Fare you well, Mr. Helm. A remembrance.

19 April, 2012

I just got the news that Levon Helm passed away this afternoon. He’d fought hard against cancer, and won more than a few battles, leading to some of the most miraculous and touching music of the 21st century. I was blessed to be present at more than a few landmark performances while he was supporting “Dirt Farmer,” his 2008 Grammy-winning album.

Our band, the Ramblers, had just recorded our first album in Brooklyn. John Embree and I, while planning the record, had talked about where we wanted to have our record release…”Boy, wouldn’t it be great to do it up at Levon Helm’s studios?” We laughed and reveled in the dream for a momenbt, then moved on.

Not a week after the record’s completion, we played a show at Banjo Jim’s on a Monday, at 8pm, not thinking anything much would come of it. Were we wrong. 

We played a great show, with just a handful of folks in the audience…it turned out one of those folks was Erik Lawrence, the then-booker for Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble. Long story short, he loved our music and asked if we had any CDs. I said we’d just finished our record and I happened to have a burned copy on me. He said, well, you should come do your CD release and open up for Levon. My heart jumped. Our dream had come true…we were just mindblown.

We opened up for Levon twice that year, to a standing ovation at the Ramble, and later that summer at the Woodstock Playhouse. For John, sitting behind Levon’s big Gretsch set both times must have been amazing…for me to watch my Arkansas-bred friend in the patriarchal seat was amazing. All of us felt so amazed by the generosity and kindness of Levon’s staff and the vibe of the players and the barn itself. I felt like I was entering a holy space…later I found out Levon had designed in the clerestory windows to resemble an old church. 

I actually got to go to several Rambles, as I mentioned, that summer, when Levon was at the height of his reclaimed powers. There were tears on more than one occasion as he built up and broke down the set so skillfully. I realized I was in the presence of a master, a person whose showmanship made everyone feel at home, elevated, and like they were being paid attention to. He had a way of making every audience member feel like they were being sung to directly. The country soul he brought out when the band was just him on mandolin and an accordion on some of the darker songs was simply incredible…I felt like there was just this…THING…that was occurring. Beyond the Band, beyond the RCO, beyond Dylan…there was a darkness and a light all wrapped up in this man, an intensity, a bridge between the vaudeville snake-oil hucksters and the highest kinds of high art.

*****

I feel blessed that I had a chance to meet Mr. Helm at one of our performances opening for him, right before his set. 

He was backstage talking to John for a bit and when John left I came up and said, “Mr. Helm? Jeremiah from the Ramblers. It’s an honor…”  and he stopped me, shook my hand and said, “I was telling your partner there, you guys…” Then he paused, and looked me in the eyes, his piercing, kind blue eyes like the reflection of the sky in a pool of mountain water, seeming to look right in me…and I thought, he sees me, really sees me, for who I am… with no pretenses…a feeling I’ve had meeting only a few people in this world….and then he took his other hand, put it on top of my arm, and shook my arm once, and held it down, drawing me closer: “…You guys are…great. Just…great. Thank you.”

I was stunned. Stunned that my hero had first of all seen a part of our show…stunned that he was so kind and giving…and that he liked it. And that he would give me this honest, simple praise.  

I don’t remember exactly the end of the exchange, I was so blown away… there were a few more sentences spoken and smiles given. Eventually I said something like, thank you so much, have a great set…this has been amazing. he said something like, “glad we could have you,” smiled, shook my hand again, and went off to play. 

Beyond all of the trappings of music, all of the popularity contests and games the media plays, beyond all of the hassles and bridge tolls and costumes and masks, there is an essence to music that is about people connecting. People giving their hearts and souls to what they do. Levon Helm played until he truly physically couldn’t, and then he left this world this afternoon, I hope in no pain. His body may have been   taken, but the soul he gave us is in all of us. I will never forget the way he dug into a snare hit…or the way he sang a line with every bit of heart even with his voice cracking….the way his dog, Muddy, stood by his side…the way he made me feel, the stories that he told.

Farewell, Mr. Helm, and thank you. May your legacy be one of joy. 

 

Image

Photo by Ahron R. Foster, accessed from http://www.levonhelm.com on April 19, 2012. www.ahronfoster.com

Don’t listen to the hissing buzz of the shame machine

20 October, 2011

To everyone who is protesting, everyone who supports the growing nonviolent revolution,

There is no shame. Don’t feel shame.

Influential corporate-run yellowpress is pushing it on you. It’s a tactic used by them before to diminish dissent: They will try to shame you out of protesting.

They will make you feel shame about who you are. They will diminish your movement by citing baiting names of the past to stir the collective consciousness to a boil. They will call you red and hippy and trust fund baby, or lowly and filthy and angry and young. They will say you know nothing; if you only understood how the world worked, they say, maybe then you’d understand that you’re wrong, that your pithy little shouts are just whines of little already-got-it-all know-it-alls.

No matter who you are, they will say this. Look around. They’re doing it now.

Don’t let them win.

****

They are scared of you and your power. But they know how to work collective mindthink, and they use it pretty well to their advantage. It’s simple: they tell the same lies over and over and over again. They will tell you, those who are on the fence of your determination, those of you who are ready to make the next step, towards dropping the veil authority wrapped around you — they will tell you that you have no merit in protesting. That once you’re done you’ll go back to your ways you were raised. They will tell you that you do not deserve to make change. They will attempt to convince the world you’re nothing but a bunch of dirty college kids with no clear vision.

This is not true. This revolution is made up of a sea of different faces, old, young, all races and professions, backgrounds and stories, for love and truth and a level playing field. To demand economic justice. To end censorship and suppression of human expression.

Even if you explain this, they will still say you have no right, say that you owe the system for the very privilege to sit in a park and talk strongly about changing your world, for the world is bleeding. That your demands are petty, and stepping outside the lines is a farce.

They must play it so because they are scared of you. You are realizing you have power, for the first time.

You’re realizing that you’ve been trapped in breakable chains, and you’re coming together with your fellow human beings to try something new. That scares them. When they can’t predict what you will do, that scares them.

So they will shame you. No matter man in a cubicle, union admin or home worker, high school kid with a brain and a plan who’s now an unemployed twentysomething with a BA and $30,000 in real debts and no way to catch up, the mama of a boy taken in by city police who corked him into taking out his pocket contents, teachers and construction workers who have faced the same real wage since 1978, a trans teen on the run from her abusive stepfather, the workers beholden to the demands of their unfair company lines, you, me, anybody needing real freedom and relief who is in this revolution — they will try to shame you when you stand up. For shame is their only weapon against you.

You are powerful, you have a right to stand up for what’s right, no matter your background, no matter your creed. You have a right to stand together with others in peaceable assembly. You have a right to speak for what you believe in. You have a right to not be suppressed. And they know it.

They try and push their beliefs on you, to censure your curiosity, to make you forget about your own voices. Don’t let them. They want you to believe them because you watch their screens and buy their things, year after year you buy them, you watch them, they try to make you lust. And they want to make you lust, and lust, and never be satisfied, so they can repeat the process over and over while you mortgage yourself to them, so you can live in their world.

But then, you do something as simple as say, “No.” And that is the one thing that advertising can’t buy. that no amount of money can take. You, as a human animal, a cognizant being, have a right to, and sometimes a duty to, say no. They are afraid of “no”. They can’t fight “no”.

Say no to letting them run you. No to letting them shame you and your sisters and brothers. Tell them you don’t believe them when they shame you. Tell them that you know they skew the truth. Tell them you are proud of who you are, proud to be marching for what is just. Tell them.

There is no guilt. Because you have nothing to feel guilty about. What you are doing is right, and noble. Don’t feel shame. There is none.

*****

Revolution is truly happening. Their system as they knew it is falling apart, and they are scared. While their world can now be penetrated, they will use their remaining broad powers to attempt to suppress real information, to limit your communication by the things they control.

That is the real fight we face. The fight is for the freedom to not be suppressed. To meet and speak and gather and demonstrate. For art, for home, for airwaves and stages, for sidewalks, streets and parks. The fight is to make our voices heard, that injustice is injustice, and no pulling up by anyone’s bootstraps is going to help those whose entire lives have been ravaged by the choices, directly or indirectly, of the largest earners, of the unequal dealers, the power brokers.

