Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Not Fade Away

It had all gone so well. A couple weeks of shows, traversing England, up to Scotland and back down again with no major mishaps. Even a quick trip to Sweden where Eric gave a talk about punk at the university of Malmo and I played my first-ever show in Scandinavia. No illness, no bloodshed. Nothing broken or stolen (except the Harmony guitar, on the flight over, and that had been brought back to life, better than ever without even a visible scar). The tour felt like a success: we'd played well, had decent turnouts and some fun, ending up with money left over to take home.

Along with that deep exhaustion that comes from being in constant motion. Is it worse than the deep exhaustion that comes from doing the same thing every day? Probably not - just different. I read an interview with Todd Rundgren where he says that at 63 he may not be up for the rigors of touring much longer and I'd been thinking maybe if we bumped into him in a motorway Costa Coffee or Days Inn we could talk about it, because sometimes I feel the same way.

I lugged my suitcase, messenger bag and acoustic guitar in a soft case on my back onto a NJ Transit train at Newark Airport. The suitcase was over the 50 lb limit so I'd distributed the extra weight - cables, microphones, clothes and my ancient laptop, more Rosetta Stone than laptop, so big and bulky that a septuagenarian at airport security had pointed out "you know, they make those a lot smaller these days, they call them 'netbooks'" - into the guitar case and handbag so I was an efficient pack mule. Eric had stayed behind in England to visit with his daughter and granddaughter for a few extra days. It was my first time coming home to the US from a tour in years, and I marveled at how things seemed to work so much better than they used to, from the shuttle trains clearly marked and red-jacketed polite young men guiding and assisting passengers. I slung my guitar onto the overhead shelf of the train bound for Manhattan and sat studying the couple across from me - in their sixties, he in black beret and overcoat; she with short-cropped henna'ed hair and little round black framed glasses, also dressed entirely in black except for multicolored striped socks. I strained to hear what language they were speaking: Russian? German?

French. They were speaking French. I felt disoriented, trying to remember where I was going. Where do I live?

When the train reached Penn Station, I hustled to catch the 7:15 PM Amtrak train for Hudson, flowing through and against the tide of humanity who seemed to be headed in every possible direction with absolute confidence and certainty. I remembered this feeling, deep in my soul if not in my head and joined in, reading signs and following arrows as if by osmosis.

"Can I buy a ticket on the train?" I asked the dapper Amtrak agent at the track entrance.

"Use the machine right there," he pointed. The clock said 7:13. I bought the ticket and ran back to him. His face was stony. "The doors are closed - you'll have to get the next train. Change your ticket over there." He pointed to a long customer service line.

I wheeled the suitcase around and got in line, cursing and sweating. Reaching behind to pull my hair up off my neck, I felt an unusual draft back there where my guitar case usuall- SHHIIIIIITTTT!!!

Running back through the throngs to NJ Transit, I was already simultaneously a) filing a false insurance claim for a stolen guitar; b) getting the old Guild out of mothballs; or c) (maybe it's for the best?) retiring.

By the time I found the Customer Service office, I was silently thanking the stern Amtrak official who'd closed the gate and kept me from boarding the train. Otherwise wouldn't I be realizing, just as the train reached somewhere near Yonkers, that I had to turn around and go back to find my guitar? At least I was still sort of on site, able to speak to someone in person, or fill out a form or...or. Please - I don't want it to end this way. A young woman in front of me in the Transit office line, hearing the sounds of anguished hyperventilating behind her, stepped aside. "You go first," she said.

The official looked like Kenny G.

"Did anyone..." I gasped, "find a guitar on the Newark Airport train?"

He smiled. "Does it look like this?" There it was. My Gibson. "It was just brought in. You can have it, but only if you play 'Stairway To Heaven' first."

Back in a terminal bar called "Kabooze", I shared a table with the guitar and drank the best beer I ever tasted in my life. When "Brown Sugar" came on the bar stereo, a weird speaker arrangement had Keith's guitar just above my head. Mick, the band, all the other stuff, was a barroom away. But Keith played, almost like he was playing just for me. I sipped my beer and listened to every lick. "This ain't over yet, baby," it seemed like he was saying.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"You Have Reached Your Destination"

I was standing in line in a tiny guitar shop in Islington when I realized my bag was talking.

"You have reached your destination" said Tim, our GPS man with the crisp Continental diction. I'd forgotten tucking Tim into my bag for guidance as I'd set off on foot to find a music store.

Eric is convinced Tim's a camp out of work thespian picking up pocket money on the side. Not totally British, his accent hints at all sorts of seedy possibilities. We have such a close relationship with him, I felt a sense of shame exposing him in public like that. I almost blushed remembering how just that afternoon we'd fallen about the van laughing as Eric and Tim did one of their familiar routines:

Tim: Exit ahead. Then take the motorway.
Eric (hurriedly): Tim, how can we make the chateau less damp?
Tim: Take the exit.
Eric: (insistently) But the chateau, Tim, the castle! How can we make it less damp?
Tim: Take the motorway.

I had been rushing to buy extra strings for a big show at Union Chapel in London. It's one of those places you notice people playing at and think "now that's a gig." And here we were about two hours away from playing to a sellout crowd.

Two nights before we'd been at the New Orleans Jazz Club in Louth, playing under a flourescent strip light with a picture of the queen and a Confederate flag behind us. From the ridiculous to the sublime with a live session on the Mark Riley radio show, in the gleaming new spaceship headquarters of the BBC Manchester, in between as launching ramp in our rise to stardom.

Not our stardom, really. Eric and I were special guests of Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds, who we'd loved at the Rhythm Festival 2 years ago and who cover Whole Wide World along with a well-chosen selection of other punk era songs, played in a spirited folk style. That doesn't do the experience justice, and please forgive the use of the word "spirited" - I'm no music critic.

But there's always that feeling of possibility with a big show like this, born from watching too many movies, that you'll walk out on the altar a mere artist and working musician and go back into the vestry a star. "Chapel" had me imagining a humble, chaste and dignified rectangle but Union Chapel is a soaring octagonal domed space. It lends an air of gravity and importance to whatever happens there, I guess, but trying to do our set was a challenge because of sound restrictions decreed by the local council. "Let the room do the work" the soundman said, as if through divine intervention our musical intent would flow out if we just stood on the stage, limp chalices to be emptied of our offerings through supplication.

I remembered why I stopped going to church years ago.

Ade and his band were really sweet backstage in the communal "meeting room" but it was a bit like arriving at a party when people are finishing the last bottles of beer and starting to eye half-drunk ones, cause this was the last show of a long tour for them. That weary, punchy, near-hysteria had set in so the only place to find a moment's peace was in the non-locking toilets, where at least four different touring party members burst in to find me and Eric in varying stages of undress. Not playful conjugal rights in the toilet-type action but two shabby showfolk stuffing themselves into hastily mended and ironed stage clothes and trying to sort out a setlist that wouldn't trigger the volume meter.

Had tuning troubles to start, and I flubbed the end of a song. We played okay and got a few laughs and warm applause from an audience stiffly sitting on pews in their coats. Then there was that awkward time afterwards at the merch table, with people coming up asking for Bad Shepherds t-shirts, and the occasional happy fan. We snuck out for fish and chips with friends because our rider of hot meal had never materialized and caught some of the show's finale - again, the acoustics were creating too much "atmosphere" and not enough focused sound but the rhythmic energy of the group came through.

The next night was an old working men's club in Hebden Bridge, an interestingly artsy town outside Manchester. I felt kind of low after Union Chapel. Just wished it had been - more...what? Special, fun, something. It seemed like it should've been, with the massive dome and the big crowd and arches of stone and dramatic lighting. I checked the GPS to see how long the drive would take. Tim did the calculations: London to Hebden Bridge - 63 hours. WHA- oh, right, I still had him set for walking to the guitar shop.

The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge was an unexpectedly great place to play. Maybe because I hadn't wanted so badly for it to be great. It took three hours to drive there, and no time at all to get somewhere on stage.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Roy Rogers Is Riding Tonight

Being in England feels familiar yet always exotic enough to keep me interested and intrigued. "Fit for viewing by persons GENERALLY" reads the symbol on a DVD in my goddaughter Daisy's collection of films and having watched the movie in question (some godawful Disney tripe called "Spooky Buddies" - guess I've been away from the world of kids' movies for awhile because I thought Disney was a mark of some kind of quality?) I'm even more confused by what they mean. Persons generally, as in not every person or persons generally meaning animals would probably benefit more from watching talking dogs in Halloween costumes. And I'm usually a pushover for animals talking.

I guess I should detail all the places we've played so far: Chichester, Bristol, Coventry and Hull. The shows have gone well with surprisingly good-sized audiences (though Bristol was a little's often that way but I still always enjoy playing there and they have some of the best Chinese restaurants in the country). When we collected the guitars from baggage claim, the headstock on the Harmony was broken so I've been struggling on a borrowed Gibson while our pal Andy fixes the damage. It'll hopefully result in just a characterful scar - I miss that guitar. I just don't click with the Gibson electric like I do with the Harmony. Come back old friend, please, in time for the London show on Saturday!

