July Is The Cruelest Month?

I used to dread it when he’d show up. Summer just settling in, everyone in high spirits and then this shadow in the doorway of the bookstore/bar. “Take off that ridiculous scarf – it’s July!” I wanted to shout. I admit I’m partial to red and white stripes, so he won a few points with his sweater, but the knitted beanie cap? Dude—it’s ninety degrees out.

But like fruit flies around the beer taps, I’ve come to accept Where’s Waldo as part of summer at Spotty Dog. July is Waldo month and kids come into all the Hudson stores to find a little cut-out of the character. It culminates at the end of the month with prizes, and maybe even an appearance by whoever is willing to dress up in the stripes, scarf and beanie. I understand – you need to keep kids busy in the summer, give them a job. If finding Waldo (Wally to the English) helps, it’s a good thing.

A few years ago I bought this red and white striped canvas for the bookstore display. “And at the end of July, I can sew some cushions for the back porch.”

This July 1, I dutifully trotted out the red and white striped canvas for the Waldo display. The back porch remains cushionless. Last year we were away most of the summer, this year I’m too busy preparing for my book publication October 8 to do any sewing. Last July, Waldo turned thirty, and it could very well be that approaching Waldo’s fortieth birthday, I’ll shake out that canvas yet again and drape it as a backdrop for the Where’s Waldo display. The kids who were seven when I first started this job seven years ago are now fourteen, and in seven years will be legal to drink beer and cider in the bar where they looked for Waldo as kids. I’ll be the town’s oldest bartender.

I tended bar last night and it was busy for a little while. As I filled the glasses with beer, cracked cold cans of sake and hurled pretzels into bowls, I actually felt calm and happy for the first time in weeks. I felt like I knew what I was doing. People smiled when I set beers in front of them and said “you’re good.” I love being the world’s oldest bartender!

 I’ve never put out a book before. It’s a labyrinthian process that makes releasing records feel so simple, and each step of the way I’m reminded how I don’t know what I’m doing. I wish I had a publisher I could fume at when it became clear that they didn’t know what they were doing. Next week I’m making my book available to pre-order. I’m not even sure exactly what that means, I need to read a few thousand more helpful online tips—like Waldo, the answer’s in there somewhere— but it’ll happen and I’ll make the info available here.

When I put this all behind me, I’m going to sew some red and white striped cushions. Then I’ll put those behind me, too.

Girl To City: A Memoir coming October 8.

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Don’t Play Misty For Me

This is an excerpt from Girl To City: A Memoir which comes out October 8th. I’ve had a complicated relationship with my dad and it was in writing my book that I realized how much he’s always been on my side.

My brothers all tried out for sports but I had piano lessons from Mrs. Parrish instead. I loved playing the piano, but I didn’t want to work at it. I learned to read music but couldn’t see the point of all those pesky exercises when all I wanted to do was play “Hernando’s Hideaway” and “My Favorite Things.”  I kept at the Popular Song book that began with “Alfie”, went through “Green Green Grass Of Home” and other favorites, made room for “Misty” and ended with “Windmills Of Your Mind” 

“Misty” was tough. Anyone from Pittsburgh knew it was written by Errol Garner, who’d grown up in the Hill District. There weren’t many internationally successful Pittsburgh artists—just the painters Mary Cassatt and Andy Warhol and um…Erroll Garner—so it was important to know when one of our own did something that won acclaim from the outside world.

I was trying to pick my way through “Misty” one afternoon, hunched over the piano keys, reaching for notes that were always out of reach, when my dad passed behind the piano bench on his way into the room he used as an office. He cleared his throat. I kept on at “Misty.” My dad’s office chair squeaked as he leaned back and shouted through the doorway. “Amy, could you please play something else? Anything!”

He was usually tolerant—I thought my playing must sound worse to him than it did to me. “I’m really sorry, Dad. I’m trying my best.”

“Oh, it’s not your playing,” he said. He’d come in to stand behind me. “It’s just that song.”

I looked at him. He seemed to like most music as long as it had been written before 1963. What could be wrong with “Misty”?

“When I was a boy, I was overweight, with red hair and glasses.” I don’t think I’d ever heard personal information like that from my father before. He continued. “There was an older kid who liked to beat me up.”

