheer shirt it is, it's really not that see-through and oh my God, there's a little sign saying NRBQ will be playing and all eyes are on the joyous wedding couple, who I have the honor and pleasure of knowing separately, it's so good to see them spin around the room together and maybe it's the Manhattan talking but when I'm really old I shall look at a photo of this event and say "wasn't I young and lucky to be there?"

Summer Snapshots

While I try to get work done it's hard to write a new post, so I thought I'd put up some photos from the summer. IMG_20150601_124027_888

I accompanied Eric to Red Hook for his record mastering session, it was pouring most of the day but the sun came out for a little while when I saw these clever bucket planters

man buns at the barI decided to face my fear of man buns head on - view of a couple dudes and ceiling of the bookstore/bar

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We played a couple shows with the Schoemer Formation this summer, another one coming up next Friday Sept 25 at Low Beat in Albany!

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This had to be the smallest carnival ever - I love our little town

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Hard to get a good shot when your hands are shaking in the presence of greatness

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The picnic table at the back of our house, I spend a lot of time here in the summer

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We filled the back room with a load of people and instruments - for Several Shades Of Green

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Mundane but romantic meeting the train

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I have to admit we only used it one time this summer!

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It's nice being "the country house" for my daughter and her boyfriend to escape to

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The man and his band played around the corner so we had to go. It's always a thrill, yes we got to get up and sing "All The Young Dudes"!

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I went into the coffee bar by my brother's place and they were setting up for a little drawing session. I didn't have the right materials but I wanted a glass of $5 rose and it was fun drawing with a bunch of 20-something girls

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I'm always hearing how things are changing but it really struck me this time - the post office between Ave A & First was famously miserable, crowded and long lines to wait in - I know I left there in tears of rage a couple of times. Still, it made me sad to see it gone.

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Wes Stace invited us to play with a wacky assortment of characters - it was a good night in the city.

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To wait for a train back home I sat up in Greeley Square and thought some things about the city had changed for the better - places to sit in midtown, a cheap empanada stand, a clean public toilet - in midtown...weird

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Those long shadows, it's almost over

Dystopia On Toast

I had this dream our house was surrounded. Red trucks, engines of hell's fury, filled the driveway. There were men everywhere. Fierce brutes in wilderness wear, khakis cut off at the knee, heavy boots; shirts without sleeves. Some wore bandannas tied around foreheads. Sweat glistened on every exposed inch of flesh. Then there was pounding; the sound of ladders being slammed against the side of the house. The strain and squeal of boot treads on metal. And they were thudding overhead, grunting and cursing. Once they were inside, the whole house would be theirs.

But they didn't come in - they didn't seem interested. Up above, they pulled out crow bars. The sky rained black with asphalt shingle and tar paper. Inside, we huddled in whatever room was quiet but it was useless - as soon as we'd picked up and moved - laptop, coffee cup, phone - there they were, pounding and heaving. Or conversing. The language! There was nowhere to hide - outside the second floor bathroom two of them talked about the weekend ahead. Was it already Friday? They'd turned life upside down for almost two weeks.

We blasted music to put them off, or to placate them: Seger, Springsteen; Jay-Z? It only fueled the racket. Or they all wore headphones.

Then I prayed. I prayed like I haven't prayed in years. Just let it end. Please let it end.

Then I woke up. They were gone, the pounding and cursing over.

Eric said they'd cleaned out his bank account.

But we had a new roof.

Back To The Country

Living in Nashville back at the beginning of this century was my first experience in a place where public transportation was not a real option. So my memories of my time there - me and Hazel in a sweet Victorian house with front porch swing; publishing deal; songs written; records made, shows played; friends and boyfriends, ups and downs - are punctuated with instances of car trouble. The Pontiac wagon that broke down on the move to town and died soon after; the Aerostar left behind in Virginia mountains; the Lumina, the Astrovan (for a brief period I drove a BMW but that's a different tale). There was one evening in Nashville early on when Hazel's dad was living on the other side of town and driving a similarly ratty car. Me and Haze broke down out by Opryland and when the AAA guy arrived he took one look at my eleven year old daughter and said, "Hey, I already saw you once today." She hadn't told me about her dad's car dying that morning. "Dang kid, you get around. Or try to."

