Blame It On The Boss

I’ve finally almost put the tissues away after a trip to the doctor and giving up dairy. I’ve been blowing my nose for weeks, since England. Sinus infection is hell.

I’ve been reading Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, for weeks now too. I finished yesterday.

Did the book affect me so deeply because I’ve been sick, or have I been sick because the book affected me so deeply?

I think both.

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I never expected I’d be so moved by this guy’s words and his story. I’ve listened to him plenty, been fortunate to see him a few times, even defended him on occasion. A few years back Eric and I dusted off some Creedence covers for our gigs in Asbury Park just in case he wanted to join us on stage, as he’s been known to do when he’s off the road. (He never showed up!)  But ever since I missed his historic Syria Mosque show in PIttsburgh during the Born To Run tour, I have frequently been out of time and out of touch with The Boss.

Yet I knew from the advance press and from the cover photo  that this was going to be a special ride. The soulful, awkward picture; the revelations of a fraught relationship with his Irish-American father and how he was blessed with a magic Italian American mom, just like me  –  the indisputable commitment to his art and his craft; the undeniability of his loyalty to where he comes from and who he came up with and yes, his frequent dance with depression, an egotism bordering on madness, an ability to think huge, to want so desperately to include everyone in his art – well you have to choose your moment to read this kind of book. Mine happened to be when I was suffering with my annual bout with sinusitis. I’ve wept frequently. “What’s he up to now?” Eric reading his Rita Coolidge or Thomas Cobb book beside me has asked. I’d put down the tissue and do some selective reading aloud, avoiding the sections that would make me blubber in front of my husband. Some revelations aren’t meant to be shared, they need to be discovered by each reader, on their own. Those moments where a writer sees themselves so clearly they see you too.

I knew he’d be able to spin his tale, but I just never expected him to tell me so much about myself. About what it means to do what musicians do. He made me feel alternately proud to have stuck at it for so long, ashamed of myself for not working harder, thrilled to be allowed to pick up a guitar or play a song I wrote for a crowd, depressed at every missed opportunity to do more, better. Oh Bruce, why do you have to be so good, so true? Even when you want to catch him on it – hey, you cast people aside,  you were a dude, you had Patty to raise the kids, a staff at your bidding – he pays tribute to them all, gives credit and you have to love him and thank him for taking us out there with him. He even describes putting double insoles into his (carefully chosen – style vs. functionality) boots and spraying down his hair for the Super Bowl gig so that when he steps on that stage, well we get to be there with him and it’s a privilege but not how you expect it to be. Onstage is the place his brain takes a rest and he is at peace – like most of us look at the waves on the ocean, taking us away from ourselves – that’s Bruce in front of a massive crowd, and he channels that peace and energy back to keep his patch of sea rolling and it’s a miracle.

Because he knows what it is to be the little guy, that is his greatest talent, so when I stepped on not an arena stage or even a foot high riser but a rug in a living room to play Dan & Liz Ferguson’s house concert the other day, I felt Bruce in my ear or over my shoulder, going isn’t this the best? And when I stand in front of a mic to record a vocal for my new album that matters because it matters to me, there’s the Boss again, next to my heart, going “It’s what you feel inside you need to share that matters.”  Yep, it’s Rock n Roll 101 but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded so emphatically and empathically  by an indisputable expert.

Maybe I’ve been a little malleable reading this book because I’ve been under the weather but it’s a miracle how the moment you need to hear a voice saying “It’s okay – it’s not easy, in fact it’s damn hard but you can do this, you must do this” – well, who’s been waiting all these years to be my buddy, my coach? That guy in the t-shirt.

So I thought I’d put the tissues away for good yesterday as I closed the Springsteen book and wiped away a last tear. My head was definitely clearing up.

But then I was listening to President Obama’s farewell address last night. He was that voice of measured, seasoned optimism that looks all the more sage and sane – almost saintly – when you compare it to what it’s about to be replaced with. The terrible possibilities of what’s ahead for this country were screaming almost loud enough to drown him out. But they couldn’t. He believes in us. It made me want to “grab a clipboard” as he said, do something. Something good.

As the Obamas left the stage, they played “Land Of Hope and Dreams”.  I held Eric with one arm and grabbed for the tissues with the other.

