On Ice

I’m drinking a beer with my brother Pat and my sister-in-law Karen in a cool beer bar in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Along with nail salons/spas, these places have sprung up all over this town. Beer on tap and pedicures, two of the few remaining things you can’t buy online.

My father and his wife live in an apartment building on a hill overlooking my old high school, across the street from the  library I grew up in. Mt. Lebanon Public Library is where I stood among the shelves reading Mary McCarthy’s The Group, missing the snark and wit and social commentary and going straight for the sex. That book weighed a ton, it’s a wonder I never developed much upper body strength. Today I ducked in to use the library wifi to download a few new books on my stepmother’s Nook.

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They’re ninety one and two, my dad and his wife. She just got out of the hospital due to a broken pelvis and he wants to wait on her, protect her, but she won’t let him – she’s that tough. My father used to be my fiercest foe, or so it felt. He was the one who could push all my buttons and make me feel the shittiest. How can I feel fury towards him now, when I ring the buzzer to get in the door to his building and he says on the intercom “Are you downstairs?”

I’m staying up the street in a new hotel. It sits right next to the building where my orthodontist, Dr. Sassouni, would tighten the metal bands on my teeth. The view from my hotel room window is the same one I’d see when I was writhing in pain. My first night here I barely slept at all. I could just feel the hills out my door too much – the cemetery we’d cut through to smoke cigarettes and get home a little quicker from high school. The brick of the houses a particular color I’d never even noticed before, but I’ve been a lot of places now and seen a lot of brick and nowhere else has that color. This is where I grew up.

Usually I’m playing a gig when I visit Pittsburgh — I even wrote a song about that particular experience. This time I’m just visiting for a few days, family visit. To say I was here last year and the year before is not entirely true, when being here involved a soundcheck, the post-gig rehash and either Cleveland or Philadelphia the next day. It’s definitely been a few years since I just hung out. I should do this more often.

I go to pick my brother John up at the streetcar stop down by the old Grove roundhouse, where they held teen dances when I was young. I start off using the GPS and then think, wait, I know these streets, but I only know them as I’m driving them, a muscle memory from over forty years ago kicking in. The topography of Pittsburgh is extreme and my calves almost start aching as I roll up and down crazy hills. My older brother waves me down by the tunnel where our mom used to honk the horn of her orange Ventura once for every kid in the car. The best was when she had to do five quick hard blasts in the very short tunnel, an overpass really. With the reverb, it was cacophony.

My mom opened an antiques and country crafts store when we’d all gone away to college and the army and New York City. She really came into her own with this shop, in her fifties. Now my brother and his wife and I are drinking beer in the space where she displayed her flea market finds and quilts and wreaths so proudly. Over the noise of a Penguins hockey game, we try to explain to the cute young bartender, “Our mother had a store here!” We try to describe what it was, what it meant getting jumbled up with “isn’t it crazy, we’re all sitting here drinking beer now?!” Patrick describes how, if a customer wanted a piece of furniture that wasn’t in the shop, our mother would run home and grab a chair or coffee table from the living room, hustle back to the store and sell it. While the beer crowd cheers hockey, we laugh and laugh. This was our mother’s place; aside from the tunnel with us kids and the honking, maybe the place she was her happiest ever.

The past, and the memory of my mother, feels so alive, even with the craft beer and Penguins on ice, or maybe because of it. I should do this more often.

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Wheels

I drove by James Baird State Park last night. It’s on the Taconic Parkway, just north of Poughkeepsie. Every time I’ve driven past that exit for the past eight months, I’ve kind of shuddered. It’s where my old car died back in August. Every time I’ve driven past James Baird State Park since August 2018 has been in either a rental, or my husband’s car. Or…the train. The train’s been great, cause it goes by the west side of the park so I don’t have to see the James Baird State Park sign.

It’s been a journey, these past eight months, trying to figure out what to do to replace that car. It’s been a journey in a lot of other ways, because Eric’s mother died just after and that’s been huge in our lives. She was in her nineties, we didn’t expect her to rally but you don’t simply go okay, goodbye and get on with things. Or you do, but you feel it every day in a lot of different ways. For Eric it’s working. I can’t believe he’s gotten a new album together and it’s stunning. I’ve been moving along to finish and publish my book and that’s happening in October. But I just haven’t been able to deal with looking for a car.

