Old In Bar Stools

“Hey, did you know this bar stool’s broken? Better not let anybody sit there!”

I’m having a deja vu moment at the bookstore/bar. I’ve been here so long I’ve seen it all before, at least twice. Who knew wooden stools were so…fragile? This crop is probably third generation since I started working at this place, was it seven years ago?

There was a period where I clocked coworkers, but as time moves on so do my fellow fellows behind the bar and the old team and the one after that and the next one starts to disappear into the mists of time like one of those scenes from an army movie where a photo fades out, fallen soldier by fallen soldier, til there’s just one bedraggled corporal standing, smiling hopefully like everybody is still there as they were back at the beginning.

Oh shit – that corporal is me.

“Are you the oldest one who works here?” Charles asked me last night. He didn’t mean any offense. He’s a customer who comes in to drink a soda and laugh at cartoons on his phone for a few hours. He knows more about television than any human I’ve ever met.

He’d started his evening across the bar with “Is Ethel still alive?”

From…I Love Lucy? I don’t think so…her real name was um…Vivian?

“Vance,” Charles didn’t even pause. “Was she the oldest of them, on the show? Or maybe Fred? He looked older, right. Is he still alive?”

He sat laughing at his phone and I served the customers and it was a nice night. I played this Marianne Faithfull album I love that will forever be the Spotty Dog to me. Is Marianne the oldest now I wondered? I know she has a new album out and it’s ballsy the way her cane is featured in the cover photo. Marianne makes canes cool but I don’t want one. God, not yet.

I’m kind of in a Charles mode myself lately. I can’t help it, I’m about to turn sixty. Sometimes I’m very much facing it head on, other times sneaking up to it sideways looking at other women my age or older to see what it’s like. So when Nicky came into the bar, I was all eyes and ears. She was dressed in a rust-colored suede sheepskin coat with a hood, fluffy fur mittens on her hands. Long blonde tresses, cheekbones like Joni Mitchell. She kind of looked like Joni Mitchell and I guessed was about the same age – mid-seventies.

When she spoke in a vaguely English accent, I had another deja vu moment: this other fabulous looking older woman some years back, blond hair, English accent, rich hippie clothes she wore so well you knew it was no affectation, she’d been to Morocco. Kind of posh and kind of mad in the English way ie crazy. Talked a girl she met at the bar into accompanying her to England to clear out a house and it all went so wrong I’ve been afraid of the day she walks back in. She was scary enough before.

Nicky talked some sense and some nonsense and asked for mayonaise for her empanada. She went outside to smoke a cigarette. These ladies all started to run together in my mind and somebody else mentioned broken bar stool and Marianne croaked “I found him by the stage last night, he was breathing his last breath…a bottle of wine and a cigarette was all that he had left” and I needed a flashlight to read the letters on a Caran d’Ache pencil to enter it into inventory. One of the beer taps splashed me in the face and I could see my eye makeup run in the bar mirror and for a second I felt very Sunset Boulevard.

“Do you have a pencil, love?” said Nicky.

When all the other customers were gone and I was sweeping the floor, Charles kept asking me about my age. “Are you older than…Amanda? Are you older than…Sara? The owners? Everybody?

Yes, yes, yes and yes.

“Are you older than…me?”

How old are you, Charles?

“Thirty-two.  How old are you?”

I said it: sixty, in less than two weeks.

“Why are you still working?”

He got me at a moment with beer on my shirt, a dustpan in my hand, picking somebody’s soggy tissue up off the floor. I wasn’t sure so I spoke it first and then knew it to be true: “Because I love it.”



I’m playing The Spotty Dog Friday Feb 1, release date for The President Can’t Read single + Tuesday Feb 5 at Mercury Lounge NYC tickets

Turn Down Day

I’ve hardly worked a shift in three months at the bookstore/bar but I walk in feeling under the weather on the afternoon of Christmas eve like oh I’ve done this before, not a big deal. And it’s true I’ve worked many a day before the holiday at this place, for some reason my shifts always seem to fall on them. But maybe I have been away too long because lines of people are approaching the register with piles of books and socks and toys and I feel like an alien or a French peasant plucked out of the countryside and dropped into a teeming retail planet. The phone rings every two minutes with somebody asking for a) Salt Fat Acid Heat or b) that Lin-Manuel Miranda book or c) do we have the Frederick Douglass biography? No, yes and no I quickly learn.

Eric stops by and asks what I want to do for dinner and I’m too distracted to answer and anyway there’s this nagging, cloying sound overhead and I have to turn it off immediately – it’s some Spotify mix and I realize with satisfaction as I wrench the bluetooth away that it’s Ryan Adams dueting with somebody so I feel like I’ve done a public service when I shove a CD into the player and finger snaps and Roger Miller starts singing “Trailer for sale or rent, rooms to let fifty cents” and the whole place perks up immediately because Roger Miller fixes the air in a room.

But CDs don’t go on forever so at some point I put in the Tom Tom Club that’s laying there and that adds a faint touch of hysteria to the proceedings as people perch on barstools with their purchases and sip beers. I’m working with a new co-worker and we don’t have the ballet down yet, that effortless dip and twist you get in the trench with not enough room as you move up and back and spell each other, it takes a little practice or maybe I’m just out of practice, so every few feet we bump into each other and say “sorry!” and “oh excuse me” or “whoops!”  I’m wrapping another Lin-Manuel Miranda book and wait – is that pita burning in the toaster oven? I slide down to the other end of the bar, fling olives in a bowl and hummus on a plate, the Tom Tom Club is getting old so I rip that out of the player and grab a compilation CD which starts out brilliantly with an 80s country version of Tainted Love and all of a sudden the barstools are filling up with French peasants- I mean people from Quebec – they are puzzling over what to drink and what to eat (easy, that last pita was the last pita) as if they’ve never been outside of Quebec…maybe they haven’t?

“Did a bus from Canada break down?” a regular hanging in there at the end of the bar asks.

