I took two big bags of old clothes to the Salvation Army today. In an attempt to streamline and simplify my life, I’ve been trying to be ruthless with stuff I never wear or use. I have a lot of company, with Marie Kondo’s book and show, and another book called Swedish Death Cleaning, popular with the entire country or world. We can’t take it with us when we go, and we are going to go. Even while we’re here, does anybody need clothes that no longer fit, books we don’t read, charming teapots that haven’t been filled with hot water since the auction of Andy Warhol’s cookie jars at Sotheby’s?
On the top of one bag, I dropped the pretty patterned scarf I’d received in a tote bag when I’d checked into 30A Songwriters Fest in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida last week. I love scarves, and I love patterns, but I just didn’t think I could bear to look at that scarf again.
The festival started off fine, after I missed my connecting flight from Albany through Charlotte. I didn’t mind, because Tommy Stinson was on my flight and we hung out together and that was great. I’ve met him a few times up in Hudson and always thought he’d be a good guy and he is. We had to fly into a different airport than the one we’d planned for but a nice woman picked us up and drove us to the hotel where all the festival artists were checking in.
The first person I saw on check in was David Olney. He had a new look from the last time I’d seen him, about two years ago when he was in the audience at the Bluebird where I was playing an in the round with RB Morris, Jon Byrd and Bob Woodruff. Having David Olney in the audience was terrifying and a huge compliment, he is an artist I’ve looked up to since my Nashville years. I was excited to play an in the round at the festival with Virginian Scott Miller and Olney in his new Mark Twain guise, heavy white beard, fedora —a look befitting a guy with towering songwriting credentials and mordant wit.
Unless you’ve been sequestered in a bunker with the witnesses and evidence for the Trump impeachment trial, you have probably read or heard that David Olney died in our round last Saturday. Aside from my mother’s car accident when I was twenty-nine, and Eric’s mother’s decline, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. I wrote an account the morning after because I wanted people to know how peaceful and elegant his exit was, but that wasn’t the whole story. No matter how much someone says they don’t mind going out doing what they love to do, we don’t want them to go. We want them to stay with us, to keep being who they are, and showing us who we could be, if only we were better, worked harder, were more loving and giving, dedicated, anointed. I believe David Olney was all those things and isn’t it amazing that now he’s gone, it hits everybody with a force it’s not possible to feel when a guy is just toiling away in excellence as he had done for many years? I feel so sad for his wife and family, his lovely manager Mary Sack, all his Nashville community and people who loved him all over the country and beyond.
I picked up the scarf off the top of my Salvation Army bag and held it in my hand. I thought of how I felt just a week before when I had arrived in Florida, and got a hug from David Olney, was riding in a car with Tommy. I was checking into a beach house I shared with two young female artists with everything in front of them and I got ready to play, ready to show what I can do. I don’t think I really did that in Florida. I guess my purpose there was not that. I’m not sure why, but I want to work harder and be better and I don’t know if I’ll wear this scarf but I have to keep it. I have to keep it.
Outside of the emotion of this post, I realized it would be good to thank everyone for messages of support – it really means a lot. Thanks to Scott Miller for such strength and kindness, to Don Dixon and Marti Jones who looked out for me in Florida, Diane Gentile for buying me bourbon and key lime pie, Mary Sack for reaching out to talk on the phone and my friends and family who I’m so lucky to have. Thank you David Olney for who you were.
I started the New Year lighting candles. It felt ceremonial but was mostly aesthetic. The closest the house got to having any holiday decor at all. I hung up a new Dolphin Studio calendar and put away the old one to cut up and use for cards and wrapping paper. It felt good to be home.
Then I started the New Year by going back to bed. Alone — Eric’s still in England. I’d talked to him at midnight UK time. By midnight New York time I was asleep.
I’d talked to my daughter, who was out in Los Angeles. She was having a good time and sounded happy. So I started the New Year happy.
I started the New Year doing morning pages. It’s a habit I began about twenty five years ago that has eroded as I feel compelled to look at my phone first thing in the morning. I always write something when I wake up but morning pages is supposed to be three pages and I want to get back to that, at least to break the phone first thing in the morning chains. Long live Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way!
