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.

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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!

Old In Bar Stools

“Hey, did you know this bar stool’s broken? Better not let anybody sit there!”

I’m having a deja vu moment at the bookstore/bar. I’ve been here so long I’ve seen it all before, at least twice. Who knew wooden stools were so…fragile? This crop is probably third generation since I started working at this place, was it seven years ago?

There was a period where I clocked coworkers, but as time moves on so do my fellow fellows behind the bar and the old team and the one after that and the next one starts to disappear into the mists of time like one of those scenes from an army movie where a photo fades out, fallen soldier by fallen soldier, til there’s just one bedraggled corporal standing, smiling hopefully like everybody is still there as they were back at the beginning.

Oh shit – that corporal is me.

“Are you the oldest one who works here?” Charles asked me last night. He didn’t mean any offense. He’s a customer who comes in to drink a soda and laugh at cartoons on his phone for a few hours. He knows more about television than any human I’ve ever met.

He’d started his evening across the bar with “Is Ethel still alive?”

From…I Love Lucy? I don’t think so…her real name was um…Vivian?

“Vance,” Charles didn’t even pause. “Was she the oldest of them, on the show? Or maybe Fred? He looked older, right. Is he still alive?”

He sat laughing at his phone and I served the customers and it was a nice night. I played this Marianne Faithfull album I love that will forever be the Spotty Dog to me. Is Marianne the oldest now I wondered? I know she has a new album out and it’s ballsy the way her cane is featured in the cover photo. Marianne makes canes cool but I don’t want one. God, not yet.

I’m kind of in a Charles mode myself lately. I can’t help it, I’m about to turn sixty. Sometimes I’m very much facing it head on, other times sneaking up to it sideways looking at other women my age or older to see what it’s like. So when Nicky came into the bar, I was all eyes and ears. She was dressed in a rust-colored suede sheepskin coat with a hood, fluffy fur mittens on her hands. Long blonde tresses, cheekbones like Joni Mitchell. She kind of looked like Joni Mitchell and I guessed was about the same age – mid-seventies.

When she spoke in a vaguely English accent, I had another deja vu moment: this other fabulous looking older woman some years back, blond hair, English accent, rich hippie clothes she wore so well you knew it was no affectation, she’d been to Morocco. Kind of posh and kind of mad in the English way ie crazy. Talked a girl she met at the bar into accompanying her to England to clear out a house and it all went so wrong I’ve been afraid of the day she walks back in. She was scary enough before.

Nicky talked some sense and some nonsense and asked for mayonaise for her empanada. She went outside to smoke a cigarette. These ladies all started to run together in my mind and somebody else mentioned broken bar stool and Marianne croaked “I found him by the stage last night, he was breathing his last breath…a bottle of wine and a cigarette was all that he had left” and I needed a flashlight to read the letters on a Caran d’Ache pencil to enter it into inventory. One of the beer taps splashed me in the face and I could see my eye makeup run in the bar mirror and for a second I felt very Sunset Boulevard.

“Do you have a pencil, love?” said Nicky.

When all the other customers were gone and I was sweeping the floor, Charles kept asking me about my age. “Are you older than…Amanda? Are you older than…Sara? The owners? Everybody?

Yes, yes, yes and yes.

“Are you older than…me?”

How old are you, Charles?

“Thirty-two.  How old are you?”

I said it: sixty, in less than two weeks.

“Why are you still working?”

He got me at a moment with beer on my shirt, a dustpan in my hand, picking somebody’s soggy tissue up off the floor. I wasn’t sure so I spoke it first and then knew it to be true: “Because I love it.”

 

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I’m playing The Spotty Dog Friday Feb 1, release date for The President Can’t Read single + Tuesday Feb 5 at Mercury Lounge NYC tickets

Turn Down Day

I’ve hardly worked a shift in three months at the bookstore/bar but I walk in feeling under the weather on the afternoon of Christmas eve like oh I’ve done this before, not a big deal. And it’s true I’ve worked many a day before the holiday at this place, for some reason my shifts always seem to fall on them. But maybe I have been away too long because lines of people are approaching the register with piles of books and socks and toys and I feel like an alien or a French peasant plucked out of the countryside and dropped into a teeming retail planet. The phone rings every two minutes with somebody asking for a) Salt Fat Acid Heat or b) that Lin-Manuel Miranda book or c) do we have the Frederick Douglass biography? No, yes and no I quickly learn.