The World Has A Cold

“Bup-Bup-buh-buh-buh,” sings Jona Lewie over the supermarket loudspeakers. Eric and I are in the fray at Tesco alongside merciless shoppers lunging for cheese and sausages and bottles of wine or Christmas crackers, their trolleys serving as battering rams. I run back to grab a trolley even though we only need a few things.

“Spotty Dog – Now” says my phone. But I’m in England. I hope Otto got my message about covering this last shift for me. I picture the bar and bookshelves, familiar faces, happy chatter, the Marianne Faithfull version of “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” that’s been playing nonstop for the last six months. I feel a misty wave of longing, aware that sometime in January I’ll be standing behind that very bar thinking “gee, I wish I was back in England fighting it out at the supermarket.”

We drink tea and eat Victoria sponge with David Thomas and his girllfriend Kirsty in a Hove tea room. He just happens to live around here. I’m too shy to tell him I saw the first Pere Ubu CBGBs show, when he was still Crocus Behemoth and I couldn’t get over how he had the nerve to wear a wide tie when everyone else was wearing skinny ones. The man dictates his own rules. Drinking tea with him and Eric is like some weird summit of pop music outliers of my youth – I feel like we should be filming this, talking about who makes the best mince pies, and Cleveland, and Mark Twain.

“How did the rest of the tour go?” David and Kirsty ask.

“Tour, tour – oh right, the tour!” It feels like a century since the tour ended, one week ago, with a fun show in Leicester. I’ve been suffering with a cold, like the whole rest of the world, and staying with Eric’s mother, trying to help her get her strength back after weeks in a hospital bed. Eric and I take turns walking her across the living room floor and bringing cups of tea, both drenched in sweat from the cranked-up heating topped off with a raging gas fire while the TV blares a special about a man who dons a rubber mask and custom wig to perform as Frank Sinatra and a revolving cast of carers drop in. When we’re gone, they’ll keep coming. I want to hug every one of them but they’d probably call me “that daft American”.

I keep thinking of the brilliant Gay Talese article for Esquire, 1966, “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold”. Consider this paragraph:

Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel—only worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. A Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy. 

Yes, it’s like the whole world has a cold this month. Congestion and muddled thinking, where you grope to remember what it was like to feel good and healthy. The only thing clear each progressive week is that things will never be as simple as they were the week before. The malaise punctuated by peaks of terror and valleys of dull depression. I don’t want to go home where Donald Trump was somehow elected president but is it any better anywhere else?

I want to go home.

“Bup-Bup-buh-buh-buh” sing a couple wheeling their trolley to the tiny car next to ours.  They smile at each other in snowflake printed sweaters and for one second I feel cozy like in a supermarket ad on TV.

“No one, but NO ONE, should have to spend Christmas on their own” decrees a Salvation Army ad on TV that plays about every ten minutes. We changed our tickets to stay with Eric’s mother an extra week. We will fly back ON Christmas, which actually feels like a relief because I’ll have had about as much Christmas as I can stand by then. We’ll dress up and maybe Business Class will be empty and we’ll get an upgrade? Or the pilot will be wearing a Santa hat or something wacky and the whole plane will laugh together.

“When will it end?” The Yardbirds – I keep hearing this refrain from Over Under Sideways Down in my head, every time I reach for another tissue and blow my nose.  It’s one of many songs we listened to in the car on this tour that keeps ricocheting around my head, that and A Salty Dog by Procul Harum and Mickey Jupp’s Moonshine, this is so us, geeking out to classic rock while the moon rises over a field next to a road between two towns. It wouldn’t have been the same, doing these shows without Eric. I remember whenever I sing Do You Remember That or Don’t Ever Change how lucky I am to have him.

(thanks to Daisy Wake for the clip from The Apple Tree in London)

“If you’re looking for a nice white wine, that one there is really good.” Umm… Blossom Hill? A woman in a knit hat with a smiling face is, shockingly, speaking to me in the supermarket.( A thing I really miss about the northeast US when I’m in the UK is a general open, easy manner I take for granted. I said “isn’t it a beautiful day?” to a man sitting with his dog outside a cafe in Norfolk the other day and he recoiled like the Wicked Witch of the West having water thrown on him – how dare I let my cheeriness invade his private surly territory?  But I understand, it’s a small island.) I’m so shocked that a stranger is talking to me in a store that I say nothing and the woman with the knit hat says it again. “Really nice flavor.” “Are you American?” I ask. “No, Canadian – but that doesn’t mean I don’t know good wine.”