Yes, they still operate the mechanisms for exercising this power, and will do everything they can to stop critical voices. But:

You have a voice, and your own energy. Hands can write, and voices can shout, legs can march, and words can be written on stone. You have a voice. It doesn’t need a system to be amplified. It needs you. And humanity around you to resonate, and remember, and listen to each other.

You’re doing the right thing.

Don’t listen to the hissing buzz of the shame machine.

Appalachia, Day 2

9 August, 2011

Letcher County, I am told by the hosts of this outreach program, is one of the poorest places in America. It was a little jarring, though, when we entered McRoberts, KY today, and saw that quite a few of the houses had DirectTV and flat-screen TVs…until you realize that if someone wanted to go to a movie, they’d have to drive 40 minutes…and many people don’t have cars.

So. I guess the subtitle of this post might well be “Things aren’t always as they seem..or, the truth will reveal itself.” You might say to yourself, as some of us did, “Hey, I don’t have a flat-screen TV.  Why do these folks?” But then you realize: you’ve got a house that isn’t crumbling apart at the very seams, as so many of these houses are. It’s cheaper to get a flat-screen TV than it is to buy doors, windows, contract for workers, painters, etc…or to go to the next county to watch a first-run movie.  People are trying to live, even at the most meager levels, a better (or at least enjoyable) life, despite amazingly terrible circumstances.

It truly was a little unnerving at first, when we drove into the town and saw the houses. Externally, everything looked, well, sort of normal–or at least normal for suburban/urban people like us. I mean, we could have been in Irvington, NJ or parts of Queens – the typical beat-up but intact housing mixed in with somewhat nicer environs. I think when people say “Poverty-stricken area” one’s mind might go to the typical thoughts of Dust Bowl-era pictures, people who have absolutely nothing. Well, many of these people have at least some creature comforts but underneath the veneers there is quite a bit going on.

First of all, in the aforementioned exurban areas, yes, there is intense poverty, inequality, absent dads, drugs, etc…but those folks at least have a lifeline. You can catch a bus. You can catch a train. You can walk to a store easily.

People in McRoberts are basically stuck there. You can get out, sure…if you have a car. If you maybe join the military. If you can find a job, a good job. But there is nothing there, I mean nothing. No business. One or two stores with limited hours, perhaps a mile from some of the houses. The mine shut down years ago and took the jobs with ’em.

In McRoberts, you have an elementary school with 67 children, with a budget of just $3000 per child for the whole year. Break that down–that’s less than $200,000 operating budget for an entire year, not including teacher’s salaries.

And the children are what this town’s hopes rest on, I suppose…the under-21s in this town are, to large extent being raised not by their parents, but their grandparents. Why? There is a “lost generation” of people, the youngest generation’s parents. McRoberts has a seriosu problem with drugs–meth, mostly, The entire area is a direct pipeline to the rest of the south’s drug trade, going straight down to Florida. From the layout I can see it’d be easy to find a place to hide and make that stuff. Maybe they got into it to sell it, I don’t know. For whatever reason many have become addicts, and are dead, or dropped out of the local society, amnd their parents have taken up the responsibility of those kids. I have heard tell today of so may people my age range (umm.that’s the high twenties to the mid-thirties, y’all) who are dead or lost to drugs. And while some of the mine companies are thinkign about reopening some positions nearby, they have basically dismissed hiring most of these locals because of the drug issues, among other things.

It was horrifying to realize. And at the same time, the dedication of the people who saw taking upon themselves to raise children not necessarily their own is astounding and inspiring.

*****

This morning, we were dropped off at the home of M____, a very lovely and warm woman whose old house was in need of quite more than a new coat of paint, but things being as they are, a coat of paint and some good cheer was where we had to begin, and where we’d wind up.

There was a bit of organizational diffuclty at first, but the tools were upacked and Mom and I got scraping right away. …Don’t I look like I’m having fun?  Or an alien?

We were joined by a whole bunch of 14-year-olds, who were a bit aloof at first and then started working their behinds off.

As you can see, the house was in really bad shape.

  Boards sticking out, rotten wood…Man, it was all Mom and I could do to not start ripping off beadboard and fixing what we could…but we soon realized it was futile without a big ol’ crew. That being said, we’re making plans to return and do some heavier-duty work.

Forgot to mention all of the awesome puppies running around, who we all fell in love with…and who also decided they liked rubbing their fur on the freshly painted walls.  Are you dying of cuteness overload yet?? Just wait…

ZOMG.

The real story here is that M________ is a proud, beautiful mom and grandma who had three kids of her own, and when two of ’em were no longer fit to be parents, she legally adopted their kids–some as young as two months–and has been raising them on her own. We talked with her a bit, and you couldn’t ask to meet a nicer, more optimistic, cheerful woman. She feels blessed to be able to have the privilege to raise these kids, despite the toughest circumstances–her own children being unable to be parents, and her husband having passed on. And now she’s gonna have the prettiest blue house in the holler.

Grownups helped too.

 

This was a neighboring for-real log cabin. It had been occupied as little as ten years ago..someone had built it, lived there for years, then the coal company bought it, rented it out, and after the last tenant left, let it go fallow. this house was REALLY old..there was a beautiful hand-carved signpost which you cannot see in this picture. The walkway was totally and scarily overgrown or we would have gotten more pics.

    Getting up the ladder was not an easy task as the contractors we worked with weren’t told to bring any..so for the first couple of hours we had to make do with some old ladders we found on the property.

This is Justin, a great kid from Lancaster, PA, who had the ingenious idea of putting paint into a coffee can and then acting as the liason between paint and brush to whomever was on the ladder (I was switching off with the other tall guy, Peter, from Cleveland; we were spotting each other on the rickety ladder.)

Here’s the whole operation, with M________ watching us make her house sparkle in the sunlight.

  She looks pretty happy! As does Peter, who’s main bag is helping people. No joke; he’s a full-time worker for human dignity. His business cards say his name, followed by, “I help people.”

Here’s most of the other crew hard at work. By the end of the day, the house was lovely and blue; Mom and I actually left after lunch to assist with another home improvement project (more on that in a minute).

Here’s what the house looked like by the time we left.

 

And here’s what I looked like…a schvitzy, paint-chip covered mess!!

****

At lunch (an amazing repast, by the way…the town made us an incredible spread..homemade cookies, FUDGE, locally grown veggies, salads, bread, cheese..they were incredibly grateful and made us feel so welcome), Mom and I overheard our tablemates talking about the problems they’d been having on their job site…a 100-year-old-house and new doors to install that were the wrong size for the door openings, and a bear to manage. Mom and JB to the rescue!

We arrived at the house by way of John, a local contractor who was working for HOMES, a ministry outreach program that focuses on getting construction help to people who needed it most. He basically played patient kindergarten teacher to us hapless Yankees, who, when all was said and done, did a pretty decent job of hanging at least the first door.  I’m going back in the morning to finish up all of the stuff we started…there’d a lot to talk about from the experience, but honestly, it’s 2 am now and I have to be up at 6:30, and there will be plenty to talk about after tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

Appalachia, Day 1

7 August, 2011

We left New Jersey at 5 in the morning, following a rather successful and incredibly fun session I had with the amazing Debbie Miller at Creamery Studios in Brooklyn. I thought it was only going to be some quick overdubs and we would up spending 7 hours, laughing, playing inventing new sounds.  Ali and I met up later and spent some time with our Gramma (who is an insomniac like us, it was midnight!) before I drove out to Jersey to get ready to go…

Very little sleep ensued before our good buddy, the Rabbi of our NJ synagogue, picked Mama and I up from our house at the aforementioned hour. I was so frickin wired from the cool session and lack of sleep I simply ran my mouth off until the sun rose, then had a sandwich, which knocked me out into a carb crash.

At precisely 11 am, I took the wheel after we stopped at (mmmm!)Waffle House (where I had a delish egg/cheese biscuit and played Hank Williams, Jr. while waiting for my coffee). The good Rabbi replaced me in what I had dubbed “Jeremiah’s Sleeping Cave” as I continued to run my mouth off with my cockamamie socio-political leanings, and listened to lots of Bob Dylan with Mom, who took the opportunity to photograph this interesting license plate:

The lovely irony is that we saw this car as we were passing the exit for the road to Damascus…. Virginia.