“And…`Misty’?”

“He always whistled it while he was hitting me,” he said. “Either that or `Sentimental Journey’.” He shook his head. “I can’t stand either of those songs.”

I hated the thought of my father being singled out for punishment. He wasn’t easy to please but I still felt protective of him. “I bet that kid picked on everybody,” I said helpfully. 

“Nope. Just me.”

Music had the power to change my mighty dad—the ultimate authority—into a trembling victim? That was some pretty strong stuff.

me and dad 14th street
East Fourteenth Street, June 1985

I love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

Throwing Shades

Must see Rocketman. Can’t see Rocketman. Should I see Rocketman?

I’ve been meaning to see the Elton John biopic since it opened in the UK two weeks ago. The timing seemed perfect but I just couldn’t get the spare couple hours. I was too busy helping Eric clear out his mother’s house and then we managed to spend two nights in a nice Airbnb near Hastings, mainly so we could be somewhere with decent wifi to keep our tiny empire of records and shows running.

I got to see Eric’s wonderful sold out London show at the 100 Club (I think I got up and played a few songs with him and his able sidekick Ian Button, I’m so tired right now I don’t remember for sure!) Went to Brighton for the gig on his 65th birthday, I know I brought some gluten-free cupcakes and candles out on stage, but the rest is a blur. I remember checking into a manor house turned Hilton with a wedding do going on: men with shirt tails hanging, women in bare feet wrapped in shawls, everyone swaying through the lobby clutching bottles. I shamelessly told the Scottish desk clerk that it was my husband’s birthday and voila he presented us with drink vouchers so we got to join the crowd in the lounge and then out in the parking lot when some joker pulled the fire alarm. “The Britain the tourists don’t see,” said Eric. This is so us, I thought. This is our idea of romance!

Developed a raging eye infection just in time for my gig in Brighton and then flew to Sweden in agony. I know self-acceptance is supposed to be a big part of getting older and this may be the point where I dump my eye makeup forever, or at least til the swelling goes down. Thankfully this time it affected the eye I can’t see out of anyway. I think I’m starting to resemble Jack Nicholson in one of his crazier roles…

Malmo was lovely and I had a nice day with my hosts Mats and Zuzan, getting to have coffee and aperol spritzes in a garden, a rare chance to see the town I’d be playing in, usually it’s all glimpsed in passing “Look, there’s people, living life! What must it be like, to be sipping a beverage, laughing with friends, in this place?” (Sweden is dangerous, I find myself adapting my language to sound Swedish even though every person you meet there speaks perfect English)

I felt so happy after playing both shows, Brighton and Malmo. It’s the in-between times that are hard right now. I feel wracked with insecurity. Trying to keep upbeat and positive to get my book out into the world but seriously depleted of energy. I need to go on a diet, exercise more, heal my eye. My friend Karen made me go to the doctor in England and it seemed to help a little bit. Then there was more house clearing. On the plane back from England I finally watched Bohemian Rhapsody and cried so much the French guy next to me tapped me on the shoulder and offered me his cocktail napkin to wipe my eyes, or at least one eye. Then I made the mistake of watching the film about journalist Marie Colvin. I was drawn in by her glamour, the eye patch, the bravery of a war correspondent. By the end of the film I felt sure I was going to lose my eye too, not because of a selfless need to expose the truth and share stories of struggle but because I have a thing for eyeliner.

IMG_2912Maybe for the next time?

The French couple next to me asked “How can we get to this place, Jersey City?” From JFK? Ah, you need to get the AirTrain to Jamaica Station, take the LIRR to Penn Station and then get another train. Insane, right? I looked at their terrified faces and then remembered that was exactly what I needed to do to get back home and I was in danger of missing the last train upstate due to a flight delay. My eye was swelling up and I felt if I didn’t get a bottle of water before I got on the last train I would die.

There’s a spot in Penn Station where you line up for the upstate NY Amtrak train only. It’s the most bedraggled group in the station aside from the homeless population. People with bizarre luggage, ballcaps, a few haughty sophisticates. As I skidded to my place in the line and saw Hilton Als with his headphones on join the queue I was as good as home. I slept a few hours and went to the doctor.