Down in Guatemala or was it Mexico (I swear this is the last time I will use either of those phrases…okay maybe I’ll do it one more time but then no more) I promised myself I would find a vehicle as soon as I arrived back home, before I left for a few dates taking me as far west as Delaware Ohio, near Columbus. That gave me approximately a week to find a car.

I’d kind of resolved to finance a newer car, something certified, something with a warranty. When I looked back over the life of my last car, a 2002 Subaru Forester, I had spent a fortune doing all the repairs it needed to keep running. So when the transmission went, at 220,000 miles, I couldn’t justify spending more to keep it going. There were just too many other problems waiting in the wings to send the car back into the shop while I walked, borrowed and rented more cars.

How many times have I sat at the side of the highway, waiting for a tow truck? At least as many times as the different cars I’ve owned. This last time really did it for me. Not to say you can’t have problems anytime, with any vehicle. Upstate, where we live, deer can take out a brand-new car as easily as an old beater. But…

I made appointments with the local dealers, the ones I’d heard good things about. The cars in my price range weren’t super-inspiring but they were serviceable, they worked and most had a few features I’d loved from my old Subaru: heated seats, AWD, moonroof.  With amazing fuel efficiency that felt like it would help me save money. Why, this car would pay for itself in no time!

But…old habits die hard, and when you look into the world of newer cars, the possibilities are limitless. Whereas on Craigslist…

Oh why was I back on Craigslist? Because I didn’t want to make a practical decision for once in my life. I wanted what I always want, a bolt, an arrow of love, random chance meetings leading to intoxication, attachment. Or rough happenstance, you’ve got $1000 (or two, or three or four) to spend and goddammit, you’re going to make this work NOW, even if you pay and pay and pay down the line and together, with that thousand dollar vehicle, you make it through, you make it work, TOGETHER! That time we hitchihiked to a car rental place. That ride in the tow truck. That tackle/repair shop near Columbus, where I killed an afternoon and nearly missed the gig. That repair shop off the interstate, somewhere in Virginia, where I said goodbye.

Yes the lure of Craigslist. I called Dick, who had a decent-looking Honda Accord for sale. I mean, this car looked like a great bet for somebody. Dick was up north of Saratoga.

“So, do you have GPS? Well, either way, y’see – you cross over the railroad tracks and then make your first left – wait, what kind of car are you driving? Cause it’s a dirt road. You go down the road to the very end, about a quarter mile and you’ll see a bunch of cars…”

I’ve been there before. Not with Dick, but many times by now. I pictured driving up there, a window into the life of Dick, retired mechanic from the North Country. Another story unfolding in the form of a pile of metal, and rubber I would learn to love and make my own… I called Mike at Lacy Subaru.

So, I drove by James Baird State Park last night, in my new 2014 Subaru. I have shows all weekend, one next week, near Columbus. I don’t want to have to find out if the tackle/repair shop is still there.

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Amy on tour (tickets and info here

  • Fri Apr 5     Brooklyn NY       El Cortez
  • Sat Apr 6     Baltimore MD     An Die Musik – A Folkal Point concert
  • Sun Apr 7    Reading PA          house concert
  • Fri Apr 12    Delaware OH      Pat Cave at Endangered Species
  • Thu May 9   Catskill NY           HiLo (w/Tim Higgins)
  • Fri May 10   Bordentown NJ  Randy Now’s
  • Sat May 11   No. Andover MA  Crossroads Music Series
  • Thu May 23  Brighton UK        Prince Albert
  • Sun May 26  Malmo Sweden   Folk e Rock
  • Fri Jun 7        Philadelphia PA  Dawson St Pub
  • Sat Jun 8        Montclair NJ       Outpost In The Burbs

Leaving Guatemala

(To the tune of Steve Martin in The Jerk…)

I don’t need anything from Guatemala or Mexico — just this alpaca wool blanket and that’s all I need. Just this alpaca blanket, this woven guitar strap and that’s it, that’s all I need! Just this alpaca blanket, guitar strap, a pottery mug and a blouse embroidered with roses and that’s it. Just this pottery mug, some flowy Guatemala pants, a necklace from Manuel down by the municipal beach and that’s all I need. Just these albums by artists I met at the Guitar Fest, this poem, the song I wrote in Mexico and a woven cotton blanket, the alpaca blanket and this pouch from Maria of San Marcos and that’s it — that’s all I need.

