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Diary entries are posted in reverse chronological order.
PART TWO (August 14th-September 17th)
Anyone who's read any part of these tour diaries knows that this has been an extremely rough couple of months. I would have to go back 12 years, to the first Cockeyed Ghost tour, to find one as mentally and physically difficult to get through, and this one was twice as long. A lot of the same problems were in play here: too short preparation time, not having enough contacts in place in each city, and not enough recharge time on the road. I knew a lot of these problems going in; various things, the remodeling among them, forced my hand and I had to make a lot of compromises I did not want to make. There just wasn't enough time to dot every "i". I have to say if I had to go back and do it again, I probably wouldn't have done much differently. I probably would have shined a couple of the shows, but that's about it.
Getting sick the first week was bad, but my health has been sketchy for the last three years for reasons that aren't entirely clear, and the fact that that was the only time I got sick, and that I made it through such a physically grueling experience relatively unscathed (just really tired and about 15 pounds heavier), was a really good thing. I am not likely to get on any tours harder than this one, so it gives me a lot more confidence in my ability to go out and tour as a sideman if that opportunity comes up. I had a few problems with my hearing getting slightly wonky (oddly, only in my "good" ear), but nothing compared to what I have dealt with the last few years. Basically, I know now I am good to go for whatever comes up in the future. I can handle it.
And then, of course, was the death of my brother. I really appreciated all the condolences but that said, it affected me less emotionally than it did physically. There was just too much to be done, too quickly, to think about anything more than getting a few hours rest and then hitting your next mark. I'll probably process the loss over time, but that aside, the time spent with my family was very valuable. The contrast between the families my brother sought to create on the west coast and the one we both left on the east coast was striking, and in interacting with my immediate family in the town I grew up in, I got a lot of valuable insight on where I came from, why I'm wired the way I am, and the journey I've been on personally.
I've often been very hard on my younger self...you can hear it in the lyrics to "My Kickass Life." Basically for much of my twenties I was an ass, busting through barn doors, alternately charming and alienating people in my self-absorbed rush to get....where? I was never quite sure. I'm still like this sometimes, but to a much lesser degree I think. I've known that over time I've consciously tried to learn and grow from my mistakes and acquired much better social skills, and after I got sick, also began to understand how much I overwhelm myself and am often in situations where I just can't deal with everything coming at me, and so sometimes I'm unintentionally rude or don't communicate very well. People sometimes think I'm being an asshole when I'm just trying to get something done the best way I know how, and there's dimensions to the situation that I see that they don't. It can be very frustrating for everyone involved.
I knew all this. What I didn't understand was how much of a product of my environment and family history I am, and that's because these are things I made the decision to leave behind a long time ago, because I knew no one around me really "got" me and I wanted to be a part of the big wide world that "normal" people were a part of. My recently deceased brother made a similar decision, but unfortunately, he had a lot more to work through than I did. Being reminded of what my environment was like in my teens, how sound my basic instincts were and how few people there were around who really understood where I was trying to go and what I was capable of, or how to translate that into good social behavior or an understanding of how the world worked, well, OF COURSE I was a total rube and an ass and a klutz a lot of the time. But I knew where I was trying to go and I bumbled along and eventually got somewhere close to what I was aiming for.
It took more than 15 years, a lot of hard knocks, pissed off people, and really embarassing mistakes to get there. But I have a lot more respect for myself in sticking with it, because in a lot of ways, I really raised myself. (This is in no way a diss at my parents, who did a good, solid job. I'm talking about your ability to socialize, overcome blocks and find your place in the world) Someone at the Labor Day show congratulated me for accomplishing something with my life "on behalf of all the geeks and weirdos in high school." To which I said, "you know what was a good thing? That I embarassed myself so many times that I lost my fear of looking stupid. And so I was able to accomplish a lot more than most people, and grow, because I wasn't afraid to try something and fail. I wasn't afraid to look bad." And I think that's true. If there's one thing I value most about myself, that is it. And I could not have gotten there without having done a lot of really inept, asinine things. You know?
This is really valuable to me now because I have a much clearer sense of how I come across to people, why I am conditioned to behave in certain ways, and how I can better communicate and create understanding with people I meet. I'm not like most people and there will always be parts of me people will always misunderstand. But I can be more aware of how to create the right kinds of impressions AND take better care of myself so I'm mentally and physically in the moment and not feeling under stress all the time, which makes it easier for me to be fully conscious of what I'm doing and saying at all times, onstage and off. Coming home from this tour I feel like there are tremendous opportunities ahead, and my biggest stumbling block is probably in social misunderstandings with people I work with or encounter. If I can do a better job at this, this will make me a happier and more successful person. Because the primary driving force in my life and my music, I now realize, is an escape from social isolation, the urge to become a part of the world. And since great art is a communication between the artist and the audience, the better I get at this, the better my music should become. Has become.
What I really want to do now is hole up and finish the new album. My sister and I were talking at my brother's funeral about how his death makes us realize how many unfinished projects we have and how those are what we leave behind, so we'd better get on them. Indeed, in my last face to face conversation with my departed brother, we talked about this as well. I've been frustrated because there's been so many other things going on that I've basically done an hour of recording here, two there...and I feel like if I can just focus on this thing for a month I can come up with something really good. As soon as I got home I realized how much stuff is on the docket for October, including Billy Hinsche having asked me to act as de facto music director for the Carl Wilson Foundation event in October 19, which means the band will be backing Al Jardine and other Beach Boys luminaries once again. That, and the other shows we have lined up, will be a lot of work. But as soon as that is done, I'd like to shut down the live operation for a while and just record for a bit.
Which brings me to future touring plans. You might think after this tour is over, I would never want to do it again, but actually, it has whetted my appetite for doing it more. The fact is, on strictly objective terms, the tour was successful. When I left, I had a number of goals. One was to manage to not lose my shirt on the road with gas at $4 a gallon (whether I broke even or not depends on how you define it. I just about covered expenses if you don't count the new rear bumper. If you add in the promotional costs I lost money). Another was to make the shift from performer first to songwriter first, and focus at all costs on the original material, something I'd never managed to do in the old days. Another was to increase my profile, sell CDs, and get a lot of press out of it and position myself better to continue on as a singer/songwriter. I also wanted to experiment with working with local musicians. I tried, and accomplished, all these things, and these are all things I had never been able to totally pull off before. So that is huge. The fact that I didn't particularly enjoy the process is irrelevant to how it all worked out and anyway, it's all stuff I can avoid next time.
Looking to the future, the great thing is there is a clear delineation between the kinds of gigs that I want to do and the kind I never want to do again. The fact that I didn't get paid for so many shows just underscores that I needn't be afraid to let there be an open date on the calendar rather than just take whatever gig is available that night. The point is, the best shows on this tour were very, very good....they're the kinds of shows I've always wanted to do, for attentive, hi paudiendes at venues that are really glad you're there, and my resume has expanded to the point that with a little more lead time, I can get into more of those types of gigs. If I can change the ratio from 35% of the shows to 70% of the shows, and there's no reason I can't, then I'd be happy to tour 'til the cows come home.
So next year I'm going to be bringing a whole different approach. On a bigger scale, I want to start splitting up the various things I do so that it's less confusing to people and to myself. There's the singer/songwriter side of me, there's the guy with the great band that can rock the party, and there's the guy that can sit in the back and make someone else sound good. I love doing all of them. There's a value to all these things and there's a market for each...my goal for next year is to find the markets for the individual talents, try to maintain and grow them all, but also keep each one more separate from the other.
I'm also not going to be afraid to turn down gigs if I don't think they're worthwhile. I'm not going to worry, when the next album comes out, about hitting every city in the country. It doesn't matter how many people are on the mailing list or whatever. It matters how much enthuasiasm there is for the show, and how good the playing experience is going to be overall. So my attitude is I'll go anywhere where there's a good gig and it makes financial sense. If I find 5 gigs that meet that criteria, I'll go out for a week. If I find 50, I'll go out for two months. We're also learning that smaller markets might be better -- people might be more excited coming to see you in Kenosha than in Chicago, where there's always something going on. Don't worry so much about the happening clubs that are always overbooked -- look for up and coming venues and non-traditional places like house parties, churches and things like that. And demographically, I'm not going to worry about trying to get people in the 28-45 age bracket (which I'm in) out to shows. They aren't coming. They have kids and careers. Once a year, if they want to support me they can buy the album, and if they can come out, great. But from now on I'm proceeding on the assumption that 90% of our fans just aren't going to be at shows, and plan accordingly. The key is going to be to always to try to find new people to get into the music, and try to keep the old ones motivated to support it and be involved in whatever ways they're comfortable with it. But as for haranguing people to come to shows, I think my time would be better spent just increasing awareness of my music and the band overall.
So I'm pretty enthusiastic about where things are going, because I have a much clearer sense of who I am and where I want to go than when I left. All the difficulties were a part of finding that out and so I don't regret any of them. I would really like to get more of a break than I think I'm going to have, though. But that's often the way life is. In the short term, I'll just try to stay mellow, exercise, do yoga, eat right and get what I can get done done. What I can't get done, I'll just smile and shrug my shoulders. It's much more productive in the long run than getting uptight about it.
Thanks everybody for your support, letters, and reading these blogs.
September 17, 2008 - The Sugar Mill Saloon, Tarzana, CA
Lucy made us a nice breakfast when we got up in the early afternoon, and then it was time to cover the last 350 miles back home. In trying to gas up before crossing the California border, I inadvertently ran a stop sign and attracted the attention of an Arizona state trooper, who probably was interested -- and possibly a little amused -- at my mud splattered vehicle and missing rear bumper. The hilarity continued further when he asked for proof of insurance. It had expired seven days ago. Luckily, I had remembered in Las Cruces and called up the insurance company to renew by phone (my insurance company, of course, happens to be AIG), so I did have valid insurance but since I hadn't been home to get the paperwork, I couldn't prove it. I did, however, have the confirmation number and helpfully piped up that "you can call them if you want." "I'm not going to call them," said the trooper, who let me go with a warning and probably a good guffaw.
We made it back to my house late that night, about 11 p.m. My room was ghostly and full of boxes. The house looked like my roommate hadn't done much with it since the remodelers had left...it only looked partly put back together. Oh well. Over the course of the next couple of days I was able to start getting moved back in. In fact, since all the shelves had been unbolted from the walls and the desk removed, I could make the whole thing over with a lot more floor space, which I set about doing. When the bed was back together and I laid down on it, it was like heaven. I'd forgotten how good my bed feels. I hadn't been able to sleep there since well before the tour because of the chaos of the remodeling.
Total distance driven since I had left L.A.: 13,200 miles.
Kurt had set up the garage in my absence so the band was able to rehearse on Tuesday for our homecoming show without much trouble. It was certainly nice to see Evie and Kurt again. We had a two hour rehearsal, mostly focusing on the originals. After the two months playing every night my playing felt really sharp and even on songs I hadn't played in a long time I felt like I totally had them. My voice had recovered a bit, too, which was nice. T reported a similar feeling. Evie and Kurt were fine even though we hadn't played together since July.
We ended up right where things had started -- at the Sugar Mill down the street from my house. I had set up this show mostly to help out Scotland Barr and return the favor for all the good things he'd done to help the tour. Unlike the previous show, I was sanguine about the turnout. Pretty much I figured whoever was going to show up would show up and I wasn't going to worry about it. And indeed, it was a modest crowd, but for a Wednesday night, pretty reasonable, and I was happy to see everybody, and I mean everybody, who came.
Scotland Barr & The Slow Drags were up first. This was the first time I'd seen an entire set by the band. They were superb, a really excellent set of musicians including a keyboard player and steel guitar player who doubled on harmonies that, frankly, put ours to shame. Their brand of alt-country had a lush, slightly '70s feel, very well arranged and with some long, but focused, instrumental passages. Their blend onstage was outstanding. Unfortunately, I could tell Scot was not feeling well and he later said he nearly passed out during the last song. He looked wiped out during our set and I made sure the band got cashed out early in case they needed to get him somewhere to rest. Two months ago, it was me who was sick at the outset of a tour and Scot who had opened up his house for me to recuperate, and I wanted to make sure he was going to be OK.
Our show was pretty darn good, actually. I followed the originals set, covers set format that we'd done at the longer shows on tour. The harmonies were sketchy on the originals set but other than that, it was very tight. I felt totally solid and "The Foghorn" was spectacularly good, I thought. We called up Bob Davis (the white bearded Evie fan you will often see at our shows) to do the keyboard drone on "The Big Bear" and he got a huge kick out of it. A few songs we tried that I hadn't done lately included "When I Lied to Everyone," "Other Than Me," and "The Fates Cry Foul." It was also the first time I'd tried the combo of my Telecaster with my Mesa Boogie amp and it sounded pretty nice, actually.
"Big Big Yeah" and "Don't Look Back (Don't Look Down)" from the Sugar Mill show (courtesy Avebury Records)
We would up at about midnight and Kurt had to go (early work day next day), so after a drink or three, T, Evie and I came back up for a totally spontaneous unplugged set...not dissimilar to what we'd done at the last Brennan's show but somewhat less intoxicated. I've really started to enjoy these anything-goes late night sets and this one went really well. The harmonies came together and we sailed through a number of things, including "In My Room," (a request from the Slow Drags that aroused Teresa's ire) an unplugged "I Can't Let Go," the inevitable "El Paso" with the alternate pornographic lyrics, and a surprisingly successful "Dirty Water," which was Evie's idea. We also pulled off an unplugged "Ginna Ling" (omitted from the originals set) with Evie that worked extremely well. We played 'til 1 a.m. and there was still a surprising number of people there when we finished. This is a fun little bar. They treat us well there and I hope we can do a regular thing.
After the show, I went home and slept in my own bed for the first time since June. It was lovely.
September 13, 2008 - Hollywood Alley, Mesa, AZ
When T and I got up -- probably around noon -- Justin was already making breakfast. The smell of fresh cut vegetables and salsa filled the room; it really smelled great. Justin and his wife also owned an excruciatingly cute Pekingese dog that she likes to dress up in bizarre costumes. The dog doesn't seem to mind -- much -- and in fact enjoys wandering around the house making various gutteral sounds. This caused much hilarity, particularly as the dog got tired of me running around trying to take a picture of it and started glaring at me.
Breakfast was great. One of the really sucky things about this tour has been the near-total lack of decompression time, and past a certain point you don't want to let you body relax too much or you won't be able to get it back up to speed to do what you have to do. With the end in sight, I started to feel like I could relax a little, but I was still afraid that if I did too much I'd just fall asleep and not get up. There was a national forest nearby and after breakfast T and I did walk around a saguaro forest a little bit, and then we headed to a coffee shop to catch up on computer work. By the time we got out of Tucson it was nearly 5, just enough time to get up to Phoenix for the last show of the tour.
I had set up the Hollywood Alley bill myself. I have a long history in Phoenix and with this club and my idea was to kind of have a reunion of old school Phoenix bands. One thing I've learned this tour is most of the good things have come from looking forward, so this is probably one of the last such shows I will be involved with. The other bands were Serene Dominic, Sugar High (who Cockeyed Ghost played with on our very first tour, in 1996, when they were Autumn Teen Sound), and Quarter Inch Crown, at whose house party I'd played on one of my solo tours way back when. After the experiences on this tour I somewhat expected it to be dead but actually by 10 a fairly respectable crowd had accumulated, including some old friends I hadn't seen in a long time.
To continue the old school theme, sitting on drums tonight was local drummer Scott Hessel, who had toured with Cockeyed Ghost back in 1999. We hadn't been able to secure rehearsal space, so rehearsal basically consisted of him tapping on his boot while I played through the songs on the bench out front, causing much fascination among the people heading into the club. I was in and out for Dominic's set -- I was getting really tired and again the volume in the club made it hard for me to be in there too long. He was doing a thing where he was playing along with an IPod, really going for it, leaping into the audience as he often does. While it made for compelling watching, I thought the songs were good enough that it would have been cooler if he'd just sung them straight. I kind of did the same thing in the old Cockeyed Ghost days. Sugar High were great, a real blast from the past. It was kind of interesting that it was the exact same four guys, basically looking exactly the same -- haircuts, etc. -- except older.
It looked good for a storybook ending for the tour with old friends and a triumphant set but of course it didn't work out that way. We lost a lot of the crowd after Sugar High. I would have liked to have gone on earlier but again, to keep the show together and happy I took the third slot. That wasn't a big deal, really. As for our show, I didn't like it, although other people did. I started out acoustic, then brought Teresa on, and then Scott (and Troy from Quarter Inch Crown for one song). The quieter stuff was too mellow for the situation, and then when we got the band part Scott, bless his heart, played it all old school Cockeyed Ghost style which was a busier and louder than I'm used to playing now, so things kind of went in the other direction. It worked better on the more rockin' stuff we did at the end but I couldn't really hear very well, and my voice was not at its best, so I just felt like T and I were kind of flailing away. Which, come to think of it, was sometimes how it was in the old days, too. Anyway, I got some props for the show later but I didn't think I'd sung particularly well nor connected with the audience and in the end I dropped a song and just shined it. And so, 'twas over.
Onstage at Hollywood Alley. T looks great. Me, I must have gained 15 pounds on this tour. The amazing Scott Hessel on drums.
I was finally able to secure some earplugs and so could actually sit and listen to Quarter Inch Crown without killing myself, but I was pretty tired by the end. Scott had chucked something at me before the set and to get him back I went over and poured salt on his head, but the poor guy got some in his eye. He was pissed! I don't blame him. In the end, the club and the other bands were generous, so we did indeed have enough money to get home without busting out the credit card. The whole evening had felt out of another time and strangely distant, somehow. The best part was just hanging with Scott and other friends I had not seen in a long time.
After the show T and I headed up to Scottsdale where our friend Lucy had prepared some tremendous hospitality for us. It took a long time to find the place, but when we got there, there were beds, wine and food galore. We were dead tired but stayed up for awhile to chat and unwind. All that was left now was the drive home and the reunion show with the band on Wednesday. And, of course, unboxing all my things and moving back into my room. Joy.
September 12, 2008 - KXCI Interview, Tucson, AZ
O'Malleys On Fourth, Tucson, AZ
I stayed up too late with the blogs but got up early enough to do some yoga and check the car. I was pleased and relieved to see that there was nothing leaking and it started and ran fine. Once I got the road it became obvious that it needed a wheel balancing and probably an alignment -- it rattled a lot when I tried to push it to 75 mph -- but this was no big deal. Provided nothing fell off I should get where I was going OK.