So Rocketman opened yesterday in the US and I wanted to go but by the time the first showing rolled around I was too tired to get in the car. I’m going down to NYC today to open for Ian Hunter, it’s his 80th birthday shows at City Winery and they asked me and Eric to do one but Eric’s still in England dealing with his mother’s house sale. It will be strange to play for this crowd on my own, together Eric and I have opened for Ian, who’s a hero to us both, loads of times. A guy posted on FB “Amy Rigby is opening for Ian Hunter on Sat. Who is Amy Rigby?” maybe just innocently asking a question but giving the impression I had no right to be there because he hadn’t heard of me. I’d wear dark glasses but that’s Ian’s thing. With one eye I’ll stare the crowd down and say “I’m Amy fucking Rigby.” (probably not, I’ll likely shuffle my feet, duck my head and say something embarrassing. It’s my way. The songs are the sucker punch.)

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Maybe tomorrow I’ll go see Rocketman. 

The Ian Hunter show at City Winery tonight is sold out, but you can see Amy Rigby on Fri. June 7 at Dawson St Pub in Philadelphia and on Sat June 8 at Outpost in the Burbs, Montclair NJ. I’ll have genuine pop legend Wreckless Eric on bass & the also legendary Doug Wygal playing drums.

Local Artist

People often ask if I play around here much, and the past few days I’ve had the perfect illustration of why the answer is…”uh.” You’d think it would make sense, there are friends and neighbors and venues, fans even within easy driving distance. But – it’s fraught. You don’t want to be a nuisance (“what, her again?”) like you have nothing better to do.  In another town, people don’t see you looking like hell at the post office or buying toilet paper in the supermarket. You can maintain some aura of mystery, But the worst is, you make yourself vulnerable getting up there. It’s easy to put that out of your mind when you separate daily life from the hour or two you perform.

I went into work at the bookstore/bar the other day and I saw that the poster I’d put up a few weeks before for my HiLo show in Catskill had been taken down and replaced with one that said “Do you enjoy humor? Do you like being funny? Join us to talk about it.” And they’d torn off almost all the tabs on the bottom, to make it look like people were interested. Who tears down another person’s poster? And I work here, bitch! And people aren’t funny because they enjoy it. I had a good mind to call the number on one of the last remaining tabs.

Oh well, I thought. I can’t let these things get to me. My poster probably just fell down, and those nice comedy people found a clear spot to put theirs up. I probably handed them some tape to do it last time I worked and didn’t even realize.

But then the other morning, when I walked into our beloved local cafe, the very place I’m playing – BOTH of my posters were gone. Just, physically removed, by some person who clearly has a vendetta against me. Who have I annoyed/angered so much that they would go out of their way to mess me up? I mean, it’s only the second time in a year that I’ve played around here, so I don’t think I’ve been a nuisance. Did I cut in front of someone in line to get coffee? Take a person’s stuff out of the dryer at Clothespin Laundromat?

Maybe it’s a Trump supporter? I hear they play “The President Can’t Read” on the local radio station a lot. Disturbingly, this is the only comforting scenario.

I admit when Eric and I lived in France, we used to occasionally take down the posters of this duo called Vis a Vis. But they played nothing but annoying covers. And they put posters everywhere. I don’t take any solace in the idea that whoever took down my posters feels the same sense of justification.

Will the person (or persons! Maybe it’s a whole team saying “Let’s get her!” Oh shudder…) who’s messing with me be there at my Catskill show tonight? Will anyone be there? I mean, there were posters, but…

Copy of Add a subheading

Reader, I Wrote One Too

A publisher’s representative calls the bookstore/bar to check up on an author event/reading:

“How many would you say attended?” she asks, cheerily.

“Oh, it was full – very full!” I say.

“Great, how many would you say exactly, or at least ballpark?”

“Well, I wasn’t actualy there, but everyone who was said what a great night they had!” I’d in fact heard that it was kind of light crowd-wise as these things are usually packed, but it was the middle of a cold, rainy spell, and in solidarity with the author in question and all authors everywhere, I lie.

“And how many books did _________(author) sell?”

“I think they must have done well, cause the stack’s looking a lot smaller than before the event,” I say, hoping my vague optimism will satisfy her.