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Just these memories and photos of sunrises at Lake Atitlan, email addresses of the women I met at Joyce Maynard’s writing workshop, this book revision, and a beaded woven bag from that little stall next to the dock in San Marcos, and that’s all I need. A bright blue embroidered dress I can’t wear because the dye runs, twenty words of Spanish, a love for Mexico and Guatemala, memories of boat rides and lake swims and tuk tuks and sunset at La Ropa and that’s all, really — that’s all I need. This clip of me and Joyce singing her song the last night in Guatemala and the blister on my foot and the last boat ride across Lake Atitlan and that’s all I need…

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Amy Rigby on tour

  • Sun Mar 31   Woodstock NY    Colony Cafe tickets
  • Fri Apr 5        Brooklyn NY       El Cortez w/the John Sally Ride tix
  • Sat Apr 6        Baltimore MD     An Die Musik
  • Sun Apr 7      Reading PA          house concert email for info
  • Fri Apr 12      Delaware OH      Pat Cave @ Endangered Species info
  • Mon Apr 15   SiriusXM radio   Today show w/Hoda Kotb 1 – 2 pm
  • Fri May 10     Bordentown NJ  Randy Now’s info & tickets
  • Sat May 11     No Andover MA Crossroads Music Series tickets
  • Thu May 23   Brighton UK        Prince Albert tickets
  • Sun May 26   Malmo Sweden   Folk e Rock info
  • Fri Jun 7         Phila PA               Dawson St Pub
  • Sat Jun 8         Montclair NJ       Outpost in the Burbs 4:30 PM show! tickets

Postcard from Lake Atitlan

I wish I could write about Guatemala.

I’m up with the fishermen this morning. I’m up with the fishermen every morning in Guatemala. They sit on the silent lake, solo in their simple wooden boats. I smell weed, hear dogs barking in the hills, and birds sing just above my head, spread out in the branches of an ancient tree.

A boat, launchos they’re called, crosses the lake in the distance, carrying people to work or school in a larger town. Here on the shore, the water laps softly.

I’m staying in Casa de Lesly. I don’t know who Lesly is, but her house is cool. It’s circular, made of adobe and brick with a wooden ceiling and tiled roof. Not fancy – my bed sits on a base of brick, like a flower bed. But there are massive windows that open out towards the lake, and a beautiful tile floor that feels cool and smooth under my bare feet. Bright cushions, striped Guatemalan fabrics on chairs and day beds, and a big wooden table and benches with a coarse grain worn smooth by time, hands, legs, meals. In the corner (there really isn’t a corner, remember, it’s a round house) rather, at the edge of a day bed is a big stringed instrument, shaped almost like a boat. I pluck one of the nylon strings and can’t believe the depth and resonance of the note that rings out. I pluck the string next to it, which is more slack, and in a lower register I make out a note, the imperfect compliment to the full resonant one. I keep playing the two notes in rhythm. I’m not even sure if the second note IS a note – if it’s in tune, anything. I tighten the string but then the note is wrong, too high, so I loosen the string until that deep bass sound comes back, reminding me of a motel room in Bakersfield where I woke at 6 am to a similar sound. “Who’s playing bass this early in the morning?” I wondered. Over and over the note vibrated, until I realized it was – the sound of a man snoring.

I wish I could write about Guatemala.

There are so many things to say. Tuk tuk rides and boat rides, these intense physical excursions where your whole body is rattled and bounced up the side of a mountain on a rocky unpaved road, or projected across waves so the entire boatload of people are casually hanging on for dear life. Fuzzy hippie travelers contrast with the local women impeccably dressed in woven skirts, patterned belts, hair smooth and shiny. Ballet slippers on their feet. Miguel and Mateo, who work for my friend Joyce, sling my bag or a pile of firewood on their shoulders, moving gracefully up and down stone steps on the side of the mountain all day, fixing things, making things lovely, shaping bamboo and flowers, wood and stone. I try to speak Spanish and sometimes I’m trying so hard my arms start flapping and I feel like I’ll fly away. We laugh.

