Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Things That Really Happened During the Fall of 2012: Part III: Make Sure You Have a Plan B

Part III: Make Sure You Have a Plan B


…”Hey man! …are you dead?”

This is how it went down – we arrive, wander through this mysterious and tiny town, a suburb of Taos.  We meet our host and are given a detailed history of her involvement with the venue – it was a run down tea shop but had a happenin’ music scene, then the owner left and she took it over and permits permits permits.  PLUS her dad just had a heart attack and everything’s so hectic!  She shows us to our filthy yurt, which is full of empty ice cream cartons, spider webs, trash, and dirt.  BUT there is a wood burning stove, which we will make good use of later.  There are two people in the audience when we start.  By the end, the room is packed with listening enthusiastic people.  You never know.

In the room there are 2 beds and a whole lot of people sleeping on the floor. Some people are listening to music on the shitty little phone speaker. Doing impressions. Laughing. I’m on the floor, quiet and self conscious. Tagging along. The sky is getting brighter. What should I do? I’m thinking of driving somewhere to watch the sunrise. Then I’m back inside, trying to figure out how to say goodbye. “you should sleep in my bed!” she says. Somebody laughs. I don’t hesitate. Lights off. I’m lying awake, the sun is peeking through the window impartially. There are 12 people in the room, 7 of them creating a symphony of snoring- all different tones and textures. Some soaring and high, some growling low. It’s 7am and I don’t care about anything but being close to her. 

On the beach at Flint Ridge.
We’ve been here for 2 days, camping – 3 if you count Sunday night on the hill.  We’re dirty but we’ve been eating righteous healthy food.  I had a minor tantrum on the beach the day we moved camp and then everything went perfect.

Horrible turnout, but not bad for a Monday gig. There were pretty women. They were excited to play a Nintendo wii dancing game with us. Kevin played. He danced with wild abandon. At the end he crawled under a table. Kris and I sat blinking like toadies. Somebody asked us- “do you watch ‘how I met your mother?”. We blinked again and it was 1:30am in the McDonald's Drive-Thru. I could feel the anger and frustration in the little voice coming through the speaker, offering us apple cinnamon oatmeal. We ordered ice cream and fries. I’ve never been served ice cream with such hatred before. 

I press my nose to the glass and the passing by goes easy – if blurry, still colorful.  In my mind I think I’m somewhere but I am very much somewhere else.  You are a reminder of the star matter that formed this place. Every morning lately I stretch and smile before I begin bouncing around the cosmos, before my mind begins to try to figure things out.  I’d like to go the other way, using reason in little bits like a dash of salt on a dish that is full of wonder and flavor.  I wish for more closeness with the source of the light behind your eyes, of the heart audible to all beings and mimicked by drums.

We drove that morning to Rogue River and stopped at Wolf Creek to get out and stretch, walk around.  The local park was closed due to a Biker rally and BBQ so we walked up the street a ways.  It was Saturday and there were yard sales everywhere.  We stopped off at one that covered the entire front yard, sloping up the hill to a ranch home with worn white siding.  The owners were drinking beer under a tent, overlooking their kingdom.  Rusted metal tools, cups and bowls, piles of empty CD cases (Dave Matthews, Rush, Journey), tattered Barbie dolls, a pile of old journals, some with writing still inside: "pick up Rick" "Groceries" "Get your social security card".  There was even a full clown suit on the clothes rack.  Poking around, pass by a sleeping pit bull, nothing for me here.  Grabbed an old Pink Panther eraser from the free box on the way out.  

I followed the light of your flashlight 
And we sang in the dark
Every sound an echo
We’ve been inside these woods
For a few hundred years –
He says ‘God bless you’ a few times
On the side of the road
And we comment on the beauty
Of this particular terrain.
I scramble up and up 
Chanting to myself
‘This is fun and easy.’
When the forest turned we were just about to turn back
And then it was irresistible

Wow.  99¢ corn dogs are back.  The venue looks like a cross between an insurance office and a double wide.  Man at the bar stares at me as I talk about Denver.  Tiffany's top straps fell off both sides of her shoulders, she makes the old men smile.  Frog Legs dances like a mad chipmunk.  Lady asks if we know any Tim McGraw.  Alex tells her about Fearless Freaks, their weirdness inspires him.  End of the night he slumps over the keyboard and plays the theme song to Mash.  Perfectly.  

A tentacle pulled me into the water
A band of pirates charged at us
That’s what happens on the grey shore
At the top of the third rolling hill
The party goes on
Same as it ever was.
I wish you could tell when I’m full of shit
And take me only for those moments 
When the truth serum tumbles out of my mouth, unstoppable

Near the stream the streamsounds are masking the highwayssounds.  High pitched rubber tire strings, concrete drones, clicking truck seams on the bridge.  Count them like sheep.  They keep passing, going the other way, South of Detroit.  She picked us out.  Turned a mouthful.  Shouted across two lanes of rush hour, something about being stuck in this same traffic last Friday.  Kids fidgeting in the backseat.  Authorized vehicles only.  Bleached bones and cigarette butts collecting underneath the steelrail divider.  That morning we sat outside in sweatshirts.  I kept staring at the bowl of petoskey stones submerged in water sitting on the table.  She said to call when you have time.  You call because you are busy.  I have lots and lots of time.  

Somewhere along the line a tiny bug penetrated the immune defenses of the Chimney Choir organism.  That is, we are rolling down the road sniffling and hacking, congested and low energy, a loud cacophony of sickos.  First David, then Kevin, then me.  Last night I was taken over by sneezes and tiredness and I slept in the car while the boys had magic.  It made me sad for a while today – a pack animal locked away in the minivan.

Descending down through the galaxy of redwoods.  We turned down the road and took the route back to camp along the nightbeach.  A pair of headlights picked us out, odd creatures on a lunar surface.  The truck pulled up and cut the engine - a man leaned out of the window.  "There's a baby seal down there wrapped in an army jacket. It's contagious.  Game warden is coming first thing in the morning."  We solemnly thanked him and walked back to camp- hoping to stumble on the young sea mammal. We saw nothing. We got back and roasted hobo pies in a driftwood camp fire. 