Sometimes it feels like I've written about every kind of gig and venue and there's nothing more to say without repeating myself or boring myself and anyone bothering to read things here. There - that's a shocking thing I realize from being out on tour: people actually read things I write on this blog or Twitter or Facebook. I find it amazing that a person in...Chichester would arrive with two Harmony guitars in the back of his car because he read that we were down a guitar. Maybe that's part of what makes going around and around again not a slog - I might feel tired of filthy stage carpet and nasty dressing room couches I couldn't imagine sitting on, but I'll never get tired of knowing something I wrote or sang or said connected with somebody halfway across the world.

And there is always something new to see, a wild frontier to conquer. We drove through Lincolnshire the other day. It was eerie with mist, big flat spaces and the occasional cabbage. My only association with the place is that as a teenager obsessively reading liner notes and band biographical material I learned it was where Bernie Taupin, Elton John's songwriting partner came from. Now that I've seen it, it makes sense that he'd fantasize and write lyrics about America's Old West - or anywhere that wasn't Lincolnshire. As much sense as a girl growing up in Pittsburgh would listen to a song called "Grimsby", completely miss the irony and long to travel and see this wondrous place.

So tonight, it's Louth. Not quite Grimsby, not yet. But there's always the next tour.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Things They Left Behind

Today was a beautiful, warm day - perfect for fixing the gutters.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that needs to be done to this house. It's easy to forget that it was only a year ago we were here in the northeast US looking around at possible places to move to. We went back to France with a huge list of jobs that needed to be done to sell that house. And a vague idea of something called an "immigrant visa."

Now we're completely relocated and feel at home in many ways. Starting to become familiar with the area, meeting more and more neighbors and locals. Even venturing out for a gig over the weekend: "Live Rust" would be an appropriate title for the performance, it was that creaky. The sound didn't help but the audience were sweet. Stayed way too long after but at least it meant there were fewer drivers on the Long Island Expressway.

The gutters and winterizing feel kind of crucial because we're leaving for almost a month to play gigs in the UK and what if some harsh weather comes on while we're away? Apparently, the Previous Owners used to pour their all into Halloween displays worthy of visits from the local TV news crew; the Christmas lights were also industrial-strength - if only the same amount of care and effort had gone into keeping water out of the basement and windows from rotting loose!

But every now and then I notice little items that they left behind and I think those people couldn't have been all bad.


piano chimes


rope swing


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too

We were waiting in the Social Security office in Hudson to arrange for Eric to receive his official card and number, now that he's fully legal to work in the US. There was a poster up on the wall of Patty Duke and the Asian guy from Star Trek in space outfits. I studied their pictures, glad it had their names underneath the photos, or else I might have thought they were just anyone's grandmother and grandfather doing PSA's for Social Security, and wondered why had the man been allowed to dye his hair but not the lady?

When we got up to the desk and there was another poster with two Patty Dukes, this one saying "Even my cousin's applying online", Eric looked questioningly at it and said - cousin? To a foreigner trying to make sense of America, perhaps it had a hillbilly ring to it, and what with gay marriage recently legalized in New York state...

Having gotten the idea from the other poster that Patty Duke was now a spokesperson for Social Security, I was all primed to tell him how she was one of the first American teenagers on television playing not only herself but her British-bred "cousin". How the Patty character had been so kooky and mischievous that a hot dog made her lose control while cousin Kathy had been sophisticated and posh, having lived most everywhere from Brooklyn Heights to Berkeley Square. To help bridge the cultural gap, I even threw in a little tidbit about how Herman's Hermits had been in an episode.

"Ah, Peter No-one," Eric said, getting the idea quickly that for moving the culture forward, Patty Duke Show was a step or two below the Beverly Hillbillies.

In France, it had been Eric explaining how things worked, or didn't. Here, it'll have to be me who provides simple, reassuring answers to questions like:

"I know 'ground beef' is what you call mince, but what or who is Ground Chuck?"

"What exactly will the children do to us if we don't give them treats on Halloween?"


"The snow won't come until late November or around Christmas, right?"

october snow

So - sometimes you have to lie.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Front Row Seats

free stuff

We'll soon be laying down the hammers and picking up instruments - can't wait to start playing and singing again! Come on out if we're near your town:

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby on tour

Fri Nov 4 Grey Horse Tavern Bayville, NY, US
Wed Nov 16 Chichester Inn Chichester, UK
Thu Nov 17 The Fleece Bristol, UK
Fri Nov 18 Taylor John's House Coventry, UK
Sat Nov 19 New Adelphi Hull, UK
Wed Nov 23 New Orleans Louth, UK
Thu Nov 24 Mark Riley show BBC 6 Music on the air 7 PM
Thu Nov 24 Castle Hotel Manchester, UK
Sat Nov 26 Union Chapel London, UK (w/Adrian Edmondson)
Sun Nov 27 Trades Club Hebden Bridge, UK
Wed Nov 30 Kitchen Garden Cafe Birmingham, UK
Thu Dec 1 The Musician Leicester, UK
Fri Dec 2 Fibbers York, UK
Sat Dec 3 Rifle Club Whitby, UK
Sun Dec 4 Woodend Tennis Club Glasgow, UK

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Autumn Shades

Better than a shoe dream was a dream gig. Saturday night we went to Tarrytown to see Ian Hunter play.

We drove two hours through blazing fall colors on the Taconic Parkway, one of the loveliest drives on earth, unless it's raining or snowing at which point I think it becomes pretty treacherous. We were taking the road at peak leaf-changing time, so that every bend and dip and rise led to yet another "aaahhh" and "ooohhh" at the golds, oranges and reds. From me, anyway. Eric, being English, confines himself to curt nods.

Tarrytown is a monied version of small town America - lots of strollers and shops and the Music Hall dominating the Main Street. We went into Sweetgrass to say hi to John Wesley Harding who was opening the night's show. I almost gasped when I saw he was dining with Eleanor Friedberger from the Fiery Furnaces. The sweet indie princess said "hey, we have the same hair" to me and I immediately felt cooler than I have in probably ten years. If you feel like an anachronism...just wait it out.

We marveled at how quickly we were served, and how good the food was - in France we'd gotten used to judging the quality of a restaurant on whether we'd get food poisoning or not. I did miss those low-cost pichets of wine though - the price of a simple glass has nudged up to nine or ten dollars.

Tarrytown Music Hall is an antique vaudeville theatre - you can't call it "restored" because it looks like they didn't have enough money to do much more than clean the place up and turn on the lights - it is glorious in its untouched shabbiness. As we were picking up our tickets, a nice man came up and said he knew we'd be there because I'd written about it on my Twitter! A fan of both Eric and I, he made us feel like secret stars. I didn't even feel bad that the ticket envelope misspelled my name.

We were admiring the decorative touches of the theater when we ran into James Mastro - he plays guitar in Ian Hunter's band. Next thing we knew we were whisked backstage to meet the man himself and he is such a sweetheart, such a nice man. I felt like I was in my own version of Rock Dreams, seeing him and Eric chatting. It was good to see the other guys in the band that I knew from back in NY, Andy Burton ace keyboard player and Mark Bosch.

Wes did a great job opening and Eleanor came out and sang a song. When IH and band came out to play I realized we were sitting right in front of his piano - a perfect spot even though I loved when he picked up the acoustic too. Wow, he still has total charisma and one of the greatest voices - the way his melodies fall and then climb is so tied with that voice, to hear him now in person was almost too much for me - how many drives have Eric and I done to "Mott"? Lyrics that contain all the wisdom of the universe, he just tosses out there with a knowing laugh - hell! He is 72. There is hope. It was great to hear all the old favorites but some of the newer songs were just as powerful, Man Overboard especially.

I was so captivated by his performance I was almost able to ignore the texters, talkers and bathroom-goers all around (at least I think that's where they were going - they all looked like they took too good care of themselves to be smokers) - when did people become so constantly busy at concerts? And the dad with his ten year old sitting right behind us, giving a song by song commentary until the poor tyke was practically in a coma. Let the kid have his own experience, if that's possible in this day and age! Still, the band managed to inch the volume up. And in end there was enough devotion and focus in the room to bring about two encores.

We hung out way too late and the two hour drive after was longer without the fall foliage. Eric did the driving while I looked out the window at moonlight on the Catskills, wondering if it was all true, that we were really here in New York, or would I wake up back in France, wishing I could be out in the world?

An orthodox Jew in khaki shorts emerging from a rest area men's room and a crumpled envelope in my coat pocket reading "Rugby, Amy" confirmed that this was real life.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Ecstasy & The Agony

The day started off good - at 8 AM I found a shopping bag full of luxury ladies shoes on the sidewalk near my brother's apartment in Greenpoint. Prada, Robert Clergerie, Stephane Kelian; red suede, khaki, calfskin.

