This past Monday (was it only three days ago? ) I worked the last shift serving bar customers at the bookstore/bar. I felt anxious and careful and as much as I hated to admit the reality of the pandemic, it was all hitting home when I learned that one of my coworker’s roommates works at Bard, where there are four diagnosed cases of Coronavirus. She only works once a week and I’d been in Nashville the previous Monday (I’d flown for God’s sake—what was I thinking? What were any of us thinking one week ago?) I’d been all set to fly to England until…Sunday morning when I had to pull the plug, wondering what had taken me so long, but it all came into focus now without making sense, that gigs were all off; that the bookstore had to close except for mail order/curbside pickup of books, maybe some reorganization and inventory. I looked at the small collection of drinkers at the bar and felt worried for the solo folks. How would they do, without a place to socialize in real life? Yes Eric was calling to tell me the paint I’d bought for the kitchen floor was crap and the wrong color, but that’s better than having to figure those things out for myself. I felt lucky to have a partner to go home to and hunker down with.
The next morning a Times piece on couples weathering the shutdown together made me laugh when it described the different coping styles: one person blithely going about their business (in a six hundred square foot apartment) while the other worried, stayed glued to the news, felt sure the world was coming to an end….then they’d switch places and the cheery whistling one went catatonic with fear while the worrier rallied and offered to don mask and gloves to go out foraging for provisions. The comments were the standard mix: “we’ve been together fifty years and there’s no sound I’d rather hear than my soulmate snoring at four AM” to “I’m worried I won’t make it more than a week let alone a month or more in quarantine…plus he won’t stop whistling.”
I looked over at Eric who was soldering something as he’s inclined to do and thought “I think we’ll be alright. We toured together, just the two of us, for almost a decade. We lived in rural France!” We weathered those challenges early in our relationship, so that must be good preparation for quarantine, right?
We’ve huddled together in rank band flats and hotels where the thought of your skin touching anything in the room is enough to bring on a panic attack.
Slept in freezing houses where there was a choice to shut the door and become ill from the cold or leave the door open and entertain a menagerie of animals moving in and out of the room throughout the night.
Together we’ve burned our dinner, then full of hope walked up the road towards the pizza van on the night of its weekly visit to the village, only to end up chasing the tail lights as the van picks up speed never to be seen again.
We’ve run out of cooking gas in the middle of roasting a chicken, the only food in the fridge, all the shops closed til morning, and eaten muesli with half and half for dinner, pretending it’s crumble.
Been reduced to using coffee filters as toilet paper.
The gig in Omaha with an audience of two, one of them the promoter.
Breaking down and hitchhiking in the north of France on a Tuesday afternoon in November.
Looking for something fun to do in Albany.
Spending Christmas in Worthing Hospital with Eric’s dear departed mum Dorothy, and then trying and failing to find somewhere to eat Christmas dinner in Worthing (“we’re not eating at Toby Fucking Carvery!”)
Playing the Nick in Birmingham AL (“Eric & Amy Rigby” announced the sign out on the road) for a handful of drinkers straight out of Voyage Of The Damned.
Hearing the wind howl and shake our camping car/former ambulance in an aire near the port of Calais, wondering how we’d survive til morning.
Driving through Wyoming, Utah and Nevada, the only other sign of life a train in the distance that seemed to be racing us for the coast.
All fairly benign I realize. Yes, we’ve been broke, had surgery, been ill. But we’ve been fairly lucky in our struggles and what stands out as I write them down—we’ve always been mobile. Maybe what makes dealing with those challenges out on the road fun or romantic in retrospect at least is that the setting is constantly varied. It fuels the imagination and makes it possible to cast yourself and mate as actors in the drama of life.
What will it be like here at home? With the only other characters whoever we can scare up on our devices?
This is not like touring, or moving to France, at all.
How are you coping with things? It’s still early and I find being in the moment is the only approach I can handle. I do hope to do an online gig or two, and plan to launch my Girl To City: A Memoir podcast next week. In the meanwhile, did you know Bandcamp has waived all fees for online sales of music and merch tomorrow, Friday Mar 20? You can order some discs, my book or downloads here. If you don’t have Eric’s brilliant 2019 album Transience, we’ll get the LP & CD versions up to order on his Bandcamp today.
I go along to a bar in Ridgewood to see my daughter play. It’s a lowkey night of striking, odd music. When Hazel starts pushing noise out of her fretless bass, that gets loud as an airplane landing, I think of troubadors playing during the time of the Black Death, and I think this is the equivalent. I hear the fear and rage, also a gallows humor.
I visit my friend Nick in Williamsburg on the most beautiful, sunny Sunday – the first day of spring forward. He is in the city from Ithaca, staying in the basement and treehouse of the house he and his wife Alex rent out to visitors. We climb stairs into the treehouse and smoke weed, listen to WFMU. Are we twenty-something or sixty-something I wonder? Stepping out of the treehouse, I face the back of their sweet blue house, now surrounded by high rises. We are definitely sixty-something.