Now I am spending my time on the steps outside the door, bumming cigarettes and falling into conversation with whoever is nearby. Sometimes she is outside, sometimes in. When she’s out, we are talking. When she’s in, I am biding my time. It’s around 5am now. Zach is gone and I have no idea how to get back to wherever I came from.

Last night it was cold enough to keep me awake
Thinking of all the starlings in my home
I’ll tell you what color they are
You’ll use three eyes to see.
The branch’s hand scoops into the river
All the world around prepares for the winter
We move forward the same as before
But it doesn’t feel the same anymore
I keep wanting to ruffle your hair
I sleep in a sling between worlds.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Things That Really Happened During The Fall of 2012 Part Two: The Hero of the Open Mic


'Great set, man.'
'Thanks.  Buy my shit on iTunes!  I'm living in my van.'


He hid his little brown bag just outside the door and walked into the open mic like a bulldog in heat. “I’m a poet.“ His sleeveless arms swung loosely. “Let me at the mic.” he said. In his mind he was Muhammed Ali about to step into the ring with Joe Louis or George Foreman or one of those guys. He picked up the mic and the room fell into a silent and heavy attention. He swayed, gazing deep into the floor with the mic pressed into his lips. He began to speak…

“yeah. Ah. Yeah”
“Ah. I said.”
“I came from the streets.”
He suddenly looked up. “I need a beat. I can’t do this without a beat.” Everyone stared blankly. “come on, somebody,” he begged. “I need a beat. Can’t somebody give me a beat?”
Finally a bearded young man heeded the call. He said, “I gotcha” and the crowd parted to make way for the Beat Boxer. He took his seat next to the poet and started to beat box a simple groove into a microphone. The Poet resumed his deep downward reverie. We sat entranced in the primal beat box. The Poet spoke:

“yeah. Ah. I said.”
“in the streets. Ah.”
This went on for a long moment until The Beat Boxer stopped and looked up sheepishly at his Poet. “That’s all I got.” His voice was a meekly apologetic wiggle. The poet looked at us all and caved in. 
“I can’t do this.” He said and sputtered out of the room. The Friendly Chap Running the Open Mic smiled unperturbed into the mic. 

“Okay so our 8th performer didn’t show up, so if anybody has anything to to share, you can have this slot. Anybody?”

I was standing meaninglessly in a dark corner next to a lady with a Big Bright Shiny Baby. The Poet blustered back through the door smoking a cigarette. After a moment of silence, he said- “I don’t belong here, do I?”

“Well, it’s a kind of ‘anything goes’ type of place, so you fit in as much as anyone else.” I replied. He surveyed the room. 
“I’m the darkest person in here. Everyone is whiter than me. You’re whiter than me.”
“Let’s put it to the test.” I said, “We’ll compare our arms.”
We put out our arms and sure enough, he was darker than me. But not much.
'You’re right” I conceded. 
“But,” He said, “I’ll bet my ass is whiter than you.”

I laughed. “I’ll take your word for it. Don’t show me!” But before I really knew what was happening, I realized that he was showing me his ass. Not straight on. He dropped down one side of his pants and pulled up his shirt and exposed his left butt cheek. 

“Yep, you’re right again.” I fluttered in nervous laughing. (secretly I thought, “It’s whiter than my arm, but my ass is probably whiter than that.” But I didn’t say it because I was afraid that this conversation would go further.)

“You wanna see again?” He offered. I said no, but he dished it out anyway. I tried to change the subject.  
“Have you lived here for awhile?”
“'Bout a year.”
“Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. I had to get my 2 daughters out of the city.”
“What city?”

“Oh! We were just in Brooklyn. I can’t remember the intersection… but we played at the Jalopy Theater. Do you know it?”

And before my eyes, his gaze glazed. His face became stark and devoid of expression. He exhaled a cloud of Parliament in my face and slowly backed away- speaking in a solemn tone: “I can’t smoke in front of a baby.”

He looked horrified as he backed into the door. The Friendly Chap Running the Open Mic said- “Cigarettes have to stay outside!” He looked a little worried- like he was calculating just how he would enforce the rules if he had to.  But The Poet just said “I know.” and vanished into the night. 

Who is the hero of the Open Mic Night? Is it the timid soul longing to burst into the world? Is it the repressed soul critically looking out at the scene and condemning all those acting out? Is it the Friendly Chap with the big smile hanging heavy under the serious eyes? Is it the bearded young Beatboxer? Is it The Poet? Is it the Meaningless Observer in the dark corner? Is it the Big Bright Shiny Baby? Or is it the mic, standing like Zeus on top of Olympus, kissed by every shade of humanity- timid, profane, sweet songstress, gutter punk, praised and cursed, whispered to and screamed at, rich and poor, young and old, all that stuff. It stands with an open face and magnifies impartially. It summoned us all together from the farthest reaches of our scattered worlds, and it stood silently as we dispersed again. It is nothing but what we made it, and it does not judge. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Things That Really Happened During The Fall of 2012 - Part One: Illusions of Grandeur?

I was just in the middle of this story. The story of 5 days ago. I’m in a bar in a valley in the desert and I’m completely fascinated with this incarnate Pagan deity I've just re-encountered. And she’s giving me so much love. I’m feeling small and shy and demented with Molly. Kris is sick and sleeping in the van. We are chatting with a lot of people. I’m standing in front of a speaker that is blasting music so loud I can’t hear myself yell. There’s talk of a desert party. There’s talk of hanging out in someone’s house. It’s 2am, everyone is kicked out of the bar. I don’t care where I go, so long as she’s there. The uncertainty is completely satisfying and I have no expectations. 

‘So…are you doing this for fun or do you have illusions of grandeur?’  He is behind the print counter at Staples.  We need CD covers printed. We are hungry, tired, in a hurry, and very much at his mercy.  His tone is barbed wire coated in customer service.  I do not like his question.  

‘Neither,’ I reply ‘we’re just traveling around playing music.’ 