For a second I thought I must still be sleeping, dreaming the perfect dream. But I knew immediately they were too small. They always are. Still, I gathered a few choice pairs up - maybe my brother's girlfriend? She can walk anywhere in heels, and they looked closer to her size, seven.

I clutched them to my chest and then remembered: bedbugs, the scourge of New York City. Was the shoe bag a dirty trick, the result of an infestation? Someone's powerlessness turned to anger to a chance to play God? Was the infestee at this very moment up at her window with a morning cup of coffee, cackling at any fool stupid enough to grab herself some soiled high-end bounty?

Or maybe the bag was fallout from a breakup - a jilted lover reaping his revenge, hitting his gal where he knew it would hurt the most?

I took a closer look at the shoes, being careful to hold them away from me, and weighed the possibilities. They were definitely several seasons/years old. Probably a closet purge that took a benevolent turn when selling on eBay or through consignment seemed like too much trouble.

And I was so happy to be back in the city with all its stories, all the possibilities. I'd missed New York.

* * *


Me? I looked up at the garbage truck shuddering to a stop next to me at the light. "Me?" I mouthed to the red-faced driver of the truck.


What had I done? Yes, I'd gotten on the eastbound L.I.E. in error and had just exited and was sitting at a stop light. But where had the garbage truck entered into the equation? What had I done to piss this guy off?

And the word "Bitch" carries the weight of intent and that confused me even more. Whatever wrongs I'd committed had been carried out unconsciously. His use of the word was making me feel doubly bad.

The guy continued to honk and scream and I raised my hands, a question, what did I do?

This only enraged him more. "THAT'S RIGHT - YOU! YOU FUCKING BITCH!!!" He mimed a steering wheel in his hands - I'd been driving. That was my crime.

My look of shock and dismay only set him off more. All that time in France had made me as placid as a Limousin cow. "FUUUCK YOOOOUUU!" he yelled, and raced off as fast as his dilapidated piece of shit garbage truck would take him.

I caught my breath and made my turn.

Yeah, I'd missed New York.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Immigrant Song

I haven't fallen off the face of the earth.

Just been wearing a pair of rubber cleaning gloves for a month - they make it hard to write.

I loved how Patti Smith was on our flight from England when we arrived in the US. I saw her getting into her seat up in business class. (We were in steerage, in honor of my grandfather who arrived at Ellis Island back in the 20s, all alone at the age of 11). It felt like we were being shepherded into the US by a high echelon Rock Air Marshall. The top would be Chuck Berry.

Then she stood directly in front of us in the line while we waited for Eric to go through US immigration for the first time. I've never met her, always been afraid to, too in awe to. But she seemed cool, standing there two feet away with her guitar on her shoulder, checking her phone. ("Excuse me?" someone says. She turns around, wearily expectant. Oh the price of punk poetess fame. "There's no cell phone use until after baggage claim, ma'am.")

We slipped past as she shut off her phone and the agent jokingly let Eric in to the United States, playing around with Eric's precious MBE, the sealed, US immigration-issued Mysterious Brown Envelope we'd been told to present, unopened, on arrival or risk blowing the whole thing. We'd been manically guarding it for three weeks. It was stunning, how lighthearted they all were in immigration at Newark. Polite, genial even. We almost expected them to offer us coffee and donuts.

I missed that. I missed the stupid fun we have in America. Like the young woman who was selling a stove on Craigslist. She gave us her address, and mentioned how when getting directions off the internet that one of the streets had changed its name. She wasn't specific with the street name.

As we passed Greg Browder Way on the right for the fourth time it finally made sense.

"It says here 'turn right on Cheesecock Road'."

I'm in love with the ease of things in America. You want to rent a car? Buy a bed? Get copies made? Send this, receive that? Building supplies? A $50 stove from Craigslist? A $40 dehumidifier? Easy - any time! Eat, eat, eat - fresh, local food, or unhealthy crap. Just say when. Every night around twenty to seven I find myself getting anxious, wondering if we have enough food, a bottle of wine. Then I remember the 24 hour supermarket a few blocks away.

Choice! Beer World down the road and the Wine Cellar right next to it with stuff from all over the world. Usefully within walking distance for when the snow sets in?

I love our new town. It's across the river from trendy, happening Hudson. Near Saugerties and Woodstock with their rich hippie daytrippers. But this is the land that time forgot. Small town America with enough of a freak quotient that nobody marks you as an outsider. The first time we looked around the place, the only people on the old-fashioned main street were a cop putting a handcuffed biker into a police car. I think they were laughing. Even if you are an outsider, everyone is friendly. The postal workers all came out to shake hands with us when we told them we'd moved in to town. The insurance agent clapped Eric on the back and thanked us for our business, apologizing again for not being able to insure the house during Irene.

"Let's go out for a beer sometime!" Then we saw him across the street in the local attorney's office. "I just need him to help me (cough) clear up a few things," he said sheepishly.

Irene the hurricane is just plain "Irene" here. Everyone was affected by the storm: water in basements, trees down, businesses closed temporarily. The weird weather continued until a few days ago: torrential rain every other day and the Catskill Creek that flows through town and the huge Hudson River just minutes away rising. There's been a swimming pool in the backyard where the Previous Owners had an above ground swimming pool, a circle of water several inches high where for the last year or two a nasty piece of plastic sat collecting moss and dead leaves.

The Previous Owners - we have an ongoing relationship with this shadowy entity. The house needs a lot of work. The Previous Owners didn't intend to sell the place but lost their grip and had to let it go:

"Why, why did you put this outlet at the top of the door frame?"

"Did you have to wood panel that room? And what's with the toilet nook?"

"Nasty vinyl tiles - on the ceiling?"

No stove, no refrigerator. Just a food-encrusted early model microwave cemented into the kitchen cabinets.

At first we gave Previous Owners points for building a bar and having a sound system in the basement. The building inspector said it was all a repository of life-threatening mold and should be removed as quickly as possible.

I walk around in paint-splattered clothes, looking longingly at the purple suede vintage shoes I forced hopefully into my suitcase over two months ago. There are lots of shows and concerts and markets and events happening at this time of the year and we'll get out to see something soon.

Fixing up a neglected house is the price of admission for living in one of the prettiest places in the world that's also conveniently located in the hugely populated Northeastern US. Tall tall trees with leaves changing color, the dark Catskill mountains on one side of the town and the enchanted Hudson River on the other. There's a bird sanctuary around the corner and deer, foxes, even bears have been spotted on our street. We watched a white skunk - weird prehistoric-looking creature - strolling by. I had to explain to Eric what it was, how they spray their distinctive, lingering scent when threatened. My older brother was sitting outside smoking a cigarette and noticed the creature sitting a few feet away. Eric's christened him "Mike". Like the name Dave in England, every other guy up here is Mike. The rest seem to be called Gary.

Ran into an old neighbor from Williamsburg our first day. We're two hours from the city but it feels like being there in some ways: the NY Times, Post and Daily News for sale in the gas stations, the accents of some of our neighbors who moved up from Brooklyn years ago, the Breakstone's butter and bagels and delis and friends coming "up from the city". I love being in New York again, to hear talk of Albany and Governor Cuomo. To see the aisle of pasta and Italian grocery items - I missed it more than I realized.

I just got a call that the contents of the shipping container are being delivered on Tuesday. What was in that thing, anyway? We've been camping in the house for over a month with folding chairs and restaurant table borrowed from the swell guy who owns the local coffee place (who is named neither Gary or Mike but Robert, so there goes that theory.) Once our own stuff arrives I think we can say the moving odyssey is over. There's still a lot more to do on this place, but I look forward to getting back to doing things I have a vague memory of doing before, like music and writing.

I might even wear the purple suede shoes.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hacking It

"So you couldn't hack it in Europe," said the British border agent as we headed from Calais to Dover with one last vanload. She'd asked what the purpose of our visit to the UK was and we'd told her we were moving our household goods out of France and over to the US via a shipping container from England.

Couldn't hack it in Europe?

This was not the time for a debate on semantics. But her statement instantly rankled. I felt judged.

Hack it? It's not something you do in France. There was nothing to hack there. The very idea of moving from the US to "Europe" speaks of removing oneself from hacking it. The old ways are too entrenched and ingrained and there's no cutting through, only finding ways around. Maybe that had been part of the problem with the place. If I was ready for an underfunded early retirement, maybe it could have worked.

Now, getting out - that's been a different story. That's like coming up out of the jungle with a machete, whacking vines and undergrowth and worse out of the way to reach daylight. It was so effortless, getting there. Kind of like treading lukewarm water, being there. But getting out?