Teresa was landing at Tucson Airport at 3:30, and I made the drive without too much trouble, stopping in Willcox at a delightful internet cafe which was situated in an old saloon. I was really impressed with Willcox, actually...it was still basically a small town but all the businesses were functioning and it seemed pretty hopping for such a remote location. I was less impressed with the signs at the Tucson Airport, because it took me about half an hour to find the entrance to it. Once that was sorted out T and I headed to KXCI, the local community radio station, for a scheduled performance and interview. The origins of the KXCI appearance are mysterious -- we can't figure out who set it up. When Karma Frog called to make it happen, we were informed that I was already on the calendar to come in and do the show. It just sort of spontaneously happened. Weird, but cool. It was good to have an opportunity to have a mini-rehearsal while we were waiting to go on air. The guy who interviewed us was familiar with my career and very supportive, so that was nice. As for our performance, we did "Ginna Ling," "Cut and Run" and "Karma Frog." Musically we were tight, but I thought my voice was ratty. Not shot, but just tired and not hitting the notes terribly well, particularly the higher stuff.
We then headed to the Hotel Congress to grab dinner (discovering, to my dismay, that we might not have quite enough money to get home if the next two shows didn't go well, though reflecting that that was some how fitting). I hadn't been to Tucson since 2003 and Teresa has never been there; she totally fell in love with it. I've always liked this town and the food at the Congress was just as good as it had always been. Then we had a short rehearsal with Justin Irwin from Redlands, who is a myspace friend and who we set up the show with. He brought along his drummer Jeff and in less than an hour we had taught them three songs: "The Foghorn," "Big Bear" and "Long Promised Road." I was starting to feel like I really was figuring out how to work with musicians in that compressed time frame, reminding myself of Stew, who used to do a two hour rehearsal for a three hour show. The key, as I had learned on this tour especially, was finding the right musicians to do it. Some people couldn't learn songs that quickly; others couldn't resist the temptation to embellish in ways that aren't appropriate. But if you get someone that's a quick learner and who plays, as Justin later mused, with "a sense of decorum," and you walk in being able to articulate the arrangements simply, you can get a lot done quickly.
When we got to the gig, they had to open a big heavy wooden door to let us in to load at the side entrance. Once we'd loaded, I got in the car to park -- I only had to move it a few feet. I backed up a little and immediately heard a huge crash and clatter. My first thought was somehow the back end of the car had fallen off post-Texas. This of course was ridiculous but the bumperless back end had acted like a battering ram and taken down the huge door. Fortunately, it turned out this was a habitual problem with the door not being firmly secured. I hadn't actually broken it, thank heavens, nor damaged the car further. It did take two guys to get the door back on its hinges, however.
O'Malleys was a big room. We took to the soundguy, Mike, right away. One of those laid back intelligent guys who really knows his stuff. We didn't get much of a crowd at first, but it filled up a little as the set went on. I would say of all the shows on the return trip, which generally have been mediocre, the Tucson one was a bit of a sleeper and perhaps the best overall. Firstly, we played really well -- T and I were really in sync. Secondly, the set was paced just right. Thirdly, the mini-set with Justin and Jeff was great, particularly given the brief rehearsal time. "Road" rocked, "The Foghorn" might have been a hair fast but Justin played the guitar perfectly, and "Big Bear" was magnificent, Jeff adding some tom tom flourishes to the stripped down arrangement and our volunteer from the audience on keys catching every cue to stop playing. We closed with a dual version of "Big Big Yeah" that had the audience hollering. We went over quite well. We didn't have that many of our own people in the audience, but Tom Pettijohn came down from Phoenix, and Linda Ray from the NoDepression list showed up. I haven't seen her in a long time and it sure was great to have them both there.
rocking out in Tucson (note: the best picture with Teresa in it is so dark you can barely see her)
After us came a band called Cheepness that did kind of a classic rock thing. It was easy to make fun of their middle aged long hair, denim and Les Paul vibe, and they didn't connect with the crowd, but they played fine...I just wished their take on things had been a bit more distinctive. Redlands came up next and I enjoyed them but I was really tired, and the room was loud -- I haven't been able to pick up earplugs at any point which at some of the higher volume venues has really made it hard for me to watch some of the bands -- and by the end of the night I was running on fumes. Teresa worked on my back a little but she was also feeling pretty tired, complaining she'd picked it up from me! It was a long drive back to Justin's house way out in the far reaches of Tucson, but when we got there the accommodations were splendid. Sleep followed quickly.
September 11, 2008 - The Lasca Road Incident, Fort Hancock, TX
One happy accident was the presence of a Starbucks across I-10 from my hotel and as I went inside I was impressed with the intelligence and friendliness of the barristas and the quality of the music being played. It was very cool to see this kind of cosmopolitan vibe taking root in rural Texas. This sounds like I think all people that live in the sticks are dumb crackers and I don't mean that...keep in mind that I grew up in that environment. It's just that there is so much misinformation out there based on distrust of the foreign and it can tend to breed a certain suspicion that can manifest as ignorance. There is this cultural divide that makes me particularly sad having grown up in a rural farm community and then having lived in the big city for many years, because it's at the root of the cynical and dishonest politics that's driving at least one party in the current election. The fact is city dwellers and country dwellers have much to learn from each other about the quality of life and the ways of the world. And I mused that perhaps Starbucks, of all things, might be the agent to bring the country closer together, as I saw a drawling middle aged dude with long sideburns and a bluetooth wedged in his ear ordering a latte -- the perfect blend of both worlds in my eyes.
Also right by the Starbucks was a stretch of original brick paving for the original Bankhead Highway (later U.S. 80), and being an old road buff as you can tell from the map that forms the background of this page, this whetted my appetite for more exploration. With Teresa's help back in L.A. surfing the web, I was able to locate a great stretch of old road that passed over broken down bridges and past abandoned garages and weed-choked shoulders. It was fascinating.
Many hours later, after a second stop at a Starbucks in Midland, Texas, which had a somewhat less cosmoplitan vibe (me: "So, this is George Bush's hometown, eh?" barrista, proudly: "Yes, and Laura Bush too!" me: (pause) "Um, neat!"), I was ready to do more exploring. There was about an hour of daylight left when I hit the westernmost part of Texas and transitioned from I-20 to I-10. There was a loop road that paralleled the freeway for maybe 15 miles in the Rand McNally atlas. It looked like it was unpaved for about half of it and then paved for the second half. Such a loop usually indicates an old highway, and the further away from the interstate usually the older it is. My recollection was that on a previous trip I had tried to drive it part way but gave it up because I didn't have enough sunlight. I figured this time around I ought to have enough time so I took the exit outside Fort Hancock for Lasca Road.
The road started out as wide gravel and although it was obvious there had been recent heavy rains, there wasn't anything too bad for the first mile or two, just a few patches where I had to drive carefully. I didn't see any immediate signs that it had once been a major highway but I drove on. After about two or three miles I hit a muddy stretch. It didn't look too terrible, but I wasn't in Teresa's Rav-4 -- I was in a not-very-sturdy two wheel drive compact car with low ground clearance weighted down with gear. I did at least have new tires and so I gunned the engine, hit the stretch doing about 35-40 and got through it without too much trouble.
A little further down, I hit a nastier spot. The road crossed a small wash that was filled with water. There was perhaps a ten foot around area of standing water, probably about 8 inches deep, and muddy ruts on either side. This gave me pause. It definitely wasn't something you usually drove your car into, but I was reluctant to turn back just yet. I got out and scouted the area. The muddy stretch didn't continue too far...if I could get the car through the 40-50 feet stretch or so, I'd be OK. So I backed the car up, downshifted and gunned it. I hit the trouble area as fast as I dared, and the car just swerved a little but basically plowed through it with no real problems at all.
I was a little amazed at how well the car handled in the mud, but it gave me confidence as I continued along the road in the gathering dusk. There were no houses anywhere, just an old railroad track nearby. There would be stretches where the road was fine, and then areas where it had been flooded and it would get muddy. A couple of places made me a little nervous because the mud lasted a while, but the car got through it OK. Then I hit another long wash, with some eroded spots and a few steep areas. I managed to steer around them fine. Then I went over the tracks and hit another spot...a small wash, and then about a foot high bank on the other side. This gave me pause, but I had gone far enough that surely by now I must be getting close to the pavement. My first try getting the car up, I couldn't make it. I backed up and tried again. This time I got up OK, but the bottom of the chassis scraped the ground a little.
The next obstacle was thrilling but not that difficult...the road went over a narrow, high, and curved old railroad bridge, with tire cleats for treads. I took this carefully and got to the other side and suddenly the road was paved...not just that but the graded, white pavement that indicated an old, old major thoroughfare. At some point I'd picked up the path of the old Bankhead Highway.
I had hoped that the pavement indicated that the road would be better, but right away I hit a few spots where the road had been eroded away by floods and washes and in those places it was slow going. I started getting nervous, hoping I-10 would appear shortly. The road went fine for a bit, and then I saw it dip downhill...a sure sign that it was going into a wash. And sure enough, the road negotiated a short, fairly steep area where once there had once been a grade and then dropped into a gully. The road, perhaps 15 feet wide at that point, was almost completely flooded. Only the rightmost four feet cleared water, and that was riven with mud and foot-deep ruts. The flooded area extended about 20 feet.
This was bad. The sun was going down fast, no sign of I-10, and the road behind me was bad enough that I did not relish going back through it in the dark. The flooded area before me, and the muddy hill that lay beyond it, was clearly four wheel drive territory. I would hesitate to drive the RAV-4 into that mess, and I estimated the odds of the car making it through to be considerably less than 50/50. Worse than that, if I got stuck, I'd be in a foot of water with no flashlight or tools to extract me, no cell reception, and a car laden with gear. I did have a sleeping bag, but that was about it.
I decided to scout the road ahead to see what it looked like. With great difficultly I picked my way across the boggy mess, my sneakers sinking deep and struggling to maintain my balance. And sure enough, once you got past that patch, the pavement resumed and leveled out at the top of the hill. It seemed pretty solid and off to the left I saw a small building with a light on it, the first building close to the road I had seen. I pondered walking over and asking whoever was there their advice but the problem was it was far enough off the road that by the time I got there and got back it would be dark. I had to make a decision, and fast.
I decided I would go for it. The logic was that if I could get the car through the mud hole, there was a good enough chance that that would be the last of it and I would be close enough to I-10 to get through to the other side without backtracking through 10 miles of shitty road in the dark. And if I got into trouble, there was at least an apparently inhabited building nearby. The other thing was that as I carefully picked my way back across the muddy mess, I noticed that there was one area just under the water where my feet only sunk in an inch or two. If I could keep my front tire on that, I just might make it. And so I backed the car up as far as I could (but not as far as I would have liked), and with a little gulp I drove my car pell mell into the muddy mess, aiming a best I could for that narrow strip of mud. I'd had plenty of experience from when I was young maneuvering around back roads in little cars. I just hoped I could manage it this time.
Water spurted up. The car crashed into the area, kicking up mud, heading forward, slowing down but making steady progress. Just as it seemed I was about to get bogged down for good, I cleared the water. The car started to swerve wildly through the muddy uphill stretch on the far side...four feet right, four feet left, car just managing to maintain momentum...and then, I caught firm ground, the car shot forward, and ground its way uphill. I could scarcely believe it. The Mighty Toyota had for certain earned its name tonight. There was no way I should have made it through that mess in that car. But I did. Not for the first time, I praised the tiny, uncomfortable car that I had so underestimated and time and again this tour had come through for me, with no trouble or complaint (and with monster gas mileage).
And yet victory was fleeting. I got up on the paved area, driving forward as fast as I dared, hoping to hit I-10. Less than half mile away, I came across another wash. This time, there was a washed out bridge, a steep embankment, and deep wheel ruts going into a stream that was at least three feet deep. There was simply no way forward, not even if I'd had a truck. I was fucked. I briefly tried another, small road that headed off towards the railroad, but after getting through a few muddy stretches I realized that trying to dead reckon my way out of this mess in the Texas wilderness on those kind of roads in this car in the pitch black was complete insanity. I needed help. I headed back to the building I had seen, and drove up the driveway. I didn't know who'd be living there, but I didn't care much at this point. I was in big, big trouble.
It turned out the small adobe building was some sort of hunting lodge, and there were about a half dozen men there about my age, plus one boy, just hanging out and drinking beer. They were friendly enough and when I told them my predicament, they said "whatever you do, don't drive west. It's impassable." They informed me that unusually heavy rains had played havoc with the road, although I later found out that that the middle third of it is considered a jeep trail in most circumstances -- why Rand McNally had it on their map, I do not know. They also told me the only way out was the way I had come, but that they were happy to escort me out with their jeep. I gratefully accepted. One of the men gaped at my mud-splattered car, and I said I had no idea how I'd gotten it this far. "Me neither," he said.
It was at this point I realized that the back bumper had been partly torn off on the left side, probably on that last mud hole. There was nothing to be done about it for now. I waited for the jeep to proceed me, and then I got to drive down that muddy hill and plunge into the exact same mud hole again, this time going through about 150 feet of muddy road before hand. Once again I plunged into the muck, once again the car plowed through, slowed, gripped and then came out the other side. I again marveled at my plucky little car. However, as soon as I started up the rough road ahead, I heard a scraping, dragging sound. I got out to investigate and, sure enough, both sides of the bumper were scraping on the ground, having been twisted at 90 degree angles from the center part that was mounted under the trunk. I pulled them both back up and secured them as best I could. My hands were covered in mud, and there was nothing in the car to wipe them off with. I tried the door, the yoga mat, the drop cloth in back, but mostly it got all over the gear shift, the floor, and the steering wheel.
One by one, I retraced all the nasty spots and every time the car got jarred, the bumper ends would dislodge and drag on the ground again and I would stop, get out, and push them back into place, then return to the car with my hands covered with mud again. The fifth time this happened I had to go up a steep hill with poor traction and so didn't dare stop to replace the bumper. I got out and the thing was now just hanging by two rivets in the back. I took it in my hands and I felt it give...it was almost as if the car was telling me, "just take it off...you have to do it." And with two hands I just wrenched the whole thing off, and threw it in the bushes. At that point, it didn't take much effort.
After that, the remainder of the drive went smoothly and after giving the guys a CD and my enduring thanks (and hopefully they will take a picture of the mud hole for future posting in this blog), I got back to I-10. I wasn't out of the woods yet, though...the car was not designed for that kind of punishment and there was every chance something else might have shaken loose. And indeed, as I got back on the frontage road, there was an ominous, loud, cyclical squeaking noise. It was obviously something related to the tires, since it increased it frequency as I speeded up. I considered my options. Fort Hancock was 7 miles back down the road, where there might be a garage open but probably no mechanic. If I had to stay overnight it made it unlikely I'd make it to Tucson to pick up Teresa and do the show. At El Paso, 80 miles down the road, there would be all night garages and I'd at least be through the Texas badlands and within striking distance of Tucson. If I didn't make it, I'd probably wait for hours for a tow and might not even have cell reception, since this is one of the remote parts of Texas. Still, the car seemed to be running OK except for the squeaking, which seemed like it might go away once the car was traveling at freeway speeds. I decided to roll the dice and head for El Paso.
The squeaking did indeed diminish when I got up to freeway speeds. The car seemed to shake quite a bit over 70 mph, though it was already doing that somewhat and I couldn't honestly tell if it was any worse. The main thing was I was moving. I was very tense...the experience had shaken me up considerably. I've had a number of misadventures of back roads and this had ranked among the Top 10 worst ones. I could have easily lost the car and derailed the rest of the tour, plus wound up spending the night in the dark. As the car drew closer and closer to El Paso without incident, I started to marvel at the fact that I get into these scrapes and then through sheer force of will I seem to plough through them anyway. This tour was a good example...the illness, the money problems, my brother's death, the canceled shows, and now this, caused by my own adventurous and sometimes reckless personality...any one would have been a pretext to pack it in, to miss a show, to just shine it, and yet I always seemed to show up where I was supposed to be no matter what. I'm not patting myself on the back so much as just...I don't quite know how I do this, it's just programmed into me that I will get there, I will make it, somehow, someway. And nearly all of the time, I do, no matter how many obstacles get thrown into my path. It's a little uncanny when you think about it. But the more years I do this, and how many times I get counted out or derided as a lightweight or an oddball or whatever, I keep sticking around and people start to see me for who and what I really am. It's painful getting there, but the end result is more fulfilling, somehow. Maybe because you're winning on the merits.
Or maybe it's just because I have a Kick Ass Car.
I made it as far as Las Cruces and by the time I got there, the car had stopped making the squeaking noises and except for the shaking and the missing bumper and mud everywhere, seemed to be no worse for wear. I found a cheap hotel with wi-fi, checked into the latest Sarah Palin drama and then went to sleep.
The Mighty Tercel makes it out of a Texas Mud Hole...minus the rear bumper.
September 10, 2008 - City Tavern, Dallas, TX
Slept pretty late today, and after hanging with Gregg a bit and hearing some of his musical work (which I was VERY impressed with) headed into town to grab lunch and also, hopefully, get paid for last night's gig. I'll say this for the club -- they may not have liked me very much, but they kicked down gas money without any hesitation. So at least something good came out of it.
Heading up I-35 to Dallas, I got a little too ambitious trying to find cheap gas and wound up nearly out of gas, driving down a frontage road near an area of construction for several miles. I finally came across a place that looked totally deserted and that was selling gas at about 25 cents about the normal price. I went inside and there was a dejected Mexican fellow that had the whole travel center to himself. He reported that he was going broke because the construction had closed the exits that lead to his store and indeed, I never would have stopped there had I not been on the frontage road. I felt a little better about paying the extra for the gas. Apparently they reopen the exits in November, but what a tough break for a small business owner.