“Could I get a definite number there?”

I’m curious now and look it up in inventory. Umm…again, in solidarity, I double that number, no wait, triple it – oh hell, I give her the tripled number quadrupled and hang up before she has a chance to ask how the other authors did at the event, so she can compare and possibly decide to drop any further promotion efforts for their author who thanks to our tiny bookstore event is either a dud or a king.

*

A local author with a national reputation and publisher calls regarding an upcoming library event in town:

“I need to know you’ve got my books to sell and someone to sell them! It’s going to be a well-attended event, very well-attended.”

“Let me just check on that for you-“

“I can’t talk now, I’m catching a flight, and I need to know when I land in two hours – will there be books? I need to know there’ll be books!”

I picture him, movie star handsome, dressed in tweed, running across a jetway, a laptop slung over his shoulder, books to research his next project bulging from his roller bag as he shouts into the phone: “It’s going to be a well-attended event, WELL-ATTENDED! We need books! BOTH OF MY TITLES!”

*

A pretty young blond woman browses the shelves. The man with her looks over his shoulder to make sure she’s occupied, out of earshot. “Do you have any copies of _________?” he asks.

“I’m pretty sure we do!” I say. “I love that book.” It’s been a New York Times bestseller for weeks.

“She wrote it,” he says in a whisper. “She’s too shy to ask.”

*

An older couple shuffle around the bookstore. They share one beer, look at every book in the place.

“Excuse me, do you have a local authors’ section?” the man asks.

“Sure, it’s right over-“

They’re both wearing survival wear, as if they’re spending a month in the Australian outback. Floppy hats. Hers is tied under the chin with a leather cord, his sits at a rakish angle.

“I don’t need to SEE it,” he brushes me away, literally swats at me with his hand like an outback fly. “You see, I’m publishing a book soon and thought you might like to carry it.” I start telling him to bring a copy or two in for consignment but that’s not aligning with his dream, which is me or anyone falling to their knees and saying “You brilliant, brilliant man! We’ll get carpenters in at once to erect a wing for this mighty tome, the likes of which the world has never seen!”

“Author events – do you do those?” he asks, but doesn’t wait for an answer. “I might want to talk to someone about setting one up.” He flicks through the table of new age-feel-good-impulse buy-easy-wisdom books that in the last year have started giving way to miniature copies of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. “Though I see this is a pretty wholesome spot and my book is about decadence.” I start to say how we do serve alcohol, but quickly shut up as I picture that senior Satan-worship group from Rosemary’s Baby in the all-together except for bush hats plus bifocals, socks and sandals. Then I start busily folding Curious George onesies to emphasize our family-friendly, anti-decadence atmosphere but he and his companion are already hauling their stringy khaki-encased thighs up the street to find a more amenably seedy atmosphere that will give his brilliant treatise its rightful dank platform.

*

A cheerful woman approaches the register. “I’m the editor of __________!” she says, almost giddy with happiness. “I see you have it up on the top shelf – how’s it doing?” I tell her it’s been selling well (in a store this size, that could mean 3-4 copies but, y’know it’s good to be positive – it definitely hasn’t been ignored!) I apologize to her for not reading it yet, but tell her it looks compelling. I love every book in the store so much, just for the sheer act of existing. If you’ve done anything to get marks on paper down and in print, you’re okay in my book – you wrote a book. Better than okay – you deserve…a reader. So sometimes it makes people a little shameless.

Author, publisher, self-publisher, bookseller. Editor, agent; reader.  It’s a miracle when the right book finds its way into the right hands. But it happens all the time. I’ve seen it all my life as a reader, and for the last seven years working in a bookstore. There’s no shame in making that happen. I admire and aspire to be a person who makes a book. I love people who love books.

I navigated the world of book proposals and potential publishers with the help of an agent for the last several years and am proud and terrified to announce that my own book will be published – by me – in October. There’s no shame in it, right?

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I’ll start doing pre-orders and give more info in June. In the meanwhile, come see me play in May or June if I’m in your neighborhood. Before I don my survival gear.

