Monday, December 29, 2008

Here And Gone

Our kids were here.

There's something so undeniably mature about that sentence.

"Our" being an operative word, in that Eric and I both have daughters, meaning we both have at this point full and lengthy pasts.

"Kids" is what I kept referring to them as. First jokingly, then not so. We were, after all, the oldest people in the house. So what does that make us?

"Were" in that they have lives of their own, and other places to go back to.

"Here" as we thankfully have somewhere they can come to.

It was like a miracle, having them visit, because we actually ate meals at the table, went on outings, and got to bed before midnight (one night, anyway) for the first time in months. We were transformed into grownups, and it was lovely. We got groceries, doled out advice, and a little bit of money, but how can it ever be enough? I've fought being an adult for years, but having a nearly grown up child makes it not the drag I thought it would be.

I thought it meant ordering sweat pants and turtlenecks from the Lands End catalog. And sitting in those chairs with footrests attached. Knowing all kinds of recipes. Paying more attention to window treatments. With possibly a little light shoplifting thrown in.

I didn't know that those almost impossibly joyful moments you get sometimes with your child could increase in proportion to the years and experiences they have in this world. At the same time, the stress of wanting everything to turn out right for them is almost unbearable at times.

But overall there is so much to enjoy with a grown up kid. Seeing what she wears, hearing what she thinks, about anything. Just being around her. With Eric's daughter too, and her boyfriend. Youth is all it's cracked up to be, isn't it, even if it is someone else's job now. I am definitely in transition - I think the best thing to aspire to at this point is crone-dom. At least then I'll have some helpful insights to offer.

So now it's back to eating whatever, wherever and Play Misty For Me at 2 AM. But if the occasion arrives I know we can crank up that maturity machine, like a time machine in reverse, that puts us in some temporary position of wisdom and authority. Then, when the kids leave, it's back to being clueless as usual.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lady Love A Duck

We're having roast duck for Christmas - the whole thing so there's no mistaking leg for breast. Eric and I picked one up from the butcher this morning and, though he was kind enough to go behind closed doors to remove the head, we had to watch him do all sorts of intimate things to the poor guy before trussing him up with string.

Then we went to the train station in Limoges to pick Hazel up, with Eric's daughter and her boyfriend who are here with us. They arrived on Monday by train from England, about an hour after we arrived by car from England. Silly, that we couldn't have driven down with them but the car was so full of assorted guitars and P.A. equipment and the odd Christmas present that there was barely room for us.

At the beautiful Benedictins station we all went onto the platform to wait for Hazel's train from Paris when police started appearing all up and down the steps and on the platform. They gruffly directed everyone to go back upstairs for cinq minutes. It all looked pretty sinister. Murmurs that they would be looking for someone on the train.

Of course my mind was fixed on Hazel - was she alright? As the train pulled into the station we could see police officers crouching on the stairs - ready for what?

They kept holding people back from going down the stairs with no explanation, and they weren't allowing anyone to get off either. A man dressed in Limoges-style "casual" civilian clothes (ie v-neck sweater, grey wool trousers, white shirt) pushed through the crowd at the top of the stairs and onto the platform, shaking hands all around. He seemed to be in charge of the whole operation but there was a distinct impression nobody knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing.

Finally they let people off the train but when it pulled away and the last passenger had come up the stairs Hazel wasn't there.

All of a sudden it didn't feel so great to be the only people in Europe without a mobile phone. But we figured she'd be on the next train, and went to a cafe for some lunch.

We've finally found the one decent cafe in Limoges - it looks like you want a cafe to look, with the huge mirrors, dark wood and old murals on the walls. In this case, "old" means possibly late 70's but given that nowadays most cafes have been remodeled and filled with molded plastic and faux marble it's got something going for it.

When we went back for the next train, still no Hazel. We were starting to get worried. In our rush to get the duck and groceries I had neglected to check that the flight had arrived on time. I think the strain and exhaustion of four months of almost non-stop touring probably had something to do with it. It has definitely pushed me over the edge in terms of being able to think straight. Add to that the general holiday muddle, where you just want things to go well and will it to be so. Our plan was to pick Hazel up and go get the Christmas tree and a few more things we needed and goddammit that is exactly how it had to be.

Eventually the poor girl did arrive, but by that time it was too late to get a tree or anything. Still, we were all together and that's what matters in the end - there was foie gras and Champagne and the kids watching Reservoir Dogs. And duck for Christmas, that I'm willing to be cooked to perfection.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Looking For My Lost Youth, And Losing A Scarf

My newly fortified passport in hand, I flew from Limoges to Stansted yesterday, getting to England a few days before Eric who's coming by car with all the equipment on Friday. I was really looking forward to my afternoon in London. Since it's almost Christmas I thought it'd be kind of festive to do a little leisurely shopping and strolling.

I don't know what I was thinking. Since when did the words "leisurely" and "strolling" have anything to do with London? I took the express train to Liverpool Street and parked my bag in the Left Luggage place there easily enough. I was trying to figure out where to go first when the decision was made for me, as I was carried up the stairs by the rushing wool-coated tide, all of whom seemed to be redistributing phlegm: hacking, coughing, blowing, while simultaneously talking into mobile phones.

Out on the street was like being hit in the face repeatedly with a slightly damp leather glove. Lashings of cold air, snatches of conversations, bursts of steam and greasy food smells. And I remembered how it is, with London. In some ways, I love it. But it rarely loves me back.

I got on a bus to Tottenham Court and climbed to the second level. From up there I could enjoy the architectural details of the buildings and look down on all the striding strivers. Everyone was in motion, everybody going somewhere or trying to get things done by phone, except the little knots of smokers outside bars and pubs. The bus wound through Broad Street, Bank Street, past St. Paul's, but then without explanation went out of service. I picked up the next one but it sat in traffic for so long I decided I'd be better off walking.

So I walked, past Holborn, down to the Strand, up through Covent Garden, and all of a sudden I was right in front of Saint Martin's. I spent a year in London once, under the guise of attending art college there, and that's the only reason I can think of that I always end up back in this part of the city. I know there are lots of better places to spend an afternoon but something, call it muscle memory, always brings me back there. Maybe it's an attempt to solve the unresolved mystery of what I was doing here all those years ago.

Down Charing Cross, and I thought of going to see a movie. I was almost tempted by the marquee advertising Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn in "Four Christmases" but that would have been admitting some kind of defeat. Plus it wasn't showing for another forty minutes.

After all the walking I was shaking with hunger. I saw the back of the National Portrait Gallery. It's free to get in and I know they have a decent cafe so I headed straight down there and got some delicious mushroom soup and, because I'd exerted myself so much, warm apple cinnamon cake with lots of double cream.

Too lazy to go back in time before the last century, I strolled around an exhibit of portraits of important Brits, people like the Queen and Prince Charles and Margot Fonteyn and David Hockney, but after the third or fourth picture of Prince Charles I thought "I don't care about these people" (except David Hockney), and because it had been free to get in, I could leave.

Up to Regent Street, into Liberty which is such a beautifully intact old department store. Funny, the conspicuously expensive items on display now seem from another era too. I ran my hands over the pricy scarves and notebooks, just to acknowledge that these things do exist, not as good as owning them but almost. H&M, Zara, Top Shop: for some reason I felt compelled to examine the trendy, tacky stuff too, thinking maybe I could find a gift or two but realizing it was useless. I forget how pointless shopping can feel in these kind of places. I wanted to get back to Foyle's bookstore. "I know it's on Charing Cross, just past that Nando's restaurant there. Wait, is that the same Nando's I passed five minutes ago, or a different one? Is that Pizza Hut the one next to the Starbucks between the Next and Boots or the one around the corner from Superdrug?" The West End always had a lot of tourist crap but way back when there were little corners of civilization and charm that captured my imagination. It gets harder and harder to find anything that isn't a chain store.

I loved looking around Foyle's but I lost my scarf in there. Paranoid, I imagined one of the clerks found it, and the whole staff were sworn to secrecy to keep me from getting it back. No doubt one of them is sporting that red mohair beauty to work today, just like that motel employee in Rochester, NY is still using the brand new bottles of Pureology shampoo and conditioner he refused to acknowledge I'd left behind this past October.