Eric and I stand in The Mobility Shop, looking at wheelchairs to see if there’s some secret to finding the brake lock since we have yet to locate it on his mother’s version which led to her and I descending into a heap on the sidewalk outside a beauty parlor while a young stylist just inside the door looked on in horror. We’re taking his mother back to the beauty shop tomorrow.

“We’ve got competition,” Eric says under his breath in the cafe when a woman tries to hold the door open with one hand while pushing her mother’s wheelchair in with the other, knocking over stools and a sheepskin-strewn armchair along the way. We greedily down our coffees and try not to eavesdrop on the “Would you like cheese on toast? Or a lovely cup of tea?” conversation we had in the exact same spot ourselves yesterday. We’re on our own today. It’s like when you buy a new make of car and never noticed how many Subarus there were on the road before – how many, how many friends, family, strangers dealing with their own mom or dad in a wheelchair, in a care home; dementia, Alzheimer’s, illness or just plain old age. I feel so fortunate my dad has his wife and they keep spry and healthy, and I have four brothers too and their families, and my daughter. My mother’s been gone so many years it’s like Eric’s mother is my honorary one. I admire her wit and spirit and it’s wonderful to hear her say “You and Eric are a really good team”. I can’t bear the thought of her shoved in a corner somewhere.

When I want to fall back asleep every night after I wake up due to this damned cold I restrain myself from opening my computer to see if something new and bad happened in the world and think back on the gigs I’ve played over here , how they add up to many happy moments and it helps to remember these things are still possible; joy is still possible.

Eric’s daughter and grandkids are coming by.

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I find myself looking up the Catskill Price Chopper supermarket’s Christmas weekend hours – we must be going home.

Wishing everybody peace, love, joy and hope in some form (and clear heads, throats and sinuses)  over the holidays and in the New Year.

The Alien

“Have you been to England before?” a customer back at the bar in New York had asked, when I told him I was leaving for a trip to the UK.

“I’ve been going since I was nineteen,” I said, unable to sum up my relationship with the place in one sentence. An odd mixture of awe, intrigue and comfort.

After all these years, when I am in Britain – without having to think about it too hard, like a photo of your own face in a mirror – I am still a stranger in a strange land.

Take the tea towels. I proudly announced to audiences in Glasgow and Manchester and then Louth that I’d printed my own with some help, based on my love of the charity shop versions I’ve been scoring for decades.

In Louth, deep in Lincolnshire, the audience chuckled. Eric and I have often driven through the rural county, famous as farmland and as the birthplace of Bernie Taupin and Margaret Thatcher; where the great eccentric musician Robert Wyatt resides these days. Britain’s version of South Jersey crossed with Kansas, it smells a bit like cabbage.

“How much are the tea towels?” an older lady asked at the end of the show, when I took my place behind my merchandise displayed on a hostess trolley. I was astonished, quite moved even, that she’d lasted my entire two sets. They’d been a lovely audience. And she wanted to buy something too?

“They’re twenty each,“ I said.

“So cheap!” she replied.

“Oh, I’m glad you think so – I wasn’t sure if they should be fifteen maybe but they’re all hand-printed and so each one’s an original artwork really…”

“I’ll just go get some money.”

I got on with the business of selling albums and talking to people. In a little while she came back. “The tea towel,” she said. “I’ll take two!”

Beaming, I placed two towels over her arm, while she handed me:

Two twenty pence coins.

40P.

I don’t think you can even buy a square of toilet tissue for 20P.

I couldn’t say anything. It would have been too embarrassing. For her, for me, for the entire county of Lincolnshire and the world in general.

The price list I’d hung up showed the amounts: 10 & 20 for CDs, LPs and towels. But I’d left off the pound sign. Being the alien, I’d had a crisis of confidence when writing up the sign. Did the symbol for pound go before or after the number? Was it one line or two through the L?  Oh they’ll know what it means, I’d thought. Being the alien, you don’t always know what you’re dealing with.

I saw the triumphant lady heading back to her group of friends, tea towels slung over her arm. Before she had a chance to send them over to buy this bargain item, I shoved the rest of the towels in a tote bag and ran.