I got to Dallas fairly early, spending a fair amount of time on the drive chatting on the phone with Billy Hinsche about some stuff he's working on. When I got to the City Tavern, I already knew it was going to a better experience than the last couple of shows. The booker got there the same time I did and he confirmed they were going to hook me up with dinner and in general everybody made me feel quite welcome. I was pleased when Chris Holt showed up. I had opened for his jam-pop band Olospo in Tucson five years ago, and had bumped into him online by accident as I was setting up the tour and we agreed to gig together. Chris had left the world of jam bandery to do power pop -- not a great business decision, let me tell you, but one I respect. Chris had the unwelcome news that he'd double booked himself that night and had to leave right after he played, which bummed me out because his set was really good. He had some quite wonderful songs there and we got along really well, so I would have loved to have had his feedback on my set. He finished up with an off-the-cuff version of "God Only Knows" and then berated himself for not knowing it well enough. I said it was fine, and in fact started busking my own version when I was getting set up, with a first verse that went "I lived in Nacogdoches/my house was full of roaches/then I moved up to Dallas/and now I live in a palace" but a warning look from the friendly soundman Ace told me I probably shouldn't go there.
Which was...fine. It was a noisy tavern environment, so it was pretty difficult to project over all that (and the PA was a mite sketchy too), but there was no bad intent in the crowd. They were just busy. That said, I went over pretty well...in fact, relative to the acts that played before and after me they were downright effusive. I'd had my defenses up the previous night, but everyone was so nice to me here I just laughed it off; there was nothing to get uptight about. The one song I did that didn't get any response was my favorite of the night...a one-man band version of "The Foghorn" with me using a drum loop on the piano and covering the bass with the left hand. It was a low key, and not a crowd pleaser, but I thought it sounded pretty bitchin'. I'd first tried it out in Houston but this was the first time I'd pulled it off totally successfully.
I kept my set brisk and dropped "The Big Bear" so the closing act, Brian Miller, would get on in time. Brian had been kind enough to check in with me on myspace with nice words to say, and I enjoyed his set a lot...not as concise as Chris' but still quite good songwriting in a more baroque, slightly progressive but still pop vein. Poor Brian got the worst of the three of us in terms of projecting over the crowd, but he took it all in his stride. He had offered to put me up that night, but given the tight schedule to make the 900 mile drive to Tucson, I decided to hit the road and get a few hours ahead of the game. Considering the dangerous, tour-threatening misadventure that was about to happen the next day, this was a good thing.
September 9, 2008 - Hole In The Wall, Austin, TX
I had somewhat higher expectations for the gig just up the road in Austin the following day; Austin, like Portland, had once been a good town for me (as well as one of my favorite places) and I was on a bill with Rich Restaino, a fine local guitarist and songwriter. Now that the gig has happened, we're back to the dangers of expectations: I'm trying to decide if it edges out the infamous gig at Kirby's Beer Store in Wichitia, Kansas 2002 (where two U of K linebackers bellowed different songs in the front row all the way through my set) as the official Worst Road Gig Of All Time. On reflection, it wasn't as bad at the Kirby's gig. On the other hand, I got paid at the Kirby's gig (because the linebackers felt guilty and took up a collection) and as of this writing I'm not sure whether or not I'll get my cut of the bar from the Austin gig. (Note: after posting this blog I returned to the club and they, to their credit, did kick down money for the gig)
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I had planned to get together with Rich, local keyboardist and Beach Boys fan Gregg Lee (recommended through Jeff Green) and longtime friend and San Antonio musician Chris Gavito at Rich's house to rehearse this little pop supergroup for a few songs at the set, but Rich let me know this morning that he couldn't do it, so I scrambled a bit to get an alternate plan. We wound up gathering instead at Gregg's, without Rich, and tried out a number of things, including a new (and very cool) arrangement of "The Big Bear," "Long Promised Road," and a harmony laden "Portland." None of which, as it happened, we would ever get to try out onstage.
After a hurried dinner we got to the gig, where Rich was waiting. The place certainly lived up to its name...small, dark, and with a minimal PA system. Still, not a bad environment and there were a number of Austin musician types hanging out at the bar. There was a youngish fellow with a cowboy hat singing covers of country songs onstage. I noted with some dismay that he didn't start until 9:30, that he played for probably close to an hour, and that none of Rich's band -- which as it turned out was 8 pieces tonight -- had their gear up behind him. I was dismayed about this because I'd been given the third slot out of four bands...normally not a good place for an out of town band, but there was nothing I could really do about it...and none of this was conducive for getting on at close to the scheduled time. The closing band had a regular thing there on Tuesdays, and actually had asked if I'd play last, but I told them I just couldn't do it. They were super nice about it, but I was uneasy about how the gig was shaping up.
Rich's set was quite good, very tuneful pop in the Elvis Costello mode with a few mostly successful stylistic detours and perhaps less on its mind overall. The 8-piece band -- 5 musicians and 3 backup singers -- were laid out efficiently on the small stage and considering it was their second gig were fairly tight, though they struggled with the small stage and PA. Later when I got onstage and looked at the mixer it appeared that most of the vocals weren't even going through the mains...one of those things that happens when you've got a lot going on at once in a small space.
Anyhows, by the time we got on it was pushing midnight. We'd gotten our gear staged as best we could and considering the amount of equipment involved got set up fairly quickly. Nearly all of Rich's crowd had bailed and had been replaced by some regulars and a cadre of University of Texas college students. There was also a band coming on after us and though I didn't realize it at the time they had a substantial number of folks there who were impatiently waiting for them to go on. I wasn't feeling the crowd, anyway...I could tell it was going to be an uphill battle, so I toughened up and did the usual "Ludlow," but with more intensity. When I got out into the crowd for the third verse and addressed them, you could have heard a pin drop. They were mostly attentive except for this one college chick who couldn't stop giggling. I started singing directly to her. "Maybe in the end, this is all your life will mean..."
I got back onstage and I got a great response, but also a few chuckles from the back of the room. "Laughter is a great way to hide your pain," I said. "I get that." On reflection, it was a pretty ballsy thing to say, because it's basically true. I knew exactly how to cater to this kind of crowd. Get rowdy, party, woo-hoo, everyone's happy. But this tour, that's not my job. My job is to make a connection with the audience based on what my songs have to say to them. If I can't do that, then better get ready to throw the gig. And when I launched into an intense, brutal version of "Ginna Ling," got to the bridge, and some cracker yelled out "Free Bird!" I didn't hesitate. "Fuck you!" I responded disgustedly, dropping only one beat, and resumed, as a mutter of surprise filled the bar. Tensions were raised. It looked like I was going to completely kill at the end of the song, going into an intense Pete Townsend frenzy, except at the very end, the PA overloaded and cut out just as I hit the climax. It was still pretty effective, and people gave it up for the song, but it was a bummer. And that undercurrent of discontent in the back of the crowd got a little higher.
Third song. "Cut and Run." No long preamble, just: "This is a song about when you fuck someone and then you want to run as fast as you can." Nervous laughter and hoots. Song played. Decent response, but the impatience in the back of the room was going. Then I called the band up (cutting out one song as I did so) and moved to the piano. Then I did something that, on reflection, was probably a mistake because it was unnecessary. I said, "I have to take care of a request first for my public." Then I launched into a version of "Free Bird," that touched all the usual satiric bases except it was shorter and the turnaround into "Pretty Vacant" at the end had more bite than usual. The crowd now wasn't sure which way to turn, but there was clearly a segment of it that was really getting restless. The problem now facing me was the band was about to do a bunch of fairly mellow tunes, which were almost certain to bomb. I then announced "The Foghorn," mentioning that it was about a death in your close family, which if anything seemed to antagonize folks further. We launched into a pretty decent version of the song, but it didn't really go over and before I could start another song, the bartender came up and whispered in my ear: "Last song."
I was like, wow...so we got yanked after 5 songs, counting "Free Bird" as one, after sitting around for two hours and schlepping all our gear up? Nice. It was actually a defensible decision from the bar's perspective, since they wanted to keep the people there to see the closing band, but of course, it all came out of our time; no one else got cut nor did they start the night very early. I don't doubt that the vibe between me and the crowd played a role, but I don't think we actually got the hook. Anyway, I said: "This one's for the Beach Boys fans in the audience," receiving a snort of derision from a few people, and then we did a (really quite good) rendition of Dennis' "Moonshine," on behalf of the few people that had hung in there for a couple of hours to see me, and then limped to a close.
The hostility in the audience was so palpable that a few people, including the drummer in the closing band, felt motivated to apologize and say they'd really liked the set. And indeed, the ambivalence of some of the folks in the room contributed to making a more intense and committed performance from me. And so, I did a better show...it just didn't work. And you can make the argument that I didn't bring the right attitude to the show. I wouldn't argue with you...I definitely had shields up and fists out for the gig. But to me, that's rock and roll. It was an arm wrestling match with folks in the audience that just wanted to take me down. And in the end, it ended in a draw, with the club deciding to pull the plug. If we hadn't gone on so late, if we'd been able to finish the set and wrap it up, it might have gone down differently.
And there was another factor which made me feel pretty good about how I handled the gig overall and followed my instincts. As I loaded my stuff out, the closing band went up. Nice guys, and not without talent (they did a pretty cool country-punk thing) but Jesus Christ, they were loud. I mean, I could not stay in any part of the room loud. And their crowd, which suddenly swelled the room, were as loud as they were. Whooping, hollering, screaming...just earsplitting pandemonium. I love punk rock, and the band had a good-timey let's party vibe, but there was something really nihilistic and unsettling about the whole thing. Not to mention, well, unironically dumb. All things considered then, after seeing the composition of what I'd had to work with, I'd made the best of the bad situation and held my ground. A lot of shows got booked this tour that I didn't have time to thoroughly vet or suss out and that's my own fault; I was put in a situation where I had to get everything together in a hurry. Next time, it will be different. But when you get in that situation, sometimes, you have to be ready to throw the gig to maintain your self respect. And that's just how it went down.
September 8, 2008 - Dunn Brothers, Houston, TX
I woke up Sunday feeling better than I had in weeks, which was a good thing, as I had a very long drive ahead of me. I managed to get in a yoga session, which has been increasingly difficult in recent days, and then I was underway for the 650 mile drive down to Houston. Not much to report about the drive. I got off the interstate for a short while in Arkansas to do a drive on U.S. 70 that I had always enjoyed, noting with sadness (but not surprise) that the large, narrow, ancient bridge I remembered had been removed in the intervening five years. The second half of the drive took me down U.S. 59 through the eastern edge of Texas, which has pretty. I allowed myself my first Mexican meal in weeks (I have a firm rule not to eat Mexican east of the Mississippi) in Nacogdoches, which was pretty good.
For the next two days I stayed with an old Houston friend, Lindsay, and her family at a really nice house out in the 'burbs. When I got there Lindsey, her boyfriend Job and her brother Steve were all hanging out and even though we were really tired it was a fun time sitting around and chilling, something I haven't gotten to do much this trip. The house is well-stocked with musical instruments and the next day Steve was jamming on the piano for about an hour, just improvising. He wasn't a trained musician or anything but the stuff he was coming up with was really good. Later Lindsay and I joined him in an absurdist jam session, just banging on things and twisting knobs on the various gear lying around. I got caught up in the sheer amateur joy of experimenting with music and equipment, something it's easy to lose sight of when you become a "real" musician. I was kind of proud when Steve later confessed he hadn't realized I could actually play the piano until he looked me up on youtube later. Steve and I got on really well and we wound up making up various absurd songs, including one about Hurricane Ike which is currently bearing down on Houston, the second time I've been in a town just prior to it getting clobbered by a storm. Thank God I didn't leave L.A. three days later. Lindsay also took me out to a real southern restaurant for an awesome, artery-clogging breakfast, probably the last thing I needed but God was it good.
I always notice an improvement in my playing when I get to jam a little during the day and tonight was no exception, even though the playing was a lot more informal. The guy at Dunn Brothers commented that I had "real balls playing against Monday night football" and indeed the coffee shop out in the 'burbs had zero foot traffic. Sometimes you just have to take what you can get on an off night, and fortunately, a handful of my Houston peeps did turn up, making it a fairly enjoyable evening. I did pretty much my normal set, with a few detours. In honor of Elton John's underrated "Victim of Love" album I turned on the sequencer for a disco version of "Johnny B. Goode" apropos of nothing, and after everyone had listened attentively for about 45 minutes I took a few requests, most notably a solo version of "Good Vibrations" and Hall & Oates' "Kiss On My List," including the entire guitar solo section. It wasn't the greatest gig in the world, but I sold a few CDs, and for a Monday night way out in the boonies of Houston, it wasn't bad, and there were people there I was really happy to see.
After the gig I went back to Lindsay's where we all stayed up watching MST3K, most specifically "The Legend of Boggy Creek II," an '80s trainwreck featuring a self-aggrandizing University of Arkansas professor running around the backwoods telling long-winded stories and boring his dimwitted students. I've always been taken with the taciturn Native American girl in the movie, partly because she's quite beautiful in a non-Hollywood way and partly because hers was the only remotely appearling character in the film. While we were watching I sent the actress (now 46 and living in Colorado with her family) a friend request on myspace because, why not? Her profile didn't refer to the film by name (nor was her name anywhere on it), but said cryptically: "This movie was NEVER supposed to be released... I mean NEVER... I guess someone was hurting for some money to get this out... It's a student film gone bad... If you can't laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at." Indeed. Then she had posted the entire MST3K version of the movie from youtube onto her profile. Now THAT'S cool.
September 6, 2008 - Otherlands, Memphis, TN
After an oil change and lunch with my half sister, who lives just outside Nashville, I was back on the road again, still pretty tired and not feeling real refreshed. I could tell bad diet and exercise from the punishing schedule were taking their toll...I've definitely put on weight in the last few weeks. My intention was to do some hiking on the drive to Memphis but again I didn't have as much time as I wanted, though I did a little walking around in a wildlife preserve about 50 miles out of town. I had picked up Brian Wilson's new CD, "That Lucky Old Sun," on the trip down and I've been absorbing it since then. I'm not as much of a Brianista as you might think but this album has really affected me, particularly the final third of it, and I was writing an essay in my head about the various intriguing and beautiful things about the album as I walked around. But you're not going to get it now, fortunately.
I got in to Memphis around 6 still feeling fairly groggy and arrived at the home of John Norris, who had helped set up the gig and who I knew from his days as leader of local pop band Crash Into June. John was kind enough to take me out to an excellent Asian meal, and that and an excellent mocha made for me by the folks at Otherlands perked me up enough to do the show, though I sincerely hoped I was more alert for the 600 mile drive that awaited me the next day, because my ass just felt good and kicked. Again I cursed the Knoxville booker who'd caused me to lose a night's sleep on Thursday. I felt headachy and dehydrated and maybe a little sick, but three glasses of water from the Otherlands water cooler improved things a lot.
Otherlands is apparently the place to play if you're a singer-songwriter coming through town, and it was a nice, though no-frills, coffee house. I was sandwiched on the bill between two locals -- usually a good place to be -- and they were catering to a younger crowd which meant people actually showed up...in fact by the time I got off stage the place was pretty much full. Natalie Huffman opened, and her wispy pop (think the JUNO soundtrack, but more accomplished) was not without charm, and I liked the fact that she kept her songs concise. At the end, a young woman came up and did a beat box thing with her mouth. It sounded exactly like a drum machine and I don't know she did it, whether she was holding an I-Pod up to her mouth or blowing through some gadget or what.
As for my set, it had some similarities to the previous night but everything was a notch better. I was still tired but not pressed for time so I allowed myself to lapse into loopy mode, for instance digressing into a discussion of Joe Jackson's song "Memphis (Where The Hell Is...)" ("Doesn't that song piss you guys off?"). Like the previous night, the audience's attention wandered a little towards the late middle of the set but I got 'em back with a reprise of the Tennessee-specific "James K. Polk," (again, someone in the audience knew it, doubling the fun) and a rollicking "Big Big Yeah." "Ginna Ling" was pretty kickass too...all in all a better show than last night, and I could tell by the reactions later that I made a good impression. If it didn't translate to CD sales, that had a lot to do with the composition of the crowd...mostly teen and 20-somethings with not a lot of disposable income nor inclination to buy compact discs. One pleasant surprise was meeting John Scott, brother of Jeremy Scott, a local musician best known as the former bassist for Reigning Sound and a Cockeyed Ghost fan from the old days. It was good to catch up on what Jeremy was up to.
Plus I was just a warm up for the main event, Star & Micey, a very skilled, semi-acoustic three piece that mined melodic indie territory...a little Jeff Buckley, a little Pinback, a little Flaming Lips, if you get the vibe. They were excellent musicians, pulling off the intricate grooves with little effort. Good singers too, although their high harmonies were a little piercing in such a small room...though given Cockeyed Ghost's early history of punk falsetto wailing I guess I'm not one to talk. Their drummer was particularly adroit and someone told me that he played with Three Doors Down...I don't know if he's a sub or a regular or what. But he was good and had a kit I had never seen before.
I have to say the Otherlands experience was a good one...despite it being the last show to come together (added to the schedule just three weeks ago), they put together a good bill and were more than fair to me on the business end. I would definitely play here again. After the show I had a couple of offers to go to parties but it was really out of the question...I was really burnt with a long day ahead of me the next day. I was still 1,800 miles from home but the end of the tour and its difficulties -- and the beginning of the rewards, from new career opportunities to being able to rest and see friends, to follow -- felt tantalizingly close.
September 5, 2008 - Radio Interview, Murfreesboro, TN
Cafe Coco, Nashville, TN
First, an amusing postcript to Wednesday's gig in Hampton: got an e-mail from Nate today that said: "You got huge, rave fucking reviews from the folks downtown! The bar loved you, as did the owner. He said that they had a ton of people coming up telling him how much they dug you. Good shit!" Too which I replied: "You've got to be kidding me!" Just goes to show: Never Let The Audience...but I digress.
I got 9 hours sleep which seemed to just remind my body of how much more it would like, now that I was actually doing the sleeping thing. It was a mere three hour drive to Nashville, and with a time change giving me an extra hour to boot, but I was unable to find a place to exercise nor a place to get my oil changed, even after repeated attempts at both. I arrived in the college town of Murfreesboro at about 2:30 p.m. and got some lunch before heading to the radio station at Middle Tennessee State for a brief interview on their afternoon show, hosted by Cloud and Zack. It was a much more professional environment than a lot of college stations I have visited. The visit was necessarily brief since there was no visitor parking near the station and my car was in danger of being towed, but I had enough time to do a respectable version of "Ginna Ling." Then I made the short drive (complicated by traffic and rain) up to Nashville. It was rainy by the time I got to Cafe Coco, a few hours early, but the place had wi-fi so I loaded in and settled in to get some dinner and chill a bit.
