Musings about this long and winding road from a well-travelled, hopeful realist, wide-eyed and sometimes snarky Americana/folk singer-songwriter, trying to squeeze joyous meaning from every white dash on the highway...
There's nothing worse than being sick and not being home. It helps to have a friend with a guest room that's quiet and tucked away and keeps me from feeling like taking an extra day to rest is in my friends' way. But I'd like to be home in my bed with my dog with my blanky with my tea in my bathrobe. Free to cough out what I need to cough out and throw the kleenex on the floor. I wish I could sleep for 5 days. But I'm on tour and this is a good tour, a big tour and I can't afford to be sick. No one ever can, who WANTS to be sick? But now is a bad time, so I need this croup to flee my form. Tomorrow morn.
I'm writing in rhyme. I just noticed that. Maybe its the gunk in my head but I've been feeling a bit dull lately. I need to be reading better things than I am. I need to turn off the TV. I need to read poetry. Or learn French like I'd planned. I feel my days are passing by without me filling my head with important things and stories. I'd like to hold a vat of beauty in my brain, vast and wide like the plains, filled with phrases borrowed from Yeats or L. Cohen. I'd like to read something esoteric just for the knowingness of it. But I've been trolling the web, posting status updates like that would match what's in my head, but it fails to reach the thing I'm trying to reach beyond. Maybe its the aspirin tonight, makes my head spin and feel lighter than a balloon weighted with feathers where the feathers are soaked in wine, sticky like a brine...
That gathering of minds in Memphis was a tickler. I wish some of these great and wonderful musicians lived near me and we could gather each week at one of our houses and learn each other's music, or just read outloud Dante until it got boring. Break through something more than just the dithering around of refrains on my own here in this borrowed bed while I lay sick so sick I'd like to just play dead for a week and ignore the sunshine outside the window, the ocean so close by....
Imagine a hotel filled with banjos, dulcimers, acoustic guitars, upright basses, percussion instruments, lap steels, mandolins and harmonicas, 4 elevators with only 1 of them working by Saturday night, Red Bull and Bloody Mary stations, constant activity around the clock, no sleep, swapping songs, saying hello in hallways whilst running to the next 20 minute showcase in a small bedroom on the 19th floor with the beds pushed up against the wall and makeshift decorations, new friends and old friends and people you want to jam with and people you want to impress and musicians who make you want to put the guitar down and start all over again and musicians at the beginning who are just figuring it out and you want to lead them to the Wine & Nut Room to go hear Bill Kirchen jam at 4am.... Memphis, 2010. Thursday through Sunday. About 6 years ago someone heard me playing at Makor Club in NYC and literally demanded I go to a Folk Alliance Conference. Pretty much paid my way and I had no idea what I was getting into. The doors of the hotel room that day opened and it was a barrage of constant fiddling and picking and it was completely overwhelming, terrifying and exhilarating all at once, and I felt like I'd been invited into this not-so-little community that, until then, had been hidden from me. I've been back almost every year since. Now, I have to admit a love/hate relationship with conferences and "all things industry". I love the music. I love reconnecting (even briefly) with friends. I hate the chasing of the golden ring part of it. Over the years, I've developed little strategies of my own to push through, knowing that there will be great moments of joy and great moments of insecurity. Who wouldn't when surrounded by extraordinary talent at each turn. I usually dread the whole thing the day before I get there. There's a Home Depot thing that happens to me when stuck in a hotel room with that much energy and buzz. Its like you go into Home Depot for one thing, a shovel, perhaps, or a can of white paint. And you get in there and the lights and the high ceilings and the orange banners and aprons get to your eyes and then you are wandering in a daze, seduced by rakes and lightbulbs and wood blinds and 2x4's and you've forgotten what you came for in the first place. This is Folk Alliance to me. You need to be in Room 1924 at midnight but along the way, all these things just distract. I wouldn't be surprised to see Alice and the Rabbit at one of these things, holding out their "Drink Me" potions in the Red Bull cans....
But I have to say, this year was incredible. Maybe the best so far. Still a frenzy, but I felt calm and centered and I had a lot of shows to do, but I had time to hear new artists and I have to say, I was floored. Here's what I loved:
My roommate for the conference, Ana Egge blew me away. A quiet confidence, deep deep deep stuff, sensual badass guitar player, she moves like water, tall and loose, with a voice barely above a whisper. Words that betray a depth beyond their complete simplicity.