I decided to head back over to Liverpool St. where I was supposed to meet our friend Peter for the 8:30 train to Norwich. I wanted to get a nice glass of wine somewhere. Pubs with names like Dirty Dick's and the Cock and Sparrow didn't hold a lot of appeal, so I settled on, forgive me, Pizza Express. Not a bad chain of jazz venue/pizza restaurants, but - a chain. I shouldn't have bothered - the waiter ejected me when I told him I only wanted to order an appetizer and some wine. Unlike France, where you can sit for hours over one little cup of coffee, this place is only about making money. It's harsh. I found a small wine bar with a good selection but there weren't any seats, no doubt so they can jam more bodies in there. Still, I enjoyed the wine and listening to the boring conversations around me, about where to go on holiday if everyone still has jobs next year.

I collected my bag and met up with Peter - we were going to eat in the dining car. He said the food was good, and there's something special and old-fashioned about eating off of real plates and tablecloths on a train. Civilized, right? Which used to be part of the appeal of visiting England for us vulgar, tacky Americans.

They plan to end the dining service as of next week. Something to do with job cuts, but probably more to do with the service not generating enough money. Take out the tables and they can ram some more people in. Who said life is to be enjoyed?

The dining car was already closed. So we ate bags of potato chips on a train crammed with exhausted people, some of them crouching in the corridors. That hackneyed Samuel Johnson quote kept going through my mind about when a man is tired of London he's tired of life. After one afternoon, I was just happy to get the hell out of there.

Monday, December 8, 2008

That Something Extra

He was born in Brooklyn. Part of a large family, nobody took much notice of him. We first met when he was lounging around a loading dock. Everybody said he was destined for a life of vagrancy and petty crime, but we could see he had that something extra.

As he got older he developed certain eccentricities, like eating with his hands and flicking light switches on and off. Sometimes he kind of looked like Elvis, and there’s no denying he loved food. Bigger than average, for a brief period he took to parading around in a gold lamé cape.

Then he moved to Nashville. Maybe he thought he could make it in country music. That didn’t happen, but he discovered nature. He’d go out exploring. Got beat up bad one time, when he ventured over by the fairgrounds. After that he stuck closer to home. He spent a lot of his days looking out windows, but other times he was running all over the place. He alternated between keeping us amused and driving us crazy.

There was a brief period when he lived in Alabama. The less said about that the better. Things improved, strangely enough, with a move to Cleveland. But apartment living wasn’t really his style - too isolated.

When the day came that our crew all went their separate ways it made sense for him to head back to Brooklyn, where he’d started from. He made some new friends and began settling into comfortable late middle age. There was brief talk of checking out the scene in France but he was getting a little old for any more big changes and, smart as he was, he didn’t speak French.

He moved in with the owner of a shop in Williamsburg, right near the bridge. He liked hanging out there, charming the customers and living large, the way he always had. And that’s where he died last month, at the age of 14.

R.I.P. James “Jimmy VI” the Cat. We loved him.

Hazel & James 1999

Friday, December 5, 2008

Attic Antics

Not that I want to close any doors, and I never like to say never, but I think there's a fairly good chance I won't be starting a career as a builder anytime soon.

We've had a plan for the last two years to turn the front part of the attic into a guest room, and with my daughter and Eric's daughter and her boyfriend all coming for Christmas, it seems imperative to move the job along. Eric's been working wonders up there this past week, fitting a ceiling around rugged old beams and stones. It's especially challenging because everything is going off at bizarre angles, as I guess old houses do.

With some fresh flowers and a kilim rug this place'll be perfect


I try my best to help out but the truth is I am hopeless. If there's a low-hanging beam to bang into, most likely the beam and my head have become so well-acquainted they're barely speaking to each other anymore.

Even supposedly risk-free tasks like handing over a box of nails or screws expose my true calling as a bumbler, with nails scattering and me knocking over a broom when I bend over to pick the nails up. The broom inevitably hits a chair with a cup of hot tea on it and - well, you get the idea.

My history in sheetrocking began thirty years ago in a dank basement on St. Mark's Place, where a gang of us pulled together to build a clubhouse called Stinky's. That place only lasted about three weeks, but it wasn't due to the quality of the workmanship. Eventually we joined forces with lower Manhattan bar Tier 3, as detailed in this article by Andy Schwartz.

Maybe I just peaked too early.

This woman is dangerous.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Woman Without A Country

Having just about dispatched the necessary receipts to the auditor, I'm reminded of a brilliant Robbie Fulks post from...well before there were such a thing as "posts" but you'll get a lot more out of reading what he has to say about talking to the taxman than these pathetic ramblings here. I'm not even sure why I feel so compelled to write again, just one day later - there's probably something else I'm avoiding doing. Or it's some kind of desperate need for attention. After all, I haven't been on stage in an entire week.

I'm on to the next drama now, which is that I had to send my passport off to the American Embassy in Paris. It's pretty wrenching, being so far apart from it. But the pages are all used up, as the last three immigration officers have mentioned to me. The American and British officials gave me stern warnings. The French officer at Charles De Gaulle waved my passport in the air and giggled "It's full!"

I need to get a new passport anyhow because the photo is almost ten years old and I've started getting those skeptical looks at check-in counters like "this can't possibly be you". Plus it expires in April. All this travelling lately has left me no time to do anything about it. But we're going back to England next week and I have to go for the quick fix of getting a few more pages added. This can supposedly be achieved in a few days, unlike the passport renewal which takes several weeks.

It's a little like being a special agent, holed up in a village in France, waiting for her new identity. Without a passport, I'm floating free. A woman without a country. It feels great. Unless I need to go somewhere.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Reckoning

It was two years ago that we arrived in France. But I still gotta talk to the IRS. Today, in fact. Which is why I'm writing, instead of facing the reality of my travel expenses from the year 2006. As Eric says, "Bad enough being a loser without having to prove it." But prove it I must.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Woody's World

As a substitute for one of those big family Thanksgiving feasts, we watched "Hannah and Her Sisters" last night. Thanksgiving always makes me think of New York - from my first Macy's parade (I froze and got groped by a stranger) to seeing Patti Smith at the Bottom Line, to trying to cook a turkey in a toaster oven and blowing the fuse for the whole building. Grease fires,turkeys that never thawed, dinners eaten at midnight or in Indian restaurants. Call it homesickness. I guess that's what made me reach for Woody Allen.

Not that Woody's world was ever mine. The holiday meals in "Hannah", one at the beginning and one at the end of the film, are cooked to perfection and served by a maid, while everyone perches on cream colored sofas.But one of the pleasures of watching "Annie Hall" or "Manhattan" or so many of his movies was that I could project myself into a fantasy of what life in the city could be, if only I wasn't an art student, or a punk rocker, or a struggling musician or an impoverished parent exiled to Brooklyn of all places. If I was, instead, an earthtone-wearing success who lived in some generic uptown. I think the closest I ever got to that other world was when my friend Adolfo talked me into charging an absurdly expensive pair of Ralph Lauren shoes on my mother's Saks card. "You deserve them!" he said. Funny, my parents didn't see it that way when they got the bill.

In my mind there's still the possibility I'll eventually wind up a cross between the saintly beige-attired Hannah, the wayward sexy sister Lee and the flaky, artsy Dianne Wiest one in her vintage clothes. I'll stride around some part of Manhattan that doesn't exist any more, on my way to a rehearsal of my latest play or a party in someone's two story apartment. Has anyone ever actually seen a two story NY apartment, except in a Woody Allen movie?


But it's not entirely correct to say that Woody's world was never mine. Because I just remembered how last year we watched "Broadway Danny Rose". It has that final scene, warm and sad, where Danny and his oddball clients, who are the closest he gets to family and friends, sit around the apartment eating TV dinners for Thanksgiving. And here we were, a couple of dishevelled show people, eating duck legs off of TV trays, watching the holiday on a screen.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Turkey-free

I had a terrifying dream last night, where Sting and Elvis Costello were prancing around a Paris stage in some bizarre opera. Sting was bearded, Elvis sported an ankle-length black coat and fez, and a trio of women dangled in chairs above them.

Wait, that wasn't a bad dream but an article and photo I saw in the Daily Telegraph.

But it's Thanksgiving today, and I don't want to spend any more time wondering why such things happen, or even worse, why I spend my time reading and thinking about them.

I only want to celebrate the good things I've seen or heard lately (with apologies to Kim at Je Ne Regrette Rien, who tagged me for a list of favorite albums. That one's going to take me awhile - possibly until the end of my life).