…I have to go alone. Probably my least favorite situation- walking into a crowd of people I don’t know; and who all know each other. For the most part I just want to stay in this safe quiet place and go to sleep. But I can’t resist this situation. I follow Zach to the hotel. At some point I am weaving through roundabouts and I realize that I have no idea how to get back where I came from. it’s 3am. 

We met up with Skycaptains at some dive in Red Hook after the Jalopy.  Conversation ran tangent from Springsteen encounters to graphic design, magic buses to Atari, it could have gone on long into the next day but we had to get back up to Harlem, get on the road early the next day.  Fog. Everywhere.  Blocks feel like film strips.  Grainy film speed.  Black and white looking in low lighting.  Blocks of brownstones.  Awnings ripped, ancient advertisements half torn from the sides of storefronts.  Always the black scribble of spray paint across the aluminum truck bays.  Always a quick look over the shoulder.  Just another pile of 50 gallon trash bags awaiting the garbage truck at dawn.  We drive around for 45 minutes looking for a parking spot.  It is 4:12 am. 

After all that, what I wanted to say for so long came out easy.
There’s a peanut butter knife in the book box.
I’d take a swig if there’s any left.
Earlier you told me something
But I wasn’t listening
Just resting in my head and loving your voice.
Over the course of this tornado of experience
The trees and breeze just keep doing their thing.
We took an autumn walk on the pier
The fisherman kept fishing and the night sky was clear.
I’ve been hoping for words for over a year.
The sand sings if you scuttle your feet across
But only here
Only here.
What’s your name?  It was nice to meet you
Hope you’re not offended but I’d rather go inside
I think you’re beautiful but I can’t stay here one more minute
It’s loud and there’s a crowd
And everyone is shouting to be heard.
I prefer fingertips and soft whispers
Or the comfort of a traveling triangle always coming and going
Suspended on the in-betweens and why are you looking at me that way?
What will it be like to die one day?

Everyone is in the hot tub. People are rolling up their pant legs and soaking their feet. I do it too. I’m sitting far away from her- wanting to be closer but don't want to make it known. Everyone is talking about minerals and gemstones and some kind of deposit in the sand that makes everything better. I’m sort of paying attention, not really contributing to anything. But deep down I don’t really care if I fit in or not. I’ve never really fit in, and I’ve had to swallow that my whole life. So when I’m in these situations, I can distance myself from it- not put too much weight on it. Take what it has to offer and discard the rest. Soon I’ll be home again, and this will be a good or bad memory. Just a memory all the same. In that sense it’s just like a dream and it can be enjoyed like a dream experience. Even the awkward parts. 

Are you looking at me?
Do you sense that I’m nervous?
I sang through the chorus
But bungled the verses
Oh no
Am I hiding it well?
Can I keep it from you?
Will you be able to tell?
Oh I hope that you like it
Is this going well?
It was not what I thought I ought to do
Not what I’d do if I’d thought it through

‘I’m a musician too.  I know a lot of musicians and I’ve worked with a lot of people – most of whom I’ve blocked from my Facebook.’ He says.  ‘They work in gas stations now.  All I can say is – Just make sure you have a Plan B.’

We represent something for him – behind his words lie the history of his dream. He reached for it and it burned him. He needed to urgently warn us not to get our hopes up.  He is trying to help, to save us from this thing we all love so much.  He is a preacher and the Staples counter is his pulpit. We are his youthful optimism, and he is our beaten-down cynic.

I woke up today with a ‘POW!’  These songs are clobbering me over the head, wanting to be learned.  It’s not always like that.  I do not take it for granted.  My head is full of you, you in my space, you suffering growing pains, you desperate to get out of town.  Lovers in a booth.  Olive and Orson.  The grass testifies with dew, there is a chill in the air and it’s the first taste of fall, so full of relief and preparation.  There is as close to nobody at the shows as ever.  Spirits are high and sparkly.  Most mornings I am moving before I’ve come into myself and I’m sure the rest of the day reflects that.  I must not forget to sit down and look around.  I’ll see you soon.

We woke up in Motel 6 a few minutes before 11am checkout.  Cold outside, noisy from the man walking walking up and down the narrow lot with a leaf blower.  Pushing the growing pile of brown and yellow in a series of calculated moves, to the corner near the dumpster and up into the patch of wood.  I sat on the opposite curb reading People's History, the chapter about Cherokee removal from Georgia.  A slow and somber mood, load up the van (the back hatch is broken now so one person holds up the heavy gate as others shuffle luggage and gear around), and drive across the busy 4 lane to Meijer.  We are disoriented, exhausted, confused.  Two options - Waffle House or cook at the park.  I was greased out, couldn't handle another shitty cup of coffee or fake packet of jelly.  But the thought of washing week old dishes in the sink of a stale city park bathroom didn't sound much better.  Morale was low.  This was hard.  Two shows left.  1,300 miles.  We split up in a state of agitation.  I stood alone in the produce aisle, near the shiny apples, wondering the hell was going on.  Somehow we all ended back up at the self checkout.  Eggs, trail mix, spinach, cereal, beans.  To the park we go, the leaves are crunchy underfoot, sit in the sun and read, walk around, remember with it's like to be human.  Only an hour drive to Columbus.

I wake up.  In a mouse shit bed.  In a woody 70's mobile trailer.  Push open the screen door, barely held in by weakened magnets.  Hello Rogue River.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Is Schützenfest every Monday?

I was sitting between strangers, flying to Brussels when I realized it was gone - an untimely death at the Frankfurt airport on June 17.  I closed my eyes and swallowed my grief.

Schützenfest!   Forgot it was this weekend.  We detoured out to a field where a huge white tent sat nearly empty, only a few dozen people left over from the 3 day bender.  The clean up crew was breaking down, carting away bottles, banners, beer carts, tables and chairs.

We played a pretty even mix of old and new music. I think we did the right thing. Old blues, Appalachia, and our songs. Somewhat educational. Must have been entertaining. Then Johnny took us on a tour at midnight. Old walls, castles, roman roads, and an unfinished nuclear tower that now hosts some of the areas most lively costume parties.

