Another Year

I had a busy week around my birthday. Knowing we had a house concert coming up, in our own house, added a feeling of pressure to the proceedings. Not that pressure is bad – it means you’re alive and doing things which is good to remember at the start of another year.

I started the week sitting in a local sports bar at 9 AM with a group of other bartenders from Hudson, taking a required course in serving alcohol. The instructor showed us videos of out-of-work actors pretending to be wasted in bars with names like Mangos and Banana Joes. It turns out we are responsible should a person drink too much under our charge! If they commit a crime or harm someone else or themselves, we could find ourselves in court. I resolved to check more IDs and that resolve made me go ahead and schedule an eye appointment because with my worsening eyesight I can barely read the tiny birthdate with my old glasses and every state has a different layout on their license. I also learned (courtesy of the instructor, a sassy older lady from Saranac Lake who was speaking from personal experience) that should you pull over to the side of the road to sleep it off for a while, take your keys out of the ignition, or you could still be accused of operating a vehicle under the influence. Use it, for free.

Next I ran home to do one final check of the Toyota before the Cartalk Vehicle Donation program came to haul it away. I’m so glad I checked the CD player one last time, because one of my favorite ABBA albums was in there, The Visitors. Then I watched through the window as a man loaded our old baby on the back of a truck. I still feel a little wistful when I look out and it isn’t there in the drive, though I’m loving the Subaru and having a car where everything works.

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I worked late at the bookstore/bar Monday, practicing my training tips and being thankful I work in such a benign place and not at Mangos of Maryland.

Early Tuesday I caught the train to the city. I was looking forward to seeing the snow as we’d had not one flake upstate – weird. I’d booked an eye exam at Warby Parker, desperate to get away from the clutches of Lenscrafters who seem to be the only option up around where we live. They were super-sweet and helpful with none of that “and you can upgrade to this reflection-free coating for another hundred dollars” up-selling that confuses me.

I met my daughter for lunch, she picked the place which was a relief, I never know where to eat in the city anymore and so end up at one of the places I’ve been to dozens of times already. It was Saam on Second Avenue and really good. The sun was out and we walked through narrow troughs  between the snow, down around Washington Square park, just talking about stuff – it was great. The volume of people on the streets was way down thanks to the snow maybe, and it was that old magic feeling where the city belongs to you and you alone, not NYU.

My friend Norma found us at a coffee place and Hazel went off to work while Norma and I headed to the Strand. Yes, on my days off from the bookstore I inevitably end up in – another bookstore. The book energy is so high in the Strand, it makes me high. I walked out of there with possibly the worst book in the store, but it was the kind of inspiration I need, like if this mess can end up printed and bound and sold (albeit at a way reduced price), I can finish my book too.

We stopped for a pedicure at my favorite place on 14th Street, Beauty & Cutie, and then propped up the bar in Northern Spy where Hazel works while she poured us drinks and served us lovely small plates. It was a really quiet night in the East Village. Norma and I had hoped to go see Carol but we were having too much fun.

The day of my birthday I worked and I admit I checked Facebook a few times, it was really touching to read all the birthday wishes and I felt lucky to have so many pals out in the real and virtual world. Eric took me to eat at a nice place in Red Hook and then we went to BSP in Kingston to hear Duke McVnnie play. He has Jane Scarpantoni on cello and she’s one of the greats – not in a “look at how talented I am” way (though she is) but in a mad, go for broke sense that I wish I saw more often. Brian Dewan opened – he was my neighbor back in old Williamsburg and we hang out with him a lot but I’m always stunned to hear him sing and play, he’s so good.

The rest of the week was devoted to getting ready for our house show – hanging up fabric and moving chairs and rehearsing together. After years of playing many shows as a duo, we actually had to work at remembering how our old stuff goes, and learn each other’s new songs. I hate to focus on “getting old” but eyesight and memory are the kickers. In days past I could do something once in a song and go yeah, yeah, I’ll remember how that goes but now I need to write things down and not just a vague mark on a page but actual detailed notes. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been playing as much this past year or two, though that’s changing as I book more solo shows. Use it or lose it – though it’s helpful to remember what it is and why it’s worth holding on to…I think I’ve spent the last two years doing just that. Getting philosophical here but hell, it’s my birthday.