I talk to Eric on the phone. He’s in England cleaning out his mother’s house. “I hear Bexhill on Sea is very nice,” he says every time I tell him about some other wonder of Guatemala. We laugh. I’d love for him to see this place.

I wish I could write about Guatemala. I’d need to mention Joyce, how she brings women here from all over to work on their writing. They tell their stories and she coaches and helps guide them. Joyce can be tough with people, but there’s no “Is that the blue you’re using?” (see Hollywood’s Eve, a sort of exploration of Eve Babitz) or “You’ll never be an artist” (Old In Art School, Nell Painter) – the type of comments that can undermine confidence and stop people from even bothering to try and create. Why should there be those kind of snobby comments? Every other person you meet in Guatemala is an artist – a woman weaves fabric right on the sidewalk, a guy sews trousers and blouses to order in between putting people on and off the launchos, the dock a few feet away from his sewing machine.

I’ve been an admirer of Joyce Maynard’s for years, since her article an 18 Year Old Looks Back at Life appeared, and then her column Domestic Affairs. That column was a revelation to me. I’d grown up reading Erma Bombeck and Peg Bracken in my mother’s magazines Woman’s Day and Family Circle. Writing about doing housework and kids and being a mom was relegated to the rack next to the supermarket checkout, so it really struck me to read Joyce talk about cooking and craft projects and family in the mighty New York Times. It gave me freedom, along with songs by Loretta Lynn and Loudon Wainwright, to write about those domestic experiences of my own. I feel honored and grateful to be here in Guatemala thanks to Joyce, who I first corresponded with back in the early 2000’s and have been friends with for years now. I listen to the women’s stories here and share some of my own. I held hands with my housemates Bree and Emily this morning and waded into Lake Atitlan, when the fishermen had gone. We supported each other over the slippery paving stones, into the cool water, surrounded by beauty, talking about our lives.

I wish I could write about Guatemala. I guess I just did?

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shows coming up:

  • Sun Mar 31   Woodstock NY*   Colony Cafe  tix
  • Fri Apr 5     Brooklyn NY  El Cortez (w/The John Sally Ride) tix
  • Sat Apr 6     Baltimore MD  An Die Musik Folkal Point Concert
  • Sun Apr 7    Reading PA  house concert 3 PM email for info
  • Fri Apr 12   Delaware OH The Pat Cave info
  • Sat May 11  No. Andover MA Crossroads Music Series info
  • Thu May 23  Brighton UK   Prince Albert tickets
  • Sun May 26  Malmo Sweden Folk å Rock tix
  • Fri Jun 7    Philadelphia PA  Dawson St Pub*
  • Sat Jun 8    Montclair NJ   Outpost In The Burbs*

*w/Eric Goulden – bass, Doug Wygal – drums

Every Day I Wash The Dress

I probably shouldn’t have washed the dress in the first place. It was just – so blue.

I bought it because it was blue. I bought it because in the Zihuatanejo market, in the stall of Analillia, it made me look alive instead of the way I resembled an old winter coat every time I looked at myself in the mirror.

It’s one of those cotton Mexican dresses with the bright flowers embroidered down the front. It felt a little too much of a transition from my NY winter black wardrobe, but I wanted to buy something from this sweet person, I liked her taste, in amongst all the stalls in the market, and I’ve always wanted one of those dresses.

When I got it back to my simple little hotel room, with an ancient TV and a lawn chair for furniture, a room that I would resent horribly in the US but that feels quite homey and correct here in Mexico, I turned on the shower. I have yet to feel the“hot water” this place advertises, but it hasn’t mattered – any shower I’ve taken has been to cool off and rinse away sweat from walking around in the brilliant sun and eighty five degrees.

I love Zihuatanejo! I love Mexico. I’d never been here until three days ago and didn’t know what to expect. I was worried I’d built it up in my mind too much – this place I would get to when I reached a certain point in my life, a place I’d enjoy and call my own in a different way than those other places I love like New York and Los Angeles and London and Chicago and and – they’re all big cities. I don’t have any experience with different kinds of travel. It’s always seemed too daunting to me, I like my comfort. I’m not a snob but I’m not that tough either. I can’t camp. Not yet anyways. I hate to think we’re set in one way and can’t break out and have new experiences. But I like to fix my hair and put on makeup, I like hot showers, I like all cotton sheets.