I went to sketch you with words
But I lost my book
And when I finally had a new one
I could no longer see you as you looked
And it hasn't been so long since you were within reach
But now there's a power plant on a crowded beach
I was careless with my marionette and now he's tangled in his strings
The moment I awaken I've forgotten all my dreams
Tick tock, the old clock does the only trick it ever learned
And we still have our ways of being far away

We are staying on the banks of the Rhein, that massive sculptor of red clay which flows silently, almost secretly below our perch on top of the windmill tower only a few meters away.

Wow! I had that crazy dream experience in Aaron's apartment in Berlin. I had the covers over my face and when I pulled them down and saw light I was so relieved. It was one dream after the other like machine gun fire.

I'm feeling much better, thank you.  Here we've come to the end of something again - this tour.  We just swam in Lake Michigan, but we're in Indiana, and tonight we'll be in Illinois with Sara and Gordy.  Mount Kimbie is happening.  I'm outside myself looking at me in my body.  

Walking back.  There is a full moon hovering over the river, everyone is quiet.  It is 4:00am and Johnny's midnight historical tour is nearing the end.  The Rhein used to flow through the field where we walked but the phantom shifted it's course years ago.  It always changes.  Come lads, there is history everywhere.

It is so very important to climb into cool water.  Wow every moment is perfect.  The wind is tossing back your hair, you are left-half in the sun, we are vibing to music, we are on our way home, there is nothing to fear.

A guy came over to Johnny and introduced himself to us.  There was blood all over his sleeve that David kept pointing at and asking what happened.  He just kept talking and told us his mother said he had to be home before the sun came up.

This morning it wouldn't stop raining and last night David left his shoes outside the tent.  We all woke up soaked, shivering cold.  Rainy walks to the train.  Tired and exhausted.  Why am I walking so far?  Spending my last 8 Euro on a purple scarf. It's your favorite color.

After the show I met a lady in a green scarf who told me where The Beatles played their first gigs. 800 shows, she said. Over 2,000 hours. They would play from 7am until 7pm. They did 98 shows without a day off! But in the end it was worth it for them. What about the bands that did that and didn’t make it?

"Is Schützenfest every Monday?!"

I had told the lads many stories about Johnny Collins - but there’s no way anyone can be truly ready.  He’s so fascinated with life. His brain is like a sponge. He’s got so many things stored in there, sometimes they all just come pouring out. And it all seems come from being absorbed with what’s going on around him. He knows the history of every bunker, tower, roman road and olde town wall. He knows how the Rhein has changed it’s location over time, and he pointed out where it used to be.

Crackers from the flight attendant!  And now we're up over the clouds.  Did I mention that this flight is half-empty?  I am horizontal and I like it.

Only the barges can be heard - and an invisible nightbird who is obviously very angry about us being so close to his nest.  We continued along the old city wall and kept seeing drunken uniformed men and dressed up women passing by.  

Last night we played at Artliners. It looked like a cool Noir kind of place, but really it was a noisy bar. I was happy to play in a noisy bar. We could just let loose and jam together.

I had a kebab on the way home, at 1:30am. That’s what gave me the dream explosion.

Our Hamburg gig was called Hasenschaukel. It was surreal inside.. weird bunny things hanging all around the place. Behind the stage there was a mantle with a television in it that was showing a video of a fire.

When I get to back to the pub it is 5am and I'm locked out.  I accidentally stole a lighter in my attempt to get the fuck out of there, and now it is the only thing I have to throw at the window where the boys are sleeping.  I wonder if I'll be down here for hours, halfheartedly chucking the lighter at the upstairs window on my birthday morning.

It was a little out of tune. But the vocals were killer and there were enough people in there to make it worth while. The sound guy and the bar tender lady loved it, so I was happy.

Me and Kris sang ‘Across the Blue Mountains’ real delicate. I listened as the strange old American harmonies filled the room- soaking into all the little cracks of that 400 year old German church.  What people had sung in there?what words had been spoken? Who had bowed his head in prayer? Who had raised his arms in worship? Who had dwelled upon a wicked secret? Sought divine guidance?

I lost my journal on my birthday.  Born on May 29 in the JFK airport for way too much money.  Written in every day of the Europe trip, carried in my purse-vessel to gigs, rainstorms, mood swings, backseats, green parks, and quiet moments.  In it's short life, this notebook and I traveled together and stole moments together whenever we could - I could never stay away for long.

A cook brought us some amazing vegetarian pasta with this hazelnut sort of paste in it. Just before we started playing, there were about six people there.  But by showtime it was full and more people kept coming in. It was amazing. The place was packed and the audience loved whatever we did.
David comes and opens the door after not too long and calls me a dork.  I am so unbelievably happy to see him.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I Should Introduce Myself

Leaving makes everything more meaningful. When you’re leaving you even cherish the annoying things.  Everything is special because it won’t be there tomorrow. I can see how that might be disturbing for some people, but I love how it deepens the experience. Increases awareness. Living in a way that I am frequently leaving, everything has that shine to it. Pay attention to every detail, take nothing for granted. 

In every town that we go to, people say they have the worst allergens in the country.  

Hays, why are you so far away?  We left at the ripe hour of 9:30pm last night.  This morning I am ready to burn through Kansas.  We had a hell of a time finding a motel in Eureka last night - all were full but two.  One motel's front desk person's hairy leg could be seen pointing out of a bed, along with very loud, enthusiastic snoring.  We rang the bell several times and David even shouted.  The other motel had a buzzer and a little lady who complained about us buzzing her...we said we'd shop around and then left.  Grumpster in the dumpster.  We wound up waking the sleeping man, who charged us $50 and let us check out at 1pm.  Win.

We slept on the front porch and it was cool and breezy. I woke up next to a pile of broken glass beneath gigantic sunny trees swaying peacefully. I sat up in my sleeping bag and a business man waved at me. It was 11am in Kansas City. 

We're in upstate NY, camping.  A gorgeous place to look at but good lawd, the highway screams all night.  Yesterday I was still in the shape of the van seat long after the drive was over.  I went for a run and now I am me-shaped again.

