Three Days in Guyville

Sometimes I’m nostalgic for things that never were. Like those old days of the nineties when I was in a rock band.

I was never in a rock band. But there were moments a few decades ago where I stood with my nose pressed up against the glass.

Don’t get me wrong, I was in a group, a couple of groups, and we played music together. Until I had my daughter, and even after next to my daughter this was the center of my life. We got in vehicles to go play shows, we slept in motel rooms, we sat side by side on recording studio couches. We plotted, schemed, sang, laughed, cried and raged together.

What makes a band a band? I think it might be the drummer. And until I started putting out my solo albums, I never had the experience of playing regularly with a drummer. I was only married to one, Will Rigby. He even played with the Shams on occasion. Dee Pop of the Bush Tetras also did a few gigs and some recording with us. It was always a bit of an experiment, because at heart the Shams were a vocal trio.

Without a drummer, a band is – a group?

Without a drummer, a group can travel in a car. Without a drummer, a group can rehearse in an apartment building, not a basement. Without a drummer, a group can set up in the corner of a Polish restaurant and do their thing while people eat pierogis and carry on conversations around them. Not that this is anything to aspire to. But once it happens you find yourself looking back at it fondly years later.

I was never in a band or a group you could classify. There was indie and there was alternative rock but when you’re doing your thing, you don’t sit there deciding what you are. A bat doesn’t fly around thinking “I’m after all, a mammal” and it’s like that with musicians. It’s only the people outside that need to categorize what you’re doing.

The Shams were like the Roches, and sometimes like the Shaggs or the Shangri Las or Raincoats and sometimes Wilson Philips and occasionally we were like the Del Rubios, that trio of near-senior citizens who played guitars and sang on Pee Wee’s Playhouse in matching outfits. They lived next door to each other in a trailer park and drove themselves to gigs, the three of them together in a beat-up clunker of a car. Maybe they were a joke, but they were in it together.

The nineties were a serious time in music – there was still a music industry with money, and record deals and validation were only a life-changing gig or album away. The Shams had an album out on Matador right around the time of Liz Phair’s Exile In Guyville. I didn’t fully appreciate the brilliance of her album til years later because I was too busy being envious of Liz Phair – she was on the same label and that album cast such a huge shadow it was easy to feel sidelined. There was only room for one girl of the moment and she was that girl. Of course now in hindsight it’s possible to look back with gratitude and go “we were on Matador, and people who heard us loved us” but at the time when I was trying to justify all the hours I spent away from being a mom or bringing home money to live on, those things didn’t seem like enough. Success in an alternative world felt far removed from our folksy thrift shop coffee klatsch. I wanted to at least have been to Guyville. How can you turn your back on a place you’ve never been?

The Shams were on one of our short tours which involved the three of us in a car (no drums!) alternating between finding the clubs willing to book us and locating the best barbq restaurants and thrift shops along the way. We played the tiny clamshell stage of the Rainbo Club in Chicago to rapturous applause from the small but knowing crowd. Somebody introduced us to Nash Kato of Urge Overkill, a Chicago band I’d heard of but never heard. Nash, King Roesser and Blackie Onassis were indie rock legends who’d toured with Nirvana. Even the title of their current LP – Stull – had an alien sinister mystery. Nash was entranced by the Shams, he said, pledging his love and allegiance at two AM over shots of bourbon and by the way, was it true we were headed for Minneapolis the next day and was there room for him in our rental car?

The three of us conferred and agreed it would be fun to have a passenger.

“Great,” he said, and then asked if we could give him a ride home. His apartment was two blocks away.

We pulled up at 9 AM the next morning in front of the same doorstep we’d deposited him at a few hours earlier, a tape of Clarence Carter’s “Strokin” blasting from our rental car player. Based on the amount of alcohol he’d consumed, we figured we’d probably never see Nash again. But he emerged from the shadows like Joe D’Allessandro in Andy Warhol’s Trash: tight white jeans, dark shades, brown suede jacket and straight, center-parted shoulder length hair. No suitcase.

He peered into the car. I’m sure we weren’t as entrancing in the cold light of day, and he looked like he was wondering if it was a good look to be seen with three near-middle-aged women in a white Ford Focus.