1. Cinemania - We were staying with our friend Lindsay Hutton in Scotland and this documentary was one he set out for us to watch. A look into the narrow lives of five New Yorkers obsessed with films, I felt sure this would be too depressing to make it all the way through. Instead I was entranced by the characters and fascinated by their devotion to cinema. From Jack's description of ripping a noisy candy bag out of a fellow filmgoer's hands to Roberta's program collection and Eric's belief that a move to France would yield a technicolor life like a Jacques Demy film, this unassuming movie has stayed with me for weeks. I guess you could call it a love story.

2. Glen Campbell singing Times Like These. I always loved the Foo Fighters song - hearing this version on a late night drive took my breath away.

3. I laughed and cried over this story in the Sunday Times. Guess that makes me officially middle-aged?

4. Gratin dauphinois. I have to try and make it today.

5. Amadou & Mariam - I must see them when they tour France in 2009. Found this sweet clip through Travelling But Not In Love's site. I imagine Eric and I touring with them. I better work on my French first.

6. Peter Holsapple's music blog in the NY Times. Funny, fascinating story and the comments are interesting as well.

7. A gorgeous blue sky and icy fresh air outside, and an extra hour of light here in France. I'm going for a walk now. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I Know We're Back In France

...because yesterday we had delicious steak frites in a random town near Calais. And espresso that was hot, and strong, and creamy and didn't slop over the top of the cup.

...because at a service station on the autoroute I saw a sixty-something woman wearing an impeccable jacket and skirt. With over the knee black patent leather boots.

...because the sky was completely dark last night, except for stars.

...because I was offered and at least attempted to eat a boiled chestnut in the epicerie this morning.

...because I was waving at neighbors left and right as I came back down the hill with croissants and a baguette.

...because none of this seems corny at all - it's just being home.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Last Legs

Slept til noon today thanks to some sleeping pills. I'm so exhausted. I can't take much more of this being in a different bed every night, but a girl has to make a living.

No, it's not an excerpt from "Butterfield 8", just a lame attempt to update the diary after three months of touring. I miss writing, but I can barely speak in coherent sentences let alone compose entire paragraphs.

Only two more shows, Brighton and Leicester, and then back home.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Trifecta

Yesterday we set off at 5:45 AM to drive down to Manchester to appear on, of all things, a breakfast TV show. We followed directions to Channel M, a local Manchester station, and since it was still dark when we arrived we could see them broadcasting from the second floor of this glass building, but we could not find the station entrance. You know those morning shows where passersby are visible through the glass, sometimes saying "hi mom" and waving at the cameras? That was us, me on Eric's shoulders, shouting and gesturing at the cameraman to get someone to come down and let us in.

Then there was a frightening moment when Eric threatened to drive the car right through the plate glass window, but we finally found the door and got inside. It would've been nice to get the full hair and makeup before going on TV, but this was a barebones operation so I went off to the ladies room to fix myself up while Eric drank tea and looked at the newspapers.


If ever we could have partial lobotomies and come back twenty years younger I think breakfast TV presenters would be the perfect job. You get to read all the papers, wear cute colorful clothes, sit around drinking beverages and talking nonsense with assorted guests. Yesterday morning alone our hosts Brian and Nicki talked to a footballer, an X Factor contestant, a young artist and the head of the Manchester Arts Council.

And us. We sat on the couch chatting about...come to think of it I can't really remember what we talked about. I know Eric kept saying what a nice sofa they had. And I remember Nicki delighted in asking if Eric was "really Wreckless?" Perfect for an audience who are guzzling coffee and trying to get out of the house. At the end of the program we played "Please Be Nice To Her" as the credits rolled.

So by 10 AM we were ready to go back to sleep. Maybe we're not exactly cut out for the morning talk show game?

Later that afternoon it was on to Liverpool for an interview with Spencer Leigh. This was taped, the songs and talking parts done separately, so there was no pressure to have any of it make sense. Spencer was very nice, and there is something about Liverpool that really captures the imagination of anyone who grew up in the sixties. Even the name of this particular BBC station, Radio Merseyside, made me want to put on some boots and false eyelashes and start doing the Freddie.

After Liverpool it was time to drive back to Manchester for the Mark Riley show on Digital 6. Eric gave me a brief biography of Mark along with a short history of the BBC has we sat in traffic and it appears I may or may not have met him back when he was in The Fall years ago. There's a story somewhere of that band coming to a party in my brother's apartment on 13th Street but neither he or I could remember exactly if he was there. Mark played amazing stuff - TV On The Radio, Jessica Hoop, live Pulp and some French band I have to look up. Plus he airdrummed to all the records and was a great interviewer, relaxed and funny. Mercury Rev were out in the hallway waiting to do a session as we left. Then we found a superb Chinese restaurant. It would have been the perfect ending to our media trifecta.

But the heat didn't work when we got back to our cozy cottage. It's probably a good thing. After a day like that we were starting to get a little too showbiz.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Rewind

Eric and I are in Lancashire at the moment, nestled in a cozy little cottage on an organic farm, having a day off! We're in the middle of this UK tour, having played outside Manchester last night and Glasgow and Edinburgh the previous days. Amazingly this rustic place has wireless. When I got on my computer just now I counted over 40 different wireless access locations from the last 2 months. Is it any wonder I don't know where I am half the time?

I voted last month when we were in America and have been so enmeshed in our little touring world and all its logistics, exhaustion, joys and frustrations that I barely registered how huge this moment was until Nov. 5. Now I can't stop thinking `bout Barack. I look at the pictures of him and well up. I don't think I really believed anything like this could happen, or how much it would mean.

It's not often I wish I could go back in time but if I could rewind to the evening of Nov. 4, I think this is where I would have liked to be.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Some Guys Just Know How To Make A Girl (Man, Woman, Child, Country) Feel Special

"Amelia --

I'm about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first.

We just made history.

And I don't want you to forget how we did it.

You made history every single day during this campaign -- every day you knocked on doors, made a donation, or talked to your family, friends, and neighbors about why you believe it's time for change.

I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent, and passion to this campaign.

We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I'll be in touch soon about what comes next.

But I want to be very clear about one thing...

All of this happened because of you.

Thank you,

Barack"

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

And They Called It Astrovan

It started as a trickle of a few emails on Saturday night and has since turned into a raging...trickle of a few more emails, all from people with Astrovans in their lives.

Car Talk, a syndicated radio show where brothers Tom and Ray advise people with automotive problems, is a lot more entertaining than it sounds. These funny guys shout at each other in colorful Boston accents and are so passionate about cars that a question about an oil change can send them into a frenzy.

Every week they play a few car-related songs and this week they chose Astrovan, from our new album. I am thrilled.

One of the clunkiest, most boring utilitarian minivans ever made, Astrovan inspires some pretty intense feelings. Against my will I developed a close relationship with the one I had for a brief time - a time cut short when the thing was stolen from my parking space in Cleveland. That inspired the song and perhaps it can now become an anthem for Astrovan sufferers.

Maybe there's an annual rally we could play at? It's probably held somewhere in Wisconsin, in the dead of winter.

Friday, October 31, 2008

I Think We're In England

It looks like London here - cold, grey and drab. But two kids wearing Halloween costumes just came into the internet cafe where I'm sitting. For a second I forgot where I was - it could've been Coventry in Cleveland or Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. But it's Walthamstow, because I just checked the bus stop outside. (the buses themselves tell me nothing - they're not those red double decker classics anymore)

I'd really hoped to get a US tour recap up here, and post some more photos. But we're back out touring the UK now so it'll have to wait a little while longer.

I hope I'll be writing from a slightly better world by then, with Obama having won the election. Then the memory of trying to do a soundcheck in a Los Angeles bar with the Republican convention blaring idiotically and aggressively from a TV will be cause for a wry reflection and not an image of the future.

I know there's a good fish and chips place down the street from here. Unless they've turned it into a Starbucks...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Learning From History

You know how they say it takes half the length of time you were in a relationship to get over the breakup? That's how it feels with this tour we just finished. We were gone almost two months so judging by how I am today I'm thinking some time near the end of November I may be normal again.

When we dropped our equipment off at the storage space in Cleveland, I managed to pack up a box of personal items - books, clothes, master tapes, photos, etc - to send back to France. One of these days, when we have some money, I'll break down and get a container shipped over but in the meanwhile, this is my completely impractical way of moving. Anyway, back in Cleveland I have this big box of journals I've kept over the years and with every box I ship, I toss a few random ones in. I can't conceive of ever sitting down and reading through all of them, but one at a time can be interesting.

So the box came yesterday, and instead of unpacking a suitcase full of dirty tour clothes, I cracked it open and this morning looked at one of the notebooks. It's from the period of time just after my first solo album came out, 1996/97.