Anais Mitchell. Of whom I am always in awe. Her brain scares me. But it was her heart this time that poked a whole in my calm. I heard "The Shepherd" and maybe I had deep wells of something bubbling and didn't realize it, but I left the room and ran into Nels Andrews and started to weep. I had to go play my own showcase after that and I felt out of my own body, still affected by the beauty of that song. She makes me want to start over again. Or dig deeper.
Martyn Joseph, who I'd been hearing about for a year was a powerhouse of passion. Beautiful voice and playing, his songs slayed me. Richard Thompson-ish, tall and gorgeous and Welsh.
Danny Schmidt. See "Anais Mitchell". Same thing. I feel like someone slipped me into the cool club by allowing me to be on the same booking roster as incredible writers like Danny and Jonathan Byrd.
Others who I've known but loved again and again: Jonathan Byrd (as always), Sally Barris, Sally Spring, Jack Williams, Anthony DaCosta, Shelly King, Raina Rose, The Bowmans, StoneHoney, Dan Navarro, Kenny White, Doug & Telisha Williams.
A few of my favorite moments... My own showcase in the round with Sally Barris and Jonathan Byrd with John Abbey on upright bass was downright magical. I'm not sure what spell was in the room, that was packed but silent, but we stayed in a mood and let it carry us and I felt transformed by that show and I can't even claim my part in it because I'm sure it was Sally and Jonathan and I was just allowed to be there in the same musical space as them..... A quiet glass of wine with WFUV's John Platt, a longtime supporter of mine, where we stole away and got to know each other beyond music a bit more, which was just a lovely lovely thing .... An impossibly stolen moment with Rachel Klein from Ralph Jaccodine Management-- a REAL moment of connection with chaos swirling about us and we held strong as if in the center of the storm, determined to have a true conversation and we did....getting to hear a bit of Charlie Faye's showcase in the Wine & Nut Room, popping my head in for one Jim Boggia song, Ray Wylie Hubbard's formal showcase...Jon Vezner's showcase of all new songs with Dirje on cello playing beautifully....drinks and fun with Mary Granata and Joan Kornbluth....lunch at Cozy Corner BBQ with Sid Selvidge and Ward Archer and John Laird...swapping songs with Chuck Mead, Sid and Anais at the Center for Southern Folklore....actually getting 6 hours of sleep on Saturday night, emerging from my shower at 7am to have Ana and Melissa Greener and AJ Roach and Nels come in from their night that was still continuing, missing all the fun, but knowing I'd made the right decision for my health....
It makes me so happy to be able to have this wonderful world of whatever the hell FOLK means as my community. Especially in a world where everyone argues over genre distinctions and what this means and what this doesn't mean, its so refreshing to be in a place where a Genre can be an umbrella or a net that catches all sorts of stars that fall, from Sacred Steel to Bluegrass to Rock N Roll and to be able to be one little dot on that galactic map, finding my place out there, holding onto the others around me.
I haven't seen "Up In The Air" yet. I haven't seen a movie in a theater in, oh, about a year or so. But I saw the trailer and I have been thinking about the Clooney monologue about unpacking your metaphorical backpack that would be filled with all of the things you have, the things you own, the places you've been and all the experiences you've had, the people you've barely known, the strangers you've passed, the people you've liked, the people you've loved for a time, the people who are your best friends and lovers and family that starts, "This is going to be a little difficult so stay with me." And asks:
How much does your life weigh?
The slower we move the faster we die.
In light of my recent post about anger and diffusion, conversations and confusions, I should see this movie, I think.