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The house concert was a blast. We were almost ready when the guests started arriving, which is a change from other Aeroplanes. We had the help of Norma, up from the city (and Canada as she stood up and proudly declared in the middle of the concert!) and Danette who dresses as an air hostess and greets everyone. I’d bought a dress at the same vintage store in Hudson where I found the Penthouse Gallery frock that caused me such torment back in September (I still haven’t worn that one in public and may turn it into curtains); I thought I was going to have a similar meltdown and end up wearing jeans and a shirt but I was brave and wore it. We played a lot from Eric’s new album and some new songs from my album in the works. There was food (too much) and drink (just enough) and it felt like everyone had a good night.

We get to do the whole thing again in a few days. I think we’d better rehearse one more time because it will have been a week and now that I’m getting older, I don’t take anything for granted.

12604685_10208486065448628_2795043626092619566_oI’m pretty sure this photo from the Homemade Aeroplane is by Mark Lerner

It’s Just Lunch

They say meeting for coffee is a good way to check somebody out, decide if you’ve got a future together so we started with that.

It didn’t go so great. First impressions told me you weren’t really my style, a little prissy, old-fashioned even, but you’d obviously taken great care with your appearance, spent a lot of time getting ready, so I felt I owed you a fair shot.

Things were stilted. Painfully awkward. And your taste in music – gah. I figured we’d just leave it at the once.

But it’s a small town here, and the talent pool is shallow. I passed you on Main Street a few times, wondered how things were going. Somebody I know mentioned you the other day, talked about how great you were.  I thought maybe it was worth one more try. I checked and you were open to it. So, lunch.

We didn’t even get to the main course and I knew this wasn’t happening. My mind was open, your intentions were good but, I couldn’t find anything to like. In fact, my indifference from the first date was turning to downright irritation.  Why couldn’t you just be – what I want? Better. Brighter, hipper, not having to try so hard?

I know I’m no more important to you than the next guy, but we could’ve been a thing. I could be so good for you – loyal, generous. I would’ve been proud to tell the whole world what I’d found with you.

I need something in my life, I admit it. Not some fantasy deal – I don’t want that kind of pressure. No airs and graces, just a go-to, day-in-day-out relationship.

And comfortable enough to take a break when we need it. There’s others over the river, fancy city types even. But I wanted to keep it local, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do these days?

Well, screw it, I tried. But frankly, you suck. I know you hardly know me, and you seem to be doing fine without me in your life. But this is it – you won’t see me again.

Local cafe, I’m breaking up with you.

Adios Amigo

When you came into my life, I was a little past my prime, but I guess the same could be said about you. Lots of miles: 155,000 in your case.

Toyota Sienna: I never thought I’d grow so fond of you, but I’ve had this thing for minivans. You weren’t much to look at, and filthy. The previous owner let you go cheap because he didn’t have time to make you presentable. “It just needs a thorough cleaning,” he said. His kids were off to college, and we found a petrified diaper under one of your seats. Fifteen years’ worth of empty sunscreen tubes; beach passes, fake nails; teeth whitening strips. There was even a mouse infestation. But an afternoon with a vacuum and a bucket of Lysol and you were ours.

The miles added up, and winters took their toll. Gigs, get-togethers, dump runs. One rear door handle snapped off in the cold, then another. The driver side door lock didn’t work, the passenger door wouldn’t open from the outside. Eric and I devised a routine we called “hutching”, a low-grade cop maneuver – toss of the keys, one handed catch, but you weren’t allowed to look at each other. Like Starsky & Hutch. It beat feeling irritated about the doors. We made allowances for our Toyota. That’s what you do with family.

Passing vehicle inspection every year’s been a trial, but we knew a guy named Al…Some miracle of Japanese engineering kept you running when lack of money and credit dictated it was you or a couple of bikes and for that I’ll be forever grateful.

I don’t know when I began avoiding you. Probably around the time you started roaring like a jet. With the windows closed, the fumes made me sick. The noise through the one window I was able to get down meant I couldn’t hear myself think. The mechanic said you needed a new catalytic convertor and, given the 266,000 miles on your odometer,  recommended putting the one grand a repair would cost towards a new car. I let the water bottles pile up on your floor and never filled the gas tank more than half.

The other night when the temperature dropped to the single digits, I wanted to stop and offer a friend a ride. She was picking her way down the sidewalk on the passenger side. I couldn’t honk the horn, couldn’t roll the window down to shout at her. I knew it was time to let the van go.

