I don’t need anything from Guatemala or Mexico — just this alpaca wool blanket and that’s all I need. Just this alpaca blanket, this woven guitar strap and that’s it, that’s all I need! Just this alpaca blanket, guitar strap, a pottery mug and a blouse embroidered with roses and that’s it. Just this pottery mug, some flowy Guatemala pants, a necklace from Manuel down by the municipal beach and that’s all I need. Just these albums by artists I met at the Guitar Fest, this poem, the song I wrote in Mexico and a woven cotton blanket, the alpaca blanket and this pouch from Maria of San Marcos and that’s it — that’s all I need.
Just these memories and photos of sunrises at Lake Atitlan, email addresses of the women I met at Joyce Maynard’s writing workshop, this book revision, and a beaded woven bag from that little stall next to the dock in San Marcos, and that’s all I need. A bright blue embroidered dress I can’t wear because the dye runs, twenty words of Spanish, a love for Mexico and Guatemala, memories of boat rides and lake swims and tuk tuks and sunset at La Ropa and that’s all, really — that’s all I need. This clip of me and Joyce singing her song the last night in Guatemala and the blister on my foot and the last boat ride across Lake Atitlan and that’s all I need…
Eric and I came back from Madrid last night. It was a wonderful trip, too wonderful to write about, really – how to find inspiration in a good time? Then this morning I was combing through my purse and my fingers closed around a small, dusty, irregularly-shaped object.
It was a sunflower seed. I rubbed it, and remembered:
Waiting to board our flight for Madrid, a news story comes on the TVs at JFK, a van striking a crowded bike lane in Manhattan. Where did they say? Where? I ask Eric, thinking of my daughter out in the city. She just posted a photo of herself walking a dog, for sure Manhattan. Eric thinks it’s the Upper West Side. I feel bad to say I felt relieved “oh she wouldn’t be up there.” Then learn it’s downtown, west side. I text her, are you okay? Sometimes I wait forever to hear back from her when I text but she answers immediately that she’s fine. How awful for the people who lost their loved ones, out for a stroll or leaving work on a beautiful fall day.
Coming from the airport into Madrid, we struggle trying to communicate with the driver. His English is as nonexistent as our Spanish. For some reason, Eric tries French – “Ah, c’est plus facile!” the driver exclaims. He was born in Casablanca and French is his native tongue. Suddenly we are buddies, pals. It reminds me of our time in France, how I liked hearing Eric speak French and the way it made it easier for me to learn. Those years weren’t easy, but they were special. It brings that back to me a little, being here in Europe again. We’ll always have…Cussac.
Check into our servicable hotel and take a nap before going out for a stroll. I’m tainted by my relationship with New York forever into feeling that cities kind of work on a grid and if we just go down this one street, well it’s pretty much parallel to that street, and so by turning left here we should end up there – a sure fire way to get lost. A sure fire way to end up – climbing a wall into what seemed like a traffic island but is in fact a giant fountain with Neptune at its center. For the moment the fountain is dry but as we scramble across to the other side, I start imagining the two of us limping back to our hotel drenched and sheepish. “Run, Eric, run!” I shriek, beginning to panic. We climb down over another wall and across a few lanes of traffic, unscathed but a little less sure about where exactly we’re headed.
The next time we pass the fountain, I notice they have stretched red and white hazard tape all around the perimeter. I picture CCTV footage of two late middle aged morons’ ungainly clamber and sprint being the straw that broke the camel’s back – “Ai ai ai, we can’t have this – get out there with the tape, Jose Luis…”
We’re in Spain for Lindsay Hutton’s sixtieth birthday bash. Lindsay is Scottish and lives midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, but Madrid is his heart and soul, the place he comes to have fun and feel free. Lindsay, Eric and I are roaming the streets of Malasana neighborhood. What at first felt like another of the world’s great cities in a postcard-on-a-rack kind of way begins to come alive for real as Lindsay shows us his fave spots, like an Eggleston photo shows you Memphis. It’s in the details; knowing where and when to look. We sit in a tiny bar with cool seventies decor: “Gosh, how do these places stay in business?” We’re the only customers. “Don’t worry,” Lindsay says. “This place will be packed in a few hours.” It’s almost midnight. I take his word for it.
I’m sipping vermouth in Bodega de la Ardosa. Vermouth in Madrid is a revelation! Served on ice with a slice of orange. I’ve gotten some great tips from this Eater article and drinking vermut is one of them, accompanied by ham and anchovies and roasted artichoke and…the servers are so nice, after working hard to learn French I just wish I had spent some time learning Spanish. Rather than upselling, they dissuade us from ordering too much food. “If you want, you get more later, okay?”