Then Maggot Brain comes on. Through ten and a half minutes of twisted, molting guitar the Quebecois drink their ciders and teas and beers like glassy-eyed children at a grownups’ party and I can’t help it, I speak French so I hear the anguished debate about how much to tip the bartender. I head back down to the register praying c’mon Funkadelic, do your stuff, and sure enough when the guitar notes fade out the busload is gone, down Warren Street with their confusion and solidarity.

And the sales wind down and the owner and I close the bar early as people head out searching, hoping there’ll be room at the inn-I mean any restaurant in town because word has gone out that only three remain open and if you didn’t book a reservation well tough luck – it’s the holidays!

The morning after Christmas I come into the bookstore/bar and turn on the lights and pop in a little music and for a minute it’s just me and the books and we’re all having a moment together, me and Jeff and Michelle and that angry Donald Trump and yep, ole Lin-Manuel Miranda and it’s bliss. But then I hear tapping on the front door glass –

“Hey, it’s eleven o’clock – are you guys open?”

Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself

It’s the end of the year and maybe because my album The Old Guys came out in early 2018, it feels like the end of the cycle. I loved this album and feel proud of it forever but it’s just about time to move onto other things (namely, getting my book out).

I was recapping and thinking of all the good things that came along with the album release this past year, and that reminded me that I have a whole lot to be grateful for, and people to thank. The more years I gain, the more I’ve learned not to engage with what I wish would’ve happened or frustration at where I wish I was or what I had, but good old appreciation of all the positives. That’s what helps lift me up and give me another energy jolt to keep going.

So here we go – thank you to:

Wreckless Eric, my partner and producer and primo player on the album and a bunch of live shows this year.  The line in Do You Remember That says it all, “you changed my life in seconds flat” when we met and I have learned and continue to learn so much from him. Plus I get to be part of his amazing family. Thank you! Love you!

The players on my album: Greg Roberson, Jeremy Grites and Doug Wygal and Brian Dewan and Artie Barbato. So much fun working with all of these guys, as well as Jeremy and Doug plus Steve Goulding and Ian Button playing drums on live gigs. I’m always moved to hear musicians doing their thing on my songs, it is validating and liberating to just go for it together.

John Foster who put The Old Guys album artwork together and is a patient, encouraging soul and great artist I feel fortunate to have him on the team, plus he gives the greatest hugs ever and even if I haven’t seen him for a year I know the hugs are accruing for the next time we meet in person.

Ted Barron took the promo photos I have used and used again for The Old Guys plus he made the Tom Petty Karaoke video. With above and beyond attention to detail and care, he is an amazing artist I’ve been lucky to have as a friend and neighbor and collaborator for almost thirty years.

Andrija Tokic mastered my album and it was a huge confidence boost to hear the tracks coming through the speakers in his awesome studio in Nashville and have him say how much he dug the songs. He also jumped right in to pump up Tom Petty Karaoke and the forthcoming The President Can’t Read singles – can’t wait to have new stuff to head down to Nashville and work with him again at Bomb Shelter.

I have known Robert Vickers since back in Tier 3 days/late 70s and he’s so supportive doing publicity – putting out your own records means having to blow your own horn and having Robert in my horn section helped a huge amount.

Lucy Hurst has been great doing the recent UK publicity, it means a lot to get reviews in Mojo and Uncut and the like.

Marc Riley and Michelle Choudry at BBC 6 Music welcome me and Eric so often on Marc’s show, the best!

Michael Shelley had me on his WFMU show and also interviewed me for the Please Kill Me website – always thoughtful, insightful and positive.

Gotta Groove pressing in Cleveland and Clay Pasternack helping out with distribution.

Radio – Joe Belock & all at WFMU, WGXC, Mountain Stage, Richard/Dexter Bentley Hello Goodbye; Dan Ferguson, WDVX, WUMB, KALX, KPIG, WXNA Nashville; Smelly Flowerpot, Boudin Dan, the stations who have been kind enough to play my stuff – I’m sorry if I left call letters out but I appreciate it every time I find out somebody played a track.

Kelley and Alan, the owners of Spotty Dog Books & Ale in Hudson & the crew & customers there – it’s given me a place to come back to between gigs and keeps me connected to our upstate community and helps pick up the slack financially, I’m so fortunate to have had this job – it’s made a huge difference in my life.

Magnet mag for the guest editor spot; Troy Michael of Innocent Words, Jennifer Kelley/Blurt and Charlie at Stereo Hysteria and Dan and Dan at WXPN gave me a boost early this year with their interviews. It means a lot that other writers like my writing – thank you everybody who gave The Old Guys a review or mention.

The promoters who put me on in your club, living room, cafe, radio station: Robert Johnson, Scott Stamper the Saint in Asbury Park, Jammin Java, El Cortez, Sound of Music RVA, Dawson St. Pub, Parlor Room, Beachland, Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge, Cafe Nine, Cat’s Cradle, Burlington Bar, Berlin, Thunderbolt, Will at Prince Albert, Old Cinema Launderette , Andi & Cath Lime Bar, Chris Hey Manchester, Ripton Coffee House. Brian Marrs Bar, Hemlock SF, Michael’s on Main in Soquel, HiLo, Spotty Dog.

Friends who helped make shows happen: Lindsay Hutton, Karen Hall, Rob Brookman, Michael Whyte, Dylan Hicks, Kate & Donna Little City Books, Tom Kohn Bop Shop, Tom Heyman in SF, Randi Millman, Dan Reed, cousin Ceci in Richmond; PJ & Abbie Hogan, Mary Sack, Tim & Susan Lee Knoxville, Mark Messerly/Wussy in Cincinnati; Danette Koke; Nick West and Raz at Betsey Trotwood, Andy Richardson, Mark Ringwood, Paul Rock and Wild Honey, Rain Perry, Sleepy John Sandidge, James Lynch, Doug Wygal, Michael Giblin & Ruth Prall, Mike Stuto, Stu Reid, Geoff Himes, Marcel and Mary Daguerre. If I left anybody out I am sorry!

