It’s Summer

It’s summer at last – the birds are singing; the sun is shining.

It’s five in the morning – why are those goddamn birds singing, and could the sun please stop shining?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

boating on the hudson

Midway

The escaped murderers have me on edge.

A few hours north, two convicts broke out of the prison almost two weeks ago. The closest town is Plattsburgh, so I don’t imagine they hung around the area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think they’re around sixty dollars,” I said, aiming high.

“That’s too much! Make it thirty and you’ve got a deal.”

“I can’t really haggle over the price,” I said.

“Oh I don’t care how much they cost, I WANT ONE.”

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

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

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

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

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

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A Month Of Thursdays

It’s Wednesday, the day before Thursday. I should be getting ready, practicing a set of songs. Wondering what to wear. Leaving my hair dirty for one more day, that way I can wash it just before the show tomorr- oh wait, there is no show tomorrow.

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

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

Until I started to get ready for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

may7

photo by Finn Miller

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

  • Believe In You
  • Beer & Kisses
  • Don’t Know Nothing
  • I Hate Every Bone In Her Body
  • Breakup Boots
  • Summer Of My Wasted Youth
  • Bob (new old song ie written a while ago but never recorded except live)
  • I Never Meant To Say Goodbye This Way (new song)
  • Astrovan
  • Dreamin Man (cover of Neil Young song)
  • Always With Me
  • Invisible
  • I Don’t Wanna Talk About Love
  • Silvio (Dylan cover)
  • Goin Back (Carole King song, Byrds cover)
  • Just Someone I Had In Mind
may 14

w/Jon Graboff & Eric Goulden, photo by Shona Thomson

jon and eric

With Jon and Eric, photo by Eva Vdv

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

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

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

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

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

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

with syd and lenny

Amy, Syd and Lenny – photo by Jack Dash

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

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

Photo by Karen McBurnie, logo by Jeremy Grites – cue drummer jokes

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

me and haze may 28

“Make this boy a man.” w/ Hazel Rigby, photo by Alirio Guerrero

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

soundcheck

Soundcheck, the old team. (our clip lamps & the crowd that grew bigger every week made it hard to get a decent live shot) Photo by our host Mike Stuto

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

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

    Rode hard. “I’ll keep going back out again.” photo by Gordon Nash

Of Montreal

I’ve been lucky to visit a lot of places through playing music – some of the great cities of the world and some pretty farflung spots like Alaska and Kalispell, Montana. But I’ve never been to Montreal. Everyone I’ve ever met who’s been says what a wonderful town it is – incredible food, vintage stores, music, architecture, atmosphere.

Since we moved to upstate New York I’ve said “I’d love to visit Montreal! It’s only four hours away!” I see it on the road sign every time I’m on the New York State Thruway heading north. “We should do a getaway there one weekend” I say, but we never do because it’s really hard to make time for getaways when you travel to play music and there’s always that chance a paying gig will lead you to the place anyway. It’s only a matter of time, right?

Well that sort of opportunity arose just this weekend. An invitation to play a house concert one short hour north of Montreal in the beautiful Laurentian mountains. Even better, the concert was scheduled for two in the afternoon. Perfect! We could play, chat with people, pack up and be in Montreal in time for a fabulous dinner and probably score a nice hotel half-price on Hotwire.

So why did we spend the night in Plattsburgh?

Superstition: the thought that combining a work trip with a pleasure trip would lead to disaster. A van full of equipment parked even in a paid parking garage in the city of Montreal would probably be broken into and our amps and PA stolen.

Inconvenience? Yes, we’d pay whatever it cost to park in said nice hotel parking lot, but then we’d have to trundle a luggage cart full of half a dozen guitars into the lobby and up to our room, or fight off baying porters – not because we’re too cheap to tip but because they have a way of saying “hey I got this!” while slinging cases upside down and every which way – either choice the end result is collapsing in the room drenched in sweat and being left with barely enough strength to limp to the vending machine down the hall. (I have this fantasy of being a chic traveling couple checking into a hotel with maybe a discreet rolling suitcase. It rarely if ever happens that way. Usually we resemble the Beverly Hillbillies and their wagon of old junk.)

Mostly it’s fear of disappointment due to lack of planning. After putting all our energy into setting up equipment then playing a show and meeting the lovely people who came to see us, by the time we’d arrive in the city, we’d be so famished yet desperate for the ultimate Montreal experience to be contained in one single meal, chances are we would choose the worst place in town, the choice based strictly on proximity to the hotel. And for ever after “Montreal” would be followed by “sucks! Remember that food poisoning/robbery? Never going back there.”

Or maybe we would hit it just right and find a great place to eat. But then something would be wrong with the hotel for sure, like a senior prom with rampaging teenagers in the rooms above, below and adjacent having the best night of their lives while we prayed for morning to come so we could leave.

