Of Montreal

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

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

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

So why did we spend the night in Plattsburgh?

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

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

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

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

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

welcome home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buffalo Wild Wings was televising a big boxing match.

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

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

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

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

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

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

fine china

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

All in Montreal.

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

Brothers and Sisters

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

I’m a bag.

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

I’m a foot soldier, an adjunct.

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

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

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

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

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

This is so us, I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

boots

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

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

w/The Schoemer Formation May 29 in Hudson NY

Wreckless Eric dates

 

Take My Wife…Please

Some days going to New York City feels like that old Henny Youngman joke: Doctor, it hurts when I do that! So don’t do that.

The feelings of envy and jealousy start right around Yonkers when I tune in WFUV. Now that station is a gem and they’ve played my records and had me on the air many many times so no complaints but when I’m driving into the city every record they play is not me, is further proof that I’m nowhere and everyone else in the whole world is putting out way more work than me and playing to thousands of people wherever they go, invited to perform at festivals and events and hey everybody, Courtney Barnett is playing four sold out nights at Bowery Ballroom and I’m in a downward spiral of self-pity and I haven’t even started seeing the fabulous high-rises and gorgeous buildings along the West Side Highway that I’ll never live in. (I get the same feelings looking at the Sunday Times but at least I can fling a paper into the recycling bin).

I had a book-related meeting and so was able to console myself I’m taking action and moving things along and that must’ve made me feel brave and strong because I actually went into the Whole Foods at Union Square. This place is pure intimidation but I desperately needed a bathroom. And then I was sucked in and found myself caressing soy candles “wow they have such sophisticated things here, if I buy one of these candles life will look and smell like a magazine!” Then it was time to check out and I felt pretty befuddled, it was this complex horse paddock system but everyone else seemed so blase and confident I just copied them. When it felt like my turn I casually went to a register.

“You jumped the line,” a man came up behind me at one of the thirty cashiers. “They called 25 and you went from the red line and that’s not how the system works, you should’ve waited.”

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize!” I said.

“We don’t do that here!” he continued. “You have to follow the system.”

The cashier stepped in. “Look, she only has two items – I’ll take you next, sir.”

When she handed me my bag , I told the man again that I was sorry.

“I don’t think you are. I think you’re very insincere with that,” he said.

“Okay, I was sorry before. I really was,” I said. “But now I’m not. So fuck you.”

The magic was working! In just over a couple hours, I was a leaner, meaner version of myself.

I was a New Yorker again.

“Good,” the man said.

lady liberty

 Amy Rigby in NYC – Thursdays in May (7, 14, 21 & 28) HiFi Bar 169 Ave A 

Cracked Actor

“I do love the customers,” I told Eric the other day, after a busy night at the bookstore/bar. “I know I complain about working, and I really miss performing and can’t wait to start playing gigs again, but the customers are just great – I love helping people!”

But there’s something about Fridays.

First there was the guy with the ears. I’d seen him in there once or twice before, big gauges in his lobes. He looks too young to drink and is for sure a little off, but he’d been carded so I knew he could have a beer. As I passed him a pint, I noticed the gauges were out – huge loops of skin hung down almost to his shoulders. I had to look away.

The store is empty. A few minutes later he comes up with the Kama Sutra in his hand.

“I’ve never seen this book before. Is it good?” he asks.

“Yup,” I carry on with putting books in inventory and nod. “A classic.” He starts flipping the pages and I bustle over to the other end of the bar – don’t want to give him the opportunity to ask “and these people, in these drawings, what are they doing to each other?”

“So, are any of these books here for sale?” he asks.

I want to scream, but I smile and nod. “Yes, they are all for sale – this is a bookstore.”

“What does GB stand for?” Every ten minutes he comes up and asks a pointless question.

“How do you pronounce ‘docile’?” Don’t look at the lobes, don’t look at the lobes.

Thankfully my co-worker comes in. Emily is sweet and always nice to people. Before I have a chance to signal to her that Loopy has been in a while, is on his third pint and should not be encouraged, he comes up with more inane questions.

“I really wanted to write a book one time,” he drones. “Is it hard to write a book?” I try to pinch Emily. “Is there any book here that can tell me how to write one?” Emily mercifully tells him there are classes people take to teach them how to write.

My mood is sour now, I’m hungry and I hate people. A couple come in and sit at the bar. They’re jovial and fun. Emily and I have been playing Townes Van Zandt but it’s moving into Friday happy hour – Emily says “I think I’ll put on some Queen.”

I grit my teeth.

“Queen!” the lady of the couple crows. “I love Queen! You may have to stop me from jumping up and dancing on the bar. It could get real Coyote Ugly in here!”

“I may have to join you!” says Emily. “Who doesn’t love Queen!” She’s just about to push the play arrow.

“I’m sorry,” I say, feeling like a jerk. “I just don’t like Queen.” Their mouths all open. Their faces look so sad. But I’m afraid Queen will put me over the edge. “I acknowledge the brilliance of Freddy Mercury. Brian May too! But their music irritates me.” I feel like I’ve gone too far. A person behind the bar should not be a buzz killer.