He sat at a table with his total bombshell of a girlfriend. Neither of them said much of anything- to each other or anyone else. She brought out the sex in everything. Even the slimy bricks of the green room wall looked more attractive with her sitting beneath them. I formed an opinion about her and I was wrong - which is great.

We’ve been working on so many new songs in the van. Banjo in the back seat, mandolin in the front.. It makes everything more magic.

Afterwards we stay at the table talking with Alex about Austin, touring, 9 to 5ers.  The bar tender finished wiping down the tables and unplugged the machines.  Alex drew a map on the table with his finger, directions to the Rat House from Pancos Mexican Restraunt, the only other place that we have been in Kansas City.

No wifi here, a blessing in the midst of the work we 'have' to do 'right now'.  David and I slept on the front porch of a beautiful KC house.  We laid down as the sun was coming up and life began to stir into a commotion.  Now we're at the Broadway Cafe and there's a tattoed man outside with a Chihuahua under his arm.  I couldn't make this stuff up.

Waking up dog barking
In David's face
I'm on a couch
Shut up morgan
Can we wake up
Kevin now?
Wisking Waffle batter
So close to the station
Toys or trucks
There are always sirens going by

We'll leave Denver a day early so the drive isn't as long.  Meet up Wednesday afternoon, glue a bunch of CDs and cook dinner.  Today there is no rushing.  We'll park the cars at the Warehouse, then swing by my apartment (I forgot my passport), hit Steiner's on the way out and grab the microphone.  I-70 for 600 miles.  Find a motel when you get tired.  

He was playing Ski-Jump.  Pre-digital.  Less of an angle.  The ball floated almost weightless, catapulting off of the crumbling pop bumbers.  The points climbed up like the gallons on an old gas pump, shifting the wooden box on it's skinny metal legs.  I was at Cyborg, newer and flashy.  Replay at 3,900,000 - keep hitting that left ramp.  The game has a glitch, thinks it's multi-ball, 20 second window to hit the jackpot.  You have the extra ball lit, ya see that?  Toggle the the side with the flippers.  It felt like Mickey in my corner, pep talking and sizing up the machine.  I only had 760,000 after the second ball but on the last one I kept looping the ramp, each a b-line up the robotic spiral, lights kicking on everywhere.  The madness couldn't have lasted more than a minute, I looked at the display.  End of ball.  Magnet bonus: 300,00.  Cyborg Loop x10: 100,000.  Dual gate open: 750,00.  Total.  9,700,00.  I heard that thick metallic click.  He looked up from his game on the older machine and gave a barely noticable nod of approval.  

She's sitting on the steps after our gig and I race across the street with my snifter of Chardonnay, breaking the rules.  She's crying and we have a Real Moment Together - thank goodness, for I was getting thirsty.  I want to tell her that she's all-powerful, and she's most of the reason I like this place so much, and it's going to be ok.  That if she's not happy she can move, she's never stuck, she can always change and leave and grow and learn and this is only the beginning.  But I sit and listen with one hand on her shoulder, one around the base of my glass, and I can't help but like this moment.  

We just made dinner by a lake in an Indiana state park.  The highways of (my) youth.  It's been a truly great day.  Woke up on a beautiful farm and fell into a song hole right after breakfast.  Every song we played was alive and we gobbled them up one after another, relishing the tastes and textures inside.  It's easy to get in the zone right now and stay there.  Hard to remember to stretch and eat and go outside.

Now, moving on down the road, I am so coated with music that I can't hear anything but melody - by the marsh, in bed before sleep, in the moments of quiet on the in-betweens.  Listen to what they're saying.  It's not about you or me.  Listen and write down what I hear if I have a pen handy. We are always pen-less in times of need.

...And then we had breakfast in WaKeeney.  Mediocre but satisfying.

Monday, May 7, 2012

No Cards (or Radar Enforced)

Day 1 - Ogden, UT
A beautiful place with majestic mountains and that squeaky clean Utah vibe.  I'm sitting at the bar of Penny's Two Bit Cafe and Antique Shop, waiting for my huevos rancheros.  I'm by myself and it is awesome.  From my perch I spy: a portrait of William Shakespeare, a billboard for 'Polygamy Porter' (Why Have Just One?), a giant 3-foot fork hanging in the window, an autographed Andy Gibb record, a girl in a martini glass with a lit match, and myself in a giant mirror directly across.  Dark wood bar top.  Couple with baby.  Waitress who's worked here forever.  I like this place.  Ancient cash register.  Giant beer stein.  Bowl of old ketchup in the cupboard.  One of those bicycles with a big front wheel and tiny little back one.  Cool.

Day 2 - Boise, ID
We had a little time, so  I asked the hostess what we should go see in Boise. “Well,” she said, “the Basket District is right over there on 8th!” “The what district?” “The Basket District!” It was noisy. It really sounded like she said ‘Basket District’. I didn’t know anything about Boise, so anything was possible. Immediately I had visions of a street full of basket shops, basket makers, wicker furniture, innovative basket sculptures, a basket parade, and on and on. It seemed weird, but I accepted it as true and we set out for 8th street. We saw a busy looking street. Lots of shops. No baskets. Kevin said “This must be Basket Street!”. Then I thought that it was a district named after Basket Street. I thought that until we saw that the street we were on was not called ‘Basket Street’. As we were walking back, we passed a building called ‘The Basque Cultural Center’.

Days blur together
He was nameless, in good shape, good looking, and totally obliterated at 3 in the afternoon. When he first came up, it was well before the gig. We were just picking some tunes on the porch when he tumbled out of a moving car. He wobbled up to the porch and asked- “Are you Chimney Choir? Where’s that hot chick that plays the banjo?!” Later on he ate fries off of Kris’ plate. 

Archetypes and airplanes, lush green farmlands and endless rolling hills.  Fog rolled in in the middle of the night.  The bar was too much and I had to get out, called Joelle and danced on tiptoes around the loud party inside.  Some guys light up a joint right in front of me on the sidewalk.  Dig Seattle.  Pink moon tonight and we've just had a fantastic show - Carl is with us, we kidnapped him today with glee!  He makes us better - our show, our morale, our playfulness. Our DRUMS!!  Cycles and patterns underneath - circling round and round - chaos and order and back again.  A sort of light we can hand back and forth when the timing's right.  It's a trap door that lets me fly up over that big pink moon, outside this imaginary place, outside myself.  I'm hooked.   

