Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lawrence Of Arabia Slept Here

It felt like goodbye to something last night sitting in what used to be our local bar, the Lawrence d'Arabie - it's now a bar/restaurant called Le Saxo. We'd resisted going into the place out of loyalty to Nico, our friend and the old owner - in memory of what he'd created there. The butcher across the street will not set foot in the new place, nor have some of the old clientele. But the new owner is a sweet man, a bit on the anxious side (but who wouldn't be trying to make a go of a new business in France these days?) If you were in Glasgow or Nashville, Norwich, Wheeling even, it would be easy to find somewhere else to go. But here on a Saturday night within a thirty mile radius there are probably only a half dozen places to get a beer or something to eat. Plus, given that Nico really wanted to sell the bar, an embargo doesn't make a lot of sense.

But I felt this wave of nostalgia and even grief, last night. Nico hadn't offered just another option - he'd given us an alternative. It wasn't just a place with food and alcohol, it was our place.

Was it coincidence or fate that made us stumble in there four years ago? Chalus was not our village, but it has a lot of history and there's something compelling about it even though it's pretty dead. You get the feeling, walking around, that once upon a time there was a lot going on in. We walked into the bar called "Lawrence d'Arabie" that had an almost Moroccan feel, with colored lamps and bamboo furniture, and I think we heard a record by Nick Cave or Tom Waits or even Alan Vega playing. Now the chances of that happening in a tiny village deep in rural France are very very slim but I had no way of knowing that back then - I thought hipsters were everywhere! Not hipsters in the derogatory sense but people into interesting music, into the world, new things, old things. By the time we walked out we had arranged our first local gig, and we ended up playing there a lot over the last couple of years.

Completely wood and stone inside, the sound was difficult. In winter I had to play next to a huge roaring fireplace, and the right corner of the stage area was also the entrance to the toilet. Sometimes people sat in front of us grimacing and sticking their fingers in their ears (for two sets) and every time the pizza oven upstairs kicked in my keyboard would cut out.

But when we played, friends and acquaintances and visitors and locals would come see us. It felt like we were most of us in it together, and by the time we got to Dancing With Joey Ramone or Round or Take The Cash, we had usually gotten somewhere - we'd changed the atmosphere of a tiny spot in the middle of France.

Sometimes I didn't want to play there, I wanted somewhere bigger, better, grander or at least somewhere without such a good view of a toilet door. But it's where Eric and I really learned to play together, to work together, like soldiers in a foxhole, or window washers up on the side of a building - keeping the balance, looking out for the other guy, if one of us goes down we both do.

I didn't think about any of this when we were sitting there last night. I just thought about how...dull the place seemed. Music kept at a barely audible level, an ipod shuffle, nothing that would put anyone off. No familiar faces, a decent meal with a sincere attempt to do everything correctly. I went in the bathroom, a tiny medieval closet under the stairs and thought of all the nights I'd gone in there after playing to wipe the eyeliner and mascara off from under my eyes. I'd go to the bar and there was always a glass of cognac there for me. Marquee Moon would come on, somebody pushing the volume up. Nico - a lanky dark Frenchman in a well-cut velvet suit jacket - would hug me and start shouting Amy! Eric! Amy! Eric! Le meilleur groupe en France!

Nico moved his family to Berlin - we hear he has a new bar there already. I think he's very happy which is good because he was often miserable in France. We'll move on too - I think the disillusionment really started sinking in for me when we found we couldn't call ourselves musicians here. A place I'd always thought was proud of and encouraged its artists requires you to jump through so many hoops it hardly seems worth it. The new bar owner had hoped to have us play there, but the charges and fear of putting a foot wrong have him hemming and hawing when we ask about a gig. None of the local bars are putting on music.

There's a sign on the wall outside the bar that says young Lawrence Of Arabia slept in one of the rooms upstairs when he was cycling through France. I think when we leave I'll put up a post-it note below, saying "here, for a few years in the second half of the first decade of the 21st century, Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby sang and played."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thank You, Ari

I know I shouldn't rely on the NY Times to be up to date or relevant, but I still look at the paper online - a reflex, maybe. Just like I perk up when I'm anywhere out there in the world and can pick up a copy. Maybe it's the familiarity factor - the font, the bylines I recognize from days of yore - my onetime hometown paper.