But now I can’t stop myself. What flips the switch, from loving to help people to wanting to wipe the silly Queen-loving grins off their faces?

“It’s like Bowie,” I say, hating myself but unable to stop. I don’t even know or care what I’m saying anymore, but I’m lobe guy, here to fuck up your Friday. The bearded male half of the couple nods in excitement. I can see his eyes glowing, thinking he’s found a Bowie buddy. His coming to love Bowie has been a huge step in his development not just as a man, but as a human being. It feels so good to mow him down. “I know he’s wonderful, creative, brilliant, an artistic genius. But I’m just not a fan.”

“Them’s fighting words!” the guy shouts gruffly. He’s kind of joking but kind of not. He looks like he’s about to leap over the bar and throttle me. I see a customer down by the taps and leave Emily to console the couple. I hear Townes start up again through the speakers.

Shaneeka says “It’s my birthday today! I’m old.” She puts her head down, long lashes against round baby cheeks. “Twenty six.” She shakes her head.

The guy next to her says “Oh don’t worry, you got fifteen good years left,” and goes back to talking to his friend. I do the math, she’s twenty-six, plus fifteen that’s…that’s forty-one. Forty-one and then out to pasture.

I pass Shaneeka a birthday pint. “You’ve got way more good years than that!” I say, but I’ve disappeared behind the mists of time, of behind the bar; visible when I don’t want to be, invisible when I have something important to say.

I can’t wait to get back up on stage.

Amy Rigby solo residency – May 7, 14, 21 & 28 – HiFi Bar – New York, NY

We Were Never Promised Jetpacks

Twenty-five years ago, I was in a group called The Shams. We were three women singing and playing together. Richard Hell called us “beauty shop soul” and it fit: the sound of a couple friends sitting around a kitchen table talking in harmony, with guitars. We’d just released our first album on Matador and the label gave us a small budget to make a music video. In the early nineties everyone was doing them, and it was another chance to play dress up and escape from dirty dishes and day jobs (I had a three-year old and temped in an office; Sue painted fancy apartments; Amanda designed clothes). A filmmaker fresh out of college stopped by Sue’s tiny studio on 10th Street and Avenue D to give us his pitch for “Dark Angel”, an eerie song from our album Quilt.

“I see the three of you, in lingerie. You’re in a bathroom, posed around a tub. In the tub is a naked man – he’s dead, and you’re all caressing him.” Pause. “Sort of like the Pieta?”

The three of us nodded, trying to hide stunned expressions. “That sounds…interesting,” one of us managed. “We’ll, uh, let you know.”

As soon as he left, we laughed for an hour. “Never!” we shrieked. “That is the worst, most ridiculous idea EVER! Can you imagine us in lacy underwear, trying to keep a straight face while some guy lies there with no clothes on, pretending to be dead?”

“Nuh-uh,” said Sue.

“He’s got to be kidding,” said Amanda.

“When hell freezes over!” I said.

Still, we all agreed it was the funniest thing we’d heard in ages.

Two weeks later at The Shams video shoot, the tub was now a bed for practical reasons. The dead guy left for another engagement midway through, so a lighting man with a different configuration of chest hair stepped in and laid down to take his place. Other than that, it was pretty close to what the filmmaker described.

A stylist friend of Amanda’s worked a trio of Todd Oldham suits in there, in addition to the lingerie – there was no escaping Todd’s odd mix of loud patterns, quirky details and classic tailoring in 1991. Did it work with the aesthetic of the video? Who cared, it was free clothes! We looked like Mildred Pierce on LSD.

We’d moved on to the lingerie portion of the shoot, the three of us sitting around in satin and lace, bare legs, hair finally starting to droop from the two hours of curling irons and freeze spray we’d subjected ourselves to that morning. Silly as it all was, we were having a blast. We always did. “Stop laughing at yourselves!” my daughter screamed at us once, but why would we do that? Wasn’t this supposed to be fun?

Then Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth came strolling through the gallery space where the video shoot was set up, just as a makeup artist friend pumped up our lip gloss and adjusted the straps of our old-fashioned slips.

“I think they live in the building,” Sue said. They seemed to be heading our way. Maybe they’d say hello – after all, they were on Matador, we were on Matador.

In their t-shirts and unkempt hair they looked raggedly perfect. Like they were in the middle of doing laundry. Only they went on stage looking the same way. I went on stage to get away from doing laundry.

We were never afraid to make fools of ourselves – that was one of the perks of being in a band. Sonic Youth were serious. I suddenly felt like a complete dork. Like the cool neighbor kid next door just walked in my room while I was singing in a hairbrush in front of the mirror.

Kim and Thurston said hi to the camera guy. Then kept gliding across the gallery floor, right past us, like their grubby sneakers had jet packs.

“We’re cool, too – honest!” I wanted to shout. But the lip brush was in the way.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 109 other followers