I started the New Year drinking coffee from the mug I brought back from Guatemala last March. I never imagined I’d get to Lake Atitlan, but thanks to the writer Joyce Maynard, who I admire so much and have been lucky to get to know, I made it. Writing by the lake with Joyce and the group of women she hosts there every Feb/March will recede now that we’re in the new year, and its not possible for me to go back in 2020, but I have the mug and blanket and pants I brought back from my travels, so Eric can jokingly roll his eyes whenever I say “y’know—when I was in Mexico. And Guatemala.”
Where will I go in 2020? I know I have a gig in Peace Dale, Rhode Island this Friday. It’s become almost an annual tradition to play at Dan and Liz’s house concert there. It’s a good reason to get myself back into playing and performing after almost six weeks off. Then Cafe Nine in New Haven CT, where Joyce Maynard will join me for a conversation on stage before I play and read. It’s 2020 but my book is still only a few months old so I’m going to keep pushing. I’ll be one of the readers at Volume Reading Series at Spotty Dog in Hudson NY on January 11. I get to travel to Santa Rosa Beach in Florida for 30A Songwriters Festival the next weekend. That’s a gorgeous part of Florida I drove to a few times when I lived in Nashville, but this is my first time at the fest. Then I go back to England, where Eric and I are fixing up a flat in Norfolk. We spent December tearing out old carpet, bathroom, kitchen and started putting the new components in. Weird to think two years ago this time we were trying to bust Eric’s mother out of the hospital…she’s gone now and each small bit of progress we make on this place we toast Dorothy, and think how much she’d love it. It’s a place for us to stay over there, and I’m looking forward to late March and April shows in the UK, and the Walled Garden Festival in July.
I started the New Year (or the evening before) with a glass of wine. I go back and forth between thinking I have an alcohol dependency and just thinking I really like wine. Maybe it’s both. Just like coffee signals the start of the day for me, a glass of wine signals the winding down. Staying with friends who don’t drink, living with a husband who doesn’t drink, I’m conscious of my need to drink. It’s very measured, only happens in the evening, one or two glasses and I’m done, but it’s not a take or leave situation: I need that glass, like sunshine. I could try a dry January but then I couldn’t have a cocktail at Dan & Liz’s, or wine on my next flight to England, or a margarita in Florida, these are the little things I look forward to and so I think now February – that’s the shortest month so maybe I’ll try it then. There’s that line in Back From Amarillo where I sing “I hope that it’s okay I still drink” and it always makes me laugh and wince at the same time…
I started the New Year fighting off a cold, reading. I’m bouncing between a few books right now, having become addicted to Elizabeth Strout the last few months. I’m trying to move on to another author after reading Olive Kitteridge, Anything Is Possible and My Name Is Lucy Barton, but then she had to go and publish Olive, Again so I’m being pulled back in. I’m eager to read Holly George-Warren’s Janis bio though, and then really want to branch out into non-music nonfiction and maybe this winter I will finally tackle Anna Karenina?
I enjoyed Jessica Harper’s Winnetka podcast, it was a fun approach to memoir, weaving different voices and songs into an American family story that touched on so many aspects of life in a big clan. It made me want to write another book! I already feel committed to a second volume but there are just so many ways to come at it.
I started the New Year with silence and then I took a walk down into our village. It was nine AM and I think I only saw three cars on the road and this woman who’s a character straight out of The Simpsons pushing a big laundry cart. The only place open on Main Street was the cute sandwich shop and I said hi to some neighbors in there and got a coffee to take to a bench by the creek and the railway bridge so I could do a sketch with the pens Eric got me for Christmas. I started the New Year sketching and want to make more of a habit of that.
Walking back home, climbing a big hill that had me vowing to get back into working out, I listened to Dylan Blood On The Tracks outtakes because it just makes me want to go home and play guitar and sing songs which is exactly what I did. It felt so good to play my 12-string (I missed it on my fall tour but hadn’t felt up to wrangling three guitars and a book onstage) and the old Gibson. I remembered how my songs go and figured out one of Bob’s. I was ready for bed by four in the afternoon but managed to stay awake, cooked dinner listening to American Routes, a live show from New Orleans, stirring stuff on the stove, I may have even danced, and I thought this was a good way to start the New Year. In my head I’m still kind of over in Norfolk with Eric and our pals we stay with there who are like family, so I wasn’t all the way alone, and the part that’s here feels a little under the weather but so peaceful and grateful…I’ve always been inclined to go a little dark but one of the best things about getting older is seeing the positives. Love, health, family, friends and work that makes you happy, somewhere to live. Nature. Music, books and art. Food and, okay – wine. There’s lots to stress out about but that first day of the New Year it’s good to feel relatively clean and fresh and full of possibility.