I got to play gigs with these cool artists: Lenny Kaye, Johnny Dowd, Felice Rosser, Grahame & Ann Davies of the Crowd Scene, Joe Harvard, Slushy, Seven Deadly Five, Brian Dewan, Russ Wilkins & Lightnin Holler, Papernut Cambridge, BARK, Knife & Fork Band, Jon Coley, Alex Lucero, Ramblin Deano Schlabowske; RB Morris, Jon Byrd & Bob Woodruff.

Printing help from Clif Eddens who made the tea towels possible.

Ken Tucker NPR’s Fresh Air, having The Old Guys reviewed there was huge and the mention of my blog felt especially great.

My dad sent me a check early this year that helped answer the question “how will I pay for the vinyl pressing?” Even though he sometimes doesn’t get what I’m doing or why (“You want to put out a book now? Isn’t music hard enough?”)  he always has my back. My brothers John, Michael, Patrick and Riley always show up to see me play. My sisters in law Natalie and Karen too.

Friends who put me up on tour: Rick and Monica Simpson, Kate and Scott/Chicago, Kathy and Kevin in Hull, Daisy Wake in London. Karen, Peter & Daisy Hall; Ilene Markell, Andy Dodds, Chuck Prophet & Stephanie Finch. Karen Schoemer book buddy, Norma Coates daily text support, Angela Jaeger for phone calls and Julia Gorton Kirk dear design guru; Sarah Lazin for keeping the faith with my book; the HiLo in Catskill & Supernatural Coffee in Hudson extensions of our own kitchen, Stockade Guitars & Le Shag in Kingston and Rob at Musica in Hudson.

John D. Lamb and the Springfed songwriter retreat in Michigan led to me writing the Philip Roth song two years ago, and I got to go back this fall, it was a restful and productive blast once again. Thank you Neil DeMause for the opportunity and guidance to write for the late great Village Voice & Alex Needham at the Guardian for including me in the Philip Roth tributes. These things helped make my year.

My daughter Hazel remains my inspiration and hero.

I couldn’t make records or write without people to listen and read…well then again, I could and probably would but what use would it be? An audience is never a given but I am lucky to have folks who are willing to spend their precious time engaged with work I do. That is the best outcome an artist can hope for. Thank you!

Miles to go – Dan Seward took this clip at the end of the album release show way back in February

Lights Are Gonna Find Me

There’s that moment of a tour that will cap it all off, the moment you can’t plan but only hope for, where it all comes rushing past like an end-of-life montage: the high-fives, the low bows, the brushes with greatness, the grit and dust while you scramble on all fours around a dark stage trying to read an amp setting or a set list. For me the moment usually involves a plastic cup of tepid white wine and an inflight movie at 35,000 feet when I just. let. go. But before that can happen there has to be:

Worcester. There needs to be a gig where you’re tested. Remember Bob Dylan’s Nobel acceptance letter? “But there’s one thing I must say. As a performer I’ve played for 50,000 people and I’ve played for 50 people and I can tell you that it is harder to play for 50 people. 50,000 people have a singular persona, not so with 50. Each person has an individual, separate identity, a world unto themselves. They can perceive things more clearly. Your honesty and how it relates to the depth of your talent is tried…”

50? Try way less. It’s not the club, which is really nice, or the sound, or the people who traveled from up the road, other towns (anywhere but Worcester) to see me. It’s the way the guy who advanced the show (be here at 5, soundcheck at 5:30, doors at 7:30 etc) never mentioned there was roadworks closing the entire block the club was on. So after suffering the Festival of Lights traffic crossed with heavy rush hour in a cathedral town bisected by a river and not one street that doesn’t turn sharply before going up or down a hill, I threw up my hands and drove into a cul-de-sac also known as a dead end with no way through but to call the very nice promoter and have him walk over and ride shotgun to get me out of there.

The amp that I had repaired in Nottingham started acting up again, or I think I realized I didn’t really know it at all, sort of like ending up on a vacation in a labor-intensive place like Marakkech or Mexico City with a person you’ve barely had coffee with, or maybe they worked two cubicles down at a temp job years ago but you felt like you could be friends if given time, and now you’re staring down dysentery together.


Then there was the support act – the scheduled guy sadly broke his arm so had to be replaced by a suitable singer-songwriter who was suddenly ill and so there was a sub for her, oh why? She might bring a few friends – I envy the person who has that kind of friend who can drop everything at a moment’s notice and make their way across town down a closed-off street during Festival of Lights. I probably have those kind of friends but – they don’t live in Worcester.

Who does live in Worcester?

And then there’s dinner – it’s Thanksgiving.  And the bar staff at the club suggest Wetherspoon’s down the street cause it’s cheap and it’s easy and – it’s packed with revelers from the Festival of Lights. Did I mention it gets dark VERY EARLY in the UK in November? They’ve been celebrating Festival of Lights for a good two or three hours already and it ’s only six thirty. I take a corner table, out of the way of several large groups, and try to hail the waiter who tells me “I am not a waiter. I will, however, bring you your food.” And then he dashes off and I wonder what drugs they take here in Worcester and I stand in line with a group of men at the bar and find a menu and when it’s my turn to order I get bangers and mash because anything else I ask for I know I’ll need to repeat and repeat again cause they won’t understand my accent. And when I order a small glass of white wine the barman says “Medium wine!” and hands me a fishbowl on a stem.

Bangers and mash

The not a waiter actually high fives me after he delivers my plate and when I finish the bangers and mash I hear the two guys at the next table haltingly ask him in German or Dutch accents: “We are not from here, but are looking to go hear some music tonight, is there somewhere you suggest?”

The waiter says “Well you have the club just down the street which is good on the weekend but it’s Thursday so they’re definitely closed.” Then he hustles off to high five some more customers and I do a full Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall , stand in front of the out-of-towners and say “There is music there tonight – it’s me, I’m the music.” Desperate times etc. The guys are too polite to say anything but “Oh ho ho, that is wonderful, what is this music you play? We will be there.”