I hid in the dressing room as long as I could, to keep myself from blurting out “You! Are you kidding me? What costs 20P? Even in a charity shop you can’t buy a used pair of underwear for that.” I hid. When I came back upstairs she was still hanging out with her cronies. Don’t older ladies have to get to bed ? It started to dawn on me she was the mother of one of the promoters. Nice guys all. But when, one after another they came up to me to buy an album, I was hard as nails: “Twenty pounds.” I saw them wince. ” Yep, that’s how much.” (Okay, one I let off for a tenner and his Bill Hicks paperback that I’d been eyeing all night).

“Can we leave now?” I kept saying to Eric. “I really need to leave now.”

When we were finally in the car, I shared my shame. “I just couldn’t tell her it was pounds not pence! ” I said. “Do you think she was taking the piss?” (Sometimes an alien expression is the only one that says what you’re aiming for.)

“Forget it, Amy,” said Eric. “it’s Lincolnshire.”

I’m down to one towel over here now. But somewhere in a country kitchen just outside Grimsby, a redoubtable housewife polishes a dish with her bargain cloth, while the second one dries on the back of a chair.

“Quite good, these towels,” she tells a friend. “And so reasonably priced! You must get one next time Amy Rigby comes to town.”

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Come see the alien and her English husband playing some bass and guitar over. Sorry, no more towels.

  • Thu 8 Dec   Bristol       Thunderbolt
  • Fri 9 Dec     Southampton   Cafe Reflections
  • Sat 10 Dec   Cromer   Community Center
  • Sun 11 Dec  London   Come Down & Meet The Folks Apple Tree  6 PM!
  • Tue 13 Dec  Brighton Prince Albert
  • Wed 14 Dec Leicester The Musician

Field Notes

Next week at this time I’ll be in the UK on tour. I wonder what it will be like to spend time outside of the US at this divisive, uncertain moment.  “Listen to this song about taking out the trash and working a day job, or this one about getting older” I’ll say. The devil’s in the details and it’s all details. “What about Trump? What were you lot thinking?” they’ll ask me. I start in Scotland, where they really hate him. I know ! I know! I’ll say. To you he’s just a joke trying to build a golf course.

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Eric and I were desperate for some distraction the other night – it felt impossible to find a TV show that isn’t bloody and dark. So we watched the first two episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies. What a delight. Sheer escape, when we weren’t taking notes on Jed and Elly Mae’s outfits for future stagewear. If you see us wearing rope belts, you’ll know why.

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Playing has been a welcome activity, though even on stage it can be hard to forget this mess we’re in. The audiences seem wounded. I have felt close to tears a lot, but it’s been good to laugh too.

“I remember back when I was young, and I used to get so angry.” I say before launching into Twenty Questions. “Where were you last week?” an incredulous voice shouts back from the audience. I recognize my friend Karen. I feel ashamed – I’ve actually forgotten. I recover but it makes an impression on me: must hold this reality in my head even while offering/taking an escape for a few minutes. (For a limited time, Neil DeMause’s recordings of the HiFi shows are here and here!)

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“Did you wash that shirt?” a guy says as I’m signing his album after one of my NY shows. “I noticed the fuzzing on the embroidery while you were playing. Nice shirt, but you shouldn’ta washed it.” There is no hiding anything in the places I play. I’ve been on big stages with the lights blurring and mystifying things (opening for somebody, it’s wonderful) but it’s more one on one in the places I play and that’s not a bad thing. I see everybody too.

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At the HiFi shows I see friends dressed up in somber suits for Billy Miller’s memoriam. I think of his wife and partner in music, Miriam. Eric joins me for part of the set and we play You Tore Me Down for Billy.

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Playing at a house concert outside of Philadelphia, I see the nine year old of the house and one of her friends choose the moment I start strumming Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again to enter the room and sit a foot away from me. I suddenly feel like a tepid version of one of my dad’s old Rusty Warren albums come to life, imagining years from now this young lady recounting “and my parents kept telling me a girl with a guitar was going to come and play in the living room and I’m expecting y’know, like Taylor Swift and instead it’s some older woman being a little risque and all the old people were nodding and singing along, and I just wanted to disappear under the rug!”

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I see my daughter and her boyfriend watching one of my shows at HiFi Bar in New York. “I hope I didn’t embarrass you,” I say to her after.