Thank you for reading and listening, all the folks who bought books and records, wrote to me, put me up or put me on in your venue or living room, radio station or store. I wish you all the best in 2020!
Fri Jan 3 • Peace Dale, RI • Roots Hoot House Concert info/tickets
Fri Jan 10 • New Haven CT • Cafe Nine (really excited that author Joyce Maynard will do a Q & A with me before the reading/performance) tickets
Sat Jan 11 • Hudson NY • Volume Reading Series info
Fri Jan 17 – Sun Jan 19 • Destin FL • 30A Songwriters Festival tickets
I’m having a hard time writing a recap of the rest of my tour, now that I’m home. I go from the high of feeling like I’ve accomplished something to exhaustion, to checking my stats on Amazon (the thing I told myself I wouldn’t do: stalled at ten reviews…up and down from #360 in musician memoirs to #45, to #623 to #119) going “it’s over. It’s all over. Better write another book.”
It’s partly weird and partly wonderful to be back working a few shifts at the bookstore/bar. I’m washing pint glasses and it could be two or five years ago where I’d think “when I get that book out…will I ever get that book out?” And then a friend comes in and says “your show was something! We’re proud of you! You’ve really been out there doing it” and I want to stop time. I did manage to do what I set out to. I still wish I’d had a publisher, but I did it.
I’m working at the bar and I see a stranger browsing. He picks up my book from the shelf, reads the back, leafs through. I want to shout “It’s good! I wrote it!” at the same time I want to lie down on the floor next to the microwave and never get back up again. Instead I busy myself checking books into inventory. The guy’s girlfriend buys a copy of Jeff Tweedy’s memoir.
I know I’ve said before that when things are great, there’s really nothing to write about. Who wants to read the words “Fabulous!” “They adored me” “Dream come true”? My eyes just glaze over when I read about people having an amazing time (see, didn’t the word “amazing” cause you to immediately turn off a little?) Or maybe there are only a few ways to describe happiness. Whereas misadventures are entertaining. In retrospect.
So I haven’t written for a while because it’s been, in a word: amazing. Visiting with friends Marcel and Mary in Chico. Stopping in at KALX Berkeley to chat with Dave McBurnie, and playing a great place in Oakland, Starlite Social Club. I felt like I’d finally arrived. Stayed with my pals Kate and Scott at their Airbnb in SF and we stayed up way too late laughing. I met Richard Thompson and got to hear him and Eliza Gilkyson play in Santa Cruz, one of my favorite places in the world.
Drove south down 101 to Super-rica Taqueria in Santa Barbara (thanks Erik Nelson for both the RT show and food recommendation). Fabulous house concert hosts Tobi and Clyde Kaplan in Los Angeles made me feel so welcome at South by South Hudson. Hung out with friends in L.A. and had a lovely time staying at Clyde and Tobi’s. I was running cold and hot on the Liz Phair audiobook, but I really enjoyed getting to meet and hear her play at Largo. I showed her the picture of MY book next to HER book I’d taken in a San Francisco bookstore and told her I’d been on Matador too. Her eyes probably glazed over at that point because she’d just signed books for about two hundred people. I only wish I’d brought along my book, with a post-it on the page where I talk about her, but that kind of stuff never occurs to me and it would have no doubt been tossed on the pile with all the other gifts from adoring fans.
So in Liz’s book she’s always flying first or business class and dealing with the nanny or manager or tour bus, so as I drive and drive you can imagine it fills me with jealousy even though when I told her how jealous I’d been back in the Matador days, she said she wasn’t having a good time then. We never know what kind of private hell people are in, even if they have the trappings that make life look so easy. And I actually have a blast driving myself, staying in decent places and hanging out with people and eating—I’ll say it—amazing food a lot of the time. Until I left a little late for that Los Angeles bookstore gig. I was too comfortable, ensconced in my hosts’ lovely house and that’s the thing on the road, you have to keep on your toes. Relaxing means letting your guard down means taking your eye off the ball means—there’s always a price to pay.