So when I visited Nashville last weekend it was a treat to breeze into the airport and pick up a rental car. No worries! It was pure muscle memory walking from the Southwest gate around and down to baggage claim - I'd forgotten how often I'd flown in and out of this airport. "You have a nice visit, now," the Hertz lady said and it felt genuine, warm and familiar in a way I hadn't expected.

The whole trip was sort of like that. I think I'd gotten it in my head that my time in Nashville had been if not a failure then a failed experiment, a sidetrack or foolish attempt to make something of myself, and that it was best to put it behind me and move on. Being there, I felt nothing but love - it was weird.

My pal David Eason met me at this great little Greek diner around the corner from my old house - I had never set foot in the place, it's strange how living somewhere blinders you in a way. At the same time, the landscape of endless drab shopping strips has changed, there are now huge blocks of shiny new buildings everywhere that are horrible but serve as contrast to the charming old stuff they haven't bothered to knock down yet. A lot of times I honestly couldn't tell which direction I was facing there was so much development. Then I would look up and see a familiar old supermarket or liquor store I used to frequent and find myself rooting for the old trashy place for the very reason I used to think the town was homely.

David and I went in through the special guest entrance at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum for a tour of the "Dylan and Cash & the Nashville Cats" exhibit. Signing in on the guest register, I couldn't help but notice the signature above mine: Michael Nesmith. Yes, that Mike of my wooly hat childhood dreams. The ole Nashville magic was already at work. Great exhibit that made me want to go home and listen to every record referenced from Blonde on Blonde to Junior's Farm. Curator Michael Gray and writers Peter Cooper and Michael McCall who all work at the museum came out to say hi and it made me feel welcome in town the way I'd always felt welcome but had forgotten.

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I was pretty shocked by East Nashville. It's full of restaurants and bars now alongside the cute little houses. I stayed at an airbnb just around the corner from a house my late friend Duane Jarvis and his wife Denise lived in when I first came to town to write in the 90s. Back then this part of town felt like charming but on the edge of nowhere, now it seems like a cozy haven from the glitziness.

I took in Tim Carroll's blazing happy hour show at the Five Spot and ran into Amelia White, another old pal. We clinked our $2.50 cocktails and toasted each other for hanging in there. It felt like Nashville was musical boot camp or even purgatory sometimes when I lived there, but I've come to realize if there's anywhere in this world where people know my name and are happy to see me, it's actually more like heaven.

amelias

Saturday I drove downtown and parked in the great big downtown Nashville library parking garage. I used to spend a lot of time in this place (the library itself, not the parking garage). There's nothing like a comprehensive public library, especially one that validates for cheap or free parking. I was tagging along on Bill DeMain's Walkin Nashville tour and I knew it would be good because Bill's a great writer and fan of cool old stuff but he really blew my mind with his skills, taking a group of 30 visitors around various spots of musical interest. I was delighted to see Pat Sansone on the tour and meet his lovely girlfriend Mae and their friend Sanae, perfumer to the stars. At one point Bill gave Pat a shoutout for playing sold out shows at the Ryman and the young women in the group whipped out their phones "OMG, one of Wilco is on this tour" and then Bill sweetly mentioned me but my only Ryman story was having one of my songs covered by Laura Cantrell on its stage when she opened for Elvis Costello and the phones went back in the pockets.

old nashville

tootsie's wall

I'd been suffering for a few days from a tick bite I'd discovered earlier in the week and was seriously starting to think I might have Lyme disease, I know it's fashionable now but...I tried to put the thought out of my head and we all went out to eat after Bill concluded outside Hatch Show Print - honestly, if you're going to Nashville be sure and take this tour. It reminded me why I fell in love with country music and all its fascinating lore in the first place.

I had a nice walk with Joy Lynn White the next morning, she's another super-talented friend who I met years ago as a fan when I first came to town and couldn't get over how people who sang like her actually got coffee in the morning and drove beat up cars like mine.

When Eric arrived I showed him my old house for the tenth time and we had coffee at one of the many good new coffee places sprinkled around. There were two when I lived here, now there are dozens. The array of good places to dine and drink is really something, I thought it would bother me because Nashville was always about "meat and three", the lunch places where you'd get say fried chicken, macaroni & cheese, collards and sweet potatoes and I still love that food in concept but it's a once in a while thing and so bring on the arugula, the more fresh and healthy choices the better.