There's a list in there of things I needed to do after coming home from a tour. One in particular looked way too familiar: Find a way to pay bills (how?).

It isn't always like this, but sometimes you go out, do all that work and come back realizing you lost money. You go through all the things you should have done differently (booked less shows...booked more shows...pushed the merchandise harder...charged more - duh...hit the blackjack tables at Sams Town in Shreveport and doubled our money...planned a tour when there wasn't a) an economic crisis, b) an election, c) any sporting event of any kind).

Another entry on the same list in that old journal goes something like "Stop beating myself up. Don't be so hard on myself. Have more confidence."

So in order to learn from history, and not keep making the same mistakes, the thing is not to wail (as I'm inclined to do) "Why am I still not making money at this?" But instead acknowledge that everyone is in financial distress right now. And feel some sense of accomplishment that we are actually selling records and have reviews all over the place, including this one two days ago on NPR, that puts us alongside Paul McCartney and Oasis (who probably aren't feeling the crunch, come to think of it). And to have no doubts that we did kick ass.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

There Were These Two Cows...

I know we made it back to France because today we saw two cows standing in a line looking into a farmhouse window, and we laughed. Hysterically.

We came back to no internet, so I have to type this at the library, on a French keyboard. I'm walking with a limp from dropping a guitar case on my foot over two weeks ago. I think it'll get better now that I have a chance to rest a little.

The pizza van comes to our village tonight, and we picked up a lot of new DVDs in the US.

My brain's not working too well, so for now I'll just say it's good to be home.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Show People

Typical of show people, we're doing our act in New Haven tonight before hitting New York City tomorrow, Friday Oct. 10. There's a portable antique nightclub set up in lower Manhattan for the months of September and October, the Spiegeltent, and we'll be doing a set there as part of my brother Michael's Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. revue. The whole thing starts at 8 PM.

I hope we can find time to get to a dry cleaners between now and then. It's bound to be a pretty sophisticated crowd.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hotel Paintings

I'm at the point where every town we pass, I think "I could live there."

I'm at the point where every hotel painting I see, I think "That could be a good job for me, painting pictures of garden gates and checkered tablecloths."

I'm at the point where I want to do just about anything but sit in the car, or repack dirty clothes into my suitcase, or try to make my hair look decent. Scratch that one - I gave up on grooming a few cities back.

My daughter's roommate Libby said, "You two look amazing."

I think she means we look frightening.

I just smiled at a little girl in Starbucks, and she hid behind her mother's leg.

Monday, September 29, 2008

You Can Go Home Again (& Again...& Again...&)

We played in Brooklyn Saturday night. Playing in NY is and always will be the big homecoming gig for me, even though I grew up in Pittsburgh. Because New York City is where I first started seriously going to shows, and playing music and writing songs and making a fool of myself in public, I want any show there to be one of the best nights of my life, ever.

Which Saturday was. It was scary foregoing a Manhattan show and just playing a Brooklyn club but Southpaw seemed like it could be the right place for me and Eric and in terms of stage, sound and audience it really was.

My brother Michael's band Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. opened the show and they set such a scene with their slick outfits, vintage microphones, witty banter and utterly unique take on honky tonk music.

And then we played, and nothing went wrong. I saw this on our myspace this morning and it made me cry, it felt so right - so I hope Mitch Friedman won't mind if I quote him: "It was polished, shambolic, loud, soft, funny, moving, long, short tempered, nostalgic, modern, impressive and energetic -- sometimes all within the same song."

After, we retired to this brand-new hotel in the far reaches of Bushwick. In the past it would have depressed me to think I couldn't afford to treat myself to somewhere in Manhattan, but it just shows how things (and possibly how I) have changed. Not long ago, I could find a midtown hotel like Radisson or Hilton or Marriott on Hotwire for under $100. Now even the dowdiest place charges upwards of $300 a night - it's nothing but greed and I can't enjoy myself when I feel like I'm being ripped off. The sweet people at our Quality Inn let us park the van right by the front door, and even though the elevated train rattled by a few times in the night, I felt completely happy.

Had the traditional Sunday brunch in hipster Williamsburg with other NY brother Riley and friends Angela and Alan. We enjoyed skewing the demographic of the restaurant - until we entered the place there was not a single person over the age of, say, thirty two. Made the scene at the Warsaw record fair, where Miriam Linna and Eric thrilled me by sharing stories of seeing Slade in 1973 and I found the Mimi & Richard Farina LP's we've been craving.

Speaking of Pittsburgh, we'd played there on Tuesday night and a highlight was getting to do Astrovan, as there just happened to be a Hammond organ on stage for Eric to play! We were a little rusty on that one but it was a good-natured show and I saw my brother Patrick, my old friend Lonesome Bob and got to meet Gregg & Barbara of The Cynics. Every time I visit, I look around and marvel at how great the place is doing - growing up it was all dirty air, sports and small-mindedness. Who knew it would end up one of the coolest cities in America?

Yet another homecoming was Nashville, where we did an instore at Grimey's record shop. It was the best possible way to do a gig in this town, because the time I lived there it was always fairly difficult to get more than a handful of people out to a show(nothing to take personal, of course. The famous quote, attributed to David Olney, goes something like "When I want some time to myself, I just book a show in Nashville.")

We got a fine turnout, everyone crowded in around the racks of vinyl, and Grimey said we were their loudest instore performance ever. We only learned yesterday that Metallica had played there the week before we did.

Got to see Bill Lloyd and Bill DeMain and Richard Ferreira and Steve Allen and Amelia White and some other dear and delightful friends, for a few minutes anyway. Then Eric and I were cast out by the Grimey's staff, who wanted to go to the various Americana music conference shows that were happening that night. A pretty lady in an adult car pulled into the parking lot as we were packing up - Laura Cantrell, there in town to play a show and visit family. It was so nice to see her this way, if only for a minute, without the hum of networking chatter (that was thankfully absent when we'd played, or maybe I just couldn't hear it). That is an unfortunate part of shows in Music City - it is almost impossible to stop gladhanding and sharing details of your professional life long enough to actually listen to something. (the Basement & Bluebird clubs are exceptions). When we watched Rosie Flores play later that night it was no different, though it thrilled me to hear her. And Joe Ely - how could you even open your mouth to do anything but gape in awe as this guy is up there playing, by himself. He stopped my heart, he made us cry, he reminded me why I write songs. Which is why I went to Nashville in the first place.

There's lots more to write about, like Texas, and the South, and the midwest, DC & Philadelphia, and meeting Chrissie Hynde, but it has to wait because it's time to get back in the car. One more homecoming of sorts tomorrow - Cleveland!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On A Steel Horse I Ride

I keep thinking there'll be time to update this diary, or stop at a pharmacy, or buy a pair of shoes, or read a newspaper.

But everyday for the last few weeks has been too busy, mostly with driving, setting up the stage, playing the gigs, trying to sell stuff, and on and on. I won't bore you with the details, mostly because once again I don't have time to even think of a clever way to put any of it.

One thing I will say is we are having a great time! Thanks for checking in on the blog and I will maybe be able to get back on here and write something and post a few pictures in the next few days.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Band On The Run

My identity was stolen out west, we spent more than we made there, and now the IRS wants to see me (see above...as Eric says, "Bad enough to be a loser without having to prove it"). We flew from L.A. to Cleveland and then rented a vehicle, picked up some equipment from my storage space, and drove halfway back across the country to Kansas City. Which is where we are now, about to drive to St. Louis.

But it's all in a day's work for a band on the run. Here are a few photos from the Seattle. Somewhere along the way I'll write again...


The city welcomes us


Wait, here's the right photo.


Does it get any better than this?


Some freeloaders arrive to take advantage of our rider.


Wagons ho! How many miles does this thing get to the gallon?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Even The Losers (Get Lucky Sometimes)

No, I swear I'm not returning to my negative, self-deprecating ways. Not at this moment at least. It's just that Eric and I were listening to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' "Damn The Torpedoes" on our drive from Portland to Seattle. We had a roundtable in the front seat of the rental car and came to the conclusion that the album just doesn't hold up as well as, say, the first one which we have played on many a late night drive. Part of it's the production, part of it's that weird accent he sings in sometimes. I think his songwriting was at its blandest at this point, and got much better around the time of Freefallin. But it could be I've just heard most of these songs way too many times. I still love how he gets out of the verse and into the chorus of this song.

