Monday, June 20, 2011

Look at my finger!

The theater is amazing- like a Vaudeville scene in a Tim Burton movie. We are the first of 5 bands. It’s a crazy long night. The owner of the theater was very kind- very interested. Didn’t complain. Talked of things and people that were inspiring to her.
So there were a lot of people sitting in the pews as we got ready to play. And the audience loved it. But the host was somewhat of a dick to us. Obviously didn’t care to listen- he was wandering about and talking through our set. Before the last song- ‘All the Time’- I asked the sound guy: “Do we have time for one more?” (knowing that we did- as we have our sets timed meticulously at this point). Thumbs up from the sound guy. We begin our plodding doomsday intro to the song. A few bars in , our ungracious host storms up to the stage, waving a chubby finger. He gruffly interrupts the song to tell us that we only have time for one more song! It is apparent that we weren’t appreciated by the host. That can be a buzz kill. But the audience ate it up- and it was a beautiful space to play.

A toast to the full moon and an evening invitation lead us to the empty barn, where sound batters back and forth between the rafters long after the moment is over.  Time stretches long and warbley.  We have our third spontaneous sound orchestra of the trip, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Always ahead or behind, that’s part of the pathology of changing so rapidly, powerfully...I have not caught up with last week even, and this one will be no less poignant.  

I’ve never seen clouds like these, in tiny bits arranged into a triangle pointing at the moon.  As soon as I look back, they’ve shifted.  And again.  And again.  Aniche.  We four amble on, breathing into radiance like puppets who’ve only just discovered our strings.  I needed this, knew it was coming, and I’m happy it’s here.  The Rightness that’s been following us seems to have become another character here with us, Henry the Cat, who entertains us with his antics and knows more than we do about these strings.  

I am awoken from a sound sleep to a loud drunk girl pointing at me and shouting- “Look there are people sleeping everywhere!!” I say to her- “I just woke up to someone pointing and laughing at me. I don’t even know where I am!” “You’re in Burlington.” she says, and I fall back to an angry sleep.

After each performance I wanted  to disappear into total anonymity. The funny thing is that we got a lot of praise and compliments- and it didn’t matter. I just wanted to hide away. So I hung out a while and listened to the host play his set.  He was gritty and soulful. Angry. Great musician and singer. His banter was nervous. He mumbled broken sentences and paced about- complained about his guitar strings, sputtered apologetically between songs. He was the King when he wasn’t on stage. But when he got up there, he looked like a gigantic 4 year old with a beard and guitar. The bucket came around and I tipped him my last dollar. Later in the night, during the next band’s set, he called me cheap for not putting any tips in the bucket. But what can I say? “I can’t tip them because I gave you my last dollar!” A likely story. I just had to accept the insult. Actually- I acted as if I didn’t hear it. He walked away. I didn’t say bye when I left that night.

There is a white wooden bench atop the world.  We sit for awhile and balance the scales, open and uninhibited.  Walls fall down.  There is no choice but to feel it.  

Henry stays with us all the way home.  We wind up again in the barn, toying with voice and vibration.  We are closer, and will contend with all these heart-magnets sooner or later.  Tonight was a pinnacle and tomorrow, a fall, though I don’t know it yet.  This carnival has more funhouse mirrors than I’m accustomed to.  And landmines underfoot.  And thought-mines and feeling-mines, all covered under the details.

My desire to disappear consumed me and before long I could resist it no more. I said a vague and mysterious goodbye to my friends and vanished in the night. I rambled around the streets of Brooklyn- full of hopeless despair. I rambled past Ceol and dropped in. E.W. Harris was out back. Exactly the guy I needed to see. He is such an inspired creative odd ball of boundless brilliance. I just wanted to listen to him talk about crazy shit for a while. And he did. He talked about Mobile, Alabama as an epicenter of Avante-folk- and open minded freak flag bubble in the infamously narrow and bigoted state. He talked about his post-apocalyptic concept band. He talked about Phillip glass’s ‘Einstein on the Beach”. It was music to my ears. He put me on an F train and sent me off at the ‘Jay-Metrotech’ stop.  “Just walk straight to Myrtle. If you see the alligator eating a headless baby- you know you’re on the right track! “ The train pulled away. I exhaustedly emerged from the subway into the hot night. I saw neither alligator nor headless baby.

Eventually I get to Clinton. My guitar is heavy and I am drenched in sweat. Every ten steps I switch hands. I walk a bit more- but everything is unfamiliar. That’s because it’s Clinton Street! I need Clinton Ave. It’s one thirty in the morning on a Wednesday, but there are people out everywhere. I start asking around: “How do I get to Myrtle and Clinton Ave?” Nobody has ever even heard of it. A few people get wide eyed and gasp. “You’re in the wrong part of town!!” I was so hot and tired I couldn’t even comprehend walking any longer. I wandered. Lost. I went into a bar and asked the bartender. My sweaty skin shimmered in the air conditioning. He walked to the other side of the bar for a moment. Then motioned me over. I was greeted by a sharp looking loud guy- dressed like a millionaire- hair all slicked back- constantly moving and bouncing- thick NYC accent. He, in his element- cool, collected and in control. Me, out of my element- haggard, disheveled, glassy and vacant stare.