What’s the difference between a sheep and a ram?
What’s the difference between jelly and jam?
A sweet potato and a yam?
I guess I think therefore I am. 

We check into our place, move out after just a taste.  Wind back and forth for hours and days.  I've never been where I'm going, thank god for that! This band, this van, and how we spin towards the center.  I-5, long drive, we cannot leave the way we entered.  The endless days all curl into a spiral shape.  You hand me back an apple with peanut butter on it and I know that I'm not alone. There are wildflowers along the highway.  It's too much - If I could write all the beauty my pen and my heart would explode simultaneously.

Monday after Easter. A cool cloudy day in Eugene. Aside from not making quite enough money, this is really fun! We played Sam Bond’s Garage last night and loved it. That place has some magic. We were put up by a magic fairy leprechaun of  a lady named April Kay. We all slept on her floor. As usual, I was the last to sleep but the first up. The room was stuffy and the others just kept sleeping and sleeping. So I got up and wandered to a coffee shop. Sweet Life Bakery. Probably should head back soon. 

I could use a peek into your brain.  And mine, come to think of it.  Ripples of anxiety sometimes kick up across the surface of a deep well of goodness.  I woke up wrong and couldn't find a laugh for your jokes.  Just give me half an hour.  I didn't mean to sleep this long and if I did, I'd have wanted it to be deeply restful and satisfying.   There's a key in your pocket that I need.  Where are you?  Are you back?  Should I call you?  Before I fall asleep again there will be so many waves, colors, thoughts, sounds, and we will whirl our show around a room again. Day 6.

Walking through the colorful aisles throwing produce into a small red basket.  Today we have a kitchen to cook in.  A kind new friend who put us up for the night, left in the morning, said lock the door behind you.  We ate bacon, spinach, peppers, eggs in the front lawn, picnic style with dandelions all around.  Moving slowly this morning.  Lately they all feel like Sundays, playing to the bar tender and a few locals on the off nights, said we should come back on the weekend, gets crazy in here.  Outside after the show we went to an empty bowling alley and George told us about the mural on the wall, a beautiful Indian woman who grew up in the area.  She starred in a Buster Keaton movie film then moved to Europe, claimed she was Anastasia, died in a mental institution somewhere in France.  George smoked and laughed from his big belly and his Mexican girlfriend would speak Spanglish under her breath, directed at no one in particular.  Chiquapin, Morena, she said she liked to have a few drinks and dance, dance, dance.  

So, we pulled up to a post office in Springfield, OR. There was a pudgy nondescript man in a white shirt and a kilt playing a whiney little bagpipe. He wore a big sign on his chest that said- “Stop the White Genocide!” I asked him for a pamphlet, and he gave one to me. My oh my it was typically psycho paranoid illogical racist propaganda! I decided to make a mad lib of it. 

We have this moment in the doorway of her apartment- we just stand there in each other’s arms and breathe. Just feeling the energy of us together. I see all of the moments in the past 7 years where we stood together like this. And it’s like a mirror reflecting a mirror- a snakelike chain of endless moments- each moment is a snapshot of us standing together. But then it was time to go. It's always time to go. I walked down the stairs and said “thanks for the pie!” and that was it. 

We played at ___________ last night. I guess it was fun, but there was something depressing about it. The energy of the crowd was draining. The first time I was there it seemed so young and free and magic. This time it seemed busted up and sad. Who changed? It or me? 

It’s a coffee shop on Half Moon Bay. Espresso steaming. Sunny, but a cold wind blowing. There’s the Specific Ocean out the window, doing that thing that it does so well. It’s kind of a one trick pony, but it’s less about what it does than the way it does it. You can’t get mad at Bob Marley for just playing reggae all the time. We applied for a grant last night and it nearly killed us. Tonight is the 11th show in a row. That’s a solid run! I can’t even remember what it’s like to have a day off! 

On a tilted cliffside
The stirring Pacific
Shot bits of whitecap
Up under the yellowed street posts 
Like Instant bats 
That disappear 
After catching glimpse of their flight
I stood there and let the harsh wind
Pummel my face
For as long as I could stand it
Until cold tears blurred my sight 
And i could barely hear the waves
Throwing themselves against the rocks
I couldn’t figure out
How to tell you what I saw
The midnight epiphany
(Maybe now is the time)
Walking back through the arbor
The waves sounded further away
Lapping inside conch shells 
On the bathroom mantle
When I woke up 
I could still taste the salt
Above my lips

The vocal could be a colorfully dissonant chord that’s chanted. Heavy drums. The bass line walks down to Dm and then a jaw bone hit on 1, 2, 3. Lyrics go with it. Hold Dm for 8 measures until going to C. Perhaps a quick G, then back to the riff. This song could very well be called, ‘Radar Enforced”. 

I’m on a sidewalk patio called ‘Rose’s Café’ in San Francisco. I’m getting a fairly expensive wine buzz to enhance my wanderings. I split from the group and it’s awesome. I remember what it’s like to just hang out on my own. We went on last at Ano Domini. We had an awkward set up, and the percussion stand crashed into the crowd three times, but everything was just right. We got a standing ovation! 

I wish I had my hat. I lost my flute too. I’m a flake but I don’t care. 

That’s the thing lately. I can just draw up the plans. That’s the first step. Don’t just say, “How will I pull it off?” and then not try. Everything starts with a clear vision. All you need is a notebook. Sketch it out, then worry about how to pull it off. The dream-world should remain boundless. 

We set up on a big stage, did a sound check and played. The crowd was a young couple and a dude with a mustache. It was one of those shows where the audience is embarrassingly small but attentive, so you feel kind of ridiculous. I think is was a 3 hour gig, and they stayed most of the time. No one bought a CD. The sound guy loved it though, and told us several times. So there you go.

