“You’re really great at your job,” the young woman said. It was freezing cold outside, a quiet Monday night in the bookstore/bar. Tom T Hall’s The Homecoming, the story of a musician’s life, played in the background.
“You mean BEING A ROCK STAR?” a tiny part of me wanted to shout. The rest of me smiled and thanked her and kept on washing beer glasses, polishing the bar, sweeping the floor. Earlier that day, I’d read fine writing about being on the road by Allison Moorer and Tift Merritt, seen Instagram photos from friends’ gigs in England and Germany and thought – even knowing what I know, how hard touring can be – that other people’s road diaries make me queasy with envy even when I’m out playing: “You had a dressing room?” or “You played at Shank Hall?” Except for when you’re up on stage (“You played on a stage?”) doing your best and giving your everything, that spectre of doubt – that you’re doing enough; that you are enough – is always there.
Am I crazy? I’ve been living for the moment I have a new record together – songs mixed and mastered and sequenced; everything lined up to go to the pressing plant and a release date and somebody to help me do publicity and the cover art and a photo. Now I’m starting to book gigs and it dawned on me just yesterday – this is happening. The thing I’ve been wanting for years (okay, I’ve really been wanting to publish a book, something I’ve never done, but I got involved in the whole agent and book proposal process and the publishing world moves at a speed that makes me think of tablets being chiseled one letter at a time); the thing – new work – that means I exist, that there’s a point to everything. It’s the way I know how to plot the course of my life, in three minute song increments; in multiples of twelve. In record albums. They used to come every two or three years: 96, 98, 01, 03, 05, 08, 10, 12. And then the last five or six years slipped past me. Some touring and playing in Eric’s band, a few solo shows, resurrecting the past a little here and there; working on writing, trying to become an author. I’ve started to compare my career to the walls of Five Guys Burgers & Fries – loads of glowing press, reviews, Best Ofs – and then you check the dates and realize they’re all from the last decade, and blurry with a mix of dust and hamburger grease.
I thank Greg Roberson, the Memphis drummer who came up to do some recording with Eric three years ago and said “Amy, what have you got? Let’s record something.” That was the start of this album The Old Guys that is finally finished and coming out February 23. 2018. I thank Eric my husband and producer for telling me “It won’t happen unless you show up.” Yep, this is like an award show speech, only the award is the one I’m giving myself – to still believe I can do this; to convince myself that anyone else will be interested; to care so much that the caring is its own reward.
One year before I turn sixty, and there’s no more music business, for me anyway. Or I don’t know how to find what’s left of it. I don’t know how to do anything but what I’ve done for thirty-five years now: write some songs that say how I feel, bring them to life so that feeling comes back again and again, and share them. I remember being twenty-eight, the age my own daughter is now, and saying “There’s no way I’ll be doing this – riding around in a van, playing in bars – when I’m FORTY.” Forty seemed the real there: that magic moment when all childish fantasy would fall away and wisdom prevail. So I had a kid. And realized I couldn’t stop. That being a mom meant even more reason to hold on to the artist part of myself, because that was what helped me make sense of being a mom. Of everything. As the parenting part has receded now it’s…this business of being older. And I thought I was “older” twenty years ago!
So maybe I am crazy. It’s the only way I know how to be, when I’m not pouring beer for people, or cooking meals, sweeping the floor, polishing the bar. Writing and dreaming of that moment when some girl says “You’re really great at your job” and I say “You mean this?” (gestures at guitar and microphone).
The Old Guys will be released February 23, 2018. Tour dates coming soon. In the meanwhile I’m playing a benefit for Planned Parenthood at Bell House Brooklyn with Cindy Wilson of the B-52s & Kaki King, Wednesday December 6. And pouring beer & selling books.