But he was all charm. “Hello ladies,” he intoned, his voice a good octave lower than it had been the night before, which was very low indeed. He got in the front passenger seat next to me as Amanda joined Sue in the back. As I pulled away from the curb and approached the highway, he ejected Clarence Carter from the tape deck and tossed it out the window, pulling a cassette from his back pocket to replace it:

Shilo when I was young

I used to call your name

When no one else would come

Shilo you always came

He leaned back and lit a joint. I don’t know why his cheesy Neil Diamond music was cooler than our cheesy Clarence Carter music. It was, because he said it was.

As we drove through snowy Wisconsin, he clapped a radar detector on the dashboard.

“Wait,” I said, good Catholic girl to the core. “Aren’t those…illegal?”

His silence was worse scorn than any comment. But I’m a mother! I wanted to shout. Nash was instructing us on road behavior:

“If you’re hungry on the road – eat popcorn. It’s the perfect food.”

“A five minute rule in truck stops – otherwise, everyone will get distracted and stand around forever.”

Ten years of playing music and I’d never been in an actual rock band, with the rules and codes and secret language. Urge had traveled the interstates for years. They didn’t play by human rules, unlike Will’s band the dB’s, who through all their touring had managed to maintain a veneer of southern gentility that had perhaps been their downfall.

“Tell Sue over there it’s wagons ho in thirty seconds, or she gets left behind,” Nash said at a truck stop near Rockford, when Sue tarried a little too long at the rack of sunglasses. There was lots to learn and Nash Kato was an eager Sir to our uncertain Lulus.

When we trooped into a restroom with our hefty vintage makeup cases that had long ago disassociated themselves from their luggage sets, he nodded admiringly.

“Now that’s what I like to see.” Impracticality won points, I noted.

He gallantly took the wheel and drove ninety miles an hour while we put in hair rollers and applied eyeliner. We felt like the group in Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls – innocents on our way to success, or an early midlife demise. We were suddenly in his thrall, unable to say no to his instructions.

“Let me see you hit that stage RUNNING!” he shouted at us, in the dressing room of the Uptown in Minneapolis.

“But Nate, the only way onstage is up these tiny, rickety metal steps?”

“Just do it!” We did, knocking into each other a la the Three Stooges and arriving winded in front of our microphones to face a small, confused audience.

Later that night, he kept us up until dawn at his buddy’s crash pad, playing REO Speedwagon over and over at full volume while we tried to bed down in the brown shag carpeting.

“We’ve got a photo shoot in the morning,” one of us moaned. “We’ll look like hell!”

“Perfect!” he cackled, swigging from a champagne bottle.

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On the way back across Minnesota, he talked us into stopping off at his mother’s house. In Wisconsin, we arrived in Madison late at night and spent hours driving around the outskirts looking for a “classic” motel he deemed was the only acceptable place to stay.

“It has to be the Old Towne,” he said, cracking open another beer as Sue blearily did a U-turn in the parking lot of the 7-11 we’d been passed repeatedly for the last hour. “I’m sure it’s on this side of the lake. It’s worth it for the breakfast.”

I was losing my grip when we pulled up for an afternoon gig at the University of Wisconsin in Madison the next day.

“If you act like stars, they’ll treat you like stars,” Nash admonished us as we drank more beer on the terrace of the Rathskeller.

“But it’s just a couple of kids from the Student Activities Board,” I whimpered, my voice shot from nonstop smoking and drinking. I covered up with dark glasses, wishing it would all stop.

We roared back into Chicago with Nash at the wheel, and as he spun the car around 360 degrees  in front of the Art Institute, I swear I saw flames and his eyes gleam red in the rear-view mirror. At that moment I prayed I’d never see him again.

But a few weeks later, REO’s “Keep On Loving You” had found its way into the Shams’ set. When the new Urge Overkill album Saturation appeared with its indelible graphics and rock so majestic it was pointless to wonder if it was ironic or not, I couldn’t help myself:  I played it constantly.

