Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Here's A Good Idea

Eric treated me to the best birthday surprise ever - stay tuned and I'll reveal where he took me (any guesses?).

And meanwhile, here's a good idea. Jill Sobule is one of the best performers I've seen out there. Just a dynamo: fun, musical, smart, all those adjectives music writers come up with to describe someone completely original and talented. She makes great records, too. If you'd like a chance to support someone worthy, she's come up with a clever scheme to finance her next record - read all about it here, and chip in!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Love For Sale

Every now and then I get a request to use one of my songs in a film. A few years back they asked to use "Let Me In A Little Bit" (from The Sugar Tree) in this new movie that starred Lili Taylor and Courtney Love. That sounded promising! And Liz Phair was doing a lot of the other music. Again, promising, sort of. The film was supposed to be about a suburban housewife (Lili Taylor) who goes back to school against her husband's wishes, and then falls in love with a friend, played by Ms. Love. There wasn't much money involved (is there ever?) but I said yes.

Then I heard the movie was at Sundance - some distinction, except of course any movie can be at Sundance, in the same way I can say I've played Vegas (a coffeehouse gig, far far away from the action).

Then I never heard of the movie again. I guess they didn't find a distributor. How unfair, I thought. It's probably a brilliant quirky little film that's just too hard to market. I'd track it down when it came out on DVD.

I recently spotted the film on Amazon. I wanted a copy. I love Lili Taylor, have long been fascinated by Courtney, but mostly was looking forward to seeing how they used my song.

Well, it was kind of hard to make it all the way through the movie. It just isn't very good. But hey, I still wanted to hear my song, maybe playing over some touching moment where one of the ladies is having second thoughts. Nothing.

We managed to stick it out until the music credits rolled. (One more punishment for being a musician: even the animal trainer gets to see their name up on the screen before most of the audience has left, but the song publishing info gets shoved to the very end). Sure enough, there was the song title and my name. But where was the song? I was torn between relief and disappointment.

Is having a song in a bad movie better than having no song in a good movie? Does it count if you can't hear the song? Is is even worth mentioning? I'm still not sure.

If anyone's interested, I know where you can get a copy of "Julie Johnson." Only watched once.

Back To Bl*****

Maybe I'm weak, or impulsive. Or just too "busy" (read lazy) to be formatting and archiving each post. Could it be I miss the camaraderie of the comment-go-round? For any or all of these reasons, I'm back to here.

(Cue the sound of one person clapping, and a cough.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Notebook Remorse?

I think I screwed up.

I should know by now that when I find a good thing it’s best to stick with it.

But I get restless. And I guess I still believe in miracles. So when I spot a new possibility, I have to try it.

I mean, it’s only a notebook, right? And I go through several a year. Always holding out hope that the perfect one might be the trigger for the ultimate idea, thought, line, word, story, song.

I had a brief flirtation with Moleskine a while back. I was playing shows with Richard Shindell and one night he burst into the dressing room, declaring that he’d found the perfect notebook.

“How far apart are the lines?” I had to know. Because line width has always been a sticking point for me. Too narrow’s not good, I can’t write that small. Too wide trivializes thoughts, like I should be putting hearts or circles over the i’s.

Richard understood this. He showed me his notebook, and I had to admit it was absolutely perfect. I ran out the next morning and bought one.

But Moleskines are expensive. Which was one thing when they were hard to find. It seemed worth it somehow. But now they’re prominently displayed in practically every bookstore, stationery or art supply store. I resent them selling the idea of the perfect notebook.

I think I liked Clairefontaine best. Cheap, colorful, not too hard to find. Good line width. But here in France, the lined ones are tough to come by. Graph paper seems to be the norm. All those little squares disturb me, make me think I should be solving math problems. But, as with everything these days, I’m trying to adapt to the cultural differences. Maybe if I can organize my thoughts like the French people do, the language will come easier. But I’m not sure it’s working.

So I keep looking.

Then the other day I spotted this new notebook. Beautiful paper, slightly textured cover, bound like a paperback. Cheap price! I had to take a chance. There were all sorts of colors, so if I like it I can go back and try all of them.

But there was one major drawback. No lines. I took the plunge anyway, but it immediately felt wrong. But it’s too late to turn back now. Maybe it’ll unleash something. Maybe this will be the one.