Eric stops by and asks what I want to do for dinner and I’m too distracted to answer and anyway there’s this nagging, cloying sound overhead and I have to turn it off immediately – it’s some Spotify mix and I realize with satisfaction as I wrench the bluetooth away that it’s Ryan Adams dueting with somebody so I feel like I’ve done a public service when I shove a CD into the player and finger snaps and Roger Miller starts singing “Trailer for sale or rent, rooms to let fifty cents” and the whole place perks up immediately because Roger Miller fixes the air in a room.

But CDs don’t go on forever so at some point I put in the Tom Tom Club that’s laying there and that adds a faint touch of hysteria to the proceedings as people perch on barstools with their purchases and sip beers. I’m working with a new co-worker and we don’t have the ballet down yet, that effortless dip and twist you get in the trench with not enough room as you move up and back and spell each other, it takes a little practice or maybe I’m just out of practice, so every few feet we bump into each other and say “sorry!” and “oh excuse me” or “whoops!”  I’m wrapping another Lin-Manuel Miranda book and wait – is that pita burning in the toaster oven? I slide down to the other end of the bar, fling olives in a bowl and hummus on a plate, the Tom Tom Club is getting old so I rip that out of the player and grab a compilation CD which starts out brilliantly with an 80s country version of Tainted Love and all of a sudden the barstools are filling up with French peasants- I mean people from Quebec – they are puzzling over what to drink and what to eat (easy, that last pita was the last pita) as if they’ve never been outside of Quebec…maybe they haven’t?

“Did a bus from Canada break down?” a regular hanging in there at the end of the bar asks.

Then Maggot Brain comes on. Through ten and a half minutes of twisted, molting guitar the Quebecois drink their ciders and teas and beers like glassy-eyed children at a grownups’ party and I can’t help it, I speak French so I hear the anguished debate about how much to tip the bartender. I head back down to the register praying c’mon Funkadelic, do your stuff, and sure enough when the guitar notes fade out the busload is gone, down Warren Street with their confusion and solidarity.

And the sales wind down and the owner and I close the bar early as people head out searching, hoping there’ll be room at the inn-I mean any restaurant in town because word has gone out that only three remain open and if you didn’t book a reservation well tough luck – it’s the holidays!

The morning after Christmas I come into the bookstore/bar and turn on the lights and pop in a little music and for a minute it’s just me and the books and we’re all having a moment together, me and Jeff and Michelle and that angry Donald Trump and yep, ole Lin-Manuel Miranda and it’s bliss. But then I hear tapping on the front door glass –

“Hey, it’s eleven o’clock – are you guys open?”

Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself

It’s the end of the year and maybe because my album The Old Guys came out in early 2018, it feels like the end of the cycle. I loved this album and feel proud of it forever but it’s just about time to move onto other things (namely, getting my book out).

I was recapping and thinking of all the good things that came along with the album release this past year, and that reminded me that I have a whole lot to be grateful for, and people to thank. The more years I gain, the more I’ve learned not to engage with what I wish would’ve happened or frustration at where I wish I was or what I had, but good old appreciation of all the positives. That’s what helps lift me up and give me another energy jolt to keep going.

So here we go – thank you to:

Wreckless Eric, my partner and producer and primo player on the album and a bunch of live shows this year.  The line in Do You Remember That says it all, “you changed my life in seconds flat” when we met and I have learned and continue to learn so much from him. Plus I get to be part of his amazing family. Thank you! Love you!

The players on my album: Greg Roberson, Jeremy Grites and Doug Wygal and Brian Dewan and Artie Barbato. So much fun working with all of these guys, as well as Jeremy and Doug plus Steve Goulding and Ian Button playing drums on live gigs. I’m always moved to hear musicians doing their thing on my songs, it is validating and liberating to just go for it together.

John Foster who put The Old Guys album artwork together and is a patient, encouraging soul and great artist I feel fortunate to have him on the team, plus he gives the greatest hugs ever and even if I haven’t seen him for a year I know the hugs are accruing for the next time we meet in person.

Ted Barron took the promo photos I have used and used again for The Old Guys plus he made the Tom Petty Karaoke video. With above and beyond attention to detail and care, he is an amazing artist I’ve been lucky to have as a friend and neighbor and collaborator for almost thirty years.