Now I was really hoping people would turn out for Eric's show, and even when we arrived for soundcheck they were already showing up. It was all going so well. Then I went out to his well-traveled Buick to get some merchandise and -

"I'm just going to get a clean shirt out of the car," Eric said, crunching out into the parking lot of the Basement.

"Uh, that's a good idea but - I locked the keys in the trunk," I said. With rental car keys in one hand and Buick keys in the other, the dreaded thing had happened. Blame it on the tick bite. Eric was astonishingly calm.

basement

It was like old times greeting the AAA guy who arrived immediately to open the locked car so we could get the keys out. But it turned out the trunk lock was on so a locksmith had to be called and meanwhile Eric played a mesmerizing show and I got to see some more old friends who'd turned out. The locksmith came just as Eric's set finished - a little touch of downhone Nashville he had his young son in the truck at eleven on a Sunday night and it occurred to me how AAA guys and locksmiths have gotten closer to Hazel's age now whereas I'm still the same as I was before.

A little later after drinks and sandwiches at another good nightspot in East Nashville we stood in the shadow of Woodland Studios (owned now by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings) and I remembered being in awe back when, attending a session there and feeling the magic atmosphere that created hits like "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro and "Comes A Time" by Neil Young, I got chills and warm at the same time and it wasn't just the Lyme talking.

woodland

The Doxycycline's working fine and I can't wait to go back.

R & R

"What's your name again?" the old guy said, as he's said every Friday for the three plus years I've worked at this place. "How's Emily, that other girl who worked with you? She's so nice, I kept telling her if only she was twenty years older, she could've married one of my sons." "Uh huh," I say through gritted teeth, the bar towel clenched in my hand. "Oh, there's another customer who needs my help down there!" I say, and head to the other end of the bar to keep myself from smashing a pint glass and grinding the jagged edge into the old guy's neck.

The old guy is so boring, if he recovered from my attack, I'm 100% sure he'd be putting people on bar stools to sleep with the story in no time:

"And then she came at me, I can't remember what her name was, but it reminded me of the time I used to live in Hawaii, did I tell you about that yet? Well you see, back when I was in the navy, before I worked for the post office..."

Yes, it's time I took a break from this place. I'm headed to Nashville for a few days. I don't even have a big plan, aside from seeing the Johnny Cash/Bob Dylan exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, and tagging along on my friend Bill DeMain's Nashville walking tour. I'm sure I'll hear some music, and eat something fried.

And Eric's Nashville show, I'll be there for that and to make the long drive back home with him.

This is the first time I've gone to Nashville without a guitar. It feels weird, but free. I almost feel like a normal person.  It reminds me of that time I stopped at a Cracker Barrel, and they were piping old country music into the rest rooms, and I went and bought some of those striped pieces of hard candy in a paper sack...

Hello, hey wait - where's everyone going?

wtf

Remembrance Of Things Past

I was on the cross-trainer at the gym, flicking through the channels on the TV, and suddenly the screen was filled with cyclists: Le Tour de France was on. The same thing happened that always happens to me when I see the Tour on TV- I think "That's right near where we lived!" There was the Carrefour sign, the war memorial at the little place right across from the cafe, just around the corner from the bad boulangerie. That field full of cows, the crumbling stone wall, some rows of trees in even succession. Then as the cyclists descended and climbed and rounded another bend, there was the Carrefour sign, the war memorial at the little place right across from the cafe, around the corner from the bad boulangerie. That field full of cows, the crumbling stone wall, some more rows of trees in even succession. Then I decided they were at least in the same department, or maybe the next one over - the stone on the buildings looked familiar and there was a sign for St. Leonard, there's a St. Leonard in the Creuse, that makes sense, all those climbs, and the roofs have that certain pitch to them.

As they cycled on and I rode the cross trainer along with them, I finally thought it didn't matter where exactly they were, they were definitely in France and for those few moments I was right there with them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It's four years ago this summer that Eric and I moved to the USA. I love living in the Hudson Valley, it's got so much beauty, like France, but a lot more to do, and it's only two hours from New York City. It was wonderful having the experience of living in France, and sometimes, like when I see it on TV, I get a pang. At the same time, when I find an official French document in my files, I get another kind of pang, and remember the pain of trying to navigate the system. There's plenty wrong with America but it's an easier place to live in many ways.