I have a hard time with faith. With belief in anything past nothingness, past randomness, but anyone who works in the creative world has to have felt Grace and has to have experienced Mystery and Magic. So this I wonder about. Are things put in our path to challenge us, for us to learn and relearn and relearn, to stumble and fall and to do it all over again until either we get it right or we walk down another road? Do we feel like we have the same conversation again, over and over, like a Deja Vu? Have the same relationships but with different faces? I know, this is the stuff of Jung and Patterns. But is it greater than that and by Greater I am not really talking about God. I heard on NPR a story of a woman who was in a coma (I think...it was Morning Edition and the coffee hadn't kicked in) but in her state she felt a Euphoria she connected with a total Oneness with the universe, a kind of Ecstatic peace. The interviewer kept trying to connect that with a sense of God and the woman kept saying, no, it was all about synapses. That she'd only had access to a part of her brain that was a more universal part, not the half that deals in details (and forgive my paring this complex interview into barely a coherent explanation, I'm almost embarrassed, but its been a day of cleaning the house while watching endless reruns of "Housewives of New Jersey" just for fun and then finishing up tracks in the studio and then drinking some good wine while cooking, so I'm not at my fullest of intellectual abilities tonight). And she wouldn't say it was God or religion. Just science. Brain science.
So maybe brain science puts us in places, with people, in conversations we need to be in, in order to muddle through the muck of this life, in order to get to the next level.
Or maybe we keep trying to haul that damned rock up the hill only to fall back a few steps and keep running into the same people with their own rocks, up the same damned hill, tripping on that same crack in the ground.
Well, my backpack is as heavy as yours I'm sure. And it keeps getting heavier and heavier, which slows down the walk. I looked across at the yellow chair that's empty that sits in front of my fireplace tonight. I was watching "The Time Traveller's Wife." I needed a good chick flick. A love movie of star-crossedness to wring out the stuff stuck in my throat. And that movie did it. Just made me weep. Its not a great movie but it was good timing. (p.s. a great movie for the heavy weeping is "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"). And in that chair I could just see my late grandmother, the owner of that chair, who I feel is still hovering somewhere in the molecules above, lightly tripping up and down those hills I am still trying to climb.
It took about an hour an 15 minutes to breathe. I think I just learned something though, and you'd think after 41 years and 9 days on this planet I might have learned this earlier, but I really think that tonight I passed a threshold of self-awareness. I might have just learned how to let go of anger, how to get to the other side. I might be able to throw out that emergency bottle of Xanax I barely use.
Here's what happened.
An abruptly ended phone conversation that shouldn't have ended so abruptly, that sent me spiralling into the whirlwind of what ifs and doubts and assumptions. A conversation-end that I didn't control. And that pissed me off. I wanted it to end MY way (although, admittedly, I had no idea how the "my way" ending would, well, end, but I had Important Things To Say--or, truthfully--I had not-so-important-and-quite-honestly-already-been-said-thrice Things That Needed To Be ReStated, and I didn't get to ReState Them again). And then they shut their phone off (not against me, but to deal with whatever it was that was taking their attention away from me at the moment), so as I tried to call back, I couldn't reach them. I thought about texting. Stopped my fingers. I sat at the computer and wrote a long ranting crazy-woman's email. Thank god I didn't send it. I went to my dog and yelled at her. Then hugged her. I started to cry. Didn't even know why. But something was boiling up and I was about to go into a full on rampage. I was angry. I was affronted. I wasn't being treated well. I was being taken advantage of. I was going to drive my car until it went too fast and bashed a tree. Or I was going to never talk to this person again. Or I was going to move far away, to California. Or Tibet. I was I was I was I-I-I-I-I-....
So I sat on my bed, trying to reason out why I was angry. What was I angry about, exactly? What wasn't being said? What didn't I get the opportunity to express? How could I change this to make me happy? What about this was under my current control? And then, I just cried. Not loud wailing. Just tears, rolling down my already-reddened-from-anger cheeks. My bed was strewn with sweaters from trying to find the warmest one this morning, and I was grateful for the wool and cashmere and angora pile to hang onto like a toddler's blanky. I cried and pouted and felt sorry for myself. And somewhere in the crying, I remembered to breathe. And I breathed slowly. And the world stopped swirling and that voice in my head shut up and I stopped feeling unloved and untaken care of and alone and I just felt, well, calm.
So, after all this, which took the better part of the hour, of huffing and puffing and blowing my proverbial metaphorical house down, I wiped the tears away, walked over to my dog, fed her, sat down here at the desk, saw I had some emails to answer, began to go through them one by one, until another 15 minutes passed and
I am not angry anymore. I am, in fact, calm. I gained...perspective. I saw that I had turned pretty much a little tiny bump in the street into a large peak of the Rockies. And luckily, I had been unable to reach said friend in order to share my bigass Mountain of Grief with them. And so, after stomping my feet around alone (well, with June to witness, but she already knows I'm a lunatic) for an hour, I got that out of my system and now I feel, well, centered. Clear. Back to ground zero.
