What I love more than any of this is joy. JOY. And I've been riveted by the teenage girl who's been called the Cinderella story. I'm riveted because she's fresh and new, but more so because she doens't know better yet. I love that she's outspoken like a Mall girl. "Oh my God I'm going to be in the Quarterfinals!" kind of outspoken. Just heartfelt and honest. Open. That expression above, the outstretched arms, the falling of the racket behind her, the half cry half yelp on her face. The sheer JOY. Ecstasy without knowing anything other than that moment of pure bliss and effort and possibility of what might happen next. I love it. I'm so attracted to it. I want in. All in. To that outstretched arm. To the tears I let fall after she won, not knowing anything about her or really caring much about the tournament. Only caring about the drama, the excitement of the newness of that feeling. That someone is embodying that for the rest of us. While we forget that its possible to be completely surprised and overwhelmed by our own power for greatness....
Monday, September 7, 2009
Today I was packing boxes and watching the U.S. Open. My family, I should admit, is a tennis family. My father and my Uncle (his twin) had a long-standing match going, competitively, for probably 40 years. As long as I remember. I think my beloved uncle died a match up on my father, which I'm sure, will irk my father until the day he meets brother Will at the gates of heaven to argue that last baseline shot. I am not a great tennis player, but to this day, my father always says that I could have been a ranked high school player had I spent more time on my backhand than learning the clarinet. I know he's proud of me for what I do, but I'm sure I would have given him more than a gleam had I played more tennis. He loves tennis like I love drop D tuning. My cousin is an excellent player. My brother-in-law has become an excellent player (important for the fitting in). I have become a decent 'few times a season' player, the kind of player my father would say 'could be the real deal if I'd get in more practice on my serve'. That's ok. I get it. I love tennis. I love guitar more.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
You can talk to me all you want about structure and how the lyric needs to fit the melody and it all should sit really clear in a form and sit nicely and hopefully within a 3:30 minute structure. And dear god write a hummable and clearly memorable chorus that everyone will get the first time around and sing along to. Write something universal, yet personal. With prosody and a clear rhyme scheme. I get that and I aspire to that...sometimes...
But you know, those kind of writers don't jab me in the gut -- always (with the exception of Darrell Scott, who slays me almost all the time, and Beth Nielsen Chapman who makes me weep like a teenager).
Then someone vague comes along and sticks a fucking needle of mysterious real truth in my aching heart.
Like Bon Iver on a song mysteriously titled "Re: Stacks" that runs over 5 minutes long and is so simple I could play it. Writing from a cabin in Wisconsin (sounds like a guy I want to have a conversation with, from my cabin in Shandaken...same winter, both break up albums, but seriously, his ep is something I can only wish for...the winter beauty, the spareness, the empty space of ache and loss)
This my excavation and today is Qumran
Everthing that happens from now on
This is pouring rain
This is paralyzed
I keep throwing it down two-hundred at a time
Its hard to find it when you knew it
When your money's gone
And you're drunk as hell
On your back with your racks as the stacks as your load
In the back and the racks and the stacks are your load
In the back with your racks and you're unstacking your load
(and the last verse)
This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization
Its the sound of the unlocking and the lift away
Your love will be
Safe with me
Friday, September 4, 2009
Funny thing, all these people saying that I will "fit" in Nashville, when I don't really see it. I don't hear true country in my voice or my writing. I just hear this mix of all that's in my head, from Dolly to Joni to The Replacements and Steve Earle and me trying to imitate Jonathan Byrd at times or me trying to do my best Townes or Leonard or me trying to do my best imitation of the Amy Speace that's somewhere in there that is the best of the best of me. I remember my early days of this muse, the UrbanMuse, with Rachel Sage and Jenny Bruce and Amy Fairchild and Jo Davidson and Jennifer Marks and Sarah Lentz and Karen Jacobsen. I had pretty much just started off on this solo path, sitting in my Hudson Street apartment on the 4th floor, fingering out melodies on my guitar, doing shows I probably shouldn't have been booked at looking back with these scrappy songs and my scrappy style. Amy Fairchild was the cool chick on the morning bus into Manhattan and she saw me with my guitar one morning. I think I was at something called "The Panty Party" (don't ask...a silly thing, I was fully clothed and felt like an ass) and we recognized each other from the bus. She invited me to a salon gathering of women songwriters. This was way back. I had met Rachel Sage through my drummer Jagoda, but the other women I'd only heard of through things like Indiegrrl and listings on Pierre Jelenc's NYC "Gigometer". Intimidating, all of them. But we found our rhythm and it was a pretty powerful year for all of us, learning from each other in our rare meetings and rarer shows. I did feel like the baby of the gang. Felt like they each had found their voice and I was still barely scratching the surface. I remember one college show when Jo Davidson said something to me like "Oh. I finally get you." And I think it was because I was (can't believe I'm about to admit this) wearing overalls and pretty much not caring too much about "style" and I was singing these meandering story songs. I think she finally got that I was a folkie. Or country/folkie. Something like that. While the other women were pretty much pop/rock writers. I was definitely not that. I felt a bit like an outsider in the NYC scene. An outsider in the Boston scene, when I started playing there. Definitely an outsider in the Nashville scene when I started wandering south. At one point, hanging out in Texas, I felt like I fit mostly there: in Austin. But Austin is far from my family and too far from the mountains, so I never really thought of it as an option (until last month, hanging in Wimberly with Judy and Ray Wylie Hubbard...now that's a place I could dig my boots into).