Nick had a stroke two years ago, and I’m getting to know him as a different Nick. He was (and still is) a great DJ, the person who told me I could make a record on my own, and he helped me do it. Now we just hug, and cry a little, but we know what we mean.
Duck into the Whitney an hour before closing time on Sunday to see the Mexican mural exhibit. My artist’s memberships to Whitney and MOMA and the odd metrocard in my wallet are my tiny pieces of NYC real estate. Along with my family and friends and a few places like Veselka, and a million fading memories they are all that tether me to this city.
There’s only fifty minutes left til the museum closes so I do my best to take it in—like with so many things lately, thinking “I’ll really look at this later,” like I’m scrolling through my phone. Lady – this is later. You may not pass this way again. I try to narrow it down and just take time at a few paintings.
It crossed my mind this weekend how I used to intentionally hit the floor sometimes when I was onstage, landing on both knees. These were impulsive moves, like the terrible miscalculation I made once when Eric and were playing a show together in Norwich and I leapt off the stage in an attempt to banish some awkwardness and I landed okay but then slipped on my heel, wiping out and hitting the back of my head on the metal lip of the stage. I rose up all “I’m okay people!” but the looks on the audience’s faces were horrified—there was blood running down my face, like that scene from Carrie. These acts of physicality were an effort to exert control i guess, by losing it. Getting older becomes this fight to maintain control—all those in harms’ way acts of youth, drinking and driving, dropping acid in the city, sleeping with strangers; flinging the body around onstage—start to seem kinda foolish. The years pile up and the instances of being in harms’ way without wanting to pile up: near-miss idiot lane changes, that could’ve been me public shootings, hurricanes and tornadoes and Sept. 11. A pandemic. You start running from injury and shielding yourself from the inevitable.
Leaving the Whitney, maybe it was the sun blinding me as it set over the Hudson—one hour later than it had the day before—maybe I was distracted, but I tripped on the steps and went down HARD. That agonizingly slow motion descent where you think yes I can right this, but with horror you realize gravity has taken over, you’re no longer in command of your own body and oh shit here comes the ground. My knees took the brunt of it and the couple of young people who witnessed it looked stunned and then were polite enough to say “Are you okay?” as I was lying face down on the granite steps. I tried for a witty response but could only stammer “Uh-uh, no I’m fine—wow, that was graceful, wasn’t it?’ and brushed myself off jauntily and hoisted myself up signaling “see I’m fine! I do yoga sometimes!” and walking/bordering on striding away briskly until I got around the corner, out of view of the people in front of the Whitney and even the building itself, which I couldn’t bear to have witness an infirm me— that sleek modern young Whitney—I got around the corner and only then did I allow myself to stagger for a second and collapse shaking onto a bench. I realized I’d fallen so hard I’d torn a hole in my newest pair of black jeans. It could have been so much worse. What if I’d hit my head, or broken a wrist, an arm? I wouldn’t be walking the three quarters of a mile through the West Village back to my car to drive to the airport to fly to Nashville.
I walked back to my car but what had been a sweet-with-overtones-of-ominous afternoon in the city was tilting down. Should I fly to Nashville? I wondered. I could just as easily point the car back home. All the talk of virus made flying feel a little bit the equivalent of flinging myself down on stage but this flight was a means to an end and that old flinging thing was just an attempt to shake something loose.
Maybe going to the celebration ofDavid Olney’s life and music would shake some things loose ?
The town had just been hit by a devastating tornado. I have such a complex relationship with the city of Nashville. Like New York, it was also my city of dreams. These were different dreams than the ones that brought me to NYC, tempered by experience; more focused. I aim to write about it in my next book but coming back here pokes a wound—a self-inflicted one, like the back of my head from the stage dive— and when I examine too hard it hurts too much and I have to pull away. But it’s mainly love I feel.