“Where you goin'?” he sounded like Joe Pesci. “Myrtle and Clinton Ave.” was my humble reply. As I anticipated- he was astonished. How could I be this lost? How did things go so very wrong?!

I’d forgotten the briefcase at Banjo Jim’s the night before and had to take the bus back down to get it.  It was all rigged up for the computer samples and padded with blocks of styrofoam wrapped up in patterns of electrical tape.  When the bartender found it there at the end of the night he thought it was a bomb.  “What the fuck man?  Who still owns of one those old things?  You gotta be careful with that thing - I wouldn’t open it on the subway if I were you.”
But everyone got a good laugh and the city remained on guard...

“Look at my finger!” He commanded- and pointed out at a 45 degree angle. “Look at it!! Clinton is two blocks that way. Take Clinton to Myrtle- but it’s 2 miles. You don’t look like you’re in any condition for that kind of walk.” I stood there- shimmering. “Huh?” he laughed. “You all right? You need to sit down?”   

“No, yeah- I get it. I just don’t know what you want me to say. There’s the street so I’ll go to it. I’m just not up for it.” I stammered. “You need a couple of dollars?” he offered with mocking generosity. I held my head up. “No, I’m fine. I’m just hot and tired.” “All right- well if you need anything, I’ll be here!” Good to know. I walked back into the steaming night. Walked two blocks in the direction of his finger. I never found Clinton.

It was 100 degrees in the city and I got a head rush after standing up too quick in the park where we sat and watched.  If there was nothing else to do today we would have just sat and watched.  Like that old man we passed somewhere on the Lower East Side.  He’d probably been sitting in the same chair for 60 years taking in the street from the pinpoints in his dark and heavy eyes, face like hardened plaster.  We passed his world lugging our gear to the subway, the suitcase and guitar barely making it through the turnstile.  

Lightning bolts and bodies of water, lush tree life lining asphalt interstate.  If I don’t watch out, I might accidentally spend my life complaining about the weather whether it’s hot or cold.  The hardest thing to remember is that it’s always the right temperature, no matter how it feels on skin.

Friday, June 3, 2011

sometimes I live in the country

We are rolling down Corridor X toward Birmingham eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches, figuring out how to pass the guitar over mid-song (there was only room for one guitar).  It is hot and the windows are down, Sam Cooke sits on the dashboard, his voice cutting through the highway breeze.  It's 98 degrees and there are 5 more hours until Athens. 

Our last night in Taylor was a mixture of porch songs and whiskey bottles, pork chops and purple potatoes, beets and chard that were pulled from the ground only a few hours before.  David was figuring out Poor Black Mattie in open tunings and the riff was heard out into the field from behind the busted screen door - Dusty kindly nailed it back onto the frame after the storm last week.  Then we found ourselves sailing off of the rocky swamp of the Mississippi coast - muddy brown water spilling out past the oil rigs and cranes.  Out on the water it is calm and beautiful - Rocky is barking out orders barely discernible in his thick Gulf accent.  "Pull the jib in a little more...  little more!  See them tells up on the sail?  You want 'em both flying backwards - that means the wind is catching the sail just right.  Now git ready, we gonna tack.  Git in the middle now - watch your head!"  The main swung around and we rolled over to Port.  "Let out the jib!  Let it out!"  I yanked on the thin blue rope and the jib sail caught then opened up wide - we shot across the bay and passed David and Caleb.  "Ya see what we done?  We stole their wind - cain't sail with no wind." 

We sipped rum as the orange sun lit up the bay and turned the rigs a gold metallic.  "All them fisherman and trappers - they were just sittin' around when the government them they couldn't work no more.  Then the oil company came along and paid 'em to use their boats - laying boom and whatnot, hell alotta guys got rich doing nothing - call 'em spillionaires."

We walked along the Boardwalk where old tires and bags of Doritos had washed up on shore.  Before the storm they said there were trees twice as big, hundreds of years old.  I saw the trash grow up and over the houses and parks - rigs as far as the eye could see and signs saying "Enter water at your own risk".  It will still look beautiful at sunset.  But it gets to be 4am real quick.  By the time you pack up the P.A. and load the wagon and drive to your destination along a jungle-quiet South Mississippi highway there is little time to take in the day's report.  The obedient digestion of routine that accompanied my city days was gone and each morning starts different.  The cell phone alarm woke me up just before 9am.  They just aren't the same - fumbling first for your glasses and then trying to hit a tiny plastic number with grumpy thumbs to stop the beeping.  The sound is no where close to the day's true alarm.  The old, brown one bigger than a shoe sits blind in a closet, chord wrapped around the speaker and dial with a giant snooze button resting on top. 

We left the cabin sealed
For 3 days
Hoping the flies would go
Away and for the most part
They did
Not that it mattered much
Anyway because we sat
Most of the day
And night on the porch.
It was cooler there
And there was nothing
Bad on TV
Only silhouettes of dark
Trees etched into a slightly
Bluer background of stars
Pressed deep into the sky
So you could barely tell
How bright they really burn.
I wanted to sleep there
Under the porch light engulfed
In a deep summer fog
But the bugs would be bad
And already itching I made
My way back inside.
The cheap white walls
And bent-up plastic shades
Not blocking the light
Or heat.  It was still hot
When I sat on the bed
staring up at the ceiling
Fan wobbling in orbit
Thinking it would make
A good image
To end the blog.