It took almost an hour to drive a few miles, and the gas gauge was on empty for most of that journey. When I finally got to the shop, I flung my car into a too tight spot next to a disabled space. The gig went well — I hadn’t realized we’d be outside, ah southern California. I did a talk with writer Pat Thomas, read and played and signed a lot of books which feels so good. Then I got a ticket on my car for…$363?! And I thought New York parking tickets were the top. Turns out the spot next to the disabled space was also a disabled space. Just pay and move on, pay and move on.
After a pretty drive back up the 101 and lunch with my old friend Paul at Madonna Inn, I started to drag. I was torn between wanting to make it to the Bay Area and not wanting to—with a carload of guitars etc there’s no easy way to have fun in a place where everyone tells you “under no circumstances leave even a half-eaten burrito on the seat of your car, you will be robbed.” It got dark—so dark—and I stopped in a cozy hotel with a fireplace AND a whirlpool bath but had an uneasy sleep. I realized why as I drove off early the next morning—I was just down wind of Gilroy, garlic capital of the world, and it really does smell like garlic, which I’ve come to realize I’m kind of allergic to. It’s worse than coffee to me, making my mind race and leaving me unsettled, every time.
So instead of fighting bumper to bumper traffic north to SF for a noon rendezvous to drop off the amp my pal Tom Heyman had loaned me, I settled into a coffee place in Cupertino and that was a trip, coders to the left and right of me. By the time I got in and out of the bay area I was dragging again. It really dawns on me after years of country living—big cities are a lot of work. I’ve been to most of these places before and if I was unencumbered I’m sure I’d have fun strolling around and discovering things but all I see now are issues with parking, keeping stuff safe and conserving my energy. So onward I drive…
The sun was going down (so early!) when Mount Shasta loomed. My eyes just don’t work in the pitch darkness, with this massive mountain looming and trucks bearing down around every curve, so this time it was a rustic motel up on the side of a hill. The town of Mt. Shasta is really cute, reminding me a little of where we live. It even had an awesome natural foods store. The girl behind the counter gave me back more change than I’d started with and I realized legal weed has all kinds of benefits. The idea of explaining to her what she’d done seemed more trouble than it was worth so I just went with it—see, I could easily live in California! I had to get up early and spend almost two hours on the phone trying to renew my health insurance (Nov 15th was the deadline and weeks/months ago I’d thought “yeah, yeah—I’ll do it on the road, it’ll be so much easier then”?!)
Hit Eugene just at lunch time and was pleased to find the Vietnamese sandwich place Eric and I had enjoyed last June when our tours had converged in California and I’d accompanied him up to Portland. It’s those little moments returning to unremarkable places that can make a traveler feel at home.
I’ve watched Portland develop and thrive over the years. Always from a distance, I’m like a fond great aunt, shaking my head in wonder, remembering when it was more the ragged sepia Cinderella than the technicolor one at the ball. I love Turn Turn Turn where I played: it’s a record store, venue, bar and has a real community feel. Got to hear Scott McCaughey and see lovely Mary Winzig and old friends from back east who moved out here and never looked back. During my set, exhaustion was creeping in and I had to shake myself and remember how much work and effort it took to get here. Come on girl, I thought—do it—now. That can be the hardest thing with touring when you’re doing all the work of booking, driving, tour managing yourself. In amidst all the details and energy expenditure, sometimes you have to kick your own ass…
I opted to hang out in Olympia for the next day, just needing to get some work done (thanks Dan Aloi for working with me to get this excerpt from Girl To City in Slate). I strolled around the cute downtown with vintage stores galore. Got some sleep and was impressed the next morning, a rainy Sunday, at whole families in all-weather gear blithely strolling in the rain.
At this point in a tour, I can’t tell if I’ve gained weight or lost weight—my clothes are baggy in odd places from so much driving, then being performed in, wedged into a suitcase and unfurled again. I ate an enormous apple fritter in a charming Olympia coffee shop (okay, I’ve probably gained weight) and managed to work some more before driving up to Seattle.