I can’t really fix my hair in Zihuatanejo. There’s no hair dryer and even if there was, it would be curling and frizzing the minute I stepped outside. I don’t know who I am without fixing my hair but I’m aiming for Thelma or Louise. They’re my go to’s for that moment where you say fuck it and tie a wet rag around your neck.

Anyways, back to the dress. I thought it made sense to rinse it in the shower, to soften up the cotton a little and..just in case the blue dye ran. I didn’t want to walk out in the heat and end up covered in blue dye.

Thank god this bathroom tile is sort of putty colored. There’s been a lot of blue dye. If this were a black and white movie, it’d be a scene from a low-budget remake of Psycho here. Lots of dye running down the drain. Lots of dye.

A wet cotton dress weighs a lot as I stand there twisting and wringing to squeeze out the water and dye and get it on a hanger. Yes, maybe this was a mistake to wash the dress, but imagine if I’d gone out walking in it?

I washed it again today and hung it on a hanger to dry, near the window in the shower. The maid knocked on the door. No, es limpia, gracias, I kept her from coming in and accepted a clean towel. I couldn’t let her see the dress, thinking she’d either laugh or tell me how to wash it but I wouldn’t understand. She would be so lovely and kind, like everyone I’ve met here has been. But I have to take these things slowly.

It’s been really good arm exercise. And there was a little less dye today. Tomorrow I’ll wait until after the maid comes to wash the dress again. Now I’m going to the beach to try and get a little color on my skin. When I come back, I’ll put the dress away until tomorrow’s washing ritual.

Did I mention I came here to play music? I’ve done two gigs and written a song already. Had a wonderful Mexican guitarist Javier Rojas play on a song with me last night at a luxury resort in Ixtapa – we sat side by side on white chairs and it was surreal. I liked the sound of our guitars bouncing back to us across the grass and fancy cabanas. Javier plays with his foot on a stool in the classic style, in an immaculate white cotton shirt. The night before that I played in front of a thousand or so people with all the musicians from the festival doing short sets.

But that’s the world I know and roll with, the world of music.

It’s the cultural code I have to crack. That’s where I’m a neophyte. How to shop in the market. How to order a taco. When and how to wash a dress.

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Oh…Mexico

I played these two shows in Hudson and New York City, they made me feel so good. I felt lifted up and excited and ready for…Mexico.

I’ve wanted to visit Mexico forever – long been a fan of the handcrafts, the culture, the food, and pretty much any person from that country I’ve had the good fortune to work with. I finally got a gig there, a week in Zihuatanejo at the Zihua Guitar Fest. It suddenly occurred to me about three weeks ago, good lord, I’m going to Mexico! This snowy winter, I’d looked longingly at music folks I know having a blast at 30A Songwriters Fest in Florida, or the Outlaw Country Cruise or Cayamo and thought “aren’t I vacation-paradise worthy?” Then I remembered I was going to Mexico.

One of my brothers, who’s traveled to Cancun and even golfed at Hilton Head gave me pause: “Look, don’t be surprised if people start drinking on the 8 AM flight.” And “Do you know any Jimmy Buffett tunes…just in case?” I told him I didn’t think it was that kind of festival, but just in case, yes I have long played Margaritaville, in private at least. Buffett is cool, yes I said it. I guess you could say I’m even a closet Kenny Chesney fan. This attitude will serve me well, right, on the beach in Mexico?

Finally got my Gibson back from the repair guy. It had been almost four months. Such a long time, I’d forgotten what it felt like to love an acoustic guitar. I’d tried really hard with the sub I bought and had come to grips with it, but wow it was like a slow motion scene from a movie, when I lifted the renewed guitar out of its case and the two of us were reunited. Oh good, I thought – I’m going to play you – in Mexico.

Then I started worrying about flying with the guitar, and all the variables of international travel. I weighed whether to risk it or not…right now I’m leaning to taking the Gibson, in an indestructible case, just in case, I mean – how often do I get to play in…Mexico?