And then the teenage opening act is singing a ditty about baked beans on toast and then I’m playing for the nice people who’ve come to see me and the teenager’s sitting in the small audience talking so obliviously that I see people turning to look at her. I have to stop and tell her to be quiet, and so then I have to play with a chunk (x 2 cause she did have one friend) of the audience chastised and even though I told her to feel free to go talk in the other room she sits there the whole time. I give my best for the people who’ve come and even play a few songs I don’t pull out any other night cause I want it to be special but when I finish, the girl scurries up to the stage to pick up her pedal. So that was why she had to stay, and bitch that I am down deep I feel oddly satisfied. I say hello to the kind people who came from Birmingham and Wolverhampton and Coventry to hear me. I try to keep positive but at the end of the night I watch YouTube videos of nerdy guys talking about Vox AC15 amps and drink the little bit left of a screw top bottle of wine I’ve been carrying around for two weeks and eat the Premier Inn pack of biscuits and it’s all so grimly perfect I have to laugh. Next morning I go for a stroll and the town is charming when you’re not trying to get somewhere and do something.

And then there’s London Friday night and all my dreams are realized – well, not quite because I had to use my rental car as a dressing room but it’s a full house and I bring my Worcester angst with me which never hurts – you can’t have things go too well all the time, a little suffering keeps this from being just a jolly holiday where I sell my albums and share my soul. But London loves me and I love London.

It occurs to me after I’ve played sets on Resonance radio in London and then at the Emsworth Sports & Social Club, and I enter the sauna in my hotel on Hayling Island panting from swimming, there’s a guy sitting on the bench in the dim room and I nod and take a spot in the opposite corner and there’s nothing wrong, it’s all very Scandinavian but I feel exposed all of a sudden in my wet bathing suit and bare skin and I feel like crying because I realize I willingly put myself through this every night I get up and play – not the bare skin and bathing suit part but just being exposed and vulnerable and when I’m doing it it’s imperative that it be real and honest but I can’t even say why or how that happens, except that I always think of the moments I’m writing a song and the way it all makes sense as the song is coming and I just go with that feeling every time I’m onstage. And only when I finish do I think “what have I done”. But, just like in the sauna, where the other guy’s sitting there exposed too (not, exposing himself, just – in a bathing suit) if the audience are with me it’s like that old saying from movies “just imagine they’re all in their underwear” cause standing up there you’re definitely in your underwear.  So a talking girl is a person in an overcoat when we’re all in the sauna and…I wish it was easier to just tell somebody hey, take your coat off.

I listened to Jeff Tweedy’s autobiography for most of my trip, at first I thought he was going to be too slacker and have to poke fun and holes in everything he was telling me but he got real and he got deep and funny and I really loved him by the end of the book and I cried and wished he could ride with me longer. When I wasn’t riding with Jeff I was reading Roger Daltrey’s book and a lot of things about the Who finally made sense and it was a blast and maddening to be in the Who and I was right there on the hang glider in Tommy and swinging a mic onstage with Rog and he mentioned Hayling Island and them staying in a hotel there while they made Tommy and I thought my hotel’s carpet looked familiar.

I played one last night in Folkestone and I felt at home, and so relieved the show was sold out – the owners of Lime Bar Cafe Andi and Cath made me feel we were all in it together but that it meant a lot to have me there and I realized how much I’ll miss playing in the UK, even the challenging parts – maybe because it is a small country it feels all connected in a way the US can’t, you travel from Boston to Cleveland then down to Nashville and sure there’s some overlap but they’re each their own little universe and tribe. It’s the tribal bit of the UK that can make you feel so included, or like you can have all the bangers and mash in the world and you’ll never fit in. But I don’t do this to fit in, do I? Do I?

photo by Peter Hall

I saw my daughter in law and two of the grandkids for a little bit of lunch and then packed my guitars carefully to go back home, said goodbye to the amp I’d made peace with and the VW Golf rental car I’d fallen in love with. On the flight to New York I tried to watch some worthy films but I knew what I really wanted was Mamma Mia Here We Go Again. I’d put it off on the flight over cause it just wasn’t time yet. And I know there was a lot of stretching going on to extend the last ABBA movie for another go around. But they had me with the Rock Follies tribute in the opening scene and when the Harry character in 70s Paris was dressed like 70s Wreckless Eric and they did Waterloo in a cafe with a kooky older ensemble of dancers and characters I just wished the whole plane was watching the movie with me. The main female character goes to bed with three different men in the course of a few weeks and nothing bad happens to her, she just has a baby and ends up being friends with all of them. The singing and dancing is preposterous and some not great ABBA songs are dredged up and I know this actor is pro-Brexit and that one’s had Botox. Cher and Andy Garcia singing Fernando tried a little too hard and I like our version better. But when Cher moved those familiar hips up onto the stage – I worshiped her when I was a kid – and started singing “I was sick and tired of everything, when I called you last night from Glasgow…” well maybe it was exhaustion and the Chardonnay kicking in but I was a goner.  “Super Trouper, lights are gonna find you, shining like the sun…smiling, having fun – feeling like a number one.” Even for a tiny crowd I just want to be a number one for a little while. Don’t we all?

To Be An American

“Scrah-mache sahm! Aye dook, scrah-mache sahmn?” There’s a lady standing in front of me holding a plate of food. Everyone in the coffee shop is looking at us, and for a few seconds I completely forget where I am. Is this…Germany? Because I don’t recognize a single word the woman is saying.

Then I remember – I’m on the Derbyshire border, to the west of Nottingham, and I ordered scrambled eggs with salmon. I look so confused the whole cafe starts laughing.

“I’m sorry – I’m American!” I say, and then I laugh too.

As awful as it is to be American and have people associate you with that thing in the White House, it’s still wonderful to be American.