I wasn't crazy about Cafe Coco, but I'd be hard pressed to tell you why; there was nothing wrong with the club per se. I think it was just too small a space, and with it being kind of a hipster spot there was an undercurrent of indifference in the room (not when I was playing, I'm talking about when I was eating). Plus I was tired and it was rainy, and the load in was upstairs through a narrow stairway, and it was dark in the live room so it was hard to see and to not bump into something. The place was actually pretty nice as such clubs go; it just didn't make me feel energized or cozy, just cramped.
There was also a bit of confusion about the time slot. I'd advertized 9, but the sound guy said they wanted all the music done by 10, and there was another band, The Superficials, who had actually set up the gig and who I had met through an old Nashville friend, Ned Van Go, via myspace. I waited until they got there to sort out what to do and we decided to split up the sets so that they would do 20 minutes, I'd do 35, and then they'd do another 20 or 30 after. I also got with some of those guys and VERY hurriedly showed them "The Big Bear" and "The Foghorn" so we'd be able to jam together.
Some friends of mine showed up as the Superficials went on; we were all very impressed with them. I would call them an alt-country band that took some detours here and there, and did them successfully. They had three lead singers, each with a slightly different angle, so that kept things interesting. In the second set they even brought up a rapper and did a sort of hip-hop/Dave Mathews hybrid song that was almost impossible to not fuck up, but they pulled it off. They were all good musicians without being flashy, and Eric, the bass player, was stunning. The guy played left-handed Hofner bass (like McCartney), upside down (like Evie), with his thumb (like Brian Wilson) and just did these insane bass lines. I've never seen anybody play that fast with his thumb and he sure was fun to watch.
As for my set, I played and sang pretty well, but I was really tired and I thought it affected my performance subtly. Not in the sense of making mistakes but more in not putting that extra 10% into the performance to connect to the material and make it compelling for the audience. I also was aware of the time and probably rushed things a little to make sure not to push into the band's second set. Indeed, I had a full room of fairly attentive listeners but I lost about half of them during the course of the set. "Ludlow" and "Ginna" went well and I trashed "Long Promised Road" in favor of the ode to Nashville native "James K. Polk," which got really fun because it turned out Erik knew the song and when I stopped after the first verse and yelled "Who was it?" he marched in the room and yelled, "It was James K. Polk, our 11th president!" The jam with the guys went fairly well...it was slightly uneasy in spots but they did quite a good job, particularly the drummer, Matthew. Not bad considering I barely showed them the song before they got tossed onstage to play it. I'll say it again: good band.
September 4, 2008 - Time Warp Tea Room, Knoxville, TN
Not much to write about this gig as it never happened! Kind of annoying too, because I had gotten up super early (7:30 p.m.) and made a 550-mile drive all day just to make it. It wasn't a total surprise because I'd noticed a few days before that I wasn't on the schedule. I tried to e-mail and call the booker but she didn't get back to me. I thought about blowing it off, but the gig had been confirned and it's not unusual for clubs to drop the ball on the calendary, so I felt irresponsible not showing up...so I did, and the gig was not on. Luckily, I don't have a lot of fans in Knoxville, so it didn't bum too many people out, but it meant shelling out for an unnecessary hotel room since I didn't have anywhere to stay in town. I did find a fairly cheap place with wi-fi, so at least I got some rest and some work done.
September 3, 2008 - Marker 20, Hampton, VA
I had been signing autographs and chatting with classmates at the Labor Day show when I mentioned to someone, "You know, this tour was hell before I went to my brother's funeral. When I got back from California, everything started going my way."
The person said: "Sounds like someone is looking after you." It took a minute for her meaning to sink in. I'm not prone to that kind of thinking but this gave me pause. It made me feel good, anyway.
Anyway, after a solid week with a great band, two days with my best friend in my favorite spot in the country, and some alone time with my mom, and it was really back to the grind. I left Greene on Tuesday night (after dropping Teresa off at the car rental place earlier that day, a prelude to two days' R & R in Maine for her before returning to L.A.), making a late-night run down to D.C. to get in position for the next day's show just outside Norfolk. The drive was tiring but psychologically, it was good to feel like I was starting my long trip home. I stayed at the home of old friend/fan Rene Alvir (though I got in so late I never saw him) and after sleeping late made it down to the gig in Hampton just in time to grab some seafood for dinner.
First the good news: the venue treated me swell, and Nate Baloy, a local musician who had once covered "Disappear" (and more recently, "It's Fucked Up") and had set up the gig, couldn't have been a greater guy to hang with or more considerate. The bad news is the show was a sequel to the Bloomington gig, except substitute military and/or frat dudes (I couldn't tell which) and drunken 50-somethings for college students. Episode II of "Never Let The Audience Make You Their Bitch" began with a very tasty set by Came In Tokyo, two guys with good chops and great taste (covers: Wilco, Merle Haggard, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson). Then it was my turn, and I doggedly stuck to my solo original set (except for substituting "My Kickass Life" as the opener), even though I was clearly bombing with the sizable crowd who would have much preferred I bust into something they knew. I was back to nearly full force with my voice and was singing great but it didn't matter, even when Nate came up to join me on a few songs, most notably "The Big Bear," featuring a very rowdy dude on the keyboard mugging to his mates. I just gritted my teeth and tried not to look.
I would have happily gave up the stage after an hour but there were a bunch of people there and I had a decent guarantee, so I had to soldier on. Grudgingly, I started taking requests for covers (nothing but, actually), although I inserted plenty of crowd discipline where necessary. One obnoxious woman who repeatedly called for "Marvin Gaye" got a resounding "no." "Why?" "Because you're not being nice," I scolded. Eventually I did a daft version of "Angel In The Morning," substituting "Let's Get It On" whenever I got to the chorus. A funny thing happened by the time I got to the third chorus this time singing "Marvin In The Morning" (about the time the lady finally woke up and noticed I was sort-of fulfilling her request) -- I noticed the crew cut dudes were singing along with the bogus lyrics! That got a laugh out of me...they were actually following what was going on and taking part. About that time, too, I remembered that in this situation it's good to be somewhat drunk and after a couple of Newcastles I really started living dangerously. When folks were attentive I'd deliver straight renditions of songs, but more often than not it was things like "El Paso" (with the infamous Mexican porn alternate lyrics), Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You" (better stand back from the mic and cover your ears), or a Janis Joplin imitation (original key and vocal stylings). Things got truly dadaesque at the end when people who thought they could move the crowd better than I started getting on the mic while I was over at the keyboards messing around with the sequencer. First an African American dude gets up and starts doing the "somebody scream!" schtick (never heard that before, dude), hyped a local music festival and then he attempted a lame rap. I responded by first changing the tempo of the sequencer beat on him while he was trying to sing, and then doing five minutes of "Rapper's Delight" rapidfire as the guy gaped at me and left the stage, vanquished in a rap-off. Then it was two drunk white guys about 60 who wanted to sing "na na na" to the end of "Hey Jude." For those guys, I kept changing the key on them, so that they never stayed in tune more than five seconds at a time. Then gradually I started lowering the key lower and lower and slower and slower 'til it sounded like everyone had run out of batteries. After that I finally pulled the plug on the gig.
The damnedest thing was that even though I was close to downright abusive to the audience, by the end these folks loved me. The crew cut dudes were particularly nice, calling me by my first name, buying me shots and stuffing the tip jar with twenties (something that didn't occur to the more affluent-looking gang on the other side of the stage). This underlines the motto I learned when I left the road: Never Let The Audience Make You Their Bitch. Nobody likes a pussy. Start doing everything the audience wants, and they'll just walk all over you. If you make them find a middle ground somewhere with you, all will be well. Even at a gig like this. Which, like Bloomington, meant I wound up winning in the end, winning ugly, but with dignity.
And, of course, the money from the gig will cover most of my trip back. That helps too. Thanks Nate and Marker 20!!!!
September 1, 2008 - Labor Day Picnic, Greene, NY
The day started off in Greene at Adam's mom's house, where we'd landed Sunday night after a much needed respite in the Adirondacks. After we woke up around 10ish and Adam attended to a few things for his mom both in the computer and dead bat disposal realms (ew), we gathered up our impressive pile of dirty clothes and headed over to the laundry mat across the street. Clothes safely in the washer after a brief battle with the soap dispenser, we grabbed some coffee at the local convenience store, one of the few things open on Labor Day, and hoofed it over to Ball Flats to check out the scene of our 5 pm gig.
One of the many things I have learned about Adam's home town of Greene, NY, in the past few days is that Labor Day is a BIG DEAL here. Apparently not as big as when Adam was a kid, but still, the day's events had started bright at early at 8 am with hose fights and a parade and by the time we were walking around at 11 am, the streets were wall to wall traffic and there were lots of people on previously sparsely populated sidewalks headed over to the picnic site.
We arrived at Ball Flats to find everything pretty much as Adam remembered it, with the same tents in the same places they had always been. The only notable differences were that there seemed to be less people than previous years (though there were still hundreds of them filling the grounds), the location where the bands set up had moved, and the spicy sausage had more gristle.
After finding the stage where we'd be playing later (after Elvis, no less), touching base with the organizer for the live music part of the picnic, and chatting with an old family friend (where we learned such interesting facts as Peter Tork used to live in Fairfax, WA, the location of one of the tour's earlier shows), we headed back to Adam's mom's. Adam finally got a little time to hang and chat with his mom while I got cleaned up and finished the laundry. We then squeezed in what TCB stuff we could before it was time to meet up with Charlie and Jon for some pre-show living room vocal rehearsal. The rehearsal turned out to just be with Charlie because Jon, who was coming from Allentown, got stuck in some construction traffic. The rehearsal went well and solidified some things that hadn't quite gelled just right vocally in previously shows. The end was a little stressful though, as we were kind of pushing it time wise to get over to the picnic and set up. Oh, and let's not forget the fact that we hadn't heard from Jon in a while because of sketchy cel reception and weren't sure how far out he still was or if he even knew where to go once he arrived. We did manage to make it over with our gear in time, after a brief run in with a parking attendant on a power trip, and happily Jon and his girlfriend Tara were already there unloading his drums.
Adam's brother, David, a local musician and one of Adam's earliest musical mentors, had agreed to sit in on guitar on "The Foghorn" for the show. This was significant not only because the song is about losing a family member, but also because it has been many years since Adam and David have shared a stage. Adam's relationship with his brother, as I understand it, has always been a rather strained one, so we were all a little concerned with how him sitting in was going to go down. It was obvious when David arrived that he and Adam have very different ways of approaching music, but that they both wanted to make it happen for reasons of family unity.
After we all got settled on stage, the Mayor of Greene, Marcia Miller, came up to the mic to introduce us. She and Adam exchanged a few brief off microphone words which mainly consisted of him informing her that he still picked his nose, to where she gave an unsurprised smile and nod. During her very pride-filled introduction, which included a brief recap of the last Labor Day picnic Adam had played at age 14, when the flatbed truck drove off with his piano and he was forced to play bass instead, she unexpectedly presented him with an official proclamation from the Village of Greene welcoming him back. How cool is that? Adam was stunned and happy.
After this very prestigious introduction there was nothing left to do but play a kick ass show, so that's exactly what we did. It was, overall, the tightest of all our full band shows. Everything was well sung, well grooved, well played, and had lots of great energy and flow. The stage banter had tons of hometown references and even included conversations with the folks who piped in on the intercom between songs with announcements about raffles or how much chicken was left. "The Foghorn" seemed to go over well (and was well rewarded by the pleased look on Adam's mom's face) although we had never rehearsed it with David so we all had to make a few adjustments to accommodate his intricate style of guitar playing. The originals were well received, though the best song of the show would probably have to go to a happy-go-lucky ("We're going to play something obvious now" said Adam) cover of "Folsom Prison Blues. "
The highlight of the show by far was when we did our now standard bring someone up from the audience to play keyboards on "The Big Bear" schtick. Adam waved a volunteer, a small white-haired woman, up to the stage and when she arrived, his jaw dropped nearly to the floor. "You're not Mrs. Bub?" Ha - she was! Adam's first piano teacher had just joined us on stage. Adam claimed that he was her worst student ever and she did not agree or disagree on that one. It was such a hoot to have her sitting there at the keyboard. Adam kept looking over at her delightedly throughout the song, which she did a fantastic job on. Later after we played Portland I asked her how Adam had done, as it was his first piano song of the show. She gave the thumbs up.
We closed the nearly 2 hour set with some rockin' originals and then an equally rocking cover of "Steppin' Stone." The crowd had been great the whole time and I hastily unplugged my bass and hightailed it to the merch table, which already had a group of people around it. I dished out a healthy number of CDs while Adam caught up with folks from his past and signed autographs. Adam is probably one of the most famous not quite famous people Greene has ever had so it was cool to see him getting the hometown star treatment.
After the merch table died down, I was left with the task of loading the car while Adam tracked down the people who were to pay us for the gig so we could try to make it to a soda shop in Oxford before they closed at 8. I must proudly state I loaded the car all by myself for the first time the whole tour and actually got everything in. This isn't as impressive as it could be as our luggage and a few other large items were at Adam's mom's, but still, it was impressive to me.
Unfortunately, we did not make it out in time to get to Oxford, however, we decided to do a band milkshake and dinner run in Binghamton. We caravaned over to the ice cream stand first and had some amazing milkshakes. This was followed by a very fun and bonding dinner with Jon, Charlie and Tara at an Italian restaurant. It was very pleasant to finally get to just sit down and hang out with the guys we've been playing with on the east coast part of the tour. They are both great people as well as great musicians so it was really cool to get to take the time to appreciate the people aspect of them now that their tour of musical duty was over. Much hilarity ensued. Most notably, at one point while we were still waiting (which we did for quite some time) for the waitress to bring us menus, Adam crossed over into morose territory speaking about his brother's death. There was a slightly awkward and sad silence while we all let it hang in the air for a few breaths and then suddenly out of nowhere, having waited nearly half an hour to get a menu, Charlie blurted out "I couldn't eat another bite!" - completely straight faced. I guess you'd have had to be there to get how hysterical it was but we all laughed uncontrollably for quite some time. The dinner continued with great conversation interspersed with fits of giggles. What a blast.
After we parted with our east coast bandmates in the parking lot, with talk of doing it again next year, Adam directed me on a scenic drive back home. That area of Upstate New York has tons of cool old houses and buildings that we have been enjoying looking at on this leg of the tour, so we decided to drive around looking for more on the way back since it was our last night in the area. One of the streets we wandered onto was the street where Jean Lindsley, an employee of Adam's dad and her husband, Joe, a well respected local artist lived. Adam called Jean his dad's best and most underpaid employee. Like Adam's dad, Jean passed away several years ago, but apparently Joe still lived in the house.
There have been quite a few occurrences on this tour that have played out much like a movie script, but this one by far had them all beat. As we drove by the house, Adam noticed that even though it was past 11 p.m, the light was on and that Joe was inside, so we stopped and knocked on the door. After a bit of a startle, Joe came to the door and happily let us in. He was thrilled to see Adam again, and the feeling was mutual. Joe is 88 now and his white hair and beard accentuated lively intelligent blue eyes. His front room was filled with his beautiful paintings, as well as magazines, wine bottles and other assorted items - his ordered chaos as he called it. Adam and I sat in the living room with Joe for probably about half an hour discussing politics, aging, family, being an artist, and an assortment of other things.
This tour has been a real learning and growing experience for myself and especially for Adam who has gotten some serious insight on where he came from and what elements have made him what he is, as well as with the whole concept of being an artist/musician for a living again. What was so surreal and movie script-like about our time was Joe was that nearly every word of out Joe's mouth tied together and summed up to a tee all of the concepts that have been coming to light in the past few weeks. It was as if someone put him in his front room with the lights on at the time we randomly drove by for the soul purpose of explaining everything to the "audience." At one point Joe, unaware of how much his speech was echoing Adam's thinking, said: "You go years as an artist without getting the affirmation of sales, or critical acclaim. I got to the point where I accept I was a minor, that my work would wind up in the storerooms of some small museums, never shown. Then this guy did a showing of my work, laid it all end to end, my whole life. I looked at it and I saw things I didn't even know I did. I realized then that I had done some really good work.
"And now I know that I'm good. I know it might take 100 years from now for people to appreciate it, because what people buy...it's not about what's good, it's about what's accepted, about fitting in. But I know that's OK. What's good emerges over time."
Adam, normally a big talker, just listened, riveted. "Thank you. I understand exactly what you're saying," he said. He was a little moist-eyed when we left.
I found it all very magical. I found Joe delightful, kind and very insightful. We were both loath to leave his company, especially since it was likely the last time either of us would see him again, but we felt guilty about keeping him up so late so with a hearty handshake from Adam and a big hug from me, we left and returned to Greene for one last night.
Teresa here. Even though Adam told me from the day I joined the tour in Kansas City that I was welcome to contribute my own entries to the tour diary (as I and the rest of the band had done when we did the last two full band tours), things have been so crazy that I really haven't had the time or the energy to do more than was needed to keep up with my own emails and with promotion for the next show. Now that my leg of the tour is over and I am heading to Maine for a little mini vacation before flying back to LA on Friday, I finally have enough bandwidth to make a contribution to the diary, and I can't think of a more eventful, memorable, or magical day on this tour to do so...Adam's homecoming show on Labor Day.
First, the weekend: After our successful escape from New York City to Schenectady on Friday night, we woke up Saturday from our first full 8 hours sleep in quite some time in an old school Upstate New York cheap motel. The motel had appeared a bit creepy at first because when we first pulled in it looked deserted, but turns out the back side of the motel was where all the guests had been roomed - it was packed back there. It ended up being comfy with wifi to boot.
I had woken up cranky that morning because even though we had 8 hours sleep my body wanted more but we had to check out of the motel. Adam was annoyingly cheerful and already up and told me I'd soon be in a better mood. With my grumbling self in tow, Adam drove us up to the Adirondacks for some very well deserved R&R. The further into the mountains we got, the better my mood got. It was really difficult to stay cranky surrounded by so much beauty, and Adam kept informing me we were barely in the park and it would only get better. He was absolutely right. It was the kind of terrain that reminded me of my childhood in Florida, only better - more hilly and colorful and no alligators!