Andrija Tokic mastered my album and it was a huge confidence boost to hear the tracks coming through the speakers in his awesome studio in Nashville and have him say how much he dug the songs. He also jumped right in to pump up Tom Petty Karaoke and the forthcoming The President Can’t Read singles – can’t wait to have new stuff to head down to Nashville and work with him again at Bomb Shelter.

I have known Robert Vickers since back in Tier 3 days/late 70s and he’s so supportive doing publicity – putting out your own records means having to blow your own horn and having Robert in my horn section helped a huge amount.

Lucy Hurst has been great doing the recent UK publicity, it means a lot to get reviews in Mojo and Uncut and the like.

Marc Riley and Michelle Choudry at BBC 6 Music welcome me and Eric so often on Marc’s show, the best!

Michael Shelley had me on his WFMU show and also interviewed me for the Please Kill Me website – always thoughtful, insightful and positive.

Gotta Groove pressing in Cleveland and Clay Pasternack helping out with distribution.

Radio – Joe Belock & all at WFMU, WGXC, Mountain Stage, Richard/Dexter Bentley Hello Goodbye; Dan Ferguson, WDVX, WUMB, KALX, KPIG, WXNA Nashville; Smelly Flowerpot, Boudin Dan, the stations who have been kind enough to play my stuff – I’m sorry if I left call letters out but I appreciate it every time I find out somebody played a track.

Kelley and Alan, the owners of Spotty Dog Books & Ale in Hudson & the crew & customers there – it’s given me a place to come back to between gigs and keeps me connected to our upstate community and helps pick up the slack financially, I’m so fortunate to have had this job – it’s made a huge difference in my life.

Magnet mag for the guest editor spot; Troy Michael of Innocent Words, Jennifer Kelley/Blurt and Charlie at Stereo Hysteria and Dan and Dan at WXPN gave me a boost early this year with their interviews. It means a lot that other writers like my writing – thank you everybody who gave The Old Guys a review or mention.

The promoters who put me on in your club, living room, cafe, radio station: Robert Johnson, Scott Stamper the Saint in Asbury Park, Jammin Java, El Cortez, Sound of Music RVA, Dawson St. Pub, Parlor Room, Beachland, Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge, Cafe Nine, Cat’s Cradle, Burlington Bar, Berlin, Thunderbolt, Will at Prince Albert, Old Cinema Launderette , Andi & Cath Lime Bar, Chris Hey Manchester, Ripton Coffee House. Brian Marrs Bar, Hemlock SF, Michael’s on Main in Soquel, HiLo, Spotty Dog.

Friends who helped make shows happen: Lindsay Hutton, Karen Hall, Rob Brookman, Michael Whyte, Dylan Hicks, Kate & Donna Little City Books, Tom Kohn Bop Shop, Tom Heyman in SF, Randi Millman, Dan Reed, cousin Ceci in Richmond; PJ & Abbie Hogan, Mary Sack, Tim & Susan Lee Knoxville, Mark Messerly/Wussy in Cincinnati; Danette Koke; Nick West and Raz at Betsey Trotwood, Andy Richardson, Mark Ringwood, Paul Rock and Wild Honey, Rain Perry, Sleepy John Sandidge, James Lynch, Doug Wygal, Michael Giblin & Ruth Prall, Mike Stuto, Stu Reid, Geoff Himes, Marcel and Mary Daguerre. If I left anybody out I am sorry!

I got to play gigs with these cool artists: Lenny Kaye, Johnny Dowd, Felice Rosser, Grahame & Ann Davies of the Crowd Scene, Joe Harvard, Slushy, Seven Deadly Five, Brian Dewan, Russ Wilkins & Lightnin Holler, Papernut Cambridge, BARK, Knife & Fork Band, Jon Coley, Alex Lucero, Ramblin Deano Schlabowske; RB Morris, Jon Byrd & Bob Woodruff.

Printing help from Clif Eddens who made the tea towels possible.

Ken Tucker NPR’s Fresh Air, having The Old Guys reviewed there was huge and the mention of my blog felt especially great.