Lindsay is spinning records at the Weirdo Bar. It’s one of the rock and roll bars all over this part of the city with name and aesthetic like you are in a garage rock Disneyland – Taboo, Angie, Madklyn, Tiki – not cleaned up but just those essential elements of the fairy tale and the only thing missing in this picture is you, preferably in a striped or band t-shirt, black jeans, unwashed hair with a pint glass in your hand.
The room is packed with friends, faces from years of gigs here and there swimming before my eyes. Lindsay plays Sonny & Cher’s “It’s The Little Things.” I shout along with him and the record, thinking of the Skeletons from Springfield Missouri who covered this song. I raise my glass to the late great Lou Whitney and dear departed friend Jim Wunderle, drummer Bobby Lloyd Hicks also, Springfield buddies who are suddenly in the Weirdo bar with us, singing along too.
We spend a day finding coffee (good), finding food (great), getting equipment and songs together for the Friday night party. I wish I had more clothes to choose from but we packed one suitcase between us and it felt like a fun challenge to travel light (always with one eye towards finding some fabulous Spanish thrift store scores).
Standing in a bare bones cafe, cash only, I’m waiting for Amy Allison to come back from a bank machine. We’ve just eaten a crazy, delicious meal or snack, the type I would never have back home – cold white wine, a platter of jamon, the Spanish national treasure, another platter of cold potatoes nestled in pillows of fluffy garlic mayonaise. Hot chorizo, action-packed green olives. Anything else I asked for on the menu they were out of. The proprietress has not smiled once, and continues to not smile as I wait. But I ask her if I can have some sunflower seeds from the little bowl by the cash register and she grudglingly nods. They are so salty, I almost choke and not wanting to be rude, surreptitiously place the rest of the handful in my purse.
A half hour before it’s time to play, we’re hungry again. No time to find a real place to eat, we slam fresh juice and muffins at the most beautiful McDonald’s I’ve ever seen, just around the corner from the club. Hey it wouldn’t be a real gig without some hardship! I love how even in McCafe, in Madrid there is always fresh orange juice.
Me and Eric are onstage with Amy Allison. She’s singing Walking To The End Of The World and for one second I feel like Johnny Cash guitarist Luther Perkins. Amy is one of my favorite singers, songwriters and just the most delightful person. The sound of her voice stops a room, stops time – it’s a treasure, like her songs that stay embedded in your mind.
Eric and I haven’t played a set together in a while now – we’ve played his stuff and we’ve played my stuff but Eric & Amy is almost a nostalgia act due for a revival sometime soon? Here in Madrid we’re the old team again, I remember how lucky to sing with this guy I am, the way our guitars mesh and when we play Do You Remember That, it’s our story being sung along to by a good many members of the audience. I’ve had the chance to experience that with Whole Wide World a lot, but for my own song? We played it as a gift to Lindsay but it was a gift for me too.
At three in the morning we went out with Amy and our friends Jon and Karen from NY, hitting the only spot still open that might serve food. The food was peanuts, but the swanky cocktails surely had some vitamins and it was a different kind of Madrid crowd, where we got to be the slightly obnoxious ones, a feat that would’ve been impossible at Wurlitzer where the volume of music and pint glass-sized gin and tonics required a commitment to hardcore partying I don’t think I possessed as a twenty year old let alone now.
It took most of the next day to walk a few blocks to find breakfast. Entered a random cafe and Jon and Karen were just finishing coffee and pastries, and then Amy Allison appeared. Funny how these things work – even in a huge city, when you’re one of a group traveling for a shared purpose you tend to move almost as a single organism. We all have walk-on roles in each other’s TV show “Holiday in Madrid”.
Eric and I decided to spend a little time at the Prado – I know it’s one of those “a day isn’t anywhere near enough – it would take a lifetime to see everything!” places but really an hour and a half was enough for Goya’s Black Paintings and a couple really weird statues I can’t get out of my head. It was fun and no big surprise to see some other partygoers in the galleries, like we’d taken over the city. Of course the pressure to have the ultimate experience is off because I go to every city, good restaurant and museum fully expecting to return someday.