Maybe because no one sells their house quickly in France, or anywhere, these days, we'd had it too easy. Not enough challenges. Not enough hack it. But since the house was sold it's been an obstacle course. Trying to satisfy the strict US visa requirements at the same time as trying to find and fund a house in upstate New York from thousands of miles away. Packing and moving a houseful of music equipment and some furniture to a friend's garage in England, and then a storage facility big enough to bring a shipping container to. Seeing the cost of the container jump from six down to three and up to eight thousand dollars, and then back down at least a little.

The US house purchase went through just as a hurricane watch started for the eastern part of the country and all insurance companies stopped writing home insurance policies. And they said the high winds and possible flooding were headed right for New York City.

"The house is a good two hours from there," I said, worrying about friends and family in the city being sent to shelters and worrying, just a little, about the storm bearing down on our uninsured new home.

But there was no time to worry because Eric, who had driven a rental van back down to SW France, filled it with the last of our boxes and furniture and headed for the port at Calais, had been involved in a traffic accident. He'd had to leave the now-undrivable rental van full of our stuff not far from where we'd broken down almost five years ago and travel back to England by taxi. (And as foot passenger on the ferry, though I like the idea of him rolling off the boat at Dover in a French cab.)

The hurricane spared the city and a few hours later I started seeing posts on Facebook about trees falling and catastrophic flooding near Woodstock and and on up into Greene County. Our new county. There were films on the internet of houses and even whole villages being taken out by floods.

We found out the next day the house was okay. A lot of people weren't so lucky - that part of the country was declared a disaster area. I felt guilty calling to get our electricity turned on, knowing how many people had been without power.

And finally we rented yet another van and took the ferry back to France, one last time, still trying to believe that moving everything to England first had been simpler and cheaper than trying to ship from France (and the moving companies all confirmed that it was). We drove to a garage near Lille and transferred our stuff from the disabled van into the working van and returned to the car ferry. No tearful farewell or regretful last looks - just a determination to complete the journey without using a public toilet or eating anything in a French service station, ever again.

The border agent was looking at me, holding my passport in her left hand and the ink stamp, instrument of my freedom to hack it, in her right.

So you couldn't hack it in Europe? I gave her a sickly smile and nodded.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Groundhog Day

Where'm I at? Is it today or last month?

The house was sold almost three weeks ago and things were rolling - we went to England pre-riots and played gigs that all were enjoyable and well-attended. Even the one in Mildenhall Football Club ended up being fun. Got to see Eric's gorgeous granddaughter. Then we went to Paris for the final visa appointment at the US Embassy.

And since then we've been in weird semi-existence with Eric's passport in the ether. You hear about how tough the US is on immigration but I was sure we had everything they'd asked for and Eric had even tested negative for syphilis and chicken pox. No - they still need more. We've been trying to get them the additional paperwork they require, at the same time turning everything around for the US house purchase - all from the French countryside where getting things done is sometimes possible if it isn't Tuesday afternoon, or Monday morning or any time Wednesday or Thursday before 3:30, but not after 5:30. Multiplied by August.

We had to break down and get a French mobile - the final straw was trying to make a call from the only payphone within miles, the one attached to a wooden toilet cabin that serves a small camping area. While I tried navigating the bank voice command system, shouting "PERSONAL", "REPRESENTATIVE!" "NO" and practically screaming my social security number and other pertinent details into the ancient receiver, some poor camper was whimpering, groaning and eventually releasing his bowels on the other side of the wall. "Would you like to make a deposit?" "SOMEBODY ALREADY HAS!"

Later at the library, Eric and I tried to get on the internet to find a Fed Ex place while a safari-suited man across the table kept clacking his dentures. Why was it that the harder I concentrated and the more frustrated I got, the more his clacking intensified?

The only Fed Ex depot around was fifty minutes away - Eric drove us there in thirty.

"What's that burning smell?" I asked.

He took a turn on two wheels, clipped a chicken, roared past an old lady on two crutches and navigated the BUSES ONLY lane. "Somebody's brakes," he answered nonchalantly. Hmm - and I'm vouching for this man.

Still, there have been some lovely dinners and moonlit rambles with our friend Emmanuel - we're staying at his place in a tiny hamlet next to an ancient church. One of our paperwork deliveries showed up by UPS yesterday and we'd stationed ourselves outside the house so the delivery guy could find us. We had wagers going on whether it was the hamlet's first UPS delivery ever - he confirmed that it was.

The new owners of our old house are loving France. They adore the house - we went over for dinner the other night and their stuff looked so cute in the place. The kids have been swimming at the nearby lake every day, playing in the garden, riding the rusty old bikes we left behind.

They had to go away for a little while. And since we already paid for the phone and internet in the house up til the end of August, and canceling the service early to move away outside of France involved sending a registered letter and signing an attestation and packing and mailing the router via Chronopost and probably a trip to the mairie and another embassy somewhere, they said "hey, why don't you just come by and use the phone and internet here, at your old place?"

Which is where I'm sitting now. All the neighbors that we said our tear-filled goodbyes to a few weeks ago have gotten used to seeing us again. Like that old TV commercial "I thought you died." The double-takes have turned back into howdy neighbor waves.

It's like we never left.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Skeleton Crew

We're camping out in the house now. There's four mugs, a couple of dinner plates. A towel or two apiece. A pot, frying pan and baking dish. Two laptops, a couple paperbacks, a television that will soon be made redundant, the 4th season of Peep Show, some garden chairs and a wobbly old table. Suitcases as nightstands. And all our musical equipment - we have a gig in Le Dorat on Saturday.

pizza & wings

The rest has made it up to England. Like a modern divorce where everyone co-operates, this is a modern house sale - the new owner came down with a load of stuff before the final completion date, and offered to take a load for us. Shipping from France is complicated - of all the ports in this country, right now only one will do container shipping of personal goods so getting space is difficult and expensive. So we go through England - that's where we'll put everything in a container for the US.


Packing has been all-consuming, that and healing. I'm going back to the fine doctor in Bordeaux tomorrow, hoping that he'll give me the okay to put makeup on.

It's been pretty bizarre, having a nurse come to the house every other day. I feel like I should be wearing a turban and being taken out for a spin in a wheelchair. Feeling guilty about using what feels like a luxury, I'd asked at the hospital if they couldn't just show me how to take care of things myself. They insisted that it was more consistent with an infirmiere. I can see now that it also helps keep someone in employment in rural France. In a few days I'll say goodbye to her. Then we'll have a little get-together with our friends and neighbors, and the new owners. Strange, melancholy, exciting, terrifying. Did I say exciting?

last rose

Two months ago it was "will we outlast the bottle of balsamic?" - now it's the expiration date on the milk bottle. We'll be going off before it does.

Friday, July 8, 2011


I'm sorry things degenerated for a while there into the equivalent of a TV clip show - sort of like that early Simpsons episode where Homer ends up in the hospital and instead of an actual story line, they just revisit past episodes? I remember what a shock that was, but how they turned it into comedy gold. No such luck here.

Ashamed to say I even sunk to re-using a photo from a post a year or two ago. But all that's behind us now, because I'm on the mend. Maybe I had a sort of revelation one night when I was feeling sorry for myself. It went something like: "Oh fuck it. Just...FUCK IT! I'm alive, I'm reasonably healthy if kind of banged up, I've got a lovin' man beside me, my family's all doing okay, we have a buyer for the house. What is, is."

Thought of stopping the blog temporarily because things are in such a state of flux right now, and it's hard to concentrate. But I'd miss it. Just as it's never a good idea to question the meaning of life while applying eyeliner in a dank basement dressing room with only beer crates for company, so it's best not to examine too closely why I share details of my life in public while sitting in a roomful of moving boxes.

More soon.

Monday, June 27, 2011

In The Club

end of summer

I went out for the first time in a week yesterday - the neighbors were having their annual get-together. Angeline from next door had been over to check on my progress and insisted we come. She said everyone would understand.

A little old lady demanded an explanation for my bandaged and battered appearance after I'd done the obligatory kissing, very gingerly, uncertain that we'd ever met before. "Chacun son misère," she said.

"To each his own misery." I'd finally made it.

France is full of little expressions that sum it all up. I guess American English is too ("it is what it is" springs to mind). I try to stay out of territory covered by pat phrases, but sometimes it's nice to be in the club. For a little while, anyway.

We told all the neighbors we'd be leaving soon, and that they will have a lovely new family in our place. With kids. I remembered Hazel joining us at the first neighborhood meal, and how she fled in tears from the farci and the toothless as they drank soup and red wine. The new family, will they join us, next year? the neighbors asked. They are really sad to see us go, and we feel sad too.

They've lived here there whole lives. Not much changes. They accepted us and now we're moving on. Their lives are very different from ours and in the end, there was never much to talk about.

The pears on the tree out back are coming in. When they ripen and drop, we'll be gone.

I get a little misty about that, and then remember what a nuisance they were, those damn pears. If you leave them on the ground, they ferment and gather wasps.