I had a super-stressful experience at the dentist the other day. First, they were playing Joe Cocker in the waiting room. Now I love Joe – but that is some emotional music and not what you need to de-stress before heading in to see the dentist. Things have gone awry at our dental practice and dentists have been coming and going at an alarming rate. My dear Dr. Smith is gone with no explanation. I’d been scheduled and rescheduled and this time, was greeted by an unfamilar dentist whose name I didn’t catch. An older Papa Hemingway type. “It says here you need fillings?”

I practically flew out of the chair. I’ve had one cavity in my life, the year I lived in England and ate Cadbury Fruit & Nut to add something healthy to my diet. “No, no fillings!” I shouted.”I just need…filling.” We went back and forth in a silly Who’s on First routine: “You don’t need fillings”, “I just need filling” (which sounded…weird. It’s a periodontal thing). I found myself saying “I don’t feel comfortable about this!” when he came at me, just to look, he promised. He told me I looked perfect, I ran out of the office and thought “I’m going to find Dr. Smith, she’s down in Westchester I just know it – I’ll find her, as soon as I get back from (you guessed it) Mexico.

Then there was a Saturday night bar shift I agreed to cover for somebody, and the big blowhard who was sitting in the center of the bar loudly ranking a list of female singer songwriters his lady friend was pulling up on her phone: “Joan Jett?” “Uh – no?” “Edie Brickell?” “Yeah, like twenty years ago maybe.” (Indecipherable) “No, face is below average. But-“ brightening – “she does have world class tits.” It turns out, according to Mr. Charisma, it’s important to respect the talent of these women FIRST AND FOREMOST, but at the same time, it is also necessary to want to DEVOUR THEM.  This a day after the New York Times story about Ryan Adams. Is it acceptable, in this type of circumstance, for a bartender to dump a pitcher of beer over the head of a customer? I slammed pint glasses into soapy water…and thought of Mexico.

More snow came on Monday and I shoveled and cursed the frozen picnic table out back, the dusty Weber grill in the breezeway. When I get to Me- oh wait, I started worrying. How am I getting to Mexico? I pulled up the info for a flight that leaves at some crazy early hour in the morning and returns in the middle of the night a week later. Wait, why did I want to go to Mexico?

Back at the bookstore/bar yesterday, I lost the key to the cash register drawer. Just – it disappeared.  “Sorry, sir, we can’t take your money, because…the drawer’s locked.” As I searched and searched for the key, a lady kept waving a children’s book at me, telling me she was a local author and had autographed it and shouldn’t it be displayed somewhere people could see it because “it’s autographed!” I tried to smile and be encouraging while I crawled on the floor with a flashlight, and when she asked me to please order her new book for the store and then barked at me that surely the public demanded that we order AT LEAST TWO, I gritted my teeth and…that’s right (insert sound of lapping waves, Spanish guitars here).

At home, Eric was nice and made me a cup of tea and I felt sad that he wasn’t going with me to Mexico.

In a few short weeks I’ll be back and there’ll be other things to endure and things to look forward to. I’ll find Dr. Smith, I’ll get a new used car, my book will be revised and edited, I’ll have more gigs. But life will have a certain flair to it, a vibe I never had access to before. I’ll be who I was but…I’ll have been to…and played music in…Mexico.

Dates and tickets available here

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My First Diary

Remember those green leatherette books with the little lock and key? I still have mine from when I was eight. And somewhere out on the internet, there still exists the first online diary I wrote back in January 1999, twenty years ago this week. It was Warren Zevon’s birthday yesterday. Can’t believe he’s been gone for years. Touring is easier now than it was back then, what with iphones and food and coffee culture that isn’t limited to the very big cities. I’m shocked at the amount of fast food I used to eat. At how much Oprah I used to watch. At how new it all felt to me, both the solo touring and the writing.

This is from the first part of the trip.

DIARY OF A ROAD HOUSEWIFE, PART 1

1999

What I’m driving: a red Ford Contour

What I’m listening to: Mott the Hoople, P.F. Sloan, Dan Hicks, Beth Orton, Dwight Yoakam, bad country radio, Replacements

What I’m eating: Cracker Barrel, McDonald’s, Warren’s deli tray when he’s onstage

What I’m reading: road atlas

What I’m wearing: the same damn thing every night – I miss all my shoes!