My dad sent me a check early this year that helped answer the question “how will I pay for the vinyl pressing?” Even though he sometimes doesn’t get what I’m doing or why (“You want to put out a book now? Isn’t music hard enough?”)  he always has my back. My brothers John, Michael, Patrick and Riley always show up to see me play. My sisters in law Natalie and Karen too.

Friends who put me up on tour: Rick and Monica Simpson, Kate and Scott/Chicago, Kathy and Kevin in Hull, Daisy Wake in London. Karen, Peter & Daisy Hall; Ilene Markell, Andy Dodds, Chuck Prophet & Stephanie Finch. Karen Schoemer book buddy, Norma Coates daily text support, Angela Jaeger for phone calls and Julia Gorton Kirk dear design guru; Sarah Lazin for keeping the faith with my book; the HiLo in Catskill & Supernatural Coffee in Hudson extensions of our own kitchen, Stockade Guitars & Le Shag in Kingston and Rob at Musica in Hudson.

John D. Lamb and the Springfed songwriter retreat in Michigan led to me writing the Philip Roth song two years ago, and I got to go back this fall, it was a restful and productive blast once again. Thank you Neil DeMause for the opportunity and guidance to write for the late great Village Voice & Alex Needham at the Guardian for including me in the Philip Roth tributes. These things helped make my year.

My daughter Hazel remains my inspiration and hero.

I couldn’t make records or write without people to listen and read…well then again, I could and probably would but what use would it be? An audience is never a given but I am lucky to have folks who are willing to spend their precious time engaged with work I do. That is the best outcome an artist can hope for. Thank you!

Miles to go – Dan Seward took this clip at the end of the album release show way back in February

Lights Are Gonna Find Me

There’s that moment of a tour that will cap it all off, the moment you can’t plan but only hope for, where it all comes rushing past like an end-of-life montage: the high-fives, the low bows, the brushes with greatness, the grit and dust while you scramble on all fours around a dark stage trying to read an amp setting or a set list. For me the moment usually involves a plastic cup of tepid white wine and an inflight movie at 35,000 feet when I just. let. go. But before that can happen there has to be:

Worcester. There needs to be a gig where you’re tested. Remember Bob Dylan’s Nobel acceptance letter? “But there’s one thing I must say. As a performer I’ve played for 50,000 people and I’ve played for 50 people and I can tell you that it is harder to play for 50 people. 50,000 people have a singular persona, not so with 50. Each person has an individual, separate identity, a world unto themselves. They can perceive things more clearly. Your honesty and how it relates to the depth of your talent is tried…”

50? Try way less. It’s not the club, which is really nice, or the sound, or the people who traveled from up the road, other towns (anywhere but Worcester) to see me. It’s the way the guy who advanced the show (be here at 5, soundcheck at 5:30, doors at 7:30 etc) never mentioned there was roadworks closing the entire block the club was on. So after suffering the Festival of Lights traffic crossed with heavy rush hour in a cathedral town bisected by a river and not one street that doesn’t turn sharply before going up or down a hill, I threw up my hands and drove into a cul-de-sac also known as a dead end with no way through but to call the very nice promoter and have him walk over and ride shotgun to get me out of there.

The amp that I had repaired in Nottingham started acting up again, or I think I realized I didn’t really know it at all, sort of like ending up on a vacation in a labor-intensive place like Marakkech or Mexico City with a person you’ve barely had coffee with, or maybe they worked two cubicles down at a temp job years ago but you felt like you could be friends if given time, and now you’re staring down dysentery together.

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Then there was the support act – the scheduled guy sadly broke his arm so had to be replaced by a suitable singer-songwriter who was suddenly ill and so there was a sub for her, oh why? She might bring a few friends – I envy the person who has that kind of friend who can drop everything at a moment’s notice and make their way across town down a closed-off street during Festival of Lights. I probably have those kind of friends but – they don’t live in Worcester.

Who does live in Worcester?

And then there’s dinner – it’s Thanksgiving.  And the bar staff at the club suggest Wetherspoon’s down the street cause it’s cheap and it’s easy and – it’s packed with revelers from the Festival of Lights. Did I mention it gets dark VERY EARLY in the UK in November? They’ve been celebrating Festival of Lights for a good two or three hours already and it ’s only six thirty. I take a corner table, out of the way of several large groups, and try to hail the waiter who tells me “I am not a waiter. I will, however, bring you your food.” And then he dashes off and I wonder what drugs they take here in Worcester and I stand in line with a group of men at the bar and find a menu and when it’s my turn to order I get bangers and mash because anything else I ask for I know I’ll need to repeat and repeat again cause they won’t understand my accent. And when I order a small glass of white wine the barman says “Medium wine!” and hands me a fishbowl on a stem.