There’s a freedom to be crass, and lost and gauche and awestruck; innocent and earnest and many other embarrassing things that you don’t fully appreciate until you leave the US. (I try to not be those other embarrassing things like demanding and xenophobic and ignorant and loud and and and…okay, maybe I get loud sometimes, on stage, for a minute or two?)

As an American I can hear the Star Is Born soundtrack in a cafe in Cumbria and talk about it with the owner and say the music makes me think the movie might be okay but that it kinda sucks.  I feel almost honor bound to own up when we’re peddling well-intentioned but lukewarm manure.

I can thrill to the sound of a Norfolk yoga instructor saying the word “body” that elevates the body to a temple of grace, where you hear it in America and it sounds like “bawdy” and all sweaty. Just like I can quietly giggle every time a Pilates instructor says “bottom” in a Hull/Yorkshire accent, that makes me want to heave a big bucket of ice over a pile of freshly caught fish, or attack a mountain of coal with a coal shovel, with a glint in my eye. Instead I lift my arms above my head with the rest of the class and let them float back down.

Cromer Community Centre
Cromer, photo by Jeff Higgott

There’s a pride (I’m not there! I’m here!) in being an American overseas for a few weeks and a feeling of obligation to make amends (I’m sorry! we’re all so sorry, well not ALL of us – but then you guys ain’t perfect either).

In a little village newsagent I can pick up the last copy of Uncut magazine and say “I’m in it!” like a goof to the young guy behind the counter when he asks if I’d like to pay for it. And he answers “No! Really? Show me!” Maybe he’s just humoring me but it feels special because I’m far away from home and they still make magazines and I’m still in one occasionally and this young guy isn’t in London or even Brighton or Manchester, he’s in Prestwich.

In another country I can read a poem onstage I wrote about being in another country, with rhymes I probably wouldn’t dare to use in America, because it’s the effort of being here that the poem is about and I want the people to know it means something to me. And the poem is an attempt to join in.  A benefit of travel is that you expand your idea of who you are and what you can do and now I want to write a poem for every place I travel.

The leap of faith that got me on a plane and onto a stage not in America implies I still have hopes and dreams that are not grandiose but sit closer to honest aspiration than mere delusion – don’t they? When you’re young and you play to small audiences you tell yourself it’s just the beginning and those crowds will multiply but when the beginning is long in the past…you still have to believe it. Or sometimes I just think of live recordings I’ve heard of Townes Van Zandt playing to less than fifty people and think …lucky people. But how hard was it for him?


Edinburgh, photo by Shona Thomson

I like being one of the crowd except when I’m on stage and even then I want to fit in and it can be hard to be the lone American in a country hotel breakfast room on a Sunday morning when all the couples are eating their full English or continental breakfasts. It’s the type of place Eric and I would rarely stay when we’ve toured together because he’s seen all the blue highways (maybe they’re called greenswards here) & the threat of  dismal old-school B&B’s still lingers. But it’s very nice / not posh (even though the woman I spoke to in a pub before my gig at the Durham Old Cinema Launderette said “my, look at you – that is fancy” about the manor house hotel. ) Solo in the breakfast room I’m writing in my notebook feeling like the only role for me in this situation is female detective along the slightly disheveled lines of Brenda Blethyn in Vera, or Anna Friel in Marcella but fifteen or twenty years on. One of the benefits of late middle-age invisibility is the ability to blend in with the potted plants, and then you step out and slap handcuffs on someone at a key moment.

Being an American in a swimming pool in England (I remember when I used to look for barbq or eccles cakes or caramel logs on trips – now I look for exercise) I kept going to the wrong side of the other swimmer in my lane. When we both came up for air at the same time I said “Oh I’m sorry – I’m not sure what side of the lane to drive I mean swim on!” She laughed and asked where I was from. Even in her cap and goggles she had that Vanessa Redgrave strength and attractiveness. We talked about NYC in the nineties, she’d visited then. Everybody loves New York, it is still the place that captures people’s imagination most in America. It’s the place where all are welcome and everything is allowed, and everyone is in a movie of the most exciting day of their lives, in the fantasy anyways. I say I’m from Pittsburgh to win sympathy but I say I live in New York to win.

I tell the woman I’m a musician playing in Manchester. “The Apollo! That’s huge!” she says, mishearing me. I could lie and pretend it’s true but I’m a terrible liar so I say “Uh, no – I’m playing at a pub called… Gulliver’s?” “Brilliant,” she says, not missing a beat. “Well done!” I’m all the way over here to play a pub – there’s some kind of glory in it, not an Apollo type of glory but a “doing your thing” cult level secret club cachet – like playing in Hull, a northeast town you can’t get to from here, night after night.

Old Cinema Launderette, photo by Charlotte Emma Ball

“They want to charge me – get this – twelve pound to go in that room,” says a guy to me in the bar at the pub I’m playing in Hull.  I could just shake my head in disgust and sympathy, but I can’t help it, I tell him it’s cause I’ve come a long way and I’m playing in there tonight. We have a rambling conversation where he’s probably drunk but every word that comes out of his mouth sounds like some warped supertruth and I’m a little surprised when he actually appears in the audience during my gig, and stays until the end to thank me.

Glasgow Hug & Pint photo by Lindsay Hutton

Being American I can look befuddled in front of the hair dryers in the Victoria Leisure center where I’ve gone for a swim, and feel grateful when I ask the older lady next to me and she whips out a 20p coin and pops it into the coin box to turn the hair dryer on for me. If I was home I might just walk out with wet hair.

Was she really an older lady? Everybody feels older than me in England, even the young people. We’re babies – Americans. We can still learn, and do better. I like to hope so, anyway.

Amy Rigby solo UK shows

  • Thu 22 November  Worcester  Marrs Bar tickets
  • Fri 23 November  London  Betsey Trotwood tickets
  • Sat 24 November Hello & Goodbye show Resonance FM noon listen
  • Sat 24 November  Portsmouth  Emsworth Sports & Social Club tickets
  • Sun 25 November  Folkestone  Lime Bar Cafe tickets

It Takes All Kinds

First it was a poster on the door of the bookstore/bar:

Amy R-something & HER BAND! scheduled for a day I knew I’d be in Michigan.