I drove for about three hours, then we got off onto side roads for the last 80 miles to Whitesburg, Kentucky. The Rabbi took the helm again and I actually passed out for a good hour, having exhausted my own litany of foul jokes to try to counter the Rabbi’s incredibly quick wit. Knowing I’d been beat was the best sleeping pill. Sigh.

Coming in closer to our final destination, the Rabbi began pointing out all of the little things that his trained ey saw…the coal cuts across the now-jagged mountainscape, the geography of all the hollers, the trailered communities..explaining to us that what we tend to see, even on the back roads were the faces of the town..even going 200 yards into any of these communities, he said, we’d see poverty unlike that we’d ever experienced.

Perhaps a little background of WHY exactly my mom and I were going to Kentucky with our Rabbi is in order. About five years ago, he was given an opportunity to do large-scale charitable outreach by our congregation. His first notions were to help with Katrina relief, Mississippi flood relief, and the like–but ultimately those experiences, while helpful and worthwhile overall, were disappointing as the bureaucracies of said environs were about as fucked as the places themselves after the disasters.  It must be heartbreaking to have the ability to help people and to see efforts wasted through lack of trust, checks and balances on the other end. I’ve heard about stuff like this before, but it was obvious from listening to the Rabbi that it was a big bummer.

Concurrently, the director of the Good People Fund, also based in our town in NJ, had been approached by the town of McRoberts, Kentucky, for some assistance for their local schoolchildren..a so-called “backpack” program, which gives schoolkids who are on the government-subsidized breakfast and lunch programs food on the weekends.

Take a second to think about this. These are people who wouldn’t normally have enough to eat on days they didn’t go to school. Wow.

The director was intrigued and went to McRoberts, a very down-on-its-luck community, where she met with the local organizations and began what is now a three-year relationship with this tiny town. The Rabbi came soon after, and realized they’d finally found not only a noble cause but people they could really work with to make real change happen.

In the time we’ve been there, our synagogue and other organizations have donated trucks full of food, musical instruments, school and building supplies, and had annual trips to help the town build and rebuild with volunteer labor. Mom and I are here to both help with specific construction stuff (you may not know my mom’s an architect and has taught her children lots of valuable construction skills) and to be a part of the support team. I’ve got my guitar and mandolin in tow, too, so am hoping I’ll get a chance to play some music with some of the local folks. We’re not sure what’s going to happen tomorrow when we see the town–we’ve been told it’s a proud, warm community with real needs, unlike anything we may have experienced before, and that we’ll be making a real difference. I sure hope so.

At the very least, we saw some really adorable baby ducks and their mama in the parking lot of the Gas n’ Go. Actually was really cool to see this bird family..the mom letting the kids wander but keeping an eye on ’em and softly herding them along.  Check it out! 

There’s something in the water.

22 March, 2011

Austin, TX, 2:06 pm

In the Austin-Bergstrom airport, waiting for my flight back to Newark. It’s been an interesting few days.

In the midst of all of this insanity, this world full of hate and pain and bombs and flooding, wars, nuclear fallout, whatever the hell is happening, here in Austin for South By Southwest, there were people dancing in the street. Dancing on lawns. Dancing in their homes. At houseparties. In the clubs.  In the restaurants. Smiles and friendly grins.

There is something undoubtedly magical about Austin. A freedom, a liberation from the concerns of most of our great nation. There’s a harmony here that I’ve experienced in little dribs and drabs in my life—perhaps on the beach with my family in Cape Cod, perhaps when we opened for Levon at his barn, various trips along various roads, certain concerts I’ve attended, and certainly so many nights at Banjo Jim’s – a feeling of being IN IT, in the midst of these people with a shared love, a shared narrative, a shared WANT to be free from the worry of the world, and to simply celebrate life, love and music—whatever that music might be, whether the roar of the sea, or the chill of a winter wind, or the notes played by a lone mandolin or an orchestra of revelried voices.

The SuperShuttle driver, Brian, and I struck up an incredible conversation on the way out here this afternoon. It started when I simply asked him, “What’s your favorite part of Austin?” He laughed, said it was a hard question to answer. Then proceeded to tell me of his life, moving here from staid Florida, having been an Army brat with a Pentecostal background, hard in his morals and his rigid ways. He’d moved here unexpectant of anything. One day a friend of his, who happened to be gay, asked him: “Do you believe that by being friends with someone who’s gay, you’re going to hell?”  No, he answered. “Then why do you disapprove of someone being gay?” And Brian at first was like, well, whatever they do, it’s their business, I just don’t want to be involved with their personal stuff…then realized he had been judging others, and this little moment blew his mind, changed his whole outlook. He opened up to the world in a new way and, frankly, let a new sense of harmony wash over him.

“Harmony,” he said to me, “This is what Austin is. It a city of Harmony. People move here from all over the world—and I mean all over the world.  And while their cousins and brothers and sisters are waging war against each other, they’re sitting here playing checkers. That’s their war.”

What an incredible thought, I said, and asked him to elaborate. “Well,” he said, “for instance, right where we’re going right now, there’s a huge field. And immigrants to Austin from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan—Sunni, Shiite, all these different sects, they all go out and pray together.” Together? I said. “Yes, all of these people from different Islamic sects, different countries and backgrounds—they all go to this field, and put out their carpets, and pray to the East, together.”

This is a truly incredible place, I said. What do you think it is?  “It’s the water,” he said, and laughed.

An oasis. A place of respite for all of these travelers, a new home.

I told him about a unique and uplifting experience I’d had on Saturday here. Instead of going out in the thick of things, I’d decided to roll with Dickey, who’s been playing bass for me down here, to a houseparty. The moon was closer to the earth than it had been in 18 years. I wound up jamming with him and a whole crew of locals til the wee hours…and at a certain point, we were getting pretty out there into this soupy psychedelic rock/blues, and, my eyes closed, the band took it higher. And took me higher.  And my eyes still closed, I played at a higher level, a higher plane, than I’d ever played in my life. In this house, with a handful of people watching, I reached this amazing transcendent place musically that I knew I’d been searching for; it was overwhelming and lovely. And then we sung songs to the moon, dancing on the front lawn til 5 am. It was this overwhelming feeling of everything falling into place, like everything had been arranged to suit this moment, and that this moment was one of such lovely significance…and that it could have ONLY happened here, in Austin, at that time, with the people surrounding us, with the lovely bright moon overhead, with the wind whistling in, with clouds passing quickly putting the moonlight into pockets, with a Lone Star in my hand.

Brian told me to hold onto that feeling, and to remember, if I took one thing back to New York with me, that Austin doesn’t just play music—it celebrates music.

Later, on the plane…

I firmly believe that change happens on a small level, and grows into global shifts.  We’ve seen this now in the revolutions in the Middle East, caused as they were by the ability for information to be distributed between like-minded people on a much easier level, by people seeing what happened in Egypt and saying, “I can do that, too.” It’s the butterfly effect, on a massive scale.  The times we will soon be facing are unwritten, unpredicatable. It’s going to become harder and harder for autocracies to exist. People have more power, and slowly are beginning to use that power in all sorts of ways to change their worlds.

I’ve been traveling the U.S. a lot the last year or so and have seen a massive shift in the people from my generation, and younger…its as if we’ve adapted the utter idealism of the hippie generation, so lovingly and brutally dramatized in “Easy Rider” (remember the scene in the commune?) and realistically implemented it into daily lives.  Whether it’s folks running a groovy coffee shop in otherwise bleak Orlando, or a CSA in Manhattan, Whole Foods switching to paper bags, an airline reducing its plastics, local markets refusing to support factory farming, Ford Motor Company building a green roof on its River Rouge factory, or massive city-wide recycling efforts in San Francisco and Chicago, the localized, back-to-the-earth notion combined with a new type of urbanism, and a strong sense of reality and just enough capitalism to make sure everyone can pay their bills, is very slowly (or maybe not so slowly?) moving towards the mainstream.