And when the call came to open a run of east coast dates for the band on their U.S.  tour, we had our makeup cases dusted off faster than you can say “Shilo,”

Amy Rigby solo tour

  • Thu Oct 18  Chicago  Burlington Bar
  • Fri Oct 19 Rockford IL house concert
  • Sat Oct 20 Minneapolis MN house concert
  • Mon Oct 22 Winnipeg MB  StuDome
  • Nov 1 – 4  Harbor Springs MI  Springfed Arts Songwriting Retreat
  • UK Nov 10 – 25 dates here

 

Into the Great Wide Open

I don’t know who I am anymore: my daughter just turned thirty. Wasn’t I just taking her to college?

I don’t have a car. My Subaru died, and my life is a cobbled-together affair of using Eric’s Buick or truck with a drooping window, or rental cars. I want to get a new used car but I haven’t had the time to look and I don’t know who I am anymore. Am I still a Subaru driver?

I watched and listened to a woman give credible testimony against a man being elevated to one of the highest positions in this country. He lashed out not like an innocent man but like Patty McCormack in the original Bad Seed film – a psychotic brat who’d seen innocence on another child and believed he had a right to claim it as his own. He was applauded and defended for it, then sworn in to the Supreme Court. Nothing anybody says or feels matters with a petty tyrant in command. I don’t know who we are anymore.

I started kickboxing twice a week. I punch and kick a bag and spar with a trainer. I used to lay on the floor or sit crosslegged serenely, and I still do occasionally. But right now it feels good to jab, hook and hit. It feels good to fight back. I don’t know who I am anymore.

I keep looking at the weather and I check what it’s like in the UK and hope it’s not too windy where Eric’s mother lives because she’s so tiny and then I remember she’s not with us anymore. This throws me off in a way beyond what I ever expected because she’s Eric’s mother not mine but I loved her and even though she was in her nineties I still can’t believe she’s gone.

I turn sixty in a few months. I sing songs I wrote when I was approaching forty and feeling old. Apparently I was “Invisible” – ha! I look benignly on my younger self and wish I’d known what I had, and feel younger now than I did then, except when reflected in occasional youngsters’ eyes, like when Eric and I stopped in a Buffalo Exchange in Eugene, Oregon and the girl behind the counter said something along the lines of “that’s so cute you’re shopping here.” Or when customers in the bookstore/bar say breathlessly “Is this your place?” like I couldn’t be a mere worker. At a certain age we’re supposed to be in charge but I look at those in charge of this country and think “who wants power?” I guess I could lie and say the store is mine.

I’m doing something different for me now and putting out a non-album single this Friday called Tom Petty Karaoke. Maybe I’m sentimental but this is Tom Petty month (he died a year ago October 2; his birthday is October 20th).  Tom Petty is a guardian angel for me, like he was and is for many musicians. I’ve written about him a lot here, because anytime I’m on the road it’s like Tom is there on my shoulder, saying “that’s cool” or “you can do better.” This was true when he was alive and even more now that he’s gone. After another week of discord and divisiveness in the news, I saw a video of J Mascis singing Don’t Do Me Like That in a nearly-empty karaoke bar. I’d sung American Girl with Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express the night before and felt the power of that song reach out and lift people up. Mascis’ karaoke performance was the opposite, it was internal, like prayer. He wasn’t doing it for an audience, he was doing it for himself. I imagined I was J, strummed some American Girl chords and wrote this song. Wreckless Eric produced the recording. It’ll premiere on the Brooklyn Vegan site tomorrow, Thursday Oct 11.

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video still by Ted Barron

There’s a video coming. It feels good to be another character for a little while because I don’t know who I am anymore. A door opens.

And then I have a bunch of solo shows coming up and I’m looking forward to those because when I’m playing a guitar at a microphone – I think I remember who I am.