Living in Europe is what got me started blogging in earnest (I'm almost embarrassed to use the word anymore, that's how mid-last-decade it feels now) Writing my own and reading and commenting on other ex-pat blogs was a way to make sense of life in a new and different land. Nowadays I only check in with other blogs very occasionally but there was one Paris blogger I stayed with. I guess you could say I lurked, because I never commented. I kept my distance, but I regularly got a kick out of this American woman's posts about navigating life in Paris, through finding a French husband, trying to learn French and become a citizen, and her quest to publish a memoir based on her experiences moving to the Paris that really only exists in Americans' minds.

I've come to believe that place of dreams is a valuable one. If you imagine your reality is elevated by taking the you who's stuck in a rut in the states and paste that person on a boulevard with a baguette under one arm, even if the boulevard is now obstructed by traffic bollards and annoying metal fencing and you still have to do laundry and find meaningful employment or any job at all then more power to you.

This American in Paris blogger died the other day, so suddenly - didn't update her blog for a month and then her husband posted that she had passed away. I knew she was ill but I realize now she's gone how much I was rooting for her, because the real her came through the cliche of Paris. It's left a space, because she was a little link to the dream of France and so here I am on the cross trainer pedaling with the cyclists and getting choked up at the sight, not of an eleventh century church or a quaint tiled roof, but a blasted Carrefour supermarket sign and banner reading "Le Tour C'est Notre Tour!"

https://youtu.be/mJG0lqukJTQ

For Lisa, this Alexander Payne segment from Paris Je T'Aime

The Mild One

"Hi there! This is RJ? I was in the bookstore/bar a while back, you're Amy right?" said the chirpy voice on the other end of the phone. "I'm with Albany Jewish Federation of the (something or other) and I'll be bringing a group in to have drinks and snacks in two weeks, how does that sound?" It's a bookstore, with some beer and a few tables and chairs, not a VIP lounge but hey, I'm not going to try and stop you.

I didn't say this, and RJ continued: "Just want to make sure you can accommodate us? We'll be spending probably $100 or more, so it'll be good for you guys, okay?"

Had I ever talked to this RJ before? It felt vaguely familiar...And the Federation, they did good work, I was sure...something involving the blind? I remembered a really good thrift store on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

RJ called again the next week. "Hi there, just checking in! So - we'll be coming in next week, we like to call our little get-togethers Gin & Juice."

"RJ, we don't serve that kind of alcohol here," I said, wishing I could make her disappear forever. At the same time, I couldn't stop myself from trying to be helpful - it's a disease I have. They should have a federation for people like me, The Meek & Mild.

"Next Wednesday, 5:30 PM? See you then!" And she hung up.

Wednesday, 5:15. The beer has been mostly foam for days until the cooler repair guy can come. Pouring one decent pint takes ten minutes. The customers are all prefacing their orders with "I'm really sorry to make you do this, but - could I have a beer?" I'm in a bleak mood - stupid foamy beer, stupid pocket-sized copies of The Art Of War all stacked up by the cash register - what, do you pull this book out when you're waiting in line at the farmer's market or at the bank, preparing to do battle with the manager about your overdraft fee?

Please don't let the blind Jewish contingent show up, I think - the place is crowded and the beer is foam. I send vibes out the door, up the Hudson River to Albany - go to Pump Station, go to the Low Beat, go to Applebee's, just don't come here cause I can't help you.

Still - I promised RJ. Or, I didn't promise exactly, but I didn't tell her NO. So I sort of save a table for the contingent and keep an eye on the door. If they're one minute over fifteen minutes late - that's it. Sorry.

"Hi, Amy! It's me - RJ! We're here!" There are 4 or 5 people and a baby carriage or two. This is manageable, the Federation people mostly had the good sense to stay home. But the ones who are here are thirsty, and hungry. They order drinks, they order snacks. Dirty dishes and glasses pile up across the bar while I fill glasses with foam. The regular happy hour crowd take pity on me and start helping by picking up snacks and drinks and carrying them to RJ and her group.

And then more of the Federation gang arrive. Not a blind person in the bunch - instead they're all toting one year olds. Asking for water for the kids, in tiny cups. Gin & Juice...Gin and...Jews? Gin and juice -

The phone rings. "Have you got anything by Bemelmans?"

