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.