I put it out of my mind,

“We can’t wait to see you play on Friday!”  a friend said. Where? I asked. “Here! We saw a poster!”

Another Amy, with her band, playing Blues & Original Songs too. In a sort of old-timey script? I. just. don’t know – how that could be me?

Then there was another Amy Rigby in my Twitter feed, I think she’s a life coach. She actually seemed really cool and I loved her article about stripping down her life to the bare minimum. It was inspiring.

Help me, Amy Rigby, I thought – help me, Amy Rigby!

I know there’s also an Amy Rigby bodybuilder (in Scotland), an Amy Rigby dentist and an Amy Rigby special needs teacher.

But I’ve already done the Who Am I theme here. A lot.

One thing I haven’t done is make a video til now. Eric and I made one for Do You Remember That which I will forever love. It’s taken a little while to make this one for Tom Petty Karaoke, I thought it would be so fun and simple! It was fun, but it took a little while – many thanks to Ted Barron who filmed it and put it all together and is such a great photographer and now videographer. It’s up!

I spent a week packing and shipping and making travel arrangements and getting Eric launched off towards Australia and New Zealand; trying to sort out my guitar travails and the change of seasons and the looming midterm elections. I went back and forth to the laundromat and have had a hard time trying to do my bookstore job when I’m not doing my music job, but I love it too much to stop.

“Look forward to seeing your show on Friday!” texted a friend. They’ll probably fall in love with this other Amy R. I tried not to imagine her strutting along the length of the bar playing a blazing Stratocaster…she might even finish the show by picking a book off my “Staff Picks” shelf, flipping a lighter out of her back pocket and setting it on fire while she blasts a harmonica solo. Bitch.

I felt run down and then my eye started aching and I realized I was getting another eye infection and wondered how I could bear to get on a plane and go hang out with people and play in front of them at this songwriting retreat I was scheduled for. I went to the doctor on my way to the airport, afraid that if my eye didn’t get better quick I actually might have trouble driving because I can’t really see out of the other eye.

I drove four hours north of Detroit listening to Tom Petty like two years ago when I went to the same retreat, only Tom was alive then and now he’s…gone. I was careful not to cry because then it would’ve really been impossible to see.

I wore dark glasses for the first day at camp because my eye had swollen shut in the night. I wanted to shout to a lot of the campers from two years ago – “it’s me! Remember me? I haven’t suddenly gotten pretentious, honest!” The swelling went down and I found that if I combed my bangs just so they covered most of the swollen part of my eye.

Lamb’s Retreat is one of the most fun, inspiring weekends you can have. It’s forty or so songwriters and five instructors. Most of the songwriters are from Michigan though this time there were some from as far away as Northern California and North Carolina. There were more women this year too which made me happy. A lot of the people come every year, to have a chance away from their regular lives to work on songs, play music and hang out and listen to other people play and hear what we the instructors have to impart. The retreat is led by John D. Lamb, he’s the one who gave me the assignment two years ago that became From Philiproth@gmail to rzimmerman@aol.com. He’s a songwriter too – I love his songs and his vibe. John writes these detailed writing prompts, a different one for each person at the camp that are like little short stories and everyone has to write a song and play it on the last day of the weekend. It’s intense yet fun.

Each of the other instructors had a unique perspective and skills to offer: Chuck Brodsky a classic songwriter in the folk story song tradition, very literate and lots of baseball songs; Kate Macleod sang like a cross between Emmylou Harris and Joni Mitchell with an edge to her songs; Jeffrey Pepper Rogers who is also the editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine gave a great presentation about accompanying yourself on guitar that everybody learned a lot from.

Then there was Steve Poltz who is indescribably good – I’ve met him a time or two over the years and had a sense of his energy for performing and writing but in person he was just – jawdroppingly imaginative and creative. I never feel at my best in teaching situations, especially with two bad eyes, but I felt better prepared for what to do this year when I talked to the group and I hope I gave them something that could help inspire them like I felt inspired listening to everybody’s songs and playing. Sometimes I get so focused on putting out a record and booking shows and trying to keep getting out there  that making music kinda falls by the wayside…the retreat really gave me back so much that I needed, I’m glad I toughed it out and was starting to feel better.

The instructors did a concert open to the public Saturday night, and on Sunday morning everybody had to play their songs. Each person killed in their own way, people were so resourceful and inventive. I laughed and cried, it’s easy to get caught up in all the work you have to do to keep going out to play and forget the fun of playing music. I love Lamb’s Songwriting Retreat, it’s a long way to go but it was really worth it.

I went to hang out in my room and turned on the TV and the Steelers were playing, it seemed predestined. I drank a beer and was looking at Facebook and there was a message from Bob Kirsch, who was my publisher in Nashville. Wow, I hadn’t heard from him in so long.

“Bob! How are you?”

“Doing well, blessed. Have you heard the good news?”

What – Welk is out of business and I get my song catalog back? was my first thought. Or – finally, Welk got somebody to cover one of my songs! Or – wait, has Bob become a Christian and wants to tell me about his new pal Jesus?

He messaged again: “From Publisher’s Clearing House?” Wait – does that still exist? And…Bob WAS my publisher back when and maybe when they want to dump a load of song catalogs, that’s Publisher’s Clearing House too?

Bob: “I won $150,000 and saw your name on the list, how can they get in touch with you?”

This Bob (not the one of my song but a song and story guy) had been a big part of my Nashville period – he signed me to a publishing deal that allowed me to buy a house and write a whole lot of songs, it was life-changing really…they never got any of the songs covered but it was a big deal for me anyway. And we used to meet about once a month for lunch and go over stuff and talk about music and literature, I miss that guy.

Bob’s FB has been hacked. I honestly don’t know where he is these days.