"Oh yes, we have plenty of the Madeline books -"

"No, not Madeline." The woman's icy voice cuts me to the quick. Sor-ry! I tell her I'll check but RJ's grinning at me, asking for more chips and salsa.

A member of the group comes over in a little while asking if I can look up a book for him.

"It's by Bemelmans," he says.

"We have plenty of the Madeli-"

"No, uh-uh," he shakes his head. "Not those."

"God that's so crazy," I say. "A woman just called for a non-Madeline Bemelmans book. Was there something on NPR?"

"She called me and told me to ask," the man says. My head is spinning. I pour a beer for the yoga master, who's on the phone and motioning for a refill by pointing his glass towards his preferred tap. "Yes, master, I live to serve you, you no-tipping motherfu-"...I don't even know what music I'm playing tonight, it's a pathetic playlist called Everybody Indie! on some discarded iPod. So that's what Animal Collective sound like...

Gin and juice- I finally figure it out after RJ has paid the tab. It's a playgroup for parents and toddlers. RJ has been doing this for a while - calling bars, dangling the Jewish Federation name and conveniently leaving out the part about bringing a load of tiny tykes in for happy hour - you're kidding, right? I should've said no. But I wanted to do good.

For the Federation.

a little help

It's Summer

It's summer at last - the birds are singing; the sun is shining. It's five in the morning - why are those goddamn birds singing, and could the sun please stop shining?

It's summer and I'm remembering a few years back, when everyone was reading that stupid Fifty Shades Of Grey book. Isn't it great, I think, that civilization has progressed to where we can all say "remember when everyone was reading that book?" and it's all in the past.

"Hey, have you got that new Grey book?" a guy in painting overalls says breathlessly the second the bookstore door opens in the morning. "This one's told from the guy's perspective - I got to get it for my wife!'

It's summer and I can sleep if I have the curtain cracked to let some air in but not so much that the blinds clack against the other window frame. I have moments where I think "at least in winter sleeping is easy".

There's a magical point where the lawn mower is working, the strimmer string isn't tangled or completely gone and if I could just finish mowing the backyard, there might be a day or two where the front yard doesn't look like a jungle and the whole cycle starts again.

It's summer and the local drive-in is showing Harold and Maude and serving popcorn with real butter. We're living in paradise.

It's summer and if we drive an hour and a half we can see The Turtles, The Cowsills and The Association. I want to.

It's summer and if we drive an hour and a half in the other direction we can see Van Gogh landscapes never before seen in America. I want to do that too.

Yoga man is back. I knew he was coming (saw the poster), thought of all kinds of things I could say to him about his no tipping ways but when he finally showed up in the bar and ordered a beer, I greeted him warmly. I almost felt happy to see him. It felt like a time-honored tradition, me serving him, him stiffing me on the tip. It's summer, so he's cut off his ponytail.

It's summer, and I keep thinking that one of these years I will buy that perfect straw hat/pair of sandals/effortless dress but for now I'll just wear what I've got.

I'm thankful there are less and less instances where I have to explain to someone behind a counter what iced coffee is. I'm thankful the whole world has learned how to make cold brew iced coffee like I used to find at only one place PJ's in Louisiana.

Both Commander Cody and Artemis Pyle (of Lynyrd Skynyrd) are playing for free in the tiny town just up the Hudson from us, I think this is an improvement over the Beatles tribute bands they usually have - I will let you know.

For Eric's birthday, I got him tickets to see David Crosby next week. Since we're married, I think it's a legal and moral requirement that I get to go with him. In preparation for going to see David Crosby, I was playing CSN in the bar. "I was there at Woodstock," a customer says. "Me and a few of my buddies went. Couldn't see or hear a thing!" I smile and nod. He continues: "I know you're probably thinking 'this guy's too young to have been there!'" I'm actually thinking how I was just thinking 'what's this old guy's story?' I smile and nod.

It's summer and there's a real estate broker in a loud gingham shirt and shorts next to me at the Catskill Mill food truck picnic table. He's telling a couple from the city how they should really consider buying a bigger place than they need 'for the Airbnb possibilities'. When they ask him what days the food truck is open, he confidently tells them "Thursday through Sunday!" The days are listed right there on the side of the truck Wed through Sat. 'And yet you trust this guy with your future,' I think.