Maybe some day I'll feel like I have time to go collecting, cooking and preserving pears. But not yet. I have other things I want to do first.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Today I Am A Man

grain de beauté

Today's the day for Fete de la Musique in France. A few years back I wrote about about how Eric and I rented an electrogenerator and spent the day and night traveling around the area, setting up and playing for the few. A memorable experience but a one-time only thing.

I noticed this year what was supposed to be a day of musical anarchy has gotten even more and more organized - June 21 falls on a Tuesday, so posters and flyers advertise Fete de la Musique events for the 18th and the 25th because those are Saturdays and people are more likely to go out. C'mon, go nuts for a change, open the shutters and leave your house on a Tuesday night! Maybe in Paris but not in the countryside. So what's the point of this thing again?

We could have fired up the old electrogen today, but I'm recovering from Mohs surgery and that's a good excuse, right? I'd been fretting about this skin cancer thing - BCC, the non-deadly kind. Just a tiny little pore on the side of my nose that the dermatologist with the lousy bedside manner biopsied and sent me for surgery. I've had a hell of a time finding the most effective kind in France. Asking various doctors about what is absolutely standard these days (this is for surgery on the face, where conserving as much tissue as possible is what you'd hope for) I was told - nope, not in France. I asked if it was because the complexions are heartier, less pale, so less incidence of skin cancer? Not at all. It's socialized medicine. Mohs is too costly.

Going to the doctor in France is a mix of brusqueness and care that it is hard to imagine in the US, where health care is huge business. If they're going to sock you with a bill they better provide some service. It all works very differently here. The first time we saw a doctor for a checkup, I couldn't believe it when I called for an appointment - "Can you come in...tomorrow morning?" Expecting a delay of several weeks, I figured this doctor must not have any patients, but that's just standard. She took so much time with each patient, I wondered if perhaps she was charging by the hour. Then it came time to pay and we gave her our euros and she pulled a little pouch out from her desk and made change. I double-checked that there was hand soap at the sink, thinking of her handling money all day. When she retired, I called asking if she had any recommendations, anyone who was handling her patients now, taking over the practice? No. Nope, sorry, can't help you there.

Everything's covered, or almost covered, by the system. But when you get a gynecological exam or mammogram, you the patient are not covered - literally: no robe, no sheet, just drop your clothes right there in a corridor. But if you need a taxi, or a nurse to visit you at home - just call! It's taken care of.

I ended up finding a hospital in Bordeaux that does Mohs surgery so we drove there yesterday morning. I'd called beforehand, just trying to verify that I had an appointment, and did I need to know anything - this is surgery we're talking about. Nothing but irritation from the nurses.

But when I was under the knife (and it was a knife and it was awful and I'll never go through anything like that again without being unconscious. That option was not available to me nor were tranquilizers which would have been welcome. I can understand much better now the idea of cardiac arrest on the operating table. I prayed, I vowed to be a force for good, I imagined myself a soldier on a Civil War battlefield and thought "this has to be better than that." I apologized to the nurse for being anxious. "Vous avez raison" she said - you've got reason to be - I'm not sure if that made me feel better or worse) anyway, the nurse was holding my hand and being so sweet. The doctor took the whole day with me in between sending to the lab. He told me several times I'd done the right thing because the cancer was very deep. He stitched me up and left me so swathed in bandages I can only think of that poster of the Phantom of the Opera. They gave me a private room to lay down in in between cutting and sewing and for Eric to wait in. I told him after it was one of the worst days of my life but at least he was there to share it with.

So no Fete de la Musique today. I hope it's alright to write about this. I hope the stitches will be okay and the scar will fade or if it doesn't that I'll look dangerous in a chic way. Or chic in a dangerous way. The nurse is coming over tomorrow. In some rite of passage I never wanted (who does?), today I am a man.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Chain

I just told my next door neighbor that we're moving.

"C'est pas vrai!" She had tears in her eyes. I'd told her a while back it was inevitable. But I don't think she'd registered it until now.

But all that hard work that Eric did on the place, she said.

True, the man worked like a demon. But wasn't I there too? Is it just this part of France? Around here, when a man is on a ladder or loading wood into the barn or leaning out of a window painting, it's "oh, isn't he wonderful - look at him working". When a woman has a paintbrush in her frozen claw or is hacking through waist-high weeds with a scythe, it's "il faut travailler" (it's necessary to work).

I wanted to scream, then remembered I don't have to - we're leaving.

Instead I hugged my neighbor and told her I'll miss her. Which I will.

We have a buyer. We have somewhere we want to move. I looked for a video of this Fleetwood Mac song because I'd heard of a real estate chain but never knew how stressful it was to be in one. A rather short chain, thank God, but a chain nonetheless. Then there's doctors' appointments and visa interviews. Hoping all the pieces hold until the thing completes and we can move forward. Until then I'll have a hard time writing about it.

There were several live versions, but this has to be the best - Lindsey Buckingham has always been one edgy dude but here he outdoes himself.

I feel downright calm in comparison.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

One Of The Flock

I was running away from the news, from the computer. And looking for a snack.

Sunday afternoon in rural France. Good luck finding anything to eat. The shops and restaurants are closed. Most of the bars are closed. And even the ones that are open don't have much in the way of food. Some peanuts maybe?

Then I remembered - it's springtime! Vide greniers, flea markets. People selling old stuff and always a few tables with cans of foie gras, cassoulet. Bottles of wine, apples. Usually a cake or two.

So I was navigating the tiny roads, fuel gauge on E but no gas station between me and the closest flea market. I figured it was worth the risk, to get a snack.

I never imagined I could enjoy driving a manual car - not back when I was learning. But now that I know the roads, where to brake and shift, through muscle memory as much as anything, I feel capable when driving again. The way I used to do back on the open roads of the USA.

Back. I'm going back! I can't stop thinking about it. Everything I do I'm thinking, "if all goes well I won't be here this time next year." And this (brake, shift, shift, accelerate) will all be a memory. I am ready to go.

Round the corner in front of Chateau de Brie, start to descend and there's a car in front of me, slowing down. A flock of sheep is being driven along the road. They're so cute.

And annoying. Really annoying. The woman urging them on isn't really urging hard enough. She's smiling a little too smugly, and her clothes aren't exactly farmer clothes. A sheep farmer come lately?

At first I'm smiling too. Look at the little one, trailing behind his mother. So cute.

Then I'm cursing, the same as if I was stuck in traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge or on Chagrin Boulevard or Hillsboro Road. "Would you move your fucking....sheep?!"

Finally make it to the flea market. And it's like every person I ever met around here is there. Not friends I've made but people like the butcher and the massage therapist, and the evil boulanger and the kooky woman who used to sell old furniture. I'm thinking maybe I died, back by that flock of sheep. It could be that this is what it's like in purgatory, because nobody that I really really love is there, and we're all going to be stuck together for eternity unless I make amends for...things.

I see Nick and Angie and that hints at a more promising forever, but they're headed in the other direction. Then I hear Shania Twain blaring out of tinny speakers that are hanging everywhere. That would be about right, for purgatory. I like Shania okay, but with all the country music I love to choose from, it would be pretty sad if she was the soundtrack I had to purify myself to.

I hear the thumping of boots on a wooden stage, and across a field I see a team of country line dancers. All togged up in jeans, plaid western shirts and matching straw cowboy hats, they are kicking and stepping, slapping leather and turning and clapping, then changing position and doing it all again. Brows furrowed, mouths set in grim determination, eyes staring straight ahead - they don't appear to be having much fun. I see the woman who owns the lingerie shop execute a joyless heel and toe. The man who works at the dump, the lone male dancer, is the only one who smiles.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Inside I do a little of both while dialing in "wry smile" for a facial expression. Then I find the table with the cakes. I buy some and hurry back to the car, which I wisely parked facing away from the fete. I must've known I'd want to flee.

"If the car starts, and has enough fuel to get home, I promise to be a better person," I pray. I turn the key.

Then I see Bob Dylan's "Modern Times" on the seat. I put it into the player. "Thunder On The Mountain" comes in. It's not purgatory any more. Or if it is, it's not so bad, because someone I really really love is there.

The lousy and wicked and perfect things people do and the future in front of me and Eric, and whatever missteps behind and ahead - like a good acid trip, Bob still helps me feel like it's all leading to something. I guess that's called hope? Happy Birthday Bob.

I'm tempted to go back to the flea market and force them to stick Dylan in the player and see how the line dancers do. But the gas tank light just came on.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nostalgia In Advance

In the glow of an imminent departure, everything's bright and beautiful. The same thing happened when I was getting ready to leave Cleveland - all of a sudden the snow melted and even surly postal clerks were smiling. It's even more so here in France.