  • Wed Oct 10  New Haven CT   Cafe Nine  w/Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express
  • Thu Oct 18  Chicago IL  Burlington Bar info
  • Fri Oct 19  Rockford IL  house concert
  • Sat Oct 20  Minneapolis MN  house concert w/Dylan Hicks
  • Mon Oct 22  Winnipeg CAN  StuDome house concert
  • Thu – Sun Nov 1 – 4  Harbor Springs MI  Springfed Arts songwriting retreat
  • Sat 10 Nov  Cromer UK  Community Center tix
  • Wed 14 Nov  Manchester UK  Gullivers tickets
  • Thu 15 Nov  Glasgow UK  The Hug & Pint tickets
  • Fri 16 Nov  Edinburgh UK  Speakeasy at the Voodoo Rooms tix
  • Sat 17 Nov  Durham UK Old Cinema Launderette tix
  • Sun 18 Nov  Hull UK  St. John’s Hotel tickets
  • Thu 22 Nov  Worcester UK  Marrs Bar tickets
  • Fri 23 Nov  London UK  Betsey Trotwood  tix
  • Sat 24 Nov  Chichester UK  Emsworth Sport & Social Club tickets
  • Sun 25 Nov  Folkestone UK  Lime Bar Cafe tickets

Jour de la Marmotte

A guy bought Asymmetry and asked if it was possible to wrap the book.

Sure, I said. Great book!

They were still friends at the end.

Yes, I agreed. I was glad I stuck with it when it went off on that other tangent. What a brilliant writer.

In real life too. Philip Roth. My daughter was his chef the last eight months of his life.

Wow! Was he nice?

He was.

What did he eat?

Good food. Healthy. Good ingredients.

I’m glad. I didn’t realize the character in the book was Roth – I imagined him to be an amalgam.

It’s all true. And she was there at the end in real life. The woman in the book. The author.

What’s your daughter doing now?

She’s cooking for another writer – Joan Didion.

(Of course.)

Funny, there was a young woman in here about two years ago who told me she was cooking for Joan Didion. She loved the job. But I guess it’s the kind of job you move on from after a little while.

Huh. Maybe she and my daughter know each other.

It was back when Griffin Dunne was raising the money to make the documentary about Joan, so…maybe three or even four years ago.

She’s surrounded by other people now she’s working for Joan – nurses, assistants. With Philip Roth it was just the two of them.

Did he know he was going to die?

Not at all – my daughter got her driver’s license this spring for Connecticut in the summer.

When the man left, I couldn’t help it – I read his name off the credit card slip and google’d him. He seemed distinguished, with an accent I couldn’t put my finger on…was it English? He was a writer and filmmaker whose most recent residence was listed as Paris.

It was too strange. The father of the other girl who cooked for Joan Didion (but not Philip Roth, that I’m aware of) had also come here from Paris. He had an accent of indeterminate origin and looked like he’d done something notable – craggy features, understated attire that must’ve cost a lot a while back. But this new chef’s father was named Lawrence and I feel pretty sure the other young woman chef’s father was called Dennis. I started to wonder if they were the same person but that the father, being a bit older, was getting confused about the order of things. But Roth was most definitely dead and this man’s daughter had been working for him when that happened, so it was simply a coincidence – two young women with fathers of international flair and accents, working as chefs for great people of letters in New York City.

Now I’m imagining a whole boarding house of these men in Hudson.

Maybe I’ve been at this bookstore job too long.

But I still love it.

philip

Playing music here:

  • Fri Sept 28   Queens NY  Knockdown Center  Flip These Houses benefit
  • Wed Oct 10  New Haven CT  Cafe Nine (w/Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express!)
  • Thu Oct 18  Chicago IL  Burlington Bar
  • Fri Oct 19  Rockford IL  house concert
  • Sat Oct 20  Minneapolis MN  house concert
  • Mon Oct 22  Winnipeg MB  StuDome
  • Thu-Sun Nov 1 -4 Harbor Springs MI  Lamb’s Songwriting Camp
  • Sat 10 Nov  Cromer UK  town hall
  • Wed 14 Nov  Manchester UK  Gulliver’s tix
  • Thu 15 Nov  Glasgow UK  Hug & Pint tickets
  • Fri 16 Nov  Edinburgh UK  Speakeasy @ the Voodoo Rooms tix
  • Sat 17 Nov  Durham UK  Old Cinema Launderette tickets
  • Sun 18 Nov  Hull UK  St John’s Hotel  tix
  • Thu 22 Nov  Worcester UK  Marrs Bar tix
  • Fri 23 Nov  London UK  Betsey Trotwood tickets
  • Sat 24 Nov  Portsmouth UK Emsworth Sports & Social Club tickets
  • Sun 25 Nov  Foklestone UK  Lime Bar Cafe
  • Sat Dec 1  Ripton VT  Ripton Community Coffeehouse

