Dear Mistress Fantasy
“I want…big, electric guitars…tons of harmonies, driving rhythms that make you want to dance!” Daisy Jones flings her arms out the width of Los Angeles and turns her face up to the sun while her producer nods appreciatively and says: “I think I know just the guys for you.”
Meanwhile, on the East Coast: “I’m so sorry – that smell from the kitchen is horrible. I can’t stand it – just hold on a minute.” Amy Rigby exits the studio, grabs a pot off the kitchen stove, opens the front door and places the pot on the porch. “There, that’s a little better – so you think I should do my guitar part again?”
Back before the pandemic, Eric and I were addicted to the audiobook of Daisy Jones & The Six. I think we listened to it twice, driving to and from gigs or the airport. A novel told in oral history style, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s book was a fantasy of life in a rock and roll band: glamour, excess, fabulous clothes against a backdrop of seventies Los Angeles straight off a Crosby Stills & Nash record jacket. We’ve been waiting for the tv series ever since.
It doesn’t feel like mere coincidence that the episodes have dropped (there, I sound like I actually know something, don’t I – but wait if a show streams how can it drop?) while we’re in the thick of recording my new album. The fictional band in the show, The Six – whose genesis was in the unlikely city of Pittsburgh – and Daisy the female butterfly, who bursts forth as an artist to front the group, traipse in and out of Studio City, the epic real life recording den situated just north of Los Angeles. They all drive adorable sports cars, wear the best vintage clothes and sunglasses a wardrobe mistress could lay hands on, cycle through a collection of layered hairstyles and facial hair on the men, lashes and halter tops on the ladies. Riley Keough as Daisy is lovely and feisty with a wounded core and unlike in the book where the songs that issue forth from Daisy’s teenage style diary never made any sense, the songs in the series actually click. I won’t go into any more plot details because the plot was not what drew us to the story, it’s the time worn and loved fantasy of being a band; limos and Bolly before the show; rustic cottages in Laurel Canyon and mid-century houses in the Hollywood Hills; rehab, soul-searching and cocaine on the recording console we can’t get enough of. I won’t even go into the heated dialogue and body language between Daisy and the leader of the Six that results in tempestuous hit songs, and enough broken glass to fuel a Friday night emergency room. Just keep those riffs and spliffs rolling and we’ll keep watching.
As well as being pure entertainment, the show only highlights the humility of our operation. Recording here takes place through a console that Eric refurbished with his bare hands on racks he has built again and again and I think again, in what once was the living room of an early 50s Cape Cod style house across the street from the chief of police of a small upstate town. Eric has been recording himself for many decades, before that kind of autonomy was accessible to most people. He’s produced & engineered our three records as a duo, singles and tracks for tribute albums and since we’ve lived in New York he’s on his fourth solo album. This is my second we’ve worked on. I’ve taken to huddling over Garageband in my room upstairs to knock out tracks on my own but this album is a full-fledged affair because Eric chases sound in a way I don’t have the patience for – he does it the way I chase words I guess. We’ve been working almost every day for the last two months and the tracks are piling up.
At the same time we’re recording, we’re dealing with day to day life that the people in rock pics never seem to do – they have wives and managers and impresarios and agents to prop them up and take care of the mundane details. We just have each other and the occasional drummer or coffee with a friend but while we work we’re also running to the post office, getting our cars inspected, dental appointments, shoveling snow, doing laundry, booking gigs. I try to get down and see my Dad. Occasionally a new piece of equipment shows up, or an order of t shirts to print. I work at the bookstore/bar a couple times a week and fulfill orders for records, aprons and tea towels. We’re sort of a mini pop Leonard and Virginia Woolf, running their own press out of the house. Without meaning to we start dressing alike, dark denim, hats (but never the same style hat at the same time, that would just be embarassing), patterned scarves and boots. Instead of fierce passion or murderous glances over a microphone, we’re often doubled over with laughter. Sometimes I’m sleeping on a stool as Eric tries another compressor or pre amp, or I study the spiky shapes of the sound files over his shoulder and update a checklist of songs in my notebook. The films and shows could never depict the hours of work that might not feel like much in the moment but add up and add up – an audience would be stricken into a coma of boredom.
Imagine this as a voice over for the series: We recorded another track. It wasn’t right so we did it again. What should we do about dinner? I think there’s some ravioli in the fridge. Maybe I’d better run to the Price Chopper. Is the vocal okay? I think it needs a harmony. Did you pay that parking ticket?
For sure a series like Daisy Jones (that occasionally drags but at the same time I wish would go on forever) gives a false idea of the art of making music. The idea that an artist will “bring the magic” like a casserole to a party in a room that just happens to be soundproofed and full of instruments, where the musicians all groove together in a fetid marathon fête instead of tediously trying their separate parts over and over again.
I’ve recorded in New York, Nashville, Los Angeles and Springfield Missouri, but I’ve never seen a drummer blissing out in a leather vest over his tanned shirtless torso like Warren in the Six. I come from Pittsburgh, but I’ve never huddled, stacked hands with my band and shouted PITTSBURGH to the heavens…but I intend to start. Eric and I HAVE looked into each other’s eyes on stage, really sharing a moment, but if a thought bubble appeared above our heads it would probably say “wait did you just play the wrong chord or was that me…and when this is all over won’t it be fun to just watch some TV?” The artists in these music pics always implode, the singularity of their purpose simply too much for a human to withstand. We know how to pull back and whip up a plate of pasta.
So we’ll carry on working on these tracks, day by day, and it’ll all hopefully keep adding up to something good or even great. And I’ll wait breathlessly for the next episodes of Daisy to drop. I want to dance on the rim of Los Angeles in cut offs and a diaphanous shirt to the unschooled rhythms of my soul. I want to remember what it feels like to have the number one record in the country without doing any real work.
Just wondering what to do about that pot on the front porch.