She hugs me and shakes her head. “Ive been in this game a long time,” she says in the world-weary way she’s had since age two.

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“Hi Lisa!” I shout to our mail lady. I’m up on a chair in the breezeway with clothespins in my mouth, trying to hang a freshly-screened tea towel in a forest of tea towels. I finally have some tea towels to sell. “Happy crafting! Happy Thanksgiving!” she says with a laugh.

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Tea towel artwork

I set my stuff up onstage at a club while the late Sunday afternoon show’s performer packs up his guitars. “We’re shift workers,” Garnet Rogers says. He’s heading to the next gig while I play this one.  I remember checking out of a motel on I-80 east of Cleveland at six a.m. years ago and recognizing another musician just checking in. “Paul?” I said. “Amy?” “Have a safe drive.” “Sweet dreams.” Shift workers.

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I listen to NPR or I listen to the new cassette by Hazel’s band Outside World. “Make A Promise” feels eerily prescient. I like the shifts from noise to almost modal vocals, rolling bass, spider guitars, landmine drums.

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“Can I get a hug?” a woman says, after my last show in the suburbs of DC. I’ve given a lot of hugs the last few weeks. I lean over the merch table – it’s my cousin Lisa. I see my mother’s sister Teresa in her dark brows and warm eyes, and my mother too. My cousin Ceci is with her. We make plans to meet up for the march on Washington January 21.

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Costanzo Cousins

I hear Rita Houston on WFUV doing a tribute to Sharon Jones as I get in range of the city. She plays the finale of her show at Celebrate Brooklyn this summer and Sharon Jones is on fire. She kept playing up til the end because it’s the only thing that took her pain away. There’s something about the sentence “she died surrounded by her family and her band” that reduces me to tears, I picture the Daptones in their sharp suits, standing sentry around her.

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“I know – right?” a man shouts to me through as we battle the wind past each other in the parking lot of the Woodrow Wilson rest area on the NJ Turnpike. There’s that wonderful/horrible commiseration you get in NY/NJ that feels born of immigrants arriving in New York harbor. It always gives me a little lift: you’re home now.

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After two wasted hours watching The Bodyguard but hey it’s Thanksgiving, Hazel and Ben ask if we’ve ever seen We Jam Econo, the film about the Minutemen. I’m almost ashamed to say I haven’t. Our Band Could Be Your Life, they sing, and it could and it is.

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Lo Fun

A week ago I was driving across Ohio and New York state, listening to NPR. Thinking if we could just get this election over with, we could get back to real life.

A week ago, the leaves were blazing red, gold and orange. The sky was blue. My biggest worry felt like how to print more tea towels and let people know about my upcoming shows.

A week ago I was thinking back over a weekend of playing and singing and songwriting with a group of strangers who’d become friends. I flashed on their faces, hands on guitars, words and music they put together out of love. I reflected on the beauty of northern Michigan, and the country I live in.

A week ago I carried a container of leftover Chinese noodles in the front seat of the car next to me, as a talisman. It hadn’t been good in the restaurant and it wasn’t going to get any better riding in the car, but “just in case” I carried it with me, across four states.

A week ago I returned home to a clean kitchen and nice meal courtesy of Eric. I felt like a lucky lady.

A week ago I got up on election day and tried to pull myself back together after two weeks of travel. I voted on the way to the laundromat. Our neighbor shouted across the row of tables: “Nice paint job on the house!” and gave me a big thumbs up. We’d finally managed to get help painting the peeling parts of our house. Small town life, there is no anonymity. The whole polling place turned to look at me. I wondered how the neighbors voted.

A week ago it all seemed mildly amusing, when it wasn’t infuriating.

A week ago a friend said “Don’t worry, there’s no way Trump will win” when I was cooking dinner and we were sitting down to eat.

A week ago I lost my appetite.

A week ago Martin Stone was still alive.

A week ago Leonard Cohen was still alive.

A week ago, Leon Russell was still alive.

A week ago, Billy Miller was still alive.

I threw the Chinese food away.

The leaves are dead now.

The unthinkable has happened. This country has elected a joke as president.

I still have to print tea towels and let people know about the shows I’m playing, but I can’t stop looking at the news, Facebook and Twitter, and wondering what to do about the future.

This is real life.

I wish it was still a week ago. I wish I hadn’t thrown the Chinese food away.