I’m watching Suzy y los Quatros play a fun, rocking set at the Wurlitzer Bar, all part of Lindsay’s Sesentafest. Lindsay is the connecting tissue between musical acts and fans and factions from Sweden to Seattle, and Madrid which he calls Mad-toon in the best Scottish accent is his favorite place and now he’s made it all of our favorite place as two hundred of his friends have gathered here to make merry. Oh wait, he’s up there on stage! This is such a blast. Oh shit – he’s stage diving, going over backward into the crowd. I’ve never participated in that type of thing but it’s Lindsay, I HAVE TO. I can’t let him drop. It becomes my mission to provide one of the pairs of upthrust arms keeping him aloft.
Wow, he seems like not the biggest guy AT ALL but he’s really heavy! Come on people, pull your weight here, WE CANNOT LET HIM DROP. I’m sweating way more than I ever do at the gym or yoga – is there a stage dive workout class like there used to be punk rock aerobics? Because this is hard. Aren’t we supposed to hand him off to the throng of people toward the back of the club?
Phew, he’s been passed back and now forward and deposited back on the stage. The festivities won’t end with our dear friend and host riding through the streets of Madrid in the back of an ambulance.
I met Lindsay almost two decades ago in Glasgow, after playing my first Scottish gig ever. That night, a girl threatened to beat me up in the ladies room of Thirteenth Note club, and drunken football fans harassed and terrorized me until morning at the B&B where I was staying – pre-cellphone and no phone in the room to call for help. I didn’t realize this was my initiation into the Scottish fraterni-sorority, similar to hazing – they break you down to let you in and once you’re a part of it, that’s settled, you’ll keep coming back forever. Lindsay has been like a guardian angel to me since then. He’s made sure I never have to go back to that B&B. He ran the Cramps fan club and Next Big Thing fanzine and he’s done it all for love. He’s one of the kindest ways people like me – people without “people” – can keep getting back out there. People without people need people. He’s our people.
We rock to the Nomads, a cool Swedish band Lindsay’s told me about for years, they are clearly warriors who’ve done this forever and make it matter. The Dahlmanns played a tight set earlier, they made me smile with their up version of Dancing With Joey Ramone, it felt like a dream to hear my song from a spot in the audience. And a quartet of cute women from Norway called Reine Laken played a brief set, hanging on for dear life as they don’t do gigs often. I loved their joy and enthusiasm – it reminded me that the Raincoats were probably that very moment playing a set in NYC in celebration of the 33 1/3 book about their classic first album. I thought of how they really lit the fire for me, that this isn’t about doing it right (though you try to as very best you can) but doing it real – that’s what will always matter most. I couldn’t be in two places at once but for a second it almost felt like I was.
Heading back to the hotel we bumped into friends who were going off in search of churros and chocolate, the thing to have when you’re needing something other than alcohol at three in the morning. After a half an hour or so walking in a general direction, sniffing the air for sugar-dusted fried dough, we started to resemble that group of bleary survivors in the Poseidon Adventure, bumping into another group or two of bedraggled revelers on rain-slicked cobblestones, greeting each other with one word: “Churros?” I expected a hellish KFC-stye counter bathed in fluorescent light but when we finally found the place, it was dark green and wood paneled and glamourous and snooty, with photos of celebrities lining the walls and porcelain cups of the richest chocolate. Each of us dunked and raised our swords of crispy deliciousness, individual Excaliburs, all kings and queens of Madrid fated to come back. The only thing missing was Lindsay, who was at the Wurlitzer club still rocking. But I plunged an extra churro deep into the chocolate, pulled it out and lifted it high, then ate it for him.
It had become a little bit a of a holy grail for me – to find a clip of my appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. I began to wonder if it had ever really happened. And then the other day – it found me! I was looking for a good live version of Eric and I playing Tom Petty’s Walls and, down at the bottom of clips from dimly lit house concert appearances and sweaty club shows recorded on cellphone cameras angled to maximize every pockmark, flesh roll and wrinkle, I saw “Amy Rigby 2000 Oct 5”. That date felt familiar…a copy of a copy from somebody’s VCR…paydirt!
Nearly twenty years since glory was almost mine. I thought I remembered it all so well – the call that came a few days before, announcing a guest cancellation and could I be in New York City that coming Thursday by 2 PM? It just so happened I would be on tour promoting my new album and had a show in the city that very same night! Sure, me and my band would be in Cleveland the night before, but no problem, we could sleep a little while and drive the eight hours in time for setup and soundcheck, tape the show and be at the old Joe’s Pub for linecheck and gig at 8 PM.