The stars really were shining on us this past weekend, starting with the beautiful deco hotel that helped make up for the stingy "sparse" decor of the last one. The other guests were sporting yarmulkes instead of trendy shag haircuts as the hotel was hosting an event called Israel Here and Now. And just across the street, there was a vintage movie theatre, the Neptune, where "Hamlet 2" was playing at just the right time. I managed to stay awake for most of it.

We'd had Friday off, which was good, because by then we were both dragging. Saturday we were still on overachiever time, waking by 6:30 AM, but that just made it possible to be tourists and walk around Seattle's downtown a little, visit Pike Place Market, stop in at a guitar shop, buy false eyelashes and get back to the hotel in time to get ready for our Bumbershoot set.

Bumbershoot is a sprawling city festival, with various stages spread out over the part of town that hosted the Seattle World's Fair in the 60's. This being Seattle, there's always the threat of rain spoiling things, but our luck held and the weather was perfect.

Even with the borrowed amps, a weird piano stool that was a cross between a sex-throne and a tractor seat, and the keyboard still sounding fresh out of the box, we had a great time. The crowd was a mix of older folk in that stylish outdoor clothing they've perfected in the Northwest and younger types curious to see what the future holds in store should they find themselves still playing music in thirty years. And some of Seattle's finest, funniest musicians - Jim & Johnny Sangster, John Ramberg and my old pal Lily Dennison. Eric got the people going during "Men In Sandals", to the point where one guy pulled off his shoes and started slapping them together over his head.

Here's a nice review of the show.

We got to eat an amazing meal afterwards which is downright rare, almost impossible after a nighttime gig when the only food available is something you wouldn't normally want to eat (ie donuts, McDonalds, Bounty bars, caramel logs).

Then back to our deco hotel where I should have been able to sleep. But I found myself worrying about New Orleans. And hoping they would be lucky down there too.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

At The Hipster Hotel


Welcome back to America! Huge stores, friendly employees everywhere, giving you their names and life stories. A clerk in a Starbucks told us his plans for the weekend (it was his birthday), found out what we were up to, and reassured us that he was really happy with his co-workers and job, all within the time it took to hand over a cup of coffee.

So much choice and variety of food and everything. Partly it's Portland - Thai, Vietnamese, deli, amazing bakeries, all within a block. And so much variety in the clothing people are wearing. It's especially heavy on the hipster look. After months in the countryside, I can't get over how cute and creative everyone looks.

It used to be hard won, looking "interesting". Thrift shops were vile, scary places not for the faint-hearted. A certain level of commitment was required to come up with a look that wasn't ordinary. Now in a place like Portland, it's the normal people who stand out, visitors most likely.

We booked into the same Jupiter Hotel we'd stayed at last time and vowed to avoid. They take an old motel with tiny, poorly insulated rooms and slap white paint on everything, put some mid-century style furniture around, place a condom by the bed and blast music all night long. It makes me long for a nice bland Hampton Inn. I once thought being hip meant wanting to upset the straight people. But there aren't any of them around anymore, in places like this.

Still, it was close to the club, and since it was a weeknight we thought things might be a little quieter. The club was another hipster haven. Great music, the best shag haircuts on everybody, but disorganized and chaotic. We were trying to soundcheck in the dark because no one could find a light switch. Our rented amps were hard to deal with or barely worked at all, there wasn't time to figure out the new keyboard (which magically arrived on time)and a late show was scheduled for after our set, meaning the hallway next to the stage filled up with other people's equipment.

We made it through okay though. There has to be a first show somewhere and this was it. Even managed to sleep alright. I think they must pipe in some kind of gas in the night because when I woke up I felt like maybe I too could fit in. Maybe, by my very proximity to all this hipness, I too could be one of them?

"You guys heading up to Bumbershoot this weekend? I grew up in Seattle and I usually try to go up there for it. So much fun! I have to work this weekend though, but y'know, it's good to make money. You have a great time, okay?" said the desk clerk.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A New Leaf

It's 7 AM - I'm on the computer, Eric's in the fitness center, working out. See what being in America does? We're already more productive human beings, and we've only been here for about ten hours.

We left home at 5 AM yesterday, drove forty minutes to catch a three hour train to Paris. Our friend Lo picked us up at Austerlitz and what a luxury to have a scenic drive through the center of the city and out to the airport, rather than having to drag our four guitars and various suitcases down into the metro and RER. The checkin process was interminable as the computers were broken down, but in the end we benefited because they didn't bother to charge us for extra baggage AND we were upgraded to Economy Plus, which is the equivalent of being a cow in a slightly bigger stall but made the first part of the flight easier to bear.

We made it okay through immigration though there was that moment where I was on one side of the glass having cleared and collected the baggage, and Eric was on the other, awaiting interrogation. I was afraid to take my eyes off him, imagining that if I looked away even for a second he would disappear and I would end up pounding on the glass screaming "Where is he? What have you done with him? I'm an American! We have rights!" in my best Jodie Foster imitation.

Like Hal Philip Walker's campaign speech that plays endlessly throughout Robert Altman's Nashville, so the Democratic convention blared out of every TV set in every corner of the airport. I picked up a copy of the Washington Post to try to get some idea of what was going on, but that only seemed to make things worse.

The next part of the journey, from DC to Portland, I spent in a partial coma because I just couldn't stand being on a plane anymore. I'd forgotten to get some American cash in the airport and with only about ten quarters between us, I didn't have the price of a glass of wine. As flying is at very least a license to drink wine no matter what time of the day or night, I felt let down, but in the end it was probably for the best. Because it's early morning now and we're already getting things done. At least until the jet lag wears off.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Here We Go


We've been chasing visas, adding friends on myspace, emailing clubs, mailing posters and trying to track down a keyboard I won on eBay and hoped to have waiting for me in America. I have to believe it'll show up. Doing interviews and arranging more interviews, emailing radio stations and doing everything we can to let people know we're playing, short of donning sandwich boards, which I believe we would do if we could figure out how to fit the safety vests over them.

We played a local show the other night and it was a great sendoff with a lot of our neighbors showing up to wish us well. I was so pleased to meet a fellow blogger in France, Kim of Je Ne Regrette Rien - she was as warm and funny and interesting as her very readable blog, and she even made it through two whole sets so I know we can be friends!

I'm determined to post short reports from each town rather than trying to recap at the end of the whole thing. And since I'm still in self-promotion frenzy mode until we get on that airplane in Paris tomorrow, I'm going to list our US dates.

Thu Aug 28 East End PORTLAND
Sat Aug 30 Bumbershoot SEATTLE
Wed Sept 3 Cinema Bar LOS ANGELES
Thu Sept 4 Arts Centre MERCED, CA
Fri Sept 5 Thee Parkside SAN FRANCISCO
Tue Sept 9 Knuckleheads KANSAS CITY
Wed Sept 10 off Broadway ST LOUIS
Thu Sept 11 Hi Tone MEMPHIS
Fri Sept 12 Allgood Cafe DALLAS
Sat Sept 13 Emo's AUSTIN
Sun Sept 14 The Mink HOUSTON
Tue Sept 16 The Nick BIRMINGHAM
Wed Sept 17 Star Bar ATLANTA
Thu Sept 18 Grimeys NASHVILLE
Fri Sept 19 Local 506 CHAPEL HILL
Tue Sept 23 Thunderbird PITTSBURGH
Thu Sept 25 Jammin Java VIENNA, VA
Fri Sept 26 North Star PHILADELPHIA
Sat Sept 27 Southpaw BROOKLYN, NY
Tue Sept 30 Beachland CLEVELAND
Thu Oct 2 Schuba's CHICAGO
Fri Oct 3 7th St Entry MINNEAPOLIS
Tue Oct 7 U of W. Ont. LONDON, ONT
Wed Oct 8 Bop Shop ROCHESTER, NY
Thu Oct 9 Cafe Nine NEW HAVEN, CT
Sun Oct 12 TT the Bears CAMBRIDGE, MA

See you from Portland!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Version Pas Originale

There's the romantic comedy version of our 24-hour trip to Paris, where a kooky pair of lovebirds hop a couple of bicycles outside Gare Austerlitz and cycle through the nearly deserted streets of Paris on a soft Sunday evening in August.

Or there's the American Express commercial version where some middle-aged couple dine on steak frites at a great little cafe in the Marais, tracked down through Chowhound and David Leibovitz's blog.