I am not pissed at my friend. Sure, I had a few gripes, but nothing that can't be communicated later on in a calm way. But I am even now. Remember that post earlier about wanting a normal year? Having HAD it with Drama. I think I might have turned a corner on drama tonight. You've sometimes got to allow the drama in, cause it shoves its way inside like a nosy neighbor with a casserole. Or better, like a kayak barrelling down class 3 rapids on a West Virginia river. But if you fall into the river, you can let the boat go, choose to not cling onto the side, going over the Falls with the damn thing. Let things pass through you, not over you.
I know. This is the stuff of Life 101. But believe me, I think I might have skipped ahead and missed out on some really important stuff in those early grades. Me and Anger have a long history together. She's in there, but I just gave her a blanky and told her, 'thank you for the information and I'll take it from here'.
February 7th, 1:32 am in a friend's attic guest bedroom in suburban New Jersey, only a few miles from the apartment I left in the hands of a friend in October; a few miles from the apartment I shared with a man I still love but from whom I am de-coupled; a few miles from the river I crossed 10 years ago to leave the East Village to move to the wilds of Jersey; a few miles from the trains and subways and bridges and tunnels that were once home to me that are now not. It is eleven hours before I turn that next year over and wake to a new age, another number, one that is just that - a number - just a clock that ticks steadily, a reminder that everything moves on and as the moon rises the sun sets and as the moon sets the sun rises. I place little stock in numbers. I was never good at math. The reason that college on the hill let me in with my inadequate SAT scores and my lack of lineage and money was that I hoodwinked them with an essay that justified my poor math scores with poetry. And so I am back in the northlands, in a cold cold February snowscare. Blizzards are trailing me north and south. I rode the subway north to 100th Street and remembered that summer I first stood there, with the rumblings under my feet, riding from W. 99th to Houston and Prince every day to do ballet at 8am and study Stanislavski and Checkov and Shakespeare and dance and sing and move and emote. My skin shivered with the memory so close as if the me that was then hovered around the me that is now like a penumbra. I sat in my plastic molded seat in the crowded C train, my guitar, my gear suitcase, my purse, my scarf and hat and coat all pulled in tight around me to not take up too much room, as the hunched and scrunched people around me emitted a congestion of annoyance and frustration. I tried to see how long I could study the features of someone before they'd notice my staring and find my eyes. I tried to listen to Bon Iver and keep my energy light, keep air in my field of being, maybe give off some southern light here inside this dark crowded train. I thought of all of my fears of that move, that first one, so long ago, so afraid of citynoise and rumblings, and think the thing for which I am now homesick is a lightness, the space between people, the large hollow chimes of the tree on Russell Street.
So, on the eve of this turning, I am fine with the page that I've passed. Its been a big year. A good year. I made it to the stage of a major festival I've watched from the sidelines for almost a decade. I made it to Mountain Stage, a show I've listened to for years. I got to meet some heros of mine, got to sing with Nanci Griffith and have a drink with JD Souther and have dinner with Ian Hunter and listen to Judy Collins sing a song I wrote. I watched the snow fall with my parents in my new house in a southern town and I watched my nieces and nephews grow and smile and laugh and stumble and get up again. I spent a lot more money on shoes than I should, but I walked a lot of miles and I wrote some things I'm proud of.
So, later this same day, I am in another's house, and, although I have played in the largest venues of my career this year, on stages near Broadway, thousands of people in gold gilded red velvet seats with Playbills and black and white photos rustling in tiered balconies, tonight I rest in a strangers home, having played to a handful of friendly Pennsylvanians who had never heard of me, because their neighbor or sister or daughter or friend is a fan and had invited me into her home to play a small house concert. And I shared things I'd never eat in my life like tomato pie and little hot dogs in croissants baked in an oven. And I played a song about a boy who dies while a 3 year old girl in bright green danced in front of me and I could hardly bear the beauty and oddness of it all and so I closed my eyes and thought of the unbearable lightness of it all, stealing a phrase from one of my favorite authors, and thought of how far away and how close sometimes perfection is.