Yep, I remember it like a crazy dream: checking out of a motel on Interstate 80 at 6 AM as another random musician friend happened to be checking in for the night. I remember making a stop at my former Shams bandmate Amanda Uprichard’s shop on Lafayette Street to pick up a dress to wear on TV. I remember the deluxe spread of sandwiches and treats backstage in the Late Night studio and how nice and professional everyone was. I was permitted only one of my own musicians on the show, so I asked guitarist Steve Allen to accompany me on Cynically Yours. The Late Night band, Jimmy Vivino and Max Weinberg and company, had worked up a note for note recreation of the doo-wop style backing on the album version of the song and we ran through it. I was amazed how good they sounded.
Then – the part I forgot, until I watched the video just now:
“And what was the thinking behind this?” The Late Night hairdresser held a wispy piece of my wispy hair between his elegant fingers as if bad layers were catching. He twisted it this way and that, fluffed my too-short bangs; poufed the back and let out a huge sigh. He widened his eyes at his own reflection. “I will do my best.”
I was going on TV in five minutes.
Who amongst us hasn’t suffered a bad haircut? This certainly wasn’t my first. But why – why – had it come just days before my first and very likely sole appearance on late night television? And why wasn’t I cool enough to just…do nothing at all about it, instead of letting a stylist pouf me even more hopelessly, with no time for it to settle?
I’d remembered feeling terrified as I stood in my spot waiting for Conan to announce me. I’d remembered getting through the song pretty well, and the thrill of being asked to sit on the Late Night couch. I’d remembered Conan admiring my green Greco guitar and proudly showing me his Gretsch backstage. I’d remembered Paul my drummer having a run in with guest Jackie Chan in the men’s room.
I’d remembered watching myself on a TV behind the counter of the original Original Ray’s Pizza on Sixth Avenue when the show aired later that night. “Huh, that’s you,” a guy said and then: “Gimme a slice, not too hot.”
I expected to watch this video thinking “aww, sure I was at least forty but forty was still kinda young, right?” I remembered how I felt like Rodney Dangerfield when the audience laughed in the right spots. ” I remembered it all, but not the part where I looked like a cross between Joyce from Three’s Company and a D minus on a Student Hairdressing Exam – Medium Length Wavy Division.
Is this what’s called a humblebrag? Maybe so. What good would it be to find the clip if I couldn’t share it?
But how can I share it without apologizing for looking kind of like a dork?
And reminding myself I got my wish by finally finding this clip of a proud moment in my life. Would it have been better to have it only as a memory stored in my head, where I looked more sassy, less shy, hit every line just right, and my hair was perfectly imperfect, instead of …this?
Maybe not. Then I couldn’t measure what a long way I’ve traveled since then. How lucky I am to still be doing this.
And how, it being from the year 2000, we were still kinda living in the nineties. Doesn’t that excuse any style error? Things were still real then, man – we didn’t know any better.
Tom Petty was my guy like I bet he was your guy. Bob Dylan is too godlike to be that guy. Listening to Bob is like looking at a locomotive streaming through a staggering sunset: how the hell did that happen, and how lucky am I to be here to see it? you shake your head wondering. Tom was the guy standing there raising his can of beer to that glory. He gave the whole scene scale and perspective, so you could be part of the majesty too.
If that sounds too humble for the excellence of what he did, consider the part of the picture just out of the frame – he’s balancing on a guard rail, at the edge of a cliff. In cowboy boots. Yep, he didn’t make all the hard work it took to be there our problem. It only dawned on me when I read Warren Zanes excellent biography of TP this time last year: in addition to the talent, that level of commitment, an absolute belief in the medium of music. The sacrifice and selflessness, along with appetite and ego, it took to get there and stay there.
But Tom wasn’t always right. I thought Tom got it wrong a few years back, and it kind of pissed me off.
It was that adorable, maddening scene in the Runnin Down A Dream documentary where Stevie Nicks is saying “and I said c’mon Tom, let me join the band” and Tom says, granite-like, “THERE ARE NO GIRLS IN THE HEARTBREAKERS.”
I walked around for days fuming after watching the movie. How could he say that? How could he deny Stevie? And all of us – the scenes between them, their performances together, are emotional highlights of the film.
THERE ARE NO GIRLS IN THE HEARTBREAKERS.
So that’s how it is, huh? Keep your crappy boys’ club! I kept thinking, like I’m ten outside my brothers’ pup tent in the woods. One of them stands sentry with a cheesy Gunsmoke rifle. I want in that tent, even if they’re only in there passing around Sgt. Rock comics. I want in that club!