Perfect Tense

After ten days of colds, flu, rainy weather and general post holiday torpor, my daughter and I were ready to fling ourselves into Paris. Oh, Hazel had actually accomplished something since New Year’s Day - she and Eric had a great time recording this song. Meanwhile I’d been on the couch coughing, sneezing and trying to breathe.

One problem with going to Paris is the pressure to have the perfect experience. What if that hotel/meal/stroll/ or museum/cafe/wine/coffee/croissant isn’t the absolute best encapsulation of all the romantic myths you’ve had dangled in front of you from the first time you read “Madeline” or saw “Funny Face” or “Breathless”? I feel really lucky to be close enough to just drop in occasionally for a few days because it takes the pressure off a little bit. But I still wanted us to have the best time.

January is a great time to visit, after the holidays, before the spring and right when the winter sales start. I found a good deal on a decent hotel in Place de la Sorbonne. I love this area near the Sorbonne, all the curly haired kids clustered around in their black coats, smoking and talking. Yes, there’s no more smoking in Paris bars, restaurants and cafes, impossible to believe but the weather is mild enough that people don’t seem to mind gathering out on the sidewalks to light up. Probably the reality just hasn’t set in yet - at this point all the standing outside seems like a cheerful novelty.

I’d also written down some promising inexpensive restaurants (chowhound.com). As soon as we dropped off our bags we headed on foot towards what I believe is Chinatown, even though on our previous trip we found amazing Chinese food in Belleville. This time it was down towards Place d’Italie and Rue Tolbiac. We kept seeing these unattended Velib' bike stands and were determined to figure it out and ride bikes before the end of the trip.

We were starving and decided to try a Vietnamese place, Pho 14, which looked crowded and inexpensive and was delicious. About fifteen euros for a huge bowl of rare beef and noodle soup, chicken dumplings, tea and soda. The couple next to us made it their mission to explain the use of the various sauces, sprouts and leaves, until at one point I swear the man was about to start feeding me with my own chopsticks.

Now that Eric and I have gone GPS, I find myself constantly “planning a route.” We actually took the TomTom (all the names are hateful, but somehow we hate Sat Nav most of all, so it’s zhay-pay-ess or TomTom) with us on foot in Bordeaux one time, and wanted to drop through a hole in the cobblestoned street when “Jane” loudly implored us to “turn right, now”. We thought we’d turned the sound off.

So, back to me and Hazel. Our "route" to return to the 5th took us up Rue Mouffetard, which I remember from many years ago when my friend Angela and I came here for a week or two. It doesn’t make sense that Hazel is now the age I was then. I mean, in my mind I’m still twenty (okay, thirty) with all the energy and possibility and good will in the world still in store.

If you love movies like I do, Paris is paradise. And this part of the city has at least one movie theater on every street. I don’t think I’m exaggerating. Imagine for a second any movie that you’ve been thinking, hmmm, I’d really like to see (fill in the blank). Within a ten minute walk, here’s what I saw playing: Barry Lyndon, Serpico, Play Misty For Me, some Marx brothers, Pasolini’s Salo (not a film to sit through more than once but there it is if you’ve been curious), and dozens of new and old films I’d never heard of. We picked the one that was starting at exactly the minute we passed the theater, a cop thriller with Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg.

A great thing about seeing movies here is that no matter how hackneyed the dialogue or contrived the plot, you’re seeing it in Paris so it immediately takes on layers of meaning that probably aren’t even there. And because you see it in a cinema full of non-English speakers, you can enjoy it as much for the style and the action as for any sort of evolved storytelling. Now that I can read French a little, I see how the subtitles simplify everything until it’s downright primitive. Which of course makes me question whether I’ve really ever seen a French film, especially something with a lot of dialogue, like Eric Rohmer. But maybe it works the same way in reverse - you miss a lot of the subtleties (and possibly some of the failures) and take away the basic intention of the filmmaker and details like clothes and cars and room decor. Anyway, we really got into the chase scenes and everything - although possibly the best moment was when Hazel told the idiotic babbling women sitting next to us to shut up, in perfectly accented French.