The bookstore, Third Place, was wonderful, part used/part new books, with a nice bar downstairs. Kristi Coulter, who I met at Spotty Dog when she came to read on her own book tour last year, conducted a Q&A and then I played and read for a nice crowd of people who’d braved a rainy Sunday evening—hey, it’s Seattle, they thrive on the stuff. I got to meet Claire Dederer, fabulous author, in person and saw old friends I rarely get to see because I have struggled the last several years to book a show in this town. It was worth it to write a book just so I could come play here!
I drove back down to Olympia afterwards, picking up this standby Hillsdale snack pack of crackers, salami and cheese so I didn’t have to try and fall asleep completely starving and drank the last of a screw top bottle of wine I’d carried from California. Drove to the airport in Portland listening to a great Richard Thompson live recording. Portland airport was beautiful. I got back to Hartford Airport near midnight and realized I’d forgotten which parking lot I’d put the car in and had lost my ticket. I felt like the most annoying person in the world on the shuttle, all the Connecticut people seemed so together and I was bumping into them with my guitars and laptop, trying to charge my phone so I could look at a map of the parking lots and remember…then it occurred to me to ask which was the cheapest lot – and voila, with the help of my Subaru keys I located my car, which was good because I’d gotten so attached to my rental car I’d forgotten what color it was.
The GPS took me back the strangest route, it freaked me out a little when I realized I was driving next to a dam and thought wait, there’s no dam that I know of near I-90. It was little back roads and so very dark. Then the freezing rain started. I realized as I passed Bash Bish Falls where Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York states converge that I’d taken the scenic route home – at two a.m. I did make it eventually. Eric was waiting for me. I think we ate pasta.
More shows, at dear HiLo in our town of Catskill, the legendary Bop Shop in Rochester, and beautiful Cambridge Depot up north of Saratoga. I tried not to dwell on it being the end of the book tour, for the year anyway. How long can you tour for a book? I’ve only done albums, and they have a sort of natural lifespan…I love the reading excerpts and playing corresponding songs that I’ve been doing on this tour and feel like with work it’s something I could do for a long time. I hope to do some book shows in the UK at least in 2020, and here and there where I can.
A week ago we drove down to New York City to see Bob Dylan, and that show was a beautiful dream. An incandescent glow from the lighting, the band, the set list and Bob himself. Bob’s ass didn’t need kicking —he was on it. Putting across every word and note. The Bob I hear in my head was on stage in front of me at the Beacon Theatre. I wish I could relive every moment, especially When I Paint My Masterpiece, Simple Twist of Fate, Not Dark Yet and Lenny Bruce. And Pay In Blood. After two weeks of impeachment hearings, this song sounded extra prescient. Just like after the last time we saw Dylan, I rushed the next day to listen to Tempest, an album I missed completely when it came out in 2012.
I’m home now before we head to England for a bit . Thanksgiving was nice and quiet with my daughter visiting and a chance to do laundry, do some some cooking which I miss when I’m traveling. There’s a comfort in those household chores, the ones I resent so much until I’m away for a while.
I’m thankful for all the people who came out to see me, picked up a copy of the book or a disc. The clubs and homes and bookstores who had me play, and all my friends and loved ones for encouragement. I’ll finish now before I start to blubber with gratitude and cause the reader to snooze. I’d better go shovel some snow.
Early 2020 gigs/events
Fri Jan 3 • Peace Dale, RI • Roots Hoot House Concert info/tickets
Fri Jan 10 • New Haven CT • Cafe Nine (really excited that author Joyce Maynard will do a Q & A with me before the reading/performance) tickets
Sat Jan 11 • Hudson NY • Volume Reading Series info
Fri Jan 17 – Sun Jan 19 • Destin FL • 30A Songwriters Festival tickets
I flew into Portland and drove a few hours my first night on the west coast, fog and songs from Allison Moorer’s stunning album Blood swirling around me in my rental car. Eugene always seems like a good place to spend the night.
Next day I set off for California and not even a couple hours in I was flagging. Driving through Grant’s Pass or Medford Oregon, the climbs and descents and tall pines were hypnotic, the rental car too similar to my own car back home to have me on alert the way some unfamiliar cars do.
“Are there any people in this part of the state who don’t drive massive trucks laden with fresh cut logs, finished boards or large bales of hay?” I wondered, searching for just one other car to give me that feeling of companionship you get out on the highway.