But here’s where Tom was wrong. I thought about this a lot last night, as we waited through the agonizing few hours where maybe, maybe he was going to make it. I thought about it off and on through the hours after it was announced by his family that he was dead and I tried to sleep and kept waking up thinking “damn”.
There were always girls in the Heartbreakers!
Starting with American Girl, Tom Petty’s songs (or Petty & Campbell, but Tom’s lyrics) often focus on female characters. They aren’t objectified, and they aren’t caricatures. There are details that make them living, breathing women and they are usually in the process of busting out, finding themselves. Free Girl Now; Swingin; Mary Jane’s Last Dance. Walls from the She’s The One soundtrack could only be about a girl.Wildflowers.
Fill in your own here. He couldn’t have Stevie in the Heartbreakers, because that job belongs to all of us. The male rockers had their archetypes up there, but that softy Tom, that romantic Southern boy, let us gals write our own roles. We got to decide who we could be, rocking and free.
Anyways, it’s a theory. It’s the best I can do today, knowing that Tom’s gone.
“Have a great time folks” said the policeman as he guided us in to the field that would serve as a parking lot for the night. We were in Kingston to see Bob Dylan at the Hutton Brickyards, the first concert event ever held at this beautiful modernized long-abandoned industrial space. A parking pass I hadn’t ordered or paid for had mysteriously arrived in the mail, so the night already felt magic. Back up the hill on the gritty main street of the town, we’d seen a very long line of concertgoers waiting at a shuttle stop. Parking is always an issue in Kingston. Part of it is topography (the town is hilly and you’re always butting up against ravines, train tracks and trestles, then water) and part is small city politics – it’s a convenient way to say “nah that’ll never work – the parking will be a nightmare”. But not this time. They were doing something new.
“This is sooo much easier than going to see Dylan at like Forest Hills Stadium or something,” I said to Eric as we strolled a few yards down a gentle slope along the Hudson River with a trickle of other concert goers. An early evening blue sky poked through old metal rafters of the brickyards framing a few shiny red semi tractor trailers and three sleek tour buses: Which one do you think he’s on?
“Step up for the Metallica concert!” One of the grinning security men cheerfully looked in people’s bags and patted down a guy or two. All the staff greeted everybody with a smile and then they filtered us in through different gates: $150, $75 and $55 general admission. That’s us. The hoi polloi; rabble. I’d bought the tickets on a whim when they’d added this second show after the first sold out in an hour: $55 a piece had seemed indulgent at the time. Now I was kind of wishing we’d gone big, because, well Bob was on one of those buses and pretty soon he was going to be standing (he’d stand some, wouldn’t he?) right there in front of us and – how often is that going to happen for the rest of our lives?
Eric and I staked out spots on the barricade separating seated $75 tickets from standing $55. The place isn’t huge, holds 3000. The stage was close enough to make out a grand piano to the right center, Tony Garnier’s upright bass, drums back in the corner of stage left. An elegant set-up.
I went back to try and get some food – there were vendors from local restaurants set up under another rustic metal awning. An air of almost-affluent country fair with some hick elements – we were in Kingston after all. I remember coming up here for a wedding many years ago, when I still lived in the city. It was a big Italian affair down by the river and I felt like I was back in the fifties. Things have progressed a lot, with an influx of restaurants and artists, but it’s still a fairly provincial place. Changing. Standing in line to get a wristband to buy alcohol, I looked around for somebody I knew, as in some ways Kingston is our “big city”: we get our hair cut at the fabulous Le Shag salon there; go see shows at BSP sometimes; have guitar repairs occasionally; drink coffee, stop by Doug Wygal’s record store or Stockade Tavern or Adams for groceries. The ads for the show trumpeted that Dylan had never played Kingston before and there was a feeling of local boy coming home as it’s just down the road from Woodstock and probably where he used to go do his more comprehensive grocery shopping.
In front of me, a bald satyr in expensive jeans and hand-tooled leather belt flirted with his boyfriend and I felt sure it was the doctor we’d first gone to when we moved to the area. It had to be him. He declined to get a wristband, either because he doesn’t drink or more likely couldn’t bear to show anyone an ID revealing his real age. I almost wanted to say “Hey, remember me? Poison ivy and and a bad case of conjunctivitis five years ago?” but the moment passed. We really hadn’t clicked with the guy but there’d been something fascinating about him and now for the rest of the night I would see him darting everywhere waving a chocolate ice cream cone.