Our first stop was at a very cute converted trolley car restaurant for breakfast. Not only was the place adorable, but the food and service were top notch. They even went as far as to cheerily put a newspaper under Adam's feet when he got very comfy in the booth with his back to the wall and feet on the seat. He even admitted that he felt bad about putting his feet on their seat but that he was so comfortable and relaxed that he couldn't bring himself to move. They were happy to have him sit however he wanted as long as their seat was protected. Just when we thought the experience couldn't get much better, the food came. First of all, the pancakes were smiling at us! This small gesture made Adam extremely tickled. Not only were they smiling but they were also delicious. As was the corn beef hash. Talk about the real deal. We both left full and happy and ready to work it off with a day's hiking.
Our hiking started on an very old road that Adam had discovered on a previous trip many years before but hadn't gotten to explore very far. Adam believed it was the trace of a Military Road that was built in 1812. We followed it's muddy path for quite a way but couldn't quite figure out where it was going. We later found maps that showed where it went, and it was quite a distance from where we had picked it up. Before our next hike, we decided to secure a hotel for the night so that we could give Adam's mom another day of space and ourselves another day of recreation. We found a vacant cabin in Long Lake, right off the lake at a decent price for Labor Day weekend, which we were lucky to get because most things were booked up.
After a brief respite, our next hike was a very pleasant, but muddy jaunt near an old ghost town, Adirondack. There were plenty of interesting ruins around made for a great end of the day hike. We had to hurry to make it back to Long Lake before all the restaurants closed, but we managed to get there before 8 and get a dinner recommendation from the girl in the book store for Long View Lodge. She said it was pricey but they had a really good cook there. As long as they took American Express we didn't care about the pricey part because I had been saving some AMEX gift cards one of my bosses had given me for just such an occasion. The book store girl did not steer us wrong. The food was amazing, most notably the Manhattan (red) clam chowder. I had never had anything but New England clam chowder and I LOVED it. Not only did we have great food and finally get a chance to enjoy the nice bottle of wine Rand had given us back in Cinci (for the low price of a $5 corkage fee) but we were also very pleased with the live entertainment that was performing. It was two older guys with acoustic guitars and impeccable rhythm. Kind of Gordon Lightfoot meets Johnny Cash. Good stuff. We think the main guy's name was Jamie Sutler but I couldn't find him on line anywhere. It was very inspiring to see them giving such a good performance. Dinner finished, I drove the mile back to the place we were staying.
Sunday's breakfast experience was unfortunately not as stellar as Saturday's. We went to the "best breakfast place in town" the Long Lake Diner where Adam had fond memories of great breakfasts from his childhood family trips to the area. Things have changed since then. Not only was the service incredibly slow, but the food was just OK with overcooked pancakes and lukewarm eggs. Adam did what I imagine to be a pretty accurate impression of what his father would have said had he been there about how disappointed he was with the way things had gone downhill.
We cheered ourselves with more hiking. The first hike was from a book we had gotten the previous day (which Adam already had at home but this was an updated version) that was supposed to have ruins of a tannery, a root cellar and some other cool things. We found the trail fine, but found it overgrown with summer plants and flowers to the point where it was very difficult to see any of the landmarks the books noted. We kept looking for the "meadow" that was supposed to be 2 miles in and mark the area where some of the ruins were. We kept going and going, for what we both swore felt like more than 2 miles without seeing a meadow when we saw something REALLY unexpected...people! There was a man and a woman up ahead who were just as shocked to see us as we were to see them. According the the man, he had been there more than 10 times and never seen another hiker. Also according to the man (who had a map) we had overshot our meadow by about a mile and we were way, way deep in the middle of the woods. WTF!? We headed back still looking for landmarks but not really sure we found any. It was a beautiful hike though and short enough that we still had time for one more before we headed back to Greene to take Adam's mom out to dinner. Well, that was our plan anyway, but as of then we were unable to get a hold of her to make sure that plan worked.
Speaking of Adam's mom, the second hike was in a place where he had taken her once but they hadn't gotten very far because the terrain was a little rough for her elderly ankles. It was an old road that lead to remains of a town and a clothes pin factory. Our book's author said that besides the factory wall and the man made lake there was very little left to be found. We showed her! We found another road that was neither in the book nor in old maps we'd seen as well as 2 substantial foundations to smaller buildings. Go us.
Satisfied with the day's adventures and with one quick stop at an ice cream stand for a milkshake and sundae (yum), we headed towards Greene, periodically trying to reach Adam's mom but getting a busy signal every time. The drive back took us through some interesting old towns where we found a neat old waterworks building as well as lots of cool old houses. By the time we got within an hour of Greene and were still unable to reach Adam's mom, we decided to stop in Norwich for dinner before everything closed. We had a good but not great Italian dinner and then took a walk around the town before heading back to Greene. We both felt much more relaxed and rested and hit the sack ready for the next day's Labor Day festivities and gig.
August 29, 2008 - Uncensored Interview
The Living Room, New York City, NY
T and I once again got up earlier than we would have liked, to make an interview at 2 p.m. in Manhattan with the popular website uncensoredinterview.com. We actually ran into so little traffic we got there about an hour early and walked around Greenwich Village for a bit. I've been to NYC many times but it was hitting me differently this time for some reason...the city had always made me a little uptight before, partly because I was usually there with very little money and a car full of gear to guard. This time, the vibe felt very good to me. When I was younger the brusque, straightforward vibe of the city scared me a bit. Now I appreciate the forthrightness, the willingness to talk to a stranger on the street and say just what you're thinking. It's very un-L.A. and something that I'm really starting to miss.
The on-camera interview was very interesting. I liked the interviewer, Miriam, very much and if I'd had more time I would have liked to interview her for a bit...when I get more time I intend to spend a little more time on the website. They asked Teresa and I some wide-ranging questions, very little of which have to do with your own music per se, just your general vibe on things. Teresa didn't say much and I was amused to note the things that really got her animated -- the big one being the seat belt in my car which restrains her at the wrong times and about which she complains volubly. Not that I blame her. I guess I was my usual mouthy self but when I was asked what my superpower would be, I thought about it for a minute and the answer came from a whole 'nuther place...because I think it would be about being able to ease peoples' fears that drive their insecurities. I think that would do more good in the world than being able to stop a speeding train. It was probably a jarring thought given what had come before. Teresa responded that her super power would be to be able to fix seat belts in aging Japanese cars.
We both enjoyed the interview, although the fatigue was starting to manifest itself by the end. There was no performance, which was good because it would save my voice. We had a few hours to kill in the city so we drove (with some difficulty) down to the area of the club. We were able to find parking near an internet cafe so we spent a lot of our time there catching up (well, more like being not so hopelessly far behind) on our e-mail.
The show was an early one, which worked out for us as Teresa and I had decided, with my mom's blessing (she was ready to have the house for herself for a few days) to head to the Adirondack Mountains immediately afterward for a day's badly needed R & R. The Adirondacks are among my very favorite places in the country and I hadn't been there in five years; Teresa had never been there at all. A pleasant surprise was that Mary Kate O'Neil, who I had met and played with on my very first solo tour when she was with Piewackit, was opening the show, yet another circle being closed on this trip (another old touring acquaintance, Albany's John Brodeur, turned out to be closing the show but by the time he went on T and I were already in Albany ourselves).
Mary Kate's set of airy, orchestral pop was excellent, benefiting from a solid band and a friendly crowd. The set change on tonight's show was among the tightest of the band shows, and Charlie and Jon got stuck in traffic and thus barely made it in time. This and too-quiet monitors threw off the band's balance for the show and it was a shakier gig than the previous two, although I have to say given the circumstances the band played pretty confidently. We also did a different set list from Philly, with "Portland" and "At the Bookstore" being clear highlights ("Big Big Yeah" was an even-bigger catastrophe than the prior night, however). Paul Bertolini, who had backed me in San Francisco, strolled up mid-set (he was staying in New York on vacation) and added some subtle percussion, and it was great to see him. I also had more of my voice than the previous night, so that was good. All in all, a show that was a notch below what we had done earlier in the week but could have been much worse given the confusion. The crowd was appreciative, and not a horrible turnout given the Labor Day weekend, and it was another good night for selling CDs.
Adam works the crowd at the Living Room
There were a number of people I would have liked to have spent more time with, most specifically Paul and Evie's drummer friend Mark, who was so helpful to us on the '04 tour, but we had to break away to have any chance of getting to the hotel we had booked in Schenectady, three hours away. Right off the bat I blundered into a massive traffic jam outside Yankee Stadium, but once we cleared that it was smooth sailing all the way upstate. I could not wait to get to the moutains and have a little bit of a break.
August 28, 2008 - The North Star Bar, Philadelphia, NY
My big goal for the day was regaining my ability to sing for the opening slot with Peter Tork at the North Star Bar, where I had last played with Cockeyed Ghost (and Charlie) in 1999. If something happened during the day other than once again getting a later start than planned. The band convened at the gig, with some extra players than Charlie and Jon had found: percussionist Dave Joachim and guitarist Tim Schumacher. I'd talked to Dave on the phone about the arrangements and I was excited about having a percussionist on the date. Tim was a dreadlocked jazz guy who I hoped would sit in on "The Foghorn," "The Big Bear" and "Then I'll Be Happy." We wound up showing him the first two during soundcheck and I charted out the latter one afterwards. The two guys fell right in onstage as soon as we got into it, and Tim proved very adept at stepping in and doing just what was required. I was really pleased. This was going to be a good gig.
Peter Tork and his band were hanging around, and I tried to stay out of his way a little bit. I've run into him a few times before, and Teresa and I even dined with him when we were playing with the Wrecking Crew, but it's not like we're pals or anything. I have an enormous respect for the man because I had opened for him ten years ago when he did a solo gig at Highland Grounds, and it made a huge impression on me. It was one of the best solo performances I had ever seen, and I learned a lot about how to hold a crowd and make the most of your assets by watching him. It came in very handy when I toured solo. I did wind up having a brief conversation with him and Tim in the dressing room, mostly about the asinine questions people ask him. I personally witnessed him get pigeonholed a number of times by people who just wanted to talk to a Monkee about whatever THEIR deal was and I marveled at his restraint because it would drive me absolutely nuts. I did have a stupid question of my own to ask, although it had nothing to do with the Monkees but with his days as a Greenwich Village busker in the mid '60s....did Jon Sebastian really pass the hat after every number as the Mamas and Papas sang in "Creque Alley?" Was I missing out on a way to make 10 times as much from the audience? This had always bothered my obsessive little mind. Mr. Tork assured me that the hat was passed at the end of the sets, not every number, and I heaved a sigh of relief.
As for the show, it was AWESOME to be playing with a 5- to 6-piece band that really knew its stuff in that environment. Except for a shambolic "Big Big Yeah," the show was lovely, bordering on sublime in spots. I didn't have the full use of my voice yet, but it was in better shape than the previous night and I did well on the Beach Boys tunes and particularly "The Foghorn," which Tim did a lovely solo on. The full sound really benefited "The Big Bear," particularly David back there covering the finger cymbal part. We also did a pretty spectacular version of "The Porpoise Song," if I do say so myself, and I was puzzled that few of the people in the audience seemed to know it. If they're big enough fans to go to a Peter Tork solo show, how could they not know "The Porpoise Song"? Well, whatever. We finished up with "Then I'll Be Happy" and Jon and I started locking into counter rhythms with one another, building to a crescendo...wow. The show was great, one of the best of the tour, and I was pleased to have found a group of musicians on the east coast I enjoy playing with as much as the Chaos Band...no small feat! I started to plan more shows on the northeast in my head for next year. The only downside was (of course) turnout, which wasn't that great for either act, but I didn't care. We did at least have a goodly number of people hear us for the first time, and it was another good night at the merch table. In fact, Teresa and I realized that we were in danger of running out of CDs very soon...prompting some emergency phone calls back to L.A. to get something FedExed out to us in time for the Labor Day picnic show on Monday. This proved to be very expensive and in the end all we could do was get the box of back catalog CDs which we had sent to L.A. when Teresa joined the tour (because we thought they wouldn't sell and needed the room in the car) sent BACK to New York. They weren't necessarily the CDs we wanted and we'd have to sell a bunch just to cover the shipping, but at least we'd have them.
left: Tork and the dorks; Adam and Peter have a grimacing contest as Teresa shines;
As for Peter Tork and Shoe Suede Blues, I had mixed feelings. The band was great, and I was happy to see Peter Tork doing what he felt like. It was kind of sad to see to what degree he's hamstrung by his legacy in terms of his set list choices, but happy to see a guy in his '60s still jumping around on stage and being a musician playing with other musicians, all that I'm sure he ever wanted. My favorite moment was a snarling "Auntie Grizelda," the midsection of which consisted of a litany of stupid-ass things he'd been asked over and over again by fans (e.g. "did your mother invent liquid paper?"). It was bitter but it was also truthful and side-splittingly funny. A novelty tune, "Even White Men Get The Blues," exhibited that same quality...funny lyrics while subtly acknowledging his New England background AND skewering corporatism. Not a bad day's work. I was glad to be there, and enjoyed the show...but I count my blessings often that I haven't become more famous than I have...because I haven't had to deal with a lot of the bullshit, and the career restrictions, that someone like Peter Tork has had to. It's a trade off I'm glad I never had to decide on.
After the show we headed back to Bethlehem to stay at Jon's girlfriend's house, as we had an early interview in New York the next day. On the way I got to show Teresa a WaWa...God's own convenience store, only found in the mid-Atlantic, which has an open sandwich counter and 22 kinds of coffee and every possible variety of TastyKake at 2 a.m. As for the digs, it was the kind of a crash pad that we would have luxuriated in if we didn't have to get up so early the next day. We were both asleep almost as soon as we'd hit the pillow.
August 27, 2008 - Cyber Cafe West, Binghamton, NY
We managed to be on the road by 9 for the 400-mile drive back to Greene, N.Y., and my brother's funeral service. Even though we hardly stopped, just long enough for coffee, gas and to change the bandage on my finger (which initially looked pretty bad though when we washed off all the blood and crud looked like it was starting to heal), we rolled up to the funeral service with exactly 11 minutes to spare. I got inside, found a tie that someone had bought for me, and then went to greet my brother David, my nieces and most of all my mom. It was a disturbing moment when she failed to recognize me at first, though it was later pointed out that I'm about 15 pounds lighter and my hair is darker and shorter than the last time she saw me.
The first thing that happened was that I was asked by my brother-in-law Gene to speak at the outset of the service. It was something my sister-in-law wanted and everyone seemed to think I was the logical person to do it. I probably was, but I hadn't expected that and delivering a shorter extemporaneous speech 10 minutes after falling out of the car in my sleep-deprived and road-blurred state was a little challenging, but it seemed to go well. I just compressed the west coast eulogy, leaving out the parts about the conflicts and focused more on Steve's childhood friends who were there and more than a little shocked at his sudden death. It seemed to go well, though after three minutes I didn't have any way to tie it all up in a neat ball so I just said, "and that's all I have to say," and sat back down.
My brother-in-law Gene gives a hell of service, I will say that. I remember how comforting he had been at my dad's funeral and in his avuncular-but-stern style sought to target his sermon to members of the family who needed healing just as I had tried to do in San Francisco. It was a fairly short service and in short order we were on our way to the family burial plot in Hamden, 50 miles away. We'd been asked to get there ahead of the funeral party so there wasn't much time to socialize after the service. My mom was walking around afterwards kind of shell-shocked. It was really disturbing to see her like that. I hadn't had much time to talk to my siblings but it was clear everyone was concerned.
The drive out to the Catskills was at least pretty and a lot of memories came up as we drove the familiar Catskill Turnpike. We made pretty good time; the rest of the family arrived 10 or 15 minutes later. I don't really want to say much about the internment. My immediate family unit is, well, fairly strange to outsiders and we all have our own ways of dealing with things. There was a degree of emotional support but quite a lot held back. Definitely seeing your brother's casket lowered into the ground is a heavy, heavy thing. My sister had brought soap, bleach and water to wipe off the family gravestones. Gene had started to do the work but I took over from him, and took great pride in cleaning my father's grave. My relationship to my father had been a distant one, but I held great respect for the man, and it seemed like an appropriate thing for me to do.
After the service I finally had a little time with my mom. She seemed to have recovered a little bit. I asked her if there was anything she wanted. "Yes," she said. "A cigarette." I told her at her age, she could do whatever the hell she wanted to which she brightened and said, "that's right!" She then asked that we all go back to a cafe in nearby Walton and grab a bite; she needed to recharge a little. We all made the five mile drive in a tight procession and when we got there engaged in some desultory conversation. Everyone was pretty tired, none more so than me. There was still the official family gathering back in Greene to contend with, and it was getting late, so I volunteered to go back and hold down the fort until the rest of the family got there, though I only beat them back by about a minute. There was some more hanging around, with people breaking into smaller groups, though I didn't get much relaxation as right away I had to ferry Svetlana back to my mom's to exchange some paperwork or something like that.
There was finally a small interlude of drinking wine and eating cake at the bed and breakfast where my family was staying, but I didn't have much time to hang out. Our day wasn't over yet; we had had to postpone our rehearsal with Charlie Zayleskie because of my brother's funeral and we still had that to contend with. He arrived at 10 p.m. and there was no place to do it other than the abandoned newspaper office that my father had once owned but that my mother had sold several years ago. She still had the key though, and basically told us to go ahead and use it and she'd deal with the owner later if there was a problem. The only thing was that when we got there we discovered there was no power. It took about 45 minutes of fumbling around in the dark with a flashlight until we found the main breaker and than the individual circuit that we turn on the area that we were using.
We ran through the stuff with Charlie for about two hours, still in our funeral outfits, not having had much of a chance to catch our breath since the day before. I tried to show him some vocal parts, but made a disturbing discovery; I could not sing. I mean, really, couldn't sustain a four note phrase. My voice was shot from last night's long set, the lack of sleep, and the stresses of the past few days. I had to sing quietly because of the lateness of the hour but still, this was bad. Trying to play guitar with only partial use of my index finger was also, to say the least, challenging, although I found some interesting fingerings. Finally, I had to call it a night, it was getting so I could hardly stand. T was pretty bleary as well...what a day, four hours' sleep, drive 400 miles, attend a funeral and an interment and a wake, and then a rehearsal on top of that. I told Charlie we'd meet up the next day at the gig early and run over whatever we needed to there.