I finally gave in and exited at Wolf Valley, thinking I’d just pull into a gas station parking lot and shut my eyes for a few minutes. Wasn’t I just doing this a few days ago I thought…in Pennsylvania? Driving home after Pittsburgh I’d had to pull over four times to nap, before finally giving in and checking into a hotel near Bloomsburg at the ridiculous hour of 6 PM.
In Wolf Valley, I aimed to the right of a rustic service station, thinking it’d be more peaceful if I parked in front of a low white building with a hand-painted sign reading GIFT STORE. I didn’t imagine there’d be much traffic for gifts at two pm on a Wednesday.
I shut off the motor, locked the doors and leaned my head back and…
There was rock music coming from the low white building. I wondered what classic rock track was blaring, and marveled at the detail and depth of their outdoors speakers. Then I started listening harder— this was live music. A band was practicing in the “GIFT SHOP”.
I noticed an open door to the right of the gift store entrance. By now I’d turned the key and rolled down the window so I could listen. No vocals, but the drums and guitar were good and loud and —they were really playing. I couldn’t stop myself. I got out of the car.
Maybe if I just stood to one side I could see what was going on in there. But that didn’t feel like enough. Instead, I popped the trunk of my Toyota Corolla, took my Telecaster and a guitar cable out of the case, strolled over and stood in the doorway.
The room was shadowy so I couldn’t see who was playing. Just the sunlight from outside picking up highlights on the drum hardware. There was a lot of hair, and flannel. I think there were two people but there may have been three. They hardly even looked up. One in a ball cap nodded his head toward a spare amp and I went over, plugged in and switched it on. It was a Peavey.
We jammed for about an hour. I don’t even remember what songs we played. We never spoke. It was just…music. This is why I’m here, I thought. Because I play music. Maybe I’ll just send for Eric, tell him to get his bass and come to Wolf Valley. This outfit could use a bass player. We’ll just play stuff, express ourselves, work on it, get better. We might even be able to get a gig some-
I’d drooled on the headrest. The shadows were growing long across the parking lot, All I could hear was the wind through pine needles. The door next to the gift shop was closed. I got back on the road and headed towards California, and Thursday night’s gig in Oakland.
I just had breakfast in a tiny diner in Cleveland, actually the suburb east of Cleveland, near the part of town where my daughter and I lived for a brief time just before she went off to college and I moved to France with Wreckless Eric. The Yours Truly was a cozy scene, a few booths, a short counter, Rick James’ “Give It To Me Baby” over the speakers, a TV playing an adorable Animal Planet show about raising puppies. The coffee was good, I treated myself and ordered bacon AND hash browns. Everything felt right and then— there was a commotion towards the parking lot. Just outside the big plate glass windows, in full view of the entire place, a guy was breaking into a customer’s car. A few people ran outside, the manager called the police, for a second it felt like the guy breaking in was going to come in to the diner but then he took off down the avenue. I’ve probably seen too many movies because I watched the whole thing unfolding thinking “is this where I meet my end? This random diner? Why oh why didn’t I just drive on to Pittsburgh yesterday?”
I couldn’t face Pittsburgh just yet. I’m so tired, I didn’t have the strength to go that far back into the past. Cleveland is one layer of bark just towards the surface of the tree, easy enough to break a piece off, turn it over in my hands, crumble it between my fingers. Pittsburgh takes a chainsaw, or an axe, or one of those taps they stick deep into a maple to extract sap to turn into syrup. I can’t excavate Pittsburgh on this trip, when part of what I’ve been doing on this trip has been excavating Pittsburgh. I think I might have book tour burnout.
It’s been a great tour so far. I think the thing with outings like this (not that I’ve ever had an outing like this before, but similar to a tour with a new record) —don’t stop. Don’t take breaks, chill out, relax and have down time. Because down time is when you go…down.
Think about a perpetual motion machine—it feeds on its own energy. When you take that away, what’s left? Nothing. A void. That’s what I am right now.
Don’t go down. I think of all the dear familiar faces and new ones I’ve met on this trip. Towns I have close relationships with I’ve gotten to drive into in a new way (look out bitches, get a load of me! Oh if only…usually more like hello, is it me you’re looking for?) There has absolutely been a feeling of accomplishment and I have to keep reminding myself it’s not the end of everything —it’s the beginning of something.