Losing Things

It’s been the summer of losing things. First I lost my laptop out in California. I left it in a smokehouse in Humboldt County, California. No not that kind of smokehouse, though decent barbq has the ability to make me forget stuff. Seven hours north in the middle of Oregon I remembered setting my bag down next to my chair before attacking a plate of ribs. Who brings a laptop in a barbq place?  I tried to be philosophical. If it was gone, it was gone. I managed to get a hold of somebody at the smokehouse and she FedEx’ed it back to me at home in New York. For days after, I sniffed the laptop bag, marveling how it smelled like brisket, marveling at the kindness of people. Eventually I found a package of brisket jerky in one of the pockets.

Then I lost my prescription sunglasses. I know people lose sunglasses all the time, but the progressive lenses in vintage frames – that hurt, though there’d been something off about those lenses. Or that’s what I told myself so it didn’t hurt so much. It happened in Poughkeepsie when I was returning a rental car. Why does something immediately sound more pathetic or profound when it happens in a place called Poughkeepsie?

The rest of the summer was going along okay.

Then I lost my car. I was gliding along the Taconic Parkway in my Subaru, heading down to the city to see my daughter’s band play, and then it was that scene in a movie where everything goes silent, the gas pedal engages with nothing. Only gravity was moving the car. I managed to get off the highway and down a hill where I rolled to a stop next to…a charming nineteen fifties golf course. I’m in a sweaty, cursing hell and people are putting.

I got the car towed and word came from the garage the next day that the transmission was shot. But the garage wasn’t my usual garage and I just couldn’t accept it, I took advantage of my AAA membership to have the car towed back up to Danny, my mechanic in Catskill. I needed him to give me the final word on this car he has nursed along for me. Maybe it’s been a dud car all along but I have loved it more than any car I’ve ever owned (do I always say that? For better or worse these vehicles become a part of us.)

The next day I drove Eric to JFK in his Buick. He was going over to England because it seemed like it might be his mother’s last days and-

I lost my mother-in-law. Eric landed to the news that his mother Dorothy had passed away.

Then I flew to England to be with Eric and when I eventually talked to Danny the mechanic and he told me the Subaru was done for good, I think I laughed. Or maybe I just chuckled ruefully. There’s losing and then…there’s losing. I needed my tears for Dorothy.

wonderful land 1

Laminated

“Excuse me Miss – where’s Waldo?”

For a minute I’d forgotten where I was. In my mind I was driving through the redwood forest of California. I was composing a set list, or trying to track down a coffee place. I was playing to a crowd, and they were smiling, or looking thoughtful.

“I need to find Waldo.” The child standing in front of me is serious. I’m back at work in the bookstore/bar. It’s the annual Find Waldo competition. Kids come into every shop in Hudson looking for a tiny cardboard cut out of that guy who would’ve been played by Robin Williams if they’d ever made the movie…did they make that movie?

I just don’t get Waldo. I guess that’s the point of Waldo – there’s nothing to get. He’s a guy, in a cap and a striped shirt. Glasses – I think he wears glasses. I can’t pay attention long enough to remember what he looks like.

A young woman in the store said she was stunned to learn he’d only been around since 1987 – she felt sure he was a classic from many many decades ago.

No – he’s not. But he’s a classic now.

My June tour dates are fading fast. Every time I ask myself if it really happened, an email shows up in my inbox reminding me of that great press I had in Santa Cruz, an occasion (an article! In the SC Good Times weekly!) so momentous it needs to be commemorated with a lacquered wooden plaque. Would I like to take advantage of this LIMITED TIME OFFER?

It was an intelligent article by a good writer and I’m sure it helped the show. But for some reason the plaque people have seized on that moment and can’t stop reminding me I really do need to share it for all time with family and friends. My piece of wood is waiting.