Rural Backstage

french toast
French Toast

in bloom
Blooming Courtyard

Noilly Bottle

old gear
Old Gear

The gear may be old, but the man is not. Happy Birthday Eric, the sweetest boy in the world - you only improve with age, like a vintage tape machine (well, maybe not this one...)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


soulac turret

Eric and I took a spontaneous trip to the Atlantic coast last weekend. Spontaneous in that we knew for weeks we wanted to go somewhere but couldn't make plans until exactly one hour before leaving. "Let's go to Soulac-sur-Mer", Eric suggested. He'd mentioned the place before. I had been looking at the Ile de Re further up the coast near La Rochelle, or Cadaques on the Mediterranean, on the way to Barcelona. But the drives were a little long - Soulac is a short ferry ride away from Royan, which is an easy two hour drive to the west.

soulac sculpture

After the hills and valleys, cows and old stone of the Limousin, the Atlantic Coast is like going forward in time from the sixteenth century to the part of the twentieth century when France resembles the France I imagined from new wave films. Royan was bombed at the end of World War II and it's now mostly white modern 50's buildings, brisk and stylish so you want to turn your shirt collar up, toss a sweater over your shoulders and put on some big sunglasses. Which is what most of the people on the ferry across the Gironde estuary had done, that very definite French way of declaring "It's the weekend now, and we are, tous, at ease. "They look like a SpecSavers ad," Eric said.

Soulac is a pretty little beachside town, with brick cottages built at the beginning of the 20th century. It felt like a bit of a secret, with very few hotels and a small commercial district with shops and restaurants. A large covered market building, mairie and ancient church. With a lot of the houses still closed up for the winter, it had an air of mystery and possibility that made it the perfect getaway; I immediately started imagining our new life there.

souvenir soulac

Dangerous, traveling without instruments. With only an overnight bag each and two rusty bicycles, a person starts getting ideas:

Eric's a rogue handyman with a glamorous past. Is he English? No one knows for sure, but he has a Hemingway air as he cycles around with his toolkit, wearing movie star shades bought, in another life, in Los Angeles.

I'm a disheveled seaside painter, with fraying vintage jackets and paint-spattered jeans, hair perpetually tangled from the salt air. I pedal my bike in gold antique platform sandals, rumored to have belonged to Carole Lombard.


Together we own a junk shop, and this being a seaside resort town, none of the junk is cheap. We drive a Mehari and live in the one block long "poor side of town" in a beatnik shack with a gravel garden. Every few months, we take a ferry back to civilization and break out the guitars, performing to an adoring crowd.

soulac porch


But, after eating at a couple of good restaurants, locating the hipster-ish bar, biking in the direction of the "naturist" beach but giving up because it was too far, walking one more time down all the streets of the town and bumping into the same people again and again, it was time to go.

We drove back through the Medoc, passing chateau after chateau - not the rustic, humble chateaux I'm used to seeing daily but huge, imposing structures, each attached to a famous vineyard: Lafite Rothschild, Latour. Like the war memorial and the gun turret painted with a cheery beach scene in Soulac, I made a note to "look all that up". If I got it together, all the looking up of battles and chateaux, historical artifacts and memorials (churches, not so much, maybe I spent too much time in them as a kid for them to hold any interest or magic), I'd reconstruct the Second World War and probably the one before that too, and the last several centuries.

Back home, I wondered if property in Soulac was really as expensive as they say (it is) and whether it might be a little bit sleepy in a town whose population shrinks to under 2000 in the winter (it would). But I held on to my beach life fantasy for two days, until Pilates class. Annie the instructor had us in an upside down pose where she came around asking each person a question, to make sure you were holding your neck correctly.

"What did you do this past week?" she asked Julia. "A lot of cooking and gardening and a lot of laundry and cleaning," Julia answered. A pause. "A lot of drinking."

"How many new lambs this spring?" she asked Helen. "28! A pretty good year." I was momentarily in an episode of The Archers.

I half-prepared an answer, about a weekend holiday in Soulac. It was like back when Sister Mary George would come around and sing to each fifth grader "What did you have for break-fast?" and you had to sing back "Orange juice and instant oat-meal!" even if you had rocky road ice cream mashed up in a glass of milk.

But I knew deep down what my question would be: "When's the next concert, Amy?"

Relieved to have my own special question, relieved to return to my familiar role (I've got a gig, therefore, I have a purpose in life) but a little sad to see the gold platforms vanish in a puff of smoke, I answered: "This Friday at the tea shop in Piegut - it's gonna be great!"

gold shoes

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Doing The Math

This weekend, I got a message from Angel Dean that the great bluegrass musician, singer, songwriter and social activist Hazel Dickens had died. (I wrote about Hazel, and Angel too, a few years ago here). Angel and I corresponded about how much Hazel had meant to us, and how when we met her years back, she'd seemed ancient. And how we'd both been shocked to realize she was the same age then as we are now.

How could Angel and I know, looking at 52 or 53 year old Hazel, what incredible stores of energy and creativity and whatever else can be inside a person, even as the physical side is ebbing a bit - how could we know she was not anywhere near finished - hell, she was only getting started in a way, giving what she had to give?

God, we were young then! Oh, we could be honored, and awestruck to be hanging out with someone who'd been where she'd been and done what she'd done. But how, at the age of 28 or 29, could we imagine what someone that old had left to do on this earth?

I've been thinking about Hazel a lot the last few days, how she never stopped playing and singing but kept on performing right up to her death at the age of 75.

Then today I was in the post office, standing behind a man, who was giving his date of birth to the lady behind the counter. "Mille neuf cent soixante quatorze" I heard him reeling off. Let's see, 1900 and 60 plus 14 so that makes it 19...74.

Shit. He's young! Not even 40. I was 15 in 1974. I look at his face. He looks, um, middle-aged. That makes me...old?

If not old, older. Always, always older than I think I am.

Got back home and saw on Twitter: RIP Poly Styrene, age 53.

No! She was just releasing her first album in many years. Recent photos show a lovely, enchanting woman with lots to give. From the beginning, in X-Ray Spex, here was a brain at work, questioning, challenging everybody's idea of what a girl was, what advertising did, the modern world. Saw her play at CBGB, one of the English bands we all would've killed to see but this show was more 3D, more fun, more colorful, more energetic and exciting than anyone could've expected (I just found this recording of it). She raised a daughter, had problems and was coming back again, with experience and wisdom and power.

53. Not old. Young.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Tao of Bort

After more than four years, we finally got around to finding the Limoges Emmaus the other day. Emmaus is like the big Salvation Army or Goodwill and there's one for every city. Unlike in America or the UK, where every town has dozens of thrift shops or charity shops, people in France must hang onto their old crap (because the new crap costs so much?). The Emmaus sells disused furniture, bikes, bathtubs etc. We ain't buying anything these days, except if it helps "staging" to easier sell the house.

The Emmaus was disappointing, though we got a nice old planter for 10 euros. But it was way out in the country, and we took a wrong turn trying to get back on the autoroute. I was glad we did, because we saw this weird place, like a guardhouse, sitting out in the middle of nowhere. "Bort", the sign read. A pleasant place, disconnected from everything but the occasional curious passerby and any contact with the outside world generated by the inhabitants within.


I can't get "Bort" out of my mind. It's sort of like "Limbo", where unbaptized babies went. Cushier than purgatory. We're not out of here, but we're not over there yet. Maybe we're in Bort.

It's an oddly relaxing place to be for a little while. Whereas before I might have taken any negative or disappointing event (the mean lady in the cafe, the lousy couscous dinner in a local restaurant, the "Le Gibson" bar we went along to looking for a gig because we heard the owner loved music and had a collection of Gibsons turning out to be a tiled billiard room with a wall erected across what had once been a stage, because "music oh la la, that's too much stress and all those charges, non merci, not for us" , the overpriced market full of sunburned English people, the boulangeries putting baguettes in bags printed with ads for new fireplaces and housing developments) to heart, in my current state it's all a big laugh.

spring plants

Those broiled English are now potential clients for the house (hallooo, you wouldn't by any chance be looking for a lovely house in the French countryside would you? we may start to grab people by the arm and drag them along against their will to take a look) The couscous night was fun, because it meant not having to cook and we won't have to do it again. The cafe lady is miserable to everybody! If it weren't for the stress and uncertainty, I'd say that living like you're about to move isn't a bad way to go - we've got a clean, decluttered house with a nice kitchen, trees and garden moderately tamed, flowers in planters. The CDs are organized now, so every time I get in the car I grab something to listen to. I'm making a little money selling old clothes I haven't worn in years. I even painted the rusty cafe table and chairs for outside, something I've wanted to do for ages but couldn't find the time to make it a priority.

yellow table

We eat croissants and chocolate and pastries to keep our morale up, I drink wine when I want to, we take walks for our esprit. In other words, we're being kind to ourselves during this transitional time. While still trying to get work done.