I don’t know who will come in Pittsburgh tonight. I wish I could go get a facial, or a pedicure but —my car needs an oil change. Maybe I need an oil change? I’ve done some hotel swimming and usually don’t go full bacon/hash browns but I miss walking. Too many hours in the car. In Girl To City, I wrote that rules of touring say never examine your life too closely in a dressing room mirror or at the end of a tour. What about in the waiting room of a Subaru dealership somewhere on the outskirts of Cleveland?
The only way to keep going is—don’t stop. I’ll see Eric in less than two days, for two days. There are serious fires out west, people being evacuated from their homes in Northern and Southern California. I fly out there next week. Is it okay to go?
It’s all leading somewhere…even if it’s just to the next book. That’s a lot, right?
*Book Tour Burnout
Order GIRL TO CITY here or see me out on tour. I’ll rally, you know it!
Tues Oct 29 Pittsburgh PA City Books 7 PM (in conversation w/Rege Behe + reading/performance)
Sat Nov 2 Newark DE Rainbow Records 5 PM
Sun Nov 3 Wayne PA Main Point Books 5 PM
Thu Nov 7 Oakland CA Starline Social Club tickets 9 PM
Sat Nov 9 Los Angeles house concert
Tue Nov 12 Los Angeles Stories Books (in conversation w/Pat Thomas + reading/ performance) 7 PM
Fri Nov 15 Portland OR Turn Turn Turn (w/Scott the Hoople!)
Sun Nov 17 Seattle WA Third Place Ravenna (in conversation with Kristi Coulter + reading/performance) 7 PM
You got the airplane off the ground! You’ve never flown a plane before but all those years of driving a car made you think eh, how hard can it be? Pretty hard, it turns out.
GIRL TO CITY book release day was looming and I was feeling pretty positive about this whole thing. Book release day, or Publication Day, was feeling like a fluid term, as the ebook had started showing up in people’s readers from the first time I uploaded an uncorrected advance version. But my copies of the printed book with the corrections made (although I winced on discovering a mispelling in the book: “excrutiating”. Not glaring but—wrong. Apparently you can keep correcting the file and reuploading into infinity but that’ll probably have to wait for a while…) arrived when I was briefly over in England, and so after a fun visit to Todd Abramson’s show on WFMU, I got busy filling the pre-orders. The pre-orders were really my version of crowdfunding, as this book publication business has pretty much drained my resources, so thank you those who pre-ordered! It also gave me the incentive to put together an album of old, unheard demos to go along with the book. That turned into a hugely positive experience. With Eric’s urging and patient help editing and mixing and mastering, I unearthed songs I’d completely forgotten that turned out to be- well I’ll let you decide for yourself, some of them are throwaway but I think some are pretty darn good, and I didn’t even have to be dead for this to happen! I’m alive. I think.
Possible cancellation of a date on the tour due to poor ticket sales had me feeling very low the day before the book release. It was ironic, because a few days before a writer had asked me for a quote about musicians and mental health— the struggles we go through. I’d written something fairly measured and trying to be upbeat about valuing ourselves and standing up for ourselves, but here was a bald example of the reality: you can work and work and feel good about your work and you know it’s good, but when somebody tells you “nobody cares—they don’t want you” well that hurts about as much as anything can hurt. You’re back in the school cafeteria wanting someone to look up from a table and see you and smile and wave you over, but they’re all laughing and carrying on and don’t notice you and you want to disappear into a hole in the floor. (in the end everything’s okay with the show. But when you wonder why musicians/artists are fragile characters, think about it. We are fragile characters who for whatever reason are compelled to put ourselves in a position that invites public scrutiny and judgment. If you have a manager you might be regularly spared a few hours/days of that kind of hell, and never know and that’s one reason why people have managers but—I don’t. A lot of us don’t).