A long day: rehearsing with Charlie Zayleskie in an abandoned newspaper office after a funeral, a burial, and a 400 mile drive.
We both were staying at my mom's house, partly so she wouldn't be alone...T got my old bed and I got the sofa, which proved to be a drag when family members started rolling in in the morning (not to mention my mom's cat loudly proclaiming a fresh mouse kill in the middle of the night). We both felt groggy and unrested and it took quite a while to find a cup of coffee. We were walking around downtown and realized that Charlie wouldn't be able to come up to get the bass amp we had rented from an old local music friend who runs a store in Greene, so we'd need to find a way to get it down to the gig in Binghamton. My mom offered to let me borrow her car when my brother brought it back from taken Svetlana to the airport, but unbeknownst to her he had given it to his wife and was unwilling to let us use his own car, though he did offer to let us borrow his pickup truck. By that time, though, there wasn't a lot of time to improvise a plan. We couldn't fit the bass amp in the car any other way than put it in the passenger side, so I drove the amp down to Binghamton, dumped it there, went back to where my family was gathered for a picnic (which I missed out on), picked up T, and made a second trip down to the gig. So that ate up whatever free time we had that day.
Once there we made an early set up but didn't go over that much before the show, just a few things on "Long Promised Road." I'd had a pretty substantial write up in the Binghamton paper so I thought we had a good chance at a decent turnout. And we did indeed get quite a few people out, mostly people I didn't know -- it turns out a lot of them were people that had seen the band in '04 and came out to see the show again, another possible sign that small markets might be the way to go in the future, but anyway...as to the show, they couldn't have been a more receptive and patient crowd, which is good because I was in one of my laid back (read: tired) moods where I get real chatty. And also because I discovered almost as soon as I opened my mouth that my voice was totally shot. I had the high notes and the low notes, but the middle was mostly gone, I just had a squeak, which made every song problematic. I repeatedly apologized for my voice, probably more than I needed to, but it really bugged me; I thought I sounded like shit. I at least caught a break in that my finger didn't get in the way too much...I winced in pain a few times but with the help of a band-aid I managed alright for most of it. Teresa and I were amazed at how fast the wound had started to heal.
Other than that though, really good show, 18 songs strong. I opened with the inevitable "Binghamton," then we tried out a Motown-infused "Cut and Run," which was cool, and then to more or less the standard rock set, with a few duo tunes like "Ginna Ling." We also did a pretty strong version of the Monkees' "Porpoise Song" as well as two songs from LONG PROMISED ROAD. At the end I hauled out the electric guitar and I was surprised to see how much the mostly older crowd responded to the harder stuff, particularly since my singing sucked pretty hard on those tunes. People were even singing along on "My Kickass Life." Except for the vocals, though, it was a pretty solid show and I really enjoyed the band a lot, despite the minor gaffes that come from not having rehearsed enough. It didn't matter, though, and we had another really good night for selling CDs. Two good shows in a row, a great band to play with...it almost seemed like I was being spoiled. I just hoped I could get my voice back, particularly since we were opening for Peter Tork the following night.
August 25, 2008 - Wooley Bully's, New Brighton, PA
The rest of my time in San Francisco -- Saturday night and Sunday day -- were spent hanging with two friends, and it was really good to have a chance to decompress a little out of the family circle. In fact, by the time I got to the airport, having been back in the California sunshine and around friends, I was actually more relaxed than I had been in weeks. Returning to the tour vibed a little bit like returning to a war zone. The flight to Denver went smoothly, but we got caught in a storm on the outbound flight and sat on the tarmac for about an hour. It was past 1 by the time I made it to Pittsburgh, but at least I got there. It was very welcome to see Teresa tooling up in my little car. We headed back to the home of our old friend Greg Matecko who did so many nice things for us on the Carl and Dennis tour, and got to have a midnight meal and hang out a bit.
The next day we finally caught a break -- two in fact. The first is when the drummer that Charlie Zayleskie had found for the northeast shows but who we had not met, Jon Braun, showed up to rehearse with us in Greg's basement, and the guy was great. A solid groove, great personality and knew the songs cold. Just playing with him made me sing better, and I made rehearsal drag out a little bit because I was having fun (and also because we had a three hour set tonight, and we had about that long to rehearse).
One of the ideas that's been kicked around a lot on this tour thinking about the future is to focus more on smaller markets. I've discussed this with a number of other working musicians and the consensus is that the venues treat you better, the money is better, and the people are more appreciative. Tonight was a sort of a test case for this idea; Teresa had found this small club in a Pittsburgh suburb (actually a bedroom community, not a part of P-town proper), and they had willingly opened up the bar to live music on a Monday night and offered to put us up as well. It was a bit of a risk on their part since no one had any idea if anyone would show up on Monday night.
And there came our second break. The local paper had run a fairly large (and truth be told, pretty readable) article about me, and Greg and fellow Pittsburgh fan Jim Schepis had rounded up a group that had been at our last Pittsburgh show at the Rex. Between those factors and curious locals and regulars, we had a pretty full house by the time we went onstage -- amazing for a Monday night. Moreover, although it was a rowdy crowd, they seemed friendly and genuinely curious.
What followed was probably the best show on the tour so far, in terms of performance, audience response, and overall experience. I told that crowd at the start that it was going to be a set of originals, a break, and then a set of whatever covers we could mess their minds up with. So they were going to have to eat their veggies before they got dessert. With that bargain made, we launched into "My Kickass Life," followed by "At the Bookstore" -- lovely groove by Jon -- and I could see peoples' heads nodding as the crowd took in the music. As the place got noisier and more crowded we lost a few people during the quieter middle section -- although "Ginna Ling," which was almost certain to bomb in that environment, didn't go all that badly considering, and as soon as we got back into the rock stuff at the end of the set, they were all ours again. I did the world's worst piano solo on "Other Than Me," the first time I've played that this tour, and when the crowd erupted in applause I said, "you guys are easy. That sucked." There was a lot of good-natured haranguing of the crowd, some irreverent stage patter that bordered on taunting at times, and called up two semi-frat boy types to do the extra instrumental honors on "The Big Bear" and, despite enduring a lot of teasing, they did a pretty good job on it. Greg also sat in with us on acoustic guitar on a couple of tunes, which helped with the groove nicely. After the first set, the merch table did brisk business for quite a few minutes.
The second set was pure pandemonium. We started out with a hastily learned (although really quite good) version of "Wooly Bully," which made the patrons and owners alike very happy, and then the three-chord '60s pop medley we had trotted out in Bloomington, minus the sequencer and the disdain. After that we took a tour through various pop idioms, including a Monkees medley of "Porpoise Song" and "Steppin' Stone" followed by a surf medley during which I got to go out in the audience and bump butts with a lot of dancing girls. Then I said "Well, we convinced you about the Monkees, and made you listen to our hometown music, but we wanted you to know that we in L.A. know about some of your local music legends." Then we launched into an obscure single by New Brighton native Donnie Iris, "I've Been Injured In The Game Of Love," again hastily learned during the afternoon, although I've performed it before and love the song. I had wondered if it wasn't too deep of a cut but man, the place fucking erupted when we busted out Donnie Iris. I was so pleased. The place got so excited that we had to do "El Paso" just to calm them down. It didn't even register with us that a lot of people know that song as a Grateful Dead cover, so that went over great as well. At a certain point it was so rowdy all we could do was trot out some KISS, which we did, and then launched into a ten-minute dada-esque medley of "Shout" by the Isley Brothers and "Shout" by Tears for Fears, again an idea from the Bloomington show fully fleshed out this time. It got so crazy at one point ("a little bit softer now...a little bit louder now...now WAIT A MINUTE!" at basically random intervals) that I was giving the dancing crowd yoga instructions and T almost fell over laughing. As a finale we busted out "A Hard Day's Night," with T and Jon laying down a monster groove, and then it was over. Teresa followed the chaos without missing a beat and Jon was just unreal. It was well past midnight, but it took the Monday night crowd over an hour to disperse. People kept asking us if we were coming back, and didn't believe us when we said we would. The owners of the club were ecstatic; it was way better than a normal Monday night. The New Brighton experiment had proved successful...the place did indeed treat us great, we did indeed make a lot more money than usual, and the crowd did indeed really appreciate what we were doing, not just the rowdy covers but the originals. Finally, something had gone right.
As we should have guessed though, there was one more nasty trick in store. As the band and Greg broke down the gear after the show, I was momentarily distracted (and, to be honest, slightly drunk) and as I was, a mic stand I was taking down suddenly collapsed onto itself, instantly slicing off a significant hunk of the side of my index finger on my fretting hand. It was covered with blood almost instantly and T and I rushed upstairs to clean it off. The injury had left a gouge about a quarter inch deep, a quarter inch wide and about a half inch long on the side of my finger. It wouldn't affect my keyboard playing, but it would make guitar playing difficult, and 75% of my set is on guitar. It also looked nasty enough that if we weren't careful it could get infected and cause other problems. With only a five hour window to sleep so that I could make it to my brother's east coast services the next afternoon, we didn't have time to worry about it. We just cleaned it, put hydrogen peroxide on it, bandaged it up, and got what sleep we could.
August 22-23 - San Francisco
We got up about 8:30 and I immediately started looking for a Verizon store online while Teresa showered. Verizon's website did not show any Verizon stores in southern Ohio, so we shot for a Best Buy that was near Billy's house. We were underway by 9:15 and caught our first break; Teresa spotted a Verizon store on the way. Apparently they don't update their store locator much.
We got processed, with a few delays, at Verizon, and discovered that the same port that was broken was the one they used to transfer the data, which meant we would have to transfer all the phone data by hand before the weak battery ran out. The car needed an oil change so we took it to a place nearby and while they did the job T and I frantically reprogrammed the new cell. We did manage to get all of the numbers entered before the old phone died, and then we were back on the road. On the way we listened to the IPod. I only choked up once, when Johnny Cash's version of Bruce Springsteen's "Highway Patrolman" came on. As Cash's stentatorian voice told a story of a man taking care of his wayward brother, I choked up.
A man turns his back on his family...that man just ain't no good.
There was no question where Johnny Cash stood on the question of attending the funeral. And I don't argue with Johnny Cash.
The drive to make the flight hit one more hitch, which was a two mile traffic backup near Wheeling which we couldn't afford timewise. I was able to figure out a detour that took us up and down a steep highway and as we finally descended down to the river to rejoin the freeway the car's brakes started making a thumping noise and got pretty soft. They had been making this noise a little bit the last few days (I'd had the brakes done before I left and this had been a recurrence of something that I'd had adjusted) but this was loud, and I was concerned the brakes were going. We were about 100 miles out and had no time to get it dealt with, so it looked like a possibly dangerous ride for the final stretch. Once we got back on the highway though they went back to normal so it seemed like they had just overheated (and Teresa had it taken to a mechanic the next day and confirmed this), but it was scary there for a second. Anyway, we made it to Pittsburgh airport with a little time to spare. Teresa dropped me off and headed to stay with relatives in Akron.
The flight out was long and I was already really tired, but I had more work to do. Steve had spoken at my dad's funeral and I had asked the priest and his wife if I might speak at his, and she had welcomed the idea. Steve's family relationships had not been without conflict and I felt there might be some healing that needed to be done, and of everyone who was to be there I had the best overall perspective on all of the phases of his life, and probably the only one that would be able to talk about them without stepping on any toes. Plus, Steve would have wanted it, and I knew it was the kind of thing that I could do. It was a ticklish job to craft the writing because I couldn't achieve any resolution for anyone without acknowledging Steve's flaws and the difficulties people sometimes had with him, but it had to be what was appropriate and tasteful for a funeral, and I had to be cognizant of the emotional needs of everyone in the room. Even the officiating priest, when I talked to him on the phone, sounded anguished about Steve's death, as Steve had met with him just two weeks before to discuss officially converting to the Russian Orthodox chuch. I felt even he might need some words of consolation.
I ran the batteries down to the ground but by the time I got to San Francisco I felt like I had something that would work. You never know how something is going to go over until people react, but I thought I'd gotten as close as I was going to get in my fatigued frame of mind. I'd had one stop in Las Vegas which reminded me of playing with the Tripsitter guys in June and totally by coincidence Jeff Celentano texted me when I landed and I wound up having a nice conversation with him. I was bushed when I hit the Bay; it was 3 a.m. by eastern time at that point. After four weeks driving across the country it was quite surreal to suddenly be dumped back in California again. There was something comforting, if a little dreamlike, at being back on the west coast in semi-familiar surroundings.
I stayed at my brother's apartment, with his widow, the first night. The accommodations (in my niece's room) were better there and she had requested it, but I was only up long enough to print out the speech. I got a decent night's sleep and was able to do yoga before heading to the funeral the next morning. I only had one outfit with me that was remotely appropriate for a funeral and even though I looked good I also looked like I was headed for a job interview, not a funeral, but there was nothing to be done about it. Svetlana, Steve's widow, and I spent a little time before the funeral burning a disc of some of Steve's piano compositions for the funeral, but we didn't interact much otherwise. We were in two different places; my family has a slow, hidden way of dealing with grief, and are fairly capable of functioning normally and even cracking jokes in difficult circumstances. It's how we cope; we only get into trouble when we haven't had enough rest which has been the source of a lot of my anxiety this week. Svetlana, though, was in a whole 'nuther place; she was inconsolable and utterly alone and facing an uncertain future in a completely unfamiliar country. We all did what we could for her, which was a lot, but the space of grief she occupied was intense, all-encompassing, and hers alone to suffer in. She really worshipped my brother.
We were the first family members to get there and I met a lot of Steve's friends and neighbors as they arrived. Svetlana just wanted to be with the body so I busied myself playing host while I waited for the rest of the family to show up. I actually enjoyed meeting so many of Steve's friends, and quite a number of them said Steve had bought my CD for them, so we know where at least some of the amazon ranking came from! Finally my nephew and my brother's first wife showed up, and then my sister. Seeing them both got me choked up, a bit, but I recovered and then went in to the service. My brother's second wife's family was late getting there and the priest asked me to check on them, so I turned my cell phone on to go check, but they were just coming up the stairs. Then, of course, I got back into the service and as we bowed our heads in prayer, I couldn't remember if I turned my cell back off or not. I sat there for about 30 seconds wondering if there was an unobtrusive way to turn it off, since I was in the front row with the immediate family and everybody was behind me, probably aware of whatever action I took. And then of course before I could think of what to do the goddamn thing went off. At least it was a quiet ring and I managed to fumble around in my pocket and shut off the unfamiliar phone.
The service was interesting; it was a traditional Russian Orthodox service with a lot of talk about "translation of the soul" -- well actually not talk, as the whole service was sung. I found it intriguing from a musical standpoint and I also thought it was interesting the way they waved the incense around. I wondered if that was partly to soothe the gathering. I liked it. Then I started to chastise myself for not thinking more about my dead brother laying right in front of me. The thought followed that I was the de facto head of the family for this gathering, and it would be better not to think too much about him or I might break down and not be able to do what I had to do. So after that I let my mind wander wherever it wanted to. Rather soon, the service came to an end and it was time for me to read what I had written. I was the only person to speak, so it was all down to me to bring whatever closure and comfort Steve's friends and family hadn't gotten from the service, which obviously was much for Svetlana's benefit being a traditional Russian Orthodox ceremony.
I knew most of them, their stories, their admiration for and issues with my brother, how it had gone down. Speaking with my brother's co-workers that I didn't know and hearing their impressions of him confirmed that I'd taken the right approach. I didn't know all the details, but I knew enough to know what I wanted to cover and more importantly, I knew my brother in some ways better than anyone because his journey was similar to mine...except that we were crucially different in certain ways that made it easier for me to understand and accept the people as they are, and I also had a smoother childhood than he had had. I didn't have his same sense of duty, his need for order, his desire to recreate his family. My nature has always been to wander around and turn over rocks; that's what makes me happy, and is probably why I never married nor really settled. But the social misunderstandings, the fast-turning mind that got you somewhere faster than everyone else in the room, the search for a place you belong, the drive and the obsessiveness and the absent-minded focus that confuses the people around you...I got all that, and I understood the way he was, perhaps better than he did. And I also know by the time of his death he had turned a corner in how he wanted to live his life, and I knew that his conflicts with me and others were part of what got him there.
People nodded, people cried, and as I read it I felt the words and how I said them within myself, and it started to choke me up a bit at various points. Communicating to an audience is my job, after all, and much as I've talked about how I've at last connected to my own songs on this tour, I made sure not to just read words off a page but to express it so that the words were a part of me and so that it could resonate with everyone there. I won't reproduce it in the blog but it's here if you care to read it. The priest, sitting in the seat I just vacated, looked a little concerned during the grittier middle part and later admitted that I had "put him on a roller coaster" but that it had been, in the end, just right. I knew from how people, family and strangers alike, reacted and what they said to me as we left the room that I had done my job, and all the trouble and fatigue to get here and do this was worthwhile.
And then, at the close of the funeral and the reception which followed,something remarkable happened. My brother had always wanted to create this strong, stable family and had always been disappointed, first when we, his siblings, did not want to go along with his vision and later through two failed marriages. And yet, before my very eyes, I saw what my brother had wanted so much to happen coming to fruition in a sudden burst. My sister and her step-daughter, on rocky terms for years, holding each other and crying and coming to an understanding with one another. In the most touching moment for me I saw my brother's first two ex-wives approach the casket together hand in hand and said goodbye at the same time. I saw my 19 year-old nephew and my step-nephew, once insuperable pals who had hardly seen each other in years, greet each other warmly as if they had never been apart, and my nephew saying later "so what are you doing after this, man?" And later, to me, "when are you coming back up here?"
As for me, I'd had my own issues with my family, just as my brother had, though they hadn't affected me the same way. I had just gone on my own merry way and didn't really worry about it. But as we closed ranks around Svetlana and I remembered how much I enjoyed hanging out with my nephews, and enjoyed the more adult company of my brother's first wives Yaeko and Mary Anne, and realized despite of our extreme political and religious differences how much my sister and I had in common philosophically to the point that each one held the other half of the bigger questions we were both pondering, just as how each of us held a piece of the family history hidden from the other, It was as it from these disparate households Steve had created and then sundered one family had instantly assembled itself, literally, in his wake. I saw everyone promise and make plans to be together again. Mary Anneand my sister talked about how to help Svetlana. And I promised myself, and others, that I would be back to the Bay Area more often and make sure everything was going well -- I wasn't working a regular job and it sort of dovetailed with my future touring plans, anyhow.