Next day we walked through the Jardin du Luxembourg to the Catacombes, which were sadly shut for repair. An elderly gentleman saw us reading a map and insisted on making sure we got on the appropriate bus. He claimed tourists don’t make enough use of the buses and that they are much more efficient than those in say, New York. He was a retired professor who’d taught briefly at Columbia and probably wanted to speak English for a little while. Funny how I often have these weird hybrid conversations lately, where the French person presses on in English while I defend my right to speak French, no matter how badly. It seems to work out somehow.

We took the bus to Bon Marché department store because I’d read about the magnificent food hall, and it really was an experience. The bottled water section alone went on for acres, with every kind of water from every possible country, and the same went for fish, sausage, cheese, chocolate, anything you can think of eating or admiring food and drink-wise. For four euros each we bought delicious sandwiches and ate them next to all the beautifully dressed Parisians who were chowing down. I love how noone is too chic to stand or walk around chomping a baguette.

Found an interesting bookstore, Cine Reflet, with nothing but film studies and biographies and magazines in French and English, and in the same street (Rue Monsieur Le Prince) a restaurant, Polidor, which was full of charm, communal tables and all kinds of people eating basic old fashioned cheap food. It was colorful and enjoyable except for the ominous note at the bottom of the menu that warned the beef came from various European and Eastern European countries. Maybe it’s living in the Limousin, where the beef is justly famous, or Eric’s aversion to produce grown in Holland (when we drive through the Netherlands he points out the miles and miles of weird glowing greenhouses), or the fact that even supermarkets here are much clearer about identifying where things come from, but I ‘ve become more conscious of how and where something's grown can affect the quality. And so I found myself walking around later that evening with a queasy feeling. We stopped off at Biere Academy, a scholarly bar, and that seemed to help. There’s something about sharing a humble brew with my daughter that makes me wish I could go back in time and do more fun stuff with my own mother, instead of fighting about my right to wear a leather jacket and dark eye makeup...

The next day we spent hours at the Musée de la Mode, ogling the Christian Lacroix-curated fashion exhibit. The attention to detail in the clothing, and in the way everything was grouped and displayed, was inspiring. Then we treated ourselves to sandwiches, tea and pastries at Ladurée.

The fact that this was the first day of the soldes, or winter sale, a huge event in France, was lucky for us. Not so much from a consumer point of view, but because we were able to go into Printemps, one of the big department stores, and paw through racks of the most beautiful clothes, still way out of our price range even though everything was marked down (what’s half of 1,954 euros for a Derek Lam coat?).

A perfect sunset, a good Chinese restaurant around the corner from the hotel, and finally, that Velib' ride that started off perfectly on the tiny winding streets of Ile-Saint Louis and took a frightening turn when we ended up pedaling for our lives alongside eight lanes of traffic. Still, what a great scheme, where for one euro fifty you use your bank card in any kiosk, take an available bike and return it anywhere in the city.

We were both exhausted from all the walking, looking, eating and drinking. Why then, was it impossible to sleep? Maybe because it was the last time I’d see Hazel for a while. Or cause I missed Eric. Or maybe I’ve gotten used to the quiet and spaciousness of the country. I couldn’t help but think about all the people to the left, right, below (not above as we were on the top floor of the hotel, where the most “charming”, read cheapest, rooms were) going about their Parisian lives. Thinking great thoughts or whether they’d remembered to buy milk. Creating, copulating or just watching inane French television. Centuries and centuries of dreams, ideas, people, layers of wallpaper, thoughts, cups of coffee, bottles of wine, half-read books on nightstands. They were all keeping me awake. I had to go outside.

Walking around at 6 AM it was still completely dark. If this was America, there’d be people on their way to work or the gym already, but in Paris it was just me and the street cleaners, in their green uniforms spraying water. I saw a man coming out of one of the smaller rues carrying a baguette, so I turned down that way and found the bakery he’d come from. The warm pain au chocolat (or “chocolatine” where we live) was so good I felt like some kind of criminal for eating it in public.

Later that morning I got a little teary putting Hazel on the train to the airport, and at that moment I was exactly like my mother. I entered the fray of the soldes for a little while, looking for something nice and cheap to wear in Monoprix and, God forgive me, the Gap. Exhausted from lack of sleep, I stumbled into a little cinema to see “I’m Not There.” It was Dylan. By Todd Haynes. In Paris. Except for the fact that Hazel was gone (and some of that part with Richard Gere) it was perfect.