It's summer and I want to make an album, write a different book from the one I've been working on, paint a masterpiece or at least fill a sketchbook with watercolors. But there's a hammock over there.

boating on the hudson

Midway

The escaped murderers have me on edge. A few hours north, two convicts broke out of the prison almost two weeks ago. The closest town is Plattsburgh, so I don't imagine they hung around the area.

Not that I think they'll show up around here. But it makes me a little nervous sometimes, working in a bar. Anyone can walk in.

On Sunday, Hudson was eerily deserted. The weekend crowd had gone. A few customers were sitting quietly with their books and drinks when an older, sunbaked couple hobbled in. He had on a plaid shirt (but not ironic dad-plaid shirt, more like a farmer's going to town on Sunday shirt), wispy white hair and spectacles. She had a face like one of those apple dolls I used to make in Girl Scouts, where you stick a knife in to make slits for the eyes and mouth and then dry in the sun, only when she'd pop open her eyes they were the vivid blue of a colored glass patio candle from TJ Maxx. Dyed brown hair and a navy blue shorts ensemble like she was still dressed for Flag Day the day before.

"I guess I'll have a...Budweiser?" she said in a smoker's croak. Pop go the blue eyes, looking somewhere behind me. I offered her a lager that was the closest thing to a Bud. Farmer grandpa accepted a stout and left to browse the books.

"How much are them dogs up there?" She pointed to the row of stuffed dalmations on a shelf.

"Um, they're pretty expensive," I said, not wanting to get out the ladder and climb up to heave down a huge stuffed animal.

"I WANT ONE." Blue eyes start blinking like crazy. "How much?"

"I think they're around sixty dollars," I said, aiming high.

"That's too much! Make it thirty and you've got a deal."

"I can't really haggle over the price," I said.

"Oh I don't care how much they cost, I WANT ONE."

I stood on a ladder and wobbled a massive dog off the shelf. She grabbed the white and black plush animal out of my hands and clutched it to her chest. I hoped the brown on her arms wouldn't rub off on the white fur.

Farmer husband or customer (I started thinking maybe she was one of the old prostitutes Hudson was famous for up until the fifties and sixties...trying to do the math, if she was twenty in 1965 she'd be...70 now? It made sense) shuffled over and she held the dog's face up next to her own and gave him a pleading look. "I want this dog!" In her mind she was Shirley Temple, or Goldie Hawn. He shook his head no. "I WANT HIM!"

This is where feelings of dread and panic start creeping in. I regretted taking the dog down. Why hadn't I just told her they weren't for sale, were all in fact for use on a float in the Pride parade next weekend? I wished I was working next weekend instead, for Pride parade. That I could handle. This was Midway At A County Fair. The lady could go off like a powder keg. The upstate effect. The two prisoners popping out of a manhole cover - it isn't all antique dealers and big city day trippers. Rich people are so easy to placate. With these two, I didn't know what I was dealing with.

A few more "I WANT HIM"s vs a couple steely head shakes from the man and I was hiking the dog back to the rear of the store and sticking him in a dark corner. I was afraid to get up on the ladder, imagining Blue Eyes' brown claw closing around my ankle, the ladder toppling; a fight over a stuffed animal. I was pretty sure who the winner would be.

When I made it back to the bar, the couple was gone. They hadn't finished their beer.

imagejpeg_2 (1)

A Month Of Thursdays

It's Wednesday, the day before Thursday. I should be getting ready, practicing a set of songs. Wondering what to wear. Leaving my hair dirty for one more day, that way I can wash it just before the show tomorr- oh wait, there is no show tomorrow. It was the middle of winter, or the end of touring with Eric before Christmas, when the idea occurred to me: I could do a residency, a show a week for one month in New York City. I had the venue, the HiFi Bar, that had once been Brownies rock club but was still run by the same guy. As the East Village becomes more and more unrecognizable to us old-timers, he's a warm enduring presence - the times I bump into him on Avenue A and hear "hey, Amy Rigby!" he's like the angel Clarence to my George Bailey in It's Wonderful Life saying no, it mattered that you were here once, it might not always feel that way but it did count. Mike was starting to book music again and said come and play. It seemed the perfect solution to how to start doing shows on my own again. It has been almost ten years since I played solo.