What’s overwhelming about being in Austin is that the entire town, it seems, has not only accepted these notions, but, again, celebrates them. It’s as if these age of Aquarius ideals have taken root and firmly embedded themselves in the town…and what you have are a cadre of people who have moved to this place and are in it together, trying to make a change stick, trying to keep their city special.  There’s a refreshing lack of disparity in Austin—certainly there are poor people there, like there are anywhere, but I literally saw two, maybe three people who resembled New York or San Fran’s completely down-and-out homeless, and I was all over the city…part of this, I’m sure, is Austin’s propensity to “take care of its own.”  While I haven’t researched this fully, there are so many resources available for the local people…it’s simply easier to live there, to live well there despite not a lot of income, and you feel this warmth, this strength of both the people and place surrounding you.  And the following fact simply knocked me off my seat: A resident of Austin who is a professional musician is eligible for free health, mental dental and vision care.

My glasses are three years old, bent out of shape, and scratched as all can be.  And I work at the bar mainly to pay my health insurance ($430 a month) and various bills, with so little left over. I live very simply, rarely eat out, and don’t go out in general all that much as I used to (in case you’re wondering why you haven’t necessarily seen me “on the scene” lately). And thus, I can’t afford new glasses. Or to fix the busted heel on my Frye boots. So here I am, wearing ancient glasses that slide off my face, wearing beat-up and ripped old Converse, trying to figure all of this out.

And while I love living in New York, and where I am, how I am in my life, it’s entirely frustrating to essentially live in fear of Bloomberg’s regime, to not be eligible for subsidies, to worry about where my next meal is coming from, to watch the hordes of homeless or simply poor men and women walking the streets of New York with a scared look in their eye, to see a 65-year-old woman sweeping the steps of the subway simply because there is no other work available, to look into the faces of those truly hungry, truly junked out, truly suffering, and to not get angry at the disparity. I live in New York, one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and the ranks of homeless, struggling poor and unemployed, etc, are growing every day. Street crime is increasing, and instead of dealing with this, police will soon be busy busting cigarette smokers in the parks, since in May it will become illegal to smoke there. (Quick source of revenue for the city and a big waste of time, in my opinion.) Our system of public transportation, as relatively inexpensive as it is compared to other metropoli, such as London, has increased in fare almost 80% since I moved to the city 8 years ago. And people aren’t making any more money to be able to afford this.

It used to cost me maybe $15 a week to get around town. Now it’s pretty much doubled. $30 a week for public transport might seem like chump change to those of you used to spending $12 on a cocktail, but for me, that extra $15 a week, that extra $60 a month, is a lot. Those are meals I’m skipping. I have never before had fear about where my next meal was coming from. And certainly I have resources, and thank God, I have a job, but this fear, much as I try to keep it at bay, is now revealing itself.

I don’t make as much money bartending as I did two years ago. People are going out less in New York. Part of this, and hence a reason musicians and bartenders also have it doubly difficult, is because Bloomberg’s police Mafia have now taken a stand against music venues and bars. Systematically, bars and venues are being invaded by troupes of heavy duty nightlife police, enforcing antiquated laws regarding dancing in bars (held over from Prohibition), stopping shows in midstream, basically shaking down club owners with fines and what not.

Certainly, I’m all for enforcing certain laws. And certain venues and bars certainly need to make sure they are up to code, and not over capacity. But to come into a thriving business in the middle of a thriving night, to hold the patrons hostage until their raid is complete, to fine businesses that have more than 3 people dancing—my God, that is fucking ridiculous. What is this, “Footloose”?

Let me give it to you straight: Bars in New York, especially music venues, are hard businesses to run. And regardless of how a bar appears to be doing, the quirky, cool places that I assume many folks go to for music have ridiculous overhead and rent. We buy liquor and beer on credit most of the time. Our electric bills are staggeringly high because of necessary refrigeration and climate control. We have to pay certain taxes other businesses don’t. We have to pay our staff, and of course simple things, like upkeep, cleaning products, etc. Then on top of that, we have to get people in the club drinking and enjoying themselves, and hope that we have enough to pay the bills. So we’re already operating at a fringe, and most of the time profits are scant. We’re lucky to break even. And even luckier if all of our bills are paid for. Very few bars and restaurants are in the black.

So take this reality, and then add in the very real fear of getting shut down over whatever minutiae the nightlife goons decide, and you’ve got a few things happening. You’ve got a room full of people who feel violated and scared when the po-pos come streaming in, you’ve got a staff that feels violated and scared because THEY will likely be liable for something, and at the bottom line, you’ve got business owners who might not be able to make their bills at the end of the month because they’ve just been fined $2000.

So the aftereffects of this?  I believe (and it’s unfortunately been my experience) that patrons are less likely to return to the venue because the fear now exists that, at any time, the bar might be shut down, and/or if cops walk in, let’s say they have a joint in their bag, they might get searched and thrown in the Tombs. Musicians are less likely to want to play there for the fear that their shows may be shut down. And bar owners and staff are left holding the bag, because it’s up to us to make the bar money, and if we don’t have enough money to pay the bills, well, maybe we won’t have enough money for new mic stands. Or cocktail napkins. Or soundproofing. Or light bulbs. Or glassware. Or, far worse, beer, wine, and liquor. Not to mention, with the lack of business in a bar comes less tips for bartenders, and we have troubles making our personal bills.

But putting that all aside for a second…Do you know how it feels to tell people who are truly rejoicing in music, in moving their bodies as God intended to rhythms and melodies, to stop dancing? To apologize to musicians because they have to stop playing because we fear that someone might call the police?  Or that the police walking by might come in and find something “wrong”?  To live in fear of being able to express?

I’m a fucking musician. And I’m a man who loves to dance. And I just spent a week in a city that prides itself on its dedication to arts, on its dedication to freedoms, to making the CITY a wonderful, open place to live, where visitors and natives alike were dancing in the street!!!

So I can tell you, to be forced to tell people to stop expressing themselves because of the fear of police, or what have you—It makes me so motherfucking angry I can feel it like arrows shooting into my spine.

If New York City is going to survive as a cultural capital, well, certain parties and so-called “powers-that-be” need to treat it like one, and not just pay lip service to our arts scene, which, despite the attempts to be shut down, still thrives and grows.  I see it every day I walk the streets and see some kid on the sidewalk playing a ukelele, I see it on Saturdays when I host the open mic and see kids coming in scared to death of a stage, but get the gumption to get up there and bare themselves, to challenge themselves to grow.  And I feel like they are being cheated by our city, because of how hard they will have to work to simply EAT, man!

Music should not be an afterthought in one’s life if one wants to make a life in music. Ok, so you might have to wait tables, so you work whatever shit job, so you do this, do that to make ends meet. That’s as true in Austin as it is in New York. But as it gets harder and harder and harder in our city to make those ends meet, musicians are frankly being attacked. The more venues that get raided, the more tickets issued for unloading your car in front of a venue, the more kids being busted for a roach on the sidewalk and thrown in jail—the more we kill our very real chance of continuing to grow as an artistic city.

It is so difficult to make a living as a musician in New York. Even my friends who have reached a certain level of success have troubles making ends meet, and often have to take additional jobs. Yes, it’s an expensive city, but we are such a huge part of what makes it so amazing, and there is no reason why people shouldn’t be able to feel a certain level of respect from their local government. Not just artists, but any of the working poor. (Which, let’s face it, is a category many artists fall into.) Now, I’m not saying artists should be put on some sort of pedestal. There’s nothing wrong with having to work hard to achieve your goals, and I would never say I or other artists shouldn’t have to take certain jobs once in a while to support that life, to a certain extent. Music is certainly unpredictable.

But artists should not be FORCED to essentially have to have a second career to support their primary career, when the infrastructure to support the primary career already exists. However, the scrutiny the NYC artistic infrastructure is put under in these times is regressive, and denies artists a positive way to potentially make a living. (Not to mention the utter lack of interest in the arts by our governemnt, but that’s another story.) And to tax the working poor—by increased health costs, increased transportation costs, clothing taxes, etc.—the people who need the most resources are the ones getting the least, and being forced to contribute the most. This is unconscionable.

New York is failing itself by going after the very people that keep it alive. By not fostering younger peoples’ want of innovation. By letting our poor go hungry and sick and die in the outer boroughs while we pride ourselves on “keeping the streets clean” in most of Manhattan. (In case you didn’t know, Bloomberg has deliberately moved most of the homeless shelters out of Manhattan, and while homeless people increase in number every day, you wouldn’t know it from looking around.) And by making the struggling people pay an ever-increasing percentage of their income just to get to work!