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Sunrise Nov 6

Let’s hold each other. I’ll be playing and singing to celebrate the 20th anniversary and vinyl release of my debut solo album Diary Of A Mod Housewife:

Riding With The King

I’m on tour with Tom Petty right now. Let me tell you, it’s a ride. The sheer size of the operation, the level of skill and expertise. Hit after hit, night after night. The volume of fans – the volume. But in the end, it  comes down to one thing: the music.

I’m driving from gig to gig in my Subaru and listening to Warren Zanes read his incredibly interesting, enlightening Tom Petty biography. I know everyone’s on to Bruce writing about his own life and I’m eager to take that trip too – but for now it’s answers to many questions I never knew I had about the blond one, and much to think about on the subject of art, ambition, how where you come from can point you where to go but not what to do when you get there.

A great aspect of Warren’s book is his connection to his subject – first as a fan and then as a musician himself, whose band ends up opening a tour for one of their heroes and experiencing first-hand a music business that these days exists in the mists of time like King Arthur’s court. Somewhere in a notebook I have scrawled a possible date at the Fillmore in San Francisco opening for the Heartbreakers – I was on the short list or maybe the medium list to fill a slot during the twenty nights of their historic stand back in 1997 and imagining that possibility is as potent and magical as had I actually done the date (maybe). I carry that possibility with me onstage every night – I can’t help it. I am always partly in your living room, bar, club or bookstore and partly onstage not only opening for but playing with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (the Clash, the Raincoats, Who, Bob Dylan’s band and dozens of others. Sometimes I’m with one of my heroes for real, Wreckless Eric, and it’s still a thrill).

Touring solo – it’s all coming back to me, there is nothing insulating you so it’s quite an emotional thing. You remind yourself why you’re doing it – to get up for that hour or two a night and bring your music to people – but unless you’re wearing some impermeable coating, you are absorbing the places and faces you encounter like any traveler would. These are piled on top of memories of other shows and tours over the years – oh, that couch in that dressing room. That couple, they were so nice. The people you meet and talk to, the bored barista (not the pickup truck with TRUMP emblazoned on the back, who cuts me off, he doesn’t get to play); even a hand reaching out from a ticket booth on a toll road, become your band – your Heartbreakers.

I’m only partway to Rochester when I have to pull over and take a nap at a rest area. Getting out of the house was overwhelming, trying to mail out records, load equipment, load records I have yet to mail out into the car. It didn’t help that painters were working on covering the chipped and peeling paint on parts of our house – they had removed the front step making it that much harder to actually leave and it all felt so significant. Eric helped me pack the back of the car and promised to text me a photo of the pack. He’s the best at arranging the gear and it was a sweet way to have him along with me for the trip – oh right, that leads and pedals case goes there.

Rochester I felt nervous being solo after a couple band shows and I was dorky and awkward in my banter but the audience (many of them friends or familiar fans) were with me and for me so it was okay. Stayed with our pals Rick and Monica in their cool house in a cool neighborhood – I love Rochester’s architecture and artistic bent, the arts and crafts palette reflected in the trees and sky must have something to do with the lake.

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Rochester

I had to nap again in the car on the way to Cleveland – maybe catching up from troubled sleep for the last few weeks worrying about this whole enterprise. There’s a feeling of throwing off worries and burdens on the road – you’re doing this very specific thing, not a hundred different ones, and you can just let everything else slide up to a point.

At the Beachland, an old Polish (?) hall with attached tavern, I’m being joined on a few songs by Chris Butler and Harvey Gold’s Half Cleveland outfit. We run through stuff and I go downstairs to the familiar dressing room only to be greeted by a room of half-naked women and men, g-strings and body paint: there’s a Halloween burlesque show in the ballroom. I stake out a tiny corner on a couch facing away from the makeup mirrors, all that flesh in green paint is kind of distracting, then the club owners Cindy and Mark and manager Matt who are so nice to me, tell me to use the office. It’s always its own thing and feels very homey, playing the Beachland, some dear fans and even a few of my cousins are there. I’m up against Tribe fever – no game tonight but there is baseball madness in the air. Wish I’d gotten more people but I don’t know how to make that happen in Cleveland short of throwing my lot in with the bustier brigade in the ballroom and slapping on some body glitter? I will still always go back if they’ll have me because to the people it matters to, it matters and that means everything really.