After another rousing song session (people were practically laying face down on their guitars from song exhaustion at this point) I left to drive back down to Detroit airport. My eye was almost better but I still couldn’t figure out how the hell to open the gas cap to refuel my rental car. I felt like an idiot having to search “Nissan Sentra fuel tank how to open”, looking at a YouTube video duh and then saw that five million viewers had been there before me! I don’t know if that made me feel better or worse.

The airport shuttle van was playing a song with the lyric “It’s a beautiful day for going nowhere” which made me laugh. Nobody else on the shuttle seemed to notice or care. I was able to finish watching the Andre Leon Talley documentary on the flight back home and my guitar rode in a first class seat for free on Delta when I told them about what had happened the last time…

Back at the bookstore bar for a shift, a couple friends and customers mentioned they’d been disappointed when they learned it wasn’t me playing over the weekend.  I didn’t have a chance to ask one of my fellow bartenders how the show went. Did it really happen? Maybe it was just a joke somebody played on me? One time on a long road trip Eric and I went over first names and how many performers have the same ones – there were a lot of Bobs, some Phils, a few Toms – Brian was a popular one…and on and on. Amy – there were many Amys! Some play blues and originals and strut with a Stratocaster, some write songs and like to dress up like J Mascis. It takes all kinds.

UK tour dates

Wed Nov 14 – Manchester, Gulliver’s
Thu Nov 15 – Glasgow, Hug & Pint
Fri Nov 16 – Edinburgh, Voodoo Rooms Speakeasy
Sat Nov 17 – Durham, Olde Cinema Launderette
Sun Nov 18 – Hull, St. John’s
Thu Nov 22 – Worcester, Marrs Bar
Fri Nov 23 – London, Betsey Trotwood
Sat Nov 24 – Portsmouth, Elmsworth Sports Club
Sun Nov 25 – Folkestone, Lime Bar Café

Road Heart

“Yippee! I’m on the road!” I want to shout as I pull out of the driveway and head along dark country roads to the NY State Thruway and down to Newark Airport. I’ve booked a small run of shows, shipped merchandise, practiced, packed two guitars and clothes. I’ve said goodbye to Eric, covered my shifts at the bookstore/bar. This is what it’s all about I think.  It’s five in the morning and I’m on the road – yippee.

Holy shit I’m on the road, I think as I sit in truck traffic on I-95 trying to get to Newark Airport. Why didn’t I leave at 4 AM to get to Newark? I had to stop and pull over to tape up the passenger side window of the Yukon – it’s been slipping down into the door panel and I haven’t had time to get it fixed. Be calm.

I’m tuned in to WFMU and I hear a young guy singing who sounds an awful lot like Eric. Huh – I’ll have to tell Eric, I think. Then it feels like Eric is in the truck with me and I realize this is one of Eric’s records. It makes me cry to hear a twenty-something Eric sing a song I don’t think I’ve ever heard before as the sun comes up over the semi tractor-trailers and fuel tanks and New York City in the distance. I’m on the road.

Things are heightened out here.  “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road,” said everybody’s traveling buddy Jack Kerouac.

I land in Chicago and it dawns on me as it always dawns on me around about the time I pick up a rental car the crazy freedom afforded to anyone walking around with a credit card and driver’s license. I go up and down rows of brand new cars in a deserted parking garage at Midway Airport, looking for a Ford Fiesta. The hardest part of doing this job as a person over fifty-something is: I can’t see half the time. Reading stuff, finding stuff – it’s on and off with the glasses, constantly. The thought that I can be hurtling through the streets of Chicago in a brand new car if only I can find it is a bracing one. So much responsibility.

And then there’s the discs that will sit in boxes at home if I don’t go out and play. Fingers crossed my merchandise showed up at the friend’s office I shipped to. When I reconnect with those records with my picture on the cover, my songs, my words, i will be…whole? I don’t know how people take vacations in strange lands, I only go places where I’m waiting for me at the other end.

I drive up one of those endless Chicago streets to Oak Park – I’ve always heard of the Write Inn as a cool place to stay so I’ve decided to check in there for the night. First I find an incredible Vietnamese place to eat lunch – the spring rolls seem like the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. I love all the Oak Park architecture and it’s a warm, sunny day – in other words I wonder why I’ve never seriously considered living here. (in the recesses of my mind is the coldest day/night of my life catching a bus on Fullerton in sub-sub-zero temperature, then trying to sleep in my daughter’s apartment that didn’t feel much warmer – that forever puts paid to any real possibility of a life in Chicago).

The Write Inn doesn’t have my reservation & it takes a while to check in. Kind of old-fashioned, a fax machine is even mentioned and then actually used. I find a pick for my show in the local weekly Chicago Reader, still in print, a stack of them in the lobby – I want to hold up my picture and say “but, but I’m in the paper!” I manage to get checked in and take a nap. Then I pick up my merch and borrow an amp from Rob Brookman who brought me to the city last August for the Bucktown Arts Fest. I have so many angels in Chicago, people who look out for me. It has always felt like one of my places.


The show at Burlington Bar is late, but the bartender is nice & so’s the soundman. The room sounds really good and people are there for me. I alternate between oh my god do I remember how to do this onstage & blissful moments. Afterwards I hang out with friends and then set off for Oak Park, realizing half the way there that I’ve left my box of merch at the bar. Turn around and drive back, happy I had my wits about me enough to not completely forget as they don’t open unti seven PM and I’ll be in Rockford tomorrow. A lot to keep track of all alone – two months off and i feel like an amateur again, making amateur mistakes…

Rockford isn’t far so I get to stop off along the way and check out a thrift store and huge deli. I’ve learned on the road to just enjoy eating when there’s time because there’s never time when you’re supposed to be eating (ie dinner time). That’s when you’ll be lucky to be eating cheese cubes and trying not to choke on handfuls of tortilla chips.