And the ultimate slap in the face is New York failing itself by squelching people’s desires to move their bodies, to celebrate. By making people live in fear. It’s fucking hostile, and sour, and hard wrong.

And I am not going to take this anymore. We have a lot to learn from Austin. From musician’s-only loading zones to public funding and health insurance, there is so much we as a city can be doing to help foster music, to help our working poor. And I’m sorry, Mayor Bloomberg, but I want to fucking dance whenever and wherever I feel like it.

We need to change, NOW. What has happened in Austin can be translated to so many other cities, not to mention the smaller towns where people live, work and play. If people are willing to learn, to give up a few of their profits for the betterment of the society in which they live, to help others, to help their neighbors—to even just say hello to your neighbors—things will start to change. Yes, there are many more people in New York than Austin, and many more problems to deal with, but there is no reason why New York should not help itself grow into something with just a little more heart.

And there is no reason why our city, the scene of so many artists’ lives and deaths, and the stages on which so many artistic endeavors have been set, should not allow us to truly celebrate our art, our music, our bodies, each other. In times of woe, war, hate, natural and manmade disasters, there’s really not much you can do except dance, celebrate, love, hope, and grow. If we want it, we can have it. So let’s want it, and let’s have it. Let’s dance.

Let’s dance down the streets and block traffic. Let’s dance in the bars and the music venues. Let’s dance in the parks, let’s dance on the sidewalks, in the gutters, in the alleyways, in the rain, in the heat, in the subways. Dance in protest of the hurt. Dance in honor of the dead. Dance to make yourself feel good, to feel God. Dance to make children smile. Dance to make things change. Dance to make yourself feel SOMETHING. Dance.

On music and dreaming and things

3 February, 2011

Today is the 52nd anniversary of the tragic crash of February 3, 1959, which took from us Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and Richie Valens, along with the young pilot, Roger Peterson.

Amazing how something so rich can be swept away so quickly. And how their voices are forever frozen at their youth, in their promise. I often walk the village and pass by Buddy’s old apartment. He used to go out with his wife after midnight (in shades, of course) and play guitar with the early folkies in the park. Who knows what would have happened if he’d lived, met Fred Neil, Jimi Hendrix, David Crosby, McGuinn, John Phillips, any of the cats who rolled into NYC around 1961. Not to mention Dylan.  Buddy knew what was hip, he knew what he was doing. One can only extrapolate and wonder about that stilled life, that stilled dream.

Sometimes I think the children or our beloveds lost in our lives–whether it is a would-be brother or sister from a miscarriage, a grandparent we never got to know, but a presence felt–these people, these souls, they come and are with us, guiding us. Who is to say that my dear friends, whom I feel in my soul, are not my true brothers?  The children my parents meant to have, but couldn’t?

I think of this and then I wonder if we, we who have come to this great city and so many others, and have built stories and troubadour families out of the splinters of perhaps something we were wanting, music, love we were feeling, to create art, music soul life, here in the concrete dirty streets covered with ice, as hard as the field in Iowa where fate met those four young men with so much promise, I wonder if we, we who have lived and died in the wake of their tragedy, we who are playing our Stratocasters and smiling onstage, we who have loved music and dance our asses off at Madison Square Garden, we who travel and roam, to seek, to receive, and to give of our selves, for ourselves and for others, in beautiful truth of music– I wonder if we are the true legacy of these souls, carrying on with our daily trials and making music real. That they are with us, a piece of them is with us moving us to keep rock and roll vital. God, I hope so.

I think too about Waylon Jennings. He was Buddy Holly’s bass player on that tour, and was all set to ride with the plane that night, when he lost his seat in a coin toss. Buddy quipped, “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up,” and Waylon quipped back, “I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”

I am told he was haunted every day of his life for the seat he lost in the coin toss that fateful evening.  Waylon is with them now.  I hope his soul has found rest and he too knows how his legacy, his life, meant to so many. How he touched so many people. How he lived out his promise to such a grand extent and with his wife and son and friends, kept real music alive and left us all that gift.

In 2009, Maria Elena Holly visited the Brevoort, where she lived with Buddy, just a few steps from Washington Square, for the first time since the tragedy. In an interview, she said she walked into the lobby and, clear as day, Buddy stood in front of her, smiling. “Where’ve you been?” he laughingly spoke. “I’ve been waiting for a long time.”

Maria said that she believed souls who have never found rest often return to the last place they left. She said she smiled back at her husband, and as she left the building, felt his presence leave with her and exiting the doors, become free, totally free.

I’ve written about that before, and I think what I said then is what I am saying now. That Buddy is with us all now, that he is free, that I hope Richie and Roger and J.P. have felt that too–that their families have found peace, and know how much their loved ones mean to us, and give to us. Not just on February 3, but every time some kid gets a cheap guitar and plugs it into an amp and plays an A chord. Loud.

upper east side, 2.3.11

Baltimore to Morristown, TN.

3 September, 2010

Sitting in Baltimore-Washington Airport, with the sun behind me and CNN broadcasting the Mideast Summit.  Hopes high, I turn to the pages…maybe some change will come of this at last. It’s been a day of changes; the war’s major operations deemed “over” while the mission is not truly accomplished…the war goes on in other nations, yet we speak not of our own.

The daily battle of the poor to survive in this country, let alone others, is not spoken. How many more have to die, how many dreams trod over before we turn truly to the bettering of our nation? To not just selling the dream of public education and higher degrees, but to building, to farming, to making do with what one has til it is too worn to fix before discarding it? We live in a country of waste, of refuse, things which have value refused to be reused, plastic-wrapped everything in the name of sanitary measures, while bedbugs fill the homes of 70% of New Yorkers and we are told there is no solution. DDT now, I say half-jokingly, but then I think back to my Rachel Carson…there’s only one solution for bedbugs, and it would work…but will the birds die? Will their shells weaken? The oil burdens the bottom of the sea, and I am told the shrimp have found the kind side of the oxygen-robbed waters inland in Louisiana, but what have we done? What will we do? For our own, for our children, for our future. For the preservation of hope.

We are a country of hope, of second chances. In every other nation your life is spelled out for you before you are born. Even in the most depressed factory-run and now closed town, the most backwater gay-hating enclave, the most psychotic trailer park in the path of a tornado, the prison cell, or the beaten abuse in the luxury highrise, you can leave. You can escape. You can take stock of yourself and your options and be reinvented, reborn. At least in theory. This country is broad, open, and there’s a reason that philanthropists and murderers, robbers and saints, precious daughters and sons all, have emerged and made themselves who they are here.

The British defeated their class society, or so we’ve been told. Here, we have the workers, the merchants, the thinkers, the doers, the drones. Here everyone can stand out, though, above the rest, or choose to stand proud and silent and admire the work of their hands. My friend R___ in England was given a test in school at age 17, and because of his result, was told his dreams, the progression he wanted to make, would not be fulfilled and was forced to choose another path. I was almost thrown out of school at age 17 for being a fuckwit, a dropout, a stoner, loner loser. But my mother would have none of it, and while the school tried its best to throw me into a vocational program with no hope of higher education, to have me off their hands, her fight prevailed and I stayed in high school. Somewhere along the line I figured out I loved to learn. And learn I eventually did. But how lucky am I, was I, to have that, that support, people who believed in me behind me. And so many days I go through not realizing that, and so many days I do.

How many others like me are there, but who don’t have what I was lucky enough to have on my side to help me realize my own worth? Children without supportive parents, children with hope and dream inside them who aren’t told, “You can do anything you want…” Who wind up drunk, or dead, or fathers and mothers too soon, with few prospects ahead of them, few ways out, and repeat all of their past mistakes. Or are poisoned by cheap food, bad water and the sad reality of being a cog in hard-life labor.

When this country can take stock of our own children, and give them the support they need—when we can teach parents that their children have worth, no matter how dull or sharp they may be—when we can tell children that the work of their hands is more valuable than any golden reward on celebrity tv, when the man holding the scythe at the end of a two-lane road is given the same respect as a banker holding his briefcase—perhaps then we should meddle in the affairs of others. If we do not better ourselves, our children’s future—if we don’t give them clean food, water, clothing, the hope of anything but a service-based society, love support—what right have we to police the world? If the next generation can stand up and say, “We’re learning,” won’t that give more to the world than any peace summit?