In any event, I'm fine not really fitting. I used to worry too much about it. Damn, did I waste loads of hours from the ages of 12-30 worrying about fitting in. Somewhere lately I decided that query was about as useful as knowing if Brad and Angelina are having problems. Or watching the evening news. Useless time fillers. Thank you to all of you who have written that you hear that I'll fit in Nashville. I appreciate that. I'm not sure I get it, but I'll accept it. I think I'll fit fine in East Nashville. And I think its an interesting place to figure some shit out. At the very least, it will be a good adventure and I'm always up for adventure.
Last night I was hanging out on the Lower East Side on Ludlow Street. I got here to NYC in 1991. I remember hanging out at Max Fish and the Pink Pony back then when Ludlow Street was mostly a wasteland and certainly there was nothing on Rivington except for The Hat, the worst Mexican food, but open late and was always packed. I did "Shakespeare In The Parking Lot" for 2 years with a little off off theater company called Expanded Arts (wonder whatever happened to the Artistic Director Jennifer, who cast me for the National Shakespeare Company's national tour of 'Much Ado' and 'Richard III' and then invited me into the Expanded Arts family, which I loved...). We rehearsed down on Ludlow, past Delancey. We drank late into the wee hours mostly at Motor City. Did someone really stand on one of the tables there and publicly (drunkenly) proclaim his love for me right before I got married? Or was that a dream I had? Did Vinnie and I really close down that bar night after night after night? Did we run lines over pints in the afternoon, Ben the bartender an actor as well? Its still there. I parked my Jersey-plated van there last night on that street, now chock-full of hip clubs and expensive restaurants and chic boutiques noted in glossy, fancy-smelling magazines. I was there to hang and swap songs with my favorite crew--Abbie and Anthony and AJ and Pete and Phil...the NYC folk contingent, who I usually see at festivals, late night campfires, conferences, or Jack Hardy's Monday night hang. We did a "show" of sorts at Googie's Lounge, above The Living Room, Abbie's "Slide Sessions" turned into an urban campfire. Then we drank too-expensive wines and Peroni's at a joint down the block, trying to have meaningful conversations over the din of Thursday night shouting. I realized last night that might be my last real hang night on the LES while I can still claim a bed of my own nearby to crawl into.
Or maybe not. Maybe there's no place to fit in and that's the point. Maybe each place is just a fitting in for a time, to grow into the shoes or the guitar or the stage or the job or the relationship. And maybe you just outgrow it and leave and find someplace else that feels like a suit that's a few sizes too big and you sit in that suit until your skin expands, your heart expands, into it, until that suit fits comfy like a cashmere glove. I'm not sure any suits gonna fit me for good. I might just keep growing out of these things every few years. Who knows. Maybe Paris will fit better next year. Or The Appalachian Trail for a 6 month trial fitting. Or maybe I'll finally give Brooklyn another shot.
In any event, I would love to impart this to Lexie, my 9 year old niece, who is about to enter that stage of caring about fitting in. That someday you will look back and be not only glad you were awkward and standing on the outside sometimes, but you will be grateful for it. I'm certainly glad that in my worst year of not fitting in (7th grade), my mother encouraged me to sit at the piano with her and sing at the top of my lungs "I Made It Through The Rain" by Barry Mannilow and believe me, I'm admitting that with gusto now, as uncool as it was, my mother was brilliant and Barry was just the perfect thing for that scared 13 year old.
In fact, excuse me while I go put on some "Mandy"....