But I felt really disappointed, mad even, that they let a whole 2 days go by without mentioning the death of Ari Up. That is - Ari died on Oct. 20, on the 21st the British papers, every friend on Facebook, tweets and retweets of the news and - by late in the day of the 21st still nothing in the Times. How can a paper that tries to appear current, always with the articles about CMJ, even working rap artists into the crossword puzzles, have let that happen?

Maybe they didn't have an obituary ready to go for her, because punk never meant that much to the New York Times, or America in general, when it was happening. So they got a guy to do some patchy research and almost redeemed themselves by ending the piece with a quote from Vivien Goldman: “You cannot be a female artist on the wild side, very passionate and self-expressive, without being formed at least in part by Ari,” Ms. Goldman said. “In her feral 14-year-old way, she did represent a new archetype of womanhood.”

I had to be mad at somebody - it's a shock and it's not fair Ari Up dying so young, and they should have noticed sooner. If you don't know who she was, try this post by John Robb - not that I agree with everything he says (I saw what had been advertised as a Slits show a few years back and while I loved Ari's energy, it was a male pickup band and musically a let down...but still worth it to stand next to my daughter Hazel, a little younger than I was when I saw the Slits at Tier 3 back in 1979, completely enraptured, in love, as much with the idea of what was possible if you just got up there to express something, not looking like anyone's idea of what a girl should look like, not sounding like anyone's idea of what a girl should sound like. Made almost more powerful by the fact that Ari was now a woman in her 40s, cavorting around with crazy dreads and short shorts). But what he really captures is the effect The Slits had - visually and musically. I saw pictures of them for two years before hearing a note and was captivated - their messy hair, dark eye makeup, Ari with Jubilee underpants OVER leather trousers. There was no coyness. But it wasn't androgyny, the way Patti Smith could have been a girl or a guy - it was very female. Their album Cut came out sounding so accomplished and together but live at Tier 3 they still made enough of an ungodly racket to give us all hope.

So along with Ari Up's obituary in the Times yesterday, there was the most popular article - a woman of 55 declaring that it's okay to have long grey hair. She talked about the musical role models for women her age - Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell - and I thought "wow, here is a woman only FOUR years older than me and she missed it all." Did things really change that much from being 17 in 1973 to being 17 in 1977?

Yes, if you were lucky enough to hear about it.

Hilary Jaeger booked the Slits (and The Raincoats. And Y Pants. And Ut. And a lot of other groups all female, all male and in-between) into Tier 3 back when. She and her sister Angela brought Ari to see daughter Hazel play at a NYC bar last summer. The bartender wouldn't let Ari and Angela and Hilary in to the show - she carded them, demanding to see their IDs for proof they were old to be in a bar. After all, the drinking age in the US is 21.

I look at this picture and see these not-typical girls looking so cute and cool and Ari glowing and I'm glad I was one of the lucky ones and I laugh and cry...

Angela Jaeger, Hilary Jaeger, Karen McBurnie, Hazel Rigby, Ari Up

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


plastic letters

"I've learned some things, these years in France," I said to Eric.

"You couldn't drive a manual car when you got here," he said.

I put a chicken into the oven to roast. "Why, four years back, I couldn't even roast a chicken!"

I thought about all the other things I'd learned. How to speak French, the difference between brebis and chevre. I'd never heard of grèves and I thought France was all shabby chic and women with scarves tied just so. I had no idea there were so many kinds of slippers, or knives. That neon yellow safety vests are for driving, orange for hunters.

How to tell a baguette from a batard, a financier from a religieuse.

Survival skills, like drinking coffee black - not because it's more sophisticated but because most of the milk is that long shelf-life kind. I didn't know how to steam and scrape wallpaper, but that's a must to know if you're living in an old French house and don't want to walk around permanently depressed.

"You know one other thing I've learned?" I shouted, clomping into the kitchen with an armload of logs. "This time last year, I couldn't build a fire!"

But now I did it easily, the first fire of the season - piling the smaller bits of wood into the wood burner, planting fire lighters, getting it going and then adding bigger logs.

A few minutes later, when the thing was really roaring, the room started filling up with foul-smelling smoke.

I checked the chicken - that was fine. I opened the wood burner and it was perfect, like a picture from Country Living magazine. But the fumes were making me queasy. I walked outside, looking at the chimney silhouetted against the sky, to make sure the smoke was coming out alright.

Back inside, it smelled like a hazardous waste site. I looked at the side of the woodburner and screamed.