Sigh.

Later…

Back in Tennessee with Worley. He picked me up in Nashville on Weds night…I’d changed my flight to come in late, he’d got caught up on the interstate, that old story. So it worked out fine. The best part about the second flight from Baltimore, besides the killer leather seats on Southwest, was the mom and daughter who wound up sitting next to me. It was her first flight, so I gave her the window seat, which tickled her…her name was Natalie, and her little sheep doll she carried was named Baby. Natalie is 11 years old, and was so excited, asking me questions about how the plane flew, how far up we were…I might have changed my mind about wanting only boy children when the time comes. She was so adorable. Had a marvelous conversation with her mom, Nadine, and got into Tennessee mentally refreshed.

Jon arrived right as I landed. Got into the van and he handed me a plan. We headed out to the Five Spot by way of his pal Joel’s house…went in for a spell as those two had some business to attend to, then I got a call from Edwardville Ellen’s friend Rob, who is a Nashville songwriter. Now, I’d posted that I was plakying at a jam at the Five Spot. Now, I thought that meanth Worley had a cooked up a conglomeration of fellow travelers and we were going to let it all hang out. It actually was a bluegrass jam.

Most jams of this kind I’ve been to focus on one group or collection of musicians at a very definite skill level, and those who are not in that level who might be playing are students, or friends. This was seriously amazing…a completely open bluegrass jam, welcoming to those unfamiliar…with about 65 people milling about, and several circles defined in chairs, and others by the the bar, twanging like crazy.

Worley at first had suggested we take our electric instruments and hijack it, befor ewe arrived. We nixed that..upon arriving, Rob suggested we move to a different venue. Worley went out back with his pals, and I started pickin in the corner.

I jammed along with a group from a distance, then went out back and promptly went into a jam of “John Hardy’s Blues” with Squirrel, a local banjist, Jon, Rob and some others. Then Rob and I jammed a bit alone, then others came back in. Worley then beckoned me to a newly formed circle of musicians further out in the parking lot. It was then that I realized that bluegrass really has its own set of relatively simple rules…everyone plays in A mostly, sometimes D, C and G…watching the others’ hands I was humbled…mostly stayed back and picked along. There was this girl named Mariko who played a 1947 Miartin D-28, so fluidly and well…kept apologizing for her shoddy technique and then blew triple time out of the water, Doc Watson style.  I was amazed, jammed for a good long time.

At the end of it all we’d had a new collection of friends, and a new perspective in Nashville. This wasn’t just country kids, or studio hotshots, or commercially-seeking songwriters…this was real live music, dangerous, giving, relieving. All walks. What a fun night…

3 hours later, it was well past closing, and we left with some new friends in tow, and hit the Hermitage diner (can’t remember the name). Eggs and bacon were $3.00, our waitress had some good sass, and we sat there and shot the shit til near 5, then parked the van and passed out in our pal’s driveway.

On the road back to Knoxville, we hit a Baptist BBQ joint, with a beautiful Bible in the foyer…Jon found a verse from the book of Jeremiah. Reading the beautiful, probably 100-year-old leatherbound pages, I realized it had prosodic marks over the letters of my name, leaving a most interesting pronunciation in Hebraized English, which would be: JEHR-a MEE-yah. Or with a Hebrew bent, YEAR-a-MEE-yah.  Which is closer to the Latin and Romance translations of my name, especially French…With the little “a” after the first syllable barely pronounced, just a flip lil grace note.

Now, most modern Hebrew translations of “Jeremiah” give you “YEER-MEE-YAH-OO”. That is not what my parents named me…in Hebrew, my name is “YEAR-MEE-YAH.”  And when I explain this to Hebrew-speaking people, who generally at first will call me “YEER MEE YAH OO,” they  insist I am wrong. But that is my name, my parents named me that specifically, because, where the hell does that “OO” come from? It’s not that it’s not valid in certain cases…certainly many people go by that. But my parents didn’t dig it, so I don’t spell it the same way, and in fact there is a Rabbi in the Talmud who has my name.

All this being said, I was flipping out that I found a correlation between the Romance pronunciation and the Hebrew/Greek from this old standard Bible, and was explaining it to Jon, when a man at the counter turned around and said, “My son’s name is Jeremiah!” And we talked for a few minutes about the name, and its quandaries…then found out his name was simply the letter “H.”  Crazy.

So we rolled towards Knoxville, then stopped at a Citgo station with an attached gun shop…and liquor mart. And I bought a quart of Heaven Hill 90 proof (black label…which you generally don’t see in the Northeast) for the lowball price of $11(they had a 4-ouncer for $3.10…I love the South).  We rolled steadily on and soon hit Exit 300, where Jon’s bitchin’ seventies-era Apache RV had broken down right before I’d arrived in August. Parked right by a short, flinty hill and across the parking lot from the pump bearing 100 octane racing leaded gasoline, Beulah stood proudly.

She’s based off a ’77 two-ton dualie Chevy truck chassis, with a Holley 4-barrel atop a 350 4-bolt-main, which has been bored out .030 over. It’s got a 4.11 rear, and plenty of torque. It weighs 12,000 pounds but can get off the line faster than most modern cars. The reason she got stuck is that the original 3-speed heavy-duty truck tranny had finally quit. Back in the 70s there were still no overdrive trannys for trucks that big, at least from Chevy. So at 55 miles per hour, Jon was running close to 5000 rpm, and the poor gearbands had to have been seriously stressed. So going over the mountain towards Knoxville, which kills plenty of cars to this day, Jon’s tranny ate it (we saw several on the side of the road at the same rise which burned Jon’s tranny out),

The cab is a ‘77 Chevy Van, with shag carpet on the floor…and ceiling, woodgrain appliqué on the gauges, light-blue vinyl old-school captain’s chairs with red and orange plaid insert, and a friendly metal grille (the 77’s were I believe the last year for the single round headlights).  It has been in the family for many years, and they tankfully Ziebarted (rustproofed) her when new, so the only rust is very minimal, in a couple of non-essential surfaces.

The damn thing’s set up like an old cabin cruiser inside, with a propane tank and four-burner stove and oven, a sink, working bathroom (grey water only, please), the granny’s attic cab-over sleeper bunk, and a pullout couch. There’s a little table to the side with another captain’s chair, and Jon set the whole thing up with a triple battery system to run a fridge, a window air conditioner, and various other electronic sundries. It’s bigger than some NYC studio apartments.

Jon got her a while back and set to some other mechanical improvements. The best thing about Chevys is that the basic design is simple, were built tough and made to last (especially if kept away from rust at the sub-frame level), and hasn’t changed in close to 65 years, so you can A: fix up old trucks and they will last forever, B: utilize improved mechanical bits while still holding on to the good components of the old, in this case the vastly superior and mighty 350 four-bolt.  So Jon’s upped the brakes, electronics, and chassis/suspension to modern specs, removed the old engine-driven air conditioning unit, and made sure she’s well-tended to and running perfect. The trans was the last bit that could break—and it did. So he’s going to either throw in a modern TH700 short-tail modern overdrive automatic, or a killer RockCrusher 5-speed manual. He’s leaning toward this option, and while it will take a little more work, there’s a knockout panels already built into the Chevy from the factory just for this type of conversion. Drag and drop.

We were able to get her up to about 30 mph in first gear, so took some backroads to the storage space that Jon had found, for only $25 a month, to store the ol’ gal while he figured out the logistics and funds to get it going. We hung out for a spell in the parking lot, cleared out some things he needed, and found a mason jar with a few sips of moonshine. Bonus.

The rest of the way, we mostly took on the old Gospel Highway, route 70, which runs from Nashville into the Smokies. I could see the ghosts of A.P. Carter, outlaws, families of singing children, all of these, in front of me…the sun went down as we headed into Knoxville proper, and reposed on the back patio of one of Jon’s locals, the Downtown Brewery and Pub, drinking excellent local porter and stout. We worked out our set lists for the shows tonight, Saturday and Sunday, ate some pizza, and I began nodding out like mad from my lack of sleep. We met up with our friend Joy before heading out to Morristown, our final destination, and I passed out on her couch for a good half-hour before Jon woke me by grabbing my pinky toe, saying, “Shark’s got ya,” and me erupting awake in shudders and laughter. Jon got us home and made up a bed for this poor man, and I slept til noon….we’re heading out to Asheville as son as the rain passes, and Jon has promised to take me wading in the river on the way.