There's the Godard version where two lowlifes grab a pair of bikes and cruise the Elysee Palace and Champs Elysee at midnight, putting the guards outside the president's residence on alert and scaring the tourists by riding down the middle of the sidewalk because the bike lane is jammed with stretch hummers.

There's the political thriller where the couple spend a fretful night in a garret apartment, with the full moon through the skylight. They know the husband has an interrogation by the US government the next morning. After months of preparation his papers are there, in the suitcase. Their future hangs in the balance. The clock ticks past three AM, four AM, five. When the alarm sounds, they've barely slept. She says goodbye, not knowing if she'll ever see him again.

There's the creepy sad movie version where an old woman sits everyday from 11 AM til 1 PM at a cafe near the Madeleine. She wears the same ancient pair of jeans, ballet slippers and striped top that she's worn every day for the last twenty years. Every so often she glances at an antique cellphone that's long since stopped functioning. In her faded Brooklyn Industries messenger bag is a picture of him. The tourists ask and the waiter shakes his head sadly. "She's here every day, at this time, looking over towards that corner by the US Embassy. She thinks her husband is coming back to tell her that he's got the visa and they can go to America. It's very sad..."

Or finally the music video version (to the strains of Wham's "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go") where the woman looks up from her coffee to see the guy coming towards her, victorious. They embrace and then there's a montage of meals and cafes and Paris Plages and a whirlwind shopping spree, with the couple popping out of various dressing rooms in cute outfits. They finally collapse on the 6:30 PM train back home to the countryside.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Summertime Thing*

We went to visit friends in Royan this past weekend. It's a great-looking French town on the Atlantic. Badly bombed at the end of World War II, they rebuilt it in the 50's and it's got the best mod white buildings.

I feel like I've spent plenty of time on the beach in France, but it's all through films. And God Created Woman, Pierrot le Fou, Rohmer's The Green Ray & Pauline at the Beach, Betty Blue. But people on the beach in real life France don't look like the ones in movies. In a way it's a letdown and in another way it's a relief.

I realized when we were packing for the trip that my bathing suit is now ten years old. A red & white striped sixties-style bikini, I bought it on sale at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City. It made the move to Nashville, where I retired it for a while after gaining ten or twenty pounds. But somewhere along the way I started wearing it again. Coney Island, Fire Island, countless hotel swimming pools, the Gulf in Florida, Pacific Ocean at Santa Cruz and Santa Monica and Yuma Beach, the freezing North Norfolk coast (I didn't go in) and now the Atlantic from the other side.

But the suit is looking pretty shabby. I went shopping for a new one last summer and it was my first experience with trying to buy clothes in France. On that excursion I realized that what is your average female clothing size in America is almost XL by French clothing standards. Then there was the lack of choice. And the prices were absurd. I thought it was maybe just to do with bathing suits but I've come to accept it's just the way here. The benefit is I buy way less. In fact I barely bother looking at all.

Another issue has been the two-piece debate. I'll be fifty in a few months. Maybe that means it's time to resign myself to wearing a one piece bathing suit. So I've been clinging to the old suit, because that means not having to make some sad, decisive step like that. To cut myself off from my youthful wasted summers is something I'm just not ready to do yet.

Which was why the beach at Royan was a revelation. Here were all kinds of women, young and old, and everyone was looking very human. Not like Arielle Dombasle (of Pauline At The Beach who these days, I'm sad to say, most closely resembles that scary lion lady you'd see in the papers in NY all the time, the one who couldn't stop with the plastic surgery?) or Anna Karina. Some were in better shape than others but it was heartening to see that a lot of the older women were sporting bikinis.

It might sound like a cliche but I get a sense of people enjoying themselves here (when they're not being miserable like the woman at our last show who sat there glowering at us but I've already talked about her way more than she deserves). Just as when we had the big meal with our neighbors and all the women seemed to get such a kick out of singing "Un itsi bitsi tini ouini, tout petit, petit, bikini", so the ladies of any age enjoy wearing them.

As do some of the men, but maybe that's another post?

*see Chuck Prophet

Friday, August 8, 2008

Try-Lingual

I was lying on the floor in Pilates class when it hit me. First of all, that I am really enjoying Pilates these days, after being initially so bored with it I didn't think I could continue. When I'm away now I really miss the good it does and then there's that chance to just lie there for a few minutes at the end - that alone makes it worth something. Anyway, I realized that I've now lived in France longer than I lived in Cleveland.

It feels like some kind of accomplishment, or as if a spell has been broken. Not that I lived in Cleveland that long - it was exactly seventeen months. And even though it was one of the loneliest, bleakest periods of my life, it was also the last place Hazel and I lived before she went off to college. And where I was holed up when Eric and I got together. I'll always have a soft spot for the place. Like an old army buddy, someone you were stuck in a trench with. Every now and then you want to meet up, have a beer and remind each other how tough it really was. I reflected as I was lying there on the linoleum of our local Ecole Maternelle that I was happy to be where I am. But actually looking forward to playing at the Beachland in Cleveland in September.

Another thing that occurred to me was how, in a class of nine or ten women, I was the only American. This sounds a little like one of those simple arithmetic problems - if there are ten women in a Pilates class in France, and one of them is American, how many Frenchwomen are there? The answer - zero. They were all English, except the instructor, who was South African.

Which might explain why I've actually been learning not one but two new languages in the last few years. In addition to our French neighbors and friends, I'm surrounded by Brits.

There's Eric of course, and anyone who's ever heard him knows he has a...um, colorful way with language. I always thought Americans were the blunt, coarse ones but we're kindergarteners. I can't even ask someone to tell me where the toilet is without blushing. It just feels so wrong. But as it is with French, so all these English English phrases go through my mind now. The other day, some promoter told me what kind of deal they were willing to do for a show. "They're taking the piss!" is all I could think. I don't even know for sure what it means. It just felt accurate.

I go back and forth between American, English and French. Nowadays I don't even know what to call most things. The "American" pronunciation of basil sounds so bad, but if I use the English pronunciation I sound like a pretentious twat...I mean asshole. Anyway, you get it.

So I just use the French word. Maybe it's a convenient way to be forced to learn French - it's a completely different language rather than a partially different one and therefore I have to take on a whole other persona to speak it rather than sounding like someone in a suburban high school production of "Oliver". But it might reach the point where I am barely fluent in three languages.

So when I see you, please forgive me if all I can do is smile, nod and wave.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Weekend


Luckily, on Friday some regulation safety vests arrived in the mail from our pal Lindsay, and I can now get on with my life.

Times when I've been working a regular job during the week, the weekend seemed like the only time to do the other things that pile up (laundry, dishes, bathing). This weekend I tried to take a break from the computer, where I spent all week confirming some last tour dates and making all kinds of travel plans. Like my fruitless weed-pulling in the courtyard, every time I think I'm almost finished, I'm back at it because more of the sneaky things keep popping up.

But it's hard not to catch the summery, relaxed feeling around here. It's August in France - the pace really does slow down as businesses close and people who have actual jobs take time off. But with the way the economy is, there is clearly less of that going on this summer.

Eric's been helping with the scene ouverte (or open mic night) at our local bar for several months. The idea is mostly for some of the younger musicians to have a chance to get out and play. For us, it seems to have become an opportunity to suck completely, as we did this past Friday when we massacred "Me & Bobby McGee". I think I was playing and singing in one key and Eric in another but it gave a clear message to the youngsters - you're never too bad or incompetent to strut your stuff in public.

We had a big excursion to the curry van planned for Saturday night. It is the only place within hundreds of miles to get decent Indian food, and it comes but once a week to a nearby village. Some friends had driven up from the Dordogne for a fix but it turned out the van was at the night market in another town. These night markets are happening all over this month - it's a novelty and special treat to be able to shop after 7 PM, and for the commercants it's a chance to make a little extra. We decided to go check one out and it was tacky, useless fun: lots of hippie-style ponchos and leather hats, fake flower arrangements and a guy at a keyboard playing a version of "On Broadway" that seemed to last the entire length of time it took for us to cruise all the stalls.

Yesterday I stood in line at the good bakery and ogled the treats in the case: eclairs, tartes aux fruits, mille-feuilles, religieuses. The place smelled incredible and I wanted to buy everything they had but stopped at some croissants and a chocolatine. Which meant of course that Eric and I had to take a bike ride, because we're "in training" for the tour. I think the hardest part of the strenuous routine is getting the bikes in the car so that we can drive to the (nearly flat) bike path. Still, it's something.