  • Thu May 9    Catskill NY   HiLo  (w/Tim Higgins)
  • Fri May 10    Bordentown NJ  Randy Now’s
  • Sat May 11    No. Andover MA  Crossroads Music Series
  • Thu May 23   Brighton UK  Prince Albert
  • Sun May 26   Malmo Sweden  Folk å Rock
  • Fri June 7       Philadelphia PA   Dawson St Pub
  • Sat June 8      Montclair NJ     Outpost In The Burbs

 

On Ice

I’m drinking a beer with my brother Pat and my sister-in-law Karen in a cool beer bar in the Pittsburgh suburbs. Along with nail salons/spas, these places have sprung up all over this town. Beer on tap and pedicures, two of the few remaining things you can’t buy online.

My father and his wife live in an apartment building on a hill overlooking my old high school, across the street from the  library I grew up in. Mt. Lebanon Public Library is where I stood among the shelves reading Mary McCarthy’s The Group, missing the snark and wit and social commentary and going straight for the sex. That book weighed a ton, it’s a wonder I never developed much upper body strength. Today I ducked in to use the library wifi to download a few new books on my stepmother’s Nook.

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They’re ninety one and two, my dad and his wife. She just got out of the hospital due to a broken pelvis and he wants to wait on her, protect her, but she won’t let him – she’s that tough. My father used to be my fiercest foe, or so it felt. He was the one who could push all my buttons and make me feel the shittiest. How can I feel fury towards him now, when I ring the buzzer to get in the door to his building and he says on the intercom “Are you downstairs?”

I’m staying up the street in a new hotel. It sits right next to the building where my orthodontist, Dr. Sassouni, would tighten the metal bands on my teeth. The view from my hotel room window is the same one I’d see when I was writhing in pain. My first night here I barely slept at all. I could just feel the hills out my door too much – the cemetery we’d cut through to smoke cigarettes and get home a little quicker from high school. The brick of the houses a particular color I’d never even noticed before, but I’ve been a lot of places now and seen a lot of brick and nowhere else has that color. This is where I grew up.

Usually I’m playing a gig when I visit Pittsburgh — I even wrote a song about that particular experience. This time I’m just visiting for a few days, family visit. To say I was here last year and the year before is not entirely true, when being here involved a soundcheck, the post-gig rehash and either Cleveland or Philadelphia the next day. It’s definitely been a few years since I just hung out. I should do this more often.

I go to pick my brother John up at the streetcar stop down by the old Grove roundhouse, where they held teen dances when I was young. I start off using the GPS and then think, wait, I know these streets, but I only know them as I’m driving them, a muscle memory from over forty years ago kicking in. The topography of Pittsburgh is extreme and my calves almost start aching as I roll up and down crazy hills. My older brother waves me down by the tunnel where our mom used to honk the horn of her orange Ventura once for every kid in the car. The best was when she had to do five quick hard blasts in the very short tunnel, an overpass really. With the reverb, it was cacophony.

My mom opened an antiques and country crafts store when we’d all gone away to college and the army and New York City. She really came into her own with this shop, in her fifties. Now my brother and his wife and I are drinking beer in the space where she displayed her flea market finds and quilts and wreaths so proudly. Over the noise of a Penguins hockey game, we try to explain to the cute young bartender, “Our mother had a store here!” We try to describe what it was, what it meant getting jumbled up with “isn’t it crazy, we’re all sitting here drinking beer now?!” Patrick describes how, if a customer wanted a piece of furniture that wasn’t in the shop, our mother would run home and grab a chair or coffee table from the living room, hustle back to the store and sell it. While the beer crowd cheers hockey, we laugh and laugh. This was our mother’s place; aside from the tunnel with us kids and the honking, maybe the place she was her happiest ever.

The past, and the memory of my mother, feels so alive, even with the craft beer and Penguins on ice, or maybe because of it. I should do this more often.

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Wheels

I drove by James Baird State Park last night. It’s on the Taconic Parkway, just north of Poughkeepsie. Every time I’ve driven past that exit for the past eight months, I’ve kind of shuddered. It’s where my old car died back in August. Every time I’ve driven past James Baird State Park since August 2018 has been in either a rental, or my husband’s car. Or…the train. The train’s been great, cause it goes by the west side of the park so I don’t have to see the James Baird State Park sign.