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Got to be the Beachland

The next day is a long drive to Champaign. I play at Cynthia and Ernie’s Sandwich Life house concerts – I’m not sure if the name comes from Warren Zevon’s quote about enjoy every sandwich but I met Cynthia through blogging (she reminded me we connected over my Hannah and Her Sisters Thanksgiving post from back in France) and I may have been the first of their now dozens and dozens of house concerts. Again I’m up against baseball, and Halloween weekend, but it’s a sweet crowd and I really enjoy playing this living room that feels like a house I might live in, full of interesting old stuff, a close family, lots of talk, music and good food. Thank you my dears.

I remember to get an oil change before I leave Champaign and it’s an easy drive to Willow Springs IL, I don’t even have to pull over for a nap this time. Petty is touring with Dylan by now, he’s in a dark patch (Tom has a lot of dark patches really, more than I would have ever expected) and there’s a stunning moment when Bob, who’s been kind of going through the motions on this tour, is reborn, right onstage in Switzerland. I love how the author weaves in Dylan’s Chronicles scene and corroborates with Tom Petty the reanimation of our beloved Nobel laureate. I must go back and reread Chronicles. I feel a little guilty listening to a book about music on the road instead of actually listening to music, but it just occurred to me I listen to music all day at my bookstore job, surrounded by books I can’t read because I’m working in a bookstore so this all makes sense!

The Willow Springs house concert is a dream. Jeff and Missy have set up their living room like a perfect little club, chairs and little tables for people to put drinks and food. They treat me so well and even though the Cubs are playing everybody focuses and listens intently.  I’m enjoying this now, feeling more comfortable being up there on my own. I drink a Moscow Mule in a copper mug and hang out talking til I feel like I should go – I don’t want to be the House Concert Performer Who Never Leaves, holding forth while the crowd of friends dwindle down to the hosts feigning yawns.

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The audience is getting older…

I have a scare the next morning when my phone goes black. Yes we used to tour without phones, internet, fax machine even and I was up for that then, because there was no other way, but having GPS on the phone saves so much time, energy and aggravation that the thought of having to go back to the old ways has me freaking out for an hour or two – even in the simple act of writing down directions to a mall with an Apple store I screw up and end up driving south two exits before I sense something is wrong. I pull into a service station and start groping in the back seat for my road atlas and then remember it was the Toyota Siena that had the road atlas in the back seat. I suddenly had a real pang cause I used to love to read maps. No phone, no phone – oh God, the thought of having an interaction in the service station just held no appeal. I decided to just head the other way on the interstate and sure enough duh, there was Chicago gleaming in front of me. The mall with the Apple store was massive but I managed to penetrate and locate (no phone! no phone!) first a glowing Microsoft collection of squares and Apple just across a fake village green with real grass. It took only a few seconds for one of the technicians to solve the problem and then I had to find my way back to my car, happy I had deposited my tour cash in a bank machine that morning because there was every store you could imagine and gig money has a way seeming like Monopoly money if it stays in your pocket too long – “it’s not real! Life is not real!”

Cubs fever was intense and here I was worried about Halloween festivities being too much of a distraction. Halloween comes every year but not so the Cubs in the World Series. I felt a little like an intruder at a family reunion, a friend of a friend of the family, wanting to leave these folks to their jublilation that I couldn’t begin to fathom because I grew up in Pittsburgh in the seventies, when sports team domination was ALL we had going for us. The Reckless Records instore was fun and went off fine, got to talk to some people and sell records. Then I needed to drive to Rockford for a show at Mary’s Place set up by Michael Whyte, who’s a facebook friend and musician and writer. We’d decided to go ahead with the show no matter that a ballgame would pretty much destroy any possiblity of a crowd , especially on a Sunday, but I’m really glad I went. Mary’s was a characterful old bar full of characters – I liked playing there. At one key point in a song, a good line I’m proud of, there was a cheer in the bar, one of those moments you hope for – then I realized that on the TV hidden from view in a corner the Cubs had just scored. I was playing with the Cubs now! Michael and his wife Kathy were wonderful, and Rockford is full of great old buildings, a perfectly preserved American town fallen on hard times but attempting to come back. Birthplace of Cheap Trick (cameo in the Petty book), I got to see some spots of local significance  and really want to give a gig there another shot.