Does that happen to you at shows? I’ll zero in on a few characters and then they’ll come in and out of view constantly, like an extra in a movie crowd scene you can’t take your eyes off of and construct a whole backstory for; or that loud laugher on old Honeymooners and I Love Lucy episodes who distinguishes herself with that extra edge of shrill hysteria. For me at the concert it was The Doctor and a tall young guy with long dark blonde locks under a flat cap, looking like he’d studied old concert photos from the seventies, R. Crumb drawings or pictures of Lynyrd Skynyrd – he was here there and everywhere the whole night causing me to wonder where he kept going, who was he there with, what did this concert mean to him? Was it his first time seeing Dylan and that’s why he was bouncing around with excitement, or was it just the drugs?
I gave up on food — the lines were so long and chances were I’d have to make my way back to Eric with my hands full of pulled pork tacos at the exact minute the lights went down and I couldn’t let that happen. Back behind the barricade we wondered how the band would come out, in what order. What would it be like? Eric had never seen Dylan before and for me it had been at least a decade. For a brief moment I had a vision of somebody helping him onto the stage but I shook that thought out of my head. No. He’s 76, not 95.
And then: the rhythm guitar player, stage left in a sharp silvery suit and low fedora and then – the rest of the band and among them: Bob. Looking the same. Impossible. Rangy, roguish, the stage light illuminating that head of hair that probably has doctoral theses and books written about it – at very least its own Pinterest. Bob. Standing behind the piano. Launching into – oh one of my favorites – Things Have Changed. I am in my own Bob Dylan dream and he is singing this one for me.
The band is so good. The audience is so shiftless and aimless back here though, fetching drinks, chatting, milling around. He’s playing Don’t Think Twice and Highway 61, his singing as great as ever and a group of yoga ladies are negotiating who should go get some snacks and white wine a few rows forward – I want to hit them with something, instead I hold my bag up as a shield to block them from my view because now Bob is ambling over to the straight mic stand to croon one for us. I’ve avoided listening to him doing standards, but here in person it all makes sense. The golden backlights and footlights, the lyrics and melody : Why Try To Change Me Now? He poses with the straight silver mic stand so naturally and when he sings “I always was your clown”, the song touches me in a way it never did by Sinatra because I hear Frank through a glaze of sepia as forever my parents’ era and music, but Bob’s been where I want to go and done what I want to do so he’s singing in my ear.
Lovesick is next. The sound is good and clear but just wish it was a littler more powerful in this new venue when the chorus comes in. I love Dylan’s piano playing: Summer Days which I used to skip over and then became one of my faves on Love & Theft is next. His playing and singing is pure enjoyment, and the whole band has a roadhouse looseness that just makes me feel good. But it’s the standards that stun me and move me and make time stand still. These songs have never spoken to me except as pieces of impeccable craft because you always hear them sung by great singers and that kind of singing has never done anything for me, it’s the cracks and bumps and unruly personality I crave, but his breathing and control are astounding still. Does Bob swim?
I make a note to seek out the song about two trains running side by side (Long and Wasted Years it turns out to be – Tempest, an album I missed entirely – 2012.) Stormy Weather and Once Upon A Time weave spells with their melodies and artful truths I can usually distance myself from. I just wish the people speaking Russian behind me would shut up! I turn and glare at them through my school marm glasses, fierce enough to make them move away or maybe they just need a lobster roll at the exact moment that Bob is singing Tangled Up In Blue? A barroom version of many people’s favorite somehow feels more poignant than a reverent reading — I don’t think I’ve ever heard him sing this one live, or maybe I have but there’s no doubt I was almost an entirely different person back then so…see that’s one of the beauties of Bob – he shares his mantle of mystery so I board that fishing boat from whatever my daily reality is at that particular moment so it’s always the first time.
There’s been a strict no cellphone rule mentioned since before we even entered the brickyard and it’s really refreshing to enjoy the screenless atmosphere; only the occasional picture-taker. If I could have captured one moment with a photo, it was Autumn Leaves – the beautiful amber lights simultaneously sihouetting and illuminating the band and the graceful drape of Bob’s suit, bent knee and bowed head “…and soon I’ll hear old winter’s song”…so glad that autumn, Keats’ season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, has become a longer season than all the others and you can just keep putting winter off cause who wants to think of Dylan in a chair by the fire with a blanket tucked around him? Only when he’s ready.