I was so afraid of ruining Montreal, of destroying the fabulous possibilities of the place, that I said “let’s just get a room in Plattsburgh. It’s about an hour south of Montreal. We’ll be on the other side of the border and that way we can get home quicker tomorrow. The town’s probably a dump, but I bet there’s some rustic Adirondack-type places you could get a big steak or something.”

welcome home

Wrong on one count. We checked into a serviceable Holiday Inn at 9:45 PM. My eyes were almost too tired to look at my phone but a quick glance at Chowhound yielded grim results: “If you ever have the misfortune of being stuck in Plattsburgh…”

“Really, at this point I’d settle for a Texas Roadhouse!” I said.

“Look there’s a Five Guys,” Eric said. Five Guys guys were putting up chairs and mopping. The quality bar was descending lower and lower, though neither of us could deal with a Perkins directly across the street.

“Let’s try that mall nearby?” The local brewing company restaurant proclaiming “Fresh Beer! Fresh Food!” was closed.

Another sign on a big, busy-looking building said ‘Buffalo Wild Wings’. “I could actually go for some wings!” I said, trying to make the best of things. “It’ll be a fun cultural experience I bet. Y’know, Plattsburgh, on a Saturday night – what the real people are doing! Much better than being in Montreal with a bunch of pretentious foodies.”

“Are you here for the fight? That’ll be twenty dollars,” the Wild Wings employees all clustered together around the entrance in matching sporty outfits were coming at us with wristbands.

“But..we just want some wings,” I said weakly.

“They let you watch people beat each other up for free where I come from,” Eric said.

Buffalo Wild Wings was televising a big boxing match.

“We promise we won’t even look at the screens!” I begged. “You can seat us with our backs to the fight.” No.

There was a lonely pizza place further along in the mall. “Giuseppe’s – sounds authentic. I bet there are a lot of Italians in Plattsburgh.” Grasping at straws here.

I can’t even describe how bad the food was. You probably have had it yourself – the rankest, most metallic red sauce; meat that leaves you wondering what animal; rubber cheese, bread made of glue and Play-Doh.

We ended up at the hotel vending machine for some chemicals to dispel the taste. Saw a gang of teenagers tromping around the lobby in matching sports outfits and we prepared to do battle should they make one peep but they were disconcertingly quiet all night.

The next morning, I found a local coffee place on Yelp. “We should support the local place. It’s by the SUNY campus, so how bad can it be?” we said as we both looked longingly at a Starbucks. We passed a Texas Roadhouse and I actually gasped at what we’d missed out on. It was so close, all this time.

The coffee place smelled of sweet syrup. The hapless bro working behind the counter handed me a mug of cappuccino with his thumb lodged deep in the foam. Eric’s espresso was in a cup so chipped he had to pour it directly down his throat to avoid cutting his lip.

fine china

Still, I pressed on – “Maybe there’s somewhere we could get a decent brunch?” My phone showed a huge list of awesome dining options places fairly nearby.

All in Montreal.

We still want to thank Cecilia & Rick and the crowd at Rickk’s Room house concert, it was worth suffering Giuseppe’s and you did send us off with a big package of incredible focaccia (fresh from Montreal) which we ate the next day to remember what real food tastes like. 

Brothers and Sisters

I’d like to say I spent the winter in Florida, or Southern California. I’d at least like to say I went skiing a couple times. I’d like to say a lot of things, but I can’t.

I’m a bag.

Made of rip-stop nylon, designed for function and economy, I was born to serve.

I’m a foot soldier, an adjunct.

Not complaining. When the company moves, I move, and I’ve seen some glamorous things, been some pretty great places.

The rest of the time, I live in a garage.

It was hell out there this winter. December to April I sat, between the broken leaf blower and the construction debris, while the wind howled outside. I guess I kind of went into a coma.

But it wasn’t just the cold and dark. It was the uncertainty. Nobody tells me anything.

Now it’s spring and things seem to be moving. We even had a few outings, a house concert in Westchester and a record store show last weekend in Troy. No preamble, no “How you doing chap? You alright buddy?” They just dusted me off, filled me up, flung me in the van – no big deal.

This is so us, I thought.

Still, I wonder what will happen when they start playing their separate shows. It’s okay in May – she’s solo in New York City but he’s home or along for the ride.

Then in July, he’s playing his way down to Texas while she’s upstate mowing the grass.

But later. What if they’re both out separately – is it going to be one of those King Solomon things? They cut me in half? I don’t think my handles will work so good that way.

I really don’t like thinking about the future. Instead I’ll just savor this trip next weekend to a house concert up in Canada. I know there’ll be a moment, probably when we’re cresting the Adirondacks and listening to the Allman Brothers, talking about what we’re going to play in Quebec, that I’ll wish I could stop time.

But I wish them both the best, I really do.

boots

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby at Rickk’s Room, Sat May 2

Amy Rigby solo residency Hifi Bar NYC Thu May 7, 14, 21 & 28

w/The Schoemer Formation May 29 in Hudson NY

Wreckless Eric dates

 

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