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Birthplace of Cheap Trick

Driving back east, I was reaching the end of Petty. It brought me to tears a few times, partly love of Tom, partly Warren Zanes’ writing, partly that general feeling of connection/isolation that driving alone on the interstate brings – trucks you become attached to for several miles, pass and see again in the service area; an ambulance I despise as he sits a firm sixty mph in the passing lane for miles, then find myself missing when I finally get around him and he’s just a speck in the rear view mirror. Part frustration, looking back at my own story, part elation that I still get to do this. Part excitement mixed with resignation before the final gig of this trip – before I head up to teach at a songwriting workshop in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan – that most loaded of gigs: playing in Pittsburgh, where I come from. Still figuring that one out.

thanks Tamara Guo for this Pittsburgh clip

Begin Again

The songs I have down. It’s the tea towels that were making me nervous. I’d offered a free hand-screened towel as an incentive to do some pre-sales for my album release and then remembered I haven’t silkscreened anything in decades.

With the help of our friend Clif, I was able to turn a drawing into a screen and our living room into a screenprinting atelier, with Eric displaying dazzling ironing skills and Karen Schoemer making a cameo as wet towel runner. I only wish I’d ordered more towels for the initial run so I’d have a load to sell, but I honestly wasn’t sure how well things would go.

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Tea towel artwork

The towels turned out beautifully and I’ll have more to sell soon.

I decided I had to start my Mod Housewife shows at Spotty Dog, the bookstore/bar I’ve worked at for almost five years. I think playing in a place where everyone knows you is scarier than playing in a much larger place, but given the amount of time I’ve spent serving people, sweeping the floors, washing pint glasses and arranging books and restocking toilet paper, it’s almost like performing in my living room so I felt comfortable when we set up to play – “let me just move this book display over here.” Doug Wygal, the original drummer on the album, Eric on bass and Alexander Turnquist who is one of my co-workers and a stunning solo twelve string-guitarist, helped me create a joyous racket. That’s what it feels like to me, playing this old stuff and some new songs too. I was able to walk into work two days later with my head held high. I know the locals and regulars & my co-workers think of me as the bartender too polite to yell “LAST CALL” so it’s nice to show them that’s all a cover, at least part of the time.

 

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Rocking the stacks – photo by Karen Keats

Cambridge was Sunday, an afternoon show at Atwood’s. I like this place a lot. Nice atmosphere, good food and people come out. We did this one as a trio but still had too much equipment to fit in the Subaru, so Eric drove his Buick and Doug and I caught up on stuff on our drive, he worked at Sony for years and I spent a lot of time temping there so we were reconstructing a little piece of midtown history on the drive. Played a rocking show and sold records and chatted with people. Home by ten P.M.

I worked a shift, communing with the books until the bar got busy. I feel lucky to have a fun part-time job to balance out the art and commerce, it’s comforting to put books on shelves in their places, fill up people’s pint glasses to just the right level, dim the lights, put on good music and hear snatches of the different conversations going on. Maybe I’m just getting to a different phase of life where I don’t worry as much about what it’s all coming to, or maybe I’m just on a high from playing a few shows and the angst and doubt will come creeping back in?

Spent yesterday packing up and mailing the pre-orders and their corresponding tea towels while a team of house painters worked on the front of our house. Aside from the roof, it’s the first time we had somebody else do work around here and Eric was so sweet, bringing them coffees on a tray – he was going to scrape and paint the weathered parts himself but being up on a ladder alone just doesn’t work and winter is coming. It’s going to look so beautiful when it’s done, we won’t recognize the place.

He changed the strings on my 12-string and acoustic guitar instead.

It feels strange setting off on my own this morning. I’ve played some scattered solo shows the past year but this is the first time I’ve gone off on a solo run in over a decade. The last time (when…when was it?) the world was pre-Facebook, pre-smart phone, pre-Obama! I’m excited and looking forward to playing. I can’t help but pick up on the World Series excitement: Cleveland vs Chicago, I’ll follow that thread of rust belt rivalry and swoop around back to Pittsburgh to remember where I came from. Teach at a songwriting workshop in upper, upper Michigan and come back home to vote.

Cueing up Warren Zanes’ Petty biography for my first audio book of the trip. Running down a dream – again. It always feels new.

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