Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Pledge

I have one goal for the rest of this trip - to not set foot in another Carrefour!

I managed to mail a package from the post office in one on Tuesday - a guy had ordered our album and I'd been traveling around with his CD in my bag for over a week. I finally figured out the word for post in Spanish. The thing is, the guy lived in Madrid, and there I was in Madrid. Not a big deal, but the postal agent insisted that I put a return address on there. After much discussion (in French - I'm so used to being slightly moronic in my second language it is always easier to try to get to the Spanish word that way) we decided I could use my hotel address in Madrid. I was so thrilled with completing a transaction, it wasn't until I walked away that I thought "what is this guy going to think?" Unless he knows that we were playing in his town on the weekend, he's going to be scratching his head in disbelief, amazed that we actually personally travel to each town where someone has ordered a CD, check into a hotel and then find a post office to mail it - probably to save on postage.

On towards Valencia and on towards another Carrefour - we checked into a humble campground by the sea north of the town for a night in the ambulance. The website said they had a restaurant but it was "closed, today only, the shop too". A likely story. I was a little freaked out as in the dusk the place looked like a West Virginia trailer park. I saw caravans parked so close together, with all the lights out, and I asked Eric if they were maybe homes for people who picked oranges nearby, who had to go to bed very early in order to get up at dawn? He pointed out that they were just stored there.

With no shop and no restaurant, we asked the reception if there were any cafes nearby. They handed us a map, and circled the Carrefour.

This one was even more annoying than the one to the east of Madrid, which was worse than the one to the north of Madrid. But we got what we needed to have dinner and breakfast in the campground. Which was really charming in the morning light. As we'd traipsed through the dark to find the restrooms I'd whined "I don't like camping!" but in the end I enjoyed it - there was the sea, showers outdoors in the sunshine and the restaurant was open for lunch and pretty good.

I think I had a harder time sleeping in our luxury hotel last night in Valencia, after a difficult show where the sound was so challenging we never felt like we got things off the ground. And promoters who were so preoccupied they sent us off on our own for dinner after the show, pleading that they were "tired, and have to get up early the next morning to book some more concerts." I thought Spain was rock and roll party animals and cocaine all night?! It was only eleven PM! Who are the middle-aged ones around here?

Monday, April 27, 2009

What A Difference A Meal Makes

We found the Spanish equivalent of steak frites yesterday and suddenly Madrid is the most wonderful place on earth! The promoter is a true gentleman, the audience is one of the best in the world, the soundmen all look like Javier Bardem, the women are as beautiful and charming as Penelope Cruz (except for the security guard where we're keeping our van).

Sunday, April 26, 2009


There are these little snacks in parts of Spain, called pinxto (I think) or pincho. Tiny bites - that's what everyone seems to eat. You sample a bit of everything, but how do you know when you've actually had a meal's worth of food?

That's how I'm experiencing this country. Zaragoza, Bilbao and now Madrid, over the course of a few days. The shows have been good, if a little odd - a small theatre, a meeting room for Bilbao lawyers, seriously, and an outdoor park last night for the CulturaPop fest, which was going great but the power kept cutting out. At one point we wondered why everyone was waving their arms wildly and clapping above their heads - we hadn't realized we were no longer going through the P.A! The audience was trying to tell us but also trying to keep the party going...

In Bilbao some nasty thief did a little "pincho" on the van - stealing only the GPS and Eric's mobile phone. The fool left behind a power drill, a nice assortment of vintage towels and a whole load of menopause vitamins and herbal supplements, luckily.

So we stopped north of Madrid at a Carrefour, just like the Carrefours (sort of like WalMart) in France, only with a massive selection of hams and louder-colored lingerie, to get a new navigation system. There we saw possibly the whole of the city stocking up for the weekend. Not the best introduction to a place! Since then we've had the luxury of the same hotel for a few days but from what I can see it looks like we're in...Queens?

We're off to find the Prado now. And something (and something else...and something else...) to eat.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

So Close

We were almost the proud owners of a new strimmer yesterday.

Standing in line at the Castorama, smug in the knowledge that our career as "those pesky neighbors who are always borrowing the lawn equipment" was just about to end, we got a nasty shock when the cashier told us how much we owed for the strimmer we'd chosen. It was twice what we'd thought.

We dragged the box back over to the lawn section and asked one of the assistants. It turns out we'd been looking at the price of a coupe bordure, suitable for just that, cutting borders, and what we really needed was the debroussailler for clearing lawns. The cost was enough to require some soul searching.

Because we've also been badly needing a more reliable keyboard - the Roland JX-8P has become more and more of a vintage keyboard lately, that is, something to be cherished and cared for, rather than flung or even placed very carefully into the back of the van. It's been losing notes and occasionally not working at all on stage.

A local music shop had just what we were looking for. At slightly more than the cost of the strimmer. Guess which one won?

I mean, we won't actually be here to see the knee high grass and weeds. And, in a couple of weeks I can always get out the old scythe. There's something very therapeutic about swinging that thing around while thinking `bout the IRS.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Looking For The Sun

As gorgeous as it is around here with the wisteria just coming in, I can't seem to get warm. It's lucky we're heading to Spain next week for some shows.

There won't be a porcine addition to the entourage, as far as I know, but we do have the ambulance all togged up and ready to be camped in - up to a point. I'll never give up my love of good hotels, never! Maid service, cute little toiletries and clean linens on demand are part of the reason I can still be doing this after so many years. (But if the hotels in Spain are anything like a lot of the ones we run across in France and the UK, the camping car will come in very handy).

If you know anyone south of the Pyrenees, here's where we'll be:

Wed. Apr. 22 La Lata de Bombillas Zaragoza
Thu. Apr. 23 venue tba Bilbao
Fri. Apr. 24 CulturaPop Festival Madrid
Sat. Apr. 25 CulturaPop Festival Madrid
Sun. Apr. 26 CulturaPop Festival Madrid
Wed. Apr. 29 Teatro Cervantes Valencia
Thu. Apr. 30 Groove Tarragona

Note how a show in only one week is still venue to be announced - if it was anywhere else I'd be kind of freaked out. But I'm ready to embrace the Spanish way of doing things.

I'll let you know how that goes.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Year Of The Pig

Ever get the feeling your luck's about to change?

That's how I felt when I filled out a raffle ticket in the local supermarket the other day. The cashier told me there were all kinds of prizes I might win: A flat screen TV, microwave,new computer - that kind of thing. Every time I've been in to shop lately I've filled out another ticket. There just aren't that many people living around here, so the chances are pretty good that when they draw the winning ticket on Sunday, they're going to be calling me to come down and collect my prize.

I mean, things have been going a lot more my way lately. The IRS knocked my tax bill down to $69,000 - it's only a matter of time before we get two zeroes taken off of that, and then I can pay up.

But I got a little worried when I went in the supermarche yesterday afternoon. There was a big commotion - a crowd of people gathered around a large cardboard box - so I went over to see what the fuss was about.

Down in the corner of the box, scoffing an apple, was an enormous live pig. It had a pink bow around its neck. Everyone was ooh'ing and aah'ing as the pig made some disgusting noises from the back of its throat.

There was a red-faced man in a cheap suit barking into a cordless microphone nearby, and from what I could gather anyone who has taken the time to fill out a ticket has a very good chance of winning - the pig.

I plan to be out of the house all day Sunday.

Although I did put our address on the tickets. So they know where I live. We may have to move.

But then again, maybe all that's missing from our act is a good gimmick.

Fingers crossed.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Basingstoke Saturday Night

What with spending a few days with Eric's mother, and then Duane passing away I've been thinking a lot about mortality. Getting older, death - fun topics. Some people find comfort in the idea of an afterlife - sort of like a great big South by Southwest in the sky where you schmooze with everyone you ever cared about - but that doesn't work for me. So where's it all leading? I get very down. Part of it's got to be the whole menopause thing. I wanted to face it with wit and aplomb but it's hell some of the time. But what's the alternative to aging?

I don't want mourning to become my new hobby! Friends, places, heroes, the past. But I seem to spend so much time revisiting what has already happened. I wonder how long this passageway to wisdom and understanding and acceptance takes? Thankfully there are still shows to play.

We do a lot of gigs in people's homes. I've been doing them for years and, as odd as it seems to set up and play a concert in the corner of someone's living room, house concerts are becoming more and more popular.

They can be awkward, stilted affairs, like the one we played in December where this guy's whole family sat glowering at us from a sofa because, although Dad was a fan, we were spoiling his wife's Sunday afternoon and the kids had been told they couldn't use the computer for a few hours, so they really hated us.

Or they can be...awkward, stilted affairs, where friends and neighbors are roped into being an audience but they don't particularly like music.

But for the most part they start off a little weird, with people hanging back, unsure what to expect, but in the end having a great time and begging to know when they can host one in their living room.

And then there was Saturday night in Basingstoke.

One of Eric's biggest fans was having a bunch of friends over with us as the entertainment. Some of them had seen us before and were already enthusiastic, and the rest had been assured they'd have a good time.

Things were off to a fine start, everyone with glass of wine or beer in hand. They were laughing at all our jokes and applauding loudly, so we knew it was going to be fun. Then the hostess mentioned that we could trash the carpeting, and all hell broke loose.

Teenage hooligans have nothing on a roomful of people over forty, with the problems that go with being middle-aged, in the middle of England, in the middle of the worst recession in any of our lifetimes. At the end of the first set, people were still lucid enough to say they were having a fantastic time. By a few songs into the second set they were out of their minds. The posh woman who'd been telling me about their horses and second home in France and how she wished she could play guitar was headbanging, thrashing along to Final Taxi. The sandaled men in the room had removed their offending footwear and were smacking sandals together over their heads, then hitting each other, then pelting us with them. Another (probably) menopausal woman kept yelling that she loved me.

People were singing, no - shouting along, pogoing, knocking over lamps and microphone stands, dumping red wine on the cream carpet, falling over chairs. They would have been stage diving but there was no stage. The host's teenage son and girlfriend fled the room, terrified.

Things took a while to die down after we finished playing. A fight almost broke out when someone said the Proclaimers were shite (Eric had to hold me back from hitting the guy). A woman celebrating her thirty sixth birthday, the youngest person in the room, said she'd been feeling really old, but looking at everyone else at the party she felt a lot younger now.

We packed up the equipment and ate hot cross buns at 3 AM. I felt younger too, but for a different reason.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


For three days, I've been walking around with a card in my purse. A note and a picture to send to my friend, Duane Jarvis, who's been fighting cancer and recently moved to an apartment at the beach near Los Angeles to wait things out.

Duane was one of the coolest people in Nashville when I moved down there almost ten years ago. He and Denise, his wife at the time, put me and my daughter up in their cute house on the east side of town. When our car died, Duane loaned me his snazzy late 70's cruiser, until I got the money together to buy something else.

I'd first seen him playing guitar with Lucinda Williams. He always dressed sharp but not showy, like his playing. A Ray Davies-style pinstripe jacket, or tailored Western shirt, black jeans and those sturdy Australian boots, the outback version of Beatle boots. Great hair! I don't know why I'm talking about something so superficial as appearance, because DJ was a deep guy. I say was, and I still can't believe it, as I write this. Whatever I write is not going to do him justice. How do you sum up a person in a few paragraphs? Duane passed away last night.

I feel lucky to have known him, to have rocked and written with him. We did lots of gigs together, talked about so many things. New Hope to New York, Knoxville to Nashville, San Francisco to Portland. Late night drives, I'd be ranting and raving - I don't think I ever heard him say a cross word. Maybe he knew it was all so temporary.

He had a spare, soulful style of playing that always complemented, underscored - never got in the way. And he was sweet, and kind. Class.

I wish I could've talked to him this past week. I wish I'd gotten the card to him. I left a voicemail for him, but before I did I got to hear his voice one more time, on the outgoing message. He sounded so calm, like always. Whatever battles he was fighting, he stayed positive.

Temporary? He's all over the place, on records he made and played on, forever. And the way that everybody who knew and loved him is connected to everyone else who knew and loved him. His family, his Nashville gang, L.A. friends, fans, Portland people, all the clubs in all the towns. Notes, tones, songs, memories - floating around out there.

But damn, it makes me sad.