Glancing the city the way I did on this very brief trip, to pay tribute and bear witness to the greatness of a man I looked up to but only briefly crossed paths with and finally in a cosmic way, I can sneak up on the pain (and I must admit it, a word that only just occurred to me and this is why I write: shame) of Nashville in a roundabout way, and take away an impression of talented friends, music, shared purpose, excellence, intentionality. Olney’s memorial at the Belcourt was a swirl of kind house concert hosts who’ve become pals, songwriting partners; coffee, lunch and touring compadres. The best. I saw Chet Atkins walk slowly to a table two decades ago in a restaurant called Noshville—“look, an elder! One who started it all!” Emmylou with her white hair was there for Olney, there’s no denying we are just about the elders now? The songs played and stories told made me want to write more songs, live more stories. (Listen to Jerusalem Tomorrow right now.) I capped the night off with a frosted half-mug of Miller at Brown’s Diner, a place already so shabby and iconic when I first went there thirty five years ago I was inspired to write a song about it. There’s a gleaming Kroger impossibly situated right across the street these days, but Brown’s stands untouched, unimproved, disorganized and that’s something. Apparently Olney would still set up and play in the corner. One of my greatest regrets now is my last question to him onstage: “Do you still live in Nashville?” Dave: “I can’t get them to pay me to leave, so- yeah, I still live in Nashville.” I am an idiot, the female Chris Farley…
On my flight back to Newark (Kleenex, hand wipes in constant rotation – I broke down and did the crossword in the inflight magazine, wondering how much I was risking, this is the world we live in) there was a little boy and his mom sitting next to a retired gentleman behind me. Their conversation was so beautiful, so sweet and civilized, it gave me this weird hope. I wish I had recorded some of their exchanges that began with the little boy saying “My name is Jack, I’m four years old. What’s your name?” They talked about New Jersey and where the little boy came from there and the man told him about the big water tower he sees out of the plane and that’s how he knows he’s almost home because that’s his town in NJ. I nearly started weeping when they said goodbye and the little boy asked if he could come visit the man and see his water tower someday. When the man asked the boy what his favorite part of his trip to Nashville had been, the boy said “riding this airplane, talking to you.”
Oh let’s all be four. Except the person in charge. Wait – there is nobody in charge.
I still have these gigs, nothing has been cancelled and my gatherings are small so we should have space enough to feel hygienic:
The same goes for you Madewell, Rag & Bone, Garnet Hill. Roller Rabbit, I know I bought a sheet from you on clearance a few years ago, and your printed cottons had me imagining myself in a caftan on a beach somewhere but enough.
The dream ends here. Goodbye.
I am unsubscribing.
It really hit me when I was over in England this past few weeks. I’d wake up in the morning and check my phone, just making sure the world was still there. (I didn’t have any kind of coffee-making system in place and was not able to write a word, duh – it only dawned on me the last few days I was there that I literally cannot write without coffee. At least I know now with complete certainty that as long as I have coffee, I can write!) Anyway, I learned that with the five hour time difference there was a sweet spot of advertising-free bliss in my email inbox, because back in New York and further west, it was still the middle of the night and the bots were sleeping. And as aware I’ve been of that kind of clutter— that every company I ever bought or even considered buying something from now considered me part of the family and was targeting me almost daily with folksy emails (“Hey, we haven’t heard from you for a while?” or “We bet this would look great on you”) -—it occured to me that I was constantly sucked in by those emails! Rarely clicking on them, but addicted to the possibilities they offer. Filing this one (plumped, hydrated skin) and that one (a pair of black jeans that will transform me into Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream – ON SALE!) away even as I hit delete a hundred times. Almost as if they saw me —acknowledged my existence -—and were writing a future for me. It’s not just clothes, beauty and home furnishings—there is my whole publishing journey there too: writing aids, story prompts, self-publishing support.(The relentless musical equipment companies, disc pressing and packaging manufacturers are relegated to my old AOL account).I know there are ways around it all ie don’t subscribe in the first place but I am the perfect pliant customer, not wanting to miss out on anything. As if by my interest I was keeping the deals alive! Without my awareness, $5 OFF Airport Parking Reservations would cease to exist. Forever.
But in that email-free sweet spot with the tumbleweeds rolling through my inbox except for an actual brief email from a friend or nice message from someone buying a disc or book, I saw a sense of possibility of what life could be if I was strong and told them all to go away.
As I wrote in the last post, I want to work harder. It feels ridiculous in one way to say that after publishing a book—I have never spent so many hours on a project in my life. A lot of it, the work of being a publisher, was not work I wanted for myself. It wasn’t the creative work. And maybe, like the advertising emails, I’m addicted to the grunt work—the packing and shipping etc that I could (should?) delegate to someone else. I don’t know. I get such a kick out of putting a disc in a mailer and sending it to someone. Maybe the size of my operation reflects that enjoyment?
A friend found a copy of this lovely book for me called Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. I’d mentioned it to her after hearing David Olney talk about it in a clip of him performing his song Women Across The River. We sell many similar small meditation books in the bookstore and I’ve often wondered what people get out of being told the most obvious things. Reading this book, Zen 101 I suppose, I begin to see it’s the clutter that obscures the obvious and that’s how the books help.
So I open my email back home and press Unsubscribe and try to direct that part of my brain or spirit that wants to follow a tousle-haired model down a gravel path wearing a sweater, with stripes of such a perfect width and color combination that I will feel so much like Picasso I will BE Picasso, to a blank page, a guitar propped against the wall. Maybe even just down a gravel path wearing any old sweater.
Except…Nordstrom. I don’t know why but I just can’t let Nordstrom go. See, they have this BIG SALE every late February…
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.