I couldn't face the idea of doing a "New York show" - hey world, I'm back. Where? Would anyone book me? Would anyone come? This residency idea felt safe and low-pressure.

Until I started to get ready for it.

It wasn't the material - I have plenty of songs, old ones and new ones to try out. And it wasn't that I was out of practice playing and singing: in the past ten years Eric and I have played dozens and dozens of shows in every kind of venue on a couple of continents.

But who am I, on my own? That's what felt so daunting.

I could've done something up where we live. People know me here now, as the cheery bartender and partner of the Englishman, and guitar player in the Schoemer Formation. Some of them know I've made records on my own. A few have even been to our house to a house concert.

New York City is where I started and it's the place I had to return to to start again, or continue.

Before the first show, I was very nervous. I had trouble sleeping for days. I'd gotten a list of all or most of my published songs together and picked a set's worth, throwing in a few new ones and a cover. I practiced everything in order and Eric helped me by setting up the P.A. at home so I could play through that. We have spent so many years harmonizing, I'd almost forgotten what my voice sounds like on its own. It's not just the singing, it's the support of playing with another person you grow to rely on. Eric is so entertaining, I found myself often playing straight man, or reacting to him. You get comfortable. I kept reminding myself it's good to be nervous, scared even.

First show I played a lot of solo stuff I know worked well in the past.

  • Are We Still There Yet (new song)
  • Knapsack
  • Balls
  • Keep It To Yourself
  • Cynically Yours
  • The Trouble With Jeanie
  • The Deal
  • O'Hare
  • The Old Guys (new song)
  • Rebel Girl
  • Fernando
  • Dancing With Joey Ramone
  • Magicians
  • Don't Break The Heart
  • Men In Sandals encore

Everything rolled along fine. I was nervous playing the piano songs (The Deal and O'Hare) and probably talked too much, comparing my show to Suzanne Somers new Las Vegas revue and how you can tell The Deal is an old song because it refers to a Seinfeld episode. But I made it through those ones. I saw Sue Garner who I played with for years in both Last Roundup and The Shams in the audience and asked her to come up and sing on Don't Break The Heart. It was spontaneous and sweet to hear her pick up the harmony. I felt at home.

may7

Week two was a different challenge. I'd asked Jon Graboff to play pedal steel and Eric on bass and with Jon down in the city we weren't going to have a chance to all rehearse together. I had a certain ethereal type of song in mind to take advantage of the steel and guitar/bass combo, along with songs that would drive or be rhythmically solid without drums. I broke down and bought a different microphone for the first time in many years - I've been using an SM-57 because it seems to cut through well for me and also forces me to sing right on the mic but misses in some way. I thought the lighting looked (and felt) too stark the first week, so we brought in a lighting rig (ie three clip lamps with colored bulbs)

  • Believe In You
  • Beer & Kisses
  • Don't Know Nothing
  • I Hate Every Bone In Her Body
  • Breakup Boots
  • Summer Of My Wasted Youth
  • Bob (new old song ie written a while ago but never recorded except live)
  • I Never Meant To Say Goodbye This Way (new song)
  • Astrovan
  • Dreamin Man (cover of Neil Young song)
  • Always With Me
  • Invisible
  • I Don't Wanna Talk About Love
  • Silvio (Dylan cover)
  • Goin Back (Carole King song, Byrds cover)
  • Just Someone I Had In Mind

may 14

jon and eric

The soundman was not exactly with it and scrambled around during the first song to improve what he'd wrought during soundcheck and I think the sound improved as we went along. There was a good crowd and we went over well, it was an attempt to get to a place of odd country moments but this approach could use some developing. That is part of the beauty of the residency idea, that the end result of each different show could actually be the start of something. And that there is no one definitive show.

Week 3 felt almost like a Rock Classics show. I didn't exactly design it that way but chose songs that would be fun to play with a stripped down guitar/bass/drums combo. It's the first time I've played in that configuration, without another guitar player or keyboard player and I fussed over which guitars to play, what amp to play through. In the end I stuck with the Danelectro 6 string I got when the Harmony broke on tour a few years ago and also the 12 string through my old Roland amp. And the acoustic on a few. Eric was playing bass and Jeremy Grites who's come up and recorded some stuff with Eric and also the solo record I'm working on was playing drums. We got to do a good long rehearsal the day before.