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Bangers and mash

The not a waiter actually high fives me after he delivers my plate and when I finish the bangers and mash I hear the two guys at the next table haltingly ask him in German or Dutch accents: “We are not from here, but are looking to go hear some music tonight, is there somewhere you suggest?”

The waiter says “Well you have the club just down the street which is good on the weekend but it’s Thursday so they’re definitely closed.” Then he hustles off to high five some more customers and I do a full Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall , stand in front of the out-of-towners and say “There is music there tonight – it’s me, I’m the music.” Desperate times etc. The guys are too polite to say anything but “Oh ho ho, that is wonderful, what is this music you play? We will be there.”

And then the teenage opening act is singing a ditty about baked beans on toast and then I’m playing for the nice people who’ve come to see me and the teenager’s sitting in the small audience talking so obliviously that I see people turning to look at her. I have to stop and tell her to be quiet, and so then I have to play with a chunk (x 2 cause she did have one friend) of the audience chastised and even though I told her to feel free to go talk in the other room she sits there the whole time. I give my best for the people who’ve come and even play a few songs I don’t pull out any other night cause I want it to be special but when I finish, the girl scurries up to the stage to pick up her pedal. So that was why she had to stay, and bitch that I am down deep I feel oddly satisfied. I say hello to the kind people who came from Birmingham and Wolverhampton and Coventry to hear me. I try to keep positive but at the end of the night I watch YouTube videos of nerdy guys talking about Vox AC15 amps and drink the little bit left of a screw top bottle of wine I’ve been carrying around for two weeks and eat the Premier Inn pack of biscuits and it’s all so grimly perfect I have to laugh. Next morning I go for a stroll and the town is charming when you’re not trying to get somewhere and do something.

And then there’s London Friday night and all my dreams are realized – well, not quite because I had to use my rental car as a dressing room but it’s a full house and I bring my Worcester angst with me which never hurts – you can’t have things go too well all the time, a little suffering keeps this from being just a jolly holiday where I sell my albums and share my soul. But London loves me and I love London.

It occurs to me after I’ve played sets on Resonance radio in London and then at the Emsworth Sports & Social Club, and I enter the sauna in my hotel on Hayling Island panting from swimming, there’s a guy sitting on the bench in the dim room and I nod and take a spot in the opposite corner and there’s nothing wrong, it’s all very Scandinavian but I feel exposed all of a sudden in my wet bathing suit and bare skin and I feel like crying because I realize I willingly put myself through this every night I get up and play – not the bare skin and bathing suit part but just being exposed and vulnerable and when I’m doing it it’s imperative that it be real and honest but I can’t even say why or how that happens, except that I always think of the moments I’m writing a song and the way it all makes sense as the song is coming and I just go with that feeling every time I’m onstage. And only when I finish do I think “what have I done”. But, just like in the sauna, where the other guy’s sitting there exposed too (not, exposing himself, just – in a bathing suit) if the audience are with me it’s like that old saying from movies “just imagine they’re all in their underwear” cause standing up there you’re definitely in your underwear.  So a talking girl is a person in an overcoat when we’re all in the sauna and…I wish it was easier to just tell somebody hey, take your coat off.

I listened to Jeff Tweedy’s autobiography for most of my trip, at first I thought he was going to be too slacker and have to poke fun and holes in everything he was telling me but he got real and he got deep and funny and I really loved him by the end of the book and I cried and wished he could ride with me longer. When I wasn’t riding with Jeff I was reading Roger Daltrey’s book and a lot of things about the Who finally made sense and it was a blast and maddening to be in the Who and I was right there on the hang glider in Tommy and swinging a mic onstage with Rog and he mentioned Hayling Island and them staying in a hotel there while they made Tommy and I thought my hotel’s carpet looked familiar.