But how to replace you, buddy? You have a CD AND cassette player! There’s no selling you, except maybe for scrap. When I finally drop you at the junkyard, the sun reflecting off the duct tape that holds a corner of your windshield in place, you’ll look like trash to the rest of the world, but I’ll know you’re royalty – a 2000 Toyota Sienna – and we won’t see your like again.

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So farewell old frie- wait, there’s a 2002 Subaru Forester up for grabs? And the Subaru has everything done; all wheel drive, heated leather seats, plus a moonroof? What, do I look like some upstate New York cliche?

Let me just get the plates off this old van…

Toyota mini-who?

That’s My Boy

“I love you darling, but I won’t sell your merch.”

These were the words in my head before watching Eric play his Brighton show, the first one out of his many dates in Europe and the UK and even the US that I got to see last month.

In my mind I’m a haughty bitch, six feet tall in a fur coat with a car and driver waiting outside the venue.

In reality I can’t help it – I’m still an eager fan, thrilling to the sight of a guy I see every day: sipping espresso, fixing stuff around the house, reading in bed or even working out next to me on a treadmill at the gym. He’s the one I tell “hey slow down, it’s a thirty mph zone, not seventy” and “Look at this new Adam Sandler movie I got out of the Red Box!”

It was eleven years ago that Yo La Tengo had The Shams, my old girl group, play one of their Hanukah shows at Maxwell’s in Hoboken and the extra special guest that night was Wreckless Eric. Even though I’d met him five years before in Hull and thrilled to his early Stiff records, I’d never actually seen him perform before. He sang some of his songs plus Paul Simon’s America and I thought he was one of the greatest performers I’d ever seen, and have always kicked myself that I didn’t go see him at those famous Bottom Line shows back in the day – I saw nearly every show back then.

He was so great in Hoboken I went the next night to the Lakeside Lounge to see him play a solo set – that’s the part in “Do You Remember That” where I pushed in through the crowd and he was turning his amp up loud. We were both in complicated situations at that time and that was that. The next year we weren’t and we’ve been together ever since and hardly performed solo since – it just went that way, “let’s form a group!” and “we’ll move to France together and play covers in bars!” and “maybe we should make a record” and on and on.

“Will you be getting up there with him?” I knew there’d be those questions if I was standing around in clubs or towns where he and I have performed together for almost a decade now. It’s touching that fans who were suspicious of me back when “who’s she and what’s she doing here?” now consider me part of the picture and vice versa with my fans and Eric. We’ve worked our way up from curiosity, WTF to institution!

And there are no rules (thank God) for how to handle these things when it’s time to go solo. How sad to have missed hundreds of special nights playing together because it would be too awkward to figure out not playing together. So we blunder through and do what we want. No, darling I won’t trek all the way up to Scarborough with you. No darling, I won’t sell your merch.

brighton soundcheck

He played and I had tears in my eyes for most of the show. I couldn’t help it, when it was time for Whole Wide World, I pumped my fist and shouted along with the rest of the crowd. I felt proud, I felt humbled to be a part of his world. I hoped I’d get to come back and play Brighton myself but that was for worrying about another day. I stood with friends I’d made from playing here and we were in the presence of a legend and the gig was awesome, as were the other two I saw on this tour.

As he was finishing up, I saw the box of records and CDs just sitting there on the table by the exit – what? Nobody set up the merch? Oh hell.

“Get your LPs and CD’s right here! That’s right mate, fifteen pounds. Take two, there you go.” He’d do the same for me.

Amy Rigby solo house concert   Peacedale Rhode Island        Fri January 8

Homemade Aeroplane   Catskill, NY (Eric & Amy ride again!)  Sat January 30

w/Schoemer Formation  Brooklyn, NY      Barbes      Sat February 6

Rock Wife

I’m back home after two weeks traveling in England and that brief trip to Norway. It was an odd journey for me because I wasn’t working and so it felt indulgent ,but there had been no question – I had to see Eric play in London for his new album. I found myself wanting to apologize – “no, honestly it’s not really a vacation vacation, I mean England in December? A vacation would be Mexico!” And it wasn’t duty or obligation but a celebration, like if your best friend or brother was getting married, or your child just had a child, you’d have to be there. My husband, my partner, releasing his first solo album in over a decade. In the voice of that little kid on the old Shake n Bake commercial “And ah helped!”