Maybe this has something to do with me and Eric going to one of those Trees You Can Drive Through but not actually taking the challenge? After my shows in CA and Eric’s CA gigs, we had a nice little sidetrip to Mendocino and then drove up through the redwoods.

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There’s a lot of wood in Northern California. They’ve got to do something with it. So – commemorative plaques.

plaque

After the first few emails, I started composing a response so scathing they would never darken my email account again.

But then – and this is sad – I started looking forward to the emails.

If I keep hearing from the plaque people, it means I really was somebody back in June.

Now I’m just Waldo’s keeper. It’s a responsibility.

The children like him.

More dates coming soon, including a solo UK tour in November. In the meanwhile this interview I did with WFMU’s Michael Shelley for the Please Kill Me site showed up yesterday. It’s not laminated, but I’ll take it!

The Green Green Grass of Home

First it was the grass. I’ve done some things I’m ashamed of and things I pray my father never finds out but perhaps the deepest shame I’ve ever felt was in receiving a summons from our village for not mowing the lawn.

The grass was just too long when I returned from traveling the last time. The regular old push mower couldn’t cut it. I wasn’t able to face the idea of buying, let alone owning, a riding mower. Yes there have been times I’ve pictured myself astride one of these beasts, grimly swerving and swooping the far reaches of the yard, mistress of all I survey…but I’m terrified of being that person too.

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I’d put out calls to lawn service companies but they were all “yeah, uh – probably in about a week or, sometime…IF the weather holds.” I even called the village and pleaded with them to not fine us. Apparently they will send a guy over to cut, charge you for that and a $100 fine on top.

I was on my way to the first yoga class in over a month, just pulling up in front of the studio feeling holy when the phone rang. It was the most rustic of the lawn guys: “So I’m outside your house right now.”

Wait – didn’t you tell me MAYBE you’d be around over the weekend – it’s Thursday?

“I’m here now, yeah this is gonna cost – I’d say $200.”

What? I was hoping more like …$100?

“Yeah, that’d be nice but – listen lady, liittle neighbor boy Johnny isn’t gonna cut your grass for ten dollars any more. Do you want me to do it or not?”

But…there’s ten and there’s…Okay, please just get it done so I don’t have to hang my head in shame anymore and avoid calls from my dad because he’ll hear the embarrassment in my voice.

Once I’d paid the guy I felt huge relief at the same time I realized if we’d just gone ahead and taken our punishment from the village, their guy would’ve probably charged $50 to cut and then the hundred dollar fine on top – we were out fifty dollars but it was worth it to not feel the scorn of Ray and Carol up the street.

Then it was time to start touring again. I’ve been in four rental cars in the past week and I don’t know who I am anymore.

First there was one to drive to NYC & Baltimore shows, because my Subaru is in the shop and the idea of driving Eric’s big old truck-type SUV just sounded too cumbersome plus the a/c isn’t working. I’ve done my time in unairconditioned cars and can never go back there again. Instead of the nice tidy little economy car I requested, they gave me (no extra charge!) a roomy Dodge Caravan, which kind of negated the whole economy car thing…There’s a nice review of the NYC show here. The Baltimore concert was odd but fun – hello, it’s Baltimore?!

To get to LaGuardia Airport, I rented another car rather than pay a fortune to park the big old truck (my car’s still in the shop or maybe it’s ready and I can’t face the bill yet) at the airport for a couple of weeks. I think this one was a Nissan Sentra. So anonymous and our relationship so short-lived, I had a hard time finding it on the street in Brooklyn when I met up with my daughter for lunch before catching a flight out west.

The next car, from LAX, was a 2018 Toyota Corolla where the air conditioner blew hot air. Isn’t the point of a rental car the chance to be that normal person sitting in traffic in a car so generic you don’t consider making an impression on anyone or even yourself – in my aged Subaru Forester I always think there is at least an implied acknowledgement from other vintage Forester drivers but I don’t imagine current Corolla drivers feel the same…you buy a Corolla for the privilege of feeling nothing but safe and efficient, secure enough in your shopping wisdom you don’t need to declare your personality to the world.