"It's a shame," a French friend said. "You speak French a lot better now, just when you're getting ready to leave!" Because the pressure's off, it's just for the fun of it now. I don't have to integrate or fit in.

I don't know how long this calm will last.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Days Of Our Lives

Reaching for a bottle of balsamic vinegar in the supermarket yesterday, I decided to go with the smaller bottle. Not for economy's sake but in the belief that I can control my future by adapting the container sizes: if a large bottle takes up to eight months to finish, isn't there a chance we might have to throw it out when it comes time to move? Can always buy another bottle if we're still here.

It's a life of more uncertainty than usual right now as people come and look at the house. The more viewers we can get, the better - somebody is bound to want this place. But it does make it hard to know how to plan anything involving travel, or being in a certain place at a certain time.

Friday we crossed one hurdle by getting Eric's visa petition into the US Embassy in Paris. Pulling all the paperwork together, getting the correct very specific photos, showing up during the one hour they were accepting them this month...we had to restrain ourselves from doing a buck and wing and raising the roof in the waiting area when they called us back in and said they had everything they needed for now. It was pretty cute when Eric asked the guy didn't they want to quiz us on our favorite films and record albums (we'd agreed in advance that "Who's Next" was an acceptable answer).

It was perfect timing that Kid Congo Powers and The Pink Monkeybirds were playing in the city the night before - it was great getting a chance to go out and see a sharp band play. So much fun, soul and charisma from Kid and his men. The audience was a laugh too, like central casting had gotten a call "we need a rock audience!" and sent out an assortment of types: skinny goth girls, shirtless guys who do that thing where you raise your arm and shake your hand in the air while holding out thumb and forefinger, lots of men with ponytails, pouting French Lolitas, pinstripe-jacketed rockers with tight black jeans and perfect shag haircuts, your classic Paris guy in white shirt, cashmere v-neck sweater and haughty expression and inexplicably a man in white puffy shirt and heavy brown leather jerkin and knee breeches - either an aspiring New Romantic revivalist or chateau tour guide off hours.

We liked it so much we drove a few hours to see them again in La Rochelle Saturday night. I forget how inspiring it is to see and hear someone really good play live - that's something I know is missing from my life out in rural France. Got up the next morning dying to play guitar, write and record. And there was another person coming to look at the house.

Like sand through an hour glass so goes the Modena balsamic vinegar...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

It's A G.A.S.

cassette wall innsbruck
Wall of cassettes in Innsbruck
Back home trying to do my taxes and suddenly I'm reliving 2010 - revisiting a Starbucks in Wisconsin Dells, a Sleep Inn near Baton Rouge and a bad Mexican place in Chicago courtesy of an envelope full of receipts - when I'd hoped to be recounting the tour highlights of the past few weeks.

Is it enough to say it was a good trip? I'd always heard that Germany, Austria, and Switzerland were good places to play. Never got there until my late forties and now early fifties but I suppose that's just the way it was meant to be. The audiences are with you each step of the way, whether it's a black rock box or the swinging El Lokal bar/restaurant/club in Zurich or Dachau Cultural Center with the mayor of that infamous town in attendance.

cafe jelinek vienna
Beautiful Cafe Jelinek in Vienna
Maybe it's this widening streak of grey in my hair, or living so far from cultural activity, nightlife and civilization that when I do stick my head up from the verdant trou that is rural France I've aged another year while they keep sending in younger versions of everything else: ultra-modern rest services on the autobahn and soundmen who've gone to school to learn to do sound but lack the requisite people skills and promoters with abundant hair and chic glasses - the gatekeepers or facilitators or whatever you call em are now decades younger and I start to think we're creeping to elder territory, like "look at those cute old people, when they're in motion you wouldn't believe they've been around as long as they have!"

One night in a German hotel there was an arts program on TV with this group called Kitty, Daisy & Lewis - I think we might have played the same festival in the UK in the last year or two so I remembered the name. A guy and two girls with a rockabilly look, sitting around singing and playing. Then it showed them on stage doing a concert and they had an older couple playing upright bass and guitar. I don't speak German but it sounded like they said it was the kids' parents, then they showed a picture of The Raincoats and I thought wait, that woman on bass looks familiar - she's Ingrid, that played drums with the Raincoats! What talented kids she has, and they seem to be doing great, with some help from mom and dad whether they need it or not. Evolution.

Or a couple of times I got all excited in clubs when I heard recordings of my songs played by young women - wait, I didn't know someone covered Knapsack! Then realizing it's only a fifteen-years younger version of...myself.

When we checked into a rather downhome hotel in Mannheim, we got a kick out of the crusty proprietor and his chain-smoking wife with her big glasses, dyed red hair and hacking voice - "did you get a load of those old characters? What a hoot!" until the lovely promoters at Blau said watch-cap-wearing ex-sailor and his broad (who sounded like a German version of one of Marge Simpson's sisters) had phoned to let him know that an elderly musician couple had checked in - us.

We're the older folks now. It's been in the works for a while, but it's finally starting to make some kind of sense. But only if I can get to grips with it as a wonderful opportunity. I kept noticing, on this trip, all the songs where I'm a mother and I think "what will I be next?" What is there, before Crone?

A gig in Berlin gave us the chance to visit our French pals Nico and Sabine, who've opened a nice bar and restaurant, L'Origine Du Monde, there. It was great to see them so excited about their new life, after the sleepiness of Chalus. How brave they are - if you're in Berlin, stop in for a drink or something to eat, or for one of Nico's French film nights!

nina and nico
Nico & his daughter Nina at L'Origine Du Monde, Berlin
We had to share room in the Ford Escort with Keith Richards, I've been reading his autobiography for weeks now and it's one of the best musician books ever. I don't know how they did it but he brought a whole life and world alive - you are there, inside photos you've stared at and records you thought you knew by heart. He's made me laugh and cry and want to pick up the guitar - I honestly never expected it. What a guy, and here I'd always thought he was so cool. He's not! I guess that's what makes him the coolest of all. I'll be sad when it ends and Eric will be out of a job because he's made a near fulltime occupation out of singing the chords to Brown Sugar every time I even reach for "the book".

herr und sandalen
What would Keith do?

Okay, I've got to get back to adding up these receipts - here's one for that Premier Travel Inn. Remember that one? It was just like the other ones, only instead of the painting with the two trees, there was one with three trees.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Climb Every Mountain

I can finally say we put the house on the market, yesterday. All the work of the past few months has resulted in the cleanest, sparsest, most orderly and attractive place I've ever lived. Oozing with character. But it doesn't matter what we think, it's what somebody else thinks! So if you know anyone looking for a charming house in the French countryside, send them here

Have been lax about posting (or doing much of anything that doesn't involve a paint or scrub brush and some practicing) but wanted to share the news and also post our tour dates - we're just about to drive to Innsbruck. God that sounds glamorous...maybe not the driving part, but having been there I have to say it is a fabulous town and I'm excited. Though the next date is Dachau - what will that be like? That is part of the fun of touring - heading into the unknown, just a woman and a man with a dream, some guitars and other stuff, crammed into a car...

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby tour dates

Wed 16 Mar Verein PMK Innsbruck, Austria
Thu 17 Mar Kultur-Schranne Dachau, Germany
Fri 18 Mar Treibhaus Luzern, Switzerland
Sat 19 Mar El Lokal Zurich, Switzerland
Sun 20 Mar B-72 Vienna, Austria
Tue 22 Mar Kampnagel Hamburg, Germany
Wed 23 Mar Crystal Club Berlin, Germany
Fri 25 Mar Blau Mannheim, Germany

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ami 8

What day is it? I can't keep track anymore. We get up every day, put on painting clothes and attack another part of the house. We'd hoped to have the place up for sale by February (they say that and March are the big months for home buyers looking) but it wasn't ready. We're getting close now. Starting to put things in boxes, to "declutter". We're both envisioning a moment, not far off, where all we do is maintain the house. Follow each other around to tidy up - "Don't put that cup there!" I'll screech before lunging towards the coffee table with a bottle of ammonia and a rag. Eric will follow me around with his paint can and brush, dabbing at scuffs and marks on walls and woodwork. We'll have finally arrived, ie become just like our neighbors.

I don't see much right now - except to stand in store aisles staring at cleaning products and wood treatments. When we watch a film I'm examining brushstrokes and beams on the screen, wondering what color they used on that tongue and groove, debating beeswax vs. linseed oil. And I don't talk much, except to groan. Am I too ...mature for this? It's probably like moving your own stuff - there comes a point where you think "no way am I ever doing this again. Next time, I'll let the professionals handle it." But who has money for that? I console myself that there's honor in it, crawling around with brushes and rags in a place you've lived for a few years, a place you thought you knew. Seems you don't really know a place, not til you've undercoated or scrubbed every square inch.

And an old French house? It's only a step or two above cave dwelling. Rocks heaped together with dirt. Wood that's practically decomposing. Angles that barely intersect they're so acute. And that's just the layer from the 19th century. Before plastic was invented. When the modern stuff came in, they embraced it with a vengeance, pasting vinyl onto anything that didn't move.