Parked out front of the club on Avenue A with the flashers on to unload the equipment and next thing I knew a cop said "You're getting a ticket, did you know that?" I realized I'd parked in the bus stop just as a bus pulled up and I apologized so sincerely he ended up letting me off and even wishing me a good show. One of those you gotta love this city moments, I knew it was going to be a swell night.

I'd arranged a few special guests but they were both coming to the city from out of town so I kept quiet about who it would be in case something happened and they couldn't show up.

The good soundman was back and it helped to feel like we were all working together. That third set went so well, I started thinking maybe I should just become an oldies act from the 90's. Why bother coming up with new stuff? (although we did play three new songs). I felt proud of all those old songs I'd written, like they practically played themselves. It touched me to see people out in the audience get excited when they recognized a song.

The first guest, Lenny Kaye, who produced my group The Shams album and has played with Patti Smith since her early days, was running a little late so I slipped in Give The Drummer Some, with its section of drummer jokes. Lenny showed up just as I finished that one and it was sweet to sing his song with him.

with syd and lenny

My other guest was Syd Straw. She's got one of my favorite voices and is a charming character. We'd heard she covered Whole Wide World often, and I had thought it would be funny to sing it together and have an onstage cat fight over Eric. But I know how that song tends to shadow everything, when people talked about the show afterwards, they wouldn't remember anything but Whole Wide World. I thought we should do Syd's great song CBGB's. Then I played some more of my classics and Syd and Lenny came back up for what else, Whole Wide World. It was a blast.

  • Time For Me To Come Down
  • Like Rasputin
  • Raising The Bar
  • The Good Girls
  • New Sheriff (new song)
  • That Tone Of Voice
  • Give The Drummer Some
  • Things You Leave Behind (w/Lenny Kaye)
  • Just A Little Is Enough (Last Roundup song)
  • One Off (new song)
  • CBGBs (we played Syd Straw's song with her)
  • Dancing With Joey Ramone
  • The Old Guys (new song)
  • All I Want
  • Whole Wide World (encore w/Syd & Lenny, we let Eric sing one verse)

drum kit

I left the last week kind of open, though I knew I'd play most of it on my own. I'd asked my daughter to play a few songs with me. I chose one from my old band Last Roundup, a song called At The Well that needs two voices. I thought it would be cool to have Hazel, who's the age I was when I wrote the song, sing one part. She chose the other song, Wheels by the Flying Burrito Brothers, one I would never dare attempt but it felt like a good challenge especially if she was taking responsibility for singing the lead part.

me and haze may 28

My other guest was Eric. He helped me a lot over the month, from setting up my equipment to being someone to bounce ideas off. He also played bass on weeks 2 and 3. I felt like it wouldn't really be me without there being the two of us in one of the shows.

soundcheck

So the last show I felt like I'd come a long way from a few short weeks before. Nothing had really changed that much except I knew the room, and remembered that I know how to play solo. I was already starting to miss the experience and get nostalgic. The place was full of people I know and people who know my music so well it feels like I know them. There were a few little stumbles and I screwed up the comedy bit I'd planned with Eric, where he was supposed to call at the end of Needy Men and I'd hold the phone up to the mic while he complained about all these weeks spent at HiFi Bar and when would I have time for him again? It was  funny in rehearsal but I forgot to put the phone on speaker so all people heard was a muffled cry from behind the backstage curtain. In other parts of the show I probably messed up some words and rambled on too long here and there but in the end I wouldn't change anything.

  • Rode Hard
  • Playing Pittsburgh (unrecorded song I've had a while)
  • How When Where? (old song I never played before)
  • Summer Of My Wasted Youth
  • At The Well (Last Roundup song w/Hazel)
  • Wheels (Flying Burritos cover w/Hazel)
  • As Is
  • Down Side Of Love
  • Keep It To Yourself
  • Needy Men
  • Til The Wheels Fall Off (w/Eric)
  • Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again? (w/Eric)
  • Property Shows (new song of Eric's)
  • Slow Burner (new song)
  • Genovese Bag (me & Eric)
  • We're Stronger Than That
  • Do You Remember That? (encore w/Eric & British rock beat)
  • Don't Ever Change
  • Beer & Kisses (one more encore)
  • last night