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.


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.


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!)


“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.


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.


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!”


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.


“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.

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.


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.


“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.

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.


“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.


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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