The stage goes dark. They come back for an encore of Blowing in the Wind followed by Ballad Of A Thin Man – planned but not obligatory. Devastating. The lights come up.
This has been a big deal for Kingston, the inauguration of a venue this size in a small city that has struggled for years. I thought the running of the place was pretty close to impeccable, but I missed the intense, experienced focus of a big city crowd. Though maybe that’s a fantasy I keep, that there are pockets of sophistication and civility where our heroes are given the respect and attention they deserve. It was a lovely setting with boats pulling up alongside and a soft breeze off the river and a skeleton of the brickyard that built Yankee Stadium (now demolished). I was going to say I could’ve done without the constant flow of shuttle buses cresting the hill just visible behind the stage throughout the show, but there was something utilitarian and beautiful about them and I imagined Bob enjoying the rhythm and fairground-on-the-edge-of-town aspect of it all, and even though I now envy the Forest Hills crowd with that iconic venue’s legacy of historic shows, we got to stumble out past the semis and tour buses and shout goodbye and thank you with a couple of hippie kids as the fleet pulled up the gravel hill in line with the audience’s cars and the same cop that had waved us in shined a flashlight to let Bob’s bus driver know “yep, you can go now buddy.”
I’m starting to feel a little chill out here, and I’m noticing the lawn mower doesn’t come and go as much as it did so I’m thinking “It must be fall.”
That means touring and gigs, right? And man I am looking forward to getting back out on the road.
Was it really only a year ago that it all started up? One day you’re lounging around some superstore shelves and the next…you’re jamming with the stars.
Things seemed pretty quiet for a few days and then I figured out what it is: Archery Bag is gone. Funny, it must’ve happened when I was practicing – I do that these days y’ know. There’s a difference between being a bag and Being A Bag – it takes work and concentration. My theory is if I keep in practice, the call’s gonna come and when it does I’ll be ready.
I missed the old chap, I mean him and me we’ve gotten pretty tight. But I figure they’ll be coming for me any day.
Then I notice her rummaging around, cursing and dodging falling window screens – hey lady, I want to shout, I’m right over HERE!
She grabs a guitar case and as she’s about to close the door, she comes back and grabs –
Me. I’m in.
Things are different this time, I realize it as soon as we’re in the house. The husband’s not here – you can just tell because it’s really tidy and the lady’s watching EAT PRAY LOVE, The Director’s Cut. Hmm, I mean I’m not sure what gender I am but it doesn’t really matter when you’re talking Javier Bardem.
And then we’re heading down to the city and aboard a plane (“act like a carry on” the lady tells me) to Chicago.
She hikes us on the “CTA”, super-easy not like New York, and meets up with her daughter at a cafe in Logan Square where I sit around with the guitar case, smug bastard. The girls hang out a while and then the daughter drops us at this fancy place “City Winery”, all full of barrels of wine and a stage. Eventually HE shows up in a rental car, with Archery Bag in tow – apparently they’ve driven “all the way from Memphis” (I’m not sure why but they all laugh knowingly when he says that).
Ian Hunter. They’re playing a few more shows with him. They say it reverentially, like I’ve heard them mention Petty or Springsteen, but with those guys there’s almost like the quote marks people do around a name, as if they’re mythical beings, not totally real. (I remember this bit they did about Petty riding in the backseat of the van with us, it was hi-la-ri-ous)
But with Mr. Hunter, there’s a respect of an artist on a human scale, whose art is more specific, less epic – how he pulled back the curtain on it all with his songs and his book Diary Of A Rock and Roll Star. I know from sharing the stage with him at Maxwell’s (okay, I admit I was only lying in a corner at the time, but if I ever have to look for work, that’s going in my bio) the man rocks for real. And I don’t say that type of thing lightly. He’s seventy-four. We should all be so lucky. (“What else you gonna do?” he said to Eric and Amy backstage. “It keeps ya perky.”) In bag years, seventy-four is a very long way off but still, I’m all ears.
Chicago is swell. The sound isn’t so great in these winery places and there’s the odor of food during the show but the staff are super-nice and the crowd is great and appreciative. Mr. Hunter and his band are rocking and bring the kids back on for the encore “All The Young Dudes” while the whole audience sings along. I even see the lady’s daughter out there with her boyfriend smiling and shaking her head like “Oh Mom”.
Then they’re all toasting wine glasses with Ian and his wife Trudy and talking about stuff and I never want it to end.