Austin to New England

3 September, 2010

If you’ve been following my travels, you will know that I let off on this blog about a week ago, before our big show celebrating the 8th annum of IndieSoundsNY.com, in Austin. The next few days were travel and celebration, transitions back to my NY life for a few short hours, and more planes and trains…thusly, I neglected this blog. Or maybe I’m just lazy. Ha. Regardless, here goes a basic reconstruction for ya…

Scott and I met Trisha Keefer, our new friend and temporary violinist, at Momo‘s about a half-hour before showtime.  Momo’s is vaguely described by our friend Pete Harris as Austin’s Rockwood Music Hall..a gathering place for many artists, and in fact many artists, some of whom I’ve met in NYC playing, work there. Joe Beckham, Trisha’s man and the bassist for several fantastic Austin bands, was there as well, and we set up quickly, then relaxed on the attached porch deck prior to our show. MAndi LeBlanc and her man, Jeremiah, soon arrived and we all caught up over Lone Stars. Soon after, we took the stage to kick off the festivities.

It was wonderful to play with Scott after such a long time—an entire month—spent in different locales. Trisha, while winging it somewhat on a couple of songs, never missed a beat and brought a fantastic new feel to our music. We played for a good 45 mins, and had a fun crowd…I realized during “Train To Cross” that I had to adjust the geography…”Up” in Dallas. When I hit the line “Go back to Texas” the entire room erupted in applause…never had that happen before.

The people were simply marvelous, and we were so thrilled and honored to have been part of Pete’s celebration. Afterwards, we watched the incredible Ruby Jane Show (she’s a 15-year-old violin prodigy) take the stage…we stayed most of the set then got a delicious meal of fish tacos at Wahoo’s, down the street, after bypassing the “kosher” deli, which was in fact “kosher-style”, a term that infuriates both me and Stein. I mean, “Kosher-style”? what does that even mean?  If it’s the mélange of Eastern European ethnicities and the corresponding food style of twentieth-centruy New York they’re after, say “New York-style”, for Christ’s sake. If it’s Kosher-style, then, well, you shouldn’t have cheese, pork, what have you on the menu with smoked meats. Ridiculous.

Anyway…we had a lovely meal and talked much about the Steelers and their prospects this year. Devoured our tacos, and headed back to the club, where Mandi LeBlanc had taken the stage.

And did she ever take it. I haven’t seen Mandi in a long time, and the last time was at an acoustic show at Laila Lounge we both shared. With a full band, kicking out modern beats and fabulous harmonies, a bit of electronica mixed in…she sounded like a Portishead meets Scissor Sisters with a bit of funk and twang mixed in. It was bloody fantastic.

Joe, Scott and I all hung out on the back deck while the next band set up. We talked a bit about the local scene, and the developing of the area we’d been in..I’d remarked as to how it seemed like it was lovingly gentrified..like they’d tried to improve the area without taking away anything that made it special. Joe affirmed this, saying that the whole area was ridiculously full o’ strip malls and pretty run-down, and that they’d paid special attention to pedestrian life. Indeed, though Scott and I did drive many places, we didn’t necessarily have to, and did walk quite a bit in the neighborhood in which we stayed.

The night ran on, with great music from CJ Vinson and others. Pete’s old buddy Allan was in town, and he’d tied one on pretty well by the time we left…in fact, when we went to leave, he’d been napping in a side booth unbeknownst to us.

We stumbled back to Pete’s and began prepping for both sleep and our flight out the next day…Allan passed out for a few minutes before Pete and I decided to put out a wee repast of cheese, olives, nuts and crackers, and he got up, we all started munching, and subsequently began talking smack in the way only a bunch of reasonably filthy drunk men can…which then of course led to serious conversation about music. Sleep came quick for Stein, but not for me..I stayed up for hours reading, thinking…watching the sky.

We woke up relatively early the next day to catch some breakfast taco action at Maria’s before we hit the plane in San Antonio. The place is done up like a shrine to Mex folk art-cum-gas station relics…fabulous. Supremely satiated, we headed north and got our plane.

Now, the plane out was pretty light…we’d needed to deplane in O’Hare to get our connection to  LaGuardia…and I’d seen that there was a similar flight going to Newark, right near my mom’s place where I needed to be the next day anyway, so I bid a good parting to Stein and headed to the other side of the airport to try to transfer. Alas, no dice, all the planes were full. So I called up Scott and met him in the food court, where he ate cardboard pizza and I managed to find a half-decent bagel.  We reboarded our plane to find that it was entirely full, and that our luggage had nowhere to go. A minor freakout ensued on the part of all of the late-boarders, and about five of us were required to leave the plane to check bags. Luckily, on the way up I managed to squeeze my kanpsack into a little wedge, and Stein his bag stowed as well. My guitar was the mitigating factor, though…at the very last moment I managed to convince the attendant to squeeze it into the front closet, and relieved we went back to our seats.

Sadly, I sat next to a rather boorish-seeming woman who kept wedging her elbows into my chest, and when I asked her to please watch out, she kind of muttered something at me…I attempted as best I could to sleep but failed entirely.

Our plane ride otherwise was rather uneventful, if highly uncomfortable, and I bolted the heck off the plane the moment I could..took a few deep breaths then caught the bus back to the city.

I boarded the bus , and a young woman decked out in Canada souvenir tchotchkes hauled her luggage up the stairs, reaching for money only to find out that the bus didn’t take dollar bills. I pegged her for a NYC first-timer, and gave her my last MetroCard swipe. “Thank you,” she said, and she and her friend sat next to me. “Where are you going?  Where are you from?”  Turns out she and her friend were students from Austria, only 19 years old, coming off a year of being au pairs in Vancouver. We spoke a bit about the breathless beauty and fabulous sushi of British Columbia, they told me how thrilling it was to be at the Olympics, and then they told me a bit of their plans.  They’d come through via San Francisco, which they’d hated..too snooty, they said…then got to Los Angeles, which they’d loved, and of course, they were seriously enamored of Chicago. They were unfortunately staying in Jersey City, as the hostel was cheaper, and needed to get to the PATH train..but it became evident by the time we got back to the subway station they really had no idea where they were going or what they were doing in NY, and I was seriously concerned they were going to get mugged. Their wallets were out, their directions were in their bags, they were covered with touristy items…they were big ol’ targets.

So I walked them through getting a weekly MetroCard, and chaperoned them onto the E train. I gave them very distinct details on how to exit the train at West 4th, where the PATH was, what they needed, my mama’s key to the city (“Even streets go east, Jeremiah. Never forget that.”) and which direction to walk: “Look for the clocktower, and go to W. 9th St, make a right…the PATH is right there.”  I had them repeat it back to me, as they were exhausted. I left them at 34th street, told them to call me if they had any problems, and ascended the stairs into Manhattan for the first time in weeks.

The weather was beautiful as I went up the wide stairs of the 34th St. Post office, where I get my mail (as it’s 24 hours..and utterly gorgeous, a relic of ennobling public spaces in this modern age).  I checked my PO box, then walked out the revolving door.  On the way down the stairs, I saw the video marquee on the West side of Madison Square Garden, showing images of so may great moments on sports and music which have been right there on that spot…and at that very moment a voice rose up in my head and remembered the dreamer, the kid who was playing with a plastic microphone at age ten in my friend Ben’s living room…

I caught a train back to my hometown where my dear mom picked my tired ass. I spent the next few hours dawdling and decompressing after our massive day of travel, and caught up with my sister a bit, then packed up all of my clothes for our sojourn up to Lake Winnepesaukee the following morning. Ali and I, as usual, left too many things til the last minute…I only wound up getting about two hours’ sleep before we all managed to shoehorn ourselves into my mother’s VW Beetle.

I will interject at this point to make mention that when we chose to buy the pretty little Bug, we didn’t think we’d be taking a lot of trips in it. As Ali and I were grown, and I had my own car, we figured it would never come up…then all of our relatives wound up getting married and/or having children, so we’ve spent way too much time going to family events. Blessedly of course.