It’s been a journey, these past eight months, trying to figure out what to do to replace that car. It’s been a journey in a lot of other ways, because Eric’s mother died just after and that’s been huge in our lives. She was in her nineties, we didn’t expect her to rally but you don’t simply go okay, goodbye and get on with things. Or you do, but you feel it every day in a lot of different ways. For Eric it’s working. I can’t believe he’s gotten a new album together and it’s stunning. I’ve been moving along to finish and publish my book and that’s happening in October. But I just haven’t been able to deal with looking for a car.

Down in Guatemala or was it Mexico (I swear this is the last time I will use either of those phrases…okay maybe I’ll do it one more time but then no more) I promised myself I would find a vehicle as soon as I arrived back home, before I left for a few dates taking me as far west as Delaware Ohio, near Columbus. That gave me approximately a week to find a car.

I’d kind of resolved to finance a newer car, something certified, something with a warranty. When I looked back over the life of my last car, a 2002 Subaru Forester, I had spent a fortune doing all the repairs it needed to keep running. So when the transmission went, at 220,000 miles, I couldn’t justify spending more to keep it going. There were just too many other problems waiting in the wings to send the car back into the shop while I walked, borrowed and rented more cars.

How many times have I sat at the side of the highway, waiting for a tow truck? At least as many times as the different cars I’ve owned. This last time really did it for me. Not to say you can’t have problems anytime, with any vehicle. Upstate, where we live, deer can take out a brand-new car as easily as an old beater. But…

I made appointments with the local dealers, the ones I’d heard good things about. The cars in my price range weren’t super-inspiring but they were serviceable, they worked and most had a few features I’d loved from my old Subaru: heated seats, AWD, moonroof.  With amazing fuel efficiency that felt like it would help me save money. Why, this car would pay for itself in no time!

But…old habits die hard, and when you look into the world of newer cars, the possibilities are limitless. Whereas on Craigslist…

Oh why was I back on Craigslist? Because I didn’t want to make a practical decision for once in my life. I wanted what I always want, a bolt, an arrow of love, random chance meetings leading to intoxication, attachment. Or rough happenstance, you’ve got $1000 (or two, or three or four) to spend and goddammit, you’re going to make this work NOW, even if you pay and pay and pay down the line and together, with that thousand dollar vehicle, you make it through, you make it work, TOGETHER! That time we hitchihiked to a car rental place. That ride in the tow truck. That tackle/repair shop near Columbus, where I killed an afternoon and nearly missed the gig. That repair shop off the interstate, somewhere in Virginia, where I said goodbye.

Yes the lure of Craigslist. I called Dick, who had a decent-looking Honda Accord for sale. I mean, this car looked like a great bet for somebody. Dick was up north of Saratoga.

“So, do you have GPS? Well, either way, y’see – you cross over the railroad tracks and then make your first left – wait, what kind of car are you driving? Cause it’s a dirt road. You go down the road to the very end, about a quarter mile and you’ll see a bunch of cars…”

I’ve been there before. Not with Dick, but many times by now. I pictured driving up there, a window into the life of Dick, retired mechanic from the North Country. Another story unfolding in the form of a pile of metal, and rubber I would learn to love and make my own… I called Mike at Lacy Subaru.

So, I drove by James Baird State Park last night, in my new 2014 Subaru. I have shows all weekend, one next week, near Columbus. I don’t want to have to find out if the tackle/repair shop is still there.

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Amy on tour (tickets and info here

  • Fri Apr 5     Brooklyn NY       El Cortez
  • Sat Apr 6     Baltimore MD     An Die Musik – A Folkal Point concert
  • Sun Apr 7    Reading PA          house concert
  • Fri Apr 12    Delaware OH      Pat Cave at Endangered Species
  • Thu May 9   Catskill NY           HiLo (w/Tim Higgins)
  • Fri May 10   Bordentown NJ  Randy Now’s
  • Sat May 11   No. Andover MA  Crossroads Music Series
  • Thu May 23  Brighton UK        Prince Albert
  • Sun May 26  Malmo Sweden   Folk e Rock
  • Fri Jun 7        Philadelphia PA  Dawson St Pub
  • Sat Jun 8        Montclair NJ       Outpost In The Burbs