We spend the next day in Chicago (well, I hang out in the hotel room, swanky place that the lady found cheap on Priceline!) and then it’s goodbye to the daughter and drive in the rental car to Kent, Ohio – the show at Kent Stage to serve as a Cleveland show. It’s a long drive but the show’s not until the next night. We all have a good rest and meet up with the guys in Ian’s band the next morning at the free breakfast in the hotel which nobody eats but Mark the one guitar player shapes the fruit and bacon into an artistic face and snaps with his phone to post on Facebook. Later James the guitar player who helps keep everything organized asks if we don’t mind giving Ian and Trudy a ride to the venue.
Well the kids go into overdrive, cleaning out the water bottles and apple cores, arranging what CDs should be visible with Ian Hunter on board – I mean it’s almost like they’re getting ready to go on a date with the guy. Then I see them looking at me…
Yeah, yeah, I can take a hint. I let myself be dumped back in the hotel room. I’ve seen Ian play two times now, and the man deserves all the space he needs. I find something to watch on the Food Network and wait.
I get the idea when the two come back that there may be some truth to the saying and the song: Cleveland Rocks.
Sorry I wasn’t able to see it for myself. But it’s not about me – I get that.
It was all set to happen, the other week. We were playing a benefit in Rochester for a friend, Tom Kohn, whose legendary record store the Bop Shop had been forced out by greedy landlords. He’d managed to find a new spot and a bunch of musicians had gotten together to raise money for him to move tens of thousands of records.
Sitting in the audience watching the Chandler Travis Three-O, I got very choked up. They’d left the stage and were playing and singing while moving around the audience. It’s the kind of thing that can seem forced, but it felt so intimate and wacky at the same time. When they played Things To You, that sweet NRBQ song, it almost did me in. It was a mixture of sad and happy, just like the song. Sad about Tom Ardolino, the NRBQ drummer who’d passed away the week before. Happy to be “home”, and simultaneously audience and participant.
They played a Travis/Greenberger composition next, called “This Is Home” – you know that feeling you can get when it seems like a band is telepathically channeling your life into song? He got to a line about “I’ve got boxes of stuff somewhere else” – and then I remembered: Cleveland.
Cleveland. The reason I put “home” in quote marks. Because if I’m honest, part of me still lives there.
“That’s How I Got To Cleveland” is the potential title for a country song parody, or memoir-turned-work of fiction. No matter how it happened, six or seven years later I still have an Ohio driver’s license. A nice guy named Bill still gets the occasional piece of mail for me at the UPS store on Euclid. My cellphone still mystifies people when it comes up in Caller ID – “who the hell’s calling from Ohio?” And there still sits in a storage place in Cleveland Heights a 5 X 8 space with my stuff in it.
Every time I go to make a piece of toast, I remember I’ve got a toaster. Bending down to take a charred piece of bread out of the broiler – “in Cleveland”, I sigh.
“That shirt’s looking a little wrinkled,” I say to Eric. “Let me get the iron-”
“Can’t – it’s in Cleveland,” we say in unison. A certain book, or something from the archives, that space heater or bit of Fiestaware – all in Cleveland.
In France, it was too far away to deal with. There was something comforting about having my little stake back in the states. And there were other toasters and irons. But those things don’t work here in the US. And there’s all that useful stuff sitting only a day’s drive away.
So I figured Rochester was even closer – four hours? I’d booked a ticket on Greyhound, reserved a small truck, had even arranged for a moving guy to help me empty the space and be done with it. But it snowed, and I was running low on money. And I didn’t want to be unloading a truck on my birthday.
In the time I was away, things changed. I catch up at the gym, watching TV on the treadmill. Hoarders shows, and Hot In Cleveland – aging gals who used to be somebody, adjusting their location/expectations to make the most of where they’re at in life. Geography – if you don’t like where you’re at, just change it. Is there a part of me that can’t say goodbye?
I was truly miserable when I lived there – I think I went there to be miserable. But it was the last place my daughter and I lived together. It was where I was living when Eric and I got together. It was cold, lonely, snowy – except when it was disgustingly hot and humid.
But there was a beauty to it, a purity and lack of pretension. Like Pittsburgh, where I grew up, but without the charm.
Storage places bank on this kind of inertia.
My friend Norma was visiting this past weekend – she said there’s a Women In Rock show going til the end of the month at the Rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland. We’ve made a tentative plan to meet up there. Maybe I just need to trick myself into thinking I’m not moving again. Just stopping by to pay my respects to a small but important part of my life.