I played one last night in Folkestone and I felt at home, and so relieved the show was sold out – the owners of Lime Bar Cafe Andi and Cath made me feel we were all in it together but that it meant a lot to have me there and I realized how much I’ll miss playing in the UK, even the challenging parts – maybe because it is a small country it feels all connected in a way the US can’t, you travel from Boston to Cleveland then down to Nashville and sure there’s some overlap but they’re each their own little universe and tribe. It’s the tribal bit of the UK that can make you feel so included, or like you can have all the bangers and mash in the world and you’ll never fit in. But I don’t do this to fit in, do I? Do I?

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photo by Peter Hall

I saw my daughter in law and two of the grandkids for a little bit of lunch and then packed my guitars carefully to go back home, said goodbye to the amp I’d made peace with and the VW Golf rental car I’d fallen in love with. On the flight to New York I tried to watch some worthy films but I knew what I really wanted was Mamma Mia Here We Go Again. I’d put it off on the flight over cause it just wasn’t time yet. And I know there was a lot of stretching going on to extend the last ABBA movie for another go around. But they had me with the Rock Follies tribute in the opening scene and when the Harry character in 70s Paris was dressed like 70s Wreckless Eric and they did Waterloo in a cafe with a kooky older ensemble of dancers and characters I just wished the whole plane was watching the movie with me. The main female character goes to bed with three different men in the course of a few weeks and nothing bad happens to her, she just has a baby and ends up being friends with all of them. The singing and dancing is preposterous and some not great ABBA songs are dredged up and I know this actor is pro-Brexit and that one’s had Botox. Cher and Andy Garcia singing Fernando tried a little too hard and I like our version better. But when Cher moved those familiar hips up onto the stage – I worshiped her when I was a kid – and started singing “I was sick and tired of everything, when I called you last night from Glasgow…” well maybe it was exhaustion and the Chardonnay kicking in but I was a goner.  “Super Trouper, lights are gonna find you, shining like the sun…smiling, having fun – feeling like a number one.” Even for a tiny crowd I just want to be a number one for a little while. Don’t we all?

To Be An American

“Scrah-mache sahm! Aye dook, scrah-mache sahmn?” There’s a lady standing in front of me holding a plate of food. Everyone in the coffee shop is looking at us, and for a few seconds I completely forget where I am. Is this…Germany? Because I don’t recognize a single word the woman is saying.

Then I remember – I’m on the Derbyshire border, to the west of Nottingham, and I ordered scrambled eggs with salmon. I look so confused the whole cafe starts laughing.

“I’m sorry – I’m American!” I say, and then I laugh too.

As awful as it is to be American and have people associate you with that thing in the White House, it’s still wonderful to be American.

There’s a freedom to be crass, and lost and gauche and awestruck; innocent and earnest and many other embarrassing things that you don’t fully appreciate until you leave the US. (I try to not be those other embarrassing things like demanding and xenophobic and ignorant and loud and and and…okay, maybe I get loud sometimes, on stage, for a minute or two?)

As an American I can hear the Star Is Born soundtrack in a cafe in Cumbria and talk about it with the owner and say the music makes me think the movie might be okay but that it kinda sucks.  I feel almost honor bound to own up when we’re peddling well-intentioned but lukewarm manure.

I can thrill to the sound of a Norfolk yoga instructor saying the word “body” that elevates the body to a temple of grace, where you hear it in America and it sounds like “bawdy” and all sweaty. Just like I can quietly giggle every time a Pilates instructor says “bottom” in a Hull/Yorkshire accent, that makes me want to heave a big bucket of ice over a pile of freshly caught fish, or attack a mountain of coal with a coal shovel, with a glint in my eye. Instead I lift my arms above my head with the rest of the class and let them float back down.

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Cromer, photo by Jeff Higgott

There’s a pride (I’m not there! I’m here!) in being an American overseas for a few weeks and a feeling of obligation to make amends (I’m sorry! we’re all so sorry, well not ALL of us – but then you guys ain’t perfect either).

In a little village newsagent I can pick up the last copy of Uncut magazine and say “I’m in it!” like a goof to the young guy behind the counter when he asks if I’d like to pay for it. And he answers “No! Really? Show me!” Maybe he’s just humoring me but it feels special because I’m far away from home and they still make magazines and I’m still in one occasionally and this young guy isn’t in London or even Brighton or Manchester, he’s in Prestwich.