So I was kind of a mess by the time I needed to head down to NYC for my book event at WORD Greenpoint. I’d gotten to know this store when one of my brothers lived around the corner and thought it would be great to do something in/adjacent to the old neighborhood, the last place I lived in the city. I was packing the car and trying to stay perky, and set off to drive down to Brooklyn about two in the afternoon so I’d have plenty of time for a 7 PM show. A few blocks from our house I pulled over and called the store, thinking it’d be good to know how many books to bring —not wanting to be too ambitious but not wanting to risk running out. “Well we have five reservations so, I guess ten books is probably good,” said the young woman on the phone. Ten? Ten?? I decided I’d been deluding myself all along —that literally no one in NYC was interested in anything I had to say about twenty some years of living there, that it was all so in the past, that I was so all in the past. I started heading towards the Taconic, my head spinning. I pulled over to tweet—“hey, is anybody coming? ANYBODY?” Got a little further and felt a breeze across the back of my neck, like the load was a little light in the back of the car—I’d FORGOTTEN MY GUITAR. The whole reason for the book, everything. I spun around in the Ace Hardware parking lot, drove back home, got the guitar, flew down the Thruway. The WORD people were really nice, I set my stuff up in the basement room they have for readings, and then realized I was desperately hungry, and that I should’ve brought some wine for everybody. I wondered why I hadn’t asked a friend to help me. It just hadn’t occurred to me how hard it is to get an airplane off the ground, cause like I said, I’ve driven a car for years…
Right around showtime, my daughter found me sitting on a stoop next to my brother’s old apartment building. I was eating cold beef stroganoff from a tub, drinking red wine straight out of the bottle (I wasn’t glugging, just sipping delicately, to go with the stroganoff.) “Nobody’s coming Haze —nobody.”
“It’s gonna be great!” she said. I wondered if this really was my daughter, never inclined to be Little Miss Sunshine. “You’re gonna have fun. You’ll see.” (I could say something here about the joy of having a grown child, how lucky I am, but I might start sobbing and never stop, so I won’t.)
And I did have fun. So much. There were people there. Family and friends and people who’ve come to my gigs for years. They bought books, every book I had.
The nearly cancelled show was back on. The pre-order orders were going out. Press was starting to roll. People were posting that they were reading the book and loving it, that they were tearing through it.
And then I was standing in the spot where I’ve poured beer, put books on shelves, mopped, served customers for over seven years. When I walked in everybody had clapped, like I was Joni Mitchell coming into the Forum. Then I was playing songs and reading from this book that didn’t exist for real until just a few days ago. People were smiling and nodding and laughing and cheering for me. I was flying.
Here’s where I’ll be playing songs and reading stories, and in a few instances chatting with other writers about the book and music and life:
I did something I rarely do yesterday — I went to a bakery. I needed a piece of pie.
“Do you have that very berry pie?” I said to the young woman behind the counter. “You know —that…pie?” I’d already looked in all the cases and hadn’t seen the gleaming, voluptuous crumb-topped specialty of the house.
“No sorry, not till Wednesday” she said.
“I need pie now,” I said. “I wrote a book.”
She pointed towards the muffins and cookies. “Those are good, too.”
“No, I need pie. I wrote a book.” She was helping another customer by then.
I hurried home and did the best I could with raspberries, some granola and organic half and half. Then I brought a hundred packages to the post office.
“What, do you have a band or something?” the nice lady behind the counter asked.
“No —I wrote a book.”
I realized it was my answer to everything.
The house is a complete mess. So? I wrote a book.
I haven’t been to the gym in a month. Yeah, well – I wrote a book.
This promoter is worried about ticket sales, and that one never answered my emails— wonderful! I wrote a book.
Our tax return is due next Tuesday? Ha, I wrote a boo- (maybe it doesn’t work in every instance…Wait, he’s still president, and I wrote a book? Yeah, definitely doesn’t always work, but those are the exceptions that prove the rule).
I’m going on tour for the next several weeks and I’ve done that so many times before but this time will be at least slightly different because…I wrote a book.
And the same frustration that plagues me sometimes with releasing music and touring will come back on me twofold now because…I wrote a book.
But if you don’t like my music—or any music for that matter—you might still like my writing, and here it is! In this book. That I wrote.
You might buy Debbie Harry’s book or Liz Phair’s instead of mine (see I just lost readers right there—“Debbie Harry has a book? Debbiiiieeee! Love her. Liz! Oh my god, she is am-azing. Amy who? Never heard of her, so how can she be any good?”) but we can all still stand face-out side by side on at least one bookstore shelf and I couldn’t have said that last year because, well Debbie’s and Liz’s weren’t out yet and mine wasn’t done yet but now it is.