All these people from disparate ethnic backgrounds, temperaments, ages, and blood, coming together and deciding to support one another almost without thinking. The only common bond we all had was my brother. He had failed in life, but in death, he had done what he most wanted to do: he had created a family.
The day had one more surprise for me. After we all (except Svetlana, who wanted to be alone) hung out at Mary Anne's for awhile, reminiscing and roughhousing a bit, the family dispersed leaving me, her, my sister and Steve's daughter Angelyne. We went back over to Svetlana's to check on her, as Steve's death had clearly affected her the most and she was all alone there. As my sister talked to Svetlana about various options for the future, I noodled on my brother's gorgeous grand piano in the corner of the room. I stopped after a minutebut then Svetlana said, "Adam, would you please play some more?" I realized it was probably the thing I'd said or done had been helpful for her on an emotional (as opposed to practical) level. And so I played for perhaps half an hour, improvising in my brother's semi-classical, romantic style. It was easily the best piano I had ever played, pure of tone, with easy action and good tune. As we left I thanked Svetlana for letting me play it.
My 11 year-old niece piped up. "You know, don't you?
"My dad left you the piano in his will. It's yours."
August 21, 2008 - Dirty Jack's, Cincinnati, OH
An absolutely infuriating day. T and I both got up noon-ish, having again been up 'til nearly 4 with the various to-dos. This time I actually got some yoga in but we were still feeling pretty wrecked. We took our time getting things together as we both still had a bunch of work to do; we were trying to make some travel arrangements for my brother's wife and I had a bunch of e-mails to send out about the cancellation of the two shows. The plan was to get underway in mid-afternoon, make the short (90 minute) drive to Cincy, stopping somewhere along the way to get some exercise, and then get to the home of Rand and Phillip where they were planning to make us dinner. We've been habitually late every time someone's put food on for us, but we figured this time nothing could go wrong.
No such luck. The first thing that happened was calling home and finding out my family had rescheduled the east coast services in such a way that the only way to make the service was to drive all night after the gig Monday, and this after flying back from San Francisco. I'd used up most of my easy day yesterday smoothing the path to make the funeral arrangements happen and keeping everyone in the loop about it, and I'd been very clear about my schedule, so I was pretty unhappy about this. About an hour later my mom called back and said they'd moved the service again, so it all worked out OK. I knew everyone was under a lot of stress and fatigue but given the iffy communication I couldn't help thinking nobody understood what me being on the road actually meant, e.g., that I was driving, playing, and packing and unpacking every day, and that I'd been doing that for nearly a month straight already, and on top of that dealing with everything else they were. But anyway. By then other calls from other family members had started coming in and I was on the phone for the better part of an hour organizing various things for people. This was no big deal; the problem was that the two lane highway that we were driving on had a couple of poorly marked turns (it was a main highway, though not an interstate, so I was just driving a straight shot without watching for signs). I was so distracted that we'd driven 20 miles down the wrong road before Teresa noticed. This was really annoying, though it wasn't a huge detour.
We did manage to find a decent hike, walking around for about an hour near a dam and a lake, getting some badly needed exercise. However, as soon as I got back on the main road for maybe ten seconds, the damned thing turned AGAIN and once again I missed the sign. This time I drove blissfully due north for 40 miles, completely out of our way; in fact, we would have been ahead if we'd never caught the first mistake and just stayed on the other road. This time, when I figured it out, I pulled over and swore like a sailor for about a minute. We'd basically, once again, blown our window for dinner and for some chill time. Moreover, almost as soon as we turned around, we hit a bridge closure which sent us on yet another detour.
We finally made it to the outskirts of Cinti about 9 -- 6 hours after leaving Indy -- and trying to get our bearings as to whether we had time to get Rand's, we called Billy Carri to find out what the start time was. Upon finding out the first act was starting after 10 and we were the third band going on last, I was fairly bummed. Going on at 11 is one thing, going on at 12:30 is another. This meant that whoever did come down to see us almost certainly would bail before we got there. Billy, once again to his credit, later offered to switch slots with us, which actually worked out well for him because his bass player fell violently ill and he had to stall for time while a replacement showed up. So again, it did all work out, but for awhile it looked bad for us.
We did get to Rand's and as soon as I got in got out the guitar to change the string from last night...only then did I discover that in our rush to get offstage the previous night we'd lost the peg to hold the string into the bridge. It just seemed like everything was working against us and I was starting to feel more and more exhausted. Rand found a peg on his guitar and we did manage to get the string in there, though, and were able to wolf down some of the lovely meal we had prepared.
Dirty Jack's, the venue, had its good points and bad points. The neighborhood was sketchy and the policies were fairly strict (bands got paid off the door less a production fee, they didn't let us bring in any guests, plus no free drinks, either), which although it's not totally out of bounds (and I'd had fair warning about the production fee when I booked the gig, though my impression was that the night would clear it) rubbed me the wrong way a little in my frazzled state. On the plus side, the sound system was good and the sound guy was ace. In fact, it was the best the 12-string has sounded through a PA this whole tour.
We wound up bringing down a large handful of people (due in no small part to Rand's efforts) -- more than the local bands in fact, which wound up hurting us when it came time for the payout -- and certainly of the gigs T has been on, qualitatively it was by far the best. T and I were in sync for the show, following each other's signals much better than we have been, and we even managed to surprise ourselves by fielding a request for a dual version of "Forever," with T and I splitting Evie's lead. It came out so well I gave her a hug at the end of it. As for the rest of the show, well, I was in the "bloody minded don't give a shit not taking any crap from anyone" headspace that either totally alienates the audience or makes for a great show, and for this one it did the latter, particularly as I dealt with an overenthusiastic but quite smashed audience member who was ruining it for the rest of the crowd by bellowing his approval (After giving him some shit I leaned over and told him, politely, to save it for the last song). Other highlights were "Portland" -- the best one yet bar a few sketchy falsetto notes -- "The Big Bear" with Rand once again guesting on the keys, the opening of "Ludlow" with the spoken third verse in the audience and...well the whole show was pretty good. It had soul, it was tight, it had attitude.
We both enjoyed Billy Carri's set (he managed to find a bass player!), particularly the "I Want You To Want Me"/"Take Me Home Country Roads" medley and then headed back to his place to sleep over. I was bummed we hadn't wound up making any money -- again -- but once again, this was a product of having to put together too many shows too quickly and not having time to vet the gigs enough. In the old days, I always made sure that this wouldn't ever happen, I hadn't been able to exercise that kind of oversight this time and have had to rely on a few too many things not going wrong and other people making things happen and -- voila -- this is the most I haven't gotten paid on any tour I've ever done by, like, a lot. If it weren't for the strong CD sales and the mighty Toyota I would be losing my ass. Never again will I go out like this. Happily, it was again a decent night at the CD table so we didn't go away empty handed. But, shit. I had known that the Chicago, Bloom, Indy and Cinti gigs were going to be rough and actually they were a bit better than I'd expected. But on top of everything else, to have to slog through all the hard shows the week my brother dies and then having to give up the two gigs I was really looking forward to, where there were friends I really wanted to see and clubs I really liked playing -- it just seemed, well, rude.
Fate had one more nasty trick in store for us, and after all the stresses of the last few days this one almost broke me. It was 2:30 a.m. by the time we got back to Billy's, just enough time to check the internet and get 8 hours sleep -- we hoped -- before driving to Pittsburgh to catch my flight back to San Francisco for my brother's funeral. Just before bed, Teresa said "I can't get your cell phone to charge." I came over to investigate, and the jack was fucked up. I went out to the car to make sure it wasn't the cable. It wasn't. My cell phone, which already had a problem holding its battery power, was now unchargeable and almost out of batteries. All my contact information for my family and everybody I'd have to be in touch with during my trip was in there, and we couldn't be sure it would even hold its charge overnight or long enough to transfer the information. The only thing we could do is set the alarm early, find a Verizon in a strange city, buy a new phone, and hopefully transfer the numbers over. It just felt like we couldn't catch a break, couldn't get any rest, couldn't recharge, and I had a very rough weekend, physically and emotionally, ahead.
"God hates me," I said to myself, and collapsed into bed to get four hours' fitful sleep; Teresa already dead to the world in the adjoining bed.
August 20, 2008 - Birdy's, Indianapolis, IN
I've been having a hard time getting to sleep early on this tour, and I woke up before noon realizing that we had rescheduled the interview from yesterday for 12:30 and we had no cell reception at Jeff Green's, where we've been staying. Teresa and I roused ourselves and got on the road so we could get the call. When finally we made the connection with the writer, he asked us to reschedule for 90 minutes later. T and I went to a coffee house we remembered from the '06 tour and did some internet work there until the writer called.
I had a brief interview with the writer (from the Nashville City Paper) and almost as soon as he got off the phone I got an unexpected call from my brother's current wife. A recent immigrant from the Ukraine, she and Steve had only been married for a year or so and wasn't well connected to the family, but I'd met her a few times and we got along OK. I hadn't been very involved in the logistical discussions about my brother's memorial services, but as soon as I got the call from her, asking me to help explain the various options before her for the memorial services and things that she wanted done, it was clear that I'd be in the thick of getting it all together. Teresa had said the previous day that when someone in the family dies, someone else in the family wound up taking their role. I pooh-poohed that but Steve had been the mediator in our family for many years and now it looked like as if she might be right. The rest of the afternoon was consumed in back and forth calls between her and various other members of my family hammering out a workable plan for the memorial services. With the language barrier and delicacies involved it took a lot of time. Finally by around 5 I'd managed to broker something that seemed workable for everybody; two funerals, one on the west coast and one on the east coast, the first to take place this weekend and the second to take place back in new York on Tuesday. I then turned it over to my brother-in-law Gene, an Episcopal priest who, with my ex-sister-in-law Maryann helping, would be helping finalize the west coast arrangements and making sure the undertaker didn't get any grand ambitions. By that time it had gotten quite late and T and I had just enough time to get back to Jeff Green's house to grab our things, with Teresa working on changing some of my sister-in-law's pre-existing travel arrangements so she could attend both services.
OK, so enough of that. We had made the short trip up to Indianapolis in about an hour and a half, and made it to the home of my old friend Steve Hayes, of the superb Indy powerpop band The Common. It was fortunately just down the street from the venue, because not long after we got there and taught Steve "The Foghorn" and "The Big Bear" on guitar, we got the word that the funeral on the west coast was going to be Saturday at 11 a.m., which set off a round of research on the 'net to see if we could possibly make the Columbus and/or Cleveland shows happen and still make the funeral. The verdict: no. I was really bummed about that, as those were the shows this week I was most looking forward to (especially Cleveland) but at least it did allow me a little more time to be with Steve's families, which are mostly in the Bay Area. With that resolved, I finally took a shower, and then we made the short hop to Birdy's, where The Idle Flatlands River Band was playing. This was good because we had wanted to see them, but it was bad because we had been told that we'd be going on no later than 10:30, and although there weren't many people there, most of them were there to see us and a number of them had traveled quite a long way on a weeknight to see the show. As for the band, we liked them...they had good songs and a good sound, and with a little more work on the vocals they have a great deal of potential. And it was very cool to see such a young band basically trying to sound like The Band, and making a fair fist of it.
By the time they got off, though, it was close to 10:30 and I did something I never, ever do: I went to the club and asked to have the order switched. I hadn't objected to being the last band but most of the crowd was there to see us and some of them had really long drives ahead, and they hadn't really imposed discipline in terms of getting started early. The closing band, Losing September, to their credit agreed to switch sets provided they got their gear set up and we didn't run over our time, so we did get on at pretty close to the scheduled time.
As for the show...it wasn't the best show on the tour, nor the worst. The first thing that happened, before I played a note, was a broke another goddamn string. I felt the pressure to not push the night too late and so the whole thing had kind of a rushed feel. My voice was kind of shot from having been on the phone all day, though it probably helped more than it hurt, honestly. I invited the drummer from Losing September up for "The Foghorn" and Mike Hayes, Steve's brother and Common bandmate, for "The Big Bear." The former was uneven but the latter was close to sublime. "Portland" was pretty good too. With a little more time to get comfortable onstage it would have been a better show, but I was satisfied that I'd done the best I could by the crowd under the circumstances. Nearly everybody there was an old friend who I hadn't seen in a long time and it really made up for whatever shortcomings were there for the show.
After the gig T and I were just exhausted, but we still had to go back to Steve's and try to unwind and find a flight home. This proved very difficult and the process went on well into the night, since Expedia had an annoying habit of telling T that a flight was available, letting her input all my information, and then telling her the flight was full. What the fuck is up with that! Luckily, Steve had put a fascinating DVD on the big screen TV for us to watch: clips from BBC's "Old Grey Whistle Test," a music performance show from the '70s. Good stuff. Randy Newman and Bonnie Raitt look odd being young. Age has improved them physically I think. Just a random musing. The best clip was the Damned being extremely puckish and contrary during their set and then demolishing their equipment, their bassist continuing to noodle in the background as the host tried to pick up the pieces. Pure heaven, the hardest I've laughed in a week.
August 19, 2008 - Kilroy's on Kirkwood, Bloomington, IN
First off, thank you everybody for the e-mails, phone calls, texts and even donations -- I feel a little funny about the latter (the PayPal button is in my mind for low-key blog support), but they are appreciated, anyway, especially with a pricey plane ticket looming, although it looks like it might not be too bad judging by our research online.
All things considered I awoke today feeling not too horrible. The one problem was that I had several texts from well-wishers which was nice but given I was up 'til 3 a.m. doing the blog I couldn't get any sleep, so I took the ringer off and then missed a scheduled interview later in the day. But this was a minor hassle in the larger scheme of things.
It was a lengthy drive back down to Bloomington, much of it taken up with phone calls, mostly family related although there was some tour logistical stuff as well, mostly concerning making sure Teresa has an adequate amp for all of the shows (there wasn't enough room in the car to bring one). At one point driving down I-65 we took note of a huge sign that said in big block letters, "HELL IS REAL." How nice, I thought. Very thoughtful and sensitive.
At one point we got off the freeway to hit an internet cafe so I could download a bunch of phone numbers for my family. I haven't kept real close touch with a lot of my relatives, but I'm on good terms with most of Steve's extended west coast family and my sister and I thought it would be a good idea to check in on them given that I know them a little better and am (usually) in closer geographic touch. Not surprisingly, his death has hit everybody pretty hard...I probably have it the easiest of any of us thus far, probably both because I didn't have any unfinished business with him and because frankly, I'm so busy out here it's hard to reflect very much. Most of my concern is not for myself but for my family, especially my mom, his kids, and his current wife, who I haven't talked to yet. I did talk to his other two ex-wives, and I was thinking, damn, that guy got married a lot. I've definitely had my share of flings and relationships, but I'm glad I never got married. If I die, all the girls can get together and talk shit about me at the funeral. That seems simpler to me. But I digress.
At one point in the conversation with my sister we both remarked on the peculiar Marsland trait that we can turn our emotions on and off more or less at will. To outsiders it seems sometimes like we're very cold and careless, but it really has to do with being so sensitive you have to turn it off or be a total basket case all the time. This is a lot of the reason why emotions are so central to my own music; it's the safe outlet for all those feelings. It's the place where I expose those things. My recently deceased brother was the one of us who grappled with this dichotomy the most. I think of him as being a little like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. He tried very hard to live an emotional life, but it also didn't come naturally to him, so it sometimes came off as being inauthentic, even though his motivations weren't. I have a little of that too, although it's less about emotions and more about people thinking I'm a dick when I'm just trying to get shit done. Either way, it's about trying to access the normal social world when it's a foreign place to you. Steve and I shared that sense of grappling with that, but having had more issues dealt with him as a child than I did, and also probably a more fully developed sense of responsibility, he had a tougher time getting there.
That ability to shut off emotions and do your job came in really handy at tonight's show, a crowdy, rowdy bar full of drunk (and frankly, underage-appearing) college students. There was going to be no soul baring tonight; it was a party atmosphere, first and last, and the challenge for tonight's show was going to be surviving it with dignity. We did have a number of friends in the audience (notably Jeff Green, who had gotten us the gig and a decent guarantee, for which we were sincerely grateful) there to cheer us on and appreciate the struggle and honestly, you'd almost need a blow-by-blow color commentary to do the gig justice, but it harkened back to some of the dada-esque gigs I used to do in the closing days of my solo touring era when I'd learned to never, ever let the audience make you their bitch.
It opened with a long blues improvisation about being an underage college student puking into your socks, then segued into a stream of originals: "Married Yet," "Cut and Run," "My Kickass Life," which were greeted with a not-hostile indifference. I knew T and I knew a full set of covers that would have won the crowd over, but we kept them in our back pocket...you have to make them meet you halfway, and they weren't going there. So with a giddy sense of freedom -- and twice as many "motherfuckers" added to the lyrics as at a typical Negro Problem show -- we started deconstructing the songs further, lurching into a few covers Replacements-style here (most notably "Pretty Waylon", announced as a Waylon Jennings cover but really a surreptitious Pistols tune), popping into a surf instrumental medley there, slipping in many irreverent lyrical injokes and non sequitirs, delighting our friends and confusing, but never quite pissing off, the rest of the audience. At one point a very beautiful young woman, who did not look like she was old enough to be in the bar, pleaded with me to let her come on and sing and I relented and dueted with her on Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," which actually was quite enteraining, equal parts irony and pure innocent joy of performing (I'll let you guess how those elements broke down between the two of us, but it was cute/sweet anyway). Finally someone made the fatal mistake of requesting "Free Bird," with typical results, although I gave T the stink eye because she refused to believe there wasn't a C chord in there somewhere. Having already played the Pistols card, when we got to the end I turned on the sequencer on the Korg synth and turned it into a dance tune. This was such a huge success that the next set, I just turned on the beat and Teresa and I played over it for 45 minutes, basically doing the same three chords....running through "Rapper's Delight," "Louie Louie," "Keepin' The Summer Alive," "Shout" (both the Tears for Fears and Isley Brothers). The crowd was delighted, dancing happily. At about minute 30 Teresa screamed at me over the din, "I'm bored!"