Our time in the enchanted forest heals us.  There were barely any words, just breath and soft crunch-crunch of our footsteps.  Occasional observation.  The smell of the ocean. It's our first day off after 11 gigs straight, 4 states, every show with its own distinct personality.  I can remember each one so clearly even as they blur together.  The songs we sing bind us together like vibrational glue.  I can be half asleep before the show and afterward I'm floating, electric, social, amplified, high on it.  A polar shift.
  Ice caps melting.  Life's renewal.  It's all right here in us, in these woods.  Tacos at night around the table.  And red wine.  The conversation went from Vampires to Manzanita, Physics to Cats Pajamas.  Laying awake in my sleeping bag I kept trying to conjure up your face and voice.  The same scene kept flashing.  It is always quiet, you are walking away, never once looking over your shoulder.  

In traffic headed easy on the Bay Bridge - we just dropped Carl off at the greyhound station - a bittersweet moment since it has been such a great time playing music with him.  We walked to the Moss Lighthouse and crossed the stream to a secluded beach under the bluff.  Sunset on the Pacific. We sang a song.  

Day 15 - David's Birthday
Two days in the barren desert just East of Black Rock City.  David's birthday - what a divine human bean!  Breakfast tacos and coffee and a long walk.  At the beginning we are light and singing and I'm getting more lifted every moment.  The walk up the hill begins some kind of unexpected swirling internal darkness and I'm falling into an open yawning churning gap.  I do not want to keep walking up this hill, nor do I want to sit or go back down.  I don't want to be alone, but I don't want other people around either.  Uneasiness permeates.  I am amazed by my surroundings but also frightened.  I see and imagine David being struck by lightning and have a terrible sinking sensation.  I chase him, not really wanting to catch up, not knowing what to say.  The searching I remember from that shaky morning in Mississippi.  Endless hunger.  Skin too thin.  Does the dark always lie waiting underneath?  By the end of the walk I am relieved and not sure how to be with the others.  I want to celebrate but I am so heavy and far away.  I keep wishing I was better birthday company.  I do not sleep well.

It’s morning in the Santa Rosa Peak Wilderness. There’s just a little bit of chill in the air, so I have a small fire going. First cup of coffee is brewed. The sun is up and getting warmer. The only sounds are birds and a stream. Kevin’s up now, getting his coffee ready. We have a French press that makes one cup. Kevin’s mug declares- ‘I’m 50 and proud of it!’. We accidentally stole it from Sylvia’s house in Montara. We have set up camp by the side of a dirt road in northern Nevada, 50 miles north east of Winnemucca, a cute/sad little off-the-radar casino town. A billboard welcomed us to town, boasting ‘5 casinos and 1,131 hotel rooms’ among other things. It’s Wednesday now, April 18th. Birthday. 31 years ago, I opened up my little eyes and thought- “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!?!”. And it’s been a crazy rollercoaster ride ever since. 

Day 19 - Home
At home, in my backyard, my neighbors play Scrabble and cards every evening.  It's a nice scene to stumble into, homey at home, reminiscent of games on the road.  Our upcoming tour is looming, a 6-week beast that promises even more highs and lows than the last few months.  I'm soaking in the light - the Colorado sunshine and the people here who remind me of the best version of myself.

A word about the moment I come home and am alone in my apartment for the first time. I'm buzzing. Like it might take awhile to find the ground.  I've lost sight of the ocean.  What is there to do but sit still and be quiet?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jump in the pit

Good morning. Jesus Christ, good morning. We left Colorado dead with winter. We got to Texas and were greeted with flowering dogwoods, lush green grass, leafy budding trees, crickets at night and warm breezy rain.

When did this one start? 12 days ago in the smokey lounge of the 806 in Amarillo.  The first folks we met were a band form Boulder, STATUE OF LIBERTY and they stomped on a kitchen table with no legs and sang wonderful songs.  
The stolen hour of sleep that disappears each March was last seen on the dim red clock face in room 128.  I slept soundly in the cheap Dallas hotel, the lights of Walmart still buzzing in my head from our 1am foray to the food aisle.  It rained for 30 hours, but not like the mean red patches shown on the weather channel, we must have been on the periphery, it pittered and pattered and was easily thrown aside by the windshield wipers on our way to Fort Worth.  

We played at Fred’s Texas Café last night. It had been raining all day, which was great. But this was a patio gig. There was a loosely connected tent of tarps over a row of picnic tables. Heat lamps on all the tables. Kris had a screaming headache and had to lie down in the van. The whole place was cold and dripping. We played in the one dry spot. The funny thing was that people were actually sitting out there and eating dinner. And we had a fabulous sound guy named Jerry. Jerry Christ. He had a big straw hat above a huge smile. He kept sneaking in jokes and happy spiritual revelations as he plugged in cables and hoisted speakers. I think the sound on that patio was as good as the Walnut Room.

After we played ‘All in your mind’, there was a collective holler from outside. Suddenly a gander of pudgy happy Texans burst on to the scene. They danced, laughed, drank, bought cds and left in under 15 minutes.  One table of ladies stayed the whole time. We ended up going back to their residency suite at the Marriot. They were young and gorgeous and drinking and smoking and married with children. I didn’t know that people like that were possible. We hung out with them all night and it was great. The Wild Texas Wives.

Driving to Austin in the dark listening to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.  Once we made it to the capitol there was no stopping.  RAGBIRDS wailing away with fiddles and West African drums, SAL on the corner singing the St. Louis Blues, we met him in Brooklyn last summer and he’d been busking in NOLA since.  Frenzied gypsy accordions, clarinets and guitars by the INHERITANCE.  JAY-Z was on TV, only a mile away.  We caught word from ANNIE ST about a secret show and drove out to Zilker, scrambled up an old crumbling staircase and into the forest,  down across the creek and back over again, plastic candles lighting the way.  The stage was a dry sand bed below a 20 foot cliff, the crowd piled onto the hillside, sat among the bushes, didn’t say a word.  NICK JANA strummed, LAURA GIBSON sang serenely, the cops kicked everyone out during SPIRITS OF THE RED CITY’s set, a peaceful exodus, the magic was over.  We woke up to the roosters speaking spanish:  Cick- a - dee - kee.