The sun came out late in the afternoon and I sat out at this little table we found recently at a vide grenier. Typical cafe table and four chairs, two with all their slats. I know we should paint it to cover the rust but the color is just too perfect. And I know we should cut the grass but hell, it was the weekend.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Safety First


We got back from our travels Sunday night and trying to catch up here with our impending tour/album release in a few weeks. Can't get space in my head to come up with anything coherent in the way of a post, but why should that stop me?

Since they passed the law in France that every car must carry on board a neon safety vest (and safety triangle), safety vests have become an obsession. There were supposed to be heavy fines imposed (90 euros) if you were caught driving without a vest in the car after July 1, but they were impossible to find. In the plan to make the autoroutes safer they somehow forgot to stock the stores with enough of the damn things. There were so many people traipsing from LeClerc to Carrefour to Super-U in search of anything resembling a fluorescent gilet that they had to amend the rule - now we have until October 1 to steal, I mean buy, a safety vest.

There've been times in my life where I crave the perfect pair of black knee-high boots, and on a busy street I zero in on every pair. It's as if everything else is a mere sketch - the only thing I see in detail and 3-D is the boots I crave. Same with jeans, if I have in my mind the ultimate dark wash slightly vintage looking jeans, I'm scouring the crowd, and if anyone's sporting something close to my object of desire everything else melts away.

So it is now with the neon safety vests. Aided by the fact that they are designed specifically to show up. On the streets of Limoges or Whitstable the only thing I can see are the brutishly loud, ill-fitting things, usually worn by red-faced workmen. There we were at Edinburgh Castle last week, surrounded by history and pageantry, and Eric playing with the Proclaimers in front of 8500 people, and all I could think was "gotta get a vest."

Safety of another kind was on my mind in Norwich. We were returning to the Brickmakers, the venue where back in September I took a foolish risk and really hurt myself. Maybe it's something about the citizenry of Norwich, who as an audience tend to enjoy things in such a laid-back manner that you want to hold a mirror up to check if they're still breathing. It's just the Norfolk way I guess, but last time it made me want to do something, anything to shake things up a little bit. So I jumped off the not very high stage at what seemed like an appropriate moment.

It's something I've done before and been fine. But this was not one of those times - the floor was slippery, I had (the perfect knee-high black) boots on, and when heel met floor I fell and hit my head on the stage.

It hurt my tailbone, my head and of course my pride, but I crawled back onto the stage and carried on playing. It was only when I noticed the previously stony faces of the audience looking increasingly uncomfortable, concerned and even downright horrified did I realize that I was covered in blood.

Eric and Charley who runs the club took me to the emergency room where a doctor glued my head shut. Better than stitches I thought, only I had to endure glue in my hair for months after. I tried searching online for some solvent to get it out - believe me, there are way more websites out there catering to gluing and ungluing things from the scalp than you could ever imagine. In the end I gave up and let it grow out.

So this time when we played Norwich I decided no matter what, I wouldn't pull any more stunts like that. Just going through life is dangerous enough. So risky, we need to wear safety clothing.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Tu Down

We scored what felt like a major victory the other day when our next door neighbor gave us the go-ahead to use the informal "tu" instead of "vous" with her. We were doing our usual chat over the garden fence when she said `this is crazy, you don't have to be formal with me.' Since she is older and we're newcomers, it had to come from her. We were thrilled.

Hands still sore from high-fiving, Eric and I went to pick up his wedding ring from the jewelry shop. It's been months of waiting, repairs and resizing so we've become pretty friendly with the woman who sold us the rings in the first place. Let's `tu', she said, and then she hugged us as we were leaving.

It was a nice farewell as we were off in the car for ten days in England and Scotland. We have some shows to play but tomorrow Eric's singing with the Proclaimers at Edinburgh Castle. They recorded Whole Wide World for their latest album Life With You. I find them so inspiring and uplifting. And we'll get to see our friend Lindsay Hutton which is a treat.

Edinburgh is special for us because it's where Eric and I had our first date. But we've still never had that deep-fried Mars bar he promised me. Maybe tomorrow (though I think they're only available after 1 or 2 AM). I love Scotland!

But my heart's in France.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Good Things


The last time I wrote, about a week ago, I said I was going to try being only positive. And then you never heard from me again, and that might seem a little ominous.

But the simple truth is things are getting really busy around here, with putting the record out. We've been dealing with the logistics of booking and travelling to other lands and it starts to be all consuming.

The good news is there are a lot of gigs in the next few months! And Eric has updated his website!

Another happy thing was our gig the other night. After struggling with the sound and the cold at an outdoor concert the previous week, it was reassuring to play in our favorite local place, the Lawrence d'Arabie, with a nice crowd of friends and strangers around (except for that sour couple at the table right in front...but wait, only nice things...at least for another day or two) and sound like we know we can sound.

Then there was the fete du bois the next day. It's simply that, a celebration of - wood. There's a lot of it around here. This is supposed to be brawny men stripped to the waist, armed with chainsaws, battling it out over who can take down a tree fastest. But it rains every year, so that part of it is a little mythical. Instead it's some cute stalls displaying every kind of cutting board imaginable, and other stalls selling sausage sandwiches and beer. It poured rain just as we were eating and Eric and I ended up huddled under an umbrella with a couple of guys who were grilling and drinking wine. We laughed and talked with them until the rain stopped enough to run to the car. It was goofy and fun.

We've been working on the garden a little bit, getting a winding path going and trying to find the right spot to put a table and chairs. It gets the morning light and some evening light too, which the courtyard misses. I find myself walking up there a lot, which is what I love about paths - you want to follow them. Before, it felt too daunting, this big open green space (mostly weeds - oops, negative) but now there's somewhere to go.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Glass-Half-Full Girl

Eric was catching up with my recent blogs the other day. I wonder sometimes how other couples deal with blogging. Do you tell your sweetie the moment you post some witty insight ("Hey hon, come check this out") or a recounting of an event you both attended ("I need some fact-checking here!")? Or do you wait til they stumble on it in their own time? If you talk about someone online, do you ask their approval beforehand, or do you wait until you've posted and then alert them? I imagine there's a lot of new business in counseling these days to help people sort out their issues with sharing - not the old-fashioned kind between two people, but rather sharing with the world in general, especially when it might be things you haven't gotten around to talking about at home yet.

I'm often a little shy in front of Eric about what I write, mostly because I think he is such a fine writer himself and I would want him to like what I write. When he was looking at the last month or two of posts, I was reading over his shoulder and I noticed a few bad habits in my writing.

One is my overuse of the word "just", as in "they were just the worst band I've ever seen." A pretty useless word, "just", when trotted out constantly to somehow soften or make judgements and statements less definitive. (There's another word I overuse - "somehow". Same as "just", I use it to back off a little from whatever it is I'm saying.)

Another word I abuse is "adorable." Yuck! This has to stop immediately.

But my worst bad habit is one I've been guilty of for a long time, in my songwriting as well. And sure enough, with Eric's laser vision focused on my writing, it came clearly into focus. I accentuate the negative way too much. For example, why, when I wrote about the neighbor's get-together, did I have to turn it into a post about my lack of French skills? I have clearly made progress with the language from last year. Several of the neighbors made a point of telling me so! But in order to someh- (shit...see what I mean?) put a cap on the writing, to make it all fit together, I grabbed a convenient "hook" - and in my case the hook is usually something to do with me not being able to get it together.

So I'm doing some writing practice now that involves not falling into default self-flagellation mode. It's going to be hard. No, let me rephrase that. It's going to be a wonderful challenge, one that I'm looking forward to very much. From now on, or rather for as long as I can stand it, I'm going to see if I can tell a story without the woeful attitude. Call me Glass-Half-Full Girl.

Monday, July 7, 2008

From A Duckling To A Swan (And Back)


Yesterday all the neighbors got together for the annual meal in the barn across the street. We knew what to expect from having joined them last year, and in some ways we wished the whole thing would go away. Mostly because we were afraid of having to eat farci again.

Just like last year, I heard the gang gathering outside at around 10 AM. I wanted to get something to wear out of the front room where I keep my clothes and, since I hadn't remembered to shut the shutters the night before, I had to hit the floor and soldier crawl to the dresser in order to avoid being seen and waved to and shouted at by about thirty people.

Eric and I went over at noon and it was pretty much the same as the first time: kisses and handshakes all around, aperitifs and little sandwiches and then everyone sat down to eat the big meal. Which, thankfully, was not farci but delicious wild boar and roast chicken. And the most adorable pastries.