I went to Burbank Airport to swap out this bum car, thinking I’d save myself the time and effort of dealing with massive LAX, but the nice young attendant said since it was such a small airport I’d have to wait for somebody to return a car. He suggested I treat myself to breakfast at the Denny’s across the way, and as much as I hated the missed opportunity for some real L.A. culinary treats, it was a southern California cultural cross-section in Denny’s, complete with Trump fans talking loudly about all the great things he’s done (“he took a nuke out of our ass, what more do you want?”) – is someone paying people to sit in public places and spout this stuff? I wonder.

When I went back to the airport there were still no cars. He asked why I was in California and I did the “oh just here for a nice trip, see the sights” bit, because it’s too complicated to go into the whole “I’m a musician – anyone I’d have heard of – no – my uncle/brother/I play guitar too” routine. But after standing around another fifteen minutes in a dull Burbank parking garage while all of California was being California outside, I broke down and said “Look – I lied. I’m a musician, I’m here to work and I need to get up to Ojai to play a party, they’re waiting for me. I need a car with a trunk, as soon as possible.” The young guy sprang into action and I was out of there in minutes.

To stay awake while driving to Ojai, I tried to remember every Los Angeles hotel or motel I’ve ever stayed in, beginning with the Tropicana for one night on the way back from Hawaii in 1979 or 80 (remember People’s Express $99 flights to Honolulu?); the Sportsman’s Lodge in 1996, Hollywood Roosevelt, Beverly Garland, Best Western Hollywood, LAX Hilton, that cool mid-century Viceroy hotel in Santa Monica when it used to be a seedy dump…happy I’ve been staying with my friend Ilene in an amazing Airbnb in Eagle Rock because even the bleakest fleabag by the airport is at least $150 a night now. I started drifting off and realized thinking about places to sleep is not a good way to stay awake while driving.

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Ojai was as beautiful as I’d imagined but in a different way – I’d pictured it perched on the side of a mountain but it is actually a valley. There were blackened trees everywhere and I remembered they had terrible fires here back in the winter. The show was in a fairy tale stone backyard belonging to Rain Perry who is a wonderful singer songwriter herself. Everybody enjoyed the show but I hadn’t gotten the borrowed amp to work so well and became convinced it was my electric 12 string that was messed up. Now Eric is not the greatest texter – I have sent him dozens sometimes without a reply, or maybe like a fellow Subaru driver I know there is an implied answer, a nod across the highways, and he will call me when he has a minute. But a message along the lines of “I think there is something wrong with my guitar” elicited a response in less than thirty seconds. My phone rang and it was “Right, you need to plug the guitar into the amp right now and…” It was like being back in our living room at home only Eric was in Marfa and I was in Ojai. One possible culprit was the sizable Joe Walsh Analog Alien effects pedal lodged in the back of the amp, in my haste to get set up I hadn’t bothered to remove various items stowed should I need them.

I drove back from Ojai the next day, the Ford Focus proving to be a much better car than Ford Focuses I have rented in the past. Not much power but decent and now that the air conditioning was working wonderfully, the temperature outside had dropped to the mid-sixties. I stopped for fresh juice and Mexican breakfast in a neighborhood spot in Eagle Rock – it was filled with young guys in soccer jerseys watching Brazil play Iceland (?) in the World Cup. I heard this beautiful song in an Apple ad: “I’ll tell you a story, `bout an artist growing old..some would try for fame and glory…” Who? It was one of those moments so perfect it could be an ad itself – me, the older artist in a little Mexican cafe, still dazed from my gig the night before, the young guys in their jerseys watching football on TV, this perfect song…Daniel Johnston. Thank you, whoever thought to use his song.

The Wild Honey backyard show benefiting Autism Think Tank made me happy to be playing in Los Angeles again – looking out the audience was a cross-section of old friends and great musicians and all-around interesting folks. I played a solo set and got to hang out and play a few songs with Ilene, Danny, Max, Billy and Robby (Oliver from the Brady Bunch, I’m not kidding!) the 7 Deadly Five  whose album I loved back in the 90s, every tune a hit, every line memorable (She Must’ve Got Her Monks Mixed Up…We Go Together Like A Hammer Goes With Matches) and the amp was working okay and I left feeling a pure joy like I never expect to feel in L.A.