AYO AWOSIKA stunned the crowd in the church and played a song she wrote 48 hours before.  We missed OK SWEETHEARTs set in all the madness. We sang songs with PAUL on the porch then walked down to the chaos of 6th.  Taking the river walk below Stubb’s we were chased out by 4 cops on horseback, they roused the sleeping bums under the bridge, shined the lights and yelled "park closes at 10pm!".  Back up on the street there bass blasted from every building.  Plastic bucket drummers, horns, WOLFMAN on the fiddle, lasers danced above the crowd, could have been Bourbon, could have been Beale.  We walked back to the East, didn’t even stop inside a club the whole night.  Thursday WOODEN FINGER stopped by from Jackson, STATUE OF LIBERTY came too.  CARL was somewhere in the radius.  The magic was at CHARLIE’S HOUSE SHOW, thanks to CLOUDS AND MOUNTAINS.  The nebula of bands settled there in the front lawn.  DEVIL WHALE, NORTH AMERICA.  Our set turned into a dance party.  HE IS MY BROTHER, SHE IS MY SISTER blew everyones mind, some still haven’t recovered.  A TOM COLLINS was possessed, DRY RIVER YACHT CLUB layered strings and reed and horns into the corner of a Thai Restaurant, SOME SAY LELAND drew everyone in to the most delicate air.  The last act we saw was an incredible metal band, perched on a hilltop outside of an old hangar. “This is our last song! Anyone standing around is a pussy! Put down your girlfriend’s hand, jump in the pit and get yourself a scar!”

It’s so good to be back  in Mississippi in Jane Rule Burdine’s cabin. I could easily write a book about all these Taylor people. Yesterday evening, first evening of spring, we sat on a porch beamed up with Nicky while JIMBO MATHUS rehearsed his band inside.  It was laid back, loose, swampy and southern.  It was one of those moments when everything is just right.

We’ve been so inspired by EDWARD SHARPE AND THE MAGNETIC ZEROS. Especially Black Water. I fell into that song the second I heard it and I haven’t been able to get out. I don’t want to leave though. I’m happy here, spinning endlessly around inside of that song.

All of that magical mysterious sparkling wonderment fizzles into a pathetic flop that echoes faintly- “You can call if you want, but you don’t have to….”

Sunday, February 26, 2012


The day began early, with the sun rise. It was mid- winter in Mississippi and Kevin awoke in the small hut he was living in. He looked out upon the gently cotton fields through his pane-less window. He sat down to play his harmonica. It was a typical Sunday- but not for long. At nine O’clock there was a knock on the door. It was a turtle wearing a top hat and a bow tie. He croaked in an ancient language that Kevin somehow understood.  He told Kevin that he must set out on a great journey- first to the darkest jungles of South America where he must find a secret witch-doctor, then to the treacherous Rocky Mountains of Colorado where he must find a hidden chapel wherein lies the Grail. The turtle’s name was Joe Turse. 

Kevin had just made coffee and he told the turtle that he was quite happy staying in his cabin with his wood stove and harmonica. But the turtle told him that this journey was very important, and that the fate of humanity depended on it.  He knew that the turtle was right and he must leave what was familiar to him and set off on this great adventure.  He packed a handkerchief tied to a muddy stick with his most essential possessions and climbed on the shell of the turtle. They rode south, and Kevin bid a fond farewell to Mississippi. 

It was 11am when they entered the darkest jungle of South America. They hacked their way through the brush and leaves. They got lost. They were attacked by head-hunting giant wasp people.  They were just about to give up hope when the turtle heard a wild song in the distance. They went towards it and saw the witch-doctor! She was dressed up in a gown of moon and stars, wearing the sun as her crown, and had a cape of swirling medicinal jungle leaves. She saw them and said “My name is Kris! I have been waiting for you! Hurry- we must go to the Rocky Mountains. There is no time to lose. We must find the Grail by 4pm today!”  They both climbed on the turtle shell and rode north.  It was 1pm when they saw the great Rocky Mountains rise up out of the endless plains. They knew they were almost to the chapel. 

But first they had to pass through the great Junkland which is a very treacherous and desolate wasteland full of all the dreams that humankind abandoned when they became adults. They had to face the guardian of Junkland. For a while they saw and  heard nothing except for piles of trash. Then they started to hear rhythms in the junk. Kris said ‘That’s the Junk Master! He’s casting spells…” The beats were so cyclical and poly-rhythmic that the group just stood there, transfixed.  Joe called out “Show yourself, Junkmaster!” and soon he emerged from a pile of scrap metal.  “My name is Carl!“, The Junkmaster said. He had 10 arms, each holding some article of junk.  He spoke in rhythms that were so sick and insane that the group almost dissolved into anti-matter- until Kris started singing some gorgeous earthy syllables spun out in tape delay. She asked him to join the adventure, and he was happy to. Thus, they rode on. 

They approached Denver. Now the turtle stopped and said- “We must now go into the Warehouse, where there is an enchanted soul trapped in a forgotten statue… we must bring him to life!”  Inside it was dark and the shadows were long and creepy. They saw the statue.  It was just a silhouette between two blazing chandeliers. They approached it and the Junkmaster started casting his rhythmic spells. Kris Drickey started summoning up all kinds of pagan dieties through her voice, and Kevin started swirling in frenetic harmonica wails. In just a minute or two, the statue came to life. He said his name was David, and he didn’t really know that he had been a statue for the last 6 millenea.   He thought he had simply fallen asleep whilst composing a gypsy  symphony with no beginning or end.   

With David now awake, the party was complete and they set off to find the chapel. This was the hardest thing to do because it was hidden in the depths of the blandest suburbia of Broomfield. It was 2pm when they finally found it. They stood in the ancient temple and marveled at its marvels. At about 3pm, other enchanted and wandering souls filled the room. They all began casting their spells together- everyone in the room. All of the music and energy they created formed a ladder. When they climbed it, they saw that the Grail was actually a moment in time, something that they could all make together. So they made it and drank from it and it was so sweet. We’ve saved a little sip here in this CD. Hope you enjoy!

(ladder) now available for download