Notes:

You must remember, the midwest has the worst coffee in the country (this greatly affects my demeanor on the road). To make matters worse, in the heart of dairyland they lighten their coffee with a substance referred to as “cream”. We all know it as 100% synthetic, never-been-anywhere-near-a-cow non-dairy creamer. I find this practice to be reprehensible, and make it a point of filling the largest possible container of coffee, asking for the milk, and when I’m directed to the “cream”, slamming the coffee down on the counter and walking out. I know, a real rebel would fling the coffee in someone’s face but my idea of trashing a hotel room is throwing all the dirty towels on the floor, so I do what I can…

I’ve noticed that once a person’s reached a certain age, the art of grooming is all that separates the desireables from the undesireables. Well-parted hair can make the difference between a welcoming “Hello, may I help you” and the look that says “I’m one step away from calling security”. Sport clothes also separate the haves from the have-nots. Try taking a walk in any mid-sized American city or suburb wearing your usual coat, pants and boots. I assure you, the guys hanging out by the bus shelter will welcome you as one of their own, while “respectable citizens” will scurry to their cars and lock the doors audibly as you pass by. Try the same stroll in full workout regalia, preferably with headphones (don’t worry about attaching them to anything) and you’ll get appreciative nods all around and even an occasional thumbs up.

I’m sad to report that they’re doing away with the heat lamps in hotel and motel bathrooms. Could someone please explain this to me? They used to help a weary traveller in several ways: Having a large, exposed bulb a few feet away actually does keep you warmer; the ticking of the timer is a comforting , white-noise sound that helps you “come down” from the effects of prolonged driving; and most importantly, after several hours/days/weeks on the road, you can turn to face yourself in the mirror without being too frightened of what you’re about to see.

The proliferation of Cracker Barrels on this nation’s highways and byways is leading to a shocking phenomenon: they are running out of “old-time” junk to hang on the walls! Check it out next time you stop off at one of these reliable but irritating restaurants. Where once every available square inch of wall space was covered with rusted, splintering oxen yokes and metal advertising signs for brands of soda pop no one ever heard of, it’s now reaching the point where they’ll use a white paper doily with a red ribbon attached to give that country store feel. There just aren’t enough ancient class photographs to go around anymore.Diary 1999

My trip began on January 19 when I flew from New York to Minnesota to hook up with Warren Zevon, who’d played Governor Ventura’s inauguration a few days before. That date was not part of my itinerary!

January 20 Minneapolis

Spent the day switching back and forth between the impeachment proceedings and the porn channel (I swear this stuff is better scrambled, where you’re trying to figure out what the hell is going on). Met Warren himself very briefly at the soundcheck – he looked tanned and healthy and kindly extended his hand to me in greeting. They were having some sort of guitar problem, tho, so he appeared a little worried. A late show, so the crowd was well on their way to being inebriated by the time I got on stage. It was fun to play for such a rowdy bunch. A very male audience, sort of the anti-Lilith? Even Jesse Governor Ventura was there.

January 21 Milwaukee

Nobody ever says what a cool-looking town this is. The show was at Shank Hall – named for the legendary venue where Spinal Tap rocked Milwaukee. Again, a lot of guys, a lot of beer. The Zevon crowd is interesting – it’s mainly near-middle-aged men who appear to be exhausted by the quest for sensitivity and really savor the opportunity to let out a few he-man yells in a “safe” environment – I love it!

January 22 Madison

One of my favorite towns, and in winter the hotels are damn cheap! Banged myself in the head with my guitar (at soundcheck no less) so I knew it would be a good show. Such a sweet audience (more gals this time) and two university professors nearly came to blows in the lobby over my last CD. Had a great martini in the Tornado Room w/fellow mod housewife Norma Coates.

January 23 Chicago

Tried to walk down to the lake in Madison but had to literally hold onto the sides of the buildings to keep from sliding down the hill – so this is why the hotel’s so cheap…Got lost on the way to soundcheck in Chicago – why is it that nobody can giver proper directions in this town? Tip: Never ask 2-3 guys in a sport utility vehicle for directions. Ditto cops and gas station attendants. That leaves…who? The Park West has the nicest staff of just about any club. Too bad my dressing room was also the only entrance to the supply cellar. The staff at the Park West and I are on very familiar terms now. My friends Kit & Ted made the drive up from St. Louis. Kit swears she saw the guy from Dawson’s Creek in the audience. I broke a string in a very bad place on what was going to be the last song. Couldn’t break it off and couldn’t keep playing. Recovered, barely, to play one more song minus the low E. No CD’s to sell but enjoyed hanging out afterwards. Got a stupid parking ticket, though, which I plan to fight – they don’t know who they’re dealing with (I’m 3 for 5 in getting NYC parking tickets dismissed or reduced!)