"But we're winning!" I said. "With dignity!"
And indeed, at the end of the three-chord techno fest, we had many high fives and you're greats and rock ons, while our own fans were in hysterics. And indeed, we really had had our cake and eaten it too, managing to make the audience happy without pandering to them or allowing them to push us around, and amusing ourselves at the same time. You could make the argument that we weren't being artists but I would say there was a very subtle art to the Bloomington show. We made money, we got to see a lot of ornamental people in movement, we played three chords for the better part of an hour and Jeff Green got to bump butts with some college girls while we destroyed an obscure Beach Boys tune...pure heaven. I don't mind doing that at all. Next time, though, I think I'll use an alias.
August 18, 2008 - The Elbo Room, Chicago, IL
We had yet another off day the next day -- all of the holes in the schedule fall during Teresa's three week part of the tour, which is infuriating, but what can you do -- so we headed up to Jeff Green's home in Bloomington, Indiana for some R & R and rehearsal. Jeff was having a cookout on our behalf but characteristically we got a late start, though I was delighted to catch a rebroadcast of Car Talk on the drive up. Once we got there and had some food, we brought our gear in to the downstairs rec room and immediately started practicing a new set that featured Teresa more heavily. We rejiggered the bass line on "Cut and Run," expanded on a laid-back version of "Halo Boy" we'd debuted in Lexington, and worked up a pretty kickass two piece version of "When I Lied To Everyone" that placed more emphasis on the bass line and with some new counter melodies on the 12-string. It no longer felt like we were just throwing something together; now we had something special. I was excited about the next day's show.
Well, I was partly excited. My enthusiasm was somewhat dimmed because Teresa and I had taken the time on Friday at the coffee house to personally e-mail about 20 people that were fans in Chicago area to invite them to Monday's show, the first chance we'd had to do that since early in the tour. During the next few days we got e-mails from more than half of them, all saying essentially saying the same thing: I support what you do, it's great you're on tour, break a leg, I can't come. And of course, you totally understand each individual person's point and you know life gets in the way, etc. etc. But when you've traveled 2,000 miles to do a gig and you hear that a dozen times over, it's incredibly demoralizing. It was almost certain that we were going to make the trip to Chicago, play for a meagre crowd, and not get paid.
As I've been doing this tour, it's become clearer and clearer what kind of a touring model will and won't work in this day and age, and as I've discussed this with other touring bands we've reached the same conclusions: smaller markets, where people are enthusiastic about live shows and venues pay better, are preferable to big ones; and demographically, it's hard to get the 25-45 segment out. And indeed, the best gigs on this tour have either had lots of young people or lots of middle-aged people. In that middle demographic, life just gets in the way. People have kids and careers and jobs and they don't go out.
I feel bad about this because people will always go "when are you coming to _________?" and I don't know how to say, I'm not coming because you're not going to show up, even though you think you are. Because it's not because people don't really want to support you, and you don't want to piss anyone off and hurt their feelings. But at the same time, I can't sustain a career this way. If people don't show up, I don't get paid and I can't book the club the next time. I am determined to keep this going, because even with all the crap shows, I've had some great ones and the CD sales have been incredible. The amazon thing was one way to work with the situation where everyone contributed and no one had to leave the house, so that's one way to go. But next year when I go out it's not going to be about going to the markets where there's a lot of people on the mailing list..it's going to be about going wherever there's enthuasiasm and/or gigs that will pay the expenses. I'm trying to figure out a way to explain this to fans without them feeling like it's bitterness or people are slighted or whatever. Maybe this blog will be a good starting point.
And at any rate, there were much, much bigger woes on the very near horizon.
We got to the Elbo and immediately made friends with Sir Leo, an interesting band who had graciously agreed to loan us their bass amp, and we even dragged them up during soundcheck to jam on "Big Bear." Knowing that we weren't likely to have much of a crowd or get paid that night, I wasn't in the greatest of moods but I was excited about trying out the new set with T. I had a feeling it was going to totally kick ass.
Just before we went on, I missed my cell phone. I told Teresa I was going to go out to the car and look for it. I went out and sure enough it was there. I happened to notice a voice mail. I checked the number and it was a 607 exchange that I didn't recognize. 607 is upstate New York, where my mom and brother live and where we're going to be in two weeks. I figured it was a friend of Charlie Zayleskie's, our east coast keyboardist who earlier that day had been trying to track down a bass amp for Teresa to use. I went to voicemail.
My blood ran cold. It was my brother David. We're not close and it was very unusual for him to call me. I immediately dismissed my first thought -- that my mother had died. I had just talked to her less than three hours before.
"Adam, you need to call me or mom right away. I'm sorry to have to tell you this on a voicemail, but Steve collapsed while he was working out today. They rushed him to the hospital but he was DOA."
He was saying my eldest brother Steve had just dropped dead, back in California, at age 53.
He'd had heart trouble in his thirties but as far as I knew he'd been fine since then. I hung up the cell phone, stunned, then immediately called home. David and mom were together. David was typically calm, though sombre. My mom sounded severely shaken but composed. They said my sister was on her way there already for a pre-planned vacation and they would call back in an hour when everyone was together back in Greene, my home town in upstate New York. David said it was ironic that everybody was together in Greene, and I, the other brother who lives on the west coast, was out on the road. I'd been thinking the same thing -- and about 100 other things. Mostly I was worried about my mom, who is quite elderly. And then thinking about my brother's kids, and his new wife, who was in training at boot camp in Virginia. Did she even know yet?
I stumbled back into the club. They hadn't opened doors yet and only Teresa was there. I blurted out the news and she was, naturally, shocked. She gave me a big hug and said "you don't have to do the show."
"Why not do it?" I said. "What else is there to do?"
A few people did show up, and with some familiar and friendly faces in the crowd, I started playing the opening strains of "Ludlow 6:18." I turned away from the front of the stage and suddenly the tears came. Fighting them back, I started a variation on the now familiar rap that started the song.
"When I started touring, I was always looking for a home, a safe place to land. I came from a family that raised me well, but wasn't the warmest environment sometimes. I never really found that home, but I think that urge was hardest for my brother Stephen. He wanted that Norman Rockwell family so much, that he pursued it through three marriages. But I don't think he ever really found what he was looking for. My brother died a few hours ago. This song is about looking for that home."
And I started into the song and as I did, I could barely sing it. I've talked about being able to emotionally connect with the songs on this tour and I saw all the dimensions to the song...the disappointment of not finding what you're looking for, the loneliness and longing for a place where you belong, the acceptance of an uncertain future and perhaps finding nothing but death. The song was about my own feelings but as I sang the words, I realized it was more true for my brother, and he probably never could totally articulate it. I could barely keep going. Then I stepped offstage for the third verse and looked at the handful of people in the room face to face. I spoke the words more than sang them.
Now speaking directly to them:
Are you the only things to which I can belong?
And none of us will.
All this lies behind me now, or ahead, or I could be wrong.
Back on the stage...stumbling to a close, finding the final D chord, whispering, pulling it together...
And then...I broke a fucking string.
The rest of the set, limping along on 11 strings and with Teresa backing me with enough sympathy that she screwed up the new arrangement for "Cut and Run" because she herself was fighting back tears, was emotional, cathartic, and honest. Most of the crowd did not know what had happened -- they'd missed my opening rap. They just knew it was an intense show. I backed down from playing "The Foghorn" -- I don't know if I'd have gotten through it -- opting to make the Beach Boys fans happy with "Long Promised Road," which seemed more uplifting, anyway. Then it was time for the closing of "Ginna Ling," with Teresa joining me for the first time.
"This is a song I wrote about a woman I met on the road a long time ago. She took her own life. My brother lived longer than she did, but they both died too soon.
"I don't think I'm going to cancel the rest of the tour. The tour will take me back to New York, where my mother is, and I want to be with her now. I'll probably have to cancel a few shows and fly back to California for the funeral. I was disappointed there weren't more people here tonight that I know, but I am so glad you all were here for me tonight. Thank you."
And then we ripped the shit out of "Ginna Ling." The final verse, the final scream, the final pounding of the chords...it felt like I was vomiting it out. And then it was over.
left: in the audience, and in tears, for "Ludlow." right: with T, ripping into "Ginna Ling."
There weren't a lot of people there for the show, but we sold a bunch of CDs...a good thing, since as I predicted, we didn't make any money off the club (not their fault...we didn't bring enough peeps to justify getting paid) and of course, I was probably going to have to eat a plane ticket before too long. The people that had showed up were great, and comforting. One guy actually elicited a belly laugh by producing...a CD burn of my disowned first album, FLAKE CITY, a vinyl disaster that was barely released and yet people seem to keep acquiring. And ironically, my brother Steve sang on that album, his only recorded vocal performance that I am aware of.
Things got slightly ugly when the door guy gave me a hard time for loading my gear out while a band was playing (it should be noted, they had just started). I was in a hurry to start looking into travel arrangements and I turned around and yelled at the guy, "my brother just died, I didn't get paid, and all my stuff is already out. I don't give a fuck." The guy asked me to repeat that, I did, and he said, "I don't need the attitude, guy." And I almost went back and took a poke at him, the first time I've ever gotten that way since my dad died and I got into an altercation with Seth from the Mockers at a show we did together soon afterwards. I felt bad enough about it afterwards to write the Elbo and apologize. It was unprofessional. But the pettiness of the attitude comment still rankled.
I got back on the phone with my family soon after the show ended. My sister, brother, brother-in-law and mother were all back in Greene and I talked to them on speaker phone. I had remembered that Steve when he wrote the will had wanted me to be executor and I had shot him down. Thank God, I thought. Imagine being on the road, your brother dies, and everyone's waiting for you to settle his estate. Gene, my brother-in-law, was the actual executor and they thought we would know more tomorrow. My mom was worried about the tour; it sounded like my brother, though a musician and understanding what was involved, was expecting me to be at the funeral regardless of the tour. It didn't matter either way. I was going to go anyway regardless. When my dad died I flew home four days before a tour and it wrecked my health for six weeks. It was a miserable start to a tour but I don't regret it. The bottom line was we'd all know more about the arrangements tomorrow. My brother told me to get some sleep.
Happily, Liam Davis, an old friend from the Chicago band Frisbie, who I had played with back in the Cockeyed Ghost days, was putting us up and had been incredibly thoughtful, even typing up a two page note detailing all the accommodations and even directing us to the nearest Starbucks. He arrived home soon afterwards and we had a great conversation for about an hour, and his cat curled up on my lap. It was all very comforting.
Then we both had work to do. I've been typing this diary for the last hour and a half while Teresa has been looking up various flight options back to California. I needed to do the blogging tonight, because it was long overdue, becase people would need to know what was going on when whatever happens in the coming days happens, because the next few days are likely to be a whirlwind of activity, and because, well, I had to. I hope you understand and don't think the less of me.
I don't know what will happen next. I am unlikely to cancel the tour. Besides being financially disastrous it also would take me away from my mother's side when she needs me the most. So I will stick to the schedule, play through it as best I can, and whatever I have to cancel to make the funeral, I will. Teresa can ferry the gear in my car while I am gone. The biggest bummer is the possibilty that I might have to cancel the show in Cleveland with the guys from Paranoid Lovesick, a band which was ended by the untimely and sudden death of their guitarist, and my friend, Rick. I am really looking forward to that show and will be heartbroken if I can't make it. But family is family and I will do what I have to do.
And now I really, really, really need to go to sleep.
August 16, 2008 - Brooklyn Pizza, Lexington, KY
The following day we had been, much to our chagrin, unable to line up a show even though it was a Friday night. Since we were going to be rehearsing with a local musician in Lexington for our show there, it made the most sense to just power through the nine hour drive to Lexington that day, which Teresa and I did. It was a pleasant enough drive and we were digging on the I-Pod the whole way, stopping in a small town in Indiana for a walk and a tasty meal at a coffee shop. We also got some news about a musician friend of ours joining a famous band that we were both delighted by, both because he is so appropriate for the band and at the same time, the least likely person to be asked to join for, um, demographic reasons. I don't know if this is common knowledge or not (or even if it wasn't an elaborate practical joke) so I will say no more at this time. But I chortled with glee on hearing this news and immediately called the person back in L.A. to congratulate them.
We got to Lexington and the home of the parents of Andrew Grossman, one of my biggest supporters of late. They had very nice digs and we stayed up muching on wine and chips and salsa left by our hosts, the result being, natch, we got up really late the next day. We took a bit of a walk around the lake (the Grossmans live in a subdivision on an island) and then headed to Dimitri Lozovoy's apartment. Dimitri is an old fan and friend and offered to sit in on drums for tonight's show. Though not technically a drummer, he had good instincts and we were able to get a fairly good groove going. Dimitri is left handed and at one point I started amusing myself by playing all the songs upside down and backwards on his guitar, just like Evie does it. The challenge delighted me (Teresa was less amused) and I started playing the solo to "Then I'll Be Happy" with the strings backwards. I was so delighted with the Primus-like results that I called Evie back in L.A. to play it for her. I'm not sure what happened then; I think she hung up or something.
The Brooklyn Pizza gig was a fairly standard-issue restaurant gig, set up by Sarah Ellison, local booker that we had been introduced to by Andrew's brother Jon, for which we were really grateful as it plugged an ugly hole in the tour schedule. Despite delighting a group of women with an impromptu version of B.J. Thomas' "Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song," done primarily to elicit an eye roll from Teresa, it didn't go well at first and I totally blame myself. We'd only had time to rehearse a handful of songs with Dimitri and what I should have done was started the show off by myself, then bring Teresa up, and then Dimitri. Instead, like a moron I started playing with the full band, and on electric guitar to boot. The band had no time to get acclimated and with Dimitri just getting up to speed the first part of the set was unfocused to say the least. Realizing my mistake, I dismissed the band and started over with a solo version of "Married Yet." During the bridge of the song the dramatic Mark Phelps 8th gold medal was being televised, and held the F chord in the breakdown for about three minutes as we all watched the end of the event on the bar TV, occasionally offering color commentary. This broke the ice with the crowd and things recovered from there, but I was really kicking myself for how I'd handled the situation. As the first set progressed I called Teresa back up and then Dimmi, and it went much better that way. Highlights were a cover of "Folsom Prison Blues" where we found a fairly decent groove and milked it, and another gang bang of "Big Bear" with Dimmi switching to guitar and fan Rand Richard, who with his partner Phillip had driven all the way from Cincinnati for the gig, covering the keyboard part.
I don't know how much it really mattered, since the gig wasn't very well attended and we got paid (thank you Sarah!), so it all worked out. But on reflection as we headed back to the crash pad, I wasn't happy with how the last few gigs had gone, and I understood why. I had had three weeks to work out a groove on my own and all I had done to adjust to Teresa's arrival was to just plug her and the other musicians in. What I needed to do was sit down with Teresa and really make the most of having her there and pull together something special. When we got back to the crash pad I started thinking about how to do it. By the time we had each retired I had a pretty good vision how to do it.
August 14, 2008 - The Record Bar, Kansas City, MO
As has been the custom on the tour so far, I got up way later than expected and after some yoga was heading down to Kansas City to meet up with Teresa, who was staying with my old friend John Evans. John and his drummer Dan Dumit in his new band The Mendoza Line (not the famous one) had been practicing to sit in on tonight's show. I got down to KC much later than expected and only had enough time to give Teresa a hug before we trundled off to rehearse with John and Dan at a small studio over a furniture shop.
This was my first attempt at a band rehearsal on the road and it went fairly decently. The guys had done their homework and mostly new the stuff, though there wasn't much time to make adjustments. I had focused on more of the rock stuff and as we went through it it was a bit of a jarring contrast to the acoustic stuff that had been working well this tour, so by the time we had gotten to the show I decided to scale back the band portion to make the set flow better.
The Record Bar treated us great, with T and I gorging on two large pizzas provided gratis, and there was a solid crowd to play for tonight. They were a talky bunch, but I planned to bridge that gap with the third verse of "Ludlow 6:18" by going out into the audience as I had done at previoius shows. Fate played a cruel trick tonight, though...while I was performing the song, a mic stand by the keyboard had lowered itself down so that it was hitting one of the keys on my keyboard so when the breakdown came, there was a low dissonant note playing all the way through as I tried to sing out in the audience sans PA. I tried to motion to the sound guy to cut the sound, but he didn't know what I meant and in fact made matters worse by cutting my guitar, so the moment was pretty well shot. The audience clapped appreciatively for what I was trying to do, but there was really no recovering from that point...the room was just too big to establish much of a connection with that kind of a crowd, and even though from a performance standpoint the show was fairly solid, we weren't able to get a good flow with the set changes and bringing musicians on and off, my stage patter was unfocused and it just didn't succeed in compelling most of the audience. That said, the band acquitted itself very well on its four songs, particularly on "The Foghorn," which had a solid groove from Dan and a good performance all 'round. I was annoyed enough about how the show had gone, and the distance from the audience to append a line to "Ginna Ling": "Ginna Ling died by her own hand...and you don't care." But really, it was just one of those things. It was a tough environment for what I was trying to do but if "Ludlow 6:18" had gone as planned it probably would have gone better. As it was, you just roll with it.
The evening as a whole, though, was an excellent night of music. Southerly was on the bill again, and I unfortunately missed most of their set going over stuff with Teresa outside, because I really wanted to absorb their music further. We became solid friends with them in the two day period and I hope we get to work together again back on the west coast. The Mendoza Line were outstanding...John's really found a cool groove between the hard pop-rock he used to do with FamousFM and something more dreamy and shoegazer-y. His closing duet of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and "Bastards of Young" was monster rock and though the crowd cheered, I think they should have been standing on the tables...it was that good. The closing band, Antennas Up, had a big contingency in the audience and a lot of potential. A black frontman with three of the whitest dudes you ever saw backing him making for a really interesting visual, the band did technical soul that reminded me a bit of Level 42, particularly with their bouncy bass player. They really pulled off what they were going for and I can see them building on that sound into something really cool by overlaying more variation from the groove with some pop song structures.
All in all, not a horrible night, though I felt I'd failed a bit. But it was a great bill and an excellent club, and I had a great time hanging out with John. It was also great seeing T again. It was going to be good to have her along for the next stretch.