In another country I can read a poem onstage I wrote about being in another country, with rhymes I probably wouldn’t dare to use in America, because it’s the effort of being here that the poem is about and I want the people to know it means something to me. And the poem is an attempt to join in.  A benefit of travel is that you expand your idea of who you are and what you can do and now I want to write a poem for every place I travel.

The leap of faith that got me on a plane and onto a stage not in America implies I still have hopes and dreams that are not grandiose but sit closer to honest aspiration than mere delusion – don’t they? When you’re young and you play to small audiences you tell yourself it’s just the beginning and those crowds will multiply but when the beginning is long in the past…you still have to believe it. Or sometimes I just think of live recordings I’ve heard of Townes Van Zandt playing to less than fifty people and think …lucky people. But how hard was it for him?

 

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Edinburgh, photo by Shona Thomson

I like being one of the crowd except when I’m on stage and even then I want to fit in and it can be hard to be the lone American in a country hotel breakfast room on a Sunday morning when all the couples are eating their full English or continental breakfasts. It’s the type of place Eric and I would rarely stay when we’ve toured together because he’s seen all the blue highways (maybe they’re called greenswards here) & the threat of  dismal old-school B&B’s still lingers. But it’s very nice / not posh (even though the woman I spoke to in a pub before my gig at the Durham Old Cinema Launderette said “my, look at you – that is fancy” about the manor house hotel. ) Solo in the breakfast room I’m writing in my notebook feeling like the only role for me in this situation is female detective along the slightly disheveled lines of Brenda Blethyn in Vera, or Anna Friel in Marcella but fifteen or twenty years on. One of the benefits of late middle-age invisibility is the ability to blend in with the potted plants, and then you step out and slap handcuffs on someone at a key moment.

Being an American in a swimming pool in England (I remember when I used to look for barbq or eccles cakes or caramel logs on trips – now I look for exercise) I kept going to the wrong side of the other swimmer in my lane. When we both came up for air at the same time I said “Oh I’m sorry – I’m not sure what side of the lane to drive I mean swim on!” She laughed and asked where I was from. Even in her cap and goggles she had that Vanessa Redgrave strength and attractiveness. We talked about NYC in the nineties, she’d visited then. Everybody loves New York, it is still the place that captures people’s imagination most in America. It’s the place where all are welcome and everything is allowed, and everyone is in a movie of the most exciting day of their lives, in the fantasy anyways. I say I’m from Pittsburgh to win sympathy but I say I live in New York to win.

I tell the woman I’m a musician playing in Manchester. “The Apollo! That’s huge!” she says, mishearing me. I could lie and pretend it’s true but I’m a terrible liar so I say “Uh, no – I’m playing at a pub called… Gulliver’s?” “Brilliant,” she says, not missing a beat. “Well done!” I’m all the way over here to play a pub – there’s some kind of glory in it, not an Apollo type of glory but a “doing your thing” cult level secret club cachet – like playing in Hull, a northeast town you can’t get to from here, night after night.

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Old Cinema Launderette, photo by Charlotte Emma Ball

“They want to charge me – get this – twelve pound to go in that room,” says a guy to me in the bar at the pub I’m playing in Hull.  I could just shake my head in disgust and sympathy, but I can’t help it, I tell him it’s cause I’ve come a long way and I’m playing in there tonight. We have a rambling conversation where he’s probably drunk but every word that comes out of his mouth sounds like some warped supertruth and I’m a little surprised when he actually appears in the audience during my gig, and stays until the end to thank me.

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Glasgow Hug & Pint photo by Lindsay Hutton

Being American I can look befuddled in front of the hair dryers in the Victoria Leisure center where I’ve gone for a swim, and feel grateful when I ask the older lady next to me and she whips out a 20p coin and pops it into the coin box to turn the hair dryer on for me. If I was home I might just walk out with wet hair.

Was she really an older lady? Everybody feels older than me in England, even the young people. We’re babies – Americans. We can still learn, and do better. I like to hope so, anyway.

Amy Rigby solo UK shows

  • Thu 22 November  Worcester  Marrs Bar tickets
  • Fri 23 November  London  Betsey Trotwood tickets
  • Sat 24 November Hello & Goodbye show Resonance FM noon listen
  • Sat 24 November  Portsmouth  Emsworth Sports & Social Club tickets
  • Sun 25 November  Folkestone  Lime Bar Cafe tickets