Oy, that car is small…and it didn’t help that I was so grouchy from the previous day’s travels. But by the time we got to Bosoton, I’d mellowed a bit, and we stopped for coffee and a farm stand for fresh corn, which I love to eat raw. I asked the gentleman if it was ok to eat it raw, and he said in a Massachusetts accent, “I don’t cayuh what ya doo aftah you beye it.”. I chuckled at his salty demeanor, and dug up the $1.20 for the two ears.

We rolled up through New England listening to Pet Sounds, AND HAD A MAGICAL WEEKEND. That’s really all I have to say.

A quick one.

25 August, 2010

Well, Scott and I are getting ready to go immerse ourselves in the healing waters of Barton Springs, TX, before our show, so I’ll keep this one short.

We had an amazing yesterday…we started out by hitting Antone’s Record Shop, where we bought many 45s (as they will fit in our luggage), the new Glen Campbell disc, and some Albert Collins. As we were checking out, we asked Eve, the nice young lady behind the counter, about consigning our CD with them..she very cheerfully replied affirmatively, and after filling out some paperwork, put our CD in the front rack alongside Jimmie Vaughan’s latest! Thrilling.

Scott and I then hit Torchy’s Tacos, which was insanely good…have you ever had a fried avocado taco? Well, neither had I. Until now. Yum!

We then spent a ridiculous amount of time at the Buffalo Exchange trying on and eventually purchasing some vintage clothes…I found a US-made pair of Levi’s in my exact size and a really nice wash. For 14 bucks. Sweeeeet.

Back to Pete’s, where we cooled off a bit and worked on some logistics. Then Pete took us out to South Congress, where we first walked the strip and wound up…at another vintage store! Scott and I both got snap-front shirts and he scored with a sweet A&W ringer tee. We passed the Austin Motel, which has a sign shaped like a cock and balls. Which led to me saying, “The Cock ‘N’ Balls Motel. Damn, sounds like a Tom Waits song,” and proceeded then to murkily mumble said song idea in my beast Waits voice, to much mirth.

Off to Botticelli’s, where we relaxed under the ubiquitous misting fans in the patio, and waited for Trisha Keefer to hit the stage accompanying songwriter Joe Faulhaboer…who, by the way, is a lovely gentleman with an even lovelier 1973 cherry sunburst Martin D-35…never seen another.

Trisha arrived a few minutes later, and it was wonderful to get to know her a bit…she’s a great player, and was as excited to meet us as we were to meet her. They played a set, along with Joe Beckham on upright bass, of mostly great covers (Dylan, The Band) along with some tasty originals.

After set break, where we all rapped a bit more and really got on fabulously, Pete, Scott and I headed over to a very generously portioned Mexican restaurant across the street, where we all ate way too much delicious grub. Then we headed back across the street to the Continental Club, where Joe Beckham’s band, Wisebird, was set to play.

And play they did. A great four-piece, replete with organ and a singing drummer who bore more than a passing resemblance to Russell Brand, these boys took the stage by storm and didn’t let up til almost two hours later. Some guy who looked like the Dude was dancing his ass off. So many lovely people…a very good-looking young lady bumped into my shoulder, and in apology, raised her bottle. I wasn’t drinking, so put up my fist in the fist-pound gesture, but she decided instead to wrap her arm around me and give me a big embrace and kiss on the cheek below my ear.

I really like Austin.

Stumbling through the dark

24 August, 2010

Got up very early Monday morning in NJ after staying up very late packing. I wasn’t sure how to get to LGA from Penn Station, but it seemed that the E train to Jackson Heights and then to LGA via the Q33 was the way to go. And though my train was delayed, I wound up making it through security and onto the plane with a good ten minute window before they locked the doors. Stein saw me before I saw him, and laughed heartily when he saw me in my full beard, western shirt and my old Minnetonka wrangler hat. Came up and gave me a big bear hug and immediately began quoting lines from Neil Diamond’s “Jazz Singer” to me. If you haven’t seen this schmaltz-fest film from 1980 (starring Luci Arnaz and…Laurence Olivier?!), well, I would recommend it simply for the amusement and over-the top-ness..late in the movie, Neil Diamond’s character, frustrated with the slick LA studio, takes off in the middle of recording and winds up in…a redneck biker bar playing country classics. And apparently my current look is just a little bit too close to that for Stein not to make mention of said similarity. You are my SunshineCan’t find a clip on youtube. So here’s the schmaltz-laden trailer…

The flight wasn’t as full as we were told, and I had a seat next to me. So Scott and I wound up sitting together and catching up for a few hours, til he passed out and I tucked into my copy of East of Eden.  We got into Dallas with no problems save a little bumpy descent which made me a little loopy. For some reson I felt compelled to steal a blanket from the first-class section of the plane (which says” not to be removed from aircraft” on it…ha!) and which I’m using to line my too-big-for-Betty Lou guitar case. We got some quick lunch and caught our connection, and this time I passed out the whole flight til we hit the ground in San Antonio.

Boy, is it hot here. Kind of like Jerusalem…blazing sun, not too much humidity, but pretty intense. We eventually got our rental car…someone was in line before us looking for a homemade CD she’d left in a car and there were hundreds of CDs in their lost and found…drove into downtown San Antonio and walked around the Alamo for a few minutes.

I literally mean a few minutes becuase we got there 7 minutes before they closed. It’s a somber place; you don’t forget that this was both a church and a place where many men met their end. They ask gentlemen to remove their hats upon entering. So we did.

It’s pretty amazing to see ephemera from David Crockett and James Bowie. (Though I did hear some kid ask his dad where David Bowie stood his ground. Ha.) That men fought and died in the name of their beliefs, on both sides of the walls. That anyone survived the siege, out of 200 Americans facing many thousand Mexicans. Crazy.

The docent said, “Hey, you have to check this out,” and brought us into a room where frescoes were revealed fromt he Alamo’s pre-war state..he talked a bit about how they found them, just a few weeks ago. I detected a slight twang to his voice that could only come from one place and said, “Excuse me. Are you from New York?”

“I’m from Brooklyn!” he responded, jovially. Arnold was his name,; he’d wandered the country for years living his life before settling on San Antonio for his retirement. We had a nice chat; he grew up in East Flatbush and went to Tilden, same high school as Willie Randolph and Al Sharpton. He let us stay and linger and showed us some new discoveries the archeologists had gfound..an old Spanish arch, more frescoes, ancient graffiti. Only Scott and I wind up finding the one Brooklynite Texan docent at the Alamo.

We walked a bit around the Riverwalk, mainly to get out of the sun, bought a bottle of wine for our host, Pete, and got back on the highway north. After being in that big truck for a week it was quite a shock to be in a Camry, not behind the wheel, playing with the stereo, and talking smack. It was really great to catch up with Scott, as we haven’t seen each other in over a month and had a lot to catch up on.

We got to Pete’s great apartment, right by the Union Pacific and Amtrak line. The sun was setting and a big double-decker train came in; I snapped a shot on the Pentax and then we all had a Pimm’s Cup. We headed to Ming’s, a fantastic Asian restaurant with live music on Mondays, and caught Dustin Welsh, a ridiculously vibey singer-songwriter. Willie Nelson’s producer was there and sat in on piano. Not a bad way to start our Austin trip!

I started getting really, really tired. We headed back to Pete’s for a moment then walked along the railroad tracks to Mulberry, his local bar. By this point, fatigue had set in to the extreme that I became a complete motormouth…probably to keep myself from passing out on the bar. Hm, I guess 4 hours of sleep in 36 hours and 24 total hour of traveling takes a bit out of a guy. I don’t quite remember much of anything else..only that I said, “I need to get horizontal, STAT,” and that we left, Pete and Scott in front, me stumbling behind, and that I started seeing trails and was still motormouthing, talking bollocks and terrible stories…we got into the elevator and I almost passed out on the wall. I ripped my entire bag apart (which I didn’t see until this morning) looking for sleepwear, put it in the bathroom so I could change into it….then passed out across an easy chair. Ha.

I did wind up waking a couple hours later, mainly because I was sweating in my street clothes..took a quick rinse off then passed out properly. According to Scott, several freight trains passed by loiudly in the night. I didn’t know the difference.

Off to go get breakfast tacos and purchase some used records.