January 24 Pontiac, MI

Checked out of the hotel to find the name “Jerry Springer” on my receipt. “What’s this all about?” I inquired. I guess the grooming habits and general demeanor of me and my pals had us pegged as guests of the Springer show! Rushing to find a quick breakfast place with parking (yet another racket Chicago has going) we somehow ended up in the hell that is Ed Debevic’s. Upon entering this “fun” place, we immediately dispatched Ted to the Hooters across the street to see if they had any eggs (besides the obvious ones). He came back shaking his head so we ended up choking down dry turkey sandwiches and praying that we wouldn’t be forced to wear balloon crowns. At the table behind us a whimpering child cowered before her birthday cupcake as a group of waitresses bellowed “Happy Birthday” and then moved on to the next victim.

Halfway to Pontiac I remembered the time change and realized I was going to be an hour late. I got completely lost just outside of town and winded up heading in the wrong direction on the interstate, tears streaming down my face as I berated myself for being too cheap to get a cell phone. A kindly old gent in a Burger King put his arm around me, drew me a map and sent me back out into the night. When I pulled up at the club, there was a line of people around the block. Turns out Warren had done the same thing and was just finishing his soundcheck! I gave just about everything I had left on stage and drove to a motel outside of town to recover from the day, dreaming of butch waitresses in cat-eye glasses and the Silverdome.

January 25 and 26 Pontiac/Columbus

Woke up to a perfect anonymous snow-covered landscape outside the window of my perfectly anonymous motel on a snow-covered road in You-Could-Be-Anywhere, U.S.A. No show tonight or tomorrow. All I had to look forward to was finding the nearest mall and watching Oprah, which was fine with me. The local mall provided me with all the necessities: Mailboxes, Etc., T.J. Maxx and what must be a local establishment, the Gander Factory (which I at first mistook for the Gender Factory but then remembered I was in Michigan, not Manhattan). Isn’t it wonderful how even the lamest strip mall now contains a Borders or Barnes & Noble superstore? I dined at McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, consecutively, which I believe constitutes the triple-crown of fast-food eating if all items are consumed within one twelve-hour period.

Bored after a day of this, I decided to press on to Columbus, which seemed downright cosmopolitan in comparison. I took in a movie and looked forward to the next night’s show.

January 27 Columbus

My birthday. My 40th birthday. I felt pretty spry. Had lunch with the Koch sales rep, Gerald Moss, who’s always been a big help in figuring out where to go and what to avoid in Columbus. Went over to WCBE for a radio interview with Max Faulkner. We were chatting on the air when someone handed him a piece of paper that said (in black magic marker) “Warren is sick. Tonight’s show is cancelled.” And then in red marker, as an afterthought I guess “Amy does not know this.” I couldn’t conceal my disappointment. I couldn’t help but mention on the air that this was my birthday and I did not want to spend it alone in a motel room. The promoter called in and said she had organized a show for me at a smaller club, the Thirsty Ear. It was one of the weirdest, best nights of my life, with the club owner wheeling a cake onstage and 100 strangers singing happy birthday. I’d really wanted to spend my birthday playing a show and even with forces conspiring against me it happened. I downed two shots of Jack Daniels (it took me about 2 1/2 hours) and called it a day.

pres

I looked high and low for a picture from a show back in 1999 – that’s another thing that’s changed, everything is more documented now. So I’m posting the cover image for new single The President Can’t Read debuting on The Big Takeover site next Fri Feb 1 and available right around then too. I thought if I waited long enough this song would be obsolete, as I wrote it a month after the inauguration. I’ll be playing two shows for the release, Fri Feb 1 at Spotty Dog in Hudson NY & Tues Feb 5 at Mercury Lounge NYC. You can buy tickets for the Mercury here. Thank you for reading this online diary of mine – twenty years old this week!