Maybe I've gotten off too easy all the other times I've moved from other places I've lived. That film The Great Escape, where they dig and tunnel and bide their time so they can get out? It's sort of like that, only hopefully no one dies in this one.

So this post is a brief postcard from a home improvement show you'll never see on TV. When Eric & I were touring the US in November, we were obsessed with HGTV and "House Of Bryan," where a macho builder and his ballerina wife were working on their dream home. There was all sorts of cutesy Venus and Mars stuff, where he let her have her way ("but honey, I neeeed the biggest fridge freezer ever made or everything's just going to suck so much " and it was implied that she gave him sex in return for keeping the little lady happy. I swear they even mentioned him having a man cave. We thrilled to every male and female cliche. Like I said, we'll never be a TV show, we're too much like a transgender version of Adam, the hapless apprentice. Not to imply that Eric isn't thrillingly macho when he's swinging a hammer. But then, so am I.

Every day I see this car, parked in the exact same spot in the next village over. Compact, red and beige mismatched panels and doors, black and white zebra print upholstery - Ami 8. I park next to it if I can, just to get a closer look. In another life it would be my car.

ami 8

In another life, I'd be a lady in a chic raincoat and scarf, driving my Ami 8 to the boulangerie, instead of a sad excuse for a shabby builder with permanent asscrack on display. The trees are almost all burned. So are the gloves.

gloves and matches

And when I want to get away from all the dust, I know where to go. There are plenty of places in rural France where I can feel completely alone, just me and the countryside. But for a particular, almost-urban thrill, I found the place to search for the meaning of life in the vortex of a spin dryer (one probably even big enough for Sarah, wife of Bryan) - just me in the car in a car park that is the anteroom of the loneliest laundromat in the world.

loneliest laundromat in the world

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Learning To Burn

It was a beautiful day in SW France today. A perfect day for burning things.

I needed a change from building, painting, trying to make the house look good. Mick had been around with the chainsaw and this weekend he'd come back with little bundles of sticks, fire starters, and a canister of gasoline.

With a garden full of felled trees, chopped ivy and branches, I thought all it would take was heaping it all up, pouring on some gas and tossing in a match. Who knew that destruction was such hard work?

There's an art to burning. It's hard work keeping the fire going when most of the wood is wet. The center of the pile burns, leaving a lattice work of scorched and untouched branches and Mick showed me how you have to keep moving things to the center.

Angeline our neighbor watched me over the fence, amused. "Amy, Amy!" she called. She was asking if we read the paper. I wondered if this was a good time to talk about current events or the weather but what she was trying to figure out was if we had any newspaper lying around. It seemed a little beside the point what with a whole yard full of stuff to burn but I didn't want to argue so I took her offering of the Sunday paper, tour a couple of pages off, twisted them up and shoved them in.

After a while, I was sweating and cursing as the fire threatened to die for the third or fourth time. "Amy, Amy!" I looked over my shoulder and Angeline was passing an old shovel full of burning coals towards me over the fence.

It must have come from their woodburner. She'd gone to all the trouble of scooping it out in the living room, carrying it outside and up the garden steps. I thanked her and dumped it on the fire, determined to get the thing going again so she wouldn't be disappointed. As I poked more branches in she urged me on. "De sous, Amy! De sous!" In? Under? On? I thought it meant beneath but when I tried that she kept shaking her head.

The fire got roaring again and then suddenly it was the most important thing in the whole world to keep it going. Hunching, bending, grabbing and shoving branches and trunks, clawing bunches of ivy - I couldn't stop. I thought of things I could or should be doing, productive things, but none of them mattered anymore.

I thought of civilization. Culture, books, art, music, machines - hadn't we come a lot further than this? Wood in fire. Must not let it go out. Keep it burning. To burn is to live.

Angeline had gone back into her house. Mick and Eric were safely inside the studio. I thought of Maria Schneider and Tura Satana, two bad-ass babes who died this past week. How each in their own odd way made being female more complex and interesting. I grabbed a twisted branch and plunged it into the fire. Then I kicked it in with my boot, as hard as I could.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ma Poubelle Nouvelle

It's kind of like the woodburner. Last year, just in time for my birthday, Eric hooked up the second hand one we'd found through the classified ads. It had been a dream of mine, after seeing them in so many homes out in the country - the pile of logs in a corner, a cozy glow through the glass front, the dry warmth and crackling and popping and smoky smell. This thing was going to change me, or my image of myself - it wouldn't just be practical, but impart a new calm and wisdom that can only be achieved by staring into the flames.

The reality was different: logs that wouldn't stay lit, cold ash and charred wood in the morning, mess everywhere and, when the fire was finally going, heat that chapped your face and made half the room a no-go area. While the rest of the house stayed cold.

I'm not saying all woodburners are bad. I've seen good ones that stay lit all night long, that really do keep the whole room and even the room with the chimney running through above perfectly warm. This is a case of wrong woodburner, wrong room, bad logs.

That's how it is with France. Maybe I had a dream, a fantasy about the place. It's a common one for Americans, and the English too. You just say the words "I live in France" and people get a faraway look. They see Belmondo, think of the best meal they ever had in a tiny place they could never find again, picture Jeanne Moreau in a newsboy cap and Bardot in ballerina slippers and striped top. Or a towel, or nothing - sex. Countryside and castles, great thinkers. Wine and endless conversation. Art, intellect, sophistication. Freedom from pointless striving. A lot of people come here for that. I can't say I thought it through but knew it was something I wanted. Who wouldn't?

And all those things are real, at some point in time. But so are houses like peach-colored boxes, mountains of paperwork, websites that go nowhere, restaurants with fluorescent lighting and tiled floors and some of the worst food I've eaten in my life. Sidewalks with fences and planters and concrete balls stuck smack in the middle. Supermarkets with sullen checkout girls and food way past the sell-by date, markets with the same overpriced stuff you can buy at the supermarket. Stifling rules for everything. A general joylessness, or downright depressed feeling, almost everywhere you go. When there is somewhere to go - finding a place that's open when you want to go out is often impossible.

But honestly, I could probably take it all in stride, for the beauty, the idea, the genuinely lovely people I've met - if we could work here. If the gigs weren't so difficult.

Not just difficult - pointless.

Take Thursday night. We knew going into it that it was a pub, an ersatz Irish place run by an ex-madam and her husband, in the town of Angouleme. Last time we'd played over the din of talkers and drunks with a few actual listeners while the owner shook her estimable cleavage. Not great but not soul-destroying. It was my birthday and even though I would have liked a nice night out on the town I'd started to look forward to playing. We were hoping for a little more of a cultured crowd with the Festival de la Bande Desinee in town.

That brought a few people in, beyond the ploucs with money who make up a good part of the population (plouc is a kind of French hick). But in general it was a tough bar gig, and we made it through two sets with some enjoyment. No big deal, just a paying gig.

Hung around talking to some of those who'd been into it. Packed up and ready to start loading out at 1:00 AM or so when the ex-madam called me back behind the bar - time to get paid.

She wanted to know what our guarantee was and I told her. Then she started demanding how we could charge something like that and only play for two hours. She'd had too much too drink and kept counting out the money and shaking her head and barking at me that we had stopped playing at midnight! midnight! What kind of value was that? I asked her why she hadn't just asked us to play longer, when our stuff was still set up? I knew that it was because she'd been too busy carousing and hadn't been paying attention. Her husband was too drunk to get involved in anything that involved putting words together by now. She sort of threw the money at me and brought out their younger nephew who kept asking if I could honestly say we'd done enough work to earn the guarantee. Like he wanted to shame me into backing down.

But why were we having this discussion anyway? There is no way they would ever value what we had done and what we have to offer beyond it providing some noise and color for a corner of their lousy bar. So yeah, we got paid what we were supposed to. I'm not completely depressed now because we've already made the decision to leave.

Wrong woodburner, wrong room. Bad logs. We just don't fit here, as musicians. We're not "rock" enough, or "garage" enough, or "60's" enough, or "punk" enough. Or "musicianly" enough. We don't do enough songs everybody knows. And even if we did there's no place to play. Over the last four years the number of places willing to put on music has dwindled to almost nothing.

I'm not harboring any illusions cause we've been all over the US and UK, Spain, Ireland, Germany, and things are tough everywhere. But I'm thinking of this year's birthday treat - a new kitchen bin.

A new poubelle is nothing to get excited about. No fantasies of snuggling around the kitchen, gazing at the garbage can, taking turns putting things in it.

But a few days before my birthday this year, Eric installed one under the kitchen sink. You open the door and it swings out. I don't have to trip over the bin or look at it when I'm not using it. I had no expectations but the thing gives total satisfaction. Because it works.

That's all I want, when we move away from here. Something that works.