I came to Rockford to play a gig in October 2016 that so happened to be on the night of a key Cubs in the World Series game. I liked the town so much though, and it was sweet of Michael Whyte who set up the last show to arrange a house concert this time so I could play for people. He got Dean from the Waco Brothers to open and it was a swell night. I knew there was a lot to appreciate about this town and I will be back!

Went to drive off in the rental car at 8 AM next morning and realized I’d left my phone behind. Like I said, amateur mistakes. Got the phone and drove back to Midway in Chicago, The rental return woman said “Come see me in the blue kiosk for your receipt” after checking the car in. Blue kiosk, blue kiosk – I’m dragging two guitars and a suitcase around the parking garage again! I ask a mechanic for help – I could just give up on getting a receipt but…we find a minivan (blue) idling in a parking space, the window rolls down and the rental return woman is lounging in the back seat talking on the phone – “here you go!” She hands me the receipt through the minivan window. Is Kiosk the name of a minivan I wonder? Ah, it’s a mobile kiosk I say and we all laugh.

In the airport I pass through security and go to put on my glasses to look for somewhere to eat before my flight to Minneapolis and remember I left them in the ladies room. Back out and through security again. I would’ve driven to MN but the cost of returning the car there was prohibitively expensive…and that drive takes forever without Nash Kato along (see previous post). I didn’t lose my glasses and Southwest doesn’t charge for that second bag so now I’m turning a profit is how I have to look at these things.

Dylan Hicks picks me up at the airport in Minn. He’s hosting a house concert at his place and playing a set too – I really like Dylan’s music so it’s a treat. It’s a cool old house just like you want to see in the land of the Mary Tyler Moore show – I always forget how much I like this town until I’m actually in it. We do a slightly awkward version of the Deal with Dylan on piano and me holding the mic – I might be looking for a way to not lug guitars around but the truth is I love them and don’t feel like myself on stage without one. I finish with American Girl cause it’s Tom Petty’s birthday even though I’ve never played the song solo before, Dylan helps by strumming another guitar. It was really a fun night and I enjoyed seeing old friends and confirming there are people in this town who like my stuff, it just takes work to smoke them out.

Nothing goes wrong on the next flight, to Winnipeg, in fact the Delta flight attendants were wonderful (“We want to make this your best flight EVER!” made me laugh out loud) and I was enthralled by an Andre Leon Talley documentary in the inflight entertainment. I was on a travel high – a night off in a nice hotel after three good shows with one more show coming – until I realized my Gibson J45 acoustic guitar had been very badly damaged in transit. Like somebody stomped on it or took a claw hammer to the sides. It’s sickening to see – this guitar is like a third arm or something to me, I mean I have spent so much time with it and haven’t played a gig without it since…2004? And here I was enjoying Winnipeg and being in Canada so much.

The Canadians were nothing but kind to me – from the couple of luthiers I called in desperation to the Long & McQuade staff who helped set me up with a loaner J45. Stu Reid, my house concert host, put up with my ravings and fretting (not the fingers-on kind but mental) while he chopped vegetables for the snack table – I can’t get over the generosity of people hosting music in their own homes but then we’ve done it ourselves too and part of the joy is seeing your home turned into a club for a few hours: seeing people hanging out, taking their seats, clapping and singing along and discovering a new song or artist and you feel like you helped make that happen – it’s something positive you can do in the world that brings people together. Thank you all my hosts/hostesses!


A nice guy named John McKinnon opened the show and played the sweetest song called University of Song inspired by the show Eric and I played in this same living room five years ago. I was able to forget about my guitar woes most of the time and left Winnipeg early the next morning thinking Canadians are just the best. Decency and good manners go a long way – now more than ever.

I watched the Robin Williams documentary on the flight to Newark – one of those “you had to be there” comics I couldn’t explain to Eric so I knew I’d never watch the movie at home. The film just got sadder and sadder as it went along. I’d gone through immigration changing planes in Toronto so it was quick getting to baggage claim in Newark. I stood by the carousel and watched an Air Canada employee delicately carrying my acoustic guitar  (I’d had no choice but to check it again – I was carrying on the 12 string in a soft case). He set it down so gently and I thanked him. “Of course, of course!” he said. “My nephew plays. Very important.” He would’ve been the ninth or tenth Canadian I hugged in the last twenty four hours but I didn’t want to frighten him.


Now I’m home getting ready to go away again in a few days. The Gibson is on the top of a mountain near Woodstock, being repaired by an acoustic instrument whiz. He thinks it will recover but it might take a while. I picked up a budget acoustic guitar – something I can bear slinging around on a flight or two or twenty if it works out okay.  A Godin – It’s made in…Canada.

PS – I just heard that I will be reimbursed for the guitar that was badly damaged on my flight to Winnipeg! Seems that:

When any portion of a passenger's journey involves international travel, liability for loss is governed by an International Treaty known as the Montreal Convention and is applicable to the airlines of those countries that have ratified it.

In a few days I’ll be at a song camp in Michigan, and then a few days after that playing in the UK. Yeah, on the road again! Good lord, on the left side of the road. To be extra uncool, I’ll quote ole Jean-Louis Kérouac again: “I have nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”

Bring your confusion to match.

  • Thu – Sun Nov 1 – 4  Harbor Springs MI  Springfed Arts songwriting retreat
  • Sat 10 Nov  Cromer UK  Community Center tix
  • Wed 14 Nov  Manchester UK  Gullivers tickets
  • Thu 15 Nov  Glasgow UK  The Hug & Pint tickets
  • Fri 16 Nov  Edinburgh UK  Speakeasy at the Voodoo Rooms tix
  • Sat 17 Nov  Durham UK Old Cinema Launderette tix
  • Sun 18 Nov  Hull UK  St. John’s Hotel tickets
  • Thu 22 Nov  Worcester UK  Marrs Bar tickets
  • Fri 23 Nov  London UK  Betsey Trotwood  tix
  • Sat 24 Nov  Chichester UK  Emsworth Sport & Social Club tickets
  • Sun 25 Nov  Folkestone UK  Lime Bar Cafe tickets