We listened to some stories and songs and Eric and I managed to make it through a song in French, as we'd vowed we would do last year. It all seemed a lot easier the second time around. Part of it was knowing what to expect, who to kiss, who to "tu" and who to "vous". When the cheese course would come, when they would tell us to break out the guitars.

A big factor in it being easier was that I could understand and speak French better. It's actually possible for me to make small talk now, about gardens and travel and bakeries and music and children. I felt like I'd really made progress.

But apparently that was only an illusion, a little bit of magic bestowed on me for showing up at the barn yesterday. Because this morning, in the bank, in the bakery - nothing. I could say barely one intelligible word of French. The spell was broken.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Picture Book

Photo by Julia Gorton from "No Wave: Post-Punk.Underground.New York.1976-1980"

When Eric and I were doing photos for the album recently, I thought "God I've been doing this a long time." Like some old actor who trots out a variety of expressions that have worked for him year after year. Only there's a few more lines and wrinkles to compensate for. Still, we had fun acting out little scenarios while our friend Karen snapped away. At least in "band" photos there's someone else to interact with. I always sort of liked doing photo shoots. It's the one time I feel like I can control how I look - in real life my hair is straggly, the acne scars show too much, I'm self-conscious and awkward. I can stare down a camera lens in a way I never can with real live people.

I started getting my picture taken back in college days, by my friend and dormmate Julia Gorton. I hadn't done anything much with my life except for going to art school and knowing how to put on eyeliner and thrift shop clothes and loving music, but I figured in Julia's photos somehow. I got excited when I heard about Thurston Moore and Byron Coley's No Wave book that came out a few weeks ago. I heard there was one of Julia's photos of my brother Michael and I in there and I couldn't wait to see it. This was taken before I started posing as part of the job. Like most everything else at the time, it was all just for the sheer novelty and excitement of doing something, even if that doing something was just sitting around trying to look bored.

I can't wait to get my hands on the actual book. Looking at a few of the photos online was kind of a shock - at the time I was so intimidated by the whole scene, and now I just marvel at how cute and fresh-faced everyone was, while acting tough. Young & odd. I like how we fit in, a little.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I'll Always Have...Perigueux?

I was hoping to go to Paris this week. I need some clothes, and a little shot of sophistication in my life. And I still need to make up for the lousy trip I had in April, when what was supposed to be a lovely treat to myself before getting hitched turned out to be pretty much a dud.

It seemed like everything was off that time - the weather was cool and rainy one minute, broiling sun the next. My clothes weren't right, and that can make all the difference: I felt like a pluc (read "hick") who doesn't get to the big city too often, which at this point is pretty much true. I was stressed about finding some kind of wrap to wear over the dress I was getting married in and spent way too much time being indecisive in stores. I was supposed to get a facial and then couldn't find the address, ending up buying a tube of facial mask at Monoprix instead. Randomly chose a movie so bad I had to walk out after forty minutes. Got up and left a Chinese restaurant because they never bothered to serve me. And made the mistake of booking a cheap charmless hovel of a room - since I'd be out having a ball most of the time, what difference did it make, right? I think sleeping on a park bench would have been better.

The only really good thing about the trip was I realized how much my French had improved. And it made me appreciate the calm and quiet of the countryside. But I know that the next trip could be completely different - I know it's possible for things to line up perfectly.

But this isn't the week for it, what with visitors and booking and rehearsing. I had to make do with a trip to Perigueux the other day, which was actually a big deal for me because I've never driven that far (over an hour) by myself in France.

In America I'm used to driving huge distances alone. But having recently learned to drive a manual car, and basically having nowhere I need to go around here, solo adventure is unusual. Perigueux is a pretty town in the Dordogne with some decent shops and cafes. It's got a little more of a southern feel and even has a big movie theatre. A good place to wander around for about three or four hours.

The drive was easy and uneventful. I managed to maneuver into an underground parking garage which sounds pathetically simple but again, changing gears and reading French signs is new to me. But typically my timing was off. If I'd have checked the calendar or the newspaper I would've noticed that the big summer sales were starting the next day. So most of the stores were closed in preparation.

I decided to see a film. "Sagan" was playing and I was curious about this film bio of Francoise Sagan. Partly because I remembered reading "Bonjour Tristesse" as a teenager and thinking it was incredibly French and glamorous. But the main reason I wanted to see it was for the period details: fifties, sixties and seventies cars, clothes and home furnishings. If I couldn't keep up with the dialogue there'd be plenty to look at. And aren't most films about writers kind of similar? There's usually a person sitting at a typewriter occasionally, either typing furiously or staring into the distance with a blank look on their face, a tumbler of brown alcohol nearby. The rest of the time is filled in with scenes of the writer fighting with their family & friends.

"Sagan" was no different. Even in French I could tell that the movie was pretty bad. But Sylvie Testud and her haircuts were adorable. And that white 70's cowboy shirt she was wearing in one of the typewriter scenes? That alone was worth the price of admission. It wasn't exactly a trip to Paris but for the moment it'll do.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Fete de La Musique, Pt 2

A few rules for next Fete de la Musique:

Bring along some friends. Without Emmanuel and Michel on equipment and crowd control, we could not have done 4 shows in 4 towns in the space of 6 hours. If there had actually ever been a crowd, they surely would have played the heavies with charm.


Nico (patron of le Lawrence d'Arabie), Michel, Emmanuel, Amy & Eric


Make sure you're louder than the generator. Ours sounded like a small plane taking off. Thankfully we had a long, long extension cord, so we could play twenty feet away from it.





If you set up across from a church on Saturday afternoon in June, there is an excellent chance of being drowned out by the sound of wedding bells. The newlyweds surely got their money's worth that day - the off-key clanging went on for a good ten minutes while we waited in the baking sun.



video

Brantome

When stopped by the police, be honest. As the gendarmes pulled us over for a "routine check" we considered telling them we were daytrippers enjoying the scenery. Then we remembered the posters we'd stuck on the sides of the car. They demanded all our details - so that they can come see us play next week.



Pick some slightly bigger towns/villages. Notice there's pretty much no one in the photos but us. This part of France is, shall we say, tranquil. It was best when we had listeners, gawkers, and the occasional dancer.





Face your enemy. We saw a poster proclaiming that our arch-rivals were playing outside a bar in the village. We showed up to play (thankfully, they had already finished, so we didn't have to listen to it) and taught them a lesson. Don't. Mess. With. Wreckless Eric. &. Amy. Rigby.

La Cabane (enemy territory)


It's hard to keep looking groomed after hours of sweating and playing. And it's wonderful to stop caring.



Chalus


It's worth taking a risk. From the time Eric and I talked about doing a commando raid for Fete de la Musique, I kept wanting to back out. I wished we'd gotten a spot on one of the many organized stages or at a bar in the region. When we went to pick up the generator and it turned out to be super loud and impractical, I really hoped that meant we could put the silly idea to rest and stay home.

But Saturday was one of the best days I've spent in France. With all the traditions and prescribed ways of doing things that exist here, it was such a relief to go right in the face of all that and just do what we do. I felt like myself in a way I don't often get to, what with trying to speak the language and fit in somehow.

Michel, Amy, Eric, Emmanuel, Nico

In the end, the day really was about freedom. And we got three other gigs out of it. No sitdowns required.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Fete de la Musique

I got the impression that Fete de la Musique in France is a free-for-all, that it's a crazy day of anarchy and mayhem, where by government decree anyone can play any kind of music anytime, anywhere they choose. And that's possibly the spirit the day was started in, back in 1982.

I love playing for French audiences, but even booking a show in a tiny bar in the back of nowhere here requires a sitdown with the proprietor, various family members and some friend of theirs that owned a guitar once.

And it's not surprising they take it very seriously - if the French performing rights society catches wind of them putting on live music, they are subject to heavy charges.

So June 21, Fete de la Musique, seems like a perfect day to get around all that and just go out and play. We've rented a generator and have a plan to go around to some of the more populated towns neaby, set up our PA, plug in the guitars and play.

But just to be on the safe side, at the suggestion of our friend Michel who would hate to see us languishing in a French jail, I checked the rules on the government's website. And found, to my amusement or horror, I'm still not sure which, this chart regarding the organization of this very spontaneous day:


This, for an event that gives the impression of being about freedom. And it's written there in the really fine print that one is obliged to inquire in each town what their policy is regarding public performances on June 21, "for the safety of the public."

But we're going to pretend we never saw any of this stuff, and play anyway. Is there internet in jail?