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Wild Honey photo by Julie Lynn

Then it was the grass. Okay, since I saw a billboard near the airport advertising Medmen, I’ve been wanting to go to a weed dispensary, but I was nervous, like I’ll do it wrong and (hello Dad) bring shame on the family even though in the end that fear never stops me from doing anything, probably has the opposite effect of making me the world’s most bumbling potential criminal.

I entered this discreet one-story building on a busy street at the edge of a residential neighborhood and stood nervously before the receptionist. She waited for me to pull out my ID while every card in my wallet tumbled out: MTA, CTA, donut club, coffee clubs, Catskill Library. Sweetheart didn’t even roll her eyes. She told me to go through and I wasn’t sure which door she meant and worried I’d do like at that bbq place in Texas, open the door to the broom closet thinking I was about to enter the fire pit. But I took a chance and it was just a room with some display cases. I told the girl I wanted this package with a drawing of a guy like an old prospector I’d tried at a friend’s. She smiled at me with a look of complete confusion. “Or sort of like one of the Smith Brothers? But alone?” In the end I just went along with what she suggested, like I do when tending bar for people who say they like IPAs but not too hoppy. I emerged into the sunlight carrying my regulation shiny black pouch and of course there was a cop sitting right next to my car.

Good morning officer. It’s 9:15 AM and I just bought drugs – all strictly above board of course. He regarded me with absolutely no interest through his mirrored shades.

I got in the rental car and remembered I needed to call the guy back home who told me he could cut the grass for $45 while we’re away.

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Knapsack

I shouldn’t have been there in the first place but I blame it on the Catholic Church, as I do most of my transgressions. Saks Fifth Avenue sits one block from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, and through my twenties and thirties when I needed solace, when I didn’t have anywhere else to turn, I’d spend a little time in a pew, then approach the altar and light a candle. Then I’d go shopping.

Not for anything much – maybe a lipstick or the smallest size of Nahema perfume. But growing up, my mom would let me pick something marked way down in the Annual Sale (I still can’t figure out what a Saks was doing in downtown Pittsburgh) and the luxury department store still loomed large in my struggling musician/mom/temp worker life.The cathedral was cold and uncomfortable, the soaring arches made you feel small and doomed to fail. Catholics are born losers, square one you come into the world a sinner. Across 49th Street, Saks made me feel like maybe, just maybe, I had it in me to be a winner – or if not a winner a woman who could pass for one. At least smell like one.

I don’t remember when I first saw the black and white gingham check knapsack. I only know I made it my goal to own that bag. It said Kate Spade on the small label sewn on the outside, which I was a little worried about – thrift shopping was where I found most ot the clothes and housewares I owned. Designer anything was not my style, unless I’d found it used, for three dollars – then it was a triumph.

But the cotton gingham, the attention to detail, the size of the check and proportions of the bag – it became an obsession. I was temping around the corner, at Sony or CBS, and I’d visit the knapsack. Like a painting at the Met, an object to inspire me, until the pay day when I walked in, like a regular person with money, and bought it.

And the knapsack made my life better. It became a part of me. I even wrote a song about it. I drew it for my CD artwork. Tried to wash it at a laundromat. After a few years it got shabby, and felt ridiculously small, impractical. Maybe I just outgrew it, but in number of uses, in form and function and the happiness it brought me every time I hoisted it on my shoulder or back – before it just started to hang there like a lump – the bag more than paid for itself.

I felt so sad yesterday when I heard that Kate Spade had taken her own life. The realization that she was only fifty five stunned me. She’d had her vision to create something unique and specific enough that it spoke clearly to a young woman like me – to a city-ful and then a world of us – when she was just a young woman herself. Younger than me – she’d seemed like a chic big sister! That gift to help somebody say “this is who I am” and feel good about that. Seeing how huge the company and brand became, you might think that’s like saying you feel a kinship with everyone who ever ate at McDonalds. But there was a time when it was special. Whatever it became, what Kate Spade created was special.

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Loading the van, 1996

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