Not even that much in a musical way though I did a little but in being there like a partner does.

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So it was odd to be a person without a guitar traveling on a plane to London. I found myself wondering: “who am !?” Simple really. A person going to London.

I think I have this feeling when I am traveling with a guitar of being outside the flow of humanity. The awkward black appendage that is clearly not a crossbow or a fishing rod or a set of skis(and these days nobody makes that old “let me guess, it’s a machine gun” joke) I’m set apart, awkwardly declaring my purpose for taking up my space on earth, like a laborer pushing a wheelbarrow, head down. And the gig, the gig is the destination. It felt like a luxury but a little unfamiliar to just be on the way somewhere and then somewhere else, with the comfort of people I love waiting for me along the way.

My first stop was Thanksgiving dinner at my brother Riley and sister in law Natalie’s place in Greenpoint. I walked from the L train and it was so easy, just me and a rolling suitcase, enjoying the sight of roses in November. Even Patti Smith showed up on Amtrak to bid me a bon voyage. I’m still carrying the feeling of her solo voyaging with me from reading M Train on my last trip.

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On the flight there was this brilliant movie, 45 Years, with Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. Now something about that one little bottle of wine and the altitude makes any in-flight film the best movie I’ve ever seen in my life but this one really took my breath away. Must see it again.

I got through immigration so much quicker than usual with my honest, heartfelt declaration “Just visiting family and friends!” London Liverpool Street on a Friday afternoon was lively, people spilling out of pubs on the street corners. I sat at the counter in Ottolenghi, the fabled restaurant I’ve longed to try, and soaked up the conversation of two blond mums on my left (“Alcohol affects me differently than it does other people, for example – if I had to work tomorrow, I would definitely not be drinking right now” as the bartender topped up their glasses of Sancerre for the third time). The food was good not great but I loved the experience. Out in Spitalfields I discovered this brilliant shop called Tiger, like a Dollar Tree of Scandinavian design and caught a train up to Norwich, where I got a lift to North Norfolk and spent a perfect country weekend with our friends Peter, Karen and Daisy capped off by my new favorite TV show “Britain’s Best Landscape Painter” competition. Every show I watch for more than fifteen minutes in England is always my new favorite show.

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Journeyed down to Brighton and then Shoreham by train to visit Dorothy, Eric’s mum. We had a nice time chatting, I wish she could get out like she used to but she still has a great quick mind like her son. Then I strolled down to the houseboats, they’re getting fancier as alternative small shelters become more and more stylish. I can never get a decent photo, for fear I’ll violate some personal privacy protocol even though people in the UK live surrounded by security cameras.

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Traversed the Sussex coast by train to visit Eric’s daughter and partner and Eric’s grandkids near Rye. We watched Master Chef (my next new favorite) and five year old Tiger brought out her stepdad’s guitar and asked me to play Sombreros In The Airport. Can’t you see I’m on holiday? I screeched. Get me some blow and a bottle of Bolly and then we’ll talk. No, I strummed as best I could and practically wept when she mouthed the words along with me.

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I took five trains to get back to Shoreham – every time I settled in with my book (Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare, brilliant brilliant book) they told everyone we’d have to switch over at the next station. I bought a sausage roll and chomped and flaked on the platform waiting for train #3 at Lewes while teenagers in school uniforms mingled with each other and I was in a composite film of To Sir With Love,  A Taste Of Honey, Brief Encounter, the gatefold sleeve of Quadrophenia,and  A Hard Day’s Night mixed with Hanif Kureshi and Zadie Smith, wrong geographic and cultural references all but there’s something about old train stations in this country that answers all the yearnings of my youthful imagination but I can never actually realize how much I enjoyed it until I’m sitting somewhere warm and quiet because the stations are always so cold and the public address so relentlessly repetitive (“thirteen ten train to – Ashford International now departing from – Platform 2; that’s the – thirteen ten train, Ashford International, calling at Hastings – now departing from Platform 2”)

I opened the door to Eric’s mother’s and there was a guitar case in the hall. I heard Dorothy talking to someone in the next room and felt a little bit of a chaotic whirl – Eric  !

ferry inn

End of Part One – coming up next: Brighton, London, Norway? and London

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