Plastic letters, like you put on a refrigerator, THANK YOU spelled out by friends in the summer. I'd looked at them just that morning and smiled. It hadn't occurred to me to take them down - now they were melting and burning, the cheery colors dripping and running together like something in a horror film.

And suddenly Eric was lunging in fearlessly with a paint scraper, removing the molten mess and flinging it onto a pile of newspaper.

But then I already knew he was my hero.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

An Education

France continues to confound, amuse, occasionally delight and frequently drive me nuts. I guess you could call it boot camp, for what I'm not exactly sure. It turns every assumption about the civilized world upside down - I used to think I was kind of cynical and worldly but I look back on those days of dewy innocence with a mixture of embarrassment and wonder. Four years in this place will do that to a person.

I remember how a few French words thrown together on a sign above a sandwich shop - Au Bon Pain - could add a touch of glamour and quality to a bagel in midtown or a cup of soup at a rest stop on the Ohio Turnpike. Just by association - "hey, it's French, it must have that something extra." I never thought I'd be in France wishing I could get anything as decent as an Au Bon Pain Chicken Caesar sandwich for lunch but that is the frequent reality here.

Today I was all excited because I finally visited a Leroy Merlin store and it was a lot closer to what I'd expected of France: style, color, pizazz. The main color, in addition to the bold black and white graphics on the outside of the store, was that "Play Misty For Me" late 60's/early 70's bright green that I love. The clerks were wearing tattersal-check shirts white with green, everything looking very smart. The prices were reasonable, the kitchen and bath displays weren't completely hideous, even the colors on the rows of paint cans had the depth and intensity of the vintage French fashion magazines I flipped for back at art school in the 70s.

The place had sprung up outside of Limoges in the last few months, alongside some other mall-type stores. Driving into the complex, we'd passed something called Cafe Madeline. A cafe, one would assume. It was next to a McDonald's.

"Why don't we go over there and have a coffee?" Eric said, after we'd bought some paint. We've been fixing the house up to make it more salable as it's dawned on us we can't make a living here without traveling at least twelve hours away.

"Isn't this civilized!" I said. "I mean, I know it's a mall but at least we can get what we need, have a snack and go home, without actually having to go into Limoges." A trip there usually leaves one or both of us deeply depressed or traumatized.

It wasn't looking good as I opened the door of Cafe Madeline. Where was the coffee bar part of the cafe, the one with the espresso machine? All I could see was a mall attempt at a fine dining experience - the decor was photographic murals of people eating in restaurants.

"Can we just get some coffee?" I asked the hostess who greeted us with menus in hand.

"No, it's a restaurant - for coffee, there's the McDo (Mac-Dough)." She gestured next door.

"But it says `cafe'!" Eric said. "We're in France, and you're sending us to a McDonald's for the coffee?" She looked bewildered so we left.

Emmanuel brought oysters fresh from Bretagne over last night. That was delightful. The crisp fall weather with bright blue sky is perfect. Recording is good, and writing. As long as I stay out of the stores, restaurants, garages, insurance offices, "cafes", Limoges - I'll be fine.

Oh and the library's okay - I like the library.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Just One More Thing"

I've had a tiny, achievable goal for a while - to own a wine glass. A long-stemmed glass, elegant. For that one or two drinks in the evening. I said I'd wait until there was a kitchen shelf capable of housing a glass like that, and there almost is so I broke down and bought one. At Tesco, for 50p. Carried it in its own "road case" as Eric called it (the cardboard caddy they were selling them in) for three weeks, in and out of hotel rooms even. Thrilled to my first glass at home - perching on the couch, glass in hand, no more generic jelly jar or that squat amber French nonbreakable glass. The fantasy was real.

And then today I broke the glass.

I'm sure I can find another. The car is another story. It really is gone. Stolen from outside the garage where it had been repaired. The garagiste is mortified. He may know who did it but he tried getting near the place and the dogs came after him and scared him off. He asked the local police and they told him they were afraid of the dogs too.

I made like Columbo today, hanging around the shop across the street from the garage, seeing what was up. In honesty the only similarity between me and Columbo is that I was wearing a raincoat. I heard people in the shop talking about how "no one will park near here now" and strained to make out more. It's true, there have been more cars stolen lately. But the people in the shop were chuckling about it - do they know something?

We've got a plan, maybe only in our heads, involving a gang of us and an ambulance and some very loudspeakers playing "Ride Of The Valkyries". And a cage with meat and tranquilizers.

And a toast to the